Middle East 2022 trip

We are back in Atlanta. We took our Thanksgiving holiday primarily in the Middle East. The country list was France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon. That made four new countries for us bringing our total to 85 Countries visited. We had 9 flight segments in 12 days and capped the trip off with marching in the Macy Day parade in NYC again this year.

We are very strict on what we consider a country and we use the US State Department as the standard. We both lost (and gained zero) "countries" using this standard. Examples: Antarctica is not a country and isn't counted. Macau and Hong Kong were indepenpedent counties when visited, but now don't exist and aren't counted. There are a number of unexpected occurances that happen when using the standard over time.

Unfortunatly, we got a bug somewhere in our travels that started providing symptoms in NYC. Black Friday was indeed Black Friday for us. We dont have much more recollection than being home in Atlanta. Otherwise its a total blank. It has been 5 days since retuning to the US and we will get to the doctor today. We haven't been able to kick it.

French Pussy

On our outbound journey we had a long layover at Charles DeGaulle (CDG). We decided beforehand that we would take the RER (regional rail) train to Paris and do some pre-"adventurizing" in the familiar touristy areas in Paris. Specifically, we would recreate a photo (shown below) that we took almost 10 years at Notre Dame. It would be a good photo since we aren't the same people and certainly Notre Dame is not the same after the fire. Well, as France and Paris being what they are, it was predictable that there would be issues. The RER was down for maintenance or strike or whatever specific French excuse, so there were some unorganized buses filling the gap part way to Paris. The bus would let us off at "Stade de Franch" station and then we would embark the rest of the way downtown via rail. The situation at Stade de France was typical French, confusion, no one in charge and crowd/chaos.

We found the train and just as we stepped onto the train from the platform someone pushed us. I think that was the trigger. It was like the next minute or so was the culmination of instinct, instruction and my lifelong need to be prepared. I felt fully self-actualized at the moment as I felt the fingers touch my ass and into my pocket to grab my wallet. I instantly (as If I was informed ahead of time) turned, grabbed the young man about his shoulders and pinned him againist the outside of the train. In the strongest American Gonzo English I instructed him to give me my wallet back. He was not going to get away. I did not care how big he was or if there were weapons. I would not be made the fool. There were a few loud gasps and some subtle shrieks from the crowd. I got my wallet back. We got on the train and the door closed. The police showed up and asked if I needed help. It was an obvious NO and I refused to answer. The train started moving after other passengers and Angie said things were ok.


It had gotten embarrassing that altough we have been to 70 or 80 countries we had never been to Egypt. It has been our number 1 priority. We realized we couldn't do the stuff in Egypt we really wanted in this one short trip. We have reserved our further adventures in Egypt after we have been to the goal of 100 counties. We liked Cairo more than than we thought we would. It's pretty much a third world in the Nile delta. Lots of beasts of burden and developing infrastructure. I noticed the buses (metro transport) were old (sometimes very old) Mercedes. They were obviously repaired and repaired and repaired. I don't think I saw a single bus that had functioning lights. The traffic is crazy in Cairo downtown. The style is like in India where the horn is used in a multitude of ways in signalling. "I am here", "hello, careful/watchout" and of course the western standard -- yelling at someone doing something stupid. Our driver was an absolute expert. Smooth and safe, with some scariness thrown in. No traffic lights worked in Cairo.

In two days we had a private tour of Mohammad Ali Mosque, Coptic Church, Saqqara, Sphinx, the main Giza pyramid complex, Cairo Museum, Memphis, a private felluca cruise at sunset, and all in between. We could not have done all that without a very experienced guide. He knew the shortcuts and efficiencies in seeing what and when.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has been a target for me since tourism opened up just a couple of years ago. It was a lot different that Egypt. People are clearly more educated. English is commonly spoken and there is a strong sense of order. Since they are not well expereienced with tourism, that caused a few mis-steps. It took forever to rent a car with three women working on the process. I did succeed in renting a car in Saudi Arabia finally. Huge fines will be levied for simple driving transgressions. They provide an ala-carte menu with the car with the list of infractions and the huge fines. We saw the incomplete Kingdom tower, slated to be the tallest building in the world. We tried to go to a swimming spot, but that didnt work out -- not sure why, but maybe there was two places named the same thing and we went to the wrong one. We stayed at a hotel at the Corniche very close to the start finish line of the new F1 race track. The following week a sports car race was planned, but while we were there it was a ghost track and hindered our ability to get to the red sea for walking on the Corniche.


I rented a car at the airport. We never drove into Amman, I hear it is similar to diving in Cairo. I can skip it. First we went to the Dead sea for a night. Bathing in the deadsea is a very interesting experince. You couldn't swim if you wanted to. The body is just too buoyant. The water feels very oily. and when you lose your footing because of the buoyancy it is a bit scarey since you lose your balance because you cant touch the bottom as you are accustomed to when swimming/bathing. Next it was adrive along the dead sea over the mountains to Wadi Musa (Petra city). Its a nice tourist town. The hike through Petra was good, but disappointing to me. Petra and the Treasury are cool, but not as cool as the hype would have you believe. Petra is a must see, but we won't be going back. Our final night was a drive down to the Saudi Arabian border in Wadi Rum where we staying in the desert in a tourist bedoin camp. The desert was spectaculay quiet. It was nice to be outside of areas where you are told what t\you can and cannot do. We climbed on high rocks.

Zoomed in a bit more you can see what the local kids in Feifa Jordan think of us.


Lebanon was even more fun than we expected. Beirut really seems to have a curse. Terrible civil war, collapsed economy, the harbor explosion, 2 million Syrian refugees, it is all to say enough already. We stayed in a 4/5 star business hotel. There weren't many other guests. There were UN people staying there, however. The power went out a few times in the night for perhaps an hour or two. We cashed $150 USD through the black market (not really that black) and received 5.7 million Lebanese Pounds. Using Pounds is the only way to get things priced reasonably. It is super expensive if you use USD at the official exchange rate. We saw many refugee camps. They use special UN plasitic fabric for the roofs. The refugees don't want to go back to Syria. They can work in Lebanon and get humanitarian aid.

The first pic is at the Syrian border. The sign says "General Directorate of Public Security--Al-Madudi Factory Center" It is the Lebanese side of the border, further on, still in sight, the Syrian Police and border. It is a sensitive photo. I had to crop the content.

The second pic is of "Anjar" an 8th century Umayyad civilization. The city/town was laid out with a level of order that is surprising for the time. We were the only tourists. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/293/

We hired two different drivers in Lebanon, one for each day, with limited English. Most importantly, we went to Balbaak. It is indeed awesome and inspiring. Crazy cool ancient ruins. Folks say they are Roman ruins. And indeed they are --built on earlier ruins. The "trilithon" blocks in the foundations of the temples are the largest (cut)? man-made building blocks in the world (that we know about). The precision of these trilithons is amazing. Look athe precison of the joints. It isn't terribly hard rock, but the size and precision is mind blowing. It does look like a concretion of some sort, natural or synthetic. I am not convinced they are cut stones. Clearly well beyond what we consider Roman Technology. Take a close look at the pic of the reconstructed Bacchus Temple, Angie is standing in front. These buildings are enormous. The huge rock I am standing next to is the "rock of the pregnant woman". It is at a quary about a kilometer from the main Balbaak complex. It is considered the largest hand cut stone in the world.

Macy Day Parade

And if the crazy trip in the Middle East wasn't enough we planned it to be in NYC to participate in the Macy Day Thankgiving Day Parade. We decided to do it again this year, same as last year as banner carriers. Its a crazy way to see Manhattan.


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