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12
Sep

Petra, Jordan – An ancient marvel

Indiana Jones helped make Petra famous in the movie The Last Crusade, although several other Hollywood movies have also brought us glimpses of this incredible archeological site.  I’ve visited 2-3 times, and would gladly go back again.

Petra - The Treasury; A view which unfolds from the Siq

While few early adventurers (such as Lawrence of Arabia) were able to investigate the ruins from the Nabataean capital city, present day tourists are cordially welcome to make the trip into this ancient town (~2000 years old).  Visitors and local Bedouins can freely wander through the marbled red homes, hewn with artistic flare from this community of rocks surrounding the narrow valley.  The Romans came and went, leaving their mark with roads, amphitheatres, temples, a  nymphaeum, and other architecture to endure unaided against the millennia.  Admired for its ingenious complex of dams and water channels, Petra is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and another of the so-called new 7 Wonders of the World that awes visitors from around the globe

What struck me is the magnitude of the place, with over 800 different ‘monuments’.  It’s not just the Al Khazneh (treasury) building carved into the rock face, it’s dozens and dozens of doorways which are clearly visible, each leading to a room which housed generations of families in times long past.  While the Treasury is iconic from the first glimpse through the 1 km Siq (shaft) which was cleft through the otherwise impenetrable rock, these lesser famed homes are resolutely keeping their secrets from the adventurous few who venture from the path to explore beyond the beckoning thresholds.

Petra - An expansive marvel from ancient times

Most people make a day trip to Petra from Amman, Jordan – and often do a loop to include the Desert Road one way and the Dead Sea the other.  While this allows for the most amount of sightseeing, it can also become a tiring blur by the end of the day.  I hope to write more about the Dead Sea in the future.

Dad’s Recommendation:
Take a camel ride along the Roman Road on the valley floor, although wait until you turn around to go back since you’ll likely be hot and tired … and you’ll appreciate the ride much more than backtracking up the hill.  I’ve never taken the cart ride back up through the Siq, but have been somewhat envious of those who decided to take the easy way back.  Take ample water with you as it can get very hot.

Rather than do a day trip from Amman, consider staying a night or two in Aqaba on the coast of the Red Sea.  From this seaside town you can see Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt … and the snorkeling is a great way to cool off after a long hot day.  You can also stay at Petra itself, making it possible to visit the rose coloured city in the early morning and late afternoon when the colours reportedly are the most striking.

http://www.atlastours.net/jordan/petra.html is one of the best websites I’ve found with additional information and details.

11
Sep

Remembering the events of 9-11

What were you doing ten years ago when first hearing the news about an airplane hitting the World Trade Center?  It’s a question that we ask as adults, and provides anecdotal evidence that adrenaline highlights our senses to remember certain details from those extraordinary moments, which unfolded in something akin to a terrible dream.  I was driving down Preston Road (TX-289) in Frisco, TX on my way to work, driving my old Black Saab on a clear and sunny morning.  Arriving a few minutes later, I told disbelieving colleagues and our stunned our office watched on TV with unified concern until the first tower fell … nobody spoke as the shock and horror reached like ice into our marrow.  None of us could watch any more as we all felt compelled to get home to our families, and I clearly remember driving home on emptied roads under a blue sky devoid of the vapor trails which usually point the way to DFW. 

We were living in Denton, Texas with our two boys, and Colette was pregnant with Anna-Kate. I had been traveling a lot and had actually been scheduled to fly to California that week.  For some reason my plans changed at the last minute and hence I was on the road to work instead of at an airport – or on a plane as Colette was quick to point out.  Colette had the TV on that morning and immediately became alarmed when the first news reports came out about the first plane hitting the twin towers.  We were grateful that we were able to watch the grim news reports together as a family, while all humanity struggled to comprehend this tragic milestone in history.

If my comment thread is working correctly, you are welcome to comment with your story from that fateful day.

10
Sep

2011 Rugby World Cup Event, New Zealand

In some parts of the world, the 2011 Rugby World Cup is the most significant sporting event for a span of four years, whereas in other regions the event will pass without notice.  My readers in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England, and France will no doubt be aware that the tournament has just started (listed in likelihood of winning); although I suspect that people from the other 15 countries who qualified will also be watching with hopeful anticipation of a big upset.

To the purist, “rugby” conjures up a complex dance of shifting shadows that dynamically changes form in response to the situational whim of the opponent.  Strength, agility, speed, stamina, and strategy are all required by the 15 players who represent each team, with no time-outs or substitutions (other than when you’re done for the day).  The modern rugby game is really fast and furious, with pulsing action often sweeping from one end of the paddock to the other.

To those who are unaware, rugby is not a brutal game of fisticuffs and disorderly conduct.  “Football (soccer) is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, while rugby is a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen”, or so the witty quote says.  Despite the appearance, there is structure and intent behind each players actions, and where playing together as a “team” is essential for success.

The event runs from 9 Sept – 23 Oct, so you may have a difficult time finding flights and accommodation during that time.  However, try to watch a game while the best teams in the world are playing each other.  Please note that when rugby is added back to the Olympics, it will be the abbreviated Seven’s version of the game (7 players on each team, for 7 minutes in each half), quite different to the full-blown form of the game on display at the Rugby World Cup.

Dad’s Recommendation:
If you’ve never seen a game before then please watch at least one of the upcoming games – but it’s probably best if you have a look at the rules of the game first:  http://www.irblaws.com/EN/downloads  (Better still, have somebody over to explain it all.)

9
Sep

Paris, France – Not what you think

Eiffel Tower

Paris, France is known as a popular tourist destination for many reasons, and much has been written about the historical monuments, culture, arts, shopping and fashion. These days we can easily go online to find photos of these sites and from the comfort of our home we can read about the history of the various places of interest. Those who stopover here during their travels can easily round the bases by visiting the Eiffel Tower, Lourve, Arc de Triomphe, and Avenue des Champs-Élysées, adding in obligatory stops for a photo at Cathédrale Notre-Dame or beside the Seine. A longer weekend (or week) is needed to visit the numerous other top attractions which are pocketed around the city (that could be a focus series for the future).

Alleyway in Paris

However, I want to encourage you to visit the lesser visited residential areas on your next stay. Dine in a café where everyone speaks French and not the international languages represented by the tourists who fill the tables. Walk the parks where the locals take their children to play and dogs to walk. Enjoy the off-the-beaten-path feel of the local markets and hidden alleyways. Take some time to relax and soak up the atmosphere, rather than scurrying down the list of ‘must-do’ attractions, ticking each one off with the shutters of our latest camera. In our attempts to not miss anything important, I think we can sometimes overlook the obvious; that living in Paris is an experience that can’t be captured on film – and we’ll completely miss it if we’re following the herd from one tourist stop to the next.

Dad’s Recommendation:
Look for opportunities to meet and interact with the local residents (this applies to anywhere you ever visit). Express personal appreciation to the locals, and you’ll find that they are nice and friendly – contrary to popular belief. A local resident who confides in you about something worthwhile doing, is worth more than any number of travel books.

8
Sep

The Taj Mahal – One of the Seven Wonders of the World

While I have invoked comments about the “Taj Mahul” when looking at anything which seemed a little excessive, I never thought I would actually go and visit this oft-referenced standard for largesse. However, when visiting India, I would certainly recommend that you stop your travels or work for one day to visit, after-all, it is a UNESCO recognized heritage site and one of the so-called seven wonders of the world.

The Taj Mahal, as seen from the main entry gate

Some of you may know that I typically don’t like to do “touristy” things, instead looking for the local adventures which are usually much more fun and a lot less crowded.  Making the journey to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal is definitely a “touristy” thing, but I was surprised to find that it’s also a local adventure – with many people paying the nominal fee to enter the surreal world within the ancient gates.  While any tourist is an attractive target for anybody hawking their wares, especially outside an attraction like this, it’s best to firmly say “No” when running the short gauntlet from the ticketing building to the secured entrance.  I was free to move around unhindered once inside the gates, other than to wait for people to move outside the frame of a desired photo.

I never realized that this fabulous structure was “simply” a mausoleum built by Shah Jahan as a token of love for his third wife nicknamed ‘Mumtaz Mahal’ (meaning ‘Jewel of the Palace’), whom died during birth of their 14th child.  The story goes that on her deathbed, her last two wishes were for a monument of their love and asked her husband not to marry anyone else, the emperor promised immediately. After she died, Shah Jahan went into mourning for a year, and when he appeared again his hair had turned white and he had aged considerably.  Thereafter he constructed the Taj Mahal in her honour, a 20 year project for which no expense was spared, nor any detail too small.  Centered beneath the monument lies his beloved Mumtaz, and later he was laid to rest beside her.

Made in marble, the building is well known for its overall beauty.  However, the intricate carvings and inlaid designs are breathtaking in complexity and detail, on orders of magnitude that cannot be captured in a single photo nor limited to two dimensions.

Dad’s Recommendation:
If you are in India, make the time to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal.  If you want to visit the Agra fort, best do that before you see the Taj Muhul since you will be completely jaded afterwards.  For the uninitiated, it’s best to line up a guide ahead of time.  Also, take some time to sit in the shade and soak up the beauty of the place.  Consider buying some inlaid marble in town afterwards – as something to remind you of the day.