Where we’re at: I’m sharing my journey in 2022, including this trip to Jordan in February.
I felt a little rush arriving at Terminal Eight at JFK, the start of so many of my life’s great adventures.
I was about to take off on another one — to my 46th country, the Kingdom of Jordan.
It was a long awaited journey. I’d been wanting to come to Jordan for ages — in fact, I had a trip planned in April of 2020, and I think we all know that didn’t happen — and I’ve spent so much time in neighboring countries it was getting ridiculous I was still lacking this particular passport stamp.
Now, would February have been my first choice to visit? No. But, considering 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 simply couldn’t say no.
With travel just starting to pick back up with gusto in Jordan — they lifted many testing requirements shortly after my arrival — there were only a few direct flights a week from New York, and I timed my travel around them, arriving with breathing room of a few solo days in Amman before joining the tour through Wadi Rum, Petra, and The Dead Sea. This trip would be a relatively brief one at ten days, leaving so much more — like Aqaba — to visit in the future. Because yup, I’m hooked (we’re even launching a full Wander Women Retreat here in 2023!)
The flight, a quick and easy ten-hour hop, was well worth planning around, and the Globus VIP who met me off the plane made the entire process so seamless; I truly felt the hospitality of Jordan from the moment I sat in my Royal Jordanian window seat.
I admit, I knew relatively little about Amman before my trip. I also admit, for me, it wasn’t a “love at first sight” city. Instead, it was one that revealed its charms more slowly. And I liked that.
I really started to fall for Amman in the quiet moments here… café hopping with my laptop and stumbling down windy streets, chancing upon colorful murals, and pausing for that beautiful sound of the call of the mosque, the one that always makes me smile and remember I’m somewhere special.
In fact, my first two pre-tour days and nights to myself, I did little but wander, work and wonder from various charming perches. My first night celebratory mood guided me to Sufra, where I realized I didn’t know a thing about the national cuisine, and simply pointed to several menu items, leading to pure culinary joy.
Jordan, like many Arabic cities, is awash in a rich café culture, more popular often than bars (I mean… outside Beirut, of course!)
So the next day, I set my sights on anywhere with wifi, and found 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 up at Wild Jordan, where I delighted in a haloumi salad and watched the sun set over the hilly city.
The next morning, my time with Globus began! And while I was joining a group, I didn’t have to totally relinquish my me-time — one of the benefits of the company’s off-season Escapes trips is, due to the volume of business they do in their high season tours, they are able to negotiate no single supplement during the low season.
That’s a major perk!
Our first day was a specially arranged add-on for those of us who arrived early to Jordan, and were waiting to merge with the rest of the Globus tour group crossing the border from Israel for a two-country tour.
Personally, I was thrilled for our offbeat start, which kicked off at The Jordan National Gallery. I get a strange thrill from checking out small National Galleries, especially in countries where tourism is often focused on the past. It’s such a unique and sometimes rare peek for tourists into the present.
After our private tour of the museum, we were off to Darat Suhail, an art therapy NGO, to learn about their work in Jordan. The program aims to bring art to those with limited sight — the founder uses scent in pigments to help connect color with other senses — like lemon-scented yellow!
As a former art school survivor, I was pretty fascinated by the project. I also quickly clocked a photo of King Abdullah II and Queen Rania on the wall, which I complimented our host on. “Sixteen minutes, they stayed,” he noted with pride. Far more than just a photo-op, in a country that clearly loves their royal family.
I was already growing to appreciate how Globus tells the story of Jordan’s royal family investment in social services and how that 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, as well as another pour in what felt like one continuous and infinitely refilling cup of mint tea that I drank from arrival through departure in Jordan.
After, we learned from the women who worked there about the various crafts they honed onsite using traditions of the region — ceramics, paper making, fabric dying — and I couldn’t help but snap up a few hand-made cards (and wish that I wasn’t traveling so long, and could have taken more.)
Our tour of offbeat tourist attractions took a turn for the “I’m not sure if this is my jam, exactly?” when we pulled into the Royal Automobile Museum. Full of vehicles from the country’s robust film industry sets and the King’s personal collection, 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 wowed when the Globus team giddily announced a big surprise — we were getting driven back to the hotel in one of the King’s personal vintage cars, by a member of his security team. Talk about hospitality!
After a big day, we were thrilled to return back to our hotel, The Kempinski. My favorite detail of the hotel was one that was hard to capture on camera — clear glass elevators that whisked you along a multi-floor mural of the highlights of the country. It made every trip back to my room a delight.
The next morning, we were off early for the big “must-dos” in Amman, two magnificent ruins — the citadel overlooking the city and a day trip to Jerash.
Jetlag hit me hard on this trip, for some reason, but the crisp morning air, the ubiquitous tea and our guide Osama’s insights helped wake me up. And thank goodness I did, lest I sleepily overlook the highlight of the tiny and unassuming onsite Jordanian Archaeology Museum — an artifact from 6,000 and 8,000 BC believed to be the oldest sculpture created by humans.
Truly, how cool!
Post-Citadel, we wandered down into Amman, passing through a market and past murals, sampling a few local treats along the way.
Eventually, we began the drive north towards Jerash — stopping for lunch and tea at yet another amazing social enterprise employing local women.
It was early days, and I was already smitten with Jordanian food. No big surprise, I suppose, as I love the food of this region — but it felt like each stop in Jordan topped the next.
Hearts full and teacups (momentarily) empty, we arrived to Jerash, one of Jordan’s brightest tourism jewels.
We were in North Jordan, just over the mountain range from Syria. Yet even as I heard Osama saying this was one of the most well-preserved Roman ruins outside of Rome itself, I couldn’t help but think of a destination much geographically closer.
The entire site was giving me major Lebanon vibes, with striking similarities to the ruins of Baalbek, which also felt so grand it seemed shocking to have had them to ourselves (and I promise, I will blog about my retreat to Lebanon someday!)
Like the Giza Pyramids in Egypt, a modern city closely surrounds Jerash. But inside the walls, only a great guide and an imagination are needed to bring an ancient one to life.
Worth the hour-drive outside the city it takes to get there? Oh heck yeah.
We arrived back to Amman just in time for what would turn out to be the highlight of the city for me. You simply cannot come to Amman without an evening at Beit Sitti, perhaps the best cooking school I’ve been to in all my travels.
Beit Sitti means Grandma’s house, and it literally is the host Maria’s very own grandmother’s home. Perched above the city, we worked together to create delicious Jordanian dishes while soaking up the warm hospitality of our host, one familiar to anyone who’s traveled in this region.
I’m not what one would call a natural in the kitchen, so I loved the informal, fun, and fast-pace of this class. Plus, um, did I mention the bright orange Smeg refrigerator? Swoon.
I might have arrived knowing little about Amman, but I left knowing one thing for sure — I’d be back to start to uncover more of this city’s quiet charms.
Have you been to Amman? Stay tuned for more Jordan to come!