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I just visited Jordan for the first time in six years and had forgotten how much I like the place. While it has gotten significantly more expensive, food costs remain slightly below the United States, the people are almost jarringly friendly, and the coffee, food, and sweets are excellent.

I spent most of the week in Amman, staying at the quasi-new Kempinski Hotel. While it's fine, I would recommend the Four Seasons, Sheraton, and Hilton--in that order--before it (though to be fair, the memories of those places, too, are six years old).

I ended up eating two dinners at the Orthodox Club in Abdoun--once with a Jordanian friend/regular, once with a crowd of (mostly) Americans. Probably built (and last decorated) in the 1960s, the fact that the massive indoor dining room and its equally massive terrace were half full on a Tuesday night and three-quarters full on a Wednesday shows that it's pretty darn popular. When you walk into the restaurant, you are immediately bombarded by the strong scent of fruit tobaccos burning in the countless nargilas around the room, which are constantly, and endlessly, tended by men with tongs and buckets of burning embers. It's not a fancy or high-end place, more of a community center with terrific food. I never saw a menu because my friend ordered for us the first night, and we had a set menu the second. But the mezze was across-the-board excellent. Favorites included the falafel, lebneh with garlic, fattoush, what we know as baba ghanoush (but which they call muttabl), and what they know as baba ghanoush (but I don't know what we call it; a vinegared eggplant, tomato, and sweet pepper not-quite-salad/not-quite-puree). The kebab entrees are fine, but if I go back, I'll just dive into the small plates. I recommend getting a quarter or half bottle of arak, which is tended as regularly and with as much care as the nargila; the bottle is decanted, and each glass that is drained gets replaced by a fresh glass mixed with the proper proportion of water and ice. Nothing goes better with the food, and the beer and wine suck. I don't know the prices; you do not need to be a member or have a reservation to dine.

Fakhr al-Din, at the second circle, is a well-known place and a lovely restaurant with the requisite foyer of pictures of the king and queen and other dignitaries dining there. When you sit down, your table will already be set with a garish centerpiece of vegetables about the size of a Thanksgiving turkey, with carrot sticks, pepper slices, and whole small zucchini jutting out of an entire massive head of romaine lettuce; also, a gorgeous sliced tomato, olive oil, and more of that awesome lebneh with garlic. After a while, a server came around and asked if we wanted our tomatoes "prepared"--well, sure!--so he spread each slice with the lebneh, sprinkled them with sumac, and then drizzled the lot with olive oil. A dining companion who said she was "scared" of tomatoes (don't ask) LOVED these. Each of our appetizers was excellent--Lebanese sweet sausage, shanklish, hummus with lamb, and kibbee nayyeh (this had excellent flavor, but the texture was a bit too pasty for my taste). The server had specifically recommended the shanklish and kibbee nayyeh as a great match for our bottle of arak, and he was right. For mains, one of us said she was too stuffed to order, one ordered lamb in grape leaves, and two ordered the lamb in yogurt. Oops. They serve family style. Note: don't order for yourself, order for the table. That said, the lamb in yogurt was spectacular--the dish of the week--and we ate both orders. And the lamb with grape leaves was also very good. We could have lingered forever, but unfortunately, you DO need reservations at this place, especially on a Thursday (the weekend is Friday-Saturday), and we were told when we called that we could only keep the table for an hour and 15 minutes. After paying, and then waiting in the foyer for powder room visits, we were offered gorgeous, free Turkish coffee with however many refills we wanted. Dinner for four, with too much food and plenty of drinks, was around $140.

So we went across the street to Grappa, which looks like a promising dinner place, but I'll have to check that out next time, as we were stuffed to the gills and perfectly happy using them for their lovely courtyard and a few after-dinner drinks.

On my day off, I wandered up to Um Qays, Ajloun, and Jerash. The food at the tourist restaurant at the top of Um Qays is perfectly acceptable, and I had a dandy fettoush (I have a thing for fettoush) and Coke for $3; the view is stunning and worth dealing with the bizarre service to relax for a spell after a dusty walk through the ruins.

I wish more tourist sites in the world were like Ajloun, where you can get a perfect Turkish coffee (I also have a thing for Turkish coffee) or a bag of fruit for a dinar (about a buck). [Why don't more places do this? Seriously! I now know that after a day of walking through tourist sites, I don't want a hot dog or a bag of chips or some such nonsense. I want a bag of cherries, warm from the sun. Glorious.] I didn't eat at the tourist joint at the Jerash ruins, but man alive, that site is exceptional. It has to be up there with the best Roman ruins in the world, and may possibly eclipse Petra on the list of Jordan sights to see.

I hope to get back to Jordan before another six years have passed. Next time: Wadi Rum!

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I spent a brief two days in Jordan, primarily to visit Petra, but swung up to Amman for an overnight stop.

Dead Sea

The Jordanian side of the Dead Sea contains a number of resorts, including several US based hotels (The Israel side of the Dead Sea has a couple spa type places). The resorts seemed to be primarily at the Northern end of the Sea. A kilometer or so South of the resorts is a public beach with a modest entrance fee for non-Jordanians. Regardless, go swim in the Dead Sea...it's tons of fun.

Petra

Petra is amazing. Totally worth the trip.

The town of Petra is undergoing a tourist-town boom. We stayed at the Movenpick, which is conveniently located steps from the entrance to the Petra archeaological site. The main restaurant at Movenpick offers a mix of Western and Middle Eastern buffet. The first floor of the hotel has nice lounge and bar, but service was terrible...like 20 minutes to get two beers terrible. Breakfast was included in the hotel price, whicvh again was Western buffet style. Overall the food was fine, but it is basically hotel food.

Red Cave Restaurant - Located on the main tourist drag by the Movenpick, Red Cave offers Bedouin cuisine...we ordered a selection of mezze, a vegetarian Bedouin dish, and the mixed grill. Everything was perfectly fine. The bottom line is Petra receives a lot of foreign tourist and most of the restaurants we saw in Petra cater to that.

Tips for Petra: After paying for a ticket and entering the Petra complex, it is about a 1 mile walk to the actual Petra archeaological site, entrance fee is 50 Dinar or approx. $70 (1 Dinar:1.4 USD). Enter the site early. We entered around 7:00am and had the site pretty much to ourselves. The tourist buses from Israel start arriving around 10am or so and by noon the site is choked with tour groups. Wear several layers...when we arrived it was quite chilly but by noon it was hot, bring protection from the sun, wear comfortable walking/hiking shoes etc.. There is actually quite a bit of Bedouin infrastructure inside Petra, gift "shops", cafes, etc. However, I would suggest bringing plenty of water and food to snack on, in fact, it is advisable to avoid drinking tap water...stick to the bottled stuff. You can see the "greatest hits" of Petra in a couple hours, the main archeaological sites are contained in close proximity to each other. However, there is plenty to see along the back trails and the whole complex sprawls. One of the main attractions in Petra is the Monastery at the far end of the complex. Just be warned that it is about a 750 foot verticle climb to get to the Monastery, which will take you 30-45 minutes...but it is totally worth it. We spent 6 hours on site but you could easily spend two days exploring.

Amman

We did a quick overnight stop off in Amman, so we didn't get to really explore much of the city. We wandered along Rainbow St. (near the 1st Circle), which has plenty of cafes, boutiques, and several small "scenic overlook" type parks with views of the city and the Citadel. Cafe culture seems to be a big deal in Amman and we stopped in at the Turtle Green Tea Bar for some coffee. Overall Amman seemed like a pretty cool city and wished we had another day or so to look around. All the various cafes looked fun!

Other random insights. The pita bread and indeed much of the bread in Israel is really good. The pita in Jordan is not much better than U.S. supermarket pita. Weird.

Travel Note: If you are driving around Jordan, make sure your passport is readily available, esp. along the highways since there are random security check points. Also stay close to the speed limits, the Jordian police are sticklers about speeding. Also they enjoy placing large speed bumps in the middle of the highways, esp. as you enter and leave towns.

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There's also a "Petra at night" option where you sit in front of the treasury, drink tea, and listen to the oud. I enjoyed that quite a bit. I also really enjoyed Aqaba but couldn't give any specific recommendations it's been so long. Western Amman is a good timein moderate doses, there's a trendy place called The Living Room that sticks out in my memory. Somewhere close to 2nd circle (which is also where the best shwarma stand in the city is located).

Also-- I think I went to Fakhr al-Din four times in my six month stay. A fun and delicious place.

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