Sunday, March 4, 2018

Petra Tour, Jordan

On Friday we took a day trip to Jordan in order to visit Petra.  From Eilat, we crossed the border to Jordan where we received our tourist visas.  From there our bus drove by Aqaba, العقبة, which is visible from Eilat, just across the Red Sea.  Aqaba was founded in 4000 BC and is home to around 150,000 people.
King Hussein, King Abdullah II, and Crown Prince Hussein

We then drove through Wadi Rum, which is the country's largest valley cut from sandstone and granite.  Wadi Rum is 60 km (37 miles) east of Aqaba.

We made a brief stop near Ma'an, معان.  It was founded sometime between the 2nd-4th century BC.  It was a perfect stop for some great views of the desert.

Petra, البتراء, is 138 km (85 miles) from Eilat.  It is an archaeological city that was built possibly as early as the 5th century BC.

Petra was originally known as Raqmu.  It was the capital city of the Nabataean kingdom making it a regional hub for trade.  By 700 AD the city was abandoned.

In 1812, the city was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer.  Petra is famous for its rock-cut architecture.  In 1985 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

After leaving the visitor centre, it is about a 600 metre walk (or optional horse ride) to the Siq which is a narrow gorge that leads to the ancient city.  The Siq is about one km long.  There are various carvings to look at along the way.

At the end of the Siq, the first thing you see is the treasury which is carved in to the rock.

Other sites to see include various tombs, a sacrificial palace, and an open theatre.  We only had about 1,5 hours to see as much as we could.  In a perfect world we could have spent two to three days exploring everything here.


In a 2007 poll, Petra was named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Church of the Nativity Tour, Palestine

Bethlehemبيت لحم, is located in the West Bank, Palestine.  It's about 10 km (6,2 miles) south of Jerusalem.  The city was founded around 1400 BC and today is home to about 25,000 people.  The city is famous as the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

After our main tour, a smaller group was taken by bus in to Palestine to visit the Church of the Nativity.

The Church of the Nativity is a basilica that was completed in 339 AD.  The church was built over the cave where Jesus was born.

It was destroyed by fire in the 6th century.  A new basilica was built in 565 AD.

The church is managed by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, and Syriac Orthodox churches.  In 2012, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Major renovations began in September 2013.  I don't know how long it is expected to last but the completion date looks quite far off.

Beneath the church is the Grotto of the Nativity and an alter marks the spot where the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus.  The precise spot has a 14-point silver star on the floor.

After visiting the church we made our way back in to Israel where we met up with the rest of the tour group and headed back to Eilat.  It was a very long day but well worth it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Jerusalem and Dead Sea Tour, Israel

This morning we set off from Eilat on a tour to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

The southern part (the Israeli section) of the Dead Sea is 220 km (137 miles) from Eilat through the Negev desert.  Along the way we passed Mount Sodom and the rock that is said to resemble Lot's wife.

The Dead Sea, יָם הַמֶּלַח, in Hebrew is Yam ha-Melah which translates to the Sea of Salt.  It's a salt lake bordering Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.

At 394,6 metres (1269 feet) below sea level, it's the lowest point in the world.  It is super salty!  It's 9.6 times more salty than the ocean which makes it impossible for plants and animals to survive which is why it's called the Dead Sea.  Because it is so salty you can't really swim.  Since you can't sink you just pretty much float there.

It's an awesome experience.  But when you get out you notice that the water has a sort of greasy feel to it.  Also be sure to wear waterproof sandals or aqua socks because the the salt crystals on the shore are jagged and will hurt your feet getting in and out of the water.

After a shower and change we got back on the bus and headed to Jerusalem which was about an hour's drive away.

Temple Mount
We only had a couple of hours in Jerusalem.  Our guide hit the major sites and showed us the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Wailing Wall.

We saw the Temple Mount at a distance but some day I actually want to go inside it.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is jointly managed by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and Roman Catholic Churches, and it's considered the holiest site in Christianity.  It contains the last four Stations of the Cross, was the spot where Jesus was crucified and is where he is said to have been buried.

Jerusalem's municipality believes that tax exemptions have been incorrectly given to the church-owned commercial properties, which are not places of worship, so they want their tax revenue which I heard was several million dollars.  In protest, the church leaders closed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Sunday.  Obviously this didn't go well with all of the tourists.  After the mayor backed down, the church was reopened at 4 AM this morning.  The church was extra busy this today as everyone was trying to get in.  There were lots of reporters there interviewing various church leaders.

Here's a video I found out on YouTube about the situation.

©Al Jazeera

In the late afternoon we took an optional tour to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Saint Catherine's Monastery Tour, Egypt

Yesterday was an interesting day trip from Eilat to St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt.  We booked a tour and as it turned out we were the only two people so we got our own private tour.  Yeah for us!

The first stop was the Taba border crossing which is about 10 km (6,5 miles) south of Eilat.  As part of the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, when Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula, it is possible to travel between the two countries.

As long as you are just travelling in the Sinai you can stay for up to 14 days without a visa.  Any further south than Sharm El Sheikh or up to Cairo and you'll need to get an Egyptian visa in advance.

Bedouin village

After crossing the border we started the 181 km (113 mile) drive to St. Catherine's.

After passing the beach resort town of Nuweiba, we had a long desert route where we saw Bedouin villages, camels, and went through numerous security checkpoints.

The Greek Orthodox Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai, is also known as the Monastery of the Transfiguration, and as the Monastery of St. Catherine.

The monastery was founded in 527 AD on the spot where God appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush and received the Ten Commandments.

This is the world's oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery.  It is also home to the world's continuously operating library and, after the Vatican library, has the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts.

The Burning Bush
During the Middle Ages the monastery was a favourite pilgrimage site.

A chapel was converted to a mosque and used until the 13th century.  It was restored in 20th century and is used on special occasions.

Well of Jethro's Daughters
In 2002 the monastery became a UNESCO World Heritage site.

On a hill before arriving at the monastery is the Tomb of Aaron.  Aaron (the Prophet Haroun) was Moses' older brother who went with Moses to warn the Pharaoh about God's punishment for not freeing the Jews.  The tomb was built in the 13th century.

Saudi Arabia in the background
On the way back to Eilat we stopped off at Nuweiba to have lunch at a restaurant on the beach.

It was an interesting experience having lunch and seeing Saudi Arabia across the Red Sea.

After lunch we continued back to Taba and passed back in to Israel.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Chlebíčky are Czech open-faced sandwiches.  Cheap and filling.  They are awesome.

A single sandwich is a chlebíček.  Chlebíčky is plural.  They are available in both Czechland and Slovakia.

It makes for a quick lunch and they are quite popular at parties.

Veka is a type of long white bread similar to New Orleans French bread.

Take a slice of the bread and cover it with butter, cheese spread, Czech bramborový salát (potato salad), viaššký salát (Wallachian salad) or pařížský salát (Paris salad).

Česky bramborový salát
Czech potato salad contains potatoes, mayonnaise, mustard, onions, eggs, pickles, peas and carrots.  The peas and carrots took aren't found in American potato salads so it took some getting used to when I first moved here.  But now Czech potato salad is my favourite.  At Christmas, this is the traditional side dish with the fried carp.

Pařížský salát is made from mayonnaise, mustard, strips of ham/bologna, peas, pickles, onion, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.

Vlaššký salát is pretty much the same thing as pařížský salát plus it contains potatoes and carrots.

Then various toppings such as salami, ham, hard boiled egg, red pepper, pickles, tomato, cucumber, cheese and parsley.

Sometimes they can be quite posh.  Some have crab spread while others contain Brie and Camembert cheese, smoked salmon or pickled Herring.

A chlebíček is an inexpensive snack.  Each one costs 15 - 25 Kč (75¢ - $1.20).  

I had an equivalent sandwich for lunch, in Gothenburg, the last time I was in Sweden.  Like everywhere in Scandinavia everything costs significantly more.  There an open faced shrimp sandwich, räksmörgås, set me back 105 SEK ($13).  It was quite tasty but I would have preferred a chlebíček for 25 Kč.

Monday, February 19, 2018

České dráhy

České dráhy, Czech Railways, was established in 1993 when Czech Republic became an independent country.  It is the successor of Czechoslovak State Railways.  ČD is the country's primary railway operator for both regional and long-distance travel.  It is among Europe's top five largest railway cargo operators.

Until 2008 it was the biggest employer in Czechia.  Today it is the country's 5th largest employer.

ČD operates lots of different types of trains.

Osobní vlak (Os) are passenger trains.  These are Czech local trains that stop at every station along the way.  These are slow trains that take forever to get from point A to point B because they do stop at every possible along the way.

Spěšný vlak (Sp) are local trains but they are a bit faster because they only stop at selected stations.

Rychlík (R) are "fast" trains.  Well, faster than Os and Sp trains.  But still slow and they normally have old carriages.

Rychlík vyšší kvality (Rx) are high-speed trains.  They are faster than the R trains and they normally have new carriages.

Express (Ex) trains are fast trains that link different regions in Czechland.  They are usually faster and more comfortable than the R trains.

Supercity (SC) trains are high-speed trans that run between Ostrava-Olomouc-Pardubice-Prague.

Eurocity (EC) are international trains that travel through at least two countries.  EC trains must meet 20 mandatory criteria for comfort, speed, cleanliness and food service.  All train cars must be air-conditioned, only stop at major cities and stops last no more than five minutes.  All of the conductors must speak at least two languages and one of the two must be either English, French or German.

Euronight (EN) are EC trains with sleeper cars.

Intercity (IC) trains are pretty much the same as EC trains but only travel within the country.  IC and EC trains usually run every hour or every other hour.

Railjet (RJ) trains are high-speed trains run by ČD and ÖBB (Austrian Federal Railways) between Czechia and Austria.  The route is Prague-Brno-Vienna-Graz.  Railjet trains travel up to 230 km/h (143 mph).

ÖBB also operates Railjet from Austria to Germany, Hungary, Switzerland and Italy.

For ČD, you can purchase a 3-year In Karta card with a 25% discount on tickets for 990 Kč.  A 3-year In Karta card with a 50% costs 8,490 Kč.

Student Agency runs trains as well.  They run RegioJet (RJ); not to be confused with Railjet, which is pretty much an EC train that runs in Czechia and Slovakia.  I'm looking forward to trying RegioJet as they have just started regular service between Brno and Vienna.