I arrive into Amman airport at 2am, and then it takes around an hour to get through customs. I’m getting a little impatient because I have a driver waiting and I don’t want him to leave without me! I already have my visa, but I have to go through one section to get it validated and then another section to get into the country. Not a super fun process in the middle of the night! I finally head down the escalators to pick up my suitcase and I am horrified to find out it has been severely damaged.
Like this doesn’t look like normal damage; it looks like someone cut my bag open. And now cue the waterworks of complete and utter exhaustion and frustration. Mohammad is there waiting for me, and poor guy, he has to deal with me in tears. Haha. I tell him I’m alright; the fatigue is just making it worse. We arrive at Guest House Amman, and it looks like a pretty nice place.
The guy behind the desk is very helpful and so is Mohammad – he is suggesting a few places I can get my suitcase fixed, but I decide I’ll just buy a new one. There is a Carrefour (like a European Walmart but nicer) in City Mall which is not too far from the hotel. I’m so glad I have 2 days before my tour starts!
I check into to my deluxe suite, and it’s perfect!
I manage to sleep for a few more hours and then head down for a very basic buffet breakfast – actually very disappointing, and I can look forward to this for the next 3 mornings…ugh. The hotel is not close to any attractions I would like to see, so the easiest way to get around today is with UBER. My first stop is the mall to get a new suitcase and now I can rest easy knowing this inconvenience is taken care of (Update: Lufthansa ended up giving me $100CAD for the damage).
Amman is the capital city of Jordan, a predominantly Muslim and conservative country. Amman features a nice contrast of traditions and culture with some modern luxury- one of the most modern in the Arab world. And you know what? It’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. That’s a lotta history! It was home to the Kingdom of the Ammonites dating back to 7250 BC. The city spans over 27 hills/mountains – I wasn’t expecting to see so much elevation! There are a lot of cool Roman ruins to explore, as well as mosques and museums.
My first stop today is the King Abdullah I Mosque. UBER guy drops me off in front, and I can’t find the entrance. There are gates, but no way in. I walk to the left of the building and around the corner and I see a large entrance…but the gate guy is waving at me to go the other way. I’m not allowed in that entrance because it’s for men only. I go back the other way and I see a sign that I missed earlier- to head to the right – well of course! And apparently this is the only mosque in Amman that welcomes non-Muslim visitors. The staff here are really nice, and they take me to a back room where I get to choose my abaya to wear into the mosque – it is required for women to cover up any exposed skin and hair. I pick the silky brown one, and walk up the steps looking like Obi Wan Kenobi.
This mosque is also known as the Blue Mosque because of its pretty blue mosaic dome. I approach the open door of the large octagonal building, take off my shoes as required and step inside. First, let me say that the exquisitely soft carpet feels AMAZING on my bare feet. Like the “I’ll just stay here all day and roll around on the carpet” kind of amazing. The chandelier in the centre of the dome is impressive, and it’s cool to stand under it and look up into the sun design in the dome. The serenity I feel inside is intoxicating.
I head back down to return my cool robe, and a couple of the girls are giggling and they tell me the guy in one of the shops said I look like Barbie. All good, I’ll take that compliment! Speaking of the shops, I look around these mosque shops thinking I might find a few cool souvenirs. I ask the girl how much for a mosaic plate-she quotes it at $200CAD!! Are you kidding me?? And everything else was around that price too…I know you can haggle a bit but this is ridiculous. And this is how I first come to realize that Jordan is VERY EXPENSIVE for tourists!
I call another UBER and tell him I want to go to Abu Darwish mosque. He doesn’t say anything but I think he’s a bit confused and I find out he’s never even been there. It’s not a touristy place…at all. It’s located way up on one of the hills; it’s kind of a cool drive to get up there.
When we arrive at the mosque, it’s closed. And turns out, I can’t go inside anyways because I’m a non-Muslim woman! Anyways, it does look pretty neat. Black and white stones, with some designs that look like chess pieces. At this time, I’m feeling like it was a waste to come up here, but then I realize that it was a unique visit that not many tourists do.
My next stop is the historic Rainbow Street, named after the cinema that was located here back in the day. The cobbled street is lined with many shops and restaurants with outdoor patios; today it’s really quiet and I can enjoy a nice stroll in the sweltering heat.
This area is popular with locals and tourists and is usually much livelier at night. I need to get something to eat, so I choose a place that comes highly recommended. It’s called Sufra, a small and cozy restaurant that features many traditional Jordanian and Middle Eastern dishes. It’s a bit fancy and on the pricier side but I don’t mind treating myself today. I try the fattet hummus.
Picture hummus mixed with yogurt and tahini so it’s even creamier, with chunks of bread baked inside and loaded with pine nuts. Complete with pita bread for dipping. It’s just heaven, but it’s also very rich so I can only finish half of it- it probably works better as a share dish! I notice that I’m getting a few stares from the staff, and I figure it’s because I’m a white blonde girl in Jordan. But as I’m paying, the manager asks me if I’m famous…hahahah awesome! I tell him I’m not, and then he proceeds to show me pictures hanging on his walls of him with all of the famous people that have eaten here. It’s a super random mix – from Ben Stiller, to Mr. Bean, to Christiane Amanpour and the one he is most proud of – Will Smith.
After lunch I head further down Rainbow Street to see if I can find Downtown Amman, the historic center also known as Al Balad. I follow some other tourists down a large set of stairs and with the help of a cute local guy, I turn down the windy street that takes me to the Grand Husseini Mosque. Sidenote: I am pleased to find out that there are A LOT of handsome Jordanian men. Like wow.
It is one of the oldest mosques in Amman, rebuilt in 1932 on the site of an ancient mosque from 640 AD. It seems as through a prayer has just ended because there are tons of men walking about and many stalls are set up for selling goods. I try to find the women’s entrance but it’s just too hectic and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. I’m usually much cooler, but this area is pretty intense! I decide to look around at some of the shops, and I’m stopped by 3 ladies dressed in traditional abayas who want to take a pic with me. I continue on and find a cool perfume shop and the guys are showing and explaining all kinds of scents they sell. Everyone wants to me to come into their shop, but I’m not in the mood and it’s just too nuts over here. So, I go back up to Rainbow Street and end up finding a nice souvenir shop there. The shop guy makes sand art, and I watch him custom make one for me…. it’s really neat.
I still don’t get how he does it – it’s an amazing talent. I grab a few things here and then catch an UBER back to the hotel where I repack everything into my new suitcase and fall asleep early. A pretty fantastic first day in Amman!
Now I fast forward to 2 days later, where I have met with my tour group. It’s not the type of group I am used to; mostly people traveling together and not really wanting to interact and make friends with others. This is a challenge since I’m traveling alone. But luckily, there is a solo guy from the UK named Ian and he becomes my buddy for the rest of my time in Jordan…whether he wanted a buddy or not!! Haha. And now the group explores more of Amman together……
It’s a hot day here in Amman, and after lunch we make our way up to the Citadel, which provides amazing views of the city below. It is located in central historic Amman, and is on one of the original 7 hills that made up the ancient city.
It’s one of the most important sites in Jordan, as it’s been occupied by many ancient civilizations and there are still areas that have not been excavated. There are many pigeons flying around in formations and we wonder if these are the trained homing pigeons, a sport brought over to Amman in the 1940’s. As we begin to explore there is the cutest kitten that is following us and he loves Ian…I say just put the damn kitten in your backpack and let’s go. Haha, no not a good idea.
We listen to our tour guide, Khalid, regale information and tales about the Citadel but he kind of rambles on and I get bored and antsy very quickly. And the way he talks…. it’s really monotone and choppy. So as much as I appreciate his vast knowledge, sometimes I don’t want to stand around for half an hour while he rambles on. Anyways, more to explore up on the hill! The coolest thing up here is the remains of the Temple of Hercules, a Roman structure that had six columns and that archaeologists believe was never actually finished.
At the site of the temple remains what is left of a statue of Hercules…it would have been almost 40 feet tall and was most likely damaged in an earthquake. Laying on the temple ground is his 3 fingers and an elbow.
Next, I wander over to the Byzantine church; not much left here just some columns and the frame.
I have a quick look into the water cistern nearby, a deep hole that that was designed to collect water that ran off the roofs of the buildings.
Then over to the Umayyad Palace complex; I get to the beautiful monumental gateway- a damp dark domed chamber that lets in a bit of natural light. It’s really quiet and a bit spooky in here!
I don’t think there’s much more to see around here, other than the Jordan Archaeological Museum that I don’t have time for. Back to the bus to get to the next stop!
It’s back into the chaos of downtown Amman, this time to the impressive Roman Theatre.
It seats 6,000 and dates back to the 2nd century. It is so steep…there is no way I am climbing up to the top like some other adventurous folks. Khalid shows us a spot where you can stand and your voice echoes loudly through the theatre. Awesome! I pick a seat a little way up, and relax and daydream about what it was like to attend a show here back in the day.
Back to the hotel, and the rest of the group disappears so Ian and I decide to go find a place to get some snacks and alcohol. I had heard that most hotels will serve booze…but nope, not ours! The shops are around 20-minute walk from the hotel, so we grab a few things and then hang out on the outdoor patio, chatting and getting to know each other.
So many cool things to see in Amman; I could have used at least one more day!