Due to some negative comments written on TA about arrival in Jordan, we had been prepared for a tricky immigration process, but we found the officials at immigration and customs friendly and welcoming. In fact, everyone we met would say ‘welcome’, even people on the street. It was delightful!
Hawa Guest House
We were met at the airport with a prearranged driver for transfer to our Amman accommodation, Hawa Guest House. This guesthouse was vastly differently to our InterContinental experiences in Cairo, but that was exactly what we were after. We do like to mix things up when choosing where to stay, with everything from 2 to 5 star accommodation. What determines our choices for any of our digs are: hosts, cleanliness, location and reputation.
Our room at Hawa Guest House was simply furnished, contained a queen sized bed, as well as twin bunkbeds in an annexed room, ensuite, fridge and airconditioning (which was handy in the very cool nights and mornings).
Amman is a unique city. Its geography is an undulating plateau of seven hills, and those hills are covered with sandy coloured buildings with pretty much no vegetation in sight. When we arrived, there was a haze over the city, which gave the whole place an other-worldly feel.
After dropping our bags at our accommodation, we walked to the Citadel, located on the highest point in the city. It was a heck of a climb to the top, and our guesthouse wasn’t even in one of the valleys created by the hills – we were half way up! The quads and calves would feel it the next day!
Everywhere we went, people were smiling at us and saying welcome, and there was no ulterior motive, they were simply welcoming us to their country and city. While in the Citadel, I was taking a photo, and a little girl who was with her family, offered John a drink from a thermos. He was unsure what she was actually asking, politely said “no thank you” and started to walk away. I jumped in and asked him what she wanted, but he wasn’t sure, so I asked the father who said they would like a photo. We laughed and said, of course, yes. What the girl was doing was a common thing of offering her food or refreshment in generosity, and we had totally missed that. They forgave our clumsy attempts to socialise, and took a picture. Such an hospitable culture. Apparently it is not uncommon for strangers to invite you to their home for a meal! We have much to learn!
We were standing in the Citadel when the mid afternoon call to prayer started. Once the prayers began, the sound of the praying was bouncing off the walls of the buildings in the valley, the hills, building like the low hum of a swarm of hornets. The cawing of a crow added a solo musical moment or two, but the hum continued underneath. The enveloping sound provided a strong sense of tranquility on the top of that hill. Something atmospheric, yet indescribable. Peace and history.
Roman Theatre and Forum
Following the Lonely Planet city walk down the hill to the downtown area, our goal was the Roman Theatre and Forum. We showed our Jordan Pass to the guys in the ticket booth who were so friendly and chatty, making conversation as they showed us which way to enter the site. It is clear that the residents of this country value visitors and truly want everyone to feel at home.
The theatre has been extensively restored, and apparently it’s not all authentic, but there is a sense of authenticity for the uninitiated. After all the climbing we had done already in the afternoon, I didn’t feel the need to climb to the top back seats, having done that in many other ancient arenas. Instead, I stood centre stage and imagined another time.
Walk through Downtown Amman
From there we followed the guidebook, stopping at the Nymphaeum, an old fountain complex that was in the process of being restored. We were looking through the locked gate and I was reading from the guidebook about the history, when one of the workmen opened the gate and offered for us to enter. He asked where we were from, and when we said Australia, he nodded and said, “Good. If American, we are closed” and had a laugh. Welcoming and a sense of humour…AND taste!
There is an absence of the push selling in Jordan, especially when compared to Egypt, where we had just left. When walking through the fruit and vegetable souq (market) in search of bananas, there was no hard sell at all. Even when at busy tourist sites like the Citadel, a guide looking for work made a gentle offer and did not persist when I smiled and said, “No, thank you.” In fact, he smiled back and said, “welcome to Jordan.”
Also in Downtown Amman is the gold souk. If you are a fan of gold and want to make purchases at reasonable prices, then Amman is the city for you. Most of the gold is 23kt, which has a slight orange tinge to it, which apparently is more desirably in the Middle East because of how great it looks against the skin. The wonderful thing about shopping here is that the gold merchants have a reputation for honesty and honour and all the gold is sold by weight, so there is little variation in prices. Of course, there is always a bit of wiggle room for haggling, but not much. It’s about finding the pieces you like and making your purchase.
As the wedding dowry is all about gold, and jewellery is how women have independence and wealth, silver is not as popular, thus it is very cheap. So if that is your preferred metal, then you will get some fantastic bargains in Jordan.
At the end of the Lonely Planet walk was one of my researched restaurants that I had flagged as reportedly having the best falafel – Hashem Restaurant. The research paid off, it was amazing! We hadn’t really had lunch, so an early dinner was in order, and this worked well because the place apparently gets packed at lunch and dinner times, and it was lively even late afternoon. It was the equivalent of a fast food restaurant, only the food was fresh and healthy and delicious. A thin sheet of plastic was put on the table and the food was delivered on plates, but you don’t get a plate of your own to eat off or drip on! It was all about eating with your hands, and using the bread to get the food into your mouth. All we ordered was falafel, hommus and babaganoush, but what additions were brought to accompany the meal were bread, a plate of chopped up tomato and mint and two cups of dark sweet tea. The whole meal cost 4 JOD (about $8 AUD) and we couldn’t finish it all.
On another morning we headed to Rainbow Street, a well-heeled part of town with restaurants and quality craft and artisan shops. There was much enjoyment had with browsing in the brisk winter air without necessarily making any purchases.
Lunch was had at Sufra, a restaurant with an outstanding reputation. The setting was a charming old villa with a terraced garden and the most wonderful, authentic interiors with original tiled floors and fireplaces. The food was beyond expectations. We did finally manage some restraint and ordered only three hot mezzes – hoseh (tomato stew with garlic and olive oil and chilli), magali mshakaleh (fried aubergine, courgette, cauliflower), fatayer sabanekh (spinach stuffed pastry with sumac), all of this came with flat bread. Dessert was Kunafeh for two, shredded dough with white cheese and sugar syrup splashed with pistachio, and John added an Arabic coffee to top it off. All absolutely delicious, and there were at least five more dishes we could’ve had and been equally happy with, I am sure. I even passed on the tabouleh, and I had been craving it for a few days – wanted too much to try the tomato stew, and were so glad we did.
We continued to browse a bit, in the handpainted tile ceramics shop and a little artisan/craft shop called Ola’s Garden. Ola makes everything herself, from jewellery to intricately decorated items of clothing, and there are no two pieces alike. There were many things of interest, but also a little pricey unless you really, really loved something. And while I was fascinated by most of her work, it just wasn’t my style (it was more what I wish my style was, which means it wouldn’t go with anything I already own).
Walking back to the guest house in the evening was magical. Having to pause for rest on the hills gave the opportunity to take in a very different Amman to the one we had viewed in the daylight. The fading light, the haze in the sky and the lights coming on in the homes of the many apartment blocks transformed the landscape.
Our Jordan adventure continues with a day trip to Umm Qais, Ajloun Castle and Jerash…