Middle East travel bucket list: Thanksgiving photo essay

Happy Thanksgiving! I know it is not until tomorrow, but by then my Playa Del Carmen adventures will be in full swing ūüėČ And so today, I want to be thankful for my world travels. This Thanksgiving #TravelBL special will be all about Middle East travel bucket list items I have crossed off already. More inspiration for you, fond memories to me.

But… why a Middle East travel bucket list?

You must be asking yourself this question.¬†There are several reasons…

Middle East travel bucket list, Abu Simbel

Nefertari: we finally met! At Abu Simbel Temple, Egypt

When I was awarded a full $20,000 scholarship to study Arabic in Egypt for a year, it was a dream come true in so many levels. I had been obsessed with Nefertiti, Nefertari and all those majestic temples ever since I first saw them on a history book in elementary school.

My love for travel started this way.

After watching countless of documentaries on History and Discovery Channel, I wondered whether there were other civilizations like this in the world. How big (or small) is the world we live in, anyway? What other wonders are there to see? The more I learned, the more obsessed I became with traveling the world. I always say travel taught me English.

Basically, my wanderlust was ignited by Ancient Egypt and the Middle East.

Middle East travel bucket list, Medinet Habu

colorful wall at Medinet Habu temple – Luxor, Egypt

And since I’m being thankful for my world travels today, I want to pay tribute to this region, which has¬†transformed me in so many levels. Also, most of my world travels were done while living in Egypt and Morocco, so they hold a special place in my heart..

Today, a toast for the Arab world with this Middle East travel bucket list!

Sailed down the Nile River — and on an ancient boat

What most people don’t know is that the felucca is not only a traditional sail boat in Egypt, but the Eastern Mediterranean, comprising the island of Malta — all the way to Iraq. What’s more: The felucca even made it to the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, back in the 19th century! (Wikipedia, felucca article). It is said that the glorified version of the felucca, known as a dahabeya, was also used by pharaohs and even Napoleon himself.

Middle East travel bucket list, felucca trip

Our felucca trip crew! I’m the second on the right

I was lucky to spend a few days sleeping on board. I drifted on this simple beauty, so close to the historic Nile river. I still slap myself, thinking it was just a dream. And what a dream it was — I have never been so relaxed in my entire life. The most sublime experience though was getting to swim in the longest river in the world + actually stepping out of the felucca to visit ancient Egyptian temples. Just wow!

Middle East travel bucket list, swimming in the Nile River

Yes, the Nile River can be THAT clear! Your felucca captain will know where to stop for you to swim safely

Middle East travel bucket list, African sunset

Me and an African sunset from a felucca on the Nile

Spent my birthday in Philae temple, Egypt

While I had already visited the Giza pyramids several times (and they were a sandstorm of disappointments), Philae was the first ancient Egyptian temple I ever visited. And I got to see it on my 22nd birthday too — what a treat!

Middle East bucket list, Philae Temple from the Nile

The Philae temple complex was much bigger than expected. A portion of it may be seen from the Nile River — like right out of a movie!

Middle East travel bucket list, Philae Temple,

Me at Philae Temple — on my BIRTHDAY!

Saw The Treasury and Monastery in Petra, Jordan

While the Pyramids of Giza were a sandstorm of disappointments, the ancient city of Petra was a completely different story. I cried when I saw the Treasury. I remember vividly how I sat at its feet for at least 30 min., staring at its majesty. Even though it is an extremely touristy site, I visited early in the morning. While there were still some foreigners around, my experience was not tarnished — at all. To this day, I still wonder why Petra had such an impact on me. Just remembering the 2 days I spent there take my breath away…! Definitely a huge item off my Middle East travel bucket list.

Read more: The Treasury, Petra: A tear-jerking Kodak moment

Middle East travel bucket list, Petra Treasury

The Treasury, Petra by Bernard Gagnon

Middle East travel bucket list, Petra

Me contemplating The Treasury

The most surprising, unexpected part of my trip, though? I freaking climbed the monastery — like, to the VERY top. No harness, no equipment at all. I remember slipping once and thinking I was going to die. Still, making it to the top was priceless and worth every scary step!

Also read: How I Climbed the Petra Monastery with a Bedouin (photo essay)

Middle East travel bucket list, climbed Petra monastery

How to climb the Petra monastery: Looks easy, but it SO isn’t! The path looks deceivingly easy, when it is in fact extremely slippery and precarious

Middle East travel bucket list, climbing Petra monastery

Almost there! See that tiny Bedouin on the top right? I made it THERE!

Middle East travel bucket list, on top of Petra monastery

“I’m queen of the world! Wohoo woohoo WOOOOO!”

Old Jerusalem: Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulcher

This one was huge: I didn’t get to visit Old Jerusalem once, but twice. There are so many things to do in Jerusalem¬†— I am so lucky I got to experience them at a relaxed pace, on 2 different visits. My first trip was with the group of study abroad students during Eid El Adha — an experience in itself. the second time around, I was embarking on my epic Solo Middle East road trip. Highlights included the Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall, and the¬†Church of Mary Magdalene on Mount of Olives.

Middle East travel bucket list, Dome of the Rock Jerusalem

Me at Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem! CLICK on photo to ENLARGE

Middle East travel bucket list, Temple Mount in Jerusalem

Me at Temple Mount: Dome of the Rock on left; Al Aqsa Mosque right behind the arches (CLICK on photo to ENLARGE)

There are many other things from my travels that I am so thankful about. Unfortunately, not much space or time. I will leave you with a few other unforgettable experiences that I got to cross off my Middle East travel bucket list, though!

Experienced the desert — and a real oasis

Middle East travel bucket list, ride a camel

Wee!

Middle East travel bucket list, visit an oasis

Baharyia Oasis panorama by fellow student Margaux de Borchgrave

Visited “The Athens of Africa” – Fes, Morocco

Fes Bab Bou Jeloud

Bab Bou Jeloud, Fes, Morocco by Bj√łrn Christian T√łrrissen

Bathed in mud and floated on the Dead Sea

Middle East travel bucket list, float on the Dead Sea

Floating on the Dead Sea! I’m on the far left

Middle East travel bucket list, Dead Sea mud bath

My (muddy) kiss from the Dead Sea!

Want to learn about more about my epic world travels? Check out my lengthy solo female travel photo essay, where I outlined everywhere I went shortly before, during, and after my 16-month study abroad stint in Egypt and Morocco!

What are you thankful for?
What’s on your Middle East travel bucket list?

Christmas traditions around the world PT 2!

CLICK HERE for pt 1 of Christmas traditions around the world! learn about the FESTIVE customs and traditions of even more countries.

Christmas in Italy

Christmas traditions around the world, nativity scene

Presepe: Nativity scene in Italy (Photo: Davide Papalini)

Thought Christmas were longer only in Latin America? Think again! In Italy, Christmas officially starts on December 8th with the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception and then, families typically start to decorate their homes with lights. Gift giving, however, does not happen until January 6th or Epiphany, a tradition shared with many Latin American countries. That 12th day of Christmas is when it is believed that the Three Wise Men (aka Three Kings) visited Baby Jesus and showered him with gifts. As such, just like in Latin America, the main Christmas decoration is the Nativity scene, or as it is called in Italian: The presepe.

Christmas in Jordan

Christmas traditions around the world, beef and bulgur

Minced beef and bulgur, a traditional Christmas dish in Jordan (Photo:Wearenotmartha.com)

Christmas in Jordan is celebrated with great fervor by the¬†Christian¬†minority there. What surprised me the most, however, is the tradition of soaking dry fruits in rum, brandy, and cognac by women in early December! I can’t wait to go back to the Middle East an try those! ūüėČ Then on Christmas Eve, a cake is baked, while Christmas Day dinner consists of grilled eggplant, vine leaves in tomato sauce, stuffed turkey, and minced beef with bulgur

Christmas in Martinique

Christmas traditions around the world, shrubb

Clément Créole Shrubb, a popular one in Martinique (Photo:Scotlandstephenson.com)

Christmas in this creole tropical island is a mix of Caribbean and French flavors. Their most distinct Christmas tradition, however, is the making and drinking of shrubb, a fine liquor made of white rum, sugarcane syrup and dried peels of tangerines and oranges, which are abundant at this time of the year.

Christmas in Mexico

Christmas traditions around the world, posada

Posada procession in Oaxaca, Mexico (Photo: GoMexico.about.com)

Mexican Christmas (or “Navidades”) officially start on December 16th with a tradition called “Las Posadas,” which last all the way until Noche Buena or Christmas Eve. This tradition involves the recreation of Mary and Joseph’s hard journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, trying to find shelter to give birth. A different part of the journey is recreated every night, culminating with a party at a neighborhood. Children dress as angels,¬†shepherds, and also as Mary and Joseph in such processions, with their parents following with lit candles.

Christmas in Morocco

Jemaa el Fnaa

Jemaa el Fnaa Square. Marrakech, Morocco

As a Muslim country, Christmas is rarely celebrated in Morocco. Yet, due to the strong French/European influence in the country, along with a growing expat community, you will find Christmas lights and decorations sprinkled throughout the big cities. Days vary, however, depending on the faith and background of that minority. For instance, members of the Orthodox Christian Church celebrate Christmas on January 6th; while the Coptic and Armenian Churches celebrate the holy day on January 7th. Last, but not least, the Catholics typically attend a special evening mass on December 24th to start Christmas.

Christmas in Panama

Christmas traditions around the world, Panama

Left: A traditional pollera dress; Right: Light show during Panama City’s Christmas Boat Show (Photos: Family-christmas-traditions.com)

Christmas in Panama is quite lively and several great events are held, specially in the capital Panama City. Festivities kick off the 2nd weekend of December with a big Christmas Parade. Gorgeous floats pass by and women dress in very bright, traditional dresses called polleras. Also, at night, an amazing boat parade showcase a light show that is truly spectacular!

Christmas in Puerto Rico

It is tough to decide what’s your favorite tradition of a Puerto Rican Christmas. Is it the fact that they begin on Thanksgiving Day in November and don’t end until the end of January? Is it the party after party throughout the whole season and how virtually everyone decorates their homes with hundreds of lights? Or is it the food and plena music?

Coming from the Island of Enchantment, I can tell you that the most unique and fun Christmas tradition in Puerto Rico is the parrandas! In essence, they are drunken Christmas carols! Learn more about Puerto Rican parrandas here.

Christmas in Spain

Christmas traditions around the world, Pavo trufado

Pavo trufado: A traditional Christmas dish in Spain (Photo: Cocina.org)

Naturally, Christmas traditions in Spain are very similar to those in Latn America. Thus, I have decided to switch it up a bit on this entry and leave ya with a recipe of a traditional Christmas dish in Spain: Pavo Trufado de Navidad (Christmas Turkey with Truffles)!

1 turkey of 4 kg.
¬Ĺ kg. minced lean pork
1 kg. minced veal
Salt and ground black pepper
1 glass of brandy
1 large glass of dry oloroso sherry
3 tins (of 90g) truffles (mushrooms)
150 g “jamon serrano”
200 g belly of pork in rashers
6 eggs [click here for the rest!]

Christmas in Switzerland

Christmas traditions around the world, Swiss ringli

Ringli: Typical Christmas treat in Switzerland

A special Swiss Christmas tradition is to await the arrival of¬†Christkindli: A white angel wearing a crown full of jewels, which holds a face veil over its face. This angel is the one that brings the presents. These, by the way, come in a basket, which is carried by Christkindli‘s child helpers. Also, another Swiss Christmas tradition is ¬†to eat ringli (homemade doughnuts) with hot chocolate.

Christmas in St Thomas (US Virgin Islands)

Christmas traditions around the world, St Thomas sweet bread

Photo recipe: VirginIslandsThisWeek.com (click to enlarge)

One event to look forward to when spending Christmas in St. Thomas is the Challenge of the Carols outdoor concert. It is infamously glorious! While at it, grab some Johnny cakes (traditional holiday sweet bread). Click on the image above for a traditional recipe to bake at home!

Christmas in Vatican City

Christmas traditions around the world, Vatican

Vatican Christmas Tree (Photo: Sunshine city, Flikr)

Naturally, the Pope delivers his traditional Christmas speech and directs mass to thousands of¬†fervent believers.¬†This service, called “midnight papal mass,” actually begins at 10 PM on Christmas Eve in St. Peter’s Basilica. The papal speech, however, is delivered around noon on Christmas Day.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions around the world? Why?

Long-term travel & college: My digital scrapbook

Hey guys! Last night (and errm, today) I spent several hours working on a digital scrapbook, as a Shutterfly promo I got through Tripadvisor to get $30 off a photobook was about to expire. So! Since I’m very proud of the product (and can’t spend any more energy in front of a computer typing), here it is! It basically summarizes (some of) the most memorable moments of my 5.5-year college stretch. You may ask, how did I manage to travel extensively while pursuing so many degrees? The short answer: Study abroad, low-cost airlines & Couchsurfing! I plan to write an entry about the specific steps I took in order to be successful both in school & in life later on.

Part 2 (including trips to Israel, Spain & Iceland) coming soon!

Click here to enlarge the digital scrapbook