Saturday, 27 November 2010

Back in Amman 2: Karak Castle

To get to Karak you can take the Dead sea highway or the King's highway (through Wadi Mujib) where the scenery is much more exciting, but it would be a bit too long for Bibs - she tends to get very bored in the car. So we took the Desert highway, the fastest way to get there. We managed to find Karak and the castle without getting lost, not thanks to the signs though...

a sign, with some remains from the elections
view of the castle
The castle, probably the largest in Jordan, from the Crusaders' time, was built in 20 years and finished in 1161, when it became the residence of the lord of Transjordan (the most important fief of the Crusader kingdom, as it was rich in both produce and tax revenues). But long before the crusaders arrived in the region (some 29 centuries ago), the fortress of Kir Heres (or Kir-Haresesth) is mentionned several times in the Bible, like in the Book of Kings (2 King 3:25): "In the end, there was only Kir-hareseth left, which the slingers surrounded and battled." - a descritpion of the Israelites assaulting Moab and taking the fortress. There is also another version of this event: which is the famous Mesha Stele or Moabite Stone. The site being this old came obviously also in the hands of the Nabateans (the ones from Petra). There is one small remain from the 2nd century AD.

Nabataean Relief
It is the bust of a man - unfortunately he has lost his head, but it has been identified as a funerary monument of a Nabataean cavalryman. 

View towards the Dead Sea and Israel
View South towards the Lower Court
The views are spectacular. It is said that on a clear day you can see as far as the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. 

There is a small museum presenting findings from Karak and the Moab region.

Entrance to the Museum (lower court)

There is a small leaflet availbale at the visitor's center. It is well made with lots of information. The trouble is only that it is not that easy to know exactly where you are in the castle, so it is good to have the leaflet at all times and follow the small plan. A guide kind of just took us along (we paid him 2jd) and he showed us some of the things. It is also possible to rent audio equipment for 5jd. Depending on how much you want to know about the site. As usual I feel that I don't know enough, so when my parents come next year I'll probably go back for a second round.

The castle is built in 2 levels (upper court and lower court), as can be seen clearly on the pictures beneath. There are 2 main periods: the Crusaders, late 12 century and the Mamluk, 13th to 15th century. 

Crusader Galleries

Upper court - inside view of the Crusader Gate 

You can walk around completely freely in the castle. There are a few signs along the way, but there are places where we wouldn't have gone without the guide, like the prison or the dormitories. The entry to the castle is 1JD for tourists and 150fils for residents. It is not a stroller friendly site, there are steps everywhere. Bibs enjoyed walking around, picking up stones and being carried a little bit as well, when down in the prison cells. There are no lights whatsoever in the underground vaults, only small openings here and there in the ceiling or the walls so the guide was walking around with a flash-light.

The castle is a must visit in Jordan. Then there is also the city of Karak. It used to be completely fortified and there are still towers and hidden entrances to the castle around the city. There are plenty places to eat and drink around the castle should it be lunch time.

Back in Amman 1: a French Breakfast @ Paul's

So we are back! Back from our fab holidays. Yesterday we decided to use a little bit of our stored energy and make the drive to Karak to visit its castle.

We started with a stop at Paul's for a French breakfast. The croissant was soft and warm and yummy. The baguette, the closest you get to a very good bread in Amman. Even if it is located in a mall, the atmosphere is quite nice, nearly French. They have several options for breakfast (healthy, continental, rich in fiber, low in salt...). We both took the continental, which includes: a warm drink, fresh orange juice, a pastry, a half baguette with jams and butter, for a total of 7JD (inc tax) / per person. Even the coffee is good.
Bibs was a bit hungry, she got a hand on my croissant before the picture!

We then started the drive southwards, about an hour and a half on the desert highway.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Away From Amman: a postcard from Reunion Island

So I lied... I thought my post would be from Mauritius but it is from Reunion Island. As usual holidays go way too fast. What have we been up too: a small stay at The Residence and one at the Grand Mauritian; lots of food, scuba diving and now a trip to Reunion Island, with more food, more sun and good times with family and friends.

It is the first time I come to Reunion Island and it is beautiful.

In the South of the Island, not far from St Pierre

Lava from the big Volcano eruption
Anse des Cascades - Ste Rose

Market this morning in St Denis
Lots and lots of things to write about and some amazing pics to come...

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Away from Amman: The Blue Penny and the Waterfront

The Caudan Waterfront has become over the years a tourist hot spot in Port Louis. It is a large shopping area, with restaurants, cafes, a cinema and even a casino. Obviously it is located by the water so it makes it perfect just to take a walk as well.


The shopping area is very large with both international brands and more local things. Pardon, a brand from Reunion Island is worth the visit. There is also a nice crafts market on 2 floors.

There are a few historical things to look at, as the Postal Museum or The Observatory.

The Observatory was built in the beginning of the 1830's and was the first of its kind in the Indian Ocean, used mainly for cyclone warnings and astronomic views helping the weather forecast in the harbour. It had a short life as it stopped operating in 1866 and the tower was brought down in 1880. The main building is still there, showing the architecture of the time and of course the evolution of the Caudan.

In the Caudan, you will also find the Blue Penny Museum - the museum is named after the legendary and very rare 2 pence blue stamp. There are the first stamps of the British Empire to be printed outside the United Kingdom, in 1847. One of these can be seen in this small museum.

Blue Penny Museum
The particularity of this stamp is that it says "Post Office" instead of "Post Paid" and about 240 pieces were sold before the mistake was noticed. The little story says that most of these stamps were used to send out  invitations to the Mauritian Governor's wife ball. 

The museum displays a collection of boat models, the postal story of Mauritius as well as a whole section on "Paul & Virginie", the famous book by Bernardin de St Pierre. It is the story of 2 young people who know each other since birth, fall in love and die on the wreckage of the Saint Geran. For those interested it is possible to dive and see the wreck. 

Opposite the museum there is a small art gallery, where we bought some lovely prints from Mauritian artists, worth a visit if one is looking for a small souvenir. 

Some more pictures of the Caudan...

Away from Amman: a couple of days at the Residence

We had the pleasure to spend two nights at the Residence Hotel in Mauritius. It was a pure pleasure, we had an amazing time. The hotel is located about 45minutes from Port Louis, on the East cost. Now the only real problem with that coast is the wind. There is always wind, all year around - during the summer month it doesn't matter, but the rest of the year it can get a bit chilly when the sun is not out and shinning. Having said that, it was still a fabulous stay.

The hotel has a lovely colony style and the feeling in the hotel is great. We were upgraded to a gorgeous junior suite and got some really nice amenities as well, including a bottle of Champagne, fresh fruit and some small almond muffins with banana compote. There is also a butler available, he can come an help you unpack your luggage, get your trouser pressed or anything else you can think of.

The pool and the beach now: the pictures speak for themselves. The beach is amazing, I guess it's about 1km long, and it is wonderful to walk by. The tides are quite strong and when it is low it is possible to walk really far out or stay by the rocks and find small crabs.

The sea...
And more sea...
The pool area is not so big and can get fairly crowded in the early afternoon. We were told it is heated, so the temperature of the pool should also be nice during the winter months. There is an outdoor jacuzzi as well. 
The pool area

The hotel as a very nice garden as well, as well as a kids club and of course a boat house where you can book snorkelling, glass bottom for free or scuba diving for a fee.

Kids Club
@ the boat house
I think the only thing the hotel is lacking is the sunset - but there isn't anything they can do about that, since they are on the wrong side of the island. But then, I love to walk on the beach at sunrise as well, so quiet. The service was terrific, all staff very helpful and friendly. We have stayed at quite a few hotels in Mauritius and I have to say that this one is one of our favourites so far.

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