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Published: November 5th 2018
Sorry it has taken so long to post this first blog and that our silence has caused some of you some concern. We're well and having a super time but have had some difficulty getting regular, reliable internet access. I'm blaming the Himalayas for blocking the signals! So here's Blog One of this trip, in haste and without photos (because I'm struggling to upload them, hopefully they'll follow in due course) just to give reassurance that we're still alive and kicking ....
There's this thing about travelling for extended periods - it takes a lot of planning. And that takes hours and hours of research before deciding where to go, how to get there, where to stay and what to see and do, followed up by all the bookings and documentation. Sensibly, I leave all of that to Steve to sort out, only occasionally chipping in with some bright-spark (but hideously difficult to organise, apparently) idea. Months of plans, changes of plans and having our plans changed for us later, we were on our way.
Well, nearly, that is, because so much focus had been put on the 'how to get from country to country' bit that not much effort had been put into the domestic element. You'd think we would have learned from the last time we went travelling when our departure day coincided with the gridlock of races day traffic, but no. Wanting to avoid several months of car parking charges we were using public transport to get us to the airport and had managed to get some super-cheap train tickets to London. Unfortunately, the ultimate price we paid was that the train was at a super-early time meaning we had to stay overnight in a hotel the night before our trip began just to make sure we could catch the train! And because the last bus from our in-the-middle-of nowhere village is at 5.00 pm, and because we were worried it might not turn up, we thought we'd better catch the one before the last one, at 1.30 pm. (Yeah, I know, but at least we have 4 buses a day, even if they don't always run at the times you want them ....)
So, the very first leg of our journey had us staying in a magnificent walled city, evolved from multiple foreign and domestic invasions and occupations, steeped in ancient history, stuffed with museums and gawping tourists - and we saw none of it because it was York and less than 15 miles from home! An early start the next morning saw us onto the train for an uneventful journey to Kings Cross. We had learned from some of our previous experiences, however, and we did now know that we could get a Tube train directly to Heathrow from Kings Cross and we arrived at the airport in good time.
During all the preamble to the start of our trip many things changed, including the times (and on one scary occasion even the actual day!) of some of our flights. The one stalwart, that stood firm throughout, was this very first flight on British Airways. It just didn't budge. I was reluctantly impressed; I'm not a fan of BA (overpriced and under-delivers) but when compared to some of the others I thought our flagship airline was doing us proud. Silly me. After battling through a self-check-in process that was anything but (some government somewhere further down our travels wanted more info on us and we had to 'call an assistant'), we finally managed to print out luggage labels and boarding cards. My boarding card later got lost going through the hand luggage scanner. I was just glad I noticed and someone was able to casually retrieve it from the floor as if it were of no importance. Imagine if I'd gone to board the plane and then realised! There would have been time to sort it out, as it happened, because this oh-so-dependable flight eventually took off 90 minutes late as a result of having to change aircraft due to an engine fault. So, we were now on an older plane with no in-flight entertainment but with fully functioning engines so, on balance, I could live with that. It was also a bigger plane so it wasn't full and we could spread out. Lucky us ....
We were flying to Amman, in Jordan, a country long on our wish-list to visit but which kept getting pushed back due to instability and rising tensions in neighbouring countries. However, this little gem has remained an oasis of calm in difficult times and we decided to include it in our travels on this occasion. We dithered about whether to do an organised trip or go with our usual independent style as we'd read that roadside checkpoints were quite regular and rigourous if driving but in the end we decided to do our own thing but avoid the driving bit (back on the buses, then ... ).
We finally arrived in Amman at ten past midnight, local time. We wondered if the lift we had pre-arranged with our hotel might have given up and gone home, given how delayed our flight was and the time it took us to obtain a visa at immigration and collect our luggage. He was still waiting, bless him, and he gave us a running commentary on all the sights we passed on the journey. He also explained that the name of our hotel (The 7boys Hotel) came about as a result of three generations of the same family all having seven boys. I think we met members of all three generations from ancient grandad, to dapper dad to the youngest sons who'd obviously drawn the short straw and were working the night shift to check us in to room 301, complete with separate lounge and kitchen area, bathroom and bedroom.
When we'd booked the hotel many months previously we just happened to notice, amongst all the small print that no-one ever reads, a tiny section that said something along the lines of 'couples wishing to share a room must provide proof of marriage'. Well, that was a first! What if we weren't married or were a married same sex couple? Anyhoo, we hunted out and made a copy of our wedding lines that are so old they could have been written with a quill pen and then they didn't ask for it! Ah well.
The main reason for choosing this hotel was that it was literally only yards away from the JETT bus office and we needed to book tickets for a trip to Petra in a couple of days' time. We'd decided to travel on public transport again to avoid any problems travelling by car might create. So, after a lie-in until 10.30, and after having a quick look outside to determine acceptable clothing for women (when in Rome and all that - I decided 'modest' should cover it but went for the 'European look' rather than the 'covered-in-black-from-top-to-toe' style that seemed equally popular and Steve thought would be an improvement on me), off we set.
Our travels in Jordan had been changed just a couple of weeks before we set off after a friend suggested we maybe hadn't allowed enough time to see Petra. We'd cancelled one hotel booking and extended another and generally moved everything around to accommodate our change of plans to get more time there. Imagine our horror, then, when we went to book our bus to Petra to discover they only did one bus there a day, and one bus back. Geez, that bus service is worse than ours at home! So, we had to change all our plans again, paying extra for another night in one hotel and losing the cost of a night in another or run the risk of missing our next flight. The travel plans were going well so far then, and we were only in Week One!!!! However, with bus tickets finally arranged and rooms for the nights all sorted we could begin to explore Amman at last.
We spent several days in Amman, all in all. First impressions were that it was very bland in appearance, with almost all the buildings being the same sandy colour with only subdued tones of grey or black glass to break the monotony. Our driver had told us that Jordan has a population of about 9 million and half of those live in Amman. Judging from the traffic, I think they must all be two or three car families because it was constant, relentless and loud, with tooting horns being a perpetual background noise. Despite the volume of traffic we saw no bikes or scooters. The city and the people appeared prosperous and were welcoming and friendly. There are many universities and hospitals and I understand the country is gaining quite a reputation in health care. Churches and mosques stand happily side by side just as the population is tolerant and respectful of others' faith.
We took an extended walk (ie we got lost!) around the local area to get our bearings and to seek an ATM (we needed dinars before we could eat, having spent the small amount of ready cash we took with us on the bus tickets!) and eventually found the Boulevard and a shopping mall which were very modern and inviting with a food mall on the upper floor. We chatted with a couple of young people who worked in the Orange office and they were really pleased to hear we were visiting from England, a sentiment often expressed to us during our travels in the country. We eventually found a much quicker route back to our hotel, but only after going the wrong way again and having to ask for directions (we had sensibly thought to take a hotel card with us with the address in Arabic!). We saw no birds whatsoever in Amman, not even a pigeon or sparrow, which was most odd. We saw no dogs and only one cat which seemed to belong to a shopkeeper and had damaged ears but looked healthy otherwise. I found the kerb steps really high and they were difficult for the elderly and for those who are vertically challenged, like me and my little legs. Some might argue that I fall into both categories!
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