Jordan: A Man in Amman

After sampling the desert and an ancient wonder, I was craving a bonkers Middle Eastern city and so I decided to head up north to Jordan’s capital, Amman. Despite Jordan’s small size, Amman isn’t ideally placed from the closely situated circuit of Aqaba-Wadi Rum-Petra. It’s about a 4 and a half hour drive from each of these. However, my beef with Amman was personal. After stopping over here on a flight to India a few years ago, I had hoped to get out and explore the city but was unable to. So this time I knew I wanted to visit and see what I missed out on. A lot of people don’t like it but also for a lot of people it’s the gateway to Jordan and it has a completely different flavour to relatively mellow Aqaba.

Getting to Amman from Petra was easy enough. There is a daily JETT bus daily at 4pm from Wadi Musa. However I didn’t fancy waiting till then to get a bus so I instead headed to the small minibus station in the local part of Wadi Musa. From here, minibuses depart hourly (or when full) during the morning. I got a 10am one. It cost around 7 JD as I recall and contained and mixture of locals and tourists. The journey was fine but the bus terminated at a bus station way out of the centre of Amman. I still don’t understand what the point of having a bus station so far out of town is. Amman houses loads of different bus stations and none of them are particularly useful for a traveller staying in the centre. It was about 4km from this bus station to the downtown area. Taxi drivers are waiting to take you but I hate taxis and love rambling so I decided to walk it. It was easy enough and took about an hour.

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The layout of Amman is bizarre. The centre is very hilly with a medley of roads weaving in and out of each other and looping round in circles. It probably makes sense to the people who live there and are used to it but for a casual visitor, it’s difficult to get your head round. The main backpacker haunt is Cliff Hostel, a slightly dingy hotel located slap bang in the centre. It has private rooms for around 10 JD and dorms for 5 JD so it’s excellent value for Jordan. It’s a bit rough and ready but the staff are very friendly and the location is great. I’m a heavy sleeper so the noise from the road outside didn’t bother me. I was kept awake by two women staying up bitching about how terrible Jordan is and how expensive Jordan is and how everyone in Jordan tries to scam you and it’s just an awful place… sounds like they were having a great holiday.

The central area of Amman makes for a great stroll. I love cities like Marrakesh and New Delhi which are just unashamedly crazy and whilst Amman isn’t as mad as those two, it’s got a great vibrancy. The whole central area is rammed full of shops selling clothes, shoes, books, souvenirs (stock up in Amman, they’re much cheaper than elsewhere in the country), food, juices and more. It was constantly buzzing at every time of day and even if you don’t want to buy anything, window shopping is just as fun. Even better, Cliff Hostel had a terrace so I could sit out and watch the madness unfold from above. If you want to get “in” it, a nice evening walk is from the centre to the Roman Amphitheatre. It takes you past most of the souvenir stalls and stands as well as a load of local shops. The Amphitheatre is 1 JD if you want to walk/sit in it or there’s a little square in front where locals congregate of an evening.

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The food scene in Amman is great too. I ate so well in Jordan but most of my food was home cooked stuff rather than eating out – in Aqaba, the hostel laid on dinner, in Wadi Rum, the camp cooked for me and in Wadi Musa my AirBnB host served up delicious meals. So really Amman was my first chance to sample Jordanian cuisine in a restaurant. Eating out in Jordan can be expensive (Amman is one of the most expensive cities in the Middle East) but the capital also had a range of cheap eats available. Literally over the road from the hostel was Hashem Restaurant, seemingly an institution in Amman. It’s mainly open air, with pictures of its royal visitors hanging on the walls. It always seemed to have a crowd of locals and tourists, serving up tasty bread, hummus and falafel. With a couple of cups of tea, my bill came to 3.50 JD. It makes for a good lunch stop. Another good spot for a cheap lunch is Al Qud’s. This is situated along Rainbow Street, supposedly a hip, trendy street near the centre though I found it a bit dead. Al Qud’s is a hole in the wall joint serving falafel and hummus in a panini for just 0.75 JD. It was tasty and filling and they’ve got benches outside too. There’s another Al Qud’s just round the corner from Hashem (though the outside sign says Jerusalem). This is unrelated to the one on Rainbow Street but makes for a good cheap dinner spot. I got a plate of Jordan’s staple dish mansaf (lamb, rice, yoghurt sauce) for around 6 JD.

Other than eating your way through Amman, the main attraction is the ancient Citadel, sitting high above the city. Entrance is 3 JD and it’s definitely worth a look. I’d absolutely recommend sunset as the best time to visit (which is ridiculously early in winter, around 4.30pm) as the site faces west so you get cracking views. Regardless, you get a great panorama over the city, not to mention some more ancient ruins. Most are worse for wear but a few bits and pieces still stand with signs providing information. The most impressive are the remains of the Hercules Temple and with the sunset backdrop, they make for a breathtaking view.

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After sampling Amman’s sights and food, it was time to head back down south to catch my flight from Aqaba. There are regular JETT buses from the capital to Aqaba. I visited their office in Abdali, the modern area of Amman about a 40 minute walk from the centre, where I was told there were buses at 7am, 9am and 11am and I think more in the afternoon. I took the 11am one for 8.60 JD and it took around 4.5 hours. It was very well-timed. The flash floods which were terrorising the country hit the capital the same day, cutting off the main road in and out. Had I got a later bus, I’d have ended up trapped and most likely missed my flight. Some good luck for once, I can’t complain.

I can understand why travellers who are based in the south of Jordan wouldn’t want to make the pretty long journey up to Amman, since most of Jordan’s jewels are located close to Aqaba. However, those that do will be rewarded with a touch of madness and an authentic slice of Jordanian life. I was really glad that I finally made it.

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