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Posts Tagged ‘amman’

Back to Istanbul

November 9, 2009:¬† When I paid my taxi driver the agreed rate at Amman airport the response was: “most Americans tip”. Rather than replying that I was also British, I pointed out that I didn’t tip when I had negotiated the rate rather than paying the metered fare. Then I put both my bags through X-ray at the entrance to the airport, only to have my big bag pulled for extra screening. Turned out that the checker was worried about my collapsible hiking stick. Fortunately his supervisor was happy with it going through in a checked bag – I don’t know what damage the first guy thought I could do with something stowed in the hold. I’ve taken the stick through enough airports by now that I’d forgotten it might cause a problem.

Amman airport continued to annoy me. First there was a gate change, and then security wouldn’t let us through to the gate even though the monitors were clearly showing that the plane was supposed to be boarding. But we left on time and the food was edible. At Istanbul airport the visa I had bought back in September was still valid and I cleared immigration quickly. Then I had to dig around to find the lira I had saved so I could rent a luggage cart for the long trek from baggage claim to the metro.

Istanbul's sleek public transport

As I wrote back in August, I first visited Istanbul all the way back in 1974 (yes, I am getting old!) and the day before I was due to fly home, the Turks and Greeks went to war over Cyprus. With the airport closed, I eventually left, in great discomfort, on the Orient Express, but I didn’t regret the opportunity to spend extra time in a fascinating city. I still love Istanbul, but it has changed and grown so, so much since then, becoming a major tourist destination and losing, at least for me, some of its aura of the exotic. But I don’t regret the introduction of the metro and the trams.

The Blue Mosque

For this three night visit I had seriously considered staying in Beyoglu, on

Aya Sofya

the northern side of the Golden Horn, but I couldn’t find a hotel or apartment in my price range that really appealed, so I wound up, as usual, in tourist central, Sultanahmet. At least I got to walk past the Blue Mosque (my absolute favorite sight in Istanbul) and Aya Sofya on the way to my hotel, the Empress Zoe (just down from the Four Seasons). While this is no place for people with mobility issues – I had to climb a narrow, metal, spiral staircase and two sets of marble steps – I loved my room: partial water view, high, wide bed tucked under one window, fridge and safe and plenty of hot water. Good breakfast, too.

Once I’d dropped my bags at the Empress Zoe I headed straight out again for the Cemberlitas Hamam and an afternoon of deep cleaning and pampering. After getting scrubbed down, and soaking happily in the hot pools, I wrapped myself in warm towels, settled in among the cushions on a bench seat and drank coffee. Luxury!

That evening I ate some quite good, if rather expensive, Indian food at Dubb. Once the sun went down it turned quite chilly, so I ate indoors instead of enjoying the view from the rooftop terrace, but I had trouble sleeping because I was too hot – thanks to the wretched duvet on my bed. Hate those things!

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Last Days in Amman

November 6 – 8, 2009: 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 checked out the Roman theater and its associated museums, but wasn’t impressed. I took a long look at the Shmeisani section, which Lonely Planet thought well of. Some of the houses were interesting, and I found a small park with ducks and geese unhappily housed by dry ponds, but I had trouble finding somewhere to eat lunch, eventually winding up at a Turkish restaurant.

The Roman Theater in Amman

I had a much better time at the National Gallery of Fine Arts, two buildings separated by a small sculpture garden near Abdali bus station. I’m not usually fond of “modern” art, but the works in this collection were not especially abstract, and included art from all over the Muslim world. Pakistani art 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 wondered where the Jordanian artists were until I crossed the garden to the newest building, which contained both more Jordanian artists and more abstract works, with a number featuring caligraphy.

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, including a very glitzy new mall, and finishing with visits with their children.

When their house, large and comfortable, had been built, the area had been pretty empty, but no longer. 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.

I ate my last meal in Jordan at my hotel, up on the top floor, but I also went back to Abu Ahmad for a meal, and once again my taxi driver couldn’t find it. This time, however, 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.

I left Jordan by air for Istanbul – on Royal Jordanian since Turkish Airlines’ flights left very early in the morning. I had thought about taking the bus to the airport, but the stop had been moved from Abdali bus station to some place in the north, or I could¬† pick it up at 6th Circle. Either way I’d need a taxi, so I decided to taxi the whole way – for some reason the airport is a full 35 km south of the city. Canyon Boutique wanted 25 JD for a ride to the airport, but I negotiated a rate of 18 JD with an English-speaking taxi driver I used for a ride in town.

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Where’s My Tour?

Sorry for the hiatus – I came down with a bug. Antibiotics have fixed the sore throat, but not the cough and lack of energy.

October 29-30, 2009: Day 1 of my Explore! tour was October 29th, and I treated myself to a taxi ride back to Amman and the tour hotel, the Toledo, which overlooked the Abdali bus station. Although the front desk staff were very nice, and the sheets and towels were clean, the hotel seemed tired: worn carpet, a bath tub that needed replacing and a toilet that had to be babied to stop it from running. I cared most about the lack of soundproofing. I learned, as expected, that I would have a roommate, so I made sure to only mess up half of the room.

View from Amman's Citadel

Amman is a seriously spread-out city, sprawled over at least seven hills and not designed for walking – or, perhaps, designed at all. Although the first inhabitants in the area arrived around 1800 B.C.E., the present city only dates to the early 20th century, its growth fueled by several waves of Palestinian refugees, and, more recently, an influx of Iraqis. Downtown is gritty rather than old, and the current center of gravity, or at least of money, seems to be in the western suburbs. I did start my explorations downtown, at the dirt-cheap Hashem, popular with locals and backpackers, where I lunched on excellent hummus and falafel, before taking a taxi up to the Citadel. The driver wasn’t happy as it was so close, but it was also uphill.

New dome, old mosque, older columns

The walls that crown the Citadel hill encompassed the remains of a Roman temple and of a Umayyad palace, but I spent most of my time in the National Archaeological Museum, which contained some of the earliest statues of humans ever found, and some of the Dead Sea scrolls. I had seen Dead Sea scrolls, dimly lit, in a special exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, under heavy security, but here there was no security at all, and no effort at controlling the lighting. Then I made the mistake of setting out on foot for the Darat al-Funun, or House of Arts, on the next hill to the west. The downhill stretch was fine, but the shortcut shown on the Lonely Planet map didn’t exist, and I did not enjoy the trek uphill. Nor was the House of Arts worth visiting for the art, although I had a nice chat over coffee with a couple of other travelers.

Fragments of Dead Sea scrolls (at least that's what they say)

When I returned to the hotel I expected to find a notice from the tour company – information on when and where to meet, and helpful hints on Jordan in general and Amman in particular, but I found nothing. No notice in the lobby, no note under my door, no message at the front desk, and no roommate. I might as well not have been on tour. Then, even with help from the hotel staff, I couldn’t find a taxi that would take me to my choice for dinner, the Wild Jordan cafe, run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature and said to have a fine view. Then the taxi that agreed to take me, instead, to the Abu Ahmad Orient Restaurant turned out to have no idea where it was.

After I gave up on the taxi driver, I asked him to drop me at 3rd Circle – in central Amman you navigate by reference to a string of roundabouts – only to discover (thanks to some nice guys sitting outside a barber’s shop) that he had actually dropped me at 2nd Circle. I eventually found the restaurant, and while I missed the view I thoroughly enjoyed the delicious cheese pie appetizers (buraik), spicy tomato salad, and lamb.

My view from the Toledo Hotel - note the church spire across from the King Abdullah mosque

Back at the hotel, still no word from Explore! and still no roommate. I finally remembered that the people using the group air would not arrive until late. I went to sleep in the expectation of being woken up, but in the morning I was still alone. Although there were still no notices posted, the front desk told me the group would meet at 11:00 to go to Jerash. Since the “optional city tour” scheduled for Day 2 apparently didn’t exist, I set off on my own to visit the mosque, the two churches, and the Friday market which were the only sights in walking distance.

The Mosque of the Martyr King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein (assassinated in 1951), almost deserted, impressed me with its tremendous sense of peace, despite its newness. It would no doubt fill up later for the obligatory Friday prayers, but I was surprised to find that both of the nearby churches were already full. It seemed that Sunday services were being held on Friday, in recognition of a differing day of rest. The Coptic Church, with men lined up to receive the Eucharist and their headscarved women seated, was more popular than the Greek Orthodox. The market was a disappointment, all clothes and shoes.

I returned to the hotel with plenty of time for some internet (not free) before 11:00.

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