Hubbly bubbly

Peter and I arrived in Amman, Jordan last Wednesday night. Both our London-Frankfurt and Frankfurt-Amman flights were fairly empty which I very much appreciated, especially on the four-hour haul from Frankfurt to Amman. Our flights were uneventful until we reached Israeli airspace, during which time we were required to open the window blinds and remain seated with our seatbelts fastened as these are mandated by the Israeli government.

The Amman airport was rebuilt in March 2013 and is somewhat small. I was surprised at how small it was but then again, Jordan is a small country by both size and population.

Approximately six million people live in Jordan with 2.5 million living in the capital city of Amman (pronounced “ah-maan”). The tourist visa fee to enter Jordan (for American passport holders) is 40 Jordanian Dinar (“JD”) which, at the time of writing, is approximately $60.

Jordan’s visa fee is the second most expensive visa fee we’ve had to pay; Russia’s visa fee was the most expensive. The physical visa stamp/receipt for Jordan was unique. They literally stuck postage-style stamps in our passports which makes me wonder if, back in the day, all countries used postage-style stickers/stamps versus ink stamps. Other countries use stickers but this was the first time I’ve seen postage-style ones. Anyway, each Jordanian stamp represented a receipt for the value of 20 JD.

In the photo below, all stamps on the right-hand page were from our visit to Jordan. On the left-hand page, the cloud-shape stamp was also from our visit to Jordan and the remaining three stamps were from our visit to Dubai in 2013.

On a side note, below is a side view of my passport. My passport is three times the thickness of a standard passport and it’s now starting to look and feel worn which is awesome! When I see other passports at airports and such, I’m always amazed at how thin, stiff and pristine they look.

After we got through immigration, we swung by Starbucks, met our driver in the arrivals hall and then drove a very slow 45 minutes to our hotel. It was dark when we arrived in Amman but the hilly landscape reminded me of Istanbul, Turkey. Amman was originally built on seven hills but now spans 20 hills and when I say hills, I mean San Francisco type hills. Sometimes I forget how flat London is. I also forget how green London is with all the parks, trees and shrubbery. Amman is khaki and dusty.

The flag pole in the above photo was erected on June 10, 2003, as the tallest in the world. It was erected to celebrate the Great Arab Revolt and Jordanian Army Day. It stands 126.8 m / 416 ft tall and the flag measures 60 x 100 m / 197 x 328 ft. In short, the flag is massive.

I asked our driver, Rad, why all the buildings in Amman looked half-finished. Buildings would be missing windows or would have a portion of missing a roof or were not painted. Every building was half-finished!

Rad explained that property tax is only paid on properties that are considered finished. To get around paying property tax, owners never finish construction. Rad then pointed out the big tanks on the rooftops of the buildings and explained that “water from the pipe” is stored in those tanks. I asked if it was safe to drink “water from the pipe” (aka tap water) and he stated that it was not safe and that water from the pipe is only used for cooking, cleaning, and bathing.

A couple other interesting tidbits that we learned from Rad:

  • He started learning English in school when he was 12. Children now learn English around age five.
  • The top two industries in Jordan pertain to mineral exports (phosphates and potash) and the third industry is tourism.

Since I’m on the topic of drinking, Jordan is primarily a Muslim country, therefore, alcohol is sparse. Western-owned hotels sell alcohol but it is incredibly expensive. A glass of Absolut vodka (not sure what a “glass” means) at the Grand Hyatt Amman carried the hefty price of 14 JD which, at the time of writing, is equal £14 / $21. I’d read that there were bars located on Rainbow Street (the main “going out” street), however, Peter and I walked the length of Rainbow Street and we did not see any bars. We did, however, see plenty of hubbly bubbly (hookah) cafes. Hookah smells horrible! I can’t stand it!

I felt slightly uncomfortable walking on Rainbow Street as we stuck out like a sore thumb. Men were pointing and staring and I do not think I would have felt comfortable walking around alone, or even with a group of female friends, even though this area of town is considered to be safe.

Continuing on the topic of drinking, there is an interesting “to go/drive-thru coffee” phenomenon in Jordan. Coffee shops are typically super small shops or even just kiosks on the sidewalk. As we drove through Amman on the morning of our first full day, I noticed men running from the coffee shop/kiosk with cups of coffee and delivering the coffee to drivers waiting in their cars at traffic lights or who had pulled over to the curb.

I asked Rad what the deal was with the “coffee runners” and he explained that it was the Jordanian version of take-away coffee. Drivers make eye contact with the coffee runner and then order his/her coffee by way of sign language. The coffee runner relays the message to the barista who then makes the coffee and then the coffee runner delivers the coffee to the driver. For as unorganized as Jordan appeared to be, their take-away coffee business runs like clockwork!

Our time in Amman was limited even though we spent two nights there (the first and last nights of our trip) but we packed in as much as we could while there. At a high level, our trip unfolded like this:

  • Arrive and overnight stay in Amman
  • Amman city tour, drive to the Dead Sea and overnight stay at the Dead Sea
  • Drive to Petra, visit Petra and overnight stay in Petra
  • Drive to Wadi Rum, desert tour in a 4×4, drive to Amman and overnight stay in Amman
  • Drive to Jerash, visit a castle, tour Jerash, drive to the airport, and depart for the UK

Do you see the common thread up there? It comes in the form of the word “drive.”

Our Amman city tour included touring the Amman Citadel and the Roman Theatre and then driving through the “Beverly Hills” of Amman and going through the Starbucks drive-thru.

Peter told me that I once said that I could live anywhere for a year. Either I had way too much to drink one night and spewed that bullshit out of my mouth or he’s incorrectly remembering a similar statement I made after our trip to Dubai in 2013 when I said, “I could live in Dubai for six months.” I think Peter’s brain translated that statement to be “I could live anywhere for one year.”

Here’s the deal. Even though I could live in Amman, I would not want to live in Amman. Not even in the Beverly Hills of Amman near the US embassy (second largest US embassy in the Middle East) with all the billions of US military expats, Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, and P.F. Changs. It’s not that Amman is so terrible that I wouldn’t want to live there, it’s just that it’s an uncomfortable culture for me. I feel the same way about Russia.

I think it has something to do with their non-Latin alphabets (Cyrillic and Arabic) and, therefore, not being able to read anything. Even when I visit countries that speak a language other than English (i.e. Spain), letters on signs are still familiar to me and over the course of any vacation, I start memorizing words such as open, closed, days of the week, push, pull, exit. Words like these go a long way helping navigate an unknown city and I can’t do this with signage written using non-Latin alphabets. So I always feel lost and clueless and very foreign and out-of-place.

The Amman Citadel is located on top of one of the original seven hills of Amman. The site is very well-preserved given it’s in the middle of a city with a population of 2.5 million and visitors are allowed to climb on and touch anything and everything in the site. Archaeologists have been working on-and-off at the site since the 1920s but must of the site remains unexcavated.

Below are some photos of the expansive Amman Citadel.

The Roman theatre nearby seats 6,000 people and is still used today. Did you know that the difference between an amphitheater and a theatre is that an amphitheater is a full circle whereas a theatre is a half-circle, or at least that was the definition back in Roman times.

Below are some photos of the Roman theatre in Amman.

In every Roman theatre, there is a specific spot on the floor (marked in some fashion) in front of the stage where, when a person stands there and speaks, it sounds as though they are speaking into a microphone. If you ever visit a Roman theatre and you see people vying over a tiny spot on the floor, this is why. I’ll write more on this in my post regarding Jerash but I’ve noted the spot on the floor of this theatre in the photo below.

The “microphone” spot is noted by a circular decoration embedded on the paved floor.

Here’s a video of what it’s like to be surrounded by children in a Roman theatre.

After our tour of the Citadel and the Roman theatre, we hopped in the car and our driver aggressively drove us to the Dead Sea which took about 40 minutes. Peter slept a good majority of the drive. I marveled at the extreme amount of litter along the road. I thought Nairobi was very littered but the entire country of Jordan is full of litter which makes Nairobi seem pristine.

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