I'm writing this from the beautiful lounge of the Amman Marriott Hotel while drinking a Bailey's hot chocolate. Allan is drinking a Bailey's martini and working with the guidebook for tomorrow's adventure, the final day of the trip except for flying.
We decided not to do any sightseeing today, but rather to explore the city a bit. There are things to do here -- an archeology museum, a museum about the history of Jordan, several Roman-era ruins -- and if we were here for a week I'm sure we'd see them all. But in between Petra and Madaba, I thought we'd just get a feel for the city.
After a ridiculous breakfast, we took a cab to Rainbow Street. Breakfast is ridiculously huge and ridiculously expensive, but we're not in a neighbourhood where you can find a local breakfast shop -- and it could be that no such neighbourhood exists. I keep saying we should take a bag and collect food for lunch, but I don't think we'll actually do it. Although I'm not promising anything.
Jordan is a country of hills, and Amman is a city built on seven hills. There are tunnels and bridges for vehicles, and steep streets, often with steps, for pedestrians. Hills make for wonderful views, and every so often you get a glimpse of hills receding into the distance, each hill covered in sand-coloured houses.
The neighbourhood we landed in had a San Francisco vibe. There were interesting-looking local cafes, smoke shops clearly catering to a younger (and often female) crowd, and funky, brightly-painted storefronts. After a while, the streets grew narrower, and we picked our way down steps. There were steps on both sides of the street, with a very steep, narrow road between them. The streets were all clean, the tiny shops were all modern. This is a long way from Cairo.
When the road flattened out, I looked around and realized we had accidentally found our way back to the area of Dingy Hotel and the nice little walk we had taken our first night in town. We stopped on a corner for a fresh-squeezed juice. I pointed to pomegranates and oranges, and a man squeezed them on the spot. So delicious and super healthy, and also cheap. A bit later, we saw the store where we bought the nuts and candy; the owner (known as Nut Guy) recognized us and waved. Too funny.
We explored the area more. In between shops there are often little alleys (or laneways, in Canadian) where there are tiny shops and cafes, and the alley ends at stairs up to another street. There are many outdoor stands selling paperback books, which was nice to see. Most are in Arabic, but there are English editions of Harry Potter, some John Green titles, and some perennials like The Alchemist. We looked in some crazy souvenir shops selling weird, dusty old things, some bakeries, about a million shoe stores. It's really nice to walk around without fighting off men trying to "help" us, get us in a cab, get us in a boat, sell us a souvenir, or anything else for that matter.
Eventually we came upon something Allan really wanted to find, one of the stairways. This one has brightly painted steps, and dozens of clay flowerpots full of plants attached to the walls. People have signed and written quotes on the pots.
In the middle of the stairs is an entrance to Zajal, a huge, airy, space, a beautiful update on a traditional coffee shop. The menu has some traditional food, some fun snacks, "clay pot dishes," and alcohol-free cocktails. Small groups of young women, or mixed men and women, were eating or smoking sheesha.
Lonely Planet claimed we would see this in Cairo, but we never did -- anywhere in Egypt. The coffee houses were dark, all-male, uninviting (and often dirty) places. In Amman we've seen many modern, integrated coffee houses.
As one might expect in the capital city, the women here are modern and stylish, many with bright or patterned hijabs, and many with their heads uncovered. This was only the second day of the trip that I felt comfortable wearing short-sleeves, the other being in Petra.
After Zajal, we took a taxi back to the hotel. Everyone speaks English here, and all the food is European. The servers and hostesses all appear to be Thai or Vietnamese. Everyone asks if we're here on business or with a tour group. It's a bit weird, but I give Amman very high marks -- a nice city.
A few interesting English translations:
On a menu in Petra: "Beer out of al-kohool"
On a street-side menu in Petra: "Fish Fellate"
Above the storefront of a Rainbow Street pizza joint: "Wooden Pizza"