A Travellerspoint blog

One week in

Amman-Frankfurt

semi-overcast
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Time for the main event. I walked past a number of swimming pools before reaching the actual Dead Sea. The is a faux beach above compete with deck chairs and huts before you go down to the craggy brown shore. I was glad I brought thongs. In I went keen to see how buoyant one can get. The slightly (naturally) oily but very salty water meant my chest was always out of the water and floating on my back most of body was exposed. It was quite freaky, particularly as just on the other shore was Israel and the rocket/missile conflict could be faintly heard as part of the recent flare up. I wondered if it was possible to drown here, apparently it is and keeps the lifeguard in business there – obese Americans try to float on their stomachs and don’t realise that their legs are the most buoyant part of the body so their head goes under and they are unable to right themselves. The mud is said to have therapeutic properties so that was applied dried then washed off by many beach goers. Once I was out I was glad there were beach showers as the water leaves a peculiar feeling. It was soon dinner time and after an unsatisfying self catered lunch, after observing the horrendous buffet prices, I had to cave for the cheaper room service options, being located in the middle of nowhere with no transport. Had an early night due to adjusting to the time zone shift and having poor sleep on the 15 hour plane journey the previous night.

Breakfast was pretty average but I took the free food opportunity with zeal. Then I left for Amman by a very pricey taxi (it cost more than the ride from the airport). Traffic was light due to the public holiday for Islamic New Year. I arrived at the hotel about an hour later and got freaked out by the lift that went down from the lobby – the building is on the side of a hill, I entered at the top. One of the main reasons I choose the hotel was the location, next to the main bus station. However, this closed a ‘few months ago’ and was now a major construction site for a huge multi billion dollar urban redevelopment project. This shattered my plans for budget travel to Petra the following day so I organised a car and driver at the hotel. I then hit the streets of Amman and headed straight down (literally) to downtown. Amman is situated around 7 largish hills and this coupled with extremely limited public transport makes it hard to get around without taxis, which thankfully are quite affordable. All taxis I take are tuned to the BBC worldservice in Arabic, which is different from the televsion situation where CNN is the only English channel available across the country (and apparently the region). First stop was the Roman theatre and forum which has amazing acoustics, despite being designed thousands of years ago. It was good to back in a city with people and regaining some independence in comparison to a resort. However walking the streets I had to be careful with the local culture regarding women, despite it being a relatively progressive city with about half the woman not wearing headscarves I had to remember no to make eye contact or talk to them alone, as this could cause consequences for them, not for me – the perks of being a single male traveller in the middle east. I then took a cab up to the Hercules Citadel, which had more Roman ruins and a Byzantine church, but the best part were the fantastic views of the city. I was happy to see these remnants of ancient western civilisation as a sort of consolation for not being able to see similar things in my original planned stop in Greece. My time there coincided with the time for the call to afternoon prayer that was deafening and echoed across the hills of the city. I imagine the Islamic world was much quieter before electricity arrived. I also discovered that all the buildings look so similar because they must all use the same boring light stone on their exteriors. The journey back to the hotel was longer than anticipated as major roads were closed to try and deter further protests about the Gaza airstrikes that had peacefully occurred the day earlier. Many embassies were also heavily guarded. I hit the sack early as I had a predawn start the next morning to begin the 2.5 hour drive to Petra.

I woke and was one of the first at breakfast, which was quite good with many pancakes on offer and a make-your-own-roll-for-lunch station. I waited for about half an hour before the driver showed, apparently due to the rain and fog that began overnight. We left only to be quickly snarled in rush hour traffic. We made it to the main highway down the centre of the country and drove through large patches of fog, which made me glad I took my jacket. The drive was long but the weather improved as we ventured south and it was a nice opportunity to see the countryside. Mosques are like churches (duh) in Europe in that they are everywhere, every tiny community has one and the landscape is dotted with them like mobile phone towers. We turned off the main road for Petra and this became windier and began to descend quite rapidly. The modern Petra is full of tourist facilities all perched on the side of a hill. The gateway to the UNESCO heritage site approached and I purchased my entrance ticket (at typical prices similar to Angkor). The walk began past significant donkey stables where I was offered rides numerous times. The landscape is immediately striking largely consisting of various coloured sandstone. It reminded me of the Kimberley region. The path soon narrowed in the Siq, which is obviously what the Dolby Digital canyon trailer is imitating. This then lead out to the most iconic of Petra’s sights, the Treasury (apparently as seen in an Indiana Jones movie?). This hand carved rock edifice was very impressive but I was dismayed to find the stairs leading up to a higher vantage point we closed for renovation. I then dodged more tour groups and glimpsed the theatre (bigger than the one in Amman) and headed off the beaten track up to the High Place of Sacrifice. Thanks to my trusty guidebook these steep stone steps provided a fantastic view over the first part of the historic site. Many people were shocked that I had no guide (there were many signs at various points saying don’t go this way without a guide, meh guide schmide) and used no travel agent. However the guide book was geared to a much older audience and I managed to cover routes in at least half the time it suggested. Once at the top I took a moment to catch my breath and rehydrate before going down the back. This route lead past many caves that were still inhabited by Bedouin tribes people so I couldn’t be too inquisitive. Many sell handicrafts in all manner of places through out old Petra. Once I reached the riverbed I was finally alone in this grand place. I almost got lost locating the main part of ancient Petra but I found it and got great views of the East Cliff temples. I then quickly made my way further into the site, past restaurants (?!) to the stairs leading up to the monastery. These stairs were narrow and fat old white people (many Spanish) clogged the road, which was made worse by the even fatter older whiter people on donkeys. It was quite a challenge to avoid them all plus their shit. The Europeans would stagger a distance then take a smoko to regain their strength. I finally made it to the top to find a less ornate version façade but it presented an impressive optical illusion of size. One savvy entrepreneur had established a small café overlooking it and monopolised the seating. I quickly dashed down as my driver had indicated that if I stayed too long the (already expensive) rate would go up. I walked the 5 km as quickly as I could, even considering a donkey cart or camel ride but I was usually faster than them anyway. After weaving past masses of tour groups disaster struck, something that never happens to me, I got a very painful cramp in my quad. I took a sit down and gave it a quick massage before pressing on, as I had no choice due to the time constraints. Thankfully my expert physio skills worked wonders and I reached the entrance just in time. On my exit I noticed many more tour groups descending into Petra and was thankful that I began in the morning as they would not be able to see half of the stuff in a couple of hours, as the site closes at sunset. After buying some lunch (3 chocolate bars and a large bottle of water) I collapsed in the car and we set off for Amman. The drive was relatively uneventful except that our vehicle was stopped ‘randomly’ 3 times by the police. One of these stops involved the Lebanese driver getting a written form in Arabic (fine of some sort?). The highway patrol here seem to be quite keen on filling government coffers, resorting to such charming tactics as placing speed cameras in parked old cars. These stops cost some time and we finally made it back to the hotel after dark. I was far too tired to walk anywhere for dinner in hilly Amman so I resorted to room service and ordered a local dish which came in a big portion size and was very hearty with lots of meat and vegetables, just what I needed after a big day of conquering ancient monuments. Another early night was had due to an earlier start the next day to get to the airport.

I rose too early for a hotel feed so straight to the airport I went. Cabs are plentiful here with one in every four cars being a taxi. The hospitable driver (like most Jordanians) offered me coffee/tea, cigarette or after refusing all these “you want woman?”. Smoking here makes European laws look draconian. You can smoke everywhere here, inside offices, restaurants, shops etc. The drive south to the airport was quick but as we went on the fog kept getting thicker and thicker which worried me as I had a connection in Frankfurt with little room for error. But then again running madly around Frankfurt airport is something I have become accustomed to. After going through security to get into the building checkin was simple and soon I was upstairs in the newly refurbed Crown Class lounge. Touted as the second biggest in the Middle East (I wonder who has the biggest…?) it was quite impressive and I gorged myself on all manner of food offerings to keep costs down; I currently have one paid meal per day. This was also the first bar I had seen in the country, which is apparently not a dry country; though I did not seek it out. The view slowly improved as the sun rose dispersing the heavy fog. The entertainment here was superior to Cathay lounges, which merely featured a transplanted economy class size seatback screen, including the same content, onto a business desk. Here there was a large flatscreen surrounded by a small ringed couch attached to top quality headphones ready to play a multitude of entertainment. There were flights going to places across the region including Baghdad, see you really can go anywhere with Oneworld. I headed down to the gate and guessed we would be bussed to the plane judging by the absence of a plane and jetbridge. The airport is undergoing a tripling of capacity and as such is in a bit of disarray, for example we went down to the bus via an emergency exit stairwell. This was the slowest airport bus ride I have ever taken and was made even more excruciating when I later observed we went the long way around. The parking areas were quite bizarre, presumably due to the construction, with aircraft parked in unused taxiways. The entire RJ A340 fleet was present in this manner. I sighted our plane to observe there was a last minute switch to an A321. This slight increase in size was puzzling with only approximately 25 passengers, including a disproportionate number of screaming brats. There were only 2 crown class passengers so I assume that this route, like the hong kong-bangkok segment, is not covering costs. However, less is better for my fellow passengers and me so we left quickly and on time. However things became a little worrying as we flew relatively slow and low over Israel as I watched the ETA grew later minute by minute. Thankfully we picked up time on the remainder of the flight and arrived slightly early. In a somewhat unusual situation the royal Jordanian narrowbody fleet all has AVOD PTV’s, but its longhaul widebody fleet only has mainscreen. I availed myself of this nice little system for the journey, which had a very similar rhythm to a Sydney-perth flight. I promptly disembarked into terminal 1, a rarity for a oneworld airline. To my surprise we walked right into the departure concourse, no separation like many other international terminals that require security screening of all transit passengers. I reached immigration and was viewed more of an annoyance than something warranting attention, my passport was not even scanned into the computer, it almost wasn’t even stamped! Then one is thrown out into the main part of terminal featuring checkin and shops, which was not what I was expecting. I guess it expedites things for business travellers and those with no checked luggage. There were clear signs to the baggage claim area which required going back into a passenger only zone (no checking of this though) where my bag arrived soon enough in a seemingly quiet time for arrivals, with customs officers looking rather bored. I then went onto automatic pilot and reached the fernbahnhof with plenty of time to spare. I went to DB lounge (travelling 1st class) for a bit then went to the freezing (literally) platform and got in position. The series 1 ICE ran perfectly on time and I lamented at wasted $5 on seat reservations as I had the entire car to myself. The journey to Koblenz was on a high speed line only at the beginning before slowing as we ventured into the scenic Rhineland. The photographs my parents had shown me a couple of months ago burst into life with cruise boats passing old churches and castles in various states of repair in the relatively clear winter afternoon. We also passed several vineyards cultivated on ridiculously steep hillsides with strange little (small train?) tracks running down up and down them for servicing the property. The change in depressing Koblenz Hbf was smooth and the connecting IC appeared quickly so I didn’t freeze too much on the platform. Again I had a whole compartment to myself, though this may have been because the heating didn’t really function well in it. We passed through Cochem (Mosel) and continued to follow the river. The sun began to fade and darkness had well and truly fallen by the time I reached Luxembourg, which was a jumpstart to my rusty French, after practicing German on the train and at the airport. There was light drizzle here as I navigated through the smallish station undergoing renovation. The hotel was a cinch to locate and I swiftly ditched my bags to find some food and what every man wants on New Years Eve, a beer (even more since coming from the middle east). I was dealt a double blow with the supermarket being closed and the few shops in the station also closed for the festivities. I ventured up the main drag to find the usually reliable Maccas even closed! This was worrying as they are usually open 24hours in big centres and it wasn’t even that late. I thought I was in luck when I saw the big red/white Q of quick, but it too was shut. I was getting hungry and running out of options. I passed numerous cafes and restaurants of all varieties willing to spend whatever was necessary to get a descent feed but none were open, not even the late night stalwart, the gyro/kebab stores. Finally I found culinary salvation in the most obvious of places, the local Chinese restaurant. Why didn’t I think of this earlier, I thought? They were happy to see me too as I was their fourth customer of the day. I ordered some takeaway and downed a local brew while I waited, which was very good (Bofferding). The food was not the cheapest but I was desperate and it was a generous portion and the beer was cheaper than the ripoff minibar, but alas not as cheap as a local supermarket (but cheaper than anywhere at home!). I hot footed it back to my lodging, scoffed the food and eagerly awaited the year to come; listening and watching people set off firecrackers all over the place and witnessing for the first time a hiccupping drunk.

Posted by paceway 01:05 Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

The story so far

Perth-Sydney-Hong Kong-Amman

sunny
View RTW on paceway's travel map.

The whole family got up early and to say goodbye to me at the airport. It was kind of strange this happening at the domestic terminal for a change. We didn't have to wait long for my flight to Sydney to board, through the refurbed gate 1 now 767 equipped. During the taxi to the runway I noticed that the lights weren't on in my old 'office', so it looked like they were already struggling without me for one day. The flight was typical Qantas, friendly service, decent food and arrived early. However I did have to sit next to a 'person-of-size’, which was mildly annoying. The movie, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day was OK with Frances McDormand’s always great acting balancing out Amy Adams typical over the top tripe. Upon deplaning I headed straight to the international transfer lounge and only waited a couple of minutes before a bus arrived. The airside bus ride was great fun driving through the expansive Qantas Jetbase where numerous 747-400's were getting some TLC. We also passed some 747-300's getting ready to leave the fleet in a week. The highlight was driving under the wing of a days old A380 which was being prepped for its flight to LAX. Once at T1 it became apparent the $500 million dollar renovation was in full swing with temporary walls and scaffolding everywhere. After breezing through immigration and security the grossly oversized and forced walk through duty free store (some people were actually lost) was disappointing and was something you typically experience in a third world country, not even Perth does that! I quickly located the QP and was slightly underwhelmed, as it is smaller than the domestic one and the view is not as good. However the self serve drinks (everything) including a selection of draught beers was impressive. I decided to explore the terminal before boarding and found some great quiet viewing spots, though the terminal itself is definitely showing its age with a lot of plain painted brick instead of windows. I then proceeded to the gate and coincidently sat in the young-people-travelling-alone section of the gate lounge. I ended up on the plane sitting next to a Danish girl from this encounter who was on her way home but was a nervous flier, often biting her nails due to the frequent turbulence. The Cathay service was a different style to the relaxed Qantas approach. Once seated the customer service manager came and introduced herself to me and gave me a goody bag and later the economy class purser did similar. This was a little embarrassing particularly next to my new friend, particularly considering I didn't see anyone else get this treatment in economy and I had foregone the priority boarding lane to avoid looking like a wanker (I was 10th inline for the regular boarding queue anyway.) The seatbelt was quite odd on this one year old plane with an 'airbag' on half of it and a different take on the clasp/buckle system which took me 30 seconds to master. Once the entertainment system finally was available I proceeded to squeeze as much value as possible out of the airtime. It is similar to the Finnair one but with far greater choice and a nice feature that lets you know if you won't have time to complete watching a programme before the system is switched off; however no touchscreen is an oversight. I watched two taxpayer funded films, The Square (waste of time) and Romulus, My Father (better but still lacking). Then I watched Boy A, which was a great UK film that makes you think. I killed the remaining time with some TV shows. The food was quite good and came with a printed menu, which was good, particularly with 3 choices available for the main meal and 2 for the pre-landing refreshment. I did resent being forced to close my window shade, despite not being on the sun side, as eyeshades were available to anyone for free, particularly as I haven't flown over Queensland in conscious memory and the majority of the flight was in darkness anyway. Landing came soon and was cool to see us landing simultaneously with a parallel take off. We arrived early at the very end of the airport, requiring the people mover to immigration, which was swift. My bag however was not and I began having flashbacks to exactly the same time a year ago where my bag was lost enroute to Toronto. Most passengers from my flight were connecting to Europe so I expected few bags. When I arrived at the carousel bags were coming out steadily then less and less then the conveyor feeding the carousel from below stopped. People came a collected their bags and few remained. I circled the carousel to ensure I didn't overlook mine but it was not there. I began worrying when the next flight was displayed on the carousel screen and began looking for signs to the baggage enquiry desk, I was thinking at least its a hub airport. Then the feeder belt sprung back to life and one solitary bag was delivered, mine with business tag and all. I was relieved and quickly went to find the nearest ATM, which caused further stress when it instructed me to contact my bank. Fucking china construction bank. I worriedly headed for the always reliable HSBC ATM and was finally given access to my money, which I immediately spent on vacating the airport. In no time I was at my hotel a 20m walk from a MTR exit, which had tiny rooms, as I expected, but the price was also tiny, despite the nice harbour views.

I checked out and headed for in town check in at Hong Kong station, however I failed to realise that those airlines using the new 'check-in facility' (T2) were too stingy to pay for in town check in so I had to pay to store my bag at the station while I went to Tung Chung. The queue for Ngong Ping 360 stretched to the MTR station but I had budgeted time for this. 90 mins later (and poorer than I anticipated due to 'special day' pricing) I finally got in a cabin only to have it stop just before the doors closed. The technical problem was fixed 10 minutes later and I was on my way. The views of Chep Lak Kok where worth the price alone. The cabin design had the air vents at seat level that caused freezing buttocks, instead of the typical European design with the vents at foot level. When I arrived at the top the differences between when I was last there were staggering. The whole area had been commercialised and destroyed the authenticity of the place. However there were people everywhere and it was still the original stalls and food huts outside the concrete 'traditional village' that received most patronage despite ongoing site works making access difficult. The constant jack hammering and earth works also killed the vibe. I didn't stay long and was glad I saw it a couple of years earlier. The queue to go down was shorter when I arrived but grew longer after another stoppage for 'technical reasons'. I made it down and headed back on the MTR to collect my bag and then head back again but this time on the Airport Express. The carriage was exclusively mine and I took the T2 exit. The place was empty and had more shops/restaurants than people. There was a short wait before the Cathay staff arrived from the other terminal to open the checkin. The girl was busy typing away until she told me there was 'a problem with my eticket' and to come back in 20 minutes, this was after she had tagged my bag and printed a boarding pass for me. I came back and all was fixed and she gave me the pass and then I was off to immigration. It was a pretty sad empty affair underground at T2 before boarding the people mover to the main terminal. Here I first located the QP, which was quite lacking but was quiet. I then kicked on to The Wing which was much larger and went to the noodle bar where you order fresh noodle dishes that are made to order. Whilst waiting for my noodles I sampled some of their extensive pastry selection and snatched some nicely wrapped gourmet sandwiches for later, oma style, as well as bottled (evian) water. There was also a decent selection of beer available in the self serve fridge. The noodles were great but the whole place, like the QP, lack any kind of ambience due to both lounges being open air just overlooking the low number departure gates, just on opposite sides of the terminal. Next stop was The Pier which was a people mover ride away and closer to my departure gate. It offers the same components as the Wing but in much nicer location, on the arrivals level underneath the departures concourse, separated from the hubbub of the masses and closer to the apron. This enables great views to be had from the long bar and I couldn't help but try another dish from the noodle bar. Another beer later it was time to board, when I got to the gate is was on final call and I was one of the last to board. The flight was about half full enabling everyone to get adequate space, which was helpful as the royal Jordanian legroom is noticeably less than Cathay’s and Qantas'. I sat next to a Chinese woman who has worked in Jordan for 5 years and goes home twice a year, as such she provided some useful local knowledge. The flight and food service were quick and we arrived in Bangkok where most passengers and the crew got off, the few continuing on to Amman remained onboard whilst catering, cleaning etc. was carried out. We were told to unfasten our seatbelts and turn off electronic devices during refuelling, with similar logic to the signs telling you to turn off your mobile phone at petrol stations. Soon enough we were airborne with a more professional crew and fed again then we were allowed some shuteye. I woke to see our flight path cutting right through the heart of India then staying over water (avoiding Iran & Iraq) before crossing the coast in the middle of Saudi Arabia's coastline. The cabin refurb was mostly cosmetic with new seats and lockers but manual dial-style in seat entertainment controls remaining (not even Qantas have these anymore) and with the flip down LCD's only down the centre not on the window sides as well like most airlines that stinge on PTV's. We were fed a cold refreshment (unlike Cathay’s hot one), but it did feature aussie Berri juice and Arla camembert spread, so it's good to know that the Arab boycott on Danish dairy is over. Upon landing we were told the temperature was a welcoming 3 degrees and were ushered into the decrepit 70's tiled terminal. I purchased my visa on arrival (grateful that I bought JOD beforehand as the exchange rate was a rip) and then proceeded to the immigration desk and had my photo taken US style. Then down to baggage claim which was not dissimilar to home in space and time taken. Then headed to taxi counter to get voucher and driver to take me to the Dead Sea. A nice drive with no traffic due to the hour with driving style somewhere in the Malaysia category. Had to pass through a couple of armed checkpoints, which reminded me where I was. The car also got the mirror treatment before being let into the hotel compound and then my bags had to be x-rayed before going into the lobby. After speaking no English the whole trip the driver somehow managed how to say 'Tip?!' perfectly. When I finally arrived at the hotel at 6am was told to wait till 9 for check in, so pulled out some reading material and hunkered down just as the sun began to rise which revealed the amazing geography for the first time. The manager came in about 90 mins later asked me what was happening and then a few minutes later I was escorted to an upgraded room. This place caters to Europeans and gives off a vibe similar to the place we stayed in Marienbad last Christmas with 6 German TV channels, none in English (sans half of DW) and a plethora of ‘therapeutic treatments’ on offer.

The free wifi is very tempermental so more later...

Posted by paceway 20:45 Tagged air_travel Comments (1)

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