One Perfect Day in Amman

One Perfect Day in Amman - originally written for National Geographic here

"I couldn’t stop staring at the skyline of Amman, the capital city of Jordan, from my hotel room. It seemed ancient and utterly modern at the same time, an organized chaos with thousands of white limestone buildings, busy traffic circles, and small pockets of green trees.

Amman thrived at the crossroads of ancient civilizations for thousands of years and is now educating a worldly Jordanian citizen, some with Palestinian roots from their families that fled to Jordan as refugees after the 1948 and 1967 wars. Buildings touting logos like Microsoft, Deloitte, Apple, and Starbucks blend with run-down shacks in the souks and wafting smells of spices and falafel. A perfect day in Amman showcases the juxtaposition of old and new.

 

Breakfast at Four Seasons Hotel Amman

 

 The Four Seasons Hotel Amman is a stylish oasis, a central meeting point for business and leisure travelers alike. The international East-meets-West breakfast buffet serves pancakes, eggs, fruit, bagels, and American coffee alongside local delicacies like foul(simmered beans and spices), labaneh (soft cheese made with yogurt), black olives, falafel, halloumi cheese, Arabic bread, and Turkish coffee."

Royal Automobile Museum

I easily spent two hours at the Royal Automobile Museum, built by Jordan’s current King Abdullah II in honor of his father, the beloved King Hussein, who died in 1999 after a 47-year reign. King Hussein was obsessed with cars and amassed quite a collection in his lifetime. Car fanatics could spend much more time than I did studying the gleaming, limited-edition Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, and Rolls-Royce vehicles, as well as many motorcycles. The Range Rover used by King Hussein, Queen Elizabeth, and Prince Philip on their trip to Petra is also on display.

The Citadel

On the highest hill in Amman sits the Citadel, an ancient fortress and site of Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad ruins. The small National Archaeological Museum on-site displays ancient relics of daily life spanning centuries.

Lunch at Wild Jordan

“There’s a real trend for organic food in Jordan, along with flax seeds,” said the waiter at Wild Jordan. Flax seeds? Yes, there they were, adding crunch to my delicious lunch salad. Wild Jordan is partnered with the Royal Society for Conservation of Nature to help raise money for the cause. The cafe sources local, organic foods for salads and sandwiches. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls show off a stunning view of downtown Amman.

Explore Rainbow Street

Near Wild Jordan is the center of Amman’s social scene, Rainbow Street. Quiet during the day, there are souvenir shops, coffee shops, and bookstores to explore. At night, groups of friends spill out of bars and restaurants, eating at sidewalk tables, creating a lively evening buzz.

Jordan River Foundation

The Jordan River Foundation, established by Queen Rania in 1995 to empower women and children, aims to support local products from communities all over the country. I found that this was the best place to shop for authentic, high-quality items. The shop’s gorgeous pillows, jewelry, and blankets can add distinct global flair to any home.

The Gold Souk

Gold prices remain at all-time highs, and although at the gold souk you can negotiate, you won’t score bargain prices. I was told that many shoppers now purchase “Russian,” or imitation gold instead of real gold. But the real thing still shines brightly in the downtown gold souk.

Darat Al Funun Art Gallery: The Khalid Shoman Foundation

A highlight for me was discovering this “haven for knowledge and progress” for artists in central Amman. The Darat Al Funun Gallery is housed in three buildings built in the 1920s, established by the family of the late wealthy banker, Khalid Shoman. Local artists can use the library and tools and anyone can tour the rotating exhibitions, usually four per year. When I was there, the exhibit on display was a partnership between Darat Al Funun and London’s Tate Modern.

Dinner at Fakhr El-Din

One of the most popular restaurants in Amman for fun and fresh local Jordanian and Lebanese flavor, Fakhr El-Din offers over 120 items including traditional mezze, meat, fish and desserts. Dinner is especially nice al fresco on the terrace when the night air is cool.

Four Seasons Hotel Amman

View from my room
As the Switzerland of the Middle East, I knew that the Four Seasons in Amman had hosted the major players of the world's political stage, royal families, and A-list celebrities.  I am none of those.  But of course, as Four Seasons does best, they treat every single guest like they are royalty.  This was our first hotel on the Jordan tour, where I'd spend two nights before going off to more, ahem, adventurous accommodations. 
In Amman and in all of Jordan, all major hotels have extremely tight security.  At Four Seasons Amman, you go through one checkpoint on the way in, and then you and your bags must go through a metal detector at the entrance.  I never once felt unsafe in Jordan and actually enjoyed the security procedures at the hotels. I felt like a HIGHLY important world traveler doing HIGHLY important things that require security, you know, like travel writing. 
Fresh flowers in the Lobby
When my sloth, jet-lagged self walked into the lobby, I loved seeing Four Seasons touches, like gorgeous flower arrangements, pristine floors and smiling staff.  I happily saw a sign for a "Shopping Arcade" (for me, more accurately known as a "Window Shopping Arcade").  And when I got to my room, I couldn't stop staring at the most incredible Amman city view and sat there watching as the sun set over the White City. I'm in Amman! I'm in Jordan! It was the best way to begin the journey.
My room was decorated in a neutral palate with shades of blue, with a great bathroom and seating area where I continued to read "The Lion of Jordan."
Pool
The hotel quickly feels like your home in Amman.  There is an indoor and outdoor pool with more city views, a lovely spa, and the best fitness center I found out of all the Jordan hotels I stayed at and toured.  The huge International breakfast buffet made me happy with scrambled eggs, toast, cereal and fruit but also had traditional Jordanian options, like falafel and hummus.  
I also got to tour the Royal Suite, which has hosted all those types-requiring-bodyguards I mentioned above. Here are some photos of the memorable suite, and once again, I obsessively took photos of the Amman city views. 
Bedroom in Royal SuiteRoyal Suite
Amman City Views From the Royal Suite
I found myself really missing this hotel as our journey went on through Jordan, just how effortless and easy it was to be there.  After long days of sightseeing, it was refreshing to be home in Amman at this hotel. 

One more spot in the hotel that is not to be missed is The Square Bar, the hotel's cozy watering hole for guests and locals like. It was always busy but never too crowded to find a seat when I was there.  By simply walking in, you know you're at a center of social life in Amman.  I met a large group of building contractors from Arizona and a few businessmen and women from Amman, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.  Not my normal New York posse but that's why I loved it. 
Square Bar at Four Seasons Amman

Next stop: Amman, Jordan

I am headed to JFK in a few hours to fly to Amman, Jordan on Royal Jordanian Airlines.  In July, I got an e-mail from Visit Jordan that an editor had passed my name along as a good candidate for the trip.  I had a wonderful visit with her in April and she happens to be from Jordan.  Jordan has done cutting-edge outreach to bloggers and writers focusing on digital and I am honored to be a part of the trip.

I immediately started reading Queen Noor's autobiography and The Lion of Jordan, about King Hussein, before I got the itinerary from Visit Jordan.  Amman. Floating in the Dead Sea. Hiking to the top of Mount Nebo. Camping in the desert of Wadi Rum. Aqaba. Petra. Wineries. Museums. In short, an ideal way to learn the heart and culture of an incredibly diverse country.

 

The Hotel Line-Up

Four Seasons Hotel Amman

Evason Ma'In Hot Springs & Six Senses Spa

Feynan Eco Lodge

Movenpick Hotel & Resort Petra

Captain's Desert Camp, Wadi Rum

Intercontinental Resort Aqaba

Movenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea