A Travellerspoint blog

Amman For All Seasons

Jordan with James

semi-overcast 8 °C

Anica at the Amman amphitheatre, the first of five we saw in Jordan.
(to our regular blog readers: Anica's purse was turned in, camera and all, before we left Luxor on Jan 31. Sorry we didn't include that in either of our diaries!)

Jan 4

Out of Egypt for just an hour, we were quickly plunged into the next leg of our trip: two weeks in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Securing visas on arrival was easy, and the immigration officer only looked at one of our passports. But with countless changes to our flight times, we weren't sure if James (Jenn's Dad) would be waiting for us in arrivals.

When we stepped out, he was nowhere in sight. But a young Arab man shyly asked us: "Is James your father?" This sounded like the password, so Jenn cleverly said "Yes." "He's just in the bathroom," Bashar (we soon were introduced) explained.

Jenn's Dad had driven 1600 kilometres across the desert in his Ford Explorer to meet us. He'd booked a hotel, met up with his co-worker's family in Amman, and brought us many of the necessities we'd be needing for colder weather. We didn't expect rain in Jordan, but we knew it would be colder, especially at night. James brought each of us a winter coat, hat, mittens, and scarf. Finally having a scarf, I got to practice my Bedouin look by draping and looping it over my shoulders in a dozen different ways! Somehow, we hope to experience some weather from each of the seasons: warm enough in the south to swim in the Dead Sea and snorkel in Aqaba. Today was as much like winter as we've felt since we left. Heck, since probably March's weather back in Canada.

It's exhilarating, though, to be right in the thick of something totally different from our tour of Egypt. This travel variety, sometimes without any rest between stops, and sometimes with a good long quiet stretch is what's keeping all three of us from feeling burnt-out.

After a brief stop at the hotel, which is a good fit (a budget two-bedroom suite, though unwelcoming, dimly-lit, and sporadically heated), we went right to the home of Hassem. Unfortunately, James' colleague had to go back to Riyadh yesterday, so once again it fell to the next generation to entertain us. They were certainly up to it! Welcomed into their apartment in Amman, Anica soon found her hair being braided by one Reema, one of the adult daughters. Rusha, another adult daughter, acted as hostess, and I was instructed to wobble my coffee cup back and forth when I'd had enough (Jordanian coffee is usually made with cardamon, and served in very small cups). We also had tea, all of us sitting in the "men's" half of the their living/dining area. The two sons (both in high-school) sat with us as well. I noticed around the corner that the "women's" area had the TV! But it's not strictly divided like a Saudi Arabian house would be.

Then we went out to dinner, which meant Rusha and Reema had put their head scarves on. We went to a traditional Arab restaurant, where the circular tables have a sunken, brass-plated area for the platters to be put. With Rusha's help, James and I decided to order "Manshef," a common traditional dish in Jordan. It's stuffed lamb, served over a bed of rice and tomatoes, with a yogurt-like sauce to pour over it.

The restaurant was extremely busy and smoky. Most of it was "hubble bubble" pipe-smokers, but generally in Jordan so far, it's the country with the most amount of public smoking. Even Rusha, who never smokes cigarettes, loves to have a hubbley-bubbley.

Jan 5

We didn't stay up late enough, nor sleep in late enough, to qualify as "being on a Jordanian schedule." Nevertheless, Rusha and Reema, along with their youngest aunt, piled into the back seat of the Ford Explorer for a full day of showing the four of us around Amman.

We started in the area known as Philadelphia, after the Ptolemy Philadelphius whom under most of it was built. Most striking was the Amphitheatre of 6,000 seats right in the middle of Amman. Because of the hilly streets, you get a great skyline view up to the Citadel on top of a plateau. It's probably the most photographed view in Amman. Anica liked it because we could climb all the way to the top of the steep stairs. And you could pose like a rock star on the "stage!"

I liked our greeting there, because we were greeted by a unique set of chai-wallahs (in India, or whatever they call tea-sellers here). These men roved about, with an apron and armour of teapots. In the pockets of the apron are sprigs of fresh mint. I don't usually have mint tea, but this was warm and wonderful. It was like a candy salad floating in the tea!

We took a quick look through two museums (keep tally, readers, because we're going to hit a grand total of five today) by the Amphitheatre, that had some of the "popular traditions" of dress, jewelry, etc. represented, we got in the car and drove up to the Citadel. By now the rain had picked up, joining forces with the temperature of not much more than zero.

The Citadel, despite the hardships, turned out to be amazing. There's a ruined temple of Hercules that was built 161- 80 BCE, in the reign of Marcus Aurelius. From there, you can stand at a wonderful look-out point over most of old Amman. What caught my eye from there was the flagpole: it's the world's tallest freestanding flagpole, with a suitably huge Jordanian flag (although Rusha said today's flag was "the little one".).

Then we ducked into an unassuming museum building, glad for the shelter. It turned out to house unbelievable antiquities, like Dead Sea scrolls, the oldest known human-made statues (they're from at least 6,500 BCE). There are trepanned skulls from the city of Jericho, too, which of course caught Anica's fancy for gruesomeness.

Lunch was at another busy local restaurant, and then we had "knafa" at a street-corner stall. Most ate it standing up, and so did we. It was a delicious dessert. And, we probably never would have tried it if we weren't with our Jordanian hosts.

Off to the Children's Museum next! A beautiful, brand-new facility like a "science/discovery centre," which many cities have, but this one is really good. It brought out the kid in all of us, particularly the "blue-screen" studio where you pretend to give a weather forecast.

Next door is the Automotive Museum (and that makes five, right?). It's the collection of cars and motorcycles of the Jordanian Royal family over four generations. Wow! There's some rare cars there, like an electric car made in Detroit in 1907, a 1955 Aston-Martin (which Jenn and I both declared our personal favourite), Rolls-Royces, Cadillac convertible state cars, and some of the rally cars the King used. One of the notes said that "King Hussein won the first-ever rally held in Jordan." Well, duh! Who'd be brave enough to finish ahead of the king?

Jan 6

Jerash today, a huge site of Roman ruins. We made a scenic drive north from Amman, seeing more of the rolling countryside of Jordan. In the centre of modern Jerash is the Roman town. Being off-season, there were probably only a couple of dozen people in a space that's more than a kilometre in length, and half a kilometre across. We saw a re-creation show (think "Roman Times," a variation on Medieval Times) in the part of the Hippodrome left standing. They showed Legionnaire formations, chariot races, and gladiator fights. We gave the thumbs up for mercy at first, but then we turned bloodthirsty.

Good form! "Roman Legionnaires" at the Jerash hippodrome show

The Forum is oval-shaped, and quite intact. It's a huge, paved area, and out of it leads for me what was the main attraction: the "cardo maximus," or main road. It's almost a kilometre long, and well-colonnaded. We walked along cobblestones that had ruts in them from Roman chariot wheels. We peered into the original Roman manholes. It's an impressive thoroughfare to this day, and it was easy to imagine how it looked in antiquity.

Once we got off the main road, there were many other areas to explore. We picked up bits of terracotta or carved stone (putting it right back where we got it, of course) because it was everywhere beneath our feet. With Anica, I played the game of "what's not from Roman times?"

Jerash also has a huge Temple of Artemis, which alone would be enough reason to visit, and a well-preserved Amphitheatre (where, bizarrely, Arab-costumed bagpipers demonstrated the acoustics). At the entrance to the site, we paused for a photo-op under Hadrian's Gate, so named because it was built for the Emperor Hadrian's stay in Jerash in 130 AD.

It's hard to imagine Roman ruins being any more extensive or evocative than what we saw today!

Jan 7

Well, despite how I concluded yesterday's entry, we were off to see the ruins of another Roman town, Umm Qays. I guess we're not "ruined" yet, because all four of us explored with gusto at this very different-looking site.

Partially, the appeal was the view. From the highest point of Umm Qays, which is at the extreme northern tip of Jordan, you look out over to the Sea of Gailee, and across a valley to the Golan Heights. In the distance are the mountains of Lebanon. It's a breathtaking view, but the frisson that the names produce heightens the enjoyment immensely.

From Umm Qays, Jordan, looking north-west to Syria, Israel & the Sea of Gailee

For Biblical scholars, and pilgrims through the centuries, Umm Qays is better-known as Gedara, where Jesus performed the miracle of casting demons into pigs. I didn't notice any demon-swine descendants, though.

What we did see was the characteristic black basalt rock that the Romans built with. The Ottomans re-used a lot of it, as there's an 19th-century Ottoman village, already in ruins, where the same black basalt figures in every building. It gives the amphitheatre, the road, and many of the buildings quite a different appearance from Jerash yesterday. Anica and I took turns in the "stalls," or stores: "Hello olives! Yes?" I called out from the ancient stone cubicles.

We explored the baths, climbed over what's left of the fountains, and wandered way out into the fields. A highlight is a 5th-century Byzantine basilica, itself a ruin, built over a Roman crypt. You can see the crypt through the foundation of the church. It's a long way down, and very dark in the vaults!

As if further demonstration of the decline of Western civilization was needed, we had lunch by "tail-gating" out of the back of the Ford Explorer. It was actually very yummy, and somewhat comfortable (around 14 Celsius instead of yesterday's 3 degrees). There were more people playing soccer (sorry, football) in the parking lot than there were at the historical site, by the way.

We decided to take an alternate route back to Amman, for the scenery. Ha! First of all it got dark, secondly, that route involved a lot more check-points. Like a checkpoint every 200 mere. Some were in clear view of the last checkpoint, where the soldier could have seen us hand our passports over for checking. Although our Canadian passports were well-received, the Saudi license plate caused a little confusion. James knew the Arabic for "I work in Saudi Arabia," however. Perhaps some dangerous man climbed out of the Jordan Valley in between checkpoints, though! In all, we went through 10 checkpoints, and had our passports checked each time. Eight of those came in the first five kilometres of the drive back to Amman.

Jan 5

"A Roman Show and Museum"


Today we went to a Roman Thetare (or in the Roman times, known as a Roman Ampithetre). It was very nice, pretty, old and in ruins. After that we went and had a yummy lunch at the (recommended) Jerusalem Restaurant, of pita, lamb and french fries. Then we went to the Childrens museum and saw this pulley thing (with a seat where when you pulled on the rope and you would go up), this rowing machine with a skeleton that would move when you move, and there's to much more to say! We went to the Royal Autmobil mueseum, went home, had dinner. G.N. (Good Night) :)

Jan 6

"Jerash Day"


Today we went on a very long and exciting drive to Jerash. A Roman (ruined) city. Firt we saw a chariot show at this place called the Hippodrome. Very exicting! Then we saw some very old road, ruins, cathedrels, churchs, arcs, gates, thetres, plazas, homes and baths. Then we went on another exciting drive back, had dinner. G.N.

Jan 7

"Um Qays Day!"


Today we went to Um Qays, same thing as Jerash. We saw the old and ruined baths, markets, churh, colonaded courtyard, nymphaeum, and others. When me and Mom were playing I pushed her and she pushed me, I went whhheeew! BONK! She pushed me over! And I hurt my arm and leg! And on the way back there were at least 11 checkpoints all 150 metres away from each other! Went home, had dinner. G.N.

Lessons Learned - Rob

At just about the halfway point in a year of travelling, these thoughts have been taking shape in my mind. Lessons learned, as much about myself as about about the world. Lessons being learned, more accurately. We'll see how I feel after the second half of our travels wraps up.

1. Home really is where the heart is.

I haven't missed home, or really experienced homsickness to the degree that I know is possible. And we've been gone for more than five months now. So why not? Simple: Jenn and Anica are with me. We're together, and that makes every hotel room a home.

2. Don't take things for granted.

When you travel in the developing world, you see many, many people who have so very little. It makes you appreciate what you do have; it means you no longer take these things for granted. These sentiments are cliched, but I agree with them completely, except that "not taking things for granted" should not rule out complaining loudly at home when our rights and services are threatened. Canadians have an enormous tax burden, and, after travelling more widely, I see that it's worth it: the welfare of our citizens is safeguarded, our infrastructure is excellent, and we suffer a minimum of government corruption. If we start accepting less, we will get less, and only the extremely wealthy will ever enjoy a standard of living that Canadians once, to re-coin the phrase, took for granted.

3. They are "must-sees" for a reason.

There are many people, including a whole breed of travel writers, who will blithely advise you to skip certain world-famous sites, because they've become over-run with tourists. That's like Yogi Berra saying "nobody goes there any more; it's too busy." There's a reason people flock to these sites. This year, we've seen the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids. All of these places lived up to their reputations. They are still must-sees. You will always discover your own favourites lesser-known places. The people who tell you not to bother, Jenn likes to point out, have already been there. You deserve to see these places for yourself. So bring on the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

4. I am a teacher.

Despite not being overly homesick, I have thought a lot about teaching. I have even had many dreams about teaching, following the school calendar in my subconscious (back to school in September, report cards in November, holidays in December...). I don't miss the work, and I'm happy to do something different for a year, but this certainly confirms that "teacher" is a big part of how I define myself.

5. People are good.

When you're a tourist, 90% of the people you meet are trying to sell you something. That doesn't change just because you're travelling for longer than the typical two weeks. It just becomes more obvious. 9% of the people you encounter, however, are just friendly people, who welcome you to their city or country, who give you directions when you're lost, who tousle your daughter's hair just because they love kids, or who otherwise serve to reaffirm your faith in the goodness of human nature all around the world. It's only the remaining 1% who are actually trying to rip you off.

6. Wherever you go, Pringles was there first.

And Pizza Hut. And the Colonel, with his secret recipe. Westernization, in this consumer culture form, is far more widespread in Asia than I realized. In some ways, they do it better than us. Starbucks employees in China speak English well, and are eager for a chance to practice. In Singapore, we were welcomed across the threshold of a Ben and Jerry's by a uniformed employee gushing with pride. I don't know what the lesson is here; there are obvious advantages and disadvantages to the multi-national franchising of Western companies. Our only clear conclusion is: wherever you go, Pringles was there first.

7. English not Esperanto.

As English-as-first-language speakers, we are spoiled. It's embarassingly easy to travel around the world, and not learn anything of other languages. English is widely spoken, although spoken badly by millions. Often we're at a tremendous advantage in group conversation, where, say, a Swede is speaking with a Chinese person...in English, of course. We will get more out of that conversation than either one of them.

8. Thank God I'm a Country Boy.

I often describe myself as a city kid. I'm certainly not the outdoorsy type, and I love the big cities I've been to, such as Montreal, New York, London, and San Francisco. In Asia and India, however, the cities have not usually been highlights. Often, in the developing world, we've been glad to get out of the cities and into more rural settings. Why? Over-crowding, pollution, inadequate infrastructure, begging...they are intense reminders of the disparity that exists between rich and poor. In Malaysia, for example, I wouldn't trade a dozen Petronas Towers for one Pulau Pangor.

9. There's no subsitute for reading about it.

I've always been a big reader, although I haven't always had the travel bug. Reading's probably the one habit I could never break. In fact. both Jenn and I have gone out of our way to make sure we've always had "something to read" at all times on this trip. People who have travelled widely, even if they are avid readers, usually express the idea that there's "no subsitute for first-hand experience." That's true. But there's also no substitute for reading about a place. There's no way that, on any holiday, you could learn as much about a place as you could from a well-written, realistic novel. Of course, too, there's non-fiction: a few hours with a scholarly work of history will always give you more in-depth information than a tour guide. Reading and travel enrich and complement each other. Neither one can serve as a complete substitute for the other.

10. What you learn most about it is the art of travel itself.

More than the history, culture, people, or even the food, what you learn the most, and it all seems incidental until you're actually doing it, is the art of travel itself. It's never a science, because you'll always make mistakes, get lost, get frustrated, and lose things. But it's what you talk about at the end of the day. Every mistake is fodder for the stories you tell later. I guess that's another way of saying "it's the journey, not the destination."

Posted by jennrob 21:05 Archived in Jordan

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


Rob, I am sitting at my computer with tears in my eyes from reading this entry. You have an amazing ability to bring to life your travels. Not only that but your life lessons are educating, humbling, humourous and poignant. They should be published for all to see.
Yours and Anica's account of Jordan was great to read. Seems like the family taking you around has given you a very enriching and full experience. Anica, I was very happy to hear your purse and camera were returned (I had a strong feeling that would happen). I hope your arm is better. Jenn, how are you finding Jordan....glad to be in cooler weather? ;-)
Take care and love to all.
JBWL xoxo

by JBRobinson

Jean, it means so much to know you're reading, and that our words have touched you. It's very motivating to know you're there. Thanks! Jenn is not glad to be in cooler weather: more migraines, getting a cold from the cold, etc. But we're all enjoying Jordan! - Rob

by jennrob

Dear R,J & A,
Once again, your humour and eloquent comments have kept us enthralled! We are enjoying both Rob's & Anica's writing so much that we feel we've been in the places you visited.
I bet Anica was good at the game you played about ancient/modern things.
Quite a change of temps. for you there--almost as much as we had in the past week!
Love to all,
M&D, H&D, N&G xxxooo

by hdbutters

What a great "blog" entry. Rob: When I travel my mind is always thinking how will I connect this to the curriculum? My eye catches items to bring home to include in the lessons. Anica: When you get to Italy you may see Hadrian's villa in Tivoli. In England you may spend time at Hadrian's wall and see the remains of a Roman fort. It astonished me to see how far some of the people traveled so long ago. Your mum and Dad might be interested in reading the book "The Discoverers a history of Man's search to know his world and himself. by Daniel J. Boorstin Perhaps I will loan it to them in June. Keep up your sense of adventure and enjoy the unique and unusual.

by Mum 2

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.