Thursday, May 16, 2013

What's up, Amman!

Did you know that Amman was called Philadelphia when it was ruled by the Greeks? There's a picture below to prove it!

Last weekend, Caroline and I went to Jordan. We were primarily seeing Petra, but we ended up going there by way of a bus that passed through Amman, the capital of Jordan. (In another post, we will write up all the details of the buses and connections, since we didn't find good info about it on the internet before going and hopefully we can help someone in the future)

We hadn't expected to do much in Amman since we only had one night and half a day there at the end of our weekend, but we were having such a positive experience in Jordan to that point that we decided to make the most of our time in Amman as well.

As we worked on finding our hostel, we were pleased to discover that the neighborhood was very lively, and seemed vibrant and safe. It sort of reminded us of the Karol Bagh area of Delhi, only way cleaner and less crowded. If I were comparing it to somewhere in the US, it was kind of like the area near Chinatown in NY with all the shops selling knock-off goods and small food joints.
Caroline enjoying a relaxing date after a lot of hectic travel and hiking
Caroline had heard a recommendation for a place called Books @ Cafe, which was supposed to be in a nearby ex-pat neighborhood. The guy who checked us into the hostel had heard of it, and said it wasn't too far. We set off with his directions and google maps to help us, but we found ourselves wandering a bit off the main street and it didn't seem right. We almost gave up and just ate falafel (again!) but then we decided to ask someone directions. We found some young, modern-looking Jordanians and they were very helpful.

We got about half way there, and then asked directions again. This time, a nice shopkeeper asked one of his customers to walk us there, and the guy showed us the way.

Finally we found it, and it was so worth it! There was a bookstore on the ground floor (mostly English language for the ex-pat community). The upstairs had these quirky dining rooms and then a beautiful balcony where most people were sitting.
This picture really captures the atmosphere and the view.
They had English menus and Western-style food, but there was still an Arab vibe to the place. Most notably, lots of people were smoking hookahs at their table. One surprising fact - each individual person had their own hookah, rather than sharing and passing from person to person. You can see an example of this in the left side of the above picture.

Our waiter was very friendly and helped us learn a few basic words in Arabic, like "thank you" and "goodbye". We remembered to say it correctly when we left :)

As we were walking back, we could see the minarets of many mosques illuminated across the city. Amman (like Jerusalem) is built on rolling hills, so you get great views when you are at a high point on a hill. Here's a picture of a mosque:
We aren't sure if green has special significance in Islam, but it sure gets used a lot.
The next morning, it was raining and hailing at first so we just stayed in and enjoyed a tasty arabic breakfast. By the time the weather cleared up, we only had a few hours before the bus, so we headed out to see a few main attractions in the city. We first went to a street called Rainbow Street, which had been recommended to us, but it turned out to be in the Westernized, ex-pat neighborhood, so that wasn't so interesting.

We decided to head over to the Roman ruins in the city. On the way, we saw a little shop selling sugar cane juice. This was something that we had wanted to try in India, but the food hygiene there was always a worry so we avoided it, so I was excited to try it here. It tasted like a sweet drink, a little like coconut with maybe a hint of pineapple flavor. It was tasty!
Look at all the sugar cane behind me!
We walked up higher on the hill towards the ruins. We could see tourists high up above, and we knew we were close, but we couldn't figure out how to get up there. There was a run-down-looking stone staircase that looked like a shortcut, but also looked pretty sketchy. Just when we were about to give up, a guy leaned out of an abandoned-looking house (that was apparently not abandoned) and shouted to us "My friend, up this way!" Seems like the stairs shortcut might work after all.

As we approached his house, he talked to us through a slightly cracked door: "Listen to me. You go up, go straight." It all seemed a little off the beaten path, and sure enough, as we got higher up we realized that we were not only outside the fenced-in area of the site, we were actually walking through some Roman ruins to get to the site!

This is from the top, as we looked back down at the ruins that we walked through.
The ruins themselves were cool to see, but also very similar to the many Roman sites that we've already seen in Israel. There was an amphitheater, some columns, all the usual stuff. We did get asked by one couple to take their photo, and it turned out they were from Syria. I didn't know what to say...the situation there is just so bad. I wonder if they are just traveling or if they have moved to Jordan permanently.

Suddenly, we realized that it was pretty late in the day, and we needed to get moving to catch our bus! We hustled down to a main street and tried to catch a cab that wasn't going to rip us off. After a few attempts, a young cab driver agreed to take us on the meter (instead of naming a far-too-high price). He turned out to be a friendly guy, though he spoke very little English. As he dropped us off for the bus, he gave us his phone number and told us to call if we ever needed a ride in Amman again.

The bus ride back was really beautiful, thanks to the nice sunny weather and the sprawling hills fields in the north of Jordan and Israel. We'll do another post with mostly pictures from the bus ride.

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