The Amman Series, Travel

Desert Castles in Jordan

As a little girl I spent time walking through the ruins of castles and forts with my family so naturally I had to do some exploring whilst in Jordan and to be sure, Jordan has many castles and ruins worth exploring.

If you are prepared to hire a car and drive for just over an hour from Amman to reach the dessert, then I highly reccomend a visit to the castle ruins in the dessert and the city of Azraq.

Qasr Amra

 Qasr Amra (قصر عمرة ), a UNESCO world heritage site, is possibly the most well known of Jordan’s desert castles. The castle was built by Walid Ibn Yazid some time between 723 and 743 before became the Umayyad caliph Walid II. The castle now stands alone on Jordan’s main East – West highway, roughly 85 kilometers away from Amman. Today the castle is considered a key example of Islamic art and architecture.

The remaining building is more of a remnant of a much larger luxury complex that included a castle: it did not serve any military function, it was merely a luxurious royal retreat.

My favorite part of the building certainly had to be the remaining frescoes on the ceilings and wall which tell the tale of rulers and hunters. Above one of the bath chambers lies the first representation of heaven painted onto a hemispherical surface. Constiliations have been ornately painted onto the ceiling and are accompanied by paintings of zodiac figures.

Qasr Al-Karaneh

Qasr Kharana (قصر خرّانة‎) is located 37 miles of east of Amman and lies in close proximity with the border of Saudi Arabia. Historians and Archaeologists believe that the castle was built some time before the 8th century AD. The castle however contains some Sassanid influences (read about the Sasanian Empire here.)

Qasr Kharana is very well preserved and is today one of the most visited desert castles in Jordan. Historians debate the original purpose of the castle: many argue that the building’s layout does not suggest that the castle had a military use but suggests the castle may have served as a resting place for traders. Other historians disagree as the castle is far from a water source and is not located on any major trade routes.

Qasr Hallabat

The complex of Qasr al-Hallabat is located in Jordan’s eastern desert. Historians believe that the castle was originally a Roman fortress that was built by Emperor Caracalla in the late second century AD. It is believed that the fortress was constructed to protect its inhabitants from the threat of Bedouin tribes. The castle is located on what was once the Roman highway connecting Damascus to Aqaba.

In the Eight century the Umayyad ruler Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik gave the order for the all Roman structures to be demolished and redesigned as grand Umayyad complexes. The new, renovated fort included a mosque, a complex water system and a bathhouse.

Today, the three wall sections of the mosque remain visible and intact. The palace itself is constructed of limestone and black basalt has a square floor plan with towers at each corner. The palace is decorated by beautiful mosaics of animals, frescoes and stucco carvings.

Qasr Al-Azraq

Qasr al-Azraq (قصر الأزرق‎) is a large fortress located in Jordan approximately 100km East of Amman. The Fortress was strategically built next to the nearby oasis; the only source of water in the region. The Romans were the first to use this site and later a mosque was built in the center of the grounds. The Fortress was renovated later in history by the Ayyubids, who used basalt to reconstruct the building.

During the years 1917-1918, T.E Lawrence based some of his operations in the castle.

The Jerusalem Series, Travel

The Secrets of the Wilderness – Hike with Dan!

Hiking in the Land of the Bible


What more can I say? I love to hike. It is a part of my nature. If  I see a mountain, I immediately want to climb it. If I see rough terrain, I want to challenge it. Combine that with the heat of the desert, throw in some of the lowest, most inhospitable terrain on earth and I am excited.  And what if this hike goes through land that has been talked about in the Bible for thousands of years? As a theological student and a student of the Bible, life doesn’t get any better than that!

Hiking with the Dead Sea behind me!


My name is Daniel. I have recently  lived in Jerusalem  for over five years.  On most free days, one could find me hiking somewhere in the desert. Mostly in the Judean wilderness, that swath of desert between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea,  the lowest place on Earth.

It is a geography that is unchanged from the days of the Patriarchs and the time of Jesus. 

As I explored this barren wasteland, it was often with the cherished biblical stories going through my mind. 


In the next several months I will be sharing some of these unique  hiking experiences from the Land of the Bible. Many of my hikes were solo. I loved going out with just a map, lots of  water, and the thrill of discovery around every bend.  As time went on and others knew about my hikes, I  would take people with me so they too could experience the land in a very almost intimate way. 


For now let me leave you with the following thoughts.

There is no place like the desert to remind oneself of your fragile humanity. Especially when water is almost depleted. Life’s priorities quickly become ordered. 

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.

Psalm 63:1 – A Psalm of David (When he was in the Desert of Judah.)

I look forward to sharing more of my experiences with you in the near future.

Until then, Every Blessing.

The Jerusalem Series

Lighting candles in the Old City

The Old City of Jerusalem is always a hive of activity. As the sun gently rises over the distant hills, shopkeepers begin their commutes towards the city centre. Long days lie ahead, setting up shop in the empty streets.

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It does not take long for the crowds to appear -in their hundreds. Tourism in Jerusalem is very seansonal, depending on the events. As a holy city to three of the main monotheistic religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism – Jerusalem welcomes over 3.5 million tourists a year.

One particular afternoon three friends and I were making our way back home after a drink sage tea in the sunshine under a palm tree. It was a Friday, one of the busiest days in the week. We weaved our way through the crowded streets of Muristan, up towards Christian Quarter Road and as we turned onto the road we heard a voice call to us.

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“Hello, lovely family!” 

I have to confess that when we arrived in Jerusalem, we were instructed to avoid conversation with shopkeepers and to just continue walking. The four of us were used to ignoring this instruction.

“We are in spirit, mate” Mal replied.

“How lovely!” The friendly shopkeeper said smiling as he laid out his coloured scarves for display.

I started to smile to myself as we continued walking. When I arrived in the Old City of Jerusalem all those years ago, I was told to keep my head down and walk straight from place to place, I remember being warned that I should not talk to anyone and that I certainly shouldn’t entertain the idea of conversation.

Time passed and our friendship with this particular shopkeeper had grown. The shopkeeper and his shop became a safe haven for some of us when we were walking home. I should stress that it is very unusual to not feel safe in Jerusalem, however, if we ever felt intimidated or at risk of being followed we would calmly walk to the shop and wait there whilst the shopkeeper would send some of his relatives to investigate.

One afternoon, we discovered that the shopkeeper’s birthday was in the following week and we decided to bake him a birthday cake: this soon became quite problematic as we remembered that we did not have any oven.

So, we set to work on preparing a toffee cheesecake and to our surprise, it was a big success. After hours of searching online we found the perfect recipie.

Navigating the Old City thta busy Friday morning turned into more of a challenge than we had anticipated. We tried our best to make the occasion a surprise. As we turned off the bustling David Street onto Christian quarter road we stopped at the first shop and asked if we could borrow a lighter.

The shopkeeper looked at us quizzically and cautioned us not to smoke as it was not good for our health: we continued to explain the plan. The poor shopkeeper only seemed to be more confused by our explanation as we uncovered the cake and began to light some candles.

However much we had planned for this event to be a surprise, our shopkeeper friend had seen us coming from a distance. Unbeknown to us we had gained a following of roughly twelve shopkeepers who slowly followed behind: I am sure they were following us for a piece of cheesecake.

The best moment was seeing a smiling face emerge from the shop and stare in utter shock at the crowd of people who were singing happy birthday. Even some tourists joined in to sing with us. We sang together in Arabic and English and then we all sat down and began to eat. The street was filled with laughter, fun and of course – thousands of tourists.

I am so grateful for that one conversation with a shopkeeper in the Old City, as it led to our hilarious friendship which still exists to this day.

I understand an appreciate the caution of the organisation that I worked for, and I would advise you to walk around the Old city in groups or pairs if you have any concerns. I really do believe that the Old City of Jerusalem is safe, however I would not advise single girls to walk around the city alone at night. Please, exercise caution; there are always exceptions to every rule and although the characters in the story are lovely (and real) there will always be people who sadly wish to take advantage of others.


Jerusalem series
The Amman Series, Travel

Jerash

The small country of Jordan, in the Middle East, is well known for it’s hospitality, culture and historical sights. From an archaeological perspective Jordan contains some of the most spectacular sites in the world including the world renowned tourist attraction that boasts over 500,000 visitors each year: Petra.

On this occasion I want to talk about the beautiful and historical aincient city of Jerash.

Jerash جرش ‎  is an aincient city located in the north of Jordan, only 48 kilometres north of Jordan’s capital city, Amman. Otherwise known as ‘the Pompeii of the East’, Jerash serves as a fantastic day trip for both adults and children.

The city of Jerash dates back to the Neolithic times and incredibly rare ruins and artifacts have been found which have dated back to roughly 7500 BC. The current site of the old city of Jerash includes beautifully preserved ruins of places of worship and other buildings from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim periods.

Recommendations

When visiting Jerash you should wear sensible footwear; if you wish to see the whole site you will need to do a lot of walking.

Take a good camera with you; Jerash is an ideal location to photograph.

In the Roman theatre, two or three men will usually be ready to play wonderful traditional Jordanian songs as you walk in. The men will be happy to play songs for you, just be prepared to provide them with a tip afterwards as this is a cultural expectation.

Before going to Jerash, read about the history of the site, so that you can spend your time admiring the beauty of the ruins.

I would advise that you take water and snacks, just be sure to clear up after yourselves.

Travel

Wadi Rum

Jordan might be a small country, but it is filled to the brim with many breathtaking and beautiful sights. Whether you prefer the ancient ruins of the Rose City of Petra, or the hive of activity in downtown Amman, Jordan is sure to offer something to suit everyone.

If you ever find yourself fortunate enough to visit Jordan, I would recommend a visit to Wadi Rum – it is undoubtedly one of the most mesmerizing places on Earth.

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Wadi Rum  وادي رم‎  is a valley that is located roughly 60 km to the east of Jordan’s southern port city, Aqaba. Otherwise known as the Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum is currently the largest valley in Jordan.

Since prehistoric times, many cultures have inhabited Wadi Rum such as the Nabataeans who left their mark in the form of rock paintings, graffiti, and temples. The West of Wadi Rum is most known for its connection with British officer T. E. Lawrence, who passed through several times during the Arab Revolt of 1917–1918. In the 1980’s one of the rock formations in Wadi Rum, was renamed “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” after Lawrence’s book written in the aftermath of the First World War.

 “The hills on the right grew taller and sharper, a fair counterpart of the other side which straightened itself to one massive rampart of redness. They drew together until only two miles divided them: and then, towering gradually till their parallel parapets must have been a thousand feet above us, ran forward in an avenue for miles.”  – T.E Lawrence (Seven Pillars)

If you wish to loose yourself and escape the world of phone calls, text messages and life’s demands then take a trip to one of the many Bedouin camps. The hospitality that you will experience undoubtedly will be second to none!

My Recommendations: 

I would recommend that you travel to Wadi Rum with close friends or family, it is such a beautiful place to make memories.

Be prepared to ask questions about the Bedouin lifestyle and culture, your visit will be the perfect opportunity to learn more and listen to some fascinating stories.

You really should book a guided tour of the vast dessert and explore some of the most amazing sites and hidden secrets that the valley has to offer.

Sneak away from your friends and family and take a few moments to sit under the stars, I am sure that you will find it a breathtaking experience. I enjoy sitting and listening to the echoes of the valley or watching the sunset whilst listening to a good playlist.

If you are able to, try to stay in Wadi Rum for more than one night, it truly is a beautiful place to escape to.

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The Riyadh series

Living in a Compound

During my time living in Saudi Arabia, I spent three months living in Al Hamra compound in Northern Riyadh. Since then I have been asked a lot of questions about compound life and about the experience of living on a compound so I wanted to write briefly about my experience.

I moved to Al Hamra Compound in August 2019 and I was really impressed by its cleanliness and maintanence. The compound is clean, well looked after and it is a lovely place to be able to walk around in the evening.

If you are considering moving to a compound as a family there are plenty of activities that your children could participate in from swimming to playing outdoors with friends. I spoke to a lot of parents who lived on the compound and they mentioned that it was the ideal location for their children to play together and make friends.

Depending on the compound there are often also a lot of social activities that take place. While I lived at Al Hamra compound there were a lot of social events for residents. I am sure that the kind of events will vary from compound to compound.

Within every compound there is usually a groceries shop and often a maintanence service. You may also find your compound to be equipt with a children’s play area, indoor gym, launderette, tailors and hairdressers – I should note that this will vary from compound to compound.

If you are ordering a taxi, it is worth mentioning that taxis cannot often enter compounds, you usually need to wait outside of your compound for a taxi. In my case, Al Hamra compound was poorly signposted which made it difficult to find; this resulted in uber drivers cancelling their rides which proved very frustrating. If you can drive and have a car you will not experience this difficulty.

 

The Riyadh series

The National Museum of Saudi Arabia

As somebody who has grown up in a house full of history lovers, I have a firm appreciation for museums and history, therefore, when I moved to Riyadh one of the first places that I wanted to visit was the National Museum of Saudi Arabia.

I booked my first taxi in Riyadh and off we drove into the chaos of the city! I remember that the traffic was so bad that day, but I didn’t care! It was so interesting to drive through the city for the first time.

When we arrived at the museum I was taken aback. The building was huge and appeared empty (I later learned this was because I had visited on a school day.)

When I started to walk around the museum and visit the different exhibits I have to say that I was really impressed. The exhibits were filled to the brim with detail and interesting information.

One of my particular favourites was the timeline of Islamic history; it was very informative and useful as I often struggle to remember dates.

I also enjoyed learning interesting facts such as the fact that there used to be elephants in Saudi Arabia -who knew?

If you do go to the museum, be sure to check the opening times online on the museum website.

Also, the museum is also located next door to Murubaa Fort. The two sites are seperated with beautiuful green gardens – I loved exploring the area in the sunshine.

The National Museum of Saudi Arabia would make a fun family day out and I would certainly reccomend a trip if you have the chance.

The gardens that separate the museum from Murubaa fort.