It was when L and J came to visit at the end of October that the idea of going away for the festive period first arose. It was L who suggested it. Initially, it was supposed to be a few days in either Berlin or Prague. As it turned out, it was lucky that we didn't choose Berlin as Germany shut its borders to UK visitors on the day of our departure. When we were considering our options, R pointed out that if we went for a mainly Christian country, the chances were that it would effectively shut down over Christmas itself, leaving us with nowhere to go and nothing to do. For that reason, we decided that we would be better off opting for a mainly Islamic one. What was initially supposed to be 3 or 4 days in Berlin or Prague, therefore, suddenly morphed into 9 days in Jordan.
We have never been away for Christmas before. The closest was our trip to Marrakesh a few years ago, when we returned on the 23rd. To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of Christmas decorations. I'll go along with the tree but the sense of relief I get when it all comes down again in early January is immense. This year, I had the perfect excuse to ignore the lot. There would be nothing to take down because it wouldn't be going up in the first place. The holiday was also going to be our family Christmas present, so very little to do there. There was a bit of food planning, but only because I thought our post-flight PCR results would take some time to come through (they did, the supposed 24 hour service took a week!) and we would be confined to our home in the meantime. From that point of view, the whole thing was stress-free.
Unfortunately, there were also the Covid regulations which seemed to change on a daily basis - both in Jordan and the UK. Red lists came and went and restrictions changed with Boris' whim. Tests appeared where no tests were required before. Lateral flow tests transformed into PCR tests. We had necessary paperwork coming out of our ears. I hate flying at the best of times and the new requirements added further layers of stress to the whole process. If you had asked me the day before our departure if I wanted to abandon the whole idea of going away, I would have jumped at the chance.
Our flight was on Monday and we had our pre-flight PCR first thing on Saturday morning. The venue changed at the last minute, meaning we had to travel to Swindon for the test. We were supposed to hear back within 12, at the most 24, hours. By Sunday evening, we still hadn't heard and I had developed a nervous twitch. 2 phone calls later (each taking over an hour before being answered), we had our results and the holiday was on.
Reader, it was worth every stress-laden, sleepless moment! We packed a huge amount into those 9 days, moving around the most beautiful, welcoming country. It was one of the best holidays that I can remember and, even though it may be a while before I can face another chickpea, it was definitely the highlight of an otherwise pretty grim couple of years.
Apologies in advance for quite a long and photo-heavy couple of posts but I don't want to forget a single moment.
We arrived at Queen Alia International Airport near Amman to be greeted with the most thorough nasal swab known to mankind. It felt like the nurse was in up to her elbow and our nostrils still felt weird the following day. Luckily, it was just the one nostril as, once we knew what was coming, she'd have been hard pushed to get near us for the second! Unlike our experiences in the UK, the Jordanians were incredibly efficient and we had our results in no time.
We were off to a good start when the car that was supposed to meet us failed to turn up. The subsequent taxi ride to the Seas Hotel in Amman was a little hair-raising. The driver was intent on talking to us and completely undeterred by his lack of English and our lack of Arabic. He pulled up a translation app on his phone and quizzed R who happened to be in the front seat. Throughout the journey, his eyes were on the phone, rather than the road, and his hands nowhere near the wheel as he leaned across to R showing him the screen. My 'eyes on the road' signals from the back did nothing other than cause him great amusement. By some miracle, we arrived unscathed and gratefully exited the vehicle to the sound of me muttering 'Don't you dare give him a tip!'. For reference, the Uber cars that we used for the rest of our stay in Amman were brilliant. Cheap and professional, I can't recommend them enough. Just avoid the charlatans at the airport!
The hotel had upgraded us to a family suite and that night we sat in our room, eating oranges and watching the Hajj rituals on TV and the rain outside the window, wondering about the wisdom of coming to Jordan in December. For the record, it only rained in Amman, everywhere else the weather was fine and the crowds absent compared to the high seasons of spring and autumn.
A breakfast of hummus and flatbread (it's lucky that we like hummus and flatbread as we consumed an awful lot of it over the course of the holiday!) was followed by an Uber ride to the Citadel.
The area known as the citadel sits on the highest hill in Amman. As well as being the site of the earliest fortifications in the world, it is also one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited places. Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad ruins are found throughout. The views of downtown Jordan from the lookout were spectacular. This was our worst day weather-wise and it was here that I discovered that my old boots were no longer waterproof!
The highlights of the site include:
The Temple of Hercules:
The temple appears to have earned the name when a large hand and elbow were discovered and assumed to represent the demigod himself!
The domed audience hall, part of the Umayyad Palace complex. The palace was mostly destroyed by an earthquake in AD 749.