Into Jordan 18/10/16
In the evening, after yesterday's post, we went out to dinner at Fakhr-El Din, a Lebanese restaurant that had been recommended to us before we left on our trip and then was subsequently recommended by Bashar at the Intercontinental. V had called the hotel from Toronto pre-trip and had had the concierge make a reservation and we were glad that she did, very busy. As an aside we have been trying valiantly to approximate the pronunciation of arabic names and places and I was very pleased at how well I succeeded in telling the taxi attendant where we wanted to go even though mustering the throaty guttural required to pronounce the restaurant's name made me fell as if I was calling him a very robust anglo-saxon epithet.
The restaurant was wonderful, very elegant and in the home of a former Prime Minister of Jordan, with indoor dining rooms and an outdoor candle-lit garden where we sat. We arrived at 7:30 and by 8:30 it was packed with locals seeing and being seen. Amman culture appears to be very secular and the tables were filled with larger groups of mixed gender as well as smaller tables of 3 or 4, in some cases all men in others all women, and in others mixed. The table immediately beside ours was made up of a woman with whom we chatted briefly and who turned out to be Egyptian but now living in the US and two local men who were her hosts for the evening and who spoke no english. We have been struggling to find an appropriate drink to have with dinner as the wine is for the most part imported and expensive and beer which while very good, does not appeal for accompanying a meal. Our table neighbour then introduced us to the drink that her table as well as many others was drinking, arak also known in Turkey as raki, in Greece as ouzo and in France as pastis, a semi-sweet licorice-flavouered liquor that turns milky white when mixed with water. Our neighbours sent over to us two glasses and as soon as we tasted it we knew we had come home! Under our neighbour's tutelage we learned the appropriate ratio of water to specify and the way we should ask for it to be prepared, mixed 2 parts water to one part arak in a small glass with a handful of fresh mint leaves and ice. I immediately ordered a quarter bottle, it is quite strong, and consulted with our waiter about the right bottle to order as there were a variety on offer and it seemed to be as important a decision as the right bottle of wine to order with dinner. Our waiter took charge of it when it came, mixed it properly and made sure our glasses were kept filled throughout the evening with fresh mint leaves and cold refreshing arak.
Feeling like we belonged we began to look around and it was a fascinating place to people watch. Everyone engaged, lots of talking, no one sitting on their hands waiting to be entertained and yet pleasantly quiet. Most tables had hookahs bubbling away and the smell of the hookahs and the quiet hum of conversation was very relaxing. Conversations were held at a reasonable level, men and women both extremely well-dressed and no one shouting or raising their voices. We had our dinner, a variety of small dishes of very good food and our main course The Fakhr El-din Raw Platter, to quote "a specially made platter of different fresh raw lamb cuts with spices and seasonings". It really was very good but there was enough raw lamb for a party and we were only two however we drank arak and drifted through the meal. Nibbling our way through dinner, sipping our arak and watching people took up the evening and we finally left at about 11:30 after a thoroughly wonderful evening. In fact we enjoyed it so well that as we were leaving I made a reservation for Saturday night, our last in Amman as we leave for Toronto on Sunday.
A quick aside, our dinner last night was very good but as I realized later quite expensive and this brings me to the difference between Namibia and Jordan. In Namibia you divide and in Jordan you multiply to get the Cdn$ equivalent. The arithmetic operation has a huge psychological impact on the way you think about costs, at least for me. In Namibia when confronted with a price tag you divide by ten and even if it's expensive it feels much less so when compared to the initial sticker shock; in Jordan on the other hand you multiply by two and while things look quite affordable, when the bill arrives and you multiply by two it can lead to occasional moments requiring a sharp intake of breath.
A hotel car picked us up this morning and took us to the airport where we picked up the car that we'll be driving down to Petra and back to Amman. Why at the airport and not in Amman? Daughter Diana traveled in Jordan two years ago, renting a car and driving herself and she was very clear that it would be much better if we didn't attempt to drive ourselves in the city and after a couple of days here I can understand why. Driving here, as it is in many places in the world, is a creative enterprise, one carried out with individual flair. Road markings are suggestions merely and roundabouts are scrums, not for the faint of heart and yet it is surprisingly calm. Little honking and evidence of road rage, unlike our situation here at home. There does not appear to be a cultural requirement that every move made or decision taken on the road is fully invested with personal significance; people cut you off, you cut people off but no one raises fingers or behaves as if these things are a direct attack on their person. As hair-raising as some moments were in Amman traffic, I know that 30 minutes in rush hour traffic in Toronto is hugely more stressful as everyone behaves as if everything was meant, and being taken, very personally.
The road to Petra on the Desert Highway was about a 4 hour drive and very dull and boring driving it was, although periodically enlivened by unmarked speed bumps across the highway. In many instances these are preceded on the highway by rows of small metal bumps that warn of the upcoming speed bumps but in many cases there are no warnings so V, whose eyes are much better than mine was lookout and we dropped from 100kph to 40kph in mere metres when she spotted one. It does keep an otherwise boring ride interesting.
Michael at the Intercontinental has arranged for us to stay in the Petra Guesthouse. When he heard that we had a reservation at the Movenpick Hotel he suggested that we stay at the Guesthouse which is run by the Intercontinental but since it is owned by the government, cannot be branded with the hotel's name. There were no rooms available but he called the hotel's manager and arranged a very nice suite for us and since the guesthouse is right next to the gate into Petra and since it is about 1/3 the price of the Movenpick, we were very much looking forward to getting there.
Checked in and had a not very pleasant dinner at the Guesthouse, the hotel may be managed by the Intercontinental but the restaurant needs work. However, we'll eat at the Movenpick tomorrow night and have the best of both worlds.
Early dinner and then off to Petra by Night, an event that takes place twice a week and one that allows you to enter the Petra grounds at night and then with candles in brown paper bags every 5 metres or so to mark the path, walk to the Treasury building to watch a concert under the stars. The Treasury building is the iconic building that everyone immediately identifies with Petra and we were very much looking forward to the evening and to our first sight of Petra. It was a long stony walk in the dark, about 2k, and further than I think we had expected but I'm glad that we did it since it gives us much better information that will help us plan our day's trek in the ruins tomorrow. Concert was was very nice but the best part, as you would expect was the Treasury building lit by hundreds of candles while a flute and a stringed instrument played haunting arabic melodies.