Getting to Madaba, Jordan

My blog is finally going to live up to its name (a little bit), Across the Middle East, as my family and I journey through Jordan together for the next nine days. The adventure began Thursday evening, with my little brother’s arrival in Israel. My friend picked him up from the airport and we headed directly to Jerusalem, where we stayed with other friends in Katamon (Gonen) and woke up early to catch a taxi to the Sheikh Hussein border crossing.

There are three land borders between Israel and Jordan. One in the north, Sheikh Hussein; one in the south, Arava; and one in Palestine, King Hussein/Allenby. As my brother and I were meeting my parents in Amman, the quickest way would have been to go through Allenby. However, the King Hussein/Allenby crossing is the only crossing that does not provide tourists with visas on arrival and, as we didn’t have the time to prepare our visas in advance, we had to go with the next-best option – Sheikh Hussein.

There are three ways (that I know of) to get to Amman via Sheikh Hussein. The cheapest is to take a bus from Nazareth that takes you all the way to Amman for 75 shekels. However, you have to be in Nazareth by 8:30am, and as it’s 3 hours away from Tel Aviv by bus, this option was no good to us. The second option was to go by private car with a driver whose number my friend gave. This option was 180 shekels per person, minimum two people, going all the way to Amman. However, the driver only leaves Tel Aviv at 1:30pm, meaning arrival in Amman is around 5:30pm or later. This did not work for our parents, so that option was cut out as well.

Finally, my brother and I took the third option. A taxi from Jerusalem to the Sheikh Hussein border crossing for 450 shekels (good price because a friend knew someone at the company, extra 50 NIS because the driver demanded a tip). We went through the border on our own, 101 shekels each as exit tax, 5 shekels each for the bus taking you from the Israeli to the Jordanian borders, 20 Jordanian dinars each for the visa. Upon arrival on the Jordanian side of the border, it was a relief to see a taxi stand with set prices for taxis to Amman. The kind Jordanian couple who I had asked about prices told me what they were charged, and we were charged the exact same amount: 31 dinars from the border to Amman.

On our way to the Sheikh Hussein crossing in Jerusalem, our driver drove down through the West Bank for some reason. There was a traffic jam due to some smoke (which he said was from a bomb, but the news didn’t report anything of the sort) and we had to detour through Jericho. It was lovely seeing a little bit of the city as I hadn’t been before, and I gave my brother a 2-hour crash-course on the situation with the occupation. Our Jordanian driver on the other side of the border was wonderful, and we laughed for a good 45 minutes or so before I started to get a headache and promptly fell asleep until we reached Amman.

It took us over an hour to find our way out of Amman, but once we did we got to Madaba very quickly and found our sweet hotel in the center. On arrival, the receptionist provided us with a wonderful little map with all the tourist attractions on it as well as the best restaurants and he informed us of a baroque concert being given for free at the Church of St. John the Baptist. We relaxed and chatted for a while (after all, I hadn’t seen my brother or father in a year, and my mother in seven months) before heading out to supper at Haret Jdoudna, where we had four delicious Arabic dishes and a plate of grilled halloumi cheese that I wasn’t crazy about. The atmosphere was lovely, especially the stone walls and the Christmas decorations, and the service was excellent.

Satiated and a little tired, we walked about two minutes to the Church of St. John the Baptist and sat in one of the pews waiting for the performance to begin. A cellist, three violinists and two singers from France (the performance was arranged by the French Institute in Amman) regaled us for an hour and a half with two pieces by Vivaldi and one piece by a composer whose name I cannot remember. It was wonderful; I always love seeing what small towns have to offer in the way of entertainment and truly enjoyed this. However, by the end I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to get back and document my day before closing my eyes and getting a good eight hours of sleep.

After all, tomorrow brings with it many new adventures and I need to be ready!

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