Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

I sought the advice of friends on how to book a tour to Petra and Wadi Rum prior to traveling to Jordan. Everyone assured me that any hotel could make the necessary arrangements. As they had advised, my hotel in Amman put together a custom tour that included transport in a private car via the King’s Highway to Petra, with stops at some of the most important tourist sites along the way. After three nights in Petra (not included), a driver would transfer me to Wadi Rum, where I would spend two nights in a traditional Bedouin tent and enjoy a two-hour jeep tour of the desert. From Wadi Rum, I would be driven non-stop back to Amman via the Desert Highway. The price of slightly less than $600 seemed reasonable, given that I would have a private driver at my beck and call. And it would have been fine…if I’d gotten what I was promised.

On day one I climbed into the car with my driver promptly at 8:30 a.m., excited to begin the seven-hour journey down the King’s Highway toward Petra. Our first stop would be Karak, a 12th century Crusader castle in the town of Al-Karak. I’d been told we would be driving down the King’s Highway, but my GPS map soon indicated otherwise. We were on the Desert Highway, which parallels King’s Highway some miles to the east on the opposite side of a deep gorge known as Mujib Canyon.

My driver gets out of the car to examine the rough road before attempting to drive over it

My driver gets out of the car to examine the rough road before attempting to drive over it

Assuming my driver would cut over to the west at some point, I logged into his wifi and checked my email. A few miles down the road he pulled off onto a narrow asphalt road that was riddled with potholes and gullies. Less than a half mile later the asphalt gave way to gravel and the road became increasingly rough. We slowed to a crawl. Featureless, dun-colored hills strewn with jagged rocks stretched to the horizon. There was not a house, an animal, or even a tree within sight. Read More

The desert landscape of Wadi Rum, Jordan, desolate yet stunning

Wadi Rum, Jordan, quite simply, took my breath away. Located in the far southwest corner of the country, the desert landscapes were unlike anything I have ever seen. I expected endless vistas of sand dotted with half-dead scrub brush. I envisioned a monochromatic, moon-like environment. Instead, lush green bushes blazed trails through rich copper-colored sand, pointing the way to monolithic rock outcroppings in the distance. The sun Read More

In the late afternoon sun Al Siq, a slot canyon that leads to the archeological site of Petra, Jordan, bursts into flaming reds and golds

In the late afternoon sun, the gorge known as Al Siq in Petra, Jordan, bursts into flame. The three-quarter mile long slot canyon is the main entrance to the ancient Nabatean city. The walls of Al Siq soar nearly 600 feet high in places and show evidence of millennia of wind and water erosion. However geologists tell us it was formed by a natural geological fault that occurred as a result of plate tectonics. Only after it split apart did wind and water work their magic to sculpt and smooth the walls. Read More

The Treasury at Petra, Jordan, seen from the slot canyon known as the Siq

The Treasury at Petra, Jordan, is one of the most magnificent archaeological sites in the world. The structure was carved from solid rock by the Nabataeans, who are thought to have been an ancient Arabic tribe. Very little is known about the Nabataeans. It is believed that they began as a nomadic tribe, wandering the northern Arabian Peninsula in search of water and pastures for their herds of animals. Over time they settled in the area now known as Petra, which was situated at the crossroads of caravan routes that linked China, India, and South Arabia with the Mediterranean world. Capitalizing on their advantageous location and intimate knowledge of the Arabian geography, the Nabataeans became master merchants and traders in the first centuries BC and AD. Read More

I pulled my Eagle Creek 22″ 4-wheeled suitcase off the luggage carousel at the Cyprus airport, set it upright, and spun it around to make sure everything was OK. I’d used that suitcase constantly over the past two plus years and it had held up incredibly well, so I didn’t expect to find anything unusual. This time, however, I noticed a crack in the top, left-hand corner. I leaned over to inspect it more closely. Sure enough, a serious spider-web crack marred the polycarbonate frame.

Damage to my suitcase caused by Aegean Airlines, discovered upon arrival in Cyprus

Damage to my suitcase caused by Aegean Airlines, discovered upon arrival in Cyprus

I rolled it over to the Aegean counter to report the damage. The agent offered me two options. “I could give you a replacement right now, but they’re not very good bags,” he said. Alternatively, I could fill out a form and start the process to get a refund for the case. Since I travel full-time, having a good quality suitcase is crucial for me, so I chose the latter option. Three days later, I received the first in what would be a long string of emails from Aegean over the next six weeks:

Dear Ms. Weibel,
Thank you for contacting us. We checked your claim and we would like to provide you with the following information. More specifically, you may proceed on repairing your bag and forward us the receipt of payment in order to cover the respective amount. If your bag is considered irreparable, you are kindly requested to forward us some photos as well as the receipt of purchase. In case it is not available , kindly inform us for its model and dimensions. Ms. Weibel, we are looking forward to your reply at your earliest convenience and settling your claim.
Yours sincerely,
Victoria Gioldasi Read More

The ancient Parthenon, a classic Greek temple to the goddess Athena, perches atop a massive rock outcropping in the center of Athens, Greece

The ancient Parthenon, a classic Greek temple to the goddess Athena, perches atop the massive rock outcropping known as the Acropolis in the center of Athens. That might not seem so astounding, except for the fact that construction on the structure originally began in 447 BC, nearly 2,500 years ago! The Parthenon served as a classic Greek temple until the fifth century AD, when it became a Christian church. Ottoman Turks seized the entire Acropolis in 1458 and converted it to a mosque, adding a small minaret to one corner. The interior was subsequently destroyed by the Venetians in 1687 during their war with the Turks. Read More