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.

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