Jerash

For those that love Roman ruins you just have to get yourself to Jerash! Located an easy hours drive north of Amman these ruins are reknown for their amazingly preserved buildings and monuments. The ruins are said to be some of the biggest and best outside of Rome, and once you get to the site you can see why – it is a huge area full of columns, facades, arches, paved roads, temples, plazas and theatres. The years might have taken their toll on other Roman sites around the world, but with the hot dry desert air the ruins of Jerash have had the chance to withstand the test of time and still stand as a testament to this mighty dynasty to this day.

We spent about 3 hours here exploring, which was ample time to visit this sprawling complex from Amman. Starting at the ticket gate (entrance 8JD) you will pass through a large souvenir market and a cafe before hitting Hadrian’s Arch. The tip I offer you here, especially in the peak of summer is to buy a hat or headscarf if you do not already have one, and buy a bottle of water, because once in you will walk for quite a while through a sprawling desert like complex with minimal shade. I would also definitely recommend a guide who can share the history of the area and pinpoint certain features, or at least have a guidebook so you can learn a bit about Roman life in this city known as Gerasa back in the day.

For me personally Jerash was a highlight of Jordan that once again exceeded my expectations (a common theme of my time in Jordan- expectations were always exceeded). You know, you can read blogs, see photos, and google beforehand, but nothing can prepare you for how large the city was, and just how well preserved it is. Even with quite a few tourists around, it isn’t hard to find a quiet place, to immerse yourself in times past, and just picture ancient Romans walking around on the remarkable roads and paths of the city. Jerash really is a special place and I highly recommend a visit here!

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Amman

I knew that I was going to love Amman the moment I stepped out of Queen Alia International Airport. After leaving Perth on a cold wintry evening and travelling for 17 hours, the first thing I felt when stepping out of the airport was the warm sultry air of a middle eastern summer. That gloriously warm air was a relief after a horrible winter, and I just knew that I had made the right choice in choosing Jordan as my destination.


From the airport the drive into Amman central confirmed that this was going to be a great city! I just loved the craziness of the traffic. Amman is a city built on numerous hills, and because of this roads are all twisty and winding and chaotic. The tooting of horns, the boys on the roadsides selling fresh melons, the ladies in various hijab and chador all added to what I pictured a middle eastern city to be like. As for when I heard my first call to prayer…. I just got tingles all over and it made me realise that I was about as far from my ‘normal’ life as I could get. This is what travel is about right? Well for me it is anyway!


After getting to our hotel my travel mate Miss L (who lives in Singapore but we connected at Dubai) and I were absolutely exhausted by our respective flights. We didn’t want to miss out on Amman though! Our tour was due to start the next day and the tour gave really minimal time to Amman. It would be a shame to miss out the capital of a country, even if it might not be the number 1 thing to do in Jordan. (amazingly, Amman might not even be the 3rd or 4th “best” thing to do in Jordan but I don’t know why that is because I thought it was great!). After freshening up we went out to grab a bite to eat at some random little fast food joint that had 3 old men in it drinking coffee. We entered and all eyes zoomed in on us. But then they all smiled, and even though nobody in the store spoke english we ended up with some tasty meat and chicken kebab things. I have no idea what we ate but it was delicious, and it was a sign of great culinary things to come!

From our late lunch we took a taxi to the Amman Citadel. As mentioned Amman is built on numerous hills. On the map we could/should have been easily able to walk. But with the heat, winding roads and uphills we opted for a taxi. Right call – we would have died before we even got up to the citadel! This is one thing I definitely recommend in Amman; take a taxi even if the distance doesnt look so great. Taxis are cheap, price can be agreed before getting in (and bartered a bit) and you will save your energy for the large sites and museums!

The citadel (Jebel al-Qala’a) is an amazing site situated high on top of a hill overlooking the old downtown and the urban sprawl of the city. This site has been occupied for centuries by various civilizations, from the Bronze Age, to the Hellenistic Age, the Ummayads, the Romans and many more believe it or not! After walking around exploring the various remains we visited the National Archaeological Museum which is inside the citadel complex. It really was an amazing museum signed well in English as well and spanning all the civilizations mentioned previously. The citadel was absolutely fabulous and a must not just for the history but the amazing views of Amman as well. From the citadel we went down to the Roman Theatre which we had seen from above at the citadel. Another cool place with lots of tourists and locals alike hanging out in the square in front of the theatre. After walking around here we went into the heart of downtown which was hectic! There was so many shops along the main street selling everything from the usual souvenirs geared towards tourists to dress shops for local ladies. I swear, I have never seen so many clothing shops for ladies in my life in one zone! There was also lots of streetside vendors selling grilled corn, nuts and juices. It felt like the whole of Amman was out and that’s when we realized it was a Saturday afternoon after all! We had forgotten what day it was! It was little wonder there were so many families out and about shopping and enjoying the city.

After feeling slightly claustrophobic by all the crowds we ducked into the famous Hashem Restaurant for a snack. Located on Al-Amir Mohammed street in a side alleyway we could relax and enjoy some of the cheapest but yummiest food you will ever have! For the two of us we got copious amount of felafel, hummus, salad, fuul and freshly roasted bread washed down with a mint tea for the princely sum of JD2.50 each. And there was soooo much left over from that! The place isn’t fancy, but it was packed full of locals and tourists alike. Definitely a must visit! It was after this meal that I realized I loved this sort of cuisine and couldn’t wait for each meal to come around (although I will admit after 9 days of Jordanian cuisine I did sink my teeth into a Big Mac at the airport on the way home. lol)

The next evening (after a day exploring Jerash) we decided to do one more thing in Amman that I personally had never done before, and that was visiting a mosque. Now, there are heaps of mosques in Amman, but the one that openly welcomes tourists also happened to be the one we could see from our hotel room, the King Abdullah Mosque. (although please note since writing this I have learnt that tourists can go to other mosques but having a local by your side would make it easier.) Famed for its impressive blue domed roof, this amazing place can house 7000 people inside and a further 3000 in the courtyard! Inside there is an amazing chandelier and the hugest single piece of carpet I’ve ever seen. For me it was interesting to see the interior of a mosque and the surrounding courtyard. It was also an experience to wear the chador that we were required to put on at the entrance. Now, I know the chador we were given was a cheap synthetic item that trapped in heat, and that perhaps the chador that locals wear is made of cotton or other breathable material, but by gosh I was sweating in the thing! I thought I was going to pass out it was just so hot in it! Anyway for the entry of JD2 you too can experience a cheap synthetic chador and go inside an amazing mosque and see such a beautiful peaceful place of prayer. Well worth it!

After an amazing 1 and a half days it was time to start touring the rest of the country. While I was satisfied that 1.5 days was enough to see the sites of Amman, I wish I had more time to explore some of the other museums and try more of the restaurants and cafes! I missed out on other recommended places to eat such as Wild Jordan cafe and Sufra, which I had really wanted to try. Oh well, I’ll have to try them next time I visit Amman (because trust me there will be a next time!)

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A Dream Came True….. Jordan!

So I returned last month from an amazing tour of an amazing country that I had been dying to visit for years – The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, or otherwise known simply as Jordan!

I have read many a blog over the years where people wax lyrical about a travel destination being “life changing”. I’ve always scoffed at this… we go on holidays, we have a great time, our eyes have been opened, we learn so much, yet we still go back home and within a day of returning we are back at work, back making the school lunchbox that doesn’t get eaten, rushing off on the school run etc. Life hasn’t changed at all. The same thing happened this time upon my return from Jordan, but this time something was a bit different. Not insta-life changing-omg I’ve had a spiritual moment type of change, but I did return home re-energised. I returned home with a new found appreciation for the middle east, a region we are all quick to judge sometimes a bit negatively. I returned home truly loving a country. I mean, I’ve liked alot of countries I’ve visited over the years, but I actually feel a bit warm and fuzzy when I think of Jordan (and trust me I’m not a warm and fuzzy person, usually I’m a bit of a miserable cynical bitch lol).

Anyway Jordan was great, and I have soooo much to write about, but I still haven’t finished writing about our France/Spain trip from last year and I am lacking real motivation in writing lately as I am too busy exploring blogs and reading. So here are some photos of the places I visited and the rest of Jordan will come in the following year or so. 🙂

The Citadel in Amman
Roman ruins of Jerash
Mt Nebo looking over to the holy land
Mosaics of Madaba
Kerak crusader castle
Petra (of course)
Little Petra
Wadi Rum
Aqaba
The Dead Sea
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French Riviera trip – Menton

On our last day in Monaco we didn’t have to fly out of Nice until later on in the afternoon, so we still had nearly a whole day up our sleeves. Most sensible people (like my husband!) would opt to laze around, enjoy a rest from our busy schedule and just stay local near to our apartment. Not me though – I still wanted to jump on a bus and explore the last bit of the French Riviera that we hadn’t gotten to yet. So I jumped on the 100 bus and took the 45 minute trip along the beautiful coastline to Menton, the last French town before the Italian border.

Menton is a beautiful little French town that feels just that little bit different from all the other French Med towns we had visited. Owing to it’s closeness to the Italian Ligurian coastline, Menton definitely had a bit of an Italian flair to it. For my morning here I just walked around, grabbed a gelato and did a bit of exploring through the market. It was a lovely few hours to get the ‘feel’ of this gorgeous town, but with a plane to catch I couldn’t stay as long as I would have liked.

main shopping thoroughfare of Menton
old town buildings
not a bad rest spot, looking to Italy.
more italian feeling than french
i loved this narrow house and it’s colouring!
museum in an old fort
med beach vibes
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French Riviera trip – inside the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

After exploring the fantastic outdoor setting of the villa we headed on inside and explored the luxurious world of the super rich and famous during the belle époque era. The interior of the villa was amazing, and Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild truly lived a decadent lifestyle that was out of this world. While today the villa’s decorations might be viewed a bit ‘naff’ or ‘over the top’, during its time the villa would have been the epitome of extreme wealth. Today, stepping back in time, one could imagine Beatrice receiving guests in one of her many salons over looking the beautiful gardens. Visiting the villa was an amazing experience – it was interesting to see what the homes of the wealthy looked like at the time. The audioguide that came with the entry ticket enabled us to learn so much about Beatrice and her life, and what life was like during that time.

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French Riviera trip – Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

on the way to Cap Ferrat
boats at Cap Ferrat

For a taste of the opulent, and to see how the wealthy socialites of yesteryear (and today) lived, look no further than exploring the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, located on the absolutely stunning Cap Ferrat. Located pretty much central between Nice and Monaco, the beautiful cape is home to some of the regions most exclusive homes. There are many belle epoque homes in this area, and one that can be visited is the villa that Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild had built.


I had heard of this villa while researching our trip, and I loved how it looked, so I managed to con my husband and daughter to come along. I really did not think they would be keen, and beforehand I made them both promise to just shut their mouths and let me enjoy it. I even offered to go on my own and they could go down the beach, but they came along and they were blown away. My husband absolutely loved it, and was eagerly listening to the audioguide about the life of Beatrice and her villa. I was quite shocked really! Maybe he has a cultural bone in his body after all!! Even Miss A enjoyed it – the gardens are absolutely breath taking as they are, but every 20 minutes the fountains put on a show and “dance” to a classical music piece. This had Miss A mesmerised every 20 minutes. lol.

front of the villa
just a view from the garden…

views

the rose garden

Our first part of the ‘tour’ (which you follow by the map given) was of the exterior and the gardens. As you follow the marked out path you pass through 9 themed gardens – the sevres garden, the spanish garden, the french, the florentine, the stone garden, the japanese, the provencal, the exotic (more cactuses lol) and the rose garden. Each is unique and transports you to like you are actually there in that location. The views as well are amazing… oh my the views! Cap Ferrat is really lush and green, and obviously being a cape, surrounded by the beautiful sea.

the villa

villa


dancing fountains

We absolutely loved the exterior gardens, and spent quite a while walking through. We were the first to enter at 10am, so we had the gardens all to ourselves! From the gardens we then went inside and took a tour of the villa, but that is for another post…..

french riviera beauty!

look at some of the neighbouring villas! wow!

Tips:

  • entry is a relatively steep 14 euro per adult. children under 7 are free. pricy, but I think worth it.
  • in winter it is only opened from 2pm to 6pm. summer it opens earlier at 10am. check their website at http://www.villa-ephrussi.com for more info.
  • from Monaco we caught bus 100 to Pont St Jean. From there you can walk but we took another bus, number 81 which drops you off right at the door of the villa.
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French Riviera trip – Nice and Cannes

A day to explore Nice was on the agenda, so off we went, this time by train from Monaco station. The train ride was quick, efficient and relatively cheap, as the helpful ticket man behind the counter gave us an all day pass at 5 euro each, which we didn’t know about. The day was off to a good start!

Once arriving at Nice train station we walked out and were a bit shocked by the grimy seedy look of the city. I guess all areas around city train stations are usually dodgy affairs, but the one in Nice is particularly unpleasant to the eye! I didn’t remember it being so bad back in 2002, but alot of time had passed since my youthful sorjourn (and I guess when you are younger you dont notice things like this!)

Place Massena
Place Massena

Once we took a quick left we got to the main shopping street and things looked better. Further on we got to the beautiful Place Massena, which I definitely remembered from 16 years ago! Nearby the square we saw water jets shooting up, so miss A wanted to check them out. It’s here we discovered an awesome park full of climbing frames and water fountains, so we sat here in the heat for a good while and let miss A blow off some steam.
After our play break, we went on to the old town, the original heart of the city. Here we had a great time exploring alleys, seeing little baroque churches, savoring some delicious ice cream (you must try Fenocchio’s!) and doing a spot of window shopping. We then went towards the Bellanda tower, and to the eastern edge of the main beach which is up high and offers a sweeping view over the Promenade des Anglais, one of Nice’s most recognisable photo stops. The view over the beach and the famous belle epoque architecure is definitely worth it.

Miss A playing
old town
cathedral
the famous beach views

From here we had a lazy lunch at a restaurant on the Cours Saleya, which is a large street one street back from the beach and is packed with a variety of restaurants. We took our chances at Le Safari and were pleased – I had the best pizza I’ve ever had in possibly the whole of europe ( a big call i know!) and husband had a local specialty pasta dish which he said was awesome. We needed a long lunch break because by now it was stinking hot and we had walked alot. Miss A was getting a bit grumpy too so we knew a long stop with icy cold drinks was needed.

After lunch we took our time walking back to the train station. Another stop at the playground to please miss A and by now in our exhaustion we jumped on a tram to take us the 1km up the avenue Jean Medecin to get back to the train station. We were going to call it a day, but it was still relatively early, and we got a second wind, so on to Cannes we went.

At Cannes we just strolled along, seeing where we would end up. Luckily for miss A (and for us!) there was a little fun fair with a few rides and games, so we indulged her a few rides on the mini rollercoaster. This kept her happy enough while we sat and watched the interesting characters along the Croisette promenade and beachfront. It was cool to see where they host the famous film festival, which you see on tv every year. Nearby the Palais des Festivals building there is a little playground, so while husband stayed behind with Miss A I took the hard slog up the hillside into the old town to see the church and medieval laneways. After the old town in Nice the one in Cannes is not so appealing and does not offer as much, so after a short walk I made my way back down and we made the train journey back to our base in Monaco.

Miss A living her dream
Cannes beach
fancy shops on Croisette
medieval old town
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French Riviera trip – Eze

For the quintessential French Riviera experience, complete with sweeping Med views, charming medieval villages and beautiful winding country roads, a visit to the village of Eze is a must! It was many years ago on a travel website that I first learnt about this place, and the photos I saw captured my heart and made me put Eze on my wishlist. Many years later and the chance presented itself, and the dream of many years ago was finally realised. Even luckier for me was that I got to share my dream with my family.

small alleys

Eze is a small village located on a rocky outcrop some 429 metres above sea level. Founded in the 12th century this village has seen its fair share of offensives, from Saracens, to the French and even the Ottoman. It’s location high on a rocky mount was obviously very good for protection and security. Today the chance to get a glimpse of this old village and its history is a very special thing indeed. Take the time to explore the village. This is free, and well worth exploring and getting lost amongst the tight alleyways and paths.

As you continue to climb through the narrow streets you end up at the entrance to the exotic gardens. This has an entry fee of 6 Euro, which sounds a bit steep, but is a MUST to experience the grand finale of this charming village. Located high on top of the old ruins of the circular fortress that once dominated the village, the exotic garden was designed in 1949 and houses many succulents and cactus. (The french seemed to have an obsession with exotic succulent gardens since we also visited them in Monaco and Cap Ferrat!) Anyway the views over the Mediterranean are amazing, made even more resplendent by the beautiful sculptures in the gardens, known as ‘goddesses’ or ‘graces’ and created by sculptor Jean-Phillip Richard. These really give the gardens a magical feel.

those views!
a goddess overlooks the Med
sublime
cactus kingdom

After exploring the gardens, you wind back down through the village lanes once again. This is a good chance to walk past the east side of the mount, to see the 1772 Church of St Notre Dame de l’Assomption and the small old cemetary behind it. All in all this charming village exceeded my expectations and then some. It really is as picturesque and magical as the photos show. Yes, it is very touristic, and I can only imagine how bad it is in peak season (we went in september) but with some careful planning you can avoid the cruise day trippers and have a relatively peaceful time. Add this to your itinerary if you are ever in the area!

follow the Nietzsche path back to the beach

Some tips:-From Monaco or Nice you can catch the train to Eze sur Mer and take a 45 minute hike up the Nietzsche trail to the village. This is ok if you are super fit or advenurous, but remember you’ll still have the walk around the village to do and it could be tiring!

-We took bus 100 from Monaco (our base) and got off at the stop called Gianton, then took bus 83 up the beautiful winding road to the village of Eze. This was quite easy as buses have an electronic sign on board which tells you the next stop ahead. It’s also super cheap at 1.5 Euro each. We did the same back a few hours later.

-As always, if you want less crowds, get there early!!! We got there at 9am and it was quiet. We were some of the first to get into the exotic gardens and have easy access to the views. By the time we were done 2 hours later the stampeding hordes of day trippers were huffing their way up the hill.

– It’s very exposed up the top, and it can get quite warm walking up to the top. Be sure to pack suncream and a hat, and plenty of water. Once inside the exotic garden there was nowhere to buy water.

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French Riviera trip – Oceanographic Museum

A must do when visiting Monaco, especially with a child in tow, would have to be to visit the famous Musee Oceanographique de Monaco. This museum is absolutely fantastic, and will keep your child (big or small!) entertained for a few good hours.

After entering the museum the first port of call would have to be the Aquarium. Now, compared to other aquariums I’ve been to here In Australia this one doesn’t have the “wow” factor of a huge underwater walk through aquarium, or like our one here in Perth we have a ‘conveyor belt’ that takes you around a loop and as you look up the sharks and rays are swimming above your head. This museum doesn’t have that, but what it does have that our one in Perth or Sydney doesn’t have is the variety of species. I couldn’t believe just how much this one had!!! We saw fish we had only ever seen in books and documentaries. It was amazing to see a piranha for real, and to see other super rare species that you only read about in books   

Piranha

After the aquarium we went to the history part of the museum, which was just as amazing. It was so cool to see the numerous skeletal remains of animals, and also the huge variety of stuffed animals on display. A real educational experience for the kids and adults alike. They also had an amazing light show every hour, where lasers lit up the skeletons hanging from the ceiling. In the other hall opposite they had maritime research history which was really fascinating too. Old maritime instruments, remnants of arctic expeditions and that sort of stuff.

Once we had explored the inside we took a lift to the very top to take in the views of Monaco and the sea from the roof. It was here that we made the discovery of an awesome playground, which is a relatively new addition to the museum. Most people missed this, as its behind the toilet blocks and is not well sign posted. But once on the roof, if you walk around behind the toilet block, you’ll come across a turtle sanctuary and an amazing rooftop playground for the kids. My girl had a blast climbing up onto the replica whale skeleton.

Which famous explorers have sat in this room?

Overall this museum is a must  if you are ever in Monaco. Even if you don’t have kids you will find the huge array of living animals amazing, as well as the various specimens from past scientific expeditions. Anyone with an interest in the olden days of maritime exploration or science would love this. It is well worth its kind of hefty price tag of 14 euros for adults and 7 euros for kids age 4-12. It sounds steep but you get to see a lot for that price and I think its worth it.

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French Riviera trip – Monaco

Monaco needs no introduction. I am also sure Monaco does not need another blog post written about it. The world knows that Monaco is the home of the rich and glamorous, that it hosts one of the best grand prix races of the season, that you can see fancy mega yachts that the average person can’t even imagine could be so amazing. Monaco is all that, and for the average tourist who spends half a day there on a bus tour, or comes off a cruise for a 3 hour tour, that is what they will see – the harbour full of superyachts, the old town with the royal palace, and perhaps a check in at the casino. But stay a few days and there are little pockets of the ‘average’. Go to the same restaurant a few times out of the main harbour area and you’ll meet waiters that will remember you from the day before and find you a table even though its packed with locals. Walk from Cap d’Ail and you’ll pass the hospital, the car dealerships, the mechanics, the every day mundane businesses that every city needs, even one that is all glitz like Monaco. There is even the good old shopping mall of Fontvielle, complete with McDonalds for those that need it.

We were most fortunate to be staying a week just outside of Monaco in Cap d’Ail. For us it meant that we could take our time with Monaco. We ended up going into the city nearly every day. It was nice to go early before the heat to explore the old town and its palace and narrow streets. After a day exploring Nice we went back to Monaco for dinner and take a stroll around the harbour at night. On the day that was looking a bit sketchy weatherwise we went to the aquarium. Don’t forget the exotic garden at the very top of Monaco either – its views are outstanding!

Basically, give Monaco more time than the 3 hour rush off a cruise ship if you can. It isnt all the rush and glitz of a big city. Take the time to explore the local market at Place d’Armes, enjoy a coffee nearby with the locals, stroll the streets and enjoy the spectacle of the rich and famous with their little poodle dogs decked out in Louis Vuitton.

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The royal palace

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Port de Fontveille

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Exotic Garden views

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Palace and old town from the exotic gardens

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Monaco’s beautiful train station

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Every yacht needs a basketball ring!

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Opera house at night

monte

You aren’t a tourist until you’ve paid 20 euros for an icecream sundae at the Café de Paris overlooking the casino!

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