Part of the planning of our big trip was that we would be visiting some of the most amazing places on Earth, places that may not be around forever. There is a reason the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat are world-famous and that is something we took into consideration when explaining what I considered “the best thing.”
Delhi was covered in a fog the morning we left for Agra, our train crawled across the country side and we couldn’t see a thing. That didn’t bode well for the Taj everyone told us. So we arrived in Agra in the late morning, only a couple hours overdue, and headed to a cafe near the southern entrance where we could wait off the fog. Our tuk tuk driver told us the afternoon would be better, but as the minutes ticked by we figured we’d go ahead and enter.
The Taj Mahal in the fog was stunning. This photo is the first time we could see it. It was impossible to see from the entrance. There was no crowd and it was actually quite cold, making our experience rather pleasant. We could study the inlay without being rushed. It was a good day to see the Taj after all… however no beautiful sunset photos here. Another time maybe? If it doesn’t collapse first.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Golden Rock was THE inspiration for this entire trip. Of course, it was one of the expected amazing things. You can read all about it here.
The Temples at Angkor (more commonly called Angkor Wat)
Of course the Temples at Angkor were amazing. This city was lost and then rediscovered by missionaries in 1860, a vast complex of crumbling Khmer temples. Ryan and I reserved a motorized tuk tuk with driver for the day and went to some really inspiring places. While Angkor was amazing, I didn’t love the town of Siem Reap that has grown up around it, but that is for another blog post.
Great Wall of China
Another big hitter on the list of amazing places. Here we took a day tour, arranged through our AMAZING Airbnb homestay (also, please use my Airbnb referral link… free money for both of us!), to the Mutianyu portion of the Wall. It had snowed the previous day and was freezing when we left Beijing in the morning. Fun fact: if it’s cold and windy on the ground, it only gets worse up on the wall without the protection.
We were very lucky that day, as the sun was shining and the wind was generally low. Meaning it was somewhat hot up on the wall with all the hiking around. We opted to take the stairs to the top, instead of the gondola, and covered something like 7 watchtowers. I wish we’d had a little bit more time to explore, but am happy I got to see a beautifully preserved/rebuilt portion of the wall. Seeing the expanse of wall laid out before you is incredible.
The Hagia was once said to be the most beautiful building in the world. It served as a functioning Christian cathedral for over 900 years and then a mosque for almost 500 years, making it the longest-serving religious building in the world. Atatürk converted it into a museum in 1935, allowing everyone the ability to see a piece of this incredibly beautiful building.
I’d seen the Hagia before, on a previous trip to Istanbul, but it was just as incredible to see a second time.
Petra is considered one of the Modern Seven Wonders of the World, and with a very good reason. Seeing this ancient city carved out of rock–and seeing the engineering it took to make it happen–was phenomenal. Click through on the panorama for a bigger photo.
We visited in mid-March, shortly after news came out that a Jordanian pilot has been executed by ISIS in Syria. Petra is in Jordan and Jordan is just south of Syria. Needless to say, the place was deserted. Others loss was a huge gain for us, as we were able to spend an entire day exploring without seeing very many people at all. Most of our photos are empty of people, a bizarre experience to say the least. That said, we felt perfectly safe the entire time we were in Jordan. Most of the big tourist sites lay toward the south, near Israel or Egypt. Jordan was incredible and certainly a highlight despite the short time we spent there.
Jerusalem is another one of the world-famous big hitters. The entire old city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it’s more known for the pervasiveness of religion that surrounds it.
The only place we weren’t able to visit was Temple Mount because it’s restricted to Muslims only during a vast majority of the time. However, Ryan and I really enjoyed the Via Dolorosa, ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus is believed to have been buried and risen (by Catholics and Orthodox, Protestant Christians believe he was buried elsewhere) and we visited the Western Wall, the holiest place in all of Judaism. The Western Wall is often referred to as the Wailing Wall and my experience there was quite powerful and personal, something I have found difficult to experience in the modern Western religious context.
Side note: Jerusalem was also on my list of unexpected places I loved.
So there you have it, the places we expected to be awesome, and they were.