Petra, The Spice of Jordan

Jordan

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan sits at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa. Bordered by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Palestine, it sits along the Jordan River to its east, the Dead Sea to the West, and has a short south-western coastline on the Red Sea. This constitutional monarchy is the 11th most populated Arab country, with a population approaching 10 million. And while the majority of its inhabitants practice Sunni Islam, there is also an indigenous Christian minority that coexists quite well, making Jordan a friendly place for Americans to tour.

When many people think of Jordan, the first thing that comes to mind is the facade of Al Khazneh (The Treasury) featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But this 45-meter-high elaborately ornate structure carved into the face of a pink sandstone cliff is only one of hundreds of buildings dating back to approximately 300 BCE.  And Petra is only one face of the many-faceted gem that is Jordan.

Petra, also known as “The Rose City,” is Jordan’s most well known and most-visited destination. The capital of the ancient Nabatean Kingdom is accessed via a picturesque trip through the narrow canyon named Al Siq. Voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and has an increasing number of visitors from around the world.

Beyond Petra, however, Jordan is the home to several other exquisite destinations including Wadi Musa, the town just outside Petra’s gates. Most visitors find Wadi Musa incredibly welcoming, and it is the perfect place for exploration not only of local cuisine, but of the Spice Markets, featuring delicacies such as saffron, za’atar, sumak, curry, and star anise offered at inexpensive prices in baskets as large as beach balls. These tasty souvenirs will have you reliving your explorations as you savor the flavors of the Middle East upon your return home.

For those looking for a scenic ride potentially interrupted by goat crossings, the King’s Highway is not only an ancient trade route, but an important pilgrimage route for Christians as it passes next to Mount Nebo, the site of Moses’ death and burial. Bus tours along this highway can expect to enjoy unique scenery while seeing the local shepherds, small villages, archeological sites and more.

On the northeastern tip of the Red Sea lies the inspiration for the fictional sultanate of Agrabah in Disney’s Aladdin, Aqaba, a strategic center of trade between Africa and Asia for over 1000 years. With beach resorts known for windsurfing and other watersports, the city is also a popular destination for scuba diving, especially along the Yamanieh coral reef in the Aqaba Marine Park. The Aqaba Archeological Museum and Islamic-era Aqaba Fort provide an in-depth history of the region with artifacts dating back as far as 4000 BCE.

Sixty kilometers to the east of Aqaba you’ll find Wadi Rum, the Valley of the Moon.  This protected desert wilderness features dramatic sandstone mountains, natural geologic arches, and rocky caverns and chasms which sport prehistoric inscriptions and carvings. The domes of Jebel Um Ishrin, Burdah Rock Bridge, and Khazali Canyon provide numerous vistas for photographers of all skill levels, and Lawrence’s Spring is quite the popular destination. The spring is famous for an alleged visit by British soldier T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia.

All in all, Jordan is a wealth of vistas and sights that are beautiful, historical, and traveler friendly. Reach out to Endless Travel to book a tour, today!

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Recommended Reading –Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life Autobiography by American-born Queen Noor who penned an exceptional autobiography about her efforts to modernize Jordan. This strong and powerful woman worked closely with her husband to make Jordan the dynamic and exciting place it is today.

Written by Mindy Hanson, AlphaPixel Reach for Endless Travel

See Stromboli, Italy in a Day

Stromboli – Lunch on an Italian Volcano

About 40 miles due north of Milazzo, Sicily lies the island of Stromboli, the setting for the conclusion of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. A member of the Aeolian Islands that sit in the Tyrrhenian Sea, Stromboli is one of Italy’s three active volcanoes. While Stromboli’s last major eruption was in 2009, it has spouted enough minor lava plumes on a regular enough basis over the last 2000 years that it has been nicknamed the “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean,” and according to some scholars, was J.R.R. Tolkien’s inspiration for Mount Doom.

Accessible via ferry from Naples (ten-hour overnight trip), Tropea and Reggio Calabria on mainland Italy (just shy of four hours), and Messina and Milazzo in Sicily (just over an hour), it is a journey worth making if for no other reason than to be able to say you had lunch on an active volcano.

Coming into Ferry Terminal Stromboli

Most of the ferry lines will leave you off at San Vincenzo’s Ferry Terminal Stromboli, a small pier flanked by black sand beaches lined with fishing boats.  There are small stalls and food vendors all along the waterfront if you are looking for a quick souvenir or snack, but the real fun lies up Via Picone, which leads to Piazza San Vincenzo, a plaza overlooking the village and water

Black Sand Beaches

front.  Leading up to, and splayed out around San Vincenzo Ferreri Church, are numerous shops, clothing stores, and even a trekking shop to buy or rent equipment if you feel like climbing to the volcano’s observation point.

The tours up Stromboli aren’t for the timid. While there are local guides who will take you up and back, it’s about a three hour climb up, and another two back down in the dark should you choose that route. Stromboli lends its name to the type of eruptions you can often see from the waters off the western coast of the volcano.  These “Strombolian eruptions” are nearly continuous explosions of lava that are flung a small distance into the air.  If the mountain is willing, you’ll see several of these in a rather short amount of time. If you want to get up close and personal, you can view the volcano’s eruptions safely from the rim of the crater normally, but if a route or path is closed, its closed for a reason, so tread with care.

For those who are less adventurous, a late lunch or early dinner can be had with a stunning view of the shoreline before you make your way back down to the ferry terminal for the next leg of your journey.  If you have the time, be sure to book one of the ferry tours that brings you around to the western side of the volcano just after sunset.  As numerous tour boats stop about a kilometer off the western shore, the volcano will hopefully treat you to several “fire fountains” for your trouble.  And while the view isn’t nearly as spectacular as the one you would get from the crater’s rim, seeing red-orange fire explode into the night sky is impressive no matter the vantage point.

Depending on where your journey started, you may want to spend the night in one of the island’s hotels. The other option is to make the night time sail across the Tyrrhenian Sea to Sicily or Tropea. Either way, the visit is well worth the trip.

Written by Mindy Hanson, AlphaPixel Reach for Endless Travel

Classic Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour

Classic Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour – by Susan Hammond

July 1 – 9, 2018

The birth of our Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour happened on New Year’s Eve 2017.  My husband and I were enjoying a brief time with our youngest son, Jack, before he went out to celebrate with friends and ring in the New Year.  We were discussing our family vacation plans for the next year, and Jack mentioned that he would really love to see Eric Clapton in concert since the soon-to-be 73-year-old was getting ready to retire.  Well, before I knew it, we purchased four tickets to the British Summer Time in Hyde Park where Eric Clapton headlined this all-day event!  Since we now had the genesis for our family vacation, we decided to “go big” and journey to other destinations in the UK that would fulfill this classic rock theme.  We also invited our traveling pals Suzanne, Terry, and Matthew Levy to join us on this journey, and their love for classic rock was echoed throughout our trip.

The Beatles

First, we all flew into Manchester, England meeting our middle son Max (who is currently serving in the US Peace Corps and had journeyed over 20 hours from Manila).  We then took the train to Liverpool starting our pilgrimage to the city of the Beatles, and I have to say we were not disappointed.  To keep everyone awake until early evening, I arranged for a Beatles walking tour with a local Blue Badge guide.  We ended this tour at the Liverpool Museum which is located on the Mersey River where a special John and Yoko free exhibit called Double Fantasy was on display to the public.  The next day was fun while we explored Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s homes, plus even drove by the barbershop where those famous haircuts were manicured in the early 60’s.  Also, The Beatles Story Museum was a huge hit amongst our group allowing everyone to be totally caught up in Beatlemania one more time before heading on to our next stop on tour.

One of the biggest surprises about this trip was the fact that England was still competing in the FIFA World Cup while we were in Liverpool.  We found a cozy corner to watch the England vs. Columbia game together where England won in the final minutes during a shootout.  By that time, some of us ventured out to a neighborly pub to enjoy the festivities of the win and assist all the locals in chanting “Bring it Home” in the streets of Liverpool.  Then, of course, our trip would not have been complete without stopping by The Cavern Club that evening to feel the vibe and listen to local music.

On day three, feeling fully rested and Beatles fulfilled, we drove to the next stop on this family vacation – Stonehenge, surviving my husband driving the narrow back roads on the opposite side of the street.  Now, I know this doesn’t follow the Rock ‘n’ Roll theme of this trip, however it was on everyone’s bucket list; so why not!   If I were to make this side trip again, I would have dropped off the car outside of London to avoid city traffic and then take the train into the city.  Rush hour, accidents, and driving on the opposite of the road can be stressful and easily avoided by taking advantage of the UK’s public transportation.

Since this was not our first time to London, we wanted to do something different by exploring some of the neighborhoods of this diverse city.  There is no better way to absorb London’s glorious past and gleaming present than by taking a stroll along the southern bank of the River Thames.  After hopping on the underground near our hotel and popping up at The London Bridge at the base of The Shard (U.K.’s tallest building), we walked along the river heading west until we ended up at the Borough Market.  All our senses were working overtime at this unique market with its array of local and global produce at more than 100 specialty stalls.  The Dickensian streets and railway arches were surrounded by the Southwark Cathedral which is London’s oldest Gothic church.

A couple of hours later, we headed across town to the posh restaurants and shops of Notting Hill.  This neighborhood’s cobblestoned streets weave through scrunched alleyways and richly furnished Victorian townhomes, and its stylish shops and passionate antique vendors.  Notting Hill’s famed Portobello Road Market is a rummager’s delight celebrated as much for its idyllic streetscapes as it is for its café lifestyle.  On the weekends, Portobello Road is a carnival of musicians, antique stalls, and street food vendors.   If you are a Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts fan, you might remember the movie called Notting Hill where the awkwardly funny Grant owned a travel book store on Portobello Road with a blue door.  This book store is amazingly still there!  That same evening we tubed back down to the River Thames to have dinner overlooking the south bank at OXO Tower celebrating my husband’s birthday.  Great lively conversation, view, and delicious food!

In keeping with the rock ‘n’ roll theme, we elected to travel to Paris the next day visiting lead vocalist of the Door’s, Jim Morrison, grave site which is in NE Paris at the Pere-Lachaise cemetery.  So, we took the Eurostar train from London to Paris for the day leaving from St. Pancras International rail station.  I was not expecting the wave of travelers at 7 am that Friday morning.  I felt I was in a cruise terminal embarking on a large ship with over 5,000 travelers.  Although, the Eurostar personnel were very efficient boarding several trains at one time, passport control slowed down things some, plus security prior to boarding these trains was mandatory.

Paris was new to all three boys, so after visiting the cemetery, we took the Metro to Montmartre where many artists i.e. Monet, Picasso had studios or lived close by the end of the 19th century.  There are many ways to approach the intimidating climb to this unique village that overlooks the city of Paris from the north.  If you have the energy and good knees (which we did), then take the more than 300 steps that lead to the Basilica Sacre-Coeur.  Or, another option is the mini-train that departs close to Moulin Rouge which takes about 35 minutes to reach Montmartre.  Trust me, this train is not only for children; petite yet very practical!

Other stops in our short visit to Paris included a photo stop at Triumph de Arc and the infamous Eiffel Tower.  And of course, as luck would have it, the French were playing in the FIFA World Cup the same afternoon we were exploring this beautiful city.  So, we too celebrated with the locals as they beat Russia in the semi-finals.  After recording more than 22,000 steps in Paris and briefly exposing our 3 young men to the French culture, food, and sports enthusiasm in one day, we relaxed on the train back to London feeling content and satisfied that we had a fabulous day.

I feel that London is not so much a city as a patchwork of villages.  While Londoners do value their history and traditions, they are also restless and preoccupied with novelty and change.  So rather than try to make sense of this chaotic city, you just get out there and give it a go to see what happens.  The last neighborhood that we explored on this trip was Covent Garden.  Upon grabbing a bite to eat at Nags Head, we walked to the over 400-year-old Piazza of Covent Garden Market, site of the famous flower, fruit and vegetable market from 1656 to 1974. This vivid market was a place much frequented by Charles Dickinson in the late 1800’s, and he loved this area so much that he mentioned the market many times in his novels.  Like many other places in London, Covent Gardens has experienced various stages of life.  From humble beginning as a Convent garden, it has moved through many guises over the centuries.  From a home to the aristocracy and the main center of theatrical life in London it developed into the largest produce market in the world.  Now it is a popular shopping and tourist site with the Royal Opera House as the anchor backdrop.

Winding down our week having fun and making family and friend memories, we all enjoyed listening to some of Eric Clapton’s classic hits such as Lay Down Sally, Wonderful Tonight, Layla and Tears in Heaven.  My hope is that all the boys will remember how much we enjoyed our time together, were happy to see some new sights, received a subtle history lesson, and experienced a suitable blend of something a little different that will remain in their hearts forever.

5 Ways to Empower Women While Traveling Abroad

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In its Global Report on Women in Tourism in 2010, the United Nations World Tourism Organization found that tourism has the power to close the gender gap by creating jobs, introducing educational opportunities and improving infrastructure in developing countries.

Yet, the report also found that in an industry where women make up more than half of the workforce, men remain the dominant players in developing countries. As tour guides, drivers and business owners, men in tourism often enjoy access to educational and professional development at a higher rate than women and, as a result, hold higher-paying jobs. Read more …