Trip to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Dead Sea, Aqaba, Petra, Wadi Rum and Tel Aviv

2-12 November 2012

We initially decided to visit Israel in early November , mainly because of the great weather there and also because of its many historic attractions. After suggestions to drive south to Eilat, I discover one can actually easily cross into Jordan and visit the famous Petra. So here is the travel log of our trip...

Note : Please do follow the wiki links of this travel log to learn more about these fascinating places.

After a 3 hour flight we arrive at noon in Tel Aviv and take a one hour cab ride to the Jerusalem Leonardo Hotel.

Weather is indeed very nice and warm and sunny. We decide to visit the 'old' town of Jerusalem. This is probably the oldest town in the world dating back perhaps 4000 years BCE. During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. So after a short 10 minute walk we arrive at the Damascus gate of old Jerusalem and have a delicious (and inexpensive) BBQ lunch at Abu's restaurant.

 

Lady selling grapes at the market just outside the Damascus gate.

The market outside the Damascus gate

Once we pass the Damascus gate, the streets are very narrow and steep, and we see an older man using a novel method to slow his cart.

Note the street signs in Arabic and English, put up when Jerusalem was part of Jordan in 1949.

After the six day war, Hebrew was added in 1967.

The old City (about 1Km square) is roughly divided into the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter

Every Friday Franciscan monks celebrate the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa.

A novel (or maybe not so novel) method of visiting the old town

And after several hours of walking through the old town we head to the western wall just before sunset. Many orthodox Jews seem to hurry to get to the wall.

As it is Friday, only men are allowed by the wall.... and I was able to enter Wilson's Arch

Dome of the Rock is just above.

Next day we head back to the old city and the Damascus gate.

We enquire about the bus going to Bethlehem and decide to take the 20 minute ride to this Palistinian territory. I had the misconception that it was well outside Jerusalem in the countryside. In effect it looks and feels like a suburb connected to Jerusalem. Though one does pass through an impressive security 'border post'.

We walk up through the old town of Bethlehem and see the main market full of fresh produce and teeming with people.

 

Including Mother Teresa nuns from India...

After an hour or so, we arrive at the main square...

 

which ajoins the Church of the Nativity... one of the oldest churches on earth, but not nearly as old as the temples of Luxor which we visited last year.

This is at the entrance known as the Door of Humility.

The decorations are predominantly orthodox and the visitors are from around the globe.

We have a great falafel lunch at a small restaurant within a two minute walk from the church. People are incredibly friendly.

Going back to Jerusalem on the public bus, we go through the checkpoint... an Israeli lady followed by a tough looking soldier carrying his machine gun. No problems at all.

We visit old Jerusalem again...

A typical scene while sipping coffee at a cafe in old Jerusalem.

And a view into the local spice store...

On the way back we visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Nice dinner and wine at the Leonardo

Next day we walk down to the 'town center' to rent a car for our trip to the Dead Sea and Eilat...

On the way we stop on the mount of the olives to take a picture of old Jerusalem and Dome of the Rock

We stop at a 'free beach' area and I take a quick dip in the incredibly warm (and clear) water of the Dead Sea.

We are at an altitude of minus 400 meters or minus 1200 feet.

The Dead Sea, with 30% salt content, has ten times more salt than the ocean. Hence one floats way high like this:

And we see incredible 'snow like' salt crystal scenes similar to this one:

 

After another two hour drive , across the Negev desert, we arrive in Eilat, where I leave the rental car at the border post.

One has to walk across the dead-man zone into Jordan... it is best not to travel with a ton of suitcases!

Entering Jordan is easy (but one must pay an exit fee from Isreal... around 100 sheckels).

We then take a ten minute cab ride to our Intercontental hotel in Aqaba.

We have a great dinner at the Ali-something restaurant near the mosque... and a 15 minute walk from the hotel.

Next day we rent a car (about the double the Israeli rate of 22USD per day) to drive to Petra and other places. But gas is real cheap here.

The highway takes us about 1 hour north and above 1000m (3000 feet). Many trucks doing the Aqaba to Amman trip (Jordan's only sea port).

After driving further west and above some 1600m high passes we arrive in Petra... a booming tourist town and one of the new seven wonders of the world.

We are staying at the inexpensive but nice Petra Palace hotel, which is only a ten minute walk from the Petra entrance. After paying for the two day park entrance fee we walk down the path towards the Siq (canyon).

We see the first carved statues made by the Nabateneans sometime between 200BC and 200AD. They were rich traders along the main caravan routes, linking the red sea to the south (India and China) and the med to the northwest (Europe). The architecture influenced by the Greeks (who were influenced by the Egyptians) and Romans.

The 2km long (about 1 mile) siq or canyon takes us through an incredible scenery... note the water channels carved on the sides which would bring precious water down to the temple sites.

 

Two kitties watching the visitors go by...

Some parts of the canyon are quite narrow...

After about a 20 minute walk we arrive in front of this...

 

Which brings us to the main 'square' in front of the what is known as the Treasury probably built between 100BC and 200AD. Part of the Raiders of the Lost Ark was filmed here.

Since this day was also one of the two days in the week which features a candle-night 'walk tour' at 9PM we decided to do that too. But the first thunderstorm of the season suddenly appeared for a short period, making for an eery feeling for the 1000 or so participants. Imagine what it must have been like some 2000 years ago!

 

Next day we get up early to start the 6 hour walking tour ... and the 800 steps up to the pool of sacrifice!

Looking down... we are only a short way up. Notice some more of the hundreds of temples built around 2000 years ago. The blueish tint may come this camera being in underwater mode (oops).

We are now about 70% up...

The high place with its carved out 'pool' also offers a spectacular view...

 

Starting to go down the mountain... more sculptures across the valley far below.

We are close to the bottom on the other side of the mountain..

 

......the colonade with visitors of the past and present.

Following the boss... we were tired after the five hour walk!

A camel, after turning its neck and resting its head on its masters lap...

 

Great arabic style supper just a few minutes up the road from Petra.

That evening we arrive in Aqaba again and stay at the Arab Divers Hotel on the south beach.

So next day we go into some the best snorkling-dive areas of all of Aqaba bay.

Swimming along the coral reef is like being in a salt water aquarium, but 5 miles long!

That evening we have a great sundowner and a barbecue meal in the 'bedouin tent' on top of the hotel, along with the other ten or so guests.

Next day we decide to drive back north (about 1 hour) to visit Wadi Rum, of Laurence of Arabia fame.

 

We hire a guide and his 4x4 vehicle to visit this famous area....

Lawrence wrote the Seven Pillars of Wisdom which you can download and read (superb book with lots more exciting stuff than what is in the great film).

 

Gotta climb up to the 'big bridge' too...

Need to check the engine....

Sprouts appear everywhere after the first rains of the season.

Carol gets her camel ride too! Lawrence apparently rode his camel down to Aqaba from here in just 6 hours (but he had one of the best camels around in 1917).

That afternoon we drive back down to Aqaba and visit Tala Bay.... just across from the Egyptian border (which is a one hour boat ride away).

The Saudi border is only 5 miles to the south of us by car, Aqaba and Eilat just to the north.

Another sundowner and a dip in the pool...

Next day we visit downtown Aqaba... children on the beach ask Carol if they could take a picture of her with their camera. Very friendly bunch of kids who learned English and want to try to talk to visitors. I offer to take a picture of all of them.

Camel trying to get harnassed by the camel drivers young son....seems to say : no way!

 

Beach scene ... note the clouds on the far shore. Eilat will get hit pretty badly with storm and floods.

Early next morning we return the Jordanian rental car and take a cab to the Eilat border and take our Israeli rental car back north to the dead sea resort of Ein Bokek

Great hotel, spa, beach, pool and dinner!!!!

The last day we drive the two hours from Ein Bokek to Tel Aviv, across desert and mountains.

We see the first storms hitting the mediteranean coast. Tel Aviv is a huge town with 6 lane expressways.

We stay in the nice Maxim hotel on the beach and the zav and his gopro takes on the great waves of the med!

A 'Sundowner on the Med'

And we have an excellent dinner in a close by restaurant!

Next day we drive to the airport via Jaffa ... to take the last photo of Tel Aviv from this beautiful vantage point...

And after a 2 hour security check we fly northwest and after 3 hours of flying we are over Cervinia and Zermatt.

Ski season in not far away! And we arrive home safely in the evening.

What a great trip it was!