We decided to travel to the Middle East for our family holiday in late 2015, visiting Israel, Palestine Territories, Jordan, Egypt and lastly, Dubai. Our three daughters were 16, 14 and 9. I think it’s safe to say we all fell in love with the region and we all got so much out of the experience.
The food in the Middle East is very diverse and very tasty.
I was pleasantly surprised how much our girls enjoyed the local delights… in Israel, we enjoyed apple strudel for breakfast; we ate our way through hommus and pita bread in Egypt and Jordan; we savoured freshly brewed tea on a camp fire in Wadi Rum with our Bedouin guide; we sampled the best Arabic desserts at the Cairo Marriott; we lived the high life with a traditional high tea taken on the verandah at the Old Cataract in Aswan; we truly had more than our fair share of Movenpick ice cream in Petra (although, let me clarify… it was after we made the 15km round trip up to the spectacular Monastery…).
Some of the highlights for us on this trip was mixing it with the locals at meal times. We enjoyed a traditional lunch with a Bedouin family in Wadi Rum, Jordan; our tour guide and good friend invited us to his house in Amman, where his beautiful wife cooked an amazing meal for us, both of which were such amazing experiences for our daughters, and us, too!
A top experience for our daughters was our dinner at the house of the owner of the tour company we travelled with, it was such an honour to be invited, and they had children our daughters ages which was just so wonderful, the kids talked about everything under the sun – a fast friendship developed and they still keep in contact today! We enjoyed a feast with a local family in a Nubian Village in Aswan whose house overlooked the Upper Nile and desert, it was a picture postcard setting.
2. Ancient Sights
The Middle East region has been occupied for the last 5,000 years by almost every major empire, including the Greeks, Romans, Iranians, Mongols, Egyptians and Byzantines. As each empire rose and then declined, they left their mark with fascinating temples, castles, ancient cities and monuments to their leaders and gods.
In Egypt, we saw the Valley of the Kings in Luxor (home to King Tutankhamen’s tomb) and just out of curiosity, we were deep in King Tut’s tomb with the Egyptian Antiquities Minister and the English explorer when they decided there was probably a new undiscovered tomb behind King Tut’s which was announced late last year; we also saw the impressive twin temples of Karnak and Luxor and the famous Pyramids of Giza in Cairo among many others.
In Jordan, we saw the Roman city of Jerash; the amazing lost city of Petra and Ajloun Castle, built to protect against the Crusaders.
In Israel and Palestine’s Territories, we saw the Old City of Jerusalem with it’s Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Arab quarters; Temple Mount and Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Seeing the biblical sights were amazing and very educational for the kids.
3. Crazy Contrasts
The many and varied contrasts of the Middle East is quite extraordinary – you can be ultra religious in Jerusalem one day and floating on the Dead Sea the next; visiting the old towns in rural Egypt where the most common form of transport is the donkey to the over the top ultra modern, luxurious city of Dubai. It seems half the people in Egypt and Jordan live a very rural life, and the other half lives in massive urban centres like Amman and Cairo. It was fascinating for us to watch as our girls absorbed the differences in the way both Middle Eastern rural and city dwellers lived compared to how they live in Australia.
4. Unique Cultures
The amazing mix of different cultures from Arabic, Israeli, Bedouin and Nubian is jaw dropping, and each one so very interesting.
5. Famous Hotels
We were lucky enough to stay at some of the most historic and famous hotels in the Middle East, which really added to our overall experience.
The King David Hotel in Jerusalem has played host to many historic events in Israel over the last 70 years, plus it’s location overlooking the old walled city can’t be beat.
The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan is one of the most famous hotels in Egypt, being Winston Churchill and also Agatha Christie’s favourite hotel in Egypt. In fact, both had regular suites here (that guests can stay in today) and it’s location on the banks of the Nile is picture postcard perfect.
The Marriott Cairo used to be an old palace. The historic part of the hotel, and gardens, are wonderful to explore.
Atlantis Palms, Dubai, is not at all historic, but famous for it’s water theme park and massive aquarium. The girls loved this one more than we did!
6. Unique Experiences
We found it’s the small things that created lasting memories for us, and especially the girls… exploring the ancient underground tombs in the Valley of the Kings, watching as they picked up the symbols of hieroglyphics and eagerly searching with our guide for more and then discussing amongst themselves what meanings each set of symbols had; riding a camel in the desert of Jordan; watching the religious ceremonies at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem; floating on the Dead Sea; watching a hawk demonstration; feeling like Indiana Jones, as we entered the long, narrow Siq in Petra on the way to the Treasury and watching the sun set over the desert dunes in Dubai.
7. Different transportation
Probably here, more than anywhere else we’ve travelled to, we got to experience such a wide variety of different, and unusual, methods of transport.
We took a camel ride in Wadi Rum; felucca sailboat ride on the Nile; 4wd jeep trip in the desert in Jordan; we went dune bashing in Dubai, plus the usual cars, vans and planes to get where we needed to go!
8. World Class Museums
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo houses the largest and most complete collection of Egyptian artefacts. The girls loved the Mummy Room and King Tutankhamen’s collection because of the large amounts of gold!
Vad Vashem, the National Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem is a very emotional experience, leading to some great discussions with the girls, particularly our eldest girls, it’s not really suitable for kids under 14.
Shrine of the Book is part of the Israel Museum complex and houses the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. It was so nice to share these ancient writings with the kids.
When travelling with a wife and three daughters, it is inevitable that we will do some shopping somewhere… and in fact we had a great time – we bargained at the Khan El Khalikli Bazaar in Cairo; shopped in the mega malls of Dubai (very expensive, so I’m happy to say more window shopping than anything…); saw the arts and crafts markets of the Nubian village in Aswan; I joined the action by buying 20 bars of Dead Sea mud soap from a truck stop on the highway in Jordan and even just buying regular products like cold drinks and chemist items in rural areas where no one speaks English and everyone is so happy to see you!
And along that vein, during our family holiday through the Middle East, whilst we were careful, not once did we feel scared or concerned for our safety. Everyone we met could not do enough for us and were so happy to meet us and welcome us to their beloved country, it was such a pleasure travelling among such welcoming people. Particularly places like Egypt and Jordan, many locals recognise the value of the tourist dollar and are desperate for tourists to come back and visit their country again.
Travelling with kids of any age can be very demanding, however it can also be extremely rewarding, as well. The sharing of experiences, different cultures and sights as a family. In our opinion, travel will give kids life long memories which they will talk about forever; it will educate them; put them out of their comfort zone and help build them into citizens of the world. We guarantee your kids will learn more in 3 weeks travelling around the Middle East than they would in a year at school. They don’t just read about it – they walk it, talk it, explore it, experience it first hand and taste it. You can’t beat it…