Monday, 2 May 2011

A small thing I love about springtime in Amman

These last couple of weeks we have had lots of sheep in the empty lot opposite our building. Bibs loves seeing them and wants to go and play with them!

 I do wonder how much they block the traffic when they come and go though! Just adding a bit more of mess, to the already messy Amman traffic situation.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

French diner at the Hyatt Amman

So last week we went to the Grand Hyatt Hotel to have some good French food, made by the Michelin Star Chef Lionel Levy, on the occasion of the French cultural week.

The food was lovely, you can feel that the chef didn't have access to the same kind of produce as what he is used to back in Marseille - but still he made a great job! So here is what we had, in pictures. Am so sorry cause I forgot the titles of the dishes, not very good - but you'll still get the idea of what we had.

To start with, we had snails - I don't think it sounds very appetizing to eat snails haha and I prefer the French term Escargot. So we had escargot in a kind of falafel with a persillade sauce (parsley and garlic).

We then had some more starters... Bobs had a tartar of saumon, which was yummy and I had squid stuffed with foie gras and beef, miam miam.

Oh! and one more starter... just to make sure that we don't go hungry home! The last one was scallops with artichoke. Bibs just said WOW to the picture - she is as interested in food as her parents are.

Then to the main courses. We had a different one each: I had sea bass with asparagus, served with a lemon grass and asparagus sauce. Bobs had lamb served in 2 ways: a confit and pan-cooked rack. Both these dishes were really good.

Then to the deserts - which was not his best point! But then I am sure that he probably has a pastry chef to do them back in his own kitchen! Bobs had a creme brulee with black olives and anis as well as an oil olive ice cream (I was surprised, I really liked the ice cream) - I had a revisited strawberry tart - but it wasn't very "tarty" so was a bit disappointed, the taste was good, but not what I expected.

We had a lovely evening. I hope that they will do the same thing next year, maybe with more venues? It is a great idea and I think sharing through food is excellent.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

You know you are back when... and French cooking in Amman

I simply cannot believe that I have neglected my blog like this! But for my defence we have been quite busy: and no don't worry I have been sitting in Dubai airport all this time... A week after we came back from the Emirates, we suddenly had to leave for the UK and that was that month on March. Pouf, gone! While in the UK, I could have found time to write, but we did not have internet. It's amazing how addicted you get to that stuff, but having said that an internet break is not a bad thing.

To celebrate my return to blogging, I thought I would make a little post about the small things that I rediscover!

So I know I am back in Amman when...

- you loose 15 degrees temperature wise, going from huge sunshine and 26 degrees to 11 and rain in 2 days! Spring time in Amman;
- I can get a couple of huge bunch of lilies at the traffic lights for a tenner;
- I get into Cozmo supermarket where they are renovating and I can walk on the newly laid floor tiles;
- or drive on a brand new layer of asphalt still warm (no wonder the streets are in a poor state);
- I can get tasty strawberries for 250 fils (or a little more) all year around;
- have to get used, yet again, to the non existence of traffic rules in the circles, are so-called roundabouts;
- The kilo of imported papaya reach 20JD or avocados cost 10JD per kilo - that's called extortion, in my opinion;
- when I watch Masterchef Australia and the word "pork" is censured;
- the internet connection is rubbish - one moment fine, the next soooo slow;
- I suddenly discover a German bakery on the parking level of Baraka Mall - where has that come from?? Yummy brown bread.

Then I wanted to share the initiative taken by the French Cultural Centre: 5 French chefs are in Amman this week at the following participating venues: The Grand Hyatt, The Intercontinental, The Sheraton and at Le Notre in Abdoun. We had the chance to try the diner at EVOO @ the Sheraton already, and let me tell you: best food I had in a very long time. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me so pics available, but as entree we had an asparagus broth with scallops, followed by lamb saddle. That was only 2 dishes of the  menu degustation - which is 5 dishes served at the competitive price of 37JD (+ tax & service charge) - the menu also comes with a choice of wines to accompany each dish, the price is then 55JD, still not bad in my opinion. They also offer a few a la carte items. The chef cooking at the Sheraton this week is Bruno Doucet. Tonight we have decided to go and try the Southern kitchen at the Hyatt with chef Lionel Levy and this time I take my camera! If you have some extra cash for a good meal out I think it's the week to use it.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Away from Amman: Sitting in Dubai Airport

So this week end we have left for a little break in Dubai... And right now 8 am still at the airport. You see, there are a couple of things you got to Love about Dubai Airport, specially when you are a mum and you have a tired toddler!

The first thing is called a stroller. Yes yes, courtesy of Emirates you have a stroller at your disposition as you exit the plane. No waiting for your own, or carrying your tired baby. You get a beautiful red Maclaren till you reach the arrival hall and pick up yours. Well Bibs today decided not to sleep during the flight (very long flight for mummy here) but as soon as she sat in the stroller she fell asleep.

The second thing is a Costa Coffee cafe in the arrival hall: mummy is relaxing with a nice latte and Bibs is napping peacefully in the stroller. Bliss.

Third thing: free internet for the blogging mummy.

Enjoy your week-end, wherever you are - am going to enjoy time with my little family, fab food , meet ups with friends and very importantly the +25 degrees and sunshine waiting for me as soon as I get to leave the airport.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Amazing Petra - A visit to Little Petra

Located out of town, away from the main site of Petra, is Little Petra, also known as Al-Beidha - a much smaller version of the famous Nabateaen city. There is no entrance fee, which is nice compared to the 50JD asked, but you can't really compared the sites either. However for those who cannot afford the above price it is a nice little compromise to get the feel of Petra.

Entrance to Little Petra

Basically the site is a small siq (natural cleft in the rock) - with a complex of cisterns, dams and dining halls located in 3 small natural courtyards. The interesting thing is that there are barely any tourists and it is possible to walk in and out of the halls as you wish.

The site was a halting station and also one of the main commercial areas of Petra, passage point for the caravans on the trade route to the north and north-west. The traders would stop here and settle so they could engage in trade.

Here are a couple of  links to web-sites: - I like this one a lot - it is extracts from a book, called "Petra Book", by Jane Taylor.

Friday, 18 February 2011

How is it going in Jordan?

Everyday or so I get an e-mail from back home, family, friends, friends of parents asking how things are in Jordan? Well as the "Arabic Spring" and its revolutions continue to sweep over the Middle East, I thought I would just reassure everybody, Jordan is quiet. Yes, there are problems in Jordan: the country is not escaping the economic problems, inflation is hitting hard, the income gap in between rich and poor is growing, the unemployment rate reaches 12% and let's not forget the public deficit which has never been so high. We have had protests every Friday for the past month or so, mainly in Amman.

Compared with Ben Ali or Mubarak, the street is not asking for the King to go. What they want is a change of Prime Minister (though he had only been here a few months), freer elections and parliamentary reforms. Well the sacking of the Prime Minister they got it: our King dismissed Rifai and his cabinet in the beginning of February. He was replaced by Al-Bakhit, who is seen as stable, but also conservative figure. Al-Bakhit is the man that came in after the 2005 deadly hotel bombings, he was also very much involved in the peace treaty with Israel. Will he be able to bring the reforms need in Jordan for things to become better? I don't know but the guy has a huge task ahead of him. Is the stability of Jordan on his shoulders? Maybe, probably. Al-Bakhit is Jordanian, as opposed to two thirds of the Jordanian population who are Palestinian. Without classifying anybody I think that the first group tends to be better off than the second.
The King certainly "bought time" when he replaced the PM but all the reforms that are needed will take a long, long time to implement and it will take even more time to see some results. For me one of the biggest problems is corruption, it cripples the country: from the elections to the decisions as to where money needs to be spend and for whom. Let's hope that Al-Bakhit and his cabinet will be able to stay far away from corruption.

The unrests are far to be over in the Middle East: yesterday it was Tunisia and Egypt, today Libya, Yemen or Bahrain and tomorrow? well only the future will say. For all these countries it is just the start. In the countries where the people got what they wanted: they need to learn about democracy, and that's not an easy task. How long did it take France after 1789? A century? more? Ok that's far away in history. What about the former east block in Europe? some states are still fighting high unemployment rates, low salaries and corruption - the older generation would argue that "under the old regime" at least they had a job and food on the table. I guess what I am trying to say is that unfortunately it's not because Ben Ali or Mubarak are gone that all his perfect - far from it. These populations will need a lot of time, a lot of support to get to where they want and it'll be a bumpy ride. The whole political system needs to be constructed - they have no real opposition, no political programs, not many political leaders.

Back to Jordan. Will the protests continue - it is possible, though I believe they will remain peaceful. I think it is more a crisis of confidence in between the people and the power, than a need of radical change. I believe it all depends on the speed with which al Bakhit and King Abdullah II will take steps toward reforms.  But I want to stress, that I feel that Jordan is not like the other countries in the region, nor can you compare the King to other rulers in the area.

I thought this was an interesting article: Jordanian demand change - just don't touch the King

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Visit to Umm Qais

I have been away from my blog for ages, and I am so happy that I can finally sit down and write again! There are always lots of reasons why one can't blog, but my main reason (a part from having visitors for quite some time) is that Bibs kind of took over my laptop when the tv suddenly went funny. The only time during the day I can write is when she quietly sits and watches her favourite program "Peppa Pig". So you got it, TV is working again: Bibs can have her screen and I can have mine.

Have so much to tell as we have done quite a few things in the last month; and I have decided to start with the last thing we did: a visit to Umm Qais.

Umm Qais is located in the North Westerly corner of Jordan, just at the border with Israel and Syria; the site overlooks Lake Tiberias, aka Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley. It was a member of the Decapolis (during the Roman Empire) and was then known as Gadara. The city was then a cultural centre and was home to many poets and philosophers.

I found the site very beautiful, specially because it is so green there. Unfortunately it takes nearly 2 hours to get there from Amman - the drive goes through Irbid, the second largest city in Jordan and that means that you waste a lot of time.

Entrance to the site
It is fairly easy to get to Umm Qais, there are signs the whole way (this is worth mentioning as: 1. it is very rare in Jordan - 2. it is not the case when you need to go back to Amman!). The entrance is free for the residents and tourists need to pay 3JD.

View of the theatre
The theatre was built in the 2nd century AD against the western slope of the Acropolis. It could host around 3000 visitors and is built entirely in basalt. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the 8th century.
There are many things to look at on the site:
The main road in Gadara
The Nymphaeum
Archaeological museum (closed on Tuesday) 
The site is also known for a biblical event: this is thought to be the place where Jesus cast devils into swine, which then drowned in the waters of Lake Tiberias.

View of the Lake Tiberias or Sea of Galilee (and the Nymphaeum)
If you schedule your visit over lunch I have heard that the guesthouse, located just across the road from the entrance should be rather good - not a bad idea before a long drive back. The views are surely stunning. 

Jordan Valley
The other attraction of the area is Al-Himma - therapeutical hot springs located about 10 kilometres north of Umm Qais, they were already in use by the Romans, whom apparently regarded them highly. Today there are both a privately run bath and a public one (with separate timetables for men and women).

As I have already said it is a bit far away, which is unfortunate because I don't think I will go again. It is the kind of place you visit once. Yes, the views are amazing, the biblical reference interesting, but it is just too far from Amman. I wouldn't recommend to go to Jerash and then Umm Qais, I think it is too much to do in one day. One last thing it is not a stroller friendly site!

Here is a link to more pictures.

Monday, 17 January 2011

2011: International year of forests? Sadly not in Jordan?

The United Nation has declared 2011 the International year of forests.

North of Amman is Ajloun Forest, home to more than 100 plant species, animals and birds. A deforestation program has just started in a part of the forest in order to built a military academy. I wonder how much clear land there is in Jordan? What is the need to actually destroy the forest so that we can get some more clear land? Well apparently there is 1% of forested land in Jordan.

In one of the most water deprived countries of the world, I think it is nothing less than a scandal.

A petition is currently being circulated on the net, to be presented tomorrow to parliament - you can show your support and sign it here. This is also a link to much more information about this case.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Visit to Umm Ar-Rasas

I have been quiet this last month but it doesn't mean that I haven't been doing stuff. Still so much to see in Jordan. I started off the new year with a visit to Umm Ar-Rasas (also known as Um Er-Rasas, Kastrom Mefa'a). The site is located 30 kilometres south-east of Madaba and it makes it a perfect afternoon trip from Amman. We had lunch at Haret Jdoudna in Madaba and then continued to Umm Ar-Rasas. I wrote about that restaurant a year ago, after our first visit to Madaba, and their website was under construction... well it still is! But the food is still great, their hummus is yummy, my favourite is their lamb sausages in a tomato sauce, delicious.

Umm Ar-Rasas has been a world heritage site since 2004 - it started as a Roman garnisson, became a town in the 5th century. Most of the site has not (yet?) been excavated - the highlight is definitely one of the 16 discovered churches: Saint Stephens Church (AD 785) with its very well preserved mosaics.

St Stephens Church
It is easy to see that it was a big church, with several chapels. As I said the mosaics are very well preserved: the ones on the right underneath show the cities of the region (Palestine, Jordan or Egypt) written in Greek script.

In the top right corner, you can see an Icon, the only one there I believe

This section shows: Kastrom Mefa'a, Philadelphia (Amman) and Madaba.

Underneath a couple of pictures from the Church of the Lions - called so because of the mosaics found. It is not possible to see the mosaics as they are covered by plastic and sand for protection. I can only guess that this is a temporary solution until a more suitable one is found.

Like all sites in Jordan, there wasn't much information available, so do some research before you go if you want to enjoy it fully. There is a visitor centre but apart from the tourist police, everything was closed. We didn't pay an entrance fee, but had the pleasure of a escort by one of the police officers, who didn't speak much English, we still gave him a tip at the end of the tour. If you have a stroller it is possible to walk around with it on the major track. 

Some more pictures...

Thursday, 13 January 2011

One year in Amman!

Waow!, as Bibs would say. One year already, time has just disappeared. A year ago, we were packing the last pieces of luggage and preparing our flight to an unknown country.

I took a little bit of time to get used to this new and a bit strange city, learning to drive around - can't say without getting lost because it still happens - finding an apartment and settling in. But then one day I woke up, only to realise that I actually thought about Amman as "home" - as much as London, Geneva or Paris before.

After a year what are the things that I like about being in Amman? no doubt I like being here...

1. number 1 has to go to the British club - not because I am a member or go their often - but because it is through the British Club that I have met my friends and Bibs' hers.

2. the weather - ok not the best this evening, looks like it's going to rain (but we need it desperately) or maybe there is a sandstorm on the way - but let's be honest, I don't have much to complain about on the weather side - love the sun.

3. the kindness of the Jordanian people - ok some are a bit piss-takers - excuse my French, but others are really helpful and nice.

4. the things you only do/have as an expat: massage at home, for example, or having a (more or less full time) housekeeper, or our apartment building's harris.

5. the historical / biblical sites to visit in Jordan - there is always, something, somewhere to visit (not only Petra or Jerash).

6. ice cream at Gerard's (am writing a post about those ice creams!).

7. hearing small birdies as I wake up in the morning, not something you would have in a large city in Europe.

8. walking around in Sweifieh - I just love that area - all the small shops, my favorite sharwama, Juicebangbang, the only bubble-tea tea-house in Amman and of course Istiklal (stationary and toy shop).

9. local fruit and veg, that costs absolutely nothing (as opposed to imported papaya for example @ JD10 the kilo!!).

10. last, but certainly not the least important, I can stay at home with my gorgeous Bibs and watch her grow every day.

Not everything is perfect when you live in Amman:
- Absolute rip off when you go to Mothercare or ELC and buy something imported
- The fact that you can never be sure you can get something in the supermarket: it is not because there has been a produce for weeks that it will be there today... like Tropicana fresh juice or my usual yogurt...
- probably what disturbs me the most: this is a man's world and sometimes you can feel looled down at as a woman.
- ha nearly forgot, traffic on Thursday afternoon - horrid.

But hey, no world is perfect - and Amman is a nice city to live in. Happy we are here for another year - so many things to still to discover.

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