Day 11: The Downtown route in Amman


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Middle East » Jordan » North » Amman
October 22nd 2013
Published: August 24th 2014
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Today, it was the last day in Jordan, and we had one place of interest left; Amman. Amman is a hectic city, but it’s great to do the Downtown route from the Lonely Planet Guides; this route brings you from the epic city centre, to the gold souks and the (vegetable) market, it leads you to a great place where you can watch over the city (Citadel Hill), and it’s ends at the Roman heart of the city. This route is around 3 hours, and I really should recommend doing this route.



But first, we were still in our Aquavista hotel in Aqaba. We had to stand up quite early, because we had to drive to Amman. This ride shall take us over the Desert Highway and least about 4 hours. If we are lucky, we might don’t have any problems with the sand storm; we’ve heard that yesterday there was a huge sand storm at the Desert Highway. This occurs that many parts were hard to drive at, and the drivers could not harder than walking speed. If that happens, we shall have only a short introduction to Amman. For the last time, we enjoyed the breakfast
Hashem RestaurantHashem RestaurantHashem Restaurant

Despite it's poor appearance, they serve the best lunch of Amman.
in Aqaba and heading to our bus. We didn’t know who our bus driver was, since we say farewell to Waél two days ago. We only know that a bus was booked. When the bus arrived, we got the same bus, and.... surprise Waél! We all liked that Waél was the driver; we know that he is a good driver and we do feel save by him. And, of course it’s always prettier if you have the same driver during the whole trip.



During the trip, we saw slowly the landscape was changing; it became more fertile. The Desert Highway is not as beautiful as the Kings Highway. If you travel just once from Aqaba or Amman, (or vice versa), you better can do the Kings Highway, because it leads you to Madaba, Mount Nebo, Karak and Dana. But also, this road gives you great views over the canyons of Jordan, and you follow the route which Moses took. At the Desert Highways, you won’t get those amazing views, stories and activities. If you didn’t visit the Dana Biosphere Reserve, you also can choose for Feynan, close by the Desert Highway. Book here the Ecolodge, in the
Clothing SoukClothing SoukClothing Souk

In this shop, you could buy beautiful Arabic Dresses.
middle of the other side of Dana in the Wadi Arabia. Just like Dana, Feynan is also a great place for (short or long) hikes. I recommend visiting Dana or Feynan when you visit Jordan, or if you have the time, you can visit both. A lot of people slept in the bus, or were reading. Luckily, we didn’t have any sand storm during our trip. At half of our route, we made a stop by a souvenir shop where we also could go to the toilet. Of course, we also could enjoy a cup of tea. We got some free time to walk around and stretch or legs, drink a cup of tea and of course, to buy some of our lasts souvenirs. Well, I bought a souvenir; a red shirt with cartoon camels and the text “Jordan – Petra” on to it. After the stop, it was time for our last part of the route. We arrived at the Arena hotel, the last hotel during or stay in Jordan. The hotel was build at the edge of the city, build at a busy road leading into Amman. The hotel was chosen because it was close to the airport;
The Clothing SoukThe Clothing SoukThe Clothing Souk

In the Modern city of Amman, it's easy to spot the newest headscarf trends.
the next morning we should leave very early in the morning to catch or planes. We had to be at least at 4.30 at the airport and the boarding would start at 6 am. Our tour leader suggests doing the Downtown route in Amman, described in the Lonely Planet guides. Everyone received a copy which didn’t have a Lonely Planet guide.



Most travel organisations skip the visit of the capital Amman, which makes the capital underrated. While Petra, Aqaba and Wadi Rum attract many tourists, it was hard to spot some in Amman. We might saw some at the huge Roman theatre when following the Downtown route, but those were the only ones. Amman is quite modern, tough with an Arabic twist. You do see here Souks, Mosques and historical ruins, but they are hard to spot. On the other hand you find more pubs, shops, restaurants and modern buildings. Amman is changing into a modern Arabic city; actually it always was; however you cannot compare it in such a tempo and overwhelming as in Dubai. Amman is still very modern and hip; a big compression if you compare it to neighbour cities, such as Cairo, Damascus when Syria was still save, and the Jerusalem experiences. While these capitals’s have something odd, or a special tense, Amman does not have that kind of feeling. So you won’t find any romance, medieval (mosques) and buildings. You only encounter a young, full of energy brazing city that never sleeps. A lot of people pass Amman, because they think it has nothing to offer. And they are totally wrong in it. If you want to have that special Romance Arabic fairy tale feeling, you won’t find it in Amman tough, then go to Petra and/or the Wadi Rum. But even then, there is no reason to skip Amman, because it’s has many things to offer: good bars, good restaurants, a touch of historical culture, the downtown souks, the Citadel Hill where you have a great overview over the city, you can visit the King Huesseini Mosque and different of museums. The city of Amman was a great last day of my trip and I really did not want to miss it. I think that much tourist doesn’t know what they are missing, tough.



First, a little lesion in history. The first people, who start to live in
The Medicine SoukThe Medicine SoukThe Medicine Souk

Some of the local people still believe that these medicines are quite positive for their health when they are struggling a disease.
Amman, were the Ammonites in 1800 BC. According to Genesis, this area, nowadays known as Jabel Al Qal’a hill, the area was inhibited by giants. In 1200 BC the citadel was renamed to Rabbath Ammon (Great City of the Ammonites), and was the capital of an area extended from Zarqa to the Muijb rivers. This area is mentioned many times in the Old Testament, including the Biblical story of King David (David and the Goliath/The Giant). Over time, the name was changed into Rabbah. In 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the area. Under the influence of his successor Ptolemy II Philadelphus the name was renamed to Philadelphia, the “city of brotherly love” and the rebuilding started. In 218 BC the Romans took over the city and created the province of Arabia. Philadelphia grew a lot under, especially in the reign of Emperor Trajan. He reconstructed the city and builds many public buildings, including two theatres, a Nymphaeum, a temple to Hercules, and a huge forum was build. During the Byzantine times, Philadelphia was a regional centre, but it’s changed after the influence of the Arabs in 635. They changed the name in to Amman and it became a regional capital. The power of the capital started to shift slowly to Baghdad, and the influence of Amman decreased. However, Amman was still important: it was a great stop for pilgrims heading to/from Mecca (and it still is). Up to 1948 Amman was still a village. When much Palestinians escaping from Israel, the city’s population started to grow double in just two weeks. Camps were built in Amman to give those immigrants a temporary home, while new buildings were build. In 1975, the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, took the financial institutions to the security of Amman. Before the Lebanese civil war, the financial hart was located in Beirut (Lebanon). Those financial institutions brought a lot of money with them, and together with the help of Western money, the city started to build up. The Gulf War and another third influx of Palestinians also reached Amman, where it kept growing and growing. Amman is nowadays still growing, while a lot of Syrian people try to find their shelter in Amman.



The downtown route starts at the Hashem restaurant. The best restaurant in Amman for lunch. But first, reach the heart of the downtown. Due the main road,
A market vendorA market vendorA market vendor

This Market Vendor has is own store in spices, just located before entering the Vegetable Souk. You find also some markets with spices into the Vegetable Souk.
much taxi’s passed us. It took some time to find one which was empty. In fact, only for 4 people fitted in one taxi, and we needed four taxis. After getting in the taxi the ride could start. In this ride, we met the hectic traffic of Amman, and we got a good introduction how people do drive in Amman. People drive quite chaotic and I am so happy that I do not have to drive by my own in Amman. However, I have my driver licences and I do not have any problems to drive in Amsterdam, I would hate it to drive in Amman. People driving quite chaotic, sometimes even without thinking. At some points Travel lights seems like a decoration. People who driving in front you suddenly stops at the middle in of the street. And guess, for what they are stopping; to park, to let people cross the street, and in the weirdest case to make a chat with a known person. It seems that Cairo in Egypt and in the past Damascus in Syria is quite more hectic, tough. Our taxi driver was also, without any surprise, quite chaotic too. The first moment I felt
The Vegatable SoukThe Vegatable SoukThe Vegatable Souk

Via one of these shops, you can enter the Vegetable Souk, the best part of Amman.
somehow safe: I mean he is the taxi driver and he knows what he’s doing in this hectic traffic. Right? Until we came in a traffic jam. I think we would stuck there for 15 minutes, so that wasn’t a big deal for us Dutchies. I mean, every morning when we drive with our car to work, most of the people end up in a traffic jam or at busy points we have to wait. It really was no point at all, we were chatting and it was nice if we could have a chat with the taxi driver too. But, the taxi driver had other thoughts. I think he was afraid that we came too late at Hashem, or that we became angry at him if he didn’t could past the traffic jam. So, when there was no oncoming traffic, he started to drive at the opposite carriageway. And quite hard. I think he even reached around 80 km/h. We we’re looking at each other like ‘WHAT IS HE DOING?’. When some opposite cars reached us, they had to stand at side to let us pass. In the mean time, our taxi driver couldn’t get back at his own
The Vegatable SoukThe Vegatable SoukThe Vegatable Souk

That looks tasty and great!
carriageway, so he kept driving quite hard at the opposite carriageway. Finally, after the traffic jam, he could blend in with the traffic at his carriageway, and I didn’t felt myself so comfortable anymore. Luckily, we were almost at Hashem restaurant, and the taxi driver found a parking place, to let us out. When he drove away, we had some time to slow down our hart beat, when we had to wait until the others arrived.



At the Hashem restaurant it was quite busy, so we had to wait until we found a place to sit. But it was worth to wait. It’s always busy and also much people come to order and take it with them. Hashem is quite popular by the locals. Of course, King Abdullah II and his Queen had breakfast during the Ramadan, so it has to be good. From outside it really does not look attending, plastic tables with plastic chairs. Just a set that we Dutchies would put in our garden. I think that’s why most tourists pass it. They really make a big mistake here, but from the other side, it’s great that you almost see no tourists at Hashem, and still a local “pearl”. The food is one of the best I had in Jordan. It’s freshly made and it taste quite good. And the price is very low. For 2 JD you get a complete meal where you can least hours at. We ordered “fuul”, hummus and some other small snacks. It was served with flat bread. The lunch was very good. I really enjoyed the meal, it was fresh and from a super high quality. The hummus was very good. The dishes they served are quite standard Jordan food, we had much of similar or the same dishes, but none hummus was close to the one from Hashem. However, I really like the Haret Jdoudna restaurant in Madaba (diner), it was very good too; but I agree that the Hummus from Haret Jdoudna was not so good as Hashem, but Haret Jdoudna had very other great dishes with good quality as well; the best place for diner. So, for lunch go to Hashem, and for dinner go to Haret Jdoudna. Madaba is not that far away from Amman and it’s worth trying it. If you have to do just one thing in Amman, go to Hashem; enjoy
Me at the Vegatable MarketMe at the Vegatable MarketMe at the Vegatable Market

Here, you just go out the Vegatable Market.
the good food, the local people and the busy, hectic city where you might have a good overview if you sit close by the street.



After lunch, we started with the Downtown route. It first, led us to the busy streets of Amman. It was quite busy at this part. The hectic traffic, and of course the frequent use of the horn. Many people were on street; meeting each other, or for shopping. Mostly those people were men; you almost did not saw any woman. It really reminds me a bit of the Oxford Street in London, there was it crowded as well, just as here. We were with a large group, so if someone wanted to buy something, the whole group waited, which lead to extra congestion of the footpath. There were small markets on the footpath as well, so there was not much space to pas. It was really hectic, but I did like it, and I really felt myself safe here. This part was more the part where people could buy clothes, accessories and other stores. Most clothes were beautiful Arabic (wedding) dresses, headscarfs, and normal casual wear. We pass other shops as well where you could buy accessories, for examples, jewellery and bags. We also pass other stores, for example stores with lamps, food (mostly candy’s and nuts). From here, we went into a small clothing souk. However, I saw not many differences as the stores in the street, but it was less crowded. To be honest, I agree that the fruit-vegetable souk, coming up in the route, was way nicer to pass. The clothing souk was small; it was a sort of loop. We got out fast and we were ready for the next souk, the Gold Souk.



Where Aqaba is famous for its silver, the gold is for Amman. In this part of Amman, there is a network of street where many tiny, little jewellery shops established. Of course, gold is the most used sold jewellery, but you also can find other jewellery, just like silver, bronze and jewels. Where I could not find a good hanger in Aqaba, I tried in the Gold Souk in Amman. I did not want to spend that much money and it was quite hard. I think that most of these stores mostly buy that jewellery for weddings. Some jewellery was more than 1000 JD. Finding a jewellery under 50 JD was quite hard tough. But after some search, I found a nice hanger.



From here, it was time to walk to the Arabic Medical stall, but not before we passed some... erotic lingerie stores. Yes, you read it right. When we arrived at the Arabic Medical stall, you saw many markets, offering Arabic medicines. To us, it looked liked dried vegetables, fruit and nuts. In the mean time, the sang from the mosque started and it felt quite special. Some men were still trying to sell those medicines, where others wanted to pray. It seems like that one part of the street was adapting to the praying, while the other part was hectic and busy as usual.



From here, you could via the Arabic Medical stall enter the Vegetable Souk, which is as I agree the best part of Amman. In the Souk, many Arabic men buy vegetables and fruit from the many market vendors. I really liked the atmosphere here. The market was covered; the light was a little bit muted. It was busy at the street, where we could snuffle slowly across the end. There was an Arabic atmosphere in the market, also a little bit like the Middle-East fairy tale. The shouting of the market vendors, of course in Arabic, reinforced the atmosphere; they all tried to shout over each other with special deals to get costumers to their stand. In the market we did not saw woman, everywhere we saw Arabic man, which were surprised to see some tourists in this part. Almost every market vendor sold the same vegetables and fruit, where some of them stand in the middle, selling spices, or even other Arabic specialities, or cheese. We passed even a butcher, where an animal carcass (I think a lamb) was hanging in front of the window, while hereafter the souk went ongoing as normal. For me, this part was the best part to come in touch with the all day modern Arabic live in Jordan. We were the only tourist in here, and it gave you a great spot to make beautiful pictures and a great insight in the modern Arabic live. Everyone, who should visit Jordan or the Middle-East, should visit at least one souk like this.



If you came out of the market,
The Roman TheatreThe Roman TheatreThe Roman Theatre

Picture made at the stairs leading to the Citadel Hill (Jabal Al Qal’a)
it was just a small walk to the Nymphaeum, build in 191 AD. This Nymphaeum is quite similar to the one in Jerash, but sadly it’s not that special. You have here a small colonnaded street, especially of columns and you might spot a fountain. This site is also quite hard to explore, because it’s fenced. It just gives a preview of Roman Amman. It does lead to the Roman Theatre in Amman; build in 161 AD commissioned by Emperor Antonius Pius. This theatre is the biggest in Jordan, giving place to more than 6000 people and with a height of 33 row seats. The 33e row was and still is called “The Gods”. To keep the sun out of the sight of the spectators it was build to the north.



From here, you go into the Hashemite Siq, a place where the locals enjoy bars and especially to smoke a shizza. From here, you can take some stairs up to end by the Citadel. Sadly, where were too late to visit the Citadel. Though the fence, we could see some Roman ruins, but do not expect that is so beautiful and in that good state as
The CitadelThe CitadelThe Citadel

Despite the Citadel was closed when we arrived, I could make some pictures of the citadel after it fence.
in Jerash. The Citadel is a small Roman Historical site, and you probably will finish in less than one hour while visiting it. It closes very early in the afternoon (at 4 pm). The most famous building in the Citadel is the Temple of Hercules. I do not have any pictures of the Citadel. When you standing in front of the Citadel, you’re standing on the Jabal Al Qal’a (Citadel Hill). From here, you have a great view over the city and a very great spot to make some pictures. At one building, a huge Jordan flag is located, raised over the city. Especially that flag makes the place ideal for pictures, especially at the beginning of sunset. From this place, you really can see that Amman is build on hills and while Amman is the city of the Seven Hills. From here, we took a taxi. Taxis might be expensive here, but with some negotiation you can get a reasonable price.





We spend some time at the hotel; I think the most of us packed our luggage, before it was time for the last dinner. The tour leader suggests making a farewell dinner at
Citadel HillCitadel HillCitadel Hill

also known as the Jabal Al Qal’a
El-Farouki. According to the tour leader, it was one of the best restaurants for traditional dinner with a great service, so we agreed. She made a reservation and booked taxis for all of us. In secret, Monica already made a round for tip for the tour leader and a speech. When we arrived, the restaurant showed quite luxury and there was a great table for us to seat. The service was quite. We ordered some appetisers and the waiters put some appetites for us on the plate. The food was good, the service was great. However, I still agree that Haret Jdoudna in Madaba was still the best place for dinner, especially if you go for the food. It’s the best dinner that I had in Jordan. However, this restaurant comes very close at place 2. The service was better as in Haret Jdoudna, but the choice between those restaurants is very hard. If you really search a very luxury restaurant, you better prefer this restaurant. It might be one of the best restaurants in Amman for dinner. The food was fresh and good prepared. It tasted as traditional Arabic, with a slightly modern Western twist, but however the twist
El-FaroukiEl-FaroukiEl-Farouki

This restaurant is a really recombination. The food is good and the service is really great!
was minimal. The restaurant is popular by other tourist groups, we weren’t the only group. Traditional locals do not come to the restaurant, it might due the price. The price is expensive for a Jordan restaurant, but the service and the food is great, so it’s worth the price. But, a side effect is that you won’t see that many locals and the ones that you saw had probably a good budget for doing those activities. As mentioned, the service was great. The service was greater than Haret Jdoudna. The waiters were huge polite, dressed very properly and applied their work very strictly. The luxury of the restaurant got her appearance partly due the waiters. As desert we got fresh fruit. The waiter took some fruit and started to peel it for us on a special way before putting it on our plate. That’s a very polite service. The fruit was nice sweated, fresh and a very good desert. Of course, we drank our last lemon mint, and the last shizza was smoked before it was time to go to bed early. The next day, we should be at least at 5 am at the airport for the flight back
El-FaroukiEl-FaroukiEl-Farouki

The Waiters peeled even the fruit for us, before putting it on the plate.
to the Netherlands and to leave Jordan.

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