Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Al-Jordan

We spent 6 days in Jordan during the first week of October at the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival holidays in Hong Kong.

  • Day 1: Arrive Amman from Dubai. We stayed at Hotel Hisham, a quaint and quiet boutique hotel in the Embassy quarter near the 3rd circle
  • Day 2: Half day in Jarash and half day in Amman on a private sightseeing tour. In Amman, we drove through new (wealthy) neighbourhoods and visited the Citadel and the Roman Amphitheater
  • Day 3: Self Drive to Petra via Mt Nebo, stayed at the Seven Wonders Bedouin camp in Little Petra, a unique desert experience
  • Day 4: Sightseeing in the Petra Siq, including The Treasury, The High Place of Sacrifice, Wadi Farasa, and finally the monastery or Ad-Deir
  • Day 5: Day trip to Wadi Rum, night stay at the Movenpick Hotel in Petra
  • Day 6: Petra to Dead Sea, return to Amman
  • Day 7: Fly from Amman to Dubai
This itinerary seems about right for Jordan. Perhaps one extra day can be spent at Petra exploring Little Petra in more detail. One night at the Bedouin camp (shared toilet facilities!) is probably the most one can take if you are not used to backpacking. Wadi Rum is intensely beautiful, and a night in the desert can be a fascinating experience too. Reserve a whole day for the Dead Sea experience, which closes pretty early in the evening.


Overall impressions: Landscape is pretty stark. No trees or shrubs or flowers. All houses seem stucco whitewashed. Due to mountainous terrain, good panoramic views are possible. People tend to follow late lunchtimes and dinner times. The day we landed in Amman we tried to find lunch at 11:30am and were turned away by most places. Restaurants come into their own at dinnertime, otherwise are quite empty. Although October is technically tourist season, it seemed tourist arrivals are slow. Most places seem rather quiet. Food is very vegetarian friendly. Similar to Lebanese cuisine. Lot of vegetarian starters and almost all the mains are meat based.
History: In the middle of the Biblical region, has the influence of Greek, Roman, Islamic cultures. Earliest recorded is the Nabatean tribe around 538BC, then Greek and Roman. Then Umayyads in 661AD with Damascus as capital. The Frank Crusades from 1095AD (and hence the origin of the word “franj” in Arabic, meaning Westerner, similar to “firang” in Hindi). The Ottomans ruled from from 1520AD and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was created in 1947.

Highlights:

Jarash: saw the ruins which have been largely influenced by Roman styles and Greek gods. The long street running through the forum, called Cardus Maximus is quite stunning for its fine colonnades and cobblestones with chariot ruts, and ruins of temples and churches alongside rather well preserved. To imagine walking over the stones that still had chariot ruts from 2000 years ago was a very special feeling. Jarash was a town large enough to have two amphitheatres, both of which are still in rather good shape.
Our entry ticket for the Jerash site

Citadel and Roman amphitheater at Amman: interesting how some part of every dynasty is represented including c2500BC burial mounds. Not many traces of the ancient Greek city called Philadelphia. The notices are quite self explanatory as to which period the particular piece/structure belonged. Of all the places we visited in Jordan, this site had the best signage - perhaps the perks of being in the capital city. We visited the popular tradition museum which is accessed through the Roman Theatre: the collection is average, but since it doesn’t take much time, it is worth a quick look-see – the traditional dresses of the people in the region are the most interesting to see.

The entry ticket for the Roman Theatre in Amman
Mount Nebo: can easily be missed in favour of any other sight. On a clear day apparently you can see Jerusalem on the other side of the Dead Sea. When we visited, things were so foggy we could not even see the Dead Sea. Nonetheless, Madaba and Mt. Nebo are rather different from the rest of Jordan due to the large Christian minority that has settled here. Famous is the Madaba mosaics: very interesting pieces of art that developed from 4th century onwards when Christianity gained a strong hold. Together with the Baptism Site and the Dead Sea, they form the main Biblical sites in Jordan.
The entry ticket to the Mount Nebo site has a tiny picture of a Madaba mosaic


Petra: Walking through the narrow Siq to be suddenly confronted with the monumental fa├žade of the Treasury is a must-have experience. The size and scope of the siq and how well preserved some of the monuments are gives the tourist a good glimpse into history. The rocky ascent to the Ad-Deir or monastery is enervating but a must-do. Really awe inspiring to see how the monuments are cut into the rock. A full day starting as early as you can is a must. Some people do 1.5 days to space it out. Lunch at the Collonade Cafe neatly divided the day into the first half (siq, Treasury, High Point of Sacrifice) and second (Ad-Deir). The restaurant managed by the Crowne Plaza Hotel (we think its called The Basin) is worth missing. Many people use donkey and horse-carriages to be taken around in Petra, but our suggestion would be to do it with your own two feet.

Jordanian beer
You can buy 1 or 2-day tickets for the Petra site
 

Wadi Rum: We unfortunately did not see sunrise or sunset here which is supposed to be magical. Nonetheless, after the imposing and magnificent facades that are manmade, the sheer beauty of the wild and natural formations in Wadi Rum are an inspiring contrast. Definitely a must-do. We drove in a battered, but-no-different-from-the-rest 4x4 around the Rum for 5 hours stopping at a Bedouin camp for lunch and a climb of one of the bridges were some of the highlights of the day. We felt that 5 hours was a bit much given the blazing relentless glare of the sun, but definitely 3 hours is do-able. Climbing the Burdah rock bridge before dawn is supposedly a highlight, but we only saw it from afar. Some of the prehistoric inscriptions on the rocks are very interesting. Our conversation over lunch with our Bedouin host was remarkable. Here was a man who had never left the desert, but could speak Arabic, English and even French. He had no access to TV, newspapers or even radio, and yet could discuss the fact that there was global financial crisis on. And you could see contentment written all over his face... he was a man of the desert... all he wanted to do was be there and look after his camels.
The entry ticket to the Wadi Rum conservation area shows the Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Dead Sea: We thought we would make a day’s trip to the Dead Sea on our way back to Amman from Petra. Didn’t realize that we should have probably booked a hotel resort in advance. By the time we reached the resort it was 4:30pm, and there were no bookings available, or else the price-value of the offering was not working out. Unfortunately we didn’t get to float in the Dead Sea, and decided to leave it for later as part of a potential trip to Israel.



Recommendations

Fakhr El-Din: Syrian / Lebanese cuisine in Amman. Advance reservations can get you outdoor seating. Housed in an elegant 1920s villa, and attracts the royalty and the elite. Lots of vegetarian hot and cold mezzes and salads. Very famous establishment - so all you need to do is get into a cab and ask the driver to take you there. Incidentally, it is located two lanes behind the Iraqi Embassy.

Al-Saraya: In the Petra Movenpick, well presented and delectable Arabic cuisine including cold and hot food. The eggplant was particularly flavourful.

Rajeen: On Rainbow Street in Jabal Amman, just off the 1st Circle is this wonderful restaurant offering classic Jordanian and Lebanese fare. The beetroot moutabbel was particularly delightful!

al-Aydi Crafts shop: This store is a hidden gem. Situated quite centrally near the 2nd Circle, it contains a variety of handicraft items to browse and buy. The range includes fabric and clothes, jewelry, decorative pieces, ceramic and glassware, and bronze / brassware too!

The Green Valley Restaurant & Camp; Rest House: Located in Jerash on the highway to Amman, this place provies delectable local cuisine at just the right time when you have begun to feel tired after a visit to the ruins of Jerash. The biggest bread we had in Jordan was served here.


The Places We Stayed At

Amman: Hisham Hotel   www.hishamhotel.com.jo

Petra: Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp   www.sevenwondersbedouincamp.com  Spending the evening around the communal campfire and talking to the other visitors from all around the world was a very good experience. The hospitality of our Bedouin hosts was remarkable. They helped us arrange the guide and trip to Wadi Rum too.

Petra: Movenpick Resort   http://www.moevenpick-hotels.com/en/middle-east/jordan/petra/resort-petra/overview/

And Our Pictures

Jerash, Amman & Mt Nebo

Petra, fantastic Petra

Awesome Wadi Rum


To view our other travelogues, please visit our Wanderlust page.

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