In travel it's not about the destination, it's about the road. Often you'll have the most amazing experiences in between ticking off items from your bucketlist.
Let's be honest. We went to Jordan to see Petra. We did, and it was amazing. But what made this trip truly unforgettable was what happened before and after.
We went to Aqaba to do some scuba diving - and it was amazing. We saw a tank underwater and were able to swim inside a sunken plane! But the thing that we'll remember most fondly is meeting two locals on the beach in front of our hotel. We sat down in a little beach bar looking for a shisha (or hookah) to smoke, but there was nobody in sight and we couldn't find out how or where to order. We were ready to give up, when the only other people in the bar, a local couple, offered us to sit with them and share their shisha. So we joined them at their table and had a great conversation. They were wedding planners, who planned luxurious weddings at grand locations (we saw pictures, just wow). It was great getting to know an unmarried couple and learning more about dating in Jordan. Afterwards, they kindly ordered us our own shisha and even left us theirs when they left! A cute bonus to this meeting was a white cat with a crazy black moustache 😉
Our next stop was Wadi Rum. The landscape looks like Mars, therefore many movies like The Martian, Red Planet, and Star Wars were filmed there. We booked an overnight group tour, which was a wonderful decision. We got to walk through canyons, sandboard down gigantic dunes, had a picnic, and watched the sun go down over the desert. We spend the night at a lovely camp with free tea on a fireplace and food cooked in the ground with just the heat of the sun. But the best thing about this trip was meeting two travelers from the US on their second (!) trip around the world. It was so inspiring meeting them that we stayed in contact and met up with them again in Amman to explore the north of Jordan in their rental car. It's always enriching to travel together with other people for a while, hearing about their experiences and learning from them.
As you already learned in our last blog post, we were lucky to sleep inside the ancient ruins of Petra. We stayed for three days and explored the whole area, including the parts where tourists rarely go. Sleeping inside of Petra also gave us the unique opportunity to watch the sunset from the monastery and spend the early morning hours in the Wadi Farasa East, with literally no other tourists. In the evenings we had tea and dinner cooked over the fire with our Bedouin hosts - and of course shisha again. The most outstanding experience was to walk to the Petra by night show - through the dark and empty ruins of Petra with the stars as our only lights. So go ahead and don't be afraid to sleep outside of your comfort zone, the experience will be much more rewarding than a cozy hotel room with running water!
Our designated goal for the capital Amman was to eat as many of the local foods as possible. It was scrumptious to start the day with a Bedouin coffee in a clay pot, followed by Kunefe (a dessert made of filo pastry, soaked in sweet syrup, and layered with cheese). For lunch we had Falafel, Humus, Moutabel, Labneh, Tabbouleh, ... - we just loved all the food. But our best experience was on the hunt for Warak Enab or stuffed grape leaves. We ended up in Amman's posh Rainbow Street in a fancy restaurant. There, we could see how the bread was freshly baked. The cook noticed that we watched him and invited us into the kitchen to watch how he prepares the bread. He even gave us a whole bread to take home. A piece of bread has never been so delicious in our whole life!
We came to the Westbank to see history. We saw some of the oldest remaining houses on earth, we saw Jericho, and the place at the Jordan river, where Jesus was supposedly baptized. We saw the daily life, markets, and Stars&Bucks. We saw the Banksy hotel with all the amazing artwork inside and around. But the most memorable was Bethlehem - and not because it's the place where Jesus was supposedly born. It was because of our guide, who spoke a ton of languages - one of them being Aramaic. Until then we thought this was a dead language that is not spoken anymore. But there we were, standing in a crypt below the Church of Nativity, and our guide was reciting – no, singing – an Aramaic prayer. This was one of those moments, where your guide makes your trip.
We came to Jerusalem to visit the holy city for the Jews, Christians, and Muslims; To see the old city with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the walls, the gates, the alleys. Because accommodation within the old city was expensive we decided to rent an apartment with a kitchen in the new part of town, close to the Yehuda Market. It was amazing to stroll across the market every evening, see the locals do their shopping, hear the noise, smell the food, feel the energy, try all the delicious foods and then do the shopping ourselves and cook a tasty (and cheap) meal in our own little kitchen! All the fresh fruits and vegetables, the Israeli wine, and the baked goods were extremely luscious. So if you have the opportunity, rent accommodation with a kitchen and experience the local life!
In Tel Aviv the travel fatigue hit us. Hard. But that's a topic for another blog post. We wanted to go to all the nice bars and restaurants. We wanted to walk or cycle along the whole promenade. But we had pushed too hard on our previous itinerary so we ended up going to the same spot on the beach, which was closest to our hostel, every day. We bathed in the sun and in the sea, had delicious drinks and food, and did not move for one meter. On our last day, we literally took our luggage with us to the beach and went from the beach straight to the airport. And let us tell you, it was lovely.
So you see, often you originally go to a place to see a certain sight or have a certain experience. But it's the people you meet, the foods you eat and the places you stay along the way which really make for an unforgettable holiday. So be open and take your time and you'll have the most amazing experiences!