Bequia in The Grenadines

Hottest place I have ever been to in my life.   We arrived here after a very long trip.  Then to actually get to the island you have to take a “ferry”, more like a run down old fishing boat that goes 1000 miles and hour through the choppy waters. 

We had a villa at the top of a hill overlooking the water.  It was a two bedroom place with two bathrooms, two showers and two kitchens and a huge living area with a dining table, couch etc.

The mosquitos were so bad that we had to have netting over each of our beds.  That was quite an experience if you have never had to have that before. 

The villa was actually a dump, the water for the showers, if there was any at all came from a large plastic tub on top of the outside wall of the building, it collected water and dew, and was heated by the sun, then it ran down a tube into the shower, that tube served as the shower head.   There was so much mold in the shower that the tiles were all falling out, and there were more bugs on the shower floor than there were outside.

The door to the refrigerator came off one evening and was promptly put back on by duct tape. 

It was so hot on this island that you were in a state of constant sweat.  Even playing cards we were barely dressed with fans blowing on us and you had to wipe down the cards each time you touched them because of the sweat dripping off of you or your hands. 

I hear the diving was decent, I swam a few times.  While my husband found it funny to pretend he was a shark and scare me to death while I swam above.  Oh yes he still tells this story today. 🙂

One of my companions on that trip was being so rude, and bossy and down right a pain in the ass, that one of the dive masters asked me if it was ok if he talked to me when my “mom” wasnt around.  LOL  I figured it had to do both with her demeanor and the way she had been aging lately.   It was so funny, we laughed it about it, well even to this day Brad and I laugh about it.

One thing that I loved was the coffee.  A friend of mine and I used to get up early to go down to the cafe that overlooked the water and get this great coffee.  They also served it with sweetened condensed milk and I swear to this day it is the best I have ever had.

I got heat exhaustion twice on this trip, and that was  miserable.  All you can do it sleep, try to stay cool and drink lots of water. 

They sell a lot of pot on this island and they will try to sell it to you no matter where you go.

They have these huge parties there called Jump-ups.  They last long into the nite, and they pot is really flowing. So much so that we had a huge cloud of it covering our villa while we tried to sleep one nite.  It was different.  Though I thought one of my companions could have used some pot to loosen her up some.  LOL

All in all it was a good trip.  Too hot to really enjoy anytime at the beach or even in the water.  I have lived in the South and in Arizona and nothing prepared me for this kind of hot.

It is an odd quirky trip to take, and there isnt much to do on the island itself.  So if you are hard-core diver and you want a place that isnt too popular with tourists.  This might be for you.

The Dominican Republic 2001

Amazing!  Kite boarding, inexpensive, beautiful beaches.  It was a short trip and not very expensive.  Easy to get too, and though it is third world, the people are very friendly, and the hotel we stayed in was not only clean, it was beautiful.  The food was so cheap and good.  We could go out on the beach in the morning and have beers for a dollar and Mai Tai’s for a dollar.  And we sat and watched the Kiteboarding all day. 

My husband tried his hand at Kiteboarding, well needless to say, though he gets a gold star for trying, it’s a hard sport.   Many very young and very hard bodied people do it.   Some people work all fall and winter to just spend the summer Kiteboarding.  And we did see a girl get her legs broken and a guy get bounced off the beach when his kite went out of control.  Its not a sport for the faint of heart…

Since this trip we have been to many places where we see many kiteboarders.  Its become a huge sport and the equipment is so much better and safer these days.  But still it can be dangerous and in some areas it is illegal.

The rooms were very nice, the beds were comfortable and the service was great.  This was a very romantic place to go and it felt nice just hanging out and then being together during those rare occasions that we were alone.

I love it, and I would go back here again and again.  I think if you want an easy, fun, sunny place to go.. The Dominican Republic is it.

I think at least one of our travel companions really enjoyed this place too.  She was always the kind who loved the beach and just hanging out and reading in an easy laid back environment.

*I don’t know how anyone can not have a good time in this beautiful place. The people are friendly, its laid back and its a great place to fall in love, be in love or just enjoy companionship.  Have fun, take it all in, enjoy life. 

Spain & Italy 2008

 I had heard a lot about Spain and Italy both.  How lovely they were how people could spend weeks there just soaking up the scenery etc.  I however did not find either place to necessarily be unique or exceptional in any way.    

The Gaudi cathedral in Spain was one of the most spectacular pieces of architecture and awe I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.  As you come up the escalator from the street and as soon as you pique the top you will be engulfed by the enormousness of this particular building.  It is worth going inside and just standing around the pillars, the craftmanship the unique vision that was Gaudi.  It is still in the process of being built, finished, and to watch them work and to see the details, the thought process of this amazing structure is worth the time.    

We did not go up into the elevator to see it from the top down, because even in non-tourist season it was a two-hour wait and you were charged another fee to use the elevator.  But I imagine, and have heard that it is worth the wait and the trip to the top.   

Take your time here, see all that you can see inside and out.  Take photos and take it all in.  It is spectacular.  But during tourist season you will find a very long wait to even get into the cathedral, so be prepared for that.   

Florence Italy 2008

Red in Florence Italy 2008

 

Spain in itself was not necessarily the spectacular place that others had made it out to be. The food was good, and the wine was very inexpensive and tasty.  But the people were not very friendly and if you were not dressed like them with all their furs and expensive jewlery (honestly who brings that stuff on their travels)  or you seemed like an outsider in any way, you certainly knew by their looks and whispers that they were not exactly excited to have visitors there.  I had heard there was dancing and singing in the streets and people were happy all the time, but we walked and rode and traveled all through Spain and never got a sense of this at all nor did we see it anywhere.  Perhaps it was a bad time, or perhaps we had a bad experience.  Either way it was what it was at the time.   

But we did fall in love with the Iberian ham, so much so that we had some shipped from a vendor in Virginia for our wedding reception.  It’s very expensive but it is some of the best meat we have ever eaten.   Here is a small look at what this ham is:  http://www.ibericofoods.com/about_iberian_ham.php   

We did enjoy the small appetizers and wine that you got before dinners.  You could go to the restaurant and for a small charge, order up some wine and ham and bread and just sit and enjoy each others company before going to a dinner.  But dinner isn’t usually eaten until around 9:00 and most restaurants don’t open until 7:00 or so, so if you are used to eating early it might be good to get yourself some appetizers.   

In many countries they actually turn off the AC during the winter months.  And when I say turn off I mean the whole country turns things off so it’s not possible to get AC in your hotels.  So be prepared for it to be warm even late in the year.  In the evenings as you are walking its cool, but your room will most likely be hot, sometimes too hot to sleep.  And many hotels do not have windows that open or that open very much, so that you even get a small breeze.  We just got used to being too hot to sleep…   

We rented a car and drove all over Italy.  The people there drive like mad men, so be prepared.  We saw some nice scenery but nothing to write home about.  The hotel rooms were small and the beds were not very comfortable.  The people not as friendly as you might think and be careful they say they all speak English, but that is not the case and you can have trouble with language even in places like Venice and Florence.   

Venice was one place I was very excited to see but then somewhat disappointed when we finally did arrive.  It was not tourist season but the city was so packed it was hard to walk through it.  It has a funny smell, like mildew.  It is sinking and so there is a lot of water on around.  People just throw their garbage in the streets, and let their dogs do their business on the streets and alley ways.  It smelled terrible because of the garbage and the mold from the stagnant water.  It was not very well cared for, the structures are falling down, they are leaning and they are dirty.  It takes hours to get into any structure like a church or museum.  The restaurants are packed and you have to stand even for a bite of pizza that takes an hour to get.  The people were rude,  they don’t look you in the eye and they don’t say hi they just keep on walking and if you are in their way, you better move because they are going to run you over.    

My husband really like Venice and had a little different vision/sight of it.  I prefered Florence.  It was old, but cleaner, the structures were somewhat more modern and it was not as tight to walk around and take photos etc.  There is so much shopping there, leather esp.  purses, jackets, wallets, its nuts! 

A friend of mine loves Italy so much she says she would go back year after year.  But I disliked it so much I probably wont go back.  I did get some good photos and we did have a good time being together experiencing what we did.  But on a scale of one to ten, I give Italy a 4.  And this was my second time in Italy, I had previously in 2004 been to Rome and my experience was much the same as you will see in one of my other posts.

Riga, Tallin, Helsinki 2006

This was one of the coldest places I have ever been in my life.  The history here was fascinating and the people were some of the nicest I have ever met on any of my travels.

This was one of the first large travels that Brad and I and Corinne took when we all started living together.  We got some good airfare and that was one reason we decided to do it when we did.  BUT if we were to do it again I think that Feb was not the best time of year to travel to this very cold part of the earth.

If you go in the coldest months bring WOOL, wool sweaters, wool socks, wool gloves, wool everything!  If you don’t you will be miserable cold and you wont get to enjoy the touring, the churches, the woods, etc.

Also bring a boucle if you can to have around your face and mouth, it will help with the cold and the bitter cold that you breathe in.

Now we saw pictures of what it all looks like in the spring and I tell you it looks lovely.  We have vowed to go back there when things are in bloom.

The people in these countries, Estonia and Finland are so very very nice.  They love talking about America with you and how they think that it has a lot of rules for being a free country, they would be right.  They ask about the president of the United States, anything they have knowledge on regarding America they want to hear about.  But they are happy with their homes and their way of life so remember don’t try to Americanize them, just share your experiences and be polite and listen to them share theirs.  You will be amazed how much you can learn from these people.

The good thing about these countries is that you can get as much liquor as you want, there are no restrictions, in hotels, or boats, or restaurants.  Not like in the Middle East.  And the selections of Vodka are amazing!  There are great restaurants where you can order reindeer, bear, goat, anything really.  The restaurants are only lite by candle lite and they wear clothing from different time periods.  It was a pretty neat exp.  My daughter esp loved it.

I am sure that if it had not been so cold we would have seen more, the history is so amazing.  I am sure we would have toured and walked more but the weather, snow, cold, just did not permit us too.

English is mostly spoken, as are several other languages.  However there are parts of the Baltics where english is NOT spoken, not a single word.  So be careful, don’t get lost, dont wander too far.  There is no english read, or spoken or written and you could find yourself in an anxious position.

The hotels are lovely, the service perfect.  We found that you can even buy a bottle of wine and take it to the hotel bar and drink it there, there are no real rules about alcohol.

To get from the Baltics to Finland you have to take a ferry, well its more like a HUGE boat that cuts the ice in the water as it travels.  I called it a freighter. 🙂 

It is an experience being on this boat, we had a cabin so we could sleep on the long ride over.  But there are bars, and dance floors and food on the boat.  The people are friendly but most of them do not speak english.

(we had the rare opportunity to hear In the Navy sung in its original Finish)  LOL

All in all it was a fun time, good food, good people, good hotels.  I would love to go back in better weather.  We got some nice photos and have some good memories.  I do recommend it all in all.

London, Scotland 1998

First time I had ever been traveling and boy was I introduced to a whole new world.  This trip really opened my eyes to people, places and companions.  It really opened up so many doors for me and got me hooked on travel.  I was scared and skeptical but thrilled at the things I saw,  learned and took away from this trip on so many levels.  My personal passion for life was reinvented on this trip and I was never the same person nor did I look at places, people, or history the same after this.

Brad and Angela -  London

Brad and Angela Wright - London 1998

*Its hard to go on a trip with a travel companion that is a know-it-all.  All you hear about is how they have been everywhere and know everything and it can make it hard to enjoy certain places and really take in the experience if all you here is that person talk all the time.  Even the smallest of experiences like staying at a B&B or going into an ancient castle can be ruined by these kind of people.  Its best to travel with those who want to share your experience with you, even the smallest details.  Rather than with someone who tends to take the fun out of it all by telling you that he or she already knows what the experience is going to be like.  Try to avoid these kinds of travel companions at all costs.  You want to be able to soak in the experience for yourself not spend the entire time listening to them talk about how they are the beat all and end all of travelers who want to suck the fun out of your entire trip.   We did not learn our lesson for several years regarding this particular traveler but we no longer choose these kinds of people to travel with. 

London is a busy busy place.  Lots of traffic and crowded.  But its fantastic.  The old buildings and churches, to see where Lady Diana was married, Parliament, to watch the double-decker red buses for the first time.  The architecture, the history, was so amazing.  I just wanted to stand around and look at everything.  We saw the clock tower Big Ben, which might not seem like a big deal since everyone sees it, but its pretty fascinating.  And there are so many angles to get great photos of it. 

You can watch the Thames river run underneath the bridge, it runs very fast and is very busy.  It is the second longest river in the UK and the longest river in England.  Everything happens for London from this river, Power, Food, Drink, and water.  Its a great day when you can sit and watch the activities of the river. 

My first real odd experience was that you don’t really get ice in Europe.  There refrigeration is different than we are used too so you usually get your drinks warm or room temp.  You can ask for ice, but of course they look at you weird and then bring you a cube or two. 

I don’t think the food in London is that great, its kind of typical, Fish and Chips, salads, pizza.  I found nothing extraordinary about the food myself.  But the beer is good and the English are always prepared to have a good time. 

You can walk and walk through London and always have something to see.  I would go back here and have been back since this trip.  I think that you will enjoy your stay here.  But be ready for it to be expensive.

Greece and Rome Italy 2004

Santorini Greece

Santorini Greece at Sunset

 

 Greece is the most romantic, beautiful, amazing place I have ever visited in all my travels.  

Rented a private sail boat for this trip, 4 of us plus a crew of two.  It’s really the only and very best way to see the Islands.  When you travel by sail you actually have the opportunity to see not only the land surrounding Greece but you get to experience each Island in a more personal way.  You get to meet the locals, have dinner with them, most times right on the beach, watching the sun set and drinking the local wine and hearing the stories of old.     

Depending on the time of year you travel Greece can be very hot so as I always preach be prepared with plenty of sun block, hat, cover shirt and proper walking shoes.  If you are hiking you will want to make sure you have all these things PLUS plenty of water.  It is a dry heat like Arizona, so it’s not miserable but it can get very hot and you want to be prepared so that your trip is not ruined by dehydration.  There is so much history in Greece, especially if you are familiar with the bible, you will be able to see and piece together many magical journeys and events.

The people in Greece are so very friendly and they love that you have come to stay on one of their lovely islands.  They are happy to show you around, to dine with you to offer local wine suggestions.

The jewelers in Greece are so unique because each shopped is privately owned and the jewelry is all hand-made usually by the shop owner so it makes each piece unique to that shop.  You can always find something you will like there. 

The Greek symbol that you will see often is a symbol of love and friendship.  🙂

We will be going back in August/September of 2012 with the same Sail company, Seascapes:  http://seascape-sail.com/home/  This time we will get to enjoy a bit more time in Santorini after the sail and we are going to spend time in Turkey too this is after our 5 week safari in East Africa. 

Greece is one place you cannot miss in life and if you have the stomach for it you should def see the islands by sail.  It’s so magical I can’t even tell you the wonderful time you will have.  Some of the beaches are topless so don’t be surprised by it, it’s totally normal for that area of the world.  IF you have your kids with you it’s just something you should be aware of. 

If you stay on an island you can walk most of it, or rent a small car or a scooter.  

Many restaurants have outdoor seating and its wonderful to sit and have dinner and watch the sun set over the water in the evenings and just take your time eating and enjoying your companion and or friends. 

Greece is NOT as expensive as you might think and the sailing option is actually a very reasonable deal which includes your meals and the crew. 

Greece is a magical place.  It can give you all the feelings of love, luxury, relaxation and family.  It can render you speechless the first time you see that sunset in Santori and hear and think about all the history that surrounds this amazing country.   

Patmos is the Island, besides Santorini that I found the most memorable.  It has so much biblical history to it and many very religious people worship there, and take the history of the bible very seriously.    If you are a religious person you may truly find this breathtaking.

Athens is large, and crowded and polluted.  It was not a place I would have stayed in and though the people there are nice it’s not really a place that we like to vacation.  The outer Islands are much nicer, friendlier, less inhabited and you are able to appreciate more history by visiting with the people and seeing more of the terrain.      

* NOTE:  Be careful who your companions are when you travel, no matter where you travel as they can ruin a vacation and cause you much embarrassment.  This trip proved to be the last straw for at least one of our travel companions.  There is a lot of partying and drinking that goes on in Greece and if you have travel partners that cannot handle their booze it could put you in a situation that you still find yourself embarrassed about years later. Remember as with any vacation, trip, weekend away etc. that you are a guest to their country, city, town, and though you want to party and have fun it would not be proper to air your dirty laundry in public while drunk; making a scene and a fool of yourself and your travel companions because you cannot hold your temper, your tongue or your liquor.  You don’t want to spend years making apologies for others because they are immature and rude.  Have fun but not at the expense of others.    Fortunalty the lady who runs the sailing operation is happy to have us back especially knowing we no longer travel with such people. 

I could see Greece over and over again.  Brad and I are going there again in 2012 as I have said and we are really looking forward to it.  Santorini is our favorite place.  It is romantic and fun, and filled with this great spirit of family and friendship.  I know you will love every aspect of your time here.   

ROME:  Though we only spent one day here we did a small sense of it.  It was crowded and filled with Merchants on every corner.  You had to pay to get into the Colosseum and there were so many tourists there you could barely walk around.  The history there is amazing and I was in awe to see the architecture of this place.  I had wished we could have gone into Vatican City but it was not in the cards for us on this trip.  Perhaps next time.   I am not a huge fan of Italy, I have been there twice and on another post you will see my views on that.  Though many people love Italy and could visit it over and over again, it is not my favorite place to travel. 

Coliseum Rome 2004

Coliseum Rome 2004

London, Scotland and Norway 2007

This was a most fantastic trip.  We went to Scotland for our second time and decided this time, since we had no restrictions of awful travel companions, that we would visit as many distilleries as possible and stay in some amazing B&B’s and see as much of the land, and scenery as possible.  To make new and better memories.   We rented a car and drove from one of Scotland to the other.  From Aberdeen to the Isle of Skyy.  We saw Glen Grant distillery, McCullan, Glenfiddich,  Highland Park, Scapa, Ardmore, Dalwhinnie, Blair Athol, Glennmorangie (this is where I fell and chipped my knee cap and put a whole in my knee to the bone.  It was an experience that I wont forget.  Dont do it, it hurts very much bad) 🙂  There were many other distilleries that we saw on this trip.  In the winter time you cannot tour many of them so be prepared to not see anything but the grounds and perhaps get a taste of scotch at the front desk.

But the weather is very much like Seattle, damp and grey mostly.  Its not cold but cool even during the day so wear layers for the unpredictable day to day weather.  Also its best to wear good walking shoes, with the dampness things are slippery and wet and muddy in some parts and because there are lots of stone walkways and stone steps you can get hurt if your shoes are not proper for walking.  I slipped on some wet wooden stairs when the day was very rainy and I was not being smart about my shoe choice for the day.

You will want to venture to the banks of Lochness and many waterways so be prepared that you are going to get muddy in some places.

See as many castles as you can get into and or stand.  They are amazing.  The history is fascinating and I have been nowhere even to this day where the castles have been as well preserved as they are in Scotland.  Stirling Castle is my favorite, it is well preserved and it has a great view.  You can see Wallace Monument from one side of it (think BraveHeart)  You can get some amazing shots there.  (we had to replace some shots from a previous trip, they were lost in a divorce. And probably at this point sold illegally to someone since they are all copyrighted.  But we got some amazing stuff)  The weather if it is good and sunny will give you the best photography and you can stay there for hours.  This time we even got to see some reenactments of sword fighting. It was wonderful!

We drove 800 miles on this trip, seeing everything, eating at every pub, talking to all the locals and just having a relaxing marvelous time.  I was so glad that we decided to go back here, my memories were so much better and so amazing and so much more relaxed on this trip. 

I recommend Scotland to anyone and everyone, it is a beautiful place.  I dont think anyone will regret there time here.  Give yourself at least 10 days, w.out travel time to roam around here.  We are very familiar with most areas and most B&B’s so if you plan to go here let us know we can recommend where to stay and what to avoid.

B&B’s are your best bet in Scotland.  They are all privately owned and run.  And they are everywhere so you have many to choose from.  They are not very expensive and breakfast to order is usually included.  They are clean, unique and very family oriented.  You will not regret your adventures if you take it all in.

(more to come)

Fiji 2007

Brad and Angela Wright

Brad and Angela Wright in Fiji

We stayed in a resort while here and though the resort was clean it was not necessarily a place I would stay again.  The food was not very good and they had a limited menu.  You were pretty much told what you were going to eat at each meal and it was difficult to ask for anything special or different because the wait staff didn’t speak hardly any english.  And it was SO hot that just walking to the dining area, which was outside overlooking the water,  you were dripping in sweat.

Most of the resorts there are owned by New Zealanders, rich New Zealanders.  Which is not necessarily and issue except that it pained us to see how they treated the staff.  They barely paid them a wage, made them work 7 days a week, day and nite and told them they had to live on site of the resort and made them pay their own rents and for their own food.  If they talked back or get complaints they were fired and many of them were asked to leave the island.  That made us sad because these people were locals, this was their land and they were given very few choices about life.

Though they appreciated the work, it was sad to see how impoverished they were even with wages being paid.

We did not like the resort because it was full of children, and it was small.  The rooms were small and hot and dark and there was not a lot of room to relax or really enjoy yourself unless you went up to the main resort house.  We didn’t like to do that because it was so hot and the children were always there running around and were terribly behaved.

The diving was good, easy but good.  It takes about 45 minutes to get to any dive site from the resort.  And its a real pain to have to drag your gear back and forth from your room to the dive boat every day.  The dive boats are very small.  But the dive masters are helpful and friendly and know their diving.  Corinne got her Open Water Certification in Fiji and they treated her very well.

It is hard to get to Fiji, we flew Air New Zealand, which is the only airline that flies there out of LAX.  And it only flies 2 times a week.  It’s about 15 hours from LA to Fiji (Nadi International Airport)  and about a two-hour drive from the Nadi airport to anywhere.

The airline is never on time, and be prepared for it to cancel or change your reservations without telling you.  And if you are stuck somewhere because of their total incompetence do not expect to get reimbursed for anything, a hotel, meals, nothing. They will ignore your requests and your calls and you will never get your money back or get an apology for anything.

Fiji is pretty but poor.  Most people live in huts, or in make shift box homes, or on the streets.  They work just to provide enough food for their families for one day.  It’s a hard life and there is wealth all around them.

They are a very friendly people.  They smile a lot and treat you well.  They seem to love their island and helping people out and seeing you come to visit.

There isn’t much to do in Fiji, except lay on the beach, drink, read, dive.  But if that is your thing than this might be the place for you.   I am certain we will not go back.

Be prepared for it to be very hot, humid and flourishing with bugs.

Fiji, 2007

Fiji, 2007

Bahamas 2009

Live Aboard dive boat.  My daughter received her advanced Open Water SCUBA cert while on this trip. 

As with most dive boats there are always those that you either like or hate, get along with right away or not.  There were some folks on the boat from Detroit.  And they were very gossipy, secretive etc.  They didnt like to follow the diver masters instructions, they always wanted to go their own way and they were always having to be bailed out of a jam because they were not even very good divers.  Though if you were to ask them, they were the best.

We did meet some nice folks, two brothers from Brooklyn.  They were very friendly and they had been traveling together since they were kids. They were nice and they enjoyed dinner with us most nites.

We had the largest cabin on the boat and as I have found out on dive boats, if you are the one with the largest cabin, be prepared to be talked about by the others on board.

They start to ask you questions about your job, how much you make, what kind of car you drive.  Its very competitive on a dive boat.  Though i have not for the life of me figured out why. Diving is a hard sport, takes training and can be dangerous.  You dont have to be rich to do it, and you dont have to be famous to enjoy it.  Yet dive boats have the most interesting, jealous group of people onboard, most of the time.  I can see why my husbands first wife had trouble with people on board these boats, with her know-it-all, selfish and flaunting conversations.  I am sure it upset most people and became down right rude most of the time.

You can pretty much tell right away on a live a board who you will get along with and who you wont.  And you end up staying away from some people most of the time on the boat.

We had the unfortunate situation of one man on the boat who was always the one who had to talk the loudest and be the biggest and he and Brad got into it one nite when he started bad mouthing Microsoft.  It was not a pretty few days after that.  The guy was just a jerk and I was glad when we were off the boat away from him

This boat was not as nice as some I have gone on.  Especially after being on this fantastic boat for our honeymoon in the Red Sea in Egypt.  Now that was a fantastic boat!  But it was ok, the food was decent but not great, the diving was good and easy and the sites were lovely.  It was a good place to just relax and enjoy if you could get away from annoying people.

(more to come soon)

Israel, Jordan and Egypt

One thing I cannot stress enough, especially to women traveling to the Middle East which are heavily Jewish and Muslim countries, is Dress Modestly.  It is essential that you understand the Do’s and Dont’s of fashion when traveling to these areas.   

Always pack a head covering of some kind, like a scarf.  (a hat would not be appropriate) Keep it in your bag, or jacket or pants and be ready to use it when entering certain religious sites.  Always wear a shirt (or over shirt) that covers your chest, arms and wrists.  Always wear long pants or a long skirt.  

Many mosques, synagogues, and sometimes Christian churches require that you dress modestly before you enter them.  Remember this is “their” country and you are a guest.  You may not like, understand or appreciate their customs but you should by all means respect them while traveling.   

If you enter a place of worship and there is some kind of service going on, or a prayer of some kind be polite.  Do not talk or videothe service or take photos.  People are there to worship and this is their sacred place.  You are visiting and it would be rude and IS rude not to show proper respect for their worship time.  And besides that,  it makes you look like a foolish and annoying tourist.   

Red in Tel-Aviv Israel

Red in Tel-Aviv Israel 2009

I noticed this kind of rude “tourist” behavior most of my time in Egypt especially.  The German and Beijing tourist groups were so rude all the time.  Not once showing any kindness or respect for the places they were visiting or the locals that were worshiping or working entered; I was embarrassed for them.  They would push their way through sites, yell, scream, stand in everyones way and not once show any respect by tipping or thanking the locals that might have been there helping out or directing them.  

If you are going to do a lot of walking and I assume you will, do not wear flip-flops or high heels.  Wear good, comfortable shoes for touring and lots of walking.  And its best to wear socks, for a couple of reasons.  One is because some of the places of worship that you will visit require you to remove your shoes before entering.  You wont want to walk on the floors barefoot where thousands of people walk each day, it’s neither clean nor appealing. Two, the streets in expecially in Egypt, are filthy.  They are covered with garbage and feces from humans and animals, rotting food, urine etc.  Flip flops are not a good clean way to travel.  Also the cities are old and many of them either have dirt roads or large stones and bowlders for walking on.  A good pair of walking shoes with support is essential.   

Be smart when packing for trips, know your terrain, your weather.  It would be inappropriate to dress as if you are trying out for Americas next top model or as if you just jump out of a Banana Republic catalog from 1980.  Be modest, be comfortable, and be smart about any attire you wear while traveling.   You don’t want to stand out and you don’t want to be uncomfortable or it can ruin your whole experience.  

Using the restrooms in Egypt is going to take you by surprise, maybe.  First of all Egypt is filthy, period.  It is third world so be prepared for things you wont have or find that we as expecially as Amercians, take for granted.  There is never toilet paper, paper towels or soap in most if not all of the bathrooms in Egypt or Jordan.  Israel you get a little more cleanliness but not much.  You will find that you will be expected to tip the person at the bathroom entrance.  One Egyptian LE is about sufficient.  If and when you do this, ask them for T.P before you enter the stall or have your own tissue with you, for there will be none in the stall.  You will also have to use T.P to dry your hands, paper towels are pretty much none existant in Egypt. Bring plenty of handi-wipes and disinfectant so that you can use it as you leave the restroom, you will need and want to use it after leaving the restroom or leaving a place where many tourists and locals frequent.   

       *DO NOT tip the bathroom attendants at the Museum in Cairo.  They will ask you for a hand out but there is a sign that says DO NOT tip them.  

Chances are you will walk a lot of streets and go to Bazaars while in Egypt.  The merchants will drive you nuts if you are not prepared.  Everyone is looking to make a buck.  They will stop in front of you, sometimes even toss something at you or on you, like a scarf and tell you that you now have to pay, and how much are you willing to pay.  Try your best to walk by the shops and ignore these people.  Keep walking, sternly say “NO” and don’t look them in the eye.   

If you do decide to buy something from a street merchant, do not take their first price and do not listen to them tell you that it’s a good price, it’s not.  If you pay more than $6.00 for a scarf, than you have paid too much.   

For example I wanted a silly stuffed camel (my husband buys me something like this from every trip) and we wanted these pyramid-shaped paper weight set (you can buy them everywhere in every color and stone) The merchant we stopped at started at 500 LE (egyptian pounds) not only did we laugh we walked out of his store.  He kept yelling, 400 LE, 300 LE etc.  We just kept walking and then later returned down the same street.  He saw us, of course and  yelled, 100 LE, my husband said 40, they said 80, my husband said 50 LE, SOLD!  So you see, there is always bargaining to do.  Dont let them rip you off, stand firm and make a deal.  

If you find that you are walking through a market or a bizarre and someone randomly walks up to you and starts giving you directions, or walking with you and talking to you and asking you about your travels, random questions etc. ask him to leave you alone.  He now thinks he is your tour guide and will in the end expect a tip of some kind.   

     * NOTHING is free in Egypt  

In places where you must remove your shoes, if there is someone there collecting your shoes, they will expect a tip to give them back to you.  

My husband and I do not take tour buses or cruises.  Though we see many sites that tourists usually see, we also see many sites that large groups do not get to see or cannot get too.  We usually hire a private guide and driver for our trips through a reputable agency in whatever country we are in.  That way we can get into sites quickly, get good photos, see things others do not get to see and do all this on our own terms and usually without too many tourists around.   

Beware though even of private guides.  They are corrupt and they will try to sell you everything they can.  They will ask to take you to shops, owned and operated by friends, they will show you photos of jewelry and music Cd’s asking you to buy these things.  They are making a profit and so are their friends, and in most cases none of this is legal.  Dont get stuck buying things you don’t want, say NO.  

If you travel to Giza to see the large/main pyramids it is a good idea to get a full, all around view of all 9 of them.  To properly do this you will need to go to the back side of them, through the desert by camel.  (you can walk it if you want but even by slow camel its a 45 minute trip around) The ride is about 100-150 LE a person.  It’s not scary (though I admit I was hesitant at first) and the person pulling or managing the camels is experienced, usually a kid whos father owns and raises them.  Beware of one thing, as you ride there will be someone in the desert riding a donkey or horse who starts talking to you and asking you how you like things etc.  Then he will open up a soda and hand it to you, even if you say no he is very insistent.  If you take the soda, he will then ask you to pay for it.  And no matter what you give him, it wont be enough or good enough.  One of the most popular phrases in Egypt when you tip is “are you happy with this?”  Meaning are you sure you are happy with this tip, wouldnt you like to give more.   

It’s best to have your own water before getting on the camel, you can usually by it right there at a vendor, and avoid the soda selling person if you can.  He will be waiting for you in the desert.  

The kid or person pulling the camel will ask for a tip (of course) and whatever tip you decide he wont be happy with it.  We gave a small tip because our kid was busier talking on his cell phone than he was guiding the camels and telling us about the pyramids, very annoying!  

Do not drink the water in Egypt.  Their only source of water is from the Nile and they treat it with complete disrespect.  Mostly because they are poor and ignorant of how to properly care for such a precious resource.  Along the banks of the Nile, especially in Cairo, there is garbage lining the banks, and floating in the water.  There is also dead animals and you will see people urinating and bathing and washing their clothes in the river.  So don’t even let the water touch your lips in the shower and don’t use ice in your drinks.  Dont eat the salad or any fruit that is not peeled or vegetables that are not peeled and properly cooked.  All these things have been washed in the Nile and you will get a nasty stomach bug that will ruin your vacation.  Also be careful not to eat the cheese if it has not been pasteurized.   

It is a good idea to carry a prescription of Cypro with you to combat a stomach bug.  I followed all the rules of food and water and we stayed at all the best 5 star hotels like Mena House  http://www.oberoihotels.com/oberoi_menahouse/index.asp and I still ended up with a stomach bug.  So be very careful with your food and beverage intake.  

In Israel water is safe to drink from the tap, and most food is safe to eat.  Israel is considered more of a 2nd world country so they tend to be cleaner and they treat their water supply with better care.  

In Israel do not be surprised by all the young people walking around in Army fatigues carrying M16’s around their bodies, acting as if nothing is wrong.  They do it because they are required too and they are being trained that if a situation breaks out, they are prepared.  Honestly I am not sure how a bunch of young people fresh out of High School can be prepared for what one of these countries might instantly throw at them, but I respect the way they are trained to get in there and be part of  it.  I admit that one nite in a restaurant when all these kids came in with these guns around there necks and just sat a table next to us and had a leisurely dinner, it was odd and a little unnerving at first.  But you get over that feeling after a month in the Middle East.  

Dead Sea Scroll excavation   

ISRAEL:  It is filled with history.  Anyone who is a bible scholar of anykind will truly appreciate this place.  The old wall of Jerusalem, the Wailing Wall, The garden of Gethsemane, The Mt of Olives, The river Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lots wife, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, Capernaum, Cessarea,  the Dead Sea Scrolls, Mt. Hermon etc.  Any and all biblical places that you have learned about and are familiar with you can see in such awe here.  I loved Israel, I loved the people and the places and the history and I would go back over and over again.   

PETRA:  One of the most amazing places I have ever seen. The structures, the beauty of the red stone, rocks, carvings. The first moment you come around that corner to see the very first glimpse through the stone of the front of the Treasury.. man, words cannot express the amazing structure, and the way your heart sinks to see such an amazing piece of craftmanship.  I have waited my whole life to see this place, and in those few moments, I knew it was worth the wait.
Petra in Jordan

Front of Treasury at Petra in Jordan