Saturday, April 30, 2011

Masada Day Trip

Typically, Masada (a desert fortress in Israel's Negev) is to be visited in the early morning hours in order to see the beautiful sunrise (see previous post here). However, I quickly learned that another popular reason to visit Masada in the wee hours of the morning (vs. the midday rush) is because....the weather is actually bearable around 5-6 a.m. Unfortunately, during my parents' visit to Israel, we did not make it to Masada until high noon....and I will not ever be doing that again. Looking back, it was worth the trip; however, if given a choice, I would spend the night in the Dead Sea area (a short 15 minute ride away) and wake up early to hike Masada.

Here we are arriving at Masada National Park:


We opted for the cable car to the top instead of the hike up (since temperatures were already soaring):


And here we are at the top of Masada, looking out over the Negev desert toward the Dead Sea:


The views from the top are phenomenal:


After taking in the views, it's time to explore the ancient Herodian ruins:




Before venturing onward, it's time for a sun break inside this shaded respite:



And back out we go to explore the site where nearly a thousand ancient Israelites historically took their lives at Masada in order to avoid their indisputable fate of slavery to the Roman people:


Masada is a huge place...and here we are on the tail end:


We had to make one final stop at the water storage tank to see what it looked like:


How, exactly, did they get the water in here?
I think we might just sit here awhile, away from the oppressive sun...
 Hot and exhausted from our trip to Masada, we couldn't resist making a brief stop at the Dead Sea to get lunch and to take a dip (or...a float) in the cool, clear waters of the Yam HaMelach:





All freshened up, it was time to hit the road to head to Jordan (via Eilat) for our overnight trip to Petra! See post here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Petra Revisited

Our last visit to Petra was in December 2007 (see the previous post here), but our more recent trip to Petra during my parents' visit in April 2011 was no less spectacular. I was utterly awed all over again by the "rose-red city half as old as time", as penned by the poet John William Burgon. Petra just so happens to be on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which any traveler knows is a must-see in the traveler's book. A visit to this deserved wonder of the world will leave you understanding fully well why BBC named Petra as one of the 40 places in the world that you must see before you die. 

Welcome to Petra, Jordan
To spice up this trip a little bit from last time, we opted to stay in the resort town of Aqaba, Jordan overnight for an added $7/person on top of the tour price. We didn't think we heard the tour operator correct the first time, but indeed it was only an additional $7/person for a one night's stay. Here's a look at our hotel stay in Aqaba, fittingly called "My Hotel"....creative, huh? Gotta love those foreign attempts at using English sounding lingo.



As it turned out, Aqaba had more to it than meet's the eye. In ten years from now, I see Aqaba becoming a major tourist destination in the Middle East, as it has a killer location on the Mediterranean Sea with long stretches of beach, world-famous underwater life suitable for scuba diving and snorkeling, a booming nightlife, and dozens of restaurants with delicious (and cheap) food as well as a countless number of hookah bars and coffee shops lining the modernized palm-tree lined boulevards. A huge million dollar project is already underway to build additional 5-star resorts and hotels in order to accompany the preexisiting ones already widely visited throughout Aqaba. Lastly, Aqaba's proximity to the many tourism options throughout both Jordan and Israel makes it an obvious choice for a traveler enthusiast's jumping off point.



Aqaba Beachfront
Diving in the Mediterranean
Aqaba Beachfront Resort
Night View
Aerial View of Aqaba and neighboring city Eilat
Bedouin Style Dining in Aqaba
Hookah anyone?
Anyhow, enough about Aqaba! It was certainly a pleasant surprise and one that I would definitely look forward to going back to if I ever have a friend in town to visit (hint, hint) but now it's time to move on to the main deal: Petra.  It takes just about 2.5 hours driving from Aqaba to Petra, with stops along the way to view the stunning vista. Hopefully, you will go on a day when there are no dust storms (unfortunately for us, we were greeted with a moderate dust storm that sort of ruined the views along the way). 




Once you've arrived at Petra's grounds, your tour guide will take you through the ruins....but first you will have to start the journey by walking about 3.5 km through a narrow passage that has been carved into towering walls of rose colored rock. There is much to ooh and aah at along the way. 



But nothing will prepare you for the big reward that you come upon suddenly as an unexpected turn leaves you with this to behold through the cracks:

You have arrived at Petra!


Of course, leave some time to explore the actual ruins and take some pictures with the camels:


And then if you are not too tired (which many are in the relentless heat) you can venture on to discover the unending number of additional ruins that dot the path beyond the great temple: