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