The Road to Petra

So we left Amman behind in the dust destined for what I think may be the highlight of this trip for me.  Petra.

Although it’s only about 115 miles to drive we took the entire day to get to Wadi Musa, the “little” town where this incredible World Heritage Site is located.  DSC02930

The landscape began to change dramatically as we left Amman in the rear-view mirror changing from relatively lush valleys into a desert moonscape the farther we went along.  Our first stop of Mount Nebo.  Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either, but it is an important site in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths…this is where Moses climbed to view the Promised Land and being cast in the desert for 40 years.  He also died here over 2,000 years ago. The church constructed in the second half of the 4th century has be beautifully restored by Scandinavian archaeologists and the important mosaics by Franciscan monks.


From there we descended steeply to the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea.  We drove the entire length of this salty, briny inland sea with Israel on the other side all along the way. The landscape was otherworldly.



Joan and Mamoun at the Dead Sea.  Israel is in the background.


The Dead Sea

Our next stop was to the town of Madaba where we saw the oldest preserved ancient mosaic map of the holy land dating from the 6th century B.C.  From there we drove to the bustling town of Kerak to visit the Crusader castle built in the 12th century.  The castle is more imposing than beautiful.



There’s not a lot for the police to do at Kerak Castle


Mamoun is always in touch with the locals.

After a well-deserved sleep in our hotel we hit pay dirt. The rose city of Petra! Built over 2,000 years ago, Petra is a city that is literally carved out of the sandstone rock cliffs.  It was the capital city of the Arab Nabataeans has incorporated amazing technology (especially around water delivery) for the time. This site remained unknown to the western world until 1812. Our guide, Sami, was passionate about the whole area and gave us tremendous insight into the area.

Take a look at Petra.  I was gob smacked!



The entrance to Petra


Entering the siq (canyon) that leads to the city.


Walking through the siq.  It’s about one mile.


First glimpse of the Treasury building exiting the siq.


Bam!  Petra!



There are many forms of transportation.  All of them involve feet.



Making sand images in bottles from the sands of Petra is a popular art form here.


Condos, Petra.



Up nearly 1,000 steps you reach the Monastery.  We took donkeys.  Poor little things.


I left some of Ray’s ashes at the Monastery.



We ended the day by attending a cooking class where we prepared our own Jordanian meal (under supervision of course).  This has become a “thing” that Joan and I do when we travel and it is a good way to meet other interesting travelers.  Needless to say, I’m exhausted as we leave Petra for our next stop.  Aqaba.





Oh Mon Amman

I’m in a new country and Jordan does not disappoint.  We arrived in Amman late at night from Istanbul and hit the ground running the next morning.  We met our driver, Mamoon, and headed Jerash.


The Roman ruins at Jerash date from approximately 60 B.C. and are truly amazing.  It is one of the best preserved Roman sites in the eastern Mediterranean. There we met up with an English-speaking guide, Hassan.  He added a lot of information that we wouldn’t have had alone and it was interesting to hear the religious aspects of what he had to say.



The ruins at Jerash


From Jerash we headed to Adjoun castle.  Built in 1184, it Blike it was built by the Crusaders from Europe.  But in reality it was built by the local Muslim community to protect themselves from said Crusaders. Situated on the top of a high hill, it provided a commanding view of the surrounding countryside.



The view from Adjoun castle


Inside Adjoun castle


Adjoun from above.

After Adjoun we set off on a mad dash for the Sea of Galilee to see the Roman ruins at Umm Qais at sunset.  Thanks to Mamoon we made it with perfect timing.



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Our second (and last day) in Amman brought a revolt from Joan and I.  We convinced the driver that he would be happier if we just stayed in the city for the day instead of driving to eastern Jordan to visit more antiquities. It was a good call.

The Amman Citadel is in a surreal setting with modern day Amman surrounding it in nearly every side.


Amman from the Citadel


Amman from the Cidadel

The rest of the day was spent experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes this capital city has to offer.  It was just exactly my kind of day. I’ve never been a big fan of car time.



At the Amman Citadel


Joan and the local colors.


Amman Roman Theater






A Gift from the East

Once again I find myself drawn back to Istanbul.  It was seven years ago since I spent any time in this fascinating city that straddles Europe and Asia (Amanda and I were here a couple years ago for a long layover on our way to Morocco).



Sunrise from my hotel room.

Even though there is currently a travel ban between the USA and Turkey, my visa was issued before this little tiff between our countries occurred.  Regardless I was welcomed in the warm Turkish style that I truly love.  They actually seemed to welcome me even more.  Tourism is extremely important here and the everyday Turk doesn’t seem to care about politics that much anyway.



Breakfast on my first morning.

I’m not sure exactly what draws me here.  There seems to be several factors.  First off, the city of Istanbul gorgeous.  Every corner offers a new vista or colorful insight into everyday live here.  But also important is the food.  I’ve traveled the world and I have not yet found a cuisine that I enjoy more.  They use simple, fresh ingredients that are grown locally and display them beautifully.  It’s simply complicated?  Is that possible?  Whatever it is I always eat WAY more than necessary.



Donor kebap.  It’s never far away.

Since Istanbul is an ancient city (Constantinople), wandering around in the little streets is a loafer’s dream.  I especially enjoyed that this trip since I didn’t necessarily feel compelled to revisit the sights I’ve already seen.  Here’s just a few of the scenes that caught my eye.



It wouldn’t be Turkey without a protest of some kind.



You can sit at a sidewalk café for an hour sipping a glass of hot tea.



I came across these two ladies-who-lunch this afternoon.

But as I write this post I am killing time before my next adventure.  Joan and I leave in a few hours for Amman, Jordan.  I’ll  be in touch from there soon.  In the meantime, please don’t tell anyone about Istanbul.  I want to keep it a secret.







The Jig is Up

What I thought was a closely held secret between my long-time friend Tobin and I (okay, I told Joan) is not really a secret anymore.  Tallin, Estonia is only 25 miles away from Helsinki by ferry so it’s no wonder (wander?) it has been discovered. This city, the capital of the former Soviet state of Estonia is argued to be the best preserved Medieval city in Europe.  The Europeans sort of have a “meh” attitude toward these kinds of things, but they do come here to shop for cheap  booze so I’m told.  But leave it to the Asians (especially the Chinese) and cruise ships to completely over run the place.  I wish I would have discovered it 10 years ago.  Or, perhaps as my friend Tobin did…during late winter.


Tallin Town Hall Square

The ferry was interesting.  It’s only two hours and Joan and I (not knowing what to expect) paid an extra 12 euros to have access to what we thought would be a seat in a café.  It turned out to be a private meeting-like room with coffee and drink service with snacks. Joan thought it was the best 12 euros we spent on the entire trip but I found the people outside the room way too interesting to spend much time there.


Leaving Helsinki, Finland for Tallin, Estonia

Tallin is an enigma and has a most wonderful history.  On our first day we took a guided walking tour of the old city center.  I loved the tidbits of history that our excellent tour guide gave.  It’s simply amazing that so much of the medieval core has survived so many invasions and wars.  The Russian influence (they’re right next door and Estonia was part of the USSR) is obvious. But it pleases me that the Estonians have kept their national identity through all these, ahem, “inconveniences.” Some occupations lasted for only hours before someone else took over. Our tour guide summed it up best in describing the significance of the colors of the Estonian flag which is blue, black, and white.  He said “they’ve beat us black and blue and we’ve occasionally raised the white flag.”  Tour guide humor isn’t usually my thing, but that one made me chuckle.My overall take of Estonia, and particularly of Tallin, is that they’ve beaten so many odds.  I give them credit for just being where they are. I’m glad I went to Scandinavia.  It’s complicated for such a sparsely populated region of the world, and, in all honesty…I can’t bear being that close to the Artic circle.   Will I go back?  Probably not.  Am I glad I went?  Definitely, yes!  Just look at Tallin!


A place of unicorns and fairy tales


While there are lots of tourists, you can sometimes find a quiet little street


The history is amazing!


The Russian Orthodox church.


NEVER, EVER waste a sunny day in Tallin


Quiet places can be found, but one must look.

The final place I left Ray’s ashes on this trip.

PS:  I wrote this final post on the Surface 2 Pro (maybe 3) that I left at home.  The experiment is over.  It was so much easier…while I love my Android devices for most everyday stuff, Microsoft ain’t dead yet. I’m gettin’ the new one.  Because this show must go on.

48 Hours in Helsinki

We have been working our way north. Me from Amsterdam and Joan and I together from Copenhagen.  We’ve now reached the northernmost part of this journey…just a few degrees below the artic circle.  Helsinki is smaller than the other cities we have visited and it has proved to have one of the most impossible languages I’ve ever encountered. But the people are warm and friendly and for the most part speak English, sometimes more reluctantly than in other Scandinavian cities.


Finland has an interesting history as it was an autommonus section of Russia until the early 1900s. So you see today ornate Russian Orthodox churches mixed in the the austere Lutheran churches that most Finns attend today. Notwithstanding all that, it is still very European and we were glad to be back in the land of the Euro, a currency that we both understand better and can make a quick calculation in our head.

Frankly, there aren’t a lot of sights to see here but that doesn’t seem to keep the numbers of tourists at bay.  The Chinese especially seem to love it here.


Lutheran Cathedral downtown Helsinki

One of the most interesting things we’ve done here is meet up with an acquaintance of Joan’s who was a Finnish diplomat before she retired five years ago. She took us on a quick tour of the center of Helsinki and then to lunch. It was fascinating to get her unguarded perspective on current world events. And she is certainly not impressed with the current US administration (ahem, the put it lightly).


Russian Orthodox Church, Helsinki, Finland

Today we took a ferry ride over to a nearby island which was once a large fortress created by the Swedes and financed by the French back in the day that they thought Russia had eyes on the west and Finland would be the logical stepping stone.  While it was a World Heritage Site, I just didn’t find it that interesting.  But I did enjoy the boat ride there and back.


Arriving at the old fortress on Soumenlinna 



Tomorrow is another ferry ride and arrival in a new counntry, Estonia.  It appears that VP Pence will be there at the same time we are, and based on the warning emails we received from our hotel in Tallin, he is even staying in the same hotel!  What luck?  It could prove to be a pain inn the butt with all the added security.


Central Helsinki from the Lutheran Cathedral 

Of Ships and Halls

When will I learn to read more about a destination before I get there rather than once I do.  I set off, with some effort I might add, to Stockholm’s Vasa Museum. It is dedicated to a sunken ship that went down on its way out of Stockholm harbor on its maiden voyage.  All aboard perished.  Now I love Viking lore and was excited to see one of their ships in such impeccable condition.  Well, I just assumed it was Viking.  Turns out the ship is actually from the 1720s and nary a Viking were in sight by that time. Regardless, it was still interesting and the museum did a wonderful job at exhibiting the ship and explaining what sea life was like during that period in Sweden.


The Vasa sank in 1723

From the Vast museum I went to park/museum that was supposed to depict what life was like at various points throughout Sweden’s history.  A few of the exhibits, mostly original buildings, were interesting. Especially the ones that were actually functioning in their original purpose staffed by docents in period clothing. I especially liked the bakery from the 1700s and the machine shop from 1920.  However the rest was completely inundated by children….all around the age of five.


By far my favorite part of The Skansen Museum was watching the kids on the bumper cars.


There’s no doubt in my mind that these two are related.

The second biggest highlight of the Skansen was the Nordic animals where I saw my first reindeer.  It wasn’t until a couple days later that I actually got to taste one.



Stockholm City Hall

Government buildings are often interesting to visit. They are often a symbol of national pride and showcase amazing architecture.  In most cases these are national buildings but in Stockholm the city hall building fits the bill just fine.  We met up with the mayor of West Hollywood (who happened to be visiting at the same time) and took a tour of this grand building.


The interior of Stockholm city hall.  This is the room where the banquet is held for the Nobel laureates.



I thought the location was special enough to leave some of Ray’s ashes here.  I know he would have loved the place and setting and since I was in the company of two of his colleagues it just felt right.


Another eternal resting place for Ray

Stockholm to Helsinki 

If one drives or takes a train, Helsinki is just about half way around the world.  However it is just 250 miles by ship. So we took an overnight ferry to our next destination.  Sort of like a cheap way of taking a cruise. It was really fun, and the rooms exceeded my expectations.  But the most memorable part will be the gorgeous 10pm sunset from the deck of the ship.










What I’m ABBA To Tell You

The sun rose this morning at 4:18am and will set tonight at 9:32pm.  We’re in Sweden, Stockholm to be exact.  Abba is BIG here still and I’m yet to see an Ikea. But I’ve only had one full day so I suppose there is still time.


Gamla Stan is the oldest section of Stockholm

After a leisurely breakfast Joan and I met up with a walking tour of the main part of the city.  I like doing these on the first day at a new destination as it gives you a feel for what’s important, you’re left with a list of places you want to return to, and you get a good dose of history and inside information you would not have otherwise gotten.  Our guide for this tour was pretty good.  I especially liked that his voice projected so that I could hear him and his humor was actually funny.  They can sometimes be really cheesy when they crack a joke.


The Swedish Royal Opera House (right)

The tour took about two hours then we took a ferry back to the old part of the city which is on an island.  But that’s not unusual here as Stockholm is made up of 57 islands . I enjoyed just wandering around the narrow streets and looking at the amazing old architeccture. It’s high summer and that means every European is on holiday.  I’m starting to think that perhaps most of them chose Sweden this year.  There are a LOT of people about.  It makes for good people watching, but it’s not quite as zen-like as it would be in, say, January when the day is only 71 minutes long.


Even with all the people you can still find quite corners.

We had a great lunch at the Hairy Pig Deli.  A silly name for a place that served the best potato salad and grill provolone I’ve had in a while.  Oh, and the panacotta was simply sublime.


Lunch at the Hairy Pig Deli

Tomorrow, Thor and Odin willing, I will indulge my interest in Viking history and mythology.