Waking up above the roofs of Amman
06.04.2012 - 07.04.2012 27 °C
It’s Friday, the first day of our holiday and we have a leisurely morning packing. Our journey will take us to Jordan, but flight connections from Düsseldorf are rather poor, so we are having an early afternoon flight to Frankfurt, several hours hanging around the airport and a connecting flight getting us to Amman at 2am local time.This connection is the more annoying as Frankfurt airport is only an hour away by train from us. So a train would have done the job and saved us several hours waiting time, but it would have cost more for some bizarre reason. The less you fly the more you pay. Because of the unusual arrival time we decided to book no hotel for the arrival night. Instead, we just pick up our car rental and drive somewhere to see the sunrise before embarking on sightseeing in Amman.
First things first, immigration. I exchanged 100 Euro at the money booth in arrivals at a rather unfavorable exchange rate just to have a little cash before we orientate ourselves. M wasn’t keen and spotted a sign that we could pay the entry Visa with cash or credit card and thought it was a waste of money to exchange here.As it turned out when the queue finally got us to the Visa counter, cash is king and the only accepted means of paymnet– a first hint that signposting in Jordan has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Actually, as we found out little later, comprehensive signage is generally a rare luxury and you start to cherish every sign you find that actually helps you to get closer to where you want to be. But more on that later, it will be a common theme for many places on our Jordan adventure.
The airport information counter clerk was totally startled when I asked for a map and after a thorough search of all cupboards was only able to offer us a used Russian map of the area, which I declined on the basis that I can’t read Azbuka. By the time we picked up our car and the friendly car rental staff organized map of Amman for us from a rival rental company it was half past three and we were on our way on empty streets to Amman. Welcome to Jordan.
Or so we thought. Amman airport is currently being massively extended and the roadways around the terminal buildings are one big building site. Road-signs were at large not yet put up or perhaps it was decided they were not needed, so after 20minutes driving around we reached our starting point again. The good thing was that we were by now quite comfortable about how to get to the car rental drop off point two weeks later, and had at least a reasonable idea on what other exit roads there might be we haven’t tried yet.
At this time I started to wonder if we did the right thing when we didn’t get a sat-nav with the car. But until this day, M is convinced that we saw more by just relying on maps and getting a little lost once in a while – to which I have to agree.However, next time I would take a Sat-Nav to shorten driving time and avoid awkward traffic maneuvers under the watchful eyes of local police.
Taken that it was the middle of the night and we didn’t have a hotel to go to till afternoon, we decided that it would be a good idea to see the sunrise over Amman from the Citadel Hill, the most famous tourist site of the city. After seeing more of the city then we expected, partly due to an elaborate system of one way streets too small to be on our map, we arrived at 4:45am in the Citadel visitor car park. A handful of local youth had a similar idea, but apart from that the place was beautifully deserted and lit by full moon.
At 5am the sound of Imams calling for morning prayer suddenly emerged from Mosques all around Citadel Hill and gave the place a magical feel. A great start to the holiday.
The Citadel Hill museum area opens at 8am, so we decided to return to the car and take a nap till then and found our little car to be far more comfortable than expected. Or we were totally knackered by then not noticing how uncomfortable it actually was. The full moon was slowly replaced by the rising sun, which woke us up and even at that early time reminded us that sunscreen will be an essential companion on this trip. Amman glistened in the morning sun and we were happy to not have missed this.
At the entrance we were greeted by an official guide and as our pre-reading was somewhat sketchy we decided to take him up and have a guided tour.
Reciting his memorized script, he took us round the key parts of the extensive hilltop, from the pretty sketchy remains of the famous Hercules temple – where even the statement that it was dedicated to Hercules is based on rather weak evidence of a couple of bits found from an oversized male statue – to a well preserved 6th or 7th century basilica which had recently a wooden reconstruction roof added by Spanish archeologists. We weren’t that impressed by the guide who made the experience quite dry, although he clearly knew his stuff and was a proper archeologist.
After the guided walk, we stayed around another hour wandering around the ruins to explore further bits, enjoying the fantastic views across Amman and visiting the national archeological museum on site, which is definitely worth a visit. Whilst it has the feel of an underfunded small town local history museum, the exhibits on display are fantastic.
One of the many great views you get from the Citadel Hill is of the Roman amphitheater at the foot of it. So we decided to make our next planned stop a visit of it and the souks next to it. What we should have done is take a 30min walk down the steep streets and leave the car parked where it was. Not knowing Amman yet we naively assumed that there should be ample parking at one of the best known tourist sites in town. After half an hour driving around without finding the entrance, an official car park or any parking actually, we gave up and decided to head to the hotel. Note: M completely disagrees with the lack of parking. Apparently there was ample parking all around us which she pointed out on multiple occasions but I just failed to stop. Strangely, I don’t remember any of it.
With only a few diversions navigating the town (e.g. missing a junction clearly marked on the map, despite moving only 3 miles per hour through a totally gridlocked souk area) and the extensive one way system near the hotel, we arrived safely at our luxury pad for the next couple of days.We got a free upgrade and a truly fantastic hotel suite with great views of Amman. Time for a little nap in luxury, as it has been 36h since we last lay down comfortably.
Well refreshed 2h later we set out to explore the surroundings of the hotel. The receptionist had pointed out 2 areas on the map worth heading to, where there would be some local shopping, cafés and restaurants – and one of them had also a number of embassies. Not quite attuned to surroundings, we headed for the embassy area and had to ask a security guard for directions – only to find he was totally perplexed by the map and went inside to get his superior. There were finally 3 people looking at the map trying to figure out where we were.Eventually the old, senior guy gave us a good description on where to go, walked us across the road and eventually set us on our way with a warm “Welcome to Jordan”. As a result of a small map-reading misunderstanding, we were now heading to the area we didn’t set out to find in the first place called Khalid Bin Al-Walid street, so it was quite a walk.
Walking through the hoods of Amman, we were the only tourists on foot. Once we arrived, we were positively impressed. Plenty of banks / ATMs to get some local cash, and very good local shopping with plenty of modern boutiques offering clothes we didn’t quite expect to see – from ball gowns over high heels and trendy men’s shirts to lingerie to traditional long Arabic tunics and headscarves. It was great choice, cheap and with virtually no tourists around so it was pleasant to browse through. M succumbed to temptation and got herself a new top. The only thing we were missing was a stall to sell freshly squeezed orange juice – something we had seen a lot driving around the amphitheater area earlier. Well, you can’t have everything.
We slowly made our way back to the hotel to drop of the shopping bag and headed out again after a drink in the lounge to find a place for dinner. Not being put off by our navigation difficulties earlier, we aimed again for the embassy area, figuring out that there should be plenty of restaurants.
This time round we had no trouble finding it and came across a street lined with outdoor cafes & restaurants, partly covered by tents. After carefully examining all we picked one – only to find out that most of them seemed to be managed by the same patron. Service was interesting, with lots of staff doing relatively little. On the other hand, our food and drinks seem to have been sourced from different place (e.g. someone walked past us with a coffee on a tray only to return 2 min later with the same coffee, but with water and an orange juice added to the tray to bring us our drinks). The food came from a nearby takeaway – and we are still not quite sure if the cafés source food from the takeaway or if the takeaway had all the cafes set up as extended sales outlet. However, we enjoyed the show whilst at the same time plotting the next couple of days. The food was ok and it turned out a lot cheaper then we anticipated.
Once it got dark we decided to head back via some quiet back roads and retired for a good nights sleep as soon as we reached the hotel. After all, a lot to see and early breakfast awaits.