Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A fond adieu to the Perigord - but we'll be back!

Sadly, it was our last day in the Perigord, although we were very tempted to stay longer. We stopped at Le Buisson for coffee in the very crowded sports bar. Everyone was here for market day. When I asked for a croissant to go with my petit cafe creme, I was told to go up to the boulangerie and buy some. We were welcome to eat a bought croissant with our coffee.

After our breakfast, we walked through the really fine market. Once again there were lots of artisanal stalls as well as the usual fruit and veg, meats, cheeses and much foie gras. We stopped at a fruit and veg stall, where we had to wait to be given some plastic bags for our produce. The lady put a few bags in front of me but before I could even pick them up, they were gone. Obviously, you have to be quick at these French markets. We bought some staples to take home with us including some very tasty small grapes. In all the markets we saw they sold cooked beets alongside the fresh ones. That would save some mess at home.

The Dordogne is one area to which we will definitely return, probably in a different season. We have barely scratched the surface, with lots more beautiful scenery to visit, as well as ancient caves and grottoes, chateaux, gardens, truffle markets and wineries. What a beautiful spot! It is very easy to see why lots of expats move here. Next time we may rent a gite for a week or two.

I leave you with these words of Henry Miller who wrote, "I believe that this great peaceful region of France will always be a sacred spot for man and that when the cities have killed off the poets this will be the refuge and cradle of the poets to come. I repeat, it was most important for me to have seen the Dordogne: it gives me hope for the future of the race, for the future of the earth itself. France may one day exist no more, but the Dordogne will live on just as dreams live on and nourish the souls of men."

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Lascaux, the "sistine chapel of prehistory"

It was a little cloudy as we drove through the Vezere Valley, known as the cradle of mankind, since this is where Homo Sapiens, or the Cro-Magnon people, were first found. Passing Les Eyzies, with it's National Museum of Prehistory, we continued up the valley to Lascaux.

We finally arrived at the caves just in time for the lunchtime closing. Back in the town of Montignac, we wandered around for awhile, particularly enjoying the walk by the river. After deciding that we didn't want black or blood sausage, we settled on a little bistro for lunch. We had had a coffee there earlier, and I had noticed that duck lasagna was on the menu. First we had a lovely green salad, with bib lettuce of course, followed by the amazing lasagna, which had a thin top and bottom of pasta and the rest was duck. We made owner very happy with our praise of this magnificent lasagna.

We got back to Lascaux cave promptly at two o'clock, but were made to wait another twenty minutes until the tour started. Several of us waited patiently reading the books in the shop. The Lascaux caves are a perfect modern copy of the original that was closed in 1963 as the paintings were beginning to deteriorate. The caves were found by a young man out walking his dog, Robot in 1940. It is as the local Abbé Breuil suggested, "the Sistine chapel of prehistory," an unforgettable experience that overwhelms you with with a sense of art, history and a certain, "Je ne sais quoi," but something very powerful.

The artists may have lived 17,000 years ago but but they were people who were much like us, with aesthetic sensibilities and a sense of humour shown by some of the paintings of cows, deer, horses and some whimsical animals. The perfectly proportioned and colourful  pictures will never be forgotten. Frustratingly, photography was not permitted.

We backtracked to a small museum that reproduced some drawings not in the Lascaux caves. Again they were quite stunning. Outside there was a zoo with some of the animals represented in the drawings.

Our next stop was the pretty village of St. Leon sur Vezere right on the river. Unfortunately, Le Petit Leon restaurant was closed for the season but what a spot this would be to sit outside for lunch. There was a path right by the river, which we followed to the nearby huge chateau that dominated the landscape. From here we walked down some narrow, narrow lanes passing some ancient stone houses, admiring the remnants of their summer gardens. This truly is a beautiful and very tranquil spot.

Driving along we had passed several goose farms, duck farms and even a snail farm. We stopped at one of the goose farms watching the antics of the geese as they followed one another around the field with much flapping and honking. I bought a tin of jugged goose -- civet d'oie -- for dinner one evening. It is to be served hot with steamed potatoes.

Since we hadn't yet bought any wine, we drove to Le Bugue. After a quick stop at a patisserie for a reviving coffee accompanied by the brightest pink marzipan pig you can imagine, we visited the famous cave of Julian de Savignac. This was highly recommended by Bruno. Here we bought some of his favourite Perchament red and some Malbec. It was a fine finish to the day, or just perhaps that honour goes to the frites cooked in duck fat that accompanied our dinner. Oh my! How much porridge will we have to eat to counteract that?

Bergerac and the Bastide towns

The whole idea of this trip was to potter our way from village to village, from cafe to cafe, stopping whenever it took our fancy. What we learned yesterday was that some of the scenery was so beautiful it really takes your breathe away.

We had our coffee on the square in the old Bastide town of Lalinde, which is right on the Dordogne river. Our plan today was to visit a few of these Bastide towns, which are wonderful examples of medieval town planning. Built as new market towns that were also fortresses, they had big squares for the market, defensible walls, and a sturdy church to act as a bastion. The English and French each built them during the Hundred Years' War for defense in depth but also because the markets provided tax revenues that could go to the king rather than the local barons.

Our next stop was Bergerac which was founded on the banks of the Dordogne as a major navigation centre. The gentle river allows the surrounding vineyards to thrive and produce excellent wines. We wound our way from the Christmas market, through the narrow streets to the colourful statue of Cyrano, which stands amid half timbered houses.

I stopped to admire some polar fleece in the window of a shop and then decided to drop in. I was looking for a polar fleece vest. When I asked the owner why you couldn't find them, I was told in no uncertain terms that vests were not elegant or sophisticated. Oh dear! I did try on a very nice jacket in a lovely blue colour. After being assured that I looked very chic, I succumbed and bought the jacket, only to find out that all the polar fleece was made from recycled plastic bottles from Canada.

We had lunch in one of the lovely half timbered houses. It started with langoustines, followed by thinly sliced duck breast, potatoes and yet another glass of lovely red wine.

Walking back to the river we stopped to admire one of the traditional river barges. One of the things to do in the summer is sail in one of these on the river.

With what remained of the afternoon we drove along quiet country roads visiting the Bastide towns of Eymet, Issigeac and Beaumont. Each had their own unique characteristics but all had stunning central squares that we stopped to enjoy. It had been another lovely day.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

We begin exploring in the Dordogne

Our first full morning in the Perigord started in the nearby village of Limeuil, where the Vezere flows into the Dordogne river. What a delightful spot for our breakfast coffee. It is a lovely old town with a chateau and park atop the hill. In the summer you can rent a canoe and travel down river. Everything was very green and very tranquil.

We then visited the market in nearby Le Bugue. This market is renowned as the best market in the region. After parking precariously right by the river, we climbed the steps to the market square. Immediately we were assailed with a sight of wonderful cheeses, breads, fruit and veg and of course foie gras. The market stretched on both sides of the road and went on forever. It was a delight walking along the food stalls, artisanal clothing, jewelry, and handbags just to name a few. This wasn't a market of Chinese clothes with 'Made in Italy' labels. We stopped to buy some home made chutneys and some mince meat pies. Later we were lured by a round of goat cheese covered in cranberries and another soft, tasty cheese covered in peppers. We bought two small tins of foie gras rather than the fresh, and some fig aperitif that we are looking forward to opening soon. Le Bugue market is a foodies heaven.

By now it was lunch time and following 'Bruno's advice', we sought Auberge le Roussel. With a little bit of help we soon found it, up a narrow road full of twist and turns. The restaurant was filled with locals, always a good sign. The lady immediately brought a pichet of red wine and some bread to the table. This was followed by a tureen with vegetable soup, and a ladle; you just helped yourself. Next came a green salad with thin slices of duck followed by roast goose, scalloped potatoes and a kind of ratatouille. A plate with huge slabs of cheese was placed on the table so that we could help ourselves. I asked the name of one very tasty soft cheese only to be told that it didn't have a name and that it was just "cheese from here". We had our choice of six desserts. Seamus had the local nut tart, while I opted for my favourite isles flottant. All this for only €12.50. Incredible!

Back on the road we spotted the two great castles of Beynac and Castelnau, from which the English and French glowered at each other during the Hundred Years' War. The wife of the lord of Castelnau thought the place a bit grim, so she persuaded him to build Chateau de Milandes close by. American nightclub artist Josephine Baker bought it in the 1930s and turned it into a Resistance center in World War II. Unfortunately, it was closed for the season but we admired it from the outside. We knew before coming that many things would be closed but now we look at this as a good excuse to come back.

We drove on to the magical town of La Roque Gageac before ending up at the medieval hilltop town of Domme with it's great views over the valley below.

Our final stop of the day was Sarlat, a town whose centre was largely built in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and which has changed little since. They could film another version of The Three Musketeers here without changing anything except for a few modern shop windows. It stayed that way because the local swamps and malaria put the town into a long decline with little new building until DDT tamed the mosquito. We enjoyed walking around the town, especially the Christmas market with lots of nougat, marzipan, wine, foie gras of course, Christmas items and a booth from Quebec selling maple syrup.

By now it was dark and time to wend our way back to Tremolat for a beet salad and a simple omelet.

A little road trip to the Dordogne

The weather forecast continued to promise mild, sunny days in Spain and the south of France. This encouraged us to make an impromptu road trip to the Dordogne region of France, an area we had always wanted to visit. I am a big fan of Martin Walker's books about Bruno, Chief of Police. The books weave slice of life stories of murder and mayhem in the Perigord, while carefully describing the laid back lifestyle, where local wines, cheeses, truffles and foie gras are forefront. We left home armed with the author's suggestions of where to stay, eat and visit in the Perigord. This was going to be a perfect break with all the planning done for us.

 As we passed Carcassone and Castelnaudry, catching glimpses of the Canal Midi, we began thinking about lunch. Since we were very last minute, we hadn't taken any food with us. But when we pulled off at the next highway stop we found a restaurant overlooking a backwater of the Canal Midi complete with a couple of canal barges. What a beautiful setting! We actually sat down and got served a lovely menu of the day lunch. Our first course was a salad with sliced duck and goose gizzards. Delicious. The main course a lovely sausage on large beans or frites. Guess what we had? Dessert was fresh white cheese that tasted like yogurt. Of course I had a glass of rose. This restaurant, right on the highway, in a lovely setting, was a great find.

North of Toulouse we left the main highway and began driving, in the dark, along some narrow, very windy roads, before finally arriving at our hotel in the small village of Tremolat.

By now it was time to eat again. All we wanted was soup and salad. We had another green salad, like only the French can make, with lovely bib lettuce and a vinaigrette dressing. In between courses we were presented with a little, deep fried ball filled with duck and a little pastry with foie gras. Next came our pumpkin soup but not before some creme fraiche was put in the bowl. Then came a little deep fried piece of bread wrapped in Serrano ham. We didn't ask for dessert but who can resist raspberry mousse? Then of course we had a little chocolate truffle with coffee. Just imagine how much food we would have been presented with if we had ordered a regular meal?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Soy un leñador y yo estoy bien

Today was even warmer and sunnier than yesterday. We had our morning cortado -- espresso with a tiny drop of milk -- outside overlooking the marina in our shirtsleeves. Lovely. Fina, the owner, occasionally has us sample dishes that will be served later in the day. Today she brought us calamari cooked in black sepia ink. The calamari was so tender in fact a bit slipped off the fork and the black ink made a bit of a mess. This is definitely a keeper for her menu.

Back home we heard the revving up of chain saws and the roar of a bobcat as it cut a swathe through the woods behind us. Our stone pine were being thinned out to reduce fire risk. Much as we hate to see trees being felled, this is a necessary measure. Our village is surrounded by wooded parkland, and summer fires are a constant danger. Undeveloped lots quickly fill with brush and pines, and so our township was given permission to thin these areas out.

A large pine right against our fence line was the first to go. It was amazing just how large it was. And then the other, which was partially dead anyway or I think that's what the lumberjack told us. The bonus for us is that our view across the valley and down to the port will be greatly enhanced. They will be back on Monday for more cutting and to clear up.

I don't know what it will do to the wildlife, the deer and the wild boar. Last week we had a pine marten walk by our window that looks out on to the terrace. I think they will just move over to where the pines are thicker away from the houses.

Birdlife and a birthday

It was another hot and cold week, not outside but in our house. Once again the heating died. This time we asked our agency for a place to shower. This finally grabbed the attention of the landlord, who offered the use of his house. 24 hours after filling our oil tank, the whole system cut out again. This time we were told that when refilling the tank the system should have been shut down for three hours, never something we had been required to do on previous occasions. What next?

With another beautiful day, we decided to visit the Aiguamolls nature reserve. As we left the car we could hear lots of quacking and honking from the main pond. When we arrived at the blind, we could see that it was almost "standing room only" in the pond with lots of greylag geese, a few Canada geese, mallards, shelducks, European wigeons, northern shovelers, teals, and northern pochards with their distinctive rust-coloured heads. There was plumage of almost every colour and the noise was almost overwhelming.

We headed off to another blind, on the far side of the pond, where we spotted about twenty flamingoes wading and shuffling along, looking for dinner. There were also two mute swans sleeping on a small island, cormorants taking pride of place on their log, great blue heron and a few storks. Some of the ducks and geese were intermingling with them.

As we walked deeper into the Aiguamolls we passed the still empty stork nests, then looking down into a marshy area we stopped and watched a long legged spotted crake tug, tug, tugging away at something that might have been a frog, finally winning and running deeper into the marsh with its trophy.

Since it was such a nice day, we decided to continue our walk down to the beach, stopping to watch the antics of the Camargue ponies. We were surprised to see so many foals since our last visit. The cattle egrets were happy to see the ponies since they kept flying in to perch on the ponies' backs. A black, glossy ibis went about its business in one of the ponds. We were very excited to see a flock of what looked like large, black birds fly and land in a field. Were they the elusive Grus Grus - European Crane? We raced off to their landing spot to find out that they were storks. They certainly look impressive when flying in formation.

Close to the beach, we followed a long, muddy path down to a blind that had not been available to us before. What a spot! We had clear views of a big pond, the marshes and the sea in the distance. From here we saw some swans flying in the distance as well as several marsh harriers cruising around in their search for dinner. On the other side of the pond were two trees that looked like they were decorated with black Christmas ornaments that turned out to be cormorants just hanging out. I kept hearing a horses neigh and sure enough straight across from us in the tall grass was a foal lying down munching with its mum nearby.

Finally, we crossed the long, sandy beach to the water. I thought it might be inviting but it really did look cold. Since the sun was moving lower in the sky it was time to retrace our footsteps.

Back in the village we decided to go for a glass of cava at the Nautica. There was a birthday party for one of the server's five-year-old daughters going on. Now for us it was very interesting to watch a birthday party Spanish style from our perches at the bar.  All the parents were socializing having a beer or glass of wine, while the partygoers were having their faces painted, eating, socializing or playing games in small groups. Everyone, young and old was having a good time. We felt very welcomed, when the uncle of the birthday girl offered us a little glass of home-made, not sweet, jello-topped with whipped cream and sprinkles and some homemade cookies. It  went quite well with the cava. There were a couple of gifts of toys and clothes and one big gift everyone had chipped in for. We couldn't clearly see what it was but maybe a dollhouse set. There was a set time for the end of festivities so that the restaurant could return to normal but we were long gone by then.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A morning in the olive groves

We had been waiting for Saturday with some excitement. This morning we were going to harvest olives and make some olive oil. Last time we were scheduled to do this it was cancelled because of bad weather. Today the skies were brilliant blue, a perfect day. At the frantoia we boarded the Cap de Creus tourist train, really a tractor with two cars behind, and headed off through farmers' fields passing many olive groves. Finally, we arrived at 'our' olive grove.

The nets were already set. Here, this is an easy job, since the olives trees are on flat land. We were given rakes with plastic tops and told to get started. Since the trees were laden with olives, it was an easy task but perhaps not as easy as for the two professional pickers. They had steel forked rakes on long poles that were operated by battery packs. The olives showered down for them. Eventually, our net was quite full of olives. With some help we gathered the net until all the olives were at one end. The professionals took the net and dumped it in a hopper behind a tractor.

We took a different track back down more farm lanes passing more olive groves with lots of people out harvesting their crops. Back at the Empordalia frantoia the olives were dumped through a grate, and then suddenly they appeared on a belt that took them to a machine that removed branches. Next they were washed and the stones were removed before the olives were ground into a thick, goopy paste. It was mixed again and with gravity the oil was extracted.

While the latter part of this process was taking place we adjourned to a storage room filled with French oak barrels full of wine, and here we had a Spanish breakfast. Tables were overflowing with pan tomat, segol bread rubbed with tomato and a bit of oil, Serrano ham and other meats spicy and mild. There were lots of home made biscotti and other cookies. All this was washed down by the winery's red, white or rose wine. The food was much appreciated and there wasn't a scrap left by the time we moved on to see the huge, old stone grinders that were used in times gone by to extract the oil.

Now we moved to the bottling room, where everyone took their turn to fill a bottle with lovely, fresh, green oil. The bottle was moved to the capping machine and the process was complete. We were very happy to leave with a good sized bottle of delicious olive oil. What a lovely morning.

Some final thoughts on a truly memorable experience

I haven't really commented about the Jordanian food too much, since I have eaten more chicken than I care to think about. However, the traditional drinks were very tasty, especially the coffee with cardamom served in small cups. We enjoyed the Bedouin coffee with hazelnuts and spices but this was not to be found in many places. The national drink is a strong tea served with fresh mint leaves that is quite delicious.

The desserts were always lovely with lots of flaky pastry, mousses and almond cakes. Our favourite dessert was not dissimilar to bread pudding but served hot with nuts and spices and an almond cream served hot. I must admit that I had seconds of this a few times.

Every kind of salad imaginable was available and I have mentioned several of these. Kebabs were popular as was mansaf, which is chunks of boiled lamb served on a bed of sticky rice with pine nuts on top. This was often served with goat's milk yoghurt on the side. Good fish was rare and of course pork is forbidden.

I have mentioned the bumpy roads and the plastic everywhere near populated areas. Fuel prices are totally regulated by the government. Jordanians will tell you that they need three things: petroleum, water and tourists. There is no petroleum in Jordan. The increase in population and people moving into the cities is creating a great strain on water supplies. There is a proposed plan for desalinization of Red Sea water with the brine being piped into the Dead Sea, which will revive the shrinking Dead Sea. Some of this water will be piped to the south of Israel; in exchange the north of Jordan will receive water from a reservoir in the north of Israel.

At the time of writing tourists are staying away from Jordan because of the situation in Syria and Egypt. I would venture to guess that our hotels in Amman and the Dead Sea were at about ten percent capacity. They were extremely quiet.

The number of working children, who do not attend school, is a problem. Many of these are refugee children from Syria, whose parents can't work. As well as some Jordanian children working this creates a huge problem for the future with almost 300,000 Syrian refugee children in Jordan. A third of these were out of school this academic year. Over time there have been a lot of Palestinian refugees in Jordan, which causes some identity issues. Our guide never referred to Israel, when pointing out places to us. It was always Palestine or occupied Palestine. According to newspaper reports 2,000 Jordanians are fighting for the rebel forces in Syria.

Any Jordanians we encountered told us that it was a safe country and to tell our friends. We certainly found it that way but we were on the tourist trail. Nevertheless visiting Jordan was an incredible experience and perhaps we will return someday.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sand storms and traffic jams enliven final day in Jordan

It was time to leave the Dead Sea and head for the airport. We battled our way from the hotel room to the breakfast area. I say battled because there was a huge sandstorm in progress. The fellow on the desk had kindly checked that our driver would be able to negotiate his way to the airport. We were in luck. The road was open. When I asked where the storm was coming from, I was told "the desert". Since there was desert all around that wasn't hard to figure out. I had in mind the compass direction.

Our trip into the airport was uneventful except for a short delay due to a traffic accident. What an unusual scene. Cars and trucks were pulled off the road on both sides, for some distance. We actually saw people doing this and then walking up to the scene of the accident to join the growing throng. I'm not sure if everyone was helping or not. It did remind me of scenes of Muslim funerals with all the intense milling around.

Soon we were at the airport, where the computer system was down. It didn't seem to matter, everyone was calm and at one time we had three people helping us obtain our boarding passes. Soon we were in the open plan duty free. What a lovely airport. It was so stress free.

Back home again we were faced with all the builder's mess on the roof. It hadn't been repaired and of course once again the furnace was broken. We had gone from 32 degrees at the Dead Sea to 12 degrees in our unheated house! Still it didn't spoil our memories of a wonderful trip.

From desert castles to the Dead Sea

Today we left the chaos of Amman behind us and traveled once again on the bumpy highway to visit the Desert Castles, a group of early-Islamic buildings dotted around the Eastern Desert – the best of which are now easily accessible by ordinary vehicles driving on proper roads. Most date from the seventh century, when the Umayyad dynasty was ruling from Damascus: Bedouin at heart, the Umayyad caliphs seem to have needed an escape from the pressures of city life, and so built a network of hunting lodges, caravansaries and farmhouses to serve as rural retreats. Nineteenth-century archeologists came up with the term “Desert Castles”, although few of the buildings are true castles, and many were built on what was then semi-fertile agricultural land. Archeologists have suggested replacement titles – desert complexes, country estates, farmsteads – but none exactly fits the bill.
Our first stop was Quasr Kharana, which very much looked like a fortress from the road. We explored the maze of rooms around the courtyard before climbing the stairs to the second floor looking down on the courtyard below. In one of the rooms was some preserved 8th century graffiti.

Back on the road our little tourist bus was stopped by the traffic police. It seemed a little incongruous that here in the desert he checked the windshield wipers but something was amiss. Our tourist policeman, guide and bus driver all got out to have a conversation with the official. After some heated words eventually we were allowed to leave. The bus driver was furious and we shot off, passing road signs for Iraq, at full speed. This then caused words between our tourist policeman and bus driver, all very exciting.

Our next stop was the beautiful Amra castle, where the Umayyad caliphs came to let their hair down, far from prying eyes in Damascus. Probably built between 711 and 715 by Caliph Walid I, it is unmissable for the frescoes covering its interior walls. They stand in stark contrast to the windswept emptiness of the desert, and feature an earthly paradise of luscious fruits and vines, naked women, cupids, musicians, hunters and the kings of conquered lands. The first Islamic edict ordering the destruction of images came from one of Walid’s successors, when Amra’s frescoes were just five years old, but for some reason they were overlooked and have managed to survive 1300 years of fire and graffiti. It is very unusual to see human images depicted in Islamic art.

Our next stop was Azraq Castle, which is located in the village of North Azraq. Because of its strategic location close to the borders of several countries and near a water supply, the site has been occupied by many different civilizations, including the Umayyads and Ottomans. It was made famous during World War I, when Lawrence of Arabia used the castle as his military base during the Arab Revolt against the Turks in Damascus. In fact we were lucky enough to be toured around the castle by an elderly gentleman whose grandfather worked directly with Lawrence. He is even mentioned in Lawrence's book, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

The castle is solidly constructed out of black basalt. Entrance is through an impressive door made of a massive slab of basalt weighing a ton. Carved indentations on the floor were used by former gatekeepers to play a board game with pebbles to pass the time. I was very excited to see Lawrence’s office, directly above the southern entrance. There is a small mosque in the middle of the courtyard, an old well near the east wall and a  prison in the northeast corner. At one time the area had been quite lush but now it has returned to the desert. Looking in the distance we could see where the oasis had receded. With the sinking of illegal wells, seepage of salt and pumping water to Amman, the oasis is in serious danger.

We retraced our travels back to Amman before taking the Sea Level Highway to the Dead Sea. Without a doubt the world’s most amazing place, the Jordan Rift Valley is a dramatic, beautiful landscape, which at the Dead Sea, is over 400 metres below sea level. The lowest point on the face of the earth, this vast stretch of water receives a number of incoming rivers, including the River Jordan. Once the waters reach the Dead Sea they are land-locked and have nowhere to go, so they evaporate, leaving behind a dense, rich, cocktail of salts and minerals.

The Dead Sea is flanked by mountains to the east and the rolling hills of Jerusalem to the west, giving it an almost other-worldly beauty. Although sparsely populated and serenely quiet now, the area is believed to have been home to five Biblical cities including Sodom and Gomorrah.

But enough of that, it was time for lunch at a beautiful spot overlooking the Dead Sea. We had the usual selection of salads, chicken wings and some lovely desserts. Everywhere we went there were little tarts or pieces of cakes of all colours. I must say I loved the large pieces of chocolate with nuts. In fact I had to go back and get seconds.

We checked into our hotel and headed off to the beach. I had on my water shoes and was very glad of them since the rocks were quite sharp. What an experience, just floating in the warm, soothing, super salty water itself – some ten times saltier than sea water, and rich in chloride salts of magnesium, sodium, potassium, bromine and several others. The unusually warm, incredibly buoyant and mineral-rich waters have attracted visitors since ancient times, including King Herod the Great and the beautiful Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra. All of whom have luxuriated in the Dead Sea’s rich, black, stimulating mud and floated effortlessly on their backs.

Of course I had to try floating on my front. It wasn't a pleasant experience. The water stung my face and it felt like I had super salted my neti pot. I did have my goggles on. Quickly, I maneuvered back on my back. It was a lot of fun in this water but you couldn't really swim because you were so buoyant. You could float upright in the water, completely out of the water from waist up. Finally we tried to get out but that was difficult going from lying on your back to an upright position because of the salinity. The lifeguard on shore grabbed us to help us out.

There was a lovely big pot of the dark, Dead Sea mud on the shore. We helped each other mud up and then sat in the sand, while the mud dried. Then it was back in the water to clean the mud off, which was easier said than done. It was a wonderful experience and one that I will never forget.