Moving to Petrovka street

Wednesday was a busy day for me as I was moving to a room rented in a private flat on Petrovka street. This is a very central street running from the 700 year old Petrovki monastery to the Bolshoi Theater. The street is lined on both sides with luxurious shops, restaurants (for all budgets) and coffee rooms. To add some cultural life to this place, the MOMA opened last December a museum to promote Russian contemporary/modern artists. My room was big but not so great, but I was not planning to lock myself inside!

First thing was meeting my friend Ludmilla at Turandot restaurant. She had a really great special offer, and for the unbelievable price of 1850 rubles we had a starter, a main course and a desert with a cocktail in a fantastic venue. Every thing being well presented and served by a charming girl.

Ceiling at Turandot restaurant
Yummy-Yummy dessert!
Where is the pianist?

We thought that we had made a wise choice by seating on the balcony, when a large group of Chinese tourists took possession of the ground floor…..

In the evening, I met friends for dinner in the restaurant Cutfish, only 4 minutes away from where I was now living. Interesting concept, nice taste but I thought that this would not be enough to keep me full. We finished at the Mendeleev bar, a cool underground bar hidden at the back of a noodles shop, but a secret venue which is not any more so secret and very much a standard of Russia’s nightlife scene.

Perfect for those who are always on diet…

During my stay, I visited the Petrovski Monastery, which founded in the 14th century although the buildings and churches standing now date from the 18th century and were built by an Italian architect. It is interesting to see the different periods of construction but the best of all is to listen to the bells in the late afternoon on Sunday.

Petrovski Monastery
The walls of the monastery at night

Opposite the monastery, the other side of the road is occupied by the MOMA museum. I had fun exploring the exhibition even I am not sure I understand what the artist was trying to say. Outside in the garden stand some of Tsereteli’s monumental sculptures…. He is a very popular artist in Russia but not anywhere else!

One of Tsereteli’s gigantic sculptures…and she is not alone!
Is the artist expecting money?
…more my style

During the next few days, I tried a few places for coffee and snacks. For example the Bordera for its eclairs (not too sure) and pain aux raisons (more tasty).

I found a rather large friend at Bordera. Obviously he seems to be well treated here…

“Mandarin Goose”, a sort of selfservice in a traditional decor and really not bad at all,

Me, my bortsch and my salad at Mandarinovi Goose

Lepim and Varim with their pelmenis – a traditional Russian dish. The ones with beef were really good. Of course the best place for dinner was at my friend’s home, Olga, who lives in a street parallel to Petrovski, Dmitrovska.

I really loved those pelmenis!

Of course, I could not do without music and I also went to a concert at MosConcert with my friend Nadia, listening to violin and piano performance with Paganini and Sibelius on the programme.

But that was not all, my friend Rika and I went to see Vasily Polenov’s exhibition at the New Tretyakov Galleria. Vasily Polenov was not only a painter but also an architect and designer for theater performance. One of his most famous paintings is the Moscow Courtyard representing Arbat in 1878 (difficult to realise the transformation of this part of Moscow in a 150 years). He did not only paint pretty countryside scenes but also scenes of the Christ’s life which were displayed in number.

Vasily Polenov’s most famous painting
I like his painting of the dead sea
Winter in Russia, of course

After our cultural activity, Rika invited me to a delicious Japanese restaurant. We really enjoyed our time together.

Me at the Japanese restaurant

Back to Moscow!

For my first days in Moscow, I booked a room ‘chez Michel’, a nice small hotel located on the fifth floor of a building near Barricadnaya metro startion with a restaurant also called ‘chez Michel’. Contrary to expectations, none of the staff spoke French (or even English) so I was very puzzled why they chose that name for their hotel and restaurant, unless they wanted them to look French (they did decorate with some French artefacts). I was the only non- Russian Teddy Bear there and I was probably given the smallest room possible. I like cosy places, so that was fine, even with my suitcases. Anyway, I was only there for one night just to get my registration (a document foreigners need if they stay more than a week in Russia, and only easily available from hotels).

Chez Michel on Krasnaya Presnaya street
My cosy little room

My plan was to start my Russian class and take the advantage of spending two days in this part of Moscow to explore it. On the Tuesday, I was woken up but the sound of people I mean clearing snow from the pavement, and I knew before opening the blind that it has been snowing over night. I was very excited and looking forward to dipping my paws into the snow.

By the time I arrived at the station, the street was already cleaned of snow

To get to my school, I had to take the famous Moscow metro. It is a piece of history and art. My nearest station was Krasnayapresnenskaya and only two stops from my school. On my way, I admired the elegance of the stations Bielarusskaya and Novoslaboskaya.

Decoration at Krasnayapresnenskaya station
One of the glass panels at Novoslobodskaya station
Bielorusskaya station

After my class, I decided to explore the area around my hotel. I discovered that there was more than just the zoo where some of my Russian cousins live.

Me in front of the Zoo

I initially thought of having a look at the Russian White House, home of the Russian government and Prime Minister since 2016. My route took me to the back of the building, where remains of the attempted 1993 military coup were scattered  along the street. At that time, the building housed the parliament which have moved since 1994 to the Duma building near the Red Square. To my surprise, sadly I found stones marking the death of young people and red and black ribbons knotted to the branches of trees and other railings.

One of the stones marking the death of young people

There were also poems dating back to the Great Patriotic War (Second World War to westerners) hanging on some railings and panels explaining the events.

One of the poems written in 1944 on the Belorussian front

I carried on my way and went around the White House, leaving on my left the monument dedicated to those who fought in the 1905 revolution.

Monument dedicated to the heroes of the 1905 revolution

In front of the White House, I met two interesting and opposite individuals. On one side stood a lady with a large board denouncing the corruption of prominent people in the Moscow administration and on the left side, a keen supporter of the president. I was invited to attend a meeting which I kindly declined… a Teddy Bear should never get involved in politics. But reflecting on those two individuals, I thought that probably this was an accurate picture of the current situation in the country.

A lady protesting against corruption in Moscow
A supporter of the Russian President
The Russian White House

Finally I headed off to the historical and memorial museum of “Presnya”. 

Me in front of the museum

This little museum is not only about the events who took place in 1905-1907 in this part of Moscow, when workers rebelled against the Tsar and his army which led later to the revolution in 1917 but also about the evolution of home interiors and the way of life in soviet society during the communist period. Not many people visit this little museum and all the staff was whispering behind my back while I was looking at the exhibits. Maybe they have never seen such a soft visitor like me!

One of the exhibits….the kitchen
A vintage room

I finished my visit with the diaroma of the december 1905 revolution. Now I understand why metro stations in this district are called: Barrikadnaya, Street 1905 and Krasnopresnenskaya. I thought that this part of Moscow must have been pretty ‘red and communist’ and maybe this is still the case.

The 1905 diaroma

For my evening, I had a plan to catch up with a friend who works at the French Lycée in Moscow. The lycée is named after the French writer of the Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas. The book is so popular in Russia that all Russian families have a copy and reading it is part of the Russian education… alas not any more in France!

Me in front of the French Lycee in Milioutinsky pereulok

My friend and I entertained ourselves in a Uzbek restaurant. A lovely evening where I could delight myself with the Uzbek tomatoes: unbelievable delicious!

One cannot imagine how tasty are those Uzbek tomatoes…

Before going back, I took a few pictures of the festive decorations still in place on Loubyanka. It was rather magical but I was a very tired Teddy Bear, ready for my night.

Festive decorations on Loubyanka
Loubyanka, its Christmas tree and behind the KGB/FSB building

Saint Matrona & The Old Believers

This morning, Moscow woke up to a beautiful blue sky. It was going to be a real winter’s day, sunny and cold. My phone was telling me that it was only -13 degrees but for a Teddy Bear like me, full of wool, this was bearable!

Monastery of Pokrovsky
where relics of Saint Matrona The Wonderworker of Moscow are kept.

In record time, I got ready and headed of to the Community of Old Believers, 45mn by (teddy bear) foot. I was intrigued by a short note in my guide book about this religious center, off the beaten touristic track. On my way, I decided to stop again at the Monastery Pokrovsky dedicated to Saint Matrona.

The Bells of Monastery of Pokrovsky

The crowd of pilgrims was still very long so I just entered one of the churches for a little prayer and to leave a candle. I really like the peacefulness of the Monastery, far away from the bustle of the city.

Pilgrims queuing to pay honor to Saint Matrona

To get to the Community of Old Believers, I just had to continue along the uninspiring  Nijnegorodskaya street, so I thought that this would be easy to do on foot. Things started to become challenging once I reached the “3rd ring” road. I had to go under it, crossed a junction and go under the railway line. I was asking myself if this was really a good idea. But finally when I arrived, I was simply overwhelmed by my discovery.

The community of Old Believers
Community of Old Believers

The territory is enriched by three different churches and other old buildings and in the middle stands the church “dedicated to the bells”.

The church dedicated to the bells

Only one church with its colorful cupolas was open but that was enough to make me happy.

The church of Saint Nicholas
Inside the church Saint Nicholas

Behind it stands the cemetery.  This is a religious place for the old believers. Old believers are orthodox people who did not agree with the reforms imposed by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow in the 17th century, which were mainly aimed at aligning church rituals and the texts with the Greek  Orthodox church. The old believers were persecuted and many of them died for their faith.

view from the back
Church Saint Nicholas view from the back

Leaving this beautiful site behind me, I headed back to Taganskaya metro but this time by bus. I was now on my way to meet Russian friends at the Grand Cafe Mania on Loubyanka and I really appreciated spending a cosy afternoon in their company.

Since we had a little snack in the middle of the afternoon, I thought that I should only plan a light dinner for later on. I really fancied those delicious tomatoes produced in one of those ‘Stans’ (the Central Asian countries south of Russia), so I decided to go to Danielovski market. This is an amazing place for people who love good food. Under one roof, you can find every thing, beautiful displayed and organised.

Danielovski market from fresh fruits
to delicious dried fruits.

In the metro, I even enjoyed listening to a young violinist in the metro. I was a very happy Teddy Bear on my way back home.

Friday and Saturday many young musicians entertain commuters

Amman and GoodBye to Jordan

The next morning I set off to explore Amman by foot.  Amman doesn’t have a great reputation amongst travellers, but for one day I found it an interesting and very welcoming place. First I climbed the steep hill just behind the hotel to the Citadel, a hilltop with a view of all of Amman and yet more Roman ruins. After Umm Qays and Jerash, the few remaining standing columns and Byzantine church were not that impressive, but the view was nice and there was a pleasant early morning breeze. 

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From the Citadel I strolled back down into the valley on the other side of the hill and then up more steps and another steep hill to the modern art institute called Dara Al Funun, which turned out to be an unexpected highlight of Amman.  The steps led past some cool shops and coffee houses and interesting street art, before reaching the entrance to the institute, where there were Byzantine ruins in a peaceful garden.

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After the bustle of the city centre the place was idyllic and I sat down to enjoy the peace for a few minutes.  Then yet more steps led up to some beautiful old buildings – built in 1920s Venetian Mediterranean style according to my guidebook.  The buildings housed Jordanian modern art of various styles. I had a look around and then settled down on a beautiful shady terrace to a cold lemon juice from the café next door.  A little fountain burbled quietly in the centre and hummingbirds buzzed around the bright red flowers.  Suddenly the quiet was broken by the call to late morning prayers from the cities mosques – a magical sound that echoed around the valley.

Fully refreshed, I headed back into town.  Next I visited an old traditional house in the town centre, before sitting down to lunch at Hashem restaurant.  This restaurant is a simple but famous place that specialises in traditional Jordan cooking, and is hugely popular – including with the royal family who occasionally pop in to snack there. I was lucky to get a table in the alley leading the main restaurant and could watch the crowds of Jordanians and tourists making their way in and out. I had falafel (the speciality of the restaurant), a big bowl of hummus, and mint tea, which cost $5 in total.  I don’t normally eat lunch so it was big effort to get up from table and climb yet more steps to explore Rainbow street during the day and do souvenir shopping.  

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I then headed back into town and took in the atmosphere of the souks – my favourite was the fruit and vegetable souk with its brightly coloured displays of fresh produce and interesting smells of spices.

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 I had been walking for five hours, so next it was back to the hotel for a rest, pack my things, and order a taxi for a 5am departure the next morning.  

For my early evening aperitif, I found a nearby hotel with a roof terrace and enjoyed my last Jordanian sunset over the city with a cold Karakale beer. Whilst writing my blog I enjoyed listening to the call to prayers for the last time.  In the bar I met some surprising teddy-sized friends……….

 

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I spent my last night in Jordan in a trendy bar with a beer and a final bowl of hummus. My flight back home was early next morning. I checked the London weather forecast……… 8C and rain. It didn’t seem that I arrived just over 2 weeks ago – the time had flown past.  In fifteen days, I had explored the desert in a 4×4, hiked through Petra, floated in the Dead Sea, visited some amazing Roman ruins, been scuba driving in the Red Sea and walked in the footsteps of Jesus and Moses.  My trip had taken me to the borders of Jordan with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Israel and Syria. But most of all I remembered the smiles and greetings of “Welcome!” from the many Jordanians I met along the way.  I hope their country remains a beacon of stability and tolerance in a troubled part of the world. 

The countdown begins…

Another day, another huge Jordanian breakfast, after which I just had the energy to get up and walk to the car for the long trip back to Amman. I stopped on the way at Jerash, to visit yet more Roman ruins. Jerash is known as the Pompeii of the East and is a huge extended site with ruins that are much better preserved than at Umm Quays. I ended up driving all the way around the perimeter of the site until I finally found the parking area. Even though there had been a minor terrorist incident here a couple of days before (a madman had injured a few people with a knife), security was very relaxed and I strolled in to the usual Jordanian chorus of “Welcome!” without anyone even checking my bag.
The path in led through the impressive Hadrian’s Gate and then on to a colonnaded forum and huge temple of Zeus sitting on a small hill.

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Next up was the first of two amphitheatres, where for some bizarre reason a Jordanian bagpipe band was playing. There were more tourists than at Umm Quays but the large site swallowed them up with ease and when I reached the northern areas I was completely alone and could take some good photographs.

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I found the second theatre and rested in the shade – the site is very exposed to the sun, but luckily it was a slightly cloudy day and not too hot. After that I visited the Temple of Artemis, one of the highlights of Jerash, but after two days I was becoming saturated by old ruins, no matter how impressive.

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I made it back to the car in the full heat of early afternoon and continued my drive. Next stop was the Royal Automobile Museum on the outskirts of Amman. The previous king of Jordan, English-educated King Hussein, was a serious petrolhead and had built up a huge collection of luxury cars, which now form a museum. I don’t think there was a single brand of car that he did not own, but his favourites seemed to be Mercedes and various British luxury brands.

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I was glad that the museum also contained a teddy-bear sized exhibit.

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I’m not a big car enthusiast (cars are not very useful in the jungle where I live) but I still found the museum interesting because it also charted the history of King Hussein’s reign. He first mounted the throne at age 17, after his father was assassinated, and immediately had to handle the Israel/Arab/Palestine conflicts of the 1970s. There were several attempts on his life, including some that occurred whilst he was driving cars exhibited in the museum. King Hussein survived and over the years became one of the most successful rulers in the Middle East, helping his country through the Arab-Israeli conflict, and then huge influxes of Palestine, Iraqi and Syrian refugees as many neighbouring countries descended into chaos. I suppose this justifies the king of a relatively poor country (no oil!) having such extravagant taste in cars.
Now it was time to return my hire car. Driving south out of Amman to the airport, the traffic became denser and more aggressive. I was determined not to scratch my car in the last few km and drove slowly. At the airport the nice people at Avis forgave the thick layer of dust that had built up over the past two weeks, and the heavy duty workout that the wheels had had on the bumpy roads. I took a taxi back into Amman (and for the first time on the Jordanian roads I was scared…) and checked into a modest hotel, but with an unbeatable location next to yet another Roman theatre. I was just in time to catch the end of the sunset from the hotel’s roof terrace.

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At night I headed out on foot for dinner. Amman was busy with lots of small shops and restaurants and a continual flow of traffic; after the quiet of the countryside I liked rediscovering the buzz of a big city. I discovered that Amman is built on very steep hills and the walk up to “Rainbow Street” was hard work. The route rose through some steep dark backstreets and up a long flight of human-sized steps, so I was ready for dinner. I had booked the fanciest restaurant in town, which was packed, but I made a mistake by not ordering the safe chicken/rice combination and got a plate that turned out to be something like a haggis made of lamb intestines. It wasn’t the best meal I’d had in Jordan, but my motto is “nothing ventured, nothing gained” – otherwise I would not be a real vagabond teddy bear. To make up for the meal I headed up to a nearby rooftop bar (a speciality of Amman) and enjoyed a cold beer, before the walk back to the hotel and bedtime.

 

 

The North of Jordan

I slept well and woke up to admire the view from my bedroom window – in front of me were the Golan heights, which separate Israel and Syria, and just to the left of them was the Sea of Galilee.

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It was a good motivation to get ready for breakfast. In a country that specialises in huge breakfasts, this was the biggest and best yet – yoghurt with honey and cumquat from the hosts’ own garden, delicious fried eggs mixed with tomato and chilli, hot freshly made bread and many different types of jam, ranging from fig to pumpkin.

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Realising that even a bear could not possible eat everything, I ate my fill and then set off in the car to Ajloun, about 90minutes south of Umm Qays.

Due to a mistake in navigation I ended up going through Irbid, Jordan’s second biggest city, so the route was not particularly scenic. I was just getting bored driving when the majestic castle of Ajloun appeared on top of a hill before me.

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It was a very impressive site, and more intact than the other castles I had seen in Jordan. It was built by the Ottomans to defend themselves from the crusaders, with the first work started by Saladin in 1184, and with different rulers adding on bits in later centuries. Unlike the crusader castles, Ajloun was never taken. Inside, there was the usual entertainment of clambering up and down stairs and passageways, and great views out over the surrounding countryside and city.

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After the castle, I headed a few km away from the city to a nature reserve and made a short hike. It was probably the first place I’d been in Jordan that wasn’t completely dry, and the trail wound past oak, carob and pistachio trees. I also disturbed a small snake sunbathing on the path; despite my small size, he was more scared than I was and immediately disappeared into the bushes.

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After the reserve, I took a different route back to Umm Qays; this was a better choice than the rather dull direct road, and much of the driving time I enjoyed fine views over deep wadis running down from the mountains into the Jordan river valley.

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I reached Umm Qays at around 2 o’clock, in the hottest part of the day, and went to visit the Roman ruins lying on top of the hill overlooking the village. In Roman and Byzantine times, Umm Qays was a large and thriving city. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the 8th century, after which the Ottomans built their own village on top of parts of it. Some of the ruins have three layers of construction – Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman. I first walked down the long and wide main street, taking in the grand scale of the ruins and the scenery.

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I explored the caves in a Roman mausoleum buried under a Byzantine church, and then visited the well-preserved amphitheatre, where I stopped and drained a whole bottle of mineral water in one go.

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After a bit more exploring I sat down to an early dinner at a well-known restaurant located inside the historic site. The place had an amazing view over the Golan Heights and Sea of Galilee, and my dinner was very good – fresh lemon juice with mint, lamb kebabs and lamb stew (finally a change from chicken!).

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I enjoyed yet another fine Jordanian sunset and the changing colours of the Sea of Galilee. As the last traces of the sunset finally faded, the restaurant closed for the day; I hunted down the place where I had parked my car (not so easy in the dark and on such a big site) and returned to the guesthouse to digest dinner, eat some more delicious cumquats, and write my blog.20191109_165559

 

 

 

Back to real Jordan

As soon as I woke up the next day, I headed back to the Dead Sea beach to try this unique experience for one last time. At this early hour, there was only one other hotel guest there. Remembering from the previous day that trying to move or swim is pointless, I just floated on my back. I lowered my head back into the water, so that my ears were submerged, and closed my eyes. It was a great, relaxing feeling. Occasionally I could sense little waves rippling through the water as more guests arrived, but otherwise all I could feel was the warm sun on my tummy. I floated until the heat of the sun became uncomfortable, and then slowly paddled to shore to get ready for check-out and to have breakfast.
Back on the road in my car I felt a sense of excitement to be seeing the real Jordan again. Although the Dead Sea resort was an exceptional place, and unique in the world, it felt unnatural to have this little piece of extreme luxury and greenery amid the dust and bareness of the rest of the Dead Sea valley.
My first stop today was the site of Jesus’ baptism at Bethany-beyond-Jordan on the river Jordan. The Jordanian/Israeli border runs through the middle of the Jordan river, meaning that the site is in a guarded border zone and can only be visited as part of a guided tour.

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Jesus’ baptism site was an important pilgrim destination for the first Christians, but its location was forgotten during the period when the Ottomans controlled Jordan. The site was only rediscovered during mine-clearing operations in 2003, a few years after the Jordan/Israel peace accord. Archaeologists excavated the ruins of 5 ancient Byzantine churches (very little remains of them now) and by comparing them to descriptions in the Bible and from records left by early pilgrims, proved that this was indeed the place where John the Baptist baptised Jesus.

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Today, the river is sluggish, dull brown and not very wide. Since Biblical times it has changed course meaning that exact site of Jesus’ baptism is now on dry land and in Jordan. There is not much to see but I found the story of rediscovery of the site really interesting and somehow I could still feel the unique history of this special place. Next we visited a new Greek Orthodox church and a stretch of the river Jordan where on both the Jordanian and Israeli banks, modern-day pilgrims were queuing up for their own, 21st century baptism. A little floating rope in mid-river marked the border between the two countries.

 

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From Bethany I took a very scenic road running along the side of a bright green wadi to reach the city of Salt.

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My ears popped as I climbed up from 380m below sea level to the city. Salt used to the capital of Jordan in Ottoman times, but was frozen in time when Amman was chosen as the new Arab capital. There are lots of pretty Ottoman buildings and little winding pedestrian walkways that snake up the steep hills of the old town, past ancient mosques and churches.

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I also met a fellow teddy-traveller for the first ever time in Jordan.

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It was very interesting, but a shame that the city was obviously very poor and many of the buildings were in bad condition. I strolled around for about an hour then visited a typical coffee shop on the main square, where the mineral water claimed to come from Mecca. The coffee was so strong that on regaining my car, I found that all my fur hairs were standing on end!

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From Salt it was 2 hours’ drive to my next stay, a bed and breakfast in the small city of Umm Qays, near the Syrian border in the North. The road might have been very pretty, but it was late in the day and I was driving, so I could not property appreciate it. I had to drive the last 30 minutes in the dark, and very relieved when I finally found the place where I was staying.
The managers of the B+B invited me to their house for dinner. As usual in Jordan, the food was copious and tasty (even though it was yet another version of chicken and rice). Although it was very interesting to eat in a real Jordanian home, the event was a little awkward. The hosts had already eaten and after putting the food down on the low table, watched me eat it on my own. Conversation was very limited, since the hosts’ English was very limited, and my Arabic was non-existent. Figuring that I was intruding and that by Jordanian standards it was quite late (9 o’clock), I had dessert, drank a glass of tea, thanked my hosts and then headed back to the guesthouse to write my blog and get ready for bed.

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From the Red Sea to the Dead Sea

Feeling guilty from the relaxed past two days, I got up early and did a really long swim in the hotel’s big pool. Then I flopped down on to a sun lounger on the beach and relaxed until check out time. My next stop was a spa resort on the Dead Sea, which was about 4 hours’ driving away.
At first the road was extremely dull – flat featureless desert, no water, trees or hills. There were very few cars and almost no habitations. The sky was hazy – probably from dust, adding to a feeling of complete isolation. It was hard to concentrate on such a monotonous road, so every time I saw a service station (only twice!) I stopped and bought myself an iced coffee to stay awake. I thought about the migration of the Jews from Egypt under Moses, who passed through this inhospitable terrain thousands of years ago, and wondered how they survived.
Finally the road reached the Dead Sea, and became more interesting. The sea itself is not pretty – flat and grey – but is lined on the Jordanian side by impressive mountains and occasional splashes of green where a wadi runs out from the mountains into the sea. I stopped to have a look at one of these wadis.

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The Dead Sea is formed by water mostly from the Jordan river. It is the lowest place on planet earth, meaning that the water arriving there has nowhere to go and can only evaporate in the desert sun, leaving salt behind.

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Over thousands of years the water in the Dead Sea has become eight time saltier than sea water. I drove along the side of the sea, passing a few villages and also factories producing minerals from the sea’s salt, and just before sunset arrived at a place called Suweimeh, where several luxury spa resorts have been built. I checked in to my room; although I had a great view of the Dead Sea, there was no spectacular sunset today. Instead the sun simply faded into a thick bank of grey mist, as if it was tired from its exertions baking the desert. I spent the rest of the day exploring the huge resort, which is built on several levels with an artificial river splashing down through various swimming pools.

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After the dryness of the surrounding desert, the trees and flowers of the resort felt a bit surreal. I then enjoyed Happy Hour and lounging in the various hot tubs and saunas in the spa. Like the sun, I too felt strangely tired and didn’t even feel hungry enough for dinner. Instead I collapsed into bed and slept soundly.

The next day I had breakfast quickly and then headed straight down to the hill to the beach, to try swimming in the Dead Sea for myself. The water feels thick and oily as you wade into it, and the salt stings any small cuts or scrapes you might have. Being a bear I was glad that I didn’t need to shave, because they say the water really irritates the small cuts you get from shaving. As I went in a bit further, the buoyancy of the salty water lifted my little legs off the bottom and I found myself floating on the surface.

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It was hard to find a stable position – when I tried to swim on my tummy the sea would roll me around onto my back and push me up out of the water. Finally I realised that the best thing to do was just lie perfectly still on my back and bask in the morning sun.

 

Unlike normal sea water no movement at all from my arms or legs was needed to stay afloat. All around me other, human, guests were venturing into the water. Some were happily reading their guidebooks whilst bobbing around on their back.

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Others were wallowing and rolling like I did when I first dipped in. Yet more human guests had found some black Dead Sea mud and were smearing it over their bodies, claiming that it was somehow “good for you”. I didn’t believe this and didn’t want to get my fur dirty, so I left them to it.

After I had floated around for half an hour, I got a bit bored. I was tired of watching silly mud-covered humans, and now that the sun was higher in the sky, it was very hot. I left the beach and spent the rest of the day trying the resort’s many different swimming pools, popping back to the cool of my room during the hottest part of the day to write my blog, whilst the temperature outside hovered around 35C.

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In the evening I found a nice bar with a view over the Dead Sea, and today I was rewarded with a proper sunset.

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I enjoyed it with a cold beer, trying to ignore a swarm of flies that seemed to have been following me around the resort for the whole afternoon.

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Aqaba and the Red Sea

Next morning and with regret, I said goodbye to Saleem at the campsite and jumped into the 4×4 for a ride to the village. From there it was a short drive in my car to Aqaba, where I checked into a luxurious hotel. Fortunately I could check in early and from my room there was a brilliant view of the Red Sea.

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I spent the rest of the day enjoying the hotel’s big swimming pool and the much warmer water of the sea.

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I put on my swimming mask and managed to see a few fish, some of who came up and looked at me curiously – I don’t suppose they see many teddy bears swimming here.

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In the evening I tried the hotel’s open air jacuzzi.

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I went for dinner in the Royal Yacht Club next door to the hotel, where the portions were enormous and the food very tasty – it was a nice change to finally eat fish, after a diet almost entirely of chicken, rice and humous.
Since Jordan’s coastline is only 26km long – a narrow strip sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Israel – it makes sense to have the Royal Yacht Club here. King Abdullah is also a keen diver, so there is a Royal Diving Club too. The Red Sea is reputed to be one of the world’s best diving locations, so on the next day I set off to a beach club a few km out of town to go diving. Outside the city of Aqaba, the road rather strangely passed through a big container port before leading to a series of hotels and beach clubs. I hadn’t been diving for over 15 years so I was lucky to find a diving shop willing to do a short refresher course and a couple of dives, and with bear-sized equipment. It turned out that I really need the refresher course, since diving equipment had changed a bit and there were new signals for communicating underwater. The instructor made me a do a few exercises in shallow water – clearing water from my mask, taking my regulator (the thing you breathe from) out of my mouth and finding it again with my eyes shut, and achieving neutral buoyancy in the water. He then deemed me ready to go explore the wreck of a sunken cargo ship which was lying nearby in slightly deeper water. King Abdullah is such a keen diver that he has ordered various objects to be sunk in the sea near the shore; there they form a base for small coral reefs to form, which makes for good diving.
After exploring the ship, we surfaced, had lunch, and I did some snorkelling whilst waiting out the required safety intereval before I could dive again. Our next dive was to visit two more objects the King had had dropped in the sea – a military tank, and a large Hercules transport airplane. There were lots of colourful fish and the instructor even took me to swim inside the wreck of the plane; in the cockpit they had put a skeleton with a pilot’s helmet. I was very happy that the two dives passed without major problems and made sure that I got my dive logbook stamped with a record of the day’s activities, to make it easier to book diving next time.
Sorry no pictures of all this – I don’t have an underwater camera. Instead here are some pictures of sunset back at my nice hotel.

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