Let me help you with that...

Category Archives:Middle East

Jerusalem: Retracing the Steps of Christ on a Cruise Shore Excursion

A few years ago, at the tail end of my semester in England I spent a week on board a cruise that went around the Mediterranean. As a poor student traveler it was a taste of the luxury life and was very inexpensive. One of the highlights of the cruise was the day spent ashore in Israel.

In particular, we hit sights in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, crossing the border between Israel and Palestine in the process.

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem Israel
Church of the Nativity.

The cruise arrived in Port Ashdod, Israel. It was an hour and a bit trip to Bethlehem which, at the time I had no idea was actually in Palestine. The main attraction here is the church of the Nativity, the location of Christ’s birth.

Obviously if you are familiar with the story of the birth of Jesus then you’ll know he was born in a stable out the back of an inn. I have a feeling they built the church a little later.

Inside the Church of the Nativity Bethlehem
Inside the Church of the Nativity

It was very busy, so we queued for an hour and walked down into the shrine, it’s pretty amazing to know what happened here 2000 years ago. Inside the church there is a little star plaque on the ground, which is apparently “the spot”.

I lined up and got a photo with it like all visitors did, but it was actually a weird moment for me because it felt like I (or we) were making a tourist attraction out of a series of events that not only I find very special, but I believe changed the course of history. Does my face show it?

The spot where they say Jesus was actually born in a stable
Yes, it does.

After this they took us to a souvenir shop where I bought a hand carved wooden nativity set: without doubt the best souvenir I’ve ever bought and it comes out every every Christmas with pride. The thing I loved about the souvenir shops, they always name the shop (poorly) in line with some reference to the Bible. Pictures paint it way better than I can put it into words.

Souvenir Shopping Bethlehem Israel
I feel like there’s a formula to the naming of souvenir stores…

Soon it was lunchtime, which thankfully was just next door. It was a lovely spread of local tastes but I could not for the life of me tell you what any of them were. By the time lunch was over it was already 2:00 and it didn’t seem like we had seen all that much. Probably because we hadn’t.

Jerusalem was a short drive away but before arriving, we had to go through the border, which involved Israeli soldiers walking the aisle of the bus, automatic rifles in hand, ensuring that no cruise-goers were terrorists. Or something like that.

After getting off the bus, while walking through some local markets, Emily – my travel companion for the cruise – myself, and another American family that we had met at dinner the night before lost our tour group on the way to the first sight, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

We had made a habit of such situations so this was not at all surprising.

I tried some of my Hebrew on a local stall holder to see if they know where they might have gone – unfortunately I don’t know any Hebrew so this ended quickly.

Church of the Holy Sepulche Jerusalem Israel
I was too rushed to take my own photo, here’s one from Flickr by Ron Almog

Thankfully one of the Americans happened to vaguely recall they were off to the Holy Sepulchre, so somehow we found our way there and found our group just in time to see what they guess is the place of Jesus’ tomb, which now has a mausoleum built over the top of it.

Our tour guide also showed us a similar tomb to that which Jesus would have been buried in and how the stone was rolled across. This was also really incredible to see, not just because of its significance, but because it gave a visualisation of what a burial tomb looked like 2000 years ago. It’s just a hole in a rock – very unglamorous.

Similar tomb to that which Jesus Christ was buried in, Jerusalem

The next stop was the Wailing Wall. Also known as the Western Wall of the city of Jerusalem. This is where a lot of Jews come to pray and read from the Torah (and of course wail loudly). The idea is that you write prayer requests on slips of paper and stick them in the wall if you want them to be answered.

Personally I might just stick with direct prayer, you know, cut out the middle man. It seems to be working so far.

Wailing Wall Jerusalem Israel

After this we had to wait for the bus for a little bit for our next stop, the Garden of Gethsemane. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting with this but it was very small. In the Bible, the Garden of Gethsemane was the location where Jesus and his disciples prayed and Jesus was betrayed by Judas the night before his crucifixion.

Garden of Gethsemane Jerusalem

The Garden, being on the Mount of Olives, is full of olive trees and they said that it’s quite likely that these are the same ones that Jesus would have seen that last night before His crucifixion. I know olive trees can live a long time but whether this is true or not, who actually knows?

Within the grounds of the Garden is the Church of all Nations, inside which is the rock they believe Jesus prayed next to that same night.

Before heading back to the ship we had a photo stop of Jerusalem Old City from an incredible viewpoint on the Mount of Olives, which is in large part now a large cemetery. It was so windy, but the view was quite magnificent.

View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

For me, the day was not so much about sightseeing, but in seeing the places I’ve read about in the Bible in real life. It made it all just a bit more tangible.

My day in Israel was a different kind of touring and the conversations about the things we saw and the beliefs they link to went long into the night. I didn’t have a lot of answers, I mean, I still don’t, but conversations is where thinking often starts.

Did you enjoy this post?

Plenty more where that came from. Make sure to sign up for the mailing list to never miss the next one. Leave me a note in the comments too if you’ve visited somewhere that was more meaningful to you than just being a tourist destination.

Sign up here

Culture Beyond Cairo: Exploring the Rest of Egypt

Culture beyond cairo

About a year ago I began a three part series on Egypt that I deemed to be as sporadic as it was un-chronological. True to my word, just over a year later I have returned to the theme to finish what I started.

As any trip to Egypt do will, adventure began in Cairo, which you can read all about in Part 2.

I was a part of a 9 day Top Deck Tour and after 2 days and 1 night in Cairo 11 of us boarded a night train bound for Aswan. It took 15 whole, damn, bloody hours but as promised on my ticket, eventually we got there. I was lucky enough to get a few hours sleep, but they weren’t good ones.

Not being an engineer, it was hard to really appreciate  the beauty or the scale of the Aswan High Dam, which was our first taste of Aswan after the hotel. Physically speaking, the dam looked like a damn dam, but I look at numbers for a living. Not a bad view though.

Aswan High Dam
Aswan High Dam

Thankfully, our tour of Egypt would be more than just modern engineering feats. In fact come to think of it, much of it is actually ancient engineering feats – but at least I understand that that the were about 5,000 years behind in technology. We boarded a small boat and landed not far away at Philae Temple. After they dammed the Nile in the 1960s this temple was flooded, which you can actually see from the water marks on it. Not to be deterred, and ever proud of their ancient history the Egyptian government and UNESCO moved it to this site in higher ground. Piece. By. Piece.

We had the most amazing Egyptologist take us through as well. His name was Nuby, he was about 60 years old and just like an old storyteller. At the temple we all sat around him for him to tell us all about it. We also helped him with his English as he is writing a book. As you would learn in my first post in this series Floating on a mattress down the Nile, half what I loved about Egypt is the people. The ones I came across were so kind, always wanting to meet you, play, dance and interact. Nuby was no different.

In the morning we caught a boat down the Nile towards a Nubian village. On the way out there we saw a most unusual sight: 5 boats tied together, motoring down the river. It was hard to make out but I think it was some sort of wedding. Regardless it’s a pretty cool way to party.

5 boats together in Aswan Egypt
Boat party down the Nile

As we neared the village we dropped off early and took a camel the rest of the way. Again, all the locals were really helpful and were loving taking photos for us. Perhaps they wanted a tip but unfortunately I left my wallet in my other pants.

Riding a Camel in Aswan
Riding a Camel in Aswan

In the village we were shown through a primary school and in a classroom a Nubian gave us a short lesson in Arabic and Nubian, of which I now remember zero. It was light and entertaining and somehow I ended up getting the cane.

Learning Arabic in Aswan Egypt
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Nearby was a local’s home where we had organised to have a traditional dinner. It was a really interesting day and so different to the rest of my trip. A real experience of a local culture which I had never experienced anything like before.

I want to say the next day, but it was practically that night, at 2:30 am we got the wakeup call to join a police convoy at 3:30 to Abu Simbel. It was a 3 hour drive there to see 2 temples that at the time I did not appreciate, and therefore thought 6 hours in a cramped minivan (and being woken up at 2:30) was not worth it.

But hindsight is a beautiful thing. I don’t even remember what that drive was like.

But what I do remember is being in awe of the sunrise as it majestically rose over the Sahara Desert.

What I do remember is learning about the significance of the site which also had to moved piece by piece to save it from flooding.

What I do remember is having an experience of cultural significance that I will never forget. How tired was it? Couldn’t tell you.

Abu Simbel - To give you an idea of scale
Abu Simbel – To give you an idea of scale

We returned to Aswan and taken aboard the least luxurious (but also the most luxurious) cruise you’re likely to ever set foot on. And you can read all about that in Part 1. But after 2 nights of relaxing on the felucca, football with local Nubians, dancing with local kids around the fire and drinking beers in the Nile, I was not ready to disembark.

We boarded the bus bound for Luxor, first stop: Karnak Temple and Luxor temple. Our Egyptologist told us so much info about it but have no idea what. Sometimes you just tune out ya know?

He could read hieroglyphics pretty well though and that was very interesting to learn about how to interpret them and how the Rosetta Stone taught us how to translate.

Statues at Karnak Temple
Statues at Karnak Temple

After more Egyptian food for dinner, a walk through the markets was required, where it legitimately seemed that at least 2 people from each shop invited us to “spend our money” there. They weren’t real creative with their marketing.

It wouldn’t be a trip to a Muslim country without trying some shisha though. Like with most things that are bad for your health the name of the game is perseverance. Keep trying until you can puff without coughing. And having now done so successfully, I just wish I brought some back.

Getting the hand of shisha
Getting the hand of shisha

Next morning, another early start brought us to the Valley of the Kings, which was really something special. We visited 3 tombs of ancient Egyptian kings: Thutmosis, Sethy II, Ramses III, and of course the one and only King Tutankhamen, who was easily the highlight. When he was buried he was put inside four coffins, I saw 2 in the Cairo museum, the other 2 were in this tomb along with his mummy, which is kinda creepy: I was literally looking at a 4000 year old dead guy.

Literally around the corner is the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut’s (who we nicknamed Hotchipsoup), which was created solely because, being a queen, she could by definition not be buried in the Valley of the Kings. There was ample opportunity here to take an epic amount of touristy photos. I mean, generally, it feels tacky doing it then looks tacky in the photos but for some reason on this day, a total of zero fucks were given.

Epic Tourist photos at Temple of Queen Hatshepsut
Epic Tourist photos at Temple of Queen Hatshepsut

By nightfall only three of us were left on the tour and we boarded another train that would take us the 15 hours back to Cairo. What I didn’t realise was that, as a rule, these trains are often oversold. My friend had decided to continue the tour and not return to Cairo and being a naive 21 year old I figured “woohoo, now I get a spare seat to spread out across”.

Wrong.

Within minutes I had denied 2 people access to my seat, because I figured “I have two tickets, so I get two seats”.

What was I thinking?

After a couple of times I realised that the alternative for these people was spending the next 15 hours on the floor near the doors. So I ended up being generous and letting someone have my spare seat.

I’m glad I’ve matured since then.

Well, it’s been a year but I’m glad to have finished the saga. The tale of my adventure in Egypt has come to it’s rightful end, right in the middle.

Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 in case you need catching up.

And if here’s a slide show of pictures from the same trip as posted on Showzee.


Have you been to Egypt?

If you’ve been I’d love to hear about some of your experience. Let me know in the comments below. And if you really liked this (or even just somewhat) sign up to my email list below for monthly(ish) updates. This will also open the door to a mini ebook I wrote filled with the Essential Travel Apps I cannot travel without.

Sign up here

What does Luxor, Egypt and Paris, France have in common?

Luxor Temple with missing Obelisk

History is an incredible thing. Some pretty insane stuff has happened and that’s just what was written down. For example, Napoleon was somehwhat of a conqueror. He roamed Europe raping and pillaging (my own conjecture) and taking whatever the hell he wanted.

Ok, so history may not be my strongest suit.

But visiting old sites is an easy to way to improve that. Many of you may have been to the Luxor Temple in central Egypt. Thousands of years old with intriguing hieroglyphics, statues and a single obelisk at the entrance ruining what would otherwise be a perfectly symmetrical facçade.

Luxor Temple with missing Obelisk
Luxor Temple with missing Obelisk
Luxor Temple with missing Obelisk in the day
Luxor Temple in the day

Many of you may have also been to Paris, in fact most likely more of you have than Luxor. If you walked by Place de la Concord you will no doubt have taken a photo of the large obelisk in the middle of the road and possibly thought nothing of it. But if you give it 10 seconds of thought you will think “why is there an Egyptian obelisk with hieroglyphics in the middle of Paris?

by David Light via Flickr Creative Commons
by David Light via Flickr Creative Commons
Obelisk at Place de la Concord
Silhouettey Obelisk at Place de la Concord

See what I’m going with this?

So I may not be the world’s greatest historian, but what I do know is that as Napoleon was raping and pillaging his way through Egypt, when he came across the Luxor Temple in central Egypt he just had to have one of those beautiful obelisks for himself. So he put it on a plane and brought it back to his home of Paris.

As a traveler I found this incredibly rewarding having been able to piece some of history together and picture in my mind exactly where the missing obelisk was right at this very moment, rather than having to imagine it.

Two ancient obelisks, separated by the Mediterranean. Worlds apart but cast from the same rock.

Call it Napoleons trophy if you will. A souvenir perhaps.

I’d call it overkill but that’s probably just semantics. I usually just bring back a magnet.

What other jaw-dropping facts about history have you learnt over your own travels? Let me know in the comments below.


Did you enjoy this post?

Let me know in the comments below or sign up to my email list. I send out occasional updates on the goings on here at Anti Travel Guides. You’ll also have access to my mini ebook “How to Automate Twitter and make it work for you”.

Sign up here


Chaos in Cairo and my First Bribe

For most, Cairo instantly brings to mind images of Pyramids, crowds, and recently, unrest. Cairo was the launching pad for my 9 day Top Deck tour of Egypt. It is but an introduction to the vast history of the country that dates back further than I can remember. Egypt is not the most developed country at the best of times and with over 10 million inhabitants in Cairo, saying the roads are a little chaotic is a true understatement. If you were looking for a word to describe the roads in the city of a thousand minarets “safe” does not spring to mind. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever feared for my life in a car more than on those roads. Lane markings are a suggestion and to change lanes or merge, beeping the horn is a sufficient replacement for indicating.

This is part 2 of my “series” on my Egypt experience that is as sporadic as it is un-chronological. It takes place directly before Part 1, which you can read here.

Got time for a quick pin? Just hover.

Egypt with great pyramid text

The fun began at the baggage claim where a man holding a sign with your name on it instantly makes you feel just a little better than everyone else picking up their bags. He took us to the hotel where a nap was required (due to a big night in Athens prior) before meeting our new group of instant friends. Our guide Marwan took us to a place for dinner not far from the hotel that had Egyptian food. Most of us had what’s called koshary, a rice and pasta dish with lentils, tomato-vinegar sauce, and some chickpeas thrown in for good measure. It wasn’t the worst cultural food I have tried so definitely try and find some if you are in the neighbourhood.

View of Cairo
View of the city from the Muhammad Ali Mosque

The next morning we got up for out visit to the Cairo Archeology Museum. Apparently in Cairo, if the pyramids are your number 1 thing to visit (which they are), the Archeology museum is number 2. The place was decked out with rooms and rooms of Egyptian History, something that would peculiarly become a bit of theme throughout the next 9 days. There was so much cool Egyptian stuff but we were all so tired it was hard to appreciate anything. The one thing that was the most memorable was the special room on King Tutenkahmun and his hat. They had on display his coffins and the golden headdress that he was buried in. It weighs 11kg of solid gold. Seriously, how could you wear that for any length of time and not have a sore neck? Maybe he was just buried in it. Either way I fear I am displaying my severe lack of Egyptian knowledge here so moving on.

After lunch we moved on to the great pyramids of Giza. The pyramids are actually one of those things that are difficult to write about because everyone knows what they are about and have seen 6 thousand images of them from every angle. BUT, seeing them in person is like nothing else. What I found most interesting, is how close they are to suburbia. Here are these 3 magnificent, ancient pyramids and just over the hill the desert stops and and another world begins.

Pyramids of Giza

 

One thing that you do not generally see from the pictures is what’s inside – we were able to go inside the second pyramid. We walked down this steep narrow shaft hunched over then up some more into the direct centre of the pyramid where there was an empty sarcophagus and some graffiti from 1818. In other circumstances something from 1818 would be viewed as historic, but in this context something 5,000 years old that was defaced 200 years ago doesn’t have quite the same impact.

Once  finished with the Pyramids we walked over to the sphynx. It was surprisingly smaller than I was expecting. Not underwhelming mind you, just smaller. I thought it was meant to be huge hut probably only stood 10m high, maybe not even that.

Pyramids and Sphinx of Giza

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a place that showed how the ancient Egyptians used to make paper out of papyrus plants. They would cut strips of the papyrus, hammer and rolling pin each strip to get rid of the fiber to make it flexible. Then they’d soak it to get rid of the sugar and then criss-cross them to make the desired size sheet and dry it out. They had some really nice artworks in here for sale too, not for the budget traveler though unfortunately.

Cut to one week, 2 cities, endless temples and 2 overnight trains later and our tour was back in Cairo. (In the interest of keeping all Cairo stories together). I had 2 days left in this chaotic city and felt like we had checked all the major boxes so went in search of that seemingly untouched by tourists. First we found some churches in what looked to be a Catholic quarter. Very different to other churches seen in Europe, yet still very orthodox looking. Our taxi driver we had hired took us to some markets before we took to the streets on foot.

Read more: Is Egypt safe for solo female travelers?

Cairo Market

My final day in Cairo surprised me. I (reluctantly) got in a cab, bound for the Mosque of Mohamed Ali, this magnificent citadel up on a hill with a beautiful view of the city of Cairo. As we now know, the roads in Cairo are like one enormous roller coaster, except I feel safer on a roller coaster: at least the seatbelt works unlike in this taxi. Now, the citadel is immense. You catch a glimpse as it peeks over the wall as you get close but nothing can prepare you for when you are up close. The pictures do not do it justice.

Moh Ali

When I was done there I walked down to Cairo’s biggest park. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been stared at more than in that park. Am I really that interesting? If you understand why this might be, please enlighten. Perhaps tourists never make it up this far out of the city centre. Or perhaps they’ve just never seen someone wearing shorts before. Because this was something I noticed about Egypt as well: obviously all the girls cover up to the max, but none of the guys ever wear shorts either. Lesson 1 in blending in right there.

Cairo park

This was the last spot before heading to the airport, but the fun didn’t stop there. As I was dropping my luggage off at the counter, my bag was a little over the weight limit. Back in England, Australia or even the rest of mainland Europe this would cause a large luggage fee, but not in Cairo. The friendly gentleman working there kindly lifted up the scales to bring it down to 20kg, rubbed his fingers together and subtly showed me a €10 note. I took the hint and luckily I had some small notes. So I slipped him a tenner and laughed all the way to the gate.

If you’ve been to Cairo, what was your experience like? What else is there to see? Leave a comment below or link me to your blog.

Floating on a Mattress Down the Nile

Our felucca in Egypt docked along the Nile

Being a student traveler on a budget you find some unique ways to spend the night. Hostels, airports and trains become a standard we expect, and anything beyond this is generally due to ‘extravagant’ spending or some incredible luck.

At the tail end of a whirlwind summer traversing the European continent on such a budget, I found myself one of the coolest and cheapest ways to spend the night: sleeping on a felucca while sailing down the Nile River in Egypt. This is a tale of the sights and sounds I saw along the way.

By the banks of the Egyptian Nile on our felucca

 

Our journey began in Aswan, half way through a 9 day Top Deck Tour of Egypt. A felucca is a sailing boat about 10-15 metres long with one massive sail. The living space was just a wooden floor covered in mattresses. This is where we ate and slept…and that’s pretty much all we did.

The crew of 3 Nubians did all the sailing and cooked all our meals, which generally involved a lot of pita bread and then a rice or pasta with some sort of stew. It was kinda like the budget equivalent of a cruise. Very, very budget.

Lunch on the felucca on the nile
Lunch is served

We docked for the night on the bank, had a few refreshments and sat around a campfire. There wasn’t a lot of wood around, however, just dead palm leaves. We were very close to a little village and a bunch of kids came over to the fire with their drums and sang a whole bunch of Nubian songs and danced.

It was really cool, different cultures, different ages, different languages and completely different lives, all having a blast together. They were obviously singing songs they learnt as kids and this is what they do. They must just love it when tourists stop by because they receive so much attention.

Dancing on the banks of the Nile
Dancing on the banks of the Nile

Next morning I awoke to the warmness of the sun and my friend asked if I wanted to go for an early swim while the rest slept: this was not a hard sell. Once we were finished swimming my ‘to do’ list for the day was complete.

sunset from our felucca on the nile

 

Much relaxing on the felucca ensued and at the place we docked for lunch there was a large group of Nubian teens dancing and singing with drums in the water. I began to sense a common theme.

Nubian locals along the Nile

Our group went over and joined the party, which the locals absolutely loved. Though I think they especially liked the girls in their bikinis. They must have just thought all their Christmases had come at once, what with all these pretty, young, white girls dancing with them in next to nothing. The boys had a lot to learn in terms of subtlety though, and even that is a complete understatement.

Dancing with the local Nubians during our felucca cruise on the nile
Didn’t take the girls long to add towels to their getup

We sailed further down the Nile for another hour or so and stopped at a place for the night. We played some football with people from other feluccas and it was great to have a kick around. The sand was so hot from the harsh Egyptian sun though, so every break in play everyone ran into the water to cool their feet down.

Playing football on the banks of the nile

After the game I had a beer in the Nile. It was one of the coolest things I did in my 6 months in Europe. How many people can say they’ve done that? Especially since the country is predominately Muslim and alcohol is largely forbidden.

A few more amber beverages later and the sun began to set on a magical day floating down the Nile. The night was filled with more entertainment from the locals before curling up in my sleeping bag on the mattress of the felucca.

This will be Part 1 of a series on Egyptian experiences that will be as sporadic as they are un-chronological. You can read Part 2 here. Hope you can join me on my next journey. Meantime, I’d love to hear about your Egypt experiences. Comment below or link me to your blog!

 

Did you enjoy this post?

Plenty more where that came from. Make sure to sign up for the mailing list to never miss the next one.

Sign up here

Need to spruce up your Pinterest boards? Pin these, just hover.

Sailing a Felucca on the Nile,Egypt. I spent a couple of night sailing on a felucca on the Nile a few years ago and it was an incredibly relaxing way to see a bit of the Egyptian countryside. Sailing a Felucca on the Nile,Egypt. I spent a couple of night sailing on a felucca on the Nile a few years ago and it was an incredibly relaxing way to see a bit of the Egyptian countryside.


http://nosubhealth.com/