Jordan

The Monastery, Petra, Jordan by CC user savingfutures on Flickr

Introduction

Standing like an oasis of calm amidst the often choppy waters of the Middle East, Jordan is an excellent place to introduce yourself to the region if you have not traveled here before. Ruled by the steady hand of King Hussein for many years following the Second World War, Jordan has weathered many storms over the decades, from wars with Israel, to other world powers attempting to influence its affairs, with even a few coup attempts mixed in for good measure.

In recent years though, peace has been brokered with Israel, changing attitudes in the country have allowed it to become one of the more liberal nations in the Middle East, and the economy has overhauled, leading to growth that is the envy of many of its neighbours.  All of this has created a place that is safe to visit, filled with hospitable people and remarkable attractions.

So let Jordan change all of your preconceived notions of the Middle East being one big war-torn region with danger lurking around every corner.  While some nations may be experiencing strife at the moment, Jordan is a peaceful, prosperous place waiting to treat you to an experience unlike any other that you’ve had in the world.

Currency: Jordanian Dinar

Languages: Arabic, English

Petra @ Night by CC user kudumomo on Flickr

What To Do

If there’s one historical monument in Jordan that you may have heard of before, the ancient remains of Petra would likely be the place you would be most eager to see here.  While it does consist of the world famous Treasury, well hidden at the end of a long, narrow desert canyon, this site also contains other archeological wonders, with tombs, an amphitheatre that was built by the original inhabitants and later expanded by the Romans, and the Monastery, which is believed to have been built to honour the god Obodas in the 1st century BC.  One experience that should be taken in if at all possible is the production of Petra by night, a show where candles are placed in front of the Treasury to create a photographers dream come true.

Second to Petra in cultural significance and not far from Amman, Jordan is the former Roman stronghold of Jerash.  This city holds many well-preserved ruins of former Roman Empire built structures, including Hadrian’s Arch, which was built to honour the Roman emperor Hadrian ahead of his visit to this distant outpost of the Empire, and the Hippodrome, which was a coliseum that held gladiator fights back in its heyday.  Nowadays, the fights are not to the death thankfully, but are staged.  Not only that, but you can also go for a ride in their chariot after the show as well!

Those looking to get in touch with the traditional Bedouin culture can do so amongst the peace-inducing desert scenery of Wadi Rum.  Soaring granite cliffs, towering red sand dunes and the remnants of Lawrence of Arabia’s presence here all awaits casual visitors, but those with more time to spare are advised to spend some time with a Bedouin camp.

Camping Wadi Rum by CC user lawmurray on Flickr

These very friendly people will share their inside knowledge of a place their ancestors have occupied for many generations prior, and will cook you up a juicy roast chicken/goat over the light of a desert bonfire. After the last musical instrument has died down for the evening, take some time to admire the dark night that is present out here in the middle of the Jordanian desert, where the lack of artificial light leads to some of the best stargazing that can be had anywhere in the world.

Those that follow Judaism, Christianity and Islam will want to seek out Mount Nebo before they depart this country, as the peak of this mountain has been reputed as the place where Moses was granted a view of the land that his followers would inherit in the days before his death.  Befittingly, it is also said that Moses was buried on this mount, making it a very sacred place for all members of the religions referenced previously. Near the summit, the remains of a church built to commemorate Moses have been excavated, making for an interesting afternoon of exploring and contemplation.

In the west and south, Jordan shares two geographic attractions with the nation of Israel.  In the first case, Jordan has a significant frontage on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, where the waters have such a high saline content, people can float effortlessly without sinking at all.  Additionally, the mud in this area is said to have therapeutic properties, so if you are in need of a little pampering, the Dead Sea is a great place to treat yourself.

Heading south, those in need of some subtropical warmth should make for Aqaba, Jordan’s major city on its short coast on the Red Sea.  As in Eilat, Israel’s case just across the border, Aqaba has crystal clear waters perfect for snorkeling and SCUBA diving.  Those seeking to rip around on powered watercraft are also in luck, as it is also a popular place to rent jet skis.

lamb mansaf by CC user scaredykat on Flickr

What To Eat

While Mansaf is considered the national dish of Jordan, it is considered to be a food that is consumed at special occasions, so don’t expect to see fellow Jordanians eating that much on your travels.  It is a very tasty meal though, consisting of lamb stewed in jameed yoghurt and spices, served over a thin bread called shraak and/or a mound of rice.

Much more common in casual dining situations in Jordan is Mezze, which is a platter style dish with many different foods to choose from.  Usually, Hummus and Falafel are featured within this meal’s offerings, but other foods served on this smorgasbord include flatbreads, pickles, and fava beans, among many other offerings available.

One other dish that is well-loved in Jordan is Maqluba, a casserole that is baked, and then turned upside down when served at the table (Maqluba translates directly to English as “upside down”).  This casserole is typically prepared with layers of rice, vegetables (tomatoes being a favorite among them) and meat, making it a hearty treat for all who consume it.

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