A Travellerspoint blog

September 2011

Long night of the museums

I did not sleep well. First, the walls were extremely thin and I could hear everything the people in the next room over were saying. I kept thinking that they were in my room, which was a bit unnerving while trying to fall asleep. Second, I woke up an hour too early because I didn't set my clock back. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that until after I was up, dressed, and out the door.

I had planned to get to the Naschmarkt (think nosh market) at 8:30, not 7:30, even though the guide said that it opened at 6. At 7:30 though, it was still reasonably dead. There were 2 aisles of vendors running the length of the market, and one of them appeared to mostly be lunch/dinner restaurants. The other aisle contained the fish mongers, fruit vendors, and a surprising number of falafel stands. That half was open, but it was clearly just getting started. I wandered down the row, feeling like the very hungry caterpillar as I stopped to try things and buy small foodstuffs that interested me. By the end, I had made myself a breakfast consisting of 3 small eggplant appetizers from Dr. Falafel, a cheese pastry, a pickle, a plum Linzer cookie, and some mountain cheese. Had I been staying longer, I would have bought some vegetables here to cook with. They had all sorts of fruits and veggies from all over the world, and they were advertised by the country they came from. From fennel to lychees, you were covered. Also, there were a very large number of stands selling nuts, dried fruits, and spices. At the end of the Naschmarkt was a flea market. The people there had everything from dishware, old clothes, and new shawls to faucets, appliances, and toys. Since I needed sunglasses to replace my broken ones, I did stop to get a pair. I negotiated down to 5 euro from 10, so even if they only lasted a month, they were worth it and I felt like I was getting a reasonable deal.

It was still too early to go to St. Stephen's cathedral, so I wandered past the Hofburg palace for a little before I headed up to the cathedral. When I got the the cathedral, all the bells were ringing for a very long procession. The procession was coming from somewhere so far down the street that I couldn't even see the end of the line. It contained nuns, church officials, and a bunch of guys in costumes. I can't believe that they are all priests or friars unless there is some sort of special event going on, but maybe they are. The procession mostly filled the cathedral, but some regular people went in as well for mass. During mass, tourists are allowed in the back of the church, but not in the main praying area. the back takes less than 10 minutes to see, so I went to climb the tower while I waited for services to be over. The tower has something like 340 steps to the top, mostly in a spiral staircase. It was quite the climb, but it didn't take as long as I thought it would. Before I knew it, I was at the top. The top has quite a view of the city. It is definitely worth the climb. Also, from the top of the tower, you get a better view of the tiling on the cathedral roof. After climbing down the stairs again, mass was still in session, so I went to check out the ruins in the nearby metro station. You read correctly. In the metro station, you can look through some glass at Virgilkapelle, the remains of a church that is much older that St. Stephen's or the remains that are sitting next to St. Stephen's outside. When I was done there, mass was still happening, so I just gave up temporarily. I headed off to the Hofburg Palace, figuring that maybe I'd make it back to St. Stephen's later.

The Hofburg Palace is gorgeous from the outside, but it's also worth it to go inside. It contains 3 museums that are all under one ticket. For a little more, you can get the Sisi ticket that also gets you into the Schonbrunn Palace, but costs less than the two tickets bought separately. I got that as I intended to go there later. The first museum is the Imperial Dishes Museum. It sounds lamer than it is. Basically, it contains all of the dishware from all of the royal families. The audio guide is good on detail, although it makes getting through the museum go slowly if you listen to all of the description. I skipped a bunch, but still learned some interesting things about Viennese tastes. For example, despite the massive quantity of exquisite porcelain, only soup and dessert courses were eaten off porcelain. Everything else was eaten off of silver. They had a massive quantity of each on display though. Every different ruler seemed to have their own style and bought their own set of dishes that were contemporary in their times. By massive, I mean roomS of dishes in each style, multiplied by a lot of styles. The second museum is the Sisi Museum. Sisi (Elisabeth) became an Austrian Empress at 16, wasn't particularly famous, and then died young, sparking her popularity. She is often compared to Princess Diana for that. The museum walks you through her life, from why she was married off instead of her older sister, to the deaths of some of her children and her health issues later in life. They have a bunch of dresses and replicas of her jewels, but other than that, it's a little sparse on Sisi-specific artifacts, probably because she was just one of many Empresses. She did have some quirks though, which led to interesting displays, although some were in the next museum. For example, she wanted to stay in shape, so she had an exercise room built and had her own home gym. Still, the really good artifacts were in the Imperial Living Quarters, the third museum. Basically, they had a bunch of rooms set up how they would have looked when the royal families lived there. The chambers were the epitome of fancy, decorated from the floors to the ceilings. Here, the audio guide was a bit better. I didn't skip so many of the lectures, and they told entertaining stories about the various royals. For example, one of the kings would see anybody, down to the lowliest peasant, so his waiting room wasn't just for the rich and you could find anybody there. Right when I was about in those chambers, I started to hear a band. Just out the window, a bunch of people in historic costumes had started to play (what I assumed to be) Viennese period music. That just added to the incredible charm of the imperial chambers.

By the time I was through with the Hofburg Palace, I was getting hungry again. Nearby is a Vienna staple- the Trzesniewski buffet. Here, they have mini open-faced sandwiches on display, each with different toppings. They're basically some sort of mashed salad on quarters of slices of bread. You can choose a variety so that you can try several in the same meal without filling up too much. The ones I got were pretty good, although one was spicy enough that it interfered with my ability to really taste all of the subtle flavors in the others. I washed it all down with a pulpy blueberry drink, and headed back to St. Stephen's.

At this point, it was around noon and the cathedral was so packed, I couldn't even get in. I was glad I had been there right at the opening. I gave up on it again, thinking that maybe I'd get back to it, but if I didn't at least I had seen some of it.

Schonbrun Palace is a metro ride away, and it is right outside of the stop- just follow the crowd right up to the palace doors. There was quite a bit to do on the palace grounds. I started by going outside to the gorgeous palace gardens. At the far, far end of the gardens is a hill you can walk up. At the far, far end of the hill is Gloriette, a very expensive cafe inside a monument built by one of the royals. I didn't eat there, but I did stand outside and enjoy the view of the city and the palace. I had been concerned that the view wouldn't be worth the walk, but a couple on their way down assured me it was. They were right. On the way back, I stopped in briefly to look at the zoo and maze that were on the side of the gardens, but those cost extra and I wasn't sure how good I was on time, so I skipped them. Here is another place it came in handy to have a Sisi ticket already purchased. Everybody else had to wait in line to get a ticket with a specific entry time on it. The guards weren't letting anybody in until their time. I overheard one telling a group, "wait one more minute," because their time wasn't quite yet. I however, got to march straight in because the Sisi ticket gets you into the untimed line, which is also very so short I'm not sure they can even call it a line. The palace had chambers set up not that differently than the Hofburg, but the audio guide was even better. Plus, they had lots of rooms set up as they were for royals other than Sisi and Franz Josef. For example, some other royal had an Asian fetish and so there was a bunch of Asian art as well.

When I was done enjoying the palace, I walked back to my hotel to rest my feet (I had pretty much been walking all day), and to take a nap to prepare for the evening. Another slightly less-than-complimentary fact about the hotel: there are no signs to indicate "do not disturb" and they don't really knock in the middle of the day. I was startled awake when the guy came in my room. I'm just glad I was in pjs and not in the shower or something.

After the nap, I headed over to the last place that was covered by the Sisi ticket. Since the ticket was less than the regular entrance fees to the 2 palaces, this was basically free. It's this furniture depot. The royals apparently all had their own furniture and styles, but instead of furnishing each of their many homes with their stuff, they bought enough furnishings for one or two and then had a crew of people move the furnishings in whenever they came around and out whenever they weren't. By furnishings, I mean everything from couches and beds, to chamber pots, pianos, lighting, and even moulding. Unless you're big into furniture, it's something you can walk through pretty quickly. If you have somebody with you who isn't, they have the Sisi movie playing in about every room, so that person can be entertained by the tvs while you enjoy furniture stuff. The one very cool place to make sure to stop, even if you're not into furniture, is the chair depot. They have a whole line of very old chairs that you can actually sit on. I sat on some and could feel the comfort that the royals felt. Plus, it was cool to think that some Austrian royal sat in the same place as I did. I went back to the Naschmarkt for dinner at a Chinese place called Pineapple. It was pretty good. I also stopped by the famous vinegar store that was closed in the morning. These people have real, mothered vinegars in wooden casks. You can try them and then buy them. The exciting part is that they don't just have balsamic, they have honey vinegar, quince vinegar, and other bizarre varieties that you don't really see elsewhere. I got some to take home, although I haven't quite figured out what to do with it yet.

For those who don't know, Long Night of the Museums is the one night per year when most of the museums in Vienna (the Hofburg and Schonbrunn weren't part of the most, but over a hundred museums were) stay open from 5pm until 1am. There is a single ticket that you can buy, and it gets you into all of the museums for free. Many of the museums have special programs that they run during this time. During the day, whenever I was sitting and eating or sitting on a train, I had been reading my guide to the Long Night and marking the places I wanted to see. I had even marked the order that made the most sense (and involved the least walking in circles as I had already walked something like 9 hours by the time it started). I started at the Opera House museum, as they said they had a tour right at 5. Unfortunately, the tour was of the museum and not the Opera House. Oops! I had passed the outside of the Opera House several times, but I really wanted to see the inside of the Opera House and it was now too late. That messed up my plans a little. Instead, I headed to the Kunsthistoriches museum. That museum had ancient Roman and Greek stuff as well as a ton of paintings from various eras around the Renaissance. I'm not really into all of the old, commissioned religious pieces and portraits, so I wasn't super-impressed, but if you are, you should go. The building had very cool ceilings and 5 paintings I liked (4 in the same series), but not much more.

I moved on to try to go into the Treasury, but the line was ridiculously long. I didn't feel it was worth waiting in, so I headed over to the Jewish museum. Of course, it wasn't open yet as sundown hadn't occurred and it was still Shabbat. They should have put something in the booklet that they weren't opening until 8pm.

Because I had to go to the restroom, I ducked into the closest museum to where I was, which happened to be the clock museum. If it weren't Long Night and I didn't have to go, I wouldn't have stopped in, but it was a very neat place to stumble upon. It had old grandfather clocks, cukoo clocks, and other sorts of neat artistic clocks. It's pretty small, so it didn't take too long to go through it.

Next I headed over to the Globe Museum, as it was right next to the Esperanto Museum (which would be my next stop). I actually really love old globes because I find it intriguing to see how people used to see the world, and also to see what countries existed at various points in history, so I was excited at this find. However, I was a bit disappointed. All of the globes were crammed into a small place and shelved on top of each other so that you couldn't really see all around any of them, you only got a good view of one side. Plus, that one side was more often than not in the middle of an ocean. If they spread the globes out more and made sure that the land parts were visible, the museum would have been very interesting.

I bought a small snack from some people doing a bake sale fundraiser, and then waited a few minutes for 8pm. At 8pm, the Esperanto museum had a crash course in Klingon. The course was in German, but I was ok at first. The instructor explained to us how to pronounce the Klingon letters, and how to count in Klingon. Then, we got to the part where he taught conjugations. I get how to conjugate in Klingon, but I have no idea what he words mean or what persons I'm conjugating in because the translation was in German. It was hilarious though. Here I am, not understanding any of the jokes he's telling, not even understanding half of what I'm repeating, and still enjoying my introduction to Klingon. Tonight I definitely upgraded my geek rating.

After my fabulous lesson, I headed back to the now-open Jewish museum. It was a bit sparse, but most of the disappointment was that they had poorly scanned and reprinted replicas on display instead of original artifact documents. Also disappointing was that in the donations box there were way more dollars than euros. What wasn't a disappointment was the ancient synagogue. We were taken on a tour of the ruins of an old synagogue. It's basically just a large underground room, but you can still see in the rubble where the women prayed separate from the men. The bimah is still partly intact and the original floor tiles are still present.

Next, I wanted to try the treasury again- still a long line, try again later. Instead, I took the Long Night shuttle bus to KunsthausWien.

Kunst Haus Wien took my breath away with its amazingness. It seriously was awesome in the literal definition of the word. Holy crap. I'm going to try to give you a feel for it, but you really just have to go there as words can't fully express how unique it is. First, you enter through the restaurant cafe. It is outdoors and completely surrounded with greenery. You feel like you're in a little park, far removed from the city, despite the fact that the road is right there. Next, the building itself is very unique. The floors aren't flat. There are hills and curves that make you feel as if you're outside and not inside. The floors appear to be made of recycled tile or wood, which also contributes to the outdoor feeling. Even the walls are very fluid and make a regular home feel industrial. Everywhere you look, there is art by Hundertwasser (who also designed the building) on the walls. The art is very bright and shiny- even the post cars of the art have foil in them. Much of the art has a clear ecological or political message, but even those pieces are fun to look at. In addition to the paintings, there are some architectural models. One was a model of a village where all of the houses were built into hillsides, so all of them had flowing, natural green roofs. The designs were all very eco-friendly and way ahead of their time. Personally, I was so impressed that I spent quite a bit of money on prints to take home and decorate my walls.

Upon finishing at the Kunst Haus Wien, I took the shuttle back to the main area and stopped by where they were giving sewer tours, but the tours were all full. By this point, I was getting pretty hungry, so I stopped for a bite at the Cafe Museum. (I think the name means that it is a cafe i the museum area, because there is no actual museum in the cafe.) The apple strudel was pretty good, but it came with a lot of superfluous whipped cream. The hot chocolate also had too much whipped cream and didn't taste that chocolatey. It was only slightly better than that at Sacher. Moral of the story- in Vienna, you might as well just get water as the hot chocolate isn't much better.

My last stop of the evening was the Treasury, which finally had a short line. It contained a bunch of the royal crowns and other royal artifacts, including stuff from the emperor of Mexico and Marie Antoinette, who was apparently from an Austrian family, although we usually think of her as French. It was worth seeing.

By the time I was done there, it was just about 1am, and I had walked most of the day (at least 15 hours). I was completely exhausted and very ready for the return flight, which turned out to be uneventful, especially since I was sleeping most of the way.) I returned from my trip refreshed, renewed, and ready to take on life again.

(Pictures soon)

Produce at the Naschmarket

Produce at the Naschmarket


Palace

Palace


Procession

Procession


Schonbrunn Palace Gardens

Schonbrunn Palace Gardens


Floor at best museum ever

Floor at best museum ever


Royal crown

Royal crown

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Vacation

It was much easier to leave Israel to go on vacation than it would have been to go home. I flew through Amman to Vienna. It still cracks me up that I get to go through special "lady security" in Amman.

Upon arrival in Vienna, I took the bus to the metro station and the metro to the hotel. I was staying at Elisabeth Guesthouse, which was easy to get to from the metro stop. It is an old row home that somebody has converted into a cute hostel with character. Unfortunately, they took my credit card to book it, but wanted cash payment up front for me to stay there, so I had to make a trip to the ATM around the corner as I wasn't quite prepared for that. Once we got that squared away though, I got settled in my room. My room was a bit much for one person for 2 nights, but it was less expensive than anything else that was rated decently online and had availability. That was my fault. When I booked the trip, there were tons of places open in Vienna, but since I waited until a couple days before going to Vienna to book a place to stay and this was a special weekend, there wasn't much with availability.

Next, I headed downtown to Stephansplatz and walked around from there. The area right by Stephansplatz is mostly the ritzy shopping area. There are a lot of boutique stores that appear to be name-brand, although I didn't really recognize most of the names. As it was almost 4, I bypassed them and stopped for lunch at Gasthaus Reinthaler, a Viennese restaurant that was recommended to me by the lady at the tourist center. Lunch was a bit interesting- salad (shredded lettuce with some sort of vinegar poured over it) and some sort of omelet with dumplings in it. There was actually a very nice contrast between the light, tangy salad and the heavy, dull egg dish. Overall, it worked together very nicely. Again, I walked around the main part of the city, just exploring and getting my bearings. Most sites were going to be closed soon, if they weren't already, and I was trying to save the museums for tomorrow anyway. I did, however, want to get in a Viennese music event tonight as this was probably my only chance. Fortunately, there are tons of guys dressed up in Mozart-era costumes all around town, trying to sell "discount" tickets to shows. Since there were no tickets left to anything "real" except a very expensive ballet that I'd have to get dressed up for (oh yeah, and I don't really like ballet), I went with the touristy concert. Again, I walked around, just admiring the very cool architecture. Most of the buildings in that area were pretty ornately decorated, probably a result of the Hapsburg empire's funding. They were very fun to look at. Since I didn't think I'd make it through the concert without dinner, but I just had lunch, I decided to get a light dessert dinner from Hotel Sacher. Hotel Sacher is where the original Sacher Torte was invented. They supposedly have the same recipe as the original still, and will still serve it today. The cake itself was very good- the perfect amount of moist, fabulous ganache icing, and just the right amount of tart and sweet coming from the thin fruity layer. I got a hot chocolate to go with it, but that wasn't particularly exciting. The chocolate was bland and the excessive whipped cream wasn't sugared, so it didn't really add anything.

Finally, I went to the concert, which was in the Palffy Palace. The room the concert took place in was a room that Mozart himself gave a concert in (at least once) when he was alive. I'm not really that big into a lot of classical music, but it was very cool to hear people play Mozart in-situ. The performers looked mostly to be students, although a couple of them were older, so I don't know how good they actually were, but they seemed fine to me. For the first half, they were dressed in period costumes, which made the experience even better and more interesting. For some songs, the instrument players were joined by an opera singer, and for others some ballerinas came out to perform. I was very amused. Then, they changed into modern clothes at the intermission. I think that took away most of the charm. The second half was definitely worse because of that. Good thing I got my money's worth in the first half.

Finally, I came back to the hostel for some rest. I have plans to get up early tomorrow.

No kangaroos in Austria

No kangaroos in Austria


Sacher torte

Sacher torte


Mozart concert

Mozart concert

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

L'Shana Tovah and Shalom

I felt much better when I got up Tuesday morning. It didn't really matter though as most of the day was spent packing and taking the bus back to Herzliya (which I succeeded at, all by myself). It happened to be my cousin's birthday, so I bought her some flowers on my way back to the house. We went over to her place to have dinner- her favorite, Pizza Hut. It was a pretty calm day.

Wednesday though, was a different story. I started the day with a trip to the mall to get some presents for people. By this time, I was pretty expert at opening my bag for the security guys to check. I did it in one fluid motion, without stopping to fumble about. I was getting good at this "being Israeli stuff.

One thing I had always wondered about all of the fruit trees all over the landscape was why? Why doesn't anybody go get the fruit off of them if they're in public places? Why plant them if people aren't? Apparently, people do pick the fruits off of them. The guava tree in front of my cousin's apartment building had some ripe guavas hanging. So, he told me to just pick them. Coming from the US, where we are so removed from our food supply, I thought it was pretty neat to just pick some fruits off a tree in the public area. What a cool way to end the year!

That evening was Rosh Hashana- the new year. I got all dressed up (my mom would be proud) and we went to dinner at my cousin's mother-in-law's place. Dinner was gorgeous and a blast. The table was set so nicely. They sang songs (other than Dayenu), lit candles while making wishes for the new year, and had tons of food. The cousins and I were being pretty silly and laughing a lot. It was so much fun and so nice to be included in such a lovely evening. The only sad part was that I had to say goodbye at the end to some cousins that I won't be seeing for a while.

Really, the sad part came today. I packed. The highlight was a trip to the grocery store (which is in a mall of all places). We walked the beach right outside the mall, and the weather was gorgeous. The thought of leaving for the cold was pretty daunting, even though I'm a huge snow-lover. The walk made me realize why some people love the tropics so much. The other cool part about the walk is that we walked by this tall, white collection of stones at the top of a cliff. I asked what they were, and was told that they were Roman ruins. What!?! Yeah. Just sitting right next to the mall are some unexcavated Roman ruins. They don't really have the time to deal with the ruins, so they just built around them. Also, there are so many other Roman ruins, that these are nothing particularly special in Israel, although a site that old would be incredibly special if found in the US. I guess that's just part of the magic of Israel, a magic I was sad to be leaving.

Rosh Hashana table

Rosh Hashana table


Apples for Rosh Hashana

Apples for Rosh Hashana

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Petra

Because I booked the tour through the hotel, they had breakfast waiting, even though it wasn't breakfast time yet. I joined another hotel guest who was going on the tour, and we had a pleasant meal until the tour company came to get us. It took 2 hours from when they picked us up to when we were able to get on the bus in Jordan. This was mostly due to disorganization (although not entirely on the part of the tour company). First, our pickup van made stops at other hotels, not all of which had people waiting for us. At one hotel, the folks took quite some time to get out to the pick up van. The van dropped us off at the border crossing, where we paid cash to the tour company so that they could pay for our visas and processing. I don't really understand why they don't just include that in the price in the first place, but it seems that most of the companies do it that way. Then, they gave us stickers to wear so that the Jordanian guide on the other side would be able to identify us as members of the "Fun Time" tour. The Israeli tour operator sent us through the border. The border crossing is pretty hilarious, if you really think about it. We got our passports stamped out of Israel, and then just strolled on down the road through a no-man's land for a bit to the Jordanian side. When we got there, our Jordanian guide met us and gave us instructions to hang out for a bit until the whole group was present. The area we were waiting in had restrooms, an exchange place, and a souvenir shop. The souvenir shop had magnets of the royal family and cartoonish ladies in burkas, as if burkas are some sort of cute tourist attraction. More interesting was the guy out front of the souvenir shop. He was making sand bottles right as we watched. These weren't like the ones we made at summer camp though. He was mixing over a dozen different colored sands, using all sorts of straws, twirling things, and spoons, and making scenes containing sunsets, camels, and landscapes. It was pretty amazing to watch him. We got to watch him for quite some time though, as it seemed that we were missing 2 people from our group and our tour guide, Tarek, wouldn't "make the procedure with the passports" until everybody was present. Ultimately, we got on the Jordanian tour bus, but it did take a ridiculous amount of time.

The ride to Petra was maybe about 2 hours, but there was some stuff to see on the way. First, we went through the city of Aqaba. Aqaba is a relatively new city, but it looks pretty old to me. Tarek explained to us that Aquaba is a new city (although the buildings look worn and old to me). Aqaba is Jordan's port, and lots of other nations use it to ship stuff. This is important because Jordan doesn't have the kind of oil some of the nearby nations have. “We are poor, but we are rich in freedom and stability,” he said, referring to Jordan as a democracy. In addition to freedom, the king makes sure that they all get good educations, including in English, which is why their English is so good, he went on to explain. It certainly isn't for tourism. He said that their phosphate exports are a big industry, and tourism is the 5th biggest part of the Jordanian income. He explained a bit about the minerals as we could see some areas in the desert that weren't tan. Each other color is a patch of mineral. I don't really get how it would be efficient to mine all of those small areas though. In addition to current Jordanian politics, he told us about ancient occurrences. He claimed that the King's highway we were taking was taken by Moses in biblical times, and that Aaron's tomb was atop one of the nearby mountains out to the left. Because this was part of the spice road, many ancient people used it, so at least the road is is ancient enough to be possible, I think. The left side definitely had the better view. From the left, they could look out over the valley and see mountains and gorgeous scenery. From my side, I could look up the mountains, which was nice, but not quite as breathtaking. However, I was hoping that I'd get the other view on the way back if I just stayed on the right side of the bus.

Our stop on the way was at a souvenir shop. There was a ton of handmade art for sale, although most of it waaay too expensive. Also, much of it looked like it was pretty old and not brand-new. However, it was gorgeous. It was being guarded by the tourist police, but I'm not sure how much help they would have been as they were mostly just sitting around smoking hookah. I'm pretty sure that on-duty police smoking hookah inside a store would not go over well in most places, but apparently it's ok in Jordan.

FInally, we arrived at Petra. We took a quick restroom break (glad I carry my own toilet paper) and got some snacks (even bad ice cream tastes great in the dry heat). We entered the site. The only problem was, we couldn't see it. As we walked into the main canyon, we just saw rock. It was pretty rock, some in exciting colors and patterns, but it was rock. Until Tarek pointed out to us that there were Nabtean and Roman aqueducts. And Roman cobblestones. And some Nabtean carvings in the walls. Even so, I most certainly would not have recognized this as a city, even while standing in it. I can understand how it went undiscovered for so long. At the back of the canyon was a Nabtean necropolis, where they buried people under these carved "stairways to heaven." At the very back, we passed a line of Spansh-speaking tourists who all had their eyes closed and were being led the last few feet by their guide, who kept telling them that it was so worth it. Then, we exited into the treasury. Wow. Most people recognize the treasury from Indiana Jones . It's even cooler in person. It's called the treasury because it looks like a huge bank and originally some people thought that it contained money. That's not the case, and it wasn't used for that ever, but it's still amazing. It has the huge pillars out front and intricate carvings all over. If a regular sculptor messes up, he can get a new piece of stone. If somebody screwed this up, they couldn't really just get another one as the whole building is carved out of one piece of stone. It's just mind boggling that people could carve a building like this with primitive tools. It's even more mind boggling that they built a whole city like that, not just one building.

Tarek gave us a few minutes to explore the treasury and nearby area. The treasury was filled with tourists, and where there are tourists, there are touts. Many of them were trying to sell rides on their camels or horses. They kept shouting that they would give us a ride in the "air conditioned taxi" (donkey that was moving). Others wanted to sell us ugly plastic bead necklaces that looked like a kindergarten class had gone wild (one dollar! no dollars? one dinar!- which happens to be more than a dollar). A few were kids with post cards to sell. I don't generally buy from kids because I'd rather have them be in school than selling stuff to strangers and the only way to do that is to make it not profitable for them to sell stuff. On the way out though, we got talking with one of them who insisted that she had been in school earlier. When she had the time to go to school, I didn't know, but her English was pretty good. Some of the sellers had set up on blankets in other areas as well. After the treasury, we hiked around ancient peoples' homes. The whole way up the steps to the top, there were touts shouting "Happy hour! Buy two get one!" and other such marketing ploys. It was cute, but we were more interested in seeing what we came to see. The homes were very cool. You could totally imagine a family living there. (Oh, that's where the kids would have slept. That's where they would have had dinner. etc) Plus, the view from the top was great. You could see quite a distance, including all the way to the monastery. The monastery is the building that most people go see with their free time. It was filled with tourists. The area we were in was less intricately carved, but we pretty much had it all to ourselves. I think part of the reason there weren't so many people there is that many of the groups had already left by the time we were finishing up. Fortunately for us, that also meant better deals on souvenirs. Some of the prettier necklaces were made of turquoise (or at least a turquoise stone, they held up lighters to prove that the stones weren't plastic). Originally, I was told that I could get one for 25 dinars. Hah! Ultimately I got 4 for 15 dinars. After negotiating the deal, we were short on time. We walked out pretty quickly, but not before I ran into two of the people who had been in my Sar-El group- what a coincidence!

By the time we got back to the bus, I was very dry and thirsty. I had long since finished off my water. Fortunately, our next stop was a hotel for lunch and I got two drinks. The hotel had quite the buffet of middle eastern food, so I was very pleased with the food as well. I tried to stay away from the raw veggies due to water issues, but I also didn't completely abstain as I figured that since this was a major tourist spot they would have clean water or the companies would stop bringing tour groups. I really liked the bread pudding thing they had for dessert. It was cinnamon-y and delicious!

With our bellies full, we got back on the bus for the ride home, most of which most people seemed to sleep. I tried to stay awake as much as possible so that I could get pictures of the gorgeous views. However, our bus took a different way back. Even though I was on the same side of the bus, I didn't get the views of the valley that the folks on the way to Petra got. So, my recommendation is to sit on the left side of the bus if your group is taking the King's highway.

Upon arrival back at the border, we sent our passports through another procedure, and then just walked back through the border crossing. In general, there weren't issues. One lady had gone to Gaza as well, and so they were holding on to her longer, but the rest of us basically walked right through to the vans that would take us back to the hotels. We were so gross at this point. One girl had chosen to wear all white on the trip. She was wearing tan on the way back. I probably should have showered and gotten clean, but instead I called my grandma for a while. After, I went downstairs to meet the other hotel guest who I had spent the day with for "dinner." We had decided that we were going to have ice cream, and that totally hit the spot. I had a headache and was gross, but there is something about ice cream that makes me not care. When we were done with our dinner, we headed back to the hotel. I probably should have had twice as much water today as I actually did, and so I was feeling bad, despite the improvement the ice cream made. I passed out pretty quickly once we got back.

People's hoes

People's hoes


Camel at treasury

Camel at treasury


People's homes

People's homes


Man praying

Man praying


Homes in the cliff

Homes in the cliff


Colorful homes

Colorful homes


Jordanian border

Jordanian border


Petra entrance canyon

Petra entrance canyon


Petra

Petra


Treasury

Treasury

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

A shorter day with the fishies

When I awoke, my feet were still sore from all the walking yesterday, and still a bit swollen. The flip flops looked like they were several years old. I chucked the new flip flops. Despite sunscreening, I had acquired a little bit of color in nice, neat triangles on my back. Based on this, I decided that today, I was going to take it easy, maybe hang around the beach and read or something.

After breakfast, I walked over to the Pierre Hotel, where I was moving to because my ability to stay at the solider house ended as my Sar-El program was over. Compared to where I've been staying, this is heaven. This is a real hotel. the beds were made, the room was clean, there were towels and toilet paper waiting for me in my room. The room not only has a tv, fridge, teapot, and hair dryer, but those little soaps and shampoos, too. There is free internet in the rooms, they provide beach towels if you want, and the lobby area has some reading material. These accommodations are a drastic change to the way I've been living for a couple of weeks.

I intended on asking them to hold onto my bag for me, but they just gave me my room early, which was nice. Also, the lady at the front desk indicated that they could book tours for me. That got me a little excited, so I made a last-minute change in plans. Today, I would go scuba diving, and tomorrow I'd go to Petra, someplace I've been dying to see for quite a while, but hadn't really planned on seeing this trip. They just made it so easy to book both that it was difficult to tell myself "no."

So, instead of taking a nap on the beach, I grabbed a bus (learned my lesson from yesterday) to the Marina Divers center. I had read that you have to have a dive logged within a year in order to dive without a refresher course in Israel, but apparently it's 6 months. So, I took the refresher course. They had a guide take me out into the Gulf of Aqaba and practice all of the emergency procedures, 1-on-1. Even though we were never really deep, there were still fish swimming in between my legs and all around me. The only thing I kept having issues with was that I didn't have enough weight on me to keep me down when the BCD was empty, so he added some weight.

As soon as we were done, they had a dive that was ready to leave, so I went on the bus with that group. We drove to just short of the border crossing with Egypt (less than 50 meters away), and got off the bus. The dive took us down a slant that started out rocky, then turned to sand, and then finally became filled with a carpet of very short sea grass. There was a lot of coral, although nothing like the solid wall that we saw yesterday. However, there were more fish out in the open, and many of the fish were bigger or in larger schools. Again, the visibility was amazing and I could see for a very long distance. The only negative about the dive was that he dive master gave me some extra weight, but I was still having a problem floating up with an empty BCD. Before the dive, I had asked for a bit more and was told I didn't need it by the previous instructor. Oh well, I was able to make it work good enough and still got to see quite a bit of nature. I've had worse dives technically and I've had dives where I saw fewer sights. All in all, I was pretty pleased with the dive, especially for the price. (The cost of equipment rental and dives was about 1/3 the price I'm used to paying in the US, plus I got a 10% discount for booking through the hotel.)

After the dive, I was asked if I wanted to go on another one. I kind of did, especially because it was so cheap. However, I realized that I was tired and decided that it might not be a good idea to do another dive already tired (and a bit dehydrated and hungry too). I checked the nearby restaurants for food that looked good, but didn't really see anything that struck my fancy or was particularly cheap, so I took the bus back to the main part of Eilat.

I wandered for quite a while, and debated just getting some ice cream or a crepe as it was getting late for lunch and nearer to dinner time and nothing on the restaurant menus popped out at me. Finally, I found something that sounded like I wanted to eat it. I had some eggplant lasagna at one of the restaurants by the mall and the beach. It was definitely much heavier than I was expecting, but I ate it and relaxed. Next, I wandered back to the hotel, stopping at all of the money change places on the way. The crappy part about not planning on going to Petra is that I left my American Dollars in Herzliya at my cousin's house, not knowing I'd need them in order to cross the border. At the money change place, I had to buy dollars with shekels that my bank is charging me more dollars to get. I'm getting double-charged. Oh, and the first 50 I got handed was counterfeit. Visually, it was reasonable, but it was on too-thin paper and not the fibrous cloth paper it should have been. I'm sure that anybody at the border would take it anyway and not know the difference, but I tried asking for a different 50 anyway. I don't think the guy in the booth understood though, because he instead gave me 2 twenties and a ten. I took them and just hope they work at the border.

Once I made it back to my hotel, it was chill time. I think I napped, I know I showered, and I called home.

For dinner, I was going to try to re-find the Ethiopian place I had seen when looking for the hotel earlier. Turns out all I had seen was a sign for a place with Ethiopian food, internet, and other stuff down some back alley. Not that I don't feel safe in Eilat after dark, but there really didn't seem to be anything down that street, so I figured the Ethiopian food could wait until Tuesday. Instead, I had house-made gnocchi at a place called Il Pantolino. It was decent, although much softer than al dente. I still stick by my rule "always order the home-made pasta."

Tonight, I'm turning in relatively early as I have to be up for the Petra day tour and don't want to sleep on the bus the whole way there.

(Pictures to be added later)

Coral

Coral


Coral

Coral


Pair of fish

Pair of fish


Coral mound

Coral mound


Coral and fish

Coral and fish


Fish

Fish

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Israel Comments (0)