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Newsletter » Letters from the past » Israel and Egypt 1996
I know I haven't written since I left Singapore, so a quick run down on what has been happening to us prior and on arrival in India. Marg and I attended the World Association of Cooks Society conference in Jerusalem in April last year. This turned out to be a great trip, with time spent in this ancient city having a look around, and also trips taken to the Dead Sea, (a great experience floating in there) and to the Sea of Galilee, Massada, plus Tel Aviv amongst other places. It was great seeing Chefs from all over the world and making some great contacts amongst them. We stayed at the Holiday Inn there, which we got at a good discounted rate as we were part of the "family" and while I attended the Congress, Marg participated in some of the tours on offer. She therefore managed to get to the Dead Sea and go swimming while it looked like I would miss out, but finally managed to get a taxi down there take my swim and then promptly get stuck in the gravel in our heavy Mercedes taxi! Two hours later and with a lot of tugging and pulling we were finally free. So what was meant to be a quick trip to the Dead Sea, actually turned out to last for the whole morning. It was also quite interesting to talk to the Palestinian taxi driver and to hear a different angle to living in Israel. Massada was a trip though that we took together, stopping off on the way to view the caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were found and then visiting this hill top fortress. Amazing how they held out against the Romans for so long, with their water storage system and self-sufficiency, while the Romans were steadily building a ramp to finally conquer the fort. All committed suicide before the Romans entered. After our visit there it was across to a Bedouin camp for a typical tourist dinner and show before heading back to Jerusalem. We managed to visit the old part of the city a couple of times, walking the walls, visiting through the narrow streets, seeing the Church build above the sight of the resurrection of Christ, the Moslem temple and the Old Wailing Wall, where I went and kissed the stones and felt I was part of some ancient tradition. All were very friendly towards us and we encountered no trouble at all, always feeling safe and secure. Another trip taken was across to Tel Aviv where there were still blackened spots where some of the bombs had gone off not so long before hand. Tel Aviv was not that much for us but then it was probably better to have more time than we did to visit there. It was interesting going into Old Jaffa for a look around and seeing the old port, the fishing boats and living some of the history of the place. The roadway back into Jerusalem was interesting with all the blackened vehicles littered around the place, left from the 1971 war when the Arabs controlled the approach to the city for a while. We also took a trip to the West Bank in Israel and up to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, where we both waded in the spot that the baptism was meant to have taken place (photo is on our family pages) and had a look around at some of the ruins here, the city having been founded in AD 19 by Herod Antipas, who named it for the emperor Tiberius. Must admit that we very much enjoyed our stay in Israel, found some nice souvenirs, ate some good food and enjoyed being able to walk around and see so much history! Even the Congress was interesting, with talks and discussions on growing food products in the dessert, reclamation works for farming and various other topics with meetings and lunches and coffees and social evenings to gather and discuss food, food, food! We were in Israel for a week, before traveling to Egypt, where our time was divided between Cairo and Luxor, where the Temple of Kanark is, plus the Valley of the Kings.

The Valley of the Kings was most impressive I must admit. It is amazing the effort that was placed into these tombs and temples so many years ago. We took a few small trips down the Nile, but only on the small boats that go out for a day. Did some day tours into the valley, spent some good quality time in Luxor looking and its magnificent temple and had my hot air balloon ride in Luxor also, across the river and over the villages! Amazing stuff! The tombs, even though they are full of tourists, are truly amazing and well worth while a visit. Climbing down these narrow passages, viewing walls full of hieroglyphics and seeing what was left of the splendour it creates a sense of awe in knowing that all this was going on thousands of years ago! Cairo was excellent with the Pyramids, which has to be a must to see, if you are interested in seeing the sights of the world. We avoided the camel rides from one pyramid to another, much to the herder's disgust, went inside one of the tombs, down to the depths and generally had a good look around here and the Sphinx as well. A fulfillment of a dream of mine to see the pyramids and the Sphinx! The Oberoi Hotel there is right next to the pyramids, and in their coffee shop, the window scene is a full close up view of the monuments! The flight back from Luxor was different, as in the seat in front of us, a guy was showing his wife a set of knives he had bought, and then a week later the same flight was hijacked to Libya! The airports here were nothing to talk about with the security markedly lacking. It was in stark contrast to the airport in Thailand where we picked up the Israeli flight, when we were thoroughly scrutinized with us having to open all our luggage and one search after another. Nearly a full two hours to get on board the flight, but once on was OK.

From there we went to Jordan, and traveled down to Petra, where Mark, a friend of ours is working as a Chef! This is an ancient city is actually carved into the rocks and is very spectacular. This must surely rate as one of the wonders of the world. The Treasury building here was part of the scene in the picture "Raiders of the Lost Ark", which shows the temple after going through the canyon. It is very much the same as the picture, with the canyon and all, but of course, the inside is nothing as shown in this movie. Fantastic structures, all carved out of solid rock, and amazing to think that they are 2,000 odd years old! It was also here that Abraham was to sacrifice his son and we spent a good couple of days going into Petra and exploring all the spots. The city controlled these particular trade routes in times past and was quite rich by the time the Romans came, with the city mainly flourishing from 500 BC to 500 AD. It was in an ideal situation, as there is a very narrow ravine that is the entrance to the city that could be very easily defended by just a handful of men! Water was also ingeniously arranged with channels and pits carved out of the rocks as well and cisterns dug and culverts laid to ensure a continuous supply was available! Amman was not too spectacular for us, built we did spend a couple of days here going in and out, but mostly the trip was about Petra. We took the high road into Petra and froze with snow falling around us even though we thought that this was meant to be desert country and took another route back dropping down a very precipitous road into a valley and then up again the other side. This would be one of the valleys dropping into the Dead Sea, but with our driver there was no real way of finding out. Quite hair raising actually but well worth going the two ways and seeing the different aspects of the country!

We came back to Singapore through Sri Lanka, where we had about five days, going through very tight airport security to board the flight out. Did see some of the damage caused by the bombings, as we also did in Tel Aviv, so appreciated the security. We just had a bit of a short look around, liked what we saw, and thought it very similar to Bali in a lot of ways. As always our time is too short, and we can only ever see a small part of the countries that we visit. Marg was not that well, so I had a trip up to Candi myself and took in the elephant and oil spots and had a look around Candi before heading back to Colombo - just a day trip. As we were going to India after this trip, we took a quick trip down to New Zealand to see my family especially as we were traveling further away. Attend Claire's and Dick wedding anniversary and caught up with quite a number of relatives that I had not met before and very much appreciated the family get together! A very nice trip as it always is to see everyone and again much too short. There has not been too much traveling since I have been in India. Marg has gone to Scotland to see her parents after a six-year break. Also Calcutta held nothing for her here, and it is a very difficult place to live in. While in Scotland, she is doing a University credit course that will take her onto a degree course afterwards. This I have to admire, and wish her all the best for it. We are not too sure yet where she will attend university, but are looking at New Zealand, where there is a greater number of family and colleagues about. We are not splitting or anything thing along those lines, but do think it is better for Marg to look towards the future and to have some qualifications that can become very useful for a future career. Not much fun just sitting around as an unemployed spouse in these far flung locations! We will join up again when the situations change, and of course will meet on our holidays. We are thinking of Casablanca this year, as it is a good half waypoint.......

With all my very best

Willi and Marg