St Petersburg By Boat

St Petersburg can be described as the Venice of Russia due to its many canals and the huge Neva River running through the middle of it. You’d be silly to visit this city and not make the most of the many boat tours on offer as this is a great way to be introduced to the city whilst at the same time sitting back and relaxing, listening to the soothing voice of your tour guide. Boat tours are all very well for Russians but for us Brits it is a slightly trickier affair as there are a lot less tours offered in English. In fact, at the time when I went on a boat trip there was only one company in the city that offered it in English (www.anglotourismo.com). The company offers a 1 hour trip for 500 roubles (£10) which is the same price as the Russian tours being offered. The only downfall to this trip is that it covers a very obvious route showing you Mikhailovsky Castle, Summer Gardens, St Isaac’s Cathedral, the Winter Palace etc etc but if you go on a sunny day and it is one of the first things you do here in St P then it is definitely worth it.

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Night time tours are offered (I’m not sure if they are offered in English) and this is a great opportunity to see the Razvod Mostov – the opening of the bridges – and watch the huge ships transporting logs, machinery etc making their way through the city. If you are watching the bridges from the shore then make sure you are on the correct side of the river to where your hotel is as otherwise you’ll be stranded on the other side for quite some time (usually until around 05:30 when the bridges go back down)!

Recommended cafe: Jazz Cafe (Canal Griboyedova) – This place has nightly live music and is a good place to come if you are more in the mood for chilled out drinks with some smooth jazz in the background.

To continue this watery theme, I also visited the Aurora ship. This ship played a very important role in Russia’s history and one of the main things it is famous for is for firing the canon marking the signal for the storming of the Winter Palace in October 1917. I decided to go along as I had read that it was free. Strangely enough however, when I got there we were being charged 100 roubles to get on board. I had queued up for a while by this point so thought there was no going back, I was fully committed. Well, I personally wish I hadn’t paid the 100 roubles as it was one of the most boring things I did in St Petersburg. Walking along the deck was interesting purely because of the role the ship played in the past but the actual museum part was full of paintings and photos of ships and sailors with no information written in English and so I managed a record time of 2 minutes for this museum and swiftly went back on to dry land. My advice – look from the shore as the outside of the ship is far more impressive than the inside.

Recommended Cafe: Trotsky Most (Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt 9) – This cafe is the original branch of the vegetarian cafe chain. Just because it is a chain cafe does not mean that it is expensive however as it offers mains at around 100 – 150 roubles. When I was there I tried the apparently famous vegetable lasagne and was very pleasantly surprised when it tasted like vegetable lasagne rather than a Russian variation of the dish and I also ordered a strawberry and banana smoothie for the bargain price of 80 roubles! (£1.60) St Petersburg isn’t known for being a bargain destination and consequently the price of food and drink, especially coffee and fresh fruit juice, reflects this. The reason I was so amazed by the price of a smoothie at Trotsky Most is because elsewhere you’d be looking at around 180 – 250 roubles for the same drink.

 

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Moscow in 2 seasons

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After my first week in St Petersburg it was time to get the overnight train to Moscow. There are trains that only take around 4 hours to get there but these are much more expensive so 9 hours on an overnight train was the way to go for me! This was to be my second trip to Moscow in a year as I had visited Moscow at the end of my TransSiberian trip last December and I was interested to see what the city would be like without the bitingly cold wind and frozen toes.

In December I stayed in Fabrika Hostel which is in the former Red October chocolate factory. This was extremely good value for money, close to a metro stop and just across the river from the Kremlin. However, in December even the 10 minute walk across the bridge to the metro seemed like a full on trek.

I have actually been to Moscow three times now but the third time was only for a day in between a train and flight hence why there is no blogging material from this, unless you want to hear about the 3 trips I made to McDonald’s in order to use the wifi. All three times I’ve been to Moscow I have been disappointed as the one thing I reeeeeally want to do is see dead Lenin. I’m not sure why I want to see this so badly but I do, and each time the Mausoleum has been closed! This definitely warrants another trip back to Moscow at some point in the future. I’ll probably phone up the Mausoleum management to check it is actually open though as I may cry if this happens for the 4th time.

The obligatory trip to the Kremlin was done and we were treated to a visit from the Brazilian president which was all rather grand!

The next day we went to Novodevichy convent and the cemetery where you just need to pick a famous Russian name and it’s highly likely you’ll be able to find their grave, provided they’re dead of course. Our grave search was cut short when we all decided that we couldn’t feel our toes and it went from being fun to being a race against frostbite.

When I went to Moscow in the summer I spent most of my time walking around outside or sat in parks. The most interesting of these parks has to be the VDNKh park due to the amount of space themed sights and attractions. The main part of the park is an area with fairground type rides for children and where extremely out of date music is blasted out of loud speakers. The Monument to the Conquerors of Space is by far the dominating attraction in this area of Moscow and has been around since 1964.

St Petersburg: When did I become such a tourist?

I am only in St Petersburg for a month (2 weeks of which were taken up with university essays) so I wanted to make sure that I was well equipped for my tourist extravaganza in order to make the most of my time here. I invested in a Lonely Planet guide book for the city and it has turned in to my bible whilst I’ve been out here. I have mastered the art of sightseeing and my legs are reminding me of it every day what with all their aches and pains. I can put my hand on my heart and say that I have never done so many touristy things in my life and I am feeling like a more cultured and all together more knowledgeable human being as a result of this.

One of my first sightseeing adventures in St Petersburg took me some of the main sights: Kazan Cathedral, Church on the Spilled Blood and Peter and Paul Fortress. Not very original I know but you have to do these things! I would say that it is a very good place to start as they are located right in the heart of the city and give you a nice little taster of what is to come.

First stop – Church on the Spilled Blood. This is most definitely one of the most touristic spots in St Petersburg and therefore feels nothing like a church once you enter inside. Before doing so however make sure you take a look at the outside of it as it is fairly spectacular thanks to all the work it’s had done on it. The church gets its name from the fact that in 1881 Tsar Alexander II was attacked by a terrorist group on this same spot and then died a couple of days later from his injuries. His son decided that he wanted to build a church on the exact same spot where his father was attacked and the location is actually marked inside the church. I personally don’t think that I would want to be reminded of the spot where my dad had a bomb thrown at him but that is the difference between me and mini Alexander.

Kazan Cathedral is another tourist hot spot and rightly so. It is still a working church and therefore it costs you a grand total of zero pennies! It was built between 1801 and 1811 and is a strange mixture of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It is for this reason that is looks quite unlike any other church in St Petersburg that I have come across. Inside it is traditionally orthodox and still retains its peaceful and calm atmosphere. During the Soviet era Kazan Cathedral was shut and used as a storage facility and later on as an anti-religion museum. In fact, at one point half of the church was an anti-religion museum and the other half was used as a working church! Top marks for the person who came up with that idea. Opposite Kazan Cathedral there is the Singer building.  The singer buildings stands out amongst all the other buildings on Nevsky Prospekt as it’s design was influenced by New York architecture. The building was home to the Singer sewing machine factory which is where it gets it’s name from. This building is now a bookshop and cafe among other things. Whilst the cafe is on the pricey side I would recommend going in even if just for an espresso and getting a table by the huge windows looking out on to Kazan Cathedral. I went for breakfast here and although the price made me want to cry, the view more than made up for it.

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Recommended cafe: Bushe (7 Malaya Morskaya street) – Austrian bakery with yummy pastries, cakes, delicious crusty loaves and decent sandwiches (a very rare occurence in this city!). Heaven

Peter and Paul Fortress was where St Petersburg was founded after this area of land was captured from the Swedes in 1703. Peter the Great captured this tiny island and decided to create a European style city. This little island is extremely interesting even just to walk around. It is surrounded by a red brick wall as it was created as a defence against the Swedes and inside it has a Cathedral, prison, a very famous statue of Peter the Great and several museums. I decided to go in to the Trubetskoy Bastion which is where political prisoners were held and where Peter the Great supervised the torture to death of his son (doesn’t sound so great right now). I would definitely recommend this as it is a fairly small museum with just enough information. The prison was home to many famous names at different times in its history such as Lenin’s brother Alexander Ulyanov and Dostoyevsky. Whilst this was very interesting I did get a bit confused when I went up to the 1st floor and realised I was reading pretty much exactly the same information all over again! By this time however my concentration levels were wavering so I decided it was no big loss and made my way to the nearest coffee spot!

Recommended cafe: Le Menu (pr Dobrolyubova 1) – Relatively inexpensive and extremely good value business lunch (soup, bread, salad, main meal, drink = 250 rubles)

 

St Petersburg Arrival: Chihuahuas & Grannies

My trip started off 3 days after leaving Paris. I had barely had time to get my head around the fact that I was no longer living in a country where I could buy good, cheap cheese Fly Fi-Fibefore I had flown to a country that sells cheese in plastic formation. I definitely should’ve stuffed some Camembert into my suitcase whilst I still had the chance. Having lived in France for 7 months it’s fair to say that Russian wasn’t so fresh in my head when I arrived. My first conversation with my two Russian flatmates involved me sitting and pretending to listen to them until eventually I accepted the fact that I didn’t have a clue what they were on about and decided to play with the dogs instead. That’s right, I am living in a small flat with not one but two dogs. I had joked before coming here that I would like a chihuahua as I personally never ever intend on owning one but for a month it would provide me with a lot of entertainment. Well, joke’s on me as I walked into the flat and what is yapping away at my heels but none other than a chihuahua and it’s older and ever so slightly less annoying little doggy friend. I soon figured out that actually the chihuahua wouldn’t provide me with any entertainment at all as it is the yappiest dog I have ever met and it doesn’t even have any costumes!!! To all those chihuahua owners in the world, this is my message to you – If you’re going to own  a chihuahua thenThis poor fella is a boy you need to make a proper effort and buy the outfits if you want to be taken seriously. Otherwise, I just don’t see the point in owning such a small yappy dog. Dress it up as a rabbit or in a raincoat and welly boots or something. Be inventive.

After unpacking my bags I decided it was time to find out what the shops near me were like so off I popped on a nice evening stroll through the park to the main shopping street. I’m living right on the outskirts of town so the St Petersburg where I live and the St Petersburg where I spend my daytimes walking around are 2 completely different places. I found myself on a high street made up of purpose built, pop-up looking shops and grannies selling everything from socks to vegetables to baby turtles on the side of the street and in the underpass. Kittens are a daily occurence on my way to the metro and my will power is becoming extremely strong having to walk past them every day and not jumping at the offer to buy one for the grand sum of $3. After this first shopping trip I was making my way back through the park to the apartment when I looked up and had such a Russia moment – I was glancing around me and suddenly realised that I didn’t know which apartment block was mine, I was staring at a sea of concrete buildings. All I could do was laugh. Welcome to Russia!

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Parisian Brunch

Brunch. What does this word mean to you? For most people it means lie-ins at the weekend with pancakes for breakfast or perhaps a bacon sandwich or eggs benedict. You could go all out and get a full English breakfast; having lived in Paris for nearly 6 months I would advise you to DO IT. As much as I love the French cuisine there is something about a full English breakfast that is so satisfying and I can hear it crying out to me on weekend mornings when I’m tucking into my baguette.

In Paris they have taken the word “brunch” and decided to give it a new meaning. Who knows why. Just for funsies I guess. The outcome is a meal that seems to combine lunch and dinner into one and this one meal can usually only be eaten on a Sunday. It’s the rules. Brunch on a Saturday just does not work. I have become a big fan of the Parisian brunch but being British I cannot get the idea out of my head that it should be a breakfast affair and so I therefore tend to opt for a midday brunch rather than a 3pm one. This most definitely has its perks as places tend to fill up as the afternoon goes on. I would say there are two main types of brunch: the buffet brunch and the set menu brunch. I have tried both and now it is my chance to give you a little insight into the world of Parisian Sundays –

Twinkie BreakfastsTwinkie Breakfast

Twinkie Breakfasts is a bit out of the ordinary in terms of brunch as it serves it all day every day. Very unusual! It is here at Twinkie’s that you can opt for the set menu type brunch. Options offered include: English (not a proper cooked breakfast with all the grease sadly), American, French, Norwegian…. The menu tends to include a selection of breads with nutella, jam and a marmalade, a fresh juice, coffee and hot dish. Every option is €22 unless you opt for a bagel or poached eggs off of the menu.

When I went I chose the Norwegian breakfast which consisted of all the norms plus eggs benedict/royale. I’m sure eggs benedict originates from America though which puzzles me greatly… I wasn’t convinced by the marmalade we were given which was courgette, tomato and cucumber if I remember correctly. Slightly too far on the side of odd. The eggs benedict was delicious however and I was in heaven when handed an extremely large cup of coffee. The French aren’t big fans of large coffees so even ordering a white coffee over here is disappointing when you get handed a cup that is half full. The mugs at Twinkie Breakfasts however are the real deal. AND we got a free refill. Excellent news!

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So the first time was a hit. However the second time was a let down. I had already eaten breakfast so chose a simple dish of poached eggs. Well, they don’t mess around when they state that it is simply poached eggs do they! Out came a bowl with 2 poached eggs in and a slice of bread on the side. Well, I’m glad I paid €8 for that… I could probably buy the chicken and have a year long’s supply of eggs for that price. I went with some friends who are coeliacs and their breakfasts were just as disappointing: 2 boiled eggs, some sheep cheese in a bowl and some lamb’s lettuce in another bowl. Not €22 worth of food right there. So if you’re going to go to this café then try to tactically choose the largest dish among the set menus otherwise you’ll be disappointed.

Les Parigots

Les Parigots is where I was able to try a buffet style brunch and my goodness am I a fan! The buffet brunch here is also €22 but I think you get so much more for your money. The set menu consists of scrambled eggs, a hot dish of the day, a salad buffet and dessert buffet. The first time I came here I ended up staying for nearly 4 hours as I was determined to get the most out of my pennies! The salad bar is fantastic with salads ranging from chicory + blue cheese to whelks to cured meats and there is also an amazing cheese board to sample. The dessert buffet is a selection of bite-size (if you have a very large mouth) cakes, crepes, fruit and yoghurt.

I have been here twice now and the first time the hot dish on offer was a kind of lamb tagine with couscous which went down extremely well. The second time was a lamb chop served with an assortment of roasted veg. When I heard it was lamb chop for the main meal I was so disappointed but actually it was so well cooked and tender that I could’ve eaten about 4 of them!

You have to be careful with a buffet lunch because you need to pace yourself. It is a game of skill. I go in for the salads first, then a bit of scrambled egg, then eat the main, on to the cheese, on to the dessert and you’re good to not eat for the rest of the day! This place is definitely excellent value for money but be careful when buying drinks as this is where they seem to reap their profit. So no huge mugs of coffee available at this place sadly. That is a minor detail though as you could get a carafe of water and eat extremely well all for the grand sum of €22.

Having tried out both options, they both have their perks and for me it just depends what mood I’m in. I do tend to be feeling more on the greedy side of life though so the buffet brunch gets my seal of approval more often than not!

 

Mud anyone?

It is a well-known fact that the Dead Sea mud is rich in nutrients and minerals and is therefore excellent for your skin. However, this doesn’t make the prospect of slathering yourself in it any more appealing. When I stayed in Jordan on the shores of the Dead Sea I was able to try the real deal and shove my hand in a bucket full of thick, clay-like, gloopy, grey mud. After a moment of thinking how completely gross this was I set to work covering my whole body in it. Turns out, it’s actually pretty fun!

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After waiting roughly 15 minutes for the mud to dry I was getting rather toasty in the sun and so it was time to go and wash it off. Easier said than done. When you’re in water that makes it impossible for you to sink, think how difficult it is for you to get your shoulders under. With some help from my dearest mother we managed to master the technique of dipping down for a second whilst she frantically washed the mud off of my back before I bobbed back up again. After this experience my skin felt silky smooth and  I was rather upset at the thought that that would be the first and last time I nourished my skin in such a way.

This is not the end of the story however as the duty-free at the airport came to my rescue! Massive thanks go out to Rivage Dead Sea skin products for putting some of the mud in a nice squeezy pouch. Whilst ever so slightly overpriced (bear in mind you can go to the Dead Sea and get this for free) I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to pamper my skin at home knowing that I am using a natural product. 

1. Tie hair back!!!

2. Don’t be shy, get a nice big blob of mud on your hands and spread it all over your face. I use 3 blobs of around about this size –

3. Once you’re all nice and green grab yourself a book/good tv programme/nail varnish etc. and settle down for 30 minutes.3. I wouldn’t advise trying to eat in this time as the mud will be drying and makes eating a very strenuous task.

4. Using your fingers rub in circular motions to remove the majority of the mask. As the mud has 4.dried this will exfoliate your skin making it even more luscious when you’ve finished!

5. Rubbing your skin won’t get all of the mud off so make sure to rinse your face with luke warm water.

6. Voila! Time to admire your skin in the mirror. Just feel how soft it is!

 

Of course, everyone’s skin is different but after washing this off I would strongly advise you to use a deep moisturising facial cream. My skin laps up any cream I put on it after this face mask so sometimes I have to do more than one application but you’ll know if your skin needs this or not.

 

Sun, sun, sun + ice cream

Thanks to all of the public holidays in France being crammed into May, I managed to fit in a trip (a well-deserved trip I like to think!) down to the south of France. Since arriving back from Jordan a month ago I am not exaggerating when I say I have experienced no more than around 5 vaguely warm days here in Paris. It is the middle of May and I am sat staring out at the rain lashing down on the street outside and when it decides to stop raining and I venture outside I am still wrapped up in my winter jacket. I don’t know what the world is playing at but I am not enjoying whatever it is. Whoever leaves the lights on when leaving a room needs to switch them off as this is what global warming is doing to the city of love! Anyway, as a result of having Wednesday, Thursday + Friday off work I ventured down to the Cote d’Azur to top my freckles up. I stayed there for 2 and a half days and visited Menton, Monte Carlo, Nice, Cannes and Antibes.

Menton

Monte Carlo

 

Antibes

 

Cannes

 

Nice

 

When in Nice I went to Fenocchio, an icecream parlour with an unbelievable number of ice cream flavours from vanilla to liquorice to poppy to caramel salted butter. There were enough flavours to fill up 4 ice cream trolleys and being someone who orders their books, CDs and DVDs in alphabetical order I appreciated that they divided the icecreams up into types of flavour. If my memory serves me correctly, I went there 4 times during my stay. There were so many flavours that going just the once was simply not an option. I was so devoted/greedy that I even walked 20 minutes in the pouring rain to go and get some ice cream for dessert. It was at this parlour that I tried cactus flavoured ice cream. Sometimes I wonder why I can’t just be normal and order strawberry as inevitably I do end up making some mistakes with my choices. I felt like I was eating sweetened Lenor.  All the other flavours I tried were great though and this place is definitely worth a visit!

I didn't try these flavours sadly

Jordan: Al Karak & The Dead Sea

Our time in Petra and at Taybet Zaman had come to an end and with a sad farewell to the view and the rustic charm of my room we bundled into the car to head towards the Dead Sea. I couldn’t stay away for long however and found myself in my room 5 minutes later having forgotten the padlock to my suitcase in my room. When I was younger I would always, without fail, forget something at a friend’s house after a sleepover so it’s nice to see I haven’t grown out of this habit. Our second attempt to leave went to plan though and we were on the road again; this time it was the Desert Highway. Even if you’ve never been to the desert before I’m sure you’ll be aware of the fact that the desert is not that varied landscape wise and so after about 15 minutes I decided this was prime napping time. It had been a very tiring couple of days. As we had the same driver for the whole trip we had to make a few pit stops along our way to give him a bit of a break and the place we stopped at on our way to the Dead Sea was my favourite. We sat down to enjoy some mint tea and admired the huge fountain that had been created in the middle of the café/shop. It was at this point that our driver took the opportunity to dress me like a Jordanian man by wrapping a thing that looked like  tea towel around my head. I have to say I think I looked rather fetching and pulled it off extremely well.Tea towel fun

When we arrived in Karak it was like we were in a completely different world. The streets were smaller, it was very crowded, there were so many cars (the drivers didn’t quite seem to understand the concept of patience or the fact that you cannot park in the middle of the road), chickens were squashed into cages and placed on the pavements etc. When we were driving up to Al Karak castle, the car in front of us had 2 pictures of Saddam Hussein in his back window. That filled me with confidence! Upon arriving at Karak castle we paid the security man to make sure our car was safe and went to take a look around the ruined castle. When we came back we found our car with a flat tyre due to the valve being broken. Highly bizarre when the security man was meant to be keeping a watchful eye over it… How our driver managed to stay calm I will never know.

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After replacing the tyre we made our way to the Dead Sea. I have to admit that I was shocked by how many people I saw living in tents. Our driver said that there were 15 families living in tents in this area but unless those families are at it like rabbits and account for over 30 people each then I don’t see how this can be possible. There were tents everywhere. The contrast between how the locals live and the luxury found in the Dead Sea resorts made me feel a bit uneasy. I couldn’t spend my whole holiday in one of these hotels but I was grateful for the couple of nights spent relaxing.

One tip I would give anyone when going to the Dead Sea is make sure you shower all the salt off when coming out of the sea before standing arms and legs spread wide to try and dry under the warm sun. If you are like me and have sensitive skin then not showering is a very bad idea. I was clever enough to do such a thing and reacted to the salt and ended up looking like I had a skin disease. It wasn’t one of my most attractive moments but my skin was silky smooth fro; the mud!

When you stay at the Movenpick resort you are faced with a real dilemma. During the day you will be lying by the pool, slathering yourself in mud and trying your best to reap the benefits from the sun and salt, however at night there is an incredible buffet in the main hotel restaurant that is not to be missed and consequently makes you feel like you’re about to explode and not beach ready in the slightest. If you’re not really of the adventurous food eating type then this is a real shame (and you should really try and branch out) but not to worry as there is enough choice that you can stick to your chicken and potatoes or whatever it is you’d like to eat. If, like me, you are the most indecisive person in the world and want to try everything then this buffet is also for you. I did get a bit upset though when I could only fit in 11 desserts and therefore couldn’t try the 4 remaining ones.

The next day was to be the end of our Jordan trip and on the way to the airport our driver told us a lovely story about camels. I do not take any responsibility for the consequences if anyone tries this – apparently, the Bedouins believe that you can cure cancer by drinking camel milk mixed with camel urine. I shall leave you to ponder this for a while whilst I go make myself some mint tea and plan my next adventure!

Jordan: Petra

Our second day in Jordan saw us waking up in the fantastic Taybet Zaman hotel with a view looking out across the desert. This hotel was ever so slightly different from the Marriott we stayed in when in Amman as instead of the glitz and glamour found at the Marriot, this hotel used to be a village and so all of the hotel’s rooms are in old stone buildings. Very rustic and right up my street. It’s nice to be able to experience something just that little bit different. The hotel came into existence when the mayor of the village realised that his village was struggling financially and the Jordan Tourism Investment Group made an offer to turn this rural farming village into a hotel whilst maintaining a cooperative relationship with the inhabitants of the village. The result of this is a truly amazing hotel that I would recommend to everyone visiting Petra.

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After our buffet breakfast we got a taxi down into the town to start our guided tour of Petra. We had a private guide which meant we could wander at our own pace and ask all the questions we had floating around in our heads. I would really recommend getting a guide as he told us so many stories and theories and so much information that wasn’t available on information boards. 5 stars for this!

Petra was incredible and I’ll definitely have to go back. One day wasn’t nearly long enough! I turned into a little geology nerd whilst I was there as I found the different colours within the rocks absolutely fascinating. There was an amazing toilet carved into the mountain side with natural red and blue striped stone walls – not your average toilet. The one thing that got to me and spoiled the day slightly was the amount of children I saw trying to sell bits of stone they had taken from the tombs. Our guide told us not to buy anything from there as education is free and giving them money will only encourage them to carry on selling instead of going to school. I also saw so many donkeys getting beaten on the neck with thick metal chains. Seeing an animal cowering away from someone who is beating it is heartbreaking and made me so angry. The authorities say they are working to try and eliminate animal cruelty in Petra but I think there is still a long way to go.

On a happier note, in the evening we went to Petra Kitchen for a cookery class. We were in a group of 25-30 people and split into two tables to learn how to prepare traditional Jordanian dishes. I can’t say I learnt very much other than how to peel an onion very quickly (I’ll admit it is a pretty nifty trick!) as the main dish and soup were cooked on a stove away from the tables and we were left to prepare the mezze. My favourite dishes were the cheese and thyme pastries (pretty self explanatory) and the Galaya Bandura (cooked tomatoes with various spices and some egg added in for a bit of a change). I think the highlight of my night was when we were sitting down eating at the communal table after having slaved away chopping vegetables to create all the dishes and watching my mum’s face as the couple next to me had a little marital spat. Hiding her feelings is not her forte and so this provided much entertainment.

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Jordan: Madaba & The King’s Highway

We managed to arrive safely in Amman, Jordan, without me freaking out too much on the plane on the way there (for someone who loves travelling, being scared of flying is a slight problem) and headed to our hotel. For the first night of our trip we were staying in the Marriot Hotel which was luuuuush. My so-called single room was in fact huge and had a king-size bed in it. As soon as I walked through the door I made a resolution that if the rest of our hotels were like this then I’d sleep in a starfish position for the rest of the trip.

The next day started with a huge buffet. I mean seriously HUGE. There were sections for pastries, cooked breakfast, cereals, fruit, yoghurt, porridge and then a more traditional Jordanian section of hummus, labeneh, olives, falafel, foul etc. I of course went for the Jordanian option and had a bit of everything on offer. Having hummus and falafel at 9 in the morning I could handle but I’m not so sure about the foul. Foul is essentially mushed up Fava beans to which you can add various herbs and spices. I went for the olive oil, coriander and chilli sauce combination. I’m glad I tried it but I didn’t opt for it again for the rest of the trip.

We met our driver and set off for Madaba and Mount Nebo to go and see the famous mosaics. Mount Nebo is said to be the place from where Mosez looked out and saw the promised land. The mosaic I found the most impressive was the map of the holy lands which was discovered in the Saint George church in 1884 during the construction of a Greek Orthodox church. It dates back to the 6th century and it was hard to get my head around the fact I was standing next to something that someone stood on around 1500 years ago.

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“The Madaba mosaic map is unique and is the best known example of Byzantine cartography.”

After Mount Nebo we started off along the Kings’ Highway. What an amazing route! This route was extremely important for the ancient Middle East and has also been used as a pilgrimage route for Christians as it passes many important sites such as Mount Nebo. Along this route we visited Umm er-Rasas, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the site of 16 ruined churches. Although it may only look like some rubble and falling down walls, I found this site so interesting as all of the churches were below ground level so you could see how either the wind had blown the sand over them or they had manually been covered up. This is clearly a big excavation project and there is currently only 1 church that appears to have had any work done, the church of St Stephen. In this church nearly the entire floor is covered in a mosaic picture. I couldn’t help thinking that modern churches could learn a thing or two from this. One church I found particularly fascinating had plastic sheeting on the floor with sand covering it. However, brushing the sand away revealed more ancient mosaics and we were just casually standing on them. I still don’t understand how this was allowed but it was pretty cool so I’m not complaining!

 

After this we made our way to Petra, driving through Wadi Mujib. Winding our way up and down the mountain sides we were presented with absolutely stunning views which we made the most of by stopping at a viewpoint to take it all in. We then stopped at a restaurant which looked out across Wadi Mujib gorge. We couldn’t have asked for a better location and having finished our plates we found ourselves sat staring out at the view in front of us not wanting to move. However, knowing that once we got in the car Petra would be our next stop made it that little bit easier for us to tear ourselves away.

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