Archive | preparation RSS feed for this section

Petra

18 Jun

“A rose red city, half as old as time.” Isn’t that just so romantic?? The description fits Petra perfectly.

Undoubtedly the pride and joy of Jordan is Petra. We spent 2 days hiking around Petra and it is our choice for most beautiful place in the world. Without a doubt, Petra is one of those places you absolutely must see before you die. The combination of the natural beauty along with human craftsmanship isn’t comparable, there is nothing else like it out there.

To read more about Petra, go here. But really, the entire place is indescribable and pictures don’t do it justice. We’ll just show you how we spent two days there:

Our hotel, Petra Moon, was an easy two minute walk down the hill from the entrance of Petra. We took advantage of our proximity and got our start at 6am each morning when the site opens.

20120619-112403.jpg

Day 1:
Whereas we spent half days at other world wonders (3 hours each at the Great Wall and Taj Mahal, 1 hour at Christ the Redeemer), we dedicated two days to Petra. A single day ticket for people daytripping from Israel costs 95JD, whereas a 2 day pass is 55JD. This is the way Jordan encourages tourism in their own country. By the way, similar to the Taj Mahal, nationals pay a fraction of the cost, 1JD.

Booths lining the path to the entrance: Indiana Jones snack shop!

20120619-112407.jpg

It’s about a brisk 30 minute walk to the Siq, you can see some carvings along the way.

20120619-112414.jpg

20120619-112425.jpg

We started getting all googly eyed when we got to the Siq. Such a beautiful path! It takes maybe 10 minutes to get through the Siq if you don’t stop to take pictures. Bonus, the Siq is also wonderful because it’s shaded!

20120619-112420.jpg

I think our most favorite part of Petra was exiting the Siq and seeing the Treasury unfold in front of us. It was incredibly magical and we were awestruck. The best part about it was that we had the entire moment to ourselves, not a soul was around. We literally just stood there and gawked at the entire thing. It was just so gorgeous. And since it was overcast, the lighting was just perfect for photography.

20120619-112429.jpg

We spent a good hour at the Treasury. You can’t go inside unfortunately, but we sat on one of the benches and just hung out. It was also fun to people watch and look at their reactions when they see Petra for the first time.

20120619-112433.jpg

20120619-112437.jpg

We took advantage of the overcast day and went on a 2 hour hike to the Monastery, Petra’s #2 attraction. If you’re up for it, this is a good hike to take because many other attractions are along the way.

20120619-112446.jpg

20120619-112459.jpg

20120619-112451.jpg
Can’t believe that arch is still intact!

Above: Coliseum Below: This is Petra’s version of Third Street Promenade/La Rambla/Champs Elysses

20120619-112455.jpg

Brown University currently has an excavation project going on. Did you know that experts say only 15-20% of Petra has been uncovered? Amazing! Generations to come will hopefully have more to look forward to.

20120619-112509.jpg

20120619-112513.jpg

20120619-112525.jpg

The Monastery is larger and less intricate than the Treasury. Definitely worth the hike!

20120619-112520.jpg

20120619-112504.jpg
Throughout the park, you’ll be asked persistently and constantly to pay for camel and donkey rides. We must have been asked at least 2 dozen times on the first day. The locals won’t take no for an answer. Here’s the deal:

Even though your ticket gets you a “free” ride from the entrance to the Siq, you still have to pay “tip.” We opted to explore the entire park on foot. I read that the camels, donkeys, and horses are abused, beaten, and overworked. Jerry actually even saw a worker drop kick a camel in the head, which was so sad. At our age, it’s easy to turn down rides because we can handle the distance and heat. However, I can see that an older person or a young kid might benefit from paying for rides. Petra is so huge that you realistically can’t explore the entire thing in one day. We had the luxury of two days, which not everyone opts for.

Day 2:
Again we left at 6am and had the Siq/Treasury to ourselves. Day 2 was looking to be a very sunny day, so we immediately left for the hike that gives an overlook of the Treasury.

20120619-112441.jpg

20120619-112530.jpg
Along the way, we explored some tombs.

20120619-112535.jpg

20120619-112541.jpg
The natural colors are so gorgeous!

20120619-112547.jpg

20120619-112605.jpg
This dog was annoying at first because it kept following us around and sniffing our food. It was also quite dirty and so we didn’t want to pet him for obvious reasons. However throughout the hike he grew on us and we even named him Buddy. He was sort of like our hiking guide, it was endearing! In some areas the trail was not marked as well, and so Buddy would “guide” us in the right direction.

20120619-112600.jpg

20120619-112554.jpg
Left: We are back on the ground a few meters from the Treasury. I’m pointing to where we hiked up to! Right: Up on top is a nice tent like structure, perfect to relax and rest before going back down.

We opted out on seeing Petra by Night (Jeannie kept wanting to call it Paris by Night, those of you who are Vietnamese would get this joke), because we heard it was crowded and very touristy. The description sounds romantic, seeing Petra in all it’s glory by candlelight/moonlight. But after watching youtube vids and reading online reviews we gathered that we’d essentially be herded with other tourists in a large group and be forced to watch a “cultural” show with music/dancing, and whatnot. Not our idea of a good time! It’s also pretty pricey and not included in the 2 day ticket.

Other tips:
Bathrooms are really clean, well at 10am, I don’t know about 5pm, but up to date plumbing and western style. They are also a decent number of facilities throughout the park.

Food is very expensive inside the park, so at dinner each evening before, we ordered a few sandwiches to go and we also picked up fruit and drinks from local markets. Of course this only works if your hotel room has a fridge.

Petra is the name for the Archeological Park/site. When you book accommodations and eat out, you’re actually in Wadi Mousa, the town that serves as a gateway to Petra. We thought we’d clarify this because we were initially confused as well!

Definitely go for the two day ticket. The weather was perfect at 6am when we headed back to the hotel by 1-2pm or so, it was pretty uncomfortable. As we made our way back shortly after lunch, we saw folks that were barely heading out. That’s too ambitious for us! Also, the later you go, the more crowded it is, that’s when the hordes of tour buses caravan dozens of tourists at at time. There is just nothing comparable to having the Treasury to yourself, even for a few minutes!

The view from our hotel. Beautiful!

20120619-112611.jpg

20120619-112616.jpg

Indiana Jungs!

20120619-112622.jpg

All in all, Petra was our favorite place on this trip so far. We’ve got a month to go before we fly back to SFO, so it’s safe to say we don’t think anything will top our Petra experience.

So what are you waiting for? Book your ticket now! While Jordan is a very safe country at the moment, who knows what the future will bring. The region is so volatile (latest news: Syria), and so it would be a shame if Petra ever went the way of the Bamiyan Buddhas. Although I highly doubt that would happen (would be the travesties of all travesties), one can’t really predict the future. Especially for a region like the Middle East.

We hope you enjoyed this post! Our next post: floating in the Dead Sea. We ❤ Jordan!

Advertisements

Travel and Health Insurance

1 Mar

This is a scheduled post. We are hiking the Inca Trail with very limited Internet access. Wouldn’t be surprised if there was none! We will read and reply to comments as soon as we can.

Because we live in America, land of the not-free-and-very-expensive health insurance, we had to figure out our health insurance such that we won’t be uncovered during the trip. With Jeannie’s health insurance, we decided to extend her COBRA thru work at a cost of several hundred dollars per month. This will allow her to continue her Kaiser co-pay and have no disruptions in coverage. My work covers current month +1, so I’ve decided to buy individual deductible coverage from May-July, and hopefully I’ll be able to get a job with health coverage soon after we come back from the trip. Kaiser is good in that you’re covered everywhere in the world, and ER and urgent care is fully reimbursable. We debated travel health insurance, but decided not to sign up due to the fact that we’re covered with Kaiser, and most travel health insurance plans only cover trips up to 30 days long.

Travel insurance such as lost baggage, trip delays, trip cancellation, etc is covered by our credit card, Chase Sapphire Preferred. As long as we book our trip with this card, we’ve got some means of recovering lost expenses from small mishaps which are bound to occur during a long trip.

Let’s hope that we don’t encounter such situations where insurance would be needed, but peace of mind is always welcome.

Electronic Equipment

19 Feb

We’ve finally decided on our electronics gear for the trip.

iPad 16gb
iPad camera connection kit
2x iPhone 4s 16gb
Panasonic TS2 waterproof camera
Nikon D7000
Nikon 17-55 f/2.8
Nikon 35 f/1.8
SD-to-USB card reader
8gb USB stick
4x 32gb SD cards (2 in the Nikon, 1 in the Panasonic, and 1 which holds every single episode of Big Bang Theory and Friday Night Lights, plus a dozen movies)
2x Petzl Tikka Plus 2 headlamps (not pictured)
Monster 4-port travel power strip
Monoprice audio splitter and 2x earbuds
Outlet adapters for all regions of the world
Various cables and chargers

Any last minute suggestions on additional things to bring? We leave in 5 days!

To Tour or Not To Tour

15 Feb

image via Cafepress

Many of the vacations I took as a kid were tour-based (6am wake-up call, only 1 hour in a museum that usually takes a solid afternoon to explore, 10 minute pee break or the bus leaves without you, buffets and chains galore).  Tours are a great option for those who like to just show up and leave the planning and itinerary up to someone else.  It’s not really our style to go on such tours, we find many tours to not be at a pace that we like (either way too slow or rushed).  But I know there will be days where I will just want to wake up and let someone show me around for the day.

So in the spirit of trying new things (or giving old things a chance), I’ve researched some tours for South America that I’m pretty excited about!

For Machu Picchu, we booked with Llama Path based on our friends N+M’s recs.
In Santiago, I’m leaning towards the Spicy Chile walking tours, and in Buenos Aires, the Buenos Aires Free Tour has rave reviews.
Hielo y Aventura is a must for Patagonia.

Other places we’ll probably forgo tours are Easter Island and Iguazu Falls.  We’re undecided on whether we’ll go on a favela tour in Rio.  Would you do a favela tour?

So what’s the verdict folks?  Do you love tours for its convenience and ease, stay away cus it’s not your cup of tea, or are you like us and somewhere in between?  Share in the comments or in the poll below!

Lesson Learned: Visas

13 Feb

Woohoo! Our final visa from the Indian Embassy in San Francisco just came in the mail. This one ended up being a little too close for comfort because we didn’t calculate all the time required to sequentially process each visa. On the other hand, we didn’t want to apply too early because some of the visas start the clock immediately after issue. The Indian visa in particular, expires 6 months from date of issue, and we’re not planning on being there for another 3-4 months.

Here’s a rundown of the four visas which we had to send our passport in for processing. Many other countries require fees upon entry and/or exit, but no official visa is required.

China – 1 year from date of issue, $140 pp. Apply in person, one week processing time, they take your passport. The Los Angeles visa office is reminiscent of the DMV, but with cute old Chinese ladies. “B203, go to window #2, G319, go to window #5.”

20120213-204635.jpg

Brazil – 10 years from date of issue, $140 pp. Must apply in person, one week processing time, they take your passport. The most colorful and cheerful visa office ever!  Being that we’re only going to be in Brazil for 5.5 days, we’ll have to come back sometime in the next decade to make it worth it!

Vietnam – 1 month from date of arrival specified, $80 pp. Can either be loose-leaf (don’t need passport) or passport sticker (you mail in the passport to Washington DC embassy). The website is ultra confusing, and does not list prices. You have to call or email the embassy in DC for prices. In Jeannie’s family’s experiences, the visa paperwork is taken care of by the travel agent who books the flights.

India – 6 months from date of issue, $76 pp. Must mail your passport to the Travisa office in San Francisco. I’ve heard some hit-and-miss things about the Indian embassy on the internet, but (thankfully) our visas were processed in 2 days, and was 7 days total door-to-door. Others have reported taking several weeks for their visas.

Here’s a tip- we went the DIY passport photo route and made a whole stack of passport-sized photos. That way, we could just grab as we went along without having to stop and print extras. This was extra handy for the Vietnam visa, since they required 2 copies of the passport photo.

Lesson learned: next time, we will apply a week or two earlier!

I Heart My City: Jeannie’s Los Angeles

12 Feb

While planning our itineraries for this trip, I stumbled upon a great gem of a resource: the I Heart My City series from National Geographic.  I really enjoy reading a local’s perspective of any place, so I thought it’d be fun to do one for Los Angeles!

Los Angeles is My City (although this list is county-wide)

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is the Original Farmers Market at the Grove.

When I crave Greek food I always go to Papa Cristos.

To escape the crowds, I head to Tres by Jose Andres at the SLS Hotel for afternoon tea (be sure to request a table by the fireplace!).

If I want to indulge in some Cuban food I go to Portos Bakery.

For complete quiet, I can hide away anywhere along the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  Seriously.  Since no freeways go there, no one ever ventures that-a-way.

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with your favorite celebrity’s handprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from Bay Cities Deli it has to be the Godmother sandwich.

The Flower District is my one-stop shop for great selection of cheap and fresh flowers.

Locals know to skip Chinatown and check out the San Gabriel Valley (Monterey Park, San Gabriel, Rosemead, etc) for Chinese/Vietnamese food instead.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to Tito’s Tacos.

For a huge splurge I go to Sushi Gen for omakase.

Photo ops in my city include the Urban Light sculpture at LACMA and the best vantage points are at Runyon Canyon.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves biking along the LA River or hiking among the San Gabriel mountains.

My city’s best museum is LACMA.

My favorite jogging/walking route is along the Strand from Manhattan Beach to Redondo Beach.

For a night of dancing, go to Zanzibar in Santa Monica. Or, for live music, check out Hotel Cafe.

Original Pantry Cafe is the spot for late-night eats.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read LA Weekly.

You can tell a lot about my city from what you see on The Hills.  Just kidding.  Sort of.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they say the word “the” in front of freeway numbers (the 605, the 10, etc).

In the spring you should visit the Huntington Library or Descanso Gardens.

In the summer you should pack a picnic and watch a concert at the Hollywood Bowl.

In the fall you should check out the LA County Fair.  Eat that deep-fried Snickers bar, and I’ll live vicariously through you.

In the winter you should wear shorts because the weather has an identity crisis.

A hidden gem in my city is the Venice Canals.

For a great breakfast joint try Doughboys Cafe.

Don’t miss the Festival of Books in April.

Just outside my city, you can visit Palm Springs and take the aerial tramway up the San Jacinto Moutains.

The best way to see my city is via car.  Don’t even bother with public transportation, you won’t get far.

If my city were a pet it would be a goldfish.  I don’t know why.

If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live in a small town, a la Stars Hollow.  Any Gilmore Girls fans out there?

The best book about my city is My Dark Places by James Ellroy.  Morbid, but I really needed a balance to The Hills.  See above.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is All I Wanna Do by Sheryl Crow.

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss Griffith Park– observatory, pony/train rides, merry-go-round, zoo, etc.

UGG(ly) boots with short skirts or flip flops with scarves could only happen in my city.

Image via Ork Posters, purchase here, other cities available.

RTW (Round the World) Tickets

24 Jan

When it came to airplane flights, we had two options: 1) Book flights individually through various airlines, or 2) Book flights with an alliance on a RTW ticket.  After spending quite a bit of time debating pros and cons about the best way to go about it, we finally booked our RTW tickets through the OneWorld Alliance.  There are two major RTW systems — mileage-based or continent-based. The mileage-based programs like Star Alliance were much more expensive than OneWorld’s Global Explorer ticket, a continent-based program. With OneWorld, you pay per continent, with a cap of 16 stops/segments. In our case, we are visiting 4 continents, which includes North America. Here’s a trick if you are considering a similar ticket — buy one which starts in a foreign country with a cheaper cost of living — not all RTW tickets are priced the same. We couldn’t make it work for our particular itinerary, but maybe you can.  Another reason OneWorld worked out well for us: with Easter Island and Petra on our bucket list, having LAN and Royal Jordanian as partner airlines made it easier for us to travel to these regions whereas separate round trip flights would end up being very costly. RTW tickets also allow unlimited change of schedule for no fee, and 2 check-in bags free of charge.

Once we narrowed down our itinerary, we fit it into the 16 segment requirement and made sure we didn’t violate any rules (no backtracking to a city you’ve already landed in, must cross the Pacific and Atlantic once, certain number of segments in each continent, etc).

A good resource to use is Air Timetable. The information is generally correct, although the prices are outdated now.

Below is our list of stops around the world through the OneWorld alliance, with some side trips interspersed between a few of the legs (in parentheses).  The 16 segments also include land segments as well.  For example, we are flying into Madrid from Jordan, which counts as a segment (air).  The next segment is Madrid to London (land), and the last segment is London to SFO (air).  However, we are not flying from Madrid to London using a OneWorld Alliance partner.  Instead we are going to make our way from Madrid to London using a combination of trains, buses, discount carriers such as easyJet or Ryanair on our own dime.  It still counts as one of the 16 segments though.  The reason we are doing this is because that way, we don’t have to waste time or resources to come all the way back to Madrid just to fly home.  So we’re basically “eating” up a segment for the sake of time and convenience.  Hope that makes sense!

Lima, Peru
(Cuzco, Peru (Machu Picchu))
Easter Island, Chile
Santiago, Chile
Buenos Aires, Argentina
(El Calafate, Argentina (glaciers))
(Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil))
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tokyo, Japan
Beijing, China
(Pyongyang, NK (more on this in a later post))
Hong Kong, China
Hanoi/Saigon, Vietnam
Bangkok/Chiang Mai/Phuket, Thailand
Delhi, India
Amman, Jordan
Barcelona/Madrid/San Sebastian/Girona, Spain
Lisbon, Portugal
(Fez, Morocco)
(Paris, France)
Europe (TBD)

Whew. This is going to be one crazy adventure.

Travel Shots

21 Jan

We’ve been on the phone quite a bit lately with the Kaiser travel hotline. When going through the itinerary with the lady on the phone, she was understandably surprised at some of the countries that we’re going to. In all of her history at Kaiser, she’s never had to consult anyone traveling to North Korea. It’s good to know that Kaiser does have a list of infectious diseases for every country in the world though. Here’s a list of what we had to vaccinate or take pills for (not necessarily for NK, as India seems to have to most vaccination/pill requirements):

Yellow Fever (card required when entering Brazil)
Hep A
Hep B (Jer had to get blood drawn for an immunity test, as he mistakenly threw away his records from 2005)
The new Tdap shot
Typhoid
Polio booster
Malaria
Diarrhea medicine
High altitude medicine

That’s a lot of stuff.

20120121-203910.jpg

20120121-204758.jpg

%d bloggers like this: