On September 25, 2017 we landed in Tel Aviv, Israel. After an hour’s taxi ride, we arrived in Jerusalem and checked into the beautiful King David Hotel. This was my second time to visit Israel and I was excited to be back in Jerusalem. For more than 3 days we packed in a week’s worth of sights, and 4 centuries of history. Our local guide,Yanay Cohen, was outstanding and explained everything with great clarity. We did all the ‘tourist things’ one must do in Jerusalem, but Yanay presented it all in historical context, making it seem to come alive: Bethlehem, Church of the Nativity, Mt. Scopus, Mount of Olives, Mount Zion, Temple Mount area, quarters of the Old City, Hadassah Medical Center and its beautiful Chagall Windows, Israel Museum, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A few hours by plane and we landed in Cairo on Sept 29th. Our hotel was the beautiful Nile Ritz-Carlton with its sweeping view of the river Nile.
The heart of Egypt beats with an unbridled passion in Cairo. Over a millennia of Sahara caravans, stopping here on the trade route to Byzantium, has made Cairo one of the world’s most important trade cities. Its everyday life is the beating pulse of the city, with the serene Nile sliding through it like a serpent. Even Cairo’s very age mesmerizes; its monuments have stood here for more than 5,000 years. Each time I visit this legendary place, hanging on the desert’s fringe, I know I am privileged.
For the next 3 days we visited Sakkara, dating back to the 27th century BC with its Step Pyramid of the Old Kingdom; Giza Pyramids & Sphinx; rode a camel; visited the Cairo Egyptian Museum; and the beautiful Alabaster Mosque, which was the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. One evening we experienced shopping at Khan el-Khalili, the sprawling outdoor marketplace where Old Cairo comes to life. A traditional Egyptian dinner then awaited us in the Al-Azhar Park, a green haven in the heart of Cairo.
As grand as these wonderful sights were, an ever-increasing population pushes in on these majestic monuments.
On our 4th day in Egypt, we flew to Luxor and boarded the MS Mayfair. From the ship, we were bussed to the Temple of Karnak and the Temple of Luxor, one of the world’s great open air museums. Once an important setting for rituals and festivals, this complex was built by Amenhotep III and Ramses II. These sprawling temples lie on the east bank of the Nile, while the Valley of the Kings lies on the west bank and is keeper of the tombs of Egypt’s great pharaohs.
The Valley of the King is the burial place of Egyptian Royalty. Here, pharaohs were buried in elaborate tunnels carved into the earth and adorned with artful paintings. Their mummies were draped in gold and jewels and their tombs were filled with worldly possessions. The most famous of these tombs are Tutankhamen’s Tomb (King Tut) and the beautiful terraced Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, the female pharaoh.
After lunch on ship, we cast off for a scenic cruise down the Nile. The weather was exquisite!
On our 5th day, we docked in Edfu and took a shore excursion of the Temple of Horus, one of Egypt’s most complete and well-preserved ancient houses of worship. In the afternoon we took a short walk to the double temple of Kim Ombo, dedicated to the crocodile god, Sobek.
On October 5th, we took a plane to Aswan, located at the first cataract of the Nile, and viewed the famous Aswan High Dam, built in the 1960’s.
The completion of this dam created Lake Nassar, sending scores of archaeologists to the area intent on saving ancient temples from submersion. Two of such temples were:
(1) Philae Temple (dedicated to Isis) now sits on Agilkia Island and is only accessible by motorboat. As the waters of Lake Nasser rose, this temple was disassembled and relocated onto the island.
(2) Abu Simble. One of Egypt’s most impressive sights, Abu Simble is an archaeological treasure, both ancient and modern. This colossal temple complex was built in the 13th century BC, but was buried beneath desert sands for centuries before its rediscovery and excavation. As the waters of Lake Nasser threatened to submerge it, an international community, including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, worked together to dismantle Abu Simble and relocate it to higher ground. Today it sits lakeside above its original location.
A felucca ride on the Nile was refreshing and memorable. A felucca is a traditional wooden vessel with a distinctly rigged sail that has been used by Egyptians for centuries.
spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, we visited a colorful Nubian Village. Tea was served to us by one of the locals in their beautiful home. We even received a language lesson from a Nubian teacher in his school classroom.
On Oct 8, we walked from our ship into the town of Esna and visited the Esna Temple, and the multitude of flies that were the bi-product of horse-drawn carriages.
On Oct 9 we left the ship in Luxor and flew back to Cairo where we overnighted. On Oct 10, we flew to Amman, Jordon.
Our tour of Jordon began with a bus ride to Mt Nebo, the place the Hebrew Bible says Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land. The views were stunning, and at an elevation of 2,231 feet, one has a panorama of the Holy Land and a limited view of the River Jordan, the West Bank city of Jericho, and even Jerusalem on a very clear day.
A stop for lunch proved delightful. The owner/cook had opened a restaurant in her home, and the food was fabulous.
As our bus headed to Petra, we stopped at the old Crusader castle and tower of Ash Shubak. Built in 1115 AD by the Crusader King Baldwin, this castle withstood a number of attacks from armies of Saladin before falling in 1189 AD.
Just as we entered modern Petra, the sun slid behind the mountains. Our hotel sat on the edge of a canyon that overlooked ancient Petra.
The next morning we arose early and headed into ancient Petra. Sculped by ancient Nabataeans into the rose-red sandstone of Jordan’s Sharah Mountains, Petra is one of the world’s true manmade wonders. Remarkably, the “Pink City,” as it is known, was carved into existence around 1200 BC. The Western world has only been privy to its wonders since it was discovered by a Swiss explorer in 1812.
Shortly before leaving the U.S. I had read the book Married to a Bedouin by Marguerite van Geldermalsen. To my great delight, her son, Raami, was in old Petra selling her books. Marguerite continues to reside in modern Petra, where the government had transplanted them years ago from the ancient caves of Petra. Unfortunately, Marguerite does not come back to the UNESCO site often, but it was such a treat to meet her son and chat with him about his life growing up in those ancient caves.
On October 12 we drove about 1,000 feet below sea level to the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. Since antiquity, the high saline content of its waters has drawn those seeking mineral-rich cures for their ills. Yet, great historic moments have also unfolded in this region. On the west bank, King Herod built his Masada on a rocky promontory. On the east bank, John the Baptist was imprisoned at hilltop Machaerus. And biblical secrets came to light when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the nearby Qumran Caves.
After a night in the beautiful Movenpick Resort on the Dead Sea, we returned to Amman, the capital of Jordan. All along the roadway we saw stands of what appeared to be bright red apples or tomatoes. Upon stopping, we were delighted to find the bright red orbs were pomegranates. We each left with several to eat in our hotel…………..they were exquisite!
On our final day in Jordan, we visited the ancient ruins of the walled Greco-Roman city of Jarash. Inhabited since the Bronze Age, this ancient city is huge and still proudly displays such antiquities as the 2nd-century Hadrian’s Arch, the Corinthian columns of the Temple of Artemis and the Huge Forum’s oval colonnade.
THE FABULOUS EIGHT
The highlight of this entire trip was the 6 wonderful fellow travelers we met when we first arrived in Israel. What a delightful and unique mix of funny, intelligent, and irreverent group of people. It is with great excitement that we anticipate meeting with them again in June.
We flew home in the early morning hours of October 15, but not without major problems at the Amman airport. For some reason, that Viking will not explain, they had cancelled our flights back to the USA. They left us virtually stranded, and we had to repurchase the airline tickets we had originally purchased through Viking 8 months earlier, losing all upgraded seats. Reimbursement took months, and then only after I placed a report with Consumer Reports and posted the problem on Viking’s Facebook page. We have been long-time customers of Viking Cruise Lines, but the way we were treated on our return home was beyond reproach.
We will NOT purchase a cruise with Viking again!