Category Archives: Other Travel

Trips not taken by EV.

Kerak Castle

Off again after breakfast, which proved much better than dinner, we headed to Karak Castle, best known as the castle of the crusader Reynald de Châtillon. The scenery on the old “King’s Highway” was spectacular.

Road to Kerak

The dam is new.

Raynald de Châtillon is a controversial fellow, often vilified in popular history, most recently in the movie “Kingdom of Heaven.” The truth is most likely that he was simply a man of his times whose morals and values were different from ours. He started off as a second son, and thus could not inherit, so he became a mercenary and then spent fifteen years as a prisoner of the Muslims before being ransomed. All of that would be enough to influence anyone. He is famous for his raids into Egypt and Arabia, earning Saladin’s personal enmity. (It appears that he was, however, innocent of the murder of Saladin’s sister.) You can read more here:âtillon

This may be the place to put in some links on the Crusades. Beyond reading the famous “The Crusades” by Harold Lamb, there is a simply amazing site here: The really hard core can take a full on line course on the Crusades. And given world events, it would be most useful if some of our commentators would do just that. The book, “The Crusades” appears to be out of print, but you can read it here: (I bought my copy used and discovered that it had belonged to Ambassador Parker Hart ( who was purged by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. I feel like I am holding a bit of history each time I read it.)

For the rest of us, on July 15, 1099, the Crusaders took Jerusalem after a brief siege. They then proceeded to slaughter almost all of the Jews and Muslims who lived there. It appears that, contrary to some reports, the Christian inhabitants had already been expelled form the city. ( The differences between “eastern” and “western” Christians were already so pronounced that the Crusaders had no compunctions about killing of eastern Christians. The Crusaders then set up the various kingdoms of the Outremer and, to defend them, started building a chain of large castles, running from Krak des Chevaliers in Syria to Montreal in southern Jordan. Kerak was an important part to this chain. (Which led, of course, the the construction of counter castles like Ajloun, visited in this post: )

Kerak has been fortified since Biblical times but the castle that you can visit today was started in the 1140’s. It took about twenty years to build the first castle and the castle was used by the Crusaders, the Umayyads and was still in use in Ottoman times. This has lead to many changes over the year, but the essential character of the castle remains. It is a “spur” castle, flanked by several enormous glacis and accessible only on the north side. The north wall is huge, more like a Keep than a wall or gate house and proceed by a deep fosse or moat. It is easy to see why the castle was able to withstand several sieges. The castle was interesting in that it was built on a cliff but was also built down into the cliff. Between tunneling in the mountain and filling in the space between the walls, Kerak sometimes feels more like one big, multistory building, than a classic wall-around-the-inner-ward of other castles. However you describe it, Kerak is is one of the big ten of castles in the world.

Kerak Castle.

Turning on the way-back machine, Kerak was one of Fred’s favorite destinations as a child.


Kerak from the Lower Court

Kerak today is a well preserved archeological site. Back in the 1950’s it was a wonderful playground for kids. especially those obsessed with history. And cows. Kerak today has more visitors in a day than it would have had in a month. Photos were taken by Fred or, more likely as they are full frame, by his Father. (Fred had a half frame camera as a child.) From their size, they may have all been contact prints.

Cow taking in the sights.

Cow taking in the sights.

Part of Kerak’s strategic importance came from its location astride the Moab trade routes. From its heights you can see all the way to the Dead Sea.


We found ourselves acquired by a charming and authentic sounding guide, which given a total lack of any form of explanation (unlike Aljoun Castle which had been well documented), made our visit much more understandable. We would have been guessing at rooms otherwise. That said, all guides must be taken with at least some salt.



1: Present entrance
2: Original entrance
3: North and south moats
4: Cistern
5: Glacis
6: Chapel
7: Mameluke residence
8: Museum

As you can see from the map, there was a lot to see. Worth noting that the castle was originally surrounded by Kerak town, of which little remains. The town was sometimes taken and destroyed when the castle still held out. The modern Kerak remains a largely Christian community.

We started at the north face. Over the centuries, the fosse has largely been filled in. There would have been wooden bridges over the fosse to the main and postern gates; wooden so that they could be easily destroyed when the castle was attacked.

North Wall

The little opening on the left was the Postern gate. You would first have to cross the fosse or moat, exposed to attack from the battlements and arrow loops. And, when you got there, there was no place to mount a ram.

Once inside, we could look back at the massive North Wall. While most of the construction is of stone, there would have been lots wooden and mud brick walls and floors as well.

North Wall

From the Upper Court. Note the two huge galleries. The main gate was somewhere to the left in the image.

The great North Wall was a warren of passages and rooms.

Ahead of us was the inner ward, divided into Upper and Lower Courts.

Looking South

Upper and Lower Courts.

It has changed a bit over the years.

Looking South

Shows the southern keep and the upper and lower courts.

We started out underground. In Kerak, more than any other castle we have visited, the underground galleries are simply amazing.

Denise and Guide

We saw the multiple levels of cells (some with fireplaces for the better class of prisoner!) and huge stables.


We had a special guide who knew all about the underground passages.



There are great views over the modern town as well. Don’t know the date of the glacis, but imagine trying to fight your way up that slope.

Looking North

View of towers, the glacis, and the modern town to the north.

As noted, many of the “surface” ruins are still a long way underground.

Looking Down in the Upper Court

Tourists entering the Church.

There is a lot more excavation to do. Maybe there will be more to see if we make it back again! Kerak belongs on every history nut’s bucket list.




The Dead Sea and Madaba

Fred remembers staying at the Dead Sea Hotel as a child. It was right at the mouth of the River Jordan, just a few miles from the main Amman to Jerusalem road. The hotel is long gone now, but it was quite lovely.

The Dead Sea Hotel

Taken about 1957.

The Dead Sea is famous, of course, as the lowest point of dry land on earth, at about 1300 feet below sea level. The used to be a sign on the road to Jerusalem to let you know when you had climbed back up to sea level. Like the Great Salt Lake in the United States, it is very salty, so salty that it is almost impossible to swim underwater.

Sea Level Sign

Sign on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem

We checked into our hotel and decided that we must do the needful and swim in the Dead Sea. So we changed into swim garb and headed out. With the loss of the West Bank to Israel, all of the hotels are in a huge tourist complex on the east bank of the sad and a hit higher up the slopes. The level of the sea has dropped so much that it is actually quite hard to get to the water. We walked for about 20 minutes down to the “beach” which turned out to be rocky and very hard to walk on. But we made it into the water, flopped around a bit, and then emerged. “Been there, done that”!! It is indeed salty, so salty that you cannot sink and it really stings if it gets onto your face! We rinsed off, walked our 20 minutes back to the hotel and Denise enjoyed a swim in the lovely warm pool. Grumbling that “it wasn’t like that in the old days!” Fred went off to enjoy a massage in the spa.

The Marriot Resort at the Dead Sea.

The Marriot Resort at the Dead Sea.

We watched the sun set over the West Bank and the lights of Jerusalem start to show on the ridgeline and headed for dinner. Fred was amazed, Jerusalem simply wasn’t that large back in the day.

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Sunset over the West Bank.

We then went to watch the belly dancer perform while we enjoyed Turkish coffee and even stayed for her second show before calling it a night! Fred’s mother could never watch scenes of “belly dancing” in Hollywood films. She was an enthusiastic ballroom dancer and one night, in Beirut, she and a friend, also an excellent dancer were watching a dance performance. When the set ended, the friend asked the dancer to show her some of the moves. The dancer laughed and said, “Oh Madame, for you it is too late; I stared learning when I was five years old.” So although Rita Hayworth and others are indeed lovely,  their Salome initiations look very awkward when you have seen the real thing. It was pleasantly warm and it was fun to people watch. Everyone from tourists in shorts to ladies in abayats – Jordan is a wonderful country.


On to Madaba via the Baptismal Site

 Off again the next morning, we made a last minute decision to go to the Jordan River Baptismal Site, a visit that proved fascinating and far more interesting than Fred had anticipated. Fred was in curmudgeon mode, grumbling that he had already been to the river on a picnic and one of his friends had “baptized” himself by falling in. (His mother had not been pleased.) We drove to a central ticket office/car park where we waited for a bus and guide. The Jordan River is the border between Jordan and Israel and security is very tight and thus the various sites can only be visited in a group.

The first thing that we learned is that many of the sites were re-identified and excavated only after Fred left Jordan in 1960, so, with the prospect of “new” ruins, Fred got all interested. Like all things Biblical, there is controversy about the Baptism. The Gospel of John says that it took place in “Bethany beyond Jordan.” The River Jordan has, of course, moved many times over the years. It is also worth considering that while may people today ascribe special qualities to the River Jordan, to John the Baptist, it would have simply been another, albeit larger, river. Thus there is considerable reason to believe that he would have actually performed the Baptism in the clear waters of the spring at Bethany, rather in the muddy river – what is the point of a spiritual cleansing in dirty water. Whatever the truth, by third century the early Christians accepted Bethany as the site and built many churches there. (The site is on the Madaba Map.) These churches were destroyed or fell into disuse with the Muslim conquest and are only now being unearthed. There is an excellent site on the subject and if you drill down, there are detailed accounts of the history of the site. You must remember, however, that this is a Jordanian government site and there is intense “competition” from the Israelis to attract Christian, especially American, tourists. Read on:

After a short wait, our bus arrived and off we went, passing first by the site of Elijah’s ascension, before other sites connected to John the Baptist. As noted on the site linked above, you could spend a long time visiting all the sites in the local area, many of which provide an interesting insight into the nature of early Christians. The Jordan River is much reduced in size since the 1950’s in part due to water being removed from it by Israel. (Israel’s “miracle in the desert” comes with a price, much like our depletion of western aquifers.) The river has always been  muddy and most historians have established by reading travelers’ accounts and through archeological digs that the true baptismal site is probably about 60 meters from the present river, at the site of a spring which used to drain into the river. There are ruins of the various churches which were built over the spring at different times and it is very possible that this clean spring water was used for baptisms, rather than the always muddy Jordan.

This link describes the rediscovery and the purpose of the foundations in the photo:

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Ruins of Byzantine Church constructed over the spring where it is believed that John baptized Jesus. The large objects are the foundation pillars. As was the Byzantine custom, the church often completely enclosed the site.


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Church built upon Church built upon Church

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Modern Church at the Baptismal site

The Jordan River site on the Israel side has been highly developed for tourists and we watched various visitors immersing themselves in the muddy and unsavory looking water.

Dead Sea-12Dead Sea-13


We then headed out to Mt. Nebo, where there is an old church called the Moses Shrine, which is reputedly where Moses saw the Promised Land before he died. The church was unfortunately closed but we did see an old mosaic from the church and, of course, a huge selection of schoolgirls! As a historical note, it is worth noting that one cannot see the land “flowing with milk and honey” from Mount Nebo, only the parched Jordan Valley. There has long been agriculture around Jericho, but the rest of the landscape, as you can see, is rather bleak. The fertile lands lie far beyond, between the Mediterranean and the hills were Jerusalem is located. It is possible that Moses stopped here because the people of Jericho blocked passage. Whatever the truth, Mount Nebo has long been a site of pilgrimage, traditionally along the old Roman road from Jerusalem.

Dead Sea-16

Dead Sea-18

Beautiful inscribed column, dedicated to Caesar Antonnius Pius. (Scholars debate his success against the Parthians and the Britons.)

More about Caesar Antonnius:

On to Madaba, where we stopped first at St. George’s Church to see the famous mosaic map of the Holy Land, crafted in AD 560, it is the oldest map of the region and gives many insights into the region, including, as noted, the location of the Baptismal site. Jerusalem is shown, as is the Dead Sea with the fishes swimming away from the salt. There is also a small museum at the Visitor Center which we enjoyed.


Close up of the medieval city of Jerusalem, showing the Cardo down the middle and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the foreground.

After a quick lunch, we headed to our hotel which proved to be in a residential neighborhood and quite nice. We took a much needed nap and then headed down to the pool for coffee and a nice chat with the Hotel Manager as the sun set. Dinner was somewhat of a disappointment but we had not noticed any obvious restaurants in walking distance, so decided to stay put. We should have been more adventuresome!


Jerash, Our exploration of the Decapolis Continues

And finally on to another Decapolis city, Jerash. ( It can be argued that if you can only visit one Roman site in your lifetime, it should be Jerash. As the city was rarely attacked (most of its life it did not even have walls) and because it was abandoned after an earthquake, there are few other sites in the world where the original layout of a Roman city, with its Cardo and crossing streets is so easy to see. Fred remembers picnics at Jerash as being particularly wonderful.

We arrived in the evening and checked into our hotel. (

The Hadrian's Gate hotel, literally across the street from the entrance to the ruins.

The Hadrian’s Gate hotel, literally across the street from the entrance to the ruins.

Fred took a quick photographic tour of the street before we stepped out for Jordanian fast food for dinner.

First, a review of the ten cities of the Decapolis:

The Decapolis

We started our visit to Jordan in Philadelphia (Amman) and then went to Gadara (Um Qais) and now we are at Gerasa (Jerash). We were up and about early and into the ruins via Hadrian’s Gate by 8.30 AM.

It was delightfully cool and there were no schoolchildren! The ruins are extensive and much has not been excavated. So get your sunhat, water bottle and come along. The ruins look a bit like this:

Map of the Ruins

We entered at Hadrian’s Gate on the left of the map. Note that the arch was well outside of the walls, which were not, in fact, built until late in the life of the city. Our guidebook had warned that a visit needed 3 to 4 hours to do it justice and indeed, we spent about 4 hours there and saw most of it, including the sheep and goats grazing amongst the ruins. We saw the hippodrome (and imagined the chariot races), the Forum, the Agora, the Cardo Maximus or colonnaded main thoroughfare, temples to Zeus and Artemis, the Nymphaeum (public water fountain), multiple theaters and several churches (dating from the Christian times, often using stones from the aforementioned temples in their construction). Each crossroad had its tetrapylon (archway with four entrances) which solved the problem of roads not quite lining up!


The South Theatre is stunning.

South Theatre, looking towards the Temple of Artemis. Forum to the right with the modern city behind.

South Theatre, looking towards the Temple of Artemis. Forum to the right with the modern city behind.

Perhaps the most iconic shot of Jerash is the oval Forum.

View from the Temple of Zeus, looking north down the Cardo. The Temple of Artemis is to the left on the slope. Note the vast expanses still to be excavated.

View from the Temple of Zeus, looking north down the Cardo. The Temple of Artemis is to the left on the slope. Note the vast expanses still to be excavated.

The oval forum

Walking the streets it is easy to imagine life in Jerash in about 150AD.

Denise on Jerash's Rodeo Drive.

Denise on Jerash’s Rodeo Drive.

The Temple of Artemis is one of the main attractions of Jerash. Artemis was the patron goddess of the city.

Temple of Artemis, square on. The central colonnaded building is only a tiny part of what was a huge temple complex. The Crusaders later used it as a fort.

Temple of Artemis, square on. The central colonnaded building is only a tiny part of what was a huge temple complex. The Crusaders later used it as a fort.

The Temple of Artemis as it appeared when I visited as a child. Notice that none of the surrounding space has been excavated.

The Temple of Artemis as it appeared when Fred visited as a child. Notice that none of the surrounding space had been excavated.


Worth remembering that Jerash was continuously occupied from Greek times, about 300BC through about 740AD, when an earthquake destroyed much of the historic city. Thus a temple or synagogue became a church, became a mosque, etc. Can be a challenge to know which era you are really looking at. That said, the site is huge and you can really get a sense of the city, even more so than in Um Qais (Gadara) which is tightly wrapped around an acropolis.

By the time we reached the top, near the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, we could look back over the ruins and noting the arrival of bus loads of kids, we decided to call it a day.

Looking over the ruins towards the modern city on the left. Temple of Zeus on the right. Notice all of the unexcavated land.

Looking over the ruins towards the modern city on the left. Temple of Zeus on the right. Notice all of the unexcavated land.

After morning in the ruins, we returned to the hotel and Fred went out to get a take away lunch. After a lemon mint drink to revive us and a half a sandwich each, we loaded up our luggage from the hotel into our car and headed south to the Dead Sea, saying “Good bye” to the historic sheep of Jerash.

Historic Sheep

Heading North, the Adventure Begins

First stop, Umm Quais, in the far north of the country, to visit the Roman ruins of Gadara, part of the Decapolis. (

The Cardo was the main street of a Roman city.

The Cardo was the main street of a Roman city.

We hired a guide and from him learned a lot about the theatre (and how to find the perfect spot for a voice to carry) and a group of rectangular ruins along the Roman road, which were clearly shops. Much of the city is constructed of black volcanic stone.

Kids at Play

A row of shops in Gadara.

A row of shops in Gadara.

We also learned that blocks were placed diagonally on the roads so that the chariots were quieter but pedestrian crossings had squared blocks placed for ease of crossing.

Chariot and Cart Wheel Marks

There is a complete Roman town to be discovered here with temples, baths and other buildings common to Roman life. In fact, excavations were being undertaken at the far end of the Roman road on two storey shops and homes.

You can see how much is left to excavate.

You can see how much is left to excavate.

Years ago, in Arequipa, Peru, we thought that it was wonderful when Peruvians and not just foreign tourists visited historic and other sites. Again in Um Qais we were delighted to see how many Jordanians were touring the site.

Roman building elements reused for a church.

Roman building elements reused for a church.

And, as always, Denise quickly attracted an entourage.


From the lookout point at Umm Quais, the view was stupendous. We saw Mount Hermon, the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights (now Israel), and Syria, in the distance. We even heard the distant sound of artillery fire or bombing, which brought home to us the reality of the conflicts in that part of the Middle East. We enjoyed a lovely lunch at the Rest House, gazing over the Sea of Galilee and down into Israel at the foot of the valley.


We then headed south to Ajloun Castle, a former Ayyubid Castle, set on a hill with more great views. (

Castle on the Hilltop


It was never taken by the Crusaders and the full range of fortifications, from moat to murder gaps (not just holes), trebuchet balls, and extra towers can be clearly seen.


The castle was later damaged by the Mongols and restored.


Again, we toured with and around busloads of schoolgirls and, as always, Denise made their day! (And they made ours.)

And, after a hard day to touring, a cup of coffee.

The Starbucks at Ajloun




To say that you will see changes when returning to a country that you left 55 years previously, is putting it mildly. Fred had talked a lot about his time in Jordan so Denise was eager to see it.

Amman in the 1940's

Amman in the 1940’s

The flight on Royal Jordanian was pleasant and immigration and customs were easily dealt with. We had procured visas in advance but probably this was unnecessary as airport visas are readily available. The shock began at the airport. Amman’s airport in the 1950’s was a single runway (where Hussein bin Talal used to race his sports car) and a Quonset hut, which served as a terminal. A portly sergeant handled the formalities. In those days Air Jordan’s primary aircraft was a couple of DC-3’s and the heaviest traffic was old Avro “York” airliners carrying pilgrims to Mecca. Today’s bustling modern airport was quite different.

We were met by a driver from the company from which we had contracted transportation services ( and were taken to our hotel in Amman. Amman seemed a mixture of older and more modern architecture (with some ancient thrown in) though the traffic did seem especially modern!

Some notes on Amman. Amman is an ancient site, perhaps most famous as Philadelphia, part of the Decapolis: The cities of the Decapolis play an important part in Jordan’s ancient history and are a focus of our visit.

Greek was the lingua franca of the Decapolis and most of the east.

Greek was the lingua franca of the Decapolis and most of the east.

The next day we were picked up by our driver and began our explorations at the Roman theatre, to take advantage of the morning light.

AmmanNorth 032

The theatre is wonderfully preserved and is still used for presentations. Fred remembers watching “Holiday on Ice” there – the concept of an ice show in a Roman theatre boggles the mind. We had the place to ourselves for a while before the first batch of tourists and school children arrived. April is apparently the month for school visits and we met bus loads of school children (primarily middle or high school level) at most sites we visited. They always wanted to practice their English and chat with Denise. She is now the star of the show on a great number of Jordanian cell-phones!

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In the gallery.

After the theatre, we headed up to the Citadel, which sits on Jebel al Quala’a, a fortified site since the Bronze and Iron Ages. Ironically, this is one of the few sites that Fred cannot remember visiting, but there must have been a school trip. It features great views of the city, the ruins of the Temple of Hercules dating from the Roman occupation (AD161-180), a Byzantine church, and an Umayyad palace and massive cisterns. Like most Middle Eastern sites, the ruins lie in layer after layer as the sites have been in constant use for thousands of years.


Our final stop in the busy morning was the Jordan Museum, which is housed in a fine modern building. A visit includes the history of Jordan up to the present day and includes a display of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The soundtrack of the film of Bedouin life was only an Arabic soundtrack but much could be deduced from the film. After a quick snack at the hotel, we returned to the theatre in the early evening visit another with a display of national costumes and mosaics from the Roman ruins at Jerash. Finally, we wandered the shops in the souk. Fred wanted to find a traditional incense burner but we discovered that we should have bought it in Jeddah. (Denise sought consolation at the silversmith’s.) We ended with a drive up Jebel Amman to see where Fred had lived but we could not find his house. As expected, the old directions of “the first paved road after the Third Circle” don’t work anymore – the Zahran District is wall-to-wall government buildings and the open wheat fields are long gone.

The old Home

The old Home



Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia remains one of the more mysterious countries on earth. A major producer of oil, an important market for US exports, and site of the two holiest sites in Islam, it is vitally important to millions of people. Yet because it does not issue tourist visas it is largely unknown to westerners. We were fascinated by the opportunity to visit.


We began the saga by flying to Jeddah via Frankfurt. Arriving at Jeddah in the evening we knew we were not in Kansas any more or for that matter anywhere else that we had previously visited. Ever. Let’s start with the airport; why does a country that does not issue tourist visas at all have a huge airport (15 square kilometers) with about a dozen terminals? For the Hajj, of course. In 2015 just under 1,400,000 non-Saudis made the Hajj, Umrah, or other pilgrimage. That is a lot of folk; over 80,000 on a single day. (Disney World does over 50,000 a day – you get the scale.)


Once we sorted out which immigration line to get in (the family one as we were neither diplomats nor both males), and passed our retinal and fingerprint scans, and shown our visas, which had been obtained with great difficulty, we were officially admitted and met our friend, Mary to begin our visit. It became clear that this would be an interesting experience as Denise would be wearing an abayat whenever she left Mary’s housing compound, which was reserved for foreigners and so more relaxed. This seemed odd at first but, amazingly, seemed quite normal after a day or so.


Mary is a wonderful tour guide. When we served together in Bolivia she saved Fred’s bacon at a major conference in Santa Cruz and followed up with a visit to the famous Jesuit Missions nearby. She is, not surprisingly, also very, very good at her (impossible) job in Jeddah, and like all good diplomats, knows everybody. And, like all modern Consular officers, she lives on her cell phone, even when taking leave to show guests around.

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After breakfast with a Marine colleague who was in Jeddah to inspect the Marine Security Guard Detachment,  we set out on the first day to visit the city of Taif, about two hours from Jeddah. Taif is up in the mountains and is known for its cool and even rainy climate (!) and the cultivation of roses. In fact it was raining when we arrived, which we were not expecting! First we went to the Alkamal Rosewater and Rose Products factory where we saw the process of distilling rosewater from the locally produced rose petals. We were made most welcome, covered with rose petals, and enjoyed Arab hospitality with local coffee. (Starbucks fans be warned, Saudi coffee is not what you expect – it is so lightly roasted that it is closer to a yellow color. Definitely an acquired taste for those of us rasied on Turkish coffee.)

Denise and Mary

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We tried to invite our host for lunch but he overruled us and we were honored to receive an invitation to lunch with the Alkamal family at their house. We enjoyed a wonderful meal of different fish and shrimp with two kinds of pilaf. Lunch included the complete family including teenagers and college students and Fred was a source of great interest to them. They thought his attempts at Arabic were hilarious. (He declined, however, to let them record him on their iPhones!) Lunch was followed by a traditional honeyed dessert with noodles and coffee, taken on the patio amidst much conversation. After lunch we visited the Festival of Roses before returning to Jeddah.


Juice seller in Turkish costume. They were everywhere when Fred was a child in Amman. This gentleman, in Taif, is updated with plastic gloves and disposable cups. The little cymbals let you hear him coming.

Juice seller in Turkish costume. They were everywhere when Fred was a child in Amman. This gentleman, in Taif, is updated with plastic gloves and disposable cups.
The little cymbals let you hear him coming.


On our second day, we tried to visit the Tayebat Museum in Jeddah. It was unfortunately closed for renovation but we were able to view some of the traditional architecture from the outside.

Then we went abayat shopping in the Al Shatie market where Denise bought one for everyday use and one more formal one.



Great fun! This was followed by lunch at Bab El Yemen (Gate of Yemen) where Denise finally got to try the fabled Yemeni fish that Fred had enjoyed both in Djibouti and in Yemen. We also discovered the wonderful lemon and mint drinks, which we enjoyed and found immensely refreshing for the next few days. (Think of a non-alcoholic Mojito.)

Later in the afternoon we went to visit El Balad, the old section of Jeddah, which is an amazing warren of streets and old houses, often in bad repair.

The old city.

The old city.

Our guide, Samir, is a former local employee of the Consulate General and is now conservator of El Balad was in charge of this. We visited the Beit Shorbatly a most interesting house and museum.

WE also visited the Al Shafi Mosque, a 700 year old building with a 1400 year old minaret. Fred and our guide were able to enter and take pictures but Mary and Denise stayed at the door as they were not in the women’s section.

Photo taken towards the minbar or pulpit.

Photo taken towards the minbar or pulpit.


Finally, we visited the Beit Naseef, a house where the first King of Saudi Arabia gave audiences. Now it is in the process of being renovated. We went to the roof, via the staircases made wide and high enough for loaded camels to climb to the upper floor, to watch the sunset and to hear the evening call to prayers from the six or so mosques nearby. We drank tea and after a snack of foule (a bean soup) with bread, we did indeed hear the simultaneous calls to prayer at sunset. It was very moving.

Home of a wealthy Jeddah merchant, previously used by the first king of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Azziz ibn Saud to hold audiences in Jeddah.

Home of a wealthy Jeddah merchant, previously used by the first king of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Azziz ibn Saud to hold audiences in Jeddah.

The street zig-zags so that you have to pass the store fronts.

The street zig-zags so that you have to pass the store fronts.

On our third day, we took a drive out of town again trying to find an old Ottoman fort outside Jeddah. This proved difficult so we returned to Jeddah and enjoyed a visit to the Corniche or road along the water, giving us the opportunity to take photos of the floating mosque and the huge fountain nearby, as the sun set.


The final highlight of our stay was a boat ride to show us some of the views from the bay. It felt a little odd to wear both an abayat and lifejacket but we enjoyed it!


Then it was our last day and we were off to the airport for our flight to Amman, Jordan on Royal Jordanian Airlines. We had no local money but found that we could buy a snack and a drink using dollars. As a foreigner in the airport Denise felt very conspicuous and, working on the premise of “when in Rome”, wore her headscarf until we boarded our plane.


Conclusions? Any discussion of Saudi Arabia quickly turns contentious, all the more so because it is a large and surprisingly varied country. We’ll just note:


— Wonderfully welcoming people. Arab hospitality is world famous and we had the impression that many people were especially eager to display it in a country that receives few visitors other than pilgrims. We were fortunate enough to be invited into a private home, but we noticed it on the street as well.


— Amazing scenery ranging from the mountains of Taif to the old and modern cities of Jeddah. There is a lot to see. The stereotypical image of Jeddah is that of steaming heat. Sitting on the Red Sea, Jeddah is warm and humid, but so then is Miami. And Jeddah’s old city shows that it has been a major trading center for a thousand years and in that thousand years, the local folk have built to beat the heat and capitalize on the cool sea breezes.

Jeddah's answer to Rodeo Drive

The “Can You Go Home Again?” Trip Begins


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Fred lived in Amman, Jordan from age six through ten. (OK, most of the time, not counting two six-month evacuations, first to Beirut, Lebanon – Suez war of 1956 – and then to Rome, Italy – Iraqi Revolution of 1958.) Jordan in the mid to late 1950’s was, in many ways, a magical place for a young child and certainly triggered Fred’s lifelong interest in history and religion. It is one of the ironies of the Foreign Service that Fred then went on to spend his entire career in Latin America and Africa, rather than in the Middle East or Asia, where he grew up. One of the goals in the design of Ndeke Luka was an orbit of the Mediterranean Sea, or at least a return to Jordan. Sadly, conditions in Syria and Libya have ruled this out, at least for the immediate future. So, we had to reconsider!


Our story began when Denise noticed that Cunard was offering exceptional prices from Dubai to Southampton, stopping at Aqaba, in Jordan. And the Queen Elizabeth would be stopping in Istanbul and Malta, places that Denise had visited or lived when younger. Hmmm, that would allow a visit to Petra but you can’t go to Petra and spend only one day … By the time the dust settled, Cunard had agreed to let us board in Jordan. And a colleague from our days in Bolivia chimed in that if we were going all the way to Jordan, then we had to come visit her in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

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And so the question, “Can you go home again?” Herewith our answer.


The Sunne in Splendour

England is notorious for rainy weather, but as noted here: we have, on occasion, been really lucky with the weather. (Of course, there was always this trip: when it seemed to do nothing but pour.) Our luck held again this year. And we were even able to see the “sunne in splendour.” (More about the “sunne” later.)

NOTE: This post incorporates a new feature; click on any picture and you get all of that grouping as a gallery.

Our trip this year was a family visit and we enjoyed revisiting familiar haunts such as the grounds of Petworth House and Winkworth Arboretum, both National Trust properties in Sussex. These visits were conducted by Lucky, Denise’s sister’s energetic border collie. Lucky assures a vigorous walk and that we pay a lot of attention to whether there are deer nearby, so as to assure that she doesn’t chase them. And one of these days we must take the time to visit the house itself (a “stately home” in true British fashion), especially since part of Washington, DC was named Petworth after it. As always, we found that food played a large part in this trip. Good food that is; the UK is no longer known only for overboiled vegetables, and we found our waistbands expanding with each new food experience, beginning with dinner at Lemongrass, a good Thai restaurant in Horsham, Sussex.

Each time we visit the UK, there is always more to see. For such a small island there is a wealth of different sites to visit. Friends of ours, who live near Bristol, have always been superb guides showing us what is different and unexpected. They live in Thornbury, a beautiful little town.


And they did not fail us during this visit. We began with a day in Bristol, which included a visit to the Bristol Museum, a wonderful visit to Brunel’s SS Great Britain (, and ended with an amazing cream tea (fresh scones with clotted cream), enjoyed at the Avon Gorge Hotel with views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Fans of ships and history will love the Great Britain, now rescued from her grave in the Falkland Islands, and on incredible display in the very dry dock where she was built.

The following day we went to Tewkesbury, a historical town in Gloucestershire, known for its twelfth century Norman Abbey and for its medieval architecture. The crooked timber wattle and daub houses line both the main and side streets, so turning into an alley has its own special charms. The main street is lined with medieval coats of arms, each of which belongs to a participant in the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 during the Wars of the Roses.

The Abbey Church of St. Mary the Virgin, or Tewkesbury Abbey as it is better known, is quite beautiful with an original decorated ceiling still in existence. The ceiling design of “the Sunne in Splendour” and other ceiling decorations reminds us that the use of color was a large part of the original decoration of these cathedrals and churches although now they are uniformly grey. The “sunne in splendour” was a symbol of the house of York and emblem of Richard III, and its position in the ceiling reminds all Lancasterians that the House of York won the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. (Those who were not dragged from the Abbey and executed.) True geeks will be fascinated to study “blazoning”, that is, the formal description of coats of arms. The “sunne in splendor” is a blazoning term. (

Interesting also was our visit to the John Moore Museum based in a row of fifteenth century row houses, which included the restored and refurnished Merchant’s House showing living and working conditions for a Tudor merchant’s household.

The rest of the day was spent visiting Berkeley Castle, a unique Norman/medieval castle, which has been lived in by the same family, the Berkeleys, (of Berkeley Square and USC Berkeley fame) for 900 years. It is a magnificent home to visit as it is not in ruins and is full of collections of art, furniture, and tapestries displayed in the original rooms. The Great Hall really looked like a Great Hall and still had the balcony for the minstrels.

On to Stourhead, a National Trust property with beautiful gardens around a lake and a wonderful hotel called the Spread Eagle Inn. We enjoyed our stay and found the food plentiful and excellent (we gained at least a pound each here and we only stayed one night!). We were up walking around the lake before breakfast so we could manage to eat it (it was included!). Denise’s father lives near here so we were able to visit him while in the neighbourhood.


The main purpose and highlight of this UK visit was the birthday celebration for Denise’s brother, which took place at “The Feathers” a historic hotel, full of odd staircases and winding passages, in Woodstock, near Oxford. ( As we were staying three nights, they upgraded us to a suite. And what a suite! We were stunned – how often do you have a dining room table with six chairs, two sofas and a couple of armchairs, one and a half bathrooms and a king size bed in a hotel room? It was all quite delightful. Excellent breakfasts were cooked to order, and with the excellent cream teas available at least another pound was gained!. Though to be fair, we did not eat lunch!

The birthday celebration began with a morning of punting on the River Cherwell in Oxford. Fred is now an expert punter, which is a skill that he hopes to put to further use! It was exciting at times but we all survived without a dunking! Then in the evening some nineteen friends and family gathered for a birthday dinner in Woodstock. Great fun.

The final part of the birthday celebration was a daylong outing on the Northern Belle, from Sheffield to the Yorkshire Dales. ( The entire train consists of rebuilt period style restaurant cars of the Victorian era and we were certainly pampered and wined and dined at brunch and at dinner as the train made its way to Oxenholme on the southern border of the Lake District and then back to Sheffield. We visited Wensleydale for cheese samples and purchase as part of our Yorkshire Dales afternoon tour.

On the way to Sheffield, we visited a most interesting National Trust property called Keddleston Hall, dating from 1765. ( The main house was built more as an art gallery than as a family seat. The attached church has some lovely tomb carvings.

We spent the night in Stratford-on-Avon, where we enjoyed a walk along the River Avon and a wonderful dinner at Edward Moon Restaurant. Named for a traveling chef in the British Colonial Service during the early 1900’s, we enjoyed hearing of the history of the name from our waiter, a charming and charismatic gentleman originally from French Guyana who kept us fully entertained for the duration of the meal.

I must also mention the meal we had at Maveli in Sheffield where Fred discovered South Indian food and dosas. And while we are talking of food we must also mention the always wonderful fish and chips from Rockfish in Dartmouth. We were not fortunate enough to arrive on the evening when the local band was performing sea shanties, as happened on our first visit in 2012, but the food is worth it even without music.

Although this trip was not made in Ndeke Luka, it would not be complete without at least some Tiger content. We enjoyed a visit with long time Tiger owners, Rick and Kathy Howe and were able to host the Travelin Tortuga in Devon. (

And to close, some random images of southwestern England.

We arrived home in time for a weeklong diet before heading off to retrieve Ndeke Luka and head for the Overland Expo in Asheville, NC.