Choosing accommodation for your travel has gotten more complicated over the years. Often leaving folks confused and worried they will make the wrong decision. Especially with reports of travelers being attacked, personal items stolen, and even the rare occasion of someone being killed. So I put together a guide on things to look for when choosing accommodation for your travels.
From beginning to end, this will be the ultimate guide on getting started when choosing your adventure accommodation and staying safe when you do. Be sure to check out my other articles on Safety while solo traveling as well. It will give a more detailed view of tips on how to stay safe, as well as what to do if you feel you landed in an unsafe situation. So let’s dive in on choosing your perfect accommodation!
Your Destination – When Choosing Accommodation
Is it a third world country or a first world country?
When your choosing accommodations, look at what the place is made of. Maybe it is a wood/grass hut on the beach with opportunities for perfect pictures, but no hot shower – or the toilet is shared and across the village. Make sure you take note of what is included in the room before you book it. There are so many wannabe YouTubers out there – that you can get a general idea from videos on the area and accommodation. Even the poorest countries have a phone and Facebook so asking for a few photos or to confirm certain amenities is in your best interest.
Is it a remote small village or a bustling city?
If it is a remote village will you have a way to get there? Is that factored into your budget? If it is in a bustling city, how easy is it to find your way there and how costly. Is traffic going to be an issue? If it is then the taxi rates are going to be sky-high unless you can get them to agree on a set price before you get into the vehicle.
What type of activities are you going to be participating in?
If you are going to be visiting Macchu Picchu you will want to stay up near the entrance to get there before the crowds. Conversely, if you are only there for a short period of time, is it worth it to hotel/hostel jump from place to place? What if you are scuba diving out in Fort Lauderdale and it would be easier to get to the shop by staying on Singer Island rather than paying for a taxi multiple days to get back and forth. Are there activities at night and places to eat close to your accommodation. When you are fighting Jet Lag, you can often awake in the middle of the night with hunger pains that can have you chewing the arm of your travel companion off or eating the bar of soap.
Is the country conservative or are their citizens heavily restricted with rules?
When I was traveling with a Moroccan friend near southern Morocco, they are still ruled by strict social guidelines. So we had to pretend that he was my brother-in-law in order to be able to rent an apartment. Otherwise, they would have required to see a marriage document prior to renting the apartment. Several of them actually refused when they saw that he had a white American Female in the car. Given their point of view, I can see why several people refused (just in case he was kidnapping me – even though it wasn’t the case). Each place I stayed at also wanted a copy of my passport – which has ALL my personal information on it. So would you be comfortable letting them copy that information? Some places may refuse to rent to you if you are not comfortable giving that information. So these are just some things to think about, especially if you are a solo female traveler.
Are your comforts of home important to you?
It is important to remember that not every destination is going to have an air conditioner you can blast, fireplace you can light up, or even traditional heating. They may not even have a working toilet, or maybe you can sit on the toilet, shower, and brush your teeth all at the same time. We stayed in an apartment in Italy once as a family, where the smell of the sewer was so strong that we could barely shower. So be sure to read reviews and amenities of a location before going, so you can be well informed on what you will have to compromise and if you are willing to do that.
Time of Arrival or Departure – When Choosing Accommodation
Do you arrive at night or during the day?
I typically look for the best deal on Booking.com when I’m attempting to rent a place. I really like the filters you can choose from, and you can easily decide if a hotel/hostel/B&B is right for you all on the same platform.
As the years of travel have come and gone, I have gotten a lot more detailed in my approach when renting an Airbnb, Booking.com place. Sometimes it is the best deal because it is a remote part of the city that isn’t safe to lug my big suitcase and a backpack full of camera gear. So it is definitely something to consider. Another thing to consider is how accessible it is to catch a taxi, the cost of an Uber or Lyft to and from the transportation stations (airport, train, bus). There was one morning in Poland I counted on being able to catch a taxi to the train station and found that in Poland – in the center of Warsaw – no one is awake before 8 am. So I had to get access back into the building I had just deposited my room keys into, so I could get Wifi to call an Uber.
Your Budget When Choosing Accommodation
Does your budget include a fancy place to stay?
If this is going to be a relaxing vacation with lots of beach time, then maybe spending a little more on an all-inclusive resort would be worthwhile. If you are going to be out looking at historic sites in the center of the city, maybe it would be worthwhile to spend a little more of the budget to stay closer to those sites. If you are just looking to spend as little as possible, because you will be backpacking from one place to the next anyway, then maybe a hostel is your best bet.
Do you want to spend your vacation budget on your accommodation or on seeing the city?
The biggest beef I have with spending money on accommodation is that it takes away from my ability to spend money on tours, food and really experiencing the culture. So I tend to personally go for a cheaper (but comfortable) accommodation and then have loads left for tours and activities.
What type of vacation is this for you? Will you spend more time in a hotel (Honeymoon) or more time seeing the sites (on a group tour, or with a bunch of friends)?
If your vacation is going to be a romantic getaway, then I would tell you to spend a little more to have a cozy bed with a view and easy access to come back to the hotel frequently. If you will be in a tour group, they typically include the cost of the hotel, or I would get a hotel that will be close to the majority of your meeting spots.
Your Desire for Convenience When Choosing Accommodation
Does the destination have Taxies or Ubers?
Believe it or not, not every country/city has Taxies or Ubers. There are equivalents available in some countries (see my growing Worldwide Airport Transportation List) but sometimes it is just good old fashioned walking, horse and carriage or a Tuk Tuk. In certain cities in South America, if you are caught by the police taking an Uber/Lyft (like in Santiago) then you can get a $1000 fine. So I would definitely consider how you will get around the city, and to and from the airport when choosing accommodation.
Is there public transport? Is transportation able to handle your luggage?
Once you figure out your mode of transportation to and from the airport, also consider if they will be able to handle the amount of luggage you are planning on bringing. I can tell you right now, a Tuk Tuk will not be able to handle two people with their luggage. When I was in San Pedro La Laguna, near Lake Atitlan – the roads are too narrow for cars in most places, often get flooded in the rainy season. The Tuk Tuks there couldn’t hold 3 curvy women at once, so I had to squat and pray I didn’t break my ankle because my leg was hanging out of the Tuk Tuk.
If you are being picked up in a shared ride, or transfer service (often found on the airline websites when you book your flight) – they may have luggage restrictions to two per passenger or less.
If it is a shared Uber/Lyft or Taxi – you will have to be considerate of other passengers who may not be as prepared as you are – or pack as light as you do.
Your Travel Companions – Questions to Ask Before Booking
Do your travel companions have physical limitations? ie/ Wheelchair, bad knees, chronic pain
Americans are very lucky (and some countries in Europe), in that most everything is accessible to those with disabilities. Even in Scotland, there are things I took for granted in America that they do not have there due to the way the city has grown and morphed over the years. Working in the medical field it was eerie to me to not see elderly on the street – or those in wheelchairs or on crutches – there are seldom elevators unless specifically stated; Hostels, Airbnb, and B&Bs do not typically have elevators.
If you travel with Chronic pain and are stuck on an hour train ride in between the cars because you didn’t realize you had to reserve a seat and not just purchase a ticket – this could result in major pain that could result in a ruined vacation. So be aware of who you travel with, and have frank conversations about tolerance levels and ability to treat pain while vacationing.
What about those with bad joints, or those with heart or lung issues. Can they go up stairs, do they have elevators, what is the air pollution in the city like vs in the country? These are all things to consider and ask both the accommodation and your travel companions about. When I was in Edinburgh, and even in Marrakesh – I was grateful I had my inhaler because I have reactive asthma attacks. I get extremely fatigued, and a sore throat when the air quality is bad. Going up to high elevations quickly, like in Zermatt on the Little Matterhorn, at 15,000 feet – I nearly ended up in the hospital with an oxygen level of 85% because I discovered I was extremely prone to altitude sickness.
Do your travel companions travel light, or over pack with lots of bags?
Again, everything is a little bigger in America vs other countries. If you show up in Japan or China with 2 large bags and a big backpack – you may as well just buy an additional hotel room. Everything is small and jam-packed unless you know what you are getting into and can afford the larger hotel rooms.
Your Activities When Choosing Your Accommodation
Are you going to have a car?
If you are going to have a car, is there parking available at your accommodation? If there isn’t, then you have to look at costs for parking – and if you are good enough at parallel parking. In Morocco, if you decide to drive there, the parking spaces are very very tightly packed. There are certain meanings when you flash your brights or turn on your hazard lights. They even have parking assistants that you have to tip at least a dollar every time they help you, otherwise, you can get punched (saw a legit street brawl between a parking attendant and a local – lots of blood). In Edinburgh, there are no parking areas, unless you want to pay $45-$85 a night at a very limited parking center in the city. In the center of Boston, the parking at any location can be upwards of $60 a night (minimum). So be sure you check on parking availability if you choose to rent a car, otherwise, it can eat your budget rather quickly.
Is accommodation close to affordable public transportation?
If there are no parking areas, is the accommodation close enough to (and safe enough) utilize public transportation? In Guatemala, it would have been cheaper to take the 5-hour bus ride to Lake Atitlan sure. Yet hiring a private ride for $60 for the 3-hour car ride through mountain passes where falling rocks, flooded roads is much safer and more reliable at 2 am.
Your Eating Habits When Choosing Accommodation
Is breakfast important to you?
If you like to sleep in but love your breakfast, then I would make sure you click on the filter option where breakfast is included in the cost, or there is a continental breakfast available. I could eat breakfast food all day everyday if I could. Dinner I just eat Almonds or a protein bar – but in Europe, Lunch and Dinner are some of the most important meals.
Check Local Holidays/Religious Events
This is something I discovered after dating several Muslim men, when they described their countries during Ramadan. A local religious holiday that lasts a month, where stores, and local eateries often close during the day for religious reasons. If you don’t know about Ramadan, I put together a basic guide on Ramadan, and when and why they celebrate. For the purposes of this article though, you need to know that stores will open after sunset/evening prayer, and close in the AM after morning prayer. If you are ok eating all night, and sleeping during the day, there are some special dishes that come out during Ramadan, and are only made during Ramadan that would be worthwhile to check out for all my foodies.
Do you like to eat out?
Are there places nearby that you can eat? If there are places that you can eat near your accommodation, is it the type of food you can eat? Do you have any particular dietary restrictions? If so, then looking at different neighborhoods where those are more likely to be available and have more variety. If you are Vegan, Vegetarian, or have any particular allergy to certain foods – then I would recommend using Pinterest to plan out your eating excursions before you go.
Do you cook your own meals when vacationing?
If you do have severe dietary restrictions, or like to eat a little healthier while traveling – then choosing an accommodation near a supermarket may be worthwhile. Try your hand at local cuisine, or even eat with locals through EatWith.com where you can schedule a meal with a local and other travelers, take a food tour, or even learn how to cook like a local.
Will Your Personality Fit Your Accommodation
Are you a quiet hermit type? Are you outgoing and lazie faire? Are you refined and love that luxury life?
If you don’t like chaos, or can’t sleep through drunk people coming in and out at all hours of the night – then a Hostel is not for you. Do you like to be social, but still want your privacy and a relaxed environment? Then a Bed and Breakfast may be for you. Do you love luxurious surroundings, and value your sleep above all? Then a higher-end luxury hotel might be the best choice.
When staying in any location, it is important to know if you have the only key to the house, apartment, or room.
If you don’t, then I would suggest to my Solo Female Travelers that you demand this, or just look for another accommodation. If it is a Bed and Breakfast type home, where other people will be staying, this is fine, but you still want to ensure that you will be safe while you are sleeping – and there is lockbox for your passport.
Will you be alone or with other people?
If you will be alone in a dangerous neighborhood, then I would suggest getting a hotel closer to the city – and make sure there is good lighting on the street. Using Google maps street view is a good way to take a look at the neighborhood you will be going.
If you will be staying with other people, such as in a hostel, do they have lockers you can use? If so, are there locks you can rent, or do you need to bring your own lock?
Is the community gated/barb wire fencing?
When I was staying in Guatemala City, there were a lot of reports online that theft and muggings were common with tourists. Arriving late at night from San Pedro made me a bit nervous, as I didn’t properly scope out my accommodation. Driving into the complex though, provided a lot of ease of mind when I saw that there was a security guard, cement fencing with barbed wire on the top, and good lighting in the streets. So it really depends on the safety level of the country you are going to, how cautious you need to be, and how much research you need to do prior to finalizing your booking.
There are certain countries where tourists have to stay inside a compound for safety reasons. So for my adrenaline junkies out there, make sure that you understand the risks. If there is a safety advisory by your state/country department for that particular country – and you decide to go anyway; it could limit their ability and willingness to help you if you decide to ignore those warnings.
Do they have safety measures for fire hazards, flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes?
If you are staying in a wooden bungalow in the Maldives, and a hurricane blows through while you’re there – because the prices were cheaper in the rainy season – do they provide, or have a safe spot or emergency evacuation plan/supplies to aid their guests? This is something that happened to a friend when in Jamaica, and they had to fend for themselves until the communities were stabilized. Luckily they were in a hotel, not a bungalow, and had some granola bars to tide them over while electricity was restored in the kitchens.
Getting Travel Insurance is a great way to ease the mind.
I typically will use World Nomads as my Travel Insurance for medical evacuation or any emergency needs/delays/cancellations. Something you will have to ensure with medical, natural disaster, or political unrest evacuations – is that the fine writing often says ‘will evacuate you to the nearest USA location or airport’. Well that doesn’t help you much if you are vacationing in South America, and they send you to a hospital in Atlanta – but your house is in Oregon. Medical Transport on a ventilator from one area of the USA to another is done by helicopter with a specialized team and starts at $15,000 depending on the team needed and flight time. So if you are from the USA, or are purchasing the insurance through your own country – I highly suggest you read the fine print on this particular portion.
Will you need to get vaccines prior to going?
If you are a US Citizen, there are certain vaccines that are mandatory if you visit a country where a disease is prevalent.
Some of the vaccines can be out of stock or on back order – so it could take months until you receive it. Be sure to check with your local health department on these specialty vaccines.
Getting the vaccines within a certain time period PRIOR to your departure is imperative. Your immune system needs time to work, and what if you have a bad reaction? The earlier you can do it the better is what I highly suggest.
Are there animals or insects that could come in while sleeping? Do they carry diseases? Does the accommodation have mechanisms to prevent this?
If you are terrified of snakes or creepy crawlies coming into your room at night – then any tropical environment, even Australia may not be for you, unless you stay in a place where this can’t happen.
If you are in Africa, having a mosquito net is essential as many parasitic diseases including Malaria are transmitted there.
If you are staying in a grass hut in South American, there is a bug called the Kissing Bug (bites near nose/eyes/mouth at night), that transmits a parasite that can live in you for decades before showing up as a major heart issue.
In hostels, there is a growing issue with Bed Bugs. I was attacked by Bed Bugs in a Hostel in Prague a few years ago. I had 32 bites all up and down my arms, legs, chest and even a few on my face. Little did I know that I was allergic to the bites, and ended up swelling at each bite, felt like I was hit by a bus for the entire time I was backpacking through Europe.
It isn’t just hostels though, Bed Bug reports in New York City were up by 40% in 2018. If you bring those little bastards home with you, guess what….it can cost anywhere from $1600 to $5200 to get rid of them. Often it results in you having to replace furniture, beds, clothes and other items that they squeeze into and lay hundreds of eggs. So consider yourself warned, research how to spot bed bugs, and make a rule that you put your bags outside the room until your inspection is complete. It only took once, to learn this very painful and difficult lesson.
Are there restrictions on staying with those of the opposite sex?
I touched on this previously when I was traveling with a local in Morocco. But I bring it up again here because some countries do not allow you to stay with the opposite sex unless you are married or have the same last name. So just inquire, before you book if you are concerned.
Is the destination friendly to the LGBTQI community? Would you be allowed to stay in the same room as your partner?
This one, unfortunately, is still not accepted worldwide. While the courageous individuals who are traveling to the more close-minded countries, and are helping to try to educate on this particular point – I would advise you to research this extensively. While I don’t really feel it is necessary to call out specific countries, I wanted to put this in this guide – because it can pose a security risk to members of the LGBTQI community.
A good resource for those in the LGBTQI community that want to travel is ‘Dopes On The Road‘ – this website will give you Safety Tips to Consider, questions to ask, and how to plan a honeymoon as a LGBT.
What about racial discrimination?
While I am a white American female, I do have plenty of inspirational women of color that I highly admire and look up to. One such person is, Glo, from the Blog Abroad – who is very frank, honest and open about facing discrimination while traveling and how she handles it. Another great resource for what it is like to travel like a black man is Erik Prince from Minority Nomad. His goal is to be the first black man to travel to every country and would be a great resource because so far (as of August 2019) he has visited 90 countries. Because of my own ethnicity, I think it is a subject that I regrettably have been ignorant of for my readers. So to those who are concerned about this, hearing it from a white woman isn’t going to ease your mind – so look up Glo and Erik – you won’t regret it.
I know these are a lot of questions to process and take in, so it may feel like information overload. This is why I broke it down into bullet points because once you choose your destination, know your budget, and limitations or preferences of the people you travel with – it will be easy to skip over some of the questions.
I tried to include every question I ask when approaching a booking, or choosing an accommodation (traveling with my dog is a whole other article that I didn’t address). So if you are trying to book something luxurious, then you will have a guide – if you are finding accommodation in a busy city or a remote village in Africa then you will have a resource to remind you of how to best approach it and make the most informed decision possible.
Would you include any tips/tricks or advice to those who are just starting out booking their own accommodation?
Have you ever heard someone say, “I need a vacation from my vacation”. I hear this more and more from people who ask me how I have so much energy after traveling so much. There really isn’t a secret to it, I just know how to pace myself while traveling, listen to what my body needs, and follow a certain set of rules for when I get back no matter how tired I feel – or how heavy the post-vacation blues feels.
Leave the House Clean
There is nothing worse than coming home to a pile of laundry that you know you are just going to make worse by all your travel clothes. While it seems stressful to try and add another thing to your ‘to-do’ list before you leave – at the bare minimum do your laundry before you leave. For those of us who love watching Marie Kondo, or Mrs Hinch; I suggest making the bed, chopping those pillows, doing the dishes, and vaccuming and mopping the floors.
You will find just how refreshing it is to come home to a clean house. Trying to readjust to normal life after a vacation is almost like trying to screw your head back on straight. It is easier for me to do get my life in order and back into a routine inside a clean house.
Arrange For A Ride Before Leaving
If you don’t need a car to take you, at least make sure you know if you will need to take a Taxi, train, or bus on the way home. Think about the luggage you will have, the time of night, if the transportation methods run that late; or if you should just take that Uber home and save yourself some headache.
There are always ways to get home, just be sure to keep in mind what time you arrive back home so you don’t have to stress about it when your jet lagged and shuffling your way out to your chosen transport method in a post vacation hangover.
Good Night’s Rest
The blessed bed! There is no bed, in the whole world, that is as comfortable as my own bed, my own incredibly soft Crown Goose Bedding, my 1000 count sheets, and Zoey snuggling up next to me. This is bliss to me!
Do not under-estimate investing in your bed, it is the thing that will help you the most with the inevitable Jet-Lag. It will help you recover your scrambled brain to help you function at work, so you can save for your next trip.
I am a very light sleeper, so I have made every effort to make sure that every part, portion and piece of my bed feels like heaven. I got my tufted headboard off of Amazon, and my favorite color being blue – for it’s soft and relaxing shade contributes to a relaxed environment.
The bedding, from Crown Goose, with some of the softest material I have felt in a long time. This bedding holds up in the wash really well, so no worries when you have your puppy snuggles. I also really like how elegant it looks, almost as if I have my own hotel room at home. The fabric holds up really well when I go and chop my pillows like Mrs Hinch in the morning, with crisp clean lines, and a white that reflects the sunlight from my window. They have several colors, all which are in the comforting and relaxing shades – so be sure to check them out – I promise you won’t regret it.
The 500 thread count sheets are a must for me. I know it sounds like a bit of a Princess and the Pea at this point, but I rub my feet on the sheets to help me sleep. I also toss and turn so much I needed some sheets that would hold up. I like that they come in all shades, and really can make or break my whole bed.
The last things I would add to this section is make sure you have a darkened room at appropriate times of the day. I personally use black-out curtains, and have to have the bedroom a little cooler. Fun fact, studies show that humans sleep better when the temperature is cooler at night because our body temperature drops slightly.
I must try and ride the wave coming off the plane on auto mode, and promptly unpack. I typically will unpack immediately and at least throw all the clothes either in the wash or the hamper. That way at least it is in its proper place ready for the madness of dealing with the laundry on your day off.
I also tend to pick out an outfit for work the next day. I typically go with some dark colors, to help my inevitable dark circles look a little brighter. I will either wear a flowy dress or skirt as well, so I don’t have to suck in the gut I tend to get from eating so much while on vacation.
Exercise vs Resting
Each body is different, and so I would say – listen to what your body needs. I typical traveler can walk anywhere from six to ten miles per day. When you add that up over the course of your trip, you pretty much walk two marathons over a week long trip!
For those coming from a desk job, to suddenly walking more than you do in a month combined – give your body the rest it needs. Give yourself plenty of water, and when your ready, keep walking at least three miles a day to keep up the stamina for your next trip. Even 20 minutes per day at least four days a week is great.
For those who run five or six miles a day, well… you just pat yourself on the back and get straight back to that gym! No pain, no gain – work off those carbs you indulged in while on vacation.
Nutrition vs easy Fast Food
I know how easy it is to drive home jet lagged and just stop by the nearest fast-food joint to do ‘one less thing’. RESIST THE URGE TO DO IT! This is part of the reason I try to meal prep something the week before I leave. Then freeze part of it so I have something healthy and nutritious to come home to.
If nothing else, grab your InstaPot throw in BBQ and some Frozen chicken and you can have a hot meal in 20 minutes. Get creative! There are plenty of recipes on Pinterest that are still good after being frozen.
Now this is the step that is an absolute must! It is hard for me to remember to take care of myself after going on a trip, feeling jet lagged, and needing my precious self care time. A time where I can soak the sore muscles from the flight in the tub, take a hot shower with a bath bomb thrown onto the floor for an infusion of wonderful smells. I also need cuddle time with my dog and to let the silence reset me while I rock in my recliner.
I feel like a part of me gets extremely fatigued by all the camera work, video work, and general mass amounts of ‘new input’ it receives while on vacation. Don’t get me wrong, I really love to travel the way I do, but after doing it every other week for two months – this step became increasingly important to me and the health of my friendships at home.
Take an Extra Day Off Work
The older I get the more I’m allowing myself to be ok with at least an extra day off of work. My paid time off of work is EXTREMELY precious to me, but I try and schedule my flights to give me at least one full day (or nearly full day) at home on my regularly scheduled day off, or I come home early on a Saturday instead of midnight on a Sunday. The extra cost is worth it to me, to come home earlier in the day.
Arrange for Grocery Pickup/Delivery
With Walmart, Amazon, Costco, Smiths and many other large grocery chains now offering ordering your groceries online – take advantage of this! For one thing, it helps you stay on budget which will help you save for your next trip. The second part, is that you can jump in the car, drive 5-10 minutes and just pick up the few things you will need to complete the work week and still get the rest you need.
I started doing this on my last trip, and was amazed at just how incredibly put together I felt the next morning – knowing all I had to do was go to work and come home to rest.
Purge All Your Thoughts
Writing down all the impact memories that either agitated you, or inspired you along your trip will do two things. One- It will help you release some of the emotions you may have collected along the way, and also ease the worry of not remembering your incredible journey. Two- Allows your mind to take a rest of trying to input so much information, learning, and experiences.
I also keep a small journal with me, or notepad where I take notes of buildings I visit, places to remember – costs of tickets etc…. See the things I do for my Culture Trekkers? 😉
Print Out The Photos
We live in a Digital world, and sometimes having the photos on the wall when you get that post-vacation blues can be a way to remind you of the amazing journeys you have been on.
You can make an arrangement of photos in frames, use string/cord to clip them to your wall with fairy lights. Take it a step further and make a travel book for your coffee table, or fireplace mantel that you can show friends when they come over. I think that creating something like this, along with inserting feelings/phrases like before would be
I booked my trip with a tour group called Cruise Lady, a Christian tour group that would take us from Jordan over into Israel to tour the popular Christian pilgrimage sites. I figured that I would tack on the Israel tour since they were already going there, but my primary focus was Petra.
The flight over to Jordan was…..well…HELL. It started off great, then I arrived in Atlanta and discovered with an eight-hour delay I would have to leave the terminals and could not check in until four hours before my flight was scheduled to leave. I was left to utilizing a wheelchair and attempting to sleep from my red-eye flight in the front of the check-in desk right under the air conditioner.
Finally getting into the airport, I flew to JFK airport in New York. This was another three-hour delay before heading to Paris, where another four-hour delay happened. I was overheard some of the other passengers and discovered they were in my tour group. I was too irritated and sleep deprived to try and make friends with the happy couples two aisles away. Freaking city of love, I hated happy people at that moment and was soooo determined to make people pay for my lack of sleep.
While I realize this wasn’t the best attitude, by the time I got to Paris, I had been on planes and in airports for more than 28 hours with very little sleep. Getting onto the plane, I did an attitude check and consoled myself with the fact that this was the last leg of the journey. This last flight was one of the most uncomfortable flights to date, my legs were swollen, I didn’t know at the time how to Combat Jet Lag, but was so exhausted I fell asleep while trying to eat dinner and slept the rest of the way to Jordan (Thank God for that).
Arriving at the Jordan Airport in Amman
Getting off the plane….I almost cried in relief….ok I did cry a little when we got there. I don’t do well when I don’t get at least four hours of sleep a night, and tend to get irritable, then emotional and start crying like the world is going to end. Then the culture shock set in….I was in the Middle East. There were beautiful dark-skinned men in white robes like angels, that contrasted with the tactical red and white scarves tied down onto their heads with black (what looked like, headbands). Women dressed in headscarves, and long trench coats despite the humid heat the enveloped the whole airport. The medical professional in me wanted to start handing out water bottles to every woman who passed by, but on closer inspection….they weren’t sweating.
I still don’t understand how these women weren’t melting like the Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. My culture shock was interrupted with instructions from Diane and her husband, our guides for this trip – to quickly collect our luggage and head to the border control. Without getting into too much detail about the laborious process of crossing the border into Amman, answering a thousand questions in English to the policeman – we got on our bus and headed into the heart of Amman at Ten o’clock at night.
Checking into our hotel was a smooth process as any I have experienced. I think I half-expected to just be breathing in dust, have sub-par sleeping arrangements then leave on our adventures the next day. I have to apologize to the people of Jordan for having a very skewed view of my expectations, I couldn’t have been more wrong about my expectations. Walking into the hotel was like walking into an upscale Marriot hotel with intricate patterns, rich colors and beautiful furnishings. I couldn’t help thinking, ‘I am an Arabian Princess’. I quickly checked in, rode the elevator that fit 2 people with their luggage to my 4th-floor room, turned on the AC, took out my eyeballs (aka my contacts) – and collapsed in exhaustion on the bed. Nope, I didn’t even shower – #noshame.
Traveling to Petra
The drive to Petra was very long, but our tour guide was able to give us an education on the people of Jordan, and their cultural practices along the way. A brief history was provided about Petra, and what it actually encompasses.
We arrived into the Petra Guest House quite late, but the warm glow highlighting the stone buildings was very inviting. A quick check in, and then off to my room where I had to figure out how to get the water to be warm without scalding me, and not turn the 1/8 of an inch to where I would get hypothermia, lol.
Petra Guest House – Visit Petra
Overall the Petra Guest House fit my needs perfectly, with a small workout room, plenty of stairs to exercise in, quiet mornings where I had ‘Best Day of My Life’ by American Authors on repeat while I ran all over the hotel grounds. I was told that it would not be safe to run around the town in my tight yoga pants and exercise shirt. This is not because the men are predatorial, they just aren’t used to seeing women in tight clothing, and would attract unwanted attention. While I don’t like running around in circles, I do try and respect the cultures idiosyncracies as best I can. It doesn’t hurt to put a bathrobe or a swimming suit cover over your exercise clothes until you get into the workout room.
I did have a few boys in their early 20’s come to peek in the exercise room at me, which was a little disconcerting – but if you saw a man in short shorts at a business meeting you would stare too right? Not because it is sexual, but more because it would be so out of the ordinary for you. It is the same kind of idea in countries like this. I had a local once told me, “it would be better to just walk naked than wear yoga pants because then the imagination just goes crazy”. So now that you know, try to keep things loose and covered, unless you like that kind of flirtation – then, by all means, have a hay day…. the men there are rather gorgeous.
Relief of a traveler with a remnant of camels toes
The History of Petra
Petra comes from the Greek word for rock. In Arabic, it is known as “al-madina al wardi-ah,” meaning rose-colored city.
Petra was once the capital of the Nabatean Empire, a group of nomads that began wandering here from Arabia in the 6th century. Before this archeologists report that this area was inhabited by the Edomites.
The peak of the Nabatean Empire had an estimated 30,000 people within Petra. How did that many people survive in a desert with no discernable water source? The answer to this lies in water cisterns, an extensive and intricate water canal system that is carved into the rocks at the edges of the Siq, or road into Petra. You can see an example of this as you hike into Petra. Eventually, clay pipes were made and pumped water into the city.
water canals in Petra
This ancient city grew to be a critical control point for trade as it controlled the Spice Road into Arabia, Africa, and India to the West. Due to the skills the Nabateans had from being nomads, they excelled in trading spices, ivory, perfumes, fabrics, iron, copper, sugar, medicines, gold, and incense. You can get a taste of this trade still when you visit today as shops, tents, and even children roam Petra in search for a dollar (or fifty) to help them survive the year.
For 600 years only the Bedouin tribes knew of its existence until Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt heard locals talking about the city while in Cairo. The need to explore something unknown overtook him and he disguised himself as an Arab scholar and had a guide take him to the Tomb of Haroun (Tomb of Aaron, the Biblical figure) – which is said to be near Petra.
Make sure to keep your eye out for God figures carved into the surrounding rock on your journey to the heart of Petra. If you sit next to one of the tomb-like structures, it is often believed by the Bedouin that the wind whistling through the open holes at the top are the voices of the past speaking to those who enter Petra.
Hiking to Petra
The desert and stone absorb the heat and reflect up towards you, making the trek through the shaded canyon a welcoming reprieve. The split rock canyon feeds you down into the Petra valley below, but not before it engulfs you in its 250 foot high walls. About a mile into the Canyon, I began thinking, “I traveled 2,000 miles to hike in Las Vegas Red Rock National Park”. While the walk down into Petra does amusingly feel like walking through the desert canyons of Red Rock National Park or Southern Utah the water canal systems and statues of Ancient Gods remind you that it is a different place.
Traveler Tip: If you plan your trip right, or stay a few days – visit Petra at night, where there are candles and meditation available for the tourists. While it isn’t something locals do in particular, it is an activity that is provided for the tourists & gives some fantastic opportunities for nighttime shots.
As you get closer, it seems as if the canyon swallows you whole, the sun disappears from view completely, and just as you start to feel claustrophobic….a light at the end of the canyon appears and you see it! The Treasury, it took my breath away and my face split into a wide grin that was infectious to the Bedouin passing by at alarmingly fast speeds. I was here, I made it, despite all the doubt and fears and the long-awaited journey…I was here. I purposefully slowed my walk, drinking in every moment of triumph and wonder this was giving me. Dreams really do come true, and as the American Author song said – it truly was the best day of my life.
Al Khanza (in Arabic) is the Treasury, and in fact is the treasure of Petra. It was right in front of me in all its 150 feet tall and 100 feet wide glory, the diamond of this desert Oasis. While there is much speculation as to what this particularly lavish tomb was used for, many believe it to be the tomb of a Nabatean King.
Disappointingly, you cannot enter the structure as Indian Jones did in The Last Crusade. The views are well worth it though, to realize you are standing in front of one of the wonders of the world.
Photography Tip: If you walk towards the Treasury, then turn to the right – there is a smaller tomb that you can descend into. Go down the first few steps and turn back towards the Treasury. As you can see the tourists disappear from your shot and you can look like you are a beautiful desert flower against the palace behind you 😉
Our group split up to explore the city of Petra and all its nooks and crannies. I decided to ride a camel into and around the city so that I could scratch another item off my bucket list.
What people don’t tell you about riding camels is how grimy they are. They also so tall that were it not for my iron grip on the reigns and the death like squeeze of my thighs around its midsection I would have pitched right off the front of the camel to the surrounding bedouin’s gleeful laughter.
Pro-Tip: When riding a camel, please lean back as it stands up – imagine you are riding one of those mechanical bulls and you should be able to retain your seat.
The Bedouin People
This is where my story became a little bit dark. As I was riding the camel through Petra and was on my way back to the Treasury – I experienced a little catcalling from the locals. In a way that was explicitly suggestive of riding the animal like I would ride them.
A Bedouin photographer also tried to steal a kiss from me in one of the tomb alcoves. Another man tried to buy me through a marriage proposal with 1,000 camels. After talking with several different Jordanian men, who live in America and are dear friends of mine now – I discovered that the Bedouin men do not have a good reputation when it comes to integrity. While their blue eyes, dark skin, and dark hair are alluring and tempting, to say the least – keep yourself, safe ladies. There will be plenty of offers of kissing, sex, and coming home to enjoy dinner with him and his family (except the family won’t be there). They have been taught over and over by women who visit that it is ok to have a ‘fling’ with them and then leave. Many of them would love to come to America or your home country, so just be cautious and firm in your stance of ‘no means no’.
Camels in Petra Jordan
For those men who do not take no for an answer, just loudly exclaim ‘Hakeer Kelb’ while pointing at the pursuing male – and he will likely become disgruntled and back off.
While there are rare instances of some of the Bdoul Bedouin tribe men marrying foreigners successfully, it is best to keep the culture of the area free from any more inappropriate influences. It is easy to get lost in Petra, and according to my Jordanian Police friend, this is not somewhere that is safe to stay overnight unless you are with a tour group.
For those who would like a horseback and carriage rides to the main sites in Petra. Be careful of tricks the Bedouin try to pull on tourists. They will tell you the rides are free, or the rides are included in your ticket – but once you get to your location they demand $50 or more and will be incessant about it. Keep your purses close to you, as pickpocketing can also be a problem for some.
While some interactions may be distasteful, there was one unexpected friend that I found while in Petra. A small girl, dressed in typical garb, selling necklaces and bracelets to tourists. Her business-like manner, hustle, and frankly way of selling herself left me thoroughly impressed. While she was ok with my answer of, ‘no thank you’ – she made me smile, told me her story and sat with me for a spell. I ended up buying a necklace and matching earrings from her that I could have made on my own at home – but have become the prized pieces of my jewelry collection.
I ended up giving her about 20 Jordanian Dinar for the items, I know this is an outrageous amount of money to pay for the type of jewelry she was selling – but I couldn’t help bring hope into her eyes. A girl of twelve, who smoked like a chimney, spoke like a wall street sales woman – call me a sucker, but I couldn’t help it.
It was enough money for her, that she stopped selling the jewelry and came around with me and the tour group for a while. She showed me some nooks and crannies that most tourists miss, gave me photo ideas, tied my scarf around my head properly to keep the sun off and the sweat out of my face, and helped brush me off when I played a mummy in one of the graves. In the end – she became an unexpected friend. It was hard to leave her, and we both became a little teary-eyed when I left – I wish I could have adopted my little bosom buddy.
I think the visit to Petra overall was something that will stay in my heart forever. I overcame a lot of self-doubt and speculation about the dangers in Jordan. I made the journey there alone, despite going in a tour group, I’m proud that I did it alone. I fulfilled one of my dreams of seeing a wonder of the world, learned so many things about the culture, the people and myself along the way. While the culture shock was quite real, I now find my Jordanian friends get so excited to be able to relate to me in a way that brings an unspoken mutual understanding and level of trust between us. There are so many misconceptions about Jordan and its people, but yet they are one of our greatest allies in the Middle East. So if you get a chance to visit Jordan, be sure to make your way to Petra and see how the Arabian nomads made it into a thriving desert city.
Useful Arabic Words (phonetically)
Shukran : Thank You Hakeer Kelb: A slightly off colorway of calling someone a dirty dog (considered rude, but just under the offensive language) Hello: Marhaba, Salam Malaykum No: La-ah ; Yes: Na’am Other Useful Phrases in Jordanian Arabic
Stretching 60 miles along Jordan, Israel and the West Bank shores is the Dead Sea. Rich with history, festivals, Dead Sea scrolls, and the health benefits surrounding the Dead Sea Minerals – it is a luxurious natural spa that you shouldn’t miss while visiting Israel or Jordan.
This is the lowest place on earth, measuring at 1412 feet (430.5) meters below sea level. I was on a tour bus with 50 other people and sat in the same spot as I did on the school bus in High school…..at the back.
We were traveling from the Jordanian border into Israel. We were planning a stop at Masada, the former palace of Herod, and the tragic story of the Jewish community trapped there by the Romans. Then would spend the afternoon exploring the Dead Sea.
What I didn’t have the foresight to see, was the winding roads all the way down to the lowest points on earth at the back of a bus. I don’t get seasick on ships, I don’t get sick at the sight of blood and have a blunted sense of smell from working in the Operating Room for six years. This bus trip down to the Dead Sea was terrible, I turned Green, had my plastic bag ready in front of me and sat on the bus floor in the front of the bus trying to not let me entrails become my ex-trails.
Traveler Tip: Always bring hand sanitizer with you on trips, especially if you get sea sick or car sick. There have been studies in those in Post-Operative recovery periods that have shown smelling rubbing alcohol helps decrease nausea. Hand sanitizer has the same affect, so keep a small bottle with you for emergencies like this.
How to Get To the Dead Sea
There are plenty of ways to visit the Dead Sea. There are plenty of tours offered to the Dead Sea, here are a few options:
For those who are staying in Jerusalem and have an extra day, there is a shuttle bus that leaves regularly from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. This shuttle costs about $45 per person round-trip, departing Jerusalem in the morning and leaving the Dead Sea in the afternoon. The $45 does include the $24 entrance fee required to enter the Dead Sea.
Why Visit the Dead Sea
For the History
The earliest name for the Dead Sea comes from the Book of Genesis in the Bible called ‘the Salt Sea’.
Once the Roman Era came about, Salt was a source of trade – even more so than silver or gold. Emperor Trajan controlled every entry point into this valley at one point and would tax the traders, who would bring the salt out of this lake, in salt, not coin.
There have also been many Biblical fugitives that found refuge in this area. Some of these fugitives you may know like David, Jesus, Christian Monks, and Jewish Zealots to name a few. It is also rumored that at the South end of this sea, is a salt rock formation that is said to be Lot’s wife. As the city of Sodom and Gomorrah were being destroyed, she disobeyed God’s instruction to not look back – so he turned her into a pillar of salt.
For the Health Benefits
Researchers claim that there are eight times more minerals in the Dead Sea than there are in any other sea. The mineral concentration and the unique atmospheric climate are what makes it uniquely beneficial for the skin.
Surprisingly there is scientific evidence that proves the Dead Sea can help treat a host of illnesses: joint pain, arthritis, psoriasis, and heart problems. I have not personally researched the legitimacy of these reports and who funded these studies, so take it with a grain of salt (pun intended).
At the very least, it does make your skin quite soft and after my shower, I did feel incredibly relaxed and zen-like.
Concerns over the dying Dead Sea
Three generations of Jordanian Farmers live on the shores of the Dead Sea. A man reported that when he was a child his Father’s fields were just a few feet from the Sea. Now the Dead Sea shoreline is over a mile away, in 20 years he worries there will no longer be a Dead Sea- and he will be forced to abandon his fields.
In just 50 short years, the Dead Sea has dropped nearly 112 feet. Mostly because of river diversions and the decreased flow of the Jordanian river that used to feed the Dead Sea.
What is more alarming are the sinkholes that have started to appear as an after effect of the erosion of land, landslides etc… The sinkholes can be anywhere from a small room to the size of a soccer field and up to 114 feet deep (34 meters).
If that isn’t bad enough, with the decreased water flow, the evaporation’s from the Dead Sea that would help feed nearby farming fields with the morning dew are now starting to die off.
So could we see the end of the Dead Sea in the next 50-100 years? This is why it is important to me to be aware of the environmental impact I have as a traveler to the places I visit. It isn’t just about the photo or the experience, it is also very much about being aware of the cultural impact my visit has on the locals.
What to Expect when visiting the Dead Sea?
I don’t handle humidity very well at all, and near the water is worse than visiting Masada. I can run outside in Las Vegas in 99F weather and be fine, but even 80 degrees with anything above 30 percent humidity and could rival the Wicked Witch of the West in melting under water.
Hi temp F/C
Low temp F/C
69 / 20
54 / 12
71 / 21
56 / 13
77 / 25
61 / 16
86 / 30
70 / 21
95 / 34
77 / 25
81 / 27
104 / 39
86 / 30
102 / 39
86 / 30
98 / 36
83 / 28
90 / 32
76 / 24
80 / 27
66 / 19
71 / 21
57 / 14
I know I am not the only one with this issue, because when visiting the Dead Sea with the tour group – the temperatures were scalding hot in May for me. The bathrooms were incredibly hot and muggy from the showers that were going. With my Asthma I felt a bit claustrophobic and yet can go Scuba Diving.
There was sand and mud everywhere, flies buzzing about, and no protection from the sun other than the cafe – where you had to buy a drink in order to sit under the shaded patio.
Needless to say, that getting into the Dead Sea and changing into my swimming suit with a sticky/sweaty body was not the most pleasant part of this experience. I quickly trudged my way down to the water’s edge in my shoes and dropped my gear by some folks from the bus that chose not to get in. The offered to take a few photos of me in the water, which I’m glad they did, because I wouldn’t have had any otherwise.
The water itself is lukewarm yet cool, refreshing and a bit tingling from the salinity of it. My skin felt as if it was going to drip right off my back from the sun, so I reached in and put some mud all over my exposed skin. Ahhhhh……finally…..I felt cool and relaxed and it was lovely. A smile broke the sour face I had and I wanted to stay for hours. I attempted to float in the water, and it was an extraordinarily unique feeling to be weightless. I had to convince the instincts of my mind to not feel the need to ‘paddle to survive’.
Unfortunately, my blissful moment was short-lived, as the water felt as if it was starting to burn my skin. I piled more mud on my skin, and it didn’t help, so I reluctantly washed the mud off as best I could in the murky waters of the Dead Sea Coast and made my way to dry land.
I quickly made my way out of the unforgiving sunshine and headed into the showers. The panic of not being able to breathe was just slightly less pressing as the stinging of my skin – so I quickly stripped down my bathing suit and washed off. They do have private changing rooms available, and each shower has a curtain for modesty.
Traveler Tip: Be sure you bring some of your own soap, they have some you can buy there but everything is quite expensive due to the remoteness of the Dead Sea.
Precautions when Swimming in the Dead Sea
A few things to precaution you about if you choose to float in the Dead Sea.
1- You cannot get the water in your eyes. It is very dangerous and would require medical care should you get water in your eyes (per our Israeli guide).
2- If you have sensitive skin, I would not swim in the water. They have spots where there is just mud, that is said to be beneficial and give you soft skin — but I get the same soft skin from a good Bath Bomb.
3- If you have a long drive to your next destination, you will have mud and sand in places that are uncomfortable and difficult to get out. For some reason, on me, I felt the mud was more difficult to get off of me than the regular mud you encounter in a forest. I don’t know the chemical mechanism behind this (? electric charge), but I had a very long shower once I got to the hotel in Tel Aviv.
4- DO NOT, I repeat….DO NOT attempt to enter the Dead Sea just at any shoreline. You will get sucked up into one of the sinkholes and there will be no rescue of your body as it would put emergency responders in too much danger to try and fish you out.
The history of the wars, changing hands, religious changes, celebrations, brutality has been ongoing up until the present day. As Archaeological digs continue, more facts about those who lived in this ancient city are becoming more clear and ever-present. The argument of who has the official rights to the city is beside the point, the point is, is that with such a tumultuous past in the name of control and religion; it is very hard to visit this city and not be keenly aware of the fragile peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
To give you a better idea of just how passionate not just it’s residents and citizens are here are my Top 25 Things to See in Jerusalem; and how to be culturally sensitive to both groups when visiting.
1- Visit the Temple on the Mount
This is the place where you will find the most tension, yet the most spirituality between the two current clashing religions.
Separate entrances for men and women guard the way into the Temple on the Mount. You can go to the left and visit the wailing wall, where prayers are poured in by the 1,000’s weekly.
The wall is the remnant of the outer wall of the second temple of Jerusalem – which was not originally part of the Temple only surrounded it. The Second Temple of Jerusalem was originally built by King David around 70 CE. The wall measures 160 feet (50 m) long by 60 feet (20m) high and extends well below the part that is visible to us today. For nearly 1,000 years, the area was used as a garbage dump to humiliate the Jews, but after The Jewish people believe that the presence of the divine has never left this place.
Prayers are offered up in mourning for the temple that was destroyed and pray for its restoration. To the Jewish people, it is called Kotel ha-Ma’aravi, this place is so well visited you can see that the granite flooring is polished from so many feet walking on it. Prayers are stuffed into every crack that can reasonably be reached. Male children are taught the word by their Father’s and Grandfathers.
The women are not allowed to hold prayer meetings at the wall, nor can they wear prayer shawls here. There have been demonstrations with Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who believe that prayer circles can only be held and led by men.
Some reports of prayer meetings being broken up by chairs being thrown, women being arrested for bringing prayer scrolls to the wall etc… However in 2016, space was created for women and men to worship together at the southern end of the wall known as Robinson’s Arch; and the first co-ed prayer was held there on February 25, 2016.
If you head back towards the entrance, you will see a wooden walkway guarded by two armed guards. This is the entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque, one of the seven pillars of the Islamic faith. It is the third most holy site for them behind Mecca and Medina. This is where Mohammad made his ‘night journey’ to the throne of God. The square on top of the mount, also known as Temple on the Mount, can accommodate up to 5000 worshipers.
It was originally built around 710 AD, but collapsed into ruin about 5 different times from Earthquakes, having to be rebuilt each time. Crusaders took over the area and used the temple as a headquarters until Saladin re-conquered the city. The crusader’s embellishments were torn down except for the Southern portion that is used as an Islamic Museum and Women’s Mosque now.
Visitors were previously able to peer inside the Mosque during visiting hours, but after a crazed Christian man (allegedly) set a fire inside and destroyed the 12th-century table of Saladin’s….all non-Muslim visitors were banned from entering. Now you can only visit the Temple on the Mount during certain hours, it can close without warning for protecting it, it is closed on Friday and Saturday as well. If you visit, women need to have their hair covered (out of respect) have modest clothing, you cannot wear anything Jewish or bring anything Jewish related with you onto the Mount.
Despite the perceptions of these two religions, as visitors, we should be respectful of their beliefs and abide by their rules. If you keep an open mind, and an open heart – you will see just how spiritually uplifting those so incredibly dedicated to their different causes can be just in observing them. The tensions between these two predominant religions within the city go back centuries. The most current disputes are the same as they have always been, but are still seen frequently between believers. While we were there learning about the history of the Mosque, it was the Jewish Independence day, and Jewish people are not allowed on or near the Al Aqsa Mosque. This day, however, about 20 men dressed in traditional Jewish garb formed a line and started to walk towards Al Aqsa Mosque. Those who were praying in fervent prayer, arose from their places of worship and slowly started walking towards these Jewish men crying out ‘Allah Aq Bar’, meaning God is Great. You could feel that the tension was there, and the Palestinian men in arms formed a barrier between the Jewish men and those walking towards them. Our guide hurriedly asked us to follow him, education on the Mount hastily halted and we were ushered down a side exit where our guide had a key.
I left that place with both peace and sadness for the two parties that have been warring for so long. I can see both sides of the argument, each side wants justice for injustices they feel have been inflicted upon them. There is a fragile peace between Israel and Palestine, that is not easily explained, is incredibly complicated and may not have a solution for thousands of years to come.
2- King David’s Tomb & Tower
I didn’t really understand what this tomb meant to the Jewish people when I visited, or why the different areas needed to be separated. Why was King David so important to the people?
This is one of the holiest sites for the Jewish people, he is celebrated as the warrior King of Israel. He is revered not just for his warrior spirit, but also for writing many of the Psalms in the Old Testament. For Christians, the room above King David’s Tomb is the room where the Last Supper is Traditionally said to have been held.
While archaeological digs have yet to reveal the actual resting place of the warrior King, Jewish people will traditionally worship him here. It is a tiny cramped room, only allowing a few people in at a time. The room is further split into two sections, one for the men and one for the women to worship. The entrance hall to the tomb is traditionally where Jesus is said to have washed his Apostles feet as well. The walls surrounding the tomb of David is also said to be known as the church of the Apostles because of the dating of the walls surrounding it as well.
The Jordanian rule of the Temple on the Mount and all surrounding areas did not allow Jewish believers to visit the Western Wall; they ended up worshiping here instead.
3- Visit the Church of the Nativity a UNESCO Heritage Site
While not exactly in Jerusalem, I still wanted to put this one on the list as it is in Bethlehem which is 6.2 miles (10 km) south of Jerusalem….the Church of the Nativity. This is the traditional site (since 2 A.D.) of where it is believed that Jesus was born. As religion morphed and grew, a Basilica was placed over the site in 339 A.D. The current church overlaying that basilica is from the mid 6th century.
Before visiting Jerusalem, I hadn’t really done my research on what to expect when visiting these holy places. I would caution you to not go expecting to see a humble stable or peaceful place of worship. There are three different religions who occupy the same space, with such tensions arising over the control of the religious edifice that a treaty had to be signed that joint custody of the building is shared among the groups. It can get quite crowded, and people are extremely passionate about not having you in front of them to see the sacred areas. I would humbly suggest, just wandering the building and seeing all the adornments of the building, as they are just as impressive.
If you head under the chapels and kingly adornments, there are some small and simple stone chapels underneath the church – just as it would have been during the time of Jesus. Here you can quietly sit and contemplate the life of a man that means so much to nearly every religion in the world. If you are near the Church during Christmas time, the Pilgrimage Route is walked, led by three of the religious leaders along the path that Mary and Joseph (Jesus’ parents) walked on their way to Bethlehem. The road connects the traditional entrance of Bethlehem, with the Church of the Nativity, and extends along Star Street through the Damascus Gate (the historical gate of the town) towards the Manger Square.
4- Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem
This site is very important to Christians the world over, as it has been held as the traditional site of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ since the first Crusade. While the site itself was originally a Temple to Venus; the Temple of Venus was torn down by Constantine and a stone grave was found here. This grave was assumed to be the Tomb of Jesus, a Holy Relic of a remnant of the cross he was crucified on was said to have been found here.
While tradition holds this to be the site where Jesus was crucified throughout the centuries, archaeological scholars argue that it may have been elsewhere in the city. Mixing science and religious traditions is always a dangerous venture so I won’t go too heavy into this, but just know that throughout Israel – holy Christian sites are constantly being argued and trying to be proved or disproved.
To me, this place was an absolute madhouse, in the best and worst ways (at least for me). There were women crying with shawls on their heads, rubbing clothes and scarves over the stone on the ground (believed to be the stone where Jesus was laid after his crucifixion). While I don’t understand the intricacies of interpretation in each religion, this particular practice took me off guard. In my own practices, I traditionally am quiet, reserved, and quietly contemplate religious ideals and offer a private prayer within my heart to that which I believe – as I feel this is the most reverent way to honor that which has gone. I do know there are some religions that the more you weep and wail, the more you show you miss the person. Maybe this was part of that ceremony of death that is associated with certain religions, maybe it was just these individuals….I don’t really know. It taught me something seeing it this way though, these women were worshiping in the best way they knew how and what was true for them. I decided I couldn’t fault them for that— and politely let them worship as I moved through the crowd trying desperately to find a break in the mayhem of tourists.
The buildings were so large, the spaces were so crowded, I couldn’t even feel peace and my brain was not allowed a time to ponder. It was very disconcerting and a part of me was frustrated that I was not able to find a place to think. There was incense being burned in a chapel I passed which triggered my Asthma and then my anxiety set it. I immediately told my guide I needed to leave just so I could breathe easier – and quickly found the exit. I think that the most spiritual part for me, was when I left the building. Seeing people from all walks of life flood into this place to worship, take photos, rub their scarves on the stone, shed a few tears of grateful joy is what impressed me the most.
In a time of social media, popularity contests, and bragging rights……with all the efforts people impart to ‘be remembered’ – a man born into a stable has survived the test of time. How would it be to have wars fought for you and in your name? How would you feel to have people weeping at your coffin thousands of years after you died? It deeply impressed me that so many people, after all this time, still felt so much for a humble carpenter. It was very moving to see how it brought us all to the same space to worship the same thing. Now if we could just remember to do the same thing in our day to day lives, would we still have wars? If we truly sat down and focused on what was important. In Israel, however, clashes over the Holy Sepulcher still continue to this day and may continue throughout all of time, unfortunately.
5- Visit The Israel Museum
Here you will find the replica of the Holy Land and how it looked in the day of Christ. It is quite impressive in its detail, scale, and replication. Be sure you get an audio guide, or have a Biblical Historian with you, to give you an idea of each of the areas within this Ancient Holy Land replica and what stories they correlate within the Bible.
It was startling how much it helped my understanding of where things were and how the land was laid out. It is much like an ancient Google Maps, where you can get a better idea of and trace the steps of Jesus Christ. Even how the land behaved during rainstorms, how they collected water to bathe, where the different bathing pools were for each social class. Then you see where they dumped their storage, where the Second Temple of the Jewish people was located – so when visiting the Temple Mount you can imagine what it may have looked like.
I can’t wait until they have an interactive movie on the Bible stories, where you can enter a 3D version of it – and watch it all happen as if you were a member of the crowd or a religious follower. (Ahem….can someone please give this to the appropriate powers at be, and try to make this happen, lol).
The most important collection in this museum, are the Dead Sea Scrolls. These are scriptural texts that were found near the Dead Sea (in Wadi Qumran) around 1947, yet the age of the scrolls themselves date back nearly 2,000 years.
When a young Bedouin sheepherder was climbing through the cliffs and found a crevice to which he threw in a rock to see how deep it went. He was surprised to hear something break inside. After a series of events, the scrolls were sold to a few different antiquities dealers and eventually led to the Israel Museum acquiring them for preservation and ability for all faith’s to witness the greatest find of the 19th century. The earliest translation of these scrolls led to three being published: The War Scroll, the Thanksgiving Scroll (Hodayot), and a second copy of Isaiah.
Since this that time, thousands of Scroll fragments in 10 additional caves—in total the remains of over 900 manuscripts have been found. These scrolls are being preserved and revered by thousands in the Shrine of the Book, located within this Museum.
6- Visit the Shepard’s Field
This is a quaint place to visit, and our guide gave us some incredible insight into the lambs that were kept in these fields. It was incredibly important to have sacrificial animals for the Temple in Jerusalem (the Second Temple, which was still being utilized prior to the death of Jesus Christ). The lambs kept in this field were the best of the best, and even the Shepard’s were specifically chosen for the task of caring for the animals for the Temple.
I find it very fitting that these were also the same Shepard’s that were asked to visit the babe in a manager. The symbolism of this is remarkable if you sit and ponder on this for a while.
Traveler Tip: There is an incredibly good Restaurant right near here (I don’t remember the name), but it has the best Mint Tea and Hummus in Jerusalem (of what I was able to try – and I ate A LOT of hummus).
7- Witness a Bar Mitzvah
While visiting the Temple on the Mount, if you go on a Friday – you can see a Bar Mitzvah! This is where a thirteen-year-old Jewish lad is celebrated for his reaching an age where he is spiritually, emotionally, and physically ready to observe the commandments of the Torah.
If you directly translate this, it means son/daughter of the Commandments. Celebrating a Bar Mitzvah is not a commandment, but more of a tradition of the Jewish people. A Bar Mitzvah is for a boy, and a Bat Mitzvah is for a girl. Head to the Western Wall on a Saturday morning and you may see several of these celebrations.
They are hard to miss, as they are typically accompanied by drums, horns, music and large canopy over them, or raised upon the shoulders of his family members. It is really quite a party, and cheering as the boy passes by with his family, or clapping to the music is encouraged 😉
8- Visit the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu
Don’t skip over this one! While it is a church dedicated to Peter’s denial of Christ three times, and then reconciliation – there is something even more interesting. This is the traditional spot where Jesus Christ was believed to be held before his trial and subsequent crucifixion.
There is an argument among archaeologists on this point, but if you descend into the stony pit and look up at the hole where prisoners were lowered; you can see a crusaders cross painted on the edge of it. The painted cross has been dated, and the slots in the surrounding stone where prisoners were tied are consistent with the time period of Christ.
This is not a well-known site to visit, but is a unique center where you can see how Olive use to be pressed – and is (at times) still utilized for educational purposes. Walk among the beautiful garden with incredible views of Jerusalem.
Here you can also learn about how education about the dynamics of the different religious factions within the city are functioning, their belief systems, and you will be able to learn of the intricacies of their beliefs. If you are looking for relaxing things to do in Jerusalem, you may want to plan your visit for a concert here. If you would like more information on their concert series, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
10- Visit the Bible Lands Museum
Although it is rated as the number ten, in Museums to visit on multiple travel sites I still think it is worth a visit. Every single room, artifact, and a display is geared towards educating those from every religion about what biblical life was like. The artifacts and displays are correlated to the different books and time periods, the oldest artifacts dating back to 1550 B.C.E. For me, it was the perfect ending to my two week trip on the Holy Land.
I had learned so much throughout the week, and the museum itself was not as crowded as the cathedrals, basilicas and other museums I have been in. Having this be my last stop on my tour really brought the whole Biblical picture together for me. I am a visual learner, so being able to envision what they utilized when working the fields, the type of adornments they used etc…. really brings the stories alive (at least for me).
11- Visit the Yad Vashem: Holocaust Memorial Museum
This was the most moving museum I have ever been into in my entire life. I felt hopeful walking in, refreshed I could do this Museum alone and not in a large group. Take my time reading the descriptions, and really soak in the atrocities that happened to the people who occupied this land now.
Traveling through the Museum itself is like walking through an interactive art piece. You start by seeing all the fun commercials that were shown during that time period. What Jewish life in Germany was like before the war. Then you notice that the newspaper articles start to make racist jokes, commercials begin to portray Jewish people in offensive ways and the subtle rhetoric used. It made me realize how powerful marketing is, the subtle jokes or messages can influence a way an entire country thinks. If I had never met a Jewish person in my life, then I would have wondered if this is how they truly were. Making your way through the Museum, the messages get darker, the Jewish stars come out, and you crisscross over bridges to the very end. Each bridge you cross brings you to a different level of oppression and eventually you witness the heartache caused by this genocide. Memorials to those who were taken from this world by monsters that were totally convinced what they did was for the good of their country.
I personally had to skip through some of the videos, and memoirs….by the end I was totally sick to my stomach and had to take breaks on the bridges to continue. With my background working in a Trauma 2 hospital on the night shift, I have seen my share of gore and had to notify families that loved ones have passed. Those nights in the hospital didn’t have the kind of effect that this museum did on me. I couldn’t finish going through the museum, it was too much for me personally. I did go to the memorial portions of the Museum, and when I finally reached the Memorial to the Jewish children that were murdered during the war…..I stood in this dark room full of candles and cried.
Cried for the war then, cried for the ongoing war in the Holy Land – and something in me changed that day. I won’t go into the deeply personal changes that happened within me, but I knew that I wanted to show more love, inclusive, and stand up for those who are oppressed no matter their race, creed, religion, or orientation. There are basic human rights that EVERYONE should have love, safety, and peace. Life isn’t always fair, but each individual can contribute what they can to helping establish safe zones. If you want a real-life example of one of my favorite heroes of this time period, check out Corrie Ten Boom, this is the woman I want to be should I ever be faced with a situation like the people during this time were.
12- Visit the Via Dolorosa
The Via Dolorosa is said to be the road that Jesus walked on his way to the Cross. The alleyways are quite small, and the apartments lining them are getting taller and taller; this adds to the sense of stifling chaos on the streets. Making our way up the alleyway, there are small churches that signify important points on that final journey to the cross.
Station Three: Jesus falls from the weight of the cross for the first time
Station Four: Jesus meets his mother Mary
Station Five: Simon helps Jesus carry his cross
Station Six: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
Station Seven: Jesus falls the second time
Station Eight: Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem
Station Nine: Jesus falls the third time
Station Ten: Jesus is Stripped of his garments
Station Eleven: Jesus is nailed to the cross
Station Twelve: Jesus dies on the cross
Station Thirteen: Jesus is taken down from the cross
Station Fourteen: Jesus is laid in the tomb
While we weren’t able to stop at each station due to time constraints, it is a path I would like to go back and visit— taking the time to stop at each station and contemplate what he went through. There is a lot that can be learned from what he went through.
If you decide you would like to take a tour of the Via Dolorosa, then I would suggest taking an official tour of the path. This will get you access to guides that have more than 2 years of education on these sites and will be able to get you access into the chapels that mark each of these moments. A very popular way of experiencing this is to carry a medium wooden cross with your friends in the heat, up the alleyways and to each stop. If you see wooden crosses being carried by such people, be respectful and allow them to worship in the way they feel is best.
I am not much for large displays of devotion, but seeing the example of their devotion to the experience really truly humbled me. In a way, it felt that I wasn’t doing enough in my daily life to be grateful for what I personally feel to be true.
13- Visit the Garden of Gethsemane
For this visit, I highly recommend you go first thing in the morning – rain or shine. It will give you time to enjoy the beautiful garden in peace. Take your scriptures with you, sit and contemplate what happened here. Read the passages that are pertinent to this place and let the weight of it sink into your soul.
I went with a tour group and we sat in a moment of silence, letting the moment really sink in as to where we were standing. We read a few scriptures and then sang a few songs reverently. Being surrounded by Olive Trees that are more than 2,000 years old, is an experience in and of itself — but to have a spiritual component to it made the time there even more impactful for me personally.
We arrived 15-minutes before the opening time and were able to sit in the space for at least 20-minutes nearly alone before other travelers started to trickle into the garden. Visiting hours for the garden are: Daily from 8:30 am to 12:00 pm and 2:30 to 5:00 pm Sunday and Thursday the Garden of Gethsemane closes at 4:00 pm
14- Visit The Jerusalem Archaeological Park – Davidson Center
This place is fascinating solely because of the history behind it. The views are not the prettiest in this section of the Temple Mount, but the archaeological finds are the best part. The large rubble that you see is that from the first and second temple periods after it was destroyed by the Romans and has lain ever since.
You will see the intact ancient city wall, and the Temple’s staircase, a preserved ancient street, some ritual immersion baths, and storerooms. This was the main thoroughfare, where pilgrims would visit, pay for their sacrificial coin to give to the temple sages and Rabbis. They would stop at the stalls before entering the temple; bring either grain, birds, animals etc… then are given a coin imprinted with what they exchanged. The coin would then be stowed away while they completed their ritual baths before entering the temple. They would then walk up this staircase (see photo below) and enter the Temple Mount to receive religious blessings and spiritual insights from the Rabbis for their daily lives.
If you look closely at the rest of the grounds, you will see Robinson’s Arch, the Herodian Street, the Dung Gate, and the Western Wall. If you enter the Robinson’s Center you can explore interactive Maps and 3D images of what the area would have looked like then vs now. The Center follows events that spanned more than 5000 years of activity all in one location. You will become a witness to what the Canaanite (Bronze) Age looked like, up until the Israelite monarchy in the First Temple period.
Visitors to the Park follow events spanning some 5000 years, beginning with the Canaanite (Bronze) Age and continuing through the days of the Israelite monarchy in the First Temple period. This place does get quite crowded with visitors, so be sure to visit the Robinson Center earlier in the day, or maybe on a day when the Western Wall and Temple Mount are closed.
15- Visit the Pool of Siloam
There are two areas that are called the Pool of Siloam, one is the traditional spot, and one is the archaeological spot.
The true pool was built around 400 AD by the Empress Eudocia. The archaeological pool was found when two stone steps were excavated and revealed a pool from the Second Temple period, from the time of Jesus Christ. The pool that was discovered was 225 feet long, thought to be in a trapezoidal shape. The waters that feed this pool is from a spring from the Gihon Spring flowing from the Kidron Valley. It is considered a naturally flowing spring and would have been used as a ritual bathing pool. How did engineering feat happen so long ago?
After further archaeological investigation, it appears that Hezekiah (the King of Judah during the 8th Century BC) built this to protect the cities water supply during a siege. A 1,750-foot tunnel under the City was built to bring water in from the Gihon Spring. You can take tours of this tunnel by reserving your tour beforehand. In many Christian faith’s, this pool has profound significance, as it is considered to be the pool where Jesus Christ healed the blind man.
16- Eat Kebab and Falafel
These are classic dishes for everyone to try when visiting this ancient city. The spices within this city are incredibly flavorful, with a savory nutty undertone. These are not spicy but would recommend you get some water. For the Kebab it is a mix of minced lamb with salt, pepper, parsley, and onions. It is then grilled and stuffed into a pita with a Salad. The Salad is a mix of greens, cucumber, tomato, and raw tahini sauce…..are you drooling yet? I am…. These are often served with a dish of freshly made seasoned Hummus.
For the Falafel, it is chickpeas ground up and filled with spices like coriander and a generous dose of cumin. Then you press these into patties, or roll them into small balls of goodness and fry them up. They are typically served in a wrap or a pita with tomatoes and lettuce. Sometimes you will get Turkish-inspired fried eggplant, tabouli salad, Balela Salad, and Roasted Garlic Hummus.
The Best Kebab is from Shaheen Kebab located at Shuk Hakatsavim 76, Jerusalem, Israel The Best Falafel is from Moshiko Falafel located at Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem, Israel
17- Visit the Church of St Anne
This is one of the best-preserved Crusader churches in Jerusalem, and also happens to be the site of Jesus’ maternal grandparents. Why is this important? It also means it is the birthplace of the Virgin Mary, a figure worshiped by many religions the world over.
This quaint church is surrounded by trees, shrubs and beautiful flowers eliciting a sensation of peace and tranquility due to the foliage blocking out much of the business within the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem. As you head into the church, you may see a large excavation area on the left, believed to be the Pool of Bethesda, where Christ healed the sick man.
The church itself, dates back to around 450 AD, as a site dedicated to where the Virgin Mary was born. The church is quaint, but still has the fortress-like appearance characteristic of many Crusader churches. As you enter the large gray building, you will notice a quiet reverence within. Then a group will stand in the front and sing hymnals in a strategically measured way to present the incredible acoustics that is naturally produced within these walls.
Music always has a way of bringing up spiritual feelings for me, even more than any sermon that could be given. I honestly could have stayed here for an hour or two, letting the voices of the earthly angels drive the feeling of peace into my soul.
18- Visit the Church of Mary Magdalene
You can’t exactly enter this church as it is cared for by 30 Russian Orthodox nuns, from several different countries. Some say that if you are very nice, and ring the front bell, they may show you around (worth a shot if you have the time). They are known for their liturgical singing, and also paint icons, embroider vestments liturgical use, and decorate Russian eggs. The church was built by Czar Alexander III of Russian in 1888 in memory of his mother, whose patron saint was Mary Magdalene. The Onion tops look like the architecture of the 16th-17th century, and the facade is not marble, it is in fact….white sandstone! If you do not know, any rain on sandstone repeatedly will quickly wear it down and disintegrate the facade quite quickly if not properly cared for. It is quite stunning to witness such a fragile masterpiece though.
I would recommend this as your last stop though, particularly at night as the iconic onion-shaped golden domes break through the surrounding skyline of trees and are flooded with light. It is truly a photographers dream to see such a play of light and dark. If you go just outside of the Mount of Olives, you may be able to get a good view; or visit the Tomb of the Virgin and get both photos as a keepsake about the mother of Jesus.
19- Go to the local Markets
You cannot come to such an ancient city, fraught with contrasting division and unity and not support the locals. The interactions you have with the locals at these shops might be some of the only exposure they get to foreigners visiting their country, so why not put forward your best face 🙂
Take a day and commit to a buying one or two items from someone that you can sit and have a candid conversation about them, their life, how it is living in Jerusalem, what are their daily struggles, ask about their families, how the family units are run etc…. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you learn. Just keep in mind, that just because a people, culture, religion, or economic structure is different than what you may be used to, does NOT mean that it is inherently wrong. In short: Be open-minded, be kind, have the courage to ask the hard questions in a way that is respectful to them and their beliefs. These are the conversations that I hold the dearest to my heart. It connects you to the culture, fosters good impressions and will help change opinions one person at a time. Like with any business, word of mouth is a powerful tool, so don’t think for an instant your efforts are wasted.
Here are some of the best markets to visit in Jerusalem:
Mahane Yehuda Market (The Shuk or Machne in local terms)
Anthony Bourdain visited here during one of his visits, there are craft beers and barrels of spices for the choosing. It is quite popular with the tourists, so come early!
Location: Ha-Shazif Street, Jerusalem, Israel
Hours: Typically open 8am-7pm Sunday through Thursday. Limited hours on Friday. (double check on opening times as they are subject to change)
Bezalel Arts Fair
This is an arts and crafts fair with a more relaxed ambiance. There are crafty pieces made by locals, cosmetics, jewelry for every price range, and is far less frantic than other markets.
Location: Rehov Bezalel, Jerusalem, Israel
Hours: Typically open Fridays 10am-4pm (double check on opening times as they are subject to change)
The Farmers’ and Artistic’ Market in the Germany Colony
This is one of the more beautiful areas of Jerusalem and holds a large variety of cheese, hand puppets, crafts, and a variety of other treasures. The items you find in this market are going to largely be handmade by those who live in Jerusalem – so authenticity and quality are the norms not the exception in this market (the perfect place for that unique gift).
Location: Emek Refa’im Street, Jerusalem, Israel
Hours: Typically open Friday 9am-3pm (double check on opening times as they are subject to change)
The Old City Souk
This is known for its textiles and trinket souvenirs. This is also a very crowded area as it is so close to all those areas within the old city, which means many of the tourists come here for the convenience of the location. So it just depends on if you are ok braving the narrow streets and hoards of tourists.
Location: Shuk ha-Tsaba’im Street, Jerusalem, Israel
Hours: Mon-Sun 9am-6pm (double check on opening times as they are subject to change)
20 – Visit the Cardo of Jerusalem
This was a very captivating part of the old city for me. Imagine you are walking through the bustling streets of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem, in a very modern part of the city, with perfectly manicured garden balconies in Granite appearing apartments. Then you take a right turn and descend into a massive pit with Roman columns and an alleyway that is hidden in the shadows underneath the bustling modern streets above.
This is the Cardo, a spectacular stone column-lined street that was just like those of the ancient Roman times. The Cardo in Jerusalem starts at the Damascus Gate and runs south underneath the Old City and ends at the Zion Gate. The Northern side is more Roman, the Southern side is from more of the Byzantine empire.
As you make your way into the shadows, there is a fantastic mural depicting what life would be like back in the time of Jesus along a Cardo like the one you are standing in. Be sure to pick out the modern male child being given a gift by an anciently garbed young girl. This mural could not be more perfect in the depiction of this area where old meets new and melds together to sustain the memories of the past.
Take a stroll into the Cardo, walk along it like any ancient Jerusalemite in the 6th century. As you make your way past the shops, you will enter an area that used to be the Crusader’s Bazaar, built around the 12th century, and then renovated to let stores sell their more modern trinkets. THIS is the place to go on a hot day honestly. There is a nice breeze down the Cardo, and the sun is not grating you, nor is the reflective heat off of the stones and pavement reflecting back up off the surfaces as it is on the streets above.
SUN-THURS: 9 AM – 7 PM (SUMMER); 9 AM – 5 PM (WINTER); FRI: 9 AM – 1 PM (Please double check on opening times, as they are subject to change depending on the climate, and political situations)
21- Visit the Basilica of Our Lord in Agony
This is one of the most beautiful churches I have had the privilege of entering in my entire life. I couldn’t quite hear what my guide was saying about this church, as it is required to be as quiet as you can within this building. This is the traditional site of where they believe Jesus left his disciples and went to pray to the Lord, suffering the agony of the world while he did it.
The windows are made from a purplish-blue alabaster, that creates a dimmed-lighting effect to the inside of the church. Six monolithic columns support 12 cupolas, the insides of which are decorated with mosaic tiles depicting the national emblems of the communities that donated to make this church possible (this is also the reason it is nicknamed the ‘church of all nations’).
As you look up at the ceiling in the dimmed lighting, small gold stars surrounding the mosaic of Jesus will greet you. Giving an impression of what it was like the night that Jesus came here to suffer for the sins of all nations. Gesthemene is actually a Greek word meaning ‘Olive Press’, which is essentially what many Christians believed he endured; the weight of the world’s sins pressed the blood from every pore.
Just be warned that this church is also crowded during the day with tourists, even when we arrived early in the morning. Be sure to arrive either right at opening time (maybe a little before), or give yourself an hour before closing time to allow those quiet moments of contemplation. It is worth the effort to feel slightly uncomfortable in the crowds honestly, and I detest tourist traps with a passion…..but this was worth the effort to me.
22- Visit the Museum of Islamic Art
Islam forbids the worship of images, and especially those depicting the Prophet Mohammad. This is why when you see an Islamic Mosque or Art, many times it is the artistry in the words and the way they are spoken that they express their form of worship. After centuries of perfecting their craft, many collections have been gathered into this museum. There is a collection of not just Islamic Art, but also artifacts and archaeological finds that have been discovered throughout the Holy Land.
What is even more fascinating is that the Museum was founded and opened by a member of the Jewish community. Vera Salomons herself was the epitome of religious tolerance and was interested in building bridges of understanding between Palestinians and Jews in Jerusalem. I am completely inspired by her dedication to truly making an enormous effort in trying to make changes in a region fraught with misunderstanding and distrust. Here you will gain a better understanding of what you are seeing when you look at the writings, the colorful images, and what they mean to the Islamic religion and culture. If you would like to understand a conflict in its entirety, first you must understand the point of view from both eyes.
23- Walk the Inner and Outer walls of the city
I know this sounds like a bit much, but a gentleman in our group took a run around part of these walls every day. If you don’t want to run, just take a short walk in the mornings so you can get the layout of the city. See what local people do in the mornings and the evenings, and really feel the beat of this city before the chaos of tourists ensues.
He went on a run twice a day and said that in the evenings the walls are all lit up around the city – giving it a fantastic view of the ancient structures. In the mornings, he reported that a mist would come in on parts of the city and give it a heavenly feel as locals rushed about getting errands done. Traffic is also significantly lower in the mornings as well, which is much kinder to your lungs.
I was personally traveling solo, and get lost VERY easy, so I get too nervous to do this type of thing alone in a large city. Smaller cities I like to take a morning walk, or if I have my GPS and a full phone battery then I love to explore.
24- Visit the Chapel of the Ascension
This is a Crusader Chapel, that is said to be built over the footprint of Jesus before he ascended to Heaven after his resurrection. It is a simple octagon structure over a stone said to hold the imprint of Jesus Christ. Many Christians visit this Chapel, light candles, sing songs, read passages in their scriptures, and cherish the last spot that Jesus Christ was said to have been before leaving the Earth.
It is located on the East side of the main road leading up to the Mount of Olives. There is a Russian Orthodox Church nearby also called the Chapel of Ascension that is another traditionally held site where worshipers believe Christ ascended to Heaven.
25 – Visit the Gates of Jerusalem (Jaffa, Damascus, Dung, Zion, New Gate, Golden Gate)
All of these gates had significance in not only the ancient world but some even in the more modern history. With the city constantly under attack, entrenched in war or conflict between religious factions City walls, fortifications, and gates were essential to daily life and keeping the city safe. Here is some history of each of these gates, and why they are an important part of your visit to Jerusalem.
This gate is on the Western side of the city and it was used as the main entrance from the old city into the Temple Mount. It also faced towards the ancient city of Jaffa.
The gate was first constructed in the Hasmonean period when this portion of the city had no natural defenses. Then in 37 BC, Herod the Great built three large towers, one of which still stands and is known as David’s Tower.
In 1948 the War of Independence ensued and the Israeli forces attempted to enter the city through this gate. If you look around the edges of the entrance you can still see large, deep bullet holes around the gate. Looking at these bullet holes gave me chills. I always hear about wars on the television, but seeing the scars on this gate that were bigger than my head made me realize just how intense the fighting here must have been. It made me grateful to live in the country I do.
A road was eventually built here on the south side of the gate and is still used today as the major entry point for vehicles into the old city
On the North Western Side of the city walls. This was the main entrance into the city in the time of Agrippa (ruler during the 1st century BCE). As time passed and the city grew with the Roman Rule, the gate was significantly enlarged with three arched openings. These gates led into a Roman-like courtyard (according to excavations) and a large statue of Emperor Hadrian was said to greet (and intimidate) travelers into the city. Two streets started from this courtyard, leading southward during that time; but still, function as the main thoroughfare today. The statue of Hadrian is now gone, but the surviving streets are now known as Khan A- Zeit (to the right) or Beit Habad street (to the left) and lead into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
The Damascus Gate is also the gate that is nearest to the two most important Biblical sites in Jerusalem: Golgotha, just across the street, and Jesus’ Tomb, which is 90 meters away.
Travel Tip: Prices here are cheaper than other parts of the city, many people will tell you not to venture over here just for the lower prices, but tourists still go and are just fine. You will see Israeli soldiers stationed here, and in the past, some have been stabbed and shot in recent years so be aware of your surroundings, wear appropriate clothing, be respectful and you should be fine.
On the South West Side and is also known as the Gate of the Prophet of Davide, because of David’s tomb on Mt Zion. This is near the Jewish and Armenian Quarters of the Old City.
Also on the Western Side of the City, this gate was once a wall built by the Ottoman Empire in 1540. It was 350 years later that this ‘New Gate’ was built into the wall to allow for easier access into the Christian Quarter from the outlying monasteries.
This is a sealed gate on the eastern side of the city and was built around 640 A.D. by the last of the Byzantine rulers. It is also known as the Gate of Mercy because according to Jewish tradition, the Messiah will enter Jerusalem through this gate. The gate is now sealed, as the Muslim people during the time of Suleiman wanted to prevent this.
On the North Side of the city, and was the gate that led to Herod’s Palace – because why wouldn’t a man named Herod the Great have his own entrance. It is also known as the Flower Gate because of the flowers that adorn the stone surrounding the entrance. This gate leads into the Muslim quarter on the Northern Wall.
This gate is located on near the Western wall. There are different theories for the naming of this gate, one which when trash was cleared out of the city through this gate. It is also known to some as the Gate of the Moors due to North African immigrants living near the gate in the 16th century.
No matter what street you take, what building you enter in this ancient city — you will find some historical or religious facts that will strike you at the very core. You can visit this city if you are Christian, Atheist, Muslim, Jewish, an archeologist, or historical fan and leave feeling moved. The best advice I could give anyone in visiting this city, keep an open mind and especially an open heart. Have conversations with the locals, ask about their lives, discover the modern and ancient history melding together in a beautiful story that continues to be told and created even today.
As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See YOU on the Flip Side 😉
I was with a tour group while there and felt completely safe in Israel. This was about 2 months before a skirmish broke out between Gaza and Israel. There is a lot of sensationalism in the media about this country, but just keep your ears and eyes open. Avoid the Old City on Fridays as this is typically when the two religions are there praying at the same time and there are clashes between the two on occasion. Safety in the Old City Trip Advisor Forum on Safety in the Old City US Consulate in Israel
Who are the Jordanian People? I was able to interview a Jordanian friend of mine Mohammad and ask him some very poignant questions about what it is to be Muslim and Jordanian, how to tour Jordan, scams to be aware of and customs that are very unique in their society.
Me:How to the people in Jordan identify themselves? Kind, stoic, helpful, funny, laid back?
Mohammad: Jordanians are known for hospitality. If you are my guest, I should give you food and sometimes a place to stay for free. Hospitality is like you are my guest. Like I should serve you some food.
Me: How would the people describe where they are geographically in relation to the surrounding countries?
Mohammad: Jordan is next to Palestine or what you know as Jerusalem. It is middle east. The common and well-known thing about Jordan is its safety.
Me:Do you feel that your culture and traditions have changed in any way in the last 10 years?
Mohammad: Yes, back in the day. If you came like a guest, you have to stay at least 3 days, with me providing your stay and food. Now it is a – you can be my guest for one day or a few hours, but it is only because of the financial situation there. It is considered a big shame if you cannot provide for your guest everything that they need and want.
The Right Way to Tour Jordan:
Me: How can we as tourists and visitors help to maintain your culture?
Mohammad: Since you are foreigners, and they don’t know about anything, you should just ask someone & they will explain. Jordanians can talk for hours. Most of them don’t have anything to do, so they like talking.
Me: What are some Festivals that you think are worthwhile for people to visit in Jordan while touring?
Mohammad: Jerash festival – it is Arabic singers and dancing, but you won’t understand anything. We also have the royal car museum in Amman. This is the King’s collection of all kinds of rare and classic race cars. You could come during Ramadan, but most people will be with their families and the shops are all closed during the day.
Me:What about towns that are not well known?
Mohammad:If you go to Irbid, my hometown. My hometown is in the genius book of world records for the town for the littlest villages & quantity of villages – compared to the rest of the world. There are 497 villages in Irbid. The reason is that it is a countryside.
Me: What are the biggest tourist traps you have noticed here?
Mohammad: The tourists get charged waaaayyy more than it costs. Like a taxi costs $2-3 max, but they will charge you $200-$300 for the ride.
Me: If I were to move to Jordan how would you suggest I assimilate to this culture? Are there facebook/Instagram or other internet apps/groups that I could use to integrate myself?
Mohammad:People are nosy, they will be your friend without you trying. They come and ask you all sorts of questions. This is by default, they treat you like family
Me:What is the Language spoken here?
Mohammad: Arabic and some people speak a little English, but everyone is educated. About 80% of Jordan speaks English.
Me: Can you give me some useful words all tourists or those recently moved here should know?
La = is no
Nam = yes
Assalam Alaikum = Means greetings
Me: What is the best mode of transportation here?
Mohammad: Buses, taxis, or you can rent a car if you are coming as a tourist or if you are a local.
Me: How do you cross the street?
Mohammad: You have to worry about cars, because they will run over your @##.
Me:What would you pay for a cab from the airport to the city centre?
Me: Best places to get Coffee, Breakfast, or Nightcap? Mohammad:
Coffee- At home.
Breakfast- Commonly people don’t eat much in restaurants, everyone makes their own food every day. Most of the time you eat with the family at home. If you are coming as a tourist, then you eat Schwarma or Falafal Sandwich.
Nightcap (can you buy alcohol from a store?) Yes
Me:What is your favorite local hangout?
Mohammad: Café’s, smoking Hookah, Playstation, Pool for the men. The women go and smoke Hookah together, they visit each other and go to the mall and go to the mall and eat something.
Me:How do you order?
Mohammad:You have the menu in Arabic and English in most cases. The waiter will come to you and you ask for an English menu, it is the same system as here.
Me:How do you tip?
Mohammad: They do not usually tip waiters, but if you want to do it, then 5 Jordanian Dinars is good.
Me: How do you know if service was good?
Mohammad: If he coming and asking if you are ok and keeps checking on you all the time.
Me: Do they typically charge for water or a table?
Mohammad: Yeah, they usually have a bottle of water. They tell you it is free, but they will charge you 1 JD and might even try and charge you for 5 JD. You can ask them about it if you want and see if they will take it off.
Me:If I had a food allergy, are they helpful in telling me about how to order and would they be willing to take it out of my meal?
Mohammad:No, they won’t cook it special for you. Unless you are ordering a sandwich. Most of the food is already cooked and is like a buffet.
Me: What are the Best Hidden gems of Jordan?
Mohammad: Villages and the countryside, go to Irbid, Irbid will always be the best place for me. Everything is green there. Jerash is a good place to go, Ajloun Castle is really nice too.
Me: What are the best historical places to visit in Jordan?
Mohammad: Most tourists go to Petra, Aqaba, and Amman and then they leave. Me: What are the most romantic places to visit?
Mohammad: You can go to a Café or a Park and hang out.
Me:What is nightlife like in Jordan?
Mohammad: Most people go buy Schwarma and eat in the car on the side of the street. You have nice clubs in Amman in hotels, there are even strip clubs there. I don’t know of any places to go dancing.
Me: What are the best places for outdoor adventures and hiking?
Mohammad: They do activities, there are adventure companies that can take you on those things. Most of the time I was working so I don’t know.
Traveler Tip: There are loads of camping spots, rock climbing, and other places to go in both Wadi Rum and near Petra. Please email me at email@example.com and I can provide you with some contacts in Jordan that I trust and are reputable.
Me:How to get help should you get in trouble/hurt?
Mohammad: Call 911, same as in the USA
Me: What are a few things you would like to tell anyone who visits Jordan?
Mohammad: It is beautiful, what the f#%* (insert laugh). There is a company, like, Jordan tourism board you know. They have a website visitJordan.com, you have everything you need to know right there. The few places I have heard are really nice are hiking in Mujib preserve area, go to the hot springs, the pink desert, Madaba is the Christian treasure, Mt Nebo and things like this.
Me: Would I be safe traveling as a single woman there?
Mohammad: You might not be single for long if you were over there, but if you covered up properly, you would be safe for sure.
Education Systems in Jordan:
Me: What are the school systems like here?
Mohammad: Elementary we have grades, after KG-1 KG-2, you have the grades when you are 6 years old you go to the real school which is the 1st grade. It is the 1st to the 10th grade. After that, you graduate and go to the next school, High school which is 2 years. After the second year, you have a comprehensive exam which is called the General Secondary Education Certificate Examination. This is after you finish the two years of High School and 10 years of school. Only those who pass the exam with good marks can proceed to a University. We have different majors like if you want to be an engineer or a doctor and you must pass that certificate. My certificate was in Information Technology. If you want to be a doctor, you must pass the Scientific Stream with a score of 95%. That is why the doctors in Jordan are Bad Ass!
Me: Does it cost anything to go to lower level schooling?
Mohammad:No, you just need your birth certificate and your ID. You have to pass each grade otherwise you have to stay in the same grade until you pass it. If your friends pass it, then you have to stay in that grade while your friends move forward. Most likely if you are in Elementry school you will pass through.
The Families of Jordan:
Me:How is the family unit work here?
Mohammad: The Family is a father a mother and children. The family is different. Everyone is family in the city and they visit each other daily if you miss a day your mom will call you. If she calls and you don’t answer she thinks you are dead. (Insert Laugh). Back in the day, they use to have 14-15 kids but now they just have 5-6 because of the financial situation. There are still some like this that can have 27 kids, sometimes it’s the same wife sometimes not.
Me:You can have more than one wife right?
Mohammad: Yeah, you can have up to 4 wives according to Islam. This is a solution for us because of too many single ladies. But the man has to have good health and a good financial situation.
Me:How common is it for someone to have more than one wife?
Mohammad: Now it is only 10-15%, because of the financial situation you know. No money, No honey.
Me: Who wears the pants in the family?
Mohammad: The father, if he is dead then the mother, if neither of them then it is the uncle, then if not then it is the grandpa, if not then the oldest son. For guys and girls, we stay with our parents until we get married, it does not matter how old you are.
Me: Where do the elderly go when they can no longer walk? Who takes care of them?
Mohammad: They stay in the home and EVERY PERSON in the family helps take care of them.
Me: What is the view on feminism, gay, or minorities here? Are they treated equally or do you notice a societal difference in how they are treated?
Mohammad: The transsexual and gay people? It is totally unacceptable, they kick you out and ask you to go back home. They will likely start harassing you and making fun of you. If you want to be a girl and you are the guy then do it by yourself. If you drink then go and hide.
Me: Is having children common here?
Mohammad: If you are married you should have kids. If you don’t and you are a man, then people start asking if something is wrong with you or wrong with your *$%*. If it is the girl that can’t have kids then he can go get another wife, but he will not divorce her unless she asks for it, then she can go do what she needs to.
Me: Do people get maternity leave? How long is it?
Mohammad: Oh yeah, if you are a school teacher, and you are pregnant and give birth then you get 3 months paid vacation.
Me: How many days off a year to people here get?
Mohammad: In the government, they work 5 days and 2 days off. You can take up to 1 month of vacation. You can take 2-3-5 years of vacation unpaid if you want.
Me: Is it common to have one night stands?
Mohammad: No, the man who does that will probably get killed by the girls family. (Laughs)
Me: Are people faithful in general faithful to their spouses?
Mohammad:Well if they have a Sharmuta they will, but no, they are faithful.
Me: Do people commonly show affection for their wife other in public spaces here?
Mohammad: Yes you can, but you aren’t supposed to. It just isn’t a good thing.
Marriage Customs in Jordan:
Me: What age do people here get married?
Mohammad:Until he is done with the University, so usually 25-26, but even then it is only if you have money. So now, due to the financial situation, they are getting married around 30.
Me:Are there customs associated with marriage you would like to share?
Wear clean good clothes, the guy wears a tuxedo and the girl wears a nice dress. But for those coming for the wedding, you just wear the best you have. You can’t wear shorts though.
If you are interested in a girl, you go and ask the father for her phone number, or whoever is in charge. You must ask her are you single or married. Tell her you would like her phone number. If she says that is ok, then you start spying on her. You ask about her family, who her Parents, her family, her Uncles, and everyone in her family. If you think the family is good, and you like the girl. Then you ask your Dad, and he calls her Dad. Your Dad says “Hey, we are part of this village, we would like to come and drink coffee with you”. The girls Dad says, sure and must say, “You are welcome”. Then the guy must dress good and goes over with his parents. Then they introduce themselves to the girl’s family. The father of the guy should do the talking, the guy shouldn’t do the talking unless he is asked to. This is a tradition to be respectful and listen to the man in charge or try to talk over with him. Then my father says, “We are interested in my son’s hand to your girl’s hand. It is an honor for us to be a part of your family. Here is our phone number, I’m going to call you next week about this. No matter what happens we are still friends”.
When you leave, now this one week gives this time for the family to do an investigation into the man. The main answer will come from the girl. No one can force you or convince you to marry him, it will be up to you. So your family comes back and tells you all the information. Then it is up to the girl if she wants to marry you or not.
If the girl agrees, then her father calls and says come over for coffee. Then I bring my sisters over and then we all talk for real.
Then the girls family starts saying, (for example) “We want a car, we want a house, we want $4,000 gold for the girl”.
Then my family says, “Oh that is too much, we don’t have that, help us out”
Then once conditions are reached and agreed. Then the guy has to set up a blood test to see if our genetics will cause diseases or not (genealogy is too close). If it is not a good result then the family says, “No you can’t marry or you will f*&% the whole family”
If the answer is good, then we do an engagement party. Then they have a party with her friends throw a party for her as a goodbye party.
The wedding is the biggest event. You can go to the house, the tent in front of the house. At the wedding the dance what is called the Dabka. Back in the day they use to shoot guns, and now the laws are changed, and you can’t do that in public. When they are done with the wedding, they drive their cars to the guy’s house. Then they might shoot a couple of AK-47’s and then go inside and lock the house…..Then you know what is going to happen….hehehehe.
Me:Is it common to live together prior to getting married?
Mohammad: No, you aren’t supposed to touch her, kiss her or even hang out with you. If we are engaged, the most I can do is take you out with your brother or sister with you. You can’t be alone. Once the wedding happens, yeah, you can go do whatever.
Me: What is the classic place that people get married here? Why is that culturally significant for the people here?
Mohammad: They get married in a special wedding place, it is a big hall and a lot of people will be there. There will be 500-600 people coming at the very least.
The Politics and Military of Jordan:
Me: What are the common stereotypes that are encountered in Jordan?
Mohammad: Jordanians they say everyone else has a better life than us, lol.
Me: What do they think about Americans?
Mohammad: They think they are smart people and the USA supports their country, and they want to let them know that they are funny, not terrorists, peaceful and very hospitable. They are also very generous with what they have. They also think that if they marry a foreigner then they can get out of the financial situation. They think that people overseas will appreciate the family orientation of Jordanians.
Me: How are refugee’s viewed here and why? What are the major benefits of them being here? What are the major drawbacks?
Mohammad: Refugee’s are welcome anytime anywhere in Jordan. It is a safe place so anyone can come in. They need to live and get jobs, but there are no jobs, not even for Jordanians. This is the thing that killed the financial situation in Jordan.
Me:What are two of the major Political conversations going on right now?
Mohammad: It is all about how high prices are going up.
Me: What are the political parties here?
Mohammad: No, we have a king, we don’t vote for him.
Me: Can you vote and how would you vote?
Mohammad: We vote for representatives that make up the Senate.
Me: Are the citizens allowed to do demonstrations? Who are the people/ages of those that typically do this?
Mohammad:They do all the time, they go burn tires and f*&% up the streets. Usually, it is when the government raises the price of a product and they go and do this.
Me:Is it dangerous for tourists to be a part of these or taking photos of these demonstrations?
Mohammad:No, not at all. It is a peaceful demonstration. (Me: doesn’t sound peaceful..) – That is Arab style, but it is peaceful.
Me: What are the Police and the Military system like here? Do you have confidence that they would protect its citizens in the event of a terrorist attack?
Mohammad: Oh yeah. Well if the terrorist attacks, the local people will defend. The citizens actually have more guns than the police do. They want to help the military, it is not Arab style to just sit and do nothing. Remember in Kerak, there was a problem and the local people had it taken care of before the police even arrived.
Healthcare in Jordan:
Me: How is Healthcare there?
Mohammad:Everyone has Health insurance. You have hospitals and clinics all over the villages, towns, it is everywhere.
Me: If you were sick, how much would it cost you to be treated?
Mohammad: Almost for free.
Me: What could someone expect a local to say if it is not common?
Mohammad: If you are a tourist, they will stare like crazy at you, and say it is ok for your culture.
Me: Is there a class system here?
Mohammad: We have 2 classes, rich and poor, that’s it. If you are rich you generally end up staying rich and your family does too. If you are poor you end up staying poor.
Me: How many languages does the typical Jordanian Person speak?
Mohammad: One, Arabic
Me: What type of calendar system do you use?
Mohammad:Same as the USA
Me:Do you have daylight savings?
Religion in Jordan:
Me: Major Religions here? How has that changed over the years?
Mohammad: Islam has been in Jordan forever. We have a lot of Christian people in Jordan. We are a family. Most of my best friends are Christian in Jordan.
Me: Are people generally open to talking about religion or do they just not want to hear anything about it?
Mohammad: Yeah, people in Islam have converted to Christianity, and visa versa & each time they end up getting killed by their families.
Me:How devoted are people here to their religion?
Mohammad:They f#%* around. Most people who drink and smoke and f#%* around are Muslim.
Me: What are the biggest misconceptions people have about Jordanian?
Mohammad: They are serious people who don’t like to laugh, but they are really funny people.
Me: What are your favorite memories in this city?
Mohammad: I dunno, I was born and raised there so everything is exciting for me.
Me:How do you say Thank you in Arabic?
Me: Well then, Shukran Mohammad and thank you for the entertaining interview. I have known you for quite some time now, and I have to agree that Jordanians are both funny and infuriating at times.
Mohammad: That is Arab style, what can I tell you.
Reading Time: 4minutes detailed replica of Masada[/caption]
Masada is located on top of an isolated cliff in the Judean desert where it overlooks the Dead Sea. It’s a popular place for tourists from Israel to visit because it is such an integral part of the Jewish history.
[caption id="attachment_5072" align="alignnone" width="4000"] View of the Dead Sea from Masada[/caption]
How to get there:The 421 bus travels from Tel-Aviv Arlozorov Terminal every day at 9 am and arrives at 11:47am. Returning, it departs Maddalena at 16:13 and reaches Tel-Aviv at 19:08. They don’t allow you on the bus if you have gone swimming in the dead sea due to mud making the seats wet and dirty. They do have showers at the Dead Sea, but I don’t think shampoo or soap is allowed.
The cost for a taxi all day, including a visit to Masada and the Dead Sea, will probably run you around 1200-1500 shekels including waiting time, round-trip, for two people.
Locals actually suggest renting a car for one day and enjoying your time at these two places. It would be cheaper than using a taxi and what if you miss the bus? You could do a tour out here, but it’s quite expensive.
Traveler tip: Masada can get extremely hot at the top. We were there in April and had to take several breaks around the top to cool down, get water, and find shade. We were warned several times not to try and hike to the top, via the stairs. They told us about a German tourist who had won several marathons and was built “like a rock”– she ended up getting heat stroke when she reached the top and had to visit the hospital afterwards. Granted, she did run up the stairs, but my advice: be smart, don’t be stupid.
[gallery ids="5038,5041,5040,5037" type="square" columns="2"] The History: The only history of Masada that we know of is from Josephus Flavius’s writings titled, “The Jewish War”; interestingly enough, he was actually born Joseph ben Matityahu. Matityahu is a Jewish name, so why would he change his name to Flavius, which is a distinctly Roman name? It was after he was appointed Governor of Galilee when he led the Jewish Rebellion in 66 CE.
[gallery ids="5061,5059" type="rectangular"]
Masada was built between 37 and 31 BCE by Herod the Great, who was King of Judea and wanted a refuge for himself. This fortress was built with storehouses and large cisterns that have an amazing engineering feature of utilizing and storing rainwater in gigantic cisterns that still work today. The fortress also included rainwater, barracks, palaces, and an armory.
[gallery ids="5071,5069,5065" type="rectangular"]
Herod the Great died (likely from Chronic Kidney Disease), and 75 years later the Jewish Rebels, part of the Great Jewish Revolt, took over the Masada fortress. The Jewish Zealot refugees joined them there, and it was their stronghold for the next three years while they continued to harass the local and surrounding Romans.
Then in 73 CE, the Romans decided they had enough. Roman governor Flavius Silva marched against Masada with the Tenth Legion. They didn’t just bring the Tenth legion though, they also brought thousands of Jewish Prisoners of War, for the sole purpose of killing their own people or dying themselves.
You can see that on the west side of the park there are still remnants of the enormous ramp built by hand, and the Roman encampments that had were also erected.
[gallery ids="5049,5062,5051" type="rectangular"]
This ramp is what lead to the tragic loss of lives within Masada. The leader of the Jewish inhabitants decided that instead of being captured by the Romans, then brutally tortured and tossed in the Gladiator games, suicide would be a better choice.
[gallery ids="5063,5053" type="rectangular"]
The Jewish Zealots literally gathered straws, the 10 with the shortest straws killed everyone else. Then the last 2 survivors killed the rest and then killed each other. That night, 1,000 men, women, and children died. The next morning, they were found by the Roman legion.
I couldn’t believe that their situation would drive so many to death. It really broke my heart and made me think of how terrible it must have been. I imagined myself looking at a sure fate worse than death; to be captured by the Roman soldiers who were know to rape, beat, and torture for sport at the gate, then looking into my sister or child’s eyes and knowing they would face even worse, and having to make a choice to end their life. Having to possess the courage to end your child’s life, someone who trusts you implicitly to not hurt them, and knowing that when you completed the act, they wouldn’t understand. How could you do it? How could you be driven to that place where doing that would be better than being captured? It made me cry, literally, right there, because of both the terror and the courage these people must have felt to have to do this.
It is likely the most humbling place I have been to date. The pain was still palpable. I don’t know that I will ever return, and even writing about this has been difficult. I am very passionate about history and remembering it though so that we don’t repeat it. To read more about Israel and its history, check out these other articles: The space between Israeli’s and PalestiniansCapernaum, Church of Primacy of Peter, Bet Shean: My Pilgrimage through IsraelJaffa, Cesarea, Mount Carmel : My pilgrimage through IsraelJourney through Jezreel Valley, Nazareth, and Mt Tebor: My pilgrimage through Israel ]]>
Saladin has always been a historical person I haven been fascinated with. He isn’t talked about much, but ever since watching the movie Kingdom of Heaven; I became very fascinated with him. While visiting Jordan on my first solo travel trip we happened to visit Kerak castle, one of the few Crusader Castles left in the middle east. Saladin conquered this fortress, and after visiting – it made me all the more impressed by his strategy. There is a surprising bit of hidden history about this castle and the surrounding area that many do not know though.
The History of Kerak Castle
After World War I, Kerak was ruled by the British until the Emirate of Transjordan was established in 1921. It’s amazing that this castle and small town have been predominantly Christian since the crusades, even with the country’s majority Muslim religion. This is something I did not realize, although Jordan is ruled by the Islamic Laws, they allow Christians to practice their religion within the country as long as they don’t try and proselytize.
I also learned that wearing a hijab in Jordan is more of a cultural norm, even Christians wear a hijab. I have compared it to women – how when we wear our hair straight we are seen as well groomed, if it is frizzy we are looked at unkempt or too lazy to do our own hair.
If you stand at Kerak’s highest point, you can see what a strategic position it has, it is set on a hill with steep ramparts that I think would even make Jack and Jill sweat. No wonder it took Saladin 3 years before he was finally able to overthrow the crusaders who defended this castle for so long.
Be sure to see the classic Crusader architecture, with the Roman style vaults, long stone corridors. If you look at the upper levels of the castle and see the darker looking stone, these are from the Crusader period, while the whiter limestone is actually from the time of Saladin.
The most exciting part was the upper courtyard, where you can actually stand in and see a CRUSADER CHAPEL! With all the mysticism surrounding the Crusader period, due to Dan Brown’s famous Novels like Angels & Demons — it was so exciting to be standing in that spot.
The security guard, Mohammad, was trying to flirt with me down the halls of this castle. He attempted to scare me, and it worked, with the spooky flashlight under the chin trick. I screamed a little when in any other setting I would have hit him…hard. I think when you are in ancient ruins like this, everything seems more mysterious and creepy….especially the dungeons….that was too creepy to take a photo (and too dark).
Other Crusader Castles Nearby
Speaking of the Dead Sea, at the top of this castle, you can peer over the Mountains and actually see the Dead Sea. There are also several other Crusader Castles in Jordan you should really check out while you are there, this includes Montreal Castle, and Vaux Moise,. There is also Shoback castle with its secret tunnel 🙂 and also interestingly fell to Saladin a year after Kerak! I never got to see the last 4 castles mentioned, but there will definitely be on my list when I go back to Jordan.
Traveler Tip: Kerak castle is also a great stopping point on your way down to Petra & Wadi Rum.
So be sure to stop by Kerak, and experience a little of what it was like to be among the Crusaders, let your mind contemplate about what it was like to be confined to the cold stone castles & how much dedication it must have taken to stay there — which would have required a lot of devotion on my part to be confined to one place. Happy Travels, Happy Tales and see you on the Flip Side.
How To Get To Kerak Castle
To get to Kerak Castle it is 1 hour 46 minute drive, driving there is easy (except in the bigger towns) because the roads are pretty empty. If you enjoy driving on winding and narrow mountain roads its fine. The roads are fairly well maintained and tarmaced just be careful around mujib road to Karak from Madaba.
Any rental car office will have a rental car or a car with driver. You will have to check on your VISA requirements while in the country to see if a guide/tour guide/tourist police escort is required within the country– depending on the size of your group. Prices range from $30 without driver — to $100 with a driver (minimum starting prices depending on how good you can negotiate with them). Rental companies available in the area are: Budget, Reliable, Hertz, National, Europcar. There is a lot to see on the way there including the Dead Sea, Madaba, and Lot’s cave.
Best Time To Visit Kerak Crusader Castle
When considering visiting Jordan, especially Kerak and the Dead Sea, its best to go there in Early March/April or in Sept/November because it can get VERY hot, around 104-115F during summer months & there isn’t much shade/cover.
Reading Time: 7minutes A boy flying a Palestinian flag near Jewish Settlements[/caption]
Despite Palestinian’s being supported by forces of Syria, Egypt etc… By 1949 Israel forces controlled 70% of the land of Palestine & had pushed well past their borders established in the U.N. plan of 1947. When the 750,000 Palestinians who fled due to fighting tried to return to the now Israeli State, they were permanently barred by the Israeli government. The descendants of those refugees number around 7 million. Given the tensions, and the recent Genocide, I can see their point of view of wanting to be overly protective of their people. I also see the Palestinian view of frustration, because no matter where you are in this world, home is still home, and never being able to return would be very heart breaking. To this day there are millions of Palestinian refugees that have a very hard time finding decent jobs & many more still living in refugee camps in the Gaza strip, west bank, Lebanon and Jordan. The Jewish people needed a refuge from the storm of World War II & a safe place to be able to heal; but in giving them that, a large number of Palestinian refugees was created.
[caption id="attachment_3693" align="alignnone" width="4608"] Jewish Men praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem[/caption]
As the Israeli state became more established, there was segregation, there were rights denied to Palestinians who had stayed — including privileged housing that is and was denied to them, but allowed for the Jewish people. This gave rise to the 6 day war, where Israel was able to seize the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Sinai & Gaza strip from Egypt’s control; the Israeli State now controlled all of Israel, including the Holy Sites within Jerusalem.
Israel now was able to govern those Palestinians that they had fought for decades. Then in 1978, Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords, and gave the Siani Peninsula back to Egypt. This was very controversial to many Arab states, but over time the other Arab states were able to come to peace with Israel even if they never formally signed a peace deal.
[gallery ids="4187,4188" type="rectangular"]
The Gaza Strip and the West Bank were intended to be areas where Palestinians were allowed to live and raise their families. When I visited Israel, it seemed that the Palestinians were boxed in with barbed wire and from friends I have living there, the living conditions are not good at all. There is rationing of power, water, infrastructure and resources. While on the Israel side, the Jewish people have managed to turn it into a thriving Metropolis that attracts thousands of visitors and tourists every year.
The Palestinians were not happy with the Israeli rule, and the Israeli & Palestinian conflict ensued. The Palestinians began to fight back, including with acts of terrorism; backpack bombs, bombs in Maternity wards and buses– none of this was going to help with peace talks for either side. The Palestinians who were struggling against Israel wanted to end the Israeli occupation entirely. The fighting was very brutal, at one point Israel actually began to invade Lebanon (1982).
[caption id="attachment_4246" align="alignnone" width="3000"] Police fences were randomly placed throughout the city in Jerusalem for precaution[/caption]
Unfortunately, the State of Israel, has started putting Jewish settlements inside the Gaza strip, they partition those areas off, and when the Palestinians complain, they are hushed quietly but also forcefully at times (according to reports). Because they are backed by the Israeli army, they have allowed them to come into Palestinian sections and destroyed hundreds of homes, orchards and agricultural lands. If there is resistance by the Palestinians, they are punished with raids, arrests and assassinations. Some assume that this is an attempt to make life so hard for the Palestinians that they will be too afraid to resist, or they will just leave. Why would the Jewish people want to live in these areas at all? Some chose to move to these settlements for religious reasons, some for political reasons, and some… just because the housing was so much cheaper than the housing near all the Holy sites throughout Israel. By placing these settlements within the Palestinian occupied lands, it will make it much harder for the Palestinians to ever have a Palestinian state. Currently the settlers have been numbered above 700,000. In 1987-1999 was the first Intifada, or the first Palestinian uprising; the Israeli’s lost several hundred and the Palestinians over 1,000. About this same time that this was happening in the West Bank, Gaza created its own army called Hamas; a group of violent extremists that felt they were defending their ‘state’. By 1993 it was clear from the destruction and devastation on both sides, that a peace deal would need to be made. This is when the Oslo Accords was signed by leaders on both sides. This accord was suppose to be the first step in Israel withdrawing from Palestinian lands, and potentially allowing a Palestinian state. This was when the Palestinian authority was established and allowed Palestinians a little bit of authority to govern themselves in certain areas. Members of Hamas launched a series of bombings to try and sabotage the process. Because of this, the Israeli’s began to protest the peace talks, and called the Israeli Prime Minister of the time Hitler and a Nazi. After the 2nd round of the Oslo Accords was signed, the Prime Minister was then shot to death by a far right Israeli in Tel Aviv.
[caption id="attachment_4184" align="alignnone" width="4000"] An Israeli flag flight near the traditional site where Jesus Christ was believed to be Baptized[/caption]
By 2000-2005 with the failure of Camp David II summit, Palestinians began to give up hope for peace. The Palestinians rose up with the Second Intafada or uprising, and this one ended up being MUCH more violent than the first Intafada. This conflict produced 1,000 Israeli deaths, and 3,200 Palestinian deaths. This uprising change the tone of the conflict for Israeli’s, they became much more doubtful and skeptical that the Palestinians actually wanted peace, and not just their total destruction. This is when all the walls, checkpoints, and increased Israeli military presence came into Israel to not make peace, but manage the violence and protect its Jewish citizens.
[caption id="attachment_4185" align="alignnone" width="4000"] Barbed wire along the road to the Jordan River, where Jesus Christ was believed to be Baptized[/caption]
This left the Palestinians feeling that peace will never come, and are feeling the growth of an ever increasing Israeli occupation through the settlements. Israel ends up withdrawing from Gaza, Hamas then gains power, ends up splitting from the Palestinian authority rule in a short Civil war. This is when Israel places the Gaza strip under a massive & suffocating isolation, because of all the violence originating from the Gaza strip. Unemployment in the Gaza Strip rises up to 40%, and living conditions have deteriorated even further with nearly 1.8 million Palestinians living within a 25 mile by 7 mile wide area, and an estimated 1.1 million Palestinian refugees between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
[caption id="attachment_4216" align="aligncenter" width="704"] The Area of the Gaza Strip Compared to Los Angeles in the United States[/caption]
In the West Bank the Israeli government is still putting up settlements, and the Palestinians are getting increasingly frustrated by this… which then leads to violence and riots. Because of the continued and long history of war, and violence, most Israeli’s have become apathetic to the situation; and the government manages the conflict to the point that most Israeli’s don’t know about it. There are brief periods when the violent groups will rise up, and the deaths that occur from this violence are largely Palestinian (due to US backing of the Israeli Army).
So as you can see, on both sides, there are extremists that use Violence to derail peace. It is a thin line that both leaders must walk in order to make peace talks both happen and take effect without risking their own lives & keep the area relatively stable. Until BOTH sides are able to be at peace, and not seek for the opposing sides total destruction… peace will not happen, only relative stability.
[caption id="attachment_4194" align="aligncenter" width="488"] A flag and Menorah are proudly displayed atop an Israeli buidling[/caption]
The Israeli occupation on Palestinian lands (according previous accords signed), cannot peacefully last much longer. Whatever we see come next will be much worse, it is a struggle on both sides of each one wanting the other’s destruction.
I don’t know what the right answer is, and I have friends on both sides of this conflict. I have to be careful of what I call the land there. If I’m talking to my Jewish friends, it is ‘Israel’; if I’m talking to my Palestinian friends, then its ‘Israeli occupied Palestine’.
[caption id="attachment_4197" align="aligncenter" width="679"] Dome of the Rock in Israel a Sacred site to Muslims[/caption]
Now I feel I have a better understanding of why there is a need for the barricades, barbed wire etc…. on both sides. All in all, it just makes me sad. Its not just about religion, its about both sides wanting to protect their lands, people, and children. I do not personally feel the US should solely be involved in this, especially if they have something to gain through some export from Israel. I don’t really want to get into that political portion of this conflict.
All I can do is listen to both sides, encourage peace, pray for it & try not to ruffle anyone’s feathers by talking about my opinions on the matter.
Don’t let this conflict discourage you from visiting Israel though, it really is incredible to be a witness to thousands of years of history & see for yourself what Israel is today. Much love to both sides, and may God bring you both peace in this time of heartache and turmoil.
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