Egypt, Israel & Jordan Via Grand Circle


May 20th, 2005, 09:27 AM
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Join Date: May 2005
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Egypt, Israel & Jordan Via Grand Circle

My wife and I and the couple we have traveled with several times before got back home Friday night after being gone for 23 days. We had a wonderful, wonderful time!!!!!!!!

From JFK we flew to Vienna on Austrian Airlines (really cramped seats!) and then on to Tel Aviv, where we met the other 17 people in our group, and by bus to Jerusalem. Our excellent guide (GC calls them "program directors" because they handle everything), Ronny, a Swedish-born
Israeli, met us in Tel Aviv and conducted all the scheduled tours. We walked and were bussed all over Jerusalem seeing more historical sites in a day than I had seen in any previous trip I've been on. To visit Bethlehem, we had to pay a fee and Ronny turned us over to a Christian Palestinian named Christian at the checkpoint who arranged for a tour of where Christ was born. Bethlehem is in a Palestinian controlled area and Ronny couldn't or didn't want to go in there. The Christian community is in sharp decline in Bethlehem. Other highlights of our 5 days in Israel were a tour of Nazareth, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee & the kibbutz there and Yad Vashem, the new Holocaust memorial and museum. Israel's tourism had dropped to only 20% of its high of a few years ago and has
only climbed back to 60%. Our hotel also housed many IDF soldiers -- mostly 18 or 19 year old girls, some of whom were dwarfed by their M16 rifles slung on their backs. Ronny tried to give a balanced view of the problems in Israel and they are truly complex. After experiencing all this, I expected Israel to be the highlight of our trip.

Bussed back to Tel Aviv, the 21 of us flew to Cairo. The entire group became 141 (many people only went to Egypt) and we were color coded into 4 groups -- each with our own guide/program director. We were green and
ours was Basem. Our hotel room at the Marriott looked out on the Nile -- really nice!! During several days in Cairo, we visited the Egyptian Museum and saw more artifacts than I could possibly remember, the bazaar -- and the pyramids and Sphinx. Each of the 4 groups had its own bus and our buses were always accompanied by police who cleared traffic ahead and followed from behind for security. Traffic was stopped at major intersections to let the busses thru and Cairo traffic is unbelievable! Each bus also had its own armed guard and went with us when the groups got off the busses -- Egypt realizes the importance of tourists and goes to great lengths to protect them. We paid extra and took optional trips
to Alexandria, the Mohommad Ali Mosque, ancient Christian churches (Egypt is 10+% Christian) a wonderful dinner cruise on the Nile (police boat was always nearby), etc.

After a few days we flew to Luxor where the 141 of us got on the boat for the Nile cruise (7 nights). Several of us went to a bar in Luxor where we smoked shishas and enjoyed beer brewed in Egypt. The only place where we got into any political discussions was here where the Ukrainian wife of the bar-owner didn't have good things to say about Bush or the break-up of the Soviet Union. The Luxor Temple and the temples at Karnak were
spectacular! We took the optional tours to the Dendera Temple and Abu Simbel (a must see, scheduled well in advance). We saw the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, the Aswan Dams and much more. There was so much to see
that it is difficult to keep it straight. After experiencing all this, I expected Egypt to be the highlight of our trip.

(There are SO MANY things to see in Egypt and Basem was spectacular with his knowledge on all of them. Among other things we learned from him were that Egyptians are not truly Arabs, neither are the Syrians, Iraqis, Lebanese, etc. The Arabs arrived in the 7th century and present day
Egyptians are a mixture of Greeks, Romans, Arabs and many others (Persians, Nubians, etc.). The Arab-speaking countries don't use Arabic numbers, but instead use numbers that they got from India.)

From Aswan, where the Nile cruise ended, we flew back to Cairo and most of the 141 boat passengers flew home, but about 33 of us flew to Jordan.

I expected Jordan to be a small, poor country just east of Israel. Amman was wonderful, the capital looked very prosperous, the roads were good and the polite drivers obeyed the laws. More American cars on the road
than I have seen in any foreign country. Many of the police cars (Fords) that we saw in Amman and Petra would look normal in American cities except for some Arabic writing. Jordan has low inflation, an excellent education system and seemed extremely progressive. It is illegal to smoke
or use a cell phone (great!) when driving and seat belts must be used.

Amman is an old city, of course, and was once called Philadelphia. In Jordan (only an armed bus guard), our guide/program director was Anas and he was also knowledgeable, entertaining and amusing. (I wish I had
recorded his monologue about arranged marriages.) Amman was very interesting, but Petra was what we really came to see. We were not disappointed: the "Treasury" was spectacular as were the other works constructed by the Nabataeans. Another most impressive site in Jordan was Jerash which is one of the best preserved Greco-Roman sites in the world. Included in the Jordan trip was a visit to their side of the Dead Sea -- several very nice hotels (Israel's side had nothing to compare with these
hotels.) and the World Economic Forum will be at one of them this week. Because our EgyptAir flight to JFK was leaving late on our last day, we took an optional tour to the place where Christ was baptized which is very close to the Jordan River (about 20 feet wide). Maybe Jordan was the highlight of our trip!!!

(Anas said that Arabic is written right to left because that was best when carving into stone, while much of the rest of the world writes left to right because the other way would have smeared the ink the ancients used.)
We flew back to teeming Cairo for a night at an airport hotel and had a pleasant EgyptAir (roomy seats) flight to JFK.

Some additional thoughts (if you have gotten this far):
We were never worried about our safety during any part of this. Our three guides/program directors were all really excellent. Each (or his colleague sometimes) stayed with us the full time we were in their country.

Grand Circle made sure every aspect of everything was made as easy as possible for us -- surprisingly we were even met by a Grand Circle representative at JFK who even smoothed our transfer to Delta/Song.
Luggage was completely handled for us almost all the time. People on the street were invariably friendly.
Vendors, especially in Egypt, were very, very persistent!!! Show a casual interest in any of their wares and you had a tough time escaping.
The food was good and as plentiful as you wanted on every part of the trip.

I have absolutely no connection with Grand Circle Travel except for being a first-time customer.

Undoubtedly I have left out some major things, there was simply an overwhelming amount of things to experience.
TomMiller33760 is offline  
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May 20th, 2005, 09:51 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 141
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your report. We are going in November with OAT to Egypt and Jordan. I am already so excited, and your report just heightened that. Now that you're back and have seen it all, which do you think was the highlight?
bobbysue is offline  
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May 20th, 2005, 11:22 AM
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My husband and I did the GCT tour of Egypt & Jordan in Nov. 2003 and we thought it was terrific! I looked forward to Jordan and was not disappointed! And, yes, GCT handles everything very well. The Nile cruise boat is spectacular!
Marsh is offline  
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May 20th, 2005, 03:04 PM
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The highlight? Although it seemed like the highlight was whatever country we visited last, I guess I would have to say Egpt with its pyramids, the Sphinx, temples and Abu Simbel.

We are really glad we took the Israel and Jordan extensions. Of the 141 people on the Nile cruise, only 10 of us visited all three countries. Those who didn't sign up for Jordan regretted their decision.

TomMiller33760 is offline  
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May 20th, 2005, 05:59 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
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Israel wasn't an option on this particular tour, but I really didn't feel I could get that close and not see Jordan. That was part of the reason I selected OAT.
bobbysue is offline  
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May 21st, 2005, 05:17 AM
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Enjoyed your report very much! We toured Egypt and Jordan with GCT in Dec. 2002. We also had Anas as our guide in Jordan! He was the best!
We'd love to do it all over again. I look at our photos and can not believe I was really THERE!
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May 23rd, 2005, 07:49 AM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 6
I'd love to communicate with BOBBYSUE as we are going to Egypt and Jordan with OAT in November also. WANDERLUST5 is also on the trip. If either of you read this e-mail me at [email protected] - I'd love to talk!
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