All about Jordan: Part II

DISCOVER ALL ABOUT JORDAN: PART I

Wadi Rum Desert

Jordan has nine nature reserves and one protected area, Wadi Rum. The latter is a beautiful desert inhabited since prehistoric times and the Bedouin heartland where a few hundred still live a semi-nomadic life. Wadi Rum may be best known for its connection to T. E. Lawrence, most widely known as Lawrence of Arabia, who passed through several times during the Arab Revolt. The quite impressive “alien” landscape of Wadi Rum has served as the backdrop for various films such as “The Martian”, “Prometheus” and of course 1960’s classic “Lawrence of Arabia”. The spectacular Wadi Rum will blow your mind since it’s essentially untouched by humans, with monolithic rockscapes rising up from the desert floor to the sky, long canyons, 4000-year-old rock-drawings and of course sand dunes and camel caravans. The best bit is that Wadi Rum is far less crowded than Petra, which makes it a truly peaceful escape and a good chance to get in touch with nature and get as close as possible to traditional Bedouin life as you can.

There are quite a few options for exploring Wadi Rum. Visitors can book the preferred activities at the Visitors Centre, book everything in advance directly with the various Bedouin camps (online) or alternatively through a tour operator. In all three options you will be able to hire a 4x4 vehicle (or a camel), together with a driver/guide to explore the desert’s most famous sites and/or stay in one of the Bedouin camps. If you choose to stay in one of the camps you have the choice of sleeping in a tent, a little hut or simply in a sleeping bag under the stars. The choice is yours and there is a camp for every budget. Your Bedouin hosts will take care of everything for you, including a traditional homemade meal. The local dish usually served is “Zarb”, a Bedouin barbeque feast that is cooked underground for many hours and is enjoyed around the camp fire together with your friendly hosts.

There are several attractions in Wadi Rum to be visited and your tour can take from some hours to a full day. The most popular ones are the Umm Fruth Rock Bridge (one of the many natural rock bridges of the area), Makharas Canyon, the Seven Pillars of Wisdom (a large rock formation named in honour of the Lawrence of Arabia book) and the nearby Alameleh Inscriptions, Siq Umm Tawaqi (a canyon where the locals have carved the faces of Lawrence and two other important figures of the Arab Revolt), the remains of Lawrence House, Lawrence Spring, Barrah Canyon, the Mushroom rock and Al Hasany Dunes.

Dead Sea

This place should go on top of your list of places you need to see before you die because as scientists predicted, the rapidly shrinking Dead Sea will disappear by 2050. At the lowest point on earth - 430m below sea level - the Dead Sea is a landlocked body of water 10 times saltier than the ocean and the therapeutic benefits of its water and dark mud have been exploited and attracted visitors since antiquity. Actually, researchers have discovered that the Dead Sea can help treat an array of illnesses ranging from arthritis and chronic back pain to psoriasis and even heart problems.

The best and safest way to engage with the healing properties of its warm waters is by visiting Amman Beach, a public beach with umbrellas, showers, a restaurant and drink stalls, or by booking a night stay in one of the various hotel resorts lined along the northeast coast. All resorts have their own private section of the beachfront, high quality spa and fitness facilities and some offer day access to non-guests. Another option is “Oh Beach”, a private beach that roughly has the same facilities as Amman Beach in addition to some spa facilities.

When you finally head to the beach just remember that it is practically impossible to swim so don’t try it, just let yourself float. Make sure you do so with your face up and keep your head out of the water. You shouldn’t stay in the water for more than 15 minutes. When you get out spread mud over you and just let it dry. When the mud gets completely dry get in the water again for another 10 minutes. Lastly, rinse off with fresh water in the showers. You will feel your skin clean and shiny right away.

More Tips for your journey…

Purchase the “Jordan Pass”, it contains the Visa for entering the country and prepaid entry to over 40 attractions including Petra, Wadi Rum and Amman Citadel. There are 3 different packages 70JD, 75JD and 80JD depending on the number of days you want to enter Petra. You can easily purchase it online (www.jordanpass.jo) beforehand.

“Petra by Night” is on every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. A licensed guide will take you from Petra Visitor Centre at 20:30 to the Treasury for the show and bring you back at around 22.30. The fee is 17JD, and tickets can be bought at the Visitor Centre, the local tour agencies in Petra or at your hotel reception. Only a limited number of visitors can enter per day.

 

Public transport is limited so if you want to go around the country is best to rent a car. There are many rental companies both international and local and you can pick up the car straight away from the airport door. Driving is on the right and in general it is quite easy to drive in Jordan, with the exception of hectic Amman.

At the Dead Sea it’s best if you wear either an old or a black swimsuit because the dark mud will stain some light-coloured fabrics. Hotel resorts are located along the Dead Sea Highway and eating options outside the hotels are scarce.

DISCOVER ALL ABOUT JORDAN: PART I

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All about Jordan: Part I

I closed my eyes and for a few moments it was as if I was back in the desert sipping tea with the Bedouins. Now that I’m back home I’m so glad I bought that pack of herbal tea from the Bedouin stand in Wadi Rum.

I always wanted to visit Jordan, ever since I watched “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” as a child. Little did I know back then that Petra was not just a single impressive monument and Jordan was not only the mysterious Petra? The peaceful Middle Eastern kingdom of Jordan is blessed with numerous natural and historical wonders and while it’s quite impossible to visit them all in one go, here’s my guide to the country’s top attractions and experiences you shouldn’t miss.

Amman

The capital of Jordan, is first of all a city of juxtapositions – a blend of old and new, with a fascinating history going back thousands of years. The key sights of the city are mostly down town and you can explore them on foot. The Citadel, sits on the highest hill of the city and it includes important attractions such as the Temple of Hercules, Umayyad Palace, a Byzantine Basilica and of course some amazing views of the surrounding city. At the foothill of the Citadel lies the striking Roman Theatre, with a seating capacity of 6000. In the same complex, the Forum, the Odeon as well as the small Folklore museum are also worth visiting, while the large Hashemite Plaza in front of the theatre usually hosts events and activities.

The brand-new Jordan Museum, located in Ras Al-Ein district, shelters some amazing archaeological findings such as the 'Ain Ghazal Statues, which are considered to be the oldest human statues ever made dating back to 7000 BC. The city’s Souks (markets) are gathered in the streets around Al Husseiny Mosque and it is where you’ll get instantly captivated by the vivid colours of fresh fruits, the exotic scents of ground spices and also where you want to buy a pack of local cardamom-spiced coffee. Fan of sweets or not, in the Souqs you need to try “Kunafeh”, a pastry with warm cheese drenched in syrup and sprinkled with pistachios and “Hareeseh”, another type of sweet which is semolina-based drizzled with syrup and decorated with nuts.

The nearby grandiose Al Malek Faisal St. is a large avenue with shops, restaurants and coffee shops scattered along it. Rainbow Street, a bit further up, is another popular area where locals usually go during the evening for cafe-hopping. The most pleasant discovery of this street is Sufra, a bougainvillea-covered restaurant in a beautifully restored stone villa with a big backyard offering amazing views over the city of Amman. Needless to say, the food is delicious. Try, “Mansaf”, the country’s national dish, a meal made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice and garnished with roasted almonds. While in Amman you can’t miss visiting the modern part of the city in the Abdali district. Called the New Downtown of Amman, the area is reshaped through a billion-worth mega project aiming to create a regional business and tourism hub. The Boulevard, is the area’s 370-meter-long outdoor pedestrian spine, which is lined with retail shops, cafes and restaurants and topped with luxurious apartments and office spaces.

Petra

The rose-red capital city of the Nabateans - originally known as Raqmu - is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and although tons have been written about this truly spectacular place, nothing really prepares you for it. Get yourself a bottle of water, sunscreen, comfy shoes and a hat because you’ll need a full day to discover at least the most important spots of this UNESCO World Heritage site. The first main thing you’ll get in touch with after Petra’s visitors centre is the Siq, an impressive natural rock canal that leads to the ancient city.

The 1.2 km long Siq ends at Petra's most elaborate and popular ruin, The Treasury, called Al Khazna by the locals. The outer Siq, right after the Treasury, has tombs scattered around it, Bedouin souvenir shops as well as the road to the High place of sacrifice which gives an eagle’s eye view of Petra. Following the outer Siq you will find the large Roman Theatre. Get a glimpse of the nearby Street of Facades and its carved tombs and then climb the stairs to Urn Tomb and Silk Tomb.

Downhill from the Theatre the Colonnaded Street starts and along its sides other important sites of Petra are located, such as the Great Temple, Petra Church, the Royal Palace, the Temenos Gateway and finally the Qasr Al Bint temple a bit further. One of Petra’s grandest monuments in both size and beauty but one less visited by tourists is The Monastery. It’s accessible via an 850 steps-trail up the hills, but is totally worth the effort as it offers stunning views along the way and a tea-shop right across it where you can take a break and enjoy the monument’s photogenic grand facade. If you still have some strength left, complete your experience with the “Petra by Night” show. Three times a week Petra opens up for about 2 hours during the night for a show put on by the local Bedouins. For around €20 you’ll be able to walk through a candle-lit Siq and enjoy a cup of tea along with a musical performance right in front of the Treasury which is lit by the glow of hundreds of candles.

Aqaba - Red Sea

Apart from being conveniently located near the country’s major tourist attractions - Petra and Wadi Rum - the one and only seaside town of Jordan is first and foremost, a world-class snorkelling and diving centre. There are thirty main diving sites in town, the majority of which are suitable for all level divers. Colourful fishes and gorgeous coral reefs are not the only things you’ll get to see underwater. Shipwrecks such as the SS Thistlegorm (World War II steamship), tugboats, cargo ships, tankers and even an aircraft are only a few of the surprises you’ll be able to spot in the warm waters of the Red Sea. Moreover, bear in mind that the water is about 35% saltier than other seas, something that is believed to improve blood circulation.

Undoubtedly the most striking of the town’s attractions is The Great Arab Revolt Plaza, which you can easily distinguish from miles away due to the huge flagpole that’s placed in the centre. Standing high at 130m, the Aqaba Flagpole is one of the tallest unsupported flagpoles in the world and it proudly bears the Great Arab Revolt flag. Aqaba was the first city the Arabs regained from the Ottomans during the Arab Revolt (1916-1918). The flagpole is not the only important thing in the square as the house of Al Hussein Bin Ali, leader of the Revolt, is also open to visitors. Other important sites in the city are the nearby 16th century Aqaba Fort, the beautiful white mosque of Masjid Al Hussein Bin Ali which bears the largest dome among Jordan’s’ mosques and the ancient Church of Ayla, which archaeologist believe is the oldest purpose-built church in the world. Aqaba has various beaches to choose from.

The Public beach (Al-Ghandour Beach) lies between the marina and the Arab Revolt Plaza and is the best way to engage with local life while the South Beach stretching between the harbour and the city border is ideal for snorkelling and diving as most of the diving centres are located there. The town is filled with restaurants of all kinds, those offering international cuisine are mostly gathered close to the marina and the ones with local delicacies are found close to the Arab Revolt Plaza. While you are in Aqaba you must try the local dish “Sayadieh”, a delicately spiced fish served with rice or potatoes and a tahini sauce.

DISCOVER ALL ABOUT WADI RUM DESERT, THE DEAD SEA AND THE BEST TIPS FOR YOUR JOURNEY: PART II

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Non-awkward ways to meet people at your next destination

Arguably the biggest anxiety for the first-time traveller is the thought of being lonely – visions of cold evenings curled around a flickering bedside lamp sobbing into a dog-eared copy of Eat, Pray, Love as a soundtrack of general debauchery from the downstairs party reverberates through the walls.

It’s a fear born of fallacy: travellers, after all, tend to be a social breed, but to guide you through the often intimidating ice-breaker stage we’ve devised a list of simple ways to cultivate companionship on the road.

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Join a walking tour

Not only is this a great (and often free) way to acquaint yourself with a new city, but the nature of walking tours lend to easy conversation. If the group isn’t too large, a good host will ask everyone to say their name and where they’re from, which gives you an easy ‘in’ for striking up conversation with other participants along the way. Stopping for a group meal or drink also presents a great opportunity to socialise.

Connect online

Over recent years there has been a surge in apps designed to help travellers connect on the road. Chief among them are Tripr and Backpackr, which help you meet people ahead of time who will be travelling to the same destinations. EatWith meanwhile, allows you to attend a dinner party hosted by a local chef, and Sofar Sounds connects you with musicians hosting intimate gigs in informal venues.

Embrace hostels

Hostels are an essential asset for the sociable solo traveller (and not all are bland, soulless boxes!). Close-knit sleeping quarters foster conversation – or, more frequently, arguments over air conditioner settings – while cool communal spaces provide an ideal platform to bond with fellow travellers over a beer. If you’re not staying at a hostel, check larger hostel websites for event schedules – many host tours, dinners, pub crawls and other events available to non-guests.

Rent a room

Whether it’s Couchsurfing or renting a room through Airbnb, stay at a spot where you can engage with your host. Locals who are willing to share their homes are usually gregarious individuals keen to connect with their visitors and offer local insights that enhance the travel experience. How affable your host is likely to be can often be discerned from the advert, as well as reviews from previous guests.

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Take your meal at the bar

Choosing to eat at a restaurant’s bar not only allows you to bypass a potentially awkward ‘table for one’ dining scenario, but it also gives you an opportunity to chat with diners either side of you (who may very well be eating alone), punters ordering drinks or with the bartender; staff often make an extra effort to chat to solo patrons – and there’s always a chance of a complimentary cocktail.

Join a local meet-up

From cooking courses to tango lessons, classes aimed at visitors offer an opportunity to bond with other travellers over a shared interest, or – depending on the obscurity of the activity – how incompetent you are at it. If you’re struggling to find something that appeals, the Meetupcommunity has almost 30 million members in 184 countries, so there’s a good chance there will be an event of interest during your time abroad: whether you’re after photography tips or a philosophical debate.

Just say hello

Travelling is perhaps the only situation in life where almost everyone you meet will be actively looking to make friends. Other solo travellers are detached from friends and family and are likely to be seeking sociability. The human species has survived for 200,000 years because of our ability to communicate with one another. You’re in a foreign place, nobody knows you; go grab a drink from the hostel bar, slide into that empty seat and say hello to the lonely figure staring haplessly at their smartphone. What have you got to lose?

Photography & source lonelyplanet.com