Intercontinental Aqaba at the Red Sea

This photo above gives you the best look at where the Intercontinental Aqaba at the Red Sea in Jordan sits, right on the bright blue waters of the Red Sea and nestled in between two hotels under construction and the Kempinski Red Sea.

Aqaba & the Red Sea is where Jordanians go to vacation, akin to the beach towns of Florida or California-the royal family has a home here and as beautiful Queen Rania says, "If you want to cool down, you can take a dip in the Red Sea, diving coral reefs and old wrecks." I liked visiting the Red Sea, though it's definitely a place where you come to kick back and get your tan on.  There's not a great downtown or restaurant scene, so your hotel choice is very important.  The Intercontinental has beautiful public spaces, a fun pool area, nice if slightly chaotic restaurants and you can easily access the water.  I took a boat tour and dove in to swim-very salty but if you come here, you have to leave saying you swam in the Red Sea!

The rooms are nice though not unique, and I'd recommend booking one with a full water view. My room had a partial water view and seeing the massive, empty hotel being constructed next door was a little odd.  I definitely didn't lounge on the balcony to catch the warm nighttime breeze with that eery view!

Lobby

Lovely flowers in the lobby

My room

View of construction from my balcony

Great View of Eilat, Israel

Love seeing the Jordanian Flag

Exterior

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.

National Geographic Intelligent Travel: Coffee With the Bedouins

My second post on Jordan is up on National Geographic-go check it out here! This was one of the best nights of the trip: staying at Feynan Ecolodge & talking for hours with someone with a lifestyle so completely different from mine and yet we found common ground. 

"Sitting beneath a starry sky in the Dana Biosphere Reserve in Jordan, 65-year-old Bedouin tent dweller Muhammed Amareen looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “If you’re 28 and not married, you’ve lost it!” It wasn’t the first time that my stomach hurt from laughing during a three-hour conversation about life, work, love, and marriage with the kind, smart Bedouin clan leader. (Bedouins, by the way, typically get married at 25 or 26 so 28 is not so over the hill!)

How did I get to be sitting in a Bedouin tent in the middle of the Jordanian desert? I was with a group of hotel guests from Feynan Ecolodge, a vital support line to the area’s three main Bedouin clans of around 400 people including 45 children who attend the local school. One of the hotel’s employees, Khalid, invited us to his father’s tent, a ten-minute walk from the 26-room lodge, for an after-dinner coffee.

As I sat on pillows overlaid with colorful homemade rugs in Muhammed’s tent, I felt blissfully far away from my chaotic life in New York City and lucky to get a glimpse into a way of life that may cease to exist in the coming decades. Most Jordanians can trace their roots to Bedouin origins, those traditionally known as “desert dwellers,” who have learned how to survive and thrive in the harsh desert climate. But the modern world continues to threaten their way of life."

Read the rest here 

National Geographic Intelligent Travel: Cultural Treasures of Jordan

My first post is up on National Geographic's Intelligent Travel, about the incredible cultural treasures of Jordan.  Many travelers pop into Jordan only to see Petra and it is a huge mistake.  The country deserves at least a week of exploration.  Click here to read the post on National Geographic. 

The Otherworldly Desert of Wadi Rum"Jordan still flies under the radar of many travelers today, conjuring a sense of isolation and wonder. Once uncovered, the country is easy to fall in love with, as I did during a recent ten-day visit. I was captivated by the landscapes and the friendly Jordanian people, from the Bedouins in tents to the young professionals in Amman (60 percent of Jordan’s population is under the age of 30, which provides a striking contrast between modern lifestyles and deep-rooted traditions.)

My favorite discoveries went far beyond Petra, the bucket list destination and ancient Nabataean city featured in Hollywood films such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Here are four treasures I found on my trip..."

Read more here 

Jordan Hotels: Feynan Ecolodge

Feynan Reception LodgeFeynan Ecolodge was one of my favorite places to stay in Jordan.  I wanted to give a quick overview here before my piece goes up on NatGeo.  It's in the middle of the Dana Biosphere Reserve in Jordan...in other words, the typical middle of nowhere. 

Madaba Church, Home to the Oldest Map of the Holy LandWhen we left Evason Ma'In, we drove to the bustling town of Madaba. Madaba is home to the oldest map of the holy land, dating to the 6th century A.D.  Really, really old. The mosaic map covers much of the church and it's especially cool to see how they depicted Jerusalem. 

Oldest Map of the Holy Land

We had a great traditional lunch at Haret Jdoudna in the lovely courtyard, just around the corner from the church, before heading to Mount Nebo.  Whatever you believe in, standing at the summit of Mount Nebo is a spiritual experience.  This is where Moses stood and saw the Promised Land and where he died.  I always pictured the "Promised Land" as lush and gorgeous, but it is very...brown. Still, Mount Nebo is a must-see in Jordan. 

I'm on Mount Nebo!As we were driving out to Feynan and the landscape significantly changed, a friend on the trip remarked that it looked more like a moonscape.  It's the best way to describe it.  We were on the moon.

Feynan Truck and Local Drivers

We got to the reception center, which is a 30-minute drive from the lodge.  Locals own the trucks and keep the money from driving guests to and from Feynan. Feynan is passionately dedicated to being a sustainable ecolodge in every sense of the word, from using purely solar energy to being the sole support for an entire Bedouin community. 

Sunset Near Feynan EcolodgeCandlelit EntranceMy room, lit by candlesBathroom, lit by one solar-powered lightbulbIncredible Evening with Local Bedouin FamilyLooks very different in the sunshine! Notice some of the "moonscape" rocksFeynan Courtyard