Sunday, November 25, 2012

Eid Break Part 3: Jerusalem, Eilat, Petra, The Dead Sea, and Amman

So much has happened that I am falling behind in my blogging, and I apologize for that. I haven’t even written about eid yet! I will try and make pictures tell most of the story so I can get to the wonderful present as soon as possible.

Our second day in Jerusalem we woke up early to go to the market Makhne Yehuda. However, we were so early that nothing had opened yet so we got a coffee first and then explored the stalls of spices, dried fruits, fresh vegetables, and sweets. We then bought some presents for the family at a local jeweler (they will see what it is when the holidays roll around). After the market we didn’t have a plan so we used my little trick of walking into a bookstore and looking through a guidebook to find the next destination. However, a writer and her poet daughter cannot enter a bookstore without having to buy something – so we emerged with the English translation of one of my favorite Swedish books, The 100 Year-Old Man That Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. It is a hilarious sort-of Swedish Forrest Gump with a dark side that I highly recommend.

Thanks to the guidebooks at the bookstore we choose to go to Ticho House. After a long search we found the exhibition to be closed for renovation but we did visit the spectacular Museum of Psalms where an old rabbi had translated verses from the Torah into incredibly colorful and powerful paintings displaying the message of the texts. My mom and I whiled away the time having deep discussions about life and love in front of those paintings, and then had a cup of tea in the beautiful garden of Ticho House.

After walking to the bus stop, we found out that the bus we planned to take is full, so we booked seats on the bus leaving three hours later and decided to grab lunch somewhere. Holy Bagel provided us with delicious bagels, salad, and free WiFi! After getting our fill of bagels we walked to the Sacher Garden near the Knesset and sat in green grass eating the dates and nuts that we had bought that morning in Makhne Yehuda, returning to the bus station in plenty of time.

We arrived in Eilat late at night and found our way to our tiny room in the kooky Corinne Hostel. We freshened up and decided to explore the nightlife of Eilat. Besides the biggest Ghost House in Israel and a crazy Russian party at one of the hotels, nothing much seemed to be happening, so we returned to the hostel to do our nails and watch a mediocre romcom. Such a cozy mother-daughter evening!

The next morning we went to a local bakery to grab breakfast, packed our bags, checked out, and headed to the beach. It was so nice to spend a few hours in a bikini, dozing off in the sand or swimming out in the temperate blue waters of the Red Sea.

After the beach we grabbed a taxi to the border, where we ran out of shekels and the taxi driver refused to believe that the Jordanian dinar is stronger than the Israeli shekel so we overpaid him. Oh well. The border crossing was very relaxed, with only a couple of families calmly processing their papers so they could walk the few meters over the border to the Jordanian checkpoint. The border crossing cost 89 shekel, and the visa for Aqaba is free to encourage tourism to Aqaba. We passed relatively quickly and on either side they said I had an Israeli/Arabic name. In Jordan I also got my first pickup line from a passport control officer: “Where are you from?” “Sweden.” “Oh I thought you were from heaven.” Welcome back to Jordan!

We got a taxi for 65 dinar to the Seven Wonders Bedouin camp in Little Petra, where we would be staying for the next two nights. We got lost in Wadi Musa for a while, but finally found the camp, which was lit up with tiny candles across the entire side of a small mountain. It was beautiful! We were immediately welcomed into the dinner tent for some delicious local food. After dinner we got settled into our cozy little tent and went to sit around the fire, where we were offered free tea and had an interesting conversation with a slightly crazy woman who had been to Petra many times but never to any other place in Jordan. I told her she has to visit the rest of the country!

The next morning we woke up bright and early to grab a quick breakfast and go to Petra. We got to the Treasury before the fingers of sunlight had reached down the mountain to touch its rosy exterior. First challenge was the High Place of Sacrifice, which is high indeed. We got a bit lost on the way and found some elephant sculptures near a spot where two Bedouin boys were grazing their sheep. We finally made it to our destination, which had a magnificent view. After sharing a buffet platter for lunch at the cafeteria (10 JOD), we moved on to our next challenge: climbing the 999 steps to the Monastery. Once again it was worth it, and we went even higher from there to a viewpoint overlooking the arid Wadi Araba. A Bedouin young man offered us a cup of tea at the Monastery while trying to convince me to climb to the roof of the gargantuan Monastery. Fortunately my mother was there to talk some sense into me, since this Bedouin probably didn’t have the purest of intentions. We did some souvenir shopping on the way down from the incredibly adamant vendors. Both things I bought have already broken, so I don’t recommend buying souvenirs there. We explored the Grand Temple, the mosaics in the Byzantine Church, and the Royal Tombs, before returning back through the narrow passageway leading out to Wadi Musa. For the last part we rode horses to give our weary legs a rest. Nine hours of exploring a natural wonder takes its toll on you!

Back in the Bedouin camp mamma learned how to tie a kuffiyeh and we ate another hearty local meal, this time the famous makhlouba. We befriended a friendly Canadian man who worked in a gold mine in Mauritania.

The next day we woke up a bit later than the morning before to get a taxi, which the Bedouin camp owners kindly arranged for us to ensure we weren’t ripped off again. The ride along the King’s Highway to the Dead Sea was very scenic and we stopped multiple times for pictures, including a pit stop at the Dana Guesthouse where I ended up having tea with some men from Amman on the balcony overlooking stunning Wadi Dana.

The O Beach by the Dead Sea was exactly the oasis I hoped for it to be. What a luxury! We paid the 25JOD to enter and then went to change in the spacious changing rooms. I fashioned a beach dress out of my scarf and we decided to check out the Omara Lebanese Restaurant to see if they took cards, since we were very low on cash. The manager greeted us saying that the machine was broken, so he took us in as his guests and offered us to sit down. We took part in a wonderful buffet meal with delicious Lebanese food, followed by delicious chocolate mousse and Turkish coffee. However, by the time we finished our meal the credit card machine was working again so we were charged for everything except the drinks and the coffee. The food was so good, though, that we didn’t feel to bad about it.

We proceeded to soak and float in the Dead Sea, covering ourselves with the famous Dead Sea mud, and then soaking and floating some more. After that we showered to get off all that salt, lounged in the sun beds, and swam in the infinity pool upstairs. Feeling relaxed and refreshed, we returned to Amman.

After a quickly freshening up at ACOR, my friends picked us up and took us to Books@Cafe, where we had cocktails and lots of fun. By 1am we were all getting a bit hungry, so we decided to find a restaurant that was still open. After much searching we settled for the Yemeni place I had visited with my Colloquial Arabic class. We sat on the floor in a private room at 2am and ate chicken and rice from a large shared platter with our hands. I am so proud of my mom for going along with all this!

The next day was our explore Amman day. We tried to follow an itinerary I found on BeAmman, but of course it didn’t go exactly as planned. However, the whole day made me love Amman even more. We started off by walking down Rainbow Street and getting falafel at Al-Quds. We then walked down from there to King Husseini Mosque, speaking to Libyan children and shopping spices on the way. Downtown was bustling with Saturday shoppers and we whiled away time buying souvenirs and trying local delicacies such as kunefeh. At the Roman Theater, after touring the Museum of Popular Traditions, we were offered cups of tea by the policemen at the entrance. The policemen then proceeded to introduce us to another man who took us to the daggers workshop mentioned in BeAmman. We made new friends and bought some daggers and gold.

After that we crossed to the next “jabal” or mountain to the Umayyad ruins at the Amman Citadel. The Museum was closed unfortunately, but the old Umayyad castle had reopened since I had last been there, and it was amazing fun getting lost in the ruins. After that we took a taxi to the mysterious House of Poetry that I had wanted to visit for so long. The House turned out to not be so impressive, but only for its vantage point that is actually exactly above the Roman theater! We walked back down, past the Roman theater and into the Downtown area where we got lost looking for a restaurant serving Mansaf. We eventually went to Jabri where we enjoyed Jordan’s national dish in a more Western fashion than I have experienced in the past. After that it was time to say good-bye and go home to study. I am so happy my mom visited me and could see the beauty of Jordan and the kindness of its people for herself!

My next post will include, first of all, a short summary of my experience at an all-Jordanian Model United Nations Conference, where I submitted a resolution to solve youth unemployment as the delegation of Iran and met Princess Sumaya.

Secondly I will tell you what I learned at the training course on “The World of Reducing and Reusing” that I attended in southern Spain along with 20 other participants from 10 different countries in Europe and the Middle East, and finally, I will write about rekindling romance in southern Germany.

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