The nearby medieval city of Carcassonne welcomes throngs of visitors inside its fortified walls, but at the Domaine St. Raymond, small groups of intellectually curious travelers gather for residential workshops at a house party in southern France’s Languedoc.
Domaine St. Raymond, home of the French House Party, sits among gently rolling hills of golden wheat and sunflowers. Within this bucolic setting, small groups of intellectually curious travelers gather for all-inclusive four to seven day creative residential workshops in southern France’s Languedoc ranging from culinary adventures with Michelin starred chefs, literature and graphic arts to song writing.
“I’m not sure if I really know how to write a song” is not what a guest at a songwriting workshop would expect to hear from an acclaimed New York writer/performer. But the creative process is nebulous.
Just like in a good ballad, disaster fell for Dean Friedman in the 1980s when England banned the delightful “I’m in Love With a McDonald’s Girl” in the 1980s because it mentioned a brand name and therefore was deemed akin to an advertorial.
Please go to my travel column in the Hellenic News of America to read all about the French House Party’s creative workshops.
Petra was carved into multi colored mineral laden sandstone by the Nabataeans c. 300 B.C., yet this geographically strategic region in present day Jordan generated wealth for whoever had control long before the city existed. As a center for long-haul caravans, some stretching for 700 camels, Petra was an ideal junction for the distribution of goods on their way south, west and north into the Levant, Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean. As for security, Petra was a natural bank vault.
The massive city was carved into the red sandstone cliffs on the flanks of Jordan’s vast dry Wadi Araba. The dramatic main entrance through a long towering and narrow gorge – a Siq – was a defensive and psychological tour de force. The eyes are focused on the first building that comes into view, the impressive Al Khaznch. Popularly known as the Treasury, its purpose was more likely ceremonial – shock and awe.
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, chosen in 2007 as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and discovered by Hollywood in the Indiana Jones franchise, Petra deserves its reputation as the top tourist attraction in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. With an international mix of visitors, the carriage, horse, donkey and camel rides, the craft and trinket stalls, local musicians and water hawkers add a visceral caravan atmosphere to a serious archaeological site.
Petra’s dominance of the Spice Route in the Levant continued well into the Roman era when the city became the capital of the empire’s Arabian province. Although it’s not clear what use the Nabataeans meant for many structures, the Romans added obvious flourishes – an impressive theater, colonnaded market and freestanding temples. Yet if it were not for the genius of three human accomplishments, the glory of Petra would have been impossible.
Petra’s wealth and life in the Cradle of Civilization were based on wheat, sheep and water. The domestication of a wild grain and a feisty animal in prior millenniums allowed for settled life and the rise of towns. Yet all life was dependent on water, especially in regions prone to drought. The Nabataeans mastered an efficient system of dams, cisterns and water channels carved in rock that provided this desert city with a profitable surplus of water.
While Petra declined after the 5th century A.D. due to changing commercial routes and serious earthquakes, wheat, sheep, people and the need for water remained. The cuisine of Jordan’s Bedouin culture harken back to the basics of ancient settled life. Flat ash bread is still buried under the hot coals while goat, lamb and poultry may be grilled or baked in a hot sand pit. Vegetables of all types are pickled and dried fruits, nuts and cheese round out the basics.
Who knows when humans first discovered that slathering toppings on flat rounds of bread and baking them were tasty and had infinite possibilities? Among the many dozens of mezze – small plates – that dominate Jordanian cuisine, Araies Iahma is a favorite among locals and visitors. Known as Bedouin Pizza, araies lahma is easy to prepare.
Araies Iahma (Bedouin Pizza) – 8 servings
1 pound ground meat – any combination of lamb, beef, mutton or goat
1 medium onion, diced
½ cup olive oil
1 green chili pepper, seeds removed, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
2 tomatoes, blanched, skinned and diced (see preparation)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C)
Blanch the tomatoes for 45 seconds in boiling water and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Using a sharp knife slit the sides of the skin and slip off the skin
Finely dice the tomatoes, onion, chili pepper and garlic
Add the salt, cumin, and diced vegetables to the ground meat and mix well.
Cut each round of pita in half, and spread a thin layer of meat inside each pocket.
Brush the stuffed pita halves with olive oil and arrange on a sheet pan.
Bake for 7 minutes, turn each pita over and continue for 5 minutes more.
Serve hot with a salad as a light lunch, as an appetizer or part of a festive and elaborate Jordanian mezze buffet.
Araies Iahma is just one of a dozen dishes a visitor can participate in preparing at the Petra Kitchen. The staff of the Petra Kitchen under manager Ali and chef Mustafe have created a participatory dinner that introduces guests to the top tastes of Jordanian cuisine. Couple this with its location at the very epicenter of ancient human achievement, and dining in Petra becomes a bonding experience with the ancestors.
When you go:
Non-stop flights are available from major North American hubs to Amman, Jordan.
Petra is a 3-hour drive south from Amman on modern highways. Although day excursions can easily be arranged from Amman, to give Petra its due, an overnight in one of the new town’s attractive hotels is recommended.
As in all hot arid regions, visitors to Petra are urged to carry and drink plenty of water. Visiting the entire site entails walking 6 to 9 miles round trip, but carriage, horse, donkey and camel transportation is available. Bottled water is easily purchased in the historic site from numerous vendors.
A nighttime candle light illumination of the Al Khaznch (the Treasury) is not recommended. Candlelight at its base fails to do the vast edifice justice. Save your energy for the daylight.
As Thessaloniki has been at the crossroads of Greek history for 2,500 years then by all means walk the city. It’s not a small city but easy for anyone who enjoys a good low-impact hike. When that stroll includes stops at world-class historic sites, vibrant centuries old markets and unique cafes, the discoveries that are in store can be amazing.
What to visit:
Roman archeological sites: the 4th century triumphal arch of the Emperor Galarius still has a direct road connecting his palace to the Rotunda. For over 2,000 years the Rotunda served as a Greek/Roman temple, Christian church, mosque and now an Orthodox Church treasure.
The Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki houses a wealth of culture that both Macedonia and the city fostered from pre-historic times to the golden age of Alexander.
Towering above downtown Thessaloniki up the foothills of Mount Chortiatis where the ancient acropolis was located, the massive fortress of the Heptapyrgion guarded the city for nearly two millenniums. Started by the Romans in the late 4th century it was substantially expanded by the Byzantine Empire in the 12th century and Ottomans in the 15th.
Down the hill the Monastery of Vlatadon in Ano Poli was built on a site already sacred where St. Paul preached to the Thessalonians in the year 51.
Until its near destruction in the great fire of 1917 the historic Ladadika district was the heart of Thessaloniki’s commercial activity and Jewish heritage. What survived both the fire and Nazi extermination is the heart of tradition and the city’s elegant beaux-arts pre-World War II rebuilding. Today it’s a trendy neighborhood of cafes and shops. Centuries old market arcades, the Modeano and Bezesteni in particular, still ply traditional goods such as textiles, flowers and jewelry.
Cafes surround the 15th century Bey Hamam, a preserved Ottoman public bathhouse.
The White Tower, built by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century on Roman and Byzantine foundations, is a popular icon and focal point of the new seaside promenade.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan may be less than a century old, but like many Bedouins, the Hashemite family share histories stretching back to biblical times.
For millenniums the river valleys, highlands and vast deserts of the Cradle of Civilization were the epicenter of the legendary, lucrative and infamous caravan trade linking Asia with the Mediterranean world. In an age before GPS pictographs were road signs directing caravans that could include up to 700 treasure laden camels.
One enterprising tribe, the Nabataeans, carved the city of Petra (300s B.C.E. – 800s A.C.E.) into sandstone cliffs and created the wealthiest financial center in the ancient world. With only one public entrance at the end of a lengthy, towering, narrow, canyon road, the Nabataeans made Petra immortal.
Coupled with its commercially strategic position, the Jordan region had been fused, either through mutual interest, religion or conquest, with the great powers of the day from Greece to the Ottomans. The Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, founded by Alexander the Great (331 B.C.E.) and continuing as a major city within the Roman Empire, is one of Jordan’s archeological gems. Heavily damaged by earthquakes in 749 A.C.E., the city continued, and the remarkably preserved site is surrounded today by Jordan’s modern city of Jerash.
The Jordan River of biblical fame still defines a land that has stirred great passions in human history from Moses to today’s conflict concerning the West Bank. People that share an ageless history are divided by a thin, slow moving stream of brown water.
Jordan’s storied history has created a legendary cuisine with variations of many dishes it shares with Spice Route neighbors. From breakfast to late night dinner a bounty of mezze (small plates) to aromatic wood grilled lamb and Bedouin ash bread baked in hot sand will be but a few of the dishes in a culinary repertoire as vast as the Kingdom’s deserts.
For the modern traveler there has never been a better time to enjoy hospitality as stunning as Jordan’s natural beauty. Despite surrounding turmoil, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan enjoys peace within its borders and goes to great length to ensure security for its citizens and visitors. Tolerant and democratic Jordan allows the 21st century traveler a rare glimpse at the entire history of the Cradle of Civilization from iconic archeological sites, ageless Bedouin lifestyles, the roots of modern cuisine, phenomenons of nature, accommodations from Bedouin tents to the heights of luxury and even newborn baby camels.
Discover Jordan for yourself.
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The Annamite Mountains divide Vietnam’s one thousand mile strip of mountains and beaches along the Pacific Ocean. The south is tropical year round, but northern winters can be cold and damp. Political upheaval in the late 18th century led to the Nguyen Dynasty’s triumphant unification of the northern and southern factions in the early 1800s.
Yet political upheaval seems to have been the natural order often until 1975. The end of America’s Vietnam War allowed the Vietnamese to concentrate on what they enjoy the most — doing business. Whether it’s a BMW auto dealership in Hanoi or a convenience store in a rowboat on a bay, the Vietnamese are capitalists. It’s part of the throb of real life in Vietnam.
Part of life is also stunning natural beauty, crazy traffic, the silence of fog on a bay and the iridescence of a fresh pearl just shucked from its shell. One trip is not enough. This exploration highlights five key destinations in the north.
Since the start of history gold has been connected to the divine and the boundaries of people, state and heaven have intertwined in myriad and mysterious patterns. In post conquest 16th century Quito (Ecuador), An A-list of priests, monks and nuns from four of the Church’s most influential religious orders provided the patronage for a celebrated era of artistic expression.
Sumptuous interior decorations, intricate carvings and golden altars express prominent Moorish geometrical figures, Italian Renaissance style and European baroque architecture. In the 1970s UNESCO dubbed it “Quito Baroque” in their 1978 designation of Quito as a World Heritage Site.
Just click the link to see many more photos and read the article…
At least 4,000 varieties of potatoes grow in the Andean Highlands that encompass territory stretching from northern Argentina through Ecuador. An important food staple for all pre-Columbian Andean cultures, the Incas created chunu – dehydrated potatoes that could be stored for up to a decade.
Read how a vegetable becomes a national icon and follow a simple recipe for an Ecuador national dish:
Home to Zeus and his family of gods, declared the first Greek national park in 1938, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1981 and a European Union “Most Important Bird” area, the region includes 120 species of flowers, 1,700 species of plants with 23 exclusive to the Mount Olympus microclimate.
No wonder the gods wanted this prime real estate. At its base is Dion, the nearly three-millennium old holy city of ancient Macedonia dedicated to Olympian Zeus. Within the confines of the park is the 600-year-old Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Dionysios of Olympus. And scattered throughout are sites steeped in legend and history. Read what has attracted the multitudes for eons in my column for the Hellenic News of America:
The evidence of Greece’s long and turbulent civilization lay scattered throughout the country. It was as easy to stumble across remnants of an ancient site in the middle of a farm field as it was to visit the impressive ruins of the 10th century Monastery of Zygos
Between Mt. Athos and Stagira the 250-room Alexandros Palace Hotel resort complex, a veritable village on a 90-acre hillside just outside Ouranoupolis, is an ideal location to explore this fabled peninsula.
Mrs. Annezio Bouritis and her son Mixαlis Famelitis operate the traditional Annezio Bakery located in the port town of Merichas. Set in a typical white washed stone building with a view overlooking the harbor, the cars of customers are usually double parked on the narrow street.
Greeks positively revel in sharing their food, especially with visitors. Mrs. Bouritis and Mixalis were equally enthusiastic to share recipes for cheese tarts and pastel. Read more at…