Archives for category: travel

We stayed in Petra until after 6pm.  There was so much to see and we could have lingered a lot longer, but we were tired, especially the boy, and Petra gets really empty after all the tour buses pull out.  A few blocks outside of Petra, our bags were waiting for us in the office of the tour company.  We got there and sat down, and after 30-45 minutes, they got around to driving us to our hotel, which was, at most a five minute drive, so that was nice.

We stayed at a lovely hotel in Wadi Mousa, Jordan. Three local touches stand out.  The first two are explained in these photos.

What do the hotels in Eagle River, WI, charge for this?

Classy, but what are they trying to say?

The third thing that was very local to Jordan was the big metal vessel of foul (fava beans) on the breakfast buffet. Unfortunately, all the tour buses got up earlier than we did, so it was, in fact, a big metal vessel lacking foul.

The next morning the tour company sent a driver to take us to Wadi Rum, the largest Wadi in Jordan.  He was polite and calm, but his driving had one quirk, best illustrated here:

The magenta line is the path he took on about every curve. Sarah was in the back and didn’t notice. The roads took a very windy path through the desert mountains: Noah threw up, but Sarah managed to catch it all in a grocery bag.  Speaking of grocery bags, I have never seen a landscape more littered with plastic bags and trash.  The bedouins have adopted the culture of disposability without one crucial element: trash cans!

Several Bedouin tribes currently live in Wadi Rum. Our driver found us a Bedouin guide for a “Jeep Tour,” in a pickup truck with padded benches built in to its bed. My impression is that the tour company was out to get the best price, and their profit would be determined by how little they spent.  We ended up with a guide in his teens. He drove us around to a few of the major spots and recited a line or two about each spot, and we got out of the truck to explore each for a few minutes.  They were spectacular, and would have benefitted from a professional guide.

View from the pickup truck

Wadi Rum is a beautiful canyon cut into granite & sandstone rock.

Its geologically similar to the Judean & Negev deserts (which are adjacent), but strikingly redder.

The tree marks the entrance to Khaz’ali Canyon, where we saw petroglyphs carved into the walls.

The canyon is a narrow passageway between two rocks, possibly another consequence of an earthquake.

Noah liked to study the walls of the canyon.

Sarah hiking a sand dune.

Roy and Noah couldn’t climb it because the hot sand got into their sandals and was really painful.

Also fun, swirling swirling sandstorms that get in your face and eyes.

The tour we signed up was billed as a 1.5 day tour of Petra and Wadi Rum.  What we got was a very good tour of Petra, with a cursory tour of Wadi Rum.  As we went around the Wadi, we saw a lot of similar tours, and nothing a lot different, although some of the tour guides seemed more engaged.  If more professional tours of Wadi Rum exist, I didn’t see much evidence for them.  If you make this trip, ask a lot of questions before signing up.

After we finished our too-short drive around Wadi Rum, we were driven back to the border crossing. When we left Israel for Jordan, the border control agent refused to understand that our long-term visas allowed re-entry, despite Sarah’s trouble-free re-entry from Greece. She decided they needed to cancel our academic visas, and give us new tourist visas when we returned.  When we returned, of course, they were suspicious of this scheme, and again gave us a hard time. There is no central computer where they can look this stuff up. Today. In 2011. In a country saturated with high-tech startups.  We had time for lunch overlooking the beach in Eilat. We walked from the beach to the airport, which is, somehow, in the middle of town, and were home before dark, where we washed the red sand of Wadi Rum off our legs and down the bathtub drain.


For the trip to Jordan, we went through an organized tour because time was too short to do all the planning ourselves. They picked us up first thing in the morning at our Eilat hotel, drove us to the border crossing, and handled all of the visa/passport paperwork.

Our Jordanian guide met us on the other side and we hopped on a bus for the two-hour drive to Petra. Along the way we stopped at a scenic rest stop for breakfast and soon we arrived at the ancient Nabatean city of Petra.

Some of the 26 djin blocks carved out of the rock. These are tombs and the source of the "genie" of Arab folklore.

To get to the heart of Petra, you have to walk through the siq, the narrow passageway between 2 rocks. It may or may not be the result of an earthquake that split a mountain in two. Depends on who you ask.

Along the siq are carved out places where idols used to be. Noah doing his best idol impersonation.

One of the "wonders" of Petra - the treasury. It was carved out of the red sandstone mountain 2000 years ago.

We rode donkeys up 850 carved-out-of-the-mountain steps

to see the monastery at the top. It was worth the perilous journey.

Roy asked his donkey driver where he lived. He said “here.” Roy said, “you mean Wadi Mousa?” (the town that Petra is in). “No,” he replied, “Here, in a cave.” Many Bedouin still live at the Petra site, even though it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Jordanian archaeological park. According to our guide & all of the official Petra literature, the tribes, nomadic & otherwise, were moved off of the park site in the 1960’s & 1980’s, depending on the tribe. Maybe the kids say they still live there to entertain the tourists, or maybe there really are people still living there unofficially.

At the end of a long day, we caught a horse & cart at the plaza in front of the treasury

and rode back through the siq.

We took advantage of Noah’s last school vacation for one last trip before our time here is over. We took a long weekend to Eilat & Jordan, via the Akaba border crossing. We flew Israir from Haifa to Eilat Thurs. morning, and we were at our hotel by 10am. Otherwise it would have been a 6 hr drive. Eilat reminded us a little of Cancun and a little of Las Vegas, in the sense that it is a resort town seemingly sprung out of nothing in the middle of nowhere. But without the gambling or the alcoholics.

The Red Sea, the city of Eilat, the mountains of the Negev all in one stunning view.

The main attractions of Haifa revolve around the water, which meant that many things were not an option for us since Noah doesn’t swim yet. Instead we took a tour of the coral reefs in the Red Sea in a glass bottom boat, which is one good option if snorkeling is out.

Coral reef, Red Sea, Eilat, Israel

School of fish, Red Sea, Eilat, Israel

Keep in mind that these pictures were taken through a window and you get a sense of how remarkably clear the water was.

We ended our day with a swim at the hotel and got ready for an early start to the next day.

When I gave a talk to the Hebrew U. Psych. Dept. about 2 weeks ago, I went to Jerusalem early and hung out with Deborah & baby Shlomo. We went to the botanic gardens on the Hebrew U. Mt. Scopus campus. If you are lucky enough to live in the same city as your sibling(s), don’t take it for granted!

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Our friend Mikael loves culinary adventures as much as we do. We had heard about an Arab-Israeli restaurant called El Baboor in Umm El-Fahm that was supposed to be amazing, so when we asked Mikael to join us, he was up for the trip. Its about 45 mins. from Haifa, so we wanted to make a day of it and when looking at our maps & guide books, we decided it was a good opportunity to see Megiddo (Armageddon) too. Megiddo is really a Tel, which means a hill created by many generations of settlements built one on top of the other. Excavations have revealed 26 levels of ruins of ancient cities, which Noah took as a challenge to count himself. To exit the site, we descended 120 feet underground to the bottom of the tel, where an ancient water system was built to collect water from a spring. We then walked through the tunnel leading to an exit at the bottom of the tel where the spring used to be.

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About 3 weeks ago, we spent another Shabbat with Aunt Deborah, Uncle Dani, and all of the Jerusalem cousins.  Afterwards, we went to Yad Lashiryon, in the town of Latrun a few miles west of the city and met Maya (one of Sarah’s friends and University of Haifa colleagues) and her family.  In addition to being the memorial to members of Israel’s armored divisions, it is a museum of tanks. Israel has contributed a lot to their development, through hard experience over the last 63 years. When we explained to Noah that it was a memorial to Israel’s soldiers, he asked “Even Judah Maccabi?” “No,” we explained, “he didn’t serve in a tank unit.”

Noah was mostly interested in the tanks.  Fortunately Maya’s husband Avishai knows a lot about tanks from his time in the army, so Noah and I learned a lot.  He put Noah and his daughter through their paces. Afterward, they had us over for a lovely brunch–homemade shakshuka!

When Roy & I travel we always like to bring the other one back some food unique to the region as a souvenir. I had read about mastic, which is a traditional Greek flavoring from the mastic tree from the island of Chios. I bought him some chewing gum and also some kind of pudding-looking thing.

The instructions said to put some of the stuff on a spoon, dip in water, and then lick like a lollipop.

Can you tell what I thought of it?

Noah didn't fare much better.

On one of the days I was in Athens, I decided to get out of the city and take a one-day cruise to 3 islands in the Saronic Gulf (thanks to the recommendation of my friend Elena), which is the part of the Aegean Sea where Athens lies.

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p.s. if you’re looking for a special place to eat while in Athens, I recommend ManiMani. We kept finding places that looked cute, but with only mediocre food, until I read about this place on chowhound. It serves food from the region of Mani and was phenomenal. So good that we went back again before we went to the airport to return home. They remembered us from the night before and gave us complementary Mastica liquer. Hopa!

About 1 month ago (has it been that long?!?) I went to Athens for a psych conference, where I presented a poster with my friend/collaborator Osnat on one of the projects we’ve been working on this year. Its only a 2 hr. flight from Israel, but because of certain days that the airline didn’t fly, we were there for 5 days.

We stayed in the Psiris neighborhood between Monastiraki and Omonia Squares. It was just blocks from the city’s fruit & veg and meat markets.

Roy requested that I bring back thyme honey for his souvenir. Everything in this shop was from the owner's hometown in the mountains.

Psiris is a recently gentrified neighborhood, but is still a bit sketchy around the edges.

dinner with Osnat & Gilad in a charming courtyard. Live music during dinner, but the keyboardist texted on his phone throughout the show. He literally "phoned it in!"

We hit the main tourist attractions in Athens:

the Agora, the ancient marketplace & meeting hall,

the last remaining synagogue in Athens (maybe not most people's top attraction),

the Panathenaic Stadium used for the 1896 Olympic Games,

And, of course, the Acropolis.

Looking down from the Acropolis to the Theater of Dionysus

The Parthenon - Athena's Temple

“If you like museums, then you’ll love Athens!”

The highlight of Athens were actually places where we couldn’t take photos – tiny museums off the beaten path. In one day, we visited the Folk Art, Jewish, and Jewelry museums and each was lovely. Especially the Folk Art Museum, which was very inspirational. Maybe after a year of traveling around looking at Israel’s ruins, the Parthenon doesn’t hold as much awe for me? Or maybe because it was drizzling when I was there and the site is under reconstruction it didn’t have its usual magnificence.

The newest museum, The Acropolis Museum, is located at the foot of the Acropolis and was built to hold all of the archaeological discoveries found on the Acropolis, particularly the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles. There is a reconstruction of the Parthenon frieze, with a not-too-subtle commentary showing exactly which portions of the frieze (about 50%, which Greece would like returned) are displayed at the British Museum.

One of the most striking features of the museum is its ongoing excavation which is visible through glass floors and open pits on the plaza.

This little guy perched outside the Acropolis Museum sends greetings from Athens!

Ever since seeing these posts, last fall, Sarah has wanted to visit Ramla for herself.  Whenever I told an Israeli this, I was asked “Why?” It’s a pretty run-down town just off the main highway connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. For a long time it had been a very important town, passing from hand to hand as different conquerors controlled the area.  It has also been destroyed by earthquakes several times. The small city museum has a very nice exhibit of the history of the city, including 3 separate stashes of gold coins that were discovered during modern construction. This was taken as evidence of the city’s important economic and commercial history. And the idea of long lost treasure was very intriguing to Noah.

At present, it’s pretty run down, but has a very authentic shuk, with a little of everything: pet stores, clothing, discount toys, and, most importantly food.  We went to what is billed as the best burekas shop in Israel, or perhaps we went to the burekas shop two stores down from the best one.  Anyway, we went to a good one.  We got a cheese bureka, a big phyllo pastry filled with cheese.  When you order it, they slice it open and shove a cut-up hard boiled egg inside.  It was very tasty.  Here is photographic evidence:

A plate of burekas

and fifteen more

We also saw evidence of spring – these lovely bags of green almonds, although we still haven’t found any good use for them.  Somebody must though…

Another interesting thing about Ramla is a 1300 year old undergound reservoir built by an early Muslim ruler.  You go down some stairs, and row around the eerie vaulted columns.  It’s the stuff of Indiana Jones movies.  Watch out for the giant mass of electric eels! (Okay, I made up that part.)

While we have loved the food in Israel.  I, at least, miss some of the varieties of foods from home.  I was very happy when Sarah told me there’s a community of Jews from India in Ramla, and an Indian restaurant. I was very excited for lunch.  We got there about noon, after asking the men at the Bollywood DVD stall in the market where it was. Sadly, they only started serving lunch at 1pm, which is strange for a Friday.  We needed to get to Jerusalem to see the cousins, so we bought some samosas to go.  Funny how food from somewhere I’ve never been reminds me of home. We should have stopped in one of the restaurants advertising “Tunisian sandwiches.”  Maybe we’ll have to go back…