Two Days in Tuscany

With a long weekend looming and a guest from out of town visiting, we decided to take advantage of the extra days off and head to Tuscany.  While we had been there before, our guest had not, and so we made plans to fly into Bologna, visit there for a few hours and then spend a couple of days in Florence.  However, life had different plans because our morning flight got canceled which caused us to then only get to Bologna at night.  So, rather than spend any time there, we drove straight on to Florence.


On our first full day, we started off with a pastry and a cappuccino before heading past the Florence Cathedral on the way to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see the one and only David. He was quite large and really impressive in his degree of detail.


In addition to the famous statue, we saw many other statues and artworks, including this really pretty tapestry, before leaving the museum and walking to the Palazzo Vecchio for a cannoli, torta del nonno and another cappuccino.


The torta del nonno was really good!  After the quick break for our feet, we walked across the Ponte Vecchio amid a sea of umbrellas, as it drizzled and was cloudy the entire weekend, before making our way to Pitti Palace.  We walked through the palace exploring the rooms and the artwork and escaping the heaviest of the rain before heading into the Boboli Gardens for a quick walk.


After the palace and gardens, we made our way to a sidewalk restaurant for lunch.  We had some caprese and Tuscan cheeses before the main course of gnocchi with gorgonzola and walnut sauce, tagliatelle tartufo, tagliatelle porcini and ribollita with some Chianti.


After lunch, we stopped for a really nice gelato, and then went to rest for a bit before going out to dinner that evening.  Our dinner meal began with some bruschetta before we enjoyed pici cacio e pepe which was so good.  We finished with some tiramisu and cantuccini with vin santo and a little limoncello.  It was a nice meal.

Our second day, we went to see some more famous artwork at the Uffizi Gallery including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Caravaggio’s Medusa, and Titian’s Venus of Urbino.


There were also a lot of sculptures.  It was nice, but really quite big.  After the museum, we decided to see a bit more of Tuscany by heading to Lucca.  The city was nice and had some old world charm, though we struggled to find many food choices for the vegetarian members of our party.  In the end, we settled on buffala and quatro formaggio pizzas.  We spent a couple of hours walking around the city seeing the open squares, small winding streets and cathedrals including one with a wedding taking place.





After driving back to Florence, we went to dinner in an outside square where we had a little Aperol Spritz and Chianti along with gnocchi and cacio e pepe.

And being that it was our last night, we also had to have another tiramisu as well as a dessert we had never tried- zuccotto florentine which was really good!


We finished the meal with an amaro del capo and a limoncello.  We walked the meal off a bit, stopped and bought a leather bag, and may or may not have stopped for one final small gelato.

The next day we caught an early flight back home before our waistlines could expand any more.  All in all, while the travel plans and the weather didn’t really cooperate with us, it was a nice, quick trip.  Bellissimo!

I’ll Take a Scotch-Vacation That Is

Last week being our spring break, we decided to head north where the weather was certainly not better than home, but we got to enjoy Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands.

Day 1

We took a morning flight to Edinburgh and made our way into the heart of the city via the tram.  Once there, we went to lunch at a pub where we jumped right in and tried haggis as an appetizer.  Surprisingly, it was really good-just don’t think too hard about what it is.  Surviving that, we got a pint of Scottish beer and vegetarian haggis, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) as well as fish and chips for our main meal.  We also decided to try a few whiskies since we were in Scotland after all.  The bartender recommended some that are good for beginners, and also surprisingly, they were good and not too strong for our tastes.  To complete our meal, we had to order sticky toffee pudding as it is a favorite of ours.


Everything was really good, and with our first meal down, we headed into the old town.  Our first stop was the Scott Monument built for Sir Walter Scott.  Interestingly enough, the monument was not intended to be black, but all the coal that was burned in the city over the years turned it black.



Our next point of interest was St. Giles Cathedral.  It was quite nice inside with interesting architecture and stained glass.



From here, we walked to the Writer’s Museum with memorabilia about Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson-all Scottish writers.


Then, we walked up the Royal Mile to the Edinburgh Castle and back down.  We stopped in a few shops along the way and took in all the unique people walking the streets.  I truly have never seen so many interesting and unique individuals concentrated in one location before.


After checking into our apartment, we went to get some dinner at a restaurant around the corner.  There, we had vegetarian wellington, vegan shepherd’s pie and vegetarian haggis.  We all liked it.


On our way back to the apartment, we stopped at some of the buildings of the University of Edinburgh which was directly across from our apartment.  Then, we headed in for the night to try some of the candies we bought during the day-Edinburgh rock, Scottish tablet, Soor Plooms and some shortbread.  Everything was nice but the tablet sure was sugary!


Day 2

Today, we started with a big breakfast- a full Scottish which included haggis, eggs, mushrooms, tomato, bread, hashbrown, beans and tattie (potato) scone.  Most of us got the vegetarian version, but one got the regular and it also included black pudding.  We tried a little strawberries and cream tea with it as well.


After breakfast, we took a taxi to the outskirts of the city to visit Craigmillar Castle.  Some areas are not open to the public, but we walked through what is.  There wasn’t a lot to see, but we did see the room that belonged to Mary Queen of Scots when she recovered from an illness there and the area where her second husband, Lord Darnley, was killed.


Near the grounds, there was a small nature area that we walked through before getting back into the heart of the city for lunch in another pub.

We began the lunch with Irn Bru sodas for the kids and beer and a hot toddy for the grownups.  We also tried a cheese platter with relishes and oatcakes.  For the main meal, we got the vegetarian bangers and mash, fish and chips, a pork pie and Cullen skink soup which was really good.  For our dessert, we had to try the famed fried Mars bars-if you enjoy fried things, then it wasn’t too shabby.

After lunch, we walked to Holyrood Palace.


This is where the royal family (as in the British one) stay when they are in Scotland.  We walked through several rooms and saw some “treasures” such as jewelry, swords and mementos.  We also saw the rooms that had belonged to Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley.  We walked out to the abbey ruins on the grounds and the garden.


Next, we made our way to Holyrood Park where we decided to sit around a lake with tons of swans, gulls, pigeons and ducks for a bit.

On our way back to our apartment, we stopped at the Greyfriar Bobby monument-a tribute to the dog who laid at his master’s grave every night for about 14 years before he died.

We also walked through the graveyard there which is where J.K. Rowling found inspiration for some of her characters’ names in the Harry Potter series.

For dinner, we decided to try a Brazilian place by our apartment.  Let’s just say we weren’t impressed.

Day 3

Today, we headed out of the city to the Highlands, so we grabbed a quick breakfast of cheese and onion pasties and a Scottish pie and got on our bus.


After driving for a while, our first stop was the small village of Pitlochry where we grabbed a quick snack of a tattie scone roll and caramel slice.


Back on the road, we drove through the Cairngorms National Park on our way to Inverness and Loch Ness.


We had a lunch on the edge of the loch of stovies (potato and other veggies stewed and mashed together) before boarding the boat to sail down the loch.


No sightings of Nessie but we did have some nice views before getting off at Urquhart Castle.  The castle was mainly just ruins, but we were able to walk around the area for a while enjoying some views before heading in the visitor center to watch a short film about the site.


Once we were back on the bus, we drove toward Ben Nevis-the highest point in Scotland.

We also stopped in Glencoe to see three hills referred to as the sister hills.

The views along the way were very pretty with waterfalls, mountains, hills, lochs, streams, fields and a huge peat bog called Rannoch Moor.

We saw several deer along the way including the Red Deer.  The tour did make a stop to feed some Highland Cows, but as we see them all the time near our home, we decided to watch the lambs in the fields nearby.  They were pretty cute!

On our way back to the city, we drove by Bannock Burn, the battlefield site of Robert the Bruce’s victory against the English, and we could see the site of William Wallace’s victory of Stirling Bridge in the distance.  It was a day of very nice scenery and no less than four rainbows!

Day 4

Breakfast was once again the full Scottish breakfast for most of the family, but I tried the porridge with fruit and honey which was really good along with some blood orange marmalade tea.


Then, we boarded our next tour which was a shorter day to the Borders in the south of the country.  Unlike the day before, the scenery here consisted of very wide, open, sweeping views.  It was still very hilly, though.  Everything was very green and looked pastoral with all the sheep.  We made a brief stop at what is known as Scott’s view (a place that Sir Walter Scott enjoyed visiting) and then headed into the town of Melrose to see Melrose Abbey.


Most of the abbey was closed for safety reasons so there wasn’t too much to see, but we had lunch in the town.

After lunch, we made our way to Rosslyn Chapel.  The chapel is quite small, but it has so many carvings and details.  The carvings are very symbolic and pretty.


We stopped in the museum café to have some scones with jam and cream before driving back to Edinburgh.

We went to dinner which was not that special, but we did have a cider and a whisky flight which was nice, and we tried cranachan (berries and cream) for dessert which was good.


Day 5

Today was our final tour out of the city.  Our first stop was the Kelpies which is a large metal monument to the horses that used to work pulling the boats down the canal in the area as well as the mythical creatures known as kelpies that take the form of a horse.


From there, we made our way to Loch Lomond for a cruise on the loch.  The views were pretty, and there were lots of nice “homes” along the shoreline.  These “homes” were large estates and castles-some privately owned, some hotels and some owned by foundations.  There was also a huge snowy mountain in the distance.

After the loch cruise, we went into a small town where we got some lunch of Scotch Broth and some whisky fudge.


After lunch, we drove through the Trossachs National Park.  The views were really great with hills, mountains, forested roads, lochs, streams and fields with tons of sheep and lambs.  It was very enjoyable to just look out the window!

Our next stop was Stirling Castle which had some interesting bits of history as it was built by Mary Queen of Scots’s father for her mother, and it was where her son was baptized.


I really enjoyed seeing the Stirling Faces which were the old wooden carvings that used to be on the ceiling of one of the rooms as well as the kitchens where they had information on things that they used to serve including recipes.

While we were at the castle, we got caught in a hail/snow storm that was immediately followed by full sun.  Once the sun came back out, we were able to get some good views of the William Wallace monument at Stirling Bridge as well as a statue commemorating Robert the Bruce.



With a few minutes to spare before our tour bus headed out, we ran down into the town of Stirling to see a unicorn (national animal of Scotland) statue which used to signal the site of a royal market and a cool old church with graveyard.


Our final stop of the day was a photo stop at the three bridges in Edinburgh that span the Firth of Forth-the Queens Ferry Crossing, the Forth Road Bridge and the Forth Bridge.  Interestingly, each was built in a different century-the 19th, 20th and 21st.

After returning, we went to dinner where some of us got things we had before while others got sausages and mash (both vegetarian and regular).  We also tried a couple of whiskies, a beer and treacle for dessert.

Day 6

Our final day was a rainy one, but we made it to Deacon’s House Café for a breakfast of scones with cream and jam and an orange cake which was good.


We also learned a little about the café.  It was once the workshop of Deacon Brodie who was a cabinet maker by day and a burglar by night.  He is said to be the inspiration for the story of Jekyll and Hyde.  After breakfast, we went on a tour of the underground vaults of Edinburgh which was both a bit interesting and a bit spooky.  Apparently, many criminals and homeless used to live in the vaults centuries ago.  At one point, the city was on fire for many days and all of the people living underground died because they were trapped, and the stone walls heated up.  Therefore, it is thought to be very haunted but really it was just hard to imagine people living in those conditions.


After the tour, it was still raining, so we rode the hop on and off bus around the city for an hour or so to take in some more views of the city.





We then found a place for lunch where we had vegetarian haggis and cock a leekie terrine.  We also tried two whisky flights-a mild one and a seaweed and smoke flight which was pretty interesting and good.  For dessert, we tried a rhubarb cranachan and toffee pudding.

Finally, the rain stopped so we walked to St. Cuthbert’s cathedral.  We couldn’t go inside, but we walked around the graveyard.

Then, we collected our bags and made our way to the airport.  However, we were in for a surprise when they canceled our flight an hour and a half before departure.  After struggling to get everything sorted, we made our way to an airport hotel feeling a bit frustrated.  Interestingly enough though, once in our room, we saw a huge double rainbow that was so bright and vivid it was unreal!

I wish I could tell you that the rainbow signaled that all would be fine-good luck ahead.  Unfortunately, the next day we got a call that our dog was unwell at the boarders with a herniated disk, our daughter threw up 7 times from the moment we stepped onto the skywalk to board the plane until the car ride home from the airport (that’s only about a 3-hour time span) and the windshield of our month-old car got chipped on the way to pick up our animals.  But we arrived home in one piece, and we all had a nice time on our trip, so we can’t complain too much!  Until next time!

Exploring Egypt and the Ancient World

The Netherlands in February is cold and dreary, so when it came time to plan our February break, we wanted to go somewhere warm and sunny.  We couldn’t think of a better place than one that we had all been wanting to visit for many years-Egypt! 

When we arrived at night and walked out of the airport, we knew we had made a good choice because it was warm outside.  We were taken to our hotel, and once we got into our rooms, we found that we had an amazing view of the Nile and the city.

Day 1

The next morning, we woke to find that our alarm did not go off, so we jumped up and quickly got ready and ate something-not the best first meal because of the rush.  But, we met our guide on time and headed to Memphis, a 5,000-year-old city that was an ancient capital of Egypt.  Here, we saw a small sphinx, several different pieces with hieroglyphics and a mumification bed (where they would lay the body and drain bodily fluids). 


And then, we saw the giant statue of Ramses II.  The amount of detail on it was so impressive especially considering it was carved into a massive red granite block and made 3,200 years ago!

Our next stop was Saqqara where we toured the complex of the burial site and learned a lot about the features of such a complex such as the funerary temple, the mummification temple and the causeway.  We saw the first step pyramid (built 4,600) years ago and went into the tomb of King Teti.  The tomb is difficult to enter as you descend downward bent over because the ceiling is low.  Inside the tomb, we saw the first burial texts (hieroglyphics) that were later featured in all tombs. 

In another area of Saqqara, we saw the tomb of a member of nobility built as a mastaba-square tomb.  The ornate and intricate carvings depicted so much, particularly scenes of daily life, and the detail was amazing.  There was actually some color left in the carvings though they are 4,300 years old!


Next, we went to the Great Pyramids which are around 4,500 years old and are the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  We walked around all three pyramids and learned a lot about them.  It was interesting to see the size of the stones used to build them. 




We made our way to a restaurant overlooking the pyramids for our lunch.  We had some aish baladi bread that was being made on site by an older woman.  The bread was very soft and chewy. 

We also had some quinoa salad with hummus.  The meal featured a pyramid shaped mound of rice with veggie tajine and moussaka tajine.  We also tried some karkadeh tea which is made from hibiscus.  We finished with some traditional rice pudding.  Everything was really good and very filling. 



After lunch, we went to see the Great Sphinx and went to the only surviving Valley Temple (mummification tomb) of ancient Egypt.  We learned all about mummification and the Sphinx before returning to the hotel. 


We tried a national dish of Egypt for dinner-koshary.  They have restaurants that only serve koshary because the dish consists of many components and the best koshary comes from restaurants that specialize in only that because they can take the time to make all of the components well.  The dish has pasta, lentils, chickpeas, a tomato-based sauce and fried onions.  We had a fun demonstration from one of the workers on how to put the dish together.  It was delicious!  He also gave us some kind of chip to eat with our dinner, and we tried om ali (a very milky bread pudding) for dessert before heading back to the hotel for the night. 


Day 2

This morning, we had a more leisurely breakfast of ta’amiyya (falafel), foul medames (smashed and whole fava beans), an olive pastry and fiteer bread.  Everything was pretty good.  

We met up with our guide to head to the Citadel where we learned a lot about the Mamelukes (former slaves who ended up running the country) and Mohammed Ali (not the boxer, but rather an Egyptian ruler).  

We toured the large mosque and saw the tomb of Mohammed Ali. 




Then, we moved to the Mosque of Sultan Hassan.  It had some really pretty design elements.  We went into the mausoleum and there was a Sheikh inside who sang part of a prayer for us.  It was really cool to hear in the room. 





Next, we visited another mosque across from Sultan Hassan’s that was built by a woman.  There were a lot of royal tombs inside including one for the last king of Egypt and the last Shah of Iran.  Cairo is called the city of a thousand minarets referring to the number of mosques that they have.  Indeed, there were so many more than what we saw, and they all come with their own design elements and style based on when they were constructed.  


After the mosques, we went to lunch where we had stuffed vine leaves, bessara (fava bean dip), spicy cheese dip and tahini with bread.  We also tried some lentil soup.  The main dish was molokhiyya which is a soup made from jute leaves, okra tajine and spinach tajine. It was all very tasty.

After lunch, we visited the Egyptian Museum.  Out front, they had a pretty display of papyrus and lotus, the two symbols representing Upper and Lower Egypt. 


Inside, they had an amazing amount of 3,000-4,000-year-old artifacts.  We saw some really amazing statues including a life like wooden one, a huge one and some strangely shaped ones.  We also saw the mummies of some noble people. 


And, the crème de la crème-the treasure of King Tut’s tomb including his death mask.  It was really cool to see!  We even got to see the box housing the vessels that contained his organs. 


After the museum, we went to Ancient Cairo to walk through the Khan El Khalili Bazar where, luckily, the merchants were not too pushy.  The bazar was a neat experience especially on the quiet streets with all the Islamic architecture as a backdrop.  We walked the streets looking at mosques, various dwellings and water dispensaries.  We loved seeing the kids on bikes and mopeds with giant wooden trays on their heads loaded with breads-a real feat in balance!




On the way back to the hotel, we drove by a huge daily market.  The size was incredible considering it happens every day but Friday (weekend there). 


We made our way to dinner where we had falafel, bessara, tahini, grape leaves and rice stuffed pigeon.  Pigeon really has very little meat.  We had another rice pudding and om ali for dessert. 




Day 3

After sleeping in a bit, we went down to breakfast where someone important must have been eating because there were secret service type agents all over the breakfast room.  When we finished and were leaving the hotel, there was also a huge convoy of cars out front with special Egyptian forces escorts. 

We made our way to the Civilizations Museum.  The highlight there was about 21 royal mummies including Nefertari and Hatshepsut.  The preservation after 3,000 years is unbelievable-some even have hair in good condition!  We also saw some amazing artifacts including a 35,000-year-old skeleton.  They had some nice Islamic architecture designs and a tent like case that was placed on camels’ backs and used to carry the curtains for Mecca that were made in Egypt. 



In the afternoon, we flew to Luxor where we had another amazing view of the Nile. 

The hotel had a Lebanese restaurant inside an open courtyard, so we ate there.  While we at some hummus, muhmarra (pepper dip), tahini, samousek and grape vines, we watched some dance performers.  After the main dish of spinach tajine and some fatteh, our son was invited to perform onstage with the dancers.  That was fun! 


After dinner, we walked to some artisan shops in our hotel and while it was a bit uncomfortable with the pressure to buy, the oil guy did give us some testers which smelled nice. 

Day 4

The next day, we woke up to a view of hot air balloons flying over Luxor. 


We had some eggplant, bread and foul (fava beans) for breakfast before boarding a small boat on the Nile to take us to the other bank.



On the other side, we made our way to the Valley of the Kings.  On the way, we drove through the agricultural area and saw these sun-dried tomatoes being dried. 


We drove by the Valley of the Workers (the tombs of those that worked on the Kings’ tombs) before arriving at the Valley of the Kings. 


We got to see three tombs while we were there- Ramses I, Ramses III and Ramses IV.  They were so colorful and elaborate.  It was really hard to remember that they were 3,000 years old.


Next, we went to the Temple of Hatshepsut who was a female pharaoh.  She has a very interesting story, but basically, she ruled after her husband died by sending her stepson (the rightful heir) away to be educated.  When he grew up and returned, he had her temple desecrated (she was already dead) because he realized she had taken the throne from him.  This temple, which was simply used to mummify her body and is not her tomb, is what remains and it’s hard to imagine what it would have been like if it hadn’t been destroyed. 

After leaving the temple, we stopped at an alabaster shop for a demonstration on how they turn the alabaster into various products. 


Then, the Valley of the Queens where we saw the tombs of Queen Titi and her two sons that died at 14 and 16.  There is also the mummified 6-month fetus that she was carrying when her sons died and lost due to the grief.  Again, the colors and details were amazing.



We made a quick stop at the Colossi of Memnon which stand at the entrance to what was once another pharaoh’s mortuary temple.  The temple and much of the other statues were destroyed in an ancient earthquake and the Greeks found these statues and named them this after the noises they make when the wind blows through them.


We had lunch at a nearby restaurant that served hummus, muhamarra, lentil soup and vegetable tajine along with some guava juice.

After lunch, we visited the Temple of Karnak which was just so huge and impressive with hieroglyphics everywhere.  Again, we were just amazed at the level of preservation after 3,000 years. 


We stopped at a papyrus shop for a demonstration of how papyrus paper is made which was interesting, and we looked around at the different art they make on papyrus. 


Our final stop was the Temple of Luxor which was also huge.  We saw the Avenue of Sphinxes and many interesting statues and carvings. 

Back at the hotel, we took in the views of the sun setting on the Nile while enjoying some juice drinks like strawberry juice and lemon juice. 

Back in our room, we sat on the balcony and watched a bunch of bats flying around which was fun.

Day 5

Our day was mostly spent flying from Luxor back to Cairo and then from Cairo to Sharm-el-Sheikh.  We then drove for an hour or so through the Sinai Desert on our way to Dahab.  Our day never really ended because at 11:30pm, we were picked up by our guide to head to Mt. Sinai.


Day 6

The day began at 11:30pm the day before as we drove through the desert toward Mt. Sinai.  We reached the mountain (also referred to as Moses Mountain) at about 1am and began hiking at 1:30am.  That’s right-we hiked up the mountain all night with a Bedouin guide.  It took us about three and a half hours with frequent breaks to climb up the rocky sand slopes and the 750 steep rock steps to reach the summit which was about a 6-mile hike. 

Most of the journey we were by ourselves as the majority of people rode camels to the bottom of the steps.  One of the best parts was resting on a rocky wall and looking up to the ridge above us where the camel silhouettes could be made out against the dark, starry sky.  It’s a shame we couldn’t get a picture. 

Once we made it to the steps, everyone was together, and most people had to take frequent breaks to rest.  We made it to the summit about an hour before sunrise, and very few people were there at that point.  It was very cold, but one of the Bedouins was nice enough to let us sit in his tent to stay warm.  We made a little conversation, and it was much appreciated shelter.  Close to sunrise, we left the tent to see the area where Moses’s cave is and where he received the Ten Commandments.  Then, we watched the sun appear on the horizon and make its rapid ascent up to the skyline. 

After the sun was up, it was time to tackle the descent which was a bit of a killer on the knees.  The rocks and sand were actually quite slippery, so you had to be very careful.  I may have ended up on my backside one time, but we saw someone else really wipe out closer to the bottom.  Once we made it to the bottom, we had a quick stop to learn about the monastery that houses the descendent of the burning bush as well as other artifacts.  Unfortunately, the monastery was closed on this day, so we couldn’t go in. 

After this, we made our way back to Dahab where we got on a private boat to go diving and snorkeling.  While my husband and daughter dove twice, my son and I snorkeled the reef.  There were many colorful fish and lots of coral.  We even saw a clam with a blue inside.  They served us lunch on the boat of rice and vegetables.  The ride back to the harbor was very peaceful and the water was pretty.  We really enjoyed soaking up the sun!


Back at the hotel, we cleaned up and went to a buffet dinner where we had various grains and vegetables and a rather large assortment of Egyptian desserts which were very good.




Day 7

After all we had done over the last few days, this day was for pure relaxation.  We had breakfast of foul, cheese spreads, bread and vegetables before heading to the pool where we stayed for the whole day.


There were really nice views of the Red Sea.




We ate lunch by the pool, as well, where we had hummus, tahini and mutable (eggplant dip) with bread.  After finally extracting our son from the pool and getting cleaned up, we went to dinner where we again had rice and an assortment of vegetables.  There were again some Egyptian desserts including some little cookies and phyllo triangles in honey which were nice. 

After a final day of flying, we arrived back home.  Our trip was just what we wanted-amazing history, famous landmarks, some adventure and relaxation under the sun and warmth (writing this as the snow comes down in the Netherlands, I might be crying a little).  We feel really lucky to have been able to make this trip, and I’m sure we will all remember it for the rest of our lives. 










The Holy Lands

As 2022 came to an end and 2023 began, we had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Lands to experience a trip filled with history, religion and culture.  After much debate over the prudence of the decision to travel to an area that is often portrayed in the media as ripe with strife and war, we hired a travel company and jetted off to Amman, Jordan.

As we arrived very late at night, we didn’t have much time in Amman, but we did have a nice view of the city from our hotel.


Day 1

Bright and early the morning after arriving, we began the culinary portion of our journey with a Jordanian breakfast of hummus, baba ghanoush, moutabel (baba ghanoush with yogurt mixed in) and muhammara (roasted walnut and red pepper spread) with pita bread as well as mujaddal (very salty stringy cheese), labneh (a cheese spread), manakish (like a pizza with herbs/seasonings only), mo’ajjanat (bread stuffed with cheese), potatoes and fruit pastry.



After what was much more food than I have eaten for breakfast in a long time, we were taken out of the city to Mt. Nebo which is the mountain where Moses died after only being allowed to look into the Holy Lands.


The views from the mountain were nice and most of the points in the Holy Lands are only a few miles away.  Though the weather was a bit hazy, we were still able to see the Dead Sea and areas like Jerusalem.



The mountain features an iron serpent and cross monument to commemorate the story of Moses putting a snake on a pole as God directed.


There was also a small church on the spot with some mosaic floors.


After this, we made our way to St. George’s Monastery where we got to see the large mosaic floor depicting the map of the Holy Lands from the 6th century.  This is actually the oldest known map of the Holy Lands.  They had many beautiful mosaics in the church.


After leaving the church, we drove quite a while through small cities and the desert to get to Karak Castle which is the remains of a fortress from ancient people that was used extensively by the Crusaders.

There were many interesting rooms where the residents made olive oil and bread.  There was also a prison. 20221229_131051[3914]20221229_131045[3913]20221229_132722[3917]20221229_133122[3918]

We had a buffet lunch at the castle grounds which included tabbouleh, Arabic salad, hummus and several yogurt-based dips.  There was also vegetable sambosa (a triangular dough stuffed with vegetables), stewed tomatoes and vegetables with rice and kibbeh in a yogurt sauce (kibbeh is a breaded minced meat ball that is fried, and if you were at our wedding years ago, you might have had it there as it is eaten in Brasil).  For a drink, we tried a limonana which is a lemon and mint concoction.  Dessert was hareeseh or haresih.  It was a nice cake.

After that lunch, we fell asleep on the long drive through the desert to reach Petra, but I woke a few times to see some of the tent villages and sheep herders on the way.


We made a quick stop to see one of the springs that was created when Moses hit his staff on the rock as described in the Bible.


Then, on to our hotel where they welcomed us with some Bedouin tea and Jordanian dates.



There wasn’t much time until dinner where we had a really nice meal of lentil soup, falafel, galayet (stewed tomato dish), muffarak batata (eggs and potato hash), strips of pita style bread dipped in olive oil and za’atar spice, taboon bread (seriously delicious!), musakan (chicken on a bed of seasoned rice and crispy onions) and mansaf (the national dish of Jordan) which is lamb meat cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt served on rice and with a yogurt sauce.  We tried some Jordanian wine and beer with it and finished the meal with kanafeh (a type of pastry with cream or cheese topped with a spun pastry and a syrup-kind of hard to describe).  The one that we had was cream.  Everything was very good!

As we were leaving the restaurant, we got to watch a local artisan making sand art using the stones found in the area near Petra.  He had learned the trade from generations of his family.  It was really incredible to watch the sand transform into a picture.

Day 2

We spent our second day in the Petra area which was once the home to the Nabateans.  We walked for 3 hours with our guide looking at the sites of Petra.  We saw a lot of tombs including the famous Treasury, the Dijn Blocks and the Street of Facades with 4 large tombs called the Royal Tombs.



We also saw the theater, the great temple used by the Romans and the temple of Pharoh’s daughter.


We learned a lot of history about the place and about the people that lived there and took in the architectural feats including the water system and the sculpted designs (I especially liked the remains of a sculpture featuring camels and herders).

After our walk with the guide, we grabbed some falafel sandwiches and some limonana before climbing a lot of steps past a lot of Bedouin stalls to reach the monastery which was a Nabatean tomb that Jesus supposedly stayed in when traveling through the area.




Then, we walked to an old church site that had a lot of mosaic floors before making our way up close and into the Royal Tombs.


After the tombs, it was time to make our way back through the siq (the opening in the rocks that leads to the large tombs) to head to another area called Little Petra.  This area is where the caravans used to stay away from the main “city” of Petra.  We saw the openings in the rocks that were the rooms they would stay in and the sinks that they would use to clean up in.

It was a long but interesting day, so when we got back to the hotel, we had a snack of arrays (like a quesadilla with lamb meat that was very good) and cheese.  After resting for a while, we had a smaller dinner with fattet salad (salad with pieces of pita in it), various olives, Jordanian wine and some ashta (a cream topped with rose and orange blossom water) for dessert.


Day 3

Today, we began with an early morning drive to the crossing point between Jordan and Israel.  As we left the Petra area, we saw the monument marking the place where Aaron, Moses’s brother, died.  We also made a stop along the way to enjoy the views of the Dead Sea and to see the pillar that is reported to be the remains of Lot’s wife.


The border crossing itself was a bit chaotic, but luckily, our guide stuck with us until we got in the van to be driven across the border line.  On the Israeli side, we got stuck in a line waiting first for security (we were behind a teenage girl who couldn’t figure out why the machine was going off as she pulled first two pieces of fruit, then a toilet paper roll and finally her air pods out of her pockets) and then for the passport check.  But, we made it through and met our new guide.

As soon as we left the crossing point, the Biblical locations and history immediately jumped to life as we drove by the city of Jericho on our way to the point where it is believed that Jesus was baptized on the Jordan River (for many years this location was closed, and an alternate location was used but it has recently been reopened).


After dipping our hands in the water, we drove to the Qumran caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.  We watched a film about the Essenes who were a mystic Jewish sect that lived in the caves and were the ones that wrote the scrolls and hid them in the caves before being driven out by the Romans.  In fact, it is believed that John the Baptist may have been a member of the sect.  At the site, we could see not only the caves where the scrolls were found but also the remains of the Essene commune.


From here we went to a beach point on the Dead Sea and changed into our bathing suits in order to do a little floating.  The salt content in the water is about 34% (normal saltwater is about 3.5%) so there are signs reminding you not to put your face in or splash so that you avoid burning in your eyes.  While it was a little chilly in the water, the float was fun for a little bit and the views around the sea (though it is actually a large lake) were nice.

After cleaning up, we drove through the Judean mountains to Jerusalem.  We drove up Mount Scopus and then to the Mount of Olives where we could overlook the whole city.


Our guide pointed out a lot of sites and shared a lot of history.  Probably the most important place in Jerusalem is the Dome of the Rock (golden domed building).  This is said to be the location on which the Earth began, where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, where the Holy of Holies (the Temple) was erected and where Mohammed from the Muslim faith ascended.  Other locations that he pointed out were the site of the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane and the spot of the crucifixion.

After hearing all of this information, we made our way down the mountain to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Lord’s Agony Church constructed around the site where Jesus prayed in the garden.  The olive trees there are 2000 years old, so they are the trees from Jesus’s time.  Inside the church, there were some beautiful mosaics and the stone on which Jesus prayed (of course, with all of the sites, the said spots are not confirmed exact locations but are the general area).

After this, we made our way to our hotel where we had afternoon tea which was a fun experience.  For dinner, our guide suggested a focaccia restaurant that was actually pretty good.  We tried something called sabich which is essentially an eggplant dish (there is a sandwich version, but this was just the filling to be eaten on focaccia).  We also had our first Israeli wine and beer.

Day 4

After breakfast where we tried Shashuka (essentially a tomato and pepper-based sauce with poached eggs on top), olives, cheeses, persimmon and some Challah bread, we ventured into the old city of Jerusalem.




The first stop was just outside the city at the site of King David’s tomb and the Last Supper.  The building itself is not the one from that time, but it is built on the site.  The tomb is on the first floor and the Last Supper room is on the second floor.  The room was very simple but pretty.


We also saw the church that is built on the spot where Mary ascended to Heaven.


We walked into the Old City through the Zion Gate and saw the bullet holes left there from the 1948 war for independence.


In the city, we walked by the remains of the old main street called the Cardo.


We walked into the Jewish Quarter (the city has 4 quarters) and to the Western Wall (this is considered a holy place because it is all that remains of the retaining wall of the Temple).  Men and women have separate sides of the wall, so we separated to go up to it and touch it.  The boys also got to see the old archways that are only accessible from the men’s side.



After the wall, we went to the Muslim Quarter and walked through the streets that have a bazaar style atmosphere to St. Anne’s Church which is reportedly the site where Mary was born.

20230101_11053820230101_111301We then began the walk along the Via Dolorosa (the path Jesus walked to the crucifixion point).  The first point on the path was the site where Pontus Pilot condemned Jesus.  There are two churches on this site.  They were both nice, but one had some very interesting 3-dimensional artwork as well as the original flooring.



We continued the path past the Ecco Homo arch and the various spots where Jesus fell or was helped by others.  Then, we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


We saw the spot marking where Jesus was undressed and the spot where he was crucified (there is an alter there, and you can get under it to touch the rock of the spot).

There was also the rock that is reportedly the one on which his body was laid and prepared for the tomb.

We saw the site of the tomb rock but there was a huge line to go in, so we didn’t do that.


After walking back through the Muslim bazaar and to the Jaffa Gate, we got some lunch of falafel and shawarma wraps.


Our next stop was going to Bethlehem, but it is under Palestinian control so Israeli citizens can’t enter.  As a result, we had to meet a driver outside the border line and be driven in to meet a Palestinian guide.  The Church of the Nativity was chaos.  You have to go down into a cave where you, again, can touch the rock of the site where Jesus was born.  They also have a manger display set up in the cave.  We had to wait in a line to be able to enter because different religious groups bless the cave multiple times each day, and no one can go in during the blessings.  It was pretty packed in the cave, but we touched the rock and made our way back out.


We went into a Catholic church on the site where we saw a statue monument to Mary, and then we stood in a courtyard where our guide said the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic which was Jesus’s native language.  That was kind of cool.

After this, we got transferred back to our Israeli guide across the Palestinian border and went to have a snack of Jerusalem bagel and sambusak (small breads stuffed with mushroom, potato or cheese-and, as I’m sure you guys could guess, we tried all three types!).