Amman, Jordan is a unique, terrifying, beautiful, and disorienting city.
There are more adjectives that I could use to describe Amman, Jordan. Each of them would be as dichotomous as the four posited above, but all are encompassed by one word that describes the feeling I had in our time there. Vibrant.
My wife, son, and I took a small vacation during the U.A.E.’s National Day to visit Jordan. We booked our tickets online for flights, hotel, and a rental car as a package (which often ends up saving more money overall than just the purchase of the flight). For around $250 (US) each – we were able to book ourselves into a well-reviewed place in Madaba, just outside of Amman.
Through our research, Madaba held some very interesting historical destinations that we felt we could explore more easily from the town itself, dipping down into Amman for the other attractions we’d read about. It turned out to be the right choice. I will include both Madaba and Amman in this article for the sake of continuity, as the family traveled back and forth to each every day of our trip.
We booked our hotel at The Grand Hotel Madaba. It was adequate for our stay, though we never entered the pool or hung around the area. It was clean, comfortable, and the staff were friendly and accommodating. There are, I’m sure, better accommodations in the area, but for the price and convenience you could do a lot worse.
We also booked a car from SIXT car rental at the Jordan airport. We rented the cheapest option we could – we’re not picky – and arrived to find a Chevy Spark waiting for us. It was not a new car, nor was it a premium model. It also had the tell-tale whiff of previous drivers who liked to smoke cigarettes. However, after a few laps around town with the windows down, the smell went away and we were content in our little box. We were able to “feel” and “hear” the city as we moved through it quite well if you know what I mean.
Before I disparage our little Spark too much, I will say this: We drove for almost two days before I saw the needle on the gas gauge move southward of full, and the car never broke down or left us in strange predicaments in terms of performance or reliability. In fact, my wife and I started contemplating the purchase of one upon our return to the Emirates. It was, without a doubt, a little like the old donkey on the farm that may not look great, smell great, or move too quickly – but it is reliable and consistent (the most important qualities in a vehicle when traveling abroad).
Now, a little bit about Jordan (in general): The people were amazing. Welcoming, warm, and eager to teach or give information to us while we were there. To be close to, or indeed amongst, some of the places that are referenced in western religious texts is something quite extraordinary, as well. However, there is a grievous trash problem. Orchards of olive trees in the hills surrounding Amman had more colorful bits of plastic in them than leaves. Walls of buildings, acting as catchalls for wind-blown debris were chocked with styrofoam, plastic, paper, metal, fabric, and who knows what else. I could only try to imagine the beauty of the area without the waste, and it was a little heartbreaking to see so much trash strewn about.
Amman is a wonderfully eccentric mixture of old and new. The city itself reminded me of my son’s Minecraft game, with blocks of homes and businesses scrunched together on the hillsides to form a blur of pixelated residences and shops. If you squint just a bit, the landscape looks like a low-resolution photoshop image with stair-stepping on the tops of hills and muddled colors across the hills and valleys. A closer look unravels myriad alleyways and sidestreets winding and dipping through the tangle of concrete, with each corner revealing small treasures in the way of cafes, smiling homeowners, and garment shops.
It is often difficult to tell what is contemporary or ancient in the sprawling mess of Amman, which invites you to scrutinize every crevice for signs of antiquity. Zigzagging streets befuddled the navigation apps we had on our phones – other than the sun, our only real way of knowing in which direction we were headed. Inexplicably, a right turn and left turn could take you back to where you started. During rush hour, which seemed to stretch from 8:00 am to around 8:00 pm every day, it could take up to one hour just to leave the downtown area by car. Three lanes held five rows of cars, with elderly women meandering through the traffic, while young children sped along between the bumpers creating a truly memorable driving experience.
I caught glimpses of pedestrians halting for a moment before entering the flow of traffic, uttering a small prayer, and then – fixing their gaze on the far shore of the undulating vehicular ocean – would walk purposefully across without flinching or looking around them to make sure they were seen before stepping out into traffic. For a place that holds many monuments to faith, one can see it practiced daily in the pedestrian commutes of its population.
Madaba was, in contrast to Amman, a sleepy little village. Just a twenty-minute car ride from the center of Amman, Madaba felt a world away from the hustle and bustle of the capital. Madaba is predominantly Christian city, having been erected on the site of an older Moabite civilization. During the Byzantine and Roman eras, roughly the second to the seventh centuries A.D., Madaba was set up as a competitor by the Roman emperor Trajan to the Nabatean Kingdom of Petra to the south.
The area of Madaba eventually fell to ruin, covered by the unrelenting desert winds and sand. In 1880, the resettlement of the city ruins by 90 Arab Christian families from Kerak, in the south, led by two Italian priests from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, revitalized the area and they began to unearth the ancient splendors of bygone eras while excavating to build their churches and homes. After uncovering beautifully ornate and relatively intact mosaics throughout the area, Madaba acquired its name of “The City of Mosaics.”
Stay tuned. Hiker Bible is going to take you into some ancient Byzantine churches, Roman ruins, and finally the exquisite and mysterious Petra.