Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Thursday February 28th 2019

Meddling in the Middle East


I have been looking forward to this trip for a while now. To finally see the last of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

My initial plan was to fly to Amman, capital of Jordan and take a bus or rent a car down to Petra. But when it became clear that I would do this trip with my dear friend Henrik, he suggested to fly in via Israel and see Jerusalem. I did not hesitate long before I agreed to this plan.
I am always in the mood to add one more country to the "Been there!"-list.

So came the day it was time. I flew from Gothenburg via Stockholm, where I was reunited with Henrik. Then a direct flight to Tel Aviv.

We took a train to Jerusalem and a taxi the last stretch to the Hotel (Prima Kings Hotel); where we stayed in room 218.
Not the fanciest of hotels I have stayed in and was not worth the fairly large price.
But none the less; we were there.

After we removed some of the travel dust, we walked around in the rain to find somewhere to get some food.
We eventually found a nice restaurant where we both had some kebab.

Then back to the hotel for some sleep. Tomorrow we plan to explore Jerusalem.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Friday March 1st 2019

Today we will explore Jerusalem. Or rather explore the Old City of Jerusalem.

The old city is surrounded by a wall and is divided into four parts; one Jewish, one Christian, one Muslim and one Armenian Quarter.



The streets were narrow and filled with peddlers and restaurants, but the four quarters all looked fairly different, which was interesting to see.

In the Jewish Quarter was the Western Wall (also known as Wailing Wall):

And the Christian Quarter is home of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is apparently the most holiest Christian place on earth.

We walked up and down the streets. The old city isn't big, but it can be hard to find your way sometimes, even with a map! :)

We meant to go in for a closer look at Mount Moriah and the Dome of the Rock, but as we came closer (walking through the Muslim Quarter), a man brusquely grabbed Henrik's arm and pulled him towards the side of the street.

Another salesperson we thought and I started to tell him to lay off.
Then I looked up and saw three masked - and heavily armed - Israeli soldiers!

The man (most likely a civilian clothed soldier) had pulled us aside towards the soldiers, who told us not to approach further since it was Friday; the holy day of the Muslim week (and we were not allowed to enter).

We promptly said that we would go no further and quickly left the same way we came with our hearts beating a little bit faster than before.


After a while, we left the old city and went to the Garden Tomb; the place where Jesus supposedly got buried after his crucifixion. 


Not too much to see so soon after we headed back to the hotel again to relax.

In the evening we went out and ate at the same restaurant as yesterday.
I had some kind of meatballs and rice. I liked it. :)

Then back to the hotel. We went straight to bed since we need to go up extremely early tomorrow.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Saturday March 2nd 2019

The alarm is set to "Early".
I am out of bed before 3am to be able to check out and walk to a nearby hotel.

The goal for this exercise is to take the bus to Petra. It leaves at 4am.
It is not fun. I am not a morning person. >.<

We are using Flo Shuttle bus that goes from/to several locations in Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

From Jerusalem, we first travel east and then south following the Dead Sea. About an hour into the bus ride we encounter a police road block (i.e. one car and one police officer) - and we need to turn around.
For an unknown reason we cannot go further on this road.

So back again and we try another southbound road. This time in the middle of Israel.

This time we travel quite far before we have the next incident.
At around 10 am, we get a flat tire.


Or I should say the tire is ripped apart.

So here we are - and the driver first starts talking about how everyone will be picked up and go back to Jerusalem.
Several of us did not agree to that statement. In the end, the travel company realize that some have hotels waiting at Petra, some at Eilat - and some are on the way to the Eilat airport.

An additional problem is that it's Saturday today - Sabbath - and finding drivers (to come with new buses) is not an easy task.

But in the end, it works out (at least for us) and after about 1 hour and 40 minutes; me, Henrik and a few others got picked up by a smaller bus and they drive us to the Jordan border at Aqaba.

Here we need to leave the bus to walk over the border (you cannot just drive vehicles over the border).
But first a surprise; we need to pay some border officer 100 ILS to leave Israel. Some kind of fee.
It's the first time I have to pay to leave a country. Very strange.

Then we walked over the border.


At the Jordan side of the border we had to wait another 40 minutes before a new (Jordan) bus came to take us the last two-hour long stretch.

Jordan landscape is similar to Israel, but with some more mountains, especially the closer we came to Petra.


Finally, at around 5pm, we reached our hotel at Petra; the Petra Guest House.
And for the first time today, we got a pleasant surprise; for some reason they had upgraded us to a Superior Room which had a porch and everything. Yay!

After settling in (and freshening up) in our room (#333) we went to a restaurant nearby, which had been recommended to us; The Red Cave.
I tried the Mansaf (Lamb leg with yogurt sauce). It was pretty OK, nothing more, nothing less.

Then back to the hotel to be well-rested for tomorrow!!

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Sunday March 3rd 2019

After a nice hotel breakfast, it was finally time to see the 2000-ish year old city of Petra!

After the entrance, we walked for a little while before we came to "As Siq", a 1,2 km long and narrow gorge in the mountain.

This was a really cool experience. It was no less than 3 meters at the narrowest place and most of As Siq was filled with interesting carvings on the cliff sides.

At the end of As Siq, we could glimpse something up ahead...
 

...and there it was; The Treasury, the most famous facade in Petra

The sight was magnificent!

And being here, I could finally say I have completed the New Seven Wonders of the World!
It was a great feeling!! :D


But The Treasury (al Khazna) is far from the only thing here; in fact, it is only the beginning!

We walked along the Streets of Facades and took in the feeling of this old city, which had once been an important hub in the trade routes of its time (Europe-Middle East-China).

There were many tombs and houses carved into the sides of the cliff in this street.

There was also a theatre which could take thousands of people.

Littered around the street (and most of Petra) were a lot of people selling souvenirs and plenty trying to convince us to take donkey or camel rides. None of the animals seems to have a good life - so naturally we did not take them up on the offers.

At the end of the Street of Facades we could see The Royal Tombs.

Of course, we went up to take a closer look - and to go inside them.

Moving now over the centre of Petra, where one could imagine the busiest part of the city would have been.
A fairly flat area surrounded with mountains.

Here lay the Great Temple. A large building (not carved into the cliffs) at the height of its day. Now just ruins.
Still a mighty place to walk around in.


After taking a short break at the "five star" restaurant here (we didn't eat here, but it looked far from five stars), we started walking up the 800+ steps to The Monastery.

800+ steps do seem like a lot, but it felt like more.
Hardly any steps are nice and even, the route also included plenty of flat ground.

The sun burned from above, while a chilly wind made sure we kept our jackets on.

Finally, after about 1 hour and 20 minutes, The Monastery (ad-Deir) rose above us. This is the largest carved monument in Petra - and it sure was big!

One cannot be anything but impressed of what they built here so many years ago.

Just like the Treasury, no one were allowed to go inside, but the room inside is really not that deep.

Sandstone might be easier than granite to carved in, but I guess it does have its limits.

We stayed here for a while before going back down again - and we walked all the way to the hotel.

It was a rewarding day, finalizing the Seven for me - so now we deserved some relaxing at the hotel room.

Later we had some dinner at the hotel restaurant The Cave Bar.

Friday, March 01, 2019

Monday March 4th 2019

We had a very empty schedule today.

The bus back to Israel wouldn't pick us up until 15:01 (it was only departure time they had) so we just relaxed, watched TV shows and read for a bit.

About an hour or two before the bus was arriving, we got an email stating that the bus would be late. New estimated time of departure was 16:00 - and at another location (not outside our hotel which was the previous plan).

We went to the designated place well before 16:00 - and waited.
After a while we found someone from the agency and we realized that the day-tour hadn't even come back from Petra yet - and they were supposed to eat before the bus was departing. >.<

So in the end we left Petra at around 17:00 (after experiencing full chaos when everyone was trying to board the bus at the same time), two hours later than expected - and even the original time was much later than we wanted!

The sun was already setting as we started the long drive back through Jordan.


For some reason we stopped for a 20-minute break before we even reached the border, prolonging the trip further.

The border crossing went fairly smooth though, it took "only" about 35 minutes. We left the border at 20:00.

Our destination was Tel Aviv, but of course the bus first had to do an unannounced detour to Jerusalem - and the airport - before we finally came to Tel Aviv, where we took a taxi to our hotel (the Prima Tel Aviv Hotel room #207).
We got there at 02:00. And straight to bed.

It had been a tiresome day, with a lot of waiting.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Tuesday March 5th 2019

Waking up, we had already agreed that this hotel was better than the Prima in Jerusalem. Better room, better beds (two separate ones!) and better service.

We went down for some breakfast and discussed our final day in Israel.

My flight would leave at 16:00 (to Gothenburg via Brussels) and Henrik's flight to Stockholm several hours later.

We decided to start with taking a stroll down to the beach (too cold to take a swim).

Then to be at the hotel to relax, before I had to leave for the airport (30 minutes to the airport + be there 3 hours before the flight was to leave).

But of course, while sitting in the hotel, I got a call telling me my flight was half an hour delayed which meant I would miss my connection in Brussels.
However, if I came to their check-in station they would try to solve it by putting me on another flight home.

Saying goodbye to Henrik, I left for the airport (a smooth ride for once!), payed the 170 ISL to the driver and went to the check-in.

They managed to get me on a Lufthansa flight via Frankfurt.
I would be arriving at home one hour later than expected, but at least I would be landing there today.

Feeling fairly OK with the change, I went through the multiple check-in and security stations before I finally got to the gate.

The flight was uneventful and I got home to my apartment at 01:00.

Home at last!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Middle East Medley



A great journey came to its end. I have finally seen all seven of the New Wonders of the World!


I am glad we took the detour to Israel.
I have never been that much into Jerusalem and the religions around here, but it is an interesting place and it was fun to see it.


I wanted to avoid going to Petra in the summer heat so my initial plan was to go during the winter.
The trip ended up being in March and it was surprisingly cold and (in Jerusalem) rainy.

Since we walked around a lot in Petra, the cold wasn't a problem, but my plan of wearing T-shirt and shorts was a no-go. The wind at the top of the mountains was chilly.
The sun still radiated so a sunhat would have been good though.


Something I did have issues with was the buses and its problems of keeping time. I need more punctuality when it comes to travelling.
Apart from that, the buses to/from Israel was nice. Not sure what the better option would be.
Airplane (to Eilat) and taxi can be too uncertain and too much hassle with transfers.


Total cost of this trip was about 15500 SEK.