Christmas Eve Bansky hunt – Palestine 🇵🇸

I am a big admirer of Banksy, the British street artist/political activist and have been to various spots around the UK to see his art. I had heard that he had opened a hotel in Bethlehem, that also housed a museum, art gallery and restaurant, so I eagerly started planning my visit once our flights to the region had been booked.

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You can book specific Banksy tours over in Palestine, taking you to some of his work found around the area, as well as to the hotel, but we decided to make our own way on public transport and enter Palestine on foot via the notorious Checkpoint 300.

When you tour Palestine on a tour bus you are let through the border without any hassle, its quick, safe and easy, but a privilege that actual Palestinians don’t have. Having had that tourist friendly experience earlier on in our trip, I wanted to make the journey on foot this time and experience it as a local would.

We boarded the 234 bus from Damascus Gate in Jerusalem which stops right outside the Checkpoint on the Israeli side, it takes about 25 mins to get there and costs around £3.

I didn’t take any pictures as we made our way through the border checkpoint, maybe you weren’t allowed, but also, out of respect for all those who aren’t free to wander between the two countries like I did with my British passport.

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When you arrive on the Palestinian side you are greeted with a combination of Israeli Army personnel and lots of eager taxi drivers. We avoided both, as its only a short walk from the checkpoint to the hotel, but we arrived about an hour before the hotel opened for our Christmas Eve lunch on purpose, so we had lots of time to walk alongside the separation wall, which in part has been turned into a ‘museum’.

This ‘museum’ comprises of 270 stories pasted onto the wall, recalling tales from local Palestinian women and children, telling the daily struggles they face living inside the walled off region. It gives a human face to the conflict, and a narrative usually missing from world news reports, it made a somber reflective morning walk, but it was an important part of why I wanted to visit. If I just wanted to enjoy sun, sand and sanitised safe tourist spots, I would have just stuck to the Spanish coast for my holidays.

We continued our walk, alongside the wall, taking in all the art and stories, spotting some of the more well known pieces of graffiti, including ‘make hummus not war’, a alternative New York subway transit sign, a possible sighting of a Banksy rat and the Angels, which is a certified Banksy.

If you keep following the direction of the wall from the checkpoint with the wall to your right hand side, its probably not more than 10 minutes to walk to the hotel, but of course if this is your first visit, like it was for us, it will likely take you a lot longer to walk there, as you take in all the messages and artwork on the concrete.

Soon Banksy’s hotel came into view, called ‘The Walled Off Hotel‘, a play on the famous Waldorf Hotel, as well as by means of its location as it’s effectively ‘walled off’ from the rest of the world. Opened in 2017, this boutique hotel has 10 rooms, varying from presidential suite, to no frills budget room with shared bathroom, all with the worst view in the world, the 8ft concrete wall outside.

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The hotel is open to none-residents from 11am – 10pm daily, wanting to make sure we would get a table for our Christmas Eve brunch, we arrived just as the doors opened. On arrival you enter straight into the Piano Bar, fashioned on an old colonial style dining room, you can sit down for food or drinks, surrounded by many of Banksy’s works as well as a haunted piano, playing works recorded specifically for the hotel from musicians such as Flea and Trent Reznor.

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We ordered a ‘walled off salad’ with some dips and bread and whilst we were waiting a camera crew walked in, only the day before a new Banksy installation had been put on display in the hotel, some friends had even texted me from home about it. So overwhelmed and excited to be in the hotel, we had walked straight past the ‘Scar of Bethlehem’ in the entrance, a take on the Nativity scene, which instead of taking place in a straw laden manger, takes place beside the concrete wall, complete with bullet holes.

By the time we had finished our brunch complete with virgin cocktails, the camera crew had left, so we had space to investigate the piano bar further, along with the nativity scene, the place was packed with Banksy paintings and installations, including my favourite Flower Thrower.

Upstairs there is an art gallery to visit, this time no Bankys here, this space is purely for Palestinians, some known artists such as Suliman Mansour have their work on display here, as well as a temporary area for rotating new and up and coming work. There was some really cool stuff on display and we felt lucky to have been able to see artwork that due to restrictions you wouldn’t normally get to see outside of the country.

Back downstairs is a museum dedicated solely to the separation wall. It’s a really modern interactive space, as you would expect if Banksy was involved along with the help of a British university professor. There’s lots of information about the history of the wall right up to present day with little films, audio, military artefacts and a camera on display from the incredible Oscar nominated Five Broken Cameras, which I really recommend watching. The plan is for the exhibit to be expanded as more artefacts are collected over time, but it was a thought provoking, humbling experience to see and hear how this wall has changed the face of the landscape and its people on both sides.

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Final stop was obviously the gift shop, where we were lucky to chat to the manager of the hotel. A lovely man called Wissam Salsaa, he was keen to know where we had travelled from and what we thought of the hotel, in short I told him, if we were to return to the area, I would absolutely plan on staying here next time around.

There were a few Banksy items for sale in the gift shop, and I did think long and hard about a £70 keyring, which was the cheapest item for sale that was certified by the artist. But then the frugal part of my brain kicked in and I just bought postcards and a couple of tote bags instead, realising I could use that £70 for another flight somewhere instead (not realising Covid was about to happen and I wouldn’t get away for almost another 2 years!).

I desperately wanted to stay for longer, but we had really explored every part of the hotel that is open to none residents, also we were conscious that it was Christmas Eve and the tourists would be flocking to the centre of Bethlehem for the celebrations. So we headed back to Checkpoint 300 which was practically empty as we passed back through, the security guard barely looking at our British passport, and the local bus was waiting ready to return to Jerusalem on the other side. With so many places I still have to see, I rarely make plans to return to a visited place but Palestine makes that list and hopefully one day I can return, whether the political situation will be any calmer, I’m doubtful.

 

Winter in the West Bank 🇵🇸

My last trip abroad before Covid hit was another Christmas spent in the Middle East, using East Jerusalem as our base, we travelled around Israel and Palestine both independently and with guided tours.

Our first trip was a full day booked with Abraham tours, leaving by the old Jaffa gates of Jerusalem.  It wasn’t long before the separation wall came into view, with evidence of recent tension and fighting becoming apparent, with abandoned buildings and barbed wire taking over the view from the well paved roads and souvenir shops. Once we had officially passed into Palestine, our guide jumped on board, as he wasn’t allowed into Jerusalem without paperwork, our first experience of the many restrictions facing the people of this torn land.

We alighted the coach on arrival into Ramallah, a place I had only really heard of via news reports I am sad to say, but now is a bustling, busy city. The main business and cultural capital of Palestine, full of coffee shops, offices, and people rushing past to get to their next destination, all the while I was still very aware of the concrete wall that now surrounded us.

Although Ramallah is a predominantly an Islamic city, historically it was Christian, and so being a few days before December 25th, it was no surprise to see a Christmas tree erected in the centre of the city. We had time to explore around Al Manara Sq and saw the infamous Star and Bucks, as well as many Palestinian flags proudly flying in the cool winter sunshine.

Our next stop was just outside the city centre, to the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s mausoleum. A temporary resting place, Arafat actually wanted to be buried in East Jerusalem, but of course like the rest of the Palestinians, alive or not, he’s not allowed to cross beyond the separation wall. The area comprises quite a minimalist, simple white building of glass and stone, with water on three sides and although not visible, there’s an underground rail track, ready to take him to his final resting place at some point in the probably far distant future.

Jericho is one of the oldest continually inhabited places in the world, and was about an hours drive, through the Judean desert from Ramallah. The sign that welcomes you to the oldest part of the city, states that there has been a settlement here for around 10,000 years, making it an incredibly important site where historians can learn about the first group of humans that settled in a one place and made the move away from being nomadic hunters.

As well as being the oldest, it is also the lowest city in the world as it is situated so close to the Dead Sea, so it’s no surprise this place should be on everyone’s itinerary who visits this area. Our tour avoided the more modern centre, concentrating on the excavated ruins of the ancient city, including Hishams Palace, one of the Desert Castles found across the Middle East. It really was other worldly wandering around the dusty, sandy walled remains, with the Judean mountains towering in the background, it really felt a special place, even if I couldn’t quite comprehend how it must have looked all those thousands of years ago.

As lunchtime was approaching we headed down to the River Jordan, which also acts as the border with Jordan itself, and the previous year we had been on the other side as we spent Christmas in Amman. As the people on our tour excitedly visited the baptism site of Jesus and looked on as pilgrims got blessed in the river, mother and I grabbed a drink, found some shade and investigated the souvenir shop, There were a lot of soldiers on this side of the river border and lots of religious tourists in white robes queuing up to go in the river, I remember it feeling much more peaceful and calmer on the Jordanian side, but I’m happy I got to experience it from both countries.

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One of the things I loved about travelling in this part of the world was the incredible history, literally everywhere you went. For example, the countryside views surrounding the cafe where we stopped for lunch was said to be where the story of the 3 Wise Men took place, as in was in the adjacent fields where they saw the Star of Bethlehem in the clear night sky as they hiked on their way to Jerusalem.

Our final stop on this particular tour was back close to the ‘border’ and a place that must have changed beyond all recognition from biblical times, Bethlehem. It’s a place swarming with pilgrims just like Jerusalem is and if you have any passing interest in history, then this place must be on your to do list. The main draw is the Church of the Nativity, Jesus was born in a grotto on this spot and the church itself was built over the top, and as a result it’s one of the holiest spots for the Christian religion. It’s such an important site to the Christian community, but because the religion itself is split into many different denominations, this church is one of a handful of buildings shared between different Christian communities, with the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Catholics all sharing various parts together.

As it was only a few days from December 25th, the church was decorated and packed full of pilgrims from all over the world, often wearing T-shirts with their particular church logo’s on, all of them queuing up to see the exact spot where Jesus was born.

Although I love a religious building of any kind, I don’t class myself a follower of any, plus we didn’t have time on the tour to queue for what would have been probably an hour for a quick 20 second peek at the site of his birth inside the dark grotto. But our tour guide took us ’round the back’ down into the cave to explore from the other side, so I feel we still got the same experience, but with less crowds anyway.

The church itself was quite plain, with the exception of Christmas baubles and ornate incense burners hanging from above, red limestone pillars along the sides and various fresco’s partly uncovered on the walls, but of course, the decor isn’t why you visit. There is another church just off to the side, actually sharing a wall with the Nativity Church, called Church of St Catherine of Alexandria and it is here where the televised service from Bethlehem is filmed every year. After visiting both churches, we had a brief explore around Nativity Square where a large Christmas tree had been erected, and the whole area was in the midst of getting ready for the crowds of worshippers who would be visiting on Christmas Eve, so we planned to return later on our trip at our leisure.

Before returning to Jerusalem, we had a walk along part of the separation wall, which is only a short distance from the heart of Bethlehem. Graffiti from famous international artists cover large swathes of the wall and we successfully spotted a few Bankys’, all the while being aware of the imposing watch towers looming overhead.

It was then back to the bus for our return to Jerusalem, but for an introduction to Palestine and the region as a whole, it was outstanding, it was an experience I feel incredibly privileged to have had and the memories will stay with me forever.

We were to return a few days later, venturing back past the wall under our own steam, for a completely different adventure . . . .

Petra to Wadi Rum Roadtrip 🇯🇴

 

 

An absolute must for mum and I’s Jordanian adventure was getting ourselves to see the Unesco sights of both Petra and Wadi Rum. We researched and researched looking at various ways to get there, how much time would it take to travel, how much would it cost and of course how much time did we have to squeeze it all in. After much deliberation and playing about with dates, we decided to hire a car, driving to Petra first as thats the closest of the two destinations from Amman where we were staying, then continuing onward to the Wadi Rum late afternoon, where we would stay overnight, spending most of the 2nd day exploring the desert, before driving back that evening.

Getting there – The cheapest way to get to Petra is by public bus, there is just one bus that leaves Amman daily from the Abdali station to Petra. This bus leaves at 6.30 AM costing 11 Jordanian dollars (£12) and takes 3 hours dropping you off right by the entrance. This is great if you just want to visit Petra as the return bus back to Amman is 16.30PM so perfect for a budget day trip.

The problem we faced is that we also wanted to visit the Wadi Rum afterwards, instead of returning back to Amman, and the bus from Petra to Wadi Rum only leaves once a day at 6AM, taking 2 hours. This meant public transport wasn’t really a convenient option for us as we didn’t want to spend night in Petra, we wanted our overnight to be in the Wadi Rum.

Taxi’s of course will drive you to Petra from Amman, but the average cost seemed to be over £100 each way! So not an option for us budget travellers.

All the tour companies offer trips to Petra as its the most popular sight in the country. The costs are really expensive though, but there are plenty of options available, from day returns, overnights, add on’s to the Wadi Rum, Aqaba or the Dead Sea, but we struggled to find anything within our budget, that included an overnight to the Wadi Rum as well. If you want to squeeze in both together in one day, you are probably looking at a 4AM start, otherwise tours that include an overnight, start at around £400+ for two people minimum.

So we hired a car, and picked an early 8AM pick up time, returning the following evening, costing us a budget friendly £50 plus petrol. We picked up the car from Amman airport, meaning we didn’t need to navigate the chaotic roads inside the capital, and from the airport its pretty much one straight road south for about 3 hours to Petra.

 

We didn’t even need Sat Nav, we just used the GPS on our i-phones,  there is free wifi in the airport, so I connected to that, and then downloaded the directions before we set off, so I didn’t need to use any data.

There’s lots of parking at Petra and its only a short walk to the front entrance, where there are toilets, stalls, an information centre, lots of places to rest and free wifi. We had our Jordan Pass which includes entry to Petra, otherwise it will cost you £54 for a day pass, £60 for a 2 day pass and £65 for a 3 day stay. If you are travelling over from Egypt or the Israel Palestine border, and aren’t planning to spend an overnight in Jordan you’re looking at close to £100 pounds for entry.  If you travel over from another country and go straight to Petra before staying elsewhere in the country, you pay the 90JD (£98) and then get £43 back the next day.

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Setting off around 8am meant we got to Petra just before lunch and we had already brought snack bars and water, so we could head straight off down the track to see as much of it as possible, keeping a close eye on the time, as we needed to be at the Wadi Rum for sunset.

 

Staying focused and hydrated, with map in hand, we set off to explore this architectural city, which was home to people as far back at 7000BC, incredible! Also known as the Rose City, its a beautiful walk through the pink rock coloured passages, or Siq, until it all opens out and the world famous Treasury stands before you. It really was a trip to be stood right in front of this unmistakable world wonder that I had seen so many times, over so many years in magazines and on TV. Beyond the Treasury, the city opens up even more, and as you walk along the Colonnaded Street you see a huge theatre built into the rock face,  a pool and garden complex. If you have budgeted to spend the best part of the day there, then continue beyond the ‘city centre’ out towards the Monastery complex. We didn’t think we would have time to see The Monasatery if we were to make the drive onward to the Wadi Rum, so we slowly took our time walking back to the entrance, making sure we didn’t miss a single thing that we may have missed on our way in, as I was quite overwhelmed on arrival, not quite believing we were actually there!

Driving onward to the Wadi Rum takes about another 2 hours, and we arrived close to sunset at the main carpark, which is housed just outside the desert valley, timing it perfectly to meet our Bedouin host for the next 24 hours.

Wadi Rum is also known as the Valley of the Moon, and you really do feel like you have been transported to a far away planet as we were  driven across the lunar like desert in a 4×4. Sandy wind in our hair, and the most incredible pink mountains above, orange sand below and a setting sun, we had truly been transported to a different world.

 

As it was getting dark and cold, our guide with Wadi Rum Nature Tours took us straight to our tent where our evening meal was already being prepared, and we settled in to enjoy an incredible 3 course meal of flat breads, dips, casserole and sugary sweet pastries, and lots of hot Bedouin tea with sage. We had planned to enjoy the dark desert skies to do some star gazing (I had even downloaded a star map app), but the night was lit up with the most magnificent full moon, which although impressive in its own right, it made finding other stars and the milky way pretty impossible to spot. Then it was off for a deep sleep with extra blankets in our traditional tent.

The next morning after a hot shower and more hot tea we were off with our guide for a full days drive across the desert, with a lunch stop and plenty of tea stops of course. So taken with the local Bedouin tea was I, that I ended up buying lots to take home, and it still tasted as good once I got back.

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On the day trip we took there were many highlights, from famous rocks, sand dunes, scenes from famous films and lots of popular selfie spots, but for me, it was the entire experience. You can only travel across the desert with a guide, by foot or camel, so there are no cars, or roads or massive groups of people, which means you really feel like you have left modern civilisation behind, it was like being in some incredible sparsely populated landscape that only you and a few others know about, like some epic secret, that you want to keep for yourself.

 

Of course the Wadi Rum is famous in the west for it being the place where the 1962 film Laurence of Arabia was filmed (which I watched on the flight over actually) and the more modern film, Martian from 2015 as well as the recent Star Wars sequels. So tours will inevitably stop at Laurence’s Spring,  the Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Laurence’s House. But don’t worry if you’re not a fan or have no interest in any of the films made here, there is so much more. There are rock bridges, ancient carvings inscribed into the rock faces, you can hike sand dunes while spotting the camels walking down below, and the incredible endless views of desert from the 4×4, there were many tent stops along the way to buy local produce, and ample opportunities to just to sit and drink tea with your guide.

I was felt truly happy and settled here and was not quite ready to get back into the car to drive the 4 hours up north to the loud, busy capital. But once dusk started to appear it was time to head back to the village just on the inside of the protected area to collect our car. I could quite easily have had a 2nd night here and then carried on south to the Saudi border, which was only a short drive away, so if I ever return thats going to be on my agenda, but for now, I have lots of amazing memories, many many pictures and a few bags of local sage tea.

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Amman, Jordan 🇯🇴

‘Welcome to Jordan’ – A Christmas visit to Amman

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Not long after dad died, my thoughts went to Christmas and how I didn’t want to spend another Christmas at home, just me and mum, especially when our last 3 Christmases had been spent in Nursing Homes. I also didn’t particularly want to spend Christmas in country that went Christmas mad either, so I focused my thoughts on a none-Christian destination. It wasn’t hard to settle on going to Jordan, as I had wanted to visit for many years, so we booked a flight, a hotel and then figured out the rest later.

Arrivals. If you are travelling from the UK, then unless you are planning an epic overland trip, you’ll be flying in. The main airport is the Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA) and the only direct flights from the UK are via Heathrow with either Royal Jordanian or British Airways. If you want to fly from any other UK airport you can change via London or somewhere else in Europe, we flew with Royal Jordanian from Manchester via Copenhagen, but a quick Skyscanner search should give you lots of alternative options. Ryanair is also starting to fly to Amman as well as Aqaba, although they wont be connected to the UK, but you could potentially pick it up in a number of European cities, that’s if you’re on a tight budget and like adventure!

The country itself borders a number of interesting and potentially volatile neighbours, so some borders are closed or limit the number of travellers coming in. You could face difficulties if you wanted to cross over from the Syrian, Iraqi or Saudi borders, do your research first, but it can be done quite easily through the Palestine/Israel border. Popular routes can be through Eilat at the Southern end of the Dead Sea, or at King Hussein Bridge (Allenby) crossing at the Northern end of the Dead Sea. If you cross overland through Israel/Jordan border though, you will have a stamp in your passport that could stop you visiting other countries in the region, as some countries don’t look favourable on an Israeli passport stamp.

Unless you have a Jordanian passport, you’ll likely need a visa in order to enter the country. You can apply via the Jordanian Embassy in London or if you purchase a Jordan Pass it includes your visa as well as entry to a number of museums and sites in Amman as well as Petra, and the Wadi Rum. So if you are staying a week or so and plan to see as much as possible, it will be well worth it. It was my Christmas present from mum and on arrival, you just show your Jordan Pass barcode,  they stamp your passport and that’s it you’re in. Welcome to Jordan!

The main airport is about a 40 minute drive from the city centre, there are public buses available to get you into the centre of the capital as well as many taxi’s, they should charge around 22-25 JOD. Our hotel arranged for a taxi to pick us up, but another time, we just got a taxi outside arrivals and they charged the same price, the taxi’s should be yellow or white vehicles and then you know they are legit. The other option is car hire and all the usual car hire companies are based at the airport.

Sights. I will stick to Amman for this post and write up my adventures in other parts of the country separately.  But more than likely, if you are making the trek to Jordan, you will want to see more than just the capital, in fact you must, but don’t rule out Amman either, there is enough to fill a couple of days here.

All ticket prices for the main sights in the country, can be found on the Official Jordan Website, so you may want to check whether it would be worth getting a Jordan Pass instead, but you need to book this before you land in the country.

Roman Theatre – built around 2nd century AD this theatre is pretty impressive, built into the side of a hill, it’s 3 tiers high with enough seating for 6000 people.  If you have the strength and long enough legs, climb the very steep steps to get to the top for great views, and then slowly work your way back down and explore the Folklore museum on the floor. The theatre is still used today for functions, so check local listings when you are there, I can imagine it would be pretty cool to see a live event here. Both the theatre and museums are included in the Jordan Pass, and don’t miss the I LOVE AMMAN sign out the front by the main road too, the perfect photo opportunity!

Roman Citadel – If you stand with your back to the Roman Theatre and look up and slightly to your left, you’ll see the highest hill in Amman – Jebel Al Qala’a. Up here is a large area to explore full of ancient remains, some dating back to the Bronze Age as well as Roman and Byzantine periods. There is a lot to see up here, including the Temple of Hercules with its impressive large pillars and podium which you can see back down in the heart of the city.  The Ummayad Palace spreads out quite far round the back of the Archeological Museum and is full of places to explore. You get great views across the city as well, we spent quite some time up here, a really fascinating place. Both are included in the Jordan Pass.

Taxis are everywhere up on the hill and there is a car park available too if you are brave enough to drive in the capital. Myself and my 71 year old mother though, walked (with a rest stop in-between) from the theatre and citadel and then back into downtown quite comfortably.

Rainbow Street – This large street is a destination both during the day and night, and is choked full of bars, cafe’s, restaurants and shops. There are some lovely places to stop and eat, the snack shop Falafel Al-Quds, is really popular, you’ll probably be able to spot it due to the queue forming at the window, whilst we were there we were told the King had popped in the previous day for his lunch, its reputation is that good. There are some other good places to eat and drink here too, which I’ll pop in the eat and drink section below.

The Jordan Museum Jordan is hilly, but walkable if you have decent shoes, we walked slowly after lunch from Rainbow Street, down the busy King Talal Street, past a miriad of shops selling all kinds of produce, from shoes, pipes, and live birds to the main museum of the capital. Open 6 days a week, (closed on Tuesdays) from 9 am to 4 pm and Fridays from 2 pm to 5.30, it’s the go to place if you want a comprehensive overall view of the history of the country. Highlights include one of the oldest human statues in the world, the Dead Sea Scrolls and a really great exhibit on energy and water consumption and how the country manages both, with water in short supply. There is a lot to see here, in fact we didn’t have time to take it all in, and would have stayed longer if we could. There is also a free bag and coat store, clean toilets and has a £5.00 entry fee

 

King Abdullah I Mosque The reason we didn’t stay as long as we’d like at the Jordan Museum, was we wanted to go see the only mosque in the city that permits none muslims to enter and is only open certain hours of the day. When I was there back in December 2018, the hours were 8-11am & 12.30-2pm Sat-Thu and it was about £2 to enter. This includes the museum as well as the main buildings and use of the black robes knows as an abayas, there is also a charity bazaar ram jammed full of all kinds of crafts as well as free tea on offer (of course!). We were lucky in that our taxi driver who we hailed outside of the Jordan Museum was also a tour guide, although his business used to include trips to Syria and Lebanon, which he can no longer offer, so he delights in taking tourists round his home town instead. For an extra £5 he took me and mum on a personal tour of the mosque himself, even introducing us to the head Iman, we struck lucky, he was a great guide. He also explained that the reason it is the only mosque opened to none muslim tourists, is that its the best preserved in the city and the only one worth a look, no other reason. With a capacity for 10,000 worshippers, a minaret that shoots out a laser beam 1 KM into the sky and a beautiful octagonal prayer hall topped by a magnificent blue dome, i’m really glad we made the effort to go.

 

 

Eats  – On our first day after visiting the Citadel we built up an appetite by taking the steep climb up to Wild Jordan, but it was worth it. This centre not only houses a great cafe with exceptional views overlooking the city, but there’s a wonderful shop highlighting hand-made crafts which supports local communities. There is free wifi and and 4 hubs, should you need somewhere to chill or upload photos. You can book eco-tours here including guided hikes and handicraft workshops, book a stay in one of the lodges or just learn about the rural communities in Jordan that are being supported by the work here. Oh did I mention the food, it’s really delicious, using fresh local ingredients, with vegetarian and vegan options, along with smoothies, teas and strong but tasty coffee.

All guide books recommend the oldest restaurant in town, and its a must for an authentic Jordanian experience.  Called Hashem don’t bother dressing up, you sit down on plastic chairs, a waiter covers your table with plastic and before you can say falafel, your table is loaded up with flat breads, dips, salad, unlimited tea and of course falafel. Once you’ve finished, you pay, the sheeting is scooped up and more than likely the table is ready to go all over again. We had a great dinner here, paying around £4, it was full of locals and tourists alike, as well as photos showing visits by King Abdullah II and family.

Probably our favourite restaurant we visited was Al Quds (Jerusalem) we went twice, its super friendly, with a high fiving head waiter who took great care of mum and me. There is a huge menu full of traditional Jordanian food, with a few veggie/vegan options and the most delicious assortments of desserts, my favourite being Kunafeh a sticky pastry stuffed with cheese and sprinkled with pistachios.

Alcohol isn’t available at most traditional restaurants, but is available at some hotels, tourist bars, and in supermarkets.  I was happy to sip mint tea with dinner, but I did fancy trying a local beer, so we went to Books@Cafe just off Rainbow Street to sample a pint of Carakale, Jordans first ever craft beer.

Coffee and Cake  –  Thick Turkish coffee is available everywhere, just one small cup will fire you up for a good few hours of sightseeing. I particularly liked the coffee served at Wild Jordan, but i’m also a fan of green tea, so had to visit Turtle Green Tea Bar located on Rainbow Street, here they have an extensive tea and coffee menu as well as cakes and good wifi. As for traditional pastries, we tended to visit local bakeries, asking the staff for good suggestions and then loaded up, we would snack as we explored the city. If a smoothie is more your thing, Amman had quite a few juice bars dotted around the downtown area too, but often we would just be handed some free mint or ginger tea from a local stall seller as we purused the markets.

Other sights – An art space and gallery Darat al funun holds exhibits, talks, as well as films and it would be a good place to really immerse yourself in modern day Jordanian culture. Known as the Caves of the Prince – Iraq al-Amir is located on the outskirts of the city, here you can explore historic caves and ruins from the 3rd Century BC dotted into the hillside among the olive groves. If I return though,  I would also love to visit Grandma’s House Beitsitti, this is a cooking school/restaurant, where you join a cooking class run entirely by women, learning how to prepare a traditional 4 course Arabic meal and then you all sit down to eat it, sounds amazing.

Always Be Polite – Thank You -‘shukraan‘ Hello ‘marhabaan‘ Goodbye ‘wadaeaan