Monday, May 23, 2011

JORDAN – ROME 5/14 – 5/24/11

Ron at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem
Ruins below old city & mural of the way Jerusalem was

The Red Sea has become a popular vacation area and we got to enjoy 2 beautiful days of sun and sand at a beautiful beach resort in Safaga, Egypt while some of our ship mates went off to visit Luxor and Cairo.  Fortunately, we did an extensive tour 3 week of Egypt several years ago so did not feel the need to make the long trip from the port.  Tourism is down 70 – 90% in Egypt.  Sharm El Sheik, our next stop in Egypt was like a ghost town.  Miles of beautiful beaches lined with hotels and outdoor restaurants were virtually empty. 
Then it was on to Israel and 3 days of 11 hour tours.  Tiring but well worth it.  We saw many of the highlights.  In Jerusalem, we visited the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.  Entering the Old City through narrow walkways, we went first to the Holy Sepulcher perched on Golgotha and believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.  Afterwards, we visited the Wailing Wall.  In the afternoon, we drove to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity built over a grotto where it is believed Jesus was born. 

Believed to be spot Jesus was born in Bethlehem
The Dead Sea
The next day we drove to Masada where we saw the ruins of an amazing fortress and palace built atop a mountain under the direction of King Herod.  We were able to take a cable car to the top but slaves had to carry large cisterns of water up the winding mountain path.  Here Herod enjoyed a palace built on 3 levels where he could look out over the Dead Sea.  The surrounding city had baths and homes for thousands of citizens as well as store houses with stocks that could last for years.    

After lunch at a hotel, we were able to go swimming in the Dead Sea.  What an incredible feeling to be so buoyant.  On our drive back to the ship, we passed Qumran where a Bedouin shepherd boy found the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947, the oldest known Biblical manuscripts in the world. 

On the third day in Israel our ship moved from Ashdod to Haifa and from there we were able to visit many of the sites where Jesus lived and traveled: Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, Cana, the River Jordan and Nazareth.  The final port on this segment was Sorrento, Italy.  Italy never fails to enchant. 

Qumran: where Dead Sea scrolls were found (the little holes)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

DUBAI – JORDAN 5/3 – 5/13/11

6 star Burj Al Arab in Dubai
Barefoot at Grand Mosque Oman

The Treasury at Petra, Jordan
Our first visit to Dubai and all I can say is: Wow!  This former Bedouin fishing village discovered oil in 1961, and the financial windfall that followed quickly transformed it into an ultra modern city.  The city is now home to over 2 million people but only 17% are natives.  Indians and Philippinos make up the bulk of the residents from other countries who come to Dubai to work as cheap labor for the 500 hotels, restaurants, residences etc.  Recognizing that the oil would eventually run dry – and it did – the government turned its attention to creating a worldwide financial/commercial hub and glamorous tourist destination. The construction of Palm Islands – manmade branches of land reaching into the sea and filled with high rise condos  -- has slowed down with the global financial state of recent years.  But on the drawing board if not already started are Airport City, a huge sports complex, the world’s biggest Disney World and much more.

Obelisk Tomb at Petra
We cruised the Arabian Gulf from Dubai to Muscat, the capital of Oman and then Salalah.  Oman has made great progress from a feudal state to an economically sound, modern country under the guidance of the Sultan who has been on the throne for 40 years.  Here Sunnis and Shites live peaceably together and worship in the same mosque.  Like Dubai, Oman will eventually run out of oil and is pursuing development as a tourist mecca.

Fossilized animal bones within Petra canyon walls
We were ready for some leisurely sea days but these were particularly active ones.  Twice a year Regent sponsors PTV (Public television) at Sea.  We had the pleasure of hearing political commentator Charlie Cook, journalist Jackie Lyden and Washington Post’s top photo journalist.  But the highlight for us was actor Michael York’s presentations and the great pleasure of having dinner with Michael and his wife Pat, a world renowned photographer.   We look forward to seeing them again the next time we are in Los Angeles. 

One of the main reasons we decided to take this world cruise was the stop in Jordan and opportunity to see Petra, considered the eighth wonder of the world.  Around 600 BC, Arabs settled here and carved a massive city out of rock and limestone.  A one mile walk through  a magnificent canyon with 240 foot high cliffs opens upon the Treasury, a massive building that was actually a mausoleum.  An open Roman style theater seats over 3,000 people.  Petra flourished as a center for spice trade and was once the home of as many as 30,000 people.