Richard and Anita rose early the morning of Tuesday, October 5, 2010 to be at the Kelowna airport by 7 a.m. for our departing flight first to Calgary, AB then on to Frankfurt, Germany. The Kelowna airport is some 35 km / 22 miles from our Vernon home. It was sunny and 6 C / 43 F at both Kelowna and Calgary. Flying Lufthansa from Calgary to Frankfurt was a first for us and better in all respects than flying Air Canada. Our route to Frankfurt took us over Hudson Bay, across the southern tip of Greenland, just south of Iceland, over the north coast of Ireland and passing across England just north of Manchester, then south of Amsterdam before arriving in Frankfurt. We found our way to the connecting Lufthansa flight to Tel Aviv for which we had a 4 hour wait. Frankfurt was also 6 C / 43 F and sunny for our early morning arrival. Our security check before boarding our Tel Aviv flight included a very strict pat down. The flight to Tel Aviv was on a Boeing 747 and for 80 % of the flight we encountered mild turbulence. Arrived in Tel Aviv at 2 p.m. with 29 C / 84 F and sunny skies! It took us 2 hours to deplane, go through passport control, retrieve our luggage and take a taxi to our Sheraton Hotel on the waterfront and our first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea! Our hotel room on the 15 th floor offered a great view of the Sea and beach below. Bedtime that Wednesday came early following a relaxing drink and dinner.
Thursday, October 7
Both of us awoke refreshed and sunny skies greeted us! Today was a day to rest and adjust before meeting our Tour Director in the early evening. At 8:30 a.m. temperature was 24 C / 75 F and 29 C / 84 F in the afternoon all this in sunshine. We took a morning stroll on nearby streets and spent a relaxing afternoon on the beach across from the hotel enjoying the sights on the waters of the Mediterranean. That evening at 8 p.m. we met with the 2 Tour Directors for the Israel portion of the tour. Here we are 60 in number and thus split into 20 groups and 2 coaches. Received our first shock and surprise when we were advised that only cash would be accepted as payment for the Israel optional excursions purchased – Insight Vacations would not accept Visa or any other credit cards! This was a first for us in all our travels. Following this short first meeting some of us adjourned to the lounge to meet one another before retiring.
Friday, October 8
Day 1 of our tour and at 7 a.m. it looked to be another day of sunshine. We first toured parts of Tel Aviv that were instrumental in the formation of the State of Israel, one such stop being the Founders’ Monument, dedicated in 1949, and naming those who founded Tel Aviv. We also passed by the home of Tel Aviv’s first Mayor before moving on to Rabin Square, renamed such in 1995 following the assassination of then Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin. It is known for holding many political rallies, parades and other public events. We passed by the site where Rabin was assassinated before leaving Tel Aviv driving to Mini Israel – a miniature park featuring 330 replica models. Returning to Tel Aviv we encountered a brief rain shower Back in Tel Aviv we walked the sea wall and climbed the stairs in the ancient port of Jaffa. We ate a late lunch at Carmel Market, the city’s biggest marketplace, then at 3:45 p.m. returned to our Tel Aviv hotel. That evening we enjoyed a Shabbat dinner in the hotel and the buffet was outstanding!
Our stay at the Sheraton Hotel, Tel Aviv was one of our better ones. The hotel, as expensive as it was [we stayed one extra day], offered the finest in everything and service was just superb!
As we boarded our coach each morning we were provided with one bottle of bottled water [sometimes 2 per day in Egypt]. As well, our hotels provided one bottle per day so our need to buy bottled water was somewhat reduced.
Web Sites of Interest …
Rabin Square http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabin_Square
Carmel Market http://www.inisrael.com/tour/telaviv/markets.htm
Saturday, October 9
Today we left Tel Aviv bound for Galilee and an overnight stay in Tiberias. Departure time was 8 a.m. so the early mornings have begun! Partly cloudy skies at breakfast. Temperature highs have remained somewhat constant, 29 C / 84 F with little variation. Breakfast offerings today provided nothing fresh, no eggs prepared to order, all due to it being the Sabbath. Don’t get me wrong … still plenty of available choices. Departure was some half hour later than scheduled and our first stop was a detailed tour of the ruins of Caesarea,originally built in Herod’s time and providing numerous archaeological site attractions. Next onto Haifa, the largest city in northern Israel, built on the slopes of Mount Carmel and having history dating back to Biblical times. Here we enjoyed views of the Mediterranean from a lookout some 300 meters / 985 feet above the Sea. A short visit to Haifa’s Baha’i Gardens, a World Heritage Site followed. These gardens, located in the heart of Haifa, comprise a staircase of nineteen terraces extending all the way up the northern slopes of Mount Carmel. We then visited Acre, one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the country, to see the fortress, old harbour and walk The Templars Tunnel. Our drive continued on to Nazareth and a visit to the Church of Annunciation. At 5:30 p.m. we departed Nazareth arriving at our hotel in Tiberias one hour later. This had been a long, tiring day but one of the most enjoyable for what we saw. Our Tour Director had earlier told us that road sign and such all are printed in 3 languages – Arabic, Hebrew and English.
Web Sites of Interest …
Church of Annunciation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Annunciation
Our tour group consisted of 60 with members coming from Australia, England, South Africa, the U.S. and Canada. Women greatly outnumbered men on this tour as well as the ones to follow in Egypt and Jordan. The Aussies dominated the group in numbers, coming from places such as Newcastle, Melbourne and Sydney. The Americans, next in number of members, came from Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington State. We Canadians were 7 in number from Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Kamloops and Vernon.
Sunday, October 10
Clear skies greeted us upon waking and the day continued to be clear and warm. Our hotel room offered us a great view of the Sea of Galilee from our balcony. Our day began with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee providing us views of all the onshore structures of Tiberias. Leaving the boat we next viewed a video describing the procedure followed to raise the 2,000 year old Sea of Gaililee Boat recently discovered from the Sea before viewing said boat as it is on display today. We boarded our coach and went on to visit Capernaum,. Being a Holy Site, Richard and 3 others were not allowed on site to visit as we all were wearing shorts and our knees as such were not covered. Either the Tour Director erred in not advising us of this beforehand or we were remiss in not asking beforehand, either way we waited for the others at the coach. As well, the 4 of us could not take part in the visit to the Mount of Beatitudes. By now the sky had become overcast but still remained warm. We then followed the River Jordan to the Dead Sea. Along the way a big change in vegetation was noted as it became almost non-existant after having passed through fields of date and olive trees. The land now was almost harsh. We noticed boys on donkeys herding goats and a few camels on this segment of our drive. The Dead Sea is the lowest elevation on the Earth’s surface on dry land and later swimming in the bouyant waters was an experience not soon to be forgotten. At our hotel we were strongly advised NOT to use tap water for drinking or brushing teeth … only bottled water. This procedure we followed through to the end of our tour in Jordan. We enjoyed yet another tasty buffet dinner and our day concluded shorthly thereafter.
Web Sites of Interest …
Sea of Galilee http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_of_Galilee
Sea of Galilee Boat
aka Jesus Boat http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_of_Galilee_Boat
Mount of Beatitudes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_of_Beatitudes
River Jordan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jordan_River
Our coach on this Israel portion of the tour was a 2005 Volvo. Our driver was from Jerusalem while our Tour Directo came from Galilee. This coach did not have functional air-conditioning and in 30 – 35 C / 86 -95 F temperatures we felt no relief upon returning from any one excursion!
Monday, October 11
Sunny and hot in the desert as we departed this morning for Masada and a most interesting tour commencing with a cable-car ride up to the fortress. Built by Herod, Masada was the last bastion of Jewish freedom fighters against the Romans; its fall signalled the violent destruction of the kingdom of Judea at the end of the Second Temple period. The tragic events of the last days of the rebels at Masada transmored it into both a Jewish cultural icon and a symbol of humanity’s continuous struggle for freedom from oppression. The tour lasted the entire morning until lunch and temperatures were in the 35 C / 95 F range. After lunch en route to Jerusalem we paid a quick visit to a road side Wildlife Park to see the wild goats there and afterwards camels and more goats were spotted. Our first stop in Jerusalem was Mount Scopus near the Hebrew University campus for breath taking views over the city. Our final stop before arriving at our hotel was to King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion. This site has been traditionally been viewed as the burial place of King David, the second king of Israel. We viewed the entrance door to the Room of The Last Supper and the Western Wall as well. That evening the Optional Excursion, Jersualem By Night
Had us drive through flood lit Jerusalem viewing major ancient sites and monuments. We entered the walled old city on foot and walked the ancient Jewish Quarter to the Wailing Wall.
Web Sites of Interest …
Mount Scopus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Scopus
King David’s Tomb http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David's_Tomb
The Last Supper http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Supper
Western / Wailing Wall http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Wall
Tuesday, October 12
Sunshine greeted us once more upon waking and first up today was the Bethlehem Excursion, an Optional Escursion we had previously purchased. We visited Manger Square and Church of the Nativiity, one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. The structure is built over the cave that tradition marks as the the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth, and is considered sacred by followers of both Christianity and Islam. We were upset to find that the Church was undergoing major reconstruction resulting in having to wait in long lineups, seeing nothing much more than scaffoldings, barrier tapes restricting access to numerous areas and pipes being refitted or replaced. There were limited photo opportunities as a result. Travel to and from Bethlehem was quite an experience. Long, and we do mean long, lines of traffice on each side of the border as traffic flow is only one lane in each direction. Returning to Jerusalem from Bethlehem we were met by armed guards at the border crossing. Two guards, young women in their early 20s, carrying guns, borded our coach and had each of us produce our passport before we were allowed to continue back to Jerusalem.
We next visited the Shrine of the Book, containing the Dead Sea Scrolls and were given the history of same by our Tour Director – just an outstanding exhibit! Finally we toured Yad Vashem, the moving museum commemorating the Jewish people killed during the Holocaust – another outstanding venue! Yad Vashem is the second most visited tourist site in Israel, after the Western Wall. That eveing we were on our own for dinner so 8 of us banded together to enjoy the local cuisine.
Web Sites of Interest …
Manger Square http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manger_Square
Church of the Nativiity http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Nativity
Shrine of the Book http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrine_of_the_Book
Yad Vashem http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yad_Vashem
Wednesday, October 13
This was our last full day in Israel and yet another glorious sunny morning greeted us. We handed in our Tour Evaluations that morning.
The e-tickets and itinerary for our upcoming flight to Cairo were given to us calling for an 11 a.m. departure on Thursday morning. Not all our group continuing on to Egypt were as fortunate as we were. Ten members received word of a different flight, flying out early Friday morning and with a different airline. Members so affected come from Australia, Canada and the U.S.and they immediately began an appeal to Insight Vacations to have their flights rescheduled.
We lost some of our group after today as not all continued on to Egypt.
Our days’ touring began with a drive to Mount of Olives for views of the Old City then visited Gethsemane on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. Next, we entered the Temple Mount at the north end and walked the 14 Stations of the Cross seeing along the way the Pool of Bethesda and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We exited the Temple Mount in the Jewish Quarter and visited the Wailing Wall for a second time, this time in daylight. All of this on foot, some 5 + hours of walking and standing! We returned to the hotel for relaxing drinks prior to 15 of us getting together for our final meal in Israel at a nearby Italian restaurant.
Web Sites of Interest …
Temple Mount http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Mount
Stations of the Cross http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stations_of_the_Cross
Pool of Bethesda http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pool_of_Bethesda
Church of the Holy Sepulchre http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Holy_Sepulchre
Wailing Wall http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Wall
Thursday, October 14
Another sunny morning for our early morning departure [7 a.m.] for the airport in Tel Aviv and our scheduled 11 a.m. departure for Cairo, Egypt. Our taxi ride to Ben Gurion Airport was without incident and once inside our security check-in began. Our luggage went through X-Ray and at the end we saw luggage being opened and checked by staff, believing we also would be subjected to this tedious process also. Fortunately not, and we next were directed to the check-in counter, issued our boarding passes then on our way through security once more and finally our departure gate. The flight departed one-half hour lateer than scheduled. Our flight information had us flying Air Sinai however the plane we boarded was EgyptAir. Flight time to Cairo was 1 hour and 5 minutes arriving there to a temperature of 37 C / 99 F – Egypt was in the midst of a heat wave our Insight Rep later told us. We proceeded to Passport Control only to be turned back as we did not see the sign advising us to first obtain our Visa before proceeding through Control. So we went though the line to Passport Control twice. After baggage pickup and being met by the Insight Vacations Rep there was a 30 minute ride to our hotel and our first exposure to Cairo road traffic. There no one follows the designated lanes, if 4 lanes are marked out there could be 6 or 7 lanes of traffic in one direction! Arriving at our Marriott Hotel we, and our luggage, had to pass through X-Ray security, just like at the airport …first time ever in all our travels we were subject to this! We later learned this to be the norm in Egypt wherever we went and wondered many times how reliable these checks were as we saw staff chatting to one another and not watching the screens as our luggage passed though X-Ray! This complex, the Marriott Hote is huge, some 1,200 rooms! Each time you exit and return you need go through a security check. After a brief Happy Hour, 5 of us had an enjoyable dinner at a nearby Pub to close out our day.
Friday, October 15
Overnight the 10 group member that had the late flight arrangemeents arrived at the Cairo airport around 2 a.m. we had been told and at 5 a.m. were at our hotel. At 9:30 a.m. we all met with the Insight people to deal with the Egypt portion of our tour Again, 2 groups and we remained with those we had travelled with in Israel, travelling first to the Egyptian Museum. The group now totalled 56 and we had lost a number of our U.S. people and those from South Africa but had gained a number of Australians and a New Zealand couple into our group, some whom we had met earlier. Drinking water is a huge concern for tourists here. We were told NOT to drink tap water but use bottled water even to brush one’s teeth and rinse the toothbrush. Consumption of any food [ie. Saldalds] that have been washed is also a “no no” except for within our hotel.The Museum tour was far too long and the Museum offered very few rest area where one could sit nor did it offer air conditioning. Next if was off to the Citidal of Saladin, a fortification in Cairo. Today was hot as was the previous day and our air conditioned coach offered us relief following each excursion. These tours ended around 4 p.m. and we still had not had lunch, our Tour Director choosing not to have us eat outside our hotel for health reasons. Back at the hotel we freshened up, had a relaxing drink and an early dinner before retiring.
Web Sites of Interest …
Egyptian Museum http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_Museum
Citidal of Saladin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cairo_Citadel
Our Tour Director, Essam, is 50 years old, born and raised in Cairo. Prior to this current stint in tourism he was a policeman for 11 years. We were issued listening devices for our time here in Egypt and they proved most beneficial in the large crowds we found ourselves in from time to time. Whenever Essam directed us to move he would say “Shake a leg” and so all of us deemed this the Shake A Leg Tour! His humour came through by referring to a bathroom visit as the “Temple of Relief” and Kentucky Fried Chicken became “Kentucky Fried Camel” .
Saturday, October 16
We had an early morning flight to Luxor scheduled this morning and a 6:30 a.m. arrival at the Cairo airport with the temperature being 30 C / 86 F and by 7 a.m. it was 31 C / 88 F in sunshine that one could barely see for the extreme pollution evident in Cairo. The sun in Cairo was always obscurred by haze. Upon arrival in Luxor we toured our first of what was to be many temples, the Karnak Temple, a vast open-air museum and the largest ancient religious site in the world. It believed to be the second most visited historical site in Egypt, second only to the Giza Pyramids near Cairo. Returning to our coach it was now much hotter, some 35 C / 95 F or more. We were driven to our ship the MS Medea for our river cruise on the Nile. The embarkation process was quick and well organized leaving us ample time to unpack and explore before lunch. Our ship had no elevators so we requested a cabin on the main floor to avoid the stairs. The Medea has 60 cabins and ours was more than adequate for our 4 night stay. At 3 p.m. we left to tour Luxor Temple, a large complex located on the east bank of the River Nile in the city of Luxor. Temperatures were 42 C / 108 F during our afternoon tour and later after dinner, 35 C / 95 F at 7 p.m. – hot!. Following dinner that evening we attended the Sound & Light Show at Karnak Temple.
Web Sites of Interest …
Karnak Temple http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karnak
MS Medea http://www.egypthotels.net/msmedea/
Sunday, October 17
To avoid the heat our first tour today departed at 6 a.m. and by 6:45 a.m. were at the Valley of the Kings information center. Our drive to the Valley of the Kings provided us our first glimpse of lush farmlands along the Nile. Our admission allowed us to visit 3 tombs but no photos were allowed! It was another hot day, temperatures in the low 40s C / 104 F and sunny. Those we chose [Anita stayed behind] were spectacular in that the drawings/writings for the post part were still clear and colourful. A great place to visit and explore! Next came a visit to Deir el-Bahari, a a complex of mortuary temples and tombs located on the west bank of the Nile, opposite the city of Luxor, the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut and the Colossi of Memnon. Returning to the ship we stopped at a pottery and carpet shop, first to view the process of pottery construction then inside for shopping for those who wanted to and the numbers were high. Leaving the shop our coach developed a problem that allowed us to drive forward only in first gear as any attempt to shift up caused us to stall. Needless to say, we had an extremely slow ride back to the ship! Following lunch at about 1:15 p.m. we finally began our cruise on the Nile! There were 5 of us sitting in the lounge enjoying the passing scenery through to 4 p.m. when all retired to their respective cabins. Of particular interest were the number of other ships on the River vying for position.
Prior to dinner a group of us had discussions with Essam, our Tour Director, on life as it is today in Egypt. He responded to questions on life styles, education, health, some aspects of politics and religions in his country.
Web Sites of Interest …
Valley of the Kings http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valley_of_the_Kings
Deir el-Bahari http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deir_el-Bahari
Temple of Queen Hatshepsut http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatshepsut
Colossi of Memnon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colossi_of_Memnon
Monday, October 18
This morning a brief reprieve as we had an 8 a.m. departure allowing for a bit of sleep in. It was hot again as we visited the Edfu Temple, 41 C / 106 F and even more so inside the temple walls. The Temple of Edfu is an ancient Egyptian temple located on the west bank of the Nile. It is the second largest in Egypt and one of the best preserved. The morning crowds were the heaviest we’ve experienced so far. By 10:30 a.m. we were back onboard our ship and cruising the Nile amidst heavy traffic, at times 4 abreast and all travelling in the same direction. We had a brief meeting with our Tour Director who outlined for us what to expect for the balance of our cruise and then our flight back to Cairo. Extreme, and we repreat, extreme pollition eminated from our vessel and the others on the water! Hopefully our photos will capture this. After lunch we enjoyed a period of relaxation until our next stop at 4 p.m. and our second Temple visit of the day, the Kom Ombo Temple, unusual in that it is a double temple, with one side dedicated to the god Haroesis and the other side to Sobek. Returning to our ship we had about a 45 minute wait to board as other vessels, some 4 to 6 abreast, began to leave whiles others vied for position, at times hitting the dock and coming very close to ramming one another. During this time we had no alternative but to stand and wait in the extreme heat. Once again, pollution from the diesel fumes of the ships was extremely bad. Dinner that evening had an Egyptian theme and many of the group chose to dress up to suit the occasion. Later a “party” was held in the lounge with crew member in attendance and participating.
Web Sites of Interest …
Temple of Edfu http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_Edfu
Temple of Kom Ombo http://www.sacred-destinations.com/egypt/kom-ombo.htm
Tuesday, October 19
In dock at Aswan, an early morning departure at 6:30 a.m. to visit the Unfinished Obelisk. It was sunny and turning hot as we climbed a combination of rock/stone stairs, wooden platforms as well as walking over rock mounds to reach the Obelisk. Back to our coach we drove over the Aswan Low Dam but could not take photos as we crossed a military zone. Next, at the High Dam, the larger and newer of the two, we stopped for photos and a walk about. The High Dam is huge … 3,830 meters / 12,565 feet long; 40 meters / 131 feet wide; and 111 meters / 365 feet tall. Lake Nasser was created as a result of the construction of the Aswan High Dam and is some 550 km / 342 miles long and 35 km / 22 miles wide at its widest point. Next came a visit to the Island of Philae on the Nile and a visit to the Temple of Isis at Philae. We witnessed more extreme pollution expelled by the small motorboats that we rode. A visit to a perfume factory was our next choice but we opted to return to the ship. It was reported to be 42 C / 108 F at 1:45 p.m. We had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves as we chose no optional excursions it being far too hot. By account our time cruising the Nile was actually 2 days in duration yet our Tour says 4 days – this because on Day 1 and 3 we did not move and on Day 4 exited the ship. Following dinner we attended a display of Egyptian dancing, including belly dancing and audience participaiton was encouraged thoughout the evening.
Web Sites of Interest …
Unfinished Obelisk http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unfinished_obelisk
Aswan Dam http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aswan_Dam
Temple of Isis at Philae http://www.eyelid.co.uk/philae1.htm
Wednesday, October 20
We left our ship today and flew back to Cairo in the afternoon. Yet another sunny and hot day in Aswan and we arrived to a more respectable 30 C / 86 F in Cairo. This city of some 18 million has so much smog and pollution the sun is barely visible through the haze. Run down buildings, streets littered with garbage, children begging in the streets, signs of poverty … all common sites in this city. We found the street vendors in Egypt to be the most persistent and rude of all the contries we’ve had the pleasure of visiting. We’re back at the Marriott Hotel for 2 more nights --- pure luxury after our 4 nights on board the MS Medea. That evening we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner and being served our meal in one of the hotel’s restaurants … not a buffet dinner!
Thursday, October 21
At 7:15 a.m. we were on the road heading for our first tour, the Pyramids of Giza. Never dreamed of seeing the Pyramids in person after having studied them as a child – what a sight! Richard’s biggest surprise was to see how close each one was to the other, always of the belief that they were built far apart from each other. Cairo’s high was to be 30 C / 86 F and the polluted skies served to block out the sun until we left the city. Skies then cleared to provide us with sunshine and temperatures of 35 C / 95 F . The Giza Pyramid experience was fantastic and during our 3 hour stay some members chose to have a camel ride. Next came a visit to the Imhotep Museum, at Saqqara site of the Step Pyramid … a most interesting experience. Then, we got up close and personal to see the Sphinx and what great photo opportunities! Lunch then followed and as usual we were told beer and wine were available for purchase if we so desired. This was not to be as for some reason the facility had none on hand. Not a problem. Our Tour Director complained loudly to management [he later told us he was mad] and sometime during our meal the alcohol was delived to the restaurant. Once back on the coach he came came aboard with some 6 bottles of beer, free, for those of us who had asked for but did not receive same during the meal. Our drive took us next to Memphis, Egypt to tour the open air museum, Mit Rahina, to see the Statue of Ramesses II and the Alabaster Sphinx. That concluded our time in Egypt save for a pleasant drive back to our Marriott Hotel passing by date palm groves and various cultivated fields. Dinner that night was Italian with a large number of our group gathering togeher.
Web Sites of Interest …
Pyramids of Giza http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pyramid_of_Giza
Inhotep Museum at Saqqar http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/imhotepmuseum.htm
[Step Pyramid] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Step_pyramid
Mit Rahina http://www.touregypt.net/memphis.htm
Friday, October 22
We arose very early [3:30 a.m.] to ready ourselves and have breakfast to meet our 5:30 a.m. hotel departure for the airport and our 8:30 a.m. scheduled flight to Amman, Jordan. At 10:30 a.m it ws 26 C / 29 F and sunny for our arrival in Amman. Insight Vacations Reps very ably assisted us with our Visa procument and passport control process. Our drive to the Crowne Plaza Amman Hotel was a huge wake-up call to what we left behind in Egypt. Our first impression -- Jordan offered clean, modern structures, sidewalks free of debris and signs of on-going construction – a country that prospered! After our hotel check-in [yes, more X-Ray screening] we had the rest of the day to relax. The second group was flying in later with arrival scheduled for that eveing.
Saturday, October 23
For the first time on tour, cloudy skies upon waking that later burned off by 9:30 a.m. and later 28 C / 82 F was the days high. First day of our Jordan Tour and for us we hit a brick wall at the onset! The group size had now swelled to some 76 and for the past 18 days of touring Israel and Egypt we had been together with the same people. Now, Insight Vacations in their wisdome (?) chose to remove 10 of us and place us with a group of strangers … 28 folks we had not travelled with previously. We immediately asked that we switch with 10 others and thus allow our group to remain intack, giving our reasons, but it was not to be! We later learned the other group also was not happy with this arrangement. Our first stop was in Jerash for a visit to the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa. Walking the site was not easy, numerous steps carved out of rock, hills and much uneven ground. Aside from the walking difficulties, the tour was excellent. We even came upon vendors playing the bagpipes of all things for tips! Lunch and cool drinks came next and upon returning to our coach we were finally provided with our daily botttle of water. We assumed the Jordan crew were slow getting their act together! Next we travelled to Mount Nebo, where according to Jewish and Christian tradition, Moses was buried by God himself, and his final resting place is unknown. Here the monastary at the Memorial to Moses was undergoing renovations so no visit was possible. Then at 5 p.m. after our last bathroom stop we began our 300 km / 186 mile drive to Petra. Sunset was at 6 p.m. with darkness following at 6:30 and some 2 hours later at 8:30 p.m. we arrived at our hotel enduring 2 hours of night touring! Certianly not what we signed up for when this Tour was chosen! We agreed that Insight be told that they need revise this itinerary by adding another day or shortening what is planned for and giving ample time to reach Petra in daylight. Our day on the coach had now reached 12 hour in duraiton and we still had hotel check-in and dinner to go before retiring. Our hotel in Petra was the hotel of all hotels … a renovated authentic XIXth century village! The refurbishment of the old village houses was carried out in keeping with the original architectural style leaving nothing modern as we know it! The bedrooms were furnished and decorated to suit the architectural style and the village type setting and rated a 4 star facility on the internet! Rooms were accessible via a combination of stairs and walkways [no elevators]. We were subjected to a 2 night stay … our worst accommodation of the entire 21 day tour!
Otherwise we continued to be most impressed with Jordan, the clean air, tidy streets and modern buildings. Drinking water remains a problem so we stuck with bottled water for all our needs.
Our Tour Director, Hassan Abu Zayed, lacked effective time management skills as did the other two in both Israel and Egypt AND he continuously offered personal opinions and spoke without end about his family, his wife, children and mother. A Tour Director should, in almost all instances, remain impersonal when speaking to his charges … this man did not! He also spoke far too long at each venue, especially on the last day when all wanted to return to the Hotel to rest and get ready to travel home.
Our coach used in Jordan was a 2010 model and the PA microphone used by our Tour Director kept shorting out and worked only some 50 – 60 % of the time, leaving us with commentary that was useless. He even tried speaking without the microphone but only those closest to him could hear, the others could not. No effort it seemed was made to remedy the situation during the course of our Jordan tour.
Web Sites of Interest …
Mount Nebo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Nebo_(Jordan)
Bait Zaman Hotel http://www.asiatravel.com/jordan/petra/baitzaman/index.html
Sunday, October 24
A bright and sunny day that later would see 30 C / 86 F as the temperature high, very comfortable with no humidity. Petra is is located in the mountains and Al Khazneh is Petra's most elaborate ruin. Today a walking tour going through the canyon and sandstone cliffs of Petra, some 15 km / 9.5 miles was scheduled. Arriving on site and looking at the terrain we decided the walk was too strenuous for the two of us to keep up with the abled walkers in our group so opted to do only half the trek and so purchased a return ride by horse and buggy. The scenery was spectacular, the walkway at times steep andrough [cobblestone] as we rode to The Treasury. We were in a deep gorge with high walls on both sides. At The Treasury we obtained many good photos while waiting for the others to arrive and continue on. After our return we walked from the Visitor Center to the Crown Plaza Resort, home of our other group. Here we had relaxing drinks and a lieusrley lunch on the paitio before returning to our hotel to await the return of the others.
Web Sites of Interest …
Petra, Jordan http://www.unescoworldheritagesites.com/petra_jordan.htm
Monday, October 25
The last day of our Tour and we later returned to Amman for our last night in Jordan before all of us went our separate ways home bound. Sunshine and 30 c / 86 F later became the days high. We departed our hotel [yes!] at 8:30 a.m. and some 30 minutes later were at Shobak Castle, a 12 th century crusader fortress. A combination of early morning fog and sun overhead dictated that no photos could be taken. After some one plus hours wait while the others walked to and from the dwelling we departed for Amman and some 3 + hours driving on a divided highway we all deemed rough we arrived and had a driving tour of both old and new Amman. Other stops included a visit to the Roman Amphitheatre and Citadel Hill. When we finally arrived at our Crowne Plaza Hotel a number of us met in the lounge for pre-dinner drinks, discussions on the day and the Jordan tour just ended. No more wake-up calls! For our last dinner together in Amman, 12 of us sat together, talking of the fun and hardships of the tour, taking photos and saying good bye to those leaving later that night or early the following morning.
Web Sites of Interest …
Shobak Castle http://www.atlastours.net/jordan/shobak.html
Roman Amphitheatre http://www.atlastours.net/jordan/roman_ruins.html
Citadel Hill http://www.atlastours.net/jordan/the_citadel.html
Tuesday, Wednesday, October 26, 27
Our flight home did not depart until 3 a.m. on the 27 th so, rather than spend the day at the hotel, we together with 4 others in one van plus 4 more in a second van arranged to spend the day at the Dead Sea, this time on the Jordanian side. Driving there took 1 hour and we accessed the water via the Holiday Inn, only 8 months old. This time we were not rushed, had about 2 hours in the water and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves with 35 C / 95 F and sunshine. Shoreline into the water here was gravel, unlike on the Israel side where we walked on rock salt. Many in our group chose to cover themselves with mud from the sea then wash it off … presumably good for the skin? Back at our hotel by 4 p.m. for drinks then dinner and the long wait until 11:30 p.m. when Insight took us to the airport for our home bound flight. Our flight to Frankfurt was without incident. Our route from Frankfurt to Calgary saw us pass just south of Amsterdam, then we flew up the North Sea not crossing either England or Ireland, then north of Iceland and over the top end of Hudsun Bay. We continued west then passed over Lake Athabaska and Edmonton before landing in Calgary, passing through customs and continuing on to Kelowna where friends met us and drove us home to Vernon arriving the afternoon of the 27 th around 2 p.m.
As you may or may not know, the Dead Sea is some 1,385 feet BELOW seal level after which we then flew first to Frankfurt then on to Calgary at an altitude of 38,000 feet … such a contrast! As well the temperature was about 30 C / 86 F when we left for the airport Tuesday evening at 1130 p.m. then in Frankfurt, 4 C /39 F at 6:30 a.m. and Calgary was – 2 C / 28 F at 11:30 a.m. and Kelowna was 9 C / 48 F upon our arrival Wednesday afternoon.
Thursday, October 28
While watching TV that evening, the Nature of Things became one of our choices an it proved most interesting! The program featured the East Africa Rift and the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia, providing us with a look back at the many sites we had just visited on tour – in Egypt, The Temple of Luxor, the Unfinished Obelisk, the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza, segments of the Nile Rivers, Aswan and the Aswan Dam; in Jordan, Petra and the Gorge walk to The Treasury; in Israel, the Dead Sea and Masada. Both of us exclaimed from time to time “We were there!” and “We saw that!”” A great program, better seeing AFTER our tour, than before.
We’ve now visited Asia and Africa … another dream come true as neither of us ever had designs on doing so previously.
Our tour was not one that was relaxing ... anything but! Our days started extremely early and ended late ... one example is our arrival at Petra in Jordan. The morning departure was 8:30 a.m. and at 8:30 p.m. we arrived at our hotel in Petra still having to check into our rooms and eat a very late dinner. The last 2 hours before Petra we drove in the dark ... didn't know we signed up for night touring when we chose this tour! Every day had challenges ... heat, long [and I mean long] walking distances, much of which was not easy with numerous steps up and down, and very few stops to rest. The stops we made were only to hear our guide explain the history of what we were about to see so that meant standing still in one spot.
The rewards of scenery and history made the trip worthwhile despite the schedule, heat and distances, although at times we felt we had "information overload" from all that was imparted to us! Both Anita and I are glad to have done it and had we done this via a cruise, believe we would have been greatly short changed in that the cruise could not offer excursions to all we did see.