18 June 2012

Leaving the hotel
Walk and Talk
Rainbow St

Arab Tower Hotel – Highly recommended for 35JD!

We arose at a reasonable time.  Luckily the call to morning prayer hadn’t awoken us early in the morning.  This allowed us to sleep in a bit and recover from the jetlag.  Feeling pretty good, we made our way to the rooftop dining area.  On arrival we found a nice spread put out for us and the other guests at the hotel.  This included pita bread with butter, jam and cheese.  There was also white bread for toasting, but we passed on that.  A chef arrived and asked if we wanted an ommlette.  This was great, as Andrew made himself a coffee, the chef created a masterpiece of culinary perfection.  It had bits in it, not too much but enough to strike a contrast with the eggs.  Needless to say, it wasn’t noodle soup.  After inhaling breakfast and sitting back to enjoy the feelings of satisfaction radiating from our stomaches, we went down to pack and check out of the hotel.  Why? we were asking ourselves.  This was the best place we had stayed in all trip!  It was fantastic.  The bed was good, the curtains heavy, and the people eating dinner across the road at midnight hardly disturbed us.  I think the only reason I heard it was that I was still up doing the blog.
Then there was the living room.  This contained two lounging beds and a sofa.  Small coffee table with chairs sliding underneath (these came in handy for the computer after our bags exploded over the beds and table) Fridge with an assortment of drinks and real chocolate (if somewhat small) and air con!   Yet we were leaving!  Why?  Because we had gotten the suite at a discount, and a normal double was 30 dinars.  This was already out of our price range, and we had to find more suitable accommodation for our budget.  We had already organised a room down the street for 12 dinars.  OK, it is not as good as here, and when we descended to check out, we had to explain all of this to our hosts.  He was really good about it, and understanding of our position.  He also said that if we still have any money left when we are leaving Jordan, we are more than welcome to spend it staying at the Arab Tower again.  It was said in a very nice and friendly way, and we were sorely tempted to stay.
He let us leave our bags as we explored the city for the day.

Temple of Hercules Amman Citadel

Our first stop was the Citadel (Jabal Al Qala’a).  We had seen its walls yesterday, but had not got the energy to climb the hill to get there.  This was a good choice as today we had sunscreen, and we would have been roasted without it.  We roasted with it, but hopefully not too badly.  Andrew doesn’t look good as a lobster.  On the way up we zigzags to the top of the hill, and shortly we were walking along the bottom of the south wall of the citadel.  Making our way almost completely around the top of the hill we found the entrance.  For a couple of dinars we made our way in.  The first thing that strikes you on arrival is a couple of roman era pillars that have been resurrected by the Americans in the 20th century.  These are the pillars for the temple of Hercules.  There is no proof that the temple is to this roman demigod, but they found the fingers and elbow of a 13 metre high statue excavating the site.  Due to the statue being so large, the archeologists put it down to Hercules as he was of such great strength.  Well, we can go with that.  Still it sparked our standard debate over the quality and accuracy of archeology.  There are also roman coins minted in Amman at the time that depict him.

The top of the mountain has been in use for about 7000 years.  There are old stone age tombs carved into the rock in one section, and our brochure let us know the different ages associated with the area.  Roughly:  Stone and Bronze age as burial grounds, then Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab etc.  Each era had changed and fortified on the existing area.  By the end there was an entire small city up here, limestone kilns, underground catchment systems for the rain, as there is no naturally occurring water on the site.  A massive palace, Mosque, North and South entry gates, residential complexes and markets.  Even a church site. Still its most recent use was as its first.  A graveyard for the exclusive dating to around 1950, with the last being 1971.

The original Gatehouse

The gatehouse is the original formal entrance to Umayyad palace (Umayyad was one of the Arab Peoples populating the area around 700 ad)  At first we thought it was the mosque as it has a metal roof and looks like the dome we associate with Mosques.  Inside it is stone with a wooden roof.  Recreated to look like it should.  There are many niches carved into the individual stone blocks with decorative patterns around it.  Ranging from geometry to floral.  There has been extensive reconstruction here of its walls, and the new pieces do not do the old justice.  These do not have the carvings and are very basic.  Although it would probably cost even more of a fortune to have done it that way.  There are several side rooms, and you can still see the holes in the walls that would have supported the wooden internal structure.

Not much of the Mosque is left

The Mosque is also Umayyad, in the heart of the complex.  There is nothing left except for a few pillars and some of the front fasard.  There is a large open courtyard attached to the original building that contained the souk our marketplace.  There were also a lot of ruins nearby.  This area was the residential section of the city.  You could see the individual rooms and doorways between them.  These were all quite narrow, and I am not sure how it was decided that it was residential, as it looks to the untrained eye that the way through the maze of 2 feet thick walls goes through most of the rooms.  However there could have been wooden dividers, skins or suchlike separating individual sections.

Get your water here! Sorry all out, come back next millenium.

On the other side of the Mosque is the remains of the water Cistern (Birka).  As mentioned, there is no natural water here, so there had to be storage of all the rainfall.  This was done by a large network of storm water drains that caught all the rain on the hill and funneled it to a couple of cisterns, with one very large one.  It was covered in a waterproof limestone, which has since dissolved.  There are steps leading down into the circular pit, and although we couldn’t descend, we could walk around it.  It is pretty big, but you would still need to be very careful about water rationing.  It was used to supply the baths and latrines.  It even had an overflow pipe attached.

From there we only had the museum left.  This was Jordans first museum.  And it looked like it.  Some of the items on display were well displayed on boxes.  Still, with that being said , it is still a fantastic little museum.  Really.  It walks you through time from the paleolithic to current era.  It is done simply with a minimum of fuss.  It displays the best pieces of the time well, and there are descriptions with most items.  There is even an english commentary of what was going on at the respective times.  From Turkish gold production to the start of glass blowing in North Africa, and how these events, as well as climatic conditions have influenced the population of the region.  It was really well done.

View of the Roman Ampitheater

From there, we exited the paid section and wanted to walk over to get a view of the old city under us.  This is not possible at the moment.  The entire area is fenced off, and you cannot get there.  Even though there are paths, benches and even the occasional tree.  This is a bit of a shame as the view would be stunning.  To combat this problem (opportunity) we walked the remaining way around the top of the hill.  When the road started curving around the wrong way we started to think we wouldn’t get the shot we wanted.  However sneaking around an open gate, jumping some of those Anti-tank barriers and avoiding the full diaper we found a spot between buildings and power lines where we could get a good view of old downtown.  The construction work they are doing to revitalise the area look good from up here, and you also get a better impression of the size of the amphitheater.

Unfortunately that is all there is.  Most remains have been swallowed by time and regurgitated as buildings now surrounding the site.  On close inspection of these buildings, it is amazing that any of them as still standing after the builders knocked off work for the night.  Baz, don’t come to Jordan unless it is to improve the quality of construction here.  We had seen it before, but thought it was a once off.  A lot of buildings hare look like they have been constructed with leftover materials from other buildings.  That in turn have been built from leftovers of the first.  (OK a bit confusing.  Building A has been built from parts of Building B.  Building B has been built from parts of Building A.)  Lots of building from buildings, and they still manage to stand up.  To make matters worse.  It looks like the cement used to keep the blocks together was slapped on as an afterthought, rather than an integral part of the building.  This creates some interesting curves in buildings as some subside, others crack, and some just plain fall out.

Back at the bottom of the hill we grabbed our bags and migrated to our new diggs.  Applies some liberal sunscreen and headed back out into the scorching heat.  OK its not that bad.  Its only about 38 degrees today.  We organised a tour of the desert Castles for tomorrow, completely blowing our budget for the next week.  It is only a bit more expensive than hiring a car and driver to get there though, and we have a history teacher as our guide.  So should be fun.  Then off in the opposite direction.

You want Spice? I Have

The first thing we hit is the markets.  They are in full swing today.  We had seen a bit yesterday as there are street stalls set up all over the place.  I don’t know how we manage it, but we always end up in a market somewhere.  Here it was fruit, toys, cloths. Mainly the full body dress and scarves for women.  These range from very highly decorated and ornate pieces to straight black with large holes cut out in interesting places.  I commented to Anna,, asking if she thought people wore these, or if they are for tourists (It doesn’t seem like Amman gets a huge amount of western tourists).  Needless to say, 5 meters down the road I saw a woman wearing the most ornate version I had seen!  Yes they do wear them.
As we meandered around the streets, we did have a goal in mind.  There were two actually.  One was to find the Hashim Restaurant, and the other was to find Rainbow Street.

Yummy Bean dip.

We found the restaurant.  This had been recommended by our future tour guide.  It tuns out that everyone knows it.  It even has its own street sign.  Hashim has been in operation since 1956, and even the king has eaten there.  We could understand this.  We had the standard.  Hommus, Beans, Falafel and one other thing.  Served with a large slice of Pita bread each.  You break off bits of the bread and scoop up the dips.  This takes a bit of getting used to, and we ended up cheating by asking for a spoon.  When the meal first arrived we had to take a photo of it.  It looked that good.  Apparently this was not the first time, as the man looking after us asked if we wanted us in the photo with the food.  We said why ruin a good photo?  But he insisted.  While we were eating a few different tourists arrived.  They also took photos of the food.  OK, we feel a bit better now.  And they didn’t get the offer to have their photo taken as well.

This left us to find Rainbow street.  We have a street map of Amman.  Not those touristy ones you get on a photocopied A4 page from the hotel that you cannot see anything on other than a few lines with an x where the hotel is, and scribbles all over with places to see.  OK so we do have one of those as well, but this one is a proper street map.  Really.  It has names and everything.  We paid a caliphs ransom for it, but we thought it was worth it.  Although this was a good idea, in practice you need a topographical overlay for this city.  It is built on 7 hills (thanks history teach  HT from now on) the same as a lot of ancient cities.  Sods.  Back to maps.  I think it is human nature to either go up, down or skirt sideways around a hill.  This is fine, unless you are trying to get to a specific spot.  We missed.  We had ended up somewhere selling furniture.  A nice guy called out to us.  As he must have known we were not there to buy a wardrobe we replied (there is something here, but not for today’s blog).  This led to turkish coffee and a conversation.  Firstly the coffee.  This was the second cup we have had in Jordan.  The first was very nice.  Yet there was a flavour to it, different from the Turkish Turkish coffee.  Andrew originally thought it fruity, and Anna herbal.  We both decided that it tasted dark green.  The conversation was fun.  It went through the usual, but his english was bad and our arabic non-existent.  It made the conversation hard.  Still it was a lot of fun.  A couple of times we thought we were playing who wants to be a millionaire as he phoned a fried that spoke english, and we had a four way conversation through the phone.  Andrew’s rollies created a bit of a stir when he called out to his friend across the road that we had hashish.  Within seconds we were surrounded by a crowd of people who took a lot of interest in Andrew’s tobacco pouch.  There was much disappointment when after a close examination revealed it to only contain tobacco.  However half his papers managed to disappear.  Probably for use when they find the elusive item in question.
As time was marching on, we asked for directions to rainbow st.  Pulling out the map, and another phone call.  It was decided that we should take a taxi.  This was due to the hills and our friend not wanting us to get lost on the way if we walked.  We decided to press on, and we hadn’t even found out where we were on the map.  Without the taxi.  After a while we gave up and caught a taxi.  This was a good idea as we may never have found it.  Due to all the one way streets and hills it took a while to get there.  We had a chatty driver, so got a bit of a tour past a five star hotel that changed colours every 5 seconds.  Through the expensive part of town (third circuit) and up to the end of rainbow street on first circuit.  Here we could walk along and see where east meets west.  For Amman anyway.  Here there were less headscarves and more revealing clothing (Jeans ant t-shirts) than where we are staying.  There is a bit more of a vibrant feel as well.  Coloured lights shine on the buildings, and there are trendy fruit juice bars and coffee/tea houses.  Expensive restaurants and even the very occasional bar.  We can see this place going off on party nights.  I’ll have a carrot juice please.
All too soon we reached the end of the road.  Down some steps, walk along the road curving around the hill, and down more steps to more familiar territory where we could find our way home.

Now we just hope there are no bed bugs here.  Will let you know tomorrow.



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