God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Amman--The Citadel and Jerash

Well, finally--the last installment of Christmas, 2011--Egypt and Jordan--we've been back 3 months which doesn't seem remotely possible. I would make some comment like "time flies" but that belies all sense of originality. So think I will proceed with out excuse or shame.

Our last day we were not going to be beset with boredom as we had more to do--a city tour of Amman, visiting the citadel and finally, to end our time, exploring the amazingly preserved Roman city of Gerasa known today as Jerash. I need to thank my friend Liz for encouraging us to go to Jerash as we had about decided that we would be too exhausted by the end of our trip and, having been to many ancient Roman ruins in many countries, we thought we could bypass this one. Liz, whose pictures in the link above far surpass ours, convinced us otherwise. Thank goodness.

Amman is one of the most ancient cities in the Middle East with archeological finds dating back to the Neolithic period and permanent structures appearing in 3200-2300 B.C. and fortifications beginning in 2200. In Biblical history it was Rabbath Ammon "the great city of the Ammonites." Somewhere around 250 B.C. it was renamed Philadelphia. Eventually through many upheavals, conquering and annexing, it became part of the Roman Empire--as did most of the known world.

To begin: the tour of Amman was not very detailed but interesting. The homes of the super, super (really super) wealthy are as impressive, well more so, as any we see in La Jolla or other rich American enclaves. Of course, we are talking about Middle East wealth which is rather often beyond the pale. In fact, most of these homes were summer or part time residences maintained by the housekeepers, gardeners, cooks, and such. One of the interesting features is that they all are built of white stone--very monochromatic but beautiful.

But, the west has arrived there in the form of huge, high-end malls with the same ubiquitous stores as one finds in malls anywhere. One had opened just days before we arrived and women were leaving with shopping bags sporting logos with which we are all quite familiar--the same as you find in New York, San Diego, Rome, Beijing, the world over. Of course, walking along side the road were the people leading donkeys, women wearing long burkas and trailing behind the men. The juxtaposition of life is eye opening. There is a lot of construction in areas which seem dominated by international businesses. Jordan is solvent and growing.

From the tour we headed to the ancient hill known as the citadel or acropolis which is right in the city of modern Amman.  During Roman rule, there were the typical buildings and grid layout found in Roman cities everywhere. Today there is little left of that history but some pillars and slabs except for a remarkable theater--one of the best preserved in the world. For a fleeting moment, I thought maybe we could take Casey to the opera.)

After the Romans came a Byzantine period with churches and a large cathedral, converted into a Great Mosque at the time of the Arab conquest. By the time of the middle ages, there wasn't much going on there. For me, though, more interesting than the remnants of buildings and known history was the quite small museum which had fascinating finds from neolithic tombs and buried lives. Sometimes when going to museums in the United States we see such things; however, they take on new and different meaning and understanding when they are in the land to which they belong. All of a sudden, people from millennia in the past become real.

And then finally--Jerash--a great way to close out two very exciting, wonderful, memorable weeks. It is hard to imagine all that we did in those few days. 

Gerasa was the site of the Macedonian Greek colony established by Alexander the Great when he conquered the area in 334 B.C. (a little history lesson there.) Eventually it became a strategic point in the large caravan trade and became a true urban center. In the process it morphed into several different names, including Antiochia (Antioch.) Eventually the Romans descended and made it theirs and prosperous. It was transformed into "a planned, architecturally city typical of the Roman East." (Jordan, Past and Present.) Eventually Trajan and Hadrian both left their marks until finally it became an important center for Christianity. Within the Roman ruins that dominate Jerash, there are remnants of Christian churches. 

Casey had a serendipity event in the ruins which added fun for all of us. As the three of us were exploring rooms within walls, we heard Italian. There was an Italian couple who had hired an Italian speaking guide as they entered the ruins. We sort of hung back and listened, encouraging Casey to make himself known which eventually he gathered up the courage to do (believe it or not, Casey is shy.) They were totally astounded, of course, to hear this boy who had been speaking English with his parents, suddenly start speaking to them in perfect Italian. Soon they invited Casey to walk along with them. We assured them that we did not speak the language and were not trying to piggyback on their guide. So, we went our way and they went theirs--with us always within eye sight of where the four of them were.

Casey loved it and so did the Italian man who virtually ignored his wife from then on as he focused on this amazing American lad. They all had nothing but praise for his Italian and were amazed.

Back to Jerash--it truly is worth going to. So many Roman ruins are in piles of stone. Of course, there are piles of stone at Jerash but there are still haunting clues as to what was once there.  The other interesting thing is how modern Jerash surrounds the Roman town and looks down upon it. New and old are one.

So ended our time. Bashar deposited us back at our hotel, tired, happy and overwhelmed by what we had seen and done. That night we needed to pack and prepare for an 11:00 PM pick up as our plane was leaving at 1:00 AM (as in the morning.) We decided to have an early meal at the Mexican restaurant again as we thought we would try to rest and sleep--what a bizarre thought that was. Of course, we didn't.

And so began a long, arduous, never to be repeated trip home. We had been up for 18 hours. Ahead of us were 28 more hours before arriving in San Diego--Amman, to Frankfurt, to Denver to San Diego. By the time we hit our very own bed, it had been 48 hours since getting out of bed in Amman for our last full day of adventure. Amazingly, we were up the next morning and feeling good--no jet lag then or in the days to come. But....I never, ever, ever want to repeat that trip home...then again, it is a small price to pay for adventure and seeing marvels of this world. Yep, would do it again if it were the only way. You?

The End.

Bashar Herzalla--great driver in Jordan  bashar_herzalla@yahoo.com

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Moses, Crusaders and Romans--A Time Capsule


Sometimes I am struck by the irony of calling things "old" in the United States. Our old is so not old in terms of recorded civilizations, history and what is known about man. Granted, there may be unknowns, unexplored treasures hidden in places not found, but where that may be is mysterious. We just don't go back very far.

As I write this post, I am awed by Jordan and what we experienced in our short 3 days there--Petra with the Nabataean civilization going back at least to the 1st century BC; the King's Highway an ancient route mentioned in the Biblical book of Numbers and traversed for centuries and centuries by travelers and traders of the ancient worlds; Mt. Nebo where Moses stood while God laid before him the Promised Land which he could not enter; the Crusaders' Fortress of Kerak built in the 12th century but a place that was historical Moab at the time of the exodus (13th or 15th century BC), the ruins of the Roman/Islamic citadel in Amman, the incredibly preserved and complete ancient Roman ruins of Jerash--one of the most comprehensive Roman ruins we have visited in our travels and, finally, Amman itself which was the home of the Old Testament Ammonites captured by David in the 10th century B.C. All of this within less than a day's drive of each other. These places are old!

We left Petra early in the morning as we wanted to take the longer route--the King's Highway--back to Amman. We were enthralled by the landscape as we tried to imprint the past on what we saw. As the picture above shows, this is desolate, desert, dry country. It is part of where Moses and his people wandered for 40 years. Now there are Bedouins eking out what to us appears to be subsistence living. The land seems no more hospitable now than it was when manna fell from the skies and yet, the Bedouins resist government efforts to dislodge them from their heritage. Their history is their DNA.

Our first stop was the crusaders' Kerak fortress, another fascinating first for us. We all know of the crusades, crusaders, atrocities and motivations of those times; however, we had never really seen a Crusador fortress and that is definitely what this was. It was large, complex, built of huge stones, situated on a hill overlooking the countryside, pretty impenetrable by enemy forces. We clamored around it for a while, climbing steep steps and exploring dark, dungy rooms.

Next, at a small village, Bashar, our driver/guide, stopped and bought sandwiches and food for a picnic. Along the road, not too long after this stop, there was a man with a small tent, table and chairs. This was our picnic setting. I will admit we were a little hesitant to eat the sandwiches as they were mostly vegetables with dressing type sauce and the shop from which they came really didn't inspire confidence; however, we knew that it would be terribly culturally impolite to refuse Bashar's offering. The reality was that the sandwiches were good and we remained quite healthy.

I am sure that this is a traditional stop for Bashar as the Bedouin had handcrafted jewelry and other items for sale which, of course, we bought. Where and when else would we have such an opportunity and they clearly would offer us good memories when back in rather mundane San Diego. This is where I took one of my all time favorite Casey pictures--one of those moments when by sheer accident the stars aligned for perfection.


From here we traveled down the King's Highway to the town of Madaba which has a very old Christian church with a famous mosaic floor. This town was the Old Testament Moabite town of Medaba. We spent a few minutes there and then traveled on to Mt.Nebo. 

I had really looked forward to this part of the trip but it was not what I had anticipated. I had in my mind's eye a high, majestic mountain looking over plains far below on all sides. It wasn't as high as I anticipated and with the construction on the churches, the fencing and other obstructions plus people (although not what it might be in better times) there was not the time for reflection nor were there the vistas that I would have liked. Because it was very hazy that day--which I understand is not unusual, we could not see Jerusalem in the distance and could barely make out Jericho which is not too far below. We could look in the direction of Jerusalem and so ended with at least a sense of the topography.

By this time we were tired--it had been a long day and we were ready for the hotel--which was an interesting experience in and of itself. For reasons I do not understand, Ahmed (remember he who planned our trip) decided we needed an end of trip treat and so had us staying at the Hotel Intercontinental--where the ritzy, jet-set, diplomates 1% stay. We didn't see what their rooms would have looked like, I might add, but I am sure ours was not one of them.

When we arrived at the hotel, there were blockades across the portico, requiring all vehicles to stop and have major security scrutiny including running detectors and mirrors under the car--reminiscent of when we crossed Checkpoint Charley in the days of the Berlin Wall. Having passed inspection, Bashar was allowed to park and help us and our luggage into the hotel.

The hotel had 3 restaurants...fancy, more fancy and Mexican. We opted for Mexican in Jordan to compliment our Italian and Indian in Egypt. Much to our surprise it was pretty good--almost like home.

Next and Finally: Roman Ruins and Home.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bedouins, Crusaders and Where Moses Stood

At the far end of Petra, guide/photgrapher Hamad Farajat, just happened to know the owner of the donkeys waiting up on the hillside. For a small sampling of Jordanian dinar, we could ride the donkeys to the top of the hill where we would then transfer to a truck to take us to Hamad's car so that he could drive us to a Bedouin camp--for another sampling of dinar. Why not? When would we have another opportunity like this? Never!


So we formed the donkey brigade. (aside: Hamad must have told the donkeys' owner of my horse escapade as he totally picked me up and lifted me on to the unsuspecting donkey--another embarrassing moment.) 

Happy Family Outing--in the Desert--on Donkeys

This really was another fun experience as we lurched up the hill. Below us was Petra in its splendor, surrounding us were desert hills below blue, blue skies, above us was a village built by the government when those living in ancestral caves of Petra were required to leave their cave homes.

I learned that donkey's truly are sure-footed as they step on crumbling limestone and shale. A couple of the paths were pretty uphill steep. A long the way we passed two quite pregnant camels which were the possession of our donkey owner; he had more elsewhere. As it turns out, he really appeared to be pretty wealthy by Jordanian desert standards. When we reached his village, we exchanged his donkeys for a 4 door, well-equiped truck which took us on a wild ride down the hills to Hamad's car. Obviously he had driven these paths before.

The Village above Petra

Hamad then took us on another bumpy, wild, really wild, ride in his car to two Bedouin family encampments. He offered us the opportunity to share a meal with the Bedouins which he assured us would be a memorable, fun experience; however, we who are normally quite intrepid travelers, turned him down. Once at the encampments, we knew we had made the wisest of decisions. It is very unlikely our constitutions could have handled the meal or that I would have been here to write about it.


Hamad parked the car a ways from the first family's tent so we walked over the desert rocks to get to it. There we were met by a young boy and two young women whom I think were his sisters. Casey, who loves, loves animals loved the adorable new born goats cavorting around a water pail--and the dogs. This is a short video of our tea time at the tent of our first visit.

Across the ravine we could see a larger family hillside complex with several camels, horses, a whole bunch of goats, some lambs and dogs and a nice white truck. Checking for and getting Hamad's OK, we walked over to meet the family who were very welcoming and seemed to enjoy showing us around. The wife showed us the inside of their tent, particularly how sturdy and weather proof the top of the tent was with heavily compacted matted animal hair--I have no doubt that it was quite rain proof. At one end were many neatly rolled rough but clearly heavy blankets which would be unrolled each night on the floor. This tent was quite large with a good size "living" area which doubled as the sleeping area at night. The far end where I suppose clothes and supplies were kept was blocked from sight by the tall pile of blankets.

Watching the sure-footed goats as they moved from one rock-cropping to another occupied us for a few minutes while the father of the camp had fun introducing Casey to a tethered camel. They immediately established a close friendship as you will see. The little girl taught me how to say thank you--but now I forget it.

Well, didn't get to the crusaders fortress or, more importantly, to Moses' last mountain. But..this is long enough for one read so will continue next time. I know it is taking a very long time to finish up this short 2 week trip. So..stay with me a little while longer.

Thanks for checking in. I appreciate my readers.

Oh, this is us relaxing after the heavy Petra, Bedouin day. The hotel general areas were really lovely.