Explore Jordan – Sea to Sea: from the Dead to the Red

Set amid the vast deserts of the Middle East, Jordan is a compact, very varied, and hospitable country.  It is also a new destination for cycle-enthusiasts seeking the freedom and exhilaration of rolling through an exotic land. One week’s exploration will turn up millennia of history, raw nature, and a nip of nomadic Bedouin culture.

Cycling adventures are notably lower-in-price and higher- in-authentic experience than most forms of travel (this one in particular will cost you $2,185 including bike rental).

A new 8-night trip in Jordan, offered locally by Terhaal can be booked in the U.S. via Tennessee-based Bike Tours Direct. Rated “moderate” means pedaling and “sailing” for about 28 miles a day. The good news is that the hills are not-that-high and your small group (maximum 14) will be accompanied by professional local cyclist-guide, as well as a support car for those too pooped to pump. This thoughtfully-constructed trip also features family, village and Bedouin visits, music, dance and even a goat-milking opportunity.

Starting off near The Dead Sea, the lowest, saltiest and one of the most mysterious places on earth, ride the tarmac ribbon called the “King’s Highway” to the first stop: the ancient town of Madaba. The marvel of an early Byzantine mosaic map of the Middle East was discovered on a church floor here last century and is on view today. Stops en route to visit Crusader castles in Karak and Shobak, the natural springs and olive groves of Tafileh, and on to the hidden pink city of Petra, UNESCO Heritage site.

In the great Jordanian Rift Valley visit in and around the wind-cut sandstone cliffs of the Dana Biosphere Reserve, home to a great variety of plants, birds and the rare Nubian ibex.

Near Petra, cyclists will have the unusual opportunity to explore Wadi Rum, a massive sand valley that’s now carved forever into world consciousness as one of the most dramatic locales in the film, “Lawrence of Arabia.”  The very one T.E. Lawrence described as “vast, echoing and god-like.”  Unique overnight with a nomadic Bedouin family at their campsite in the Wadi, possible descendants of those who made up Lawrence’s army…

The two departures scheduled are both at optimal times of the year – April and October, 2013.


For another angle on Jordan, award-winning Toronto-based G Adventures offers 8 days to soak up the country’s highlights in a less strenuous manner. Partnering with The Discovery Channel, participants on this tour benefit from maximum variety –  a healthy mix of active exploration, uncommon landscapes, amazing wildlife and local cultures, simple language lessons and a hands-on cooking demo before dinner in Wadi Musa, near Petra.

Departing from Amman, the hilly capital, travel by mini bus and 4×4’s with some good walking prospects en route. Although one cannot sink or swim in the mineral-rich waters of the Dead Sea, one can float and read while bobbing on the surface.  In the Red Sea resort city of Aqaba, there’s time for snorkeling and sun.

Their CEO, Chief Experience Officer, is the full-time guide, and local experts are engaged during the trip.There are one or two departures a month year-round for 16 participants maximum.


Cruise With The Stars Of The New York Times

The Times, they are a-changin’.

Avid readers and lifelong learners can sail away together with New York Times star columnists and reporters on the first cruise of its kind:  twelve nights in the eastern Mediterranean aboard the Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam, October 5-17, 2012.

Beef up that brain! Escalate that IQ! Times journalists will engage participants in conversation, discussions and thought-provoking analysis of current events, film, science, music and technology.  This innovative cruise provides an intimate setting where guests can absorb and explore various perspectives on relevant issues, events and pursuits in the buoyant atmosphere of ideas at sea.

Visit some of the most enchanting and culturally rich destinations in that part of the world: Venice, Montenegro, GreeceTurkey and Croatia.

Anchors Away!   Sample Seminars:

  • JOE NOCERA: The State of the Economy – Can the Euro Survive? – How to Fix College Sports – Throw Things at Joe Nocera
  • WILLIAM PAYNE: Creating a New Play – Global Change – Critiquing Election Drama – Ancient Greek Theater
  • WILLIAM C. RHODEN:  Gender and Sports – Intercollegiate Athletics - The $40 Million Slave: Race and Power in Sports
  • DAN SCHNUR: The West Wing Comes To Life – Dissecting The Electorate by Demography – Advances in Communications Technology Both Empower and Polarize
  • A. O. SCOTT: Why Criticism (Still) Matters – Red, White and Blue Carpet Night - World Cinema in the 21st Century – Pedro Almodovar’s Melodramatic Imagination
  • BARBARA STRAUCH: Talents of the Middle-Aged Brain – Reporting Science in a Changing World

Even more interesting, the October cruise has two price components: the cruise cost and the conference fee. Cruise costs range from $1,799 to $6,099 pp (plus taxes). For “Good-Time-Charlies” and the mentally exhausted, or those who do not want to cruise and shmooze, save the conference fee of $1,575, which includes about 30 hours of programming and two cocktail receptions, and lollygag ashore in the seductive ports of the eastern Med.

For the full scoop on the itinerary, the ship, pre- and post- tours and programs, please click here.


Re:Cycling in France

One of the liveliest festivals of the year, the Feria de Pentecôte (Pentecostal Fair), takes place in the Languedoc region of southwestern France in Nimes, May 23-28, 2012.  Positioned between the Atlantic and Mediterranean this region is a sexy mix of French and Spanish cultures dotted with vestiges of local Roman history.

Mingle with the locals to watch the grand Pégoulade (procession) — a giant snake of dancers, singers and illuminated floats undulating through the streets. The air is filled with music of the peñas (small brass bands), everyone dances the ‘Sévillane’ ‘til the wee hours, eats paella, watches water-jousting in the Canal de la Fontaine, snoops around in the evening market, and goes to mass in the cathedral. It’s one big outdoor Spanish-accented French soirée, complete with fireworks and Provençal-style bullfights in Nimes’ Roman amphitheater, the best-preserved in the country.

One way to “get under the skin” and feel more of a participant and less a spectator is to pump your pedals in a cycling tour in the Languedoc timed to connect with this ethnic fair.

ExperiencePlus!, the first North American tour company to offer cycling tours in Europe starting in 1972, offers two new spectacular tours aimed to take advantage of the Feria de Pentecôte: an 11-day journey of over 430 miles for $4,550 per person (double) that begins and ends in Nimes/Perpignan. Or an 8-day version for $3,595 that ends in Carcassone, an awesomely intact medieval fortress town.

ExperiencePlus! Is the winner of two recent National Geographic Traveler “50 Tours of a Lifetime,” and features Maria Elena Price and Monica Price, co-owners, among its “World’s Top 10 Tour Guides.” Click http://www.experienceplus.com or call them in Colorado: 800-685-4565.

Digging Israel

Looking to work, literally like a slave, in the hot sun for no or low pay some summer?  If you join an archaeological dig in one of the ancient sites in Israel, you will sift soil where King David walked and Jesus trod. You will see and feel the past, alive in your own hands and on the soles of your feet. The thrill and incredible excitement of finding authentic treasures such as pottery, mosaics, glass, and gold that are thousands of years old and holding them is hard to describe.

What’s in store? Dust! Heat! Stones! Sunburns! Brains! Brawn! History!  New friends. And sometimes even romance… (hey, you never know…) So shake out your shovel, grab a hat with a big visor, slather on the sun cream and join one of the many major archaeological excavations scattered throughout this modern-ancient land, some near cities, some on the shores of the Mediterranean, some in the mountains or deserts.

Biblical Archaeology Review publishes a wealth of information on their excellent website: http://digs.bib-arch.org.  They show which digs are current, which ones need extra hands and where, exactly, they are located in Israel as well as in Jordan, Italy and Spain.