Tag Archives: Cityscape

Day 2 – In the Amman City of Jordan’s capital

Monday 16 May 2022 – A shorter day beckoned, although you’ll see from the number of photos in this entry that the intensity didn’t diminish much from yesterday.  However, we didn’t have to get under way until 10am, when we met our driver, Saeed (since we now have his card, we know how to spell his name properly; but I’m not going back to correct the joke), and our guide for the day, Marwan, and set out to explore Amman. As it turned out, we did the itinerary in the reverse order of what Audley had described in our literature, but since we hadn’t really read that, it didn’t really make much difference.

Our starting point was the Citadel of Amman, the city’s historic and archeological centre. Marwan gave us a long, detailed and complex run down of the cultural influences that have formed Jordan and Amman.  The highlights are summarised on some monoliths just by the Citadel entrance, which trace the naming of the city as the various cultures came and went:

  • Rabbath & Ammon – Iron & Bronze Ages and the Greeks
  • Philadelphia – the Romans and the subsequent Byzantine period when they converted (Christianity, rather than North Sea Gas)
  • Amman – the arrival of Muslims and the Ottomans.

(Round the corner on this patch is a stone dedicated to, inter alia, the British influence which started after World War I.  Several of the key letters have fallen off this one, so, for example, it would appear to start with the “itish Mandate” from 19AD – 1946AD.)

The cultural roots of Jordan are utterly bewildering, as wave after wave of nationalities have washed over the place and left some influences and picked up others. Arabs of many persuasions, Muslims, Turks, Kurds, Bedouin of all sorts of nationalities, and even Gypsies (of three different types, apparently) have come and either gone or stayed and this makes Jordan a real melting pot.   The Citadel, however, displays principally its Graeco-Roman roots.

It being a Citadel, it’s on top of a hill to maximise its defensive chops, and so you can get a great view over the old city of Amman – “old” in this case meaning from about the last century.

There’s an obvious exception to the “last century” tag bang in the middle of that picture – the Theatre – and we’ll come to that later.  But Marwan did educate us on one point of subtlety about its construction which gives away its Greek roots.  When Romans built theatres, they made them self-contained, stand-alone constructions, whereas the Greeks tended to build them based on and incorporated into natural features such as a hill; you can see this is the case with Amman’s Theatre.  We visited it later so there are more photos below.

A couple of other things about the old city of Amman.  Firstly, its colour, or, rather, lack of it. The buildings are of a uniform sandy colour, and this is mandated. The idea is that it should not differentiate itself too much from the hills upon which it is built.  Secondly is something you might not even notice until someone points it out, and then you can’t unsee it: white tanks on top of all of the buildings.

These are water tanks, and the reason they’re needed is that water is only pumped to any one area of the city on one day a week. So each building gets to fill its tank, but this has to last for seven days.

Our route round the Citadel took us past the Temple of Hercules

and then further on past the remains of an episcopal church.

Marwan pointed out that this was a view over the religious history of the city from pagan to Christian.  The site also had a palace from the Ummayad period (8th Century), which had a stone roof until an earthquake did for it; a team of visiting Spanish archaelogists (there’s a strong connection with Andalucia as this became part of the Ummayad caliphate) subsequently built a wooden dome clad in lead.

The varied cultural roots of Jordan continue in the details of the decoration of the stonework inside the building.

If you look carefully, you can see a cross between the two arches, betraying Christian influences.

As we walked outside, we were distracted from all this cultural hoo-hah by the appearance of a lark

and, delightfully, a hoopoe.

The next stage on the journey round the Citadel was the museum, which contains all sorts of historical artefacts from all over the Arab world. I’m not, frankly, much into the detail, but a couple of things stood out.

Lovely bowls, yes, but – Tupper ware?  If someone reading this knows any credible historical reason why this is not a mis-translation, please answer in the comments section. There were some striking clay coffins

seen here with the alarm sensor that Jane triggered when gesturing to a detail on the coffin.  But the minders let us off with a mild beating and we went on our way.*

We returned to the car and Saeed took us on a short drive so we could see the old town, which is exactly as colourful, hectic and chaotic as you would expect from having seen how they drive over here.

We actually started this part of the tour by going to the Theatre (behind us in this shot) but simply getting across the road was an act of derring-do.

The Theatre.  Ah, yes, the Theatre, originally built between 138 and 161 CE, during the rule of the Antoninus Pius.  It’s massive – seats 6,000 apparently.

Marwan, ever a source of intriguing nuggets, told us that one of the ways that historians calculate the number of inhabitants of a Roman city was based on the size of the theatres.

Before we got to clamber up all those steps, we looked into the two small museums on the Theatre site, the Jordan Folklore Museum and The Jordanian Museum of Popular Traditions.  In the latter of these, we had a bizarre encounter with two young Arab ladies who spotted what a big camera I had and wanted me to take their picture with it.  Trouble is, they spoke no English.  Jane got Marwan to translate and even he was struggling to understand what they wanted, since they originally wanted Jane in the picture as well.  That was a non-starter.

It turned out that they wanted to be photographed with a tourist so they could show off their cultural credentials, presumably to their mates on Instagram; but they couldn’t grasp the technicalities of transferring a picture from my Nikon to their phones and for some reason didn’t want to use either of their phones (both iPhones, I might add, so would have been perfectly capable of providing a picture). So, here they are, immortalised on a platform that will be read by literally one or two people. Probably Jane and me.

After we agreed that we couldn’t (wouldn’t) help them, we looked around the rest of this museum, the folklore one,

which included a model of a chap selling a liquorice drink, which Jane found rather fetching.

For myself, I was taken with a display that included music instruments.

Bottom left you see implements for grinding coffee, which was a rhythmic exercise, thus often done to music.

The other museum had some examples of mosaic work and also further models of costumes, including a Bedouin Police Uniform

designed, apparently, by the British.  I never satisfactorily understood how that happened.

And so to the Theatre itself. Of course we had to climb all the way to the top.  There were many, many steps, not all of them completely safe.  But the view from the top was quite something

and then all we had to do was to clamber down again, a process which would sting quite badly if one got it wrong.  Happily, we made it to the bottom unscathed, and carried on our walk into the bowels of Amman Old Town.  Again, crossing the road to get there was far more dangerous than anything we’d encountered on the Theatre steps.  It’s a vibrant, colourful area.

Marwan took us on a small detour through a fruit and vegetable market, which was exactly as noisy, crowded and exotic as you might expect (I never once found a position to stand where I wasn’t in someone’s way within five seconds) with all sorts of fruits and leaves and spices the like of which we knew not.

The final part of the tour, and continuing the cultural induction aspects, was lunch. This was taken in a restaurant called Hashem which seemed to span several properties, but had a very simple offering: pitta bread accompanied by salad and pickles and any or all of falafel, fava beans and hummus.  Tea, coffee, coke or water were the available drinks, and everything was served on a plastic sheet with no cutlery or plates or luxuries like that.  Basic, it was. Delicious, it was.  I even took a photo of it, but it’s more than my life is worth to share it here. After that, Marwan took us for pudding to a shop which is part of a chain called Habiba sweets.  The menu is largely incomprehensible, even the bits in English.

Znood set, anyone? Marwan ordered us something that turned out to be coarse kunafeh – shreds of pasta on a cheese base, topped with syrup and ground pistachios. It’s the second from right in this picture

and was, you guessed it, delicious.  Vastly calorific, but, hey, we’re on holiday.  The shop also sells sweets and has a beautifully-crafted display.

And that was it for the day.  Saeed took us back to our hotel where we promptly fell into a siesta, only waking in my case to write about the day before all the details got lost.  Quite a few of them did, but I hope there’s enough in the above to have entertained you thus far.

(Later: having slaved over this blog entry, we went down to the hotel bar for a couple of drinks

 

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and ended up having a very enjoyable chat with the bar staff – some compensation for the extraordinary price for the drinks. You can drink alcohol in Jordan, but it’s not a cheap pastime.

Tomorrow we leave Amman for the next stage of our holiday here.  We go to Petra and I hope that the prospect of reading about that in these here web pages will keep you coming back for more, to learn how we got on.

 

*  I’m joking. A chap poked his head round the corner and then went away again.

 

Cami de Cavalls day 17(2) – Molified

Wednesday September 29 2021, evening – We’d just got to the point where we were on our way out for an evening meal at the Moli des Comte; this place.

On the way there, I took the opportunity for a few more photos of Ciutadella in the late afternoon light.

The Municipal Market was a nice source of cityscape-type shots.

We got to the Moli in time for a gin (OK, two) before we ate – in typical Spanish style, the earliest time that dinner was served was 8pm. The inside of the place is delightful

and I don’t feel I can explain its story any better than its menu does:

As we got towards 8pm, more and more people were congregating, obviously also expecting to get a table at 8pm. At about 19:59:30, all of a sudden there was a concerted rush for the restaurant area, and I have to confess that Jane and I were caught slightly on the back foot, to the extent that several people got there before we did. However, it did seem that they’d been expecting this rush and so they got everyone seated and menued very quickly.  In fact, the whole thing was very quick – too quick, actually.  We took our seats at 8pm, had starters, main course and coffee – and were back out on the street before 9pm.  The food was very good, but an extra few minutes to appreciate the experience would have improved it enormously.  It’s not as if they were packed out or anything; they just got on with it very swiftly.  This is a bit of a shame.

However, our mild discomfiture is to your advantage, because it meant we had to wander about the city whilst the meal settled.  So, guess what?  Yep, lots more photos, you lucky people, and actually the first set of night photos of Ciutadella I’ve taken.  It was very interesting, seeing it during the evening and picking up the various vibes.  Unsurprisingly, it looks good at night.

and there’s a lively vibe at just a few seconds after 9pm(!)  The central square was, as one would expect, very animated,

and the Municipal Market was a happening place

and it was here that we noticed that a lot of places had queues of people waiting for a table. Given the apparently almost limitless supply of places to eat – they put tables out everywhere –

it was a bit of a surprise to find some places with significant queues and busy tables

and others almost bereft of customers.

Our favourite fish place, S’Amarador, was, unsurprisingly, very busy.

So we completed our paseo and headed back to the hotel.  Tomorrow is the day for our journey home.  I will report on it, particularly if there’s any excitement about getting into the country or, indeed, getting home from the airport given difficulties finding fuel, etc.  So stay tuned and find out how it all ended up.

A departure from the unusual

Tuesday 13th July 2021. Today was departure day, with all of the old familiarities of international travel subsumed by the strangeness and uncertainties imposed by the pandemic. Our departure was not until 4pm, so at least we could do something we  are used to doing, which was to wander the streets of a town exploring as we went.  The area of Reykjavik around our hotel is full of lovely little architectural touches, as well as homicidal people on rented electric scooters, and it repays rambling around. In many places, the actual streets are decorated.

and there’s the longest hopscotch track [Jeremy Clarkson Voice ON] in the world [Jeremy Clarkson Voice OFF].

Many of the buildings have some quite extravagant art on them.

And the touches of colour are not only for the traditionally-architected buildings

but can also be found among the more modern ones.

At one stage we stopped for a coffee, in, as it happens, the bar out of which we got chucked at closing time yesterday.

At that point we were en route from the downtown area which contains both the Lutheran cathedral (which, while attractive enough, is, well, just a church really, and hardly Interesting at all)

and the Roman Catholic cathedral (the Church of Christ the King, an altogether much grander affair, unsurprisingly)

in our search for the final Interesting Church of the holiday, which we’d espied as we scurried to and from our Covid test.

This is Háteigskirkja, which as far as I can tell is a non-denominational church. Its website modestly refrains from conveying very much useful information about it, which is a shame, because it’s a striking building; and as the door was open (unusually in our experience of Iceland’s Interesting Churches) we ventured in to find some lovely mosaics inside.

Climbing the stairs to the gallery level we noticed yet more stairs continuing up… the place was deserted so of course we climbed them, eventually arriving at a final workman’s stair up to an open trapdoor… Well, what is a photographer to do when faced with an open trapdoor? Thus we clambered out into one of the bell towers.

When we did this, it was about five to midday and I wasn’t going to hang about trying for artistic images just in case these bells were attached to a clock – so we scarpered back the way we had come!

On the way back to our hotel, we caught a glimpse of the back end of Hallgrímskirkja, the “Space Shuttle” church.

I was quite glad to get that picture, as it’s very difficult to do it from near the church itself.

And that was the end of our wandering around Reykjavik, as it was time to collect our bags and hope that the taxi would arrive that Dagur had promised us would take us to the airport.  Arrive it did, bang on time, with a very large and friendly chap driving it. He whisked us off to the airport where we went through the various formalities of providing the necessary documentation to prove we weren’t currently plague-ridden.  As we approached the security check, I realised that I still had my penknife with me; I usually remember to pack it in my hold luggage, as the security bods don’t generally like people carrying them on to aeroplanes.  Since this was a Swiss Army knife – not a huge one, but even the small ones are ridiculously expensive to replace – I decided to ask the security chap if there was any way I could take it through.  Rather to my surprise, he said it was OK, which was nice of him.

Covid paperwork – and the necessity to wear a mask – aside, the departure process was exactly like it always was, though I suppose the airport was less crowded than it might have been.  After a mask-free fortnight, this was not particularly welcome, but it shows that care is still needed.

We treated ourselves to a coffee and a toastie, and boarded the plane, which was only a few minutes delayed. Much to my surprise, the WiFi on board was free, so I took the opportunity to update this blog as far as I had time to do (you’ll have inferred that this didn’t include today’s entry), and took advantage of some sustenance to fuel the creative juices.

(That wasn’t all me – Jane decided she had to provide moral support.)

Arrival at Heathrow was on the original schedule, and we took the usual half-mile walk to get to the border checks, wondering if there was a horror story about to unfold, having heard tales of six-hour delays and horrendous queues.  Much to our surprise, everything was very swift.  We had all the right paperwork, we whizzed through the border checks, our bags came out pretty fast and our taxi was very nearly awaiting us, we got through so quickly – Heathrow Terminal 2 was very, very quiet.  From touch down to getting the kettle on at home took barely over an hour and a quarter.

And so we reach the end of our adventure into a really unusual place.  Iceland is a remarkable destination, even if you only stay and do the tourist bit in the south; but having seen most of the accessible areas of the island, with, in Dagur, a guide who knows his way around and could make sure we saw things of interest to us, made our time there even more impactful. And we’ve covered a lot of ground:

The middle bit is only accessible with courage and a backup car, but looking at that summary I can understand why our brains were full of the sights, sounds and smells of the country.  It’s been a fantastic fortnight, and we’ve loved the place.  We Will Be Back, as it will be interesting to see what the place is like in Winter (apart from just cold, of course).  I’ll do a further blog post with some general summary-type thoughts about Iceland, and so maybe you’d like to come back in a couple of days to take a look; it will be our opportunity to round off what’s been an extraordinary holiday in a really unusual country.