When I moved to Switzerland, I had a long list of places I wanted to visit and things I wanted to see. However, that list was exclusively focused on Europe. What I didn’t consider with this move is that it is significantly easier to access a lot of other parts of the world from Europe than it is from the US. Places like North Africa and parts of the Middle East are only a short flight away from Geneva. When I realized this, I promptly put “Visiting Petra” on my goal list.
I only know about six people who have ever visited Jordan. As I started my trip research, I reached out to all of them to hear what they liked & didn’t like. I was amazed that almost all of them had REALLY positive things to say. And, I was surprised to learn how much more there was to Jordan than simply visiting Petra. (Sorry for my American naïveté.) I bought the Lonely Planet’s book about Jordan and read it cover to cover on a flight to Portugal in October. By the time I was finished, I couldn’t wait to visit! In the weeks that followed, I found four other fun friends who were interested in joining me! (I initially worried that I would have to go alone, which would not have been as fun!) We booked everything in November, and waited anxiously for our Christmas Day departure.
Because we did and saw so many different things, I’m writing four separate blog posts about the four reasons why you should consider a visit to Jordan:
- Reason #1: Jerash
- Reason #2: Floating in the Dead Sea
- Reason #3: Petra is more than the Treasury
- Reason #4: Glamping in the Wadi Rum desert
For those of you wondering how far Jordan is from Switzerland, it’s a five-hour flight. Unfortunately, the direct flight only flies once per week. Since it didn’t work with our schedule, we flew through Istanbul…three hours from Geneva to Istanbul, and three more hours from Istanbul to Amman. We flew out after our Christmas morning celebration, which meant we didn’t arrive in Amman until nearly midnight. One positive of connecting in Istanbul? Finding Popeye’s! The biscuits were mediocre at best, but everyone was excited about a taste of America on Christmas.
Our driver was waiting for us at arrivals (which is always a relief). One of my colleagues put me in touch with someone who connected me to men who drive for the US Embassy. He took great care of us – driving us all over the country during our visit.
My friend from the US beat us there and was already checked-in and sleeping at our little budget hotel (The Amman Pasha) when we arrived. Because the world is small, we found out that one of the men working at the hotel spent a summer in Cincinnati, Ohio a few years ago. I rarely mention Ohio when I’m traveling, because I always assume people won’t know where it is. I guess that’s not always the case. I didn’t notice much between arriving at the hotel and going to sleep, but the next morning, I got a good chuckle out of the MANY signs in the hallway at the hotel.
I’ve never seen so much communication in my life! The good news is that despite the lack of frills throughout the hotel, the breakfast was quite good. Particularly the homemade labneh (Greek yogurt), which was delightful with marmalade! And of course, I was THRILLED to begin a week of eating hummus at nearly every single meal!
We didn’t linger in Amman, but drove straight to Jerash. Fridays are the beginning of the weekend in Jordan, so there was no traffic, and it was an easy 40-minute drive. The topography along the way was really cool – much different than anywhere else I’ve been. There were a lot of roadside stands selling everything from fresh fruit & vegetables to cups of coffee or tea. It was crazy to see roadsigns that pointed toward the “Syrian border” in the direction we were driving. (Don’t worry; we kept a 60km distance between us and the border crossing.)
We chose to visit Jerash, because everything others said and everything I read referred to it as “one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world.” The desert climate is one of the reasons for that. The town was originally settled by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C., but it became part of the Roman province of Syria in 64 B.C. and then a city of the Decapolis. The city had as many as 15,000-20,000 residents during its peak, and several key landmarks were built as it grew. A huge earthquake in 747 A.D. wreaked havoc on the city, reducing it’s population to about a quarter of what it was previously. It was deserted for many centuries – from the 12th century to the late 19th century.
We hired a guide to explain the ruins and the history of the city. I haven’t visited that many ancient cities yet, but this was better than any I’ve seen. So much remains…it’s really incredible! One of the guys in our group has visited Pompeii, and he said this was even better preserved than that. Since pictures will tell the story better than I can, I’ll let them do the talking.
[Hadrian’s Arch – 39 feet tall. According to Lonely Planet, the gateway was originally twice this height and encompassed three enormous wooden doors.]
[Hippodrome – an ancient sports field built sometime between the 1st and 3rd centuries. It used to seat up to 15,000 people – 30x the current capacity. It was mostly used for chariot races and other athletic competitions.]
I read in the guidebook and online that they still do chariot racing. Unfortunately, day 1 in Jordan was a lesson in the inaccuracy of Jordanian websites. Not only were all entrance fees for all sites different than what is quoted online, but there are no chariot races at Jerash in the winter time (despite the website saying that they race on Fridays at 10am). The sign is still posted, but with no “next show time.” Bummer.
[The South Gate – built in 130 A.D. Formerly, one of the four entrances into the city from the city wall.]
[The Temple of Zeus is up on the hill. Built in 162 A.D.]
[The Forum is the heart of the city. It is HUGE, and it was built in the middle of the 1st century A.D. It is still surrounded by 56 columns, which is AMAZING!]
[South Theatre – built between 81 and 96 A.D. Formerly seating for 5,000 spectators in two storeys. Only one remains today.]
[Romans created the first ticketing system / seat assignments. You can still see the seat numbers carved into the stone.]
[These cutouts served as part of the acoustics – kind of like speakers. There was also a spot in the center of the floor where my voice boomed as if I were using a microphone. Back when there would have been a wooden roof over the performers, the sound was probably incredible.]
[The list of donors was etched along the front of the seats.]
[A view of the Cardo Maximus – one of the defining characteristics of ancient Roman cities. It was the main thorough fair through the heart of the city. We saw the remains of a similar one in Petra, but this is much better preserved. It is 2,400 feet long, and even though it was built in the 1st century, it has manhole covers! The Romans had underground drainage. At one time, there were 500 columns lining the street!]
[A collection of three churches. Our guide made it sound like Jordan is pretty unique to have Christian churches and Muslim mosques standing near each other. In fact, I was surprised to learn that Jordan actually observes a public holiday on Christmas. 15 churches were uncovered among the ruins in Jerash.]
[The Church of St. Cosmos & St. Damianus is one of the best preserved churches in Jerash. It dates back to 533 A.D. and has one of the best-preserved mosaics in the city. Can you believe this floor?!]
[The Temple of Artemis. Artemis was the goddess of hunting & fertility. She is the daughter of Zeus. This temple was built between 150 and 170 A.D. It originally had 12 Corinthian columns. 11 of them are still standing! The interior used to be covered in marble, but over time that has all been removed. How I wish there was a way to look back in time and see buildings like this in their former splendor!]
[Can you believe the detail of these columns?! Seriously amazing!]
[And they’re SO big compared to little us!]
[Someone went exploring…until our guide yelled that it was “too dangerous!”]
[A look back at the Temple of Artemis]
[A look down at the North Gate and the Cardo Maximus]
[The North Theatre – built in 165 A.D. and enlarged in 235 A.D. Our guide explained that this theatre was used for government meetings more than performances. It can still hold 2,000 people. According to our guide, the lower seats are larger, “because the Senators were fat.” The rest of the people were squeezed into much smaller seats in the second tier.]
[VIP seating…yes, really]
[As we walked back along the Cardo Maximus, we passed many old stalls / shops. The Rodeo Drive of ancient times!]
[A view up the Cardo Maximus]
[The stones are original; you can even see the ruts from the chariots!]
After a morning of exploring, we were ready for lunch! Jerash isn’t very big, so we only had a couple of choices. We let TripAdvisor play the role of tie-breaker, and we chose the Lebanese House. Since it was the off-season, we had the place to ourselves for most of our meal.
And we ordered A LOT. When you can’t make a decision, it’s better to just order everything that sounds good and share it!
We tried two different desserts, which I forgot to photograph. The more authentic of the two was some pistachio dessert, but there was a strong hint of rose flavor, which no one but me seemed to like. After we established that no one was a fan of the rose, the restaurant gifted each of us with ANOTHER dessert. This one was even worse! It was a jello-like consistency, and it was DOUSED with rose. I could only handle two bites before channeling my five-year-old self and smashing it up to make it look like I ate most of it.
From Jerash, we drove to the Dead Sea. On the way, we stopped a couple of times to take in the scenery. It was SO gorgeous! I don’t know what kind of landscape I expected to see, but this was more stunning than anticipated!
We were unanimously impressed by Jerash. I’m so glad we spent the morning imagining life 2,000 years ago!