My mixed-bag month in the Middle East

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Jan 31st, 2010, 12:32 PM
  #61
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November 6 – 8, 2009: - Back to Amman

The Colony Boutique turned out to be a new, sleek, glass-clad building. Very elegant, but perhaps not very practical in Jordan. I started in Room 401, and even with drapes drawn over the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows, and the AC going full strength, I roasted. The front desk suggested opening the windows, but I couldn’t see a hinge, never mind a handle, and I figured a hotel in this class ought to be able to maintain comfortable temperatures without letting in a lot of dust and noise. I finally got them to move me to the other side of the building, where it was cooler but also darker: The only light in the main room came from a reading light over one of the beds – the other bed was lost in gloom.

I didn’t find a whole lot to do in Amman, having already visited the Citadel. I did check out the Roman theater and its associated museums, but wasn’t impressed. I spent quite a long time walking the Shmeisani section, which Lonely Planet thought well of. Some of the houses were interesting, but the small park I found had ducks and geese unhappily housed by dry ponds. Then I had trouble finding somewhere to eat lunch, eventually winding up at a Turkish restaurant. I sympathized with the group from the tour who had been sent to Shmeisani to look for somewhere to eat after dark.

The best sight I found the second time around was the National Gallery of Fine Arts (http://www.nationalgallery.org/ ), housed in two buildings separated by a small sculpture garden near Abdali bus station. I’m not a fan of “modern” art, but the works in this collection were not especially abstract. I was particularly interested to see art from all over the Muslim world, from Africa to Indonesia, and I wondered how much national origin influenced the artists . Pakistani paintings reminiscent of Persian miniatures shared space with a Palestinian sculpture of a boat holding keys titled “To What Exiled Country Are You Returning?” and a piece from the UAE on the intifada. I had to cross the garden to the newest building to find many Jordanian artists. This building, also contained more abstract works, with a number featuring calligraphy.

But easily the best part of my time in Amman was meeting up with my ex-step-daughter’s in-laws. This presented a few unexpected difficulties, as the “universal” SIM in my cell phone wasn’t working in Jordan, and the Canyon Boutique didn’t allow phone calls from its rooms, but we worked it out, and I spent an interesting afternoon in the western suburbs. I had only met her in-laws once, a number of years back, but they welcomed me into their home, and later her mother-in-law took me on a driving tour of their part of Amman.

We drove past walled estates where you might wonder whether the house qualified as a castle or a palace – some even had guards at the gates. Previous waves of refugees have arrived in Amman from Palestine (in fact, my hosts were originally Palestinian), but the current wave is Iraqi, and at least some clearly left with plenty of money. We stopped for a look at a very glitzy new mall, full of western chains, where fashionable young women covered their hair, but also wore make-up.

I ate my last meal in Jordan at my hotel, up on the top floor, but I also went back to both Hashim and Abu Ahmad. Once again my taxi driver couldn’t find Abu Ahmad, but this time I made sure that he dropped me at 3rd Circle. If you stand on the eastern side of 3rd Circle, with your back to Jacob’s Pharmacy, and then keep turning left, you will find Abu Ahmad quite easily.

All-in-all, I was more than ready to leave for Istanbul.
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Jan 31st, 2010, 01:48 PM
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i'm loving the pics, thanks
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Jan 31st, 2010, 07:48 PM
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Glad you like them. Interesting trip, but I really fell for Petra.
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Mar 1st, 2010, 02:25 PM
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thursdaysd, I am so glad I stumbled upon your report! I'm in the midst of reading your blog now but I wanted to say great job! I personally have a lot of interest in Armenia and Georgia. I've traveled quite a bit in Europe and so I am now more interested in some of the lesser-traveled countries or regions. I think it's wonderful that you made the trip and I am looking forward to finishing the rest of your blog.

Tracy
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Mar 1st, 2010, 02:42 PM
  #65
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Why thanks, tcreath. BTW, you can also hear me talking about Georgia on this week's Amateur Traveler podcast: http://bit.ly/cO5KJK
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Apr 12th, 2010, 08:27 AM
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Great report with much detail and you are an intrepid traveler! I definitely want to see Petra and Syria plus Oman but not sure in what fashion. Am not a backpacker and don't want a big tour so it could be expensive to arrange a private trip of some sort.
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Apr 12th, 2010, 09:02 AM
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"it could be expensive to arrange a private trip of some sort." - that's one reason I went with the Explore! tour in Jordan. I think you could avoid my hotel problems by going at a less popular time of year though. I hadn't realized that Syria was so firmly on the tourist circuit. You might using a car and driver for day trips rather than for a whole tour within reason.
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Apr 14th, 2010, 09:42 AM
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bookmarking
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Apr 15th, 2010, 11:59 AM
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I just discovered this mesmerizing report! Good work! You are one terrific traveler, Thursday!

And for next time (!!)here is an article that mentions Hashem, and other eating spots, in Amman:


http://travel.nytimes.com/2008/01/13...taurant&st=nyt
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Apr 15th, 2010, 02:10 PM
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Why, thank you, eks! (Nice bit of alliteration, there, too.) I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, sometimes when maybe I shouldn't....

Thanks for the link - I wasn't offered raw onion at Hashem, which was fine since I certainly wouldn't have wanted it! Sorry I missed out on the Iraqi food, though, it sounds good.
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Apr 18th, 2010, 04:13 AM
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Wow, what a great report. I was in Petra in 1965 and so much more has been unearthed now. As has been stated many times youth is wasted on the young. 1964 and 1965 I spent some time in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan and saw some of the things you experienced, but missed many more. It makes me want to return especially since I love mosaics.
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Apr 18th, 2010, 05:31 AM
  #72
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Thanks Nywoman! I'm so glad I got to spend two days at Petra. And there were indeed plenty of mosaics on this trip - I would especially recommend the ones in the Damascus mosque, along with the Archaeological Park in Madaba (it's such a pity the tour groups just visit the map).
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Jan 18th, 2013, 10:30 PM
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Well Thursdaysd, your trip reports have effectively kept me from going to work this morning. Appreciate your smooth writing style and attention to details. Quick substantive "insider" comments (I live in Jordan, grew-up in Beirut, and my mother is from Aleppo):
1- Unlike Syria which houses the two oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world, Jordan's main attractions are further out in the country. We have the odd millenium old ruins in Amman and Jerash but really Jordanian cities were pretty much deserted till the turn of the twentieth century (the "anti-renaissance" hit this area hardest as Ottoman administration started dissipiating here in the 1700's and nomadic tribes went on to dominate all lands to the east of the Jordan at the expense of sedentary population). The real beauty here lies in the hidden canyons and oasis' (Petra being the most famous, but obviously the water has long since evaporated), but also canyons like Feynan (managed by the RSCN where you had your lunch on the 1st circle) and Ghuweyr (with the in-let right around the Crussader castle of Shobak - smaller but to me more impressive than Kerak) offer a fantastic anti-thesis to all things modern. This part of the great rift valley is by far the the most impressive due the sheer incline from 1000 m. above sea level to 430 m. below it, allowing narrow streams to rush through narrow and steep gorges and canyons with the occasional collecting overcast with vegetation and... life where the desert used to be. (check-out walking Jordan or Explore Jordan or my personal facebook page for private images / samer badaro).

2- For a touch of history + natural beauty, consider Umm Qais (arabella?? Roman Decapolis) in the north whith breath taking view of lake Tyberias (where Jesus once fished), a descent restaurant and deserted Turkish-era village still intact. Another item of choice is Pella, overlooking the verdant northern patch of the Jordan Valley, with Roman ruins (and for history buffs, site of a pivotal battle which ended Byzantium's rule over greater Syria).

3- If you're stuck in Amman, the places to eat & hang-around are Rainbow Street / 1st Circle Jebel Amman area; Abdoun Circle; and of course Amman Downtown... But again I live in Amman and first chance I get, I take the kids and go out of the city.

4- Syria is gorgeous, particularly if you escape the tourist traps (if you are a true adventurer and manage a local chapparon... try the unvisited surroundings of Lattekai, frollok mountains, Kasab, Turkmen mountain overlooking the Mediterranean). Sorry about your brush with "danger" in Hama, but this kind of thing happens in North Carolina... Fault of the purpotrater not the culture my friend... This area is very ethnically mixed and a good portion of Syrians and Jordanians (like my mother, me & my kids for example) have fair skin & colored eyes ("caucasian" looking)... Don't let it detract from enjoying the area if you're ever back in this neck of the woods (whenever things settle back to normal in Syria... sad what has happened to this beautiful land in the past year).

Hope this "local perspective" adds value & thx again for your input on my "train to Montenegro" summer plans.
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Jan 19th, 2013, 06:25 AM
  #74
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sbadaro - thanks for reading, and for your comments!

1. I knew of at least one of the canyons that had places to stay, but I couldn't figure out a good way to get there by public transport, and of course, once I signed up for the tour, that was pretty much it. My ex-step-daughter's in-laws drive everywhere, so they couldn't help. But maybe now I know someone who can?

2. Um Qais and Pella sound lovely. Again, I shortchanged the north because I couldn't find anywhere to stay.

3. Yes, Amman didn't make my favorite places list. The "palaces' in the suburbs were interesting though. And a real contrast to downtown.

4. I am so sick over what is happening in Syria. I am very glad I got to visit Aleppo and Damascus before this madness.

While I certainly agree that sexual harassment unfortunately happens everywhere, I don't agree that that's true of 10-11 year old boys assaulting older women. I've now visited 70 countries, and Syria and Jordan (there was also an incident in Madaba) are the only countries where I've encountered that. And while you may look "Caucasian" you probably also look like you fit in.

Good luck with your plans for Montenegro. I'm glad to help, and can't resist putting in a good word for Sarajevo.
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Jan 20th, 2013, 11:08 PM
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Hey Thursdays' I'll be more than happy to help organize or put you through to hiking / canyoning trip organizers anytime you're back in Jordan (afraid I can only spare fridays... work, baby sitting, elderly care... hence my need for a vacation)...

Noted your comment on harassment and you're absolutely right in being offended... but again, it is a deplorable but nonetheless individual act... We're a fairly tolerant society compared to say Saudi or many places in Europe, if you consider how many Christians and how many churches have survived through Crussades, colonialism, civil war etc... compared to how many moslems have survived the Spanish inquisitions, the Balkan civil wars etc...

Having said that, I must confess that Syria was indeed thrown into a time-warp over the past five decades by design... politics... almost cocooned from the outside world (the joke in the eighties was that a journalist toured the streets of Damascus with a picture of a lone "banana" and no child under the age of 10 could recognize what it was!!)... whereas Lebanon and,to a lesser extent, Jordan stayed open to the outside world.

Finally, Sarajevo / Mustar sound interesting... Schedule is still fluid but there's only so much you can do in a week... I'll keep you posted my friend.
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Mar 6th, 2013, 03:28 PM
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thursdaysd, I so enjoyed reading your entertaining and informative trip report! Thank you for posting it!
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Mar 6th, 2013, 03:57 PM
  #77
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Thanks lucy! Are you headed that way yourself?
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Mar 9th, 2013, 12:00 AM
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Just found this Fab report. Am hoping to visit this region at some point ( maybe starting with a weekend in Beruit) so all the above is very useful.
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Mar 10th, 2013, 08:20 AM
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I can also highly recommend both Feynan and Dana for hiking, views and eco-tourism. Syria is the most interesting of all these countries(IMHO only) but now I've been spending a lot of time in Jordan and there are wonderful places to visit here too if you have the time.
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Mar 10th, 2013, 08:25 AM
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Hi Smeagol - starting in Beirut is a good idea, but it's very different from Amman or Damascus. That is to say, Damascus as I saw it. Syria is, quite obviously, and quite sadly, NOT a place to visit right now.
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