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krisek Petra - A travel report by Krys
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Petra,  Jordan - flag Jordan
7501 readers

krisek's travel reports

Rock hewn Rose City. Stirring imagination. Petra

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Petra is one world’s most known rock hewn city, thanks to Hollywood, which placed the last crusade there. Fictitious one. But in real life, somewhat paradoxically, Petra dazzles in the shimmering hot air of the pink desert as if it was a mirage.


The Monastery
The Monastery
Many travellers choose to go to Jordan just to see a single sight - Petra. And it is in fact the country’s highlight. The ‘Rose City’, as it is often referred to, was discovered relatively recently. Yet, a number of legends sprung promptly about this incredible spot. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg placed a fictitious last crusade there, starring Sir Sean Connery, which exaggerated the extent of the rock hewn structures of Petra. This fuelled many fantastic stories. Still, the city is real. It is amazing and stupendous. Ironically, though, hidden in the flash-flood canyon, it appears like a mirage as the hot air of the desert shimmers, trying to deceive your senses.

In April 2012, as British Airways acquired bmi, I decided to convert some of my bmi airmiles into a free flight to Amman. On the 31 May 2012, bmi exited the Star Alliance. My flight was the next day.

At the check-in, I secured a business class seat. Award tickets for gold diamond club members on flights operated by bmi should automatically be booked in the business class cabin. Yet, my flight was not. The quality of the call centre in India has been steadily declining far below utter rubbish. The flight was overbooked, so the check-in clerk did not have to think twice before giving me a comfortable seat number 5A. As I stretched my legs in the executive lounge a few minutes later, I wondered what strings I would need to pull on the way back to secure a similar deal.

After 4.5 hour flight, I landed in Amman, about an hour late. A car arranged with my hotel picked me up and I speeded away to Wadi Musa, setting me back by JOD80 (£75, €90, $113). The ride took about 3 hours. Petra, which is mainly an archaeological site, is served by a small town, Wadi Musa, which simply grew around it to accommodate the visitors. This is where the hotels, restaurants, cafes, clubs, transport hubs are all located. Some of which are almost adjacent to the entry to Petra, but many are a good mile hike away.

Favourite spots:
Royal Tombs, my second favourite spot in Petra
Royal Tombs, my second favourite spot in Petra
My favourite spot was the cafe at the foot of the Monastery, at the end of the ancient Petra. It was an incredible place offering ice-cold drinks in a variety of seating arrangements. One was in a cave, the other was a wooden room looking like a Beduin shack, and open-air benches with tables right in front of the grand structure. Actually, all seats, with an exception of parts of the cave, had wonderful views of the Monastery. As the facade faces west-south-west, the light conditions are usually best at sunset. I reached the Monastery after a long climb at about 11:30am and I lingered there until 1pm. The facade appeared not to have been finished, compared with the richly decorated and Hollywood-famous Treasury. Actually, it made sense. Treasury was rich, and Monastery was austere. The Monastery had a single, and rather small room inside. It was amazing to see how much effort was made to make the exterior look like this, an yet the interior was so basic.

What's really great:
The Facades Street
The Facades Street
On the much easier way back downhills, I was a witness to a few daredevil stunts.

“Brrbrr, ghrrgrr, brrbrr!”

“Are you okay, ma’am?”, asked a very slim olive-skinned Jordanian boy.

“Is the donkey okay?’, asked a full size thick middle-aged woman with terror in her eyes, as the poor animal struggled on the very steep and slippery steps leading up to the Monastery.

“Yes, ma’am. The donkey is okay”, the boy replied politely.

“I think it’s tired”

“Brrbrr, ghrrgrr, brrbrr!”, said the donkey again.

This donkey was definitely tired. Really very tired! And it was struggling uphills. But the way down was not easy either. The 800 steps were slippery. Some parts were just full of loose rocks. Near the top, where the steps were the steepest, I saw a couple of women attempting to hold on the donkeys navigating their way down.

-”Oh, my God! Oh, my God”, said one of them.

-”Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no! I think I’m walking from here”, said the other.

-”My donkey is out of control!”, cried the first one.

Sights:
The Main Petra Temple, newly re-discovered
The Main Petra Temple, newly re-discovered
Petra, a sight in its entirety, is spread out and includes a number of points of interest. Tickets for the whole site were not cheap. To cover all of the highlights and catch the monument in best light of the day, one would really need to dedicate a couple of days of visit. Jordanian authorities designed the entry fees to accommodate that, as the multi day passes came much cheaper than a combined single day tickets. Single day was JOD50, two day ticket was JOD55, and three day pass was JPD60, and they included a dubious horseback ride down the canyon. The gates were opening at 6am, closing at 6pm or 7pm in the summer. The main sights in ancient Petra included: Ad-Deir (Monastery); Al-Khazneh (Treasury); Street of Facades; the Theatre; Tombs of Urn, Sextius and the Palace Tomb; and Colonnaded Street. Plus there were fabulous canyons, gorges and mountains.

Accommodations:
Room 716 at the Edom Hotel
Room 716 at the Edom Hotel
Having reviewed a few options around Wadi Musa, Edom Hotel popped with perhaps the best value. At least on the booking.com website. It came at JOD66 for two nights (including 10% service charge and 8% tax) in a single air-conditioned room with a balcony with views of Wadi Musa, the mountains, or desert. The beds were comfy and had crisp white linen. The room did not come with 20-inch flat-screen TV or wireless internet access free of charge, although it was advertised as such. The bathroom with simple toiletries and towels was modern and clean. A front desk guy contacted me soon after making the reservation and offered a number of auxiliary services, including the pick up at the Amman airport. The hotel accepted MasterCard and Visa.

Wadi Musa had a number of upper range hotels, yet those were located far from Petra and therefore much less convenient. Well, actually, it depended on what one wanted. An easy access to the Rose City, or proximity of the transport hub in the centre.

Nightlife:
Cave Bar
Cave Bar
In the evening, there was time for an award. I must have walked and hiked for at least 20 miles. So, a large pint of draft beer was in order. I hiked to the Cave Bar, adjacent to the Crowne Plaza and the Petra main gate and ordered my pint (JOD6). It was a bliss. The bar was very elegant. Their drinks menu was comprehensive (JOD7-JOD8.320), the air conditioning was very effective (the door to the cave remained opened at all times), the subdued lighting created a great ambiance, and they also served shisha! At 9pm, the place was far from packed. Well, not inside. The outside tables enjoyed 75% occupancy. Yet, I guess it was early. People kept trickling in. Although not many locals chose this place. Perhaps it was too expensive. But again, I heard that Wadi Musa and Petra were not very famous for their nightlife.

On the night that I arrived, at 10:30pm, Wadi Musa was busy with locals in open-air cafes sipping teas. But that was the upper town, about a mile up from the Petra gate.

Hangouts:
The cafe at the Monastery
The cafe at the Monastery
In Petra, every few hundred yards along the main trail, near the prominent sights, there was a cafe or a restaurant serving cold and hot drinks. Fresh lemon and mint juice, fresh orange juice (JOD3), coffee with cardamom, mint tea, canned cold fizzy drinks, 1.5l bottle of water (JOD2), and small bottles of water (JOD1) were all up for grabs. Some of the spots also offered simple Bedouin foods. On the way up to the Monastery, about an hour-long tiresome climb, the cafes made more sense. And they were a bliss if one did not take enough water. And depending on the temperatures, often reaching 40C, it seems there is never enough water in one’s bag. And why would you want to lug it all the way up anyway. Some cafes offered spectacular views of the canyons. The best view belong to the one about three minutes from the top. A couple of benches stood literally inches from a sheer drop, some 300 yards down! Maybe more.

Restaurants:
The famous Treasury
The famous Treasury
Right at the main entrance to Petra, a string of simple restaurants offered pizzas, shawarmas, sandwiches, hummus, grilled meats and salads. The 7 Wonders Restaurant offered wi-fi and served mediocre pizzas for JOD7-JOD12 (medium to large). Their drinks were not cheap. Small 250ml cans of Coke, Fanta, Sprite went for JOD1.500; 330ml tonic water was JOD2. The service was slow, but at least they spoke some English. I only tried this spot as I saw a group of travellers tucking into their pizzas. So, I thought it would be alright. Well, by now, I should have known better! My hot spicy beef pizza was not totally awful, but I should have eaten in a place packed with locals instead. Not with tourists! There was a place in the upper town, about which I was told. It was called “Ali -something-” and it was famous for its hummus, shawarmas (which I liked), falafels, kebabs, grilled meats. I was too lazy to walk up that mile long hill, though. And I paid for it! Serves me right!

Other recommendations:
The Petra Theatre
The Petra Theatre
Almost off the beaten track, the sleepy town of Shobak, some 20 miles away from Petra, boasts a Crusaders’ castle perched on a hill. It is well worth a visit for those, whom castles fascinate. Public transport between Wadi Musa and Shobak was sporadic and irregular, so the best bet was to arrange a taxi. The round trip, including 1 hour waiting time to visit the castle, cost me JOD20.

Many travel agents in Wadi Musa, including locally managed hotels, would offer a trip or an overnight stay in the UNESCO-listed Wadi Rum desert. Prices varied considerably depending on what was included in the service. Yet, if one planned to continue a trip to Aqaba at the Red Sea, like me, then it seemed better to organise desert trips from there. Wadi Rum was about an hour drive closer to Aqaba.

Petra could be reached directly from Amman Queen Alia International Airport by a private taxi (JOD80-100) or from Amman by public transport - be it shared taxi (JOD10), minibus (JOD5) or coach (JD2.500).

Published on Sunday June 3th, 2012


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Sun, Jun 03 2012 - 09:00 AM rating by rangutan

Entertaining report full of info I need for MY trip !*****

Sun, Jun 03 2012 - 07:50 AM rating by pesu

Great info, superb pictures! AND: Never rent a donkey, might be as dangerous as a camel, Krys! ;-)

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