Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kingdom of Jordan: An Undiscovered Jewel

By KJ Howe

I just returned from a trip to Jordan in the Middle East. It felt like walking into another world, one that echoes deep historical and biblical significance as well as a fascinating modern culture. The trip kicked off in the capital Amman one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world. Built on seven hills, you can visit the ancient Citadel, including the al-Qasr, "the palace," which dates back to the Islamic Umayyad period. Corinthian columns mark the site of the Byzantine basilica which is thought to date from the sixth or seventh century AD.

After discovering the city, take a short side trip to Jerash, one of the most complete ruins of a provincial Roman city in the world. Jerash was buried under sand and rubble for centuries until its discovery in 1806, and excavations began in 1925. Two theaters, an unusual oval-shaped forum, temples, churches, and baths round out the breathtaking sights. Fans of Roman times take note…there is a reenactment of gladiators fighting to the "death" and chariot races.

Ready for more? Visit Mount Nebo, a traditional burial site where Moses was buried or tour the mosaic Byzantine churches. Afterwards, stop by a fascinating mosaic workshop and learn how mosaics are crafted. Next I visited a crusader castle called Shobak, created by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem to guard the road from Damascus to Egypt.

Wadi Rum was also fascinating. T.E. Lawrence lived in the desert with his Bedouin friends and allies during World War I in this stunning vista of sand dunes and rose-tinted mountains. I also had the opportunity to ride a camel as it prepared for an upcoming race. These amazing animals can run up to 47 km/hr!

The highlight of the trip was Petra, a city carved in the mountains and set in a canyon that only has one entrance, known as the "Siq," a narrow passageway which could be easily defended against attack by an invading army. Petra is a death city with great facades of tombs and burial halls, courts, and temples, all hewn deep in the mauve, rose, ochre and blue sandstone. Stunning! You can have a tour by one of the Bedouins who lived in the caves there.

For anyone who loves shopping, gold souks and street bazaars will fulfill all your needs. And if you feel in need of pampering, stay at a spa by the Dead Sea where you can float in water so high in salt that you feel like a cork bobbing on the surface.

Spending time in Jordan conjured up potential ideas for both historical and modern novels. Regardless of the time period of your books, Jordan’s setting would be a character in its own right. If you could travel to any country in the world, where would you go?


Gillian Layne said...

I'm absolutely, completely dying of jealousy. What a wonderful trip! And I think you're spot on about countries being their own "character" in a novel, when done correctly. It's such a joy to feel like you've actually been somewhere after reading a book. (Kudos to Aunt Cindy for accomplishing this, since Wild Sight was my latest "new" read).

I'd like to visit Scotland.

More pictures, Kim! :)

Gillian Layne said...

And Egypt. Actually Egypt is at the top of my list, although I don't feel like that's a choice until the kiddos are grown...too much unrest over there, but good heavens, the history, and the stark beauty and diversity of the desert landscapes...

PJ said...

Oh yes, more pictures! Please!

I'd love to visit Scotland and Ireland. I want to experience the magic in person. :)

Louisa Cornell said...

Hey, Gillian! You nabbed the GR!Congrats! Wonder if the girls will paint his toenails again? Hide the keys!

KJ, WOW! What a great trip! I am so jealous. You looked great on the camel, by the way. How was the ride? What a real treasure all of those magnificent places are.

Of course I would love to go back to England again. And I really want to spend some time in Wales, where my ancestors came from.

Egypt and now Jordan would be high on my list, but like Gillian I would prefer to wait until I don't have to worry about being shot at or blown up!

For history I think Greece and Italy. For nature it would have to be Australia, of course.

Trish Milburn said...

KJ, your trip sounds wonderful. You're so adventurous!

I'd say that Scotland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and China are at the top of my list.

limecello said...

Wow - that trip looked like it was amazing! As for where I would go... world tour is always my first thought :P (guess I'm greedy) - but ... Italy. Australia. One of those two. I'd so love to go there. And/but I feel that if I got to go to Italy as my "one country" it'd be easy enough to sneak out to the rest [or a lot of] Europe :P

Susan Seyfarth said...

KJ--I'm always amazed & envious of the places you've been! What a wonderful trip. I hope we get more piccies soon.

As for places I'd like to go, I have a confession to make: I'm a terrible traveller.

I find it really stressful to try to figure out all my needs (food, shelter, etc) when I don't speak the language & I feel so conspicuously like a Rude American because I don't speak the language. (For the record, I have six years of hs/college french under my belt, & can read & write somewhat proficiently, but have never been able to speak/understand actual spoken french. It galls me.)

Anyway, I have this fantasy that I can see the world more as a serial mover than a tourist. I'd love to live abroad for a number of years, staying each place maybe 2-3 years. Long enough to get a real sense for what it's like to live there, for the people who do live there, instead of just checking off the tourist attractions & moving on. Not that I have anything against tourist attractions. I spent a week in Paris once happily ticking the Louvre, the Eiffle Tower & the Rodin Museum off my list. But you know what I mean. I yearned to *belong* there, not just pass through.

But I don't have a single dream destination. I would, however, dream that I'll get this world-wide show on the road while my kids are still young enough to absorb any language to which they're introduced without trouble. It's the one thing I would change about my own childhood--exposure to a foreign language. Not starting our kids until they're fifteen is practically criminal in this age of world-wide connectedness.

terrio said...

That trip sounds fabulous! I can't even wrap my head around seeing temples and ruins that date back that far. So incredible.

I'd go to England. Though there is a long list of places I long to see, England has always been at the top. *sigh* Someday...

Christie Kelley said...

KJ, what a an awesome sounding trip! I never really thought I'd want to go to the middle east but you made it sound fascinating.

My country would Ireland. I have yet to go there even though my husband went with a friend a few years ago. And I'm the one who's Irish. So DH promised me that we would go but we must go to Italy first. So that's our plan for next year when we celebrate our 25th anniversary. Maybe Ireland will be our 26th anniversary.

Kim Howe said...

Gillian, congrats on the GR!! Egypt is a fascinating place. I hope you get to see the pyramids one day.

Jordan felt very safe. In fact, the Hungarian President was staying at the same hotel in Amman, so the security there was unbelievable. They had Jordanian Special Forces out in full force. As a suspense junkie, I love that stuff!

Kim Howe said...


The camel was kinda bumpy, but fun. I was lucky to ride a racing one as one of the Bedouins driving us around had a brother who was training them for an upcoming race. I just held on for dear life!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

KJ! Welcome home! So glad you're back. Wow, what a trip. Like Gillian I am totally jealous. I also agree with her in that you need to put up more pix!

Totally cool about the camels. They smell bad, but I've heard the ride is actually fairly comfy. :>

As to countries I'd like to visit...hmmm. First and foremost, Scotland. Want to do some ancestor hunting there, see the Grampian mountains, see Ediburgh Castle and the famous tattoo. I want to see Glasgow, drink Scotch whiskey in a pub... Yep. Pretty much top of the list.

Ireland, go back to England, go back to France, Greece, Italy, Wales, Turkey, Australiz, New Zealand, India...oh, so many.

M. said...

What a marvelous trip! I think that that incredible rock-carved facade is the one they used in the third Indiana Jones, right?

How excellent that you chose such an unusual spot for your vacation. And you haven't even talked about what must be, i imagine, wondeful food! Kebab and steamed rice and pomegranates and...

Donna MacMeans said...

KJ - Glad to know you're home safe and sound. I'm so envious of your world travels. SO smart of you to absorb all those exotic cultures while you can.

LOL on the racing camel!

Susan - I'm with you on speaking the language. I took three years of French - never could get the sense of those French Rs. When the teacher said the way to learn was to gargle with peanut butter or die trying - I knew what the outcome would be for me.

Gillian - Good job on nabbing the GR.

Jane said...

Hi KJ,
I've always wanted to visit Petra. There was a Petra exhibition at the Museum of Natural History in NY a few years back. I didn't have a chance to check it out, but my friend bought me a souvenir book. I would also love to visit Egypt and the Valley of the Kings and Abu Simbel.

jo robertson said...

Loved, loved, loved your post, KJ! We visited Jordan in 1976. My favorite site was Petra, where we rode horses (my first and last experience with the equine creatures -- I'm a big boob!) and Mt. Nebo. It is a lovely country. Thanks for the memories.

I want to visit Venice first and Paris second. Although we did a quick Mediterranean tour of a month, we missed those cities.

Gillian, congrats on the rooster. I've been out of town recently. I wonder what mischief ya'll have gotten him up to recently.

Nancy said...

KJ, I've said it before, but it bears repeating--you take the coolest trips! One of these times, you're going to open your suitcase in some fabulous locale and find that I've replaced your clothes and gear with me. *g*

I'd love to see Petra someday. We went through the exhibit about it at the Museum of Natural History, and it was wonderful. I bought a video.

I'm with Louisa in that I'd love to go back to England, ardent anglophile that I am, and I do share Susan's preference for a country where I speak the language and am unlikely to run afoul of some custom I don't suspect exists.

We'd love to visit Australia (banditland Down Under!--do Australians have a corresponding saying about the northern hemisphere?) and New Zealand. Basically, I'm up for going anywhere people are not shooting at each other.

Nancy said...

Gillian, I almost forgot--congrats on the rooster!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

GREAT post, KJ!

So glad to have you back in the Lair after yet another wonderful, exotic trip.

Congrats on the GR, Gillian and thanx for the compliment about TWS. I do try very hard to make my setting a whole character unto itself. Nice to know you think I succeeded.

I would LURVE to visit Petra! And yes, M you recognized that facade in Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade. As for the place on the top of my list, currently that would be New Zealand, followed closely by Egypt, which is at the top of the DH's list. ;-) We'll see who prevails on that one. Either way I'll be a very happy camper!


Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Donna, gargling peanut butter? SNORK! Hey, if The Duchesse can learn with her Southern accent, then anyone can. :>

Gargling...snork, snork...peanut butter....SNORK!!! Oh, the visual!

Helen said...

Congrats Gillian have fun with him

What a fantastic trip KJ love the pictures. One of my daughters best friends originally came from Jordon and they are such lovely girls and a great family. They are talking about going back for a holiday next year and my daughter will probably go with them to be honest I would worry if she goes it is a bit scary in the Middle East but if they end up going she is really excited about it.

I would really love a romance written in that country as I have said before reading books set all over the world is a wonderful way for me to travel.

I would love to go to England Scotland Ireland and Wales my maiden name comes from the Isle of Wight and there are still lots of Urry manors there that I would love to visit.

Have Fun

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Gillian, it's a while since you've had the chook, isn't it? Congratulations! He's done a bit of travelling lately. Perhaps he can give you some recommendations!

Kim, I, like Gillian, am green with envy about your trip. I've wanted to see Petra ever since I first heard about it as a kid. It's just one of those fabled locations, isn't it? And I was a huge Lawrence of Arabia fan. Well, fan of the movie. I think the man had definite problems although he's definitely interesting! How lucky were you to visit the landscape he moved through. Sigh.

I'd love to visit Russia. It's always been my dream location but I've never made it. I think the fascination started with my ballet obsession as a little girl and it's built from there. I actually had a trip booked in 1986 and then a week before I was due to fly out, Chernobyl blew up and they weren't letting tourists in. Actually given that my trip visited Kiev, I think it was very wise I didn't go!

So it's still on my list!

I've also promised myself that if I ever make the New York Times list, I'm going to do a fjord cruise in Norway. We need this big dreams!

Kim Howe said...

Man, you guys are fascinating with your choices of locales to explore. I have to confess that I LOVE warm places, so I tend to choose them over anywhere that has snow...hey, I'm from Canada--I get enough of the white stuff. My husband is determined to visit Antartica (noticed that wasn't on anyone's list), so I told him he better dress me up in a down snowsuit for that one!

Okay, the food was fabulous. I ate too much and feel guilty about it. LOL Seriously, eating is so important in the Middle East, like a national pastime. I wasn't a big fan of lamb before this trip, but now I'm a complete convert.

I also didn't touch on the men in Jordan. Whew, they have beautiful olive skin and some of them have gold eyes. Unbelievable. When I was at the Dead Sea, I had them help me apply the healing mud...loads of fun!

I'm going to download a bunch of photos and put them on my website soon. I'll keep you all posted, I promise!

Nancy, you're most welcome to fit in my duffle bag. Seriously, my bag is so big you'd be comfy!

Kate Carlisle said...

Kim! Wow, you are one wild traveling woman! What a fabulous trip it must've been. But we're glad to have you back in the Lair! :-)

Gillian, congrats on snagging the chook!! I think he travels almost as much as KJ!

Jill James said...

I'm so jealous. I've always wanted to travel to the Pyramids of Giza. I wanted to be an Eygptologist when I was a kid.

flchen1 said...

Wow--awesome, KJ! Thanks for sharing that!

My dream trip? I think I'm like Susan--I'm not sure I could pin it down to one place. Possibly Israel, if it's only one, just because of the history and significance there, although I'm unnerved by the unrest. I'd love to do the world tour someday, probably not all at once ;) Because of family stuff, we've been to parts of Asia (with the kids even), but there's a whole world out there we haven't been yet! (Actually, my husband's done a fair amount of traveling already, but I feel like I've barely scraped the surface! ;))

Congrats on the GR, Gillian!

Pat Cochran said...

After I began reading romance novels,my dream trip sites were Australia and Scotland. Then one
day I won a sweepstakes with a
trip as the prize. The trip was to Venice and we were not about to refuse because it was not to my dream sites! My heart still goes into double-time when I think
about the enjoyment of that trip!!

Pat Cochran

Joan said...

Fans of Roman times take note…there is a reenactment of gladiators fighting to the "death" and chariot races.

Must be h*ll on the re-enactors :-0

Seriously, that would be SO cool!!!!

I need descriptions. Type of weapons, bare chests, sweat...that type of thing :-)

I have to say I've never had a yearning to go to the Middle or Far East. I do want to go to Italy and Greece someday but unless I win that lottery, I'll probably get stopped everytime by Ireland.

Did ya'll know I like Ireland? VBG

I would live there in a heartbeat. I want to learn Gaelic. Come on Susan, you Irish dancer you! Learn Gaelic with me!

Susan Seyfarth said...

I'd love to learn gaelic, Joanie! Did you know that there are actual Gaelic schools where you can book a learning vacation? I've always thought that would be an awesome way to spend vacation...