For a change, I didn’t sleep well, perhaps due to the noise outside and the scratchy sheets, and some stomach pain that a Cipro tablet sorted out.
We were up at 7 am for the hotel breakfast – not much for me. Sue is a bit chirpier today, so that’s good.
Mahmoud had us setting off as usual at 8 am, in a different ‘Rum Tourism’ bus today with a friendly driver (not to say that the one who went to sleep wasn’t friendly!). A 1½ hour drive from Madaba saw us at Jerash (or is it Jarash?), a few miles north of Amman. This is apparently the largest Roman site outside Italy. The brochure advertises ‘Take a Walk Through History’, and what a walk that was. Entering through the massive arch built for Hadrian to commemorate his visit to this edge of his Empire in 129 AD, we strolled past the Hippodrome. Men dressed as Romans were readying themselves for a chariot racing re-enactment around this 245 x 52 metre arena that could seat some 15,000 spectators. Only after this are the City Walls reached at the South Gate. Soon a 90 x 80 metre oval plaza leads to the colonnaded street (shown above) that runs NNE for some 800 metres. This was the main shopping street, with broad pavements, shops, and an underground sewage system.
Half way along this street on the left are stairs leading up to a Byzantine church, now known as the Cathedral, above which lies the Church of Saint Theodore, built around 496 AD. Here there are huge pillars that rock when pushed! We tried it – scary! Higher up are the remains of more churches, and another once magnificent mosaic floor comprising seasonal images and flora and fauna.
A path took us above the site, with good views over modern Jerash, to the South Theatre.
The 3000 seat auditorium has been soundly reconstructed and is still in use. The remarkable acoustics allow a speaker at the centre of the orchestra floor to be heard by the whole auditorium without raising his voice. We enjoyed magnificent views over the whole site from the top row of seats, whilst being deafened by the incongruous sound of some badly tuned local bagpipes attempting ‘Scotland the Brave’ and other tourist favourites.
We could have lingered here all day (once the bagpipes stopped), but “Yallah” – ‘Come on’ urged Mahmoud, coaxing us back into the bus. Not even Phil and Sue’s bid for freedom lasted long, as they were finally tracked down and brought to heel (those who know Phil will realise how difficult that can be, especially when distracted by the large lizards that were sunbathing nearby!).
Then we went to the Dead Sea for a swim (no photos I’m afraid – the camera was left in the bus). It was a tad salty. 30% salt actually. Normal seawater is about 4% salt. Trying to swim breaststroke was a little awkward as your legs wouldn’t stay in the water. I got salt in my eyes trying this – not very pleasant. Much to the amusement of those on the shore, Sue organised some synchronised swimming which ended with both arms and both legs raised high in the air – a position that was not really very stable! You could relax here with a newspaper, as if sitting in a salty liquid deckchair.
The sea was quite warm, though Sue W didn’t find it so; she stood forlornly half in-half out until finally giving up.
On returning to the shower room it was difficult to remove all the salt – some of our eyes and other bits will be stinging for days! We adjourned ‘poolside’, where loud disco music and gyrating locals rather spoilt the ambience for everyone else. We had to move away just to be able to speak with each other. It is about 400 metres below normal ‘sea level’ here, probably the lowest that most of us have ever been. The city of Jericho can be seen not far away.
The holiday was now drawing to its conclusion, and we finally got the ‘shopping experience’ some may have been yearning for. And so, on the way back to Amman, we pulled up alongside many more tourist coaches to an emporium of mainly tacky goods. (Perhaps I’m biased; I’m just not interested in combining shopping with travelling.) The bath salts from the Dead Sea did attract custom from some – on the grounds they would be ‘original’ presents, but on return home Sue noticed that these were cheaper in Boots!
After taking advantage of the full-size bath sported by our room in the Toledo Hotel, we assembled for anaesthetic in the hotel bar in an effort to dull our senses in anticipation of the white-knuckle taxi ride across Amman to the Windmill Restaurant (actually Tawaheen Al-Hawa Restaurant – but it had a windmill outside). More beer? Wine? No chance, this was Mahmoud’s choice of restaurant, another fixed price (D15 this time) meal that actually makes sorting out the bill much easier. There were some locals as well as quite a number of tourist groups at this place, and I have to say, the food was excellent. Numerous salads to start, and some kebab style bits of meat, including delicious small sausages. Then a mixed grill comprising various different meats, all washed down with a delicious minted lemon drink.
A collection had been made and Phil presented Mahmoud with his guide’s tip, as is traditional on this sort of tour – around £150 – not bad for his week’s efforts. We had already provided $450 between us for the other helpers’ tips, so I think we put an acceptable sum into the Jordanian economy in tips alone.
Soon we were heading back across Amman in another fleet of the battered yellow white-knuckle death traps known locally as taxis, flying past millionaires’ houses with ostentatious gold door furniture, towards the Toledo, pausing only to ask the way before further flaying of the suspension on the ubiquitous and very necessary speed bumps.
The antidote…more beer, whilst we said final goodbyes to Mahmoud, who is heading back to Petra either tonight or on a very early bus tomorrow.