A Week in Jordan: Part One

I spent a week in Jordan over New Year 2011 and this is where I went.

Tasty Tawaheen

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Essexgirl09 on January 10, 2012

For our first meal in Jordan, this Amman based restaurant was suggested by our guide. We enjoyed it so much we came back on our last night too. The restaurant is massive – the first time we went through the courtyard and up the stairs to the right. The second time we went left and round the back on the ground floor. The restaurant does cater for international groups but at the same time we saw small and middle sized parties of locals. I think this would be a lovely place to dine al fresco on a warm night.

As you enter there are two large wooden giraffes in the entrance hall, the significance of which is lost on me, same as the two zebras upstairs. There is also a windmill outside.

You are seated around the long wooden square tables with round brass plates in the centre and it is here your meze starter arrives. Hummus, tabbouleh (bulgur wheat with mint) Baba Ganoush, and various other chickpea and aubergine dips served with warm inflatable bread (OK, so not really inflatable, just puffy), salad, spicy olives, pickles plus a couple of lamb fried balls. Let them know if you are vegetarian they will bring a tasty, hot cheese pastry item for you. The service here is very attentive, and may not be to everyone’s taste. The waiters like to serve the dips to you whilst explaining, in broken English, what they are. They are very friendly, smiley, and obliging.

The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol but they do make the best lemon juice drink with mint. There is an art to stirring it, and your waiter may help if he thinks you are not doing it right. Whilst I found this little game with my waiter amusing, one of my companions got a bit paranoid and didn’t want to stir her drink when he was around.

The meze is vast and knowing this, I didn’t have a main course on our second visit. The first time I ordered the vegetarian option which was herby rice and vegetables (courgettes, carrots, broccoli and green beans) seasoned with black pepper. It was quite tasty but nothing special. The lamb dishes seemed popular and the fish dish was a huge success. The regional speciality was the 'mansuf' which is lamb in a yoghurt sauce with rice, and I gather this was well received. There are also chicken dishes if you prefer. The portion size was very good.

Dessert is fruit and your waiter will peel it for you be it an apple, orange or banana and cut it into an interesting pattern.

I didn't visit the loos but I understand that the upstairs loos were OK but cold, however the downstairs ones were not as nice. For a few dinar you can smike a water pipe of various flavours - the liquorice one was popular with our crowd.

This is not going to be the cheapest restaurant you dine at in Jordan. As we had a group meal, I didn’t really see a menu. The second visit, where I just had a meze and two lemon and mint drinks, came to 14JD (£14), and the first visit where I had a main I paid 20JD (£20) which includes tax and sevice. The food is prepared to a very good standard but I still think it expensive for what it is.

Tawaheen Al-Hawa
70 Wasfi Al-tal Road
Amman, Jordan

Just Loved Jerash.

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Essexgirl09 on January 10, 2012

Jerash, in northern Jordan, is one of the best preserved former Roman cities that can be found in the region, helped by the dry desert air. Situated about an hour's drive from the capital, Amman, it is also easily accessible for a half day trip. Admission price is 8JD for non-Jordanian adults (£8). Under fifteens are free. Purchase your tickets before you head up to the town, where there is a small cluster of tourist shops.

Back in its Roman heyday, Jerash (or Gerasa as it was known then) was a fertile agricultural area with a Mediterranean climate. Ties with Rome were kept strong, to keep the empire unified, and there were many public monuments built to remind the locals of the generosity of their wealthy Roman benefactors. The site eventually fell into decline after the Muslim conquest and a large earthquake. It was rediscovered in the late 19th century, and its archaeological significance quickly realised, which has helped the site to be preserved, and in some cases they are re-building and re-storing.

After purchasing your ticket walk up the hill to Hadrian's Arch. This 13m high imposing gate was originally built outside the city walls and was intended to be the new South entrance to the city but the expansion was never finished. The Arch may have lost its original doors, but it is still an impressive structure with a lot of carving detail still visible. As you go through the arch, to the left is the Hippodrome. This is a former sports field and base for chariot racing and the arches at one end have been renovated. I gather they do have chariot racing displays here sometimes. Back in the peak time for the city it could have held up to 15,000 spectators.

One of the original city entrances is the South Gate. It is not as spectacular as Hadrian's Arch, being shorter, but has a number of attractive stone carvings still visible. This is the point where your tickets will be checked and you can visit the lavatories. There is a restaurant here too, but I didn't visit it so cannot comment on selection or value. You can also hire a guide here if you wish, but we already had one. From here you walk through another arch to the Forum

The Forum or Oval Plaza is vast and impressive, inducing a number of "Oh Wow"s from the group. To be honest I was not expecting anything so big, and for so much to still be here. It is 90 x 80m and the oval shape is quite unusual. It is estimated to have been constructed mid way through the 1st century and have 56 columns around it but I am not sure how much is original and how much has been restored. The remains of a 7th Century fountain are in the middle. This Forum would have been a market place as well as for social gatherings.

From here we walked to the South Theatre which would have held 5000 people and was the largest theatre (excluding the Hippodrome) in the city. If you are lucky (I use the term loosely) a Jordanian pipe band will play a number of 'classics' on the bagpipes such as Amazing Grace and Happy Birthday. If nothing else it highlights the excellent acoustics. You can climb to the top (32 rows – but it definitely seems more when you are climbing) and you can get a fabulous view of the plaza.

Over the other side of the site (walking behind the plaza, rather than across it), you will come to the site of a number of 5th and 6th Century churches. Very little remains of any of these churches but there are a few floor mosaics which have survived.

One of my highlights was the Temple of Artemis. It is built on a small hill in the mid 2nd Century and eleven of the twelve Corinthian columns are still standing in their original form and have not been restored, although the ceiling is long gone. Apparently the building was once covered in marble. The columns has been especially designed to wobble under pressure but not collapse which makes you wonder why they didn't build all columns the same...

Opposite here are the remains of the Western baths with an unusual domed roof still remaining on a square building. Also nearby is the North Theatre, a smaller amphitheatre than the South Theatre, which was more likely to have been a meeting place for the local government than a typical theatre. Whilst not as impressive as the South Theatre, if you wish to climb to the top (14 rows only this time), you do have a few good views of this side of the city and the Temple of Artemis. This building has been restored after earthquake damage and sacrifice for Byzantine and Umayyad (Muslim conquerors) buildings.

Whilst the North Gate is nothing special, you can get a good photo of it through a (rebuilt) tetrapylon, down a narrow colonnaded street, however, on our route we carried on down the main street towards the Plaza again. The 800m main colonnaded street (or Cardo Maximus) is also a pretty impressive affair. The stone floor is original, and ruts worn by the chariots are visible, as are the drains. Alongside the street are a number of stones with carvings that are likely to have been from the original columns that have since collapsed. Most of the columns currently standing have been restored, but you do get a good idea of what the street would ave been like: I think of it as a Roman Oxford Street, but cleaner and with less tourists with lots of smaller arcades coming off of it. Also along here is the Nymphaeum, a two-storey fountain which would have been an impressive sight back in the day. I am not sure how much is original and how much restored, but the carvings seem authentic.

On you way back out through the South Gate there is a small museum showing some carved stone and a few other artefacts. There is supposed to be a ticket from the South Theatre here, but we couldn't spot it. I was a bit disappointed with the museum, as the stone carvings look so much better in context outside than they do in a poorly lit room with unclear signage.

Museum aside, I thoroughly recommend spending two to three hours here. All in all we were here about 2.5 hours, and although there were other parts to see, I was starting to get a bit Roman-ed out.

Roman Ruins at Jerash (Gerasa)

Jerash, Jordan

All's well at the Al-Fanar

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Essexgirl09 on January 8, 2012

This hotel was selected by my tour operator as the hotel for our first two nights in Amman, Jordan. It is a large independent hotel in the west of the city, approx 45 minutes from Queen Alia Airport. The immediate area doesn’t really have to offer, being mainly residential, with a few local businesses. First impressions of the hotel were good, you went up a few wide marble steps into the open and spacious reception area where check in was quick and efficient and into the lifts and up to my room on the 7th floor. Sadly, arriving late at night, my initial good first impressions of the lobby needed to be changed. With the current climate of upheaval in the Middle East, many injured Libyan rebels are being treated in hospitals in Amman. Once well enough to be discharged, but not well enough to return home, they are put up in local hotels. During the day and much of the evening they congregate at the tables in the lobby, smoking, leaving little or no space for any other guests to sit and enjoy a coffee and a chat. Some members of our party were disturbed by their late night partying. I was fortunate not to hear this, but the heavy wooden doors are quite noisy if you have neighbours going in or out and unsocial hours. You may hear the call to prayer just before dawn (when I was there, this was about 5am).

The hotel is dry and does not serve alcohol, but some can be bought from a nearby shop. The lifts are quick and tend to close very quickly – I stepped out to allow some people to get past with luggage and ended up stuck on the 3rd floor until the next lift came round again. The internal décor is fairly simple, with carpeted corridors in good condition, but not much in the way of pictures on the walls.

I was pleased with my room however – a six foot wide bed, dark wood furniture, a large window and flat screen TV which could get BBC Worldwide and a number of other channels showing English language (mainly American) dramas and films. The rooms also had a mini bar, safe and hair-dryer The bathroom with a shower over the tub, vanity unit, toilet and bidet was of a good size. The room and bathroom were clean but the latter could do with a re-grout and the door frame needed a wipe down. The shower was hot (if you could be patient) though the pressure was inconsistent, but the low pressure never lasted more than a few seconds for me. My companions in other rooms did find they struggled to get much pressure at all.

Upon my return to this hotel before flying home, I had a smaller room with a regular sized double, and a more modest sized TV. The bathroom was long and narrow and had just a shower rather than a bath. Pressure was good and water hot, but worth checking the angle of the shower head before turning the shower on as I did manage to flood the bathroom quite effectively whilst waiting for the hot water to come thorough.

Breakfast is buffet style in the ground floor Venice restaurant and I thought it quite small and limited for a hotel of this size. It consisted of various breads (a toaster is provided), soft cheeses (Laughing Cow type and a very salty feta) and cold meats like salami. Yoghurt, olives, salad items, cereal and dips like hummus were also available alongside hot food such as boiled eggs, rice dishes (often with meat), salami sausages and sometimes a potato dish like chips or other fried potato. The restaurant area has plenty of seating mainly at long tables but there are a few smaller ones. I did not eat dinner here, so cannot comment what that is like, but understand that it is buffet also. According to the info in my room there are other restaurants and cafes in the hotel, but I did not see them. There is a small kiosk for coffees etc. in the lobby.

I understand that the hotel also has conference facilities, as well as a gym and pool but I didn’t see either, nor signs for them.

As the hotel was included in my holiday I don’t know how much it costs to stay here, but the website indicates that the rack rate is approx US$120 for a standard double which seems a bit steep to me. I would suggest searching for other deals.

Al-Fanar Palace Hotel,
Queen Rania Al Abdullah Street,
P.O. Box: 19196,
Amman, 11196, Jordan.
Telephone: +962 6 5100 400
Fax: +962 6 5100 410
Al-Fanar Palace Hotel
Queen Rania Al Abdullah Street
Amman, Jordan, 1119

Artemis Buffet

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Essexgirl09 on January 8, 2012

Artemis restaurant is a buffet style restaurant in Jerash, Jordan. After an intense morning touring the amazing Roman ruins nearby our bus took us here for lunch. Although locals do eat here, the restaurant seems to get most of its business from tourists, and there is plenty of parking outside. It is a 4-5 minute drive from the ruins, seemingly a little on the edge of town.

As you approach you will see tables outside, but although sunny when we went, it was quite a cold day in December, so we elected to eat inside and were all seated together on a long table. The standard price for the buffet is 10JD (£10) which includes a fruit dessert and mint tea, but they can make you a sandwich if you prefer. The price also includes tax and service. I am not sure if you pay more for dinner, or if they have any extra dishes or an a la carte menu.

I elected to have the buffet. There is a good selection of meze style items: bread, hummus, baba ganoush and other dips alongside potato salad with peas, macaroni and sauces (cold) and other salad type items. There were a number of hot dishes also – mainly lamb or chicken dishes with rice or in some sort of sauce. They also had a vegetarian lasagne which was surprisingly nice, and I also enjoyed the spicy tomato sauce with the macaroni.

Dessert consisted on bananas, apples and oranges and you helped yourself. I had a diet Pepsi to drink which was a further 1JD. Beer is quite steep at 5JD. Service for drinks could be quicker, as we were part the way through our food before they arrived.

The restaurant is large and I am sure they could cater for small groups if they just turned up. I was impressed with the loos which were very smart and clean.

Eating in Jordan was not as cheap as I expected, and overall I thought this restaurant was relatively good value with a good range of tasty dishes.
Artemis Restaurant

Jerash, Jordan

Dead in the Water

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Essexgirl09 on January 8, 2012

Floating in the Dead Sea is a unique experience and one I was keen to try on my visit to Jordan. It is the lowest point on the planet (408m below sea level) and the second saltiest body of water, with a salt content nine times denser than a 'normal' ocean. The salt content meaning that very little can survive in the water – so there are no fish or coral. We parked up outside the Amman Beach Tourism Resort and our guide bought our tickets as it was included in our trip, as were towels but I think it costs about £10 to get in. You could hire or buy costumes there.

There are changing rooms for each gender with lavatories and (cold) showers. In the ladies there were four private cubicles or else you had to change communally. There were a number of chairs and tables for your stuff as well as lockers. I didn’t use the lockers as our bus driver had volunteered to watch our bags for us. The changing rooms and facilities were not brilliant, but there was an attendant endeavouring to keep them clean and mopping the floor and washing the showers. Like any swimming pool facilities anywhere in the world, the floors were nearly always wet.

We went down to the beach with our towels (wrapped in plastic) and put them on one of the tables on the beach before entering the water. The beach is sandy but it is a little bit rocky as you go in and there are some unusual salt ‘rock’ formations where the tide has washed up salt onto the beach in a pattern. I was surprised how warm the water was. Although it was December and we had been quite chilled in the morning, the air and water around the Dead Sea were noticeably a few degrees warmer. My guide reckoned it was about 8 degrees centigrade warmer than Jerash, about an hour away.

It is not easy to swim in the Dead Sea as it is quite hard to keep your balance, as your body doesn’t submerge like you are used to. Besides you are advised to keep your eyes out of the water. Having accidentally splashed myself in the lower face I would advise keeping your mouth out of the way too – it tastes foul! If you feel the need to swim it is probably best to do it on your back. If you have any cuts you will be able to find them as they will sting. At first I could float very inelegantly. I kept listing to one side slightly and my legs were flapping about in an unladylike manner, but eventually I got used to it and floated star-shaped in the sea.

For a further 3JD (£3), you can help yourself to some Dead Sea mud, which allegedly takes 15 years off you. I didn’t apply it to my face as I didn’t want to worry about taking it off but I did cover my legs, arms, upper chest and back (with assistance). It is very soft and smooth and black – it looks like an oil slick rather than mud. I did get some on my swimming costume but this came off easily. It was hard to get the mud off my skin in the sea however, it left my skin with a grey tone, but a freshwater shower dealt with that, although you may need two to get the final layer of salt off your skin as my first attempt wasn’t entirely successful (admittedly in the cold showers at the resort where I wasn’t inclined to linger). Covered in mud as a group we became a tourist attraction for the locals with a number of people wanting their photo taken with us.

There is also a pool at the resort, which is colder than the sea and some of us went in for a refreshing swim. You can purchase drinks (hot & cold), ice creams and gifts here, with many Dead Sea salt and mud type packs. I believe there is also a restaurant also.
Amman Tourist Beach
Eastern shore of the Dead Sea, south of Sweimeh village
Amman, Jordan


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