Thursday, May 31, 2018

2018 - Jordan Day 5 (Madaba & Dead Sea)

Sunday May 13, 2018. Today, we head to Dead Sea as our final destination with a stop-over at Madaba.

This morning, the breakfast actually did not have falafel, I wonder if it is due to the fact that it is a Sunday and there were a lot more people at the hotel compared to the previous days. A bit disappointing to say the least.

Toledo Hotel breakfast
We left Toledo at 9:30am and arrived at the Madaba visitor center at 10:20am. This was the first place that we have seen a parking lot for tour buses and there were quite a few of them here. I guess it will be a bit more of a touristy area.

Art at the Madaba Visitor Center
Our first stop after the visitor center was the Madaba Archaeological Park which has a lot of mosaics here. Admission is included with our Jordan Pass. It is fairly small, although looks fairly large on the map.

Madaba Archaeological Park mosaic
Second stop, the Saint John Church which has the oldest recorded map. It costs 1 JD to visit and worth it. It is a burnt palace which is fairly small, but it was actually built on top of a larger, older church which is how they found the mosaic.

Saint John's Church - oldest mosaic map
Bawamit was where we went for lunch where we ordered the chicken, fatoush salad, grilled halloumi, and mixed grill which came out to 26 JD. The salad was good, but the other items were just okay.

Bawamit - halloumi on the bottom, fatoush on the right
Bawamit - chicken on the left, mixed grill on the right
The Shrine of the Beheading of Saint John The Baptist Church is well worth a visit. Cost 1 JD to visit and has a nice bell tower that you can climb with a great view of the surrounding area. There are actually two lookout platforms, however, the last one seemed to sketchy for us to climb and we opted out of that one.

The Shrine of the Beheading of Saint John The Baptist Church - I think that's a bell
The Shrine of the Beheading of Saint John The Baptist Church - atop the bell tower (lower platform)
The Apostles church has a really cool and large mosaic. A person there actually gave us an upclose experience where we were next to the mosaic itself. However, at the end, he expected a tip, a bit of an expectation at this point. When someone gives you something, expect that they want something in return. It is obviously up to you whether you want to tip them or not.

Apostles church - mosaic
Mount Nebo is next and it is where you go to learn about Moses. The area has some nice views, and if you are interested in the history, it would be worthwhile to go with a guide, or just hang around a tour group. We had one that spoke English, so we just listened in for a bit. It costs 2 JD to visit. If you only want to see views, there are stop off points where you can just park your car and look out for free.

Atop Mount Nebo
Our final destination is the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa where we spend our late afternoon/evening for one night. After we checked in, the ladies were in a mad scramble to make it out to the Dead Sea to do the entire experience.

Floating at the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea experience involves you floating in the Dead Sea for 10 minutes, cover yourself in Dead Sea mud and wait for 15 minutes, and finally go back into the Dead Sea and rinse off the mud before a quick shower.

Swamp thing by the beach? (me covered in Dead Sea mud)
We ended up eating at 1312. The Hilton has several restaurants, but this is the one we settled on. Note, the area actually is just entirely made up of resorts, so your dining options will be fairly limited here.

Sunset at the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa
Dinner was Fatoush with halloumi, shish tawook, beef tenderlion, and lamb ouzi. The total came out to 60 JD for everything (a bit high, but expected). The food overall was actually pretty good. We sat outside the restaurant for a sunrise evening with live music. It was a nice way to end the day.

1312 - Fatoush
1312 - lamb ouzi
1312 - beef tenderloin
Tomorrow, we drive to Petra for the Petra By Night experience and stay there for the next 4 nights.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

2018 - Jordan Day 4 (Desert Castles)

Saturday May 12, 2018. Today, we visit the desert castles that are to the east of Amman. They are actually in a loop and you can visit anywhere between 3-5 of them within a day. All the castles are included with the Jordan Pass.

Day 4 Overview
No change in breakfast today at Toledo Hotel, I guess it will always be the same every day. We left Toledo at around 7:45am and made it to our first desert castle, Al-Hallabat at 8:50am. It is a small castle, but worth a visit. We spent 30 minutes here.

Toledo Hotel breakfast
Al-Hallabat Castle
Al-Hallabat lego pieces?
Next up, Qasr Al Azraq, which was a fortress back in it's hayday. It is actually located in the city/town, so it seems a bit odd where it is located. We made it here at 10:40am. Not too much variety in things to see inside, not sure how I feel about this one. We finished in 30 minutes here as well.

Al Azraq castle
Al Azraq castle
Lunch today was at Riyadh where we ordered half a kg of BBQ meat, cucumber salad, and fatoush. Came out to only 11.50 JD! Food was very good.

Riyadh - Fatoush on top, cucumber salad on the right, BBQ meat on the left
Qasr Al Amra is next and we made it here at 1:30pm. It may not look like much on the outside, but you are in for a treat when you go inside. Take a look at the frescoes that are inside. Spent about 30 minutes here as well.

Al Amra castle
Al Amra castle fresco
After this, we were about to visit the nearby wetlands, but decided against it since it would cost 8 JD for about an hour. We tried to go to the nature reserve instead, which we failed to make due to the construction on the highway. Somehow, the construction actually prevented us from getting there. Odd...

Qasr Al Kharaneh is next, this was a pretty cool looking building on the outside. Not much to see on the inside though. Spent 30 minutes here too (I'm noticing a trend here).

Al Kharaneh castle
Al Kharaneh castle
Our last stop today would be the Royal Automobile Museum. This is not included with the Jordan Pass, but it was only 3 JD and money well spent. Even if you are not a car enthusiast, you will still appreciate what is there.

Royal Automobile Museum - Mars Rover
Royal Automobile Museum - Damiler Experimental Motorcycle (1885!)
Royal Automobile Museum - I might be too big for this one
Housed in the Royal Automobile Museum is the collection from the king of Jordan and you will see lots of cars and motorcycles from various eras. There are even unique one of a kind vehicles, like the Mars Rover that was from The Martian, the Tron bike and more!

Royal Automobile Museum
Royal Automobile Museum - SLR McLaren (2009)
Royal Automobile Museum - Tron Cycle!
We wandered the Abadi Mall in search of the #lovejo sign, it took awhile, but we eventually found it and it was OUTSIDE the mall!

An oddity that we haven't quite figured out is why I am so popular here. We have noticed that teenagers LOVE to take pictures with me.

My fans!
Dinner was at Cafe Italia where we ordered the chicken cacciatore, beef bolognese, and gnocchi. It came out to 33 JD and was actually better than expected other than the gnocchi which was overcooked. With dinner done, we headed back to the hotel.

Cafe Italia - Gnocchi
Cafe Italia - Chicken Cacciatore
Tomorrow, we head to the Dead Sea.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

2018 - Jordan Day 3 (Jerash, Umm Quays, Aljoun)

Thursday May 10, 2018. Today, we wake up to drive to Umm Qais (or Umm Qays) first, Ajloun and then Jeresh before heading back to the hotel.

Day 3 overview.
We woke up early this morning (6:00am) so that we would be able to hit all 3 places today. Breakfast was the same, no changes to the menu. We ended up leaving at around 7:15am after breakfast and getting prepared for the day.

Toledo Hotel breakfast.
Arrived at Umm Qais around 9:30am or so and we stayed for about 1.5 hours. The amount of time is dependent on how much you like wandering around the ruins and if you have a clear sky. Unfortunately for us it was hazy, but if it is clear, you are supposed to be able to see the surrounding area (Syria, Lebanon, and Israel). It is most notable for the black columns which are part of Roman Ruins.

Umm Qais
On the way to Ajloun, we stopped at a random lunch stop on the way there which was on the side of the road. It was 1 JD for a shawarma and it was actually pretty good! It had a very different type of crepe exterior that I am not familiar with.

We arrived at Ajloun at 1:00pm, a castle which is atop of hill that gives it great views of the surrounding area. It is fairly large, you can wander it yourself or have a guide provide you with some information about the building's history. There is a parking lot at the base of the castle, or you can try to park closer to the top but has no clear parking spaces. We were here for almost an hour.

Ajloun Castle
Ajloun Castle
Arrived at Jeresh at 2:30pm, our last stop of the day, and was the largest set of ruins today and I enjoyed it the most due to what you can see. The place was really large and the entrance oval that you see at the beginning was just stunning. There are many things to see here and you can spend a lot of time depending on what you like to take pictures of. Note, none of the ruins are covered, so if it is a hot day, prepare yourself. We finished at 4:30pm.

Made it back to the hotel at 5:30pm where we rested until later that evening. We were too tired to head out again that day, so we decided to have dinner at the hotel which is a buffet that cost us 10 JD per person.

Toledo Hotel dinner buffet
Toledo Hotel dinner buffet
After checking the menu, we realized that it isn't that much more for the buffet versus a la carte, so we decided to do buffet. The food was okay, really liked the beef and the biryani they have.

Tomorrow, we visit the desert castles!

Monday, May 28, 2018

2018 - Jordan Day 1-2 (Amman)

Join us as we go through our trip that happened from May 9, 2018 to May 22, 2018 to visit Jordan. During this trip, we will be travelling with our friend Tracey (who came for our Eastern Europe trip) and we will visit Amman, Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba.

Our flights from Toronto start on May 8, 2018 at 11:05pm and end up at Amman on May 10, at 12:05am. The flight was broken up into two parts, the first flight from Toronto to Heathrow was with Air Canada starting at 11:05pm and arriving at 11:00am.

Air Canada's Chicken meal.
Air Canada's Pasta meal.
The Air Canada meals were okay. Nothing special. The salad is a mystery to me since I rarely see anyone eat them.

We were at Heathrow from 11:00am to 5:05pm. We had a snack there at one of the shops. It is actually a fairly big shopping area where everything is centrally located. However, everything seemed quite expensive since it was in British Pounds. Our next leg was with Royal Jordanian and surprisingly, you can't actually pick you seats for the flight until 3 hours before the flight takes place at the RJ booth. When we chatted with the lady there, we found out there was only one daily flight to Amman from Heathrow. I guess it isn't a very popular destination via Heathrow?

Royal Jordanian's Chicken meal.
Royal Jordanian's Beef meal.
The Royal Jordanian meals were okay. The beef meal was actually good! The chicken was dry. The salad that is included has always confused me since it is always the worst thing included and I rarely see anyone actually eat it. RJ actually included actual metal cutlery!

The customs line was really short for us, maybe due to the timing of arrival. As Canadians, we are required to have a visa to travel to Jordan. We pre-bought our visa by getting the Jordan Pass online. The pass allows you to visit a majority of the Jordan sites for free and includes the cost of your visa as well as 1, 2, or 3 days in Petra (depending on which version you get).

We booked our car at the local Budget (which was our cheapest option by far), however, we had issues with having our Rogers/Fido credit card holding the security hold. We ended up using a different card at the end (maybe the amount was too high?). When we arrived, we realized that we forgot our international driver's license. Apparently, it isn't required which is odd since we read otherwise. Oh well! A 2018 Toyota Prius is our chariot for our trip (it would cost us roughly $600 CAD for 12 days). We ended up at the hotel at roughly 2:00am due to how long things took. Our hotel for the next 4 nights will be Toledo. Parking is included, however, it is only outside (which seems odd since I clearly see gates for an underground parking lot).

Tomorrow, we wander Amman depending on how well we sleep.

Toledo Breakfast.
Toledo Breakfast.
Breakfast is included with our stay and it had a good variety of items. Sliced meats, eggs multiple ways, toasts, juices, lots of dips and cheeses, fafalel, and more.

Amman street art.
We ended up leaving the hotel around 10:00am with a goal of just wandering the local area today. We finished the theater at around 12:00pm. After we got there, we realized that the trip back to the hotel would be rough since it was all uphill! The theater has some good views (not the first roman theater I've seen). Included with our Jordan Pass. We spent about 30 minutes here.

Amman street art.
Jafra Cafe is where we went to for lunch where we ordered the tahini lamb, hummus fatteh, lamb fatteh, and salad. Total came out to 30 JD. The food was good, also just our first meal here.
Jafra Cafe - tahini lamb on top, hummus fatteh on the right, lamb fatteh on the bottom.
I wonder what bird this is?
Amman Citadel next (which was up the hill). It is a nice set of ruins with a nice view of the surrounding area. Spent about an hour here, also included in the Jordan Pass.

Amman Citadel.
Did Rainbow St next which was a LONG walk and not worth it in the end since, there was nothing to see here other than restaurants. It might be because we didn't arrive in the evening, but we weren't going to stick around to find out. It was disappointing since it would be another long walk back to the hotel.

King Mosque
The King Mosque is actually right behind our hotel and that's where we went next. It is a nice mosque on the outside, but honestly, the interior was a bit of a letdown (although it was very large).

Dinner was at a small shop by the hotel. Only cost us 1 JD for a wrap per person. The food was okay.

Tomorrow, we visit the ruins near Amman (Jerash, Aljoun, and Umm Quays).