Around the Middle East
in 80 days

February 25th to May 14th, 2004

Part 6:

Amman to Israel

  << Part 5: Southern Syria again    -    Back to Index    -    Part 7: Israel (north and west)>>

March 21st (day 26): Amman

Arrival and night

I arrived in Amman after dark on March 20th. At the bus station I noticed Baghdad among the list of destinations on the ticket office's billboard, so just for kicks I went in and asked what a ticket would cost. They said their bus service wasn't operating anymore and that in fact there were no busses to Baghdad anymore and that the only way to get there was by private car. The taxi drivers were all very eager to arrange that with me, for exorbitant prices in the range of 200 USD, all assuring me that it was the only way.

Now I happened to know for a fact that (at that time, might be different now) there were daily busses from Amman to Bagdad (for 7JD, which is about 10 USD). All these people were just lying to foreigners, hoping to get one to pay a huge amount for a car and driver, and indeed most journalists and aid workers went to Baghdad this way. This is a rip-off with a deadly twist: these private cars are ten times more likely to get attacked by terrorists as they have "rich foreigners" written all over them.

That evening in Amman was horrible. I wandered around the center for hours looking for something to eat without meat, asking in dozens of places if they had fish. No luck, so in the end all I got was some bad pastries and a miniscule pack of fries from a fastfood place. But the worst was yet to come; the window of my hotel room didn't close well and for the xth time this trip I spent the night shivering in a freezing room, lying under the sheets with all my clothes on.

Ironically, the morning was sunny and hot. As I was having breakfast in the garden, I met the weirdest person: a Russian woman who with an incredibly loud voice started telling me her whole life story uninvited. When she found out I was heading for Israel that day, she started telling me again and again how afraid her European friends had been there; "they were trembling!" she repeatedly yelled. Freakish.

History and sights

Although it does not have that reputation, Amman is an ancient town. In 1200 BC it was known as Rabbath Ammon, the capital of the Ammonites. The bible describes how David's armies slaughtered its population. In Roman times the city was called Philadelphia. Later it fell into total decline, until it became the capital of Jordan in the 1920s. Nowadays it is a huge concrete jungle that lacks monuments but is still somewhat appealing because it's spread out over 19 hills - it is more like a concrete ocean with high waves really.
I spent the morning visiting Amman's ancient remains. The main remnant of ancient Philadelphia is the Roman theater, which has 6000 seats and was built in the 2nd century.
Other remains from Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic times are on top of Amman's citadel, once the site of Rabbath Ammon, now one big archeological site. Climbing up the citadel in the heat was quite exhausting.

To Israel: from King to Sheikh

After my quick exploration of Amman in the morning, I relaxed a bit in the hotel. I was planning to go to Jerusalem, but it's less than 100km from Amman to Jerusalem and since the Lonely Planet said the border crossing (the famous King Hussein bridge, called Allenby Bridge by Israel) is open until midnight, I wasn't in a hurry.

At 14h I took a taxi to the bus station, where the last bus to the King Hussein bridge had already left. I could only go there with a special taxi, but the drivers were asking 10 Jordanian Dinar (about 12 euro) which I knew to be a rip-off, so I sat down on the pavement while a bunch of them kept arguing with me. They tried to pressure me by saying the border would close at 3pm, but I ignored that. After a long time, when I kept insisting I'd rather spend another day in Amman than pay that much (which I didn't) one of them finally agreed to take me for 5 JD.

I was dropped off at the King Hussein bridge at 14:50. It seemed rather deserted and it took me a while to find an official. He told me the border closed at 14:30 and not at midnight anymore. Aargh. The damn taxi driver had taken me here knowing full well that I wouldn't be able to cross, and all the others who had tried to rip me off had known it too. Bastards.

The border guard (who was very friendly) said that the only way to cross after 14:30 would be with a special VIP permit, which would cost me 71 USD and for which they would first have to consult the Israelis on the other side. He took me to the VIP lounge where some business types were smoking cigars, but when I understood that this price was not negotiable, I just left.

Now the border guard had told me that the other border crossing with Israel, the Sheikh Hussein bridge (confusing eh) about 100km to the north, would be open until the evening. I really wanted to get to Israel rather than waste a whole day, so back outside I started negotiating with some guys who were hanging around the border post. None of them were taxi drivers but they were all ears anyway.

They asked a high price but after a lot of arguing, using them against each other and some walking away like I wasn't interested anymore, I ended up making the 100km ride north in a fat BMW with shaded windows for 12 JD (15 euro). I don't understand why someone who can afford a car like that would drive 200km for such a small amount, but he seemed happy enough about it and even got a friend to come along for the ride. The long ride through the Jordan valley was very nice, and I was mighty pleased that I was gonna make it to Israel that day after all. I'll describe the border crossing in the next part since it was really the start of the Israel experience.

  << Part 5: Southern Syria again    -    Back to Index    -    Part 7: Israel (north and west)>>

Godsmurf Tue 24 Feb 2009 @ 11:55
About equally funny I'd say. And I have no problem with anyone calling my clothes funny. Still, it's hard to beat men who wear women's shoes and put plastic bags over their big black hats when it rains. But there can never be too much funny-ness in the world so bless 'em.

Marvin Tue 17 Feb 2009 @ 15:02
You keep mentioning the "funny" clothes that religious Jews wear throughout your writings of the Israeli portion of your trip. Are they as funny as the strange copies of middle eastern attire that Catholic priests; nuns; and the Pope wear?
You look strange as well wearing funny European clothes.

My suggestion look in a mirror before you comment on others.

Flylice Tue 10 Jul 2007 @ 09:17
Alright, thanks for helping me waste 3 hrs at work...but anyway great travelog! I'm going to Syria & Jordan in august, but only have 3 weeks :(

Silvia Thu 29 Jun 2006 @ 04:13
I just love your website. It's excellent. Didn't read everything, but great pics.

Godsmurf Mon 10 Apr 2006 @ 13:41
I wouldn't recommend it, based on what a German girl who lived in Damascus told me (cfr the last paragraph of part 5), but on the LP forums I often see female solo-travelers who say they had no problems.

Ira Sun 09 Apr 2006 @ 20:58
Nice pics...very interesting.
Is it safe for a single woman to travel to Syria? Do we have to wear head scarf too?

Zoltan Fri 07 Apr 2006 @ 17:15
Hi Godsmurf!

Excellent site;I spent hours to read Your comments and check out the photos.
Good Job!

zeituni Sun 02 Apr 2006 @ 12:29
Hi again!

According to my sister(who until recently lived in East Jerusalem), there are quite a few Christians living in the old quarter and other parts of Jerusalem. However, they might not use the churches most commonly visited by tourists. When I was there there was also a grand celebration taking place at the convent of St Mary Magdalene and the neighbouring Greek Orthodox convent. There were hardly anyone but Palestinians there, admitedly, some of them were from areas like Bethlehem or Beit'Jallah.

I know I'm not bringing firm statistics to back up this, but that was her notion and my impression as well.

Anyway, just a comment!

Still a very great travelogue! And on point on the Israeli border personnel!

Godsmurf Thu 30 Mar 2006 @ 22:05
Thank you! If you have any questions feel free to ask, my mail is linked at the bottom of each page.

Vedica Thu 30 Mar 2006 @ 09:17
i love your travelogue!! is amazingly interesting!
Am planning a trip to middle east myself (around July - yes i know itll be hot) and your site has been an EXCELLENT guide and resource! thanks for sharing!

cathleen Tue 28 Mar 2006 @ 08:36
great writeing and photos you really have a talent at breaking things down e.i. the formation of the isreali state etc. very objective

Godsmurf Sat 25 Mar 2006 @ 23:04
Thanx for the compliments, glad to have readers :)

Well I'm not sure (I said they're *probably* not christians) but firstly I don't think I ever saw a Palestinian in any of Jerusalem's churches, and secondly I sensed humour instead of devotion in the way they were selling christian souvenirs. But I could be wrong of course. Am I?

zeituni Sat 25 Mar 2006 @ 08:25
Fantastic travelogue! Are you writing a book?

One question however; why do you assume the Palestinians in the Christian quarter are not actually Christians?

hasof_TT Sat 25 Mar 2006 @ 00:11
Great trip report. Was going to just scan, but got intrigued and am reading it word for word. Thanks for sharing!


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