Amman, capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is a sprawling city containing over 2 million inhabitants. Once named Philadelphia, "city of brotherly love," in 2005, the love turned to hate with a series of coordinated bomb attacks killing 60 and injuring 115 as Al Qaeda suicide bombers attacked the Grand Hyatt, Radisson SAS and Days Inn hotels. Registered at the Radisson, I wander into the ballroom where Ashraf Akhras and his bride, Nadia Al-Alami, celebrated their wedding with 900 Jordanian and Palestinian guests where the bomb exploded.
Amman occupies the epicentre of the Middle East: 101 km. from Tel Aviv, 177 km. from Damascus, 219 km. from Beirut, 495 km. from Cairo, 803 km. from Baghdad and 1344 km from Riyadh. My guide, Ibrahim, refers to it as a "tough neighbourhood;" however, Jordanian officials astutely responded. Security checks and personnel
are constant. Each time I enter a hotel, my bags and person are x-rayed. Armed soldiers are located at every tourist destination. Seemingly in an effort to expiate the violence, locals are incredibly courteous and consistently hospitable with reassurance and ubiquitous offerings of "welcome" emanating from cabbies to shopkeepers to virtually anyone with whom I talk. "You are our guest," a gentleman dressed in Arabic robes assures me.
Amman's population expanded at a frenetic pace, fueled by waves of refugees fleeing Palestine and Iraq. Ibrahim worries that wealthy
Iraqis intent on reckless buying sprees have caused inflation to soar with sudden acquisition of property, vehicles and other pricey items.
Nevertheless, along with a group of fellow writers, I'm here for history and culture. We are whisked off to the King Abdullah Mosque where ladies are asked
to don black robes that cover them head to toe. We remove our shoes and stand beneath a magnificent blue mosaic dome where 3,000 Muslims may offer prayer. Women, considered "a distraction," congregate in a separate hall.
Later, we walk through the old city centre around the Souk, a colourful traditional market with an ample supply of gold and silver merchants. (Bargaining advice: insist on one dinar ($1.40 U.S.) not two per gram and top quality silver.) Similar to Rome, Amman was situated on seven hills. The Citadel dates back to the Roman/Byzantine period and there, we are treated to the spectacular ruins of the Temple of Hercules, constructed under imperial ruler, Marcus
Aurelius (AD 161-180). From atop the hill, we view the Roman Amphitheatre
below, the largest in Jordan, capable of seating 6,000 spectators. Beside the ruins, sits a nondescript archeological museum with only a token sampling of Dead Sea Scrolls, the majority of the collection residing in neighbouring Israel.
Determined to make Jordan a gastronomic adventure, I sample everything, cuisine influenced by Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine allowing for a wide variety of cooking that ranges from grilling (shish kebabs, shish taouks) to stuffing of vegetables
(grape leaves, eggplants, etc.), meat, and poultry. Also common is roasting and special sauces. Pita bread is served at every meal and with it, one dips into an amazing array of spreads as appetizers, also known as mezze or muqabalat, popular in Arabic cuisine. Actually, the mezze layout was always a feast in itself, the most popular appetizer, humus or puree of chick peas blended with Tania (pulped sesame seeds), lemon, and garlic.
Thankful my spouse is not here to watch, I dig into koubba maqliya, a deep-fried oval-shaped ball with a meat and bulgar wheat paste as its crust with an aromatic filling of minced meat and pine nuts in the middle. The most distinctive Jordanian meal is Mansaf, a Bedouin dish of Arabic rice, a rich broth made from dry sour milk (jameed), and either lamb or chicken.
Most food was served buffet or smorgasbord style. A quick calculation for "adventuresome" gourmands such as I: in the interests of "research," expect to pack on an extra pound per day!
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Mike Keenan: Temple of Hercules (Citadel), Roman theatre, mosaic & earliest sculpture of humans (Archeological Museum), silver bracelets, King Abdullah II Mosque, Radisson SAS pool, King Hussein and King Abdullah II poster, carpet
If you go
Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan:
King Abdullah II:
Radisson SAS Hotel:
Royal Jordanian Airlines:
What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
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Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
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Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
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