Friday, October 16, 2009

Trip to Jordan

We had a fantastic few days in Jordan and I can highly recommend it as a destination to visit. We spent 5 nights in all; 1 in Amman, 1 in Petra, 2 at The Dead Sea and another in Amman. The country has loads of really interesting places to visit and right now the weather is great - it was lovely to actually have a couple of cool nights in Amman walking around the city in the evening. Below was our itinerary with some links to pictures. In no way am I attempting to make this a visitors guide -there are plenty of good ones already (we used the "Globetrotter Travel Guide" which is available on Amazon and came with a good travel map too), but just a snapshot of what we did and what we found interesting.

Here is the route we took:-

Day 1

We flew into Queen Alia Airport and picked up a car from Reliable Rent a Car. They were indeed reliable and had much better rates than the international companies. The car however did leave a little to be desired! It had a windscreen wiper blade that was shredded, so I couldn't clean the screen, a front tire that was well worn and most disconcertingly, the brake pads and discs were also obviously well worn judging by the juddering when braking! Not very reassuring when you see some of the mountain roads we crossed. However, we have equally heard horror stories from people hiring from the main car hire companies too. So if you are going to die, you may as well do it cheaper and leave more in your estate!

We checked into the Al Qasr Metropole hotel which I would rate as a 3 star hotel, which was all we wanted for this stop over. It was clean and the staff were friendly, so that was fine. We discovered when we arrived that there was a parade taking place to celebrate their countries centenary. It was going to be in the "Downtown" area which we wanted to head to anyway, so we made tracks.

Amman was known in Biblical times as Rabbath-Ammon, capital of the Ammonites who fort many wars against the Israelites (no change there then!). In the 3rd century it was renamed Philadelphia after the Ptolematic ruler Philadelphus. Like Rom, Amman was built on 7 hills. On one one them you can see The Citadel, site of the ancient Rabbath-Ammon. In the museum you can also see some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

A walk down the hill takes you to the Roman Forum and Theatre and it was in this area that we watched the parade. They were celebrating all aspects of their society, so even the municipality workers were featured - which they looked very happy about!

Amman, Jordan 09/10/09

Day 2

We got up in good time and started the journey to Petra. We wanted to make good time so we took the Desert Highway, rather than the Kings Highway, which is a slower more scenic route that we would take on the way back. When we arrived at Petra, after about 3 hours, we checked into our hotel, The Valley Stars Hotel. I would say this was a 2 star hotel, but again was clean staff again were friendly and helpful. We were happy with a budget hotel for this stay as we were only going to be there for one night to put our head down.

After checking in we headed down to the main Petra sight. What we saw was absolutely amazing and will stay with us forever - honestly it was that good. Some fascinating sights and stunning scenery. It is definitely "must-do" if you go to Jordan and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city was created by the Nabateans, a great trading race who moved into southern Jordan from the Arabian Peninsular 2000 years ago. They made Petra their capital and controlled the trade routes from Africa to India and China. The city's decline started after the area was conquered by the Romans who eventually changed the trading routes. Earthquakes further destroyed parts of the city and it was abandoned. It was only rediscovered by a Swiss traveller in 1812. The caves there were inhabited by Bedouins right up until the mid-1980's when the site was developed as tourist destination. Some of the traders still working there were born in the caves and we had the privilege to talk to some of them.

To get to the main city you walk down this amazing gorge (or Siq) where eventually you reach this astounding caved building in the rock called The Treasury (which was depicted in the Raiders of the Lost Arc film - although unlike in the film, there is really nothing much behind it, just a smallish room)

After you walk past this you see areas like "The Street of Facades", what looks like a Roman theatre, although it is Nabatean - some royal tombs, various other buildings, colonnades etc (see the pictures). The next part of the journey is to the monastery. This entails walking 800 steps up the mountainside! We chose the alternative transport - a donkey! After a very precarious ride up the steps we reach the drop off point for a further walk up. The monastery was again a spectacular site, especially given it's location. A further walk and we saw some great views across the mountains.

Even walking back down was knackering - our calves are still recovering! But we both agreed it was well worth it.

We went to a local Arab restaurant that evening (Al Arabi) which sold traditional Arab fare at a reasonable price.

From our hotel hearing the mosque prayer calls was cool as the many mosques sang out their calls and they bounced around the mountains. Below is a clip of it, but it really doesn't do it justice. Annoying as it was to be woken at around 4.30 the next day, in the silence of the morning it was awesome.

Petra, Jordan 10/10/09

Day 3

We took the Kings Highway towards the Dead Sea, via Al Karak Castle. The route we took was really interesting as we went through many local towns where I really don't think they see many westerners. Karak Castle as built by the Crusaders under King Baldwin I. The road from Karak to the Dead Sea take you down what the locals call "Death Road" because it winds through the mountains with some sheer drops you don't want to get too close to! The view from the mountains as the Dead Sea came into view was stunning. On the road that runs alongside the sea up to the hotels, you can see on one of the cliff edges what is supposedly Lot's wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt by God for looking back at Sodom and Gomorrah after they were banished. (see pictures)

Journey to Dead Sea via Karak Castle, Jordan 11/10/09

Day 4

A whole day relaxing at the Movenpick Dead Sea Resort. This was superb 5 star resort, built in a traditional Arab style. The facilities, restaurants and staff were all excellent - which of course came at a price. But we were given a free room upgrade on arrival which was nice and meant we were close to the pools, restaurant and beach.

Of course we had to try the whole Dead Sea experience so we covered ourselves with the sea mud, which is supposed to be good for your skin, and then when it is dried, wash it off in the sea. The whole floating experience of the sea was really weird - you can't sink even if you tried! I did at one point get some in my eyes and it did sting like hell! Luckily there are lifeguards on hand with bottles of water for anyone who gets it in their eyes or mouth.

Early that evening we went up to a panoramic viewing point over the Dead Sea, looking out over the West Bank. A map indicated how far we were from various points. It was 34KM to Bethlehem and 36KM to Jerusalem. At least from here we would see any rockets coming over from the West Bank!

To finish the early evening off we went to a great chill out bar at the resort which had the sun setting over the sea as the DJs back drop, while we listened to her chilled vibes drinking a G&T & Mohito, watching the lights of Jericho coming on... yummy!

Dead Sea, Jordan 12/10/09

Day 5

We started the day by visiting Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the site where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist. Since those days the Jordan is a considerably smaller river and has changed course. They have excavated and reconstructed some of the original site and the Russian Orthodox Church have built a new church at a new baptism site next to the river. Exactly opposite is an Israeli controlled visitors site at the same spot. The armed guards and machine gun laden armoured car kind of spoilt the atmosphere a little!

Next we headed up to Mount Nebo, which the Bible refers to as the mountain Moses climbed to looked out onto the promised land God had told him he would never be allowed to enter. From here we stared our trek back towards Amman and further north to Jerash.

Jerash is often called the "Pompeii of the East", as one of the finest and largest ancient Roman cities to be found outside of Italy and only rivaled by Ephesus in Turkey. It has a Triumphal Arch built for the Emperor Hadrian for his visit to the city. It has great colonnaded streets, a cathedral, theatres, city gates, a hippodrome for chariot racing and a fantastic oval plaza. The area was struck by an earthquake in 1926 which further damaged some of the remains and made the whole roman streets "wonky" where they were flat before.

This night we stayed at the Imperial Palace Hotel which I would say was 3.5 star, which again we were very happy with.

Bethany Beyond The Jordan, Mount Nebo & Jerash, Jordan 13/10/09

Day 6

Flew home - Booo!

All-in-all a fantastic trip which I could highly recommend. Feel free to ask me any questions you may have if you are considering going....which you should!

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