Exploring the Ancient Rose City of Petra
Monday, April 13, 2015
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
This morning Silversea’s Silver Wind docked in Aqaba, Jordan just after nine. Fifteen minutes later, guests were streaming down her gangways – and nearly everyone was taking part in Silversea’s full-day shore excursion to the ancient ruins of Petra.
Clocking in at nine hours, Petra – Jordan’s Treasure (AQJ-B) is an absolute must for anyone who has ever wanted to see one of Jordan’s most famous and instantly-recognizable sights. Built as early as 312 BC, Petra flourished as a major city and cultural center until around the 14th century, when the site was abandoned. It remained completely unknown to the Western world until 1812, when Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt discovered the remains of the site.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, Petra was named one of the “28 Places to See Before You Die” by Smithsonian Magazine – and I’d have to agree. It’s easily the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen in the world. Perhaps that’s due to its sudden and dramatic reveal after walking kilometres down the narrow passage known as the Siq that is carved into the rock face, and which terminates at the spectacular Al-Khazneh, or Treasury – Petra’s most photographed site.
However, Petra is more than just the Treasury; indeed, to explore Petra fully would take days. That could be why there’s a Movenpick Hotel and a Marriott just outside the gates. As with yesterday, words are completely inadequate to describe Petra. I’d rather show you this special place instead:
There’s another thing I like about Silversea: their tour descriptions (and warnings) are accurate. For example, this is the disclaimer that accompanies the Petra tour:
“Please note: this tour requires an extensive amount of walking through the half-mile-long (800 metres) defile and within Petra; in total about 3 hours, much of it on uneven ground. This tour is not suitable for guests with limited mobility or those who utilise a wheelchair. Comfortable walking shoes are essential. Be aware that the weather is often unpredictable – it may be cool and windy among the rocks, but hot in open areas. Don’t forget to bring a sweater or jacket for cool weather after sunset and remember your camera. We suggest you carry a bottle of water with you. The duration of the drive between the pier and Petra is approximately 1.5-2 hours in each direction. Restrooms are of local standard and may fall below Silversea expectations. This tour offers a unique Jordanian experience; a sense of adventure is required.”
Sadly, this sage advice isn’t always followed – and I myself am guilty of that. Despite the fact that Silvia and Farida from the Shore Concierge Desk had sent each guest on the Petra tour a reminder card the night before to bring a jacket for possible cool temperatures, I ignored that advice. International Hostess Eleonora also reminded me to bring a jacket when I saw her at the gangway in the morning, but I waved her excellent advice off. But I’m Canadian. I can handle cold temperatures. I assumed “cold” in Jordan meant 20 degrees Celsius – in the shade.
No. When Silversea says “cold”, they mean “cold.” At our pit-stop high in the mountains of Jordan, it was so cold out that I could see my breath. Impressively, it was even colder inside the gift shop! So, my fault: I was warned. Twice.
It seems other guests also didn’t heed the most important advice of all on this tour: this is not the excursion for those with mobility issues. The terrain is steep and filled with loose rocks, uneven surfaces, cobblestones, and requires walking approximately two kilometres. The stroll down is all fun-and-games; the walk back to the Visitor’s Centre is uphill all the way. If you want to avoid this, you can elect to take a carriage to and from the Treasury, but doing so will cost you $35 on-the-spot.
As a side-note, I think this tour of Petra would be a great place for Silversea to offer their Silver Shore Sotto Voce option – audio headsets manufactured by QuietVox. If you’ve ever taken a river cruise before, you’ll know about these wireless receivers that allow guests to hear their guide without having to be clustered around him or her. Quite often, our guide’s words were drowned out by the sounds of other visitors to the monument, or by camels, or by people asking if we’d like a camel ride. Again. And again. And again.
A few days ago, I wrote that Silver Wind’s exterior could use a little touching-up. I was very impressed to see that streaks of rust that had formed along the Deck 4 windows had been completely painted over and cleaned by the time we returned. Silver Wind is beginning to look like her classy old self again, thanks to the hard work of the crew who no doubt braved the heat of the day to have her looking like new again.
Tonight, for lack of any concrete plans, I ambled up to La Terrazza on Deck 7 to see if they could squeeze me in for dinner. I shouldn’t have worried: reservations are normally recommended for this complimentary dining venue, but with only about 130 guests onboard this particular sailing out of a maximum of 296, I was able to get a prime spot for dinner tonight on the outside deck overlooking the harbour of Aqaba.
Ever since I first set foot on the Silver Spirit back in 2010, La Terrazza has been my favorite dinner venue, so it is a little surprising that it took me eight full days here onboard the Silver Wind to work my way to dining here.
Italian in theme, La Terrazza embraces both the fine Italian tradition of exemplary cuisine and a dedication to the Slow Food movement. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Slow Food is the opposite of Fast Food, and the Slow Food organization is dedicated to encouraging diners and patrons to realize that dinner is an event, not a necessity to be worked through as quickly as possible.
Dinner in La Terrazza works like this: you select a starter (known as Antipasti), and then you choose one of two possible pasta categories: Pasta Corta or Pasta Lunga (literally – shot pasta or long pasta). You then select your main, which is typically a meat or fish dish. In my case, I had the fish and capers to start with, followed by the homemade Ravioli, followed by the fish as a main course. It’s worth noting that all the pasta used by Silversea is made freshly onboard, and served al dente.
In addition, you’re offered a choice of Prosecco or white wine to start, followed by either white or red wine to accompany your meal. I chose a Rose Prosecco, followed by Silversea’s very own (and very tasty) Vapolicella Ripasso from Veneto, 2011.
The food was, as always, delicious, but it was the atmosphere that capped off my evening perfectly. Dinner at La Terrazza, particularly outside on the open deck, is the very definition of romantic. You have wine. You have fine food. You have a table by the stern railing out in the open air. What’s not to love about that?
It’s something so simple, yet so powerful. Dining outdoors, under the stars, on fine Italian cuisine. Italian music plays softly over the loudspeakers, briefly drowned out at 8:30p.m. for the nightly prayer service that is broadcast from the Mosques throughout Aqaba. Even that has an odd sing-song quality to it. Tonight is one of those experiences I wish everyone could have. It was beautiful in its simplicity; romantic in nature; genuine in service.
At ten to nine tonight, Silver Wind shuddered to life. Glasses began to clink together as her screws started to turn over deep beneath her hull. The clinking turned into a cacophony of rattling as the stern thrusters were engaged, pushing us away from the pier in Aqaba. Then, once we’d completed our turn, the shaking and rattling stopped, replaced with the dull rhythmic whump whump whump as her propellers turned over in the water.
As I write this, we’re underway again. New adventures will be had in the coming days; vast, memorable and unexpected. After hundreds of days at sea, departure from port is still a very special occasion for me. But no one does it quite like Silversea.
Silver Wind Middle East Adventure
|April 5, 2015||Muscat, Oman||Embark Silver Wind||19:00|
|April 6||Day at Sea|
|April 7||Salalah, Oman||13:00||23:00|
|April 8||At Sea|
|April 9||At Sea|
|April 10||At Sea|
|April 11||At Sea|
|April 12||Safaga, Egypt||07:00||21:00|
|April 13||Aqaba, Jordan||09:30||21:00|
|April 14||Transiting the Suez Canal|
|April 15||Port Said, Egypt||08:00||17:00|
|April 16||Ashdod, Israel||08:00||23:00|
|April 17||Haifa, Israel||07:00||18:00|
|April 18||At Sea|
|April 19||Kusadasi, Turkey||08:00||17:00|
|April 20||Piraeus (Athens), Greece||07:00||Disembark; Live Voyage Recap|
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Silversea’s elegant Silver Wind continues tomorrow as we transit the engineering marvel that is the Suez Canal! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.