A Holiday in Amman (When You Already Live There)

If you read my last post, you know that now is not a particularly awesome time to be an expat who is used to traveling to new countries multiple times per year. That’s why, in October, we decided to forgo an international Fall Break to stay in Jordan.

However, despite the risk, we slowly started planning our Winter Break in Italy. We found a meditation retreat that required all guests to be vaccinated and we could cut out some of the risks by taking a direct flight. Even so, we were cautious. We booked the retreat when there were only 3 spaces left, but still we waited on the flight.

Italy has a list – Countries fall into categories A, B, C, D, & E to determine who is eligible for entry and what steps they have to take. Jordan (and most of the Middle East) had been sitting comfortably in category D for the last few months which meant we were allowed to enter for tourist purposes as long as we had Covid vaccines/boosters administered in the last 6 months and a negative PCR test from the last 3 days.

But we still had a problem…the list was only valid until December 15 and then it would need to be updated. We planned to fly out on the 18th because we were teaching in person until December 16. So we waited…and waited some more. We figured the list would be updated at some point BEFORE the 15th so that people would be able to make winter plans in Italy.

We were wrong.

The weekend before the 18th we finally broke down and purchased our flight tickets – we’d never bought tickets that last minute and were definitely stressing. The direct flight only leaves Amman for Rome twice a week and we didn’t want to miss it.

December 14th came around, then the 15th, and finally the 16th. Italy made an announcement (in Italian, of course) – Jordan had been removed from list D. We were no longer allowed in the country.

Luckily, we’d only booked two things. Ryanair is not exactly known for their stellar customer service, so it was no surprise they were of no help. Our only option was to eat the money or rebook the flight (for a fee) – but how do you rebook a flight when you don’t know when a government will allow you entry?

We hadn’t been concerned about the meditation retreat because due to Covid they’d updated their policy and if you couldn’t make it, you were allowed to use the money on a future retreat. Well, they forgot the fine print. If they’d written it, it would have said “You can use 45% of the money you spent on a future retreat.” WHAT?

But, it’s not all bad news – we contacted our credit card because we have travel insurance and it sounds like we’ll be reimbursed 100%, though that’s not fully confirmed for two more pay cycles. Still, not bad.

So, instead of making a new international plan (ironically, most of Europe was still open to us), we decided to stay put in Amman. We’d briefly thought about doing the “tourist things” around Jordan, but we’d already done that for Christmas 2016 and we want to wait until the spring for a final trip to Petra and Wadi Rum.

Question: What do you do in Amman for Winter Break when you’ve lived here for 2 1/2 years?

Answer: All the random things you’ve never gotten around to before : )

Entertainment: Since we’d already been to the Citadel, the Roman Amphitheater, the Duke’s Diwan, and gotten a sampling of the local street art, we decided to dig deeper.

Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts – If I’m being honest, we walked into this museum with zero expectations, but we definitely enjoyed our hour there. The layout was minimalistic, to say the least, but it was incredible seeing the different pieces from around the Middle East. Many were by Jordanian artists, with other pieces from Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain, and as far away as India.

We’ve often seen ancient Middle Eastern art, but rarely is it this modern – many of the pieces were political in nature and learning the history behind the work was always interesting.

Below from left to right you can see the paintings “Twenty Targets” by Laila Shawa [Palestine] and “Rituals Of the Silence” by Anas Al Sheikh [Bahrain], as well as the untitled sculpture by Khaled Ramadan [Lebanon].

But it wasn’t until I looked up the website to link to this blog that I realized we missed half the museum! The day was too cold for a wander through the outdoor sculpture garden, but apparently there are two buildings on each side of the park and we only went to one!

Below are my favorite two pieces, but who knows, maybe that’ll change once we’ve seen the rest. “Impossible Dream” by Laila Shawa [Palestine] and an untitled painting by Omar Bilbeisi

Royal Automobile Museum – Our second stop was something Chandler has been talking about visiting since before we moved to Amman. We had a few false starts finding the museum – it’s located in a park with only one public entrance, but we eventually found our way.

You can pretty much sum up the experience with “Vehicles owned by Jordanian kings – many that have been restored.” But all in all, it was a fun, if not random, way to spend the morning. Plus, it only costs 1JD for residents (3 JD for foreigners), so the price isn’t exactly steep.

What surprised me were the number of motorcycles on display. Below were two of the first we saw in the museum – a Vincent Black Shadow from 1952 and a Brough Superior from 1936. One of the last things we saw was the 1966 Amphicar – “the car that swims!” As much as I love the concept of a boat/car, I can understand why “this car was too slow for the road (100 km/h) and not very practical in the water (7 knots).” But really, it’s the thought that counts.

In between, we saw countless Mercedes and an assortment of other vehicles – I could probably be more specific if I was a car person : )

A highlight for me was the mosque situated in the corner of the park. We drive by it all the time, but I took a moment to stop and take a photo this time – I used it as the post’s featured image.

Food: Where do I start? We have so many favorite restaurants in Amman and we used the break to go to nearly all of them.

Best Brunch: Shams El Balad (El Maqha) – we love the ambience, as well as the hummus, labaneh, harra potatoes, beetroot falafel (and I hate beets!), green salad, and tomato scramble. Plus they have a list of tasty juices to choose from. The one downside is that the smoking can get pretty out of control, so we try to go at odd hours. Our other regular brunch stop is Wild Jordan – known for their ecotourism, they also make excellent shakshuka, hummus, foul, falafel saj, and French toast. Plus another round of tasty juices. Wild Jordan is significantly less smokey!

Best Fast Food: Partial to pizza, we can’t get enough of Oliva. This is the closest I’ve had to Italian pizza outside of Italy, so of course we ate it on Christmas. We always order the bufala and the funghi. We’ve also always been big fans of Manoush Basha – they make their dough fresh and assemble the falafel wraps in front of you. Plus they’re right down the street from our house!

But we used the break to explore a new fast food place – Al Quds. Known as the best falafel joint in all of Amman, they advertise that the king has been here to get his grub on. Down on Rainbow Street it’s easy to drive to, nearly impossible to park at, which is why we’d never stopped before. I have to say, I’m gad we did. With two options available – spicy and not spicy – they make some damn good sammies. The bread’s not as fresh as at Manoush Basha, but still excellent.

Best Drinks: There are tons of drink places in Amman – and nearly all of them overcharge for poorly mixed drinks. If you’re looking for craft beer, we always go to Biera in Amman and Carakale when we’re up for a bit of a drive. As for mixed drinks, we always choose the Lombard. I could throw back their gin piccante all night long and pair it with their pinsa boscaiola (pretty much a pizza with truffle cream, taleggio cheese, porcini mushrooms, and rucola) and I’m in heaven. Plenty of other places have lovely atmospheres, but their drinks just don’t hold up.

Best Dinner: This is an impossible question, but we always find ourselves returning to the same places: Sufra, Levant, and Fakhreldin. They all serve similar Middle Eastern fair, but each has its specialties. Sufra really might have the best hummus in all of Amman, plus they hands down win in the ambience category, especially in the summer when the garden is open. Levant has excellent salads, but what really keeps me coming back is the freekeh bilfukhara (smoked cracked wheat cooked with cheese) – it’s possibly the best comfort food in the world. Fakhreldin doesn’t make a bad dish, but what’s fun is that they end the night with a basket of fruit at your table!

Lodging: The one thing we didn’t do this break was book a room for a staycation. But don’t think I wasn’t tempted. We stayed at the Amman Rotana back in 2016 and I still have fond memories of their bathtubs and the view from the rooms!

This was not the Winter Break we had planned. But it might be our last one outside of the United States for quite a while, so I’m happy to say we enjoyed it. Great food was eaten, books were read, films were watched, and we found the last few adventures to seek out in the city. Our five month countdown has begun!

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