Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jordan - Days 1-3

All right.  Since this is, ostensibly, a travel blog, it's time to write about some travel!

One of the best perks of being posted in KSA is taking advantage of the Eid holidays for extended vacations without using precious leave time.  I have been incredibly lucky to be able to take advantage of three of the four while I've been in country.

I flew from Jeddah to Amman, Jordan on November 3rd, a short two hour flight over some gorgeous scenery.  Immigration, baggage claim, and customs were easy enough, if not efficient or smoke-free.  I grabbed an airport taxi and headed into downtown Amman to my hotel for the next few days - the Intercontinental.  While not cheap, the Amman Intercon was a solid investment.  Sizable room, comfortable bed, quality bathroom furnishings and amenities.  I had lunch at one of the on-site restaurants, a Mexican place.  Decent food and exactly what I wanted.  I took a late-afternoon stroll to several craft shops in the neighborhood, though I didn't fall in love with anything, amazingly.  Dinner was my favorite - room service! - and watching movies completed the restful evening.

On Friday, I breakfasted and started to head out for a visit to the Citadel and Roman Theater.  I made it outside just in time to experience the first rain of the season.  And promptly headed back inside.  I love rain.  But I don't love clambering about on ruins in the rain.

Luckily, I was able to touch base with fellow FS blogger Connie from Whale Ears & Other Wonderings.  She very generously offered to pick me up at the hotel, and we went to The Blue Fig Cafe for lunch.  What a wonderful time!  Over great food, we had an absolutely lovely time 'meeting' each other.  The FS blogger community is pretty neat in its ability to link people across the globe who may never have met in person but who have a lifestyle in common.  Connie took me on a driving tour of Amman, which helped immensely for getting my bearings.  We stopped at her house where I got to meet her famous family and kitties (well, two of them at least!).  I felt as if I already knew them through her blog - pretty cool :-).  Our last stop for the afternoon was to Sugar Daddy's bakery!  I first heard about this place when I was in Arabic training in 2009, and I'd wanted to go ever since.  And, just a word of caution, be prepared when you google Sugar Daddy's Amman.  It's a few results down...  We enjoyed blissful cupcakes and took a few each home.  Connie dropped me off, and I finished off a perfect day with a perfect massage at the spa.

I woke up to a sunny day on Saturday but decided to be lazy until I had to check out, since the rest of my trip would be super active.  After finally checking out mid-afternoon, I checked out and grabbed a taxi to the hotel where I'd meet up with my tour group.  Now I've taken many, many group tours over the years on several continents, and while they've all been great, it's always a toss up.  Sometimes your group is a little off, sometimes the guide is overly quirky, and sometimes you end up paying extra for activities that really should have been included.  I've been meaning to try a trip with G Adventures (formerly Gap Adventures) for several years, but timing never quite worked out.  This time, luckily, it did, and I signed up for the Highlights of Jordan tour.  It hit all the major sites and a few of the minor ones and was the perfect length of time, affordable, and with a smallish group. 

The taxi driver had a difficult time finding the hotel, even with the address.  We got to the general area in only about 15 minutes but spent a good 20 minutes driving up and down streets, asking other drivers, and calling the hotel for directions.  Finally, we found it.  I tipped the driver about 30% over the meter price, and he looked at me like I was crazy.  "But we drove so long!" he exclaimed.  "But the meter never lies!" I said back.  And I walked into the hotel. 

The great thing about G Adventures is that they don't charge a single supplement and simply pair you with a roommate for the duration of the tour.  (Some tours allow you to pay extra for your own room, but it didn't seem worth it to me.)  An hour or so after I checked in, my absolutely lovely roommate arrived.  We got on great, and our routines complemented one another, so we were never fighting for the bathroom, thankfully. 

We had our welcome meeting where we met (most) of the rest of our group, save the few people with late flights.  Our group of 15 included three couples, and the rest of us were on our own.  It must be said, this was possibly the best group I've had.  We all got along great, had lots of laughs, and nobody was perpetually late or perpetually stinky.  I was the youngest person on the tour (which I loved - no crazy partying 18 year olds!), and many had done previous Gap/G tours, while always says quite a lot.

Anyway, we met our guide, a young Jordanian with impeccable English, and we were immediately in good hands.  Zuhair did an amazing job throughout the trip (and, yes, I wrote the same thing on the evaluation form!) and really looked out for each of us.  He brought us to the 'old' part of Amman for dinner at the famous Hashem Restaurant.  We had an absolutely delicious meal of falafel, hummus, foul, bread, and mint tea surrounded by Jordanians young and old.  It was the night before Eid, and the streets were busy with merry makers and families doing the last shopping before the holiday.  It was a great atmosphere, and we walked around for a while before heading back to the hotel and getting a good night's rest. 

As I wasn't really in tourism mode until the end of day 3, I don't have photos for this post, except of cupcakes.  However, the next few accounts will be chock full of photos, I promise!

Could You *Be* More Excited?!

The FS Blog Round-Up is back!  Many thanks to Jill of The Perlman Update for taking the lead on resurrecting this wonderful community feature.  Maybe this is the inspiration I need to get back to blogging on a regular basis.

Mosey on over to The Perlman Update for information on how to participate in next week's Round-Up!

(And thanks, as always, to Kolbi at A Daring Adventure for being the brainchild of the Round-Up!)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Snippets From an Ordinary Day

We had a great Sunday morning with my brother, sister-in-law-to-be, niece, and nephew today, finishing the last of Christmas present opening, playing a lot of Mario on the DSs (how does one make that plural?), eating pancakes, and watching Up.  These two cuddly and fast-growing kids are absolutely wonderful - I truly adore them.  And the things they say!  "Mommy, I need to take a break from the DS because my thumb is turning into an arrow."  "Mimi, I can only hug you on this side because you broke your knee."  So excited to spend more time with them this summer!

After an afternoon of watching football and getting annoyed with Snapfish, I headed to the grocery store to get the fixings for lasagna.  As I got to the bottom of our hill and passed the small village general store, I noticed that there were no cars there.  Just a horse.  Sans rider, tied up to the porch railing.  Yes, I live in a town where riders abound and we keep the old road signs from the days of horse transportation - "walk your horses or pay two dollars fine" and similar.  As my friend's fiancé marveled this week, it's a place where few front doors or cars are locked, and it's not unusual to keep one's keys in the car ignition in the driveway. 

I didn't have to wait long for the next interesting anecdote - a psychic hotline on the radio was trying a new marketing strategy and extolling the virtues of their hiring process.  Apparently, only 2% of psychics who apply make the cut and are subjected to rigorous screenings such as applications, interviews, and sample readings.  Oy.

I adore going to the grocery store here.  I walk up and down every aisle and marvel and gawk.  True, the stores in KSA are pretty well stocked.  Amazingly well, it must be said.  But, they still don't quite compare to the depth and breadth of weird and wonderful products, novelties, and cooking solutions that abound in the American supermarket. 

I realized making lasagna in the U.S. is somewhat simpler than in Saudi.  First of all, it doesn't take me weeks to find ricotta cheese.  There, I can occasionally order it from the commissary, but it's always frozen.  Fresh ricotta is found once in a blue moon, sadly.  I have colleagues who have their loved ones bring coolers full of it when they fly in from the States.  The other novelty was being able to fill the pasta pot with tap water.  In Saudi I fill it from the water cooler.  This is probably slightly overkill, since the tap water there falls victim mostly to rusty (and who knows what else) pipes and doesn't carry amoebic dysentery or other nasty pests, but I still err on the side of caution.  And filling a stock pot from a water cooler is not easy.  Nor is it quick.  A mere inconvenience, of course, but something to notice when you don't have to do it. 

The lasagna turned out great, the football was exciting, and now the house is quiet, and it's time for bed.  Or mouse hunting.  There's a particularly brave one haunting the pantry tonight, but s/he doesn't want to appear on camera.  Yet.