Posted by inka on May 30, 2011 in Day trips
, Travel tips
From some of the comments I received on a recent post, I gather that Jordan is a popular travel destination this year and even the next.
Having visited a few months ago, I thought it might be helpful to compile a mini guide to this fabulous country as well as to provide some tips which might come in handy. I went to visit Jordan shortly before Christmas, so my info is not out of date. Having said that, visa and entry formalities for any country have a tendency to change from one day to another, so make sure you check before you set off. Common sense dictates to also check on the political situation.
When is the best time?
The month of December turned out to be perfect. The weather was warm enough to swim in the Dead Sea but cool enough to make traveling in the desert a pleasure rather than being baked to a crisp. Amman is quite high up, so it’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. As with most destinations, spring and fall are ideal. If you have to visit in the summer just make sure you drink plenty of water and wear clothes which allow a breeze to ventilate.
The biggest advantage of visiting in December was the absence of tourist crowds. Jordan’s most famous site, Petra, gets really, really crowded which will hamper your enjoyment. The canyon leading to the library is narrow and when you are jostled from all sides and have to hop out of the way of horses and carriages for people who can’t walk very well, you can hardly stop and look at all the wonderful sights.
But even in the height of the season there are a few tricks to avoid the masses.
How to get around
There are a multitude of guided tours as well as, rather picturesque, public transport in the form of long distance buses. However, I found that Jordan is one country where it pays to hire a car and driver. I got mine directly at the airport. It was a taxi which took me to my hotel, I got talking with the driver who spoke fluently English, was polite, had a running meter and the price he quoted for a full day. i.e. $120 was acceptable. Calculate on splashing out between $120 and $150 for a day and you have an air conditioned car, driver, body guard, interpreter and private guide all rolled into one. He stopped wherever I wanted, waited when I wanted to see something, in fact, bliss. Distances in Jordan are far and going ‘public’ just takes forever. Hotels will also provide drivers if you don’t find your own.
'My' car in Jordan
Where to stay
You’ll find accommodation for all tastes and budgets in Jordan. I tested the two extremes: low budget hostel and 5 star. The cheap one was, somewhat pretentiously, called Palace Hotel in downtown Amman. There was nothing palatial about the place, very, very basic indeed, with a mattress that gave me back pain and a bathroom of dubious cleanliness and a trickle of water. On the bright side, the lounge was quite cozy and the guests of many nationalities and entertaining. After two nights I had enough of slumming it and spent the third night in the Crowne Plaza. That was more like it and, as it was out of season they gave me a very reasonable rate for a single room with every amenity and luxury imaginable.
Lobby of the Palace Hotel, the best part of the place
The majestic site of Petra does not really need any introduction or description. What I didn’t expect was to find how very vast the entire complex is. If you want to see it all, one day is not enough. You should plan on staying over night, which is no problem as there is plenty of accommodation available for all budgets. The added benefit of spending the night is, that you can make your first visit very early in the morning, just when the site opens and thus have at least one hour or two before the tourist buses arrive. The same applies for late evening, when the majority of guided tours have left.
The library in Petra
Coming out of the canyon in Petra
One of the carriages
You can explore Petra either on foot, on horseback or, if walking is a problem, in small horse drawn carriages. In my opinion, on foot is best. Only by walking can you relive the ohhh…effect of those who discovered the monuments, as is often the case, by chance. There are many details and inscriptions in the carved stones you cannot see and appreciate if you are on horseback. Try not to get lost, believe me, it’s easy to be carried away by all the side alleys, steps, hills and buildings and to lose track of time and orientation. Not to worry though, you’ll always see people climbing around and find your way back.
Spend some time in Amman, to experience a city built in seven circles which runs the gamut from old and very, very Middle East to modern with broad avenues, luxury hotels and designer shops. Climb up to the citadel which overlooks downtown Amman for splendid views and enjoy the beautiful Al Qasr palace within the complex. Amman isn’t as glamorous as Beirut, but it’s a thriving city where old and new live closely together. It’s also a food lover’s paradise with countless coffee houses and restaurants where you simply must try the famous mansaf: lamb, yoghurt and rice. Wine beer and spirits are served, including arak, which is made from licorice.
Amman is a city best explored on foot, so you can walk off the calories that you have piled on sampling the many delicacies of Jordanian cuisine.
Would you believe to find the biggest and best preserved Roman temples, theatres and in fact an entire city in Jordan? Well, you do, so head north from Amman to Jerrash and explore another chance discovery. Like Petra, Jerrash, buried under sand for many centuries due to an earthquake, was rediscovered by a lone traveler who saw something interesting stick out of the sand. Admire Hadrian’s arch, walk along the ancient streets lined with shops, houses, bath and everything else the ancient Romans couldn’t live without and, if you fancy, watch the enactment of a chariot race. A touch of Disney in Jordan, but why not? That’s an entire daytrip, if your base is in Amman, so you can see, why it’s advisable to go by private car.
Hadrian's arch Jerrash
Perfectly preserved columns
Watch the chariot race!
Another daytrip from Amman is a drive to the Dead Sea. You really can’t not take a dip when in Jordan. There are several resorts along the better part of the Dead Sea, but there is a public beach too, called Amman Beach. For an admission of approx. $15 you can change, get a towel, use one of the three pools and make your way down to the beach for your Dead Sea experience. Make sure you wear swim shoes when going inot the water. The shoals and crystals are very sharp and you can easily cut your feet. Personally, I didn’t like it. The water does indeed carry you, so you can’t swim, only lie on your back and wait that you the water pushes you back to shore. No sand beach, only pebbles and the salt makes your skin very sticky. Then there is the famous Dead Sea mud that people like to cover themselves with. Not for me either, but all that is a question of personal taste and an experience not to be missed.
Amman Beach Dead Sea
Play in the mud if you must!
This is one trip I didn’t have time to go on but one of the reasons why I will rev-visit. Castles, canyons, rocks, desert, an extremely fascinating landscape only accessible by four wheel drive and with a guide. Tours include camping out over night in the desert, gazing at the stars. It doesn#t get any more romantic than that.
There I much more to see and do in Jordan, a relatively small country which has a lot to offer. Friendly people who appreciate visitors because without the revenue from tourism Jordan would be a lot poorer than she is and her people know that.
Have plenty of cash in local currency and US dollars and don’t stint on tips and you’ll have made friends for life.
I firmly believe that if you are destined to visit a certain destination on our planet, you will. Sooner or later and maybe in a roundabout way, but you will eventually get there. Proof of this belief is my upcoming trip to the southeast of Turkey and to Hassankeyf. Here is the story.
I visit Istanbul often and every time I try to find something new. Over a year ago, the owner of the little hotel in Sultanahmed where I usually stay, told me about a lesser know museum, the Rezan Has at the Golden Horn. Rezan and Kadir Has were very wealthy Turkish entrepreneurs who dedicated a good chunk of their fortune to education and culture. Kadir Has founded a private university which has achieved high prestige and his wife Rezan was an avid collector of artifacts.
The university is located at the Golden Horn not far from the Galata Bridge and the museum forms part of it. It was established in what was once a tobacco factory, the remains of which can still be seen, together with the eclectic exhibits, because Rezan collected everything which was beautiful and steeped in history. Don’t miss to visit the museum when you have some spare time in Istanbul.
Resan Has Museum Istanbul
She had also a heart for modern Turkish artists and photographers and one huge room at the ground floor showcases changing exhibitions of photography. And that’ where I came upon breathtaking pictures of Hassankeyf and the controversial dam which is being built and will make a lot of the ancient monuments disappear under water. I remember thinking, that, one day, I would very much like to see it. Then, other travel plans came along, I went to the Lebanon, Jordan, Sharjah, Dubai, Europe and Hassankeyf slipped from my mind.
Until, a few weeks ago, I was on a flight with Turkish Airlines from Athens to Istanbul and picked up their fabulous in flight magazine. What should I see? An article about Urfa, Mardin and Hassankeyf, with some of the same photographs I had so admired over a year ago. And my mind was made up. I was meant to go there and that’s exactly what I’m doing at the beginning of next week.
There are no coincidences in our life, so, if you think that there is a place you really, really want to see, know that one of these days you will.
Maybe it’s not the most glamorous trip I have ever undertaken, but certainly one which makes me jump with excitement. On Tuesday I’m off to the extreme South East of Turkey close to the border with Syria. What I’m going to see is Mesopotamia and some parts of the legendary rivers Tigris and Euphrates. These names alone make my eyes dreamy and my imagination spin. I mean, stepping onto the soil which is the very cradle of civilization, who wouldn’t be excited?
It’s quite an expedition too, as the areas I’m going to visit are definitely not on the ‘must see’ itinerary of most visitors to Turkey. Everybody has heard about Cappadocia, but, do Mardin, Urfa and Hassankeyf ring a bell? I thought so and that’s why I am going.
As usual, my preferred means of transport is by coach and that’s a 22 hour ride from where I live to Mardin via Ankara, Konya and much more, about 2/3 during daylight which is good, so I can see where I’m going.
All I’ve booked so far by way of accommodation is the beautiful Zinciriye Hotel in Mardin, located in one of the old stone houses. Mardin itself combines influences of many cultures and from there you can overlook Mesopotamia and Syria.
Next stop is Hassankeyf, an ancient city on the shores of the river Tigris. A bridge, a fine example of medieval architecture spans the water, palaces are to be seen as are caves in the surrounding mountains. All of these wonderful sights are in danger of disappearing under the waters of the Ilisu Dam, once the project is completed, so it’s now or never to go and see.
That’s actually the furthest east I’m heading before turning around and back to Urfa, another wonderful city, home of the most skilled filigree silver and goldsmiths and of the sacred fish. According to legend, Nimrod had Abraham immolated on a funeral pyre, but God intervened, turning the fire into water and the wood and coals into fish which are still swimming in the sacred pool at the pilgrimage area.
Apart from history, religion and architecture there is the famous cuisine to be sampled, a mixture of Turkish and Arabic influences with a great variety of kebabs, so the glamour granny will throw calorie counting in the wind and indulge in a feeding frenzy.
I continue in a western direction towards Tarsus and Erdemli with a thick folder of what to do and see, provide by a Turkish friend with a bottomless knowledge of history and culture. Given that on the 18th of June I am headed for Athens , I will have to decide when and how to embark on my return journey to Didim, to give me a few days at home to freshen up and repack. But all in all, an exciting summer lies ahead and I can’t wait to take tons of pictures and write all the stories that are waiting to be told about great cultures and ancient lands.
Photogrpah from wikipedia
Posted by inka on May 26, 2011 in Jordan
, Middle East
, Travel tips
There are a few countries which I have visited and decided on the spot to come back to at a later date to take a closer look. Jordan is definitely one of them. Using my extended stay in Beirut as a base, I made forays into neighboring countries, among the Jordan.
My delight started already at the airport in Amman: never have I whizzed through immigration as fast as there. Show passport, hand over visa fee, get stamp and a big smile: Welcome to Jordan. Indeed, I felt like an appreciated guest.
Taxi with working meter, English speaking driver who knew exactly where I wanted to go, more friendly smiles and I appointed Hani as my driver for the next three days.
Meet Hani, my driver in Jordan
He took me to Petra ,Jerrash, around Amman, the Dead Sea and only regretted that I didn’t have time for an adventure in Wadi Rum, one of the reasons why I need to come back.
My favorite picture of Petra
Hadrian's arch in Jerrash
Dead Sea beach resort
On our way from Amman to the Dead Sea, Hani insisted on making a detour to Mount Nebo and climbing up to the monument which commemorates the biblical place where God led Moses and revealed before his eyes the Holy and Promised Land. Moses looked..and then he died.
Desert all around and the road to the Dead Sea
View of the Holy Land
It’s difficult to describe what I felt when I stood there, on the top of a ridge 2800 feet above sea level, gazing out at the panorama of Israel. They say, that on a clear day you can even see Jerusalem. I didn’t and what I saw was terribly bleak, dry, rocky and anything but fertile. I couldn’t help but ruminating what Moses might have felt at the sight or his people who followed him out of Egypt through dangers, hunger, thirst to be rewarded with a glimpse of what had been promised to them by God. Was he disappointed, did he doubt God?
We don’t know, but Mount Nebo has a certain air of mystery about it. It’s become a place of worship and pilgrimage and, although quite a few visitors were around, everybody was silent and quite in awe of standing on such a sacred spot. On that very day, I was hell bound on experiencing floating in the Dead Sea, but I’m pleased Hani took me to Mount Nebo.
Posted by inka on May 25, 2011 in guest posts
, Luxury hotels
, Travel tips
You CAN get Good Quality Hotels on a Budget
Low prices don’t have to mean low quality: there are plenty of cheaper hotels around the world that punch above their weight, facilities- and service-wise. Below, we go through our four favourite glitzy and glamorous cities and show our favourite cheap hotel in each – all high quality, all affordable.
Image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/graimaker/2854321784/
A city where skyscrapers rub shoulders with Buddhist temples, Bangkok is a mix of the cutting edge and the traditional. Avoid the murderously grid-locked streets and zip about by BTS sky train – top places to go include the stunning Grand Palace & Wat Prakeaw with its Buddha statue carved from a block of emerald, and the floating market in Damnoen Saduak.
Cheap hotel in Bangkok: 20 minutes from Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok Natural Resort and Spa is the perfect place to relax and unwind in this hectic city. With over 100 treatment rooms and everything from aromatherapy massages to steam rooms to a hair salon you’re sure to check out feeling rejuvenated. Rooms start at £33.22pppn.
Image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/iks_berto/3409013075/
Gothic and Renaissance churches dominate the skyline in Prague, an atmospheric and cultural city to escape to on a weekend away. Check out the Charles Bridge (lined with saints’ statues and old-style lanterns), the town hall’s Astronomical Clock and Prague Castle, the largest ancient castle in the world, for a real slice of the historic city.
Cheap Hotel in Prague: One of the largest hotels in Europe, Top Hotel Prague Leisure Center sits a half-hour journey from the city centre and has a complete package of leisure facilities under one roof. There are three restaurants, a bar with summer and winter gardens and a sports bar. There’s also a wellness centre with pool, steam room, massage room and tennis courts. Rooms start at £11.39pppn, with an additional charge for use of the leisure centre.
An assault on the senses, Marrakech is loud, colourful and hectic. There’s plenty to see and do, from a stroll around the lively Djemma el Fna square to the relative peace and quiet of the Marjorelle gardens. The famous souqs are north of Djemma el Fna and are divided into sections for different goods – eg spices, leather, jewellery and so on. Prepare to get lost, and to haggle!
Cheap Hotel in Marrakech: Ryad Mogador Agdal has it all: the lovely, palatial building holds a spa, two restaurants and luxurious rooms, plus there’s a huge outdoor pool and gardens. With views of the Atlas Mountains and the airport a ten-minute drive away, you’re in a convenient yet lovely location too. The city is 20 minutes away, so it’s great for daytrips to the souks, too. Rooms start at £34.18pppn.
The sunshine-y Portuguese capital sits on the Atlantic coast and has several beautiful buildings to explore. Among them are the Belem Tower, a Moorish-style watchtower at the harbour entrance and the city’s greatest symbol, and the World Heritage-listed 16th century Jeronimos Monastery. For great bars, restaurants and clubs, head to the Bairro Alto after dark.
Lisbon Cheap Hotel: The super-stylish VIP Grand Lisboa Hotel & Spa offers lovely, modern rooms and a city-centre location. There’s a gourmet restaurant, a trendy cocktail bar and a spa with everything from a Turkish hammam to an ice fountain. Rooms start at £56.96pppn.
About our guest contributor: Isabel Clift is a writer for AnyTrip.com, the travel-booking specialists. She lives in London, and loves to take city-breaks in Europe whenever possible – her favourite cheap destinations for a long weekend are Berlin and Budapest.
This is a sponsored post from AnyTrip.com