How easy is it to see the Northern Lights in Iceland?

How easy is it to see the Aurora Borealis, those fantastical green bolts of light that appear in the winter sky in Iceland? I found out on an after-Christmas, five-day trip to Reykjavik, the country’s capital.

Quite frankly, it’s not a sure thing. It wasn’t as simple as signing up for the mini-bus tour that departed the bright lights of Reykjavik at 8:30 pm to head for the dark countryside. In fact, the trip I scheduled for our party of four–my husband, daughter, granddaughter, and me–was postponed twice due to cloud coverage.

Our last night in Iceland, the “Magical Auroras” trip was finally on. Still, our bus driver/tour director warned us that several conditions had to occur for a sighting. He spouted off lots of science stuff that quite frankly, went over my head, but I felt he was preparing us for a no-show.

We drove for an hour or so, parked, got out of the bus, and stared at the sky. After twenty very cold minutes, we’d given up and reboarded when a young woman in our group announced that she’d caught something on her cell phone camera right before we’d returned to the bus. (The lights are often viewed better through a camera lens.) She showed her picture to the guide, who then hurried us back outside.

Lo and behold, streaks of green light were appearing. The sky didn’t look like the postcards, but we could now say we’d seen the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis. The pictures below were taken by my husband, who’s usually the trip photographer.

We didn’t go to Iceland in the dead of winter just to see the Northern Lights, though. This trip was a graduation present for my granddaughter, who’s a senior in high school. Christmas break suited her busy schedule. We also “owed” her mom a trip abroad, as we once sent her mom’s two sisters to Europe.

Daughter, me, and granddaughter, but I bet you’d figured that out

So what did we do when we weren’t chasing the elusive Aurora Borealis? Hanging out at a church, the Hallgrimskirkja (the Icelandic language is not easy!). This impressive Lutheran church is a focal point of Reykjavik, and we visited it several times as we wandered the city.

Our morning walking tour met here at a cold 17 degrees at 10 am, close to sunrise. Yes, right now, Iceland has only about five hours of daylight each day.

Sunrise at Hallgrimskirkja

New Year’s Eve, the church was a main location for fireworks, although we’d just arrived that morning and were so jet-lagged we didn’t make it to midnight when the real ruckus began.

Incidentally, that’s a statue of Leif Erikson in front of the exploding fireworks in the picture below. He’s the Nordic explorer thought to be the first European to discover North America, long before Christopher Columbus.

Early New Year’s Eve fireworks at Hallgrimskirkja

Our last day in Reykjavik, we went to the top of the church for a photo op of the city.

View from the top of Hallgrimskirkja

You can’t go to the southern part of Iceland and not do the Golden Circle tour. Our trip on snowy, icy roads would have had my Eastern North Carolina mother screaming. On second thought, this woman who hunkered down in the house with her milk and bread at the first snowflake wouldn’t have been on this tour in the first place.

But we ventured out with a seasoned Icelandic driver and saw the three geological highlights: the Gullfoss Waterfall, the Strokkur Geyser, and Pingvellir National Park.

The icy Gullfoss Waterfall…brrr
The Strokkur Geyser, which erupts every few minutes–just wait for it…
Standing in the rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates at the Pingvellir National Park

On our tour of the Golden Circle, we stopped at a sheep farm for a bathroom break…and to take pictures of these very smelly animals.

We stayed in Reykjavik all four nights of our trip and had time to wander the town. More than sixty percent of the population of Iceland lives in the metropolitan area of this city, but the streets we walked had a small-town feel. A small town with beautiful views and quirky architecture.

A view of snowy mountains down many streets
Icelanders love cats, even scary ones
Colorful houses stand out in the snow
Christmas decorations still up after New Years (yay!) and yes, there’s the church again

One of our favorite excursions was the trip to the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s number one tourist attraction. The Blue Lagoon is a large heated geothermal pool “rich with silica and soothing for your skin.” We slathered up with a complimentary mud mask and an adult beverage (except for the underage granddaughter who had a healthy smoothie of some sort). Relaxing!

All refreshed after drinks and mud masks

We’d been warned that food in Iceland is expensive, but we found an upscale food court and restaurants specializing in “street food,” such as the famous Icelandic hot dogs. “All the way” here came with the following: ketchup, raw onions, fried onions, pylsusinnep (a sweet brown mustard) and remoulade.

The best advice I read about trips involving a chance to see the Northern Lights is this: don’t go just for that reason or you may be disappointed. I heard a woman on one of our buses say she has friends who’d been to Iceland three times without seeing these elusive lights.

Instead, pick a destination you’d want to visit anyway, with other activities and sights. And maybe some special time with a granddaughter who’s suddenly all grown up.

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How to Celebrate a Birthday in the Christmas Season

This past week, I turned sixty-nine. 69! I can’t believe I’m this old. But rather than lament my loss of youth, I decided to count my blessings. One such blessing, my college-bound granddaughter, sat beside me while I wore the birthday sombrero at a local Mexican restaurant.

Another blessing is having a husband who asks me each year what I want to do for my birthday and then goes along with whatever I suggest, even when my idea isn’t his cup of tea. For example, he would never sign up himself for the Oakwood Christmas tour of homes in Raleigh that we did a few birthdays ago.

This year, I think he actually enjoyed the activity I chose. We went to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience in Raleigh, a virtual reality show I’d heard about for months but just hadn’t gotten around to booking.

The highlight of the exhibit is a light show with floor-to ceiling mapping and music featuring the artist’s paintings. It’s hard to capture the experience in a photo, but maybe you can get an idea from these depictions of “Almond Blossoms” and my favorite, “Starry Night.”

After this late afternoon visit to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience, we continued my birthday celebration with a trip to the Raleigh restaurant of my choice, the historic 42nd Street Oyster Bar in the Capital District. After my dinner of crab cakes, a decadent dessert, the peanut butter silk pie, served as my birthday cake. I wasn’t disappointed. Since my husband had clicked on “celebrating a special occasion” when he made the reservation online, the dessert was complimentary! Another blessing, right?

I used to think having a December birthday was a bit of a bummer. I felt my special day was lost in the month-long celebration of the season. But as I’ve become older, I realize the festive spirit that is part of the season only adds to my personal holiday. On my birthday morning this year, I made a batch of cherry cream cheese tarts (recipe below) for my upcoming book club Christmas party.

Before leaving for my Raleigh birthday fun, I fetched the day’s Amazon deliveries of Christmas packages off the porch.

And looking outside, I decided to add some red berries from my Nandina to the greenery arrangements on my back porch.

I’ve had quite a few years now of combining my birthday with Christmas preparations, and at sixty-nine, I now have the wisdom to count this as another blessing.

Merry Christmas, and to anyone born in December, Happy Birthday.

PS: In case you’re interested, here’s the recipe for the Cherry Cream Cheese Tarts (from a Cherry Oaks Garden Club of Greenville cookbook).

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Ways to Save on Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Who says a Thanksgiving turkey has to be a budget buster? Look at this 18-pound bad boy I got at the Rocky Mount Harris Teeter for only $5.27. I know the tag says Vic Price $17.97, but that was before the final discount. With an additional $40 grocery purchase, not hard to do when shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey was marked down to just 29 cents a pound.

I’m one of these rare souls who still subscribes to the newspaper, so when grocery ads came as the usual Wednesday insert last week, I studied them for the items I needed for the Thanksgiving dinner I’d be fixing for a dozen or so people. I immediately saw the ad for the Harris Teeter brand frozen turkey. It’s the type I thaw out and cook each year.

The missing left corner of the ad was a $10 off coupon I redeemed on my total purchase, another reason I did most of my Thanksgiving shopping at the Teeter.

Here’s my Thanksgiving menu, which I’m not allowed to vary. If you have holiday family traditions, you know what I mean. Adult children can turn on you when you try to mix things up. I’m still hearing about the year I decided we didn’t need deviled eggs. Big mistake. And with all the made-from-scratch stuff I serve, my grandchildren look for Sister Schubert’s yeast rolls first.

Based on this menu, I took inventory of what I already had in my pantry and what was missing. Fortunately, the Harris Teeter had many of the items I needed on sale. For example, my menu may say dressing, but I use Stove Top stuffing, which was $2.00 a box. Sweet potatoes were only 25 cents a pound, and Breyers vanilla ice cream was a buy one, get one free deal, which means if you buy only one, you get it at half price.

Heinz Homestyle turkey gravy, which I add to amend my not so great homemade, was $2.00 a jar, and the Ocean Spray whole berry cranberry sauce I wanted was on sale for $1.66 a can.

A day or two before Thanksgiving, I’ll drop by the Harris Teeter and pick up one of those already baked pumpkin pies for $5.99. Fortunately, a vendor sent my husband an early Christmas present this past week, a gourmet pecan pie, so I can check that item off my list.

Not everything I needed was on sale at Harris Teeter, though. Food Lion advertised Duke’s Mayonnaise for $3.49, and the red grapes for my cranberry salad were a better deal at $1.99 a pound.

I stopped by Aldi looking for cheaper egg prices, which I didn’t find. On the day I went, eggs were over $3.00 a dozen! What has happened to egg prices?

But I did pick up a 3-pound bag of Gala apples for $2.49. I’m set for my easy apple crisp recipe.

I haven’t finished shopping yet for my Thanksgiving meal. I’ll splurge at Smith’s in Dortches on a quart of already cooked collards. That’s also where I’ll buy the shoe peg corn my family likes.

But I’m pretty well set and don’t feel like it’s cost me a fortune. In fact, I saved almost as much as I spent, buying most of what I needed at Harris Teeter. My total bill was $83.00 (rounded up a few cents for the Food Bank, I think it was). My savings–get ready for this–$71.94. I felt like one of those women with the coupon notebooks, but the only coupon I used was the one for $10 off the entire bill.

And I have 428 fuel points, which if I understand the system correctly, means I can now save 40 cents a gallon at the Harris Teeter gas station.

The bill above isn’t totally Thanksgiving stuff. I bought toilet paper, paper towels, a half-gallon of milk, mouthwash, and a few other items. Also, in case you’re wondering why the receipt looks so bad, I wadded it up before thinking I’d need it for a blog post, and then I tried to iron it out. Don’t ever try to iron a grocery receipt. As you can see, it only makes matters worse.

I do have a daughter who’ll be bringing the butterbeans for Thanksgiving dinner. I have another daughter who’ll do well just to get to Rocky Mount from Charlotte with her husband, two hyperactive young boys, an even more hyperactive dog, and a foreign exchange student teacher. And I have a third daughter who’ll be visiting with her husband’s family but will get leftovers when I see her on Thanksgiving weekend.

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving with your loved ones, and I hope you find some deals at the grocery store!

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October in Eastern North Carolina

The shibumi shades had been replaced by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Those seeking the sun, by those looking to fish. It was October at the coast, Emerald Isle, North Carolina, to be exact.

Walking along this rutted beach was not easy. I missed the smooth sand of summer. And it was a little lonely. Other than the fishermen/women and the flocks of seagulls, I was pretty much by myself.

One place that was crowded, however, was the Crab Shack in Salter Path. “We’re closing for the season at two p.m. today,” a happy waitress told me when I went for Sunday lunch. Evidently, quite a few folks knew this late October Sunday was their last chance to eat the $12.99 fried shrimp or flounder plate until sometime in March. Glad I sneaked in at the last minute myself!

Back home in Rocky Mount, the signs of fall are all around me. This maple tree in my front yard will never be cut down by me for two reasons: grandchildren like to climb it and it has spectacular fall foliage. Every year, I can’t resist shuffling through these fallen leaves.

The cherry tomatoes are long gone in my little garden plot behind the house, but the zinnias have been happy to take over their cages. And yes, in the left corner of the picture, that’s an okra plant that’s still producing.

But for the most part, the summer flowers and vegetables have seen their better days. I’m gradually replacing my begonias with pansies, mums, and ornamental cabbages.

The squirrels love to gnaw these deer horns provided by my hunter husband. I like the red and purple pansies that still seem seasonal during Christmas.
I priced around and this pot of mums was a deal at Walmart.
I love the tinges of red in these yellow mums.
An ornamental cabbage is a good way to fill a big pot, although my grandparents would probably laugh about a cabbage you wouldn’t eat.

Finally, what would October be without Halloween? I got this door-decorating ghoul dirt cheap in the after-Halloween sale at Target one year. Each October, he (she? it?) enjoys a few days out of a downstairs closet where he (she? it?) normally resides.

As the garden flag says, “Happy Fall, y’all.”

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New England Fall Foliage and More

It’s a trip I’d talked about taking for several years: touring New England to see the fall foliage. I didn’t quite realize, though, that I’d be touring six states in nine days (October 6-14), and I’d do a lot more than just look at pretty leaves.

The trip started in Boston. From there, the tour bus circled New England, going to Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, back through Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and then back to Boston again. Whew! It was a whirlwind journey, and I have a hundred pictures. My husband probably has a hundred more (he took the one above).

So this post will be photo heavy. I’ve devised some categories in an attempt to organize for both you and me what I saw, ate, and learned.

What I Saw

Fall foliage, of course!

Boston Common at the beginning of the trip
Somewhere in New Hampshire, the state with the best colors at the time we went
Again in New Hampshire
Many fall foliage displays in lots of towns

It’s not fall foliage, but I can’t not post this picture. Remember the TV show Cheers? Here’s the bar in Boston which served as the opening shot in every episode.

What I Ate

Be sure to eat some lobster and chowder, I was advised. So I did.

A Maine lobster dinner
A lobster roll (bottom right) with steak fries and slaw. New England’s equivalent of our shrimp burger?

I had chowder three days in a row for lunch: Boston clam chowder, haddock chowder, and New England clam chowder. I may have overdone it a little. I don’t think I want clam chowder of any type for a while now.

New England clam chowder, my third type and final bowl for the trip

I also ate a Boston hot dog, which differed only in that beans were in the chili, and Maine blueberry pie for dessert with that lobster dinner pictured above. Maine is a big blueberry state and the pie was good, but not any better than the blueberry pie I enjoy here in eastern North Carolina.

What I Learned

From history to architecture to art, I picked up some new information in New England.

For example, I learned that Newport, Rhode Island, is home to the oldest synagogue in America as well as the site of the Catholic church where Jackie and John Kennedy were married in 1953.

Touro Synagogue, built in 1763
St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, where Jackie Bouvier and John Kennedy tied the knot

Newport is also home to the summer “cottages” of the rich and famous of the Gilded Age, a time beginning in the late 1800s before federal income taxes and ending with the stock market crash of 1929. The Vanderbilts, for example, had loads of money to lavish on their summer home, the Breakers.

Not my idea of a beach cottage but then I’m no Vanderbilt

Did you know whaling was once big business in New England? I toured an old whale ship in a place called Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, a re-created maritime village.

The Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining wooden whale ship in the world

I love this picture taken by my husband of a lighthouse in Maine.

Somewhere in Maine on our way to Acadia National Park

A visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, was a highlight of the trip. Rockwell’s often humorous illustrations of American life graced the covers of 323 Saturday Evening Posts.

One of my favorites

There’s so much more I could share about this trip: quaint covered bridges, the many historical sites of Boston, the rocky New England coastline, the small New England towns. But I’ll stop here with a final picture. A good trip is even more fun when shared with friends.

Once upon a time in a cafe by the water in a small New England town
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A Covid Update

Has anyone else gotten the newest Covid Bivalent Booster? And did you realize this is a full-dose shot, not the half dose of the previous boosters?

My husband and I hadn’t had a Covid booster since November of last year. We’d been waiting for this shot that is supposed to be more effective against the current strains of Covid. We’d been reading and hearing something like this information from a Moderna website:

A bivalent is recommended because it’s the only type of vaccine that can protect against the most dominant Omicron strains of COVID-19 in the US.
With the rise of more contagious variants, people need more protection, even with prior vaccination or immunity from COVID-19 infection.”

We’re also getting ready for a bus tour of New England, and one health requirement is “full vaccination against COVID-19” with a warning to “Check validity dates of your vaccination as booster shots may be required to keep your vaccination valid.”

To sum up: A. We were due for a booster, and B. We might need to show a recent shot on our vaccination card as a requirement for our trip.

Arriving to get the booster, we had two surprises: the fact that we were getting a full dose (as I mentioned above), and the form below.

Don’t read the whole thing unless you feel compelled to do so. Instead, zero in on the second bulleted item, the one that says, “Enter and report how you feel after first, second, additional, and booster doses.” And the sentence above the bulleted items that ends with “your participation in v-safe helps us monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for everyone.”

I know all these Covid shots have “emergency” approval, but I now feel I’m part of some experimental group.

I thought the drug companies had already vetted how people reacted to these shots. Is the vaccine a little more experimental than what I have been led to believe?

For the record, I felt lousy after my second shot, but okay after all the others, including this one. My husband, tough nut that he is, has been fine after all four of his shots. And to our knowledge, neither of us has had Covid.

We’re old folks, so if there proves to be some long-term negative effect(s) from these shots, I might’ve already clocked out anyway.

For better or worse, my Covid card is now completely full and up-to-date.

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Jordan: Bethany Beyond the Jordan, Mount Nebo, Wadi Mujib, Madaba, and Kerak.

The last day of touring in Jordan brought me to the most holy of places: the site on the Jordan River where many believe Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. “Where’s the water?” is of course the question today. Like many rivers, the Jordan River has changed its course over time.

This location is called Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Between the four pillars of stone on the slab of rock is thought to be the spot where Jesus was immersed.

St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church nearby displays what it says is the skull of the beheaded John the Baptist. There are several other locations in places such as Rome and Bulgaria making the same claim. Who knows?

Another wow religious experience was the visit to Mount Nebo, the site where Moses saw the Promised Land. A land, if you remember the scripture, that he never lived to enter. In fact, it is believed that Moses died here on Mount Nebo. There’s lots to see from this spot: the Dead Sea, Jericho, the Jordan River Valley, the mountains from Hebron to Nablus, the surrounding hills of Amman, and on very clear days, Bethlehem.

A sculpture of Moses’ staff, which turned into a snake when he threw it down in front of Pharoah, stands on Mount Nebo.

Much of Jordan is desert, what the Bible often calls the wilderness.

The waters of the Wadi Mujib are a welcome sight in this arid land. Fed by seven tributaries, the river empties into the Dead Sea.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a herd of goats on a highway before, certainly not in eastern North Carolina.

Caught shopping again (I’m buying a camel figurine), but I was trying to spend the rest of my Jordanian money before heading home. I’m pretty sure the Harris Teeter doesn’t accept dinars.

Madaba is a town famous for its mosaics, particularly something called the Madaba Map. This map is part of a larger mosaic floor that dates to the sixth century. The map shows part of the Middle East and focuses on Jerusalem.

How do I know these details? I paid attention when our Jordanian guide explained, using a picture of the map before we saw the actual mosaic one. (I also use Google to help me get my facts straight!)

Of course, I couldn’t spend a couple of days in Jordan without being led to visit some kind of ruin. The Crusader Castle in Kerak, which dates to 1142, allowed me to check that box (again).

The Kerak Crusader Castle was built high on a hill, the better to spot an enemy…and to throw infidels over the side. Yes, a lot of awful stuff was done by the Crusaders. They were not tolerant of those who didn’t share their beliefs.

I don’t look all that tired in this last photo of Al and me from the trip, but believe me, after a fourteen-day bus ride that required staying at six different hotels, I was exhausted. Israel and Wonders of Jordan, the official name of this journey, was a wonderful experience overall, but as usual when I travel, I was happy to go home.

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Is Petra Worth Visiting?

Petra, an ancient city carved from stone, is without a doubt Jordan’s number one tourist attraction. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World–and the setting for parts of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

But this world-famous archaeological site doesn’t need a movie connection to make it worth a visit. It’s been designated a World Heritage Site and chosen by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the 28 places to visit before you die. Lots of accolades for this ancient city of tombs, temples, and a theater carved from solid rock.

Petra inspires awe beginning at the Siq, the passageway that leads to the city. The Siq is a three-quarters mile-long road, sometimes narrow, with towering rose-colored rocks on either side.

Along the way, I was approached by a lad hustling “silver” bracelets. I say “hustling” because the price kept changing, going higher when he thought I was interested, and the bangles were of dubious quality (according to our tour guide, who’d warned us in advance).

“Why aren’t you in school?” I asked him at one point. He seemed confused by my question. I finally waved him away.

These adults performing for money in the Siq were more low-key.

The main draw of Petra is a huge structure called the Treasury. Despite its name, this monument has nothing to do with money. Rather, many believe it was carved out of the mountainside by the Nabataeans two thousand years ago to bury their dead.

So why is it called the Treasury? Bedouins, the nomadic Jordanian people who lived in caves nearby, once believed the urn on top of the front entrance held the treasure of a pharaoh.

I’m with the Bedouins. The Treasury is so magnificent, I, too, could believe it held loot. Keep in mind, this thing was chiseled from stone. Two thousand years ago.

The Petra “entrepreneurs” were aggressive on the day my tour group visited. We were constantly asked if we wanted a ride to travel further into the city. I’d already had my camel experience for the trip (https://patsypridgen.com/2022/06/30/jordan-jerash-and-wadi-rum/), and I wasn’t interesting in traveling by donkey, so I declined (over and over).

However, I’ve never been one to turn down a visit to a gift shop. My husband likes to take my picture on the sly to make fun of my love of souvenir shopping. That’s me on the left with another shopaholic from our tour group.

Jordanian shop owners expect customers to haggle over prices, not one of my better skills. Still, I really wanted a couple of shawls from this enterprise set up across from the Treasury.

I decided to try a two for the “retail” price of one deal. “No way, no way,” the shopkeeper exclaimed. “These are hand-made. Women sew at home.” We haggled back and forth, and he dropped the price slightly.

I looked at the machine-stitched embroidery that looked more like factory work to me. Then I thought about the last two years of no income for the Petra merchants due to Covid, a fact the shopkeeper had already brought up. I could afford to overlook his probable lack of truth in advertising, I thought.

I left with two pretty shawls for 40 dinars, about $26 each. A fair deal, I suppose. Here’s the one I kept for myself.

So much of Petra is still unrestored. There are bits and pieces of pottery and interesting rocks lying on the ground everywhere, there for the taking, if a tourist is so inclined.

I preferred to buy my artifact. I didn’t barter at all with the sad-looking child about the size of my five-year-old grandson. He was sitting on a blanket, holding out rocks for sale to passing tourists. I gave him an American dollar, and he handed me an interesting specimen with variegated patterns.

I keep this rock on my windowsill over my kitchen sink. It reminds me of how fortunate I am to live in America, a country where young children are in school rather than helping their families eke out a living from tourists.

Petra is like Jordan, magnificently beautiful but disturbing at times. But yes, this fascinating archaeological site, like the country itself, is definitely worth visiting.

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Jordan: Jerash and Wadi Rum

Hello from Wadi Rum, Jordan. I didn’t cross the Israeli border on camel, but along with my husband, I did ride one in a place called Wadi Rum in the Jordanian desert. I think my daughters were ready to send someone from the US Embassy after us when I emailed this picture, but you live only once, right?

Riding a camel was one of the highlights of my trip to Jordan, but there were some spectacular sights in this country as well. After crossing the Israeli border at Allenby Bridge, our group visited the ruins at Jerash.

Petra is supposed to be the tourist highlight in Jordan (more about that in my next post), but this place was a pretty impressive first stop. In fact, the structures at Jerash are considered the most well-preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy.

This imposing gateway, the Arch of Hadrian, is the entrance to what was once a bustling city of twenty thousand people.

Jerash flourished during the second half of the first century AD. As part of the Roman empire, the city was an important trade center. Destroyed by an earthquake in 749, ancient Jerash lay buried until the 1800’s when it was discovered. Excavations began in 1925.

The ruins are in such good condition due to Jordan’s dry climate. Below is the Nymphaeum Temple.

As in many Roman ruins, there are intricate mosaic floors.

Amidst the magnificent ruins of a once prosperous city, Jerash today hosts young boys hustling for money. This young singer knows the sweet spot in the ancient amphitheater where his voice projects for all to hear. When I asked our guide for a translation of the Arabic words, I was told the child was singing about how hard and miserable his life is.

I may be a sucker, but I gave him a couple of dollars for his performance.

Jerash was less than an hour from Jordan’s capital, Amman, where we spent our first night in the country. My husband took a picture of this beautiful view from our hotel window.

Day two in Jordan found us heading to Wadi Rum. In Arabic, wadi means valley, but Wadi Rum is more like a desert with spectacular rock formations. This particular natural sculpture is named the Seven Pillars of Wisdom (if you’re counting, there are two on the other side).

Our tour literature advertised a ride through the Wadi Rum desert in a four-by-four jeep. Instead, we found ourselves on the back of a pick-up truck. The substitution didn’t bother an old farm girl like me.

Of course, my first picture in this post shows my other form of transportation at Wadi Rum. My husband and I left the truck to make a short trek from one stop to another via camel. We made it with no injuries, thanks to advice from our guide.

This is the head of Lawrence of Arabia carved in stone as a memorial to Thomas Lawrence, who lived in a tent on this spot. Lawrence of Arabia is famous for his part in the Arab revolt against the Turks during the Ottoman Empire.

One of the highlights of the trip to Wadi Rum was having tea in a Bedouin tent. The Bedouins are a nomadic people whose name in Arabic means desert dwellers. There are well over a million people of Bedouin descent in Jordan. In the past, Bedouins lived in caves or tents.

I suspect this tent was not anyone’s home but rather set up for tourists. Still, the tea I was served was delicious. Notice the way Bedouin men relax. No Barcalounger needed for them. The fellow in the middle waving was our guide throughout Jordan.

Yes, I think we were given the romantic view of life as a Bedouin. Today many live, not in spacious caves or fancy tents, but in roughly constructed dwellings along the highway.

Maybe it was the camel ride, maybe the trip on the back of a pick-up truck through the Jordanian desert, maybe the tea in the Bedouin tent–after the Old City of Jerusalem, Wadi Rum was my second favorite day of the trip to Israel and Jordan.

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Israel: The Dead Sea, the Mount of Olives, the Judean Desert, and Masada

The last day spent in Israel found me floating effortlessly in the super-salty Dead Sea. Looks relaxing, doesn’t it? So why do I have a frown on my face?

See that mud on the bottom of my foot? I had to slip and slide through a shoreline of that gooey stuff to get to the buoyant waters. Once in, though, what I had read of floating in the Dead Sea proved true. A person can lie back (if you don’t mind getting your hair wet) and relax. The salinity of the Dead Sea is so high no swimming is needed to stay on top of the water.

In fact, the Dead Sea is saltier than any other body of water on earth. With a concentration of 34% salinity, it is 9.6 times saltier than the ocean. Due to the high salt content of the water, no living organism can survive in the sea, hence the name, the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea is also famous for being the Earth’s lowest place. At its deepest point, it is over 2,300 feet below sea level.

Not only is the salty water full of minerals that are supposed to be good for your body, but the mud is also considered curative. You are advised to slather yourself with that slippery stuff and let it dry. I tried, but can’t say I consider the Dead Sea the Fountain of Youth. A partial mud bath did bring a smile to my face, though.

I’ve started with the end of my last day in Israel before crossing the border to Jordan. Let me back up and start at the beginning.

A visit to the Mount of Olives, one of Jerusalem’s seven hills, was a morning highlight. Jesus often retreated here to pray. The Book of Acts describes the Mount of Olives as the place from which Jesus ascended to heaven.

The Mount of Olives also provides a panoramic view. In the photo below, Old Jerusalem with the easy-to-spot Golden Dome is within the walls. Outside the walled city is also interesting. Notice the rectangular tombstones in the foreground of the picture. These mark an exclusive Jewish cemetery that’s over 3,000 years old and holds approximately 150,000 graves. It is considered the largest and holiest Jewish cemetery in the world.

From Jerusalem, we drove through the Judean Desert. Looking out the bus window at the landscape, I thought of Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the wilderness.

“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. (Matthew 4:1-2)

Still Jesus denied Satan, who told him to turn the stones into bread.

After riding through the Judean Desert, our tour group arrived at Masada, a ruin of two fortified palaces that once served as a retreat for King Herod the Great. Masada is famous because of its military history. It was the site of the last stand of the Jews against the legions of Rome almost two thousand years ago at the end of the first Jewish-Roman War.

According to the first century historian Flavious Josephus, rather than surrender to the Romans, the Jews committed mass suicide. A television miniseries titled Masada, filmed in 1981 and starring Peter O’Toole, depicts this ancient story.

Today, you have to use your imagination to picture the once grand palaces and the elaborate fortifications.

Some of the original painting is still there. The colors remind me of those found in American Colonial homes. The black line is significant. What’s below it is original; what’s above it has been restored.

There were two ways to reach this mountaintop ruin: a long snaky path under the hot desert sun for walkers or a cable car ride from the visitor center that got you there in a matter of minutes. Guess which I chose?

My last day in Israel was a mixed bag of the religious experiences of the Mount of Olives and a drive through the Judean Desert, a historical tour of Masada, and the touristy adventure of floating in the Dead Sea.

The next day, I crossed the border to Jordan.

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