Where we are: I am sharing my journey in 2022, including this trip to Jordan in February.
I felt a little rushed to arrive at Terminal Eight at JFK, the start of many great adventures.
I was about to leave on another – to my 46th country, the Kingdom of Jordan.
It was a long-awaited journey. I’ve wanted to come to Jordan for a long time – in fact, I had a trip planned for April 2020, and I think we all know that didn’t happen – and I’ve spent so much time in neighboring countries that it’s getting ridiculous, I still missed always this specific passport stamp.
Would February have been my first choice to visit? No. But, given all of the above, when Visit Jordan and Globus Travel invited me to experience an off-season Jordan Escape, for all the reasons above, I just couldn’t say no.
With travel in Jordan just starting to pick up with enthusiasm – they lifted many testing requirements shortly after my arrival – there were only a few direct flights a week from New York. I timed my travels around them, arriving in time for a few solo days in Amman before joining the tour of Wadi Rum, Petra, and the Dead Sea. This trip would be relatively short at ten days, leaving much more – such as Aqaba – to visit in the future. Because yes, I’m hooked (we’re even launching a full Wander Women Retreat here in 2023!)
The flight, a quick and easy ten-hour jump, was well worth planning, and the Globus VIP meeting me off the plane made the whole process so seamless; I felt Jordan’s hospitality from the moment I sat in my Royal Jordanian window seat.
I admit I knew relatively little about Amman before my trip. I also realized it wasn’t a love-at-first-sight town. Instead, it revealed its charms more slowly. And I liked that.
I really started to fall in love with Amman in the quiet moments here… cafe hopping with my laptop and stumbling through windswept streets, chancing upon colorful murals, and pausing to that beautiful sound of the call of the mosque, the one that always makes me smile and remember I’m somewhere special.
In fact, during my first two pre-tour days and nights to myself, I did little more than wander, work, and marvel from various charming perches. My festive mood of the first night led me to Sufra, where I realized I knew nothing about the national cuisine and simply pointed to different menu items, leading to pure joy.
Jordan, like many Arab cities, is awash with a rich cafe culture, more popular than bars (I mean… outside of Beirut, of course!)
So the next day, I set my sights on anywhere with wifi, finding myself first at Rumi Cafe, where a turmeric latte and cardamom cake kept me company for a few hours, followed by a long walk stumbling upon beautiful street art, and ending at Wild Jordan, where I enjoyed a halloumi salad and watched the sun set over the hilly city.
The next morning my time with Globus began! And while joining a group, I didn’t have to give up my time for myself entirely – one of the benefits of the company’s off-season Escapes tours is that because of the amount of business they do on their high-season tours, they cannot negotiate a single supplement in the low season.
That’s a big advantage!
Our first day was a specially arranged addition for those of us arriving early in Jordan and waiting to merge with the rest of the Globus tour group crossing the border from Israel for a two-country tour.
I was excited about our impressive start at The Jordan National Gallery. I get a strange thrill from viewing small national galleries, especially in countries where tourism is often focused on the past. It is such a unique and sometimes rare sight for tourists in the present.
After our private museum tour, we went to Darat Suhail, an art therapy NGO, to learn about their work in Jordan. The program aims to bring art to the visually impaired – the founder uses scent in pigments to connect color with other senses – such as yellow with lemon scent!
As a former art school survivor, I was quite fascinated by the project. I quickly clocked a photo of King Abdullah II and Queen Rania on the wall, complimenting our host. “Sixteen minutes, they stayed,” he remarked proudly. Much more than just a photo op in a country that loves its royal family.
I was already beginning to understand how Globus tells the story of Jordan’s royal family’s investment in social services and how it has contributed to the country’s inspiring peace and stability in the region. Our next stop was another page in that story – the Iraq Al Amir Women’s Co-Op.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch here and another pour in what felt like a continuous and infinitely refilling cup of mint tea that I drank from arrival to departure in Jordan.
Then we learned from the women who worked there about the various crafts they honed on-site using traditions from the region – ceramics, paper making, fabric dyeing – and I couldn’t help but grab a few handmade cards ( and wish I wasn’t traveling so long and could have taken more.)
As we drove into the Royal Automobile Museum, our tour of unusual tourist attractions took a turn for the “I’m not sure if this is my jam exactly?”. Full of vehicles from the robust sets of the film industry and the personal collection of the king, that has nothing to do with the merits of the museum itself and everything to do with the fact that I don’t know what a Mercedes logo looks like.
Still, even I was impressed when the Globus team dizzyingly announced a big surprise: we were taken back to the hotel by a member of his security team in one of the king’s personal vintage cars. Talk about hospitality!
After a big day, we were delighted to return to our hotel, The Kempinski. My favorite detail of the hotel was difficult to capture on camera – clear glass elevators that took you past a multi-story mural of the country’s highlights. It made every trip back to my room a joy.
The next morning we were off early for the big “must-dos” in Amman, two beautiful ruins – the Citadel overlooking the city and a day trip to Jerash.
Jet lag hit me hard on this trip for some reason, but the crisp morning air, ubiquitous tea, and insights from our guide, Osama, helped wake me up. And thank goodness I did. Otherwise, I would sleepily overlook the pinnacle of the small and modest Jordanian Archeology Museum—a 6,000 and 8,000 BC artifact believed to be the oldest man-made sculpture.
Really, how cool!
After the Citadel, we walked into Amman, passing a market and murals and sampling a few local delicacies along the way.
Finally, we started the drive north towards Jerash – stopping for lunch and tea at another great social enterprise that employs local women.
It was still early, and I was already fond of Jordanian food. Not a big surprise, I guess, as I love the food of this region – but it felt like every stop in Jordan surpassed the next.
Hearts full and teacups (for now) empty, we arrived in Jerash, one of Jordan’s finest tourist jewels.
We were in Northern Jordan, just over the mountain range from Syria. But even when I heard Osama say this was one of the best-preserved Roman ruins outside of Rome itself, I couldn’t help but think of a destination that was much closer geographically.
The whole site gave me a big Lebanon vibe, with striking similarities to the ruins of Baalbek, which also felt so grand it seemed shocking to have them to ourselves (and I promise one day I’ll blog about my retreat to Lebanon!)
Like the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, a modern city closely surrounds Jerash. But inside the walls, all it takes is a great guide and an imagination to bring an old one to life.
Worth the one-hour drive out of town to get there? Oh yeah.
We returned to Amman just in time for the city’s highlight for me. You just can’t come to Amman without an evening at Beit Sitti, arguably the best cooking school I’ve been to in all my travels.
Beit Sitti means grandmother’s house, and it is the home of the host Maria’s grandmother. High above the city, we teamed up to create delicious Jordanian dishes while enjoying our host’s warm hospitality, one well-known to all who have traveled in this region.
I am not what you would call a natural in the kitchen, so I loved this class’s casual, fun, and fast pace. And, er, did I mention the bright orange Smeg refrigerator? Swoon.
I may have arrived knowing little about Amman, but I knew one thing for sure: I would return to discover more of the city’s quiet charms.