Friday, 26 June 2009

Visiting Mt Sinai and St Catherine`s Monastry

Visiting Mt Sinai required a very early start. Actually a late start, and no sleep. We left our hotel about 11.30 pm and drove for a couple of hours. Paul had napped during the day and spent the journey chatting with other travellers, but me who had had a daytime coffee and was not able to nap tried my best to doze - a hard thing to do in the middle seat of a minivan.

We arrived at the base of Mt Sinai about 1am and started our climb. Thankfully it was a bit cooler than here on the coast, although the smell of the camels and the dust they stirred up as they went past you did make breathing difficult on occasions.

The walk up was stunning. The only lights were the firefly like lights of the torches as we walked so it meant that we had on of the best star views, ever.

After a couple of hours, and about as much break time as walking time we made it to the top. We rugged up and star gazed and dozed for an hour or so until the light started to creep over the hills. For the most part it was quiet although there was the occasion bedouin ringtone and singing pilgrims as the sound track as the sun made its way up through the dusty haze.

View from Mt Sinai

View from Mt Sinai

Paul and Flavio having breakfast

Amy at sunrise

A local Bedouin tat seller

There are two routes up the mountain. The first, the camel track , is the obvious choice for the upward climb, but feeling fit (or at least sleep deprived enough to think we were) we opted for the 3750 steps of the Steps of Repentance - named as such for the Monk who constructed the staircase as an act of repentance. It was not as hard on the knees, or the soul, as we had been led to believe, but there would be no way I would ever climb them in the upwards direction!

Paul about to start the Steps

In good Egyptian fashion, although most climbers were down the mountain by 8am, the Monastery was not to open until 9am. So there was more attempted dozing on the rocks and hiding from the already very hot sun.

St Catherine`s Monastery

The Burning Bush, or a cutting from it

I have to confess to being an Icon geek. It is quite a simple but colourful form of art and St Catherine`s Monastery has some of the best preserved 6th and 7th century icons (I guess the dry heat is good for them). So once we had made our way through the pilgrims, the church, past the brambles growing from a cutting of the burning bush I made a beeline for the treasure sanctuary to check out all the art and the bling.

As I was leaving I asked the monk at the door if I could take his photo, and was a bit put out when he said no but said he would take my picture. Figuring that this would give me the chance to ask again I said yes. But I didn~t really have the chance. Once he had taken my picture he asked if I would like to have another look at the icons and took me back inside. Only this time, in contravention of the no photo signs throughout he was happily snapping photos of the icons for me and showing the hidden images within some of the icons, only to be revealed by good explanation and a torch light.

An icon with a hidden picture and a ray of light

Micro mosaic

After some time Paul and I managed to excuse ourselves from his company to head back to our waiting bus. I asked again if I could take his picture, and while it seems he was happy to play with my camera and take photos of the icons and mosaics, it seems that he needed permission from the High Priest if I was to take his photo.

PS Thanks to Flavio for letting me use his laptop for a bit!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

On the coast in Egypt

It has been a while since we last sat down and gave an update so apologies if this is mixed up or repeats any emails you've had.

We had a good few days in Petra, Jordan, last week.  The red rock and canyons alone would have made it a spectacular site.  The fact that so many of the walls had been carved out for temples, houses and great monuments only makes the place even more impressive.

The desert of Wadi Rum was our next stop.  We had a good few hours touring the sanddunes and the rock formations in a 4x4, and a good couple of hours lunch in the middle of nowhere too when we blew a tyre and neither of the jeeps had a spare.  We stayed overnight in a Bedouin camp with Zedane who kindly pointed out the camps owned by three of his 28 siblings (seems that the cousins owned the rest).  Dinner remined me of a hangi as it was cooked in a hole in the sand. 

Getting into Egypt involved a snall anount of chaos.  If we thought thtta the Greek ferry timetable ws relaxed, then the ferry from Aqaba, Jordan to Nuwebia, Egypt has certainly refined that art.  Still, at least the boat had AC and we could spend the delay playing cards and chatting with fellow travellers.

We stayed a couple of days at the Soft Beach Camp in Nuwebia, and I could have happily lived there forever... only we could not easily do Mt Sinai or dive, so we extracted ourselves from the paln frondlounging areas abd tge turtle filled water and headed to a busier part of the coast.

We are not in the chilled town of Dahab, Egypt, having as we had promised ourselves all along, a few days in the coast before we head inland for the next couple of months.As we are not moving for about a week (a personal best for our travels, ever) we've taken the chance to learn to dive.  I took a few days to get used to the crazy fact that I was in fact breathing underwater, but Paul took to it literalylike a fish to water.  The marne life here is quite amazing, so  am pleased that we have taken this oppertunity.  Hopeflly we will have the chance to do some more diving further through Africa. 

Tonight we are heading up Mt Sinai, where Moses is said to have recived the 10 Commandments, to watch the sunrise before visiting St Katherine's Monastry below. Apparently St Katherine's has some of the best preserved Byzantine icons, which I am looking forward to seeing (how can a girl not like paintings of red and gold).

Hope you are all safe and well, whereever you are.

Amy & Paul

Around (part of) the world in 80 days

Here is a little on our adventure so far, in numbers:

80 days on the road
14 countries
8 languages
5 scripts / alphabets
7 ferry rides (or 9 if you are Amy)
0 ferries that have left on time
11 currencies
22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
1 hotel walked out of on account of poor hygiene
1 prang in a taxi
267 near prangs in taxis / buses
4 days (or part days) of rain
Countless  cups of tea

Friday, 12 June 2009

The Dead Sea

Floating was v cool. A face and eyes full of v salty water, less so!



Photos from Lebanon

The army in Beirut

Paul in the flash bit of Beirut (mostly closed...)

Some very busy customs officers

My morning coffee... check out the army overseeing in the background


A few photos from Syria

Locals in the ruins of the Dead Cities

Amy learning to hand shear a sheep in the Dead Cities

Amy at St Simion Monastry

Paul hanging out with the locals at the Aleppo citadel - all the locals wanted out photo that day!

Palmyra at the end of the day


Crac des Chevaliers

Us at Crac des Chevaliers

Enjoying Syrian pastries... Gustav, Paul and the baker

Monday, 8 June 2009

A brief hello from the Middle East

Greetings from Baalbek, Lebanon where we are hanging out post election.  You'll have to forgive this being a quick one as we have lost power twice in the past hour and my nice long updates have been lost.
We have really enjoyed our time here.  Syria has been full of surprises.  There have been great ruins, pink coloured deserts, exciting souqs, free falafel, friendly locals and beer.
Lebanon has been a countershock.  Aside from Beirut being occupied by the army before the election it was easy to see that the city had a real buzz to it - lots of nice shops, restaurants, sadly all closed with the weekend / elections on.  We are now in Baalbek (ruins also closed today) to see the great Roman temples before heading back to Damascus and then on to Jordan. 
Hope you are all safe and well where you are.
Amy & Paul