That night after one of the longest days, you’d think I could have slept in, but no, I woke up and wanted to know what there was to explore in my area before going out with Avi for a holy land tour. The conscierge suggested Jaffa and the clock tower and flea market. I’m big on flea markets after spending some time in the south. I’m always after a good bargain, especially when it involves cool foreign finds. Without even having any sheckles yet, I jumped in a taxi and asked him to stop by a cash machine on my way to Jaffa, which I’d later find out is the same as Joppa, the city that Jonah wanted to go to when he was suppose to go to Ninevah. I found the "big fish" also known as Jonah and the whale.
Beautiful area. The shops were amazing. I realized how much of a world traveler I was when I was negotiating with a shop keeper for a bronze mask and he was happy to take non local currency… $20 USD, $20 AUD, 100 U.A.E. DHM, and 20 MYR (Malyasian) 10 JOD (Jordanian) as well as some Isreali Sheckles. He nearly cleaned me out, but I got the $100 bronze mask with silver eyes. I’m sure a local could have gotten a much better deal, and my various currencies didn’t help.
I also got some other good gifts for family including some cool bags and touristy stuff. I then flagged down a taxi and headed back to the hotel in Tel Aviv. After arriving at the wrong Sheraton in Tel Aviv I started to get a bit worried after I explained it was the other Sheraton in Tel Aviv, and he said this was the only one. I was pretty confident with myself and guided him up the street to the hotel. What a relief after we arrived. Avi was there waiting for me with his son. I was excited to see him and we were off. Our first stop was in an amazing hill with an awesome view of the surrounding area. I started taking pictures of the thistle which was beautiful and asking if this was considered good here or not. I guess it wasn’t like Scotland where it’s more respected. As we were wandering around the cliffs I heard some people speaking English and I asked them where they were from. One said Provo, the other said American Fork. I was floored. I was in Provo/American Fork the weekend before this trip for my sister Maralee’s wedding. They explained to me that they were on this hill filming a movie on the life of Christ with Dr. Truman Madsen! No WAY!!! He’s only one of the foremost on Jerusalem and the life of Christ. (Like the guy that I’d want to explain what’s to see. He was the head of the BYU Jerusalem Center for a decade or so.) A few minutes later, he’s walking up the hill and I’m getting my picture with him.
I’d find that from that location you could see the Mount of Transfiguration, the place for the Sermon on the Mount (The Beatitudes), and the Sea of Galilee (the place where Christ walked on water and found his fishers of men.) Breath taking and beautiful. You could also see Syria, the West Bank, and Jordan. From this location it was easy to point out where the 1967 boundaries changed. If that’s not enough you could also see locations where Elijah and Elisha did a lot of their miracles. It was definitely easy to see how it was the promised land. A very beautiful location flowing with milk and honey.
After the view, we went into the valley to the Jordan River from this side. It was interesting to see all the people lining up to get baptized in the same river. I think the Jordanian side had the right spot, but this section of the Jordan river was better setup for mass baptisms.
Our timing was perfect to see a good group of orthodox Jews who were gathered around the car of an evidently important Rabbi on his way. It was fascinating to learn about the differences between the Orthodox to Hasidic to reformed Jews. The hats and locks are the easiest ways to tell them apart. It was enjoyable to see a few hitch hiking. I’m thinking to myself wow that’s amazing they’d be so trusting to take a ride from a random person.
We then went close up to the Sea of Galilee, so Avi’s son could play a bit in the water and cool down. We then stopped by where the sermon on the mount was. The church that was there was closed, but we found a spot to take a picture (next to the private property sign.)
As you can imagine we were all pretty exhausted. This picture sums it up.
The next day was Friday. Meron had volunteered to take me to Jerusalem and Avi would be getting ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I’d get dropped off at his place before sundown so I could get ready as well. I was very excited to be invited to spend the Sabbath with Avi and his family. What an Honor!
I’d later find out after our deep conversations, Avi would loose his voice that night and finally be getting it back as I would arrive.
Friday April 4.
So, again I wake up and felt like exploring. I decided to go out in the surf. I didn’t have a surf board, but I could at least enjoy the water where Jonah himself went for a quick swim. It’s tough to take a picture of yourself in the water.
It was a great swim. The water wasn’t too cold and the waves were surprisingly good. There were even a few surfers out there. You can surf Israel on the Med sea. My Auzzie friends would be a bit disappointed, but for the Italian surfers, they wouldn’t be too disappointed.
So Meron arrived and I was ready. We went straight to Jerusalem and started at the top of the hill and worked our way down. It was all about the view, and then we ended up in BYU Jerusalem. Nice real estate. I can see why it was a bit sensitive with the locals. We didn’t have time for much of a tour there, but did see the organ (the biggest in the middle east?) and the awesome view of the dome of the rock from the rose garden.
We then went to the mount of olives to find out that it closes from 12-2 (for lunch?) So we went where everyone else was going to find out that, oh this is the place where Mary the mother of Jesus is supposedly burried. It was quite the gothic church with massive chandeliers and guys with massive black robes and long beards. This theme for Christianity would persist in a lot of the other places where there were sights. Eastern Orthodox, and Armenian and mostly not the Catholic that most of us are use to seeing in Cathedrals. I’d find out that it’s offensive to cross your legs on a very short list of things you shouldn’t do in church. Someone needs to tell my bishopric.
So old Jersualem is divided into quarters. Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter, and Armenian Quarter? Not sure how the Armenian’s ended up with their piece, but it’s fascinating still the same.
The contrast between either side of the hill that the mount of olives is on is amazing. You’d see very dry even deserty to roses in bloom.
In the Christian Quarter, the main thing to see is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In that building alone, based on the info I gathered from various random tour guides and people we’d ask, we’d find that Constantine himself would say that this is where the tomb, calvary’s hill, the crucifixion, all the main things would be there. Right near there is the path where he walked carrying the cross. You can find a stack of spare crosses you can borrow if you want. There’s even a crack where they say, this is where the earth rent in twain at the death. There’s also some stained dirt that they say is where the blood went… It’s all fairly incredible. I’ll leave it up to you to determine. I was asking around for the other tomb, since I’d heard there was another one that was more realistic. After searching online, I’d find another one that is in most of the modern pictures you see of the "garden tomb" that is a better place for pondering or meditating. There’s also some other places that are claimed to be "the place" That garden tomb is just outside the Damascus gate in the Muslim quarter. I recommend it. It is closed on Sundays. Is that an Orb in the picture of me in front of the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher? One of my favorite "evidences" is this excavation that shows a huge area of baby graves from right around the birth of Christ. If you follow the story, it’s a very sad time in Jerusalem when King Herod has all babies under 2, killed. It’s up the road from the mount of olives.
The Muslim quarter and all of them essentially do have some great shopping for gifts and trinkets. I ended up with a big sheeps horn, and lots of candy and sweets. For lunch Meron and I ate at a very special place in the Muslim Quarter and had some of the best Humus and falafel and pita I had on my trip. Muhammorah (sp?) is the best stuff. Mo and Mohammed introduced me to it and were saying it was spicy, but man it was amazing. I hope to find it in the states. They had that here as well. I would ask for it at every place that had Humus from then on.
The best in the Jewish quarter by far, was the western wall also known as the wailing wall. Lots of emotion and passion and real feeling. Even being there I also missed the temple and there was a strong feeling to touch the stones of the west wall of the temple that stood in Christ’s time.
Looks like it will be part 3 before I get to the Dubai SPC and Istanbul SPC 😉
So, I left on my last day at Microsoft. I left my sad Ford Explorer in the Microsoft parking lot of bldg 110. Off to the airport in a taxi and didn’t even get a chance to print out my itinerary.
Patrick Beharry had done a great job of organizing the conference, but as most of you know I planned to tack on a few other events on to the beginning of the trip.
Day 1: I flew in to Amsterdam, hint up by the Business Lounge up stairs there is an area past the meditation area where you can sleep and watch some scenes to help you relax. The business lounge is not too bad either 🙂 (Sorry to mention it Todd.)
Day 2: I landed in Dubai at 1am and got a few winks. I realize that Muhammed Zayed the MS guy coordinating my Jordan trip had scheduled a few meetings on Sunday and my flight was going to be leaving at 7am, so it was assumed I’d turn around in 4-5 hrs and go back to the airport. I also realize my laptop cord is not the right one. Doh.
Day 3: I wake up after a few and with the mess up I realize I have 2 flights to Jordan the 7am one and one in the early afternoon. I force myself to sleep till 7 and then since it’s Sunday I wanted to go to church. I’d found a chapel in Jameira on the Internet on the mormon.org site. I catch a taxi at 8:30am… No luck. I couldn’t find it anywhere and even with me messing with his GPS we couldn’t find the building. I’d later find out that it might have actually been happening on Saturday, but the numbers didn’t line up with any numbers in Jameira 1 and the address didn’t seem complete on the site. We then do a quick tour of the palms and see some construction. Dubai is very seriously under construction. Beautiful place. I can see there’s a lot of money going into it and it will be a major source of business now and in the future. THE HUB to look to for working with the middle east.
It’s truly amazing what’s going on. After not finding it anywhere we head to grab some lunch. I eat at an Indian joint near the airport where only Indians were eating. That was fun. They thought it was wierd seeing this guy dressed up in church clothes eating at this obviously hole in the wall Indian place, which did have great food. A couple of guys were IT guys and I had some fun talking with them about SharePoint.
So I caught my plane which flew through Kuwait to Amman Jordan on Kuwait Airways. Yep, chalk up another one. I spent 10 minutes in Kuwait… so exciting.
After arriving in Amman I met Muhammed Zayed and a consultant who was heading back to Lebanon. We chatted for a while on an ITG project, then we headed to my hotel in Amman. We were greeted by some army action. There was at least one hummer with a big gun, and 5-7 army guys with big guns. There was also a scanner like at the airport to X-ray all the bags going into the hotel and a metal detector to go through to get into the hotel.
I was later told there was some military conference going on in town. So there was extra "security" in place. We later caught some dinner at a local Jordanian place with some MS and SharePoint community people.
Day 4, Monday March 31, I wake up and meet Mohammad Zayed my Microsoft contact who takes me to a partner invitation only conference where they will hear me speak. In this special invitation partner session I chat with the partners and answer some questions. I meet Muhannad Omar (Mo), and some other partners that I’d later see either in Dubai or Istanbul. We got great feedback on the session and then headed to lunch with a special partner. The picture to the right is the view from the restaurant. The picture to the left is a hotel which is designed like the tower of Babel in the Bible. Pretty funny 🙂
Tower of Babel and Amman Landscape
After a some amazing customer visits of customers who were both passionate about SharePoint, Muhammed wanted to make sure I enjoyed myself outside of work as well, so he took me around to some local sites such as this Roman Amphitheater in Amman. Also to the right some ruins on top of the hill a view from the top of the amphitheater.
Roman Ruins in Amman
We had a good laugh at this ironic T-Shirt and I also got some shots of local more traditional dress. "Don’t Tase me bro!" Someone is going to make a killing on that one. I wish I had picked up that shirt. It still kills me.
Jordanian Garb at it’s best
we went out in what would be the first official Jordan SharePoint User Group meeting. A *very* informal gathering of SharePoint friends for fine local Jordanian cuisine.
Jordan SharePoint User Group
You can see me here with my Share (point not dot) shirt. Also to my right is Mo. You’ll hear more about him as this post progresses.
Later that night a few of us would go out to find some Amman excitement. We ended up driving around going through some exciting areas… former scary areas that I guess are still scary, but we didn’t see much. We also went up on top of some hills, but it was dark. We did stop and get some desert and drinks.
Day 5, March 1, Tuesday, We get up and head straight to ITG. They’ve got some amazing plans to update their product and base it on SharePoint. Exiting stuff. After getting a run down of their existing product line and how it works, I was then presented with their current challenges. I offered them some suggestions for how to address my sites for 2 million users (suggested using profiles not my sites), and made some suggestions on overcoming FBA client challenges with ISA and IAG. (Yes, you can use delegated auth in ISA or IAG to overcome some of the rich client integration challenges.) After a good meeting with those folks and running them out of questions we stopped by the Microsoft Office in Amman and pulled together our plans on getting from Amman to Israel a major effort between Muhammed and Avi. There was some serious negotiation going on. I was purposely going to miss my flight and my Jordanian friends would take me to the border at the King Hussien bridge where Avi would pick me up on the other side. We’d meet up at 1PM, 2PM at the latest.
(Picture to the left is the MS office, picture to the right… see the US Flag? That’s the US embassy. I almost got shot taking this photo. No actually I had to delete this picture, it doesn’t exist.)
Microsoft Jordan Amman Office
After stopping by Mo’s place to get some clothes, we finally headed out on our trek to Petra with a stop over at the Dead Sea.
On our way, we’d see a sign for the Jordan River (Jesus Baptismal place), where I had to stop and saw some Berbers. I enjoyed the seeing this camel casually hooked up to the lamp post on this major road.
Jordan River and Camel on Lamp Post
Next we went to the Dead Sea. I’d been hearing from Jordanians that the TOP two things to do were Dead Sea and Petra. The Spas at the Dead Sea were hyped up as well. They all lived up to their reputation including the Dead Sea mud and it’s therapeutic properties. It was amazing.
Most people don’t put the mud on their heads, but I was enjoying getting into it and Mo and Mohammad were egging me on which helped a bit as well.
After the mud, a serious shower, relaxing in the pool and watching the sunset we grabbed some food and headed to Petra.
Mo’s Beemer had seen better days. To all you BMW folks here’s a lesson learned. We’re headed out there on this road following the side of the Dead Sea and we have a blow out and we couldn’t get the tire off. We all tried for over an hour. Even the army stopped and they couldn’t get the tire off. They then secretly slinked off in their hummer with their gunner. It wasn’t until Jordan’s version of a couple of farmers stopped by that we made some progress. He jacked it back down to put pressure on the tire which finally loosened it. Then one of the guys got under the car and was kicking it from underneath. I thought he was going to die, so I stopped him and make him kick from the outside. After getting it back on we got back on the road and got within 40KM to find out it was a crazy dirt road, not the place for a beemer with a donut. So we turned around and went half way back to Amman to take a different route up near mount Nebo with Moses, and arrived between 4-5am. We had quite the lengthy conversations about the purpose of life, spirits, genies, and the end of the world. Deep stuff. We rolled in to Marriott and took a 10 minute break on a couch, tiddied up in the bathroom and got some food and headed to Petra!!!
All Nighter to Petra
Petra was very inviting. At 6am we thought we’d be the first in, but we weren’t. There were a couple people a head of us, but it was very easy to get open shots with no one in them.
Walking through the Canyon we found some amazing stone carvings in the rock and got some great shots. The best was walking through the canyon where it’s very narrow where water had carved it out, kind of like Southern Utah’s Goblin Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zions, or the Grand Canyon.
Petra is actually the city, this city made of Rock. The picture of the building out of rock is the Treasury. It’s the one seen in the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie. (in the valley of the crescent moon)
We didn’t have much time, but I really wanted to see the Monastery (a building similar to the Treasury except even bigger with a bit less detail.) So we bartered with this boy for his donkeys. As you can see in the pictures, after much haggling we agreed on a price (it wasn’t cheap or quick to arrive at a price, but it was the way to see the monastery and to get up the 1000 or so steps and steep climb). The donkeys were very impressive.
Mohammed was kind enough to let us go, and he’s stay back and either rest or something. Donkeys riding up stairs and cliffs with huge drop offs on either side really challenges your faith, but the little animal gave it all and took itself and us bruisers.
So we arrived at the Monastery. Wow it was huge! You can see Mo at the bottom.
After we got back the scene had changed. There were now mean Camels, and a ton more people. You can see how hard it would be to grab single shots now.
Crazy Camel and Crowds
So we had to race off to get back and get to the border. My taxi flew, I’ve never had a taxi driver needing convinced that if he got a ticket I’d have to pay for it. He was taking directions from me, which was scary enough, but trying to get from Petra at 11am to the King Hussein bridge by 1PM was pushing it. At 2:02PM we arrived. Through a miracle I was able to get through and on the last bus through the border. Avi, my guardian angel met me and drove me through the West Bank. I’d later find out just how scary that was. At that point I was use to seeing checkpoints and lots of guys with guns, so I didn’t really notice that it was really beefed up with military on every corner at every stoplight. (Border on left, Avi and I on Right)
Border Crossing in the West Bank
So Avi after meeting me for the first time in person, took me to the Office System User Group meeting in Tel Aviv. They had heard I was coming straight from the hills and hiking around, so they tracked down a towel for me and had sent someone to the store to pick one up. I arrived with about 30-45 minutes to spare. So I got the borrowed towel and took a quick shower before it would start.
Israeli Office System User Group
The best part was seeing Avi (MOSS is my Middle Name) on his guitar, doing a funny western song about me taking on the big challenges. I have a framed copy of the song, which will be hanging on the wall in my office when and where ever I get settled. My ramblings on Governance and Infrastructure fundamentals were nothing compared to the sheer entertainment we all got from Avi. I wish all SharePoint user group meetings everywhere could have benefited from his amazing skills and poetry.
If you enjoyed this recap, you’ll really enjoy Muhannad Omar’s version.