Israel, Jordan & Egyptian Sinai - May 6 - May 24, 2019
In the two days prior to our leaving Houston, the Hamas Group in the Gaza Strait was shooting hundreds of rockets (over 650 one day) into Israel. The Israelis were bombing Hamas positions in return. People were killed on both sides. Fortunately, as we left Houston, both sides declared a ceasefire.
[Monday/Tuesday] We left the house at 3:30 pm Monday and went to Bush Airport via TX-99, IH-10 and Beltway 8. The traffic was not too bad. We got to the parking lot and through security at the airport by about 6:30 pm. We left Houston at about 9:00 pm on Turkish Airlines flight TK34 (B777-300ER) and arrived in Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport at about 8:00 pm Tuesday night on TK788, after changing planes in Istanbul, Turkey. The transfer through the new Istanbul Airport (only opened last month) was very smooth. Our checked baggage didn't fare as well and was delivered to our hotel in Jerusalem the next morning. The driver we pre-booked picked us up at the luggage area and delivered us to the Shani Hotel in Jerusalem in time for going to bed for our first night in Israel.[Wednesday] We had breakfast in the hotel and afterwards, walked down the street to The Aroma Cafe, where we will meet our guide tomorrow morning at 6:00 am for our day tour.
We returned to the hotel and at exactly 11:00 am a siren sounded for about one minute. Apparently a test and we may can look forward to this test each day at this time. No rockets this time.
We rode a trolley along Jaffa Street to the Damascus Gate and walked to Gordons Calvary (believed to be where Jesus was crucified) and the garden tomb area (where Jesus is believed to have been buried). We were fortunate to join a small guided tour by a man from the Houston area that comes over each year with his wife and volunteers for two months.
We walked over to the Damascus Gate into the Jerusalem Old City, and through the narrow and busy streets of the Muslin Quarter and the Christian Quarter. The tiny streets are like a continuous bazaar. Everything you could possibly need is for sale there. We ate lunch at a small restaurant in the Old City on our way to the New Gate where we exited and returned to our hotel.
[Thursday] We met our tour group today at 6:00 am at Cafe Aroma, down the street from our hotel. We then had to ride the bus to Tel Aviv to meet up with another tour bus, which killed some time. The bus was about 6:30 am picking us up, so we didn’t leave Tel Aviv until about 8:30 am. Our tour went as described below and we got back to our hotel at about 8:00 pm. It was a long day.
Here is information from our guide:
"Depart your central Jerusalem hotel by air-conditioned coach and travel to Nazareth in the Galilee region. Nazareth the capital and largest city in the Northern District of Israel, also known as 'the Arab capital of Israel.' In the New Testament, Nazareth is described as the home of Mary and the childhood home of Jesus. On route, hear tales of the city, known as the childhood home of Jesus, and its important role in the Christian faith.
On arrival, visit some of Nazareth's key religious sites. See the Church of the Annunciation, where the Angel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary to tell her she would be the mother of Jesus, and see the Church of St Joseph, believed to stand on the site of Joseph’s carpentry workshop. Continue through the village of Kafer Kana, identified as the site of Cana where Jesus performed the miracle of wine, and arrive at the Sea of Galilee, Israel's biggest freshwater lake and the setting of many biblical tales. Pass the Church of the Multiplication, the believed location of the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, and explore Capernaum on the shores of the Sea.
View the ruins of the synagogue that stood where Jesus taught and see the modern church that sits over St Peter's house, where Jesus is believed to have stayed. Pass through the waterfront city of Tiberias and arrive in Yardenit – a sacred baptism site on the Jordan River. Admire this idyllic spot, and if you wish, take part in a Christian baptism ceremony. On your return, enjoy beautiful views of Mt Tabor, known to Christians as the Mount of Transfiguration, before your tour ends in Jerusalem."
[Friday] Today we took the Jerusalem Full Day Tour. Our pickup point was at 8:45 am at The Hotel Eyal, which was down the street from our hotel. Our tour guide was very good and we finished by about 4:30pm. We saw too many interesting sites to describe in word or photos.
Ramadan for the Muslins began last Sunday, and today is the Jewish day of preparation for the Sabbath, which begins at sunset. Many things were closed or affected as a result. Tonight as we came back after sunset from supper at a restaurant near the hotel, we found that the hotel elevator was turned off for Sabbath. We had to walk up 5 flights of stairs to get to our room 😀.
Here is a summary furnished by the tour guide:
"See the highlights of 3,000-year-old Jerusalem on a full-day tour with a knowledgeable guide. Stand on Mount Scopus to admire the iconic views of the walled, Old City. Head to Mt Zion to visit the Room of the Last Supper and King David's Tomb, and wander through Old Jerusalem, taking in the Roman Cardo and Armenian and Jewish quarters on route to the Via Dolorosa, Church of Holy Sepulchre and Western Wall (Wailing Wall). Lastly, visit Yad Veshem, where memorials and exhibits pay tribute to the Holocaust's victims."
[Saturday] Today we walked to Cafe Aroma and at 8:30 am we took the Bethlehem & Jericho Full-Day Tour from Jerusalem. This was another exhausting day in which we spent most of it in the West Bank Autonomous Region, which is administered by the Palestinian Authority. I don't think that Israeli citizens are permitted to go into these areas without permission from the Israeli Military. We went through a checkpoint on the highway into and out of Palestine. Our tour guide today was Dan, and he was our guide Thursday. He is very knowledgable on the history and culture of the region.
In Bethlehem, at The Church of the Nativity, we stood in a very long line for 1-1/2 hours to see The Grotto, supposed to be the exact site where Jesus was born in the stable. Of course, The Church of the Nativity is built on top of it now.
After our visit to Jericho, we stopped at a bonus site on the way back to Jerusalem. It was to view the Monastery of St George of Choziba, a Greek Orthodox Monastery built on the steep side of the cliff on Wadi Qelt. We were on the opposite side of the valley, so we got a very good view of the monastery.
Here is information from the guide:
"Learn about the popular religious sites of historic Bethlehem and Jericho. Visit the biblical home of Jesus' birth, the Church of Nativity, and Manger Square, a hub of religious activities for the city. Then explore the magnificent walled city of Jericho, reputed to be the world's oldest city.
People of multiple religions flock to Bethlehem from all over the world to worship or just be in the presence of the city's Manger Square, where Jesus is said to have been born. Here you also see the beautiful Mosque of Omar, and the Church of the Nativity. Finally, you make a stop at the Shepherds' Field, where shepherds "kept watch over their flock".
Next, head through the Judean Desert to Jericho. The city has been inhabited continuously for longer than any other on Earth, probably due to its copious springs and lush vegetation. Stop at the Zacchaeus Sycamore for an overview of Mt. Temptation, and the Mound of Ancient Jericho where 25 ancient cities were uncovered, the first of which dates back over 11,000 years."
[Sunday] Today we took the Caesarea, Acre and Rosh Hanikra Tour. We were as far north in Israel as you can go without entering Lebanon, and since the border is permanently closed and well guarded on both sides, we decided to skip a tour of Lebanon for now.
As a bonus we saw the aqua-duct that was built by King Herod to supply fresh water to his seaside resort.
Here is information from the tour guide:
"This tour to the incredible coastal cities of Caesarea, Rosh Hanikra, Haifa and Acre starts as we travel north of Tel Aviv along the coastal road. Our Caesarea tour takes us through the remains of Caesarea Maritime, an ancient Roman city constructed by Herod, King of Judea in about 25-13 BC.
Continuing on our tour we pass through Haifa, Israel's third largest city built on the slope of Mount Carmel facing the sea. The Haifa tour stops at the Baha'i Gardens where 19 terraces flow down Mt. Carmel. Next the tour reaches the extreme northern border where Israel meets Lebanon and the sea crashes against the white cliffs of Rosh Hanikra.
As the tour makes its way south on our return journey we stop in the Crusader City of Acre (Akko). See fortified walls and a moat that even Napoleon was not able to overcome. Tour the Crusader remains, the Turkish citadel and see sites used during the British Mandate. The tour leaves Acre and returns south along the coast.'
[Monday] Today we were once again in the West Bank very near the Dead Sea. It was almost 100 degrees and the sun was intense, but we made it. We took the Masada and Dead Sea Group Tour.
Here is information from the tour guide:
"Our first stop on this tour is Masada, a "mesa" or flat-topped rock outcrop rising 450m from the desert plains. We take a cable car to the plateau summit of Masada where there are breathtaking views of the Dead Sea.
The tour leaves Masada and takes you to the nearby Dead Sea past Ein Gedi and Qumran, site of the Dead Sea Scroll discovery. Our final stop on this tour is the Dead Sea where you can relax on the beach and unwind. Enjoy the natural health benefits of the Dead Sea environment including the salt-rich water, oxygen-rich air and mineral-rich black mud that you can use as a natural skin mask. Don't leave before you have a shot of yourself floating in the Dead Sea!”< Dead Sea.
[Tuesday] This morning we took a taxi to the Mount of Olives and walked down it and through the Garden of Gethsemane to the Lions Gate. We walked through the Muslin Quarter to the Damascus Gate. We rode the trolley back to our hotel.
After lunch, we checked out of our hotel and took a Monte Carlo style taxi ride to the Allenby/King Hussain Bridge border crossing from Israel into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It crosses the Jordan River just north of the beginning of the Dead Sea. It was 106 degrees at 2:00 pm there, as we were crossing. It took about 2 hours to clear the security at both sides and then we took another Monte Carlo style taxi to our hotel in Amman. We checked into the Toledo Hotel and had dinner in the hotel restaurant.
By the way, I would be shot multiple times if in Houston I drove anything like Middle East taxi drivers.
[Wednesday] Today at 9:00 am we took a private day tour of Bethany on the Jordan River, Mount Nebo and Mabada. It was near 100 degrees again today in this area.
At Bethany Beyond the Jordan, we saw what is said to be the actual site that John baptized Jesus. The Jordan River has changed course over time and the river is about 1/4 mile away now. Lots of folks were across the river on the Israel side being baptized. The Jordan was very muddy here near the entrance to the Dead Sea. The Saint John the Baptist Romanian Church is located near the Jordan River.
At Mount Nebo we got a view of the Promised Land across the Jordan River, but due to the smoke and smog, it wasn't very good. Probably better conditions for Moses.
We returned to our hotel about 5:00 pm.
Here is the information provided by our guide service:
”Depart from your hotel in Amman at 9:00 am in a private modern A/C vehicle. After that, head to the Jordan Valley to visit the Baptism site. The Bethany area sites formed part of the early Christian pilgrimage route between Jerusalem, the Jordan River, and Mount Nebo. The area is also associated with the biblical account of how the Prophet Elijah (Mar Elias in Arabic) ascended to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire.
Continue to Mount Nebo, visiting its Byzantine Church, then head to Madaba which has the oldest known mosaic map of the Holy Land. The Madaba Mosaic Map covers the floor of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, which is located northwest of the city centre.
Close to the Church of the Virgin is the Madaba Institute for Mosaic Art and Restoration, which operates under the patronage of the Ministry of Tourism. The only project of its kind in the Middle East, the Institute trains artisans in the art of making, repairing and restoring mosaics. Enjoy a fancy Arabic dinner after your tour.”
[Thursday] Today we took a Private Full-Day Tour: Jerash, and Ajloun from Amman. Even though we were much higher in the mountains northwest of Amman, it was very hot and dry. But, the vegetation was much greener because they get some rain here and there are some springs of water. Olive trees grow well in that area.
Here is information from our guide:
”Meet your private driver at your hotel in Amman, and venture into northern Jordan toward Jerash.
One of the world’s best-preserved classical sites, Jerash was a prosperous Greek and Roman city. Founded by Alexander the Great around 331 BC, the city — then called Gerasa — reached its peak after Roman conquest in 63 BC, later becoming one of the 10 great Decapolis cities of the east.
After roughly an hour, arrive at the gate and choose to explore independently or hire a local guide. Then, head inside to inspect the timeworn streets, plazas, bathhouses, and other remains. See highlights like the 2nd-century Hadrian's Arch and 15,000-seater Hippodrome arena, and admire the Oval Colonnade, Temple of Artemis, and Colonnaded Street.
Then, travel to nearby Ajloun Castle, a 12th-century fortress built by the forces of Saladin to defend against Crusader incursions. The hilltop edifice is a stunning example of medieval Arab-Islamic military architecture, and was built to dominate three major passages into northwest Jordan. Go inside and look around the towers, corridors, and small museum, absorbing the historical atmosphere and scenic views.
Re-join your driver and continue further north to Umm Qais, where the remnants of another Roman Decapolis city known as Gadara cover a hillside.
[Note: Our driver wouldn’t take us here to Umm Qais because he said the view was the same as Ajloun. I wasn't too happy about that. I wanted to go up close to the Syrian border.]
Drink in the views from the hill to the Golan Heights, Lake Tiberius, and Jordan Valley, and opt to explore independently or take a locally guided tour. View the Greco-Roman remains, seeing highlights such as the mausoleum, basilica terrace, and theaters.
Finally, reconvene with your driver and return to Amman, where your tour ends with a drop-off at any central location of your choosing.”
After supper in the hotel, shortly after sunset, we decided to walk down the street to see some of the area after dark. About a block from our hotel, we met a young man and woman carrying some containers of food. They spoke and we spoke and they asked if we would like to join them. We said OK and they invited us to eat supper with them, as they were eating to end the day of fasting for Ramadan. We declined the food, but we had a nice visit with them for a half hour. The bearded fellow was a teacher and the others were his students and this was their school building. They were studying English.
[Friday] Today we took a 6-hour walking tour of Amman. Our driver picked us up at 9:00 am and we returned at 3:00 pm. Since it was Friday (the Muslin holy day), and this was the month of Ramadan, almost all the restaurants were closed, except for a few for the tourists. Most of the shops were open and fruit and vegetable stores were open.
We first went to the Amman Citadel and with a hired guide, we spent 1-1/2 hours looking at the Roman, Byzantine and Muslin ruins stacked on top each other, some of which have been partially restored to show how they looked. The temperature was in the low 90’s.
Since today is Friday and the Muslin holy day and it is Ramadan, many stores were closed. The only restaurants open were for tourists.
Here is information from our guide:
”After pickup from your Amman hotel, set off into the bustling Jabal Amman district. You can walk to Amman’s Roman Theater and Citadel.
Head for Rainbow Street, a road that encapsulates Amman’s energy and arts scene. Stroll by bookshops, cafes, and 1920s villas, and pause at the Rainbow Theater and traditional Al Pasha Hammam bathhouse.
Explore Malouf Street, nicknamed 'Souk Jara Street,' for its summer market, and visit Jordan River Designs and Bani Hamida, two local crafts galleries.
Saunter down 'Mango Street', past the historical buildings of the Royal Film Commission, Nabad Gallery, and Books@Cafe, and browse the handmade goods at Wild Jordan, and artisans' hotspot of Beit Shocair.
Break up your exploring with free time to souvenir-shop, and to have lunch at one of the buzzing cafes.
Your guide will provide transportation back to your hotel.”
The restaurant we ate at was said by the driver to be the best in Jordan. The food was excellent and abundant beyond our needs.
This afternoon we checked out of our Amman Hotel Toledo and we were driven to Wadi Musa, the city just adjacent to Petra. We checked into the Edom Hotel. Tomorrow we take an all day tour of Petra.
On our way to Petra, we stopped by the ruins of Montreal Castle on the top of a hill. In the village nearby we got a good laugh at this "hotel", with the castle in the background.< 5 Star hotel.
[Saturday] We were pleasantly surprised to find that it was a lot cooler in Petra than in the rest of Jordan where we have been. The temperature was in the low 70’s when we arrived at about 7:00 pm. Our hotel is in the city of Wadi Musa, only about 2 blocks from the entrance to Petra.
This morning at 7:00 am we took a private guided tour of Petra. It was very nice and cool, about 58 degrees when we started walking. Our guide was with us for about 3 hours and we were on our on to explore afterwards as long as we wanted. We stayed in the old city until about 3:00 pm. It was 80 degrees when we left, but the sun was intense by then.
Here is information from the guide:
”Petra is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer, dusky pink rock face by the Nabataeans over 2,000 years ago.
One of the 7 Wonders of the World, Petra is a spectacular example of the engineering genius of these ancient people. Enter the city through the Siq, a narrow gorge over 1 kilometer in length, and admire the dazzling colors and rock formations before catching your first sight of Al Khazneh.
Marvel at the massive Roman-style theater, seating 3,000 people, magnificent obelisks, temples, sacrificial altars, and colonnaded streets, as well as the impressive Ad Deir Monastery overlooking the valley."
We didn't make it up the the Monastery because it was too hot and we would have needed to take a donkey ride to get up there. We ate lunch at a Bedouin tent restaurant before we walked back out the Siq to our hotel.
[Sunday] Today we took a day tour from Petra/Wadi Musa to Wadi Rum. The Wadi Rum area of Jordan is more desolation that is only inhabited by Bedouins living in tents and riding camels between water springs. The only vegetarian is small bushes that can survive on the rain that comes occasionally.
This area was a major trade route in ancient times, and the Nabataeans around 50 BC left writing on the cliff walls.
"Meet a driver at your Petra hotel for 9:00 am the 66-mile trip to Wadi Rum, a desert wilderness whose dramatic scenery has been the backdrop for movies including The Martian and Lawrence of Arabia.
Upon arrival at Wadi Rum, transfer to a four-wheel drive Jeep with a local Bedouin guide at the wheel, stopping to see the extraordinary rock drawings and inscriptions that date back to before the time of Christ.
If desired, you'll have the option to add a 30-minute camel ride at Wadi Rum (we didn't do this). At the end of your time at Wadi Rum, begin the return trip to Petra, where this tour concludes with drop-off at your hotel.”
Since we finished up the tour by early afternoon, we decided to check out of our hotel in Wadi Musa a day early and let our driver take us to Aqaba, Jordan, at the southern end of Jordan, on the Gulf of Aqaba (Red Sea). We checked into the Intercontinental Hotel Aqaba, the nicest hotel we stayed at on our Middle Eastern trip. It was absolutely First Class.
[Monday] Today we traveled about 3 hours to cross two country borders. We left Jordan about 11:00 am and took a taxi from the Israel/Jordan border to the Israel/Egypt border. The company that has our two days of Egyptian tours picked us up at the Egyptian border and took us to our hotel in Nuweiba, about 40 miles south of the border on the Gulf of Aqaba (Red Sea). We arrived about 3:00 pm at the Coral Resort Nuweiba. The Red Sea is amazingly beautiful. It certainly is not red. It is the most beautiful blue and green that I have ever seen anywhere else we have been.
They say that the coral in this area is some of the most beautiful in the world. We don't snorkel, so we will take their word.
[Tuesday] Today we departed from Nuweiba at 8:00 am with our guide and our Bedouin driver, and traveled about 5 hours toward St. Catherine’s Monastery. On our way, we left the highway in our Toyota 4-wheel and went through sand that at times challenged the truck. We stopped at three different ancient historic sites in the central Sinai, where the Israelites may have traveled. These were ancient camel caravan routes. We stopped at Ein Khodra, Rock of Inscription and Nawamis.
We arrived at the Bedouin Fox Camp at about 1:30 pm, where we will spend tonight. The camp is about a mile from St. Catherine's Monastery. We ate a Bedouin lunch and after relaxing in our room and exploring the camp, we ate supper at about 7:00 pm and went to bed. Tomorrow we get up at 1:00 am to go up Mount Sinai before sunrise.
Here is the information from the guide:
”Today we board our jeeps and begin our journey to the heart of the picturesque Sinai desert. Having reached the Sandstone area we leave the road for a breathtaking 4X4 adventure through this beautiful wilderness. In this area we find the delicate rock formations of the southern Mt. Baraka and enjoy the breathtaking view from the top of nearby sand dunes, the highest in Sinai. We visit the ancient tribal cemetery of Nawamis (4000 BC), the ‘Rock of Inscriptions’ and the beautiful ‘Hollow Mountain’. As the sun goes down we head straight to the towering red granite mountains of the high range where both St. Catherine’s monastery and Mount Sinai are found. We enjoy our evening meal and settle for the night at a local hotel, or at the beautiful Bedouin hostel.”
[Wednesday] This morning we awoke at 1:00 am and got dressed and went with our driver and guide to St. Catherine’s Monastery. We then rode camels (this will be our first and last time to ride a camel - they are not comfortable!) for about 1 hour and 45 minutes up the trail on the side of Mount Sinai to where 750 steep steps continue upward to the summet. This is all in the dark, although the 3/4 moon was so bright, it was like a street light. You can ride the camels 3/4 of the way up, but you must climb the steps the rest of the way to the top. The steps to the top were so steep, we decided that, with reasonable certainty, the sun would rise where we left the camels. And sure enough, it did!
After the sunrise, we walked back down the mountain trail to St. Catherine’s Monastery, and ate breakfast in the monastery restaurant. We then toured the portions of the monastery that were open to visitors. Unfortunately, the Library was closed because they are working to preserve the ancient manuscripts housed there. We went back to the Bedouin Fox Camp to shower and be driven back to the Egyptian/Israeli border.
On the way back we stopped for lunch in Nuweiba. We crossed the border and arrived back in Israel around 3:00 pm and took a taxi to our hotel in Eilat, C Hotel Eilat. The temperature was 103 degrees that afternoon in Eilat.
We had many interesting experiences in the Egyptian Sinai. Egypt went from 10 million tourists a year to just a few hundred thousand a year after what they referred to as “The Revolution.” (We call it the Arab Spring.) That period of history decimated the economy of the Egyptian eastern coast on the Gulf of Aqaba/Red Sea. They are very slowly recovering. Everyone we met there were super nice to us. It has to be one of the cheapest resort areas in the world today.
[Thursday] This morning at 10:00 am it was 100 degrees!!! We had to check out our hotel by 11:00 am, so we sat in the lobby for an hour. Then we got a taxi to the Eilat Ramon International Airport. Since we were so early for our scheduled 5:30 pm flight to Ben Gurian Airport, they allowed us to switch to a earlier flight and we left at 2:40 pm on Arkia Airlines IZ1804, an Embraer ERJ190-100/200 airplane, and arrived at Tel Aviv's Sde Dov Airport 35 minutes later. (They closed that airport later in the year on July 1, to the regret of many people in Eilat. Flights now only go to Ben Gurian Airport.)
We caught a taxi to the Airport Guest House in Or Yehuda, a suburb of Tel Aviv near Ben Gurian Airport. We arrived a little before 5:00 pm. The guest house was like an apartment and had 6 rooms to rent. It was small, but very nice and comfortable.
[Friday] We awoke at 5:30 am and ate some breakfast bars and drank a cup of coffee in our room. Afterwards, our host at the guest house drove us to the airport.
We left Tel Aviv at 9:55 am on Turkish Airlines TK785, an A330-300 airplane and arrive in Istanbul at 12:15 pm.
We then boarded Turkish Airlines TK33, a B777-300ER airplane at 2:00 pm and arrive in Houston at 7:05 pm.< Turkish Airlines at Istanbul Airport.
This draws to a close our brief trip to the Middle East. We hope you enjoyed the photos and brief descriptions of our activities. God willing, join us again soon for another travel adventure.
Goodby for now,
Lawson & Kay
Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. (Psalm 150:1-6 NKJV)