Wednesday, January 10, 2007 Jordan Jordan

Not doing much in Amman

Square de Paris [Enlarge]

When we started out on this trip in late November we knew that we were only just going to keep ahead of the cold weather in Europe. Even as far south as Turkey we were expecting proper winter temperatures. But we did think that once we got to the Middle East it would at least be warm during the day. Surely Jordan is desert, isn't it? You know, blazing sun, mirages, people crawling towards you gasping for water. Not so cold that the papers are reporting people dying of carbon monoxide poisoning from their dodgy heaters; and not so wet that tourists have to be rescued from floods near Petra. Apparently oil prices have risen so much in Jordan that bakers are being put out of business because it costs more for the heating oil to cook a cake than customers are prepared to pay for the finished cake! Our hotel certainly seems mindful of the price of oil when it comes to putting the central heating and hot water on. If we or another guest ask for it to be switched on, they will comply; but otherwise it stays off. We can't blame them—we've been the only guests in a hotel of nearly thirty rooms for most of the time that we we've been here.

Jordan has several world-class archaeological sites, the two main ones being Petra and Jerash. But our enthusiasm is waning for ruins at the moment. Having seen more amazing ancient things in Turkey and Syria than most people see in a lifetime, we are in archaeological overload. So we are not going to see Petra or Jerash on this visit to Jordan. Neither are we going to the Dead Sea, sadly—it's too cold to do the whole floaty thing, and there doesn't seem much point in spending a day travelling there if we don't go into the water.

In fact we were so cultured out when we got here that on our first full day in Amman we were desperate for some anti-culture. So we spent several hours in an internet café, then went to Pizza Hut for dinner (it's exactly the same as any other Pizza Hut except you won't find pork products on the menu). When we got back to the hotel we watched a very bad American movie on TV. It was great! Since then we've just spent the week here hanging out, drinking coffee in cafés and generally doing not very much.

So what have we done? Well, we've done a lot of walking. Amman is quite a large city, located on and around several steep hills. Virtually no part of Amman is flat. To get anywhere you have to either go uphill or downhill, or both. What looks like a short walk of 500 metres on the map could end up being more like two kilometres, with 500 steps down one side of a deep valley, and then another 500 steps back up on the other side.

We've tried and failed to find a guide book for India. Because the four-day Eid celebrations fell over the western New Year this year, a lot of businesses have taken the whole week off. There are not many English-language bookshops in Amman and those ones that have been open for business have stocked guide books for just about every country in the world except India. Yes, if we had been flying from Amman to Stockholm we would have been fine for a guide book, but we were out of luck for the second most populous country on the planet. We will have to try again in Dubai.

We have however managed to get our Indian visas. Luckily one of our bookshop-related wild goose chases led us straight past the Indian Embassy. Serendipity again: we got out the GPS and tagged the location so we could come back later. Buying the visas was a simple matter of filling in a form, saying how long we wanted the visas to last, handing over some local currency, then coming back a few hours later to collect our passports—containing our new six-month, multiple-entry visas.

We've spent time getting our heads round the strange money system, where the Dinar is split into 100 Piastres (sometimes called Qirsh), and a Piastre/Qirsh is further split into 10 Fils. The Jordanians never tell you which unit they are using. So when a shopkeeper in Amman says "Fifty", he probably mean 50 Fils, but he might mean 50 Piastres (500 Fils) or conceivably even 50 Dinars (50,000 Fils)! Assuming he means 50 Fils, you need to give him a coin with a "٥" on it (the Arabic for 5), because the coins only come in Piastres or fractions of Dinars. If he says "Two-sixty", try giving him a "١/٤" and a "١" (a quarter Dinar a 1 Piastre) and hope that you are not insulting him, or alternatively just do as we sometimes did and hold out your hand and let him take what he wants. We were never ripped off.

We embarrassed ourselves the first time we took a taxi in Amman (and our first taxi since we were robbed by a taxi driver in İstanbul). We seemed to be taking a very long way round and when the meter clocked up to "1500" and we were only half way back to the hotel we instinctively thought we were being ripped off to the tune of 15.00 Dinars for a journey that should have cost around 3.00 Dinars. We started complaining loudly to the poor driver (whose grasp of English was thankfully almost non-existent) about taking down his number and reporting him etc etc, when in fact the meter was only reading 1,500 Fils (1.5 Dinars)! Money in Jordan has been a headache, but at least we can now read Arabic numbers fluently.

As we mentioned, we've bought a laptop. We heard that there was a PC superstore in the Mecca Mall, on the other side of town. We looked at a map and it didn't seem too far, so we decided to walk it. Soon after we started, it began to rain, lightly at first, then heavily. You know that stage you reach where you're so wet that there seems to be no point in doing anything about it? [Like—duh!—get in a nice dry taxi?] We reached that point after a serious amount of walking. Then it got dark and we walked a serious amount further. We constantly thought it must be just up ahead, and we were pretty sure we were on the right road. But eventually we had to admit defeat and give up: we had walked for miles along an endless straight road in the pouring rain without catching site of anything vaguely mall-like. So we stood in a garage forecourt and hailed a passing taxi. The road was a dual carriageway, so the driver had to continue in the direction we had been walking for about half a mile, then do a U-turn. As we were heading back into town we saw it. A huge building with a fittingly huge sign, saying 'Mecca Mall'. It was right next door to the garage forecourt on which we had given up. Nevertheless we decided to quit for the day and come back the next day, this time in a taxi.

Some good did come out of the experience though. Because we were now shopping in the morning rather than late evening, we had time to look at a few laptops at Mecca Mall, then walk over to the huge new French Carrefour hypermarket about a quarter of a mile away to see if they had anything cheaper. Carrefour is in one end of the new City Mall, and the place is still only half built—but the French seem to have given up waiting for the repeatedly delayed project to finish, and have opened for business anyway, in spite of the whole place still being a construction site. Not only is the building not finished, but neither are the paths between the two malls—so we left a long trail of wet mud from the door through the mall, into Carrefour and up the escalator to the PC department. But what a PC department it was! We found a smaller laptop for less money than the one we had settled on at Mecca Mall, and so we bought it there and then.

So that's Amman. We don't particularly recommend visiting in January, but we've enjoyed having a bit of a break here and we may come back some day to see some of the sights of Jordan that we have missed this time. For now, we're just glad to be off somewhere warm at last. Which reminds us: we've got a plane to catch!


aiman hijaz said...

oh please it have to be a not nice country for you because you had a bad time there jordan is the most amazing arab country its even better than European countries so save that crap about it sucked there ok and you go to visit the city in a country u dont o to malls u do that in your country . aiman from romania

Glenn Livett said...

Erm, thanks for your comment? I don't think we said that Jordan sucked. The point was that *we* sucked because we needed a rest, and so we didn't do very much in Amman. Actually we liked the city and its people very much.

We hate malls anywhere in the world, by the way (including in our country). But sometimes when you need to buy something, they can be useful.

Anonymous said...

welcome to Amman :D
Jordan is mu homeland and i'm from Amman

i hope that you will like the city more and more when you come to visit us in the next time

you should go to Petra, Jerash, Ajloun, and the dead sea