At the beginning of February we traveled to Jordan. After arriving in Amman in the late evening we drove south in the pouring rain to Karak (aka Kerak, Kerack, Al Karak, etc). Almost every sign spelled it differently.

Driving in Jordan is an experience. Randy described it as “not the most psychotic thing we’ve done”. Between the goats in the road, the random unmarked speed bumps, and just general lack of respect for traffic laws, things can get pretty interesting. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not too bad, though.

Waking up in Karak/Kerak/Kerack the next morning, we fortified ourselves with plenty of delicious hummus, pita, falafel, and eggplant for breakfast.

Kerak is home to a large 12th century crusader castle. The ruins were extensive, with lots of underground tunnels. One of the few signs we could read stated that there were even more tunnels and rooms that have yet to be excavated.

After seeing the castle we left Kerak and continued our drive south. We passed some gorgeous scenery.

We eventually found our way to another crusader castle, Shobak Castle. We arrived just as it was closing, but the gatekeeper allowed us to do some quick exploring.

We spent the next two days exploring Petra and the Wadi Rum desert. Those were cool enough to warrant their own posts, so you will have to wait to hear about them.

After Wadi Rum, we began our journey back north towards Amman. We stopped halfway along the route at the Dana Nature Reserve. Dana Village is quite small, consisting of some houses, two or three small hotels and a visitor center. It recently received some grants, though, and evidence of construction was visible throughout the village.

We spent the afternoon hiking in the reserve and relaxing in the sunshine. We watched a Bedouin goatherd slowly bringing his goats up the valley.

Our last day was spent bagging some more World Heritage sites for our collection.

The first site we visited was Umm ar-Rasas which consists of Roman, Byzantine, and early Muslim ruins. There looked to be a lot here, but most of it was not excavated so we couldn’t explore. There were also very few signs explaining the things you saw. They had excavated and preserved some beautiful mosaics, while others were just covered in sand.

After Umm ar-Rasas we drove around Amman to Qasr Amra on the East of the city. It was a bit surreal seeing signs for the Iraq border.

The drive to Qasr Amra went through a rather desolate and depressing desert. We read that the area had once been a lush wetlands, but as Amman and its water needs grew the wetlands were drained and destroyed. Some recent efforts have been made to restore some of the wetlands.

Qasr Amra was an 8th century royal retreat in what was once probably beautiful surroundings. Once a larger complex, today there are several rooms, including a bath house, that are covered in elaborate (and sometimes risqué) frescoes. The frescos were beautiful, but overall the site was in poor condition.

That night we flew back home (despite French transportation strikes). Another trip done!

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The food in Istanbul was fantastic. So it gets its own blog post!

Just past the Galata bridge we found several wildly rocking boats selling fish sandwiches (as featured on Rick Steves). Nearby stands were selling glasses of bright red juice with pickles in it, which is apparently just the thing to go with fish. We skipped the pickle juice and stuck to sandwiches.

That night we found a small restaurant and tried several different mezze.

The following day we took a recommendation from Chow Hound and tried a kofte restaurant near the Hagia Sofia. Koftes are like grilled meatballs served with thin, not super spicy peppers. The restaurant was super busy and the koftes were delicious! We think Barack Obama may have also eaten there (any Turkish speakers want to confirm?)

For dinner we went to an amazing kebab restaurant in Beyoğlu. We shared some mezze before we tried some of the many different types of grilled meat. The grilled aubergine (eggplant) with sausagey bits between was fantastic!

We thought it would be really cool to do a food tour, so we found a walking/tasting tour of the Spice Market. We tried so many different things! Real string cheese and cheese made in goat skin. Cured meats, pickled plums, and freshly squeeze pomegranate juice. Spices, pastrami, fried oysters, and halva. We tried more than 20 different things, and then we had lunch!

Lunch was at a restaurant on the Asian side of Istanbul. We took the ferry over and walked through even more markets before arriving. Our tour guide ordered a sampling menu for us based on what dishes the restaurant had that day and what she thought we would like to try.

We ended the meal with various candied vegetables like eggplant, tomato, and pumpkin served with tea made with oregano, which was much better than it sounds.

By that point we were all suffering from the advanced stages of food coma so the ferry ride back was very relaxed. We pulled back into the ferry port and walked out into snow! So much for balmy Mediterranean climates!

For breakfast one morning we decided to try kaymak at Karakoy Ozsut after reading an article raving about it. Served with honey and crusty bread to spread it on it was delightful. We ordered menemen, eggs with tomatoes and peppers, to accompany it. Menemen is like the shakshouka we had in Israel, but with more of an egg emphasis. Delicious!

For our last dinner in Istanbul, we went to a small restaurant we had found a recommendation for online. We had many different mezzes and even tried anchovy kebabs all washed down with raki.

After one last round of Turkish coffee our culinary adventures drew to a close.

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