Jordan #50 – part 2

On our 3rd morning in Jordan, we woke up to a panoramic view of the red stone mountains of Petra and spent an hour gazing at the amazing site. We then drove 1.5 hours south to the Wadi Rum desert or “the valley of the moon”. It’s really more like Mars as was portrayed in the Martian. Wadi Rum was the unexpected highlight of our trip to Jordan. We had high hopes but the experience that entire day took us to a different planet.

We first stopped at the visitor center where we booked a 4 hour 4×4 tour through the desert. Our driver Najeh met us as we finished another average local meal at the village and drove us into the desert. The experience reminded us of our Tanzanian safari. As we drove through the amazing red soft sand and gazed at the amazing Martian mountains, Anjali and I were in awe of the magnitude and the beauty. The weather was fantastic as well since October is a one of the best times to visit. The tour took us to a sand dune we climbed, the little bridge and Um fourth bridge, Lawrence’s house and spring and the khazala canyon. We ended the tour a bit early, so we decided to experience the Bedouin lifestyle and took off on a camel ride in the middle of the desert!

Around 430pm exhausted we drove in search of our camp – The Space Village luxury camp. We were originally planning to stay at the Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp but we found out a week ago that they couldn’t honor our booking since their email, website and Facebook page were hacked 5 months ago! We had trouble finding the Space Village camp and had a scare when our car got stuck in the sand and I had to push it out while Anjali guided us back to the road – thank god we didn’t have the kids with us. Once we got to the camp, it was fantastic and pure luxury glamping. It’s just 6 months old, spanking new with 30 tents with very nice hospitality. Right outside the tents is a large sand dune which is also one of the most popular spots to view the sunset. We climbed up the dune and sat while watching one of the most beautiful sunsets we’d seen. We then ran down the large sand dune to the camp where Arabic tea and shisha (or hubbly bubbly awaited us). The dinner was very local and fantastic with a rice and chicken stew cooked underground for hours. We had a great nights sleep on the very comfortable beds only disturbed by Anjali waking me up at 4am to see a sky full of stars, like we had never seen before. You really couldn’t ask for more in a days experience!

Next morning we departed Wadi Rum after a nice breakfast and drove for 4 straight hours to the Dead Sea. We got stopped a second time on the trip for a random ID check, but besides that the drive was seamless and breathtakingly beautiful just before and at the Dead Sea. Dead Sea is really a salt lake that is 400m below sea level, the lowest point on Earth. We arrived at the Marriott right at lunch time and devoured on some Italian food and wine. The Marriott is located right on the Dead Sea with a private beach and 5 pools. After relaxing for a bit we went down to the private beach for a dip in the Dead Sea. The water is 10 times saltier than a sea and it’s super easy to float almost like if you were on the moon. The salt can burn your eyes and nose though. We also put some famous Dead Sea mud on our bodies. The pool and spa was inviting after and we watched the sunset from there. After some shisha we spent our last night having a nice dinner and watching belly dancing. We spent our last morning floating in the Dead Sea and chilling in the pool before taking the red eye to Mumbai to see the kids and family. Jordan was amazing! Thank you to the grandparents again and looking forward to seeing the kids.

Jordan #50 – part 1

After a couple of weeks break in India that included a trip to Delhi, Anjali and I set off on our much anticipated trip to Jordan without the kids. It was our longest time away from the kids (last December we escaped to Bangkok for a couple of nights). So thankful to our parents for taking care of Ayaan and Ariana for 5 nights! Jordan is the 50th country that I have visited which is a personal milestone I’ve been awaiting. I’m enamoured with Middle Eastern Arabic countries with the culture, architecture, food and shisha having been to a few including Egypt, Zanzibar, Turkey, Dubai etc. The fact that Jordan is my 50th is just ideal.

After a movie-filled flight through Muscat, we landed in Amman around midnight. Immigration was seamless and since we traveled without kids we had no checked bags! 45 mins after landing we arrived at the W Amman, a swanking new property. Anjali wasn’t too well that night and we both were exhausted so we passed out in our amazing suite overlooking the city of Amman. We had 1 day in Amman and decided to head out to Jerash to spend the late morning after a sumptuous breakfast. Jerash is about 45 mins away from Amman and is home to the magnificent Roman site, only second to what you find in Rome itself. After a few failed uber/taxi attempts we negotiated a taxi ride to Jerash and back for 40 JOD. Anjali was quite frustrated with all the lame attempts by taxi drivers to fleece you, but we were too seasoned to get caught by them. Jerash was incredible from the moment we entered through the grand gates and wasn’t too crowded. Traditionally Roman architecture with rows of columns, the Temple of Artemis and amazing views of the surrounding hilly town. We spent a couple of hours in Jerash, but my favorite part was the 35 min live Gladiator show with a demonstration of the Roman army, gladiators fighting and chariot racing. It was heavily attended by Americans and took me right back to one of my favorite movies of all time. After Jerash, we got dropped off at Jabbal Amman where we ate at some of the most famous local joints including Hashem with its mouth-watering Hummus and crisp Falafel followed by Habibah that served a local desert that was basically a baklava with cheese! We ended our sightseeing with a quick trip to the Citadel that had awe-inspiring views of the crowded single-stone hills of houses in Amman. We decided to spend the rest of the evening at the W dipping in the pool and hot tub, smoking shisha at the terrace watching the sunset over Amman, and drinking cocktails at the W bar – things we couldn’t do with the kids. Both of us were quite amused by how much we could achieve in a travel day without kids.

Our second morning kicked off with another great breakfast, followed by a pickup of our rental car at a nearby SixT. A lot of friends recommended that we take a driver, but we preferred driving on our own to get some privacy and explore at our own pace. Also I love driving and after driving in more than 20 countries (and especially Western Ireland) am fairly comfortable. We drove for 3 hours through the desert landscape to the highlight, Petra. One thing to note is that the toilets in Jordan are disgusting (or ‘gustin as Ayaan says it). After our first day, we were wiser and carried our own toilet paper and soap, something that was non-existent is most toilets. We reached the historical site of Petra and found parking very easily right by the entrance. We had a quick average meal, before entering the grand site. Petra is my 6th wonder of the world and Anjali’s 5th, Machu Pichu remains elusive. We bought a 2 day pass for 55 JOD each fearing we may not be able to cover enough in the 5 hours we had that afternoon (It was more than sufficient to see everything we wanted to see in Petra). Petra or the red rose city is absolutely breathtaking and worth the travel to get here. It’s the most incredible wonder civilized in 1st century BC and carved out entirely from the natural, unique red Stone Mountain. As we walked through the 1.2 km Siq, we were reminded of Zion and Bryce. At the other end of the narrow gorge, is the absolutely stunning and famous Treasury – a huge building carved out. We explored the Urn tomb and the theatre, before climbing up to the Monastery – a steep climb but very worth it to get away from the crowds and get some spectacular views of the valley. Petra has many hawkers and is quite crowded as you would expect, but once it cleared out around 430pm (it closes as 6pm), is it charming. Our favorite was the 360 views from the temples of the Winged Lion and Byzantine Church. What was incredible about Petra is that we were more in love with it as we walked back out, which is usually the opposite at the end of 5 hours when you are jaded and tired. We were exhausted after hiking for 5 hours but luckily the weather is amazing in October. We retreated to our home for the night at the Marriott in Petra – an amazing location overlooking Petra and the sunset over it. We had a quick dinner and ended the night relaxing in the local Bedouin tent, smoking shisha, listening to live Bedouin music and sipping the local tea while staring at the stars. Petra was all that and more. 3 more days of exploring Jordan with #nokids …

Lyon: An unexpected experience

After bidding farewell to Dayton (the dog) in Rauzan, we left on our longest drive of the trip – a five hour drive to Lyon. We always planned Lyon as a stopover rather than a destination, but with the double whammy weekend of Bastille Day and the World Cup Final with France playing we knew it’ll be fun. We checked into our Airbnb and were quite disappointed since it was small, the washer didn’t work and most importantly it wasn’t safe for the kids with a spiral staircase and a loft. Since it was a holiday weekend we decided to drive around Lyon which worked out great since parking was free everywhere. That evening we walked along the Rhone river, across the walking bridge, and spent some time in the slides and water park along the river. Lyon was beautiful with two rivers, several bridges and a mix of historic and modern architecture. Also more chill than Paris with friendlier people more tolerant of children which was a great change after the Bordeaux wine region. Our favorite part of the evening was sitting on one of the boat rooftops overlooking the city while drinking some cider. One month into our trip we were craving some non-European food and we came across an amazing Sichuan restaurant called Bon Voyage, that compared well with our favorite Z&Y in SF. We slept that night with the sounds of fireworks celebrating Bastille day.

Next morning we decided to check out a day early out of our Airbnb and move into the Marriott close by. Anjali has exceptional benefits at Marriott and SPG that have significantly helped with the rates, upgrades and free breakfast! Our second day in Lyon was incredible. We started off by grabbing breakfast at a local coffee shop and their cinnamon brioche, soft boiled eggs and flat white was just what you would expect in Lyon. We then drove to the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere, a Sacre Coure like cathedral on top of the hill overlooking Lyon and it’s two rivers. We went for the view but the cathedral was a piece of art with paintings and sculptures to match the best of what we’ve seen – by far the best cathedral so far on our trip.

Next we went to the local park – Parc de la Tete d’Or to see the botanical gardens. This park was a complete surprise. In addition to the indoor and outdoor sprawling botanical gardens, it had some amazing kids activities. It was a free zoo with giraffes, zebras, bears, crocodiles, flamingos and other animals enclosed right the in the middle of the park – something I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world. In addition they had a children’s area where Ayaan enjoyed earning his first reward by “fishing” for 9 ducks. Ayaan is so caring that he gave one of his three airplanes he won to Ariana. Ayaan also enjoyed sitting on a baby “horse carriage” with me pulling the horse carriage for 10 mins through the track and tunnels (tiring!). Ariana enjoyed going to the carousel all by herself for the first time! She’s a little bold monsta (as she says).

I was particularly excited about the evening – it was the world cup soccer final and France was playing Croatia – and we were in Lyon, what luck! We drove from the Marriott and found parking very close to the main square where 20,000 fans were gathered to watch the game. It starts pouring in Lyon around 430pm everyday so by the time we walked around the square we were completely drenched. But the atmosphere was amazing. We got lucky to get into a bar with screens everywhere and French fans in full spirit. Ayaan slept through the game but Ariana was participating in the cheering and dancing as France beat Croatia 4-2 to win the World Cup. It was an incredible scene on the streets and we were so fortunate to have witnessed it! On our drive back to the hotel we accidentally joined the motorcade of cars with fans screaming, sitting on top of cars and honking loudly. Anjali of course joined the action by sitting on the window. Overall Lyon was a special experience and we are sure to be back!