Sand, sea, sun and heat... in these circumstances my first thougts of writing a blog started. The seed was planted then but it had to mature over the years! (I thought I'll share that with you as huge parts of this text were writtem during that trip and I decided not to change a lot, you may notice my writting style differs a bit from my recent posts - it's all about developing yourself).
This trip started in Taba in the north of Egypt, as this location it is conveniently situated close to the boarder with Israel and Jordan which were main points of this trip.
This was my first time in Egypt, and all I imagined was sandy beaches, palm trees, and pyramids. Certainly not if you go to Taba, I stayed in Taba Heights which is a complex of 5 hotels. My family and friends stayed in Marriott, the hotel was beautifully surrounded by mountains which gave it a bit of a moon-like scenery. However, that was the back of the hotel, the front was lined up with palm trees, and had great sea access. If you sit by the pool bar, or beach you can see the shores of Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Red Sea under your feet, you can immerse in the warm water in February (and that's the month I visited) the sea water is still nice and warm.
It was a week holiday with my family and friends and apart from spending time together, we also wanted to do some sightseeing. This article will tell you how I planned a week in Egypt and managed to visit Israel and Jordan with their landmark places to visit: Jerusalem and Petra respectively.
After relaxing day at the hotel, we set off to Israel at 4 AM. We boarded the coach that only took us to the boarder (only 10 mins away). After checking in with 8 different check in desks and giving my reasons why I was travelling to Israel I was finally allowed in - hurray I almost shouted! I had my stamp and a little suspicious looking card which under no circumstances should I loose! Otherwise I won't be allowed back to Edypt. After crossing the boarder, we met our new driver, and we also jumped on our brand new bus, and new guide! Strange? Not in here! Egyptians are not allowed to Israel so we had to be accompanied by Israeli guide.
Photo: Jerusalem - panoramic city view from the Mount of Olives
Few words about Israel - it has its boarders with Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine (fenced by a wall). Conflict, and more conflict. You go through check points, you can see army on the streets, wall on the boarder with Palestine is quite scary and daunting, and F16 fly over your head. At the same time you have people in coffee shops on Via Dolorosa and tourist or pilgrims on every street. You just need to experience it to understand.
As for the F16 - it is a first time I saw F16 so close just over my head but it gives you thrills and uneasy feeling. Nonetheless, it is still a safe place to travel.
After we set off from the Egyptian boarder, our coach travelled through Israel to take us to our destination Jesrusalem. On our way we stopped at the shores of Dead Sea, bear in mind it was 8 am and the temperature was merely reaching 17C. Dead Sea is hyper-saline which makes floating an easy task (something I was afraid of), just a side note. I walked in disregarding the temperature as I was determined to immerse in water and float! Health & Safety note here; when I say immerse I mean all body apart from head. Your eyes would never forgive you, and if you swallow the water you may have serious respiratory problems, and last tip - don't try to swim. Dead Sea means Floating Only ;-) As much as I am petrified of floating and I can never do that in a calm pool, I gave it a try at Dead Sea..... and the feeling is amazing but at the same time very strange. Floating experience in this water is something you absolutely must do - even at chilly 17C and 8 am!!! After the session at Dead Sea we hit the road again on our coach to be in 2 hours in Jerusalem. We drove along beautiful coast of Dead Sea where we could still admire salty shores (Dead Sea is not a sea in geographical terms - it is a lake in fact!).
This Middle Eastern city has been a place of pilgrimage and worship for Jews, Christians, and Muslims since ages. The Old City has significant religious sites for all three faiths. Temple Mount compound, including Western Wall or Wailing Wall (sacred to Judaism), the church of the Holy Sepulcher (a Christian pilgrimage site) and the Dome of the Rock (Islamic shrine with gold dome - characteristic dome in every postcard from Jerusalem and my photo above).
It is claimed a capital city by Israelis, but Palestinians also believe it to be their capital. However, I would not like to discuss politics - this is a travel blog. Blogging gives my site a voice, and my voice is travel.
When I visited in February, it was fairly busy but I was told that this was a low season and the crowds were minimal. I cannot imagine how busy it can get in summer. Walking along the the streets of Jerusalem you can see the history, the architecture and mix of all cultures managing to live side by side.
Even though I visited in low season, it was quite busy to access Wailing Wall which has a free entry but controlled. You have to obey the rules with appropriate attire etc. Western Wall is what is left of Jerusalem Temple which was build under King Solomon rule. Visitors to The Wailing Wall write their prayers, thanks, or wishes on a piece of paper and then place them on the cracks between the brinks. Although it's a Jewish tradition, over a million of notes are placed every year as a custom by tourists and also high profile visitors to Israel. The notes are collected twice a year and buried on the nearby Mount of Olives.
As we followed the main points of significance for Christians in Jerusalem, we also traveled south of Jerusalem to see Bethlehem (which is situated in Palestine). To get there we had to go through check point and go through a barrier wall. Apparently if we travelled as individuals it would be very hard to get through but as we came as a trip on a coach, it was easier. At the guarded check point we had a thorough check of the passports of everyone on the coach and few randomly picked people were asked questions.
Photo: The barrier wall between Israel and Palestine.
The main point in Bethlehem is the Church of the Nativity in other words a birthplace of Jesus. You have to stand in a queue to get in (for me it was about 30-45 mins), and it can be as long as 4 hours (season dependent). As we approached the Church and were standing in a queue it suddenly started to snow with a mix of very cold rain and temperature dropped very low to almost 9C. Apparently that was quite an unusual weather for this time of the year. And all of us were not dressed ready for such a drop in temperature. Always with a story to tell....
We then had some time for lunch and time to wander the streets on our own. After that we were taken to Olive Mount which gives a magnificent panoramic view of the city. At the bottom of the mountain, you can see a huge land covered with Jewish cementary which apparently sells burial spots for as much as $40,000 (that was back in 2012 so not sure what is the price now!) apparently it is believed that when God comes back to the Earth this is the exact place where He descends and those who are buried there will be the first one to be redempted and taken to heaven straight away. I don't want to be critical or judgmental here, but the price tag for burial ground sounds a bit commercial and too far away from any religious idea of a burial.
Jerusalem is a beautiful city and I would definately go back to explore more as one day is enough to see the main points on the map, but I am sure it has more to offer.
Another adventure on this holiday was a trip to Jordan and precisely to see Petra. My sister and I started to compete around that time on the number of 7 wonders of the world we've seen so far (back then in 2012 I had Taj Mahal, Colosseum and she had Colosseum and Chichen Itza) so a trip to Petra together would mean that we both will have 3 ticked off our list.
While we were driving towards our destination, we were driving through a dessert which was covered in a very light layer of snow, something that had not happened in Jordan for the past 20 years - how lucky I am? To see this unusual view check my photo on Instagram here
We set off early in the morning from Taba and took a 2 hour ferry to Jordan, once we reached Jordan we boarded the coach which took us to Petra. When we arrived at the entrance to the canyon we had an option of either walking for approximately 2km or hiring a donkey. When I looked at those donkeys I felt so sorry that we decided to walk. In fact it was such a great way to admire the beauty of the canyon. The closer we got to the main point, the Treasury, the canyon walls were getting more narrow and as you approach the Treasury you start to see the glimpse of the structure. And you know you are at the right spot as you start to recognise the facade from the pictures you saw in the Internet or guides. It is a magnificent structure and just looking at the beauty of it and listening to the history and how it was created just makes you feel so small.
We continued down the canyon to see the rest of beauty of this place (Petra is not only a Treasury, it is also a vast canyon with further city buildings carved into the rocks). Sadly we did not have enough time to go through all the canyon, but we managed to see quite a lot! We set off to start our walk back to where our coach was waiting for us. Again admiring the beauty of the canyon with few great photo opportunities.
Photo: Remainings of the city of Petra
Now once we arrived to the port it turned out there was a storm on the sea and we could not board the ferry. So we were told to wait. It did not look good, and the thunderstorm and heavy rain did not indicate any signs of the weather calming down. After about 3 hours of waiting, the sea calmed down and we were able to board the ferry. However, boarding was only possible through the cargo entry where cars drive in and cargo is loaded as the sea was not stable enough to have us board via gangway! So we run quickly inside and was quite relieved that we are on board. Immediately we sat in the seats, happy to be on board when the captain informed us that sea is too rough for us to leave the harbour and we have to wait. And so another hour passed by, nothing happens.... one more hour (mind you these were the times when I think I did not have a smart phone to kill the time) and we finally heard the news from the captain that we can safely depart although teh sea was still rough. We arrived to Egypt in early hours in the morning, although the planned arrival was 10 pm. However it was all worth it and again witha great story to tell!
Summing up this short trip (it was only a week), Taba in Egypt is a great place if you want to see a bit of Israel, Petra and still enjoy your time in Egypt. You could fit into this itinerary Cairo trip but I was on holidays with my family and we wanted to spend some time together as well.
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