Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dead Sea Scrolls and More

This will be my last post about our recent travels but I couldn't miss the opportunity to share with you the things we saw and listened to on our last day and evening in Jordan. One of the most beautiful things we experienced was watching the sun set over Amman (formerly known as Philadelphia), while listening to the call to prayer. We tried to film and record the event but had technical difficulties so instead I am sharing a clip from YouTube that will give you an idea of the beautiful echoing sounds during the call to prayer.

On the last day of our trip, we set out to visit the site where Christ was baptized, where Elijah ascended into the heavens and to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. Our first stop was to visit the Dead Sea. It is just a 45 minute drive to get to the resort area and during parts of the drive you are on Israel's border. Of course while relaxing on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, you are looking at Israel across the sea. The day we were there is was a bit cool - in the low 60s - but the temperature didn't stop the mud bathers.
We went on to the baptism site. While the Jordan River divides Israel and Jordan, the actual baptism site where John the Baptist, baptized Christ has been confirmed by the Church to be in Jordan. The river has decreased in size because of industrialization. Below is a picture of the baptism site and the Jordan River.
We traveled on to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. The various scrolls were found hidden in a number of caves on the northern end of the Dead Sea. In the Museum of Archeology in Amman fragments of some of the paper scrolls along with copper scrolls are on display. These scrolls confirm the text of the Old Testament and are estimated to be written in 300 B.C.

In other posts I will share stories and even recipes highlighting the food of Lebanon. For now I am going to cap my adventures and try to get grounded back in the States.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mosaics - Those Incredible Tiny Pieces

I love mosaics and in the Middle East you can find some of the most incredible mosaics imaginable. A few years ago my son was stationed in Turkey so I spent two weeks visiting. One of the places we toured is a city called Gaziantep. To me the city is out of the way but if you want to see some incredible mosaics you will find them in the Gaziantep museum. This museum holds the world's second largest collection of mosaics from the Roman Empire. At the end of my visit my son gave me a mosaic replica of Gaziantep's most famous mosaic - the Gypsy Girl. It is one of my most treasured possessions.
Jordan also has some amazing mosaics. One of the most well-known can be found in Madaba, a city about 30 minutes outside of Amman. Located in the St. George's Church is a mosaic map of the Holy Land that dates back to the 5th/6th century. It is really hard for one to imagine that the floor of the church is completely covered with tiny hand-cut pieces of stone that are laid out to display such a work of art. Of course the walls of the church are covered with a multitude of mosaics displaying all sorts of religious scenes but nothing compares to this masterpiece.

The day we viewed the mosaics my husband and I decided to go to have drinks at a five-star hotel located near our hotel in Amman. You can only imagine how excited I was to open the door of the ladies room to discover a 6x11 mosaic rug in the powder room!! I hope you enjoy this bathroom art as much as I did.
Powder Room Mosaic

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rose Red City

Petra is in some ways very hard to describe. It is hard to share with you the size of rocks both in height and in expanse. It was an overwhelming feeling to walk through the long "crack" as walls of rock tower over visitors making their way to the ancient city. It is also hard to imagine that centuries ago a civilization was able to build this amazing work of architecture in the middle of the desert valley. They believe the civilization first began sometime between 1500-1200 B.C. Since this was a city located in the desert, having a water source was of great importance. As you walk through the "siq" (the narrow crack/walkway into the city nearly 1 mile long), you can see "gutters" that were carved into the rock to direct any rainfall into cisterns or a dam. This early ablility to be able to capture and store water made the city somewhat of an oasis though I always imagined an oasis to look different.
A nearly one mile walk in a sometimes narrow rock cavity

It is known that the Nabataeans buried their dead as many tombs have been excavated. There are also caves carved out in some places that appear to be "work rooms" where tools could be stored while elaborate stone cuttings transformed rock into incredible architecture. The view from the siq approaching the Treasury
Notice the size of the people in comparison to the structure

It typically takes 2 days minimum to see Petra. We visited the "back door" on the first day and took the front entrance on the second day. To be honest we would have enjoyed a third day. One of the interesting things about visiting Jordan is to see the bedouins-and there are plenty of bedouin families living all around Petra and Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses). I am sharing a few photos with you but if you haven't heard of Petra, you might enjoy doing some further reading to learn more about this spectacular wonder.

Friday, January 23, 2009

On to Jordan

After saying our goodbyes to the family we left Lebanon headed to Amman, Jordan. Now I have to admit that normally when planning a trip, even if it is a small adventure in the state of Georgia, I love to plan. I love the process of studying details of the area and the pleasure of discovering new places and experiences. Unfortunately, I never had time to study. I tried ordering a travel guide from Amazon but it was from an independent bookseller who never shipped the book (the very unpleasant vendor eventually refunded my money but I was left without a book). In the end I printed off some brochures from the Jordanian tourism office and packed them to study while traveling.

I had emailed a lovely 2-star hotel that arranged for pickup so we were taken to a wonderful neighborhood, in the embassy district. where we spent 3 nights. The hotel in U.S. dollars was only $80 a night which included a continental breakfast! I still can't believe the affordability of this very nice hotel.Our first day of outings took us to the site where Moses looked out over the Promised Land. It is called Mt. Nebo but you might also recognize the name as Pisgah. From the viewing platform you can look out and see Jericho, the Dead Sea, the Jordan River Valley, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Truly it was an incredible moment for me.

I am still having to pinch myself as I type. I just can't believe that I was really there. The site had a few tourist that day but as my husband and I stood on the viewing platform, we were the only people there. It was so vast and so quiet we were able to "be still and know that I am God."

Pope John Paul II visiting the Holy site in 2000.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Have You Ever Visited a Mosque?

A few years ago I spent two wonderful weeks in Turkey and had the opportunity to visit The Blue Mosque so looking inside the Rafik Hariri Mosque in Beirut was not my first step in a mosque. It was different though. In downtown Beirut a beautiful new mosque has been built in memory of the great Lebanese leader who is credited with the rebuilding of Lebanon after the civil war. He invested millions of his own money to help jump start numerous infrastructure projects and redevelopment of the downtown which had been devastated by decades of war. Sadly two years ago he and his entourage were killed by a car bomb. A beautiful mosque and a memorial has been built in the heart of the downtown.

When women enter a mosque they are asked to cover their heads, much like it used to be in the Catholic church only no hair should be showing. Everyone is asked to remove their shoes. I wanted to see inside the mosque so my husband and I went to visit one night while walking around in the downtown. Unfortunately my photos just don't illustrate the size of the main chandelier. The crystals in the fixtures were made in Spain, all the pieces were shipped to Lebanon, then the fixture was hand-made on site in the mosque. Artist from Morocco were brought in to hand-paint the beautiful Islamic art. Mosques are open to the visiting and touring public accept during prayer times but if you are there for prayer time or services, there are balconies for the women while the men worship and pray on the main level. Men and women do not worship together in a mosque.

There are a few more photos of common sights in Lebanon such as hubbly bubbly, men playing towla (backgammon) and delicious food stands. I hope you enjoy the photos. In my next few posts I will be sharing some of the amazing sights in Jordan.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where Were You on January 20, 2009?

We will not forget this very historic day as we pray for our new leadership and our new President of the United States. God bless America.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Day On, Not a Day Off

On Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday it is a tradition for our family to volunteer. By 7:30 I was working on a project at an inner-city school. This event reminded me of a volunteer opportunity I learned about while visiting Lebanon. Ashghalouna (meaning "our work") is the name of the program that helps provide a source of income to the war widows. After WWI a social welfare organization was established to help care for and educate orphans. In the 1930's the organization was named Dar Al Aytam Al Islamiya (meaning "the Islamic Orphanage"). Today the organization has expanded some of its social services, thanks in part to Mrs. Sana Towili (pictured) and services now include a training program as a means to give widows a source of income. Ashghalouna now houses an atelier where on any given day 25 or more women are working and learning needle arts of every sort - embroidery, knitting, crocheting, quilting, applique, etc. In addition there is a kitchen where women prepare traditional sweets, jams, jellies for sale. On Fridays, the women operate a lunch room that serves classic Beiruti dishes to the general public.

I have included a picture of the location where the workshop, restaurant and gift shop are located. The building is across the street from the British Consulate's home. It is actually the former home of the Consulate's driver (okay, I might be in the wrong profession given the size and beauty of the building). Also note in the photo that Sana is wearing a galabiya over her street dress. If you don't have a galabiya, I suggest you get one. These garments are robes made of thick wool and they might be considered similar to a house coat only you can wear them in and out of the house. The are extremely warm but are not confining or restricting in any way. I own two and when "the weather outside is frightful" I pull out the galabiya.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Skiing in the Morning and Swimming in the Afternoon

Many people I encounter are unfamiliar with Lebanon. Sometimes that is surprising given the number of references to the Cedars of Lebanon in the Bible, but then again, that is a big book. It the past I have been asked about the camels and most people are shocked when I respond that they don't have camels in Lebanon (well maybe there is one somewhere but they aren't common). Most think of the Middle East as all desert and while there is plenty of desert in the region, Lebanon is blessed to have beautiful scenery at every turn. Even more surprising to some is the fact that you can be skiing in the mountains in the morning and after a 45 minute drive you can be swimming in the Mediterranean. Yes, it's true. We were in the car driving along the corniche and there was a photo that I was unable to capture but it is embedded in my memory. It was the scene of an enormous palm tree with the snow-capped mountains behind it. I wanted so badly to be able to post that picture on my blog. Instead I will share a few pictures that give you a better idea of the landscapes and scenes that are most common in Lebanon.

Pictured are olive trees, a kumquat and a tree that is a member of the cedar family. We didn't drive in an area where I spotted pines. Their pine trees are the variety that produce pine nuts - yum!

In these pictures we were on a mountain top where a 5th century monastery is located. From this point we were looking down over the sea.

The original church at this particular monastery is a cave that was carved out of the side of the mountain which has also been pictured here.

More again tomorrow.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ruins, Soap & Sea - Sidon & Tyre

There were so many places we visited while in Lebanon and in Jordan. I will be continuing to share some of the places we toured and I hope you will enjoy reading about them. Many locations in Lebanon are part of Bible stories, such as Qana the city where Christ turned water into wine. Sidon and Tyre are two cities that are mentioned throughout the New Testament and these cities were one of our first stops. Sidon was a significant Phoenician city during the 4th century B.C. and regained significance durint the crusades. Pictured is a castle that was erected by the knights of St. John during the crusades.

In Sidon there is the old souk, which has been restored
and an old olive oil soap factory has been restored and turned into a museum. Parts of the old city have also been restored and it now serves as beautiful living quarters.

It is hard to dig in many places without uncovering ruins and relics such as this site that was discovered in Sidon during recent construction. Now the British Museum archeologists are assisting with excavations. Ruins at this site are determined to be dated around 3rd century B.C.
In Tyre I couldn't help but notice the Bird of Paradise in full bloom. These are exotica available only from the florist in our zone. This city was established as a port city in 2000 B.C. and has been ruled by great leaders such as Alexander the Great, and attacked by Nebuchadnezzar but at least while we were there . . . all was quiet. This is one of the cities in Lebanon where Roman ruins can easily be seen when driving around the city. I thought it was also interesting to note that Tyre discovered a rich purple dye that became highly sought and it is this color that eventually became used by and identified with royalty.

I hope you are enjoying what I have shared so far. Still lots more to come.

Friday, January 16, 2009

About Our Travels

It was hard to go back to work after being away for more than two weeks but so far the vacation memories are all still fresh and lingering in my mind. I wanted to share some photos and details about our trip. We arrived in Beirut the day after Christmas and the sun came out. Miraculously we had beautiful weather for our entire trip (I just love when that happens).

On our first full official day we had a family reunion lunch scheduled in a mountain village that looks down over Beirut and the Mediterranean. We drove narrow, curvy roads at an uphill climb to arrive at a traditional Lebanese restaurant where the family had gathered. We spent an afternoon feasting on mezza followed by shawarma and shistaouk with pita fresh from the oven. Of course this is followed by a round of sweets, fruits, then by Arabic coffee flavored with cardamon. You will notice that for some reason the men always congregate, as do the women. Funny but at every gathering this is noticed and someone will make a comment about the sexes being divided into two groups but no one seems to really care.

After a fine afternoon of feasting together we all gathered outside for a family photo.

Our family is a bit like a mini United Nations. Besides the Lebanese delegation, the family is composed of members from the U.K., U.S., France, Brazil and other Eastern European countries. Along with the many nationalities brings a representation of religions - from Islam to Catholicism to Judaism - we are an interesting group. There were lots more family visits and time spent together but we also had time to do plenty of sightseeing. It is the sightseeing that I will be sharing with you over the next few posts.

Our first stop was visiting Lebanon's National Shrine, Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa. Harissa is a Holy site and it has one of the most amazing views looking out over the Mediterranean coast. We were there on a Sunday afternoon and there were services, pilgrims and tourists from so many countries. It was really interesting to listen to the various languages of the various visitors. Lebanese typically speak a combination of Arabic, French and English. I mean it when I say they speak a combination. It is not uncommon to hear words from all three languages used within a single sentence.

One of the things I saw was the Christmas tree right in front of the Rafik Hariri Mosque in Downtown Beirut (more about the mosque in another post). In Lebanon one thing you will see regularly are mosques next to Christian churches. In the newly developed downtown you will see the mosque, Orthodox and Catholic church and the synagogue under renovations, all beside one another. This is one sight that makes me believe that peace will eventually be restored and maintained in Lebanon.

More places tomorrow. . . .

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Back Home

We had such an outstanding trip! I would like to say that it's great to be home, but I love traveling and every part of our trip was incredible so it makes coming home a bit harder. Over the next few postings I will be sharing photos and stories about our travels in Lebanon and Jordan. After a two week vacation, it going to be hard to go back to work but sharing stories about places we visited will help the memories linger.

Yesterday we spent a day putting away Christmas decorations, unpacking. washing and trying to get the house in order for the work week. Having visited a number of homes on our travels, I am inspired to do some de-cluttering and plan to start my spring cleaning a little earlier this year. The week before Christmas we had some book cases and a window seat added to our bedroom. Finally there will be one place in which to put my books. The bookcases are still being painted but once they're finished I'll share some photos. Since I was a small girl, I have always dreamed of spending a day sitting and reading in a window seat.

Now that I am home I am working hard to get grounded and back into the swing of things but I have to admit that I am already planning, daydreaming and thinking of another trip. Don't know when or where it will be but wherever it is - I can't wait.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Blessings and Happiness for the New Year

We are still traveling so internet time is limited but I would like to wish you the best that life has to offer in 2009.