Hong Kong – Country Parks

Hong Kong at night – our view from the Courtyard  Sha Tin Hotel

It has become a bit of a tradition for us to land in Hong Kong at the beginning of a given year. Flying in on Cathay Pacific business (50K points each from Toronto), we stayed our first night at the Hong Kong Sky City Marriott Hotel (which is right at the airport). The hotel was free since we signed up for the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Card giving us 75K sign up bonus points (with a minimum spend) + a night free valued up to 35K points. With Platinum membership we were upgraded to a suite , had free breakfast and access to the Lounge which serves food and drinks for free.

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4 days in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv Beach

Tel Aviv was our last stop of our 2.5 month Middle Eastern tour. We wanted to save the best for last and that we did. Tel Aviv is considered one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities in the world. Titled the ‘Mediterranean Capital of Cool’ by the New York Times, this colorful and fun city combines sandy beaches with a buzzing cultural scene, incredible food (many many options for vegans), UNESCO recognized architecture, and a surprisingly international outlook. 

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Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee

Tabgha – Peacock Mosaic

Travelling through Israel we often found ourselves near many Bible Tour Buses – mostly Christians finding holy places from the New Testament. As I have mentioned in previous posts, we are not very religious people – we identify as spiritual people who believe in the “live and let live” philosophy of life. With that said, we try to balance our review of holy places from all perspectives and religions.

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Bethlehem – a day trip from Jerusalem

Separation wall in Bethlehem

We were excited to go on a short day trip to Bethlehem from Jerusalem and surprisingly  it was quite straight forward.  We caught bus #21 from the bus terminal across from the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.  Since the bus is operated by a  Palestinian company there isn’t a clear schedule, but it runs quite frequently and the cost was 7 NIS/person.  We were reminded by our hotel to bring our passports together with the little white and blue entry visa paper which was issued to us at the border – those are necessary on the way back into Israel.

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Jerusalem – the city of gods – even if you don’t have one

Old Jerusalem Market

As our bus, from Jordan arrived at the Damascus Gate we were so excited to walk through the Old City.  With all of our exuberance we quickly realized that it would be best to drop our backpacks prior to venturing into the tight corners of the crowded cobble stoned Old Jerusalem.  Check in Jerusalem was our chosen accommodation for our next 4 nights.  It was a great stay as it is centrally located near many  cafe’s and shops and only a few minutes walk to the Old City.

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Amman to Jerusalem – crossing the border

We decided to cross into Jerusalem from Amman, Jordan.  It is relatively easy to do although pretty time consuming for such a small distance.   Flights were around $450  for the 45 mile distance.  There is also a service called www.amman2jerusalem.com that offered to take us from our hotel in Amman to the border (we would have been on our own at the border crossing – which to us sounded like the scariest part).  The service would then pick us up on the other side and take us to the hotel in Jerusalem for $250.  

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Aqaba and Karak Castle

                                                                                                  Aqaba

Aqaba is a port city (mostly a resort town) on the Red Sea’s Gulf.  It is the most southern point of Jordan and is bordered by Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt.   Inhabited since 4000 B.C., it’s home to the Islamic-era Aqaba Fortress and the adjacent Aqaba Archaeological Museum.  Since these antiquities truly pale in comparison to some of the other treasures that Jordan has to offer, most come to Aqaba for the  beach resorts.   The sand is very fine and golden, the water is warm (even at the end of November) and windsurfing and other water sports abound.  Aqaba is considered a top destination for scuba divers, with notable dive sites including the Yamanieh coral reef in the Aqaba Marine Park, south of the city.

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Mars on Earth – Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

Entering Wadi Rum was a slow motion experience of leaving earth and entering a totally different world.  The sand slowly starts to turn a deeper and darker hue of red and the surrounding dramatic sandstone and basalt mountains jut out of its sandy floor.  Camels walk about the desert with or without accompanying owners under the bluest of skies as they have for thousands and thousands of years….

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Petra, magnificent Petra!

Treasury  – Sunrise

We decided to get up at 5 am and make it down to the Petra visitor center for 6 am when it opens.  There is a small but very informative museum there (free) which we visited the night before.  We wanted to stake everything out to be fully ready for our big Petra day – something that we have been looking forward to for a really long time.  We had pre-purchased the basic Jordan Pass (prior to entering Jordan) which covers most tourist attractions and the Jordan entry visa +1 day in Petra.  There is an option to add to your 1 day in Petra and purchase an extra day for $5/day up to 2 extra days.

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