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Culture: Soca, Feathers And Grinding At Hackney Carnival 2018

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Sunday the 9th of September was a party day for Hackney this year. Although it sits in the shadow of Europes largest, loudest and booty-iest carnival over in west London in late August, Hackney is a smaller but far more local affair. The sun shone, the outfits were outrageous and the vibe was youthful and eclectic. Imagine groups of teens whistling and dancing, families waving from the sides and the occasional eccentric middle-aged boogie queen who shows us all how it’s done….check her out.

 
 

Unlike Notting Hill, what makes the Hackney Carnival so special is that it’s more diverse, don’t get me wrong there’s still plenty of soca music but also floats representing a much broader array of cultures from Asia, South America and the common sounds of the West Indies. The carnival sound systems organiser also promotes diversity in sexuality and the representation of LGBT in London. You can read these thought-provoking posters found outside The Night Tales sound system near the Hackney Central train arches….

Hackneycarnival7.jpg

Slow motion always makes things a little strange…

Here is 45 seconds of unedited carnival carnage. The sun was setting in front of the Hackney empire and energy was rampant; dancers posing, crowds passing and one guy who just stood in front of the shot, thanks mate!

Part mermaid, part dolphin and lion whisperer

Part mermaid, part dolphin and lion whisperer

The epic purple swan

The epic purple swan

Rarely the best of friends in the wild, this bird and snake seem to be getting on just fine here

Rarely the best of friends in the wild, this bird and snake seem to be getting on just fine here

At 3 meters in diameter, this lady did a lot of spinning to show off the span of her dress.

At 3 meters in diameter, this lady did a lot of spinning to show off the span of her dress.

The tiny hot pants award goes to… we really digged this guys get-up!

The tiny hot pants award goes to… we really digged this guys get-up!

A carnival beauty, bird of paradise.

A carnival beauty, bird of paradise.

Robot snake man on wheels…

Robot snake man on wheels…

Hackney Carnival is a growing event but it definitely has a different vibe to Notting Hill. Firstly, there’s very few police, which can add an edgy feel at Notting Hill. The music and floats are more diverse and there is en excellent representation of the different cultures in Hackney. There’s never a shortage of people who like to enjoy themselves in Hackney, but ever-so often they are the nighttime people. It’s was great to see some daytime party vibes with residents out on the streets chatting, dancing and having fun. We definitely felt like we were surrounded by neighbours rather than strangers as is the case at Notting Hill. So when September 2019 starts calling, remember to get yourselves down to Hackney for some local carnival action. You might even catch me in some cheeky hot pants!

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Armenia: 8 Things To Do In Yerevan

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Yerevan’s modern aesthetic might just take you by surprise.  Located in the Caucasus, this neat capital city is more Westenised then you might imagine and yet is deeply rooted in a turmoil of history from the barbaric Armenian genocide to over half a decade of repressive soviet rule.  And yet against all odds it has come out the other side, offering a plethora of high quality experiences for the traveller, from delicious traditional foods to well presented museums.  

 

This is the perfect place to visit for the budget backpacker, where you can enjoy a pint of beer in a cafe for as little as 800 dram (£1.20) and entry to some of their top museums for only 1000 dram (£1.50).  We loved Yerevan’s relaxing setting and ended up staying for 5 nights, enjoying the fresh bread from the bakeries and climbing up to the viewpoints over the city.  As far as capital cities go, this one feels very homely and there is plenty of activities to make this a must-visit destination.  Here are our top picks of things to do in Yerevan....

A fun aztec-style carpet in the Centre of Popular Creation

A fun aztec-style carpet in the Centre of Popular Creation

 

Appreciate Armenian Craftsmanship At The Centre of Popular Creation

This small museum is home to some of the finest examples of folk art in Armenia, and holds a strong collection of woodwork, metalwork, textiles, carpets, traditional costume, lace and embroidery.  The collection has developed over the last 90 years and still to this day the museum supports and displays works of current Armenia artists and craftsmen.  We were told that many artefacts were lost during their troubled history, in the years of the genocide and then later in soviet rule, which is why lots on display has been created in a strange time-hoping timeline.  We were particularly impressed with the woodwork, the hand-carvings of geometric patterns and inlays are so intricate and immaculately done that we left feeling very inspired.  The museum is quite small and not very busy, but definitely worth a visit for only 1,000 dram.  Entry is from 11am-5pm and is closed on Mondays.

Intricate wooden inlays and other handicrafts

Intricate wooden inlays and other handicrafts

 

Enjoy A Refined Breakfast At Lavash

Everyone needs a treat once in a while, and what better way to treat yourself than to eat some tasty food in an enjoyable setting.  In warm months you can sit outside and enjoy breakfast in the fresh air, with a coffee in-hand choosing from a menu of delicious sounding dishes.  The mushroom crepe is a must and comes in two parts so you can share with a friend, and the honey, walnut and butter wrap is probably one of the most intense things we have ever eaten!  An insanely sweet pudding with a thick wedge of butter inside.  We didn’t know whether to love it or hate it. 

We’ve heard that the traditional Armenian cheese balls are a hit but didn’t get round to trying them, maybe you can let us know how they were.  The decor is pleasingly natural-looking and considered, imagine speckled plates and crisp glassware neatly laid out on tables.  Generally the portion sizes are quite small, but the richness of the food seems to make up for it, so order an extra plate to share if your budget allows.  Lavash is open 8.30am-12am and they open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Our bill came to £7.85 for 2 dishes and 2 coffees, so not the cheapest, by local standards but great by European. It’s worth the splash out for a high quality experience.

Delicious mushroom crepes with yoghurt dip

Delicious mushroom crepes with yoghurt dip

 

Visit The Armenian Genocide Memorial & Museum

You can’t help leaving the museum with the heaviest heart and anger at what happened a hundred years ago to the Armenian people.  During Turkey’s last empire, The Ottoman Empire, the imploding Young Turks government callously exterminated 1.5 million people in Armenia including men, women, children and the elderly on the basis that they were Christian, which they believed diluted the strong Islamic traditions of the empire.  The Ottoman government used World War I as an opportunity to invade and coverup their atrocities, as they knew the focus would be elsewhere at the time.  It wasn’t until years later that the rest of the world became aware of the scale of the massacre, and it was too late to stop it.  The modern museum is dedicated to explaining the atrocities of the genocide, the invasion by the Ottoman Empire and the devastating impact it had on the people of Armenia.  It’s pretty heavy going as you can imagine, but it’s important to raise of what happened as recognition of the genocide.  The museum is situated on the top of the hill on the western side of Yerevan city and has an amazing view of Mt Ararat, along with a contemporary metal sculptural memorial marking the remembrance of the genocide.  Entry is free and is open from 11am - 4pm, closing on Mondays.

The stark genocide memorial sculpture

The stark genocide memorial sculpture

 

Have A Rummage At Vernissage Market

This open air handicraft market covers handmade, mass produced and second-hand Armenian products, from laser cut wooden items to resin jewellery, and antique brassware to musical instruments.  It makes for an interesting afternoons stroll wondering down the long market lanes browsing the wears.  Some of the products are standard tourist fair, but actually lots of the stalls are offering something different from one another.  Refreshingly, the sellers are not too pushy, maybe just keen to show you their items if you vest some interest.  There are a number of locals selling antique Armenian carpets and throws, many of which are in mint condition and are as old as a century.  Another highlight is seeing the hand painted artworks by the local artists.  The content of the artworks is generally quite traditional, so expect to see fruit bowls, landscapes, cheesy horses running through water etc, but occasionally you’ll see someone doing things a bit differently.  It’s best to visit at the weekend when more sellers turn out, and if you are looking to do a bit of haggling this may not be the place.  The price given does tend to be the final price but there’s no harm in trying to get a better deal.  The market is open 7am - 6pm daily.

Rugs, rugs and more rugs!

Rugs, rugs and more rugs!

 

Eat Lahmacun With The Locals

If you don’t already know, Lahmacun is a delicious flatbread with a spicy layer of meat on top and is served like a pizza.  You can get Lahmancuns in many neighbouring countries but in Armenia they are also known as Armenian pizza.  The locals love eating this as a snack, and they like to fold each slice over before taking a bite.  If you head to the restaurant next to Lavash on Tumanyan street, you will see many locals eating Lahmacuns there, and if meats not your thing then they also do a vege alternative with Zatar (middle eastern herbs, sesame seeds and oil) on bread.  Both pizzas are utterly morish, and for 900 dram and 750 dram, you really can’t go wrong.  If you also fancy a pint to wash it down then they sell draught beer for 800 dram, which is cheap for Yerevan.

Zataar flatbread pizza, yum!

Zataar flatbread pizza, yum!

 

Get Up To Date At The History Museum Of Armenia

This national museum holds the largest collection of historical artefacts in Armenia, many of which were discovered in 1950’s when the water level at lake Sevan decreased by 20 meters in height and revealed acres of unseen before land.  The museum collection is extensive and consists of Bronze Age artefacts, ceramics, arms and weapons, information on the Armenian genocide, and an incredible wooden chariot excavated from Lchashen near the lake.  The signage is generally good and each room has an information board explaining the timeline of events and all other relevant info.  It’s strictly no photography inside the museum and there are many invigilators walking round to enforce the rule.  Entry is 2,000 dram for adults and the museum is open 11am-6pm daily but closed on Mondays.

No photos inside, so the entrance it is then.

No photos inside, so the entrance it is then.

 

Try Some Traditional Dishes At Tavern Yerevan

This restaurant popular with the locals is a great place to get to know Armenian cuisine as the menu is extensive, the dishes are freshly prepared and the prices are affordable.  There are a few of these restaurants scattered around Yerevan and the one we went to on Teryan street had an open bakery kitchen where you could see some very skilled workers baking the bread that they serve, rolling out flat breads the size of small tables and putting them into a tandoori oven in the ground.  We were mesmerised by the speed that they were making them and ordered a bread basket for only 300 dram to sample the yummy goodies.  The plates are starter size so you can order a few to share, or a couple for yourself if you are dining solo. You will leave feeling very full after two plates. We went for the pumpkin soup (which was deliciously creamy), tabouleh salad (very well seasoned), stuffed aubergines and bread which came to 4,400 dram between two people. That’s really not bad for fresh food, bready entertainment and great service.  The only problem you will have here is choosing from the 20 page picture menu!  Tavern Yerevan is open daily from 10am-12am.

Homemade breads, Tabouleh salad and stuffed aubergines

Homemade breads, Tabouleh salad and stuffed aubergines

 

Climb The Cascade Complex

This impressive outdoor limestone staircase offers incredible views of Yerevan city and the stunning Mt Ararat.  It was designed in the early 70s during the Soviet rule and was only completed in 2009, 18 years after it Armenia became its own republic.  The structure is unique in style, like nothing I have ever seen before, and has a strange contemporary yet minimal Soviet theme.  Water fountains are formed by 3D geometric patterns protruding from the limestone, with half circle curves that look like they’ve been borrowed from an Art Deco building.  The water fountains weren’t on when we visited, which perhaps even added to the oddness of the design.  The climb up the giant staircase might be a challenge for some, so take a few breaks and enjoy the view of the city behind you.  If you don’t feel like walking then you can jump on one of the seven escalators that run up the inside.  This is a must-see when in Yerevan and is free to access.  The monument is open at all times of day and night.

Sculpture in the Cascade Complex, Yerevan, Armenia

 

We really wanted to visit the Cafesjian Centre For The Arts but run out of time on our visit, so if you are into contemporary art then why not pop into this gallery at the same time as seeing the Cascade Complex (it’s situated just inside).

 

We hope you find our article helpful, let us know if you have any questions or other ideas!

 

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Jordan: The Backpackers Guide To Saving Money

Jordan is a country packed with outstanding natural beauty, some of the oldest and most wonderous sights on this planet, and not forgetting the friendliest people.  A visit to Petra will make you feel as though you’re discovering a forgotten city for the first time, and a trip to the Wadi Rum desert will make you want to live like a Bedouin local.  

As a backpacker, Jordan comes with a price tag and unless you have a healthy budget it’s very easy to overspend.  We spent 2 weeks in this incredible country, and came up with these money-saving tips to help you on your adventure....

The Treasury, Petra

The Treasury, Petra

 

Get A Jordan Pass

Few travellers know of the Jordan Pass (we discovered it by reading a blog) but after finding out about this money saving tip we were feeling pretty smug.  The Jordan Pass works like this, you can choose to buy either 1, 2 or 3 day passes to Petra, along with free entry to 40 other attractions and the visa price included.  A Jordan Pass with 1 day entry to Petra will cost you 70 JD (£70), a 2 day pass is 75 JD (£75), and for the full 3 days in Petra the pass is 80 JD (£80).  Now that’s pretty good considering a day ticket to Petra is 50 JD (£50) and the visa costs 40 JD (£40), so you are saving at least 20 JD (£20) just by having one.  We had a few awkward conversations with other travellers that didn’t know about the pass and had paid 3 days entry to Petra and of course the visa.... ouch.  The pass also includes free entry to some of Jordans top sights, such as the Roman Amphitheatre and Citadel in Amman, the famous ruins of Jerash in the north and many castles scattered around the country.  If you want to get a pass then make sure you book it online before entering the country, otherwise you will be paying for a visa on arrival.  You can find all info on what it includes here….

www.jordanpass.jo

 

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Bring Your Own Food To The Hotels & Camps

Places like Dana village and Wadi Rum are just tourist towns, and the lack of convenience stores, restaurants and public transport leaves you in the hands of the money-making hotel owners.  So unless you have a secret stash of hummus and flatbreads in your backpack, you will most probably have to splash out on 7-10 JD buffet dinners every night.  The food at these places is actually very good, most hotels and camps prepare a full spread of middle eastern dishes including slow cooked meats, fresh salads, dips, vegetables and breads, but eating at these hotels every night can blow the budget, so make sure you have a few dinners up your sleeve.  Breakfasts are mostly included in the room price, but check beforehand because some can be an extra 5 JD (£5) and lunch up to 10 JD (£10)! 

We always made sure we had supplies of flat breads from the local bakery, spreadable triangle cheese (the Jordanians love this and for some reason never keep it in the fridge), hummus in a can, fresh lemon to put on the dry hummus, tomatoes, apples & oranges, instant noodles and some overly sweet treats from the bakery.  That covered us for all meals of the day, and rarely did we need to buy any meals from the hotels.  I’m sure all the hotel owners hated us because we were the worst customers ever. Try to buy fruits from the local market, especially in Wadi Musa near Petra because the shop owners try to charge you 3 times the actual price.  As an example, you can get 6 oranges for 1 JD (£1) at the market, so when the shop owners try to charge you 3 JD (£3) for 6 you can confidently tell them where to go.

Stock up on cheap baked goods from the local bakery

Stock up on cheap baked goods from the local bakery

 

Purify The Tap Water

Rarely do we spend money on bottled water.  We have recently discovered aquatabs, or water purifying tablets, and use them every day to clean the water that we drink whilst travelling.  Aquatabs are only a couple of pounds for a pack of 50, and so you immediately save money by using them instead of buying bottled water.  If you have a bit more money to spend and are travelling for a long time, then you may want to invest in a fancier option such as a water filter flask for around £60 or a UV cleaning wand for around the same price.  The benefits of cleaning your own tap water means that you can fill up from anywhere, whether it be from the sink in the airport, or in a cafe in the city.  Also think of all the plastic bottles you are going to stop going into landfill, or being burnt for that matter!  Then you can really call yourself the environmentally aware traveller, well more aware then you were before anyway.  They say that it’s generally safe to drink the tap water in Jordan, but maybe best to purify it if you are on a short trip.  Buying bottled water in Petra can cost up to 2 JD (£2) for a 2 litre bottle, so get purifying to save some JD!

 

 

Hitch Hike & Bus It

Jordan is the first country that we’ve travelled to where people will go out of their way to offer you a ride.  Many times were we walking down the main roads, we prefer to walk where possible. Pretty much every time we have been offered a lift by a friendly local within minutes, people are keen to share their story and hear yours, making it the perfect way to learn about Jordan. What’s more, hitchhiking in Jordan is really safe, the drivers don’t drive like crazy people, the roads are in good condition and the people are friendly.  It’s worth confirming at the beginning of the ride whether the driver wants any money from you, sometimes they want a few JD and other times they just want your company.  Once you know the price you can then decide whether to go for it, or wait for the next offer.  We managed to hitchhike from the Dead Sea all the way back to Madaba for free, and from Dana Nature Reserve to Wadi Rum. 

Unfortunately, the public transport leaves a lot to be desired in Jordan.  There are very few buses that run to the key tourist attractions, for instance there is only one bus that runs daily to the Dead Sea from Amman and there isn’t a return bus.  The one daily bus we took from Amman to Dana Nature Reserve took 3 hours to fill up before leaving, and we had to make a change in Al-Tafilah because it didn’t even go the whole way.  JETT buses cover some of the main tourist sights, and are marketed more as luxury coaches for tourists and locals.  JETT buses can cost up to 9 JD (£9) per journey, whereas local buses should be no more than 4 JD (£4).  For short distances local buses only cost 1 JD (£1), so make sure the bus driver doesn’t try to rip you off.  Sometimes they charge you for ‘extra baggage’, just a made up fee to try and make more money.  This should never be more than 1 JD (£1) though.  Funnily enough, it’s still legal to smoke on the local buses so you’ll leave smelling like an ashtray.

Hitchhiking from the Dead Sea

Hitchhiking from the Dead Sea

 

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Count Your Change

How many times did we hand over money and not get the right change, or any change for that matter.  A bus driver charged us 2 JD (£2), we gave him a 5 JD (£5) note and oh look, no change.  When we pulled him up on it, he rolled his eyes and drip fed us 1 JD (£1) at a time until we had the right change, it was a slow and annoying conversation.  This does tend to be the norm in Jordan, and so if your not on the ball then you will likely be a few JD out of pocket.  It’s also a good idea to confirm all prices of things before you buy them.  Even a dish that was priced on a menu in a nice restaurant magically increased by 2 JD (£2) when the bill came, and we had to argue that it was clearly printed on the menu in black and white.  It’s a funny game but make sure you stand your ground otherwise the deceptive vendors will be laughing.

 

Book Accommodation In Advance

In high season, so around April time, lots of the accommodation can be taken by other travellers and so it’s advisable to book at least a few days in advance to get a good deal.  Even though we were booking 3-4 days beforehand on booking.com, many of the cheaper rooms had already gone and so sometimes we were having to spend up to 25 JD (£25) on a room for 1 night!  This is not good for the budget traveller.  Dana, Wadi Musa and Wadi Rum are particularly expensive, and there aren’t many cheaper options available.  Even walking into the hotels and trying to negotiate cheaper prices didn’t seem to help, and in some cases the room prices were double that on booking.com. Amman however has many cheaper options starting from around 8 JD (£8) for a double room, and so you don’t necessarily need to book in advance.  Thinking of staying by the Dead Sea? Maybe think again as some of the resorts charge up to 600 JD (£600) per night!

 

Spend Less Time & Hire A Car

Jordan is a really small country to travel around, the public transport isn’t great and cars are cheap to hire.  After visiting for 2 weeks, we came to the conclusion that it would be better to spend less time there and just hire a car to get around (if you have a bit more budget that is).  For example, we spent 8 hours getting from Amman to Dana by public bus which is only a couple of hundred kilometres away!  That’s basically a whole day spent on the bus for 10 JD (£10) between us, and then another 20 JD (£20) for a nights accommodation, so really it might have just worked out cheaper to hire a car and have the rest of the day to do stuff.  We spoke to a traveller that had rented a car for a mere 21 JD (£21) a day, which is amazing value considering that most rentals cost around 40 JD (£40) per day.  If you spent a week in Jordan, you could cover most of the key sights and spend 150 JD (£150) on a car rental, maybe even splitting the cost with some other travellers.  The roads are in good nick, the drivers are respectful and safe, and the country really isn’t that big to drive around.  If you have the budget then we think renting a car is the way to go, and you will save some money by cutting down on the travel time.

 

Swim In The Dead Sea For Free

Most online blogs and guides will tell you that you need to pay to visit the Dead Sea, 25-30 JD (£25-30) to be precise, but after visiting for ourselves we found that you don’t really need to.  There are some open sections of fence where the locals visit around Herodus Spring and the waterfall on the north east side.  You can relax there along with a handful of Jordanians, and enjoy a peaceful bob in the salty waters.  The rest of the sea however is fenced off, or blocked by fancy resorts, so make sure you head to the open section to save some money.  If you go a bit south of Herodus Spring, even 1 km down the road, it is much quieter of tourists.  Remember to rub yourself in the oily mud from the bed of the sea, whilst you smirk at your mega saving!

Mark floating in the Dead Sea

Mark floating in the Dead Sea

 

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Make Sure The Taxi Is On The Meter

Jordanian taxi drivers can be a bit sneaky and some try to overcharge you for your journey.  The easiest way for them to do this is to negotiate a price in advance.  If you are travelling in and around Amman, then putting it on the meter will be the cheapest way to travel and should cost no more than 2-3 JD (£2-3), and that’s to go to the bus terminals on the edge of town.  Little journeys in central will cost around 1 JD (£1) or less, so make sure they put it on the meter at the beginning of the journey.  The taxi guys that hang around the bus terminals usually try to rip you off and give you silly prices, so it’s a good idea to step away and hail one from the main road.  The meter should read 0.25 JD by day, and 0.35 by night at the start of your trip, if it’s been put on the correct rate.  Good luck!

 

Make Sure The Taxi Is On The Meter

(Except Going To The Airport!)

There are always exceptions to the rule, and we found this out the hard way.  We were originally offered 20 JD (£20) to go to the airport from Amman city centre by one taxi driver and refused because we thought he was trying to rip us off.  Instead we insisted on travelling by a different cab on the meter thinking it would be cheaper.  28 JD (£28) later, we realised it was probably better to have gone with the fixed price after all!  Even better than that, it’s possible to get an Uber for around 15 JD (£15) from Amman to the airport.

 

Use Uber

Many drivers use Uber around Amman so it’s never hard to find a ride, and if you are looking for a fixed price before travelling then this is a good way to do it.  For a short distance, ie a few km, it would probably be cheaper to opt for a local cab on the meter, but anything over 6km we would say go for an Uber.  We got an Uber from Madaba to the Fort Of Macherus near the Dead Sea which was about 40km away, and were billed only 8 JD (£8)!  That’s so much cheaper than a local cab would have been.  If you don’t have internet on your phone, then it is possible to hail the Uber using wifi at your hotel/hostel and then complete the journey without internet.

 

Prepare For Friday Holiday

Friday is the Jordanian’s day off, and so across many parts of the country you can expect the locals to be resting and shops to be shut.  This includes many of the grocery stores and bakeries, so unless you have planned well you may be walking around for some time to find that hummus.  If options are limited then you may end up spending more in overpriced convenience stores.  It’s also worth noting that some of the restaurants had shut for the day outside of the capital.

Cheap eats in the capital, Amman

Cheap eats in the capital, Amman

 

We hope our tips will help you save money in Jordan, and if there is anything else we can help you with then let us know in the comments box below.

 

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Jordan: 8 Things To Do In Amman On A Budget

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Amman is a grand capital situated on historical, religious and empirical crossroads, and for the budget traveller there are plenty of tasty Jordanian eateries, art galleries and world-class historical sights so you can keep up with the culture without breaking the bank.  It’s the perfect introduction to middle eastern life; the city has a relaxed and local feel to it, the people are friendly, it’s traditional and attracts interesting open-minded travellers. 

Amman, Jordan

 

The sprawling expanse of the city can be seen as it rolls across the steep hillsides, just a visit to the Roman Amphitheatre will leave you feeling overwhelmed by the sheer scale and manpower of this ancient wonder.  Three days in Amman is plenty to make the most of the sights and culture, and we have put together a list of our favourite activities to help the budget traveller.  If you are into food, culture, the arts and a few of the must-see attractions, then take a look at our recommendations for travelling to Amman on a budget....

 

 

Be Engulfed By The Roman Amphitheatre

Sometimes these ‘must-visit’ sights aren’t quite what they’re hyped up to be, and overpriced for that matter, but this really isn’t the case for the Roman Amphitheatre in downtown Amman.  It’s impressive size and steep accent up the hillside can hold up to 6,000 people at any one time, and despite its crumbling edges, it’s probably the most solid thing you will ever lay your feet on.  It was build between 136-181 CE, that’s nearly 2000 years ago, and is in impeccable condition (minus a few well restored sections that are visible on the edges).  To sit at the top of this beautifully symmetrical structure is somewhat overwhelming.  Just the sheer scale, architectural achievement and view from the top is world class, and for only 2 JD (£2) entry, I can’t think of a better way to spend the price of a coffee.  Price also includes entry to the Folklore Museum, and Museum Of Popular Traditions.  Entry is free for those with a Jordan Pass.

The ancient Roman Amphitheatre 

The ancient Roman Amphitheatre 

 

Try Sweet Cheese Pudding At Habibah

This place has a queue of hungry sweet-toothed diners at pretty much any time of day and it’s clear to see why.  Locals and tourists alike fall in love with the traditional Palestinian kunafa served here, it’s an unusual dish of cheese pastry (similar tasting to halloumi or mozzarella) served warm with a crunchy and sweet syrupy semolina topping.  Eating this fatty, sweet and calorific pudding is intense and incredible, it’s so more-ish and sickly at the same time.  In 8 months of travelling it’s probably one of the most memorable things I have eaten.  At Habibah, they make huge trays of the stuff, and it’s all being heated up from underneath to keep the cheese gooey and the topping as crunchy as dried noodles.  A small plate costs 0.80 JD (80p) and a large which is double the size costs 1.40 JD (£1.40).  You can choose between fine or course kunafa, the fine one is even sweeter.

Yum yum yum! The gooey cheesy and sweet kunafa

Yum yum yum! The gooey cheesy and sweet kunafa

 

 

Visit The King Abdullah Mosque

It’s not very often you get to see inside a mosque, unless you are a practicing Muslim that is, so visiting the King Abdullah Mosque is worth a trip when in Amman.  This is the only mosque you can visit in the area as a non-Muslim.  The enormous blue central dome is a clear highlight, and is decorated inside with a symmetrical gold star-shaped design, which is illuminated by a halo of bulbs. There is some really beautiful marble insets on the surrounding walls in Islamic patterns, and chunky wooden doors with star shaped engravings.  Tourists are allowed to visit outside of prayer times, so unfortunately you will be visiting when the space is empty.  A whopping 7,000 worshippers can fit into the carpeted space with a further 3,000 outside in the courtyard.  Women are provided with a full length black hooded cloak (abayas) to wear, and men are asked to wear full length trousers.  Everyone is to remove their shoes before entering.  Entry is 2 JD (£2) per person.

The King Abdullah Mosque

The King Abdullah Mosque

 

 

Eat All You Like At Hashem

This open air restaurant in downtown Amman is a favourite with both tourists and locals.  It’s sandwiched in between two buildings, in a wide alleyway, and diners are invited to take a seat and wait for the onslaught of Jordanian food.  There’s no menu as such, just a feast of vege dishes that get delivered by some very chatty waiters.  We were fed flat breads, hummus, falafel, the most deliciously smokey moutabel (similar to aubergine baba-ganoush), salad, french fries and local tea, all fresh, plentiful and tasty.  On our first visit we were charged 3 JD (£3) per person, but on our second trip the owner recognised us and charged only 1.5 JD (£1.50) per person. That’s not bad for a half-price price cut!  It’s also possible to pick up a falafel wrap for the bargain price of 0.5 JD (50p).  For a cheap eat, you will leave very full and happy inside.

The spread at Hashem

The spread at Hashem

 

 

Explore The Bustling Local Markets

Get a taste of local life by taking a wonder down the market streets of bukhariyeh in downtown Amman.  Whether your interested in flashy electronics, middle eastern herbs & spices, cuddly toys, fresh fruit & veg, or speciality coffee beans, it’s all here for you to explore, at any time of day and night.  The locals are really friendly, and not pushy for you to buy their produce.  There are several grocery stores that you can stock up on long-life food goods, which is pretty handy considering there aren’t many supermarkets in downtown.  This market is the perfect place to people watch, find some traditional foods, and do a bit of cheeky haggling.  The location is right next to the Grand Husseini Mosque.

The colourful market produce

The colourful market produce

 

 

Touch Two Thousand Year Old Ruins At The Citadel

On the highest hill in Amman stands the crumbling remains of the Roman Citadel.  Built between AD 161-80, what’s left of this ancient structure can be seen from all across the city.  Two enormous pillars at the Temple of Hercules are the only standing remains that give you an indication of the scale of this thing, just standing underneath it makes your head go dizzy!  The site holds the Umayyad Palace, which is a building of stone remains with a beautifully reconstructed wooden dome roof.  It’s definitely worth a look inside to see the intricate construction of the wooden structure, and the ancient carvings on the surrounding stonework walls.  One of the most impressive parts of the citadel though is the site in which it sits on.  All around you is a 360 degree view of the city of Amman, and the flat roofed boxy buildings that climb up the steep hillsides.  There is a viewing platform that you can enjoy or just take a walk around the sight to make the most of the cityscape.  Entry is 2 JD (£2) or free with a Jordan Pass. 

The stunning reconstructed roof on Umayyad Palace

The stunning reconstructed roof on Umayyad Palace

 

 

Munch Down Middle Eastern Meat

You can’t come to Jordan and not sample a kebab, well maybe if you’re a vegetarian!  We found a place tucked away in the alleyway opposite the favourite Hashem, and for 4 JD (£4) per person including an extra side salad with pickles, you can get a taste of authentic Jordanian kebab with a selection of lamb shish, chicken shish, lamb kofte, a salad garnish and flat breads.  It’s the perfect portion for a hungry diner.  The meat is well cooked and seasoned, and the salad is fresh and crispy.  The staff are really friendly here, and you can see them cooking the dishes in outdoor ovens in the alleyway.  This is a real taste of local life down here, no tourists in sight, just some old men drinking tea and playing cards in the cafe next door.  It’s a shabby alleyway, no thrills and a bit grubby round the edges, but if you like going to the local places then you will be at home here.  The restaurant is called Abu Hatem Grills and the restaurant is at the end of the alley before the staircase.

Meat feast at Abu Hatem Grills

Meat feast at Abu Hatem Grills

 

 

Enjoy Some Peace In the Jordan National Gallery Of Fine Arts

This is the perfect place to take some time out of city life and ponder the middle eastern and Islamic art world.  The two-part building boasts a large collection of high quality contemporary works in an enjoyable light and airy space over several floors.  Only a handful of visitors were there when we visited, which makes a nice change from other busy galleries that you might visit.  Even though the works were contemporary in style, I would say that they weren’t particularly provocative and the ones that were more thought provoking were named ‘untitled’.  Was this on purpose? We may never know, but it would have been helpful to have some sort of name or description on the pieces at times, otherwise there was a lot to be left to the imagination.  Having said that, it’s still worth visiting and you could easily spend a couple of hours there if you were taking your time.   There’s a nice cafe up on the top floor if you’re looking for a quiet place to work and can afford to splash out on a coffee.  Entry is 5 JD (£5) but well priced for the amount of work that’s there.

Contemporary artworks in the Jordan National Gallery Of Fine Arts

Contemporary artworks in the Jordan National Gallery Of Fine Arts

 

We hope our recommendations help you if you’re backpacking on a budget. There are also plenty of other cheap things to do around Amman such as free walking tours and visiting other art spaces like the Khalid Shoman Foundation and Darat al Funun galleries.  If you have any other suggestions then we would love to hear them in the below comments box!

 

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Jordan - 8 Things To Do In Amman On A Budget, by Studio Mali
 

 

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