For me, when I think of the “Middle East”, I typically think of the desert, sand coloured boxy buildings, and Islam. Places like Istanbul and the Gulf cities are not really representative of that because of their unique locations and histories.
This is why I was pretty interested in visiting the third and last country on my recent trip to the Middle East, Jordan.
Jordan sits at an interesting location in the world because well, just take a look at its neighbours. To its north is Syria, its east is Iraq and Saudi Arabia, south is Saudi Arabia again, and to its west is Israel and Palestine.
It kinda lies in the middle of a very problematic area of the world but somehow it itself is not that problematic. It’s like a small little oasis in the middle of the Levant.
When I first got to Amman, the capital of Jordan, my first impression was that this was exactly what I pictured a Middle Eastern city to look like. It had a lot of rolling hills, there was a slightly yellow tint in the air due to the desert sand, and there were all of those traditionally Middle Eastern styled buildings.
Already I could tell that this was a vastly different place than any other place I’ve been to before.
To me, Amman got more interesting the more I looked around just because of it’s unique place in the world. For example, the two major touristic landmarks in the city are the Amman Citadel and the Roman Theater.
Both the Citadel and the Theater are Roman ruins that date back to almost 2000 years ago. I didn’t really put too much thought into it when I was looking into places to go in the city but when I got there I was like, “wait a minute, Rome is so far from here”.
And then that’s when I remembered my religion classes from so long ago when they were talking about how Jesus was arrested by the Romans and all of a sudden I had two simultaneous thoughts:
- The Roman Empire really expanded a lot further than I thought
- This was literally the area that Jesus was from
The first thought was mostly in relation to where I was. For example, the Citadel is on a hill in the center of Amman so from there you get a really great panoramic view of the city. So when I was there, you’re walking around these Roman ruins in this Middle Eastern city, which is already kinda cool, but then the call to prayer started.
Now I’ve heard the call to prayer a lot already on that trip, but that one was special.
Since you’re on a hill in the middle of the city, the call to prayer comes up from the city all around you and you’re just, surrounded. It was definitely a really cool experience to be by these ruins looking out into this vast city and then being surrounded by this ambiance.
The second thought I had was a bit more philosophical because regardless of what your religious beliefs are, there’s no denying that religion has played a huge part in shaping humanity.
And three of the world’s largest religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, originated from that part of the world where Jordan is. Even if you just look at Christianity and Islam that’s half of the world’s population right there.
That by itself is a bit crazy, just thinking that this area was where everything began.
It’s compounded by the fact that if you leave Amman, you’re only a couple hours drives from other places like the Red Sea and Jesus’ baptism site. And that’s already like, home of the Greatest Hits of the Old and New Testament.
Speaking of which, I had a great time in Amman but like Taipei, the best time I had in the country was when I left the city and went out into the country. Aside from the before mentioned places, Jordan is home to Petra, a ridiculously cool ruin, the Dead Sea, the weirdest body of water ever, and Wadi Rum, a red desert.
If you ever go to Jordan those are must visits.
Anyways, back to Amman. Due to Jordan’s geographic location, it has a mix of people of all faiths and beliefs. As a result it’s a bit more progressive and liberal than other places in the Middle East. They even make their own wine and beer, which is kinda cool.
Some people also celebrate Christmas so it was kinda cool to see a bunch of Christmas decorations being put up when I went to the Boulevard, a large outdoor shopping strip.
It was a bit weird though since when I was walking around there it seemed like there were a whole lot more guys out there than girls. It was oddly disproportionate, especially since the guys seemed to hang out in herds. Like seriously, there were like always groups of like 4 – 10 dudes just hanging out around the shopping center, which felt a bit strange to me.
In general, Amman is kinda cool to walk around. The city sprawls out over a bunch of hills so it’s really easy to find a restaurant or cafe that looks out over the city. Makes for some pretty cool places to hang out. Certain areas even kinda remind of places in Seoul.
Even just walking around the city doing random stuff is kinda fun. On one night, we went and just bought a bunch of cheap snacks from the convenience store and just sat around some staircase talking and eating. That was fun.
But, considering how everything is on a hill, it makes getting anywhere kinda painful without a car since the hills make it so that you can’t really walk in a straight line anywhere; you always have to go around. Plus, the hills mean that there’s a lot of elevation going on so it’s tiring.
One thing that surprised me about Amman was that the city was a lot more expensive than I thought it would be. Before I went on my trip, I figured that Turkey and Qatar would be the more expensive places with Jordan being the least expensive, but it turned out I was wrong.
Oddly enough, Jordan was the most expensive of the three countries that I went to. Even more than Qatar, which was really surprising. Especially so since the average salary in Jordan is lower than the other two countries as well.
I was talking to some locals and it really did seem like cost of living was a really big problem. Coming from Toronto, I get it. Our salaries are of course a lot higher but we also have a lot of problems with things just being way too expensive.
Overall, Amman was alright. I think it was a nice city but for the most part there isn’t that much that’s pulling me back there. On the other hand, Jordan as a country is quite interesting. It’s a land steeped in history and culture and there’s a bunch of really sweet natural spots too. Would go again.