So I decided to pop by Jordan for a few days after Budapest…mainly because there is a new Ryanair route meaning I could fly from Budapest direct to Amman for £20 and the fact that although I have been to Amman a few times, I have only ever travelled through the airport in Transit.
So in the spirit of spending this African Hiatus ticking off some easy bucket list places…I jumped at the chance to head there.
Sadly I only had 4 days in Jordan (due to onwards plans in Sri Lanka) but I tried to squeeze as much in those 4 days as possible!
I had booked myself into a funky and reasonably cheap hotel that is more like a hostel. The owner rehomes animals and has a menagerie of animals lurking around the hotel…from budgies that fly about reception to rabbits, guinea pigs, hedgehogs and owls that live up on the roof terrace! The hotel also has a hip cafe/restaurant attached that serves great food and alcohol and has live music, shishas and backgammon boards. The thing that really sold it to me was that they have a fantastic travel desk where they organise shared sightseeing trips so that you can still see what you want to see in the comfort of a car with a driver but for a portion of the full cost. This proved to be a brilliant way for me to get around a lot of sights in the short time I had and also meet some great people.
So on my first full day in Jordan I jumped in a car with Asim (the driver) and Che who is an avid solo traveller and lover of history, from Hong Kong.
We headed out to Ajloun Castle for starters, which is not only an amazing 12th century Muslim Castle but a fantastic spot to look out over the Jordanian countryside.
After spending 45 minutes clambering about the castle we jumped back in the car and headed to Jerash.
Now, Jerash is one of the main reasons behind my desire to see Jordan. It’s an absolutely astonishing sight which has its foundations in the Bronze Age. The site is said to be founded between 7500-5500BC with the later Greco-Roman city being founded by (my hero) Alexander The Great!
The city flourished until the Galilee earthquake in 749AD when large swathes of it were destroyed.
It’s one of the largest and most well preserved roman sites outside of Italy, Emperors Trajan and Hadrian both are said to have visited the city.
The city contains numerous columns, the Tetrapylon of Jerash, Hadrian’s Arch, The Circus/Hippodrome, two large temples dedicated to Zeus and Artemis, a unique oval forum with a wonderful colonnade, the cardo (long colonnaded Main Street), two beautiful theatres, two communal baths, small temples, a Nymphaeum (water tank/fountain), Aqueduct, city walls, a water powered saw mill and two stone bridges.
One of the churches houses a stunning mosaic floor and the museum houses wonderful pieces found at the site.
What a day, what a place!
The following day I spent in Amman, I went out on a free walking tour in the morning which took me around all the old places and local markets of the city. It was fascinating looking at old photos of Amman from just 60years ago when all there was there was the roman amphitheatre and some farming Armenians!
After the walking tour I climbed up to the citadel to get a good view of the amphitheatre and mooch about the citadel.
The following day was another momentous day….Petra!!
This time I jumped in the car with Asim and a young Polish couple and we headed off early towards the legendary city.
Our first stop was Asim’s home village of Al Shoubak where we spent 10 minutes winding along mountain roads to the imposing 12th century castle called Montreal.
We then met a wonderful old Jordanian man called Mohammed Al Malaheem who has been on tv and news channels all over the world for his hotel called ‘the smallest hotel in the world’! It was even recently featured on Richard Ayoade’s Travel Man.
He told us we could stay for $1 a night in his million star hotel!
We regrettably left Mohammed behind (lovely guy) and headed to Petra. Asim dropped us off and said we had 4 hours to roam about and see as much as we could in that time.
So without further ado we wandered down from the ticket office past the Djin blocks and Obelisk tomb and wandered through Al-Siq.
Eventually after a 20 minute walk we emerged facing the face of Petra, The Treasury
You expect it to be a calm and peaceful place, a place to stop and marvel at the sight before you but alas no…it’s a cacophony of noise…horse cart drivers touting for trade, horse carts clattering around, camel owners touting for trade, aggrieved camels, other tourists and guides trying to persuade you to pay for their services!
Even so, it’s an amazingly stunning vision and piece of engineering and it takes everything you have to drag yourself away from it and push on through the Street of Façades to the theatre.
After the theatre there are copious rock cut tombs and churches that lead down to the colonnaded street.
It was at this point the Polish couple and I discussed the possibility of hiking for 40 minutes up 800 rock cut steps to reach a The Monastery!
We were almost halfway through our 4 hours and had to cover the same distance back but decided to give it a go.
The climb wasn’t easy and the ‘steps’ slippery and uneven with the added complication of sheer drops alongside!
Eventually after a sweaty 40 minutes we emerged at the top and came face to face with the beauty of The Monastery.
We allowed ourselves a quick 5 minute Coca Cola pitstop before scarpering back down like overly confident mountain goats…whizzing past tutting oldies who were taking the downhill terrain less confidently!
We charged back to the theatre in 15 minutes which must be some kind of record, I forgot to check!
We had enough time to stop and marvel at The Treasury once more before returning back to the car….reaching the car 4 minutes late! Not bloody bad! Even Asim was surprised we had walked the whole way and made it to The Monastery and back!
We then had the final adventure of the day….a 3 hour drive back to Amman complete with Jordanian driving, darkness, poor roads and ninja speedbumps!
My last day in Jordan was another action packed day…Asim drove myself and the Polish couple to the Dead Sea where we had an hour to wade or swim in the Dead Sea whilst gazing across the beautiful water to Palestine.
After bathing in the holy waters we headed up into the mountains and as need to the peak of Mount Nebo which is also known as the memorial of Moses. This is apparently the spot where Moses was granted a view of the promised land. I don’t know about that but the summit does give you a wonderful panorama of the Holy Land, the Rivr Jordan, The West Bank city of Jericho and Jerusalem.
We wandered around the summit for half an hour also taking in the memorial church of Moses as well.
We then headed back down the mountain to Madaba where we popped into the Byzantine church of Saint George which is famed for the most amazing floor mosaic which is a complete map of the Middle East dating to the 6th century AD and is the oldest surviving original map of the area.
Unfortunately after Madaba it was time for me to head to the airport for my flight to Sri Lanka. There is still so much I want to see in Jordan and would love the opportunity to go to Petra again.
It’s an amazing country with the most hospitable and friendly people. The sights and history are so interesting even for atheists like me!