We flew from Dubai north to Amman, Jordan. I had wanted to visit Jordan and the city of Petra for a long time. Working with Cox and King, a world wide travel company, they helped me design a tour of Jordan. We gathered a group of friends to join us and met in Amman on January 23, 2019. Checking into the 4 Seasons hotel a couple days before the planned tour we had time to explore Amman with just a couple of friends.
Before you venture into Jordan a book worth reading is MARRIED TO A BEDOUIN, by Marguerite Geldermalsen. This book will give you a feeling of Petra and the people that live and work there. I wish I had read it before we arrived instead of after we got home. Marguerite was in Petra meeting people when we were walking through the ruins. She was sitting close to the cave she and her husband lived in and raised their children until all the residents were moved out to a new settlement. Quick easy paperback book.
The hotel is located in a high end neighborhood with easy access to good restaurants so we chose LEVANT for your first experience of local Jordanian cuisine. They presented us with several plates of hummus, different pickles, small eggplants stuffed with pine nuts and a couple of spicy dips, Moutabal a roasted eggplant spread served at most every meal. They offered kabobs and a veal shank served in a jar with a pastry crust cover. We shared several dishes followed by fresh fruits, mint tea and a very sweet array of little pastries. As the week progressed we realized that most meals, lunch and dinner always start with many little mezza placed on the table when you first begin to order.
We used UBER to get every where. It is inexpensive, fast and the drivers know their way around. The next morning we headed up to the Cinatel, located on top of one of the 7 hills that surrounds the valley. This ruin has been occupied since the Bronze Age and changes taking place during the Byzantine and Umayyad periods. We used a guide at the entrance that did a great job explaining the history of this sacred hill top. As we finished he pointed out the Temple of Hercules.
After spending time in Dubai with no history we were overwhelmed with the buildings found under the years of rubble and the history of this country through the centuries. We walked down from the hill top winding through the neighborhood to the old town and a restaurant recommended by our guide. When we found the little restaurant, HASHEM, we were seated among all the locals. The waiter quickly covered our little tin table with a sheet of plastic and with a nod brought us little plates of mezza, pita, French fries and small coke or water. You eat with your hands and when we finished the bill was $3.00 per person. Then the server wrapped everything on the table up in the plastic and gave us a nod. We were off to wonder the souks before returning to the hotel.
Dinner that evening was at a wonderful Lebanese restaurant, TANNOUREEN, the service was fast and efficient with the array of mezza plates to start. The Jordanian wine is good both red and white and picked right. If you order any imported wine it is Very expensive stick with the local wine.
The next morning we headed to the Jordan museum, housed in a beautiful modern building and worthy of its international standing. Worth the time and the location puts you in the perfect location to visit the Roman Theater which we saw the day before from the top of the Cinatel.
As we wander the narrow streets of old town we saw many small shops selling amazing sweet pastries like the ones in the picture above. Be sure to stop and buy to eat later, a must.
We watched the men stream out of the mosque following afternoon prayers, a mass of people moving through the souqs next to the fruit market. We grabbed an Uber again and headed to the Kings Car Museum, over 100 special cars and motorcycles used by the royal family for years. The children’s museum was also located next to the car museum. The two building sit atop a hill overlooking the valley. You see many families sharing picnics while seated among the pine trees on the week-end afternoons.
We headed back to the hotel to meet the rest of our group and prepare for dinner at FAKHRELDIN, a wonderful busy family restaurant. We were seated at a large round table with a platter of fresh vegetables as a centerpiece. The service was fast and efficient, after drinks and appetizers were ordered we shared many new tastes. They had a couple of fried kibbe, lamb stuffed with pine nuts, beautiful soft sheep cheese served with tomatoes and dusted with za’tar. The main courses were large enough to share and their famous kabobs lived up to their reputation.
The next morning our group organized in the lobby greeted by our guide for the week, Hassan. We headed north an hour to the city of JERASH. As you enter this ancient city through the Hadrian’s Arch you realize that is was a city of great wealth. On the drive to Jerash we could see that this area is the bread basket of Jordan where most of the fruits and vegetables are raised in the fertile valley. As we entered the the gates of these Roman ruins you see that there are enough remaining structures for archaeologists to piece together ancient life. There were grand public monuments, baths and fountains. j
Jerash was largely a Roman creation settled during the reign of Alexander The Great (333 BC). We spent several hours listening to our first history lesson and wandering the massive ruins.
On the way back to Amman we stopped at a local small restaurant run by local women of IRAQ AL AMIR, they served us a version of their chicken rice dish and lovely parsley salads. These ladies also have a pottery studio and paper making studio in the same space all being made by local women.
Back in Amman we had a few hours to rest before we were hosted by a local family in their home. We were served a wonderful dinner and interesting conversation. Our hosts, the Khzouz family their 3 daughters were all there to serve us great local wine and a full spread of salads and chicken riceThe next morning we check out of our hotel and headed south to Petra. On the way we stopped at Mt. Nebo, the site of Moses’ tomb. The Moses memorial church is perched on top of summit with a commanding view of The Dead Sea, Israel and The Palestinian Territory. The church houses amazing mosaics from around AD530.
Then on to Madaba, home to original Byzantine mosaics from the 6th century. The region around Madaba has been inhabited for around 4500 years, impossible to imagine. This town is one of the few that claims to have the largest Christian communities in Jordan, one third of the population is Christian. They say that Madaba is a typical King’s Highway town. We shared a great lunch at “FOOD BASKET”, where we were presented with MAQLUBBEH, a slow cooked rice dish including potatoes, cauliflower and local seasonal vegetables and chicken on top, garnished with cardamom and fresh herbs on top.
We had another 2 hour drive to reach PETRA across desert like terrain spotted with small villages, Bedouin tents, goat herders and camels. We reached Petra at dusk and check into the MOVENPICK HOTEL, located at the entrance to Petra. Three times a week guests can walk through the narrow rift in the landscape lit only by hundreds of candles placed along the 2 mile path opening to the large tomb called the Treasury.
Once we reached the Treasury we settled down to listen to local musicians play while watching the candles flicker. There was a light show reflected off the huge carved tomb and then we all started the 2 mile walk back through the Sig, a narrow path gradual uphill walk with the dark star lit sky peeking through the towering cliffs.
The next morning after a huge breakfast we met our guide, Hassan, and began walking back through the towering cliffs for our first look at the amazing architecture chiseled out of pink-hued cliffs. Hassan explained how the Petra necropolis was built partly to honor the dead. The history dates back to 7000 BC, however most of Petra was built over 500 years by the Nabataeans. We walked together back to the largest tomb called the Treasury. If you have trouble walking any distance you can have a buggy ride from the entrance in an old cart with a Bedouin driver for about $10.00 or a camel ride to the entrance of The Treasury.
After time spent at the base of the Treasury we began to walk around the bend to view many more tombs, some carved high up on the sheer walls. The tombs were created as a place to bury their dead and have them protected for centuries to come. Later many of the over 500 tombs were occupied by the Bedouin and their families to keep them from the elements during summers heat and winters cold nights. Several of us ventured up the over 800 rock steps to the famous monastery and the view of Wadi Araba. Along the way you encounter families selling local crafts while heating their tea pots on their little fires. If you want to shop and buy little items be sure to bargain!!!
On your way back to the hotel you can catch a camel ride if you need a lift, a small group of us logged over 9 miles wandering through the massive walls with carved tombs on both sides.
That night we had the great pleasure of having dinner in The Cave Bar, located right outside our hotel. This cave is over 2000 years old and we had reserved ahead to enjoy a 5 course meal while a young woman sang in the background. Great experience in every way. Remember there is a 26% tax and service charge on your meal. Another choice recommended was a place called the Petra Kitchen just down the street where you have a local chef giving a cooking class and then sharing the dinner with everyone attending the class.
The next morning after checking out of our hotel we drove a short distance to see the area called Little Petra where it is believed that travelers would stop to be fed and stay for a while. There was a lovely temple that we decided was the perfect place for our group photo.
Our next adventure was awaiting after a 2 1/2 drive we arrived in an area called Wadi Rum, a desert camp set up in the sand at the base of amazing rock structures. We were guest in the very modern Martian Domes at “BESPOKE CAMP”. There are about 20 upscale domes with queen size beds and lovely full bathrooms. The clear front of each dome, looking out over the large decks give you a perfect view of the night sky and thousands of stars. When evening comes we walked to the huge dinner dome and enjoyed a simple Jordanian dinner with roasted lamb and chicken cooked in a ground oven called a ZERB.
after dinner we would sit in an outside area with music blasting and many people smoking the NARGILEH, a water pipe with s strawberry flavored tobacco. I guess since there is no alcohol served at the camp this was a good replacement. Of course the day before when many of the group went on an ATV ride through the desert we bought a case of wine from the other camp and brought it back to share in the outdoor area.
The next morning we were met by our camel walkers and all set off on a ne adventure through the sand on the back of our camels. Later in the late afternoon we went in the back of Toyota pickups for a sunset tour of the surrounding desert mountains and sand dunes. Every moment was a new experience and enjoyed by all.
The owner of this camp, SULTAN AL-NAWAFLEH, firstname.lastname@example.org was there to make sure everything was to our liking.
The world is so amazing, as we drive away from the desert and head to the Dead Sea it is hard to recall all the history, people and experiences we have shared. When we arrive at the Kempinski hotel and check into our rooms it is like another world. This hotel is spread out facing the Dead Sea and looking across to Israel. So close, but so far away. The hotel boasts one of the largest spas in the country, they has 7 swimming pools and lovely restaurants to serve everyone taste.
One of the interesting things we had all read about is the water in the Dead Sea and it’s healing properties along with the black mud that you cover your body with to help make your dry skin silken again. I think the pictures are worth a thousand words here.
The restaurant at the hotel, ASHUR with chef Emanual was fabulous. We had the chef prepare special dinners for us both nights and some of the best pasta and risotto out side of Italy. After two relaxing days with spa treatments and time to sit by the pool and read we headed back to Amman for our last lunch at ABU JBARA. This very local restaurant served falafel and shwarma with moutabal and fatteh, like hummus only topped with Ghee from sheep’s butter. Of course plenty of pita for our departing meal as we said goodbye to Jordan and it’s amazing people.
If you ever want a great guide HASSAN ABuZayed is the best, e-mail is email@example.com
This trip was helped in all the planning with Cox and King and I can not thank them enough. Sorry for such a long story, but there was so much more to say it was hard to get it down to what I have written. Thank you to all our friends that joined in our adventure and shared memories for a life time.