I arrived in Amman last night after a day of flying and waiting in airports. First Larnaca – Cairo, then after a three hour stopover, Cairo – Amman. That made seven flights so far of the 16 (!) altogether that will make up this middle eastern gallivant.
Larnaca had good wifi so that was a breeze. Not so Cairo – no wifi at all unless you’re in one of the airline lounges, which I wasn’t. I slum it on the short hauls.
So I had plenty of time to muse on the idiosyncrasies of airports.
For one thing there’s no universal standard for screening boarding passengers. Sometimes they make you take your shoes off and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you have to take out your laptop and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you have to doff your jacket and sometimes not.
On Friday going through screening at Larnaca they made me remove shoes, jacket, even my headband, and yet I beeped. They made me step aside for a thorough frisking, because wherefore did I beep if I had not even a metal-buckled belt on? It must have been my underwire bra (although it doesn’t always beep), because this is where the security woman’s hands foraged most. Then she goosed me thoroughly in the nether regions. I giggled nervously while two sombre little girls looked on in wide-eyed awe at the cruciform foreigner getting the third degree. And the fourth and the fifth.
Cigarette lighters are supposed to go through in hand luggage, not in checked luggage. Sometimes they will confiscate one out of two. I went through the same Cairo gate as the day I boarded for Beirut, but this time they nicked my single lighter. I remonstrated that it had got through before, and on the six earlier flights, but computer said no, or maybe the staff were running low on lighters. Like Lebanon, Jordan is a very heavy smoking country.
At Cairo airport, with three hours to kill and no wifi, I read for a while in a cafe and dozed for a bit in the corner, after paying couch rental of a cup of coffee. I woke up to the smell of cigarette smoke. I asked the bloke: is there a smoking area nearby? (I never usually smoke during the day but sometimes the tedium of airport waiting drives me to it.) No, he said. Are there any smoking areas at all at this airport? No. So why can I smell smoke? He pointed to a headscarfed muslim woman sitting in the corner out of view of the passing parade. She was having a quiet fag and dumping the ash in a plastic cup with water in the bottom.
Can I have one too then? Okay, but just one, he said nervously. I lit up but by this time the woman had left and I felt so furtive and wicked that I put it out after two puffs. Later on, he had a ciggie himself!
Later I went for a walk and not 50 metres away from that cafe was one that had a sign on the front: Smoking allowed here. Huh? Well, mine not to reason why so I went in to the acrid room, where there were tables at which you could eat, drink and smoke – indoors! A half a dozen Arab men were in there, talking loudly to be heard over the roar of the extractor fans
So finally to my hotel – the Alqasr Metropole, one of the few that has freelance hangers, which is rare in the flash ones.
It’s an affluent modern district but not much to see here except high rise buildings, mainly banks, set in on sites that look typically as if they haven’t been finished.
A sign on this building said ‘Amman Phosphate’. Ray reminded me that phosphate can be a component of explosives. Aha. That’s why the security guy – in military uniform complete with semi-automatic – is coming over to wag his finger at me to say ‘no photos’. I said ‘sorry, I’ll delete it’, and fiddled with my phone as if to do so. He nodded. Heh heh.
In the afternoon I made my way by cheap taxi downtown to meet Ray at the Al Quds restaurant in King Hussein St. Bit of a landmark: one of those bustling grimy places where the corpulent boss in a suit directs skinny young waiters hither and yon, a couple more blokes sit at counters not seeming to do anything, locals chat and gossip volubly and half the clients are smoking. Nevertheless the food is good and cheap and while you wait you can pick at the olives and pickled vegies plonked on your table immediately. I had a delicious hot lentil soup and Ray had lamb kofta.
Ray’s a bit of an old Amman hand by now, having come in and out of the country three times (and paid handsomely for the privilege for he didn’t have a re-entry visa!) and took me down to see some of the impressive Roman ruins including a big forum with a big amphitheatre behind it and a smaller one (the Odeon, above) to the side.
This woman pushed her little girl towards me with a mission to practice her English. She was naturally a bit shy but we did a bit of ‘what’s your name’,’my name is’ and ‘where are you from?’ Then she blurted happily: ‘this is the first time I have spoken English with a real Englisher!’ I love moments like these.
Then as the day wore on (it gets dark here shortly after five) we spotted this sign the lure of which proved irresistible, especially in a city where alcohol is rare outside the tourist hotels.
It turned out to be one of those charming places lined with the memorabilia of an eccentric world traveller turned tourist cafe owner. According to his life story printed on the first few pages of the menu he had survived polio, lived in Australia for many years (hence the Ned Kelly pic; the waiters had never heard of him), run many businesses both profitable and charitable and settled down in Amman to run this bar/cafe and the free walking tours which he has the good sense to terminate here. And he does a sideline in successful (he claims) matchmaking!
We had a glass of wine in this downstairs bar, but then a man came in, apologetically turned off the music and turned on the wall-mounted TV to watch the Liverpool/Aston Villa game. Not even the Rugby World Cup grand final, which must have been on about the same time. And he was a local, not a pom.
Ray’s off back to Oz tomorrow, alas, and I must join a tour group for more Jordan and Israel, so it was time for us to go our separate ways. But first, a few more snifters of not bad red wine up on the roof. Incidentally, the advertised animals turned out to be a rabbit, two guinea pigs and a few scrawny chooks. But the view lived up to the hype, as you can see from the top pic.