Sunday, September 27, 2009

More stuff we’ve learned:

Week 2 – or is it 3? No matter… more random stuff:

That Ice cream truck noise – We hear the cheery music that, back in the US, promises sweet cold treats. Here it zips along, often before we can get to the window to see what the heck it is. A work truck. We’ve been told that they deliver butane for cooking, not fudgesicles or nutty bars. We’re still trying to figure out the truck that goes around with a speaker repeating a two sentence phrase (too garbled to make out). Looks like another work truck of some sort but it goes by too fast.  Fun to watch the kids dash around the house trying to catch sight though – yea, cheap entertainment, but isn’t that a fringe benefit of parenthood?

Papa John’s pizza – Our first foray into delivery food, and wow! Yummy pizza, delivered fast. There are so many restaurants here… pretty much any food you could want, and it looks like they all deliver (or at least offer take-away). We can’t wait to try more.

We’ve heard that Amman is the “London of the Middle East” … we’ve had a couple of mornings now where the air is cool and damp, the sky is grey, and excepting the good visibility – not what I associate with the UK - it gives me deja vu tingles. Add that to the very intercontinental atmosphere of the shopping and sights around town and I am definitely beginning to understand why the city has earned this nickname. Of course, I tend to think that most Jordanians speak better English than what I heard in London, but I'm just a silly lady from Florider, right, wot would I know, isit?Yer know wot I mean? ;-)

Critters - We have a bunch of very pretty birds visit our garden, and except for the ever-present light brown doves (which seem to exist everywhere in the world) we have no idea what these birds are. Looks like I need to find a bookstore. Most of the stray cats we see in our area are very small – the kids call them kittens, so I have to remind them that we used to have BIG cats so these adult cats just look small in comparison. Most of our neighborhood kitties are a pretty peach-orange, with spotted tabby markings. We have seen a couple of stray dogs, but very few. Also, the Bedouins bring their goats, sheep, and donkeys through town, so we see herds here and there. Brad even saw two camels the other day.

Climate – To answer a couple of questions from “Tina in CT”:

1. “What is the temperature like there?” The weather is perfect. Seriously. Highs of 85F, lows of 65F, ever since we’ve been here. Ok, I see how it will get hotter in the summer, perhaps dry and dusty too, and it’s supposed to get colder through the winter with a possibility of snow once or twice, but so far, this is amazing weather. I keep the following weather gizmo at the bottom of my blog (past all the junk) from my favorite weather website, in case you are ever curious :

2. “Is there any grass around as I didn't see any?” Grass is pretty much confined to tended gardens, however, it is remarkably green here. There are a lot of trees. Take a close look at the Jerash photos. You see brown ground everywhere, but notice the trees, and little scrub plants around the rocks. You can even see that the hills in the background have dense stands of trees. The natural terrain is much the same in Amman too, just add in gardens, decorative trees, succulent ground covers, and manicured shrubs. I was surprised, as I heard that it was very dry here, but we do get rain – there’s a chance of rain today. I am glad to see all the plants. Probably part of what keeps the air so fresh. 

Air freight – aka UAB, aka unaccompanied baggage. Ours arrived blindingly fast. I am not sure if this was due to our being past the madness of the summer rush period, or we just timed it right and caught a good transport schedule, or perhaps it was simply the will of the almighty gods of house-moving who felt they owed us one because we have never before had our air freight arrive before the rest of our household goods (and car) – which defeats the whole purpose of the shipment! I mean, UAB is supposed to be what you send to tide you over (pots, pans, linens, clothes, etc.) until you get your whole, ‘slow’ shipment of household goods, but we have always had everything arrive at the same time. I didn’t even bother to pack much in it this time, just some toys, favorite blankets, tools… basically only some of the kids’ things. Why bother?! It’s never done us any good in past?!  Guess I better go light some incense, or sacrifice a chocolate bar, or something, out of grateful thanks. I’m thrilled that it arrived… and still in complete shock.

One more thing – Being at home. Yea, I’m getting that feeling. Morning noises. Sitting on the front porch, reading or crocheting, waiting for the bus. Doing homework with the kids. Kids tackling daddy as he gets home from work (at a reasonable hour because he doesn’t have an hour plus commute). Learning the specific details about Jordan is very interesting, and I am sure it will continue to be so, but the “in general” details are coming together for us too, and I think that’s my favorite part. 

Stuff we’ve learned so far:

Crème Fraiche Epaisse – for the non-French speaking types (like me), is sour cream. A must have for burritos and other tex-mex. We were able to find ‘tortelas’ (tortillas) easily, yay!, but we had to scour the never-ending dairy aisles – products labeled in all sorts of languages - looking for sour cream, and eventually found a tiny container labeled in French. The ingredients implied it was fermented, so we gave it a try… good find!

The twirly thing on the car door – is a window crank! You silly kids! And sure, you can try it… 

Halloumi cheese, aka squeaky cheese, is good stuff in cooking. I’ve had it before and liked it, cooked, and in tomato sandwiches, but have discovered that it’s pretty tasty cut into chunks and thrown into curry too. Honor says it is better than feta.

Dual voltage – (110v-240v) – is what most of our electronics are after years of living overseas, so we find that need fewer and fewer power transformers.  We were actually looking at a nice coffee/cappuccino machine this weekend. We noted that it had a local type of plug, but figured that we could always get an adapter to take it back to the US with us. Does this make us official expats now?

At least 4 – The number of different shapes of electrical sockets in our home, not counting the ones that might be cable(?). It still takes us a long time to figure them all out! We have figured out the phone, at least. We’re getting there, and haven’t fried anything yet.

21 – Approximately the number of sets of keys on things for this house (some doors require 2 or more keys, and I’m counting that as one set) - doors, cabinets, rooms, etc. The freezer does NOT have a key, although there is a place for one… hmm?

Infinity – Approximately the number of switches in this house. I need a labeler! (and colorful key caps…)

Turnnel – What Brad said when he forgot how to speak English and tried to say tunnel. We teased him, but then later found out that there actually is such a thing. There are handy tunnels all over the place here – rather than go straight through a traffic circle, you can often take a tunnel underneath and miss the congestion. However, there is at least one that we found that does NOT go through where we thought it would. It goes left! We found a turnnel.

Welcome kit – This is a note for those who might be coming this way via the Embassy… and before I go any further, let me say that I think we are lucky to move into a place and have ‘stuff’ waiting for us. Pots, pans, linens, etc. Things to use before our own goods arrive. This isn’t a problem that I am complaining about, just something to keep in mind for folks packing to come here. Most posts provide HUGE welcome kits. Honestly, there will be so much stuff that we usually put most of it back in the boxes and never touch it. Here, the kit is quite the opposite - just the bare necessities and not much extra.  Most is glass/china, not plastic-ware for the littler ones.

Spice bottles – We couldn’t pack out any non-perishables or spices when we left Cairo. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t. Anyway, I wish I’d at least kept my spice bottles. You can buy spice in bulk at good prices at the grocery stores.

London Dairy – has good ice cream! We don’t eat a lot of dessert, but we like a nice ice cream at times. No Bryers, but London Dairy was a good trade. Goods are more expensive here, than in the US, simply because of the exchange rate and VAT, but there is an incredibly awesome selection to experiment with - not always the brands we are used to, but we’re learning new brands – and it’s FUN! Ok, maybe for me. Perhaps not all newcomers would agree. But I really like to experiment in cooking, so ‘fun’ is a good word for me to use here. There are even generics (to at least try – some are good, some ‘eh.’; typical).

Hmm? I’ve been compiling this little list, saved as draft in my writer, to turn into a “One Month In-Country” post. I don’t think think I’ll wait a month! Enough’s enough! I’ll just keep this titled, ‘Stuff we’ve learned so far’ and we’ll go from there.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Jerash – part III – Hanging out at the Forum

And finally, the last of this bunch of photos from Jerash - “this bunch” meaning, I know we’ll go back and take more bunches! 

As of our last post, we had made our way to the Temple of Zeus where we wandered and explored some of the nooks, crannies, holes, etc… of the Temple and courtyard. Actually, the kids did a bunch of exploring; I was trying to make sure the little ones didn’t put hands down into things where there might be bite-y critters, but I managed to snap some good photos too.

For scale on this shot – look for the people in the photo:


After the temple, we wandered up to the South Theatre, which has been restored quite a bit, and is absolutely beautiful. We found our way in by following the sounds of the bagpipes!


Our trusty guide book (Jerash, by Prof. Dr. Safwan Kh. Tell, ISBN: 88-8029-727-9; a nice book we picked up at the info building for 5JD) states that this theatre is considered to be one of the best of its kind in the Middle East. The theatre could seat about 3000 people, and was filled with lovely carvings and decoration. Apparently the seats are labeled in alphabetical order, I didn’t notice that on this visit, and will have to look closer next time.


A view from the stands. A quote from the book: “Before Hadrian's visit to Jerash the city had received honours from the Emperor Trajan who brought the city into the vortex of provincial affairs when it attracted visitors from all parts of the Empire. The theatre was an important centre for entertainments and festivals and also received visiting artists, celebrities, and popular heroes.”


A close up of pillars at the front of the theatre.


This was half of a rather faded carving that I found on the wall, beneath the stage, near the right side stairs up to the stage. The other half was a mirror image.


After the theatre, we wandered out and up a hill to the south. This is a view overlooking the Cardo, or Colonnaded Street. We have not fully explored this area yet, but it makes for a striking visual experience from afar.


Looking back north at the temple on the hill, forum to the left.


Old city – New city


A view of the forum, where the earliest buildings in the city were probably located. It is 90 meters by 80 meters. This is the earliest forum of its kind built by the Romans, probably in the early decades of the first century AD. It was a commercial center, with shops located around the forum, behind the columns, facing in, but these structures no longer exist.


Another view, from the hill, towards the temple of Zeus.


A view of areas we have yet to explore. We had tired kids and couldn’t make it out that far in one day.


Back down toward the forum and the temple. I love the image of all these blocks set out on the ground. They remind me of giant legos that some god-child left out after play.


And here are my adventurers, standing in the center of the forum with the the Cardo in the background. Another time, we will wander down this ancient street and see what else there is to see, but on this visit, the forum was our turn-around place.


Another lovely, random, rock carving.


Waiting by the South Gate.


Before we left the site, we stopped at the Rest House and Restaurant on the other side of this gate for lunch. They had a very nice mezze, which we sampled and enjoyed, and a grill, which we’ll have to try next time. The kids loved the fresh baked bread, and Honor took this great photo of the baker at work.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jerash – Part II – In Which We Visit Zeus

As we passed the Triumphal Arch and storerooms, we went through the South Gate to the city, and came upon this massive wall – it is the sacred courtyard wall, in front of the temple of Zeus. Passageways and stairs made the whole complex accessible to the people of Jerash. I liked the detail work on the stones.


As we walked into the temple area, we passed through the forum.


The columns are striking. They are huge and I marvel at how the Romans managed to erect them without modern machines, and yet, they look so fragile, and so I wonder how they continue to stand after so many centuries of weather, earthquakes, and humanity.




A view from the stairs leading into the temple. (sorry about the photo being a bit crooked – I do not have photoshop installed on this computer and can’t fix it; just tilt your head a little!)


Wandering slowly with playful and distracted kids, meant we had plenty of time to hang about in places and look at details. Our guide book (Jerash, by Prof. Dr. Safwan Kh. Tell, ISBN: 88-8029-727-9; a nice book we picked up at the info building for 5JD) noted that more recent French excavations unearthed many ornamental friezes of floral and figurative motifs resembling Nabataean designs. Perhaps this is one?


I wish these photos could portray the size and feel of this complex. I hate to keep repeating the same adjectives, ‘massive’, ‘huge’, and so on. The grand scale of the place, the whole site, has a physical impact. You can’t help but feel the work and time involved in building these structures. And the details – the elaborate carvings and pretty stones used – reminds you of the people who created these walls and buildings, and art, and of those who worshipped, worked, and lived here.


Looking out at the forum.


And up to the Temple of Zeus. It was built atop a hill overlooking the whole city, a site which made it extremely vulnerable to erosion and damage. The site is known to have been in use even before the temple was built, with archaeological finds that date the construction of the temple to 162AD, on the site of a sanctuary dedicated to Emperor Tiberius in 22-42AD, which stood on ruins that date back even earlier, probably of first or second century BC Hellenistic temple.


Wall opposite the temple, near the entry and courtyard. This wall is in ruins, but detail work is still visible and it must have been a beautiful piece when it was in use.


The stone itself, although very weathered, is also pretty… some of these pieces look naturally pink in color.


Another view of some of the columns of the temple. The guide book notes that they are 15 meters tall.


A view across the courtyard (the temple behind me) with a view of the modern city on the hills in the distance.


I will definitely have to explore this area again. Apparently there is much more to see, including niches and other areas that once contained the statue of Zeus and other objects of worship. I spent most of this portion of our visit watching where kids were climbing – in, on, down, etc. and keeping an eye on what they were touching and picking up!


Who? Me?


(more photos later!)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jerash – Part I

We went to Jerash with friends and had a beautiful day out! We were exploring with kids, Brian being the eldest of our group, so we bought a guide book instead of hiring a tour guide and we just wandered. We didn't make it to even half of the site, but it was a good way to do it. We'd walk a little, look at relics, look at bugs, pick up rocks, walk some more, look at things, eat a snack... really laid back and relaxed. Eventually we may hire a guide and take a more formal tour, but with the kids, and the fact that this is a trip we can repeat, why rush through?

I guess I should start with a note that Jerash is only a short drive north of Amman - I can see many day trips in future! It is well signed and easy to find. Mostly. We left Amman, followed the signs toward Jerash, and right after the Jordan River Valley (not marked, I don't think, but it's the only river we saw) there was a sign noting that Jerash was straight ahead, with South Jerash as the first/next exit. We took South Jerash. Drove into town, and soon saw the first big archway on the left. Still looking for signs noting an official entrance, which we apparently missed, we passed it and ended up taking some wrong turns. We backtracked easily, and found the road to the entry directly in front of the first arch. There is a parking lot, rest house & restaurant, and bazaar/tourist information place at the front.

The guidebook (Jerash, by Prof. Dr. Safwan Kh. Tell, ISBN: 88-8029-727-9; a nice book we picked up at the info building for 5JD) states: "Jerash, the ancient city of Gerasa”, (aka. Antioch on the Golden River) “was one of the colonies developed by the Romans after their conquest of the Levant in the first century BC although it had previously been colonized by veterans of Alexander the Great in 332 BC." Because of the fertile land and water present, people have lived in the area since the Neolithic period. Archaeological remains trace back to the period of 2500-700BC, the Bronze and Iron ages. "The Jewish historian Josephus mentions Jerash as the town where the treasures of Amman (Philadelphia) were safely kept in the temple of Zeus." The years between (approx.) 270-570AD was a period of Christian/Byzantine growth and development. Buildings and churches decorated with marble and mosaic pavements were built near the Roman sites, which were readily plundered. Islam arrived in the 600s and many buildings, including a mosque, were added to the site. The Temple of Artemis was converted to a castle to repel crusaders, but the whole town was captured by Baldwin II, the crusader King of Jerusalem, (1118-1131). In the 1800's, the city was discovered by the German explorer Seetzen, and later still, became a refuge from the Ottomans for many Jordanians.

Our guidebook was copyrighted in 1997, and the photos in it, compared to what we saw and photographed, showed that amazing restoration work has been accomplished at the site in the past decade. As a matter of fact, as we wandered around and looked, we could tell that piles of blocks near certain structures appeared to be numbered, as if they were giant pieces of a puzzle just waiting to be reassembled. For the wiki page on Jerash, click here.

Now, my plan was to upload full-sized photos on Picasa, and link to them here with smaller versions, in order to allow the viewer to click for the original high resolution photo. Apparently, our web connection, or picasa, or ?? does not agree, so you get what you get, unless you send me a note (with your email) telling me that you LOVE a certain site photo, then I’ll try to email it to you. We took a bunch of good photos, so I’ll be making make several blog posts to share:

Brian welcomes you to Jerash! (He is standing at the North end of the Hippodrome)


The Triumphal Arch

This arch “was built by the citizens of Jerash in honour of the visit of the Emperor Hadrian to the city in the winter of 129-130(AD)”. This is one of the structures on which considerable reconstruction work has been accomplished – it was stunning! We visited part of Hadrian's Wall in the UK, and this site was just as awe-inspiring.



Honor poses




Inside, we found blocks bearing an inscription of the event – these were laying on the ground awaiting their turn at restoration:


Brad beside one of the carved blocks of the arch. In the background, behind Hadrian’s arch, we see Hadrian’s Hotel – a more modern site. Today’s city of Jerash is right across the street. The new built atop the old.


Not too far from the Arch, are the remains of a Byzantine Church. I believe it is the Marian Church, according to the map on the book. It was hard to get a good photo, but if you look close, you can see the mosaic flooring. I couldn’t find anything on the web about it, but I’ll add a link if someone knows of the history.


And here we are, with the arch and storerooms in the background.


A better photo showing the Triumphal Arch and the storerooms along the back of the Hippodrome. The small square structure on the left are the remains of the church. I think this picture gives an early hint of how massive this site actually is and why we are going to need more than one visit!


A view into the Hippodrome. “It was used by the Romans in ceremonies such as horse racing, athletics, and other entertainments…” It could seat about 15,000 spectators. There is a show, RACE - The Roman Army and Chariot Experience, that looks like a must see one of these days.


Along the sides of the Hippodrome, the children climbed about, explored in detail, and tried to find interesting ‘artifacts’ (plenty of modern beads and bits of glass to entice them). There were also plenty of bugs to follow around.



Some parts of the site were not marked in any way, not even ‘warning: drop off!’, and we took close looks to see what they might be. Eventually someone confirmed for us that these holes in the ground were tombs, but we do not know the details. Hopefully a story we’ll hear at a future visit.


This interesting bit was not marked either, but from it’s location to the South of the Hippodrome, it may be one of the ten animal stalls that the guide book mentions.


And, eventually, we made our way to the South Gate of the city… near this area is a Visitor’s Center and an Archaeological Museum, neither of which we’ve seen yet, as well as a Rest House & Restaurant where we had a nice meal after our exploring. DSC05177

And that’s all for this installment. More later!