We stayed in a collection of pre-fabricated, albeit poshly decorated, holiday rentals right in John O Groats. Natural Retreats has a great location right near the coast, though their website makes it seem like there are far less of these rentals than in reality. This means some of the rentals don’t have the best of views but being so close to the water was a perk nonetheless. The rental was $58USD per person per night and though that is a little higher than my average nightly budget, it was a lovely apartment with everything we needed.
While I enjoyed the city and all of its diverse options of things to do, see, and eat, it was a test in patience every time we left the apartment. When we arrived in Amman, the first thing Katie and I did was return the rental car as I had heard nerve-racking stories of driving in this capital city. The tales proved to be true as we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic on our ride into the city. No car meant that we either had to take the public buses (which we were told were safe, but that as ladies, we would be expected to wear headscarves if we wanted to ride without incident) or we could rely on taxis. We took the taxi option which seemed like the lesser of two frustrations (waiting for buses or trying to communicate with taxis drivers). Every time we got into a taxi, we had issues communicating where we wanted to go and how to get there. Although most buildings in Amman had addresses, they’re not used and the taxi drivers we dealt with didn’t seem to know where major sights or streets were.
Every set of directions starts with which traffic circle is nearest your destination (there are seven) and you have to direct the driver onward from the circle. Giving directions from the circle was difficult as our Arabic was limited and the taxi drivers had equally limited English. Even when we would show them a map of the city with our destination clearly marked, more times than not, they would tell us that this wasn’t a map of Amman and that they couldn’t get us to our destination. Once we were out and about, getting home became the next issue. Looking back, I wonder if the buses would have been less of a hassle even with the wardrobe change before we left the apartment, the waiting around, and the adventure of finding out how to pay the fare. There is a third option for getting around town and out of town—hiring a driver for the day or for a set amount of time. We chose this option when we visited Jerash, but compared to the taxi fare (about JD1-2 per ride across town), hiring a driver was very expensive (about JD30 for a four-hour time period). Keep in mind that most of these drivers speak more English than your average taxi driver and once you find one you like (and one who knows where you live), it’s understandable why you would keep calling them time and again. We found our driver through another driver we met outside a tourist sight, but you can also try your luck at hailing a yellow cab on the street.
Once we made it to our destination and shook off the frustration of the taxi ride, we really enjoyed ourselves. We visited the Citadel (JD2) and the Roman Amphitheater (JD1). We ate amazing food that, in more Western-style restaurants, cost about JD10-15 per person without alcohol. We made the obligatory and delicious visit to Hashem and our lunch only cost only JD2 per person. If you read anything about Amman, you will read about Hashem. It’s a small falafel place that is super cheap, super fast, and super tasty. They bring each table a plate of falafel, a plate of tomatoes, onions, and mint, pita bread, and tea immediately after being seated. Hummus, ful, and falafel are available by order. There’s no printed menu, but there may be other foods available as well. Ask any local where it is and they’ll tell you. Hell, this is probably the only place taxi drivers will know when you mention it.
On a recent trip to Jordan, my traveling mate, Katie, and I started our adventure off in Madaba. About a 30-minute drive from the Queen Alia International Airport, it’s a smaller, more manageable town than Amman. We stayed at the Mosaic City Hotel for JD47 a night for a double room. The hotel was updated and clean with a good breakfast and helpful staff. Free wifi was offered, but barely worked (you will see this recurring theme through my other blog entries about Jordan and Israel).
The main sights in Madaba, including the mosaic map at St. George’s Church (JD1), the Madaba Archeological Parks (JD2), and the Shrine of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist (JD1), can be seen within one day. A special note about St. John’s: I feel as though it was worth more than the JD1 entrance fee. The church offers an interesting photo gallery in the visitors’ center, a bell tower climb, and a self-guided tour of the 3,000-year-old ruins under the church. Unlike at other sights we visited, the gentleman staffing St. John’s was enthusiastic about their offerings and was willing to chat and answer questions. Most sights in Madaba close around 5 p.m., so it’s best to start early in the day. We didn’t inquire about entering the mosques in town since none were advertised as sights to see.
We ate at Haret Jdoudna twice in the three days we spent in Madaba. The restaurant is in an old home and also has a handicraft market. I was pleasantly surprised at its authentic and delicious local dishes after seeing that it was rated #1 on TripAdvisor (I’m usually disappointed with the restaurants that make it to the top of TripAdvisor lists). The crowd was a good mix of tourists and locals. A very filling lunch or dinner cost about JD10 per person.
|Haret Jdoudna restaurant|
We also stopped in Cafe Ayola. and, while the food was good and cheap (about JD5 per meal), the food options and condiments were very Westernized (think hot dogs, barbecue sauce, and ranch dressing all on the same plate).
|Agua Azul waterfall|