Sunday, February 17, 2008
Up early, and breakfast again with Swedish Stefan – we get a lift together down to the site. Today my plan is to cover off the bits I didn’t see yesterday, just three hours today, as I have to catch the bus back to Amman, and the last one leaves about mid-day. There seem to be more tour groups today, so we march at double pace down to get past them.
We split at the Nymphaeum, and I head up right above the Colonnaded Street to the Ridge Church.
The church has an ugly canopy above it, a la Lalibella. It’s surrounded by a wall and the gate is locked, so I loop round the back and find a way to clamber in, and I’m glad I did. At the far end of the church are beautiful mosaics, presumably restored (hence canopy), but really surprising in Petra, and a gem that most people miss I suspect, especially given the lazy guy not opening the gate until after I’d left.
Evidence of Roman-era ice-cream
From the church, I walk up the hill, passing the Blue Chapel complex, named after the four Egyptian blue granite columns.
I then cut across back to the set of tombs to the left of the Urn Tomb,
Camels grazing the, err, rock
and realising I was late (the chap from the hotel was supposed to pick me up) I dashed back out, pausing for a last glance at the Treasury.
So, taking Fleetwood Mac’s advice as to what I should do next, “If I live to see the Seven Wonders, I’ll make a path to the rainbow’s end”. Hmmm, the rainbow’s end. Can I use my BA miles to get there?!
What are the “New” Seven Wonders of the World? (Dates I visited)
Rome’s Colosseum (2002 – 01)
Chichen Itza (2005 – 03)
Machu Picchu (2006 – 12)
Rio’s Redeemer Statue (2006 – 12)
Taj Mahal (2007 – 09)
Great Wall of China (2007 – 10)
Petra in Jordan (2008 – 02)
Great Pyramid of Giza (Honorary) (2006 – 10)
Hotel chap wasn’t there waiting for me, so I cabbed it up to the hotel, 1D, grabbed my bag and dashed down to the bus station, where I just caught the bus (perhaps the last of the day). This time I got to see the scenery, but really there’s not much to tell. Rocky desert, and very gloomy clouds. We stopped at a grim service station half way. I notice coming into Amman that we pass the airport, so when I first arrived it really was a crazy journey, taking the airport shuttle to the North Station, then cross-town bus to South Station, then bus back out past airport again. Why do the Petra buses not stop at the airport, would seem to make sense. Perhaps they do!
I’m feeling a bit silly actually, arriving into Amman. I know it’s a big city, so why did I not find out how to get to this Palace Hotel I’ve been recommended, before coming here? I know the South Station is quite far from the centre, so I figure I’ll hop on the local bus to the centre, then take a taxi from there, which will presumably work out cheaper. It starts to rain as soon as the bus sets off. You can see why they are careful about preserving these “wadis”, as with just a few minutes rain, Amman looks like it’s been experiencing monsoon for days – the water doesn’t seem to go anywhere, so all the streets are awash.
The bus drives around town, me not having a clue where we are. We turn away from the signs saying “City Centre”. Ah, now what. We climb a hill, so I stay on, until I spot the Meridien Hotel, and we get jammed up in traffic, so I jump out. The driver looks concerned. I try a couple of taxi drivers, asking them if they’ll take me to Palace Hotel (response: Do you mean Grand Palace? No.) and Al Saraya (Seat61’s recommendation, response: blank). Then I ask them to take me to a cheap hotel. Blank. So I try walking around the area – presumably there will be some budget options nearby. No. So I try Le Meridien, thinking I could splurge, I am after all feeling quite tired. How much would a night be? 170 JD, or 125 pounds. Cough, that’s even out of my splurge budget! The girl behind the desk directs me to a cheaper option, a mere 70 per night, and I’m too embarrassed to tell her even this is far more than I want to pay, so I pretend I’m going there, then once out of sight head in the opposite direction!
Then a lady pulls up next to me and asks if I’m looking for the Youth Hostel? Well, I could be, yes. Ah, well walk straight along this street, cross the major road, then you’ll find it on the right. I follow her instructions, and don’t find it. Much more walking, and someone advises me that around here there are only expensive hotels, why don’t I try walking back along to the next roundabout. Sounds close, right? Well the next roundabout was a few km up the road, and by now I’m exhausted, which means potential budget for the night is going up steadily! I notice a building with only Arabic written on it that looks vaguely hotel-like, and indeed is – they quote 30 per night. I frown, and say it’s a bit expensive, fully prepared in fact to pay that much, then he suggests that they own another place up the road which is cheaper – he calls for me, price is 20. Okay, I’ll take it. He puts me in a cab with one of their staff, who takes me over there.
I get nervous in the cab as the metre seems to be crazy – this place is about 2km away, and we almost hit 700, which I assume is 7D. Five pounds for a 5 minute ride, it’s almost as bad as London! Am I paying for this, I would have walked! But I needn’t have worried – it was 0.7D – and so the comment I had read about taxis being cheap in Amman is in fact true. Phew! Why on earth do their meters have subdivisions of their smallest coins? Anyway, here they are very friendly, and tell me the room will in fact only be 18D. I’m shown the room, and walked up into an apartment! I have a large sitting room, with about 10 chairs, TV, dining table, then a kitchen, bathroom, and large bedroom with king-sized bed! Not bad!!
I pop out to get some money from an ATM, which is a ten minute walk away. It’s so cold, my toes are frozen. I think tomorrow I may have to go for a sock / sandal combo, I can’t keep my feet bare in this temperature! When I get back, the staff offer to make some food for me, which I take up as it sounds nice when they tell me, hummous, egg, cheese etc, though when it arrives, it turns out to be a couple of Dairylea cheese slices, a small omelette and a couple of pieces of bread. No hummous – though they find some when I ask. Still, too cold to be wandering about outside looking for somewhere.
They call for me to the station, and I receive the bad news that the Amman Damascus train is still not running. I’m also told (speculation of course) that I have no chance of getting a visa at the border with Syria, and the best thing is to go to their embassy. Headline news story on BBC news right now? A senior Hezbollah-leader terrorist chap has been killed by a car-bomb in Damascus in Syria today, possibly Israeli involvement. I’m planning to going there tomorrow. Hmmm! I’m thinking it might be worth going to the embassy just to have a go at getting a visa, despite the online advice suggesting that there’s no chance. Then I have a choice – if I don’t get a visa, I can either have a go at the border anyway, or just give up and fly straight to Turkey.
History of Hejaz Railway
The reason I wanted to take this train, apart from generally quite liking trains, is that it has a fascinating history – a narrow gauge line originally planned to link up Istanbul to Mecca during the Ottoman Empire – it would also mean they could move troops about easily, given that they were worried about the British invading. The railway construction, which started in 1900 and was built under German supervision was very successful by all accounts, but only went as far south as Medina, being stopped by the outbreak of WWI. The Hejaz station in Damascus was built in 1913 as the starting point of the line. TE Lawrence attacked the line repeatedly during the Arab Revolt in WWI. According to Seat61.com, the latest word is that they are repairing the track currently and plan to reopen the line between Damascus and Amman in July this year.
Posted by Sam Crawley at 3:25 pm