A week before school was out, Sofia and I shared a slideshow of her highlights from our recent trip to Jordan and Israel with her preschool class. I let her choose all of the photos and then I had to figure out how to make it fun and interesting for 15 five-year-olds. The pictures made it pretty easy, but still, I am used to presenting to adult, business people! It ended up being a lot of fun for Sofia and me, and the kids were really engaged. Some of these are duplicates from my original post about our trip, but I couldn't leave them out because they truly are our highlights. And what I realized is most adults, myself included, have the attention span of a five-year-old, so this could end up being the perfect highlights compilation from our trip. And it's wonderful to see the world through a child's eyes. Enjoy!
We started with a map and I asked the kids how far away they thought Jordan was from Seattle. Guesses ranged from 20 to 68 to 100 miles. The answer is 6,786 miles (as a crow flies). And Sofia still doesn't think the flight was too long. Kids are pretty resilient!
Our family tour group from left to right: Geoff's brother, Bjorn, one of our tour guides; Geoff's mom, Carlene; Erin's dad, Curt; Bjorn's son, Lars; Bjorn's wife, Erin, our other tour guide; Geoff's dad, Dick; Erin's mom, Sandy; Sofia, Geoff and me outside the wall around the Old City in Jerusalem.
We saw hundreds of images of King Abdullah throughout Jordan, including on this billboard.
Sofia loved the Fulah dolls (similar to Barbies) in traditional Muslim dresses and hijab headscarves.
The blue-domed King Abdullah I mosque in Amman, Jordan.
We were allowed to go inside the mosque, but women had to be fully covered, except our faces. The colors, lights and patterns were beautiful inside the mosque.
Sofia relaxes on a Roman ruin, the temple of Hercules, built in AD 162-166, at the Citadel in Amman.
Sofia loves the beautiful archictecture of the remains of an old palace at the Citadel in Amman. Do you see the dome of a mosque in the background?
Another favorite, Amman's Roman theater, built in AD 138-161.
From Amman, we headed up to Northern Jordan to Jerash, one of the best-preserved Roman towns in the world with many, many ruins, including this imposing gate.
Sofia wanted to show a picture of a reenactment of a gladiator fight at Jerash because she knew the boys in her class would like it. And like it they did! That girl knows her audience! She also knew her friends, and especially the boys, would like to see the chariot race at Jerash too!
The South Theater in Jerash is a popular tourist site where Sofia was paraded around by Jordian girls.
Here the Jordanian girls are hugging, kissing and photographing Sofia. She loved every minute of it. There must bee 500 pictures of Sofia on phones and cameras floating around Jordan!
Another view of the vast archeological site. Jerash gives Rome a run for its money!
Sofia chose this for its beautiful architectural details, and it was a favorite of her classmates as well.
Continuing north, we visited Umm Qays, a tiny town situated in the extreme northwest part of the country where the borders of Jordan, Israel and Syria meet. This hill-top site has grand views of Lake Tiberias (aka the Sea of Galilee) in the distance, the Golan Heights - on the right - and the Yarmouk River.
Strolling the streets in Umm Qays looking for chariot ruts. Really, pretty amazing!
Next up, we visited a real castle which was a big hit with Sofia and Lars. This is the Ajlun Castle in northern Jordan, one of the very few built to protect the country against Crusader attacks.
Inside we explored the castle, found arrow slits in the thick stone walls, and imagined what it would have been like to live there.
The site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus was recently identified by archeologists. It lies just east of the Jordan River and a few kilometers north of the Dead Sea. It was very moving to see this holy site.
We dipped our toes and fingers in the Jordan River and witnessed people being baptized in the river.
After the Baptismal site, we changed gears and headed to the beach to float in The Dead Sea.
Here our group relaxes in the salty Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. It was an awesome feeling! (The salt bothered Sofia's skin so she didn't make the group shot.)
Changing gears once again (we did it about four times a day on our trip in order to pack everything in!), we woke up early and crossed the border from Jordan into Israel. It was a long day but we made it. I'll save that for another post, maybe... This is the view of Jerusalem, a truly beautiful, awe-inspiring, complex city. The gold dome is the Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest Muslim sites in the world.
On our descent down to the Old City from where we were staying on the Mount of Olives, we met this local man who invited Sofia to sit on his donkey.
Colorful mosaics adorn the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem is gained through 11 different gates, including the Damascus Gate located on the northern wall and considered the most magnificent of all of Jerusalem's gates.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built around the site where Jesus was crucified and also where Jesus was buried. It was amazing to see this holiest of Christian sites.
This elaborately decorated stairway leads down to the Virgin Mary's tomb in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) is located in the Old City of Jerusalem at the foot of the western side of the Temple Mount. It is one of the most sacred sites of the Jewish faith. Visitors pray at the Wall and place slips of paper containing prayers in the cracks of the Wall.
Now for the "vacation" part of our trip... we journeyed from Jerusalem to southern Israel on a five-hour bus ride along the coast of the Dead Sea to our destination on the Red Sea. We crossed back into Jordan to the beautiful resort town of Aqaba. It was just what we needed after the intensity of being in Jerusalem during Holy Week.
Geoff and Bjorn dusted off their scuba diving cards, took a quick refresher class and spent a day diving in the Red Sea.
We spent a day exploring the beautiful Wadi Rum desert by jeep and foot. It was hot, hot, hot (102 degrees F) the day we were there. The orange sand and magnificent rock formations were stunning. It was definitely a highlight of the trip. We even saw remains of Lawrence of Arabia's house.
Camels roaming the Wadi Rum desert.
The road signs in Jordan were pretty entertaining, especially this one warning drivers to watch out for camels.
We ended our trip with a visit to Petra, the fabled "rose red city, half as old as time," and the most famous site in Jordan. Sofia and Lars were very interested in the "pretend guards" who stood watch at the entrance to this stunning site, that was originally inhabited by the Nabataeans as early as the 6th century BC.
After a one-mile walk through the Siq, a dim, narrow gorge with 300-600 foot walls, we were treated to a grand view of the Treasury, Petra's most elaborate ruin carved in the dark orange sandstone cliff. My brother-in-law, Bjorn, is an expert on Petra so it was fun to have him as our guide to explain this massive site filled with tombs, temples and theaters.
Geoff and Sofia amidst the vast ruins of Petra. The site is much biggger than I expected. That is not smog in the background! We happened to be there on a day when the sand had blown in from the Saudi Arabian desert, masking the typically blue sky.
After six hours of exploring Petra by foot, Sofia and I, along with Lars and Grandma Carlene, "chartered" camels to take us back to the Treasury. Our camel's name was Soozoo. It was a bumpy ride but well worth the photo op!
Then we hailed a horse-drawn carriage for the bumpiest ride of our lives back to the main gate. Lars and Sofia laughed the whole time saying it was the best part of the trip! I can't say grandma and I agreed, but again it was worth the photo op!
Geoff, Bjorn and Erin continued exploring Petra for another six hours and made it to the Monastery, Petra's largest monument.
After a long day exploring Petra, Sofia and Lars enjoyed a snack from the mini bar at our hotel and toasted our amazing day with orange soda, a big treat!
After Petra, we spent one more night in Madaba, a small town outside of Amman that served as our homebase during the trip, before we embarked on our 26-hour journey home. This keffiyeh headscarf was given to Sofia by a shopkeeper in Madaba. It is her favorite souvenir and she proudly wears it back home! She loved the people and the culture in Jordan and has decided she wants to live there when she grows up and she wants to be a flight attendant for Royal Jordanian Airlines.
I know this was a long post, but I hope it gives you more reasons to want to visit this part of the world. I think it is so important to expose ourselves and our children to different people and cultures. For me, seeing the Middle East through Sofia's innocent eyes was truly a gift. And it was truly a trip of a lifetime!
Shukran! ("Thank you" in Arabic.)