Category Archives: Jordan Tower Hotel

jerash, ajloun, umm quais and a couple of italians thrown in for good measure

Standard

“Jordan has a strange, haunting beauty and a sense of timelessness. Dotted with the ruins of empires once great, it is the last resort of yesterday in the world of tomorrow. I love every inch of it.” ~ King Hussein I

Me at Hadrian's Arch at Jerash

Me at Hadrian’s Arch at Jerash

Thursday, November 10: This morning I meet my two traveling companions in the breakfast room at the Jordan Tower Hotel.  Andrea and Guido, two Italian men from Genoa who are about my age, will be taking the trip with me to the north of Jordan. Guido speaks English quickly and with a thick Italian accent.  He even sprinkles Italian words into the conversation randomly, so I’m never quite sure what language he’s speaking or what he’s saying.  Andrea, barely speaks any English at all.  No matter.  We will probably go our own ways once we get to our destinations.  It won’t really matter if the two of them are speaking in Italian to each other all day long.  I am used to this situation from living in Korea for a year, and now in Oman.

Guido and Khalid at Hadrian's Arch

Guido and Khalid at Hadrian’s Arch

Our driver today is Khalid, a handsome Jordanian who smokes heavily and whose teeth are quite rotten. We drive out of Amman and are in the car for about an hour, 51 km.  In the car, Andrea tells me in his limited English that I am “bella,” that my face is very beautiful.  Andrea is apparently a lifeguard and an artist, a photographer, and has exhibits in Genoa.  Guido works at a marina keeping it maintained and cleaned.  Guido tells about all his travels and his frequent trips to Mexico, where apparently he had a long-time girlfriend who got pregnant from another man.  Guido apparently helped support her during and after this pregnancy, but he says he’s not “with her” now.  He says he’s never been married.  I’m not really sure I understand his whole story with all the convolutions and the mangled English.

the Oval Plaza (Forum) at Jerash

the Oval Plaza (Forum) at Jerash

Soon we arrive at Jerash, some beautifully preserved Roman ruins.  Though excavations have been ongoing for 85 years, it’s estimated that 90% of the city is still unexcavated. The city was at one time known as Gerasa and once was a thriving metropolis of 15,000 people.  The city rose to prominence from the time of Alexander the Great (333 BC) and reached its peak at the beginning of the 3rd century AD, when it was ranked a Colony.  It began to decline as trade routes shifted.

Jerash

Jerash

Jerash

Jerash

Jerash

Jerash

By the middle of the 5th century AD, Christianity was the region’s major religion and churches were being built right and left.  After the Sassanian invasion from Persia in 614, the Muslim conquest in 636, and a crushing earthquake in 747, Jerash’s population dwindled to about a fourth of its former size.

Jerash

Jerash

Ruins at Jerash

Ruins at Jerash

Doorway at Jerash

Doorway at Jerash

Musicians in the theater at Jerash

Musicians in the theater at Jerash

the road through Jerash

the road through Jerash

Jerash

Jerash

ruins at Jerash

ruins at Jerash

ruins at Jerash

ruins at Jerash

the Temple of Zeus at Jerash

the Temple of Zeus at Jerash

Immediately when we get inside of Jerash, Andrea takes off on his own and is snapping photos with his fancy camera right and left.  Guido says Andrea does this a lot when they travel together.  Since Andrea has taken off, Guido sticks close by me as we explore the ruins.  He’s especially interested in these Roman ruins as he loves history and he’s Italian.  He talks nonstop and half the time I only catch bits and pieces.  But he’s boyishly enthusiastic, and I can’t help but find him charming and cute.

We pass first by the Hippodrome where chariot races took place in bygone days.  Then we come to the lovely Oval Plaza (Forum), unusual because of its oval shape and huge size (90 m long and 80 m wide).  Historians think the Romans hoped to gracefully link the main north-south axis with the Temple of Zeus.  The paved limestone plaza is surrounded by 56 Ionic columns.  The Temple of Zeus sits on the south side of the Forum, and is currently being restored.  We climb around here for a while until we enter the South Theater, built to seat 5,000 spectators in the 1st century.  Here some Jordanians are playing bagpipes and I get caught up in the festive mood and do a little dance.  Guido and I climb around on the theater seats and take pictures.

me with the Oval Plaza below

me with the Oval Plaza below

We then take the long walk along the cardo maximus, the city’s main thoroughfare, also known as the colonnaded street.  It stretches for 800 meters from the Forum to the North Gate and is still paved with the original stones.  The stones were placed on the diagonal so chariots could easily negotiate them and you can still see the ruts worn by thousands of these vehicles using this road.

cardo maximus, the city's main thoroughfare

cardo maximus, the city’s main thoroughfare

We walk up to the Temple of Artemis though a monumental gateway and a staircase.  Up in the temple a young Jordanian guy is selling tea and we help ourselves.  Guido is still sticking with me and we have totally lost sight of Andrea in the last hour.  After we make our way back to the south end and the entrance, we meet Khalid who tells us that Andrea wants to cut his trip short and return to Amman by taxi.  Guido shrugs and says Andrea does stuff like this every other day when they travel together.  He says it’s no big deal; he’s a little persnickety and they often just go their separate ways every other day or so.

the columns at the Temple of Artemis

the columns at the Temple of Artemis

So Andrea takes off and Khalid, Guido and I continue on our way to see Our Lady of the Mount Shrine in Ajloun.  Apparently, someone came upon this statue of Mary one day and the blessed lady was shedding tears of blood that was later analyzed to be human.  We also see the colorfully painted church at the site.

Our Lady of the Mount Shrine in Ajlous

Our Lady of the Mount Shrine in Ajloun

inside the church at Ajloun

inside the church at Ajloun

church at Ajloun

church at Ajloun

We then head to Qala-at ar-Rabad, also known as Ajloun Castle, an Islamic military fort built in AD 1184-88 by the Arabs as protection against the Crusaders.  The castle has fine views of the Jordan Valley and was one in a chain of beacons and pigeon posts that allowed messages to be transmitted from Damascus to Cairo in a single day.  Mongol invaders destroyed it in 1260 and then it was rebuilt almost immediately by the Mamluks.  In the 17th century, the Ottomans were stationed here, and then the locals used it.  Earthquakes in 1837 and 1927 badly damaged the castle, but a slow restoration is progressing to bring the castle back to life.

During all of our travels, Guido is talking and talking and I’m really straining to understand.  I’m trying to sit back and not concentrate on every word, but to get the general gist of what he’s saying.  He’s talking about the history of all these places.  He loves it all, with infectious enthusiasm which I find appealing.

the view of the Jordan Valley from Ajloun Castle

the view of the Jordan Valley from Ajloun Castle

Ajloun Castle

Ajloun Castle

Ajloun Castle

Ajloun Castle

inside the castle

inside the castle

inside Ajloun Castle

inside Ajloun Castle

the castle looms over the Jordan Valley

the castle looms over the Jordan Valley

Inside Ajloun Castle

Inside Ajloun Castle

Ajloun

Ajloun

Ajloun with the Jordan Valley below

Ajloun with the Jordan Valley below

Inside Ajloun Castle

Inside Ajloun Castle

Inside Ajloun Castle

Inside Ajloun Castle

Outside Ajloun Castle

Outside Ajloun Castle

Finally we take the long drive to Umm Qais, at the far northwest corner of Jordan.  There are ruins of the ancient Roman city of Gadara and an Ottoman-era village.  At the edge of a hill, we can see amazing views of the Golan Heights in Syria, the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberius) in Israel, the Palestinian Territories to the north, and the Jordan Valley to the south.  Khalid has done an amazing job of bringing us here right as the sun is setting and it’s gorgeous really.  It brings tears to my eyes to see these places that the Arabs and Israelis have been fighting over for years and years.  The history here in Jordan blows me away, between the Romans, the Crusaders, the Biblical sites, and the present day struggles between Israel and Palestine.

Umm Qais

Umm Qais

Umm Qais

Umm Qais

People smoking shisha at Umm Qais

People smoking shisha at Umm Qais

Umm Qais

Umm Qais

the view from Umm Qais ~ the Golan Heights, Sea of Galilee, and Palestine

the view from Umm Qais ~ the Golan Heights, Sea of Galilee, and Palestine

At the top of the hill, at the Umm Qais Resthouse, we sit at a table and drink glasses of red wine and enjoy the views and a relaxing conversation.  I am feeling comfortable with both Khalid and Guido, who are very laid-back guys.  It is really a lovely evening and the views are enough to make it all very romantic.  It’s too bad at this point that no one is actually being romantic, but we are all sharing a lovely companionship.

On the long drive back to Amman, Guido is talking again non-stop and at this time I am too tired to even try to decipher what he is saying.  At one point he asks me, “How is my English?”  I tell him I have a hard time sometimes understanding his accent.  I don’t mention that if he slowed down, it would be better for me.  I don’t know why I don’t mention this.  At one point during our ride back he puts his arm around me and pulls me to him to put my head on his shoulder.  He has stuck by my side all day long but he hasn’t been particularly flirtatious, so I’m surprised by this move.  I think we just feel very comfortable with each other.

Guido and Khaled at the Umm Qais Restaurant

Guido and Khaled at the Umm Qais Restaurant

Back at the hotel, he asks if I’d like to have some tea in the common room.  I am due to fly out at 1 a.m. Friday morning, so must be at the airport by 11 pm tonight.  He’s flying out at 3 a.m., two hours after me.  We sit and talk and show each other our pictures and relive the day.  He asks if we could maybe consider prolonging our stay in romantic Jordan for a couple more days and I say I would love to but I have to be back at work on Saturday.

Later, after several cups of tea, he asks if I’d like to go out to the rooftop terrace for a bit.  There he kisses me and at this point I’m no longer surprised.  It’s really a lovely way to end our day.

At around 10:15, he walks with me down a couple of blocks to the Arab Tower Hotel, where I meet my colleagues David and Mario.  We will share a taxi to the airport.   When Guido and I get to the hotel, I text David to let him know I’m there, and he texts me to come up to his room.  I tell Guido I’ll be back shortly and I go up to their room, where both of them are sprawled out on their beds passing the time.  By the time I get back to the lobby, I find Guido buying me some bath salts from a little Dead Sea-related display.  I catch him in the middle of buying this and he says, disappointed, “I wanted it to be a surprise!”  He’s very cute.

me with Guido drinking wine at Umm Qais

me with Guido drinking wine at Umm Qais

David and Mario appear, our taxi driver is here, and suddenly we are all piling our suitcases into the taxi.  I barely get to say goodbye to poor Guido, everything happens so fast.  I give him a hug and we take off to the airport, to return back to Muscat, and back to work.

the dead sea and fun-loving minako

Standard

Saturday, November 5:  I arrive in Amman at 9 a.m. after only a 3 1/2 hour flight from Muscat. Standing in line to buy the 20 Jordanian dinar tourist visa, I meet a man about my age who looks Middle Eastern but is carrying an American passport.  He has longish black hair and is dressed in all black: black suit with a black shirt.  He introduces himself as Alqam and says he grew up in Jordan but is originally from Chechnya, and some of his five children and one granddaughter now live in the country.  He’s going to visit them for the Eid.  He tells me a lot as we wait in line, how his wife died of cancer in 2004, how he’s working in Muscat now trying to get a business off the ground exporting air-conditioners to Oman, how he’s lived in Houston, Texas for many years. He gives me his number in Jordan and tells me to please call him if I need anything at all.  I give him my Oman number and tell him if he wants to have coffee or something when he returns to Muscat, he can feel free to call.  I don’t ever call him in Jordan, but I text him my Jordanian number and he bids me welcome: “you welcome to Jordan. hope you like it, alqam.”

the lobby of the cozy Jordan Tower Hotel

the lobby of the cozy Jordan Tower Hotel

Nihad from the Jordan Tower Hotel picks me up from Queen Alia Airport, cigarette in hand.  He’s got a face with grayish stubble and a mustache. I find out throughout my trip that Jordanians love to smoke, and he’s no exception. We drive through the quiet outer streets, through the sharp cliffs and hills topped with old and decaying granite houses, into the city center, where utter chaos reigns.  Everyone is shopping for the Eid.  I realize after having been in Muscat all day Friday and now being in Jordan on Saturday, that Eid is like America’s Christmas.  It seems that most of the shoppers are men, and they are shopping and shopping for new clothes, food, electronics, you name it… I’m not even sure what they could be buying with such enthusiasm.  These streets have a similar holiday vibe to our Christmas season:  crowds and utter frenzy reign. Male mannequins display western clothing in shop entryways, which are not behind windows but open to the street. Weathered men sell used and broken furniture on the asphalt streets.  A huge traffic jam knots the center of the city and no police are present to sort it out.  Some enterprising young men get out of their cars and direct the traffic to clear up the tangled jam, while drivers honk and holler in frustration.

the dining area of the Jordan Tower Hotel

the dining area of the Jordan Tower Hotel

At the hotel, my room isn’t ready yet.  However,  I’m anxious to get started on exploring Jordan so I ask the advice of the hotel staff.  They tell me a Japanese girl is going to the Dead Sea so if I’d like to share a ride with her, the cost will be 25 JD.  She will be staying the night in the Movenpick, but I can go to another resort where they charge 15 dinar to use their facilities and swim in the Dead Sea.  It sounds like as good a way as any to begin my time in Jordan.

me with Minako in the hotel lobby before our trip to the Dead Sea

me with Minako in the hotel lobby before our trip to the Dead Sea

Minako checks out her Japanese guidebook

Minako checks out her Japanese guidebook

Minako and me on the edge of a great view... Jordan is so amazing

Minako and me on the edge of a great view… Jordan is so amazing

Minako is a 30-year-old Japanese girl who now lives in Tokyo but is originally from Okinawa.  She finished her university studies and has worked at Accenture for 8 years.  Now she’s decided to study medicine and is trying to find the right university.  She had a boyfriend, but they broke up 3 months ago.  I’m sure that in Japanese culture, she’s probably a bit of an anomaly, being 30 years old and not married.  Minako is happy and upbeat and her mood is infectious.  Right away she grabs me and pulls me to the lobby couch for photos.  After all, we’re heading to the Dead Sea together; we’ll be great friends.  I love this kind of person who is not at all shy and just befriends everyone.  I so wish I was like this myself, but I’m always more reticent and wait for other people to reach out in friendship.

Minako and Nihad

Minako and Nihad

She asks me all about my situation and finds it quite amusing and “coo….” Though her English is excellent, she has the typical Asian problem with pronunciation of “l” and “r,” so every time she says “cool,” which is A LOT, she says “coo…”  It’s very endearing. She finds my marital situation especially interesting and says “I think your husband still loves you if he accepts what you’re doing.” I say I don’t know about that.   We both take an immediate liking to each other.

The Dead Sea is at the lowest point on earth, about 1300 feet below sea level,  and has such high salt content (over 33%) that nothing but the most microscopic life forms can survive in it. It’s 42 miles long and 11 miles wide and lies in the Jordan Rift Valley.  It’s main tributary is the Jordan River; it borders Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west.  From the Hebrew Bible, it’s likely that Jericho was just north of the Dead Sea.  Somewhere, perhaps on the southeast shore, would be the cities mentioned in the Book of Genesis which were said to have been destroyed in the time of Abraham: Sodom and Gomorra (Genesis 18).  The rich Biblical heritage of this area in Jordan literally takes my breath away, even though I’m not a particularly religious person.

first view of the Dead Sea

first view of the Dead Sea

me and minako in front of the Dead Sea

me and minako in front of the Dead Sea

We share the ride with Nihad to the Dead Sea, and make him stop at a number of spots along the way to take pictures of the views.  We drop Minako at the top-notch Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea.

Minako says goodbye at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea

Minako says goodbye at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea

Nihad takes me down the road a bit to the O Beach Hotel, which is nice in its own right.  I pay my 15 dinar to go in and I change into my bathing suit.  I walk around admiring the views, the infinity pool stretching into the Dead Sea, the bar sunk into the infinity pool, the cushioned lounge chairs and umbrellas and cabanas.

the bar at the O Beach Hotel

the bar at the O Beach Hotel

Down on the beach below a small group of young people are swimming in the Dead Sea.  It’s a little chilly, so I’m not too anxious to jump right in.  Feeling rather hungry, I order a glass of red wine and a turkey sandwich and lie on a lounge chair waiting for them to bring it to me.  The only annoying detraction are the flies.  Flies are swarming all over the bar, all over me as I try to relax on my lounge chair, all over my glass of wine and my turkey and pickle sandwich.  Luckily the flies don’t seem to bite, but they’re hugely annoying.

the infinity pool at the O Beach Hotel stretching into the Dead Sea

the infinity pool at the O Beach Hotel stretching into the Dead Sea

Chairs at the O Beach Hotel

Chairs at the O Beach Hotel

palms at the O Beach Hotel with the Dead Sea behind

palms at the O Beach Hotel with the Dead Sea behind

a little covered patio at the O Beach Hotel

a little covered patio at the O Beach Hotel

I love watching the families and tourists at the hotel while swatting at the flies to keep from swallowing one.  I check out a good-looking Richard Gere-look-alike and his wife and children and grandchildren.  I walk down to the edge of the sea and watch some Europeans floating.

people floating in the Dead Sea

people floating in the Dead Sea

Finally, with some trepidation, I climb in over the rocks and hardened calcified salt and dip into the sea.  It’s very strange, the sensation of floating in this salt-dense sea.  There is no need to tread water or to make any motion at all to stay afloat.  My body immediately moves into a “sitting in a chair” position, and it’s next-to-impossible to move out of this position.  It’s like the sea is an armchair and all you do is sink into it.  No movement is required at all.

I make an attempt to swim a modified crawl, with my head above the water, but it’s very difficult to swim because my legs pop out of the water behind me.  It’s rather difficult to kick underwater if your legs are jutting out of the water!  In addition, the water is a little choppy and I swallow a mouthful of salt water, which is so thick with salt it’s like a salt-water gargle.  I also have a cut on my lip which burns from the salt-on-a-wound effect.

The Dead Sea in Jordan

The Dead Sea in Jordan

the Dead Sea

the Dead Sea

I don’t stay in long because it just feels too bizarre.  When I get out, I have this slimy film all over my skin and I dip into the downright cold infinity pool to wash off the salt water.  It doesn’t come off and actually the beads of water don’t dry up in the sun.  An exotic woman approaches me and tells me she does massages.  She’s Iraqi and her name is Tonya.  Always a sucker for a massage, I succumb to the temptation for a half-body mud massage for 33 dinar.  We go into an open air room with mats hanging over the opening for semi-privacy.  When I lie face-down on the massage table, there is a mirror below that lets me see the Dead Sea as I get my massage.  Lovely really.

Tonya, the masseuse who gives me a mud massage

Tonya, the masseuse who gives me a mud massage

the massage room looking out at the Dead Sea

the massage room looking out at the Dead Sea

After the massage I take a cold shower (there is no hot water in this massage room), and go outside to meet Nihad for my ride back to Amman.  It takes about an hour to get back.

blossoms swept into a corner

blossoms swept into a corner

I love the Jordan Tower Hotel in Amman’s city center, with its super-friendly and helpful staff and its cozy lobby area. But I have some issues when I finally return to the hotel to check in. First, I had reserved a single room with a private bathroom.  When I finally check in, the hotel manager apologizes profusely, saying my intended room has a problematic bathroom.  So he must give me a room with 3 single beds and no bathroom.  He tells me that the bathroom in the hall will be all mine, because the other three rooms all have their own bathrooms. When he takes me to my room, he struggles mightily with the door handle, and seems to be unable for some time to get it open. Finally, he lets me in and I settle in with my stuff.  I’m not happy about not having a private bathroom when I specifically booked such, but the guy feels so bad about it, I let him off the hook and don’t complain.

my bathroom-less room at the Jordan Tower Hotel

my bathroom-less room at the Jordan Tower Hotel

Outside in Amman, the weather is cold and rainy, a total switch from the Dead Sea. I opt to eat a light snack of mushroom soup, bread and mint tea in the hotel tonight and to sit in the common room writing notes about my day.   I feel chilled and so get cozy early in my room, where I crank up the heat to toasty, toastier, toastiest.  Outside my window, on the busy streets below, is a cacophony of noise that grates on my senses.  Again, it is people enthusiastically shopping for Eid.  People are shouting, cars are honking, loud Arabic music is blaring.  But worst of all there is a loudspeaker right below my window that repeats a sales pitch in Arabic that sounds like this: Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla. Blah blah blah, blablablablabla.

All freaking night long.

Before Minako and I took off this morning, she warned me, laughing her infectious laugh:  “You’ll probably get my room.  It was so noisy!  I’ve never heard anything like it.”  Without a doubt.