Traveled Down the Road and Back Again

by Nancy Bestor

What is the secret to finding good travel companions? Chances are you travel well with your mate and your kids (unless your kids complain a lot when you’re walking in Thailand and it’s hot and humid—but I digress). But what about friends and relatives? Just because you get along on the golf course, at the office, or at Thanksgiving dinner, doesn’t, in my humble opinion, mean that all will be fine when on you’re the road.

I believe the key to good travel companions is finding like-minded folks. Are you the type of traveler who likes to dine at expensive and trendy restaurants? Then you probably don’t want to travel with someone who prefers to eat at hole in the wall spots (aka Bob & I). Do you enjoy walking the entire length of a city and exploring different neighborhoods? Then don’t travel with someone who prefers a hop-on, hop-off bus experience. When you wake up in the morning, do you like to sit in peace and quiet for 30 minutes, enjoying a good cup of coffee and a lovely view? It’s likely then that your ideal travel companion is not the person who starts talking immediately the moment they get out of bed, and is ready and raring to go as soon as they get out of their pajamas.

Bob and I have been fortunate enough to travel with other folks. Now I know that sounds like we don’t enjoy traveling alone together, when indeed we do (right Bob?), but it’s also been very fun to travel with friends and family too. Last fall we took our first-ever tour, a bike trip in Jordan. Eight of us traveled together for eight days. We spent pretty much all day every day together. While we knew four of the people on the tour, only one was a close friend. The other three were Ashland folks who we hadn’t spent too much time with, but, from sharing travel stories, we figured it would work. And it did. (Just look at how much fun we are having in the elevator photo—thank you Sean for the goofy group selfie!) At the end of our adventure, I was sad to say goodbye to everyone and I can honestly say that every single person on that tour is now a friend. In fact, some days I find myself longing to spend quality time with them again.

We also spent two weeks earlier this year in Japan with Bob’s parents. This was our first vacation as a foursome, and although I can’t speak for them, it was indeed an excellent time for us. We enjoyed many great experiences—that mostly revolved around sharing in Japan’s culture and eating delicious food.

Here are a few things I believe make a trip with friends and relatives more enjoyable:

  • Being OK with splitting up to do the things you want to do, without worrying about hurt feelings. In Japan, most days we would spend the morning and early afternoon with Bob’s parents, and then we would head our separate ways for several hours, and connect back up again at dinner time. Some days some of us went back to the hotel and napped while others were out pounding the pavement. Other times some of us visited stores and sites that not everyone was interested in. But then, when we got back together again for dinner, it was fun to share our separate experiences.
  • Recognizing there are times when you just want to have some alone time. One of my traveling friends told me in Jordan that she was going to tour Petra on her own one morning to feed her inner introvert. I loved that phrase. As much as I enjoy being around people, I also really enjoy being on my own. Even if I’m just reading a book or surfing the internet. Everyone needs time to recharge their social batteries.
  • Compromising. This is the trickiest one, because really, who wants to compromise? But maybe one night someone has strong feelings about where they want to eat dinner. Perhaps it’s not your first choice, but being willing to compromise should mean that you’ll get to eat at your spot the next night.
  • Choosing the right kind of trip. One of the things that made our trip to Jordan so fantastic was that we all enjoyed biking, and knew most days would be spent in the saddle. This would not have been the right trip for people who don’t enjoy bike riding. Bob and three of his friends toured India for three weeks a few years ago, and stayed in low to mid range hotels, and ate lots of meals at roadside food stalls. Someone looking for high-end lodging and white tablecloth restaurants would not have been happy on their India trip.

I’d like to think that everyone I know would enjoy a trip with Bob and me. But the truth is, maybe not everyone would find me to be an enjoyable travel companion. And I’m okay with that. Or am I?

 

 

 

 

The Roman Ruins of Jordan

by Nancy Bestor

If you asked me before the days of owning a travel store which countries had the best preserved Roman ruins, I would have said Italy (duh!). Little did I know that the Romans left their mark in countries all over the ancient world, and although there are indeed fabulous Roman ruins in Italy, there are also top sites in Turkey, Syria, Spain, Libya, Jordan and more.

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Before our bike tour of Jordan began, Bob and I took an extra couple of days to visit two fantastic Roman ruins north of Amman and fairly close to Syria. The first was in the city of Jerash, the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa. It is said that these ruins are the best preserved outside of Italy, and they are outstanding. Everything from a hippodrome and theater to a colonnaded street still paved with original stones that are rutted from chariot wheels. The oval forum, surrounded by 56 columns, was particularly impressive, as were the columns that, 2,000 years after being built, still sway with the wind. This is a great site, fabulously preserved, but with little signage and no shade. And it is big. We were glad for our guidebook and water bottles on the day we visited.

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Outside of the ruins of Gerasa, Jerash is surprisingly not a tourist city. Indeed there are just two hotels in the city of more than 50,000 people. It seems that tourists come to Jerash on day tours to see the ruins, then bus right back out. We stayed overnight, at Hadrian’s Gate Hotel, a lovely hotel run by a family originally from Yemen. It was here in Jerash that when we walked into town to find an ATM, we realized that locals don’t see many tourists, particularly women who are not wearing headscarves and whose pale lower calves are exposed to the sunlight. We also strolled to another part of town for a dinner of hummus, falafel and shawarma, and children hung out of their car windows to get a closer glimpse of us. No television was needed this night, as we were the show.

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While the ruins of Gerasa were fairly quiet, another great Roman ruin further north was virtually empty. Umm Qais is located in the northwest corner of Jordan, above the Jordan Valley. Although the ruins of the Decapolis city of Gadara (now called Umm Qais) are smaller than those of Gerasa, they also include the remains of an Ottoman Village, and much of the city was constructed with black basalt, which makes them incredibly striking. We explored a well preserved theater and church/temple, and also got a close up view of a mausoleum/crypt, that gave off Indiana Jones-like vibes. Umm Qais offers great views of three countries, Jordan, Syria, and Israel. We loved our visit here.

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We had hired a driver for 60 Jordanian Dinar—about $84—to drive us from Jerash to Umm Qais, Ajloun Castle, the ruins of Pella, and then drop us in Madaba. After visiting Umm Qais, we asked our driver to take us to a locals spot for lunch. Sameer didn’t speak much English, so he called the hotel owner who had arranged our transportation for the day, and he was able to translate our request. Sameer stopped at a local joint along the road, and we had falafels in pita with tomatoes, pickles and fries. (Ashlanders might recognize this as similar to the old Happy Falafel’s “bomb” sandwich.) It was delicious, and two falafel sandwiches, along with two sodas, cost 1.3 Jordanian dinar, less than $2.

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At times we were less than 10 miles from the Syrian border, and we would never have known. Twice we were stopped at checkpoints along the road, and soldiers manning the checkpoints looked at our passports. One time a Jordanian soldier asked “Nancy?”, and when I responded with “yes”, worried about what he might ask me, he replied with the phrase we heard again and again on this trip, “you are welcome.”