Amman – Welcome to the old Philadelphia

Before you read ahead – Don’t skip Amman. It is layered beautifully, and it isn’t just a gateway to big giants like Petra and Wadi Rum.

Little tired after our flight journey from Cairo to Amman and getting stuck at Amman’s traffic from the airport to the city, we decided to ditch all the plans of exploring Amman and asked Yusuf to pick us the next day to go to Petra. With just a few glimpses of the city from the car, we assumed Amman wasn’t worth our time and decided to stretch our legs lying on the bed the whole day.

The best-preserved Roman ruin in all of the Middle East is Jerash. But we needed that” stretch our legs” time after that tiresome journey in the morning. Petra was our dream, and we are in Jordan for that. But leaving Egypt behind felt as if we had left our motherland! There is so much in Egypt to see; we were feeling incomplete. The best part of travelling is making friends with strangers. The worst part is saying goodbye to them after having such a fun time. We missed Mamdouh, Ibrahim, Mahmoud and Egypt! It took four long hours of lying on the bed and chatting,” when are we going to Egypt again” and realised we were wasting our precious time on Jordan whining!

Amman – “The city of Contrast.” 

A fresh cup of coffee from the hotel gave us a little jerk later, and we wondered why two keen walkers like us were acting lazy on bed. Then I remembered Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules (2014). I love Rock and was mesmerised by Hercules story. Then, shaking our butts, we stepped out of the room to see one of the most underrated cities – Amma by 3.45 PM. Walking the first ten steps froze our hands and legs. We had done our research on the weather; we were prepared for it. But this extreme cold that too in the afternoon was not a pleasant surprise.


Where to stay in Amman

WHERE DID WE STAYAl Qasr Metropole Hotel in Ash Shumaysani neighbourhood. There is nothing to complain about the hotel except the distance from Amman’s downtown. The locality is excellent for comfort seekers on a mid-range budget. Unfortunately, the taxi prices are so high that getting out of this neighbourhood cost us 2JD(200 INR). So I wish we had chosen downtown (Old Amman) to save more money and be surrounded by Amman’s so-called Souks.

Why Visit Amman

While we planned to come to Amman, “Get in, get out” is what one globe trotter advised. Others said, “Traffic in Amman is horrible.” “Amman is burly – Ruins are literally ruined.”

Don’t get in and get out of Amman; it is an experience of your lifetime to a multilayered city like this. Yes, Amman traffic is chaotic – but it is worth your time, have little patience and watch how Jordanians stretch their four-lane roads to 6 lanes. Ruins aren’t ruins; they are storytellers. Amman isn’t a mere gateway to Magical Petra but a crash course you must take to understand Jordanian culture & heritage. 

It is one of the very few cities with two different sides in everything. I will start with religion. Our driver name was Yusuf Jaber. He said we could call him Joseph too!! The blend of Christianity and Islam here is astonishing.

The history: Nabatean + Roman + Byzantine+ Ummayad period – The ruins that belong to all these periods stand on a hill against the bustling 21st-century city Amman, at the Citadel. You see the ruins of three different eras, three different cultures with one turnaround!. An Islamic constitutional Monarchy, where women drive and come out for a Sheisha on the street cafes. This city weaves subtly yet unique contrasts- from the contemporary glass buildings to the downtown ghettos, Roman theatre – a mosque; Amman is a cultural delight for history buffs and walkers.

Commuting in & around Amman

The best way to explore Amman and the whole of Jordan is by taxi – the omnipresent yellow taxis with fixed rates. Uber works perfectly in Jordan. We used an Uber taxi to the Citadel from the hotel in the evening cost us 2JD/200INR for 7km. Taking a Taxi in the night is absolutely safe. We reached our hotel at 11 PM by taxi from Rainbow Street.

Most hotels will arrange taxis on request for day trips to Jerash / Madaba or overnight stays at Petra/Wadi Rum/Dead Sea. Else you find lots of taxi agencies downtown.

How many days to spend in Amman

We recommend two days for Amman. On the first day, wander Amman. On the next day, see the best-preserved Roman ruins of Asia at Jerash. From there, go to the Dead Sea. All the major destinations like Wadi Rum, Petra and the Dead Sea area to the South of Amman. Jerash and Aljoun are in the North. So plan accordingly. 

Best things to do in Amman

The Northern part of Amman is famous for its contemporary art galleries and museums. The city’s highlight is Amman Citadel – the view of the city from here is incredible. Then go cafe-hopping in Rainbow street. Grab some Falafels at Old souk downtown. Explore Al Baland for some souvenir shopping or window shopping. End your day smoking Shisha by the roadside & some hot Jordanian coffee.

Amman Citadel

Until I went to the Citadel, I knew only one Philadelphia (USA), but I know now one more!

Practical Info –

Entrance fee – 2JD for foreigners. Opening hrs – 8 AM to 5 PM (as of January 2019). We spent solid three hours there. A small shop near the entrance gate sell cookies & water bottles. A small museum at the hilltop has entry fees included in your ticket. – Taxi will drop you at the foothill. Then, a 5-minute uphill walk will take you to the gate. It is wheelchair friendly.

 If you want to spend an evening among the locals watching the city from above – This is the ultimate place. It is not too touristy, but many domestic and foreign visitors love to spend their evenings here- Hence it is the best place to People watch. Romancing young couples, older people sharing good laughter, school girls checking out us- tourists ( they were carefully observing what we wore ) and approaching tourists for a photo! Indeed, watching people is the best thing to do sitting on a bench or even on the citadel wall.

What we loved most about Amman Citadel was the view of the city.

The beige painted town changes its colour to golden yellow as the sun is about to set. Why is it painted Beige? Next day when we asked Yusuf – “The rich who live on the hills use the stones for building and cladding, which are available in plenty. It works well for the Jordan summer heat too. One who can not afford the stones, paint it with similar colour paint” Those houses looked like Lego blocks of the same colour stagged together.

Suppose you love history like me – this place will amaze you. Out of the historical ruins I have visited till now, we have never come across a site where you see the ruins of three different ages at once. Bronze age- Roman period- Byzantine age to Ummayad era towering over modern Amman is delightful.

The Hercules obsession –

As an architect, I had read and heard so many stories of Roman cities and their gods. I admire Hercules more after Dwayne Johnson’s Hercule movie in 2014. So being there at the ruins of the temple -took me back in time imagined him walking down the steps with the Lion skin on his chest! Wait-

It is a temple dedicated to him, not where he lived or was born. Hercules did not walk on the exact steps where I was standing on that day. Did Hercules exist in reality, or is he a mythical Demi-god?

The researchers are still on their quest to discover the truth. Anyways, I love Hercules+Dwayne Johnson and Amman Citadel :D. Oh ya, this was the time for me to click some pictures of details of Corinthian columns to teach my pupils back home in India.

Ummayad Mosque– The blue byzantine dome with stone walls and a few columns. The ruin’s interiors are better preserved than the outside.

Cafe hopping in Amman

It didn’t any longer realise how expensive Jordan was after seeing the Menus in nearby cafes! A meal for two in a regular restaurant would cost a minimum of 15JD, more than 1500 INR! So we kept looking for smaller cafes- The prices were lower, but we weren’t ready to pay 2JD for a coffee.

However, there is a mall; we saw the rescuer – The Mc. Donald’s. The rates in Mc. Donald’s do vary a bit, but still better than any other authentic Jordanian restaurant. While having the burgers, we discussed selling a kidney to someone if we want to have traditional Jordanian food in the next seven days. or experience cafe culture in Amman. 

Cafe hopping is fantastic- if you are ok spending. Otherwise, famous falafel joints like Hashem Restaurant serve good Falafels for less than a JD. Jordanians, please don’t get angry – I loved Egypt falafels more than yours 🤪|

Rainbow street

Hoping for better rates than Shumaysani, we took a taxi to rainbow street. The road is lined with restaurants and cafes. Some even are located on the topmost floor and hence must be giving you a fantastic view of the city. Thank god, all cafes keep menu cards at the entrance itself. With not much difference from the Shumysani area, the prices weren’t under our budget. We did want to keep our kidneys with us, so we opted for something lighter to pocket when we saw locals sitting in a plaza extended from the main road – So, we settled for Roadside Sheisha for 1JD or 100INR and a big cup of Jordan coffee for 1JD. Ah, finally, it may not be the trendy cafe, but Shisha in the cold weather was blissful. Plus, we got to see how liberally Jordanian women get together in public space for Shisha despite being an Islamic country. 

Scam alert: A guy making coffee asked us for 0.5 JD / coffee. But after a while, another guy took over; he spoke something in Arabic. While paying, he asked for 1 JD!!!! We were, like you said, 0.5 JD. He was reluctant to take anything less than a JD. Later we saw locals paying 0.5 JD.

Wander in Old Town and go window shopping.

It was dark by the time we wandered in the old town. The locals were busy shopping gold as if they all had a wedding to attend tomorrow near King Faisal street! The narrow alleys had shops of spices and spice powders. Tourists like us kept smelling each thing, inhaling the Aroma. Hashem restaurant had locals and tourists in line, and we joined the q too to grab our falafels. Souvenir shops like Al-Afghani stores call window shoppers too, saying “No charge to see” Amman may not have Bazar, but the oldtown vibe gives you the true lively essence of the city.

Roman theatre

When we were whining, sleeping in our room, how badly we miss Egypt. Ashrith said,” We are in the Middle East. We are here for Nabateans and Bedouins. Not Romans. I don’t want to go to the Roman Ruins” At that point, it sounded right, BUT IT IS WRONG! The magic lies where East meets West; the beauty of Amman is in contrast. We realised it when we saw an Islamic ruin behind Roman columns. At a distance, we could see the majestic Roman theatre. It was laughing at our stupidity, and we felt stupid to think that way. Unfortunately, it was too late to realise. Almost dark, and the theatre closes at the same time the Citadel closes.

We had made a similar mistake in Athens by taking rest more than what was needed to get rid of Jetlag. Because many people had suggested, Athens isn’t worth the time. We have learnt our lessons after Amman – Reading the blogs are a neat way to plan your trip. Sit back and think if the blogger’s perspective and your thoughts are similar or not. If you are still unclear, go visit, explore and know it yourself.

What are your thoughts on Amman? Will you rest back in the hotel or go out there exploring? Let us know in the comment section below. 

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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