Today we’re up early, “enjoying” another gross hotel breakfast. We hop on the large coach bus and hit the road. The bus is spacious and comfy and has WIFI. Yay!
We head out and take the King’s Highway – a popular route to take on the way to Petra. There is another highway, but this route is more scenic. Back in the day this was an important trade route that started in Egypt and ended in Syria. This highway takes a bit longer to navigate due to the curvy roads and elevation, and let me tell you, our bus driver is an absolute superstar and the scenery is amazing!
The first stop on the journey is the quaint town of Madaba, best known for its well preserved mosaics. The most famous is the Map of Madaba, which is an ancient map of the Holy Land and is part of a floor mosaic in the early Byzantine church of St George.
Khalid (our tour guide) ushers us into a tiny hot stuffy room with chairs so he can ramble on for an hour about the map of Madaba. Ok, it’s more like half an hour, and that’s WAY too much of a waste of time for me. I need to explore! He finally lets us go into St George Greek Orthodox Church to see the floor mosaic and it is nothing short of amazing.
I’m also digging all of the cool paintings that adorn the walls; they are bright and colorful.
I’m not too thrilled that we have no free time here in Madaba, so I convince Khalid to let me leave the church and walk back to the bus alone so I can do some power shopping because we are given WAY too much time at this church. I find one shop and quickly grab whatever I can find – a mosaic vase, a doll, a model of a Bedouin camp.
This one is totally cheesy, but I think it’s a cool souvenir! I still have some time so I stop at a fresh juice stall and grab a cup of fresh pomegranate juice.
The vendor proudly tells me there is no water or sugar added…just juice! It really is delicious and hits the spot on a hot Jordan afternoon.
Just a short drive from Madaba is Mount Nebo, which is an elevated ridge of the Abarim mountains. This is where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land. Rumor has it he died on the mountain and is buried somewhere here…..
In my head I’m thinking we need to hike to get to the top of this mountain but it’s such an important tourist site that the bus literally drives up to it. Haha. The panoramic views from up here are just stunning; you can even see Jerusalem on a clear day.
A really cool monument up here is the Brazen Serpent – representing the bronze serpent that Moses created and the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
Up on the highest point of Mount Nebo are the remains of a Byzantine church and monastery that has been made into an exhibition. And let’s just say the mosaics on the walls and floors here are impressive. Just wow. I think I easily spend a half hour looking at all of them.
As I head back to the bus park, I pass the olive tree that was planted by Pope John Paul II when he visited during his pilgrimage to the holy land – a symbol of peace up on the mountain.
Continuing on the narrow highway through the mountains and deep valleys, we stop at a lookout point (I don’t know if it has a name?), and the views from up here are even better than on Mount Nebo.
Our lunch stop today is located in this swanky hotel in the town of al-Karak, and it’s just a massive buffet with a set price. No thanks! Ian and I wander down the street to see if there is somewhere else to eat; the options are not great and they can’t make the food quick enough anyways. So, we end up finding a small shop and having chips and other snacks for lunch.
Side note: this is why I prefer to use tour companies such as Intrepid or G Adventures. Their focus is to experience the country in a more authentic way by using local transport, eating local food, etc. I’m really not a fan of these (large tour group) food and shop stops. But I wanted to try another tour company for this trip to Jordan and the price of this tour couldn’t be beat. I probably won’t do this again!
The last stop on the King’s Highway is Kerak Castle, a large Crusader castle that was built in the 1100’s.
Because it’s built on top of a mountain, it was easier to defend.
It is a fairly simple sturdy design and all that’s left are tunnels connecting rooms made of stone bricks.
By this point Ian and I have had enough of Khalid’s talks so we break off from the group right away and explore the castle by ourselves.
After about an hour we pile back onto the bus and head to Petra……….