Luxor, Egypt: The World’s Largest Outdoor Museum

After the hustle and bustle of Cairo, we were glad to have landed in Luxor.  Luxor is much calmer and a lot greener. The pace in Luxor is a lot slower, and you feel at ease while you are there.

Indeed, no trip to Egypt would be complete without a stop in Luxor, known as the world’s greatest open-air museum.  Modern day Luxor was the ancient city of Thebes.  Today, the ruins of the temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor stand within the modern city.  Right across the River Nile lie the monuments, temples, and tombs of the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, and the Necropolis or tombs of the nobles.  To really appreciate all the history and the sites, you need at least two full days in Luxor.

We hopped a short one-hour flight from Cairo to Luxor and immediately began exploring.  Our first stop was to  the Colossi of Memnon, which are two massive stone statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III, who reigned in Egypt during the Dynasty XVIII. This site is a quick, free stop on the way to the Valley of the Kings.

The Valley of the Kings is basically a royal cemetery.  It is a valley where tombs were created by excavating deep into the mountainsides for the pharaohs and powerful nobles.  Ancient Egyptians were VERY concerned about their death.  In fact, they spent their entire adult lives planning for their afterlife, and these tombs are the proof.  Ancient Egyptians believed in life after death, the pharaohs were expected to become one with the gods.  As a result, they built elaborate tombs in preparation for their afterlife.

The underground tombs were well stocked with all the material goods a ruler might need in the next world, such as clothes, furniture, tools, weapons, and jewelry. The tombs were also stocked with food and drink for royal feasting in the next world.  Sometimes, when a pharaoh died, his slaves and pets were killed with him and put into the tomb to help the pharaoh in his afterlife. Mummification was used to preserve the body so that the eternal soul would be restored in the afterlife.

There’s an old adage that life doesn’t come with a manual.  That may be true; but, for the Ancient Egyptians, death did.  On the walls of the tombs, the Book of the Dead was painted or carved.  The Book of the Dead was a collection of spells to assist a dead person’s journey through the underworld and into the afterlife.

On arrival to the Valley of the Kings, you will enter a visitor’s center.  You can purchase your tickets from here.  The cost is about $11.00 per person.  The tombs (well, the ones that are open on the day you happen to be visiting) in the valley are accessible with your entrance ticket, except one — the tomb of King Tut.  To visit King Tut, the most famous tomb onsite, you must buy a separate ticket.

Just a heads up, all the tombs in the valley are not always open to the public, so you on any given day you can expect three to four tombs to be open. The tombs that are open rotate in order to minimize damage to them or because restoration work is needed.

Also, if you are going to take pictures inside the tombs, you MUST purchase a photo ticket for each person who will be taking pictures.  It’s only about $3.00, so it is worth it.  The moment you whip out your camera or phone, someone will demand to see your photo ticket.  If you don’t have it, they will take your phone or camera and delete the photo and/or kick you out of the tomb. There are NO photos allowed in King Tut’s tomb.

There is a tram that will take you from the visitor’s center to the entrance of the tombs.  It is about $.50 per person to ride the tram, and, in my opinion, worth the money.

Each of the tombs are different inside.  Some you can walk straight into, some you will need to walk on a ramp to get down, and some have stairs.  None of them were particularly strenuous.  We visited four tombs, including that of King Tut.

The first tomb we visited was the Tomb of Ramses VII. It is a small, unfinished tomb, and the artwork inside is not as impressive as the others.

The second tomb we visited was that of Ramses IV. This tomb has very intricate artwork and very vibrant colors. Speaking of the paints and colors, it’s incredible when you realize that they have not been restored; yet, in many instances, they remain almost as bright and beautiful as they were when they were first applied thousands of years ago.

Up next was the tomb of King Tut.  This was the only tomb for which we had to wait in line.  It is also the only tomb that contains a sarcophagus and the mummified remains, of the one and only King Tut!

We left the Valley of the Kings and made out way to the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. This temple is dedicated to the sun deity Amun and is next to the mortuary temple of Mentuhotep II.  The temple is considered one of the incomparable monuments of ancient Egypt.  Also, the temple is aligned to the winter solstice sunrise, which makes it popular with spiritual people and yogis who come to the temple and sit there all day soaking up its energy and meditating.  The mortuary is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and costs $10.00 to enter.  It takes about an hour to visit.

After lunch, we hopped a river boat and crossed the Nile as we made our way to the Karnak Temple.

The Karnak Temple was one of my favorites in Luxor; and, considering it only costs $5.00, it is must! It is a large complex that is like is a vast open-air museum.  It is the second largest ancient religious site in the world, after Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It is believed to be the second most visited historical site in Egypt,the Giza Pyramids in Cairo being the first. Also, you can do this temple by day, which is magnificent, and by night, which, honestly, was kind of cheesy (but only $4.00).

From there, we visited the Temple of Luxor. Luxor is known as The World’s Largest Outdoor Museum, and together with the Karnak Temple, the Luxor Temple is the reason.  It is one of the best preserved of all of the ancient monuments with large amounts of the structure, statuary, and relief carvings still intact.  It too is one of the most impressive sites in Luxor, and it is only about $3.00 to enter.

We ended our day at the Luxor Bazaar where we stopped for a rest, some famous Egyptian coffee, and bought some beautiful spices.

At long last, it was time to check into our hotel.  If you are going to Luxor, there really is just one place to stay, and that place is the Winter Palace.  This hotel has a long history. It is a historic British colonial-era 5-star luxury resort hotel located on the banks of the River Nile, just south of Luxor Temple. It’s claim to fame is that it was the choice accommodation for Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter during their discovery and excavation of King Tut’s tomb. The hotel is a living antique, and the grounds are beautiful.

Day Two started with a trip to the Luxor Museum. This museum is often overlooked by visitors.  Most of the artifacts displayed at the Luxor Museum were discovered in the temples in Luxor. It’s a small museum that is open until 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. (depending on the season), and only costs $4.00 to enter. We got there just as it was opening for the day and basically had it to ourselves. Sine it’s relatively small, you can get through it in about  60 to 90 minutes. I highly recommend it.

Fun fact about the mummy below: It is the mummy of Ramses I. His tomb was robbed, and his mummy sold and re-sold on the black market.  By the time it found its way to Canada in the 1800s, its incredibly important royal pedigree had been lost, and it spent the next 140 years as an unknown mummy, unceremoniously housed with several others, some coffins, and other Egyptian artifacts as part of a “freaks of nature” exhibit. The museum changed hands, and crossed and re-crossed the Canadian border several times until it closed in 1999. Thereafter, the Carlos Museum at Emory University purchased the Egyptian collection for around $2 million USD.  They began testing the mummy for identification and after years of study,  the scientific community concluded that this is indeed the mummy of Ramses I. On October 24, 2003, Emory University returned the mummy to Luxor, Egypt, and it has been on display at this museum ever since.

Our second stop was to the Temple of Edfu. It is one of the best preserved shrines in Egypt.  It was also not as heavily visited by tourists. It had beautiful art work on the columns and ceilings with bright colors. It also has some of the deepest carvings in all of Egypt.  And, at less than $4.00 for admission, it is well worth a visit.

We ended our day with a trip to the Tombs of the Nobles. Unlike the funerary monuments for the kings and queens, these tombs are dedicated to administrators, governors, and other figures of minor nobility.  They are a cluster of tombs carved into a rocky hillside, and they are one of the least visited sites in Luxor.  In fact, when we were went, we were the only visitors there, which I loved. Also, there are active excavations going on here, and we got to see one in action!

While certainly smaller, these tombs were amazingly well preserved with the most vibrant color of any site we saw in Egypt.

But, before we headed to the airport, we made one last stop, and that was to get custom perfumes made using fine Arabic oils! These make great gifts, and they are so unique! The array of scents is dizzying, and they are made right in front of you using the bottle and size of your choice!

They say all good things must come to an end, and such was the case with our short, but amazing time in Egypt.  I am glad that we ignored our friends and family and took this trip.  We had a great time, we never felt in danger, we saw some amazing historical sites, and we did it all for such a reasonable price! Seriously, if you have ever thought of going to Egypt, GO! You will not regret it!

Cairo (Giza), Egypt: Land Of The Pharaohs

“Egypt?!? Why would you go to Egypt?!?  Isn’t it really unsafe there?”  If only I had a dollar for every time I heard this (or some variation thereof) from every single person who learned that Chad and I would be spending Thanksgiving in Egypt this year.

Granted, the Egypt of today is probably not like what it was.  It is not the easiest country to navigate, and some of the locals can be a little overbearing by Western standards.  But that shouldn’t stop you from visiting Egypt. It is, after all, the home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, as well as numerous other historically significant and interesting sites.  There are fewer tourists, giving you a more personalized experience.  And, it happens to be a super affordable trip, even when it is completely privately guided and staying in the best and most iconic hotels that Egypt has to offer.  As for safety concerns, I am sorry to say, but those are concerns for everywhere in the world these days.

So, we set off over the Thanksgiving holiday to spend four action packed days in Egypt.  Unfortunately, only one of those days was spent in Cairo.  Hindsight being 20/20, I would have added an extra day in Cairo because I think you need half a day to visit the Great Pyramids of Giza and probably another day for the Egyptian Museum – especially starting 2018, when the new museum is slated to open! Cairo’s Grand Egyptian Museum will be the world’s largest archaeological museum when it opens in 2018, and it will have an expanded exhibit dedicated to King Tut.

We started our day off at the Mena House Hotel in Cairo, which I guarantee you has the best breakfast view in all of Egypt! It used to be a palace, so the digs are not too shabby!  Book a pyramid view room because there is nothing like a sunrise or sunset with a pyramid view!

We booked our entire trip, which was privately guided, with Memphis Tours. Their guides and drivers were excellent, which is important, especially in a city like Cairo which has the worst and most chaotic traffic I have ever experienced anywhere else in the world.  They were also very responsive during the booking process.

After breakfast, we headed to Coptic Cairo to visit Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, also known as the Hanging Church. The Hanging Church is the most famous Coptic Christian church in Cairo.  It named for its location above a gatehouse of Babylon Fortress.

We also visited the Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Segra).  The church is believed to have been built on the spot where the Holy Family, Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus Christ, rested at the end of their journey into Egypt.

From there, we made our way to the Egyptian Museum to explore the wonders of the pharaohs and of King Tut. Now, if you are really into museums (like my husband, Chad) or Egyptian history, set aside a full day to visit the museum.  It is uber-crowded and showing its age, so I can’t wait to go back and see the new museum.  This one will remain open, but all of the King Tut relics will be relocated to the new museum. Also, the museum is not very well laid out and the artifacts are not well marked at all, so I highly recommend you visit with a guide.

If you only want to hit the highlights of this museum then you should definitely go to the second floor where you will find the King Tut artifacts, including a room with his sarcophagi and the famous death mask, which can be found in room three.  Along the way, you will see all the items that were found in his tomb, which is located in Luxor in the Valley of the Kings.  These items include his bed, his chariot, his cane, his shoes (his sandal game was so on point), and his childhood games.

A couple of lesser known, but not to be missed pieces are the Seneb Statue in room 32 and Kaaper Statue in room 42. But other than Tut, the other MUST see in this museum is the Mummy Room. Now, the museum entry fee does not include a visit to the mummy rooms, which costs an extra $15 (and which must be paid in cash at the entrance of the exhibit), but it is probably one of the most fascinating exhibits in the entire museum, especially if you are going to visit the tombs of these mummies in Luxor! Each mummy occupies its own temperature-controlled case, and they are very well preserved.

We ended our day at the Giza Plateau, where we visited one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Great Pyramids of Cheops, Chefren, and Mykerinus, and, of course, the Sphinx. I would HIGHLY recommend a guide for this site.  Not because it is complicated and requires a lot of explanation.  I say this only because it reduces the amount of harassment you will encounter at the site by vendors who want to sell you crap, locals who want you to take camel and horse rides, and scammers who claim to work there and can show you around and take your picture.


Also, our guide showed us this pretty cool ancient ship exhibit, which we would have totally missed if it weren’t for him. It is located in the Solar Barque Museum, which is located behind the Great Pyramid. The ship was thought to transport pharaohs to the underworld.  You have to buy a separate ticket for this exhibit, but it is only a few dollars, and you get to wear these super stylish shoe covers!

In case you were wondering, it is now illegal to scale the pyramids. You can, however, go into them.  First, while you can visit the pyramids every day, all year long, you can only access two of the three pyramids each day- the Great Pyramid and then one of the two smaller pyramids.  Each requires the purchase of a separate ticket for entry.  Allegedly, there are only 300 tickets sold per day, the first 150 tickets are sold early in the morning and the next 150 tickets in the early afternoon.  We got there two hours before closing, and were able to get tickets without a problem.

So, what’s inside? Nothing really, but it’s kind of cool to be IN an ancient wonder. So, I definitely recommend going into at least the Great Pyramid, unless you have severe claustrophobia.  Chad is a little claustrophobic, but he was able to do it.  Also, when we went, there weren’t that many people coming in and out. If there were, I can see where it would be a little anxiety inducing.

Here is what you are in for. First, you climb up a brief way from the outside until you reach the entry way.  Once inside, you will go through a small two-way tunnel where you are able to stand up right.  It will take you about a minute or two to get through this tunnel. You will then reach another tunnel that is two way but looks like it should only be one way.  This tunnel goes up at an angle and has handrail on each side with wood planking on the ground, but you have to crouch to get through it.  It is about three to five minutes long. You will then come to an open space where you can stand up right.  On either side will be a make shift ladder that you climb so that you can walk upright at an angle into the chamber room.  This will take you another three to five minutes. At the end, you will step into an empty room with a vault in it. The pathway to get here is lit, but kind of hot.  The chamber room is dark and hot.

The treasures from inside the pyramids have been removed and can be viewed at world-famous museums around the world like the British Museum, Berlin’s Egyptian Museum, and Italy’s Turin Museum.

After exiting the tunnel, we were driven to a view spot where you can get a great view of the Great Pyramid.  From there, we took our camel ride around the complex to see the six pyramids.  This particular activity conflicted me. I discussed with our guide that I did not want to engage in this activity if the camels were treated inhumanely.  He assured me that while that was the case with some camels and camel herders, their company worked with locals who did not engage in this practice. Our camels looked healthier, but, honestly, I am not 100% sure that they were treated completely humanely.  In hindsight, I wish I would’ve asked if we could walk the trail or drive it instead because it is actually quite an amazing view and it is almost as if you are there alone as there are few other people around.


We stuck around for the sound and light show.  It is about 30 minutes, and it is kind of cheesy.  It explains the history of the pyramids in story format with lights and music.  We upgraded our tickets to VIP so we could be in the first row for about $4.00. It was pretty nice to see the pyramids and the sphinx lit up.  I wish they would’ve left them lit up after the show so we could get some pictures.

At the end of that action packed day, it was time to get back to our hotel to prepare for our trip to Luxor the next day. The one thing we did not have time to do was to visit Khan el-Khalili bazaar, and I am still annoyed by this. It is a major souk in the Islamic district of Cairo, and, from the photos, it looks beautiful!  The shops sell souvenirs, antiques and jewelry, but there are also still many traditional workshops that continue to operate in the surrounding area. There are also several coffeehouses, restaurants, and street food vendors, including one of the oldest and most famous coffeehouses, Fishawi’s, established in 1773. Until I can get back to Egypt to take my own, photos from Mr. Google are going to have to do to give you an idea of what the market looks like.

Anyway, if you’ve been to Egypt, I’d like to hear about your experience.  If you have always wanted to go, stop hesitating and book it!  Our entire trip, including international airfare, one in country flight for two people, private guides and drivers, all transfers, stays at two five star hotels, all breakfasts and lunches, and entrances to all sites for two people for four days was under $4,000.00 total. We probably spent an extra $500 in country on visas, tips, dinners, extra entrance tickets, and incidentals. And, we were surprised to see more Americans than we anticipated there, including families with children. So, fear not! The pyramids await you!

Jordan: The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea. It’s dead. The End.

Just kidding. Kind of. I mean, it IS dead. And, you should save it for the end of your trip.

After 10 days of action-packed touring in Jordan, we decided to end our trip with a little R&R.  Because, after all, is it really a girls’ trip if there is no pampering? No, it’s not.

We were fresh out of the desert and covered in sand. We had spent hours walking and climbing in Petra. We had taken a biblical journey. What we needed now was naps, pools, beaches, and icy cold drinks. So, we headed to the Dead Sea to do nothing. To play dead. It was perfect!

I bet you are thinking that the Dead Sea area is some kind of resort town.  I know I was. It’s not. It’s kind of, well, dead. There are a bunch of resorts around, but not much else. No real restaurants or shops other than what is in the individual resorts, which have pretty tight security. So, it’s important that you pick a good resort, because you will be staying there for pretty much your entire stay.

We chose the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa. It is the newest property in the Dead Sea area. The property is nice with two pools, a beach, and seven dining options.  There is an adult pool and a kids’ pool, but they are kind of joined.  In fact, they are only separated by a rope, so if you want to be kid-free, sorry about your luck.  There is a swim up bar on the adult side, and there are a lot of pool chairs, but they fill up VERY fast. The crowd is mostly young Arabs from surrounding countries.  The pool plays pretty loud electronic dance music, so it’s not exactly the pinnacle of relaxation. Also, because there are so many people, the food and beverage service is kind of slow. It is also VERY hot. Like dry desert hot.

However, this property is one of the only ones that has a sand beach with chairs, but the beach is a LONG walk from the pool.  There is an elevator to get you there quicker, but that was not operational when we were there. There is also golf cart service to get you down quicker. Once by the beach, there is an elevated deck with chairs,chairs on the sand with umbrellas, towel service, a beach bar, and food and beverage service by the beach as well.

The water in the Dead Sea is extremely salty. It is actually the second saltiest major body of water in the world. Because the water is so salinated there is literally nothing that lives in the Dead Sea. Hence the name.

The Dead Sea also has no outlet streams, and the Jordan River is its only major source. Like many other bodies of water around the globe, the Dead Sea is also shrinking, and the loss is evident as you drive through the region. The high evaporation rates of the Dead Sea is due to the man-made reduction of the Jordan River.  Today, all the shallow waters of the southern end of the sea have been drained and are now salt flats. As a result, measures are currently being proposed to siphon water from the Red Sea through a series of tunnels or canals in order to replenish the rapidly shrinking waters and provide water and electrical solutions to the surrounding countries.

Because it is so hyper-salinated, it is nearly impossible to sink in the Dead Sea.  But, you can still drown. This typically happens when people do not obey the only rule for the Dead Sea, which is to only float on your back. The water is uber greasy due to the amount of salt.  If you have a cut, it is going to sting when you get in (so don’t shave on Dead Sea day!), but it will probably heal up pretty quickly after being submerged in the salt water. If it gets in your mouth or in your eyes, you are basically screwed, so try to avoid that.

While it is rocky and jagged on the shore line because of crystallized salt (water shoes are recommended for entrance, but I would take them off after that), once you get in, it is very muddy.  Almost like quicksand. In fact, you will see that the hotel staff actually collects the mud to do the Dead Sea treatments.  The Hilton is a resort and spa, but the spa was not actually opened when we were there.  Instead, they offered mud treatments free of charge down by the Dead Sea.

First you will have the mud rubbed all over your body. You need to let it dry for about 20 minutes.

Then you get into the Dead Sea to soak and wash all the mud off.  You finish off with a nice fresh water rinse and a dip in the pool!  Your skin will be SO soft after this treatment.

But the best part of the Dead Sea visit was the beautiful sunset over Israel, which is visible just across the sea.

I personally think that one or two nights spent at the Dead Sea is plenty.  If you are going to stick around for longer, here are some cool day trip options for you.  The first is a visit to the Mujib Biosphere Reserve of Wadi Mujib.  It is the lowest nature reserve in the world, located in the mountainous landscape to the east of the Dead Sea. It is dissected by several river-filled canyons that offer the best river and adventure hikes in Jordan. The Mujib valley is being developed for adventure tourism, and a number of facilities have been established including a Visitors’ Center and a beach area on the Dead Sea. Another popular spot are the Ma’in Hot Springs or Hammamat Ma’in. This is a remarkable series of natural hot springs and waterfalls, some of which have been channeled into pools and baths.

No trip to Jordan would be complete without at least a day-trip to the Dead Sea.  It is truly remarkable to float on top of the saltiest water on Earth, and your achy muscles will also thank you.

 

 

Wadi Rum, Jordan: The Valley Of The Moon

No visit to Jordan would be complete without a visit to Wadi Rum Desert. And, honestly, if ever you thought of glamping, the desert is the place to do it!

About an hour away from Petra lies a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock.  It is the largest wadi in all of Jordan.  Wadi Rum lies on an ancient camel trading route to the Arabian Peninsula and Rum has been inhabited for over 2,500 years.  In fact, many Bedouins still live there today in traditional goat-hair tents.

Once inside, you make your way through the desert until you reach your camp. We chose SunCity Camp, which is located in the heart of Wadi Rum’s majestic desert. The experience of living in the desert and living the simple Bedouin life is unmatched. But, that being said, one night in Wadi Rum is enough to enchant you. After all, it is the desert, and there is not that much to do.  But, if  you are looking for some quiet R&R time where you can walk barefoot and bury your toes in the warm sand, there is no better place.

There are two types of accommodations available at SunCity. The first are basic black tents with no air conditioning. You can see them in the background of the photo above. These are the traditional Bedouin tents. Let’s digest that for a moment. Black canvas tents. In a desert. With NO air conditioning. Um, no thanks.

Or, you can splurge a little and live the Martian experience in the fancy martian domes, which DO have air conditioning. There really is nothing to think about on this one. The domes are luxurious and comfortable, and the views are unbeatable. I mean, how many times in life are you going to sleep over in the desert?!? Might as well make it a memorable experience!

During the day, you can draw the shades to keep your dome cool.

Inside, the rooms are nicely appointed with comfortable beds and linens.

The domes come with a pretty decent sized, western style bathroom with hot and cold water.

And the starry views at night are not too shabby either.

There is a common area where meals are served and with WI-Fi.

At night, they serve a delicious buffet style dinner.

And the after-dinner tea service comes with a show, singing, and dancing.

Also, every single person who works at this camp is delightful. They really went out of their way to make sure we were having an unforgettable experience. And, that started as soon as we arrived.

After whisking away our luggage, we were met by our driver who would be taking us out into the desert to enjoy the views and watch the sunset.

The landscape is really otherworldly with warm pink sands, red rocks, and miles and miles of solitude and silence, except for the occasional camel herd that you encounter.

Because it is so unique and scenic, Wadi Rum has been the back drop of several movies, including Lawrence of Arabia, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The Martian, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The landscape and views are truly spectacular.

Wadi Rum has been inhabited by many human cultures since prehistoric times, with many cultures–including the Nabateans–leaving their mark in the form of rock paintings, graffiti, and temples.

After playing in the sand for a few hours, our driver took us to a spot where we kicked off our shoes and sat in the warm sand as he prepared a sweet, warm tea for us to enjoy while we watched the sunset.

The next morning, we were up way before the sun was to rise so that we could meet our guide and our camels.  On the agenda was a sunrise camel ride through the desert and some play time with our camels.

Those lashes tho…

Nothing beats a camel kiss.

We came back to our camp to eat a hearty breakfast before we set off to our next stop, the Dead Sea.  While it was a short little visit to the desert, it was so memorable. It is moments like these that remind me why I fell so in love with travel and with this amazing little planet we call home.

 

Petra, Jordan: The Lost City

It may have once been lost, but now it has been found. First, by Hollywood. And then, by travelers, globetrotters, instagrammers, and bloggers. It seems like every legit traveler had made his or her way to Petra. And, each one has taken one jaw dropping photo after another. So, I just had to go and see for myself what all the hype was about.

For fans of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I have a simple explanation of what exactly Petra is. Ready? Petra is the Greek word for “rock.” This entire city was carved out of rocks.  Petra is rocks. The city is made of rocks. So, there you go!

But seriously, in 1985, Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.  In 2007, Petra was named as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. It is called the Lost City because it was essentially lost to the Western world for hundreds of years until it was discovered in 1812. Petra was once a thriving trading center and the capital of the Nabataean empire between 400 B.C. and A.D. 106. The Nabataeans were known for their great ability to construct water-collecting methods in barren deserts and for their talent in carving structures into solid rocks.

Petra is an enormous complex located in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba.  Its structures have been carved into the rose colored stone, giving Petra its other nickname: The Rose City.  Amazingly only 15 percent of the city has been uncovered. Which means the vast majority of Petra—85 percent—is still underground and untouched.

So, now that you know what it is,allow me to provide you with everything you need to know about visiting Petra! Also, while Petra is certainly one of the main attractions in Jordan, it’s not the only one. Amman, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea are certainly worth your time.

The first thing you need to know about Petra is that it is NOT a day trip. You need to spend one night in Petra to really enjoy the site. In my opinion, the city that has cropped up around the site is not really worth your time. So, spend all your time focusing on visiting Petra.

If you are going to spend the night in Petra, then there is only one place to stay– The Petra Guest House Hotel. It is the only four-star hotel in Petra, but that is NOT the reason to stay here.  If we are being honest, this hotel is a three-star hotel on its best day. Giving it four stars is generous, in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong.  The rooms are sufficient. The staff is friendly. And, there is an adequate breakfast buffet. But if you are expecting an American four-star hotel, this ain’t it.

The coolest part of this hotel is the Cave Bar, which is the hotel’s bar but is also part of the ruins of Petra.  However, at night they have live entertainment – a singer and a musician – playing American music, but it is literally some of the worst singing I have heard in my life. Like it was comically bad. Okay, so then why am I telling you to stay here. Two reasons.  The first is that it is the best option in Petra. But most importantly (in real estate and in travelling) Location. Location. Location. This hotel is quite literally at the entrance gate of Petra. I mean, hello, the hotel bar is part of the ruins.

So, since you are staying overnight, you should buy the two-day ticket.  It is the better value. A one day ticket is 50 JD (about  71 USD), while the two-day ticket is 55 JD (about 78 USD). Also, there is enough to see in Petra to occupy your time for two full days, especially if you opt to do one or more of the hikes.

I would start as early as you can.  The site opens at 6:00 a.m. every day. It closes at 6:00 p.m. in the summer and 4:00 p.m. in the winter. The day trippers arrive around 11:30 a.m. to noon.  Late afternoon is also a good time to visit. You can find transportation information to get to Petra here.  I also recommend hiring a licensed guide from the visitor’s center on the first day.  The monuments don’t really have signs, so unless you have done a ton of research before you get there, you won’t really know what you are looking at.

Just a quick point about planning for your visit. You are allowed to bring backpacks and bags in, and, unlike other places in Jordan, there is no security or bag checking at the entrance.  I would wear comfortable, light active-wear, a very comfortable pair of sneakers or hiking boots, a lot of sunscreen, and something to cover your head.  You will notice that most people are wearing Jordanian head scarves. I would also pack some water (you can buy more inside) and power bars or protein bars.

When you first walk in, you will have to walk on a dirt road for about 15 minutes before you reach the siq, a narrow gorge that leads you to the treasury in Petra.  The minute you walk in, you will be accosted by local Bedouins to take a horse ride or a donkey ride to the treasury site. They will tell you that it is included in your entrance ticket. And, it is. But PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not accept the ride.

These poor horses are NOT treated well.  It is heart breaking.  They work all day, pulling huge carts behind them full of people. And, it is hot. Too hot for these poor horses to work like they do. The Bedouins hit them to make them go faster, and the horses are literally running on very rugged terrain. If that doesn’t motivate you, then maybe this will. There is no such thing as a free ride. Even though the ride is included in the ticket, they will demand a tip. Look, you came all the way to Petra.  You must’ve had some idea that this was going to involve some degree of walking. Do everyone a favor and dress comfortably and resign yourself to doing a lot of exercise on this day.

It doesn’t end there. Once you are in Petra, there are more Bedouins (who all seem to look like Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean) who will follow you around all.damn.day and harass you to take a donkey ride or a camel ride. Seriously, just ignore them. Literally, ignore them. If you say later, they will find you later. They are pretty aggressive. They will follow you around and keep asking. Don’t engage with them, and don’t believe a single word that comes out of their mouths. In my opinion, they are all con artists. Sometimes, they get mad that you are blowing them off and they insult you. We began referring to them as the “Donkey Boys.”

Getting insulted by a man on a donkey or camel who is wearing eyeliner (yes, you read that right) is kind of funny, actually. I mean, dude, you are wearing eyeliner. Eyeliner. The Donkey Boys have mastered the smokey eye. Their eye makeup is so on point. They could probably teach a master class at Sephora. Marilyn Manson and the front man for Green Day have nothing on these guys. Trust me, the Donkey Boys did not appreciate this detail when I pointed it out to them. They immediately got defensive and told me it was to protect their eyes from the sun. There is a whole invention that solves this problem.  They are called sunglasses. If you can get your hands on an iPhone in the desert, then I am confident that you can also find a pair of sunglasses. But, I digress.

Allow me to introduce you to the enchanting Siq. The gorge that will lead you to one of the most amazing first looks of Petra.

After walking for about 15 minutes on the dirt road, you will come to the entrance of the Siq. The Siq is a gorge that leads to Petra. It is one of the only shady spots you will encounter, so relish in the next 15 or so minutes that it takes to pass through the siq.  You will soon catch a glimpse of the reason you came to Jordan, and this first impression does not disappoint.

It is truly magical to see the rose colored treasury building. It is one of the most recognizable images of Petra. If you go early in the morning, you will have it all to yourself with great lighting. In the late afternoon or early evening it will be he same, but maybe not as great lighting. Also, there will usually be a few camels lounging around, waiting to pose for your selfie!

By 11:00 a.m., there will be a lot more people in front of the treasury, so if you like people-free pics, get there early or stay later. Here’s a pro tip: the best picture of the treasury is taken from the right corner facing the monument. You get the best lighting and the best view of the monument from here.

Also, if you walk to the right of the monument, on the opposite side, there is a cave that also gives you a great vantage point for photographing the treasury building.

Probably the most famous (instafamous, really) picture of the treasury is the one taken from the top looking down. I will tell you how to get that shot later in this post, but, spoiler alert, it requires a lot of climbing.

One thing you will notice as you explore Petra is that the locals have turned the ruins into a flea market. Some are established shops.  The rest are pitched tents. Sometimes the actual ruins themselves are used to drape useless junk.  Thankfully, though, nobody is trying to sell you selfie stick!

There are stands selling food, drinks, souvenirs, jewelry, and eyeliner, of course. Well, not the actual eyeliner, but for a small price, the Donkey Boys will line your eyes with coal so you too can look like Johnny Depp! I suggest you skip this service as it does not appear that cleanliness and hygiene are high on the list or priorities.  They literally use the same charcoal to line everyone’s eyes without cleaning it in between.  Hello, Pink Eye! How do I know this? Well, let’s just say that someone in our group was brave enough to try it out, and that someone was NOT me.

There is one shop that is worth a visit. You will immediately notice a difference in the interaction. This shop sells spices, teas, oils, and perfume solids.  The shop owner is lovely and speaks perfect English with a British accent.

Coincidentally, this shop is located next to the only other interesting shop.  That of Marguerite van Geldermalsen, a New Zealand-born nurse who came to be married to Mohammad Abdallah Othman, a Bedouin souvenir-seller. She wrote a book about her experience, and, while the Bedouin husband has since died, Marguerite still lives and can often be found at her shop in Petra.

Once you pass flea market row, you will find yourself in the heart of Petra where you can explore different ruins like different the Royal Tombs, the Nabatean Theatre, the Byzantine Church, and the Great Temple.

Also, while the Donkey Boys are relentless and annoying, there are some opportunities for some cool interactions with locals, so don’t miss out on those!

At this point, I suggest that you stop for lunch and contemplate your next move.  There are two restaurants in Petra. One is more of a stand and the other is a sit down place with both air-conditioned indoor and out door seating that is owned by Petra Guesthouse.  It has restrooms, WiFi, and serves a buffet style lunch. If you are a guest of the hotel, you get 20% off at this eatery. So, I’ll let you guess where we ate. The food was average. Speaking of restrooms, there are actually three or four actual American-style bathrooms in Petra. I would, however, bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Okay, so if you have made it this far, it is probably late afternoon. And, since you are close by, I would opt to take the hike up to the monastery after lunch. This is a good option because you’ve rested, cooled off, and fueled up.  Also, it’s later in the day, so it’s cooler.  All these factors are important because to get to the monastery, you have to climb about 950 stairs!

You to yourself: “I’m sorry, but did she just say I have to climb up 950 stairs?” She did. But, TRUST ME; it is SO worth it.  The climbing isn’t that bad (I’ll show you), and there is hardly anybody there so you get a really cool piece of Petra all to yourself.

Now, you can take a donkey up. And you may be tempted to do so. But, for reasons we have already discussed (animal cruelty, annoying Donkey Boys, and a desire to not be ripped off), you will resist the urge and count this as a double cardio and booty blast day! After about 45 or so minutes (depending on your pace), you will get here:

Amazing, right?  There is a small cafe up there, so kick back, have a drink, and enjoy the silence.

But wait, there is more! If you can stomach 15 more minutes of walking, you will be handsomely rewarded with the most amazing view! I think you have 15 minutes in you.  Just turn around with your back facing the monastery and start walking diagonally to the right, following the signs for the view point. You will come to a fork in the road and will have to choose the view to the left, which is a little closer, or the one to the right.  We chose left.

This is the PERFECT place to watch the sun set.  But, a little side note, this is VERY high up. If you are scared of heights, don’t sit where I am sitting. Chad would have needed a diaper change by now. The only thing is that, you want to make sure and leave yourself enough time to get back down before it gets dark because there are no lights in Petra, unless, of course, you are staying for the Petra By Night experience.

Petra by night is a two-hour experience where you get to visit just the treasury at night.  They light the path from the ticket entrance, through the Siq, and all in front of the treasury with paper bag lanterns. They serve hot tea and play traditional music.  At the end, the they light the entire treasury up with colored spot lights.  The Petra By Night experience only runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  It starts at 8:30 p.m. and costs  17 JD (or $24 USD). There is an unlimited amount of tickets, and it is pretty popular.

If you have stayed until sunset and want to do Petra by night, I suggest that you don’t leave Petra and just hang out in front of the treasury. Why? Well, if you leave, you have to walk about 20 minutes out just to come right back in with a crowd of people.  If you stay, there are ticket vendors who sell tickets right in front of he treasury for the same price. You can save yourself the walk, and you can get some sweet people-free pictures before the crowds come in (because trust me, once they are there, it is impossible).

Is it touristy? Yes, it is. But the way we did it (staying in and seeing it all set up before the crowds) was amazing, and we really enjoyed it.

There was just one thing left to do, and that was to make the climb up to see the treasury from the top. On the second day we got up very early and were one of the first in the gates at Petra. This meant that we were able to get some pretty great shots of the treasury with literally nobody else around.

Now, if you thought the hike to the monastery was bad, the treasury trail says hold my beer. I mean this hike, in my opinion, was more difficult. Once you get in and go through the treasury and through the main drag, passing all the stores, you will come to a fork in the road.  If you go left, you will head towards the monastery road, if you stay right, you will find the trail to get to the viewpoint for the treasury.

Just past this site:

You will see this sign:

You want to stay to the right of the sign.  It will take you to a trail that looks like you are going behind the ruins.  You will encounter this path of stairs:

This is where you start climbing.  It is deceiving because it looks more organized and in better shape than the monastery climb. You do this for about 20 to 30 minutes. It’s.A.Lot.Of.Stairs. After 20 to 30 minutes of climbing, the stairs stop, and now its another 20 to 30 minutes of hiking on the worst marked trail ever.  Once in a while, you will come upon these signs:

Do you see any directional signals? Exactly. Then you get:

By the way, this is a lie. It is not 10 minutes. And just for fun, the Bedouins add these signs to confuse you and lead you to their shops:

Finally, you will see this sign:

Two to five minutes? Yeah, right! As President Bush (a.k.a. W) once said  “…fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” Once you see this sign, you won’t be sure if you should go straight (kind of towards the right) or go to the left.  Go left. At some point you will see this:

It will be the loveliest site because that means you made it! Behold the view:

And then, the climb down (cue the Price Is Right Loser Music). No, but seriously, the climb is absolutely worth the view. Just do it early or late in the afternoon, so you can have the view from above and below all to yourself.

Side note: there is a site called Little Petra. It is located about 40 minutes north of Petra. We went there, but, honestly, you can skip it.  It is a very small site, and it is in terrible condition.  It literally does not compare to Petra at all.

So that is it.  You have now done it all in Petra! Get your pen out and cross this one off the bucket list. Up next, Wadi Rum Desert. You do not want to miss Wadi Rum when you are in Jordan.

Amman, Jordan: The City of Seven Hills

A lawyer, an accountant, a pharmaceutical sales representative, and a teacher board a plane. Sounds like the beginning of joke, right? Well, it’s not.  It was the beginning of an epic girls trip to the Middle East.  To Jordan to be exact, home of Petra, the Wadi Rum desert, and (part of) the Dead Sea.

I know what you are thinking. The Middle East? Who takes a girls trip to the Middle East? Why not got to the beach or wine country?

Blah! We live at the beach! We are, after all, from Miami. We wanted something different.  We wanted adventure. We wanted bespoke experiences. We wanted to Eat.All.The.Hummus! So, Jordan it was.  And, honestly, it was the best decision.

Most trips to Jordan will begin with an arrival in the capital city of Amman. You may be thinking that you can just skip the capital city and get to the good stuff.  That, in my opinion, would be a mistake. Amman has a lot of interesting things to explore. We spent two days in Amman.

Amman is an old city.  It was settled back in the Neolithic period.  Today, it is one of the five most visited cities in the Arab world. Like Rome, it was initially built on seven hills. Amman is considered one of the most liberal and westernized cities in the Arab world. It is also a great base for visiting other interesting and important sites, like the baptism site of Jesus Christ, Madaba, and Mt. Nebo.

We stayed at the Intercontinental in Amman. Not only was the daily breakfast buffet delicious (complete with an omelette station and fresh squeezed local juices served daily), but it was also in a great location! It is walking distance to Rainbow Street.  Rainbow Street is the restaurant, nightlife, and shopping hub of Amman.  It is also the home of Souk Jara, a street food and handicraft outdoor market. Also, check out King Faisal Street.  It is totally Instagram worthy!

This photo is courtesy of Mr. Google because, sadly, we missed this spot. #TravelFail

Our hotel was also one block away from what most consider the best shawerma joint in the city, Reem.  Reem is open late and serves up shawerma to the long lines of locals for approximately $2.00 US dollars a piece.

King Abdullah I Mosque

We started our first day of exploration in Amman at King Abdullah I Mosque. The mosque was completed in 1989 as a memorial by the late King Hussein to his grandfather.  It is capped by a beautiful blue dome, and adorned with beautiful blue mosaic tiles. This is the only mosque in Amman that allows both women and non-Muslims to visit.

Women are required to wear abayas in order to visit the mosque.  The abayas are available free of charge from the small gift shop located at the entrance of the mosque.  All visitors must remove their shoes to enter the mosque.

By the way, I have a new appreciation for the struggle of Muslim women who wear abayas in their every day life. These babies are HOT! And not like, OMG, that outfit is so hot. But more like, OMG, I am temperature hot. The fabric is not breathable, and the dark color was not helping! Also, they are wearing full on modest street clothes underneath the abaya. In the desert. Even in the summer. Think about that for a moment. I wore one for an hour, and I was positive I had suffered heat stroke!

At the entrance to the men’s side of the mosque, we met the first of many Mohammeds that we would meet on this trip.  This Mohammed, however, loved Greek people, Greek culture, and especially Greek music.  Here he is singing us his favorite Greek song by George Dalaras.

The men’s side of the mosque can house up to 7000 worshippers.

Another 3,000 people can worship in the courtyard.

The women’s side of the mosque is supposed to be able to fit 500 women, but I would be surprised if that is the case.

There is a small museum inside the mosque with a collection of pottery and photographs of His Majesty King Abdullah I.

The mosque is open from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., but you should be careful not to visit during call to prayer (5:20 a.m., 6:25 a.m., 12:29 p.m., 3:55 p.m., 6:31 p.m., 7:38 p.m., and 1:43 a.m.). It costs about 3 Jordanian Dinar to visit, which is about $4.oo USD. You only need about 30 minutes to get through the entire mosque complex.

After our visit to the mosque, we returned to the gift shop.  The shop was quite large and had a great selection of souvenirs.

As is the custom, we were offered tea. The tea was warm and sweet!

We purchased handmade, traditional Jordanian head scarves and even got a tutorial on how to properly tie them.

Amman Citadel

Our next stop was to Amman Citadel. This is a historical site in the center of downtown Amman which is significant because it has a long history of occupation by many great civilizations. There are two  important structures at the site.

The first is the Temple of Hercules, a Byzantine church. Behind the structure is what is left from a giant statute of Hercules, his hand, and a small carving of Medusa. This temple is considered to be the most significant Roman structure in the Amman Citadel.

The second most important structure in the Citadel is the Umayyad Palace.

There is also a small archaeological museum in the citadel that is free to visit with your paid admission into the Citadel. The most fascinating part of the Citadel is that the majority of it remains unexcavated.

Jerash

Our final stop for the day was in Jerash. But, by now, we were pretty hungry.  So before our visit to the Roman City of Jerash, we stopped at the Green Valley Restaurant.

This was one of the best meals we had in Jordan. While the menu is in Arabic and many locals eat here, it is also touristy in that a lot of tour groups stop here as well. Don’t let that scare you away.  This is the one exception, where the tourist trap is actually worth it!

Our guide ordered for us. All of a sudden, a parade of food appeared.  I had the BEST hummus and babaganoush I have ever tasted in my life here. It was so creamy, and as I type, my mouth is watering. The pita was large, warm, and plentiful.

It was at Green Valley that my love affair with limonnana began. Limonana is a Middel Eastern frozen mint lemonade. It is sweet, but tart. It is so fresh. It is life. Hello, my name is Anastasia, and I am addicted to limonana.

After tasting this sweet nectar water, I would seek it out and order several every single day.  I’d like to have one right now.  I wish I knew how to operate my blender. Anyway, I digress. On to the Jerash ruins. But first, a camel, because why not!

The Jerash ruins of Jordan are said to be the best-preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy. In fact, they are often referred to as the Pompeii of the East. After Petra, they are the most visited ruins in Jordan.

The most notable sites are:

  • Hadrian’s Arch: the entrance to the city

  • Hippodrome: a restored Roman-era stadium

  • Forum: the main attraction, surrounded by 160 Ionic columns

  • The Cardo: colonnaded street running the length of the city.

  • Temple of Artemis: temple ruins dedicated to the ancient Greek goddess

  • Agora: the city’s main market

  • Nymphaeum: an ornate fountain dedicated to nymphs

  • South Theatre: still in use today

  • Jerash Archaeological Museum: houses a collection of artifacts found during the numerous excavations.

You can get to Jerash by car or bus.  There are regular buses to and from Jerash from Amman that run throughout the day until late afternoon. Tickets cost 1 JOD, which us about $2 USD. Taxis can be hired in Amman for 10 JOD  (or $14 USD) one-way or around 40 JOD (or $56 USD) for the day. Admission to the site costs 10 JD (or $14 USD) and includes the Jerash Archaeological Museum. Summertime hours are 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.  Winter hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You can hire a guide right at the entrance of the site (not where you purchase your tickets).

After a long day like this, it was time for a treat. A sweet treat. Enter into my world Kunafa/Knafeh. More precisely, Kunafa from Habiba!

Kunafa is a popular Middle Eastern desert.  It consists of a layer of crisp pastry sitting on top of a layer of soft white cheese which is baked lightly in an oven then covered with sugar syrup and nuts. It tastes way better than it sounds. Here’s a recipe for you to try, but I doubt it comes close to the glory that is Habiba.

But if Kunafa is not your thing, Habiba has a host of other desserts to try.  Some with cream inside. Some with nuts, like baklava:

Or you can pick some up for gifts or for later:

The Baptism Site of Jesus Christ- Bethany on the Jordan River

Remember the movie Free Willy? You know how at the end they play that Michael Jackson song Will You Be There? You know, the one that goes Hold Me; Like the River Jordan; And I will then say to thee; You are my friend.  That song references this place! And this is where we headed on day two in Amman.

Most modern scholars believe that John the Baptist performed a baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, which borders both Jordan and Israel at the baptism site.  I have not been to the one in Israel, but the one in Jordan has many significant sites to see prior to reaching the actual river, and has now been recognized as the official baptism site of Jesus.

To enter the site you must first walk about 1o minutes on a trail that looks like this:

You will first reach the John the Baptist Church which has the baptism pool.  The exact place where Jesus was baptized has not yet been discovered, but it is believed that the garments of the Lord were taken care here at the time He was baptized:

On the opposite side is the Basilica or the Church of the Trinity:

Today, a Greek Orthodox church sits near the river:

Across from the church is the entrance to the Jordan River:

Once at the river, you can rent white baptismal gowns from the church for $15 USD and actually get into the river.  Across the river is Israel.  You will see people coming into the river from Israel as well. Apparently, you can hire a priest to perform an actual baptism at the site. Bring an empty water bottle if you want to collect “holy water” from the Jordan River.

Madaba

Our next stop was to the Christian town of Madaba, which is known as the City of Mosaics. Here, we visited the St. George Greek Orthodox Church.

The church contains the masterpiece of Madaba, a Byzantine map of the Holy Land that dates back to the 6th century, called the Madaba Map.

To this day, the Madaba Map represents the oldest map of Palestine in existence.

Because I am Greek and Greek Orthodox, I am partial to Greek churches.  In my travels, I have been in A LOT of churches from all denominations.  I think the Greek Orthodox churches are the most beautiful!

Apparently, an archaeological park is located a short walk from the church which houses the remains of several Byzantine churches, including the mosaics of the Church of the Virgin. I would have been interested to see this, and, honestly, I am kind of annoyed that we missed it.

By now, we were pretty hungry.  In an effort to top Green Valley, our guide told us he had called ahead to a local, family-owned restaurant called Hikayet Sitti, or the Food Basket.

This little gem is an old home that has been owned by this family from Amman for several years.  They decided to turn the home into a restaurant.

There is no menu at the Food Basket.  You call ahead to see what’s cooking or to make a request. But, regardless, the food is incredible and tastes authentic and homemade. The meal starts with mezze (or appetizers), and then momma brings out enough food to feed an army. The portions are very generous.

This is the cook and her husband who entertains the guests.

Her sons are the servers, and the service is great.

Mt. Nebo

Next, we visited Mount Nebo.  Mt. Nebo is the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land by God. The view from the summit provides a panorama of the Holy Land and, to the north, a more limited one of the valley of the River Jordan. The West Bank city of Jericho is usually visible from the summit, as is Jerusalem on a very clear day.

The mount is marked by this stone:

As you walk through the site, you will find a sculpture called The Brazen Serpent:

On the highest point of the mountain, stands the remains of a Byzantine church.  The church has the most beautiful mosaics inside.

Mukawir

Our next stop was to Machaerus or Mukawir. Mukawir is a fortified hilltop palace that is believed to be the location of the imprisonment and execution of John the Baptist.

It is quite a hike to get up to the site where only two columns remain. The hike starts at this gate and is about 2 miles long.

At the top, you see this:

There are some pretty great views along the way, but, unless you are making a religious pilgrimage/tour or feel like doing some exercise, you can probably skip this site.

Kerak

We were scheduled to visit Kerak Castle. But, due to a planned protest that blocked the roads and the entrance to the site, we could not. So, the shots above are courtesy of Mr. Google. But, if you have time, you should this castle. Kerak Castle is the largest crusader castle in Jordan. Kerak was the capital of the biblical kingdom of Moab.

Needless to say, it was an action packed two days, and we haven’t even gotten to the most popular sites yet! I hope I was able to give you a small taste of Amman.  Please stop by to read the next four posts I have planned on Jordan, including one on Petra, one on Wadi Rum, one on the Dead Sea, and one on things you need to know before you go to Jordan.  Leave me a comment, and let me know what you think.

Also, in case you were wondering, we used Jordan Select Tours to plan this trip.  They were fantastic, responsive, and affordable! The entire trip was privately guided by the best driver in Amman, Hytham! He was so patient and entertaining.  Thanks for putting up with four crazy Greek-American girls for the week, Hytham!