From Wadi Dana to Petra

I slept really well and woke up to breakfast and the spectacular view of wadi. I then set off on the short drive to Petra, making a couple of stops on the way.

The first was the crusader castle of Shobak. In any other country this would be considered a really impressive castle, but compared to Karak, it was smaller and less well preserved. I still enjoyed exploring the ruins and admiring the view of the desert.

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Next stop was Little Petra, a small isolated place just outside Petra itself. Like Petra there are houses and tombs carved into rock, with a narrow path through a cleft in the mountain to get to them. Unlike Petra, there was almost no-one there. I enjoyed clambering up and down steps leading to ruined ancient cave-houses and exploring the rocks and desert just beyond the main buildings.

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Finally, I arrived in Wadi Musa, the modern city built next to Petra, and checked into my hotel, which had a very nice roof terrace with a view. In the early afternoon I set off for Petra itself, full of anticipation. The entrance to the ancient city is amazing – a 2km long narrow path, called the Siq, weaving through a natural cleft in the mountain. The walls are very high and often close completely over the path, blocking out the sky.

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At the end a clearing opens and directly opposite is the Treasury, a magnificent building carved into the rock and one of the most photographed ruins on earth. It was originally a tomb of one of the Nabataean kings.

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The Nabataean starting building Petra around the 1st century BC and the city flourished for several hundred years, including under Roman occupation, until it was abandoned. It was only rediscovered by westerners in 1812. The entrance to Petra is an exceptional experience, but the atmosphere was slightly spoiled by the crowds and the steady flow of horses and donkeys transferring lazier tourists, and the Treasury area stank of horse, donkey and camel.

Fortunately, I discovered that Petra is not just the Siq and the Treasury but an entire city spread out over a huge area, all of it protected by steep mountains. I wandered around the part closest to the Siq and admired the impressive royal tombs, which glowed a spectacular red in the late afternoon sun.

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Then I tried to take one of the mountain trails around to “Petra city centre”, where there were more ruins, but I had just climbed the first long set of steps in the cliff when I met a local woman who made me go down again because night was falling and the site was closing soon. Back at the Treasury I was pleased to find that the donkeys, horses and camels had now gone, as had most of the tourists. So I had a drink in a café and enjoyed this special place in the calm of the early evening. The walk back along the Siq was much more pleasant without all the bustle and smell of the afternoon.

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That same evening I had booked a ticket for a night-time visit to Petra, so I dropped into a restaurant near the entrance and had a big plate of lamb and rice whilst I waited for the tour to start. Despite this night-time visit being very popular, with a big crowd of tourists, it was even better than Petra during the day – the path was lit by hundreds of candles creating a special atmosphere. Being a small teddy bear, nobody noticed when I sneaked ahead whilst the guide was giving a long set of instructions to the group and so managed to have the Siq almost to myself on the way in. At the end of the Siq, the group sat down in front of the Treasury and listened to Jordanian music in the dark.

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Then suddenly the Treasury was lit up and everyone scrambled for their cameras! After admiring another aspect of this famous sight, I walked back along the Siq to my car a happy, but very tired teddy bear.

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Hiking in Dana Wadi

I woke around 7am and had a full breakfast of eggs and Jordanian bread. The view from the camp was spectacular – directly down a deep canyon or Wadi, whose valley then stretched away for miles and miles in the distance towards the border with Israel.

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My mission today was to hike down to the bottom of this valley and back again. I stopped to buy an entry permit in the little village of Dana on the way and to buy some more water, which turned out to be a good decision.

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The path down was very steep, and several times my paws slipped on the loose stones. Then at the bottom of the valley the path was flatter and I could admire the imposing site of steep red and brown cliffs towering over me on both sides. I walked for 10km, to a point where the cliffs were getting smaller, and decided to head back.

Retracing my steps I met some friendly shepherds with their flocks of sheep and goats, and a slightly worrying pack of dogs – but fortunately they were more interested in fighting each other, and let me past.

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Of course, the path up out of the canyon seemed even steeper going up than sliding down. The sun beat down and my fur was soaked with sweat. The very last bit leading up the village was the worst because there was no cover from the overhead sun. As I walked through the village gates I gave a shout of triumph that echoed several times off the canyon walls. I was greeted by a friendly shopkeeper who sold me three bottles of cold beer (alcohol free and brewed in….Saudia Arabia!).

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After recovering my forces I strolled back to the camp for a much-needed shower, and wrote my blog whilst the sun set beyond the canyon. The canyon walls slowly turned from brown to red to light grey and then got darker and darker as the brilliant red sky faded and the new moon rose.

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After dinner I collapsed exhausted into bed in my tent, wondering what the next day would bring.

From Mt Nebo to Dana Reserve

My second day in Jordan was a nice mixture of religious discovery, historical site and spectacular sightseeing.

I first started by heading north of Madaba to Mount Nebo. Mount Nebo is where Moses is said to have seen the promised land before he died. And the view is quite impressive.

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Today it is a religious and pilgrimage centre with a Franciscan church surrounded by Olive trees. The church house yet more mosaics……… Although I thought I was saturated by them at Madaba I found one really exceptional called the Mosaic of the Diakonikon which dates back to 530 AD which represents hunting scenes and trees of life.

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I then took the road again in the direction of the South for my second stop: Karak. Located on ancient caravan routes between Egypt and Syria, Karak is also mentioned in the Bible. Here the crusaders built a huge castle that resisted several sieges before being taken by Saladin in 1183.

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The place is now a huge warren of underground passageways and stunning view of the surrounding countryside; I spent a happy hour trying to find all the highlights mentioned in the guidebook in this maze, and not quite succeeding.

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From Karak I continued South through some spectacular desert mountain scenery. As the sun set the sky turned a deep blood red, so intense that I thought I could cut a piece with my knife.

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This strange red light lit up a deep valley to the right of the round, which was where my destination, Wadi Dana, awaited. I finally arrived just as a night fell and had to leave my car to be driven over bumpy track to my tent in the Dana Eco camp. They served the ubiquitous chicken and rice for dinner and then I bedded down to a chilly night in my thermal ski underwear (its cold in the desert mountains at night).

 

 

Madaba – City of Mosaics

Hi! I am back on the road and this time I have landed in Jordan. Of course my first stop was Amman international airport, a very modern one. No picture because I was too stressed looking for my contact to pick up my booked rental car  at 10:30pm. When he didn’t show up I ended up finding  the last car available at the airport (a huge Toyota Camry, my little hands can hardly reach the wheel) before heading to Madaba for my first night. It was very dark and there were no road signs, but being a very clever teddy bear, I had spent the waiting time at the airport buying a Jordanian sim car and got to my destination with the help of Google maps. Madaba is located 30 kilometres south of Amman on the King’s highway and the Mosaic City Hotel will be my home for the next two days.

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Madaba is well known for its mosaics and its reputation goes back to the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman  times. Mentioned several times in the bible, the city is not short of churches. The walk proposed by the well popular LP guide book took me from Saint George’s orthodox church which prides itself on possessing an ancient mosaic map of Palestine (560 AD) to the church of the 12 Apostles, visiting local shops on my way. But the highlight  in my humble opinion is the Virgin Mary Church. The mosaics there are amazing and still in very good condition even though some dated back from the 1st century AD.

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The central mosaic with its geometric forms shows where the Byzantine Church of the Virgin Mary once stood. All that stands today are a columns and this mosaic which lies on the top of earlier Roman construction.  Just next to the church, were the ruins of a Roman private house with one of the most magnificent mosaics I saw today depicting representation of the four seasons at each corner, a Greek tragedy of Phaedra and Hippolytus, the figure of Adonis and a topless Aphrodite (amazing how this one managed to survive), while the top left represents three women respectively symbolising Rome, Gregoria (Istanbul) and Madaba. In Byzantine it was often the case that important cities would be represented as women.

 

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Outside along the church, stands the remain of the Roman road which connected with the city to Jerusalem.

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My little walk took me to church of the Beheading of John the Baptist (cheerful name!). It is a relatively recent church which offers a view over the city.  I was a very brave teddy bear, but despite my little legs I managed to climb up to the top. The challenge was to navigate the steep steps and the narrow staircase which had bell-cords running through it. Once on the top the height was scary for someone little like me.

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At the end of the day, I felt that I deserved to try Jordanian wine and a mandi (traditional Jordan meal). It was ok but maybe not worth the extra effort to bring any back home. Jordan is an Islamic country but pretty tolerant to the other monotheist religions. The locals are very nice and friendly and welcome foreign people (and teddy bears).  I think that I have landed in a nice peaceful part of the world which is pretty amazing if we remember that Jordan share borders with Iraq, Syria, Israel, Palestine and Lebanon………..

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On the way home

When leaving Lizard, I bid my farewell to the locals.At Helston, I drank my daily dose of caffeine with some delicious scones.In Redruth, I ventured into some antique shops before boarding the train.

Dha weles skon!

St Michael and Lizard

Had my morning coffee before taking the boat to St Michael’s mount ☕It turns out that St Michael was owned by the French Mont-St-Michel abbey for over 3 centuries.The garden was closed…… so I walked up the steps to the castle.View of the garden from above:On the way back, the tide had lowered just enough for some to attempt to cross by foot.I then took the bus to Helston. Bus rides are quite fun in Cornwall and some even have USB chargers.After having lunch in Helston, I took bus to Lizard and walked to Kynance cove to reach the coastal path.

My travel arrangements:Perfect hiking weather ☀️Kynance cove:The coastal path passes by Lizard point, the most southern point in England.I’m staying at a youth hostel not too far from that point.I continued the trail recommended by the National Trust. I bought some jam, before heading back to Lizard point for the sunset.Some confusing signs:Sunset:I then hurried to the housel bay hotel, where I had dinner at the Fallowfield restaurant.(No pictures but the food was really good) On the way back, there was a starry sky and I could just about see the milky way.

The Cornish coast

Over breakfast I realised that the day before I had gone past the most southwesterly point of England. It was hidden in the fog somewhere.

I headed north along the coast. There is several ambitious paths that head all the way to a village north of Scotland.

Sennen:

Met a few oxes.

Eventually I reached Cape Cornwall.

Here I had a snack before walking up the Tin coast.

The Tin coast features many abondoned copperhouse foundries.

Botallack mine:

Levant mine:

At this point, I had had enough of walking and took the bus back to Penzance.

Passing through St Just’s.

The buses in Cornwall do a special detour to pick up students from school. Taxis are also involved in the “school run”, making it hard to find them between 3 and 4pm.

From Penzance, I took the coastal path to Marazion, which features the English version of the Mont St Michel.

I had a short nap before dinner. When I headed out for dinner, I realised I’d missed the sunset.

A foggy day in Land’s End

I part ways with my dear friend, Paddington…… before heading off on a long train ride to the far westerly point of England.From Penzance, I took a taxi to the Minack theatre in Porthcurno.The Minack theatre is a beautiful open-air theatre that overlooks the Atlantic ocean.It is a peaceful place to visit and has a beautiful gardenThe cafe there has a beautiful view of the bay. They serve good coffee and the vegan apricot and coconut flapjack was delicious.I then took the south western coast path all the way to Land’s End.Perfectly placed robin The water was clear and beautiful.The weather forecast was positive the week before but today was decidedly going to be rainy and foggy.Ednys Dodnan arch: Greeb cottage – with ponies, sheep and rabbitsFinally arrived at the Land’s End hotel. Time to give my paws a break.

Tips before going to Iran

Books:

Iran: Empire of the Mind: A History from Zoroaster to the Present Day by Michael Axworthy

A well documented history of the country

Land of the Turquoise Mountains: Journey Across Iran by Cyrus Massoudi

Autobiographical journey by a British-Iranian author travelling across the country upon which I could draw some parallels

Garden of the Brave in War: Recollections of Iran by Terence O’Donnell

This is a lovely book that gives a really touching insight on the Iranian soul and the people

By city: this list is not exhaustive but those are my personal recommendations based on my experience! It was difficult to choose but I wanted to keep it to the bare essentials if your travelling time is limited.

TEHRAN

Stay: Hannah Boutique Hotel

Visit: Treasury of National Jewels

Eat: Kubaba Restaurant

Buy: Tavazo Nuts and Spices (the best quality and value you will ever find! Worth the taxi ride)

KERMAN

Stay: Khorram Gardens

Visit: Lut Desert (booking of a guide is compulsory so plan ahead)

Eat: Keykhosro (drinks/lunch/dinner)

       Hamam-e Vakil Chaykhaneh (for tea)

Eat/Buy: Kolompeh (date-stuffed spiced biscuits)

SHIRAZ

Stay: Taha Hotel (but make sure to ask and double check that you are in the main original building

Visit: The Pink Mosque

    Persepolis (book a guide for the day beforehand, I highly recommend Key2Persia)

Eat/Buy: Balo Persian Cuisine (short menu but delicious fresh food and a rooftop)

 

YAZD

Visit: Old City then relax on the rooftop of the Art Centre to watch the sunset

          Chak-Chak (Fire Temple, on the outskirts, book a guide and driver beforehand)

Eat: Oriental Hotel (off the bazar, known for its camel meatballs and fantastic rooftop view across the city)

Buy: Zoroastrian related souvenirs

  Silk fabric (carpets or ‘termeh’ by the metre)

ISFAHAN

Stay: of course the world-renowned Abbasi Hotel!!

Visit: Ali Qapu Palace and Masjed-e Shah

  Jolfa, the Albanian quarter

Eat: Ghasr Monshi (delicious and varied buffet with friendly helpful staff)

        Ash-e Reshteh (Abbasi Hotel speciality)

Buy: Hossein Fallahi atelier (miniature painted boxes where you can see the Master of this traditional art working. Prices vary a lot depending on the details and colours but the work is exquisite. Worth going even just to have a look)

Gaz (nougat with pistachio and/or almonds). Go for the highest percentage of nuts as they are better quality. You can buy some with or without rose flavour depending on your personal taste.

KASHAN

Stay: Ehsan Historical Guesthouse (could not be more central)

Visit: Abyaneh (picturesque village in the mountains, you will need to book a driver)

  Hammam-e Sultan Mir Ahmad and its complex of traditional houses

Eat: Manouchehri House (we only stopped for a drink)

    Negin Hotel (dinner)

Buy: Rose water

Recommended tourist agency: 

If you need an authorisation code for the VISA and other bookings (trains, taxis etc) and tours, I recommend to contact Ahmad at the Iran Tourism Center. He has been super super helpful!

Ahmad@irantourismcenter.com

What to be aware of:

  • Crossing the road can be tricky and slightly terrifying at first. Find some Iranians and cross the road with them. Even if you feel like you might get run over, you are safest crossing with locals as they have mastered the technique! There is no point waiting at a pedestrian crossing unless you feel like standing there all day. Be aware that motocycles often don’t respect red lights and drive on pavements or on the wrong side of traffic. However, I found that I quickly got used to it and by the end I could cross the road without the help of Iranians!
  • I felt that Iran was a very safe country, probably one of the safest places I’ve ever been to. However I was told to be a bit careful around Kerman but I suppose common sense should prevail wherever you are in the world!
  • If prices are not indicated on a menu, enquire beforehand. It has happened to me to be charged up to 40% more for a drink for being a foreigner as opposed to a local. However this only happened once or twice in more touristy areas but worth noting just in case. During the whole trip I always felt that everyone was very honest so perhaps I was just unlucky those two times!
  • Sun cream!! If your skin is as sensitive as mine plan to take some cream, especially in Kashan where it was scorching hot!
  • Change your money bit by bit as the exchange rate fluctuates a lot (usually in favour for us, unfortunately in disfavour for Iranians). Note that there are two exchange rates: the official international one (roughly 1€ = 50 000 toumans/500 000 rials) whereas the local rate (in May 2019) varied from 1€ = 150 – 165 000 toumans/ 1 500 000 – 1 650 000 rials) so change your money locally and gradually. Also note that you cannot take money out or pay with your card (Visa, MasterCard et) as they use American IT systems banned in Iran. So make sure you have enough cash for your whole journey.
  • Although the official currency is rials, because of inflation and devaluation most people will use toumans. For toumans divide rials by 10. It can be confusing at first when both currencies are alternatively used but you soon get your head round it! Iranians are very honest and have helped me when I accidentally gave them ten times more than expected and always gave me the correct change!

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