Notes from Madaba and the Dead Sea

Nobuko, my travel-the-world friend, is posting from Madaba and the Dead Sea.

Madaba is a small town, 40km and a world away from Amman and also renounced for its Christian settlement. The Palace Hotel in Amman had a sister hotel in Madaba, so they shuttled me there for free. Well, NOTHING is really free in Jordan. But that’s how they put it. The hotel in Madaba was far from the city center, about a 30-minute walk, if you don’t get lost, that is. This was s contrary to what I was told before: a 10-minute walk to the town center. But it was a clean place. I give them that much. 17ND for a single. Jordan was stripping my wallet in just three days.

I ventured out to find the town center, following the map and verbal directions, accompanied by hand gestures given by the front desk staff. But I got lost. It seems that perhaps in Jordan left means right, or people don’t know what is left and right. I ended up going the complete opposite way. By the way, maps serve no purpose here: people don’t know how to read them. They will just turn it around, look puzzled, and turn it around some more just for the heck of it.

A police car with two officers passed, and not even they could read the map on their own, with Arabic indications. They were nice enough to give me a ride to the city center, but one of them tried to charge me. The other one pacified the greedy one, thank God. This type of “Nice gestures, that end in money making” schemes would repeat itself throughout my stay in Jordan, and strongly color my opinion of its people here (not a nice one as you can guess).

Once I got to the center, I continued to be lost. The map is not well written, not even correct. I found four young Jordanians from Amman, the sole exception to the general public who I’ve found to be greedy, liars, and distasteful. They suggested that we go around together. They could not even find some places, so this made me feel less stupid. We managed to find St. Jorge Church and a museum.

The next day, I went to the Dead Sea and the Jordan river where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Jordan is a hard place for an independent tourist to get around: the lack of public transportation options (hitch hiking is not recommended), the high cost of a taxi, the mob network of taxi drivers and hotels, and the Jordanians’ inability to read maps make this country one of the worst places to travel cheaply. I ended up hiring a taxi for 40 ND for a day to visit only three places.

The Dead Sea was very nice. The Amman Beach is a public one and costs 16 ND to enter instead of 40 at private hotel beaches. It has a shower facility and locker. If you want mud smeared on you, that’s an extra 3 JD. Remember, nothing is free here. I’m surprised they don’t charge for the oxygen you breathe. I went early in the morning and it was not crowded. I floated for about two hours – it is even hard to stand up, because of the very high salt content. And the skin feels very smooth afterwards. This was better than any spa treatments I had received in my life.

The next destination was the Jordan river. Both the Palestinian side (West Bank, aka Israel) and the Jordan side capitalize on this river to which so many biblical stories are attached. At one point, the river is only about 20 meters wide, so you can greet tourists on the other side. There are die-hard Christians who bring themselves and their babies to be baptized in this river. Apparently, Israel got control of the water flow of the Jordan river, so it is affecting the fresh water supply to the Dead Sea. As a result, the Dead Sea is shrinking. Soon, there will only be a mass of crystallized salt there. After taking a break at my hotel room for two hours, I was taken to a sunset point overlooking the Dead Sea, with Jericho on the West Bank and Jerusalem in the distance.

But the entire time I was trying to enjoy the view, the driver was giving  his spiel on whatever else he could sell me – tours to this and that place, shopping at this and that, shops which are presumably owned by his “uncles” or “cousins”.

At the hotel, I met two French people and we decided to share a taxi to get to Petra (there is no regular bus from Madaba to Petra, and though buses exist that connect Madaba to other towns in between Madaba and Petra, it’s time consuming). Even this decision was altered by the hotel staff who basically forced us to take their driver, and tampering with our itinerary. But at 22 IS per person, compared to me going alone and paying 66, it was still a good deal.

The next day, we hit five places before getting to Petra, most of which we spent only 45 minutes. When arrived in Petra, we could not get out of the taxi without hearing even more sales pitches. It’s one thing for them to talk, but these people try to make you feel bad about your plan, or your plan is a poor one. I was so happy to be out of that taxi.

Notes from Amman, Jordan with a Surprise Knock on the Door

This time, Nobuko is in Amman/Jordan and has this to say.

My flight from Alexandria arrived in Amman at 5pm. Air Arabia is a nice airline – I liked the friendly service, food, and the punctuality. The price was good at $110! I got myself a Jordanian SIM card, and then took a 45-minute ride on a  bus into the city. But Amman is a challenging city to navigate – it’s big (of course, it’s the capital!) with wide multi-lane avenues. I should have had a good map or a 3G ready device with map function in my hand.

I had contacted a host via couch surfing. She told me the neighborhood where she lives, so the bus driver dropped me off at the nearest stop to that area. At that time, I did not know this, but it’s quite far from the city center.

When I called my couch-surfing (CS) host, she instructed me to call her again after catching a cab, that she would give the address to the driver. Well, cab drivers in Amman are not so kind with tourists. If you don’t cough up big bucks, they simply drive away. I tried several cabs and each time I had to call my CS host again. I asked her to text me her address to avoid using up my phone credit, but she claimed that she had no credit herself and was unable to send outgoing calls or texts… and she also refused to tell me verbally, since she didn’t believe that I would be able to say it correctly (I do not speak Arabic).

I never found a cab who agreed on the fare. Soon I ran out of credit. The SIM card I had bought came with only 15 minutes worth of credit, and there was no store nearby where I could buy more. One hour had passed by this time, me on the curb side hustling for a cab. And I was carrying my bag weighing 15kg in total. So I decided to ditch the cab and my unhelpful CS host, and walked to look for a bus stand to go to city center instead.

However, since I was in an area that resembled U.S. suburbs with hardly any pedestrians, I could not find people to ask for directions. I wandered around for 30 minutes, and found a bus going by and tried to flag it down. But here in Amman, a modern and organized city, it seems that buses don’t stop unless you are at a stop. OK.I found a food joint and asked there “Salaam alecom, bus?” You can imagine how successful this interaction went. I really cursed myself for not knowing Arabic. I saw and flagged down a mini van (collective taxi) and said “City center?”. The driver nodded yes, so I hopped on. But a fellow passenger, who spoke English informed me, that the bus is NOT going to city center. So I got off after two stops.

I was fine to hunt for the right bus, but I was tired of carrying my bags. I saw a hotel-like building nearby, and walked there in hope of getting someone to help me. It was not a hotel, but there was a travel agency! The manager, Mr. Ali, who spoke fluent English, tried all that I requested, but in the end, said its far easier if he just dropped me off himself at a hotel in the city center. He served me coffee and sweets in a luxurious waiting room with a nice sofa – he even let me use the computer for internet – while I waited for him to close the office.

Then he drove me to a hotel (Palace Hotel). His parents are from Palestine and he was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. He recently took a trip to New York and found it boring to be there alone. I can understand that. Being in a mega modern city alone is not fun. I checked in and had two beers, Skyped with my friend Maria in Germany (the host blogger) and went to sleep.

The next day, I walked to the Citadel. It was a 30-minute walk uphill, but a pleasant one since there were hardly any cars driving by. The view it commands is amazing. You can see the city at 360 degrees around. From there, I walked down to the Roman Theatre, which casually sits by a busy road. Some locals approached me during my walk, but Jordanians – or more accurately, Amman residents – seemed less extroverted compared to Egyptians. I stopped at a food joint and had a big meal for 3 JD ( 1 JD = $0.73), so this is not so cheap. But the owner gave me free refills on salads and beans for which I was very happy!

The points of interests are spread out in Amman. So if you try to walk it, or do it cheaper by bus, you need a lot of of time. I gave up the idea of visiting mosques on the opposite hill from the Citadel and instead walked around the market near the hotel. Out of all, honey stores and shops that sell naughty lingerie stood out because I love honey and I find it charmingly interesting that predominantly Muslim countries (Egypt likewise) openly sell fantasy triggering night wear.

Every time I see one of these lingerie store I want to go in and look what else they have inside, but unfortunately the shop keepers are always men and I assume that me going in alone may not end in a harassment-free interaction. But why are the shop keepers selling women’s lingerie  men? Do only men go to these places to buy skimpy underwear for their wives and girlfriends? Don’t women go there themselves? I actually have never seen any customer inside – neither women nor men. So I don’t know what the make up of the clientele is.

That same night, I also received a surprise from a hotel worker. At 10pm, there was a knock on my door. I was stupid to open it, but I did. In India, I would have NEVER done that. There stood this guy who works as a cleaner. He asked me if everything was OK, and if I needed anything. I said no. Then he zipped down and pulled out his not so impressing wee wee….. I was speechless for a few seconds, due to the caliber of stupidity of this, but came back to myself and got really pissed off. I pushed him away (and he hit the wall and almost fell – with his ding dong hanging out, which is a funny scene to recall) and I locked the door.

Immediately, he started to bang on my door begging for my forgiveness. What an idiot! I called the front desk using my cell phone and asked the attendant to come to my room. He came, and that idiot was still standing there, half crying. Anyway, we settled the matter by the idiot paying for my hotel fee. Had he touched me even with one finger, I would have pressed charges against him. But this is all funny now. Ladies, be smart and don’t open the door, even if the knock comes from a worker.

Well, I raved about how I had never been subjected to sexual harassment in Egypt. But this guy was Egyptian. Just like anywhere, there are always stupid people as well as gentlemen. The male friends I made in Egypt were mortified and ashamed when I told them the story.

Notes From Cairo

Nobuko is back in Cairo and sharing her impressions.

I left Bahariya on a bus and five hours later, I returned to the flat of my couch surfing host in Cairo. She welcomed me back and that night, we stayed home and ordered home delivery of beer and food, and talked. In Cairo, you can get home delivery of virtually anything you want from food to cleaning supplies to electronic items.

The next day I ventured out to the Citadel. The hefty entrance fees were getting to me and my wallet, but I went anyway, paying 50 E pounds. The most impressive was the mosque. Apart from that, the Military Museum held nothing interesting for me, and the palace complex was closed for renovation.

View from the Cairo Citadel

View from the Cairo Citadel

From the Citadel, I walked to the Bab Zuwayla area through a vegetable and chicken bazaar. When I asked three older gentlemen sitting and drinking shai (tea) for directions, they invited me for a cup. I talked to them about my trip in front of a barber shop that had closed down and this space became a sitting area for locals to sip shai, like they were doing.

I arrived at Bab Zuwayla, but the area was quiet with closed shops and not many people walking around like I saw on my first visit.

Bab Zuwayla

Bab Zuwayla

But it was 1 p.m., and at this time of the day, only tourists would walk around. The locals would avoid the heat by retreating into the house. Along the way, I received many “Welcome to Egypt!!” or hand waves  from vendors and pedestrians. I love this kind of reception!!  I happened to find a metro station, and it was 2:30 p.m., the hottest time of the day, so I took a metro back to my host’s house. It cost only 1 E pound for a ride.

I grew to like Cairo very much. But there was one more place I wanted to see … Alexandria! I said good-bye to my host in Cairo, and bought a second class ticket (19 E pounds) for a local train from Cairo and 3.5 hours later I was in Alexandria. I was received by the couch surfer, Islam, who kindly delivered me to the hotel (Crillon hotel). The room I got was 120 E pounds with breakfast, sea view, and a very retro interior. I loved it!

Islam invited two other friends named Islam as well. We went to eat kosharia (Egyptian food) where I got a meal for 15 E pounds. Alexandria has many eateries and cafés with tables outside. This is so nice since the temperature was very pleasant and there were no mosquitoes!  The three young men are young 20-something guys who are well educated, open minded, and hilarious!  I enjoyed their company a lot.

After dinner they took me to a place,  I don’t know what to call the place, it might have been a tea shop?  There are many establishments where people come to drink tea, smoke shisha (water pipe) and play games like chess.  It’s a very lively place with tons of people – mostly men – until well past midnight. I like cities with nocturnal hang-out places like this.

After a while, there were people congregating outside so we went to check it out. There was a group of several young boys doing a rap gig, surrounded by a crowd. One of my young friends joined in. I did not know this, but he is a mechanical engineer who spends much of his time writing poetry and singing rap!  The boys were very friendly (and handsome!) and we chatted a lot. They mostly rap about politics. This was impressive since usually many boys their age may have their minds filled with girls or naughty stuff. They spoke English quite well, too.

The next day, I ventured out around 11 a.m. to the Citadel by the sea. Wow. It’s a beautiful fort with the blue sea behind it. Islam and Islam came to meet me there, then we moved onto the palace at the other end of the city. Inside the palace we found three people playing music and dancing at the side of a parked car. Of course, the rapper Islam joined the dance and got me to dance too. I love this kind of spontaneous character.

We wrapped up the night by visiting the same tea shop we had gone to the previous night. And to make the night more special, we found those young rappers there again!  They were so happy to see us, too, and we talked again and exchanged our contact information. One boy in particular was very flattering, complimenting me with kind words, even called me beautiful! But come to find out, he is only 18! So I told him that I will be his Japanese mother…We took pictures together and said our good byes.

I find Egyptians to be extremely outgoing and friendly. My three friends named Islam did not know any of these boys, but they hit it off very well and made friends with each other instantly. This type of quick-to-warm-up social behaviors were seen many times not only with me, but also among Egyptians. This is the best part of my Egypt experience. People are ready to have fun and connect with others. Egypt got on my list of places to return to. Definitely!

 

 

 

 

 

Parking Rates in Frankfurt and Worldwide

Based on our local paper, Blitz Tip, parking rates in Frankfurt (a.k.a. Mainhattan) are equal to those in Manhattan, New York City.

This statement was worth a challenge. Granted, parking in Frankfurt is not so cheap at an average rate of 8 euro a day, or 2,50 euro an hour. But charges in Manhattan had to be higher than in Mainhattan.

I found my answer on Colliers International website in the article Parking Rates Broadly Up – Worldwide.

Its annual survey of parking rates found, with the exception of the United States, that the cost of parking for a day or a month has generally increased over the past 12 months.

On a monthly basis and quoted in US Dollars, London city and London West End occupied the top two positions, followed by Zurich in third place. The top 10 list was completed by Hong Kong, Tokyo, Rome, Perth, Geneva, Sydney, and Oslo.

New York – Midtown ranked 17th, New York – Downtown ranked 18th, and

Frankfurt ranked 43rd in this chart.