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Ma'a salama Al-Urdun

Now my time in Jordan has come to an end, it feels kind of surreal to be at home in Sunderland. Almost like a bit of a fever dream. What had become normal had now been flipped on its head yet again as I walked down the streets I hadn’t for a while. I hate to sound like the kid who “went on their year abroad and it changed their life”, because it didn’t. I’ve seen some things I never thought I would and met some amazing people along the way, but at the end of the day, I am still Tom. The ginger Mackem lad who likes languages a canny bit. So, here’s to the last six weeks of my time in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

The month started how the last one ended, in the rose red city of Petra. A week off from studies meant the chance to see parts of the Kingdom yet discovered, or yet discovered properly that is. I definitely did not give enough time to see all of Petra when my family came in March, and the weather hindered that trip even further. However, the sun was on our side this time as my girlfriend Olivia and I trekked through the ancient Nabatean city unchanged by history. 22km later, a lot of water and snacking, and burnt calves later, we had completed the whole trek from the entrance to the Monastery and back. And back to the hotel that is. Petra truly is indescribable, its sheer height and beauty towers over you at both the Treasury and the Monastery, and you can practically hear the ancient tones of chatter as you head down Colonnaded Street. Although the heat can prevail, you can never forget the importance of this site in history, and you are constantly reminded of the presence of the community here as Bedouins encourage you to check out their shops. The true highlight of Jordan’s tourism, it is a must see in the Kingdom, and I’ll include more information on prices to Petra in my blog post about my family’s trip.

In what now feels like a lifetime ago from writing this blog post, my two friends from the UK visited at the beginning of May. Ollie and James had studied in Amman before Christmas, and I travelled across Scandinavia with them before their return to the UK for university. Having them back in the Kingdom was a great time, and very handy that they both spoke Arabic and knew their way around the place!

One of their first stops on their trip was to the city of Salt (after a stop at our local shawarma sandwich shop, obviously), which I visited a few months back. Salt is just north west of Amman and easily accessible by bus, or even taxi. It is best known for its market, which we explored in great depth, along with its historical significance. The city was originally chosen to be the capital of the Kingdom of Jordan, before moving onto Amman and declaring that as its capital in 1921. As well as checking out its market, we were also invited into a local church, and ended our day in a café playing cards and catching up with our friends.

We lived in Sports City in Amman, which, in the youth sports city itself, includes the Martyrs Museum. The museum pays homage to the fallen in Jordan, and the wars it has fought throughout the years. The museum is filled with information on the creation of Jordan and its complete military history, and has artefacts from fallen soldiers and the battles they were involved in. One of the most interesting aspects of the museum is the Kings Room, which includes military uniforms of all of Jordan’s former Kings, along with accessories they wore. The museum is slightly out of the way if you’re not in Jordan for long, and the Jordan Museum in Downtown still may give you all the information you’re after.

After leaving sports city, a trip to the Citadel was needed to fully encapsulate seeing all of Amman again for the boys, which was of course followed by a trip to Hashim’s Restaurant in Downtown – which is always a must. A return to salsa dancing at the Regency Palace Hotel in Sports City concluded our Thursday evening, before a rather chilled Friday (no surprises as to why…).

Azraq Nature Reserve, near the city of Azraq in Zarqa, is the epitome of tranquillity and beauty. Springs have originated in the area since 250,000BC, but dried up in 1992 after supplying drinking water to Amman since the 1960s. Since then, the Royal Society for Conservation and Nature have tried to resurrect the springs artificially, but bird migrations have significantly decreased since then. The nature reserve is so peaceful and is still home to many different species of bird across its 12km2 preserved area, which still supplies around a quarter of Amman with water. It is rather far outside of Amman and getting a bus to Azraq may not be sufficient enough, as the reserve is outside of the town itself. You can get taxis, but they will be required to wait for you in order to get home. In my opinion, your best bet to see the reserve would be to hire a car, and I would do this as this area of land is absolutely amazing.

Within the boundaries of King Hussein Park is the Royal Automobile Museum, which opened in 2003. The museum does charge 5JOD for non-Jordanians and 3JOD for Jordanians but is definitely worth it if you’re interested in cars. The museum is the first of its kind in the Arab World, and hosts cars from 1916 to the modern day, alongside the rover from the film The Martian, which was gifted to Jordan after the film was shot in Wadi Rum. Whether it be military trucks, state official limos or jeeps that hosted Queen Elizabeth II, the museum has it all. Oh, and vehicles from Star Wars.

Just near the Dead Sea resort is the adventure cave that is Wadi Mujib. The wadi, meaning valley in Arabic, has been transformed into a thrill-seekers haven, with trekking through the natural waters and climbing up (and then sliding back down) rock faces. The site has a car park, and the easiest way to get there would be by hiring a driver or a car. Be ready to wait for access to the site too, as there are only a limited number of lifejackets and number of people permitted into the site at a time. However, it is definitely worth the wait as you tackle the natural landscape the wadi has to offer. I’d recommend wearing long bottoms, as the fish often like to have a nibble of any innocent’s skin as they wade through the water. Oh, and be careful, it’s slippy!

As final exams set in again, everyday life included return outings to cafes. From Books @ Cafe in Jabal Amman, Dimitri’s and Aristotle in Weibdeh, and The Good Bookshop Café on Rainbow Street are certainly some of the best spots should you want a good environment to work in. And they all do amazing food and drink, which always helps.

May 25this an important day in Jordanian history, marking its independence as a country from British rule, and granting Abdullah I King of Transjordan. The country celebrates this with events across the Kingdom, and a national holiday. In Amman, celebrations were held in several places, with my friends and I attending those at the Hashemite Plaza in Downtown. The Roman Amphitheatre was filled with hundreds of people who sang, chanted, danced, and waved Jordanian flags to-and-fro in celebration of their independence day, 76 years on from the creation of the country.

I was lucky enough to visit Palestine this month alongside a friend. Palestine is beautiful and we got up to a lot over our short weekend there. I feel as though Palestine therefore needs its own blog post about what to see, and how accessing the place itself may seem tricky but is still very viable as a tourist destination. After all, some of the holiest sites in the world are in Palestine. I mean, I saw where Jesus was born?!?!

With the end of the semester, and our year abroad, looming, we decided to get an extra dose of culture through some cooking. Following a post our friend found on the Expats in Amman group on Facebook, we had a go at making one of Jordan’s most loved desserts: knafeh. Our guide was Hosam, who we met at his house in Jabal Amman, where we cooked knafeh on his roof under the setting of the early summer sun. Although complex, he took us through every step of the process, and not to blow our own trumpets, but it was pretty good! And, it was only 5JOD. It was so good in fact, Tegwyn even made her own TikTok promoting him.

As my last week in Jordan began, so did the last-minute dash to do and see everything I hadn’t already whilst living here. The Baptism Site of Jesus Christ is a stone’s throw away from the Dead Sea and is one of the most religious sites on the planet. The easiest way to access the site is by car (taxis can be tricky as you may not have mobile signal to get one back), and there is a car park at the entrance to the site. As the site is on the country’s western border, it is a militarised zone, so you are required to get one of the sites shuttle buses to the baptism site itself. Although you can no longer get down to the site where John baptised Jesus, you can see it very clearly from above (if not even better than you could if you were down there). You can then continue your walk to the banks of the River Jordan, where you can be baptised yourself should you wish. As I mentioned, this is a militarised zone, and armed guards are on both sides of the River Jordan, as it is the definitive lines of Jordan’s western border. The site is beautiful, and its significance in religion is huge. Be aware that the site is out in the open, and when we travelled their temperatures reached around 40C, so it can be extremely hot whilst you’re there.

As we’d hired cars to go to the Baptism Site, we took the advantage of having them, and also visited the ancient city of Jerash the next day, before going onto Umm Qais the day after. The historical ruins of Gadara at Umm Qais are similar to those at Jerash, albeit smaller. Set across the backdrop of Jordan’s most north-western border, you can see three countries at once (including Jordan), and Lake Tiberius, which is the second-lowest lake on Earth, after the Dead Sea. Much remains of the fort at Umm Qais as it was used in the 1967 war against Israel, so has gone under some modern ratifications. The walk along the main street sees you through astonishing views of Lake Tiberius and changing landscape as the ancient pillars topple around you, now only left to the fauna and creatures that have since called it home. Umm Qais is pretty accessible, but is a while away from Amman, and the roads through the villages near Umm Qais are windy and uphill – so you’ll need a confident driver!

My last evening in Jordan was finally upon me, and with hired cars on our driveway, we headed off to Mount Nebo to watch my final Arabian sunset. However, Mount Nebo closed a lot earlier than we expected. Luckily, around the corner to the entrance to Mount Nebo is another viewpoint, uninterrupted by guard rails and information signs, and offers views over Palestine and the Dead Sea. As the sun set, my time in Jordan came to an end, and my friends and I reflected on the year that had been.

It still doesn’t feel right to be back at home. I’m currently awaiting my visa to go to Germany for the summer, so that I can fulfil the other half of my degree. The memories I have made in Jordan will never leave me, nor will the faces of those I have met, or the stories of those I have heard. It is a country I would probably have never visited had it not been for this year abroad, and I am already waiting to return again.