The day we finally left Egypt! Having checked our flight the night before, I found that our 10am flight was now 11am, so we got an extra hour in bed. Having tried to arrange a taxi through our hotel and them being less than helpful, I headed out to the street to get one. Having got one quite easily, the hotel security refused to let my taxi up to the hotel so we had to carry our bags down to the street - not a long walk, granted, but another inconvenience. The hotel (Hilton Dreams Resort) was great to stay at - the room was lovely and big, with a great balcony, the pools were great and the area around was clean as well as a good central location. However, every single member of staff (except the towel boys at the pool) were rude and abrupt. Most of the waiters didn't do much in the way of work, merely spending their time chatting amongst themselves and eyeing up the Western women. We were both glad to be getting out...
At the airport, the check-in desk showed our flight had NOT been changed and was still 10am. Thankfully, we had got there in plenty of time but I still complained to the man at check-in. Rather than trying to apologise, he just joked that he didn't even know Egypt Air had a website. Had we missed that flight due to their fuck up, I'd have ripped into the smarmy little bugger but thankfully his flippant attitude didn't deter as it meant we had under an hour to hang around a sparse airport rather than nearly two!
The flight itself was easy enough and after 40 minutes, we touched down in Cairo. 40 minutes later, we finally got our bags, too. Crazy to be on the ground waiting for your luggage longer than the actual flight, but it gets worse!
Having found the shuttle bus and easily made our way to the international terminal (I know, EASILY!), we joined the disorganised queue to check in for our flight to Amman. There were people in the queue who weren't really in the queue, people in the queue who couldn't actually check in as they were waiting for someone and people just milling around generally getting in the way. It's OK though, we had a 4 hour layover. Within about 20 minutes, we had got checked in and headed towards immigration where we would get our exit stamps for Egypt. At the queue, there were about 7 or 8 people in front of us. However, each one of those people was just a "place-holder" for an entire family which meant 7 or 8 became 37 or 38. On top of this, Egyptians kept coming to the security guard by us and he was just letting them push in front of us, for some reason or another. ALSO, the line for disabled and assisted passengers was closed and, you've guessed it, they joined our queue too, at the front. After around 45 minutes of barely moving, a woman behind us started kicking up a fuss and the guard stopped letting people in. Once he had done that, we got to the front pretty quickly and even got through the inefficient passport process quite quickly as well! I've never known a country make it so difficult for you to leave!
Again, the flight itself was a non-event, which after the hassle previously was a relief!
Once in Amman, we cleared immigration quickly and painlessly and our car from the hotel was waiting for us. It was a good 40 minute drive to our hotel but it gave us a chance to take in some scenery and get used to another new country. At the hotel, The Palace Hotel, we checked in and headed up to our room. We didn't hang around too long as we wanted to have a wander around and get some food, as well as find some books as both of us were going through them quickly, particularly with time at airports and our time relaxing around the pool in Sharm.
We found a cafe called Books @ Cafe. The entrance was in a little courtyard which led into a bookshop. The cafe upstairs didn't look much at first but when we were taken to the outside area, the views over the city were lovely, especially as the sun went down and everything lit up. Plenty of houses on the opposite side of the city were letting off fireworks, too, which became apparent over the next few nights that this was a Ramadan event after sundown. After dinner and after picking up a load of books, we headed back to the hotel for some rest.
We both soon discovered that our room wasn't overly clean, with Elizabeth's sheets having some dubious looking hairs on them while my pillow also had similar. It was quite late and we were both tired so we decided to sleep in our sleeping bags and complain the next morning. Also, like in Cairo, our shower was just a shower head in the toilet, although the shared showers in the room next door looked a bit better and might've been useful!
In the morning, we complained and got a clean room - complete with proper shower cubicle and curtain. Hot water wasn't included though!
We headed out around the city and visited the Roman Theatre and got to climb to the top of the seats, giving us a birds-eye view of the theatre stage as well as some of the city and the smaller Odeon next door. The two museums attached to the theatre were also interesting and gave an insight into Jordanian traditions and history.
From there, we headed to the Citadel. Uphill. Amman is a very hilly city, with lots of roads linked by staircases. We tried a couple of these but they did not always lead to where you wanted, with one being a dead end. After 50 or 60 steps upwards in the baking heat, you can imagine how pleased we were to have to back track! We found the citadel though, building up a sweat along the way and were greeted by a building site. Unlike in Egypt though, there was a large sign apologising for the mess and detailing the clean-up and restoration project in progress. Still, we headed in and wondered around the site as well as he excellent archeological museum which had items from around 8,000 BC right up to the current date including what was thought to be the oldest statue ever found. As well as that, there were a number of upright sarcophogii which had removable face panels, the only such type found anywhere in the world. For a small place, with a small museum, the collection was pretty impressive and well displayed.
After that, we headed to the Wild Jordan Cafe for lunch - an organisation involved in protection of the Jordanian environment supported by the US Government. The views from here were also good - which having walked down from the Citadel and back UP the other side to this cafe were a welcome relief!
The afternoon was spent relaxing and chilling out - Amman is a large city but for tourists, Jordan is known much more for the areas outside the capital than those right there.
In the evening, we tried EVERYTHING for dinner. No, not ate everything, we just couldn't find a place that was open! Firstly, we headed to a restaurant known for serving just chips (or fries, as you Americans call them) and various sauces. Closed. Next, a little bar where we were told the kitchen wouldn't open for another half hour or so, maybe longer. Thirdly, the restauant next door seated us and gave us menus. The guy bought us water and about 10 minutes later returned to take our order. When we mentioned food, he told us the kitchen was shut until 9pm and that we could just drink until then. It was only just 8pm and we were hungry. Leaving the third place hastily with a few choice words, we ended up back in Books @ Cafe. I'm not a big fan of re-visiting unless I have to but by this time I was hungry and fed up. Thankfully, the food, ambience and view were every bit as good as the night before!
Today we headed out of Amman, in a small tour organised by our hotel and just with two other people - a couple of American blokes.
The tour took us first to Madaba - a city known for mosaics. In the church here, there was an amazing map mosaic which showed the region and had various pictures depicting each area. Unfortunately, this was really the only large mosaic in here, with the majority being at a different site in the town, a site we didn't have time to bloody visit!
From there we went to Mount Nebo, the site where Moses was shown the promised land. To me, the "promised land" looked like a load of hills and deserts with a salty sea in the distance! The little museum here was quite detailed about the history of the site and the views were good, if a little bland as I've mentioned! The church here also contains mosaics but, of course, this was closed.
Heading down Mount Nebo towards the River Jordan, we stopped at the supposed site where Jesus was baptised. Now, I know I'm not religious but this all seemed a bit too loose-ended for me. We had a guide who spoke English but all of his sentences seemed to start with "this might be" or "we believe this to be". To me, I believed it was a tourist trap and that some people will believe anything. The only thing which symbolised any kind of history here, was a series of excavated stone areas which were apparently part of the three churches used by John the Baptist. They were quite a way from the river but this was because the river levels have dropped so far in 2000 years. Down at the river bank itself was a brand new church where baptisms are performed today. At the river side itself was water from the river which had been purified. Baking hot, I covered my head in it and Elizabeth joked that I'd now been baptised!
Plenty of people in our group obviously took their religion seriously, including one man who dipped just about every part of his body into the river and sat there for quite a while praying. He even went as far as to fill a bottle up with water from the river. For those of you from London, imagine the River Thames, with 10 times the sewage, even more brown and stinking and surrounded by more flies than you care to imagine - now, hands up if you want to volunteer to bathe in that...
Not wanting to be seen as the non-believing atheist who is overly critical, I asked Elizabeth what she thought of the site. Even as a Christian, she thought the site could've been anything and didn't mean anything to her from a religious persepctive. I was glad I wasn't just being cynical.
From there, we went to the Dead Sea for a swim around. Or should I say float! Having had some lunch and got changed, we headed down to the beach. I'm not sure what I was expecting but the scenery was awesome. The beach itself felt coarse, the salt effect on the sand making it quite rough.
In the water itself, I just laid back and with no effort at all, I just floated on the current. It was so weird and however hard I tried, it was impossible to sink - it was difficult enough getting just my shoulders under the water. I did make one mistake though. I had an itchy eye and without thinking I just scratched - the salt water immediately burning at my eye! Stupid boy! Anyway, after a while drifting around and enjoying the lovely warm water, we got out and cleaned off and relaxed in the pool before our driver collected us and took us back to Amman.
Our final full day in Jordan and we were heading to Petra. We'd both seen pictures of the area plenty of times, including such things as Indiana Jones films!
The drive to Petra took around three hours and our driver managed to talk constantly for pretty much the whole time. Having had an early start, we'd both hoped to get some sleep but this chap managed to talk about everything. And it was everything - from religion (including defending Saddam Hussein) to politics to his sex life (all his female clients loved him, apparently) and how lesbianism was because women were abused by men but how gay men could be cured by a course in rehab as they were "diseased". Up until then, Elizabeth and I had just sort of chatted along but after his weird and, quite honestly, disgusting thoughts on homosexuality, we both switched off. I honestly couldn't be bothered to argue with him and Elizabeth just looked shocked that someone could have such bizarre views.
Thankfully, Petra itself was amazing. Absolutely stunning. Our guide was really knowledgable and, after a short horse ride into the "siq", the main entrance to the city, we were surrounded by steep rock faces forming an amazing canyon. Not only was the canyon itself stunning, but the colours of the rocks and the formations were brilliant, all naturally created. The canyon wound around various bends, each providing a different photo opportunity and view along the siq. Before long, we were faced by the Treasury, the amazing building carved out of the canyon face and the one which we both recognised from the number of pictures we'd seen. In pictures, the place looks amazing. In reality, it is all that and more, from the immense size, to the intricate decorations, to the whole setting. It was absolutely amazing and it is no wonder the Jordanians claim it as the 8th Wonder of the Ancient World!
From there, we headed along further, seeing more and more little houses and temples built into the rocks, as well as many other bright colours in the rocks - not just reds which you often see but blues and yellows. Our guide promised us they weren't painted and while I know that is true, the colours were almost unbelievable.
At the end of our tour, our guide left us at the bottom of the stairs to the Monastery. Despite the heat and our tiredness, we continued upwards, up who-knows-how-many rough, stone steps! As we neared the top, we were both almost ready to head back when finally we saw the monastery - another amazing carved building, similar in size and design to the Treasury. It was so great to get to see all this stuff and, despite only having a few hours here (about 5 and half, in the end) we thought we'd got to see a lot of the major areas of the sight.
Once back at the car, our driver seemed a bit annoyed we had taken so long - he'd expected us to be about 3 hours. He obviously expected a short day and was keen to get home by 7pm in time for his Ramadan "breakfast". This also annoyed us - as non-Muslims we should not be expected to live by their timetable. Whilst I respect their views and beliefs, I don't believe that they should be forced onto others and if you work for a tour company dealing mainly with "Westerners", and happy to take Westerners money, then you should give a little slack. Happy to take Western money, not happy they want to spend an extra hour or so at the site they've paid a pretty penny to see.
He wasn't deterred though - on the way back he talked and talked some more. We were both getting a bit tired of it all and barely responded. I didn't want to seem rude but the man had so many bigoted views I just had no time for him.
On the way back, we got him to drop us at The Blue Fig Cafe, a restaurant we'd unsuccessfully tried to find the previous night. We weren't having much luck finding places in Jordan so were glad of some Arabic assistance! Having skipped lunch to see more at Petra, any food would've tasted good by this point!