Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Amman day three

This day brought more surprises and helped me to clarify my ideas about this country, tentative as those must be due to the tiny slice of time I have spent here. But by the next morning I felt that I could say I had learned enough about the city of four million people to be able to recommend it to a friend or colleague as a travel destination.

We started out on the day poorly because we asked the people at reception what time the Jordan Museum would open. They said 8am so after breakfast we piled in a taxi and headed west on Hashemi Street. The guy driving spoke no English so we had to use Google Translate to produce the script we needed to tell him where to go. He took us along the main drag of the old town and then we got swallowed up by traffic. He stopped at the back entrance of the museum but the guard said he couldn’t drop us off there, so we drove around to the front. We still had over an hour to wait though because the guard at the front entrance told us the opening time was 10am.

We went for a stroll in a plaza that had trees and benches. There was a big government building operated, part of the sign that was legible said (there was something leaning against it), by the Amman Municipality. At the parking area a bus dropped off a group of women with small children and they dutifully traipsed into the building. We asked a woman walking past what the building contained and she told us. She also said that the place has a child-care centre in it, so mothers with children can work there. We had seen them arrive. The woman then said that her sister organises tours, so if we were interested she would talk with her. We politely declined.

This reminded me of the woman who had driven us to Rainbow Street the day before. That woman had told us her brother operates apartments for tourists to use, and by the next day I surmised that this was probably the principal reason for her to help us.

We strolled around and looked at a row of flowering trees. One of them had an enormous bee, about three times the size of a European honey bee, pollinating it. Further along were mulberry bushes, some of which were fruiting, so they had already been pollinated. We mooched around then at the allocated time fronted up to the entrance, where there was the obligatory security scanner and a detector gate to walk through. We bought tickets (5JD) and walked inside the building where a woman talking on her phone checked our tickets with a scanner.

The displays themselves were hard-working and a lot better than the ones we had seen two days earlier at the museum next to the ruin of the Temple of Hercules. It took us about an hour to get through all of them. There was a room where the history of writing was given a stab, and here you could put your name into a computer terminal and get a printout with it written in Aramaic script, Nabataean script, Greek script, Arabic script and of course in Roman letters. This would be fun for children but we didn’t see any of those. There was a big party of French tourists who were neatly dressed and very short in stature.

Outside, we got in a cab that was waiting by the kerb. It was driven by a man named Sharif Khalil Odeh and he took us to a restaurant near Rainbow Street that was open during Ramadan for tourists. He was very helpful but he also tried to sell us a trip to Petra, which was again politely declined. I got his card and he wrote out his Whatsapp number on it (this application seems to be the preferred method of contacting Jordanian taxi drivers). He didn’t overcharge us a lot and the trip came to 5JD.

In the building he dropped us off at we went downstairs to the restaurant and ordered food. I had a burger and we shared a delicious salad made from lettuce and baby tomatoes and halloumi. It had a pomegranate dressing and the meal for two came to 26.2JD. We both used the toilet while we were there but later as we were walking along the street looking at the houses and the bougainvillea, jasmine, and honeysuckle that grow there, the urge to obey nature came over me again and I had to go into a building near the west end of the street.

Here, a man told me the toilet was on the first floor and I went upstairs, where I saw a man entering a doorway with Arabic script over it. I followed and entered a cubicle past him that had a Japanese-style benjo (hole-in-the-floor) toilet. There was also a red plastic pitcher and a tap. There was no toilet paper but there was a container of used tissues that had been scrunched up and thrown into it, standing in the corner.

I did the business after taking my wallet and phone out of my pockets and then used some of the tissues to clean up. Then I realised there was no flush mechanism, so I filled the pitcher with water and threw that into the hole to take away the waste. I washed my hands out in the front room using soap and water but there was nothing to dry them with.

On the street we headed east down a steep hill. On the way a very dirty white cat with blue eyes tried to get us to pat it but it wasn’t very inviting to be honest. We stopped off at the cafe we had used the first day, the Afra Restaurant and Cafe, and had some juice and water. They often in cafes give you a bottle of water before you order. The tab came to 9JD then we went outside and a young man asked us if we wanted a taxi. Unfortunately, I said yes and so we piled in and headed off northeast along a street that climbed and climbed with no place to turn right. All the while I was getting more and more annoyed.

I spoke with the driver on a couple of occasions and he said the traffic was bad because during Ramadan people leave work early to go home. He said other things but I was really angry by the time we reached our street and when I asked him how much the fare was he didn’t take the 10JD (very steep) he asked for and instead got out to open the door for me. I gave him the note as I was passing him and my travelling companion and I walked along the footpath toward the hotel, which was nearby. I looked to my left and saw he was tracking us in his car and talking on his phone while looking at us. I felt alarm and we went inside the hotel compound (which has a security gate and a buzzer that you need to use to get in from the street).

In the room I was still rattled and then decided to go and get a beer. I walked to the Pasha Hotel where we had eaten twice before and asked the guy at the front desk if I could drink a beer. He said to get in the lift and go up to the fifth floor, then walk up to the sixth. The flight of stairs had walls covered in graffiti that had been made by people from all over the world. I asked the guy I saw near the top of the stairs if I could have a beer and he said, “Sure.” He showed me to a table and I sat down facing east and ordered a bottle of Petra.

The other day the hotel owner had said that he had animals other than his chipmunk, and on this day I saw them. Ducks, chickens, a rabbit and a guinea pig trotted peacefully around the roof of the building between the feet of visitors seated at tables there. The wifi password was “savethetrees”. The tab came to 6.3JD.

Having calmed down I went back to the hotel and lay down for a while. We went out a bit later and because of the trip to Petra we had planned I got some more dinars from the money exchange office, then we went off west along the main drag, browsing in the shops and on the tables set out on the footpaths. This part of the area is less commercial than the east end, and is where locals seem to shop.

Back at the hotel we got ready to go out then caught a taxi to Boulevard Abdeli Mall, which is in another part of the city. The driver spoke excellent English and didn’t rip us off: the fare came to 1.5JD. At the shopping centre there was a security scanner to go through and beyond that there was a row of restaurants on either side of a pedestrian mall. Further on, a stage had been set up. We went upstairs to where a souk had been prepared that would be showing people different goods at a later hour then went back and went through a security scanner to get into a restaurant named Cafe Italia. A man in a neat black suit used a metal detector to check my torso.

We had a conversation with the waiter and sat down and ordered drinks. I ordered mineral water and a frozen peppermint chocolate. Until 9.30pm you could not order food. The drinks came and then after a while a waiter brought the menus again and we ordered some pasta. When it came we ate (26.4JD) and then left to see the performance. On-stage were an assortment of musicians and we found seats in the crowd sitting on the raked incline. The group was made up of 13 people. There was a man playing bongos, one with a set of drums, two with acoustic guitars (one of whom also did backup vocals), a man with a zither, a violinist, a flautist (the band lead), a man on the keyboard, a lead singer (male), and three women doing backup vocals.

We listened to two songs then left to see the souk, which had become populated by this time. When we left, we got in a taxi and the driver took off rapidly, doing what Jordanian drivers often do: tailgating at speed. People also don’t indicate when they change lanes and lanes are often not respected. This driver took us back to our hotel and by the time we arrived there we were very glad to get out and walk the final few metres to the front gate, where we used the buzzer to get inside the compound. At least he charged us a proper rate of 1.95JD for the trip.

Above: A pink-and-white flowering tree near the Amman Municipality offices next door to the Jordan Museum.

Above: A mulberry tree in the Amman Municipality offices grounds.

Above: A 7000BC plaster statue the meaning of which no-one knows.

Above: Grafitti near Rainbow Street, Amman.

Above: The limestone cliff we saw on the walk down from Rainbow Street to downtown.

Above: Social media cups on sale in downtown. 

Above: A sweet shop in downtown.

Above: A cannon used in the 1940s to announce the end of fasting on days during Ramadan. It makes a suitably militaristic statement in Boulevard Abdeli Mall.

Above: Boulevard Abdeli Mall.

Above: A Burj Khalifa Dubai woven tapestry in the souk at Boulevard Abdeli Mall.

Above: The crowd watching the performance at Boulevard Abdeli Mall.

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