Tag Archives: Holiday travel

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.

 

Day 1 – Northern Jordan: Umm Qais, Ajloun and Jerash

Sunday 15 May 2022 – Five hours’ sleep was all we got, but that didn’t seem too much of a problem as we got up and headed down for what turned out to be a perfectly decent international hotel breakfast, with a target of meeting Said at 9am.

The itinerary for the day involved heading right up to the north-west of Jordan, some 120km and a 2-hour drive.  Many useful things happened during that time: a rapid education into a more detailed understanding of the highly variable quality of Jordanian road surfaces (made more so by the apparently random insertion by The Powers That Be of some pretty aggressive speed bumps); the driving philosophy among the locals, which appears to rely heavily on the “Insh’Allah” school of self-preservation; and small repayment on my sleep debt.

The bits of Jordan we saw revealed a country with charming and hospitable natives, exceedingly crappy road surfaces, a complete disregard for the rules of the road and a pervasive roadside rubbish problem consisting mainly of plastic bags littering the verges. (I realise that we in the UK haven’t got much grounds for moral superiority here, but it was noticeable.).  The speed bump thing appears to be a test of concentration for the driver, as the bumps are sometimes mild and sometimes aggressive, placed without any connection to reality and surrounded by  some pretty impressive potholes at times.  The net effect, when combined with the locals’ attitude to speed limits, road positioning and courtesy, is to make everyone cram the anchors on a few yards before each speed bump and then accelerate off as fast as possible once having established that tyres and suspension are still OK.  It doesn’t do much for fuel economy or passenger comfort but it stops life on the road being dull. And it didn’t detract in any way from our enjoyment on the day, because, Insh’Allah, we weren’t involved in any accidents.

So, a couple of hours after we started out, we arrived at Umm Qais, or, more specifically the proximate ruins of the ancient Gadara. Compared to Jerash, which we visited later, it’s a compact site – no need for a dedicated guide, as Said showed us around and talked about the history as we went.  The site’s museum has on display some lovely mosaics

and fine statuary

which have been extracted from the ruins.  It also has some wonderful displays of the intricate pottery that the people from the Graeco-Roman period were capable of

as well as some considerable ability to mould massive stone into useful things such as doors.

There are the remains of ancient shopping arcades

a very impressive Roman theatre

and many slabs of remarkably well-preserved carved marble to marvel at.

From the top of the site, you can see the Golan Heights

and the Sea of Galilee

which gives a clear indication of how near the site is to the border with Israel.

Having got to pretty much the top of Jordan, we then turned south, and our next stop was the historic castle at a town called Ajloun (reached via a stop-start drive through the traffic congestion of the rather scruffy city of Irdib. Jordanian traffic congestion isn’t as bad as Indian traffic congestion, but that doesn’t mean I’d be prepared to risk my bodywork by driving around there). However, en route we got a few more sidelights into Jordanian life.  For example, we were in peak chickpea season.  Said was given a bunch by a mate in the Umm Qais car park

and we saw several pickups loaded to the gills with harvestings.

Roadside fruit stalls are commonplace.  Some of them look well-established and flourishing

but others not so much.

These stalls are clearly a good way to get produce cheaper than normal markets, but the corollary of this is the need for alertness for people screaming to a halt unexpectedly in front of you to pick up a few loquats or whatever.

Anyway….

You can see Ajloun Castle from a distance away –

yes, there it is on the top of the hill.

It’s a massive slab of masonry, originally started by Saladdin in the 12th Century as part of his successful attempts to get rid of the Crusaders.  Since it sits at the highest point hereabouts, it gives a great view over the surrounding countryside if you happen to be on the lookout for marauding Lionhearts.

It is very photogenic.

so a pleasure to walk around, as well as being quite well described by information boards. There was one thing that gave me pause:

“Tourism Police”?  “I’m sorry, sir, but I must arrest you for wearing Bermuda shorts that aren’t garish enough.  And those sunglasses!  Couldn’t you afford Oakleys?”

In the car park area outside where cars and buses were randomly strewn about there was a rather lovely coffee stop, which underlined the hospitable nature of Jordanian life.  It was clear that Said was well-known by the people running it and we were invited for some delicious  cardamom coffee served by an imposing but charming chap called Nazih.

And then it was time for lunch, which we took in Jerash.  Well after time, actually, since it was nearly 4pm by the stage.  Said took us to a restaurant called Artemis, obviously a popular tourist destination, judging by the number of tourist buses in the car park and from the bread-making theatre going on outside.

 

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It’s rather a neat way of serving customers with the bread that accompanies their meal. The restaurant offers a very tasty buffet meal and there’s a lot of room inside so it was easy to get a decent lunch.

Jerash is a large city and it contains a very substantial architectural site featuring neolithic, Graeco-Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim influences.  It’s sufficiently substantial to warrant having a guide specially to take you round the site; ours was called Suhir and he did a very good job of conveying the history of the place.  Some of the Roman ruins are the largest remaining in the world, eclipsing even those in Rome – the most striking example is the Forum.

The site is really quite large, with the main drag being over 800m long.  There are any number of fascinating historical details to be seen en route, for example the tracks left by the chariots on the main street.

There are smaller details to be seen:  recesses which held olive oil lamps

manhole covers enabling access to the drainage system

and some phenomenal mosaics.

There’s the inevitable tourist attraction, of course,

but the chap was still charming even when we didn’t want to buy anything.

At the north end of the main street is the colonnaded road leading to the Damascus Gate

(the main gates are all named in recognition of the countries that border Jordan – Syria to the north, Palestine to the west, Egypt to the south and Iraq to the east).

At the north end of the site is a Roman Theatre,

But the highlight of the day happened as the sun was sinking and we were walking towards the other Roman Theatre, near the Forum.  As we neared it, we heard a completely unexpected sound and so we went in to see what was going on.

 

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On investigation, it turned out to be a Jordanian bagpiper whose only English (apart from the word “welcome”) was to emphasis how he’d been to Swindon and to the Edinburgh Tattoo. Jane got him to play the Skye Boat Song (and told him its history) and he then jammed a few other numbers whilst a little impromptu Scottish dancing went on around him.  I’ll spare Jane’s blushes by not publishing that video clip, but it was surprisingly affecting to have this confluence of very different cultures in such a remarkable setting.

This was the end of the day’s tourism, and we headed back to where Said was waiting to whisk us back to our hotel. A couple of apples, a couple of dates, couple of gins and a mug of Twinings Earl Grey have been the necessary fuel to feed this blog posting. It’s been a long, intense and enjoyable day; a full-on introduction into the sort of thing we can expect over the coming weeks as we travel round Jordan.  I hope you want to come along for the rest of the ride.

Gran Canaria Day 7 – We Gotta Get Outa This Place – But HOW??

Thursday 10 March 2022 – The forecast for clear skies and sunshine was propitious for the whole island, so we decided that it would be a good idea to head for one of the highest points, Pico de las Nieves (1949m above sea level), to see what the view was like.

It was pretty good.

Looking to the north-west we could even see the island of Tenerife; in the foreground is another of Gran Canaria’s landmarks, Roque Nublo, a 67m tall volcanic rock (its top is 1,813 m above sea level).

Looking to the south-west is also a great view.

and dead to the west, you can even see the vast area given over to growing fruit and vegetables at La Aldea.

After the Pico, we spent the rest of the morning getting to the north of the island, via several other lovely views, such as this one, from south of Tejeda.

We stopped at lots of miradors to take snapshots and I won’t bore you with an endless succession of the views; I hope the above (and previous posts) gives you the general idea.

As we approached the coast, we did get a nice view of the town of Galdar, clinging to the slopes of its conical hill.

and a nice view along the coast towards Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria.

We weren’t just idly driving around, though. We had an objective, Cenobio de Valerón.  This is an aboriginal barn, built by the ancient Canarians more than 800 years ago.

They hacked out more than 350 cavities using stone picks, and used them for the storage of cereals and other foods.  The term “cenobium” comes from the idea that the chambers of the site were used as the rooms of a kind of convent in which young women of the noble classes were secluded until the moment they married. But we now know there wasn’t a grain of truth in that notion.

Once food was stored in a silo, it was sealed up to help preserve it. The site has some examples of the sealing.

Our next planned destination was the town of Arucas, described in our Sunflower book of Gran Canaria as a “pleasant country town”.  Can you have a country town?  Surely it’s either town or country?  Anyway, the same book mentioned that en route there was a ravine worth a visit, the Barranco de Azuaje, so we thought we’d take a look. Apparently it’s the deepest ravine in the north of the island.

The book also mentions a small detour deep into the ravine. About 300 metres along a track you come across something very unexpected; a deserted and ruined spa.

This web page has a photo of it rather less obscured by vegetation, and we found a photo of it in its heyday on a nearby information board.

After this diversion we headed into Arucas with the idea of finding some lunch.  We eventually did this, but first we found the disadvantage of modern technology, swiftly followed by some advantages. We wanted to park in the town, but to park in the road required buying a ticket from a machine; but the machine only took coins – no chance to use the phone or a card to pay.  We had no coins, so turned to the satnav we brought from the UK to help us find the free car park we knew was somewhere but couldn’t fathom out the one way system in order to find it.  The satnav knew the way, and as we drove in a chap motioned us to a space.  It turned out that said chap wasn’t an official, he was a freelancer, hoping to get cash from the people he helped find a space.  Sadly, we had no cash, so couldn’t pay him. So unfortunate.

Where we parked is just by the church.  But – what a church!

It’s the church of San Juan Bautista, and is neo-gothic; started in 1909, completed in 1932.  We wanted to look inside, but it was closed, so we lunched at a restaurant, El Mercado, that Jane had unearthed online, in the hope that it would be open when we had dined. It was a good meal, with great service from a waiter who actually advised us that our original choice would be too much food, so we ended up having just the right amount (including vegetables for me – yay!).

When we got back to the church, it was indeed open, but mainly because a service was going on.  I managed a quick grab shot to try to give an idea of the interior

and we wandered back to the car via a few other sights in the town.

A nearby hill, imaginatively named Montaña De Arucas, offered a mirador and so we headed up to the top, which gave a very impressive view back over the town.

From this you can see how imposing the church is.  The hill once had a volcanic crater, which was filled in to allow the building of a very comprehensive viewpoint facility, with views at all four points of the compass and a restaurant an’ everyfink. And there is an impressive panorama from it.

Sadly, though, the restaurant is closed (maybe due to the pandemic) and has been extensively vandalised, which is a real shame, because it must have once been a great facility.

This was our final port of call, so we headed back to the hotel.  Or, rather, we tried to.  But the technology that had found us the car park was badly traduced by whoever it was who decided to close one of the roads that led out of the town.

Arucas may be on the surface a “pleasant country town”. But under the thin veneer of pleasantness lurks a hideous, hidden horror.  Because the idiots who built the place had no idea about the modern automobile, the one-way system in place in Arucas is extensive, labyrinthine and complicated. The satnav knew quite a lot about it, but not everything – and didn’t understand that the road out of town was closed due to roadworks. We spent a full thirty minutes trying to find a way out of town, only to end up back where we started.  Have you ever had one of those nightmares where no matter how hard you try you can’t get to where you want to?  This was one such, only made real.  The one-way system was so complex that we couldn’t use common sense, the satnav kept leading us back to an impossible route and we got more and more frustrated with the whole thing.  Jane cracked it in the end by taking us back up the hill and then darting off unexpectedly on a side road when the satnav wasn’t looking, and we eventually made it out of the never-ending story that was the relationship between our satnav and the Arucas one-way system.

Technology had one more fiendish trick up its sleeve. Today being the last full day of our time here, we thought it would be a good wheeze to check in for our flight tomorrow afternoon. Sadly, BA’s website had other ideas.  We have to provide proof that we are Covid-compliant – vaccination certificates and Passenger Locator forms.  Jane is superbly organised and so has the necessary documents to hand (and online).  Firstly, the BA app on my phone decided not to have any truck with PDF documents; then when we went to a good old-fashioned PC with Windows, the BA website decided it should communicate with us in Spanish. Anyway, the practical upshot is that we have managed to submit the proofs, but are awaiting either a person or an AI entity at BA to give us the thumbs-up so we can complete check-in. Why we should have this problem now when we haven’t had it before when travelling back from Spanish islands is simply one of the eternal mysteries of life.  One hopes that we’ll be allowed to leave tomorrow to get back to a cold, rainy England.  Stay tuned to find out how it went.