When I was in elementary school, I learned a song called “Traveling Broadens One”. It had a very unmusical tune and I hated singing it, but it is a song that often runs through my mind today as I travel the world. Every new country is a learning experience, some more so than others. Jordan, a destination because of the ancient city of Petra, is no exception. We spent five days with the Jordanian people, and fell in love with their land. As we learned, Jordan is much more than Petra. It is full of biblical and Roman history. Here, Jacob wrestled with the angel, and Salome had John the Baptist beheaded.
Here are some impressions which I hope will be helpful for others that are planning this trip.
Jordan is proud of its reputation as the safest country in the Middle East. It has a strong police force and its people abide by government, religious and tribal law.
In Jordanian Dinar was 1.4, so everything was expensive. The style of shopping in the markets differs from Egypt, where the vendors are extremely aggressive and follow you down the street. Amman is wealthy and contains many upscale shops. You do not shop for bargains in Jordan.
Jordan is a country of white, cube-like houses. Amman is built on seven hills, and you see white, the color of peace, wherever you look. Many wealthy people have built multi-million dollar homes in Amman, and their neighborhoods offer a mix of experimental architectural styles.
It is not quite as spicy as the food in Egypt, but the traditional meses, kabobs and sugar-water based desserts are common.
Our guide claims that Jordan is one of the ten cleanest cities in the world, and we have no reason to dispute his claim.
Since Petra has recently been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Jordan has been overwhelmed by tourism. Its infrastructure has not caught up with the demand, hence its hotels are lacking in amenities. There are not many of them. The American and European owned hotels, due to the high Dinar, are prohibitively expensive. In the Dana Plaza Hotel in Amman, consistently hot water, fast elevators, sufficient outlets, efficiently flushing toilets, and well-functioning bathrooms were unavailable. The selection at the breakfast buffet was also lacking. On the positive side, the bedrooms had king size beds and the pillows were comfortable and the hotel was clean. This is a place to “go with the flow.” In Petra, The Amra Palace was spartan with small rooms and little storage space, but it was clean, had a king size bed, a working toilet and a nice shower.
The weather was cool, with a range from the low 40’s to the mid 60’s in late January-early February. We had blue skies, but Jordan was in dire need of rain this winter. As we drove through the countryside, people could be seen praying.
Our guide, Mohammed, was one of the best, sweetest, most organized guides we have ever had. Our bus driver, Mohaned, was also exceptional. The two worked as a team to accommodate us. They stopped at supermarkets, ATM’s and the elusive liquor store. Mohaned took us to his family store in Madaba where we met his mother, wife and children. His mother presented us with complimentary bottles of her home-made olive oil.
Mount Nebo is the site where Moses saw the promised land, was denied entry, and died. It is truly uplifting to stand at the top of the mountain and look out into the distance and into history.
One of the few Christian cities in Jordan, Madaba is famous for its mosaic map of the holy land which was made 1500 years ago of two million tiles. Located on the floor of a Byzantine church, It is remarkably accurate. The streets of the city are lined with mosaic shops, but the workmanship of most of the merchandise is of disappointing souvenir quality. We visited the artisanal Jordan Jewel Art Mosaic Handicraft center, but the good quality heavy mosaics could not be carried home and were very expensive.
This is the largest, best preserved Roman site outside of Italy. In biblical times, it was known as Antioch. The large ancient city had 30,000 residents. It contained a hippodrome which had room for 6000 spectators. At 12:15 each day there is a gladiator show and chariot race, which is informative and fun. We walked through the huge Oval Plaza and spent several hours walking down the cardo and admiring the ruins of the city’s stores, temples and churches. Jerash is a highlight not to be missed.
The Fortress of Ajlun was built in 1183 AD by a nephew of Saladin as a link in a defensive chain in the war with the crusaders.
The Dead Sea
The beach here is beautifully kept and landscaped with palm trees and flowers. People got mud baths and floated in the water, which has 35% salinity – no shaving today – ouch!! On a clear day, you can look across the water and see Jericho and Jerusalem. The Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea. It was here that Jacob wrestled with the angel. Nearby is Herod’s castle where John the Baptist lost his head.
We took an optional trip to the Wadi Musa, the site of Lawrence of Arabia and the famous Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The optional day drip into the desert was great fun. We rode in the back of a jeep (truck) which took us into a fairyland of rock formations, did some hiking and had a delicious lunch of meses and kabobs in a colorful Bedouin tent.
This is the primary reason for visiting Jordan. Now declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Petra is a city of beautifully sculptured rock tombs, some of which are in perfect condition. Its most famous attraction, The Treasury, slowly comes into view as you walk through the tall, narrow chasm of the Siq. When Petra was discovered by Burkhart in l812, it was populated by Bedouins, some of whom still live nearby and sell their wares. An 800 foot stairway leads up to the Monastery, a Byzantine church boasts mosaic floors in perfect condition, the stone walls of the royal tomb are graced with red, tan, black swirls. Although the Treasury was a misnomer (the urn did not contain gold but ashes), Petra is surely a treasure.
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