Bargain airfares can sometimes mean inconvenient arrivals. After a layover in Istanbul, our flight took the long away around Syrian airspace to land at midnight at the Queen Alia International Airport. We chose a hotel in Madaba for our travel hub, as Madaba is closer to the airport and way less congested than Amman. Jetlagged, we grabbed the first taxi outside Amman airport.
If your driver takes the most direct way to Madaba from the airport, and it is the middle of the night, it may creep into your mind that you are being kidnapped upon arrival in Jordan. The route is very dark at night, with no development or lights. But no, this not an abduction, but our introduction to Jordanian hospitality – the driver was getting us to our destination as quickly as possible by taking the back roads. Welcome to Jordan!
Our cab driver delivered us to the St. John Hotel, we woke the night desk clerk, and were quickly checked into our room. As we closed our eyes, I wondered about the mosque outside our hotel window, and the time of first call to prayer.
We found it easier to book directly with the hotel manager: Omar was prompt and responsive in making reservations, and most helpful in other travel arrangements. Rooms are comfortable and clean. The rooftop restaurant has a good selection of food, and a bar, with a grand view of Madaba, with church and mosque in the same neighborhood.
Just for the record, in early March, the first call to prayer of the day (Salat al-fajr) happens about 4:30 a.m. While we did not heed the call, but drifted back to sleep as this ancient ritual echoed over the city.
After breakfast on the rooftop on the hotel, we met our driver, who was to take us to Amman. We spent some time in discussions/negotiations and expanded our driver’s engagement to cover our entire trip. We canceled our rental car, as Jad, our driver and companion on the road, took us on a quick tour of his town before heading to the capital.
Madaba is home to many sites of historical interest, and religious significance. The floor of St. George’s church contains the oldest surviving map of Palestine, all done in mosiac. Crafted in AD 560, the map depicts major biblical sites in the Middle East.
A quick climb up the bell tower clearly tempted more than a few visitors.
We then ventured out to Mt. Nebo on the western edge of town, providing a commanding view of the Dead Sea and Jordan River valley below. The memorial built to honor Moses featured some of the most exquisite and complete mosaics, truly defining Madaba as a City of Mosaics.
After a day and a half hiking Petra, we weren’t quite ready to say farewell to the Nabateans, making a brief stop at Little Petra. Some might say, “More of the same, but smaller.” Indeed, there are the tombs and rooms carved in the stone, and remnants of a water system. But, after spending two days imagining the interior decorations of monuments, we were delighted to see a well-preserved fresco with grapes and birds and putti playing flutes and shooting an arrow from a bow. Totally worth the stop to us.
No trip to Jordan is complete without a dip in the Dead Sea. The experience is startlingly buoyant. For the equivalent of about $7, a gentleman sitting on the beach with a bucket of mud under his chair will happily allow you to slather up for a photo op, er…spa treatment.
One more stop on the road back to Madaba and the St. John Hotel for the night. Umm ar-Rasas, another UNESCO World Heritage site layered with history, has extensive ruins dating back to Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim occupation of the area.
Protected by a large roofed structure, the church of St. Stephen has extensive, well-preserved mosaics dating to about AD 785.
Tomorrow, we head north to Umm Qais, overlooking the Jordan River Valley, near the Syrian border.