The Lost City of Petra

Even if you have not been, I am sure that you have probably seen this infamous landmark in a movie.  The list of movies – that I have seen – include:  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Mummy Returns and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

When I first saw a picture of Petra,  I knew I wanted to go and see it. Just before we went to Jordan we watched a BBC documentary about the Lost City of Petra.  Very informative and I would highly recommend the watching of it.  Our overall impressions were okay but we definitely preferred Petra at night.

Getting to the UNESCO World Heritage Site was a simple walk from our hostel. Definitely leave first thing in the morning.  It is cooler, less people (slightly), and it gives you more time.  Buy the two day ticket as it is only an extra $5.00.  We packed a lunch.  It is possible to buy food within the site, but that depends on your budget.  Petra is not a cheap place to enter, compared to the rest of the sites in Jordan.

There is no shade so a hat is a must, along with sunglasses and appropriate clothing or sunblock.

The Siq

jd.petra.siq.pathSiq means “the shaft”.  It this case it is a natural geographical gorge formed from a deep split in the sandstone rock serving as a waterway flowing into Wadi Musa.

When you enter, your ticket also includes a horse ride up to the siq entrance.  You will be expected to pay a tip and they will tell you how much to pay.  Don’t bother trying to explain the meaning of the word tip and how it is supposed to be, not worth it.

Some horse draw carriages do go through the siq and will drop you off at the opening to the lost city.  They are more expensive.

We walked, and it was a long day. Magpie had a horse once we left the siq on the way back.

The Treasury  (Al Khazneh)

jd.petra.treasuryWalking through the siq and always wondering if the next turn will bring the view of the Treasury at the end.  That picture is everywhere, unfortunately it is not an easy picture to take with the vast number of people. I get frustrated at the volume of people but you do what you can.

As much as you are dodging people, you are also dodging animals and carriages.  It sounds worst than it is for a walker but for a photographer – everyone is a photographer these days – it can be frustrating.

Seeing the Treasury for the first time is breathtaking, even though I have the seen the image so many times.  In person it was a moment to stand and just take it in – trying not to be hassled by the men selling rides – and absorb it.  We were here, finally.

Much to Magpie’s chagrin, you cannot go in and explore.  You are stuck outside and I would have loved to lie down on my back and just look up.

It is around 9:30am and there are lots of people and animals. Time for us to move on.  Walking around the corner provides relief from the sun. It is surprising how intense it is, staring at the Treasury.

Not knowing how far we have to walk, we try to stick to the shady side.

The Ampitheatre

jd.petra.amphitheatreThis theatre was positioned so the spectators are viewing the Royal Tombs and where the valley now opens out into the plain.  It was cut into the hillside with three sides being the rose coloured mountain walls.

Again you can climb through and explore.  Compared to other ampitheatres we have seen, it is a little on the small size but how it is built into the mountain is striking.

Royal Tombs

jd.petra.tombsAgain, you find many men trying to sell a ride either on a donkey, horse or camel.  Magpie saw a camel being mistreated and wanted nothing to do with any of them. I prefer walking.

We find some interesting caves with unique rock formations, more like rock layers of pink.  There are a couple of girls that let you know where the “good” photo spots are. Surprisingly, they were not looking for a tip.

Just to let you know, there are very modern and clean toilet facilities with the site (actually built into the rock).

Just past these facilities – which are surrounded by stores – is the path to the Royal Tombs.  Here is where you can climb and explore, Magpie heaven.

Up past more shops you find the path and stairs to the main chamber of the Tombs.  It still amazes me on how they carved out the rooms with such precision.

There are a few levels to climb and many different rooms – all shapes and sizes – to explore.

The Monastery (ad-Deir)

jd.petra.monastaryTo get to the Monastery from the Royal Tombs, you will walk along an old roman road that was once lined with columns.  You will pass the ruins of a big temple and make your way around a restaurant and more bedouins trying to sell you donkey rides.  It is much better to take a donkey than a horse up the mountain.

It is approximately 800 steps up to the Monastery. Before you gasp, it is not straight up. It is a widely, zig-zagging, curving with flat areas, path. If I went again, I might take a donkey up and walk down; only because I would explore further past the Monastery.

During the climb, you are given some beautiful and potentially peaceful views.  Along the path, shops are dotted selling trinkets, clothing and scarves. As you get closer to the Monastery you will find restaurants.

The anticipation of when the Monastery is going to show and how it will reveal itself to you, preys on your mind as you walk up. It turns out the path comes out right beside it, so you don’t see it right away.  You know you have arrived when you walk into a big courtyard in front of the Monastery with a couple of restaurants facing the actual Monastery.

Cats, did I mention how many cats are hanging around?








We find a seat and have our packed lunch.  The cats mob you.  Magpie thinks it is great. I know better.  We actually see a couple of cats swipe the sandwiches from peoples hands and run off.  There comes a bigger mob of cats.  Of course, the cat chooses to run under our seats to eat.

Magpie enjoyed running around and climbing, while I sat and drank my fresh pomegrante juice.

It was now mid-day and the sun was intense.

As much as I was interested in exploring further, I also knew we had a big hike back to the hostel. I knew Magpie was going to loose stamina and interest. We started back down, which of course is faster than going up.  It is also slippy because of the well worn path and loose soil. I did slip once but nothing serious. Unfortunately, one woman had a good tumble.  I was amazed at how many people used a donkey to get down.

Petra by Night

We stayed an extra couple of days to ensure we could go to this.  Unfortunately we did not realize that it only happens on Mon-Wed-Thur nights and we arrived on a Thursday.  We did not mind, as the town itself and our hostel was quite nice.  We took the opportunity to go to Little Petra, which does not have an admission fee.  Great views and an easy taxi ride to and from.  Your taxi driver actually waits for you.

Back to Petra at night.  It is approximately 2 hours long and starts at 8pm. It is very inexpensive to enter.  This is run by the Bedouins.  The path is lined with candles and the front of the Treasury is surrounded in candles, which cast all the light and creates the mood.

jd.petra.night.siq.pathEveryone gathers at the information centre and we all go together in a line (suppose to anyway) being guided by the bedouins.  They ask that no flashlights are used and they really are not necessary with the candles, but there are always a few people that have to anyway.  You are also asked not to take pictures on the way there.  It will delay the whole night and we were waiting for people for over half an hour to arrive.  We still had fun.

jd.petra.night.siq.peekAt the Treasury, small rugs, similar to prayer rugs, have been placed on the sand for you to sit on.  We also had the entertainment of the dogs and cats while waiting.

jd.petra.night.yellowAnd So it Begins

A bedouin comes forward and starts singing songs, playing music and telling stories to lights with the backdrop being the Treasury.

Tea is also served, which is an added bonus but it is keen to remember that they are no toilets out there.

After the show, you are encouraged to take your photos of the Treasury with all the lights. The only issue is the number of people.  We were lucky to be a few of the first people in and being able to take photos and we were in the front row.


For us, especially me, our time within the site was spoiled by the constant hassling we received. It was non stop being asked if we wanted a donkey or camel or horse ride.  It actually put me off.  I have never been hassled so badly.  I wanted out and I wanted out now.

We ran into a british woman who was interested in the walk up.  I explained that the 800 steps were not what they seemed. Everyone thinks it is straight up.  This is common mis-leading information.  She was pleased to walk but at the same time was disappointed in the site.

As we were discussing our thoughts, we realized that we were not that impressed with the site either.  Seeing the Treasury, Royal Tombs and Monastery were great, but the whole atmosphere was disappointing. It was enough that I did not want to come back the next day.

Once we had passed through the siq again, I put Magpie on a horse.  That was a mob, and where I put my foot down. Even though they say the ride is free, it isn’t, as they tell you how much the tip is. I guess considering it was the end of the day they figured they could get more, or maybe it was because they saw that Magpie was almost in a meltdown. Either way, I won as Magpie and I had already discussed what would happen and I was in no mood to be hassled further. I was done.

We were glad we went and really glad we went to Petra at Night.  Would we go again?  I am not sure, as it is not cheap to enter.  I would still recommend it to everyone.

As with a lot of places, pictures are the words.






Wadi Rum, Valley of the Moon

After 10 days in Amman, we headed to Wadi Rum for our first stop on our tour of the South.  The roads in Jordan are good, but you may have to do a bunch of backtracking, as the exits are not always where they need to be. In most cases you will be travelling the Kings’ Highway.

Wadi Rum

This is a 720 km2 area of vibrant red rock and sand.  It was declared a protected area in 1998, and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011. Wadi Rum is also known as the Valley of the Moon. As we found out afterwards, it was the setting for the movie “The Martian”.

Once you have your ticket you pass through a monitored gate. They are just checking for tickets.  There is a small town with a welcome area.  This is the staging ground for guides to meet up with their respective groups. If you came in a car, the car stays in the parking lot.

Bedouin Camp

In many cases, your guide is also your driver, and your cook. How long it takes to get to your camp depends on who are with and where they are situated.  As much as they are considered bedouin camps, they are relatively permanent, basically just a tourist camp.  There are proper toilets, though everything else could be moved. If you are expecting to be staying with bedouins, you will be disappointed.

Most people only one to two nights in a camp. Personally, I would recommend staying two nights; we only stayed one.  There is not a lot to see per se, but the peacefulness of the area is a huge attraction, for me, anyway.  Kids have the ability to hike, climb and explore with no restrictions and I would have loved to do a twilight hike.

When the sun went down and stars came out, the temperature also drops.  There are fires inside and out, but you will need your base layer.  During the day you will be shedding it quickly.

The last time we saw the night sky in its full regalia, of stars and constellations, was in Colca Canyon, Peru.  There we sat on lawn chairs to watch the night sky, here it is sand and no chairs.  I think next time I would hike up a rock formation and lie back on it; it would be cleaner and warmer.  I have kinda had my full of sand from sand boarding in Huacachina



Jeep Tour

First thing after breakfast, which is early, you pack up and go on the tour.  The guide takes you to a small siq in the rocks with some Nabatean rock paintings and carvings; however, they are quite faint, which is understandable. There is also a small camp here with souvenirs and tea.  We really like the traditional tea.

Next, is on to a rock bridge which has a great view from above. With all the driving and bouncing, getting out to climb is appreciated.


The third spot is a large sand dune that is leaning against a rock formation.  Magpie decided to give the climb ago and headed off without shoes on to the top. Another great view, but do not try to climb a sand dune with shoes, much easier and faster with your bare feet.

After one to two hours, the tour is done and you are back at the Welcome Centre.  A whirlwind tour and off to the next place for a few days….Petra.

Jordan – day trip sites within the Holy Land

We spent 3 weeks in Jordan, much to the anxiety of friends.  The world is in turmoil and what is being sold is fear.  I am not ever proposing getting in the thick of the mess, and being in immediate danger, but at the same time, if we succumb to all the fear, they have won.  It is not possible to go anywhere these days without the chance of something happening.  Needless to say, Jordan was incredible safe.  It is a beautiful country, with very friendly people. We could easily have just hung out there.  Would we go back…in a heart beat.

I must admit, that I enjoyed listening to the call to prayers, especially the 11 am call. The calls were incredibly musical and touch the soul.  You do get to the point where you do not always here them. I have not heard call to prayers that were as hauntingly beautiful as Amman.

We did have more interaction with men, as the majority of woman have opted for the stay at home job.  It is customary for the women to stay at home and only work if the husband is unable too. If you see a woman in hospitality, they are usually expats, or their husband is unable to work. Not once did I ever feel “threaten” by unwanted advances from any of the men.

We stayed in the old quarter of Amman – downtown – located on the side of a hill. This was our base.  We were walking distance to a fabulous vegan restaurant called Hashem.  They have a limited menu – falafel, humous, fries, salad, humous sandwich.  I could buy dinner and have leftovers for breakfast for the two of us for $5-6 JD.

Day Trips

All the day trips are usually travelled by the King’s Highway. It is the oldest continuously used communication route and it is mentioned in the bible.  I think the fact that we were actually in the holy land, places mentioned in the Bible, that really had the greatest impact on us. The scenery is diverse and beautiful but there is a scarcity of trees.

Cross on Mt. Nebo

Cross on Mt. Nebo

 Mt. Nebo

This is where Moses died after seeing the promise land.  It is possible to see Jerusalem and the Dead Sea from this point, but alas we had a dusty day and visibility was limited.  There is a small museum that you enter first before going out to the view point. The cost is 1JD.


This town is mentioned in the Bible and has a couple churches with fantastic mosaics plus a Roman street.  The cost is 1JD which includes all of the places.

Church of St. George houses the most famous mosaic – Map of Palestine – of the holy land. It originally measured 25 x 5 meters.

Church of the Apostles is a Byzantine church dating to 578 CE.  It is currently being restored and has the mosaic called the “Personification of the Sea”, which shows a woman emerging from sea surrounded by sea creatures, rams, bulls, parrots and vegetation.

Mosaic of Madaba

Dead Sea

It is possible to find hot springs that do not cost and will not have any facilities.  More than likely you will go to a public beach with a pool, showers, concession stand and mud.  This is expensive at 20JD for the day.

We had so much fun in the dead sea.  We stayed for a couple of hours.  We did not take a formal mud bath but used the sea bottom mud to rub on our bodies.  Many people were doing that too.

The white is salt

The white is salt

We found it extremely hard to swim forwards as the sea was always pushing your body backwards.  It was just much easier to float on your back.  If you went far enough out to where it drops, you do not sink.  Magpie was so shocked to see that he was staying straight up without having to tread water. Our shoulders were always outside of the water.  It was really cool – temperature wise it was not cool but not overly warm either – and fun.


It is north of Amman and one of the largest and best preserved Roman ruins of a town with a temple to Artemis and to Zeus, outside of Italy of course.  The circus colonnade is in good condition.  Like most of the ruins in Jordan, climbing is okay.  It is an extensive ruins with the temples, the circus colonnade, the street and businesses.


There are parts of Jerash that has ruins of settlements dating back to the Neolithic Age.  That means humans occupied this area for more than 6500 years.  I do believe that is older than Stonehenge.

The entrance to the ruins is through a bazaar.  The cost is 8JD.

Ajlun Castle

Not far from Jerash is the castle.  You see it on the hilltop driving to it.  It seems so far away but it is only 20 mins, depending on traffic conditions.  The castle is well preserved and is fun to explore.  The view is great and you see the balls of rock for the catapult and realize just how strong the men were to be able to lift them. It is named after a Christian monk who lived on the mountain in Byzantine times.

It is built over the ruins of a monastery which has been discovered in more archaeological excavations.


Within the castle are a couple of small museums displaying the artifacts found within the castle excavations.  We liked not having to go to a different museum to see the artifacts.

It was a strong hold during the Crusades. It was one of many castles in a chain that stretched from Turkey to the Egyptian border.  It was obviously for defence. All I can picture is Lord of the Rings with the fires in a domino affect.  Supposedly by having the castles within site of each other a message could be passed from Aqaba (down by Egypt) up to the Turkish border within 12 hours.  Too bad our mail system isn’t that quick.

It is a beautiful castle and the views from the towers are definitely worth the hike.

Desert Castles

There is a nominal fee that gets you entrance to all the castles.

Qasr al-Harraneh

To get here you are driving on a highway that leads to Syria and Iraq.  That left an interesting feeling in my gut.  I knew I would here about it, given the conflicts at the moment.  The scenery reminded me of Bosnia – 20 years ago – with lots of rocks very little vegetation.  I had to remind myself that we were in a desert.  Just not what you think of a desert. The path was marked off, which really through me off to Bosnia.  I was not sure if I should be worrying about what would happen if I stepped off the path.  It did not help that we could not see any other people visiting this “Castle”.  Our driver, Rakan, was having a smoke and saw that I was not comfortable.  He said he would meet us there.  We carried on. I, making sure Magpie and I stayed on the path.


It was a circular route and we could not understand why, but when we were in front of the door we were not sure if we could go in, until we finally saw someone else inside.  That did it, we were in and taking photos.  For Magpie, it was a climbing frame.  It is well preserved, but does not seem like a “castle”.  We decided it was more like a roadside tavern with rooms.  It is possible to climb and stand on the roof. Rakan did come to find us and went back when he saw we were good.  I was over the past memories.  It helped when we saw a group of men bypass the scripted path and march in a linear route to the door.

We carried onto the next castle down the road, continuing on the road to Syria and Iraq.

Quasayr Amra

This “castle” is more of a hunting lodge and is a World Heritage Site. It was built in 705 CE. It reminds Magpie of Star Wars, specifically Luke Skywalkers home.  I had to admit, that it was a good likeness. Magpie wondered if it had been filmed here. I knew that it had actually been filmed in Tunisia.

Could it be Luke Skywalker's home?

Inside the lodge are some great mosaics. Some were restored and others were in the process of being worked on while we were there.  Magpie noticed that one end was actually a bathhouse. He remembered from the tour in Bath, England.  I was so pleased.


What  is interesting to remember, is the area of the hunting lodge is now a desert, it really isn’t that hard to forget. Which means at one time the area had to be somewhat lush to provide food and shelter for the animals that were hunted.

Jordan at one time had a very big forest. Does that mean with the de-forestation came the desert?  More than likely that is true, in my opinion, anyway.

Qasr al-Azraq

This castle is more of a big fort.  It is made of black basalt rocks. It dates back to the 13 century CE. It was redesigned and expanded upon over the years and was the headquarters of Lawrence of Arabia during the winter of 1917, when he was fighting in the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.  We saw a lot about Lawrence of Arabia in Jordan.

Arches still standing with no mortar.

Arches still standing with no mortar.

This fort is in so-so condition.  Still a great climbing frame that can also give a parent a heart attack, but it adds to the learning experience.

To see the doors, and arches used in the building of the fort is still really impressive given how old the fort is. The entrance door is actually a single slab of granite that swings open. Of course Magpie wanted to close the door. I wasn’t keen on that.


The citadel was walking distance for us from our hostel. It was all uphill, and reminded us of Cusco.  It was fun navigating as the crow flies – which meant going up side stairs – instead of the zigzagging path of the road. Once at the citadel you have a great view of the downtown city area.  The entry fee in nominal 2 JD and under 12 are free.

The Citadel is well laid out with maps and signage along the way.  You can take a tour guide if you want, but we did not.

The Citadel has numerous Roman, Byzantine and Islamic ruins.

The best preserved include the Temple of Hercules and a small Byzantine basilica.  There is also a small museum on site that once held the Dead Sea Scrolls, alas they were moved to a different museum and we were not able to see them. It was a serious drat moment.

The Temple of Hercules also includes – which is seen in all the posters – a piece of hand from the demi-god himself.  Tourism posters lead you to believe that the hand is quite big.  Unfortunately it is a play with perspective when the picture was taken.  Don’t get me wrong, as much as I was a little disappointed, it was still neat to see and when you start really thinking of how everything is relative, that was a big statue.  The hand is bigger than our heads, which means…well you can imagine the size when you look at your hands and compare.

The hand of hercules

The hand of hercules

The Byzantine basilica was very simple, yet very beautiful.  The mosaics that were created so long ago are really impressive to see, with the work and time involved in creating them and the fact that they are still around thousands of years later.

Roman Theatre

Across from the Citadel is the Roman Theatre.  To reach it from the Citadel you can either take a taxi for 2JD or walk down hill, which we did.  It costs 1 JD to enter and it is well preserved. Magpie enjoyed running up the seats to the top for the view.  This time I did not.  I was about done with the volume of people.  I sat and watched the people and tried to keep an eye on Magpie. Attached to the ampitheatre is a small museum of the costumes.  Behind glass cases are the actual clothing worn by the men, women and children through the ages.  All of it very ornate but simple and with lots of color.

After leaving the ampitheatre we headed back up the main street.  Crossing main roads can be challenging as it does not seem that crosswalks are respected per se.  We always cross with locals, within reason.  We go to a freshly squeezed fruit juice place to have a snack on the walk back.  It is only a 15 min walk back and we have gone full circle.

Experiencing Kailua and Pearl Harbour

We spent basically 2 months in Kailua, Oahu, trying to accomplish a few things.  We went to help some friends while they went on vacation.  We had the pleasure of looking after 2 very sweet dogs that we miss greatly – besides our friends of course.

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Challenges of the Chinese Visa

When we were deciding on where we wanted to go, the Great Wall of China was a must for both of us.  Lots of research was done trying to determine how to get the chinese visa. After taking in account of what has to say, I went to facebook and asked travellers who had just been the scoop.  Everyone stated that you could get a visa in 3 days in Hong Kong.

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When a Picture Comes to Life – the Golden Pavilion

The Golden Pavilion

We managed to find an apartment with a kitchen just north of Kyoto City, but still in Kyoto. Never really knowing just how far you are until you actually have your feet on the ground, your booking is always unsure. As it turned out the apartment was incredible small, but this is normal for Japan. Little furniture is normal too.

We always prefer to be walking distance from most things and take the subway or buses as needed. I knew, at booking, that we would be approx 30 mins walking from the “Golden Pavilion”. The official name is Kinkakuji-shi Temple.

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Hercoleum the City Everyone Forgets

I had never heard of Hercoleum nor do I ever remember it being mentioned in school when the eruption of Pompeii was discussed.  I do remember the description of Pompeii and what was found, but not of Hercoleum, but my son did, from reading.  Yeah reading!

Needless to say it was a must when we came to Italy.  It is actually quite an interesting little town.

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Experiencing Pompeii and the power of Mt. Vesuvius

Seeing Pompeii was a must for Magpie.  We had read about them, so experiencing was the next step.  It is always very interesting to see the sites from other people’s interpretations whether it be music, stories or art.

Naples was the base camp for us. As it turned out, we were walking distance to the train station and market.  Unfortunately for us, the apartment was on the top floor, 6th, with no elevators.  It was  a square staircase that opened into a communal courtyard.  It was a great location and quite safe.

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The Berlin Wall Memorial and Museum

The Berlin wall was the key point for coming here, along with hearing how progressive the city was for foodies, especially vegans. We were not disappointed with either.

First the Berlin wall.  I was living in Hugelsheim, Germany when the wall came down.  I never did make it to Berlin before the wall came down or just after.  I do remember how the big thing was to have a piece of the wall.

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