Jordan - a very good trip, more or less

Mar 28th, 2013, 09:49 AM
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Jordan - a very good trip, more or less

On March 6, four of us took off from Ottawa (Canada) to fly to Frankfurt. The purpose of the trip was to meet our daughter in Jordan. She left home (oldest child, first time leaving home) in late January to attend school in Turkey. There, that’s four countries I have mentioned in my opening paragraph. Poor writing at its best.
Before our daughter left home it became apparent that we could only handle her departure for Turkey emotionally if we arranged to meet her a month or two after she left. As we have all been to Turkey we decided to meet in Jordan, somewhere none of us had been. And we could see Petra – another place we could tick off on our list of amazing places to see before family members stopped talking to each other. I am from the Lounge and it seems all families stop talking to one another eventually.
So we (me, wife, two sons aged 17 and 14) would fly from Ottawa to Amman and our daughter would fly from Ankara to Amman at about the same time. One of the flight options from Ottawa offered a 12 hour stopover in Frankfurt. This seemed like a good idea at the time as it would allow the boys to see a bit of Germany. They could tell their friends that of course they have been to Germany. I mean, who hasn’t?
We arrived in Frankfurt on a Thursday morning at 6:30. Our luggage had been checked through to Amman so we only had a backpack each. The train into town was indeed easy to find as had been promised by millions of people on the Internet. In fact I have been to Frankfurt a few times so knew the routine. What was harder to find was something to do in Frankfurt. Some of the tours that are offered in the summer aren’t offered in March. So we walked around a bit, bought some pastry, went to a church and then stared at one another. What to do?
Time to admit defeat, find a hotel and sleep for a few hours. Cheaper hotels are usually near the train station so we wandered back that way and spotted a Best Western. Nothing like a familiar brand name when you have been away from home all of 14 hours. We walked into a lobby that was oddly constructed. The woman behind the counter could only see me and not DW and the boys. She was not smiling. This is not the woman I have spotted in Best Western commercials who seems happy to see everyone. I asked her in German if she spoke English. Of course she did. Okay then, we are looking for a room for 4-5 hours. Was that possible? Her response was of course not. “We don’t do that here.” Well, I asked, do you know anyone here who does do that here, whatever that is? “Check at the train station” we were told. Long story short we returned to the tourist office at the train station and asked about what had just happened. The smiling woman there told us that the area around the train station was the red light district and that the woman behind the desk thought I was looking for a bed not to sleep on but well you know.
So with that we hopped back on the train and returned to the airport. Given that this was only a ten day trip but over quite a distance, we decided not to exhaust ourselves on day one and ruin the first few days. So we paid our way into a lounge to kill the remaining time before our flight. For only $160 we got orange juice and some peanuts, wifi and leather chairs. For the last few years we have decided not to add up the cost of our trips. We don’t want to know. Peanuts consumed, we boarded our Lufthansa flight right on time (about 7:30 pm) and we were on our way to Amman.

My goal for this trip report is to generate 50 posts. Assuming 45 of them will be mine, I am hoping 5 people will be supportive enough to post something. Criticism is fine.
colduphere is offline  
Mar 28th, 2013, 09:52 AM
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Well that's kind of irritating. It looked like there were spaces between the paragraphs AND I tried to preview my post. But preview turned into submit. That happens a lot to me lately, not sure why.
colduphere is offline  
Mar 28th, 2013, 10:31 AM
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Don'r worry about the paragraph spacing. Your loyal fans will read it anyway. Where was it you were going, again? Just kidding. Am looking forward to hear about the rest of your journey to Petra.
5alive is offline  
Mar 28th, 2013, 10:33 AM
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#2 of the necessary 5....love Jordan so looking forward to it!
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Mar 28th, 2013, 11:29 AM
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Hello 5alive and Elizabeth. Elizabeth please do not read this part of the report.

Our flight arrived in Amman at 1:15 am on Friday March 8. Our daughter’s flight was to arrive three hours later. The plan was that I would stay at the airport and wait for her while the other three took a pre-arranged car to our hotel in Madaba. Madaba is south of Amman, as is the airport. I had read it would be a good place to stay if visitors were not eager to stay in Amman.

But first we had to purchase our Jordanian visa. Which came before the immigration desk, which of course came before luggage. The Internet really is an amazing place. I had read several accounts of people buying their visas, or more accurately trying to buy their visas. You have to pay in Jordanian Dinars. No US dollars or Euros here. There was to be a currency exchange booth right near the visa desk as well as an ATM apparently hidden behind the currency guy. And all of these accounts turned out to be accurate.

But one criticism I had read was that the currency booth was often empty and that the ATM didn’t work. This convinced us to get some Dinars before we left Ottawa. So we were ready. Unlike the people two groups in front of us who were trying to use US dollars to purchase their visas, though I don’t think they were American. They couldn’t understand the visa official who it must be said did not appear overly interested in his job. He was just shaking his head and mumbling no at their offer of dollars. The nice fellow right behind them was trying to explain to them “they don’t take dollars. You need to go over there to the currency booth and get Dinars”. WE NEED WHAT?!?! said the lady. “What’s the matter with dollars?” “No” said the nice man, “you really need to go over there and get some Dinars.” “Some what?” said the lady with her even more confused husband standing beside her looking like he would rather be anywhere else. To make another long story short, they eventually drifted away to the currency guy to get their Dinars. I hope they got in.

We had no problem getting our visa, immigration was easy and down we went to the luggage carousel. One of the reasons I have not rushed to write this report is because there are a few uncomfortable comments I will make and I really don’t like to be negative. And here is one of them. We were a bit shocked at the arrival terminal, which might better be called an arrival room. Very small and pretty dark. It was separated from the outside world by what looked like a large curtain. We have been to Peru and Egypt recently and feel great empathy for those with less than we have. We knew that Jordon by many economic measures is less well off than both Peru and Egypt. But still, this was surprising. To be fair, a new terminal was to be opened this month. I am not sure if it has been.

The good news was that our hotel driver was waiting just outside the arrival area and off they went without me. And then ten minutes later the arrivals board showed that our daughter’s flight was delayed in Istanbul. It wouldn’t arrive until after six – four hours later. I was texting our daughter who was telling me that Turkish Air was blaming Amman airport. At Amman airport they were blaming Turkish Air. We came to learn during our trip that Jordanians and Turks like pisssing on one another. As there was really nothing to do at the airport I called the hotel and they sent the guy back to get me. We then drove to the hotel, and then returned to the airport at 6. We paid for three car rides to get five of us from the airport to the hotel. I am not adding the cost up. Nope.

The route from the airport to Madaba looked like it was on a normal road on all of the maps we had looked at. In reality it was about 15 miles of very beat up road, through what looked like crumbly unused buildings. There were also lots of dogs running at the car. My wife reported that during their drive to the hotel the driver got up to 147 KPH, or about 90 mph. Again I hate to be negative, and most of this report will be extremely positive, but after about 30 hours of travel, the airport, the landscape and the driving were all a bit of a shock.
colduphere is offline  
Mar 28th, 2013, 01:19 PM
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cold - I should have been more specific. Our love of Jordan is tempered only by our experiences in the Amman airport.....which culminated in our opening a bottle of wine (given to us by our dear guide as a going away present) and opened in the Ladies washroom (by using our unique Canadian talent of being able to open a bottle of beer or wine in any room with stainless steel - you know what I'm talking about) and drinking said wine from cups provided by the cafe (unwittingly, in their case).

Madaba! Looking forward to hearing about it.
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Mar 28th, 2013, 04:41 PM
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A very good trip report, more or less . . . try to bring out the Canadian identity of the travelers. Maybe they are anxiously checking the curling scores, or debating the best snowshoe or canoe routes to the in-laws. At least, throw in the occasional and gratuitous French word or phrase!
Fra_Diavolo is offline  
Mar 29th, 2013, 04:02 AM
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Loving your report! You will not have any trouble meeting your "quota" of 50.
JaneB is offline  
Mar 29th, 2013, 04:22 AM
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Hello Fra Diavolo and Jane. I will now say something in French. En effet nous avons été surpris de voir combien nous avons parlé français lors de ce voyage. There were a lot of French tourists in the area.

My daughter and I walked in the door of the Black Iris hotel at about 6:30 am on Friday March 8. Some fella jumped off a couch in the lobby where he had been sleeping in a sleeping bag. My first thought was here is the poor bugger who lost the coin flip and has to work the night shift. In fact this guy turned out to be the hero of our trip. I think his name is Odeh and his family has owned the place, and a few other hotels by the sounds of it, for quite a while. The reason he was on the couch was because he can’t find a person to work the night shift that speaks good English and can give tourists directions and advice when they arrive overnight. And for some reason many of the flights into Amman now arrive in the middle of the night.

Anyway, Odeh was a great help to us on many occasions. Some of it was just good business practice on his part but part of it was because he is a good guy. The Black Iris is a pretty basic place, but is highly recommended on Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet. Don’t go there if you are looking for luxury. It was a touch cool, the breakfast was simple but nice, and a dog barked nearby in unison with the early call to prayer. And then kept barking. But we would stay there again just because of the help and advice we received from Odeh.

We had planned to spend much of the day touring Madaba, and in particular the mosaics in the nearby St Georges Church. Odeh warned us when we left about 10 am (after three hours sleep) that we would be back in 90 minutes. In a way that seemed to be a swipe at his own town. And in a way it was. And he was right. We were back in 90 minutes asking him how to get to the Dead Sea and to Mount Nebo, where Moses is apparently buried nearby. Ten minutes later we were off in another of the hotel arranged cars. Five of us plus driver were in a car smaller than a Honda Accord. We are always fearful when the five of us are packed into these cars on vacations that our families will spend the rest of their days wondering why (after our fatal accident) we were stupid enough to pile into a small car in a strange country with an unknown driver. But it seems like fun when we do it.

The driver took us to a place called the Panorama which is a lookout about 1000 feet over the Dead Sea. This spot now ranks up there with our first views of the Great Wall and the Pyramids. We’re looking out over the Dead Sea and that is Israel over there. The Promised Land. The beautiful rolling hills. It took a few minutes to gather it all in. The view, the history, the things we learned in our Catholic school as five year olds, the current tension in the region. A real wow moment.

How do you follow up a wow moment? With another one. The driver took us down to the Amman public beach, which Odeh had told us was the cheaper way to float in the Dead Sea (as opposed to the expensive beaches at the hotels). Well it may have been cheap compared to the hotels but it wasn’t cheap. We were greeted by a sign that said something like “Jordanians free, others two Dinars, non-Arabs 16 Dinars”. Yikes. Sixteen Dinars is about $25. That was $125 for the five of us. When I asked our driver about charging non-Arabs so much he said that Jordon has no natural resources, no manufacturing and that it must make money off of tourists. Reflecting upon the trip now one of our observations is how inexpensive some things were and how expensive others were. And not just involving tourists activities. It was always a bit of a guess how much something was going to cost.

I had always doubted that people actually float in the Dead Sea. It didn’t seem possible. It was a mirage. A YouTube trick. But by gosh there were the five of us floating like boats. The salt wasn’t too bad until you noticed where it was still hiding five hours later. Going into deeper water was where the real fun was at. You could try and stand up straight without your feet touching the bottom. But it was like trying to hold an inflated ball under water. The salt water pushed you up and spun you around. I have always said that going down a couple of thousand feet into a mine was the neatest thing I have done. I would now put the Dead Sea at the top of the list.

The other interesting thing about the beach was the array of dress. There were plenty of niqabs, which other considerations aside, look a little odd on a beach. There were astronaut outfits, invariably worn by older women as protection from the sun and salt. There were normal beach goers. And then there were the nearly naked. There was a sign at the entrance to the beach that requested people to dress modestly, or perhaps appropriately. But some people were wearing whispers of bathing suits. We saw one lifeguard asking a woman to please pull her bathing suit up, or was it down? It didn’t seem to make much difference which way she pulled it. What appeared to be a solution only led to another problem.

We ignored the $14 Dinar lunch and headed off to Mount Nebo. We paid for a guide there though there wasn’t a heckuva lot to see. Moses is buried there somewhere apparently but scholars disagree on where. Great views of the Promised Land. The guide should have paid us as he was fascinated that our daughter is studying Arabic. He kept asking her if she knew certain words and giving her his correct pronunciation. He kept saying “call me Moses and stick with me. You’ll do well in life.” Okey dokey. Very entertaining. With that we crammed back in the car and returned to the hotel. Cost of the tour was 35 Dinars or about $55.
colduphere is offline  
Mar 29th, 2013, 08:52 AM
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Glad you had a (mostly) enjoyable trip to Jordan! I've been going there frequently lately and you are right about the airport and I'm hoping the entire new terminal is open for my next trip in April.
Those mosaics are pretty faded in Madaba and not a must see IMHO so good that you went to Mt Nebo and the Dead Sea. Family travel is always an adventure in it's own right!
moremiles is offline  
Mar 29th, 2013, 10:49 PM
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Loving your report. I have a vision of your wife riding in a vehicle at 90 mph on that beat up road, hitting her head on the ceiling.... but you are much to kind to mention details like that. Must be a Canadian thing.

I love your wow moments.
5alive is offline  
Mar 30th, 2013, 04:57 AM
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Moremiles your comments about St Georges make us feel better. In fact we wondered if we had missed some of the mosaics as what we saw was barely discernable. It didn’t help that ten minutes after we entered a stern faced gentleman kicked everybody out, promising us that we would be allowed back in in a few minutes. When that didn’t happen we just wandered off.

5alive when we first looked out from the panorama it was very hazy and the Dead Sea and Israel were barely visible. Then over the span of 20 minutes everything became crystal clear. It was like our own personal revelation. Very memorable.

The original plan had been to only spend the one day in Madaba before heading to Petra. But we suspected we might still be fatigued from the travel and lack of sleep so we had added another day. Now what to do with it? We understand many of the travellers here plan these things well in advance but we’re more of the show up and ask around for advice types. We knew we wanted to see Jerash but that could wait until the end of the trip. Well actually it couldn’t said Odeh. We should skip Amman entirely and head right to Jerash via the Jordon River Valley he said. He found us a slightly larger car and off we went.

We are still not certain what we were supposed to see in the Jordon River Valley. It has a nice sound to it, and there was some beautiful vegetation. But mostly it was heavy traffic through what appeared to be one very long market. People were everywhere transporting and selling tomatoes and cucumbers. Indeed we have probably never eaten a more healthy diet on any of our trips. So many fresh and tasty vegetables.

Finally we turned off the main road towards the east and starting climbing quite steeply into the surrounding hills. Now it really was beautiful. Our destination was the Ajloun castle, which we could see from many miles off. Now this is a castle:

http://nabataea.net/ajloun.html

You had to feel for the poor guys trying to attack these castles. We visited three castles in Jordon and they were all perched up very high. This castle was in very good shape and offered stunning views north to Syria. We went without a guide on this visit as the boys in particular like to move around quickly and find a guide somewhat restraining. And they are not beyond whispering how bored the people with a guide look. Of course we miss out on a lot of information but so be it. Speaking of Syria it was striking how fondly many Jordanians spoke of Syria and how upset they were at the unrest there now. Everyone seemed to have visited Syria at least once and hoped to return again. I find people in many countries give a quiet sneer to their neighbours. Not here.

From the castle we drove on to Jerash. Our driver told us we could save a few bucks by eating at a restaurant near but not in the site. We have been through this routine before. The restaurant turned out to be at the front entrance to Jerash. The driver had clearly been there a thousand times and was warmly greeted by the owner. I wonder if he receives some cash for bringing tourists in or just a free lunch? In any event what can you say about Jerash? The Corinthian columns, the hippodrome and especially the absolutely stunning amphitheatre. We are not sure how much of the amphitheatre has been restored. It looks like it was built yesterday. Strangely enough there were two musicians playing in the amphitheatre – one playing the drums and one playing the bagpipes. Yes the bagpipes. Together they made beautiful music but the whole scene was a bit odd. And the sound of the bagpipes drifted across the entire site. Somewhere off in the distance we could imagine St Andrews hosting the Open. All a little surreal.

Ten years ago we would have complained about the touts trying to sell us all sorts of stuff both at the entrance and on the grounds. But either we are mellowing or the touts have changed their style. There were some really funny people trying to sell us stuff. Maybe we just caught a good day.

After a few hours we climbed back in the car for the trip back to Madaba. The roads around Jerash were very good. I am not sure if that is due to the tourist money in the area or just the timing of road improvements. I was interested in the roads as the next day we were receiving our rented car. From what I had seen so far driving in Jordon would be a challenge. Odeh called it a jungle. We were about to find out.

The cost of the day’s drive was $100 including tip. Odeh had asked us not to over tip the drivers. He said it was crazy how much some people tipped them. So we gave our guy $15. He did not look happy.
colduphere is offline  
Mar 30th, 2013, 07:21 AM
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Aljoun is indeed a wonderful castle but if peace ever comes to Syria, try to see Krak des Chevaliers as it's the castle of all castles(if there is anything left of it). Yes, the people of Jordan consider themselves "brothers and sisters" of the people of Syria and have been gracious to host so many refugees.
moremiles is offline  
Mar 30th, 2013, 08:05 AM
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Sorry you didn't care for the mosaics in Madaba. Did you see the ones in the Archaeological Park? I spent an entire morning following the LP walking tour round Madaba looking at mosaics, and while I thought the map was pretty cool, the mosaics in the park were just as good, if not better. It was hazy when I was at Mt. Nebo, so I was not at all wowed by the view.

It is true there's not a whole lot to do in Madaba after you see the mosaics (I wasn't overly impressed by the Bronze Age dolmens discovered by the owner of the Mariam Hotel), I did find a place for a Turkish bath, and then I hung out at the Ayola Cafe and Bar.

I was lucky - I saw Syria before the current disaster and Krak is everything moremiles said. Plenty of French tourists in Syria, too.
thursdaysd is offline  
Mar 30th, 2013, 08:22 AM
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P_M
 
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Hi coldy, I'm really enjoying your report. I also try to write positive things in my reports but the one bad thing about Jordan was the Amman airport. It was dirty, filled with cigarette smoke, and the ladies room only had nasty holes in the floor for toilets.

The Dead Sea was a highlight for me and you are correct that it's very hard to stand up in that salty water. Mt. Nebo is very inspiring indeed. Petra was out of this world, but of course you know that. And next time I want to see more of Wadi Rum.

Jordan was a fantastic place to visit and I would go back tomorrow if I could.
P_M is offline  
Mar 30th, 2013, 08:28 AM
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Count me among your readers. How big a wow moment was it to reconnect with your daughter? Popping in on my daughters' study abroad programs has been some of my best experiences. So independent and"worldly" they had become!

I'm trying to remember my arrival in Jordan and all I can think of is the huge smile and the "Welcome to Jordan!". The airport was dinky but not awful.
Grassshopper is offline  
Mar 30th, 2013, 08:32 AM
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My fondest memories of Jordan were when so many people stopped me on the street to thank me for coming to Jordan. That doesn't happen in very many countries.
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Mar 30th, 2013, 08:51 AM
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Thursdaysd - in fact we didn't see a whole lot of Madaba except on our last day when we got stuck driving around most of it. Lost would be a nice way to put it. We did see a Turkish bath but after some discussion decided not to go in. We had visited one in Istanbul and while it was very pleasant it chewed up four hours. This was too short a trip. Now having said that we spent a lot of time in the Ayola Cafe. The older kids like smoking shisha pipes.

Grassshopper this was one of the occasions in life when you realize how much things are changing. Not only did our daughter find her own way there from Turkey, she was the only member of our group who spoke passable Arabic. So she really took a leadership role on the trip. It was just yesterday she was frightened on the merry go round at Disneyworld. Next she will be moving us into the retirement home. Oh well.

PM as I wrote somewhere else our car got stoned on our last day by some young kids. They could not have known we were tourists. But everyone was truly horrified this happened to us. The rental car guy look like he was going to cry telling us how sorry he was.
colduphere is offline  
Mar 30th, 2013, 09:43 AM
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We had this happen recently also on the way to Ma'in Hot Springs. There were a bunch of children(gypsy, I was told) standing in the road so we had to slow down and they threw some rocks and had some large sticks-luckily, no damage to the car and one of the men in our car got out and yelled at them but they weren't too frightened-quite young children too. This has only happened once to me in 6 trips, with lots of driving, in Jordan.
moremiles is offline  
Mar 30th, 2013, 01:07 PM
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The people sound incredible there. I had no idea. Thank you both for that insight.
5alive is offline  

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