Return to Prague

I watch the clouds burn red as the sun sets over Prague, casting golden light on the historic buildings.

I am delighted to be back in this beautiful medieval city, wandering around the perfectly crafted old town.

It is Yom Kippur, so after checking into my new hostel I go to the Jewish quarter. Here is one of the oldest synagogues in the world, continuously in use since the 13th century. I pass the “Jewish test” by security to get inside, answering questions about the holidays and my background. Inside is quite plain and humble, yet elaborate at the same time. Gothic buttresses support the vaulted ceilings, quite rare for synagogues, but in style at the time.

Vines and plants are carved into the doorways and columns. The ark has similar craftsmanship, with two windows showing the Star of David and an opposing geometric shape. It is men only, and I come in during a silent prayer. I don a kippah and quickly find my place, recognizing the Hatzi Kaddish and “L’dor v’dor,” but even then the tune is unfamiliar. A beautiful prayer follows that I don’t recognize, and the whole service is Yom Kippur edition. They pray all day long! There is a prayer where they get on their hands and knees bowing towards the ark at the mention of “Cohenim,” the holy priests.

I wander again through the historic center, resting a bit before going up to the castle. As it turns out it is closed for a political summit, but I still catch a nice sunset with some mulled wine.

I dine at the same restaurant as last time having the same dish, but as a dessert I order poppyseed dumplings. I’m surprised it is sweet, drizzled with butter.

Fortunately, I can visit another fortress past the new town. This area was bombed by accident during WWII (American bombers lost in the fog thought they were targeting Dresden), but was rebuilt with some unique structures.

The fortress has a fancy entrance gate and a small church. The sun feels good as I wander the walls lined with gardens high above the Danube river and city.

The fortress surrounds a beautifully decorated cathedral, Vysehrad, with a rainbow gilded biblical scene on the outside doors. The interior looks exquisite. I have an equally exquisite dinner at the foot of the fortress before heading out.

The next day I explore a beautiful park on a hillside overlooking the city. I walk down to the central marketplace and dine on kolaches and strudel.

I take the tram up to Petrin hill overlooking the city. There is a monestery and some other attractions, but I opt for a hike down through the vineyards past old ruins.

I finally dine on a goulash bread bowl , and it is everything I’d hoped for.


On my last day, I try all the foods at a market along the river, including soup and potato pancakes with cheese and black currant mulled wine.

This is the first time in a month that I’d been traveling completely alone, though I haven’t been this happy solo-traveling since Norway.

I check out a cool island in the river before heading over to the edgy Karlin district park, a soviet block repurposed as a community space.

I enjoy one last sunset up on a hill before leaving on a bus for the Netherlands later that night.


I couldn’t resist the temptation to visit nearby Munich for the final weekend of Oktoberfest, the famous Bavarian tradition. Though it is cold and rainy, the body heat from the crowds is enough to keep warm. This is the first year since before the pandemic, so it is understandably very crowded.

The city center is surprisingly empty; everyone is headed to the festival.

Munich market

My first impression is a giant carnival, but for adults. However, it’s fun for the whole family with plenty of rides and game. Stands of chocolate covered fruits and pastries and meat sandwiches line the main drag. Each beer company has its own house; they compete to attract the biggest crowds, but my favorites are the smaller tents.

I only get to visit a couple tents my first day. The Ochsenbraterei, with a distinctive cow theme, let’s me in; it’s a lot of fun with its modern music, featuring lots of ABBA and Grease, too. Of course, there are plenty of German classics like Nena’s 99 Red Balloons and Peter Schilling’s Major Tom (Coming Home). I’m surprised by all the songs I know that are German, such as the interludes we take the tune of and give them English lyrics.

It is overcrowded and over stimulating, but fun just walking around the tent (and good to shelter from the rain). However, it is impossible to get a seat, and I can’t even order a drink. I find a place outside under cover of the Schutzen Festzelt tent, waiting in line for an hour before sitting down outside for my first liter of Lowenbrau beer. It tastes like piss, but it’s something. And there’s a nice view of the Bavaria statue.

It is a lot more fun the next day. Lions and goats and horses mark the different tents as animal totems. I visit every tent, choosing to enter the favorites like Augustiner. It has the best beer supposedly, but I stay for the ambience and funnel cake.

I like the lion-themed tent, owned by Lofenbrau, and Paulaner, with its bright yellow hall. The concert here is fun, too, with performers up on the balcony playing trumpet.

I have my second Lofenbrau before meeting my friend from my master’s program for an Augustiner downtown in an Augustiner pub. The evening is fun and more chill at the smaller concert tents, like Hacker-Pschorr. I go to the Paulaner tent and dance to modern music in a grand finale concert of sparklers and light cannons to mark the end of Oktoberfest.


It is strange to visit the surrounds and city of Vienna. I can just imagine my great-grandfather, who left this land for the U.S., rolling in his grave. I hear his voice omnisciently saying, “I sacrificed so much to leave here, why would you come back?” Still, it is interesting to go to the same city he likely would have passed through before leaving the Austro-Hungarian empire.

It was really cool seeing the classic Viennese style buildings that originated this iconic model found in cities around the world. The columns, detailed buildings and styles are comfortingly familiar.

The tiles on the main church are noteworthy. The grand palace of the Hapsburgs is a monument to the power of the dynasty, and it sure manages to impress long after. There are lots of gold statues, gilded and tiled roofs, and clock towers around the city.

I find a unique textile factory converted into an art area, reminding me of the work of Güell in Barcelona.

It is fun walking around all night with lights illuminating the same buildings, trying Viennese sausage and hot wine. There is even a party in the metro underground.

It is fun exploring the city with some fellow volunteers after the Jackson Wild summit, and overall I am pleased with my visit to this iconic European capital.


Arriving in Sharm El sheik, the city of peace, is fairly straightforward.

Sharm El Sheik Peace Square

We arrive at what appears to be a really fancy resort. The main lobby is filled with Russian-speakers, and most of the signage is in Russian as well. We get carted around the vast resort complex to the end, where we realize the owner of an apartment falsely rented out her room under the guise of the resort. I use my Italian to speak with the owner and review the paperwork, for most of the guests here are also from Italy. Exhausted and not willing to be bothered, we agreeing to pay the $20 in surplus charges beyond the booking rate and go to sleep.

It turns out to be a great deal nevertheless.

Taking advantage of resort amenities like a pool and some snacks, we sign up for scuba diving lesson. I am nervous for Natalia, who can’t swim, but it is a certified dive shop, which eases my worries a bit. 

The beach is nearby with crystal clear water. I walk along the shoreline and down the pier. As I gaze into the water, I am shocked to see such lively coral. Blue, pink, purple colors mix with parrot fish and painted triggerfish darting at the surface.

After some hesitation, Natalia gets to experience scuba diving and a coral reef for the first time as I happily snorkel away along the reef crest. There are so many different kinds of healthy, vibrant coral, and I’m surprised to see green cabbage coral. I see new fish too, a purple spotted grouper and some kind of rainbow wrasse. There are lots of soft coral I get to enjoy as I get my turn to dive down. I even see an anemone and its resident clownfish. I go about halfway down the reef before it’s time to turn around, which I’m grateful for, as they gave me a tank low in oxygen to start with !

Saudi Arabia lies across the Red Sea in the background

I leave my bathing suit behind in a rush to get back to the lobby for our cab that will take us back to the border. The long drive up the coast of Sinai passes some beautiful mountains and castles. I glance out at Saudi Arabia across the Red Sea. Everything is smooth on exit, I get my camera lens back, and we even make the last bus back to Tel Aviv, where we say our goodbyes the following day.

Walking in Memphis

I wake up and enjoy breakfast with a view of the pyramids again, trying some of the best falafel of my life! After reflecting on trip priorities, we decide to go without our guide and her Mercedes to visit the first pyramid in Saqqara.

So many more pyramids dot the landscape beyond Giza. Most look older and more eroded. We travel with our guide’s associate in a car that can’t go fast enough on the highway, so we take a trashy backroad along an offshoot of the Nile. Riding without A/C in the hot Egyptian sun and inhaling the fumes of trash is torture, but we finally arrive at Saqqara to see the first pyramid, built in 2650 BCE.

I am fascinated by the step pyramid. I have not seen the ones in Mayan and Aztec culture, but it is amazing to see the same idea 3000 years earlier appear on the other side of the world. The shape is iconic, and being the oldest monument on the planet, it is pretty special. Going underneath in a tunnel in the bedrock to the innermost chamber is exhilarating. There is a stillness— perfectly quiet—upon reaching the inner sanctum that makes me feel a calm I haven’t known this whole trip. It is so peaceful; it really feels like a burial place for eternity. There are several passageways sloping into the chamber for the soul to travel, not for lost graverobbers. Imhotep, the architect is a genius! I wish I could go down the entrance, but it is only for archeologists and spirits.

My favorite part is exploring the tombs next to the temple. The carvings are so intricate and well preserved, describing the person in the tomb and depicting bounties of offerings for the person to have in the afterlife. Some of the walls are just covered in hieroglyphics with a ceiling of starfish; it is just magical entering the innermost chamber and seeing the tomb.

Crawling through the narrow passageways and smashing my head a good number of times, I really enjoy the next tomb which is much larger and has a lot more room. The hieroglyphs are particularly elaborate and well preserved. Large depictions of the man in the tomb make him out to be quite handsome. Many animals and scenes of wildlife are shown; daily activities of labor, farming, hunting and fishing are depicted alongside. The colors are better preserved, and even the coils in the black hair can be counted. There is a large false door for the spirit to enter and even more paintings of people dancing.

Back in the hot car we go to the next stop in Memphis, which was the capital of ancient Egypt. All of the pyramids and tombs are just the graveyard, but Memphis was the principal city. All that remains are some new kingdom ruins all brought to one site in central Memphis. The colossal statue of Ramses II is quite impressive, like the giant Buddha statues way before their time. The detail is immaculate for such a large chunk of stone. His body is covered in hieroglyphs, mostly of his name, and he looks muscular. There is another smaller statue standing out front, still quite massive.

My favorite Memphis artifact is the sphinx. The facial features are much better preserved than the Great sphinx of Giza, as this one is newer, and it is stylistically different. The eyes are more intense, facial features are finer, and the paws and tail curling around it are intact. Though not as big, it is more beautiful in my opinion, and I’m happy to see it without the crowds.

Rushing back along the Nile to make our late afternoon flight, we stop for lunch including sweet kunafah pastries and savory eggplants (though later we suspect this lunch gave us food poisoning). There is even a perfume stop outside where we wait for our taxi that sells the sweetest smelling cologne made from Egyptian lotus flowers. I would have liked to spend a day along the Nile and exploring Cairo, but we must head back to Sinai (and I must retrieve my camera lens from customs!)


Waking up in the morning light I softly blink awake to see the pyramids of Giza for the very first time. It feels like a dream, as I scan from one monument to the next, seeing the patch of remaining limestone on top of the closest one.

The great sphinx lies below, seemingly small in comparison.

I just can’t believe my eyes, though I saw the dark outlines of the pyramids as I arrived earlier that morning through a chaotic ordeal. To see such icons has been a dream of mine for so long, and now it’s finally realized as I come out of a dream-like state.

After some logistics planning and switching hotels, breakfasting on falafel while looking out at the last remaining ancient wonders of the world, we go up to visit them.

Up close you can really see all the ridges along the edges, uneven surfaces caused by erosion and destruction over the years. Still, it amazing to climb up the steps that have weathered the tests of time to go inside an excavated tunnel to the centeral tomb. It is so cool being inside the pyramid, feeling the stones that were lugged along the river from so far away to get here.

It is a long, hot and sweaty climb through narrow tunnels, but the ascent is at the same angle as the same as the pyramid, giving a sense of the incline.

The smell is musty, but maybe that’s because of all the sweaty tourists going up.

The inner chamber is empty and quiet. There is a stillness in the air as I creep over to the empty tomb. It is cool to see the chamber at the holiest site for the ancient Egyptians. However, I feel a sadness linger at how much the tomb has been disturbed and its inhabitant not laid to rest as intended.

Climbing down the huge steps, we wander to the other side of the pyramid to see the ancient tombs. Buried like cellars in the ground, they have been remarkably restored with color. The sculptures carved into the limestone are immaculate. I love seeing the hieroglyphs in-person in the place they are meant to be. A security officer explains the meaning, mostly names, but some tell stories of the occupants and are mapped out on the wall.

The tiny chamber is intimate and it is great getting close up with this daughter/wife of a king. But the larger chamber offers even more statues and a false door. The doors helps the spirit to identify the resting place and visit every day.

We go to another vantage point and take loads of photos of the other two pyramids, one which has the limestone cap still remaining and another smaller one in the background.

Steps to Immortality

The last place we visit is the preparation chambers for mummification and the sphinx. This is the monument I was most looking forward to; I admire the ear, lower holes beneath, and eye features that are beautiful to behold in person. From another angle it is just a limestone rock, but the striations on the headpiece give it away. The lower body has been reconstructed, but looks as it is supposed to from models. It is a really emotional moment for us and we just take in the iconic face of the sphinx.

We have a small lunch of mixed meats and spend the afternoon shopping. It is cool to learn how papyrus is made and see some beautiful art and clothes, but is mostly a waste.

The light show at night is an opportunity to see the sphinx and pyramids illuminated in different colors. It brings out the features better in some ways and is really awe inspiring. There is a kitschy storyline, but some more hieroglyph stories are told which is nice. The area at the foot of the sphinx feels mystical at night, charged with a certain energy.


The desert goes flat, then all of a sudden twisting mountains appear in the backdrop. Within them are the canyons of Petra, the ancient capital of the Nebetian kingdom. There is a modern town called Petra just outside the entrance with a beautiful overlook.

I go with the group down the twisting caverns past inscriptions and temple facades. Waterways are carved into the narrow canyon and I feel dizzy going back and forth along the winding path.

I get a glimpse of the temple through the cavern and am immediately in awe. Going to the front truly impresses; the ornate columns originally designed by Nebataeans were built upon by Romans and muslims over the centuries. After a walk up to a great viewpoint of “the treasury,” (the true function of the temple is unknown, but hoards of treasure were found inside) I continue along to see even more doorways carved into the caves. There is a whole complex of tombs!

“The Treasury”

A Roman style amphitheater, but it was built by the Nebataeans. It looks the same to me!

I explore the tombs and am in love with the pattern of the rocky ceilings. Mesmerizing swirls of blue, red, and yellow rock mix and dance with the carved features. I hike along visiting almost every one, looking out onto the monastery in the distance.

It smells bad inside, like piss and shit of various animals that are probably kept inside. However, it still feels mystical, especially in the rare good smelling one that burns incense. I reunite with Natalia, my travel companion, and wander back up through the canyon, on horseback for the last part like Indiana jones, and spend one last meal with our friends.

Wadi Rum

The canyons sit alone surrounded by red sand. Riding on the back of a pickup through is like gliding over the sands of Tatouine (The Star Wars homeplanet of Luke Skywalker was filmed here). I can imagine aliens blasting at us from on top of the cliffs, hiding in the holes in the caves.

The cliff faces are like drip paintings, originating from wind and rain erosion to create a spectacular scene. In a cavern, ancient drawings of people and animals and extinct languages are inscribed on the walls. The bedouins managed to survive here by storing snowmelt in cisterns that last throughout dry spells.

At the foot of a small hill there is a gorgeous bedouin tent where we take a tea break. Running up the red hill barefoot is a struggle, but I make it to the top for great views of the surrounding canyons. The sun sets and the golden hour light makes the cliffs glow.

The campsite is right at the edge of the Wadi Rum reserve, surrounded by similar cliffs that are lit up at night. The sky is clear, stars and planets shine, and the Bedouin tents are spectacular. Inside, the carpeting designs cover a air conditioned hotel room with a mosaic tiled bathroom. Chicken is cooked in the hot sand underground, Bedouin style, and it is the favorite part of my meal. My favorite dish is the rice and beef, which happens to have peanuts in it! I can’t believe I forgot to ask in my hunger, and the spices disguise the peanut flavor, but I stave off the allergic reaction with some Benadryl and some simple Jordanian line dancing.

I sleep well at last and wake up before sunrise for a morning camel ride. It is a lot more comfortable than I remember, and it is fun plodding along through Wadi Rum to a sunrise viewpoint. It is spectacular watching the rays rise above the mountains, shining red morning light onto the cliffs behind. Riding the camels back to camp, we head out for Petra.


Aqaba is the first Arab town I visit, outside of the old city of Jerusalem. We get an early start at 2AM and crossing over the border is seamless with a tour group. I opt to wander away from the group and instead explore the town on my own.

Mosques, markets and spices line the streets. Cheap shawarma is everywhere, though I dine at a recommended restaurant and order a Maqubah for lunch.

The Gulf of Aqaba has crystal clear water and offers views of Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. However, the beach is a bit rocky. It’s still nice to dip my toes in as I meander around the fortress, an Ottoman structure built in the 15th century; it’s in the process of being restored.

There are plenty of modern marvels with arches, mosques, and parks decorating the city. I walk along the central park through the marketplace exploring the street murals along the walls. Swipe through below to see some of my favorites.

There are more ancient sites, including one of the earliest churches of the Roman empire and the ancient Islamic city of Ayla, built during the Umayyad dynasty, which I vaguelly recall from my world history course in high school.

So far, people are friendly and helpful in pointing me in the right direction, and I am not heckled by any means. There are a couple other tour groups around and Aqaba likely receives lots of local tourism because of its location along the Red Sea. It is a great introduction to Jordan and I look forward to the rest of the tour!