In the photos, identify the country where each photo was taken, take the first letter, then shuffle!
Keep scrolling past these awesome but random images to find Photos Hint #2!
Photos Hint #2
Did you get these right? (We know, Lebanon was a tough one – not taken at an obvious bucket-list destination. We thought about using a photo from Baalbeck, a phenomenal Roman ruin, but Roman ruins in every country look similar, so it wouldn’t have been any easier. ) Shuffle the first letters.
I have to admit: our family was not always the most pleasant tour group, especially if we were visiting a fort, palace, cathedral, mosque or ancient ruin after having recently seen another fort, palace, cathedral, mosque or ancient ruin. I feel bad about it – all our tour guides were so nice, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Many of them had struggled financially during the tourism black hole of COVID lockdowns and I wanted to support them. And of course, I genuinely wanted to learn about the history or culture of their country. But somewhere in Rajasthan, India, our tour guides started sounding to me like the adults in the Peanuts cartoon television specials: “wah wah WAH wah WAH wah wah.” Maybe it’s because I’ve always been more of a visual or hands-on learner than an auditory one, and it is hard for me to remember all those dates, names of long-dead rulers, and sequences of who conquered whom. Sometimes their English was strongly accented and hard to understand. I was often distracted looking for good photo ops. One of our children saw no point in even trying to feign polite interest and could scowl fiercely and continuously for several hours – a level of persistence I often wished he’d apply towards other endeavors. Often one or more of us would lag behind, rush ahead, or wander off.
We also tried audio-guides, online self-guided tours, and even just taking turns reading aloud something from an online guidebook. But a few times, we actually got more creative, and these are the strategies I would actually recommend trying when traveling with adolescents:
2 Truths and a Lie Tour Guide: In Istanbul, there were four major sights that we thought must be on our itinerary: Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, and the Bosphorus. Each person was assigned one of these tourist attractions, and had to be prepared to be the tour guide for the family there. The twist was that the tour guide needed to invent one (or more) of the facts, and the rest of the family needed to guess what was fake news. It meant we each needed to read and remember a few things, and also pay attention to what the others were saying. A few times, when it seemed like other tourists were listening to us, I did have a pang of worry that we were spreading misinformation…! Nevertheless, eight (4×2) thumbs up on this game.
Ruins soundtrack: Volubilis in Morocco was another Roman ruin, and it certainly had its merits. But we’d already seen many Roman ruins, including some that were considered the best preserved, the biggest, the oldest and the most strategically important. After all, the Roman empire did quite a lot of construction in its time, much of which are now ruins. To stave off imminent unpleasantness, I gave Asher one of my earbuds, put the other in my own ear, and connected them to his phone. I asked him to DJ our tour: to select from his playlist the songs that he felt most related to whatever we were seeing, and tell me why he chose that song. Neither of us learned any names, dates or the significance of those tumbling-down walls, but I thoroughly enjoyed the next few hours walking through the ruins with Asher, and appreciated the window into his thinking and the kinds of connections he made.
Museum pictionary: I personally quite like looking at art. Even if I don’t always understand it, I usually find something that moves me, that I want to look at longer, and/or that I like to think about. Despite my own personal preferences, we have generally avoided museums, under the assumption that it would not be the kids’ top choice of activities. Our visit to the Cairo museum reinforced that. However, we were visiting Madrid with James’ parents, and they wanted to visit the Prado. I said to James, “We have to come up with a way to keep this moderately engaging or our children will make our experience miserable.” We batted around a few ideas. Scavenger hunt? No time. Two truths and a lie again? Nah, did that already. Finally, James hatched the brilliant idea of having us draw the art we saw, and the others would try to identify it – bonus points for knowing anything about that piece of art. So, we each downloaded a drawing app to our phones, set a time to meet, and set everyone loose to explore the museum at his/her own pace. It was really fun, and everyone seemed to fully engage in the activity. James went for volume, drawing many different pieces. Asher used color to excellent effect. Corbin’s line drawings were quite effective in evoking the original pieces. I experimented with different styles, including a minimalist approach. Jim and Midge stuck to pen and paper. When we reconvened, we shared our drawings. We didn’t really have criteria or a good scoring system so everyone claimed victory – which was a totally acceptable outcome.
My drawing of Goya’s Dog, of which I am quite proud. Unfortunately, most of the family somehow missed the hallway where the special Goya exhibit was housed, and no one could guess it.
We hit all the highlights of Jordan in just 3.5 days and 4 nights! Jordan has been on our travel list since the very beginning. It has one of the seven new wonders of the world, Petra, along with the Wadi Rum desert where numerous films like Star Wars and Dune were filmed. It also borders the Dead Sea and has ancient Greek and Roman ruins. All things we definitely wanted to hit on our trip when we went back in May.
We flew into the Amman airport from Egypt, got a rental car, and drove 3 hours to Wadi Musa, the town that Petra is in. Our Airbnb host was lovely and brought us a giant platter of traditional Jordanian food, spiced rice with chicken and vegetables that is traditionally cooked underground for several hours.
That evening, my mom and I went to see Petra by Night. We walked along the siq (slot canyon) that was lit with paper candles to the Treasury (the building you think of when you think of Petra). There were rows and rows of paper candles in front of the Treasury and hundreds of people sitting and waiting for the show to start. The show itself was not very exciting. A guy played the flute, someone told a story, and they played a bit of music. The most exciting part of that portion was when a guy in front of us tried to take a picture with one of the paper candles. It caught on fire in his lap! In the end, they lit the Treasury up with different colored lights and we took plenty of pictures. I tried to make shadow animals on the Treasury, but unfortunately, it didn’t work. We even got pictures holding the paper candles without them lighting on fire. However, there was a bunch of kids who ran around purposely setting the candles on fire, which ruined the vibe a bit. It was pretty cool, but you definitely want to stay as long as possible, so the walk back is not crowded and you can get all the pictures you want.
The next morning, we woke up super early so we could get into the Petra Complex as soon as it opened. We got our tickets and speed walked through the Siq to get to the Treasury before everyone else. By the time we got there, there were only a couple of other people. We got all of our nice pictures, and then followed our guide past some fences and up the cliff to a nice upper view spot of the Treasury. They had set up a whole little cafe with tea, rugs, and cushions for people to relax and get their Instagram-worthy shots. We had the breakfast we brought, some tea, and took our Instagram-worthy shots.
We climbed down and headed for the rest of the archaeological complex. We saw giant old tombs, an amphitheater, cool stripy caves, and a very large and echoey church.
We then got donkeys and rode them up the stairs to get to the Monastery. The Monastery is the other famous Petra building.
We took lots of pictures, then climbed up the hill even more to get views of Israel in the distance.
We took our time walking down and going back out of the archaeological complex.
As we passed the Treasury on our way out, it was swarmed with thousands of people all trying to take their pictures.
Afterward, we got a nice Jordanian lunch and spent the afternoon relaxing and resting after a seven-hour day that started at 5am. For dinner, we had delicious Yemeni food that came with massive pieces of fresh flatbread (which we ordered after a super nice guy saw us looking at his bread and offered to let us try!). Yum!
On our second full day, we drove 2 hours down to Wadi Rum. We got a quick briefing, then hopped in a jeep and toured around the red desert. We saw Lawrence Spring, climbed a sand dune, visited a slot canyon, and saw a mini stone arch. There was a lot of stuff named after Lawrence of Arabia (it was filmed there). It didn’t make much sense to Asher or I, as we’ve never seen the movie, nor thought of it as important. The red desert was pretty incredible looking, and surprisingly not hot.
The guide parked the jeep in the shade of a cliff overhang, made a fire, and cooked us a hot traditional Bedouin lunch. We took a siesta before continuing on and visiting Mushroom rock, another canyon (lamer), a third canyon (best canyon!), and a medium-sized stone arch.
Then we drove to a viewpoint to watch the sunset over the red desert. To the left was an empty, flat yellow desert with some large rock formations in the background. To the front, the edge of the red desert, glowing like hot coals.
We had a delicious Bedouin dinner (which included chicken and veggies that were cooked underground for several hours) and went to sleep in our goat-fur cabins.
Besides the red desert, Wadi Rum is known for having some of the clearest night skies. There is no light pollution, and it was dry, so no clouds. Since the moon set at around 1am, I set an alarm for 3am when the visibility would be the best. I woke up, bundled myself in many many layers, and wandered out into the freezing cold to stargaze. It was incredible. There were so many stars, so many constellations, and I could even see the Milky Way! It also happened to be the peak of the Eta Aquarids meteor shower, so I got to see some shooting stars (aka meteors). I did some photography, and by 4:30, my mom had joined me out in the cold.
By then, we could see the conjunction of Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn! Super cool! Finally, my dad joined us and we stargazed until the light of the sunrise ruined the darkness.
We went back to bed, woke up, had a lovely breakfast, and drove to the Dead Sea. Right before the Dead Sea, we stopped and found a tiny hole-in-the-wall falafel joint that had the best and cheapest meal we had had in Jordan.
To go into the Dead Sea, most sites suggest fancy resorts or beaches with expensive entrance fees. Through some Google mapping, budget travel article reading, and 2 false stops, we made it to a place that supposedly had free access to the Dead Sea (and free hot springs to rinse off in!). The spot did indeed deliver: FREE Dead Sea access, FREE Dead Sea mud, Free warm springs, and….. Lots of FREE trash. The spot did not have the same maintenance that other spots might have had, because there was lots of trash everywhere 😦 We floated in the Dead Sea, took our classic Dead Sea pictures, did extremely cheap (read FREE) Dead Sea mud spa treatment, rinsed off the mud in the Dead Sea, and rinsed off the salt in one of the warm spring pools (with a random plastic water bottle). It was a fun, interesting, and FREE experience! On our way out, we even got question-bombarded by a family of locals curious as to what four random tourists were doing in that locals-only part of Jordan.
We drove from the Dead Sea to Jerash. We got in in the late afternoon but wanted to see Jerash before we had to leave early in the morning. Our hotel was right by the fence, and since we had Jordan Passes, the guy at the hotel pointed us to the hole in the fence. We squeezed through, walked through a field of weeds, and explored the ruins of Jerash. Jerash has a Temple to Artemis with very intact and intricate pillars. There was also an amphitheater that had a man playing bagpipes?
We had a fancier dinner than we usually do because we wanted to spend the last of our Dinars before we left for Lebanon in the morning.
We managed to squeeze a massive amount of Jordan into a few days and it was incredible. I would definitely recommend going to Jordan, though maybe add a few days because going that fast is, unsurprisingly, really tiring.
Corbin and I learned to make this amazing cake in a cooking class in Athens. When the instructor brought out the phyllo dough, I assumed we would be making baklava. But, then she told us to shred it into little bits. I’m thinking this would be a good dessert to make when I need to get out some aggression! The recommended icing on the cake is actually a scoop of ice cream. I wanted to lick the plate clean. Corbin actually did!
250 grams phyllo sheets (8-10 sheets)
2 large eggs
¾ cup granulated white sugar
¾ cup greek yogurt
zest from 1 orange
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅔ cup sunflower oil or other neutral oil
For simple syrup:
1 cup white sugar
1 ½ cups water
One cinnamon stick
To make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350°F
Grease a 9” round baking dish with a bit of oil
Shred phyllo into small pieces (3 cm x 3cm) using a knife or your hands
In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until the mixture is pale and frothy
Add the orange zest, yogurt, vanilla and baking powder and beat until well combined.
While beating, slowly add the oil
Add shredded phyllo and combine with a spatula until everything is fully incorporated
Pour the mixture into the prepared baking tin
Bake for 45 mins or until the cake has risen and is golden brown in color
To Make The Syrup
While the cake is baking, combine water and sugar in a saucepan.
Bring to the boil (it should take about 5 minutes over a medium heat). Sugar should be fully dissolved.
Remove from the heat, add the cinnamon stick, let it cool to room temperature, and remove the cinnamon stick.
Using a cocktail stick, skewer, or chopstick, lightly pierce the hot cake in a few places.
Pour half of the syrup over the cake. Once the cake has absorbed all the syrup, add the remaining half. The cake should be still hot, while the syrup should be room temperature.
Once all the syrup has been soaked up by the cake, slice and serve with full-fat Greek yogurt or vanilla ice cream.
We had variations of this yogurt dip in Lebanon and Egypt, and in Türkiye, we started ordering it at every meal. It’s great as a dip for bread, meat, and veggies (raw or grilled). This simple recipe is based on one that Emine, the mom/cook at our favorite restaurant in Cappadocia, generously shared with us.
1 (16 ounce) container plain full-fat yogurt*
4 cloves fresh garlic
2 Tbsp feta cheese, mashed
½ tsp salt
1 tsp dried mint
2 tbsp each chopped fresh dill, parsley, and mint
Strain yogurt by scooping it into a muslin bag or a colander lined with cheesecloth, thin cotton dish towel, or paper coffee filter. Let it drain overnight.**
Create a garlic paste by mashing the garlic cloves with the salt (in a mortar & pestle or with the back of a knife on a cutting board).
Mix garlic paste, feta, dried mint and fresh herbs into the yogurt. Make sure the garlic and feta are mixed throughout.
Spread onto a dish and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, sliced cucumber, red pepper flakes and/or more fresh mint, parsley and dill leaves.
*You can substitute store-bought greek yogurt and skip the first step. Don’t give into the temptation to substitute nonfat or low-fat yogurt – it really won’t taste as good!
** Don’t pour the whey down the drain! It’s got protein, probiotics and lots of vitamins. Use it instead of water when making smoothies, soups and baked goods.
La Sagrada Familia Huge single room interior/common space for anyone who wants religious Weird blocky statues Public Huge on both the outside and inside. Not finished yet – 145 years and still going Built from scratch
Casa Batllò Multiple rooms Residential Multi-floored Private Completed by Gaudi in his lifetime Big in on the outside, Smallish rooms on the inside, but lots of them.
Similarities Weird colors/patterns Tall Interior and exterior Built to hold a lot of people Stained/colored glass/window panes Both Standout(next to other building or surrounding area) Intricate details lots of mosaics inspired by organic and natural shapes, not normal rectangles
My opinion Overall I prefer the Gaudi house over the church because the house is more functional than the church. In addition the house is functional and still so unique. While the church serves only one function, religion.
Most of our travels were in countries where tap water is considered unsuitable for sensitive American digestive tracts, so it took more effort to stay hydrated. We used our Sawyer water filter a lot (see my earlier MVP post). Many hotels and Airbnbs have electric kettles, so we also often boiled water to refill our Nalgenes. We bought bottled water only when desperate. (We have always avoided buying bottled water and seeing so many plastic water bottles discarded alongside roadways, in fields, and near waterways just reinforced our determination not to buy them.) When we arrived in Athens, we realized that we would be able to drink water from the tap for the rest of the trip, making all of us quite happy. And since we were in Athens, where the ode as a form of poetry originated, I was inspired to write one (or at least, a mini-ode). Thanks to James for his suggestions on this, despite his initial “Um, poetry is not really your strength, is it?” reaction.
ODE TO POTABLE WATER
At last! In Greece, I fill a glass with tap
Now well-rinsed, no more foam-crusted toothbrush
Washing my face in shower, sink? Sip! Splash!
Ask freely for “ice!” or cold fruity slush
No need to search “Can I drink water in…”
No morbid thoughts of germs and E-coli
We’re not in the Global South, nor in Flint
No plastic bottles in landfills sky high
We love engineers who invent and leaders who invest
To make, store, and deliver pure water: we are impressed!
Building pipes must be lead-free, too – for children to ingest
Such easy access to clean water: we know we’re so blessed!
While we were in Egypt we spent 3 days on a Nile cruise. Our tour group included a lovely Brazilian couple who got engaged right after our cruise, an American travel-blogger from Atlanta, a French couple, and 3 young men (late 20’s) from Lebanon. The three young men: Ali, Zaki, and Hassan invited us to visit Lebanon over drinks one night.
Recalling embassy and port bombings, we were a bit wary. To be fair, I was conflating Benghazi, Libya and Beirut, Lebanon. (Doh; typical American.) Also, Lebanon is in the midst of a huge economic crisis with incredible deflation and people’s bank savings frozen and probably never to be seen again. Finally, we would be going the week prior to the election which was expected to include some violence and rioting. However, given our desire for cultural experiences and home cooked meals, we decided we couldn’t pass up the chance. I always say that getting invited into someone’s home for dinner is the ultimate cultural win, but getting invited to someone’s country and home is even better. We carved 3 days out of our schedule to squeeze in Lebanon and it was awesome.
Instead of renting a car, Ali picked us up at the airport. He’s finished med school and is applying for residency programs in the states, but he was such a good chauffeur, host, and tour guide that medicine might be a waste of his skills. He borrowed his mom’s car so we’d have more space. On our way to our Airbnb in Zahle, he took us to Seasweet for Knefe which is at least a pound of sweet molten cheese on a soft bun.
Hours later we were able to move again and he drove us to a nearby hike in Falougha. It was a beautiful three hours of hiking but best was the conversations with Ali, Rabih, Aya, and Zaki about the upcoming election, Lebanon’s unique power sharing government (President must be Maronite Christian, Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of Parliament a Shiite), the economic crash, the flight of young educated Lebanese to other countries and more.
That night we got to see one of their apartments and they took us to Al Shams for dinner which was amazing food and where all the locals go to celebrate special occasions. I can see why Drew Binsky (some blogger) rated Lebanese cuisine number 2 after visiting 190+ countries. Al Shams reminded me of Andres Carne De Res in Columbia as it had hundreds of tables and multiple eating areas. We ate, drank and talked for hours.
The next day our chauffeur, Ali, drove us to Baalbek. Baalbek has been inhabited for at least 9000 years. It was named Baalbek in around 1000 BC when the Pheonicians built a temple to Baal there. Later, Baalbek was occupied by Alexander, then Rome, Muslims, Byzantium and then the Ottomans. During the Roman times around 30 BC, they quarried and moved the largest manmade stone blocks of the pre-modern world. The largest was 1240 tons. No one knows how these massive blocks were moved and placed. The Romans went on to build a massive temple complex with the largest known Roman Temple (the temple of Jupiter) and one of the most intact Roman temples in the world (Bacchus). Having been to Ephesus, Jerash, and other famous ruins, I was most impressed with Baalbek.
The next day, Ali was busy and had his cousin Abbas drive us around. Abbas was delightful and his English was decent. He drove us to the Jeita Caves which are stunning, Byblos – another ancient town, Harissa for a sunset, and into Beirut.
The next morning we ate fabulous Pastirma and Shawarma before Ali took us for a tour of the port area and then to the airport.
We had such an amazing time in Lebanon. The food and sites were incredible. But what really made it special was our conversations and the relationships. It’s made us rethink some of our travel strategies. How do you meet people and be invited into their lives? As a family of four, it’s often cheaper and/or easier to rent a car then join a tour, but that keeps us from meeting other tourists, bus drivers, etc. At the start of our trip we planned to do many homestays and volunteer projects. Covid made that much harder. Going forward we are trying to find ways to encourage moments of friendship and sharing in our travels as these are some our favorite moments.