A Thanksgiving Journey of Biblical Proportions: Jordan, Israel, Istanbul

Updated: Nov 6, 2020



Traveling internationally during the holidays has become a ritual for me mainly due to the fact it allows me to take at least a week of vacation without having to burn through five PTO days. Thanksgiving 2018 was no exception. Jordan, Israel, and Istanbul were not on my radar for 2018; yet when the opportunity was presented a few months back I had to accept.

From birth and throughout elementary school I was reared by my maternal grandparents who were devotees of the Church Of God in Christ, which is a Pentecostal-Holiness Christian denomination. For us church was not reserved for Sundays. My missionary grandmother would have service in our home throughout the week with some of the other missionaries from the region, plus she took my sister and me with her as she evangelized outside a grocery store near where we lived. At one time my grandparents lead a church in Northern Kentucky but my memories of that are vague.

I am divulging my background because it will provide some perspective on how I regarded a trip to this region. Growing up scriptures and singing hymns of the River Jordan and Jerusalem, took precedent over typical childhood fairy tales.

For the three areas visited I want to share my photos, recommendations, and commentary.

Jordan

How to get there

Turkish Airlines publishes deals to Aqaba King Hussein International Airport, yet it should be noted that it is over 3.5 hours from the capital city of Amman. If you fly into Aqaba I recommend you arrange to start your journey in Petra, which is only 1.5 hours away, then proceed to Amman. Note: There is not much to do, see, or eat at this airport so plan accordingly.

Where to stay

When given the decision to choose between two five start hotels we definitely should have selected the Four Seasons Amman, especially since we spent so much time there. This included massages at the spa and patronizing most of their restaurants.


Where to Eat & Drink & Be Social

  • Four Seasons Amman:

  • La Capitale Restaurant - This French restaurant is included on all lists of Jordan's best fine dining options. The decor is elegant and the service is best in class. Houka is available on the outdoor terrace.

  • The multi-course Brunch was delicious and abundant. We chose the unlimited drink option.

  • For dinner we sat in the lounge which was good for people watching and listening to the DJ spin. The delicious food from the full menu was available.

  • Five Grill & Lounge is where we ate twice in one day when we needed a casual dining option. The international menu is offered in the "living room" and there is also a terrance next to this space that offers Houka.

  • SIRR is the first speakeasy in Jordan and the mixologist is just as talented as those is big cities around the world. The space is dark and cosy. Try the SIRR secret blend Old Fashion.

*** Note: The dress code inside the hotels is relaxed and more modern than what I have seen in public.

  • Home Cooking

  • We had the pleasure of being invited to the home of one of our guides for a traditional meal. It was absolutely delicious and the hospitality extremely heartwarming.


  • Starbucks - Yes I said it. The pastries and seasonal frappuccinos were calling our names. Plus the location we frequented was very beautiful.

There were several restaurants I have saved for my next visit.

What to do

  • Petra - It goes without saying that no visit to Jordan is complete without a visit to this Wonder of the World. If you do not know the history I suggest arranging a guided tour.

  • Wear comfortable shoes and bring a small bottle of water.

  • If you want skip the walk in order to get to the main sites quickly I suggest taking a carriage or horse. Pricing is posted prior to the ticketing gate.

  • Map out beforehand your photo ops of the "Treasury" because some will involve walking up many steep stairs.

  • Dead Sea - If you have followed my blog you know I love baths. We did not plan to spend four hours here; however, the salty, warm, oily water and beautiful views were hard to leave. Bring beach shoes, a latex swim cap, and waterproof phone pouches. Some areas offer the mud for free, while others charge a nominal fee.

  • Jerash - This city is only 40 minutes north of Amman and is known for the ruins of the a walled Greco-Roman settlement including the 2nd-century Hadrian’s Arch, the Corinthian columns of the Temple of Artemis, and the huge Forum’s oval colonnade. This is only a half day trip so I recommend visiting other sites in Amman or shopping.

  • Biblical and Holy sites

  • Mt. Nebo - According to the Old Testament this is where Moses was granted a view of the Holy Land. Also during his visit to Jordan Pope John Paul II visited this site.

  • King Abdullah I Mosque / The Blue Mosque - Visitors are allowed to explore the sanctuary even during prayer. Beneath the mosque is an area for shopping.

  • Madaba - The mosaic city with artifacts from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic eras.

  • The Amman Citadel - This site has a long history of occupation by the Romans, Byzantines, and Umayyads. The major buildings at the site are the Temple of Hercules, a Byzantine church, and the Umayyad Palace.

  • Jordan River - Unfortunately we did not have the site of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist on our itinerary but I will next time.

  • Darat Al Funun - Spread across a hilltop in six buildings overlooking the city, this is one of Amman's oldest art galleries, whose mission is to support artists from the Arab World.

Israel

From Jordan we took a day trip to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I suggest utilizing your travel guide/agency for navigating customs.

  • Next time I will include Tel Aviv into my

  • Israel customs did not stamp my passport. Instead an entry/exit slip is provided. This should mitigate any issues you may have getting into other Middle East countries.

  • Fees can be paid by credit card.

The first stop was the Mt. of Olives. Our main focus in Jerusalem was the tour of Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering (the route that is believed to follow the path that Jesus walked, carrying his cross, on the way to his crucifixion). Old Jerusalem is comprised of narrow streets and alleys lined with vendors selling food, clothes, and souvenirs. It is not difficult to imagine how the city was in biblical times.

To manage expectations I will explain that several of the stations consist only of a metal Roman Numeral placard and there are no cathedrals rivaling those in Rome. Bethlehem is only eight miles outside of Jerusalem; so it is not out of the way.

Istanbul

We had two long layovers in Istanbul, therefore, we only had a "taste" of what this beautiful ancient and modern city has to offer. If you are a lover of architecture, food, and self-care then Istanbul is the place for you.

  • No visit to Turkey is complete without a visit to a Turkish Bath. We chose the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı. Built in 1580 by famous architect Mimar Sinan, it is a beautiful oasis. We received the traditional scrub that with baby soft skin. *** The only strong part was having to leave on my panties during the treatment (sharing penalty: oddly they were dry by the time I left).

  • The Sultan Ahmet Mosque also known as the Blue Mosque looms majestically over a complex of fountains and nearby shops and restaurants, where you can have tea and watch a performance with the Sufi Whirling Dervishes.


  • The food in Istanbul is incredible. I highly recommend Kebapci Mahmut. Also I will make sure I go to Ciya.


Conclusion

Every bucket list should have these three destinations. My grandparents would have loved to visit Jordan and Israel so I am blessed to be fulfilling their dreams. I was hoping to have a vision of them or some form of transcendent awakening. I didn't, yet I am grateful and blessed to make this epic journey. I will return.


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