Middle East / Travel

Early Impressions of Jordan:

Forget What You Think You Know, and Follow Your Senses

When we told family and friends we were planning to visit Jordan, the reaction was mixed. “That sounds amazing!” “Are you sure?” ”Muslims think dogs are unclean, so you will have trouble with cabs, restaurants and accommodations.” And last, but not least, “Are you crazy?” Yes, Jordan is amazing, of that we are sure. So far, we haven’t starved or slept in our rental car because of Otto. And of course we’re crazy, but not because we chose to travel to Jordan.

Jordan has been on our travel radar since 2015. That was the year we first met two of the country’s charming tourism representatives at TBEX (Travel Bloggers Expo) North America in Fort Lauderdale. When we met them again in 2017 at TBEX Europe in Stockholm, and learned TBEX International would be held in Jerusalem in 2017, traveling to Jordan became a reality.

We just spent our first three days in Amman, and I feel comfortable enough to share some first impressions with you. Of course, there will be plenty of detailed posts on many aspects of our visit, but here’s what my senses have picked up so far.

The Sights

Our first view of Amman was from the airplane window. Night had fallen over the city, which was illuminated by yellow lights that emphasized how large Jordan’s capital was. Corinne, our AirBnB hostess insisted on picking us up from the airport. She drove us to her homey apartment in a quiet neighborhood, where we promptly collapsed from our 17-hour journey.

Our AirBnB Hostess, Corinne
Our Amman, Jordan, AirBnB Hostess, Corinne

The following morning, we dragged our jet lagged selves out to explore the city.

As we bungled our way through unfamiliar streets, we saw trees growing in the middle of sidewalks, imaginative topiaries, ubiquitous buildings some seriously crazy driving and smiling people everywhere.

Topiary in the Middle of the Sidewalk (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)
Topiary in the Middle of the Sidewalk (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

On the second day, we, thanks to a recommendation from Corinne, employed the services of Ahmed. This man was a taxi driver sent from heaven, arriving on time, not driving like a lunatic, and there was no problem with Otto.

Ahmed, Our "Go-To" Taxi Driver in Amman, Jordan
Ahmed, Our “Go-To” Taxi Driver in Amman, Jordan

Ahmed drove us to the Citadel, a brilliantly reconstructed open-air museum encompassing ruins from Iron Age as well as Roman, Byzantine and Muslim periods. We then walked down to the beautifully preserved Roman Theater.

A Map of the Amman Citadel (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)
A Map of the Amman Citadel (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)
The Muslim Palace at the Amman Citadel (simon@myeclecticimages.com)
The Muslim Palace at the Amman Citadel (simon@myeclecticimages.com)
A View of the Amphitheater from the Amman Citadel (simon@myeclecticimages.com)
A View of the Amphitheater from the Amman Citadel (simon@myeclecticimages.com)
The Roman Amphitheater in Central Amman (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)
The Roman Amphitheater in Central Amman (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

The Sounds

Traffic and birdsong punctuated the late morning. Noting a pair of westerners in their midst, strangers called out, “Welcome,” as they passed us in the street.

The only intelligible sound we were able to make in Arabic was, “shokran,” meaning “thank you”. If you plan to visit Jordan, I suggest you learn it, too. You’ll be using it a lot.

But the sound that riveted my attention was the call to prayer resonating throughout the city from Amman’s main mosque. The disembodied voice was so hauntingly beautiful, I stopped to listen, and do so every time I hear it.

Five times daily, the call to prayer is transmitted, and for Muslims, an ancient ritual begins. I’ve heard this call before, but never listened. In Amman, I couldn’t help but listen. The reverence in that voice had me, a self-proclaimed agnostic, under it’s spell.

The Smells

Considering the litter scattered everywhere in Amman – one of the few disappointments – the city didn’t have a foul odor to go along with it. Most of the time the smell was neutral, until, that is, we were in an area where food was sold and/or prepared.

Soft, subtle fragrances wafted into the street from shops selling spices. Baking bread beckoned us from bakeries and grilling and frying falafel switched on the hunger pangs to the point where resistance was futile.

My olfactory memories of Amman will forever make me want to reach for a skillet and start cooking.

The Tastes

We were told by several people that you can’t get a bad meal in Jordan. Although I can’t give you scientific proof, our dining experiences in Amman lead me to believe there may be truth in what they said.

We have indulged ourselves in some of the best humus, falafel, shawarma and substances whose identity was unclear. Baked goods consisting of seeds, nuts, dates, figs, honey and sometimes herbs made us realize chocolate isn’t all that big a deal.

A Feast at the Well Known Downtown Hashem Restaurant (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)
A Feast at the Well Known Downtown Hashem Restaurant (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

 

A Street Stand Selling Wonderful Coffee, Tea and Other Hot Drinks on Rainbow Street, Amman, Jordan (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)
A Street Stand Selling Wonderful Coffee, Tea and Other Hot Drinks on Rainbow Street, Amman, Jordan (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

One of our best finds was a sandwich from Saladin Bakery. There’s only one item on the menu: a hot freshly baked roll that you use as a base for your own delectable masterpiece.

Removing Freshly Baked Bread from the Oven at Saladin Bakery (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)
Removing Freshly Baked Bread from the Oven at Saladin Bakery (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

Once you split open the long seeded roll, you place cheese on the steaming interior, top it with baked eggs that you peel and chop yourself and hot sauce to taste.

Stuffing the Bread from Saladin Bakery, in Amman, Jordan (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)
Stuffing the Bread from Saladin Bakery, in Amman, Jordan (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

And finally copious amounts of the Middle Eastern herb mix, zatar. Place the top on, and prepare to be wowed. These simple sandwiches were not only delicious, but our breakfast set us back the equivalent of a whopping four dollars, and held us until dinner.

The Touch

The touch we’ve experienced most since our arrival has been the handshake. Fellow bloggers have written about how friendly and welcoming Jordanians are, and we have found this to be true. I’m not talking about the limp, “I don’t really want to do this, but I have to,” kind of handshake. These greetings are firm, warm and genuine.

Then there were the sensations of my fingers tracing patterns on ancient stone, my arm brushing against clothing on racks lining narrow crowded sidewalks and my face caressed by low-hanging leaves and fronds.

What I have experienced through my skin has shown me the history and heart of Jordan.

The Sixth Sense

Countries like Spain, Panama and England have taken on a comfortable familiarity as a result of our frequent visits. But Jordan was totally unfamiliar to us. The culture and traditions of Jordan were brand new.

Jordan’s position on the map leads many to draw conclusions that are misguided at best, and mean-spirited at worst. This is where those wonderful travel bloggers have been invaluable when it came to having some idea of what to expect. Nonetheless, nothing prepared us for actually being here.

We have felt safer in Jordan than in some cities in the U.S. Jordan’s military is well trained and competent. Also the Tourist Police seem to have a strong presence at all the locations we visited. The safety of its people and visitors is given high priority.

I sense that Jordanians in general are deeply committed to religious and family values. They welcome those who want to share the diverse beauty and fascinating cultures that exist in Jordan.

Final Thoughts

Jordan has no oil or mineral wealth. The country relies heavily on tourists drawn by its rich history and stunning landscapes. The actions of neighboring countries and raving radical lunatics have caused many to inaccurately put this small but proud nation into the same sorry stew as Syria and ISIS.

I’ve always thought of Jordan as a peaceful country with peace-loving people. I still believe this, only more strongly. Although we still have several more days in Jordan, I’m comfortable in saying that you actually have to visit Jordan to understand and appreciate its people and culture. So, turn off the talking heads, put aside your prejudices about this part of the world and let the intriguing, generous, safe nation of Jordan win you over.

Disclaimer: A considerable portion of our Jordan experience was generously hosted by Jordan Tourism Board. However, all opinions, as always, are entirely my own.

6 Comments

  • Announcing High Country Travel and Tours Travel Trade Show – Six Legs Will Travel

    Jun 11, 2017

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    […] Show, hosted by High Country Travel and Tours, right here in New Bern, NC. Our topic will be “Traveling in Israel and Jordan”. We hope this will be the beginning of a mutually beneficial professional relationship between […]

  • Jordan is a sparkling jewel among nations from a historic, cultural and culinary standpoint. And the people are among the most friendly and kind you’ll find anywhere. Now, in case I was too subtle, I strongly suggest you plan a visit, and see for yourse

    Mar 30, 2017

    Reply

    […] we recently discovered, Jordan is a sparkling jewel among nations. From a historic, cultural and culinary standpoint, it hits all […]

  • avatar image

    Ruby

    Mar 19, 2017

    Reply

    Hello Penny, Simon and Otto,It's Ruby here - one of the two Aussies you met at Saleh's camp. Just want to drop by to say a quick hello and thank you for your recommendations of Husan and the places in Amman - we loved Hashem lots! Husan was a great guide and he made a massive difference to our tour around Petra, he was brilliant.Hope you enjoy the rest of your journey!

    • avatar image

      Penny

      Mar 29, 2017

      Reply

      Great to hear from you, Ruby! I'm not surprised that Husan was such a great guide for you. We really lucked out, and were more than happy to share the wealth. Hope you enjoyed the rest of your visit, and that you'll be back in Jordan some time in the future.

  • avatar image

    Mallory

    Mar 10, 2017

    Reply

    I love the tour of the senses! As usual, your vivid descriptions make me feel right at home, wherever you are. Thanks for another WOW. Safe travels. Spirit and his people

    • avatar image

      Penny

      Mar 11, 2017

      Reply

      If you like what you've read so far, just wait until I get into detail. Jordan is a truly amazing country, and a treasure that is sadly being overlooked. When we get back to New Bern, I'll attempt to cook you a Jordanian dinner. These folks really know how to get the best out of fresh produce, meats and spices. Hugs to all of you, and please give Spirit a scratch behind the ears for me.

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