From Tel Aviv, we flew to Stuttgart, Germany with an overnight stopover in Belgrade, Serbia. Our luggage was checked through to Stuttgart, so we were traveling leanly while in Belgrade!
We landed in Belgrade late in the evening and were picked up from the airport by our hostel. We got more than a transfer – we got a semi-tour of Belgrade. It was fun to see some of the city’s landmarks – like the parliament building – all lit up, especially since we were in town for such a small amount of time.
We wandered around the neighborhood surrounding our hostel, grabbing a drink and a slice of pizza at a random window.
From Jerusalem, we took the bus to Tel Aviv. The second most populous city in Israel, Tel Aviv is the country’s financial capital and known for its lively atmosphere. Also of note: Tel Aviv sits on the Mediterranean Sea and has a lovely stretch of beaches.
While in Tel Aviv, we stayed with a friend of a friend who lived within walking distance of one of these beaches. Unsurprisingly, we spent our first afternoon and early evening walking along and relaxing on the beach. Continue reading Exiting the Middle East via Tel Aviv→
There was so much to see in Jerusalem (more than we could reasonably see, actually), but that didn’t stop us from using it as a base for a couple of very interesting day trips. One day, we took the bus to Bethlehem, and, another day, we rented a car and drove to Masada and the Dead Sea.
It was an easy bus ride from Jerusalem to Bethlehem,1 and we were able to navigate the city on foot once we arrived. As we walked from the bus station to Manger Square, we passed through some market streets.
After a (not so) quick lunch, we made our way to the Church of the Nativity, which is famous for being constructed above a grotto in which Jesus is said to have been born. The emperor Constantine and his mother first commissioned a church on this site in 327 AD. That first church was destroyed by fire, and a replacement was constructed in 565. Over the course of the next centuries, the Church of the Nativity has been restored, renovated, and expanded many times.
As one of the oldest cities in the world and a city with strong ties to three of the world’s major religions, Jerusalem has an incredible number of important sites. We spent nearly a week in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, and we felt like we barely scratched the surface.
Many of the most important sites are located in the Old City, a section of Jerusalem that is surrounded by walls that were erected in 1538. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is divided into four sections: the Armenian Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, and the Muslim Quarter.
On our first full day in Jerusalem, we took a free walking tour of the Old City to get a survey of the area. Although we gleaned some broad background on Jerusalem’s history, I would not necessarily recommend this plan to fellow travelers – mostly we just ended up killing a few hours walking around to a bunch of sites without the opportunity to actually go inside or truly appreciate them.1 If I could do it over again, I would skip the tour and just visit the different quarters on our own – which is exactly what we did over the next several days. Continue reading In Which We Visit Jerusalem→
The day after our trip to Jerash, we said goodbye to Jordan and set out for Israel. Readers of this blog may recall that we crossed the border into Israel once already on this trip … and that our first excursion into Israel took less than an hour. This time, we were doing more than just transiting through – we were on our way to Jerusalem.
We planned to travel overland from Amman to Jerusalem via the King Hussein Bridge (or, as it is known on the Israeli side of the border, the Allenby Bridge), which spans the Jordan River.
Everything that we had read about this border crossing indicated it was busy and intense, and so we did our best to prepare ourselves for what we anticipated being a long, potentially frustrating day. We made sure our papers were in order, that anything that might look suspicious to immigration authorities (the guidebooks which attracted the attention of the border guards on our first trip across Israel, the jar of peanut butter that we carry to keep us fed on long bus rides) was near the top of our bags and thus easily accessible for inspection, and that we were armed with plenty of snacks, water, and patience. Continue reading Back at the Israeli Border: Overland from Amman to Jerusalem via the King Hussein Bridge→
From Amman, we took a day-trip to Jerash, home to a really spectacular set of Roman ruins.
Never heard of Jerash? Don’t worry, neither had we! (And I majored in Classical Civilizations in undergrad; I live for this kind of stuff.)
The site may have been inhabited by humans as early as the Bronze Age (3200 BC – 1200 BC), but the ancient city is thought to have been settled around 333 BC. Around 64 BC, ancient Jerash was conquered for the Romans by Pompey the Great. Jerash grew in size and wealth, peaking in size during the early 3rd century AD, and then eventually declined after a devastating earthquake in 747.
We briefly debated spending a third day in Petra but ultimately decided that it was time to move on to Amman, the capital of Jordan. Amman claims to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with the first recorded evidence of civilization at its site dating to 7,500 BC. Since that time, several civilizations have called the spot home, including the Nabataeans and Romans.
Even if you have never heard of Petra, you have probably seen images of it. The ancient city’s so-called Treasury is arguably best known for its appearance in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. If you use Pinterest, you’ve no doubt seen pictures of it – and maybe wondered if it was too amazing to be true.
Let me remove any doubt: Petra is real and it is spectacular. The Treasury is the obvious crowd favorite, but there is so much more to Petra. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, Petra is roughly 100 square miles in size and full of incredible rock-hewn facades, temples, and amazing viewpoints.
Before we began researching potential destinations for our trip, I had never heard of Wadi Rum. I came across it on a travel blog that I like while reading up on Petra, and immediately filed it both on Pinterest and in my brain. Later, while traveling through Namibia, we were admiring the view of the stars from our campsite near Aus, one of traveling companions commented that he thought the best stargazing was in Wadi Rum – an opinion that reaffirmed my desire to visit.
Months later, when we decided that we would be traveling to Jordan, a trip to Wadi Rum became one of our non-negotiable items.
It was hard to tear ourselves away from the beach in Sharm el-Sheikh (sometimes I wish I was still on that beach), but, after a week, we finally packed up our bags and headed for Jordan. We planned to take a ferry across the Red Sea directly from Nuweiba, Egypt to Aqaba, Jordan, but we were unable to secure any concrete information on when this alleged ferry actually departed.1 Instead, we decided to travel overland from Egypt to Jordan through Israel.
(For those not familiar with the area surrounding the northern section of the Gulf of Aqaba – we were not before this trip – the Egyptian border town of Taba lies less than 15 kilometers from the Jordanian port city of Aqaba, separated by Eilat, the southernmost city in Israel.)