Monday, June 3, 2019

Day -1: On mosaics and mosques

And Karolina's guest blog posts from our pre-Jordan Trail adventures continues!


February 27: Today we were going to say goodbye to the lovely town of Madaba and travel to Amman, the Jordanian capital, where tomorrow we would catch a bus to the start of the Jordan Trail at the Red Sea. There was one last thing we wanted to do before leaving Madaba and that was a visit to the early Byzantine Church of St. George and see the famous Madaba Mosaic Map.

The Madaba Mosaic Map is a part of the church’s floor mosaic and depicts a map of the Middle East. It is the oldest surviving cartographic representation of the Holy Land, with particular attention paid to Jerusalem.

Crowds check out the Madaba Mosaic Map in the floor of the church

The Map and the church were both very pretty and interesting but the place was packed with tourists, so we didn’t linger for long. As we were leaving the premises, a local man ran towards Ryan, waving his hands and pointing towards Ryan’s head. Today Ryan was wearing the head scarf he had purchased last night. He had spent a good part of a half hour this morning practicing the art of wrapping the scarf around his head according to the instructions of the gift shop owner. The local man didn’t seem to think the result wasn’t satisfactory – without asking he reached for Ryan’s head and rearranged the scarf into a completely different wrapping style than the one we had learnt last night. “Now you look like a Bedouin!” the man told Ryan.

A couple of hours later, the same thing happened again. Such situation would repeat several times during our stay in Jordan: a local man coming up to Ryan to rearrange the scarf into whatever style he considered proper.

The first of two new scarf styles today given to me by total strangers without my consent ! =)
To get to Amman, we decided to try using a bus. It was my idea – I wanted to experience local public transportation. We picked our luggage from Queen Ayola Hotel and walked off towards the bus station. On our way I kept on looking around and watching the hustle and bustle of the street life in a Middle Eastern town: vegetable vendors displaying their colorful produce, Bedouins in headscarves chatting, women in headscarves doing groceries, trucks honking, children running around and playing, even live chickens for sale. Every now and then someone would wave at us and yell: “Welcome to Jordan!” – be it a passerby or a car driver or passenger leaning through the window. We obviously did not look like locals – in spite of the headscarves thoroughly wrapped around our heads. ;-o)

We didn’t know which buses were going to Amman – and we weren’t able to read any of the signs written in Arabic letters, so we had to ask someone for help. People around didn’t seem to speak much English, but after mentioning “bus” and “Amman” one of them beckoned us with his hand and lead toward the right vehicle. We got on and waited for the bus to depart – which took a little while.

Riding the bus to Amman.... exciting times!
The bus was going slowly. Very slowly. People got on and off at various places along the way. Then we arrived in Amman – a big, busy city full of noise and heavy traffic. The bus driver let us out in the middle of a large intersection, pointing towards a bus parked on a far side which he said we needed to get to get to our hotel. Ryan and I stood there confused, overwhelmed by all the sounds and streams of cars rushing past us. Crossing the street to reach the bus seemed like quite a challenge!

Suddenly a yellow cab pulled over next to us and the driver spoke something in Arabic through an open window. Ryan started trying to explain to him that we wanted to get to the Razan Hotel at the 3rd Circle. The driver didn’t seem to understand anything of that, so Ryan pulled out his phone wanting to show the hotel on a map. Annoyingly, at that very moment the phone decided to restart. Arrghhh! #@%!!

We waited for a moment until the phone was operating again, after which Ryan opened the map of Amman with our hotel marked on it and showed it to the taxi driver. Unexpectedly, the driver grabbed Ryan’s phone and walked with it to the nearest shop – seemingly to ask for some instructions or guidelines. Ryan felt quite uncomfortable with a stranger walking off with his phone just like that, but the driver was back in no time, opening his car doors for us and the trunk for our bags.

During the ride the driver tried talking to us. Most of the time he would say “No speak English, speak Arabic!” to which Ryan would reply “No speak Arabic, speak English!” At some point the driver pulled out a phone and dialed a number, passing it to Ryan. He called a friend who spoke English. The friend said “How are you? Welcome to Jordan!” and asked about our plans for the stay in the country. He tried to arrange car rides for us for the next days but Ryan politely thanked him and informed his interlocutor that everything had already been arranged for us and anyways we mainly planned to walk for the next several weeks.

The view of Amman from our hotel room. Notice the "blue" mosque on the horizon on the right side of the photo.... That deserves a closer look!

In Razan Hotel we got a room on the 4th floor (5th floor for you American out there) with a view over the busy streets, the 3rd Circle, Amman Surgical Hospital and – further away – the King Abdullah I Mosque also known as the Blue Mosque. The latter we wanted to visit since it is one of the few mosques open for visitors.

We decided to walk to the mosque. It took us about a half hour and we had to walk on many steep
little streets and stairs. Amman is situated on seven hills, so walking around the city involves a lot of
ups and downs.

Yeah, we should definitely walk there. *nodding*
Before entering the mosque, women are required to put on special robes, so this is what I did. Just as I was ready the time for prayer was announced during which the mosque is closed to visitors. We had to wait for about 45 minutes until the prayer was over. We killed some of that time by looking around the gift shop and drinking some tea offered by its employees. Once we got bored with that we walked outside and loitered under the minaret, listening to the muezzin singing his prayers.

After the singing stopped, the guard of the mosque told us we could go ahead and enter the prayer room for 5 minutes. We walked up to the door and hesitated. It seemed like the prayers were still going on, there were men running towards the door, kicking off their shoes and sneaking inside barefoot. Ryan cracked the door ajar and looked inside. He said all the men were aligned in a row, facing the same direction – towards Mecca, I presume. We felt a little uncomfortable and didn’t want to disturb the praying, so we decided to wait outside some more before finally entering.

The prayer room was spacious and at the same time cozy. The floor was covered with a thick, soft carpet – very pleasant to walk on. A giant round chandelier was hanging above our heads and in the front part of the room we noticed a digital board which displayed prayer times for the day. The Muslims pray five times a day and each day the prayers happen at slightly different times – a minute earlier or later – depending on the length of the day. A few men were still praying when we entered the mosque – they were following a sequence of lying face flat, kneeling and standing with arms folded across the check and head bowed. I also noticed a man dressed in a black robe who I think might have been the Imam.

Inside the mosque

By the time we finished our visit to King Abdullah I Mosque, both Ryan and I got hungry. Ryan fired up Google Maps on his phone to check for restaurants in the area and there weren’t many. We decided to go ahead and try the Caravan Hotel & Restaurant. There were three men sitting in the lobby. We asked them whether it would be possible to get something to eat. One of them men, who turned out to be the hotel owner, invited us further and ordered the other two men to prepare a table for us. For dinner the hotel owner offered us mansaf – braised lamb and rice with goat milk, olives and picked cucumber. He told us that traditionally this dish is served during weddings or to special guests. After the main course we were served a piece of cake accompanied by – you guessed it! – tea. I also got a tiny cup of Bedouin coffee but Ryan passed on that – he can tolerate tea but coffee is definitely off his menu.

Dinner is served!
By the time we left the Caravan Hotel & Restaurant it was already dark. Nonetheless we decided to take a detour from our walk back to the hotel and walk along the famous Rainbow Street. The Rainbow Street did not impress us much and reaching it from where we were was quite challenging – not many sidewalks and many cars which isn’t fun even in broad daylight, let alone after dark. Anyways, we checked the Rainbow Street as “done” and retired to our hotel to rest after yet another day of the Jordanian adventure.

Walking back toward Rainbow Street and our hotel after dinner. Amman is quite a hilly city!
So to recap... we started with the great mosaic map in a church in Madaba.

We heard the music for morning prayers from our hotel room

Then we walked to the bus stop to catch a bus to Amman

Then we took the bus to Amman

Then we walked to the Blue Mosque
Yeah, this is it. *nodding*
It's beautiful!
Inside and out!

1 comment:

Lou Catozzi (PI Joe) said...

I don't know about the Rainbow Street but the colorful steps near the Blue Mosque looked interesting!