Thursday, 28 February 2019

Hilton Garden Inn (Rome, Italy)

Hussein and I said our good-byes at the Cairo airport early yesterday morning. He was able to get on an earlier flight back to Luxor and my flight to Rome was scheduled to leave at about the same time.

Hard to believe that I’ve been traveling for nearly three years and this is my first time in Rome. I knew there would be a lot to see here so I’m staying until the 7th of March. It wasn’t planned to wait this long to visit Rome, it just worked out that way. Nice to know the weather looks good for while I’m here.

I arrived at Fiumicino International Airport on time, made it through Passport Control fairly quickly and picked up my suitcase. Doing prior research, I learned there are a number of ways to get into Rome from the airport. I selected the easiest and quickest way – the Leonardo Express.

I knew I was tired, because of the early flight, but also seemed like I was coming down with a cold. When I asked the person selling the tickets for the Leonardo Express where to catch the train, she was only willing to point to the station and not tell me which track I will find the train. I normally don’t get very irritated, but I kept my mouth shut and didn’t press the point. I just walked toward the tracks and asked a few people until someone pointed out the LE train to me.

When I arrived via the LE (Leonardo Express) at Rome Termini (the main station in Rome) I was not feeling any better and decided to take a taxi to the hotel rather than a bus. All was well with the taxi driver until it became time to pay. I noticed that the fare had doubled as we arrvied to the hotel to 24 Euro. I thought that maybe it was doubled because of the time of day. When I gave him a 50 Euro bill and he returned 10 Euro I looked him in the eye and said, “You need to give me back 26 Euro.” And handed him back the 10 Euro. Another lesson learned, even some licensed taxi drivers (thankfully not all) will on occasion try to cheat you.

By the time I got to my room I was dead tired. Soon after, I was asleep. When I woke the first time I took a decongestant then fell asleep for another hour. I realized I told Barbara that I’d call her when I arrived in Rome and fortunately it was a good time for her to talk. We have our trip to Malta fairly well planned out, but need to work on our activities in Sicily. We made good progress and I’m feeling good about what we have planned.

By this time I needed food and walked down the street until I found a pizza place, just to get a quick take out. Their calzone looked good so I ordered that. Just 3 Euro. On the way back to the hotel I passed a pharmacy and on a hunch went in to see if they carried a pain reliever that contained naproxen, the active ingredient in Aleve. They did! As I’ve written before, Aleve isn’t sold in Europe and never over the counter. You have to ask for it. My back has been acting up and I ran out (finally) of the supply that Corrine brought me over a year ago. Barbara will bring me a fresh supply when I see her next month. This small supply will keep my back in good working order until I see Barbara.

It was an early night last night for me and slept very well until morning. This morning I was up fairly early for my Hilton breakfast. The scrambled eggs here were the best I’ve ever had at a Hilton. Also, I like my room very much. Nothing fancy, but good-sized, large bed, balcony and it faces away from the busy street.

I did return to my room after breakfast and fall asleep again, then began to unpack before setting off to explore Rome. I wasn’t in too much of a rush to leave because I knew it was going to be a long day since I have an evening Segway tour. But I managed to get out of the hotel by 1:30 and took my time to walk to my first stop, Trevi Fountain. Along the way I stopped a number of times, not just to rest my back, but to enjoy the everyday Italian people – walking, driving, talking, etc. I knew I was headed towards the tourist part of the city and enjoying some relaxing time along the way seemed like a good introduction to the city.

I managed to get to the fountain by 3:15 and took several pictures while I was there. Took a video of a couple who just got engaged. I wasn’t expecting that! The fountain is so beautiful and the monument in the background makes the whole scene work perfectly. But now I was hungry and wanted to see the Pantheon before meeting up with the Segway tour at 4:30. I wasn’t looking for a McDonald’s and just when I was getting ready to commit to one place I saw the McDonald’s sign down the next block. Perfect!

By the time I ate my burger I decided to walk directly to the Segway tour place. It was a good thing I did. It was very busy around that area and got turned around a couple of times before locating the tour office.

Turned out it was just three of us. A couple from Wales and me. As a result, we were able to get a somewhat early start. After a little Segway practice we were on our way. I’m not going to list everything we saw, but we saw some traditional sites and were introduced to a few that were not on any of our lists. We had a great time and discovered that our guide is an expert at knowing where to find the best gelato and what excellent gelato should taste like. Around the tourist areas you can find gelato shops down every street and our guide knew which ones were good and the ones to avoid.

After three hours of riding a Segway we were all ready to call it an evening. The couple from Wales were about half my age, but good to see we were all equally done in.

When I got back to the hotel (via taxi) I stopped by a different shop (than the one last night) across the street and ordered a ham-egg-cucumber sandwich for 2.5 Euro. That is all I want tonight. I’ll be in bed soon after finishing this blog update. Not sure what I’m going tomorrow, but there is so much to see, I’m sure I’ll find something.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Downtown Hilton Hotel (Beirut, Lebanon)

Was up fairly early to be ready for my tour of a few places outside of Beirut, beginning today at 11:00 a.m. I arranged for a driver to pick me up from the hotel and drive to one of the villages outside of the city, then up to a cedar forest, and finally to Our Lady of Lebanon to view the sunset.

My driver, Akram, was ready at 11:00 and we were on our way. As we left Beirut we drove through a number of towns, making our way to our first stop, the city of Zahlé. This city is known for many homes with red roofs and a historical castle. This stop gave us a chance to walk around and stretch our legs.

On the way to Zahlé we started the first of many conversations about world politics, religion and Trump. We actually started talking about Trump before we left Beirut. My driver started the discussion and had many questions. It gave me a chance to vent my frustration with current events.

Also along our drive Akram told me about what it was like growing up in Lebanon, his education and family, and even movies he likes. His English wasn’t great but seemed to improve the more we talked. French is taught in school along with English. The French controlled Lebanon for a number of years which is why there is such a strong influence of the language in Lebanon. A little over half of the people who live in Lebanon are Muslim and around 30% are Christian.

After Zahlé we continued driving upwards until we reached an entrance to the Shouf Biosphere Cedar Reserve. Akram mentioned the special honey that is made from the cedar trees and sold at the small store at the entrance. We were able to have a small sample of the rich-tasting honey. From there we proceeded up the hill. After a few minutes the snow was falling and accumulating quickly and I just as I recommended we start back down his car began to slide. I wanted to see some snow, but perhaps I wanted snow too much because it was snowing heavily by this point. We made it back safely, but not before I became concerned that we would get stuck along the way.

After driving for about 15 minutes down the hill we stopped in a small town to have lunch. He recommended a restaurant that served a variety of local foods. I decided that I’d rather have a hamburger. I’d already explained that I’m not too adventuresome when it comes to food. The hamburger turned out very well and the bun was loaded with sesame seeds which I love.

On the way to our final destination we passed the school he attended until the 8th grade before going to “college”, which I gathered was like our high school. From there we drove back into Beirut to get to our final destination. Heavy traffic made our journey take longer than planned. We talked about so many subjects, mostly world affairs, that I suggested we could write a book or produce videos. We could name them, “Discussions By Two Men In A Car”. We seemed to be in complete agreement as how to solve international and domestic problems.

As it was getting close to sunset, we started our drive up the hill to Our Lady of Lebanon, a church and garden located high on a hill to the north of Beirut, about halfway to Tripoli. Akram drove a bit faster to make sure I was able to see the sunset that was already starting to form. When we arrived in the parking lot I quickly made my way to the viewpoint and was able to take many pictures of the sunset. It was one of the best sunsets I’ve seen in many years. Yes, even better than the ones I saw in Larnaca.

At the Our Lady of Lebanon location, there was a tall Marian shrine (mother of Jesus) statue that is reminiscent of the Christ the Redeemer statue above Rio de Janeiro. Both are very large statues placed over a high point over a city. We walked around for a few minutes before driving back into the city.

Though we really only stopped at a few locations, our journey today took over 6 hours. Most of it driving and talking. I told Akram that today was exactly what I had in mind. First to see more of Lebanon, to learn more about the Lebanese people, visit the Cedars of Lebanon (and hopefully see some snow), visit a village and then watch a beautiful sunset. My expectations were greatly exceeded and thanked him for the snow and the sunset. We both laughed.

After we said our good-byes I returned to my room for a nap. When I walked into the main room it felt like a sauna. I guess the heating was not quite fixed since it seemed as though it was on full blast even though the thermostat was only set to 20 degrees Celsius. I just turned it off and soon it was fine. Thankfully I had turned off the heat in the bedroom.

After my nap I ordered the same dinner from room service that I had the night before. Why not? I really enjoyed the fire-roasted chicken. It wasn’t too long before I turned in for the evening.

Tomorrow I will walk around the downtown area of Beirut and visit the marina. Also will prepare for my visit to Cairo the following day.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Hilton Dead Sea Hotel and Spa (Dead Sea, Jordan)

Was up early to meet Mamoot at 7:30. Showered, packed, ate breakfast, checked out and met Mamoot shortly before 7:30. Good to see him one last time before I leave Jordan.

We arrived at the airport on time and was through all of the airport processes in a little over 45 minutes. This gave me time for a small snack before walking to the gate. I was first planning to visit the Starbucks but the line was so long. Next to Starbucks was a smaller coffee shop with only one person in line, so I went there.

I decided not to have coffee but rather fresh orange juice and an oat snack. Yet the chocolate muffin looked awfully good. Even though I’ve been through many airports in my travels, it still is somewhat stressful to go through a new airport, not knowing what to expect. So it was good to have a little quiet time and collect my thoughts.

The gate was easy to find and I made myself comfortable while waiting for boarding to start. I saw a long line and knew that I had time to sit before joining the line. It was about 10 minutes later when I realized that the line I was looking at was for the next gate and that the people on my flight had pretty much already boarded! Glad I figured that out before it was too late.

I was seated in the last row, which was a first for me. But I wasn’t in any rush. A young woman sat in the F seat next to the window and I was in the D seat next to the aisle. We started to talk and continued talking through the whole flight. She was Japanese and worked int he Japanese consulate in Beirut. She had studied for a year in Arizona and her English was perfect.

We talked a lot about travel and about my visit to Japan in the 80’s. (Probably before she was born.) She seemed impressed that I still remember many Japanese words from when I took Japanese during my first year of college (1972-73). We parted ways when we approached Passport Control.

At Passport Control I had a question about where to receive my visa for Lebanon. What I read via the Internet was confusing. It turns out there is no visa. The Passport Control agent just needed my passport and the landing card I filled out while on the plane. He just stamped my passport and I was on my way.

I realized that the free Internet offered by the airport had expired. I only received 30 free minutes and I had forgotten to research the various transportation services to the downtown area of Beirut. Many airports have “free agent” or unlicensed taxi drivers that generally cost much more than licensed drivers. I saw a travel office nearby and inquired there. They suggested I go to the lower level of the parking garage and there I would find licensed taxi drivers. I found out his information was out-of-date when I went down there.

While at the ATM to get money. I learned from a guy who was also getting money that US currency is commonly used in Beirut. He also suggested I go up to the departure level and catch a taxi there. I could find someone who was being dropped off and ask the driver if they would take me into the downtown area. We talked for at least 15 minutes and he asked if I would be willing to test an application that his company offers to travelers. I said I would. He also recommended how much money (US$) to withdraw and how much I should pay for a taxi. As I’ve said before, I seem to meet the right people at the right time.

On the way to the departure level I met someone who worked at the airport and he was able to find a taxi for me and explain where I wanted to go. And before I knew it, I was on my way to the hotel.

When I arrived at the hotel I was greeted by name by the person at the reception desk. (How she know who I was?) I was impressed. They upgraded me to a junior suite free of charge. I also met the hotel’s general manager and the head of the hotel’s concierge. I mentioned that I use the Luxor Hilton as my standard of service. They said they would be willing to meet or exceed the service that I’ve received at the Luxor Hilton. I said that I would meet later with the concierge after I had a nap in my room.

After I arrived in my room I noticed that even when I turned up the temperature in my room, the room was still very cool. The temperature remained around 17 degrees, even though the thermostat was set to 26. I thought maybe it would take time to warm up so I bundled up and took a nap. I also had a problem connecting my laptop to the free Wifi. Someone from the hotel came up and got it to work. I had to ask a couple of times how they did it. He said he put in the URL for CNN, a stronger website. I suggested that the hotel’s instruction include that helpful hint.

After my nap, and still cold, I asked for an engineer to investigate my heating issue. After he arrived and did some work he said the temperature would increase in about 10 minutes. Having that fixed, I visited with the concierge to arrange for a drive outside of Beirut for tomorrow. When I returned to the room it was still cold. This resulted in another call and two engineers were able to provide a permanent fix. At last the room was getting warm.

While they were working on the heating I ordered room service. Most everything on the menu was Lebanese food, though the roasted chicken looked good. When it arrived it smelled terrific. There was a generous portion of chicken on the plate and I was very full after this meal.

I was still very tired. I spoke with Hussein to arrange some final details of our visit to Cairo and went immediately to bed. It was just around 9:00. I didn’t wake up until sometime around midnight.

My driver tomorrow arrives at 11:00 a.m. This will give me plenty of time to have breakfast and rest in the morning. The tour is expected to take around 6 hours. It will be a full day indeed!

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Hilton Dead Sea Hotel and Spa (Dead Sea, Jordan)

I really do enjoy the upgrades I receive from Hilton as a “thank you” for being a frequent guest. After breakfast I couldn’t wait to return to my room for a little more sleep. The suite is very large and has a wide balcony that overlooks the Dead Sea. Would be nice to live here, but no kitchen. That is a deal-breaker.

At lunch, so Housekeeping has time to come in, I ate in the large hotel dining room. It was a buffet lunch with a very varied spread of food. At least 10 entrees to select from. Was good about avoiding the desserts and tried several of their salads instead. Everything tasted terrific! I ate outside since it was a comfortable 65F and enjoyed the view while I ate my lunch.

After lunch I walked next door to the Executive Lounge and drank a cup of tea while I worked on my blog post for yesterday. This would give Housekeeping more time to visit. Though, there probably wasn’t much for them to do. Still, it is nice to come back to a properly made bed and new towels.

I hit a bit of a snag for my trip to Beirut tomorrow. I got the wrong time for my departure from the Amman airport and needed to contact my driver to pick me up at 7:30 rather than 9:30. I sent him a text but also went to the Transportation Desk in the lobby just to make sure they knew. And who was there waiting for me? My driver, Mamoot! Great timing and he will have no problem picking me up at 7:30 tomorrow.

After meeting with Mamoot, it was then time for a glass of wine in the Executive Lounge. While there I spoke with a women who mentioned she was allergic to wheat. When I mentioned that my niece was joining me in Paris and allergic to peanuts, she suggested that my niece put, in French, a description of her peanut allergy on the home screen of her phone to show to restaurant staff. Great idea!

Was also able to confirm the visa requirements for Lebanon by U.S. travelers. I should be able to show up, buy a visa, then proceed through Passport Control. I confirmed this with the hotel.

I decided not to take another nap so I can have a better chance at a good night’s sleep. Will order dinner to my room (tuna sandwich) and watch the current episode of “The Orville” tonight before bed. I also have some texts and email to answer too.

Tomorrow, travel to Beirut. I don’t have any particular sites to see, but I’m sure I’ll find something to do.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Mövenpick Resort (Petra, Jordan)

The plan for today was to finish visiting Petra Park and then meet my driver, Mamoot, at noon for our return drive to the Hilton at the Dead Sea. In order to meet this timetable I needed to start my Petra visit at around 8:30 a.m.

As expected, once I entered the park I was approached by several guys who thought I should ride one of their horses through the park. I politely declined. Several times, in fact. I said I needed the exercise. Which is the absolute truth!

Things that I saw the previous day, in different time of the day, looked different because of the change in lighting. As I walked along I tried to imagine what everything looked like when it was new. The years of wind and rain have taken its toll on so much of what I saw.

One of my favorite stops was the auditorium. It is still very recognizable as a amphitheater and could easy (perhaps it does) provide seating for events. It was built to hold 4,000 people. All of this carved into rock. From what I read, it is the biggest in the world. I have no doubt about that.

Just a bit further down the road I met up with Muhammad and his two mules. He introduced himself as “Muhammad with the gold tooth”. He asked if I’d like a ride and I said no. As it happened he kept walking in the same direction. He kept talking and I then said, because we were getting close to the end of the main trail, that perhaps I could ride one of his mules back to the entrance. He said that would be great.

He told me he was a Bedouin and was raised in a cave with his family near to this location. Some local Bedouin still live in a few of the remaining caves. He talked about as a youngster how he ran among the rocks in the hillside. He of course knew all about what I was looking at and recommended places to take pictures.

We agreed to take another route back to the entrance. It was along an upper trail that gave me a different perspective from another angle. This was a great idea! I almost forgot to take pictures because I was enjoying hearing his stories.

He returned me to the entrance just in time to get back to my room to shower and pack. I like when it all works out and can also have an amazing experience.

Mamoot was waiting for me as I left the hotel at noon. As we were driving out of town he stopped and I took pictures of the snow that had fallen the night before. You could see the snow on the hillsides. Just the day before it was nearly 20 degrees Celsius (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit).

We drove through a number of small towns during our drive back to the Dead Sea. On the way he stopped to pick up freshly baked pita bread. Then another stop to buy us Turkish coffee. Also a stop where I could use the toilet.

A much different view than the day before. He drove us by a place where a man kept 300 dogs that were previously homeless. There were dogs everywhere! The landscape was so different than the mountains that I saw yesterday.

The return drive to the Dead Sea seemingly took less time than yesterday’s trip to Petra. By now our conversation was less formal and we talked about a variety of subjects. I guess this makes the time pass quicker.

When I returned to the hotel I thanked Mamoot and made sure the hotel staff heard me say that he was my #1 driver. I also gave Mamoot a good tip. He may drive me to the airport on Sunday, but he needed to see if he was available.

My room was upgraded to a nice junior suite. A member of the hotel staff showed me the room and the gifts that were left for me. I big bottle of red wine, a tray of desserts and a basket of fruit. The view from the balcony was amazing. Think I’ll like it here.

That night I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade via my laptop hooked to the TV. The final scenes were filmed in Petra. Was fun to watch some of the places I visited just hours ago. While watching I started to eat more of the desserts. Eventually I had to flush what remained since it was possible I could have eaten the rest of these small desserts. The remaining wine I’ll enjoy tomorrow night.

The weather looks kind of iffy for tomorrow so I’ll probably just hang around the hotel. All of the walking from the last two days have made me tired. I have no reason to leave my room, except to maybe have lunch tomorrow.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Hilton Dead Sea Hotel and Spa (Dead Sea, Jordan)

Was up early to have breakfast before Mamoot was scheduled to arrive at 8:00 to drive us to Petra. I also had to check out of the hotel since I’ll stay overnight tonight in Petra. We were on the road by 8:15.

The drive started out with us following the shoreline of the Dead Sea for quite a while. Along the way we saw many farms that were growing cabbage, green onions, tomatoes, etc. He pointed out a place where Israel, Jordan, and the U.S. as witness, at a very remote location. It was probably 100+ acres of nothing. The location was remote so it would provide the best security for those who attended.

We stopped for some freshly squeezed orange juice shortly after that. This drive is expected to take three hours so we needed (or at least I need) time to stretch my legs.

We continued to drive up a very curvy road into the mountains. Many beautiful views along the way. I’m posting some of the pictures on Instagram.

Some of the mountains were made of igneous rock while the others were sedimentary rock. Quite a contrast between the two types of rock. It looked like sedimentary rock was older and was worn by years of wind and rain. Perhaps I should research this.

We eventually arrived at Petra and stopped first at the visitor’s center to confirm visiting hours and for me to buy a ticket to this evening’s light show. I then checked into my hotel that was located just across the street. My room wasn’t ready but this delay gave me time to each lunch.

After a short nap I walked over into the Petra historical grounds. The main path takes visitors past key sites within the park. I stopped when I reached the most famous, The Treasury. It actually wasn’t a treasury, but was at one time thought to have held gold and other valuables within the structure, carved into the wall of sandstone.

The walk to The Treasury was mostly downhill, so my walk back up to the hotel was mostly uphill. Boy, was I tired once I got up to the top! Mamoot was already waiting for me when I got back to the hotel. He had offered to drive me to see this evening’s sunset from a viewpoint well above the town next to the Petra park.

Very impressive sunset! Perhaps not as colorful as what I experienced in Larnaca, but watching the sun set over the mountains was truly spectacular. Also posted these pictures to Instagram. We will meet up again at noon tomorrow for our drive back to the Hilton by the Dead Sea.

Tonight I went part way on the nighttime walk through the Petra park. I didn’t do the whole walk because it was lit by candles in paper sacks placed at intervals along the path. The ground was not flat and there were large rocks that I found difficult to see and navigate. No need to sprain my ankle or fall down. I did manged take some great nighttime pictures along the way before returning to the hotel.

Tomorrow I’ll walk all the way through the park and probably take a horse cart back to the entrance. Walking uphill, even though the rise is gradual, still is difficult for me. On our drive back to the Dead Sea we will take a different route and I’m sure I’ll see more of the incredible rock features along the way. Another morning of getting up early. Thankfully I’ve recently had some good rest and won’t mind it at all.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Hilton Dead Sea Hotel and Spa (Dead Sea, Jordan)

I slept so well last night! Being in a place where there is no noise distractions from the outside and in a super comfortable bed helped. Perhaps not getting a full night’s sleep the night before had something to do with it as well? In any case, I woke up fully rested.

The first item on my agenda this morning was to go down and have a wonderful Hilton breakfast. When I arrived, I didn’t see my scrambled eggs, bacon and the rest of the items I usually see. One of the Hilton staff presented me with a card where I could order what type of eggs I wanted. Surprisingly, I ordered a cheese and onion omelet instead of scrambled eggs. When the dish arrived at my table, I saw that it came with bacon and the traditional triangle-shaped hash brown. Very enjoyable!

Of course I returned to my room and napped. When I woke I got ready for my mud spa treatment and a dip in the Dead Sea. I had purchased swimming trunks in the hotel gift shop yesterday and put on a robe and walked to the beach. When I got there I admitted to the guys down there that this was my first time and they made sure that I was well taken care of.

First, one of the guys lead me down to the sea and helped me into the water. The water wasn’t cold, but not warm. I just sat back and I was floating. After about five minutes I was bored just laying there but stayed in another five minutes before I got up and walked to shore.

I was escorted to the place where they apply the therapeutic mud along with a nice massage, and then was asked to sit there for 15 minutes so the mud could dry. I watched a couple with their two small children trying to get them to enjoy the experience. The kids weren’t having any of it. Mud? No way! (I actually identified with the kids.)

Once the mud was dry I returned to the sea and took another dip. I washed as much of the mud from me and then soaked a bit longer. I must have had some mud in my eye and it was very uncomfortable but it helped pass the time while I was laying there. (Was thinking about the saying, “Here’s mud in your eye!”) Haha

One of the guys took pictures of me floating in the sea and with me with my therapeutic mud. I only posted the one of me floating in the sea on Facebook. The picture of me with mud on me looked like I was trying to do blackface, perhaps auditioning for a minstrel show, and knowing of the current controversy, I decided to not include the picture on Facebook, but did post it on Instagram.

When I was walking back to my room I was getting very tired. They recommended that I lay down after the last of my mud was sprayed off of me, but I preferred not to lay in the sun. On the way back, I had to hold on a few times because I felt like passing out. (I should have listened to the guys at the beach.)

I made it back to my room and was napping fairly soon after taking a shower to make sure that I didn’t have any remaining mud on me. I’ll go in for another treatment when I return to the hotel after my stay in Petra. Now that I know and understand the routine I can enjoy myself more than the first time. I’m sure of it!

I woke up a couple of hours later. Was still kind of dazed and thought it was morning. Did I miss my ride to Petra?!? At a little after 6:00 I went down for wine and canapes in the Executive Lounge. There was an unknown selection of canapes since the person who was tending the selection didn’t know enough English words to tell me what they were. I picked up one or two of each, and with my glass of wine, walked over to a table and enjoyed my small meal.

Tomorrow I leave for Petra. My driver will pick me up at the hotel at 8:00 a.m. (after I’ve had my Hilton breakfast) and we will be together for the next three hours.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Jerusalem, Israel (Bnei Brit Street 5)

Wow! I was up and ready to pack at 3:30 this morning. Why? I guess I was ready to move on to the next destination. But then again, I look forward to being in new place and find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep the night before.

My driver was expected to arrive at 5:15 and I still needed to get ready (showering, coffee packing and cleaning). Though, because I was up early, I had time to write my travel blog for the day before. I was out the door at 5:17.

My Airbnb host made the taxi reservation to the airport while I was visiting with him and his wife on Saturday. I knew that when I went outside at 5:17 that the driver would be waiting for me, and he was. Of course since it was so early there was hardly any traffic and was at the airport in plenty of time to catch my 7:35 flight.

Security at the airport was just a bit different than in other airports. There was an extra security checkpoint before I was able to check into my flight. Other than that, it was the same process. I found it interesting that the bottle of water I had in my carry-on bag (and forgot to remove) didn’t get confiscated as I passed through security.

I was a little concerned, as I waited to board the plane, that no one was boarding as the time for our departure was approaching. Just at about the time when we were scheduled to take off we received an announcement that the Amman airport (our destination) was still fogged in, but we should be able to board “soon”. “Soon” turned out to be another 30 minutes later. I consider myself lucky that in all of the flights I’ve taken, there have been relatively few delays. (Knock on wood!)

The flight was very full and I found myself in a middle seat. The delay in my ability to check-in online also contributed to this outcome. Being in the middle seat is on par with being seated next to the restrooms in a restaurant. Thankfully, it was a very short flight. I probably could have taken the land route into Jordan, but I opted for flying into an international airport. In any case, too late to change now.

Getting through Passport Control was a little slow. I had purchased my visa on-line but I was confused by which line to join. I eventually got in the right line and was on my way to pick up my bag and join the driver that I scheduled to take me to the Hilton resort by the Dead Sea.

Mamoot was waiting for me when I entered the arrival lobby. He had heard about the delay and was happy to see me. I was a little concerned that he offered to show me some sites (for extra money) on our way to the Hilton. I declined. I confirmed that the pre-arranged cost for transporting me to the Hilton was what we agreed to the day before.

After that we got along fine. I asked if we could stop along the way and get a coffee. He knew of a place that had car service, where they would bring the coffee and water out to us. I thought that was a nice touch. I posted a picture of Mamoot and the guy from the coffee place on my Instagram page. We both had some very strong Turkish coffee.

It didn’t really take too long (about 45 minutes) to get to the hotel. After we arrived, I made arrangements to be driven (and back again) to Petra on Thursday. From what I understand, the driver will take me to Petra, stay overnight somewhere on Thursday, then drive me back on Friday. Perhaps a little spendy, but better than being on a bus for the three hours that it takes to get to Petra.

Then I met with the reception and guest services person at the hotel who checks in Hilton Honors members. I received an upgraded room with a view of the Dead Sea and also a tour of the facilities. This Hilton property is quite large and has several buildings on several levels, so I appreciated the tour. Tomorrow I’ll get my mud treatment and a dip in the Dead Sea. I may even do it twice, which is common among the guests, from what I was told.

After the tour, it was then mid-afternoon, and I was very ready for a nap. Given that I didn’t sleep well the night before, I was tired. Then I slept for nearly four hours! By the time I got down to the Executive Lounge, it was after 7:00. I had a glass of wine and a few appetizers then walked back to my room.

I was still a bit hungry so I ordered a tuna sandwich and a beer from room service for a late dinner. By this time I was ready for bed. In the meantime, I had made a decision where Barb and I will stay in Malta. It is a two bedroom flat in a high-rise, with balcony, overlooking the bay and the sea beyond. The rates in Malta are very low this time of year and we will each pay around $75 per night for this rather posh flat. This rate is even less than what I paid for my studio flat in Jerusalem.

I’m looking forward to my two mud and swim (or rather floating) treatments tomorrow. Also, my Hilton breakfast. I’ve written how much I enjoy my breakfast in the morning and I’m sure I’ll return to my room for a nap. This is the part of travel (and retirement) that I appreciate.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Jerusalem, Israel (Bnei Brit Street 5)

This morning I got off to a somewhat late start. Found myself working out some issues with my online checking for my flight tomorrow, transportation from the Amman airport to my hotel and questions about my Vodafone charges.

Once I was out of the door, I was ready to walk again to the old city. I decided that there is still more I’d like to see there and not to travel to Bethlehem.

On the way to the Old City I bought a Jerusalem Bagel, which is much larger than a bagel you’d find elsewhere and it is oval rather than round. I posted a picture of what one looks like on Instagram. I knew I wasn’t going to get much in the way of lunch, so I thought this would keep my tummy happy until when I ate later.

Once in the Old City I saw a shop that makes hand-pressed orange juice for 10 NIS (or $2.75). Boy that tasted good! Maybe I’ll have another later.

My first stop was to visit the Dome of the Rock. My first attempt was on a day it wasn’t open, the next day it was only open to Muslims, and so today is the day when I get to get in. The golden dome of the shrine is an iconic symbol of Jerusalem, though it Islamic and built over a sacred Jewish temple.

When I got up to Temple Mount I saw the shrine in the middle of a very, very large plaza. Probably big enough to hold all of the Muslims in Jerusalem. I took a video to show how big this space is. Also asked to have my picture taken while I was there. The shine is a beautiful building and the gold dome is amazing in the sunlight. I was there for about 15 minutes when everyone on the plaza was asked to leave because visiting hours were over until later in the day.

Since I didn’t get to take pictures of Gethsemane yesterday I proceeded to the Lions Gate and walked over to the Gethsemane garden. While there I also went inside the Church of All Nations next door. On the way out I was approached by a taxi driver who made a strong sell to take me to Bethlehem. This was the second driver today who approached me about going to Bethlehem. Before walking to Gethsemane, at Lions Gate I sat down and ate the rest of my bagel and drank a second glass of orange juice and was approached by a driver who almost begged me to be taken to Bethlehem. This, on top of my taxi driver the night before, with the wife in the hospital who pressed me to travel to Bethlehem.

I was able to resist the offers of a tour of Bethlehem and wanted to continue my walk around the Old City from outside the walls. I took some more pictures while I was walking. I’m sure that I’m going to get a record number of steps walked today, per the counter on my phone.

About this time I was thinking about food. I could have walked to a nearby McDonald’s but I thought going by taxi would be easier. Perhaps I’ll walk from the McDonald’s back to the flat. My taxi driver, on the way to McDonald’s, asked if I’d like to visit Bethlehem today. What? It was getting late in the afternoon and again I declined this offer.

I ended up walking back to the flat from McDonald’s. It was a 40 minute walk but I saw some new parts of Jerusalem along the way. When I got back to the flat I saw that I walked more than 15,000 steps. And I wasn’t sore or anything. I must be getting back into shape!

After a nap I posted pictures on Instagram and started to get ready for my flight to Amman, Jordan tomorrow. My driver will be here at 5:15 a.m. for my 7:35 a.m. flight. I probably won’t get too much sleep, but think I’ll be okay in the morning.

Looking forward to staying a couple of days at the Hilton Spa by the Dead Sea. I’ll be in good shape on the 14th when I travel to Petra.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Jerusalem, Israel (Bnei Brit Street 5)

After I got ready this morning I left the flat and walked toward the Old City again. My first stop was to visit the Gethsemane Gardens. On my way there I passed two new gates, Herod’s Gate and Lions Gate, as I made my way around the outside of the city walls.

Gethsemane Garden is just across from the Lions Gate. When I got there I was approached by a “guide” to show me around. I gave him a few shekels, but then was approached by another “guide” and I said okay. He said he would do it for free, but he know I would pay him something. I put “guide” in quotes because these are just people who need to make some money and they know a little about the gardens. Actually, the gardens are a grove of maybe 40 very old olive trees (with a few newer ones) within a fence. I had already read all about the history of the garden. My guide said some of the trees were 2,000 years old, but I knew otherwise. He talked so much I forgot to take pictures. I was there maybe 15 minutes.

I walked through the Lions Gate into the Old City. My first stop was Temple Mount to see the Dome of the Rock. After walking most of the way through the Old City, stopping briefly at the place considered to be the birthplace of the Virgin Mary though she was supposed to have been born in Nazareth, I approached the entrance. Here I was stopped by two guards who said Temple Mount was only open to Muslims. Oh well, I’ll walk over to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was my next stop.

I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre yesterday but I didn’t have anything to show me what was what within the church. Today I’m better prepared. While reading more about the church I kept asking myself how could all of the final days of Jesus happen is this one building. The room where he was locked up, his journey to the cross, the place where he was crucified, as well as his tomb.

When you first enter the church you see the flat rock where Jesus’ body was placed after he was crucified, named “The Stone of Anointing”. Many people pray at this location and place their hands on the stone as they pray.

Further in the church is a small chapel devoted to The Three Marys. And just beyond is the shrine that contains the tomb of Jesus, probably the most visited place in the church judging on the line of people waiting to go in. This location is beneath the rotunda of the church.

Continuing to walk around a bit further within the church are stairs that go up to the place that represents where Jesus was crucified. Since the hill where he was crucified was replaced by this church (actually the other churches that proceeded this one) the physical location is represented by moving it higher in the church. There is a rock from the site of the crucifixion up there that pilgrims can touch.

I’m still processing what I saw today. How much of what I saw was really authentic? My first guess is that it really doesn’t matter. The faith of his followers probably matters most. If this church provides a connection with Jesus, then accuracy isn’t important.

It was any easy walk to the Tomb of David. I saw new parts of the Old City along the way and also a place that was built in medieval times on the location where the last supper was held. Almost next door was the Tomb of David, a sacred Jewish location. The building is fairly large and space is devoted to those who want to pray within the Tomb. The actual room where the tomb is located was just off the prayer room.

I left through the Zion Gate and walked again to the nearby McDonald’s, then a taxi back to the flat. The taxi ride was a little uncomfortable since the driver was trying to get me to hire him to visit Bethlehem. He then told me that he hasn’t worked for two weeks because his 39 year old wife has breast cancer and is in the hospital. He needed to stay home to care for his five children. But I told that it was too late in the day for me and I was looking forward to taking a nap. Which was the truth.

Not sure what I’m doing tomorrow, my last day in Jerusalem. Perhaps I’ll try again to visit Temple Mount. There still are plenty of things to see in Jerusalem. We shall see.