Middle East

Middle East anaheimer Tue, 12/31/2013 - 16:00

Jordan - Petra

I was born in Syria, lived in Kuwait, and Immigrated to the United States. My wife is from Jordan and my mom from Palestine. My sister lives in Tunisia and my cousins in Dubai. 

I also visited Turkey, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia (before the breakup), Italy, France, Spain, and Holland.

My adopted country is America and my home state is California, USA. 

So you can say a piece of me lives in every corner of the world and hope to visit all those corners during my lifetime and write about them.

This section is dedicated to the Middle-East: From the Gulf States to the Levant to Morocco. 

Epic Journey

At the age of 16, my family embarked on an epic journey from Kuwait to Spain and back. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery, historical sites, met friendly people, and encountered a few challenges along the way.

The tip, as intended, was a lot of fun – but it was also educational. I learned about different places and people, and most importantly, I realized that there is a vast world outside of my neighborhood.

This trip also ignited my wanderlust for everything new and adventurous.

So why am I writing about a trip that happened several decades ago? Two reasons: One, I came across a box of old trip photos that brought back memories. Two, I came to realize that this trip had a significant impact on my life and personality. I thought it essential to commit it to memory. Read the full story here.

Epic Road Trip Kuwait to Spain

Epic Road Trip Kuwait to Spain anaheimer Mon, 04/19/2021 - 08:54

At the age of 16, my family embarked on an epic journey from Kuwait to Spain and back. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery, historical sites, met friendly people, and encountered a few challenges along the way./p>

The tip, as intended, was a lot of fun – but it was also educational. I learned about different places and people, and most importantly, I realized that there is a vast world outside of my neighborhood.

This trip also ignited my wanderlust for everything new and adventurous.

So why am I writing about a trip that happened several decades ago? Two reasons: One, I came across a box of old trip photos that brought back memories. Two, I came to realize that this trip had a significant impact on my life and personality. I thought it essential to commit it to memory.


This adventure happened in the summer of 1973, long before the internet and cell phones. So we had to prepare the old-fashioned way.We bought our camping supplies, maps, and guide books. We practiced our foreign languages. I practiced my English, and my dad practiced his French.

Since we were going through Bulgaria, I also learned the Cyrillic alphabet to read street signed. How did I decide to do so? One of the guidebooks mentioned the different alphabet in some counties, and I was up to the challenge.

We also had to buy international insurance, and my dad had to get an international driver's license.

My mom was responsible for preparing a lot of easy-to-store and easy to prepare meals and snacks. Not an easy task for a trip that spanned two months. Of course, we had to replenish our supplies along the way, but we had a good start.

After many months of planning, we were finally ready for this fantastic trip.

The trip at a glance

This epic journey was around 8000 KM (~5000 miles) long – one way. It is possible to take a straight shot route for about 4000 miles (6000 KM), but we took many side trips in each country.

We camped our way in major cities, on beaches, along riverbanks, and in forests. By the time we reached Madrid, Spain, we were ready for a luxurious stay with my uncle at this apartment.

After all these years, I can't tell you how much such a road trip cost us, but I do remember that it was affordable on a teacher's salary. Gas was a lot cheaper back then, and camping and food cost was minimal.

I do remember hating hard-boiled eggs for a long time after this trip. My mom tried to save time and money by pre-boiling a ton of eggs for the trip.

As we passed from one country to the other, the landscape kept changing around us. We started with a bleak desert in Kuwait. We passed through another type of desert with rivers, farms, and palm trees in Iraq. We crossed snow-covered mountains and forests in Italy and France. We drove many long miles through lush green valleys throughout Europe.

And came across human-made wonders like the Bosphorus Bridge connect Asia to Europe; the Aqueduct of Segovia, Spain; Hagia Sophia, Turkey; Venice, Italy; Mont Blanc Tunnel between Italy and France.

We also marveled at the many natural wonders like the Danube River and the Alps.

We saw and experienced so much during this trip; it is hard to account for every little detail. So I will highlight the most noteworthy in each country we passed.

Border Crossings

With such a long trip that covered nine countries, we crossed a lot of borders. The crossing between the Arab countries and between Syria and Turkey was very painful.

In some cases, we had to wait hours for our passports to be processed and for our belonging to be searched. In others, we had to pay bribes to border agents to avoid harassment.

Keep in mind this was 1973. I hope that things have improved after all this time, but I am not holding my breath. With the wars in Iraq and Syria, I imagine it is probably more painful now to cross borders.

The process improved dramatically when we crossed into Europe – and that was before the establishment of the European Union.


Kuwait was where I grow up. I had a lifelong of experiences here, so nothing extra special to share here. Some of the famous sights and places in Kuwait are the Kuwait Towers with commanding views of the city, the Island of Failaka – with Alexandar the Great ruins, Covered Shopping Malls, and the long Cornish Drive.

Interesting Fact: Most Kuwaitis pack up and head to the desert for a week-long camping vacation called "Barr". During this Kuwaitis try to go back to their Bedouin roots, but nowadays, their tents are full of modern luxuries like big-screen TVs and satellite dishes.

Kuwait is also where, as a college student, I had my boy band, playing covers at weddings, marina clubs, and hotels. 


Iraq is an ancient and beautiful land, and its people were very friendly and helpful. But we learned two important facts about this country very quickly. One, avoid public bathrooms like the plague—two, not a good place for campers.

We had to stay in hotels for most of the trip, but we were lucky to find a nice campground on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Two major rivers run through Iraq. The Euphrates and the Tigris. Most of the major towns are on the banks of those two rivers.

The highlights of our trek through Iraq:

Interesting Facts: Iraq has two major rivers – the Tigris and the Euphrates. The region between the rivers, known as Mesopotamia, is considered one of the oldest civilizations in the world, alongside Ancient Egypt.

In Basra, we got to try their famous bread (Samoon) with heavy cream (Kishtta) and jelly. A great way to start the day.

In Baghdad, we noticed the colorfully decorated Mosques with Islamic Calligraphy. We also witnessed the hero-worship of the then-dictator Saddam Husein.


Damascus, Syria, is my birthplace. Although I grew up in Kuwait, I spent many happy summers in Damascus with my extended family.

Interesting Fact: Damascus is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. First settled in the second millennium BC, it was chosen as the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate from 661 to 750 _ Wikipedia.

To me, it was just another hometown, with visits to the cover market "Alhamidiya", the Umayyad Mosque, International Fair, Mount Qasion, the Barada River, and the mountain resorts of "Bloudan".

Interesting Facts: Over the centuries, Syria has been home to Roman, Greek, Arab, and Turkish empires.

My best childhood memories are the large family picnics on the banks of the river Barada.

On the way to Turkey, we had to cross the mountains of North Syria. Those mountains are home to alpine forests, towns that time forgot, and a few ancient castles.


Crossing through Turkey, I started to notice how language and culture gradually changes. Bordering Syria, the region of Antakya (Antioch), most people still speak Arabic.

Going further inland, the language became strictly Turkish, and the culture started to integrate more western ideas.

Interesting Facts: Turkey has one of the world's oldest and biggest malls - the Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

To cross from Asia to Europe, we had to take the ferry across the Bosphorus. The amazing bridge connecting the continents was still being built.

We spent a few days in Istanbul, where we encountered a head-spining mix of east and west. We walked through busy covered markets, gapped at historic buildings like Hagia Sophia, and visited modern cafes and restaurants. We also made side trips to ancient islands in the Sea of Marmara.

Interesting Facts: Saint Nicholas was born far from the North Pole, in Patara, Turkey

As a 16-year-old, I had an exciting adventure in Istanbul. I accidentally bumped into some friends from Kuwait at the campground, and we headed to town alone without adult supervision.

We went to a café/bar where we were allowed to have drinks and watch belly dancers swaying to Turkish songs.

We got lost on the way back to camp and hired a taxi with a kindly driver who led us back to camp. He waited in the cab while I snuck in the tent to grab cash from my sleeping father's wallet.


Bulgaria is where I got my first exposure to communism. At the time, Bulgaria was an integral part of the soviet block. Most people spoke Russian along with their native language.

In Sofia, the capital, I saw my first woman bus driver and the first policewoman. I also noticed how serious and no-nonsense they were.

Sofia also reminded me of Damascus, Syria. Like Damascus, it sits under a mountain (Vitosha), and it has a mix of historic buildings and extra modern centers.

The most memorable sights are Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the city center, which contains the remains of ancient Serdica.

I also remember Sofia for its dreary cold weather and continuous rains.

Interesting Facts: Bulgaria is one of the oldest countries in Europe. It is also the only one, which never changed its name since its establishment in 681.

But while in Bulgaria, we met a cousin who convinced us to visit the coastal city of Varna. Varna is a beach town on the Black Sea. The city has a long history since the ancient Greek times who called Odessos.

But we spent most of our time in the modern beach resorts swimming in the black sea, meeting new friends from all over Europe, and trying the local bread and snacks. We even watched an American movie dubbed in Bulgarian at an open-air theater.

Interesting Facts: Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second-largest city is the oldest constantly inhabited city in Europe. For most of its 8,000-years-long history, it was known as Philipopolis.

In Varna, I also met Nikolaj, a teenage boy training to be a tourist ambassador. He knew a little English, so did I. We fumbled through English and gestures to learn where to refill our propane tanks – and about life in Bulgaria.

Before I met him, we were noticing how cheap food is. But for him, everything in Varna was very expensive. It seems that they all lived on the edge of poverty.

Old Yugoslavia

We were fortunate to visit Yugoslavia before it disintegrated into six independent countries. At the time, we didn't notice any divisions or unrest. People just went on with their lives.

On our way to Italy, we passed through Belgrade, Zagreb, and Ljubljana.

Interesting Facts: The Yugoslav passport was the most powerful passport in the world and had the most visa free access to countries. People with the passport were able to go to capitalist countries and communist countries.

We didn't spend a lot of time in those major cities. The only thing I remember is the Church of Saint Sava in Belgrade.

But on the outskirts of Ljubljana, we spent three wonderful days at a camp on the bank of the Sava River – under a canopy of tall trees. This was my first experience with a wide roaring river with a lot of wildlife.


Once we crossed the border from Yugoslavia to Italy, we could see a clear difference in lifestyle. Everything in Italy looked more hectic and commercial. For the first time, we had to pay tolls to use the highways. Everything was much more expensive. It even felt more expensive because of the value of the local currency. A sandwich would cost 5-10 thousand Liras.

We passed through the North of Italy, visiting Venice, Milan, and Genoa. But most memorable moments were in Venice.

We camped close to Venice and took a boat to the islands. We visited the main tourist attractions, like Saint Mark's Basilica and the Rialto Bridge.

Interesting Facts: Tourists throw €1,000,000 into the Trevi Fountain each year. According to myth and legend, tossing a coin into the fountain guarantees you'll return to the Eternal City.

But we also spent a lot of time walking the narrow streets and over the bridges. At some point, we got lost and discovered uncrowded cafes away from the touristy path. And of course, we took a ride on a Gandola with a very chatty-singing gondolier.

One moment, in particular, got stuck in my mind. In one of those narrow streets, several women were shouting at each other from their balconies. Speaking loudly in rapid Italian, they seemed to be fighting but probably were just chatting.

We just zipped through Milan, then drove above Genoa. I say above Genoa because a freeway bridge connecting two hills was so high above the city that it felt like we were flying.


Lake Annecy FranceFor some reason, my dad decided to cross in France through the Mont Blanc tunnel. He could have continued on a coastal route to Monaco, but I am glad he decided on the Alps route.

Interesting Facts: French fries are not French! They were introduced to the American soldiers during World War one by Belgian soldiers who spoke French.

The scenery on both sides of the tunnel was stunning, but the sudden change of weather was dramatic. On the Italian side, it was sunny and warm, then on the French side is was cloudy, and snow was still covering the forest.

On the way down from the mountains, we had to stop at a small town to repair the windshield wipers. They decided to stop in the middle of a rainstorm.

Other than this forced stop for car repairs, we zipped through this region of France and didn't see a lot.

Later in life, I returned to this area and visited places like Chamonix, Annecy, and Lyon – and cross through the Mont Blanc tunnel just to go down memory lane.

Interesting Facts: The word “Salut” is used as a greeting and as a goodbye.

After this small mountain detour, we headed back to the coast to visit Marseilles, Nice, and Monaco.

I loved the terraced homes and the beaches in Monaco and enjoyed the modern buildings in Nice.

But by this time, I was eager to reach our destination, Spain.


We finally made it to Madrid, where my uncle lives, and drove around for a while to find his apartment.

Back then, we didn't have cell phones to call ahead and meet up somewhere. So we depended on hand-written directions in a foreign city and a map.

We finally had our joyous family reunion, and we started a new adventure.

My uncle, a local in Madrid, took us on a tour of the most famous sights in town and then through Spain.

My most memorable moments in Madrid were going to a Gypsy cavern to watch a Flamingo dance show, the Fuente de Cibeles and Gran Via, La Montaña Park, and Plaza de España.

Interesting Facts: Not all people in the country of Spain speak Spanish - but the Spanish language is the second most spoken mother tongue in the world – after Mandarin.

At the park, we strolled through an ancient Egyptian temple (Temple of Debod). The template was brought to Spain from Abu Simbel in 1968.

Our tour of Spain took us through Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Granda, and Valencia.

In Granada, we were able to explore the fort and gardens of Alhambra. Long after the Moors left Andalus, the place is still standing with all its glory.

Interesting Facts: With 48 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Spain ranks second in Europe and third globally. The most famous ones are the Alhambra fortress in Granada, the works of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, and the pilgrimage route – Camino de Santiago.

As we were exiting a garden restaurant in Seville, we came across a festival with dancing and singing. This is where I bought a huge sombrero for a souvenir and carried it back all the way to Kuwait.

On the way back to Madrid, we spent tew days at a Valencia camp right on the beach.

Other memorable sights along our drive through Spain were the expansive sun-flower fields, Mosque of Córdoba, La Sagrada Familia, The Caves of Nerja, and Plaza Mayor.

The journey back

The journey back to Kuwait was anticlimactic and passed in a blur. I can't recall half of the places we camped at. I think my dad was in a hurry to get back and drove a lot.

Our supply of traveler's checks was running low. We didn't have ATMs or Credit Cards to replenish our cash.

But by the time we made it back home, I had accumulated a lifetime's worth of memories and adventures.

I didn't know it back then, but that epic journey was the seed for my love of adventure and travel.

Jordan - The Desert Kingdom

Jordan - The Desert Kingdom anaheimer Wed, 12/25/2013 - 16:02

nullJordan, throughout history, was a crossroad between east and west. Ancient roads through the desert connected civilizations like the Greeks, Nabataeans, Romans, and more recent states like the Umayyads and the Ottomans.

In modern days, Jordan still strives to connect western style economy and culture to more traditional Arab and Muslim values. The result is an eclectic melding of cultures that makes this desert kingdom unique in the world. 

Another great attraction for visitors is the political stability in Jordan. The Kingdom is one of the few Arab states that remain peaceful and inviting. Another big attraction is the temperate weather. It is not as warm as the Gulf States and not as cold as most of Europe. 

Amman - Abdali - SpringtimeI started my recent visit by flying to Amman the capital. The new terminal at Amman International Airport is ultra-modern and spacious with lots of restaurants and duty-free shops. Passing through passports and customs is very easy and makes you feel welcome right away. 

As soon as you leave the airport and enter the city you will start noticing the mix of old and new - east and west. Along the airport road, you will notice some old buildings with small shops and you will see large modern stores like Ikea or Safeway. Also along the way, you will see several universities. Jordan is known for its large population of young college-educated citizens. One could say that the workforce is one of Jordan’s exports. Many of them end up working in the Gulf States or overseas bringing much-needed cash to their families.

nullAs you enter the city you will notice the different styles of buildings. You will see contemporary architecture competing with Roman and Greek amphitheaters and Muslim Umayyad styles - all connected with modern highways and narrow alleyways.

Amman’s curse and blessing at the same time is that it is built on top of many hills and mountains. The hills make it look very beautiful with great views. The hills also provide the fitness-minded with goods places to hike. Many neighborhoods can only be reached via a series of steps and stairs. 

nullBut because of the hills, traffic is a nightmare, and getting from place to place is always a challenge. The hills also give Amman a strange phenomenon: Weather can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. Some places get heavy rain and others get none. Some places have snow in winter and other places rarely see any snow.

Tip: If you don’t live in Amman don’t try to rent a car. You will get lost or get very friendly with another car or bus. Take a taxi or a bus. Hire a van for long distance travel. 

nullTalking about friendly, the people here are very nice and helpful. Most speak English and will be happy to direct you to your destination or even walk with you to show you the best route. Also, don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations to attractions or restaurants. 

Jordan as a whole is full of must-see places. Some of the main attractions are The Roman Amphitheater;  Temple of Hercules; Downtown Market; Rainbow street; Petra; Wadi Rum; Jerash; Ajlun Fortress; Pela; Madaba; and Karak.

 Within the city, you can go at your own pace. You should start with the Roman Amphitheater and visit the visitor center located next door. You can grab maps and useful information. 

To venture outside of Amman you probably need a tour guide. One way to accomplish this is to book your tours ahead of time. Those tours are usually expensive and you have to follow a grueling schedule. 

An alternative is to book your tours with a local outfitter. You will save a lot of money and you customize your tour. This is much cheaper than booking your tours from the US or Europe. 


nullThe best way to experience Amman’s culture and history is to start in Downtown Amman. You can spend hours walking the narrow streets and shopping for souvenirs. Haggling is expected so the first offered price is never the final price. While there visit one of the traditional coffee shops and enjoy a water pipe (Hooka), coffee, or tea – along with out-of-this-world desserts. Try kanafa or Baklava. If you are not ready for dessert then you must try the traditional dish called Mansaf. It is mainly rice and lamb meat with a yogurt-based dressing. 

Close to the shops, you will find the Roman Amphitheater which was built in the 2nd century BC. It is one of the largest Roman theaters in the world and used to seat up to 6000 spectators. 

nullAfter you pay the entrance fee go exploring and try to climb the steep stairs to the top. From the top, you will have a commanding view of downtown shops and the old town buildings covering the hills. 

At the bottom of the theater to one side, you will see the museum which boasts a collection of Bedouin artwork and some roman artifacts. 

Next to the museum, our guide and photographer took some pictures of my wife in traditional Bedouin attire. Wearing the traditional dress and posing for the pics was a great experience for my wife. Meanwhile, the kids and I were running up the stairs exploring every corner of the theater and admiring the views. 

On top of the highest hill in Amman, you will see a citadel and a Roman temple. This hill is called Jabal Al-Qalaa. To get to this Citadel and Temple you can walk across the street from the theater and climb some steep steps to the top. If you prefer, you can take a taxi to the top.

nullAt the top, you will see evidence of Bronze age, Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad civilizations. The most intact and impressive of them is the Umayyad Palace which was built around AD 749. Not far from this palace you will find the Roman Temple of Hercules.  

Next to the temple, you will find The National Archaeological Museum where you can view 6000-year-old skulls from Jericho, Umayyad artwork, and examples of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Close to downtown you can visit some popular spots like: 

Rainbow Street: a charming little street with shops, cafes, and bars. Many cafes have a commanding view of the city. 

Tip: Go into one of Cafes in the late afternoon and stick around until dusk. You will witness the city lights come on and listen to the calls for prayer. If you are lucky you will catch a great fireworks display.

Darat al Funun (or “House of Arts”): it is located within 3 old villas and houses both permanent and visiting art collections.

Gardens Street: a famous shopping area with lots of shops and restaurants. 

nullCity Mall: If you already missed shopping at malls, then head to city mall – one of the largest malls in Amman. 

Wakalat Street: A pedestrian-only street in Sweifieh full of big western stores, restaurants, and cafes. Lots of benches along the way for resting and people watching.

Royal Automobile Museum: If you like cars and would like a quick history of the Royal family, this is a good place to visit. 

Ahl Al Kahf: Whether it is the true location of the story about the sleepers – or not, it is an intriguing place to visit. All three main religions mention the 6 or 7 who slept for many years and woke up in the distant future.

Reem Al Bawadi Traditional Restaurant: Although I did not visit this time, people are raving about the food and the atmosphere. I will definitely try it next time. 

Finally, my visit to Jordan was short – only one week. It is not enough time to experience all the culture, history, and foods of the kingdom. I definitely intend to visit again and explore the places I missed. 

I also want to invite the readers – especially residents of Jordan – to contribute articles about their favorite places. You can send your articles in English or Arabic. I will translate Arabic into English for you. Go to the contact page at www.i-wish-you-were-here.com/contact or submit directly through email to bwzain@i-wish-you-were-here.com. You can also post an article on the website at www.i-wish-you-were-here.com/node/add/book but you will need to register first. Please add or send photos to accompany your stories. 

Away from Amman

nullVenturing away from Amman, you will come across a melange of cultures and history. In the following pages read about the Lost City of Petra, the Roman Ruins of Jerash and the Umayyad castle of Ajloun.


  • Some of the photos in this article were downloaded from Wikipedia under the Wikimedia Commons license.

Ajloun, Jordan

Ajloun, Jordan anaheimer Sun, 01/22/2017 - 14:41

nullJordan, throughout history, was a crossroad between east and west. Ancient roads through the desert connected civilizations like the Greeks, Nabataeans, Romans, and more recent states like the Umayyads and the Ottomans.

Read the main article about Jordan in general and the capital Amman here.

A 2-hour trip from Amman will take to this city perched on top of the highest hills in Jordan with an intact fortress from the Crusades era.

Ajloun (Ajlun) is a northern town close to the borders of Syria and Palestine (Israel). Due to the elevation, Ajlun is always cooler than the rest of the kingdom and the hilltops are covered with forests – a rare view in Jordan.

nullAs you drive up the winding roads through the mountain you will start getting glimpses of this magnificent fortress atop one of the highest peaks. The fortress was built by one of Saladin’s commanders to protect the country against the advance of the Crusaders. Read more about Ajloun's history here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajloun_Castle

Once you pay the fee and enter the fortress you can explore on your own. Climb every set of steps and enter every room. One of the rooms hosts a small museum with some artifacts from the various time periods of the region.

Make sure to climb all the way to the roof for a commanding view of the town of Ajlun, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. 

nullThe town of Ajlun is famous for its flatbread. Stop at one of the bakeries and order a loaf or two. The loaves are huge and very tasty - best eaten with goat cheese or yogurt cheese (Labaneh). 

While at Ajlun you can stay at the Nature Reserve and go on guided hikes. You can rent cabin tents with a fridge, kettle, shower with hot water and an oil stove. The hikes are strenuous. You should be fit and wear proper hiking boots and clothes. 

Other landmarks in Ajlun:

  • Tell Mar Elias
  • Great Ajlun Mosque Ajloun
  • Holy Spirit Church
  • Shrine for Al-Khadir (St. George)
  • Birthplace of the Prophet Elijah.

Jerash - Jordan

Jerash - Jordan anaheimer Sun, 01/22/2017 - 14:07

nullJordan, throughout history was a crossroad between east and west. Ancient roads through the desert connected civilizations like the Greeks, Nabataeans, Romans and more recent states like the Umayyads and the Ottomans.

Read the main article about Jordan in general and the capital Amman here.

An hour's drive from Amman, Jordan, you will find this well preserved ancient city right in the middle of its modern counterpart. Jerash was originally established by Alexander the Great around 331 BC as Gerasa and later annexed to the Roman Empire. Around  AD 129 the Roman emperor Hadrian visited Jerash and the famous triumphal arch (or Arch of Hadrian) was built to celebrate his visit.

Read more about Jerash history here.

nullAfter you pass through the entrance plaza the Arch is the most prominent feature you will notice. It is imposing and mostly intact. 

As you walk in and to the left, you will come across the circus (Hippodrome). This is where the Romans held their chariot and horse racing tournaments. The Jerash Heritage Company holds daily ticketed performances of the Roman Army and Chariot Experience at the Hippodrome. Check Visit Jordan website for more details.

Further down you will see one of the southern amphitheaters and Zeus Temple. At the theater, you can enjoy some music and drum beats by a Bedouin band and you can explore the steep steps and various passages. From the top steps, you will have a commanding view of the whole ancient city.

nullOne of the most striking features of this ancient city is the large Oval Forum surrounded by a colonnade - a long circular sequence of columns. Another important feature is the main street (Cardo) lined with another long colonnade. This street runs through most of ancient Jerash.

Along the main street, you will see other important ruins like the Agora; several churches; an Umayyad mosque and the Archaeological Museum. Don’t miss the museum. It has a very nice collection of Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad artifacts. It even includes ancient theater tickets made out of pottery.

Towards the north end of the city, you can visit Two baths; more churches; another Amphitheater and the temple of Artemis.

nullOn the way back you can stop at the souvenir shops at the entrance plaza. If you are hungry, stop at "Jerash Resthouse" restaurant which is right at the entrance of the ancient city.

The food is very good and the location is convenient. They have an area for Bedouin style seating. The prices are more expensive than average due to the location. You should ask for the traditional "Mansaf" dish which is a Lamb and Rice dish with a very flavorful yogurt sauce.

Close to the ancient city, many shops sell Jerash's famous goat cheese. Make sure to stop and sample some of the best cheese in Jordan.

Petra, Jordan

Petra, Jordan anaheimer Sun, 01/22/2017 - 13:24

Jordan, throughout history was a crossroad between east and west. Ancient roads through the desert connected civilizations like the Greeks, Nabataeans, Romans and more recent states like the Umayyads and the Ottomans.

Read the main article about Jordan in general and the capital Amman here.

nullThe lost city of Petra was founded by the Nabataeans in 321 BC as the center of their trading empire. Although the Nabataeans were nomadic in nature, they managed to use their trading wealth to build this amazing city into the rocky mountains.

The Nabataean civilization declined and the city disappeared from history for a long time until it was rediscovered in 1812. You can read more about Petra history here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petra

nullOur trip to Petra was both exhilarating and exhausting. We packed some snacks and lots of water and started on our way at 8 am. In hindsight, I think we should have started much earlier or spent the night close by. In Fall and Winter, the sun sets very early and makes for a much shorter day for exploration. 

The trip from Amman to Petra takes from 3 to 4 hours depending on your stops. We like to stop a lot on the way to rest and explore. Our first stop was at a Falafel place to pick up breakfast. It is probably the best falafel in Jordan. What distinguished “Abu Jbara” restaurant is the variety of falafel sandwiches, toppings and breads available. You can basically custom build your Falafel experience. If you like spicy food, ask them to add Shatta (a very spicy sauce). 

nullAlong the way we stopped at a souvenir shop to use the restrooms and buy hats for the tour. Our guide mentioned that the sun is usually blazing in Petra. He also suggested using a lot of sunscreen. We ended up buying much more than hats. Prices were reasonable compared to the expected high prices in Petra.

Outside the ancient city of Petra, you will come across the town of Wadi Musa. The town has grown dramatically in recent times due to the importance of Petra as a tourist destination. You will find many hotels and restaurants. Some tourists prefer to spend the night in the region to visit Petra and Wadi Rum. 

On the outskirt of  Wadi Musa, we stopped at a freshwater spring called Ain Musa. Legend has it that the prophet Moses stopped at this location – on his way to the Promised Land - and struck a rock to produce the spring for his followers. The spring has been running continuously since those ancient times.

A little further down the road from the spring, there is a commanding view of the mountains in which Petra was carved. You can see strange formations reminiscent of Mount Rushmore – but it is all natural. 

Once we arrived at the entrance plaza we bought our tickets and started our journey through time. 

Tip: Wear old tennis or hiking shoes. Most of your walking is going to be on soft red dirt that clings to shoes. 

nullIt is an amazing feeling to walk into the Siq (Gorge) and be surrounded by huge cliffs from both sides. The cliffs are as high as 260 ft. and can get as narrow as 9 ft. – they can block the sunlight and give a brief refuge from the heat. 

As you walk through the Siq notice the irrigation canals carved through the walls. The Nabatean’s carved those canals and built dams along the way to catch and redirect rainwater.

Important Tip: Watch out for carriage and horse traffic – try to stay close to the walls. The riders sometimes hurtle around the corners and threaten pedestrians. 

At the end of the Siq, you will start seeing hints of the most famous Petra building “The Treasury (Al-Khazneh)”. As you exit the Siq you will have a full view of the Treasury that commands a large clearing in the middle of the mountains. 

The treasury was built by the Nabateans the first century AD as mausoleum and crypt – contrary to popular myth that it was used as a place to hold treasures. 

Petra's history is mired in mystery and myth. It started as an Arab Nabatean settlement with Greek and Egyptian influences - but was absorbed later by the growing Roman Empire. There is conflicting evidence about who built what. 

nullRegardless of origins, the rest of Petra is as breathtaking as the famous Treasury. Most visitors just hike through the Siq and admire the treasury then turn back. 

Don’t be one of those tourists. Keep going and experience the various tombs and residences etched into the mountains. Admire the colors of rock formations – which oscillate between various shades of red and pink. Visit the amphitheater which was designed in a way to overlook the largest collection of tombs and don’t miss Qasr Al-Bint which was built as a temple. Ask about the legend of Qasr Al-Bint also known as the Temple of the Winged Lions.

Tip: If you don’t have a guide with you, hire one at the entrance plaza. The prices are reasonable and they can provide valuable information about the sights and history.

nullIf you have the time and the stamina, plan on climbing close to 800 steps to the Monastery (El Deir). The climb is hard but it is worth the effort. If you are not up to it, you can hire one of the Donkeys to take you all the way to the top - although I am not sure which one is riskier – climbing the stairs or riding the Donkey.

Tip: Before you start climbing the steps, visit the restrooms at the restaurant situated next to the museum. You can also take a break at the restaurant and have some snacks.

nullI don’t want to spoil the surprise for would-be adventurers, so I am not going say a lot about the Monastery itself. The Monastery was built by the Nabateans as a temple to one of their Gods but possibly used later by Christians. No one knows for sure.

Tip: All along the way you will have opportunities to ride a horse, a carriage or a donkey to your destination. Each operator has boundaries they can’t cross. Agree ahead of time on the destination and the price. As usual, you can negotiate the price.

By the time we made it to the top of the stairs and enjoyed the view it was getting dark. So we had to hustle back down and all the way out of the Siq before it really got dark. There is no lighting at night in Petra – unless you arrive during one of the special nights when they light up the city with candles. Check the Visit Jordan website for candlelight schedule. There is a separate fee for those events. 

See a map of  Petra here.