Saturday, 22 June 2013

Jordan for Juniors

Yes, I know, I keep travelling to countries situated worryingly near danger zones! Jordan is a tiny country in the Middle East and shares a border with Syria - but this didn't put me off. I've always wanted to go to Jordan - to Petra in particular - and I was excited about this trip.
Ours was a five-day press trip and if I were to travel for an actual holiday I would definitely go for longer. There's so much brilliant stuff to see and do and for adventurous families this is an exciting destination with memorable locations. The children will remember what they saw in Jordan for a LONG time to come.
We flew to capital Amman (Air Jordan was very nice and not too expensive) and stayed in a lovely hotel (Le Meridian) with a gorgeous swimming pool. From here it was just an hours' drive to the gem that is Jerash. Truly, this place is quite a find. It has Roman remains here which rival Pompeii and it's a wonder that more people don't know about it. Very exciting. And in the remains of the amazingly intact Colisseum, there
were soldiers playing bagpipes! Apparently they had done their military training in Scotland - it was so out-of-place it was hilarious!
I've been longing to visit Petra for at least twenty years and it didn't disappoint. This ancient civilisation carved into the red rock was AWESOME. It is a big site, however, and the only way to manage it with the children was to placate them with donkey rides (not cheap, but absolutely worth it -and my children were given mules which they adored) and chariot rides. The chariot rides (so-called by the children) were just horse and carriages with covered tops to shelter you from the glare of the sun. Inspired by their visit to Jerash the day before, my girls imagined they were gladiators sparring in battle as we charged over cobbled paths back to the entrance...................Advice is to come early or late afternoon to avoid the hottest part of the day. Adults could spend a whole day exploring the vast site, but a half day is probably all most children will want to spend.

Aqaba shares a border with both Israel and Egypt and both can be seen across the bay. It sits on the Red Sea and would be a good place to stay for a week and use as a base to explore. Petra can be visited from here as can the Wadi Rum (see next) and the snorkelling is excellent here. The fish and coral (the sea gets its name because the coral is red) are spectacular.
We stayed at the glorious Radisson Blu Tala which had FIVE swimming pools and sits on the beach. It wasn't an expensive hotel and yet it was top quality five star luxury. I would definitely consider coming back here for a week. Apparently Easy Jet are planning cheap flights on a new route from the UK to Aqaba, which will really open this up as a destination. The children LOVED this hotel by the way, and would happily have spent more time here. If not just so that they could swim a different pool every day.

Wow, what an experience. From the Red Sea it was an hour's drive to the Wadi Rum, in the heart of the desert where Lawrence of Arabia came (and the film starring Omar Sharif was filmed here too). The Wadi and it's monolithic rock formations were spectacular. We took a camel ride at sunset (truly memorable - if I hadn't been worried about falling off my camel I'd have pinched myself to check that I was really there) and then settled into our campsite, Captain Desert Wadi Rum.
I won't lie to you. It wasn't the best night's sleep I've ever had. This is our tent, sheltered by the towering rocks:
and the inside! Do use mosquito repellent and the mosquito nets. The repellent I bought in Tunisia (see previous post) worked a treat. None of us got bitten whereas others in our party were munched to bits!
The Bedouins running the camp were so lovely. They took us first on the camel rides:
 And then they prepared us a feast of grilled chicken and lamb cooked under the hot sand. There was a big ceremony as they dug up the dishes. My youngest daughter Hannah thought the concept of cooking food under the sand was disgusting (she'd imagined the food would be sand-coated!), but happily the meat was in pots and it was actually delicious. Everything had been slow-cooked and was so tender it fell off the bone. Carrots roasted whole alongide the meat were sensational.
When dinner was over the bedouins started playing music with local instruments - flutes and strings - and got all the children up and dancing. It was sweet and unforgettable. As was the star-gazing in the inky, unpolluted atmosphere - the dazzle of planets was almost blinding.

This was our last stop. Our base was the Marriott Dead Sea Jordan Valley Hotel and I have to say it was one of the most glorious hotels I've ever been to - and I have stayed in a lot of hotels. Boutique hotel it isn't - it's vast and again has several pools, but wherever you are it somehow manages to feel quiet and unrushed. Plus it has the added bonus of actually being on the Dead Sea, which is so salty you can float and read at the same time. You can also pamper yourself to a self-service mud treatment (the mud is from the bottom of the sea) which is full of so many good minerals that your skin is left silky smooth afterwards.
What absolute fun. The Dead Sea was the highlight for the children, especially this hotel. The food at its Italian restaurant is sensational by the way and the swimming pools were dreamy - one had a water slide that the children never tired of. Again, this would make a great base for a week or even longer. Jerash is an easy daytrip from here, as is Petra. And the rest of the time you could just chill out in the hotel (which has a great spa) and treat your skin to the healing benefits of the Dead Sea. This is the lowest spot on earth and sufferers of psoriasis say it helps their skin too. ............................  A great, great trip.

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