Day 23: Mt Nebo and neverending one way streets

Day 23: Amman to Mt Nebo and the mosaics of Madaba

Today we left Amman for warmer pastures. Ha, I joke because it’s always warm here now! We bade farewell to Malcolm and the gang (until they make a reprise at the end of our trip) and Mr Edward and Mrs Bedouin Johnny Depp set out for the Madaba area.

We barely got lost at all getting out of the city (hip hip hooray!) and headed out towards Mt Nebo. This is another site with biblical significance but also a beautiful view. The church is still closed for restoration but the view is good and there is a beautiful mosaic laid out under a tent to see.

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The view from Mt Nebo

Heading back in to Madaba to catch the beautiful mosaics the city is known for, we ended up going in a few circles to find the visitors centre. Many roads are “one-way” in appearance but are not necessarily clearly sign posted as such and you can truly end up going round and round if you’re not careful and learn from your mistakes. There was one sign for the visitors centre in particular that was quite misleading which added another loop to our journey. In the end we did manage to make it to the visitors centre where we were permitted to park for the time while we poked around the town and also given a handy map.

We started at the Madaba Archeological Park which is just around the corner from the visitors centre. We paid like 1 or 2JD and received a very informative guided tour along with this. This site is definitely worth viewing as the mosaics contained within are lovely. He showed us also how the colour changes when the stones get wet. It’s incredible how intricate, durable, and old these pieces are. Our guide also showed us how mosaics are made in two ways, the old and the new.

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Partly wet mosaic to show the colour difference

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From there we set out to see the Church of the Apostles ans with a little help from some friendly locals we were able to find it. There are more beautiful mosaics here and the entry fee is included with the Madaba Archeological Park fee. No personal tour guide here unfortunately.

Map in hand and gaining a better understanding of the layout of the city we ventured back towards St George Church where the Mosaic Map is housed. We came across the same lady who had directed us earlier and she once again kindly sent us in the right direction. We accidentally stumbled on the church where St John the Baptist was beheaded but a mutual decision was made to skip this.

We located the church quite easily after that and excitingly, our hotel, Moab Land Hotel, was literally right across the street. It’s a Greek Church and it’s just 1JD to enter. The mosaic is absolutely beautiful. Incredible that they could make such a detailed map of the region so many years ago.
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With that done, we had the challenge of navigating the 500m from the visitor centre parking lot to our hotel… it took us probably half an hour with all the one way streets and crowds. Boohoo…

We tried Ayar Restaurant for dinner, just a short 10 minute walk from our hotel. It was very good and quite reasonably priced and I ate probably 2 lbs of parsley. Apparently the ratio of couscous to parsley is a little opposite here compared to Canada!

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Day 22: A spot of tea with Bedouin Johnny Depp aka Leah got hitched

Day 22: Desert castles loop to Azraq

Today started bright and early with the arrival of the rental car man looking for “Mr Edward”, much to Muath’s amusement. Luckily, the man didn’t seem too surprised to see a female walk out! After another delicious breakfast courtesy of Eefje & Muath, we set out on our way to Azraq Wetland Reserve via the Eastern Desert Castles loop. So began my toughest test as a driver to date, although with a co-pilot like Leah and the directions of Eefje, it’s hard to go wrong!

Let me talk a minute on driving in Jordan. It is moderately organized chaos at best. It is pure madness in general. Broad, two lane streets become clogged, one lane back alleys in the blink of an eye with cars parked 2 deep on both sides and humans meandering ad nauseum wherever, whenever. Cars pass you on the left into oncoming traffic and on the right too if it suits. People leap out into traffic carrying chairs/food/children,  without looking, leisurely strolling across the lanes.

Today was the day I vowed to be a better pedestrian in future. Needless to say,  to be an Arab driver is to anticipate the movements of everything in a 50 meter radius and then artfully dodge them while still moving in your direction of travel. An added bonus is the reaction you get from males and children as a couple white chicks driving around. Yes hello friends,  your waves, stares, and ‘Welcome to Jordan’s never get old.

Once out of the city, our GPS directions had us heading northeast:

We were confident we would be taking some type of turn prior to reaching these destinations however. The road into the desert is well traveled with many transport trucks along this route. We first visited an old Hamam and am old castle, neither of which were really exciting but definitely interesting to see. It’s quite well sign posted to get to these places.

Continuing along the highway,  we were both sobered to see one of the UN refugee camps. It literally gave us both chills to the bone. I cannot imagine what it feels like to be a displaced person and have to leave your home for a tent,  randomly set up in a desert. What sense of worth and home do you have when your world is so small and fractured? It made me want to immediately quit my job and relocate to a place where I’m truly needed and may truly make a difference.

Ah, how to continue on after seeing that?  Humans are remarkably resilient in this way as on we trucked, arriving without much trouble to our destination of Azraq Wetlands, although these are also really another sad story of human gluttony and interference.  The wetlands now are really more like desert with some ponds although the RSCN which is the nature conservation agency in Jordan is working to maintain and restore this area so I think if you’re doing the castle loop, it is certainly worth a visit.  There several species of bird and possibly water buffalo? We only saw possible excrement of the latter however. 

Our next stop was Azraq Castle, which we very briefly called at. A large bus of other tourists had just pulled up outside so that kind of deterred us from actually going in. Instead we headed back southwest to Castle Amra.

At Amra,  we were greeted by the handsome and charming Hakem, a Bedouin raised in the area. He told us we were the first Canadians in the castle for two years but I’m (as always) skeptical. Without payment or question he brought us into the castle and gave some wonderful explanations about the castle and the lovely paintings inside.  We had a very enjoyable chat regarding the state of the world in general and Hakem proved to be wise beyond his 29 years.

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Castle tour complete, we moved to the tent for some tea and snuggles with kitty friends. The tea was delicious and we definitely recommend visiting Amra!

We headed back for Amman after that. We passed by one more Crusader Castle but opted not to stop there. We overshot our turn off a bit but were able to back track… until we got screwed up by barriers and one way streets that our GPS Gina couldn’t predict. Thank goodness that between the two of us we were able to navigate back to Hawa regardless of how much it seemed like we were destined to keep on going in circles…

That night, we treated ourselves to more than just a falafel sandwich. We had a whole heap of hummus too!

Day 21: Traditional Jordanian… Bagpipers?!

Day 21: Jerash

This morning we set off for a day trip to Jerash (or Jarash) which is about 45km north of Amman to see the Roman ruins there.  We were able to easily catch the bus from the north bus station with the help of Muath and Eefje  and the taxi driver who brought us right to where the bus was waiting.  Buses in Jordan (intercity ones anyway) wait to fill the bus and then leave.  By some crazy miracle,  we were the last 2 people on the bus.  The best part? That door to door, probably 15 minute taxi ride cost us 2JD  (less than 4$).

Once we’d seated ourselves (a big thanks to the 2 men who re-seated themselves to accommodate us!), we set off. Here are some fun facts about our ride to Jerash:

1. Buses don’t stop every 6 seconds to drop off and pick up like they do in Turkey.

2. Jordan is on the whole much hillier than I had thought.

3. Camels are not uncommonly spotted at roadsides, much like herds of goats and sheep.

4. There are speed bumps on the highways.  What?!

5. The bus will cost you 1 JD each.  Don’t wait until the entire bus is telling you,  ‘You’re here! Get off!’ while stopped at a left turn light to fumble for two 1JD bills. It makes for an embarrassing and possibly dangerous adventure.

Regardless of our most ungrateful exit,   we had made it to our destination unscathed. The Roman ruins we had come to see lay just in front of us,  easily accessed and costing a minimal amount for entry. Hadrian’s Gate and the Hippodrome (and the touts) greet you first both still fairly intact.

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Hadrian's Gate

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We were accosted a couple of times as we made our way down the road by teenage – ish girls wanting to take photos with us. We are all over someone’s Facebook and Instagram now I’m sure.

Continuing along,  we came to the beautiful main Cardo and could truly see how extensive the ruins were.

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Cardo

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Coming into the big odeon was rather spectacular: just as we were walking up the hill to it, four fighter jets zoomed over us in the direction of the Syrian border and then we were set upon by another group of girls wanting photos with us.  We decided we should start charging 5JD per photo! Finally,  our entrance into the Odeon was heralded by….bagpipes?! Sure enough,  there was a group of 4 or 5 musicians dressed in traditional Jordanian garb playing some music.

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The girls we took photos with had come in to the Odeon too,  and seemed to be doing some kind of special photo shoot with signs labeled ‘Generations for Peace’ although none of them could quite explain this and preferred to keep taking pics with us and play with my hair.

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Our wee tour continued through ruins and fields of grass and flowers,  dotted with herds of goats and sheep. Ever the animal lover (Leah has nicknamed me “Nurse Doolittle”), I ventured off to snap a few pics and make some new friends.  Leah said, “I turned around and you weren’t there and I thought, well, she’s joined the herd!” 

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The rest of our visit was lovely just strolling through the ruins.  Leah met the “moving column” man Eefje had warned us about so was prepared to ward off his advances.

Our way home was a bit of a struggle as we got varying information from a couple sources regarding bus vs taxi. We were told ‘no more bus! Bus done!’ by several people but we knew that I’m fact there was a bus. Unfortunately, we did not know the exact location of the bus station so Leah haggled and bartered while I played it cool and skeptical on the sidelines and we ended up getting a taxi from Jerash direct to Paris circle for 2JD each which us what we’d paid in total for the journey there. Hoping to goodness this was not some sort of elaborate kidnapping attempt and with our knees to our chest in a squished cab, we headed for Amman.

Luckily our cabbie avoided accidents and safely delivered us to Paris circle where we promptly rewarded ourselves for a hard days work with lunch at Oliva. This cute little restaurant is just down from Paris circle and has delicious, freshly made oven fired pizzas.
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Our bellies full,  we grabbed a few pastries from Feyrouz’s bakery for dinner that night and headed back to relax at Hawa with Malcolm and the gang.

Day 20: Welcome to Jordan – are there birds in that bag?!

Day 20: Amman, Jordan

As you may have read on Facebook, I was up bright and early this morning for really no good reason. On the bright side, this meant that I could finally wrap up all Turkey – related articles and move into our Jordanian adventure.

Eefje and Muath put on a great breakfast spread to start the day, which was rather grim looking at first, definitely threatening rain. We met Chris, a photographer/journalist/videographer from Atlanta, Georgia and also met up with Avery, of a similar profession from Seattle, who we had met the night before as she’d been on the same planes as us from Istanbul. We decided to set out together from the hostel as Chris had already been in Amman for a month and knew his way around.

We started off going to the new skatepark that had just been built a few months back. There was some super cool graffiti there and the boys skateboarding seemed to be having a blast. No helmets or wrist guards, unlike Canada however and there is tons of trash lying around the park and the adjacent playground. This completely blows my mind as litter is so much less common in Canada and people would never allow a children’s area to look like that. Really fascinating.

From there we moseyed on to the souq and one of the mosques where it truly became a little busier and more like some of the big, busy cities we’d been to before. They were just starting prayers and all the streets nearby were cordoned off to cars, Chris said to minimize the chance of terrorist attacks during prayers. 😦

We worked our way quite quickly through the souq which was composed of the usual market stalls: clothes, fruits and veggies, shoes, household goods and so forth and ended up at the end where there is a very unique street. As we turned on to it, I noticed a car with its trunk open…there were birds in it!! This street is apparently famous for its bird sales. Pigeons, turkeys, doves…all sorts! And the mode of transportation once purchased? You guessed it, a paper bag.

Not appreciating all the creepy leering, invitations to touch turkeys, and whatnot we parted ways with the rest of the group and headed for the Citadel.

On our way up, we happened to notice that the Roman Amphitheater was to our right. Having seen a few amphitheatres in recent days, we decided just seeing it was enough and carried on upwards.

We had seen a sign pointing the way to the Citadel and began to follow the road up. We got most of the way up and could see steps leading upwards towards the Citadel so we decided to take them. The steps stopped and a trail continued before ending in a wall, which being small, was easy to scramble up and over. From there we picked our way around some ruins and skirted the fence….indicating that we’d probably come up come up quite the wrong way! As we entered the ruins, one of the guards kindly reminded us to please buy a ticket and don’t climb up the Citadel again as it “could be dangerous” (it was at no point that way) hah!

We took an enjoyable hour or so perusing around the ruins and the small museum there. To make up for missing the Basilica Cistern, there was even a cistern. Although it was garbage filled (I see a theme here) and contained no Medusa heads so that was a bit anticlimactic.

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Citadel Cistern

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Garbage filled. >(

Once we were done at the Citadel, we decided to try and check out Rainbow Street. No one had informed us just how hilly Amman is and our journey to Rainbow St involved a hike down a huge hill and then back up another huge hill in addition to several sets of stairs. We figured we had earned our lunch time snack. Sadly, Rainbow St looks like it has some cute restaurants but many were closed because it was Friday today. We did stop for a quick bevy tho in a restaurant of very questionable cleanliness called F.R.I.E.N.D.S. @cafe.

From there we headed back down the hill and headed for Weibdeh hill where our hostel is for a quick falafel sandwich. It was delicious and cost just 2 JD for both of us including tea! Nom nom. We got ourselves some tasty treats from a bakery just down from the falafel shop and boy were they pleasantly good!

We returned back to Hawa to the exciting return of Leah’s bag! Since then, we’ve just been hanging out, relaxing and chatting with our wonderful hosts Eefje and Muath and their cats. Chris got us a cake to celebrate Iranian new years tonight. Yay!

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Malcolm just chillin

Days 18 and 19: Climb Ev’ry Mountain/’Everything comes back to you in Jordan’

Day 18 – Cappadocia

This morning was finally the morning!  After our balloon had been canceled the morning previous, today dawned with clearing skies and excellent wind conditions. We were up and ready to go by 5:20 AM when we were picked up by the Cappadocia Voyager Balloon bus. We headed to the main office to pay and have a quick bite, including an awesome coffee.

We boarded our bus with our fellow balloon-mates, a family from Colombia including the 82 year old matriarch and a group of friends from Chicago. Driving out to the take-off point was incredible. All the balloons were in the process of inflating and taking off and it was so amazing, like watching butterflies unfurl from cocoons.

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We boarded our balloon basket and soon realized that we were flying with a pretty big deal – Mr M Halis Aydogan himself. He established the first Turkish ballooning company and has been a major fixture in ballooning in Cappadocia.

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Down in a valley

He gave us pretty much the most awesome flight around, starting from quite far up the valley, bringing us down through one of the valleys so we could see the rock formations clearly, giving detailed explanations and the occasional scare as he brought us close to some rather big and solid rock formations.

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He kept us away from the other balloons for the most part and then as they started to land, brought us up to a higher altitude for a panoramic view. We were able to see basically all of the first flight land and watch the second flight take off.

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2nd flight taking off

Our landing was also awesome: directly onto the trailer of the basket. Impressive, Halis! We then celebrated with champagne – yum! What better way to start a morning?

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Our other major activity for the day was a hike through the Red and Rose Valleys.  Emre was kind enough to drop us off at the start and then a couple of kind strangers pointed us in the right direction along the way. Seeing as how we didn’t have a German friend with us,  of course we got lost!  😉

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We did find our way back however and rewarded ourselves with coffee and a snack at Coffedocia,  a very cute cafe in Göreme.

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After that,  it was mostly a matter of waiting till the shuttle came to bring us to the airport for the plane back to Istanbul. We passed the time by going for Korean food (yum!!) and stocking up on Turkish snacks for our onward journey and chatting with Emre. We were definitely sad to leave here!

Day 19 – In transit

The things most notable today on our journey from Istanbul to Amman via Beirut are as follows:

1. We will miss olives and cheeses at breakfast very much.

2. Beirut Airport is super boring to layover in and has A LOT of security check points so don’t wear anything other than lulu’s for ease of passage through here.

4. Middle Eastern Airlines has excellent economy class seat size and knee room. The food – meh.

5. Queen Alia Int’l Airport is gorgeous. Two thumbs up!

6. Leah’s bag did not make it here. However, we are told that “you can’t lose anything in Jordan” so are hoping it reappears promptly.

7. So far,  Jordan is impressing us with hospitality and warmth. And we saw a wedding procession on the road on the way in to town from the airport. Yeah!

8. Hawa Guest House is super cute. Thanks Eefje and Muath!

9. Come visit Jordan!!!