Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Paris, France 3/10

On our way home from the Middle East, we had a day layover in Paris. Since it was Quarup's first time in The City of Lights, we stopped by the main attractions just long enough to take quick photos. We plan on coming back in the future to fully appreciate the culture and history. That said, we scheduled plenty of time to stop at boulangeries and cafes. 

See a closer view of our interactive map.
First stop, the Eiffel Tower.
We didn't spot hunchbacks but we found a huge line of tourists.
Louvre and its pyramid

Anyone that spends more than a minute in Paris can undoubtedly tell you the French really care about their history and art. We, on the other hand, are pretty immature.

Quarup not appreciating Parisian art.
Laure getting in touch with French culture. Ooh la la.
Suspicious looking sign.

We believe that a big part of any culture lies in its cuisine. So in true French style, we took our time to eat.

From top to bottom:
Laure, Cappuccino, Croque Norvégien, and Croque Madame.
Berthillon's salted caramel ice cream is good
... but San Francisco's Bi-rite Creamery's is better.

The French really know how to do American fast food right!
The McDonald's on Rue de Rivoli.
Quarup will be the first to admit that he was a little worried about visiting Paris. He had heard rumors that Parisians can get annoyed and switch to speaking English when they hear ignorant foreigners butchering their dear language. But Quarup realized that prefacing questions with "Bonjour. Parlez-vous anglais?" went a long way. Contrary to his fears, the locals typically responded in French, which seemed like a great way for him to learn the language. Or at least try.

One sight we wanted to visit was the Luxor Obelisk in Paris:

Luxor Obelisk.
As we had learned with Andrew Bennie, this obelisk was given as a gift from Egypt in 1829. Its original location was at the entrance of Luxor Temple, where we had visited about a week before:

Luxor Temple missing an obelisk.
How did the Luxor Temple entrance look before 1829? Luckily, Laure's photoshop skills can bring us back in time:

Luxor Temple is complete once again.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Dead Sea and Amman, Jordan 3/9

On our last day in Jordan, we drove back across the country to make two last stops: the Dead Sea and Beit Sitti Cooking School.

See a closer view of our interactive map
Camel crossing warning
Under no circumstance would we recommend using Google Maps to find directions from Petra to the Dead Sea. We painfully learned this lesson as the road became narrower, then turned to gravel around the precipitous hillsides, and then turned into dirt and rocks.

Google Maps will direct you to your doom
After furiously cursing at Google and backtracking to the main road, we switched to a more tried-and-true strategy to find directions: the Lonely Planet Jordan guide book and common sense.

Paradoxically, a difficult part about driving in the Middle East was finding gas stations. That came as a blessing when it forced us to stop at a small shop in a tiny town to ask for directions to the nearest gas station. The locals did not immediately acknowledge our questions as they were overwhelmingly excited to interact with us. They quickly surrounded us and repeatedly offered seats to join them and drink fresh milk. Frankly, we were a bit skeptic about drinking milk from strangers at first, but we eventually succumbed. The milk was not something you will find at any American market. It was thick and sour almost like yogurt. Then it dawned upon us that the milk was likely fresh and unpasteurized. After a few minutes of chaos as we repeatedly thanked them for the milk and respectably declined further offers, they pointed us to the nearest gas station.

We eventually arrived at the lowest land elevation, the Dead Sea. The beach lies at -1,388 feet or -423 meters below see level. We followed the local tradition of covering ourselves in mud and then dried for ten minutes before entering into the sea. This ritual allegedly provides many medical and cosmetic benefits. Laure talked about how her beautiful skin felt for days after.

Dead Sea mud feels weird when it dries on the skin
Photo taken immediately before salt water entered Q's eyes and mouth.
Effortlessly floating while taking in the sun
In hindsight, we would have enjoyed staying a night at one of the resorts along the Dead Sea. It would have been a nice opportunity to reenergize before heading back home.

After the Dead Sea, we drove into Amman during rush hour for our cooking class. Unfortunately, we got hopelessly lost in the hectic rush hour traffic. Fortunately, we found a friendly local that offerred to show us the way by driving his own car in front of ours. The man had a heart of gold because he spent over half an hour driving and talking to locals in order to help us find our class. This portion of Amman reminded Laure of San Francisco, with its hillsides lined with houses and windy streets. When we offered money to pay for his gas, the man strongly refused and wished us good luck in our class.

Beit Sitti ("Grandmother's House") cooking school teaches traditional Jordanian dishes. They also explain some of the neighborhood's and cuisine's history. The food itself has very distinctive spices that are pleasant but not overwhelming. Two of our favorites were the Maaloubeh (layered dish of tomatoes, meat, and rice) and Knafeh (dessert of crisply baked noodles and cheese covered in ghee).

The night's menu:
Farmer's Salad, Moutabbal, Maaloubeh, and Knafeh

Flipping the Maaloubeh
Dinner is served!
It somehow felt strange to cut the heart shaped Knafeh dessert
... but so worth it!

Petra, Jordan 3/5 -3/8

After traveling through Egypt, Jordan was a walk in the park. The traffic was comparable to the USA, so we felt sufficiently safe to rent a car at the airport. We drove straight from the Amman airport to Petra enjoying Arabic techno and American pop music.

See a closer view of our interactive map.
See a closer view of our interactive map.

We stayed at Sofitel Taybet Zaman Resort, a reconstruction of a Ottoman stone village modified to be a hotel. Each room was decorated with local craft and had a unique layout. Even the walkways within the village were all different from each other.

A view of one of the resort's walkways
The entrance to our suite
Our bedroom. The hall leads down to our restroom and living room.
Delicious traditional Arabic breakfast at the resort. Hummus for breakfast.
Laure's dream come true.

The lost city of Petra is one of the new seven world wonders and Jordan's main tourist attraction. The once nomadic Nebateans created Petra as their capital around 100BCE and was a major stop along the middle east trade route. During its heyday, the city contained 30,000 people, was mentioned in the bible, and had interacted with the Roman and Greek Empire.

In 131AD Rome took control of Petra and expanded the city. Trade routes eventually shifted, two major earthquakes destroyed much of the city, and soon Petra was abandoned. Only the local Bedouin people knew of the Petra's location and kept it their secret. It wasn't until 1812 that a Swiss explorer tricked some Bedouins into showing him the city while disguised as a Muslim holy man. It was the first time since the city's fall that a westerner had seen the city. In the 1980's UNSECO oversaw the city's conservation efforts and relocated the local Bedouin people out of Petra and into a modern village. A few still remain in the ancient cliff side dwellings and some have opened their homes as tea and Turkish coffee shops to tourists.

The city of Petra is definitely no longer lost.
Enjoyed tea and coffee at the home of a Bedouin named Mofleh.
He is one of the last Petra residents.

We took our friend Thu's advice to plan for three days at Petra. Many tourists come for one day and see the two popular temples, the Treasury and the Monastery. Our three day stay allowed us to take our time exploring the ancient ruins and to hike many of the trails throughout the city. Despite the major earthquakes that struck the area, many of the buildings (tombs, the theater, and cliff houses) still stand today. You may recognize some of the sites from movies. The majority of the city is open for visitors to explore and literately climb through. We felt like kids exploring the abandoned city.

Quarup climbed in and out of the abandoned cave homes.
Rich mineral in the sandstone created amazing colors.
Lonely Planet book helped guide us through 2000 year old treks.
The Monastery (Al-Deir). We did not find any Transformers inside.
A rarely seen view of the Treasury. Well worth the long hike.
The Renaissance Tomb

On our first morning we hired a guide to show us the highlights of Petra. He advised us that restaurants within Petra were overpriced and not as delicious as food we could find in nearby town Wadi Musa. We took his advice and picked up items for picnics at a local bakery between Petra's visitor's gate and our hotel. The bakery had a nice selection of stuffed breads and the best baklava we've ever eaten.

Baklava chef Mohammed and his trays of sticky goodness.
Breakfast at a vista point above the Treasury
Picnicking at the High Place of Sacrifice (Al Madbah)

After dinner on our last evening, we went back to Petra's visitor entrance to take the Petra Night Tour. Eighteen thousand candles lighting the way from the visitor's entrance, through the Siq, and all the way to the Treasure. Once we arrived at the Treasury, we were given hot tea and listened to live Bedouin music. The experience was something special that couldn't be captured by camera - but we tried.

Here's a link to some professional pictures