“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I still have to go, how much there is to learn” -Anthony Bourdain
I love to travel! I enjoy meeting new people, trying new foods, and gaining fresh perspectives. I like to have my view of the world stretched and challenged. I want to constantly grow, seeing the world through a new lens and increasing my empathy and understanding. The best way to do that is to experience things for yourself… that is why travel is vitally important. I haven’t been everywhere, but it is certainly on my list!
This summer, my husband and I had the opportunity to travel to the Middle East and visit the Kingdom of Jordan for a week. Talk about an opportunity to be stretched! This part of the world is somewhere I imagined I would only see in movies, never believing I would experience it for myself. What a wonderful trip it was.
My brother and his family have actually lived in Jordan for several years. They work for a non-profit organization that empowers students with English lessons and other skills that will help them find meaningful jobs and opportunities. Since they moved there, my husband and I have wanted to visit, but never really had a chance. Thanks to some unexpected extra money in our account, and the knowledge that my brother’s family is wrapping up their time in the country… we decided that now was the time to go! We planned a week-long adventure, exploring the highlights of Jordan, meeting some of their friends and colleagues, and experiencing the culture.
Getting There and Back: In order to save some money, we had to do a bit of hopping around. It saved us almost half price by driving the 5 hours to Chicago to fly from there. From O’Hare we went to Frankfurt, Vienna, and Amman. (Then we took the same long journey back home!) Long-haul flying is never comfortable, especially in economy class, but we survived. Getting used to the time shift going there wasn’t all that bad… but it kicked us in the face coming home. All in all, that was really the only bad thing about the trip, and well worth the hassle.
Helpful Tip: If you plan to travel to Jordan, make sure that you purchase the Jordan Pass before you go. The pass includes your traveler’s visa and entry into all the major historical sites including Petra (minus Mount Nebo and the Baptism site.) It gives you a huge savings and is definitely worth the money.
Food and Drink: Middle Eastern food wasn’t really out of my comfort zone… I have had it before, even in St. Louis. But let me tell you… the food in Jordan is NEXT LEVEL! (I will never eat hummus from the grocery store again.) Everything was just so fresh and flavorful. Bright lemon and mint, tangy yogurt, and tons of spices make their home in every dish.
We enjoyed hummus in a million different ways, warm bread baked in a brick oven, and squeaky halloumi cheese. We got chicken shawarma (twice) from the restaurant down the street from my brother’s house. It was incredible… spiced, roasted chicken and garlic sauce in flatbread… perfection. We enjoyed Mansaf, the national dish of Jordan, at a friend’s home. It had tender lamb, rice, and the most delicious jameed. Our favorite meal was a variety of Syrian dishes, prepared by a friend, that were all bursting with flavor!
And the sweets… Help me! We tasted all kinds of pastries, cookies, and baklava treats. We had cheesy, crunchy kanafa with ice cream. We enjoyed a glass of jallab, a Ramadan festive punch. Honestly, we ate like royalty and I will crave the food for the rest of my life. Every meal was absolutely perfect.
Day 1: Irbid and Umm Quais – After getting a good night’s sleep, we started our first day in Jordan, exploring Irbid. Irbid is the second largest city in Jordan, located at the northern border, near Syria. We did some shopping in the local storefronts, picking up sweets, fruit, and bread. Then, we shared traditional Jordanian breakfast with some of my brother’s friends. We had such a nice time getting to know them and learning more about the area.
That evening we explored the ruins at Umm Quais, once part of the Roman Decapolis. The ruins were quite well preserved, with tons of columns, buildings, and a Roman theatre. The property is well-maintained with beautiful olive and pomegranate trees, flowers, and a stunning view of the Golan Heights and Sea of Galilee. Standing at the edge of the grounds, you can see into Syria and Israel. We enjoyed a wonderful meal with a view at the Rest House at Umm Quais. I could have stayed there, sipping a Lemon and Mint drink, taking in that view forever.
Helpful Tip: Ladies, I know it is hot in the sun, but remember to cover your arms and legs and choose bust lines wisely. There are big cultural differences in the way women are expected to dress. At some of the bigger tourist sites, like the Dead Sea and Petra, it’s not as big of a deal, but be respectful of the culture.
Day 2: Jerash – On our second day, we headed to Jerash, one of the largest areas of Roman ruins in the world. Jerash was also one of the ancient Decapolis cities. The area honestly puts the ruins we saw in Rome to shame. We were able to walk for miles exploring temples, theatres, mosaics, and a long colonnaded street. It’s mind blowing to think that those buildings have existed for THOUSANDS of years!
That evening, we were invited to a friend’s house for mansaf, kanafa, coffee, and conversation. It was lovely and we felt very welcome. Hospitality is a big deal in Jordan and people are happy to host guests.
Fun Fact: If you hear someone driving down the street in a truck, hollering like they are starting a revolution… they are just selling vegetables. True story.
Day 3: Amman – We started our third day by enjoying breakfast at a lovely outdoor spot with a friend, then headed to Amman to do a little shopping. Our little family squad wandered the streets, picking up souvenirs, eating ice cream and enjoying the decorated alleyways. (Plus, I enjoyed being serenaded by my niece who held my hand the whole time.)
Then we headed off on a little side trip to the only craft brewery in Jordan. (At least that’s open to the public… shout out to my brother’s home brews!) Carakale Brewing Company is nestled in the moutains just outside Amman. The place was hopping with travelers and European expats. Their beers were quite good.
Day 4: Mount Nebo and the Dead Sea – On day four, we headed out on a road trip. We headed, down, down, down in elevation to the Dead Sea, stopping at Mount Nebo on the way. As a Christian, Mount Nebo was surreal to me. It is the place where Moses looked out into the Promised Land before he died. I could see Jericho, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem in the distance. Words cannot describe how standing in that spot put my faith into focus.
At the Dead Sea, we stayed at a lovely Marriott Resort with an infinity pool, cozy beds, luscious showers, and air conditioning. (Ha! By that time, we had been missing those first world luxuries!) We walked way, way down to float in the sea and bathe ourselves in the mineral-rich mud. It’s crazy how you cannot do anything except float! (Watch out though… you will find every single tiny abrasion on your body in that water… and it burns like a mother!)
After rinsing off our mud, we swam in the much cleaner pool. Then, we enjoyed an evening stroll as a family, watching the sun set. We capped off the evening with dinner by the sea and drinks, watching a belly dancer… who my nieces were mesmerized by. This stop was like a completely different world!
Day 5: Wadi Rum – Speaking of different worlds… the next day we headed out to the desert in Wadi Rum. This site has been used as the setting for countless movies, including Aladdin, Star Wars: Rogue One, and The Martian. The endless stretches of red sand and rock make it look like you have stepped onto a different planet. We booked a three hour jeep tour to see more of the desert and watch the sunset. It was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had. It was perfect and well worth the 40 JD we paid for it. (Even if I did have to keep climbing in and out of the truck in flowy pants.)
Perhaps the coolest part of the visit was staying in the Wadi Rum Bubble Luxotel. Our rooms for the night were housed in clear bubbles where we had grand views of the desert and the stars. It was other worldly. The stay included dinner, breakfast, and Bedouin tea with live music. Each room had a jacuzzi on the deck to lie in and gaze at the stars. And best of all, the dome over the bed felt like sleeping in a planetarium… but it was the ACTUAL sky! I will never forget it.
Day 6: Petra – Next it was off to Petra… the best known and most expensive tourist attraction in Jordan. This World Heritage Site and Wonder of the World, contains the remains of a city that dates back to the 4th century BC. (Say what?!) There is a long, but beautiful hike through the Siq, before arriving at the Treasury. (You know, like where Indiana Jones found the Holy Grail.) However, there are lots of other things to explore at the site. Since tourism is down because of the pandemic, we kind of had the place to ourselves which was awesome… and bad since the merchants had nothing to do but bother us… constantly. Sadly, it kind of detracted from the charm.
The long, lovely stroll downhill, unfortunately meant a LONG, HOT climb back uphill. (Lord, it was hot.) There was not enough water or shade to make it less painless. We were all done after that. I think we hiked over 6 miles in Petra. It made the four hour ride back to Irbid a bit painful.
Day 7: Irbid – On our last day in Jordan, we all enjoyed a more relaxing day. (We needed it after all the hiking.) We got our lovely Covid PCR tests to travel home, visited a Jordanian shopping mall, and had a wonderful home-cooked Syrian meal at a friend’s apartment. Plus, we tried to get in as much conversation, laughs, and cuddle time with my family as we could before we headed home. It will be quite a while till we see them again.
I feel so blessed to have been able to go on this adventure. I am grateful to my brother, sister-in-law, and nieces for hosting us for the week… driving us everywhere, showering us with food and hospitality. I am grateful to their friends who shared their homes and their food with us. I am grateful for the time and money we had to make the trip happen. And I am so grateful for the health and stamina to endure long walks and flights. The trip to Jordan was more wonderful than I imagined was possible. It opened my eyes to things in the world I never knew and helped me to understand things I didn’t before.
If I can encourage you to do anything… travel! Travel as far as you can as often as you can. Go with an open heart and an open mind. Say yes to new things. Just GO! I can’t wait to start planning our next adventure.