Monday, 13 May 2019

Amman day two

Amman is a town of stairs. This was evident on day one when we arrived at the hotel, then when we had a bite to eat in a cafe in the old town (downtown). Yesterday it was obvious again when I followed my nose in an effort to find the Roman ruin that is located on the top of one of Amman’s hills, behind the downtown district. It was early when we set out after breakfast and as we were walking east along the main street I saw some stairs heading north, so we took them.

We kept on going up and up on one flight after another until, eventually, the stairs gave out and there was only a well-trod path through some weeds where a cat was wandering. I followed the cat and we came out at another set of stairs, then continued up the hill until we came to where the Temple of Hercules is situated, or at least the ruins that are left of it.

After taking some photos a man came along and said we had to buy a ticket. We went first to a museum on the site and had a look around the exhibits, which are housed in a series of glass display cases. There are labels that inform visitors about the objects they are viewing. The objects date from earliest times, and there are Neolithic and Greek and Roman and Arabic objects on show. Having spent about 30 minutes inside we headed out and went east to the entry, where we dutifully bought tickets. The path we had taken had been signposted and although we had arrived by an unorthodox route we were still just following indicators to get to the top of the hill.

Outside, we got in a cab and the driver, whose name was Waleed Abu Khaled, asked where we wanted to go. My travelling companion wanted some sunscreen so Waleed took us to a shop near the Blue Mosque that had overpriced cosmetics for sale. The asking price was 35JD for a tube of sunscreen and we didn’t like that so we went to a pharmacy across the street and got a different brand of similar cream for 18JD. Waleed took us back to downtown and dropped us off near the cafe we had used previously but they would not open until 1pm so we headed back toward the hotel and bought some plastic slippers for the bathroom for JD5, then spent some time in a clothing shop, where I bought a scarf for my daughter for 15JD. The sales clerk spoke some words of English and we used his smartphone to translate sentences that were too demanding for our combined knowledge.

Closer to the hotel we stopped for lunch at the Rome Pizza shop in the Pasha Hotel. We ate lamb kebabs with French fries. After eating and paying (15JD) we bought a map for 1JD and sat down to read it. There were also some other maps printed in black and white on sheets of A4 paper that the hotel was giving away so we took one of these then headed back to the hotel to rest. After lying down for a while I took my laundry to the front desk and paid 5JD to have two days’ worth of washing done; the pickup is the next day.

We headed out after that and went to the currency exchange shop where I converted some more US dollars into Jordanian dinars. This time the rate was better (1JD for 75 US cents) so instead of US$600 converting to 320JD as had happened at Abu Dhabi airport, I exchanged US$500 to 350JD. We then went into a spice shop in an effort to get to Rainbow Street, which has been praised online. In the shop a woman of about 55 overheard the question I asked the sales clerk and offered to drive us there. Her husband was waiting nearby with the family car and they were on their way home; they lived in that street.

We walked up Masman Street through the traffic and got into a Lexus SUV. Along with the woman, who wore a hijab, there was a young girl aged 16 with black skin who had also been in the shop. The girl got in the back and we piled in after her, then we took off and headed up a hill in a westerly direction, going along one street and then the next until we arrived at our destination. The woman and her husband (whose name was Riyal) took us along the street, the woman talking all the time, as she had done since we got into the car, in her excellent English. Then we circled back and they dropped us off at the kerb.

We headed down the street in an easterly direction and dropped into a cafe to have a drink. The waiter who came to greet us asked us to sit inside as it was Ramadan, and we got to a table at the back of the restaurant. The place was named Cafe Nara and it had big flat screens on the wall that were showing a man in a traditional Jordanian headdress talking to the camera. He looked like a politician. He sat on a big chair in a comfortable room with a fireplace. Between the screens was a big image of a can of Monster-brand soft drink with green lighting illuminating its edges. More branded images were on other walls in the cafe. When I had paid (9JD) the waiter who had shown us to our table proceeded to raise the blinds that had been closed while we were in the shop. We set off along the street in an easterly direction.

In a shop further along the street we stopped and I bought an embroidered religious icon for my daughter with metal crosses attached to it. The street goes flat for a period of time and there is a lookout where you can take a seat on public benches and rest in front of the hilly landscape. Two tourist police were moping about idly near their little hut and women wearing full-length coverings were sitting on one of the benches. When the street starts to descend the hill toward the downtown area there are larger houses, some of which are dilapidated. One of them had a large sign out the front telling passersby that it was a heritage house restoration being paid for by the Greater Amman Municipality. The building behind the sign looked like a construction site and the walls were bare render. Two of the upstairs windows had no glass yet. On a side street was a cafe that had “No pruit left alive” written on the side as part of an illustration.

We made our way down a very steep hill to a very busy street and asked for directions and turned left (northeast) toward the downtown area. At the vege market that we had seen empty early in the day we had a look around then we stopped by the gate of a Roman ruin next door. A man with some missing teeth came up to us and opened the gate, inviting us in. He said he was the guard or the gardener, it wasn’t clear, but we stopped for about 15 minutes looking at the stone ruins and taking photos. There were numerous stray cats in the ruins as there had been in the morning at the Temple of Hercules. When we were about to leave he was standing in the middle of the compound and he asked if I had a tip. I gave him 1JD.

We made our way back toward the hotel and stopped by at the Pasha Hotel to eat dinner. I ordered the first beer I had had in Amman, a “Petra” brand brew that they asked if they could bring out in a cup because of Ramadan. It emerged eventually in a ceramic mug with a handle and it was very sweet and malty. The food we ordered was mansaf with lamb (a kind of stew that comes with Basmati rice on the side), kifteh (mince beef with tomato on top), and a dish named zeid zatar (or "poor man’s food") made from olive oil, sesame, zatar (a kind of herb that grows in the mountains), and vinegar. This last item is a dip and it was given to us on the house by the hotel owner, who happened to take a table with his companions next to us. We also had a Greek salad and a bowl of cream of mushroom soup.

We had met the same man earlier in the day when we bought the map. At that time, he had been playing with a chipmunk named Halloumi and seemed very friendly. Now, we found out how friendly he really was. He told us that he had lived in Perth for a while. He also complained about the Dead Sea which, he said, used to be replenished by the Jordan River. Now, however, he went on, Israel was taking all the water out of the river (for their swimming pools, he added for dramatic effect) and the Dead Sea was shrinking. He spoke excellent English and was voluble and kind. The meal came to 29JD.

Above: A man bringing onions and garlic to the vege market in downtown.

Above: A man with his beans on a stand in the vege market.

Above: The temple of Hercules on top of the hill above downtown. Known locally as the "Citadel".

Above: In the museum near the ruins are examples of bottles and other artefacts. These bottles are second-century AD.

Above: A lamp. I didn't get the label to tell you when this one was made.

Above: A Renaissance Turkish cannon with Arabic writing cast in its body.

Above: Iron age pottery coffins from about 1000BC.

Above: Neolithic plastered skull.

Above: the cappuccino I had on Rainbow Street in the Nara Cafe.

Above: The view from the Rainbow Street lookout. Looking east over downtown.

Above: A dilapidated but beautiful house on Rainbow Street.

Above: First-century AD Roman nymphaeum, a kind of spring outlet for supplying water to the old community when the town was known as Philadelphia.

Above: Olives and pickles for sale in the vege market.

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