Thursday, 16 August 2012

Jordanian Hospitality in Amman

On our last day in Petra we had to be back in town by midday to catch the bus up to Amman.  As predicted, we hurried to be there on time and then sat there waiting for the bus to fill up so it could leave.  After half an hour of waiting the ticket guy proposed that we all pay extra to cover the cost of the empty seats so then the bus could leave.  The other tourists didn't seem to care and were happy to pay, however we'd read about the scam and were reluctant, but since everyone else paid up we didn't have much choice.  To everyone else's surprise, but not ours, as soon as we'd paid and were on the bus locals appeared from nowhere and the bus was quickly full and on its way...

David and Ramsey at the best sweet shop in Amman

We took a taxi from the bus station to downtown Amman where our hostel was, although after checking into our tiny room at the Farrah Hotel we could only muster enough energy to explore the souks and find some dinner before sleep found us, and it wasn't even 10pm!   Three days of exploring Petra must’ve really taken it out of us :) The following day however turned out to be much more action packed as we meet up with Ramsey, Dave's friend from the Yahoo office in Amman as he had kindly offered to show us around his home town.

Our tour of Amman started with the downtown area, and seeing it with Ramsey reminded us how much more you get to experience a place when you visit with a local.  Ramsey was an excellent tour guide and he pointed out many interesting things, like as we were walking past a small non-descript book shop that normally we wouldn't have looked at twice, we learnt that the owner had in fact received a visit from the King and Queen as a thank you for all the work he had done (and continues to do) distributing books to help the local people learn and become educated.  The owner was actually there and Ramsey introduced us and we shock his hand as he excitedly said hello and warmly greeted us!  

Ooh so tasty!!
On the way to the Roman Theatre we sampled the best sweets in town from the oldest sweet shop in Amman - it was down a small side street that we wouldn't have even known was there, and the delicacies were the best we had in the whole of Jordan.  We also sampled fresh chickpeas and raw almonds, the later of which are eaten with the green shell and young nut inside – very interesting to try!

At the theatre Ramsey refused to let us pay our own entrance fee and then gave us a tour of the theatre and adjacent museum.  We learnt that Ramsey is very passionate about olives and olive oil and he told us that due to the harsh soil environment in Jordan they need very special type of hardy olive tree, but this tree actually doesn't produce good olives, so they graft a quality fruit bearing branch to the strong root and then the tree can survive in the poor soil while at the same time bear great olives - smart right?!

Janesh's Hippodrome
After the museum Raamsey drove us to the nearby town of Janesh, also known as the Pompeii of the Middle East as the Roman site is so well intact.  We got there in record time - let's just say if Yahoo falls over Ramsey could firstly be an A-grade tour guide or secondly race car driver...  Unfortunately, despite Ramsey's amazing skills on the road, we arrived after closing time and could only view the hippodrome as it was outside the main site.  

On the way back to town we stopped in at an olive press and the owner gave us a tour of how it worked and we finally properly understand why extra-virgin olive oil is so good and why it doesn't make Dave sick whereas the others do.  We had dinner at an amazing restaurant that overlooked a picturesque valley and Ramsey treated us to a true feast before we sadly started our trip to the airport.  Our one day in Amman had been amazing, but with our flight due to leave in the evening we had no choice but to head to the airport. 

Unfortunately Ramsey's car had other ideas and it died en route, and this combined with the insane traffic in downtown Amman when we went to collect our backpacks meant we arrived at the airport just passed the cut-off time for check-in, and no matter how much we begged they would not let us check-in late even though the plane hadn't boarded.  We were very disheartened and upset as travelling on a budget and having to rebook flights is never any fun.  Luckily though there were still somewhat cheap flights available for the following evening so we hurriedly booked those, relived that we at least wouldn’t be too far behind our travel schedule as we really wanted to be hiking the Annapurna circuit for Sarah’s birthday.

It was lucky we were there with Ramsey as he instantly offered to take us to his family's house for the evening even though it was a 40 minute drive out of town.  We didn't want to inconvenience him, but we didn't have any other options and he wouldn't have it otherwise.  We arrived after midnight to his beautiful family’s home that overlooked the town of Izmir and despite the late hour were greeted by Ramsey's mother and sister who kindly served us a welcome tea in one of their two lounge rooms (they have two so the men can sit in one while the women relax in the other).  We felt a bit out of place in our well worn travel attire sitting on the beautiful Italian designed furniture sipping tea from china cups and sleeping in a bedroom that was so nice and clean compared to the hostels we'd been crashing in. If you had to describe their house in one word, it would be – beautiful, and it was so nice to be in someone’s home again and not in a hotel.

As comfy as the bed was, it was a short sleep as we had the alarm set for 7am since we had been granted another day to see more of Amman and Ramsey indeed had a full day planned for us!

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