A Travellerspoint blog

Final thoughts

sunny 26 °C

On the way home after a month, it's hard to reflect on all of our experiences and not get influenced by 'the recency effect' due to the sheer volume of unforgettable sights and unique moments. We knew that this would be a great trip and it has met all of our expectations with a few (in fact many) surprises along the way.

The first thing that comes to mind is a rich and layered past that seems to cover every volume of human history. We've walked in the footprints of so many peoples and empires and have been humbled by the opportunity to explore what they have left behind. The Egyptian Pharaohs, Alexander the Great, a sequence of Roman Caesars, the Byzantine Empire, then the armies of Islam, the Crusaders and more recently English, French, Arab and Jewish influences. All have left their mark on our travels.

While you can't escape religion as an omnipresent and central theme, there are far more commonalities among the people of the middle east than differences. Family values, faith and hospitality are core mixed with an underlying unease about the current geopolitical landscape. Like elsewhere, issues seem complex but the average person on the street has the same goal where ever you go - stability, security and peace. Also like elsewhere, the barrier seems to be a small number of extremists who are working against the needs of their own people, their own national interests and against progress for the region as a whole.

Enough soap box - highlights of this amazing trip gave been skiing in Lebanon, the souk in Aleppo, getting engaged in romantic Damascus, outstanding Roman and Egyptian ruins, sailing the Nile, camping with a Bedoin tribe, the raw energy of Jerusalem, Christ's birthplace on his birthday, Shabbat dinner, and the food everywhere.

Thank you so much to all the kind people who have helped us along the way with your generosity, friendship and local knowledge. Also a big thanks for the messages, it was great to stay in touch over the festive season. We can't wait to catch up next week.

CP & Lee

Posted by CP LEE 08:41 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

The Homous Weekly

Our first night in Syria I realized why Smart Traveller had issued the warning 'seriously reconsider your need to travel'- the homous was a national disaster. It was the worst, and it didn't help that we had to wash it down with non-alcoholic beer. The next day we treated ourselves to a big Syrian feast. the table was covered with an amazing array of food but I got a little suspicious when looking at a plate of grey coloured balls of meat- lambs testicles.. However tempting, I wasn't brave enough to try even with CP's delightful description "lambs testicles are to meat as motzarella is to cheese"
We had some delicious homous and beetroot dip in Damascus, actually all the food we had here was delicious (and cheap). We love Syria- 8.5 chickpeas out of 10.

The holy Grail of homous was definitely not in Jordan.. It was traveling from Syria to Jordan that we both got very ill.. I won't gross you out with the details, but yeah, it wasn't pretty.. Im not sure if we were delirious from feeling so sick, but at one stage i was convinced that the 2000yr old roman ruins in Gerash were still standing because of some ancient homous recipe that was holding the stones together. Anyway I took a little sample to do some homous DNA testing when we get back home, just to be sure.. Jordan 6.5 chickpeas

Israel and Palestine was a gastronomic delight.. Homous, falafel, cheeses, meat- everything looked, smelled and tasted amazing.. Im glad that food doesn't have a political agenda.. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are such interesting cities, could have spent a lot more time here, we really enjoyed our time (and food) here... Israel 9 chickpeas out of 10. *extra points for making such tasty falafel out of chickpeas too..

By the time we arrived in Egypt, I have to admit we were a little over homous and we went for a few days without having any.. We also had trouble finding beer with alcohol (why would ya??) Luxor pipped Cairo with some home cooking but overall the culinary standard was average - 5 chickpeas.

So in conclusion, Israel wins the gold medal for the best homous in the region, while the gold star for the best dish goes to the cafe in Lebanon whose warm and silky smooth texture with pine nuts and rich olive oil blew us away and could not be bested. Our next quest is to recreate this for you at home, wish us luck!

Posted by CP LEE 08:27 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt - the land of dust and Pharaohs

sunny 19 °C

Well we're in the home stretch, sitting on the East Bank of dusty Luxor, Egypt.

Since our last entry, we explored the desert of Wadi Rum in southern Jordan and ate / slept with a Bedouin family. This was such a unique experience right on the edge of the travelling comfort zone.

We re-entered Israel and stayed a few nights in Tel Aviv over NYE. This is definately the most cosmopolitan place that we've been to with an endless procession of outdoor cafes, kilometers of boutique clothes and jewellery and a lively bar / club scene. NYE was Friday night and Shabbat. We were lucky enough to be invited for Shabbat dinner with a mate's family (Sasi). Thanks so much Sas, your family are fantastic and the meal rates as the best on our trip. After the blessing, we were treated to scumptuous dish after dish before delicious sweets and coffee. It was great to be able to sit and talk with Israelis about their country and lifestyle. Afterwards, a few drinks at a cool bar was the perfect way to see in the new year. Happy New Year to you all!!

We spent new years day touring the Dead Sea. A trip highlight coming from a salty dip / float, smearing every inch of our bodies with therapeutic mud before being cleansed in a soothing hot spring - stimulating and relaxing at the same time.

We biked and shopped Tel Aviv and Jaffa before hopping on a flight to Cairo. Cairo is just as crazy as all the reports suggest (2+hr traffic grid lock included!!). We did however manage to get to the ticket office and score the last cabin on the overnight sleeper train south to Luxor. After an 8pm departure and simple dinner, we were ready for our bunk beds. There is something romantic and old worldly about a cabin on a train and not even the 5am wake up call dampened the experience.

Arriving at 6:15am left us with limited accomodation options but we finally found a traditional mud brick place which was perfect. Comforatable room in a shady garden with old school and hearty Egyptian food. Yesterday we cycled the tombs of the West Bank including the Valley of the Kings and Queens. Today we've seen the Temples of Karnak (boasting the largest religious building EVER built) and this afternoon we're sailing the Nile on a Felucca, a traditional and time tested wooden sailing boat.

Tomorrow we're back in Cairo to do the Pyramids, Sphinx and Cairo museum. We then start the trip home, via day and night in Abu Dhabi. We'll try and send a trip summary with photos from there (including the Gold medal for the "best homous in the Middle East")

CP & Lee

Posted by CP LEE 02:35 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Syria, Jordan and Israel

The the Promised Land and Back

sunny 23 °C

We hope you all are having a wonderful festive season with family and friends.

We've done a bit of mileage so we'll give you the highlights. From Damascus, we headed south to Bosra on a series of packed minibuses with dozens of eyes watching our every move. Bosra's home to an amazing 15,000 seat roman theatre but not much else so we sped on over the border into Jordan and the northern town of Jerash. It was a mad rush to get to the border before close and it was only for our cabby darting all over the 8 checkpoints that got us there. Over the border we realised his efforts we not all altruistic as he pulls a couple of cigarette cartons from under seats to sell at the nearest corner store - accessory to smuggling now on the list.

Jerash is another impressive Roman town complete with Hippodrome that still holds chariot races. From Jerash we got to the King Hussein border crossing with The West Bank. Although we knew it was Friday (Shabbat) and everything shuts after sundown, they closed the border early, leaving us with another mad dash 100km to the Jordan Bridge crossing in the north. Christmas day was on the line and we didn't want to be stuck in Jordan!! We though we had got through when the Israeli border control decided to withhold my passport for "Further Checks". After over 2 hours it was getting late and we wandered what I might have done - what did they have access to, who were they speak with?? The stern officer called my name and with the words "You're free", we were on our way.

We got to Jerusalem late and didn't have a room so we thought we'd be sleeping in a manger like that famous couple before us on this night. We found a room though and it was great to relax on Christmas Eve after a few days of fast paced travel. On Christmas day we got into the West Bank and Bethlehem to see the site where Jesus was born (where else on his birthday!). An atmosphere of singing and dancing by every race on earth met us in Manger Square in the front of the Church of Nativity. We saw the spot where he was born, had a big falafel meal (a local specialty) for Christmas lunch and got back to Jerusalem to watch sunset over the city from the top of the Jerusalem Gate.

Boxing Day was our time to explore Jerusalem, starting with the Wailing Wall where we joined the Orthodox in quiet prayer. The Dome of the Rock (one of the world's most photographed buildings) was equally as contemplative. This is where the foundation stone of the earth was laid by god and where the Mohammed ascended into heaven. The dome of gold was truly spectacular and it was easy to find a quiet place in the garden. We had lunch in the Jewish Quarter (fresh bagels of course), and then onto the Citadel for panoramic sunset views of the entire city and it's landmarks.

A twilight walk through the Christian Quarter souks led us the the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest in Christendom. Different rooms mark the spot where Jesus was stripped bare, nailed to the cross, brought down after his death and given to Mary for cleansing as well as his tomb and the place where his cross was found. Heavy with symbolism, bursting with faithful pilgrims and dominated by prayer. With our heads spinning, we wandered the tiny alleys back home to relax.

Regardless of your faith or lack of, it is impossible not to be inspired by this place and caught up in it's energy. We understand why this has been a focal point of human history and conflict. The Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter and Jewish Quarter all have their own design and environment, like three separate towns, yet they all live together within the walls of old Jerusalem with a palatable sense of tension and unease under the watchful eye of battle armed Israeli soldiers.

From Jerusalem, we caught the bus south with an Israeli Navy graduating class to Eilat and back into Jordan to visit the ancient city of Petra. Yesterday we hiked for 9 hours around this amazing place with one breathtaking view after another. After a Turkish Bath / Steam and a (naked) massage, we feel re-charged for our trip today into the desert of Wadi Rum. Tonight we camp all alone in the middle of the desert. Our trip so far has been an amazing mix of cultures, history, food and unique experiences, however it will be nice to enjoy some pure silence.

Love, CP & Lee

Posted by CP LEE 00:24 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Merry Christmas from Jerusalem

sunny 18 °C

Just a quick note to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Yesterday we crossed the river Jordan into Israel - border controls made me think that I might need divine intervention to cross into the promised land as Joshua did!

We spent Christmas Eve in Jerusalem and today, Christmas Day, we're heading to Bethlehem in the West Bank to see what they do at Jesus' birthplace on his birthday.

Hope you had a great day.
CP & Lee

Posted by CP LEE 23:35 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

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