Sunday, 30 May 2010

Afternoon visit at Ajloun Castle

Yesterday we went for a small visit at Ajloun Castle. It took us about an hour from Amman to reach it. I thought it was a lovely drive, specially the stretch from Jerash, through valleys full of olive groves and pine trees. It is a very different nature up there, it reminded me a bit of Southern Europe. Ajloun is atop of the tallest mountain in Jordan: 1'240m.

On our way to Qa'lat Ar-Rabad

The Castle, formally known as Qa'lat Ar-Rabad, is a very well preserved and great exemple of Medieval Islamic architecture. It was first built in 1184 by one of Saladin's generals (who was also his nephew) to oppose the crusaders as they tried to occupy Nothern Jordan. The Castle was then further expanded in 1214 to its current configuration. So what is there to see? a dry moat, the fortified entrance gate, the south tower; inside is a succession of steps, rooms: it's like a labyrinth (and I must say it is a terrific playground - I would have loved it as kid) with vaulted passages, small and winding staircases, dining halls...

Different views of inside the Castle

From the top of the Castle, there are some very beautiful panoramic views of the Jordan Valley and Northern Jordan.

There is also a small museum inside the castle. It contains exhibits from different periods, including the pre-pottery Neolithic, the early Bronze Age, the Byzantine & the Islamic periods. The items exposed are mainly potteries, but also tools, coins...

The entry to the castle is JD1, the museum is free. You have the possibility to rent (I suppose) audio guides before the entrance to the castle - I just saw the sign! There are also a few shops selling souvenirs and a street vendor who makes excellent mint tea and strong coffee. 

A nice afternoon excursion, not too far from Amman. I liked, I think Bobs thought it was a bit boring! It's true there is nothing inside the castle, no furniture, no signs explaining where you are or the purpose of the rooms... it could be made a bit more "exciting" I suppose. There are a few other things to visit in the area - it can be a whole day excursion... Ajloun has a very old Mosque, there is Tel Mar Elias (the birthplace of St Elias - which is a meeting point for a Muslims, Jews and Christians) and also the Ajloun Nature Reserve

Thursday, 27 May 2010

A movie, some education and a glass of wine

There are a couple of interesting articles in today's Jordan Times, and a couple of other things that I thought I would mention. The newspaper has a small section, what's on, in which one can find out some of the things going on in Amman: exhibitions, markets, theater representations... and today it mentions the Scandinavian Film Festival. Okay, it is not a huge festival - only 3 movies - but on the 31st they show Babette's Feast. It is a long and slow movie about the life of 2 elderly sisters and their French housekeeper, living in a small Protestant community in rural Denmark during the 19th century. Long and slow - but funny, interesting and so attaching. You can read more about the plot here

Then, this one made me smile, how should I put it? Well I guess that there are some words which are not (yet?) acceptable in my Jordanian newspaper. So "Sexual Education Module" becomes "a Family Health Training Manual". You see, that's cute! It is a small correction to an article from yesterday's paper. The power of words, I tell you. Of course you have to call a cat a cat, and sexual education is... sexual education. However,  I also think that sometimes you can present things a bit nicer and when as here there is religion involved in the same sentence, "family health" is much more appropriate.

On to some bigger articles now. First, Jordanian wines. There is an article about Saint Georges wines, the owner Omar Zumot has decided he wants to put Jordan on the wine world map. There is no reason why not. Wine had been grown in Jordan for centuries, the oldest wine making history in the world? It is naturally convenient to grow wine in Jordan; this country has a great soil and an ideal climate, with a coldish and wet winter and a sunny, completely dry summer. The interesting thing is, that his wine is organic. Because there is no humidity in the summer months, there is no growth of fungus, small spiders or insects and Zumot can rely on birds doing the pest work - I like that! It is explained that the wines are not exported to the EU yet, let's hope that the needed entity to validate the wines will make it's appearance soon in Jordan.

The last one links to another post I am working on and is regarding the Dana Biosphere Reserve. You may, or may not know, that Jordan has quite a few Nature Reserves worth a visit, one of them, Dana, is located north of Petra. The idea is to open a new trail going from the reserve to Petra. It will take 3 nights of camping in which one can discover some of the 216 types of birds (many of these are globally threatened), 38 mammals and the 4 bio-geographical zones in which lies the reserve. Did I mention the 833 types of vegetation? I am not so much into camping (well to be honest I have never tried), but this reserve, the largest in Jordan, seems amazing. 

It is week-end tonight. I feel like watching a good movie with a nice glass of red wine, then go to bed and enjoy my book. Bliss! 

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

JD360 million in smoke

I know, I know! some of you are waiting for my Petra pictures and they will come very soon - but since we have come home we have all been in bed with a stomach flu, I think that we are finally seeing the other end of the tunnel now, I just need to get Bibs to eat some food again. Right now she is interested only in Cheerios, then more Cheerios and the occasional piece of bread. Gosh, am I happy for still breastfeeding, at least I know she gets some good things.

Well back to my tittle. Apparently Jordanians spend JD360 millions in tobacco products every year - which is quite a bit considering that there are under 7 million Jordanians and that cigarettes cost next to nothing (sorry don't know how much, but I can't imagine that they are that expensive, specially compared to Europe!) This brings me to talk about the smoking ban. Yes, a smoking ban. Well it actually exists and has been gradually implemented since the beginning of last year, now the government wants to enforce it. This reminds me of France. About 15 years ago (or more probably), when they did the first try, the idea was that each restaurant/cafe should have a smoking and a non-smoking designated area. Well this is what happened in my village in south of France: during the winter the non smoking section would be outside on the terrace in the cold and that section would move inside during the hot summer months! Many things have of course changed nowadays and in Europe smoking is not "in" anymore. But it is in the Middle East and also in Jordan where, I have the impression, the greatest part of the population smokes (at least the men).

So, the ban is theoretically in place in malls, at the airport or in fast food restaurants. I don't know about the airport, but in the shopping malls is it very common to see people smoke, right underneath the now-smoking sign; like in France 15 years ago, it is the whole mentality that need to be changed.

"According to the law, public places include hospitals, healthcare centers, schools, cinemas, theatres, libraries, museums, public and non-governmental buildings, public transport vehicles, airports, closed playgrounds, lecture halls and any other location to be determined by the health minister". (Jordan Times, May 24th). I wonder if that includes taxis?

As of yesterday, health visitors should make unannounced visits to ministries and other public places in order to ensure that the ban is enforced. The law says that anybody caught smoking in a public place could end up in prison for up to a month and be finned from JD15 to JD25 - that seems a bit stiff to me (I mean the prison), but maybe that's what people need in order to wait for 5 minutes to be outside to light up that fag. And that's the thing I don't like about the smoking bans: it is that you have to walk through a huge cloud of smoke to enter a pub, cafe or other restaurant because people stand outside to have their nicotine fix. I am an ex-smoker, and already when I was smoking it was annoying me! 

The good thing about all this, is that the Ministry of Health also offers consultations and nicotine substitutes free of charge for those who want to quit smoking.  

But hey let's see maybe we will see a big change in the habits, but I doubt it will happen overnight and that tomorrow when I go to Mecca Mall I won't see people smoking everywhere, underneath the non smoking sign...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Petra here we come

Tomorrow it's my birthday! I am dangereously approaching the mid-thirties, well well, we are all heading that way, aren't we? But to be honest I really wanted to stop counting when I got to 20 - waow, that's a long time ago.

Well for my birthday, Bobs has decided to take me here (picture from the Jordan Tourism Website):

I am so excited to see Petra, it was added to the World Heritage Site List of UNESCO in 1985. When I was kid and watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I would never have dreamt of ever going there. It has to be one of the most, if not the most amazing landmark in Jordan. We are driving down tomorrow, so we can visit early on saturday morning. I guess it'll take around 2 and half hours to get there. Bobs is organising everything, so don't know where we are staying or anything. I am really looking forward to this! Bringing back some amazing pictures of this trip.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Archaeological Museum in Amman

Located on the site of our famous citadel, there is a small but well appointed archaeological museum.
The collection ranges from the Paleolithic era to the islamic era (so covering several hundred thousand years). The museum displays artifacts found in all the archaeological sites around Jordan, you can see items of daily life such as pottery, tools, but also statues, coins...

One of the most important exhibits are these plaster statues from "Ain Ghazal". They date back from the pre-pottery Neolothic era, around 6000 BC.

They look a bit extraterrestrial to me!

They were discovered in a cache at a site, located on the outskirts of Amman in 1983 and then some more in 1985. The statues are made of plaster applied to an interior reed armature. They are thought to be funeral statues and could commemorate deceased family members in more important families. The statues were found buried underneath the floors of uninhabited houses. The theory is that these statues were made for ancestor worship and when no longer needed, they were then "buried".

Another very interesting thing to see is the exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Discovered at Quram, Israel in 1947

In spring 1947, a bedouin discovered jars containing scrolls in the caves facing Qumran. The scrolls make up a veritable library, with a time span ranging 2 centuries BC. The texts are written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. All the books from the old testament are included. Many documents concerning the activities of the Essene (a Jewish sect) were also found.

A copy of the Mesha Stele (aka Moabite Stone) is also on display at the Museum. The original one can be found at the Louvre in Paris, France. The Stele was discovered in Dhiban (ancient Dibon) in 1868. This stone constitutes a direct account of the history of the world that is related to the Bible.

Mesha Stele in the Louvre

Some more interesting things on display at the Museum

To the left: some very rare sarcophagi dating from the Iron Age. To the right: marble head of the goddess Tyche, daughter of Zeus. Goddess of fortune and protectrice of Amman. It was found in the Garden of the Museum in 1957.

A little note: the first time we went to the Citadel, we didn't pay an entrance fee, but this time we did. 150fils for residents and 2JD for the non-resident.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Jordan welcomes Kuwait

The Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah is due to arrive in Amman today for a 2 day official visit. It is the first visit from the small gulf state in 20 years. I am not going to go into the details of the talks, you can read about them in the article from the Jordan Times. What I wanted to talk about is the public display around this visit - well actually all head of state visits. On the circles around town we have the flags of the visiting country, as well as on stretches of Zahran Street.

5th circle: a picture of the Emir and our King, Abdullah II of Jordan
You can also notice the flags: Kuwaiti & Jordanian

I think it is great to display the visits like this. It is important for the public to know what is going on. Of course you can read about it in the papers and see it on the news (well I guess, I haven't actually seen Jordanian news). In France for exemple I cannot remember ever seeing flags or pictures of any visiting head-of-state.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Apostles Church

Our first small excursion with Bobs' sister was to Madaba. You can read about our first visit to the city of mosaics here, but there were a couple of things that we didn't get to see, and one of them are the Apostles Church.

Located in the south of the town, it's a bit away from the rest of the tourist attractions, but the mosaics are amazing and very well preserved. The original church was constructed in A.D 568; the first excavations were done in 1902 when the central piece, a medalion representing The Personification of the Sea was uncovered.
Inside view of the Church

This masterpiece was signed by Salamanios, as stated by the dedicatory inscription: O Lord God who has made the heavens and the earth, give life to Anastasius, to Thomas and Theodora. [This is the work] of Salamanios the mosaicist. It shows a woman emerging from the sea and is surrounded by mythicak sea creatures.

We were alone in the church so the guard allowed us in and we could walk around on the mosaics. We were very careful and he explained to us that we shouldn't walk on the borders, which are in a poor state and the small stone are at risk. This allowed us to get a good look at the different mosaics.

There are many scenes with wild animals

And many with birds as well, all the birds look a bit different

The Apostles Church is a must see in Madaba. Have a look at this link - you can see the whole church and have an overlook of the mosaics like you were there. All the mosaics have been renovated by the Mosaic School of Madaba - one of the things we have yet to see, but it is closed on fridays.

Friday, 14 May 2010

My week in snapshots

Where has my week gone? Don't know... and it isn't blogging that has taken up all of my time! So what I have I been up to?

Well, as you know Monday was Sushi day!
Okay, these are not the sushi that we made with my friends! But, I just wanted to share that there are some decent sushi places around Amman. We usually eat them at the Sheraton. There is a small sushi bar on the buffet in the all-day restaurant The Spice Garden and you can get them "a la carte" as well.

Tuesday I took Bibs for a walk...
The park by City Hall in downtown Amman

There is a nice walk to be done around the City Hall, it is very stroller friendly and it is easy to park the car as well. I like pictures of people. Random pictures with random people. These 2 ladies were just sitting and enjoying the sun and their kids were running around and playing in the grass. There were families picnicking as well.

Wednesday is "baby group" day at the British Club.
The pool area @ the British Club is now open

Ages ago I promised an update on the membership for the "Mums & Babes" group - I have not forgotten it is just that it has taken them some time to come up with a decision! So here it is: there is not a yearly fee anymore, but we pay 1JD each time we come and the money collected goes towards toys and others for the group; we also get to use the pool area when we are there. We are all think it is a very good solution. If you are a full member you don't get to pay anthing. This wednesday we stayed and had lunch, they have a nice menu, at very reasonable prices.

Yesterday, Thursday. Aaah I feel better - I haven't missed so many days of blogging! Anyways, yesterday, I took Bibs swimming in the morning. I hadn't been for a while, which is ashame bacause she has forgotten that it is something that she enjoys a lot! I need to make it a habit to go at least a couple of times every week. There again we go to the Sheraton (you have guessed we don't live very far!) - they have an outdoor and indoor pool. The outdoor pool is now open but still way to cold for my little girl. Even if we are hitting the 30 degrees every day now the pool is still only 20 degrees - but I don't think it will take so much time before we can use it.
Outdoor pool

I needed to stay at home in the afternoon as I had somebody over to do some wiring for the TV/phone. It shouldn't had taken whole afternoon, except that instead of 2 o'clock he showed up at... 5! Don't you just love punctuality? the Jordanian way, of course!

Then I wanted to share this YouTube video. Absolutely nothing to do with Amman though. I like Lady Gaga's songs and this is kid performing Paparazzi - have a look it's worth it!

We had a very late night yesterday. Bibs' aunty arrived and we are really excited about that, I can't wait to show her Amman and pieces of Jordan! I'll try to blog as much as possible about the things we are going to discover as we go along. Meanwhile, enjoy your last day of the week or your week-end depending where in the world you are...

Monday, 10 May 2010

Sushi Course!

One thing I particulary enjoy about our life here is all the mums I have met. It is really fab to meet women from all around the world, and today one of the Japanese mums invited all of us to a "baby group" as we call it, but with a little bonus: we learned how to make inside-out maki - aka california rolls. She had prepared everything: several working stations and the goodies for the rolls: sushi rice, cucumber, crab sticks, avocado, mayo and sesame seeds.

Prepared table for the cooking lesson

First she showed us and then we all had a go!
first: rice on the seaweed and flip it over. She used a small piece of baking paper so that the rice doesn't stick to the mat. Then she added the goodies inside.
Rolly-rolly and some sesame seeds!

and then end result by one of us:

Ok we have to practice some more... but they were really nice!

Saturday, 8 May 2010


I have never been a trousers girl. You know, some women like trousers and others prefer skirts or dresses. In highschool I didn't wear the usual uniform: jeans. I would rather freeze my butt off in shorts or skirts in winter. Another thing about me: I don't care what people think about me, never have, never will. So where does this bring us?

Well, one of the biggest differences I have felt yet is clearly clothes wise. For the past 4 months (yes, already!) I have been the only person I see with a skirt. Ok nearly, but the only with bare legs certainly. Don't get me wrong, my skirts are of "longueur convenable" like the nuns at my school used to say: acceptable length or just on the knees (that was before the shorts in highschool).

How many times have I been in a shopping mall where people are looking at me with nearly disapproving looks, because of my bare legs - women more than men actually - men don't seem to care (or look), but women do. I would never go to downtown Amman in a skirt, but in a western world invention: a shopping mall with underwear, short skirts and small tops in the shop windows I can't see the harm. Who are buying that stuff anyways as nobody wears it? besides the point. Here the uniform is jeans as well (for the women not wearing a hijab obviously), even now that it is 30 degrees outside. Very rarely, I would see other expat women but with very very long skirts - something 1. that doesn't suit me, 2. that i don't like them.

But then came yesterday. I don't know if it's because the weather is clearly warmer, but yesterday I met 3 others who skirts on. And they were not touching the floor! So even if I don't care what people think, I don't like to hurt anyones feelings. Now that I know that I am not alone I feel much better!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Welcome to Al'Wakalat Street

taken from Zahran Street

As I have said many times before, not easy to find places to walk in Amman. Well there is one where you can walk, enjoy a coffee outside and actually do some shopping as well. Yes, Amman has 1 pedestrian street. It is called Al'Walakat Street- located between 6th and 7th circles. As you can see there are even signs to show you the way (rare, very rare in Amman - no make that Jordan!).

This is what it looks like!

There are all the usual western brands you find in the shopping malls (massimo dutti, vera moda, zara, gap... as well as a monsoon, a nice interior shop selling Sia and many others).

This week-end there is the 1st photo competition/street exhibition called "Colors of Jordan", and they were setting up a stage for some live music as well. I say this week end but I don't actually know how long it will last.

Coffee / Shisha place

There are several coffee shops on Wakalat St. This is one looks really nice. It is lovely to be able to sit outside, that is also rare in Amman.

It is a shame that the street is not longer than this - I mean in 5 minutes you have done it. Having said that there is a bit more to this area than the perdestrian street and I will share that with very soon, for the moment I have to run after Bibs who is starting to discover that she can actually get far with this crawling!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Will Man ever understand?

I think there are 2 kind of not-wanting-to-understanding: the things we truly cannot understand (I mean I don't understand the whole God-Creation-Universe thing for exemple) and then there are things we prefer to ignore: like the misuse of water. It is news to nobody that water is priceless.

Well, ecological problems also exsits in this corner of earth - and scientist are warning that if nothing is done river Jordan is drying out. When in 100 years, 10 years? No, next year. I mean, it cannot come as surprise for anybody that our rivers are disappearing when the countries around them are just pumping out water and are doing nothing in return - but as very often Man prefer to look the other way. This river is running out of water because it is polluted, overexploited and now has lost 98% of its flow. River Jordan is mentioned several times in the old testatement, this is the river where Jesus came and got baptised. And what? in 50 years (or less I don't know) we have managed to destroy it. I say "we", cause even if I wasn't here, well I feel, we are all responsible in one way or the other. We all know that water is a big problem in many areas around the globe, and yet most of us don't treat it with the respect it deserves, but are more thinking about our own comfort! We all are - we like our swimming pools, hot tubs, to have a clean car...

EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East have just launched a project to rehabilitate the Jordan river and arise awarness of what is happening to this important ecosystem. They are going to channel freshwater back into the river. This river is used by Israel, Syria, Jordan & Palestine - which means that these countries have all to agree... but they can't agree on so much else, so are they really going worry about a river?

Monday, 3 May 2010

An afternoon at the Children's Museum

Last friday I said the weather was dull? Well yesterday it was Winter - with a capital "W", not used to temperatures dropping under 15 degrees anymore! And at least there is one place to go when it is cold... and when it will be getting too hot as well - apart from shopping malls obviously.

Yesterday with my friend, we took our girls to the Children's Museum. Did I mention that Bibs is 9 months today? I have a 9 months old baby girl. She is waving goodbye to Daddy in the morning, screaming of joy when he comes back in the evening as we wait by the front door. She is so concentrated as she crawles to get my shoes, my camera or my handback - I really need to learn to put things away now! And yesterday she tried to stand up by herself, not quite there yet, but she was flat on her feet, her butt in the air. 9 months...

Back to the Museum. I think I can speak for both of us, we were quite impressed. Entrance fee is 3JD per person (we didn't pay for the girls) and there is something to play with for all ages: from toddler to 10-12 year old.
Children's Museum, located in the highest part of King Hussein Park

As you enter there is a library and a cafe - that is for the kids who like to read and the parents to take a rest! And after that you walk from an area to another, pretty much every thing is covered: the human body, stars and space, farm animals, ancient times (where kids can do some digging), communication (with a radio station)... and some more as you can see on the pictures below - and much more than that! - all of the areas have interactive games:

View inside the Museum (Left); Electricity (center) and recycling (right)

Plane - you can go inside and sit in the cockpit - supermarket (right)

Obviously Bibs and her friend are a bit too small for all this, so good thing there is a toddlers' area (and a huge area where kids can lie on the floor and draw) as well as a small but nice aquarium!

One of the fish, Bibs really liked!

This is a must go I would say. Kids won't get bored easily in there (there is also an outside area) and they might even learn so stuff at the same time.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Farmers Market @ the Jordan Museum

I read last week about a farmers market on Zach's blog and I thought we should go and have a look. It takes place every saturday from 10am to 2pm, until end of June. Souq al Balad is located on the site of the Jordan Museum, downtown.

There are not many stalls, but the initiative is nice and who knows maybe it will grow a bit with time.

I bought some fresh vegetables (melon, lemon green peppers, salad... for 3JD) and the guy added an apple for Bibs and some green chilis.

And then there was this really nice girl selling soaps that she makes. All vegan - no added preservatives, synthetic colours...) I bought some sea salt (to use as soap), can't wait to use it!

In the back you can see a whole bar of soap, before it is cut.

A soap is 4 JD (as my sea salt), she makes smaller soaps one can take when travelling and hanging soaps for the shower. I should really have taken more pics! She doesn't have a shop (told me it was far too expensive) but here is her website: - you can place an order through there. She is at this market every saturday and then at the market in Rainbow street on fridays - can't remember when that was opening! I think such a young entrepreneur deserves back up! Her pricing is fair.

This is the sea salt I bought

There were stalls with local food, used books, crafts - should have looked closer at that, but then it gives me one more reason to go back.

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