The End of the Journey...Party's Over

Middle East
August 6th 2009
Published: August 6th 2009
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The good news is that we are back from the our trip to Middle East. The bad news is that we are back from our trip to the Middle East. We had a long, but safe trip back to the USA. As usual, the guys were ready to return. I was trying to figure out how I could stay a few more weeks.

We survived the 12 hour flight back to JFK despite the turbulance---not the the aircraft, the company. We had never been on a flight with so many kids and large families. There were probably more children than adults and the average Middle Eastern family on the flight had 4 to 5 children. When the flight attendants tried to herd everyone to their seats, complete chaos broke out. Some guy started yelling about not being able to find his seat--after he seated his nine children, mother-in-law and two women in his party. (His stack of boarding tickets looked like a deck of cards.) The flight attendants could not calm him and finally the captain was able to minimize the drama. The other 400 passengers were getting testy because he was delaying take-off and I think were secretly hoping
Caravan Antiques 2nd Annual Trunk SaleCaravan Antiques 2nd Annual Trunk SaleCaravan Antiques 2nd Annual Trunk Sale

Mom's sale was advertised in the Old Marketplace in Damascus, Syria? Who knew he had created such a buzz??
he was going to kicked off by the captain. We solved the problem by taking sleep aids!

Going through customs and immigration was interesting. The customs officer immediately noticed that we had been in Syria and asked us about our choice to go there even though the State Department specifically tells Americans not to go to Syria. We just told him that we wanted to see the country and he accepted that, but he seemed even more curious about how Americans were received. He then grumbled something about not taking relaxing vacations and being too adventurous before he processed our paperwork.

While the customs/immigration officer was working on our paperwork, I commented to Kyle that I had just noticed that the last three flights to come into JFK at the same time were Tel Aviv, Amman and Cairo. The officer interjected that he could not believe the flight schedule and that they repeatedly ask the airlines not to do that because it is too dangerous to have Palestinians and Israelis in the lines at the same time. He said they get into physical fights and the officers have to break up the fights. Then, he informed us that they hate each other. (No, really???)

We had a lot of time at the airport due to a long lay-over and multiple flight delays, so we spent some time reflecting in our journey. It is so strange that it has been a little over three weeks since we left...feels like months and months have passed. The first days of our trip are hard to recall!

We each weighed in on our highlights, surprises, disappointments and most importantly favorite eats!

Dad's highlights of the trip:

Drinking coffee in Damascus, Syria at his favorite coffee shop near the Old Marketplace and Salidine's grave.

Looking into the ancient cities of Israel from the other side (across the borders in Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon).

Kyle's highlights of the trip:

SCUBA diving and being shocked by the well-preserved coral in the Red Sea. He always knew he would enjoy seeing sea life, but he was pleasantly surprised by his interest in the coral.

Using his French-speaking skills to get a custom-made suit and realizing that he remembers French better than he thought. He really enjoyed speaking French to get directions, reserve
View from Mt Nebo View from Mt Nebo View from Mt Nebo

Near the Dead Sea in Jordan, one can see these five Israeli/Palestinian cities with the naked eye. We had even more fun looking in with the binocculars. We all had to attend Sunday School, but we were not all great students. We knew Moses had died and was buried here on Mt Nebo and that Moses died while looking into the Promised Land, but we did not why he wasn't allowed back. We asked a minister in the airport and she said it had to do with him striking a rock with his staff to get water after he was specifically told not to! That will do it!
hotels and buy dinner. (I wonder if our next trip will be to a country that was colonized by the French?)

He also enjoyed witnessing the Shia Muslim pilgrims during a prayer ritual at the Ommazad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. They were very demonstrative and emotional. They cried (even grown men), chanted, slapped themselves and hit their chests. They dressed in all black and were very covered...some of the older women had tattoos on their face. Our driver, who is Muslim, informed us that the Shia's are not considered "real" Muslims. We chose not to debate religion in the Middle East!

Valeri's highlights of the trip:

Do I even need to say it...The camel trek in Wadi Rum!!! It was a dream come true and my travel companions were very good sports even though their bottoms were very sore! Kyle even suggested we plan another trek in another country (I noticed dad did not say anthing!)

My other highlight was probably floating in the Dead Sea. I know it was the third time we had been there and the experience is always the same, but it is just so wonderful. I'd go back again!
Getting Ready for Football SeasonGetting Ready for Football SeasonGetting Ready for Football Season

We were really goofing around here in hopes that Kyle could get a photo of the military presence near the border with Israel and Jordan, but no such luck!

I could also get used to seeing camels alongside the road with herders or running free in the desert. Even after we had driven past hundreds of camels, I never got tired of the scene.

Besides the camel trek, my goal for the trip was to just soak up the culture. I was happy to see sites and tour important monuments, but just being in the countryside, eating at local establishments and hanging out was what I was after. Luckily, I was not at all disappointed!

Dad's favorite meal and dessert:

Dad said his favorite meal was in Wadi Rum when we ate goat and rice with the Bedouin family. He said the experience was like no other and he will always remember it. His second favorite meal was in Ehden, Lebanon at a little cafe run by a couple of Lebanese Canadians. Their cafe was called "Yummy's Pizza" and that was an understatement. It is the best pizza we have ever eaten!

His favorite dessert was the pistachio encrusted vanilla ice cream and chocolate ice cream when had in the Old Marketplace in Damascus, Syria.

Kyle's favorite meal and
Shop till we dropped...Shop till we dropped...Shop till we dropped...

We never got tired of the energy of shopping and people watching at the markets. This photo is from Egypt at about 10:30pm when the fun is just getting started!

Kyle decided that his favorite meal was our last supper before boarding the plane ride home. We ate at one of Amman's (Jordan) best falafel houses. We had falafel, hommos, mint salad and beans that you eat with pita bread. (It is making me hungry just typing this!)

It is no surprise that his favorite dessert were the nutella and banana crepes. The best ones being on Bliss Street in Beirut! (How could not have known...the chocolate all over his face was a dead give-away!)

Valeri's favorite meal and dessert:

My favorite meal was on a street corner in Damascus where we ate panini-style falafel sandwiches with tomatoes, lemon slices and pickled things. Doesn't sound fantastic, but they were. The meal entertainment was also a bonus...Kyle decided that a driver on the street, who was caught in a traffic jam, was honking his horn too much. So, Kyle walked over to the guy's car and yelled through the window that he needed to stop honking. Dad looked at me and said, "Did Kyle just...?" I interrupted with a strong, "Yes!" And dad responded, dripping in sarcasm, with "Good plan." Maybe that
I could get used to this...I could get used to this...I could get used to this...

Everyone always asks what dad and I do while Kyle is SCUBA diving...Let me tell you it is no chore to kill time where there is good SCUBA diving. Where there is good diving, there is usually a nice beach and clear water. This beach in the Red Sea offered warm water, large variety of fish and a view of Saudi Arabia. Easy living!
is why we have lasted 10 years as a happily married couple...Kyle gives me priceless stories that will entertain me even when I am sitting in a retirement many years from now!

I struggled in identifying my favorite dessert, but settled on the strawberry Arabic ice cream and the mango Arabic ice cream. It is like gelato and is so refreshing when it is 113 degrees!

Whenever you leave the comforts of home, even for the great pleasure of a vacation, there is something that you miss most. It seems to be different for each of us and it seems to change on each trip.

Dad missed people talking in a quiet tone of voice. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but the Arabic language (and maybe the accompanying culture) sounds loud and gruff. Even when people say please pass the salt, it sounds like you are in trouble or something is urgent. It can be entertaining, but it can also remind you of how quiet your Midwestern life really is!

Kyle, as we all know, missed good quality beef. This is nothing new for Kyle. He tried beef in a
Can you find the Ray swimming here?Can you find the Ray swimming here?Can you find the Ray swimming here?

Dad spotted this one and we followed him for awhile with Kyle yelling "Take a picture, take a picture!" Not the easiest thing to photograph.
few places, even McDonald's, but claimed it always had a funny taste to it. I pretty much avoided beef because I knew it could never match-up to Shamrock Farms Certified Angus, but Kyle is a sucker sometimes! He did not finish a cheeseburger when we went to McD's in Beirut and I was still hungry (go figure!), so I took a bite. When no one was looking, I spit it into a napkin. Yuck! The only time I had ever tasted beef that bad was in Canada!

Kyle also said he really missed Western-style order. He liked having a process, lines, direct communication and orderly conduct. I guess you know how chaotic it have gotten at times if the "nutty prefessor" personality of the group missed order!

While Kyle was SCUBA diving, we spent some time at resort hotels on the Red Sea and they were occupied mostly by Euros. So, Kyle sarcastically noted that he also missed people chewing with their mouths closed!

It will sound sappy, but I missed my pets, Grandma's cooking and mom. (Yes, I am hoping that this sentence will get me steak strips, gravy and mashed potatoes this weekend and
Kyle's first haircut in Egypt!Kyle's first haircut in Egypt!Kyle's first haircut in Egypt!

If you are going to walk around in custom-made suits from Damascus, your hair must look good too! Kyle got his hair cut for around $20 including tip.
I have no shame about it!)

The trip was even better than we expected. We felt welcomed and safe. We saw wonderful sites, ate fantastic (but too much) food and experienced more than we had hoped. No one died and all of our luggage made it home with us...what more could we want? While we would not change hardly anything about trip, we brainstormed our biggest disappointments and surprises from the trip. We figure even the exhausting or frustrating days make great stories once you have eaten a good meal and slept a few hours!

There was a unanimous consensus that taking the ferry, or"fast boat" ride from Aqaba, Jordan to Nuweiba, Egypt was the worst decision we had ever made. For just a brief moment, it makes you question your decision to leave your comfortable life in the states...actually it made us question our decision to leave our comfortable hotel in Jordan! We fixed the problem by avoiding it all together on the way back to Jordan. We made a decision to fly from Egypt--something we were hoping to avoid. We flew from Sharm el Sheik to Cairo and then from Cairo to Amman, Jordan.
Dad's RoommateDad's RoommateDad's Roommate

For some reason the hotel management took a liking to dad at the Red Sea. Each morning he found his towels in the shape of a different animal! They even left cake and fruit in his room one night for no particular reason!
The only way to catch the flight was to go first class...a new one for dad and I, but something we could really get used! When we flew into Cairo, we flew right over the pyramids--a highlight moment for me. Maybe that was the silver lining to a less-than-ideal situation!

Dad's biggest disappointment was Beirut. To clarify, NOT Lebanon, just the city of Beirut. Kyle disagrees, but dad said that it "sucks."

Kyle was most disappointed in the Lebanese feed not seeming much different from other Mediterrean food. More importantly, he was disappointed that he could not find any good dress ties because in the countries we visited the men typically don't wear ties. They prefer to wear dress shirts with suits and leave the top button undone. My dad observed that Kyle's clothes addiction may be more expensive than a drug habit...finally someone else notices what I am dealing with here!

My biggest letdown came from a few of our blog readers...or maybe I am disappointed that we are not as funny as we think we are! When we were in the Old Marketplace in Damascus, Syria--a historical point of commerce being the last stop on the Silk Road--we posted flyers for mom's upcoming trunk sale as a joke. We put the picture in our blog on shopping waiting for a response--at least from mom--an no one noticed it! We thought we were so funny and clever...guess not!

The biggest surprise of the trip for me was not buying a camel saddle. I had been saving for almost two years to buy a saddle and ship it home. Camel saddles were first made in Jordan, so I thought it would be memorable, historical and useful to get a saddle. But after seeing the construction and realizing that my boys are just so much healthier (not fatter!) than the desert camels, it seemed like a bad idea. It was an easy decision, but a big surprise.

Like I mentioned, we are home and trying to find our way through the fog of jetlag, so please be patient if this blog does not have proper grammar or perfect spelling! If I get the energy, we will try to post some more pictures now that we are back where the Internet runs quickly, is free, is available and does not just stop working whenever! Thanks again for all of your comments. They meant so much to us while we were traveling and would love to hear any more that you have. Also, thanks to everyone who fed our pets, watched our houses and made sure that work kept running smoothly! It made it so much easier for us to "check out" and focus on our travel experiences!


6th August 2009

Glad to hear you made it back safe and had a great time! I hear it's suppose to be warm this weekend, so it looks like you brought the heat back with you. :)
6th August 2009

Welcome home
Good to hear you are back safely! Can't wait to see the pictures.
6th August 2009

Glad your home safe
Glad to hear that you made it home safe and sound. I am so sad that this is the end of the trip. I am going to miss the blogs. I always look forward to getting them. I guess you could say that they have been a highlight to the day! :) Thanks again for sharing with all of us! What an amazing trip. I have to admit at first when Roy said that you guys were going to the Middle East for vacation I could not figure why of all places you would go there. Now I understand and hope to go someday!
6th August 2009

So glad that you are home safely. I am glad that the trip was everything you hoped it would be.
6th August 2009

Glad you all made it back safely and that you had such a good time! Also relieved to see that you all seem to still remember even with all your weeks away that eating is the most important part of every day. :) And for the record, I thought the pics with the flyers for the trunk sale hanging up were hilarious, so don't let the lack of comments get you down!
6th August 2009

Thanks for sharing
Valeri, thanks for being so diligent in posting the updates. I looked forward each day to the newest blog to see all the interesting things the three of you were experiencing. I hate to see it end, and I know you do too. Thanks again Dan
6th August 2009

Darn, I'll miss your stories
Hi Val, I am a bit sad that your adventure has come to an end. I truly enjoyed absorbing your colorful descriptions of the Middle East and will miss reading your stories. I hope you have another trip planned in the near future, so that I might continue getting a "Valerie Travel Journal Fix". I may be asking for your advise, when I rebook my Middle East tour. JOY
6th August 2009

Considering the scenery, did Kyle only get one haircut???
6th August 2009

I noticed!
What I thought was amazing was that you thought about the photo so packed the flyer. That type of organized thinking/planning is a dimmed memory of something I did a few times a long time ago. And, I love that you took a copy of the paper (!) and remembered to take a photo. I assume some photo with the news-record will be sent by e-mail (and perhaps the one with the little girl?) to be published. The blog entries were all fascinating and entertaining. Thanks for the effort - alot of work and I completely enjoyed each of them.
6th August 2009

Glad you all had a good,fun,and safe trip,and are on U S soil once again
7th August 2009

Welcome home!
Hope you've told your camels all the tales of travel. I loved looking over your shoulders on the journey. Great photos, even better writing! Tell me if Kyle's attorney skills improve when he's wearing that new suit. If so, maybe he could lend it to somebody on the Royals, or it may come in handy for a coach during football season at K-STATE. Welcome home!
9th August 2009

Glad you are back!
So glad to hear you all are back home SAFE and sound! I have enjoyed reading your blogs and have to admit I have learned a lot. The main thing being, just how lost I'd be over there, and HOT. Being 6 months pregnant I'm hot here when it gets above 80. What a different life style. How lucky we are to have the conveniences we have here in the US. So glad you had such a great time. Welcome home!
10th August 2009

Glad you're back!
Sounds like a wonderful trip (for some people!) Enjoyed the blogs of the trip. Made me feel like I was there with you all. Good pictures. I know -- you're already planning your next trip -- where's it going to be???
10th August 2009

Yea Adventure Travel!
Thanks Valeri for keeping such elaborate updates. And yes, I did chuckle when you posted the ad for your mom...twice...very clever :) I am so jealous of your travels, and will have to get some pointers from you if I ever am able to head back East again!
25th August 2009

Welcome home!
Just want to say that I have really enjoyed your blog! I kept meaning to comment, but it was always late at night (as it is now) and I never took the time. Since I'm just now reading what may be your last entry, thought I would let you know how interesting it was...and for what it's worth - I thought you were very funny! Hope to see you during football season. Sarah
27th August 2009

Just finished reading your blog beginning to end. I thought three things, 1) wow, can't believe they WENT there, and 2) cool, now I can SEE it too (but I'm not near as adverturesome), and 3) you REALLY are funny. Maybe a travel book in your future? Thanks for sending the link. Glad you're back.

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