Amman - 21st to 22nd December 2007
Our time in Amman seemed far too short. The day after our arrival there was a morning tour of the desert castles, but I passed that up in favour of some time exploring on my own.
Our hotel was a long way from the main sights but taking a taxi in Amman proved to be more difficult than I thought. Some taxis don't seem to know where you want to go - one wouldn't take me and another didn't understand my destination.
Having made it to the Citadel, catching up with the tour group, we explored the site. The Citadel is the site of ancient Rabbath-Ammon, and excavations have revealed numerous Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic remains.
The most impressive building of the Citadel, known simply as al-Qasr (the Palace), dates back to the Islamic Umayyad period. Its exact function is unclear, but it includes a monumental gateway, an audience hall and four vaulted chambers. A colonnaded street also runs through the complex. To the north and northeast are the ruins of Umayyad palace grounds.
The huge columns are part of the Temple of Hercules, built during the reign of emperor Marcus Aurelius around 161AD. Much of the stone has been recycled over the ages, but the remains are most impressive.
The Jordan Archaeological Museum is a small museum located at the Citadel that houses an excellent collection of antiquities ranging from prehistoric times to the 15th Century. On the left hand side as you walk up the steps to the museum you can see the hand from a statue of Hercules. My guide book mentioned 'the gigantic hand...' and I was expecting something around 20 feet high, so you can imagine my disappointment when I discovered it was less than two feet high. It's important to remember that many writers are prone to exaggeration and I'll return to this later.
After the tour of the Citadel, our group were visiting the Automobile Museum. Six people decided to explore independently and I tagged along. We made our way down the hill towards the Roman Theatre and many people stopped to say hello and welcome us to Jordan. It was a lovely gesture and indeed many people in Jordan are welcoming and friendly.
From the Theatre we walked to the mosque and into the souk, enjoying the local colour. A friendly trader offered me a Keffiyeh (an Arab headdress) and agal (the circular rope that holds it in place) for 3½ JD and I couldn't resist. You can see me wearing it with the girls below.
From that moment I was given the name Sheik 'n' Steven, and I was charged with leading my people to a decent eatery. Earlier in the day I'd been looking for two places, the Al-Pasha Turkish Bath that I had read about and wanted to visit and the eclectic 'Books@Cafe', a bookstore, internet point and cafe that attracts a cosmopolitan mix of people. Unfortunately my research on the internet had failed to produce reliable information on where exactly Books@Cafe was, but Linda had a Rough Guide to Jordan that marked it clearly on the map. Everyone says that you will find Books@Cafe in Rainbow Street (Abu Bakr as Siddiq) but this simply isn't the case and you will be as frustrated as I was. The cafe is actually to be found on Mango Street (Omar bin al-Khattab). From the British Council building on Rainbow Street head east, a few hundred yards down turn right onto Al Mahmoud Taha, past the baths, then left onto Mango for another few hundred yards. Books@Cafe is on your left.
The unassuming exterior gives no clue to the delights inside. There's a very well stocked English language bookstore and almost hidden stairs leading upstairs to a bar and funky cafe. We found a room with a wild 60's flower mural, black and white striped walls and ceiling, and leather chairs and cushions. It reminded me slightly of the Korova milk bar in A Clockwork Orange. The good food, drink and hilarious conversation that included a discussion of our tour guide's spray on jeans and his potential underwear choices were followed by leisurely browsing through the bookshop.
Everyone else took taxis back to the hotel, so I went to the Al Pasha Turkish Bath or hamman. I'd read that the Al Pasha experience was a two hour delight, but entered with mixed feelings.
On my trip to Istanbul I'd visited the Cagaloglu Hammam, mentioned in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die. Despite some rave reviews my experience was a short 30 minutes and I was left feeling I'd missed something.
I shouldn't have worried. The staff were friendly and helpful, guiding me to the changing room and lockers, and then through a dimly lit room of arches filled with hairy arab men to the steam room. I sat alone with my thoughts, listening the the sounds of arabic conversation echoing outside. I was brought a delicious hibiscus 'slushy' and listened as singing, drumming and clapping floated through the moist heavy air. It was a truly surreal experience. Eventually I was guided to the shower and then told to take a dip in the jacuzzi, that was extremely hot and left me light-headed.
Locals and visiting Saudis joined me in the jacuzz;, then I took another shower and a hairy Jordanian man lay me down on a marble slab and scrubbed my skin all over. Then I was soaped up and rinsed off and taken to another marble slab to be massaged.
After the full body massage I was given a dead sea facial mud mask and told to lie on another hot marble slab for ten or fifteen minutes. Another shower, a rub down with a towel, and I was taken back to the lockers to change.
This certainly was around two hours of the most amazing pampering and left me feeling relaxed and satisfied for a reasonable 22JD. Out in the 'reception' area I had a cool drink and enjoyed the entertainment from a local musician. One of the optional extras was a hookah, or hubbly bubbly, that I tried before taking a taxi back to the hotel. I was very lucky, the taxi driver that had taken the others to the hotel had returned to pick me up!
My visit to Amman had ended on a high and I was looking forward to our trip to Jerash the next morning.