Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hanging Out in Aqaba and Checking out The Bernice Beach Club

They say it doesn't rain here this time of year. Is that so?

Shack is back to work so we chilling for a couple of days in Aqaba. On Sunday The Kid did homework by the pool while I read until about 1 pm and after that we went for a walk to buy supplies for the room- local side for nuts, a shwarma, water and red bull and the tourist side for some beer to put in the fridge. 

There are actually decent Jordanian wines, again, who knew?

Here in Jordan, your legal documents like birth and marriage certificates, national ID cards are stamped with your religion and only Christians can sell liquor. Here in Aqaba liquor stores tend to be on the tourist side of town and are all owned and operated by Jordanian Christians. This is also a duty free zone so the alcohol is much cheaper than in Petra or Amman. Big hotels can sell alcohol with food and the odd tourist restaurant but outside the big hotels, you will be hard pressed to find a glass of wine or beer with your meal. It's actually quite refreshing to be in a touristy place that is devoid of drunk people even if there are times I would kill for an ice cold beer to wash down my falafel. 

Bernice Beach Club

Monday we checked out the Bernice Beach Club. It seems that all of the nicer hotels that don't have their own private beaches have a deal with this place and you can hop on a free shuttle thT takes you there and back. In our case we had to pay 7JD per person because they said the movie Shack is working on was given the corporate rate and it's not free.
I am okay with paying $20 for the two of us to spend the day at the beach since the public beach is not really an option for me as a woman- another reminder that we are still in a conservative Muslim country. It's easy to forget that sometimes. 

It's amazing how irate people get over having a big bottle of water confiscated. This place won't let you bring in ANYTHING to eat or drink to force you to spend your tourist dollars on their over priced food and drink, much like Canada's Wonderland etc but there are no drinking fountains or anything here. You either cough up a few bucks for a small bottle of water or die of dehydration. 
I do think it would go a long way, PR wise, to allow people at least one bottle of water in their bag, but, whatever. It's a nice facility, cleaner than the public beach ( they do love their litter lol) and I can wear a bathing suit. Woot!

I do wish I had been told to bring water shoes as well- the beach is all rocky and rough and it looked like the bottom of the sea was rocky all the way out. If we go back another day we will have to get some shoes but the water was warm and clear as a bell. I would like to try again since today was uncharacteristicly overcast and cool so neither of us really wanted to swim. I thought it didn't rain in the desert?  

I think we will just chill for the next couple of days and then Wednesday the two of us are off on another adventure. I booked us on a day trip to Faroun Island (Pharoah Island) in the Red Sea just off the coast of Egypt for Wednesday and we are pretty stoked. We had to leave our passports so the tour group could take care of the Egyptian visas needed but they don't entitle us to enter the mainland, only the island, which is just off shore. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Petra, day 2 - The Donkey Swindle

Today we were up early so we could shove some breakfast into our bellies and make the move into the site. After our brief taste yesterday, Shack and I were very anxious to get going. We were determined to make it all the way through and up the 800 steps to The Monestary and we were supposed to check out at 1pm. 

Breakfast at The Movenpick was good with lots of selection and nice "power shots" of fresh squeezed, unsweetened lemon juice with mint. As much as I hate eating in the morning, I knew I would need the fuel for what lay ahead so I choked the better part of an omlete and some falafel and cheese down. 

A face that launched a thousand ships

We set out with coworkers of Shack's who joined us on the trip at around 8:45am and the Siq was already crowded with tourists. We power walked ahead of them until we got to the rag tag group of "roman soldiers" and the less said about them, the better, although, will say that The Kid was thrilled to see that they appeared to be wearing the same dollarama helmets that he has at home. A place this magnificent doesn't need to cheese the joint up in this manner. Luckily, the large gaggle of tourists stopped to take photos and so we left them in the dust and spent the rest of the day a bit ahead of the crowd. 

Again, words can't touch how CRAZYPANTS this place is. If this place wasn't already on the old bucket list, pencil it in already. 

Everything was spectacular and we could have easily spent a few more days discovering the place - two days should definitely be the minimum plan. 
Okay, so here is how the day ended. We made it up the 200 metres (over 1000 metres above sea level) and  800000 step climb to The Monestary in about an hour and a bit ( damn you asthmatic lungs).  It is not an easy climb and there were a couple times that I wanted to turn back but we just kept stopping a few times to rest and recover a bit before pressing on. Just when you think you are never going to get to the end of the road you descend a short flight of steps and turn to your right and you see this:

The Monestary is worth every blasted step

At 47 metres high, it is the largest of the structures, even though The Treasury is the most famous. The scale is almost unbelievable and I kept thinking that somebody was punking us because this can't actually be a building from the 1st century BC. Although there is much more erosion on the surface so it's not as detailed or as ornate as The Treasury, it is magnificent. How did they keep things so straight back then? How did they manage to carve perfect circles without auto cad? How the hell did they even get up that high to build it?

We had some pomegranate juice and lounged around on the benches facing the building and just looked at it for quite some time. The Kid had a run in with some angry dogs that were chained to the port a potties up there so you might want to stop at one juice, by the way. It was quite cold and windy up there and we had to be back at the hotel in an hour so we left, reluctantly, and started to desend the stairs, which only took about 25 minutes. 

When we reached the bottom, we were trying to decide the best way back when some Bedoiun donkey guys tried to sell us a ride back to the treasury for 30 JD or back to the gate for $50 but Shack was not having it. Much heated haggling ensued but Shack was not to be swayed. I think to punish us, they told us to go the back way because it was a shortcut. The last shortcut we took on the advice of a Bedouin lady cost us 55  JD and was more of a long cut that happened to pass by that woman's little stall- how convenient. 

 The Kid tried to tell us that this was the wrong way but we always follow Shack so we set off to take the "shortcut", with The Kid grumbling the whole time.

The three donkey dudes were trailing us, riding by us and on ahead, falling back and then galloping away again while we walked out of the site and on to a winding, desolate road that appeared to go nowhere we would ever want to go.  For once, I was with The Kid but I said nothing and on and on we walked. 

Donkey dudes kept trying to entice us with their beasts of burden but we continued to refuse and trudged on. The road is clearly going to continue up, up, up now and I am getting wheezy when the donkey guys gallop up for the tenth time. 

Not a fan

" hire a donkey for the mama" they say, shaming Shack. This time, we settle on 5JD per person and they will put us on their donkeys and take us up to the top of the hill where we can get a cab. 

The worlds strongest mule

I have never been so happy to get up on a donkey in my life. Actually I have never ridden a donkey or even been this close to one, but no matter. I am now a donkey fan. Okay, Shack was actually riding a mule since he requires the big boy size but we both had nice little donkeys.  At the top of the road they dropped us off and a guard called us a cab who then charges us 10JD to drive us to the hotel which is a good 5k away - in the end we paid the same amount to get donkey swindled as we would have if we had just taken the damned donkeys to The Treasury in the first place but it was certainly more of an adventure this way. 

Petra was everything we had hoped for and more and this experimce alone was worth the trip to Jordan. 


We are in Aqaba, the South Beach of Jordan. Aqaba shares the northern tip of the Red Sea with Eilat, Israel both enjoying the hot, arid climate, beautiful beaches, hummus and sea breezes. 

Our stay in Amman was quite amazing but coming down here feels like we are really on vacation now. Where Amman is a busy, crowded city with a welcoming but conservative feel to it , Aqaba is a more laid back resort town with a much larger number of visible tourists. That's not to say that there are women in spaghetti straps and shorts roaming the streets, by any means and I still feel like I need to make sure at least my shoulders and upper arms are covered but I don't feel like I stick out quite as much. Maybe I am just getting used to it. 

Our final night in Amman we had to skip the fancy restaurant a second time because The Kid wasn't feeling well ( truth be told, I felt the same way the night before). Instead, we returned to Jafra, the place almost directly across from our hotel. This time they tried to seat us amidst a cacophony of shisa smokers so we had to ask to sit outside. It was pretty chilly and we had to keep our coats on but that was preferable to dying of an asthma attack inside. Unfortunately, by the time our food started to arrive, we were surrounds by Shisa out there 
too. Clearly this is going to be a problem for me anywhere we go so I went to the pharmacy where I bought a new inhaler, without a prescription, for about $6. I might buy myself a couple more before I leave as souvenirs. 

We skipped the spleen on our second visit

Anyway, dinner at Jafra was good but not quite as good as the first night although this time we ordered fries because fries are always good when you feel a bit queasy and they were excellent. The Kid pronounced them a million times better than the soft, oil soaked fries of Portugal, so chalk one up for Jordan in the deep frying dept. 

That's our little hotels reception area lit up across the road from the restaurant 

We didn't do much on Wednesday morning before our driver arrived to take us down to Aqaba ( still not feeling up to snuff) but I managed to sneak out alone with my camera to shoot some photos( everything so far has just been with my iPhone). I tried out the ATM at the bank, made a stop at Habibah for a treat to bring to Shack and had one last walk about. 

I'm sure we could find more to do but I feel like we saw all we wanted to see with two full days in the city. I don't care for high end shopping and we don't travel halfway around the work to go to H&M so we skipped the new part of the city altogether. If you go and want to check that out add a couple more days to the itinerary. 

Ciao Amman - the Wadi Abdoun Bridge

The first three hours of the drive south were uneventful. The terrain is barren and sadly, it's strewn with garbage ( you can't help but notice the garbage everywhere, sadly) so we both stopped paying attention to the scenery eventually. Suddenly, we rounded a big bend and came out to see this:

Holy crap! From that point on, we both perked up and couldn't take our eyes off the view. This is where you start to drive down, down, down through the edges of the wadi and it's gorgeous. 

Shack's driver, Mr Hamza, must have called my phone five times to talk to our driver. I found out later he was lecturing him  to drive slowly, make sure Mamashack has enough cold water, stop so Mamashack can use the washroom, make sure the air condition is on, drive slowly, get Mamashack something to eat. At all costs, do nothing to bring harm to Mamashack. 

As we approached the city, our driver pulled over to the side of he road and just sat there. I finally asked why we stopped and he said "Mr. Hamza" and I looked out the back window and saw a black SUV flash the lights and slow down as he passed us as our driver pulled out to follow him. Mr. Hamza was giving us a royal escort.  

I can't even imagine who the hell our driver thought we were at this point. It seems that Mr. Shack has endeared himself to one and all here in town and so the kid and I have become precious cargo. Whatever we want, wherever we want to go, we are to be taken care off. This next week should get interesting. 

Shack got today off work so he showed us around, we hung out by the pool and just relaxed. Tomorrow we leave for two days in Petra so I am anticipating much shock and awe, sore feet and sandy bits and pieces. 

Last night my wimpy kid fell asleep at 5:30 so we went out without him. We dined like Kings at Shack's favourite restaurant, Al Shami ( the chef took us into the kitchen for an impromptu cooking lesson) and then went to a bar with most beautiful view in town, The Sea View, owned by Shacks new BFF, Safa. 

Today we took The Kid to Al Shami for lunch and I got another cooking lesson from the chef. This place deserves a dedicated post so, for now, enjoy the photos of our food. 

Petra, day 1

Shack's photo of the final reveal of The Treasury

Last night we ripped it up a little so we were a bit slow going today but we finally got ourselves together and started off to Petra. 

We hopped in our rental car and started the 1.5 hr trip north to Petra. We ended up getting a great price on a car (40JD/day for a nice small SUVish Kirean vehicle) and we were happy to drive ourselves. The road between Aqaba and Petra is smooth and easy as long as you don't speed, you watch out for goats and the odd truck driving the wrong way, with beautiful mountains flanking the road as you gradually go up, away from the low lying sea.  In Jordan, you can park you car in the middle of the street or drive the wrong way down the side of the highway and the idea of Ames are merely a suggestion but they take speeding very seriously. 

Once you make the turn off to Petra, things get very dramatic. The long, winding road takes you higher and higher until you are at a height of about 6000 Metres. I don't think either of us have been that high without the benefit of an airplane and I kept asking for comparisons to places I had previously thought to be super high and nothing came even close. 

We stopped at the second souvenir shop to gape at the view and take photos but it felt impossible to capture the scale, something that would prove to be a problem from that point on. There was much "holy shitting" going on. 

We are staying at The Movenpick, right in front of the gates to Petra. The hotel is a splurge but absolutely worth it. Trust me. You can just walk in to the entrance, no taxis to and from the hotel and after trudging through the dusty site you are sweaty and dirty and it's nice time back to a beautiful bed and a strong, hot shower. 

One word of warning: this felt like a brand new policy but not only must you have proof that you are staying overnight in Jordan to avoid being charged 90JD instead of the regular price of 50JD but they wanted passports, which we left at the hotel. Luckily, we have photos of our passports on our phones, but were told to bring them the next day for re entry ( we paid 55JD for two days). 

What can I say about Petra that hasn't already been said? Just look at the pictures. Oh, and watch out for horses screaming through the narrow Siq. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Downtown Amman

This hotel could not be better situated. We are in the heart of downtown Amman, in the old part of the city within walking distance of the coliseum, the citadel, the bustling souk that surrounds the King Abdullah Mosque.  
Roof top oasis inside a tent
The Boutique Hotel is not fancy but it's spotless, it's inexpensive, it's wonderfully situated, the manager is friendly and very helpful. He will arrange a ride from or to the airport for only 25JD (a taxi costs about 45JD) or a driver to take you to tour sites like Jerash OT to take you to Madaba for a very reasonable rate. I was very happy with our stay and would stay there again if I returned to Jordan. I fact, we might stay there in our last night. We got the "quiet" room at the back with a king bed and a private bathroom for 30JD a night ( that is just under $50 Canadian). 

We spent at least two hours wandering up and down, venturing one small alley after another. We bought scarves, spices, nuts and a couple of trinkets. Oh and The Kid bought a cane. The one he lusted over had a hidden dagger in the handle. Uh, yeah,no- 'splain that to immigration son. 

The Kid learned a lesson about drinking Turkish coffee on an empty stomach which meant that we missed our reservation at the restaurant I wanted to try. 

Because of this we are back at Jafra, a great place across the street from the hotel. We are there last night and everything was delicious so we are back tonight. Okay, I am not saying that I found out lamb spleen to be delicious but he ate more if it than I could imagine anyone could eat so, for lamb spleen, I guess it was delicious. 

I will talk more about Jafra tomorrow for tonight, we dine. 


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