Saturday, November 22, 2014

Petra, day 1

Shack's photo of the final reveal of The Treasury

Last night we ripped it up a little so we were a bit slow going today but we finally got ourselves together and started off to Petra. 

We hopped in our rental car and started the 1.5 hr trip north to Petra. We ended up getting a great price on a car (40JD/day for a nice small SUVish Kirean vehicle) and we were happy to drive ourselves. The road between Aqaba and Petra is smooth and easy as long as you don't speed, you watch out for goats and the odd truck driving the wrong way, with beautiful mountains flanking the road as you gradually go up, away from the low lying sea.  In Jordan, you can park you car in the middle of the street or drive the wrong way down the side of the highway and the idea of Ames are merely a suggestion but they take speeding very seriously. 

Once you make the turn off to Petra, things get very dramatic. The long, winding road takes you higher and higher until you are at a height of about 6000 Metres. I don't think either of us have been that high without the benefit of an airplane and I kept asking for comparisons to places I had previously thought to be super high and nothing came even close. 

We stopped at the second souvenir shop to gape at the view and take photos but it felt impossible to capture the scale, something that would prove to be a problem from that point on. There was much "holy shitting" going on. 

We are staying at The Movenpick, right in front of the gates to Petra. The hotel is a splurge but absolutely worth it. Trust me. You can just walk in to the entrance, no taxis to and from the hotel and after trudging through the dusty site you are sweaty and dirty and it's nice time back to a beautiful bed and a strong, hot shower. 

One word of warning: this felt like a brand new policy but not only must you have proof that you are staying overnight in Jordan to avoid being charged 90JD instead of the regular price of 50JD but they wanted passports, which we left at the hotel. Luckily, we have photos of our passports on our phones, but were told to bring them the next day for re entry ( we paid 55JD for two days). 

What can I say about Petra that hasn't already been said? Just look at the pictures. Oh, and watch out for horses screaming through the narrow Siq. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Downtown Amman

This hotel could not be better situated. We are in the heart of downtown Amman, in the old part of the city within walking distance of the coliseum, the citadel, the bustling souk that surrounds the King Abdullah Mosque.  
Roof top oasis inside a tent
The Boutique Hotel is not fancy but it's spotless, it's inexpensive, it's wonderfully situated, the manager is friendly and very helpful. He will arrange a ride from or to the airport for only 25JD (a taxi costs about 45JD) or a driver to take you to tour sites like Jerash OT to take you to Madaba for a very reasonable rate. I was very happy with our stay and would stay there again if I returned to Jordan. I fact, we might stay there in our last night. We got the "quiet" room at the back with a king bed and a private bathroom for 30JD a night ( that is just under $50 Canadian). 

We spent at least two hours wandering up and down, venturing one small alley after another. We bought scarves, spices, nuts and a couple of trinkets. Oh and The Kid bought a cane. The one he lusted over had a hidden dagger in the handle. Uh, yeah,no- 'splain that to immigration son. 

The Kid learned a lesson about drinking Turkish coffee on an empty stomach which meant that we missed our reservation at the restaurant I wanted to try. 

Because of this we are back at Jafra, a great place across the street from the hotel. We are there last night and everything was delicious so we are back tonight. Okay, I am not saying that I found out lamb spleen to be delicious but he ate more if it than I could imagine anyone could eat so, for lamb spleen, I guess it was delicious. 

I will talk more about Jafra tomorrow for tonight, we dine. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jerash and The Citadel

Today we set the alarm for 8 am so we could get an early start. I was really excited about seeing our driver from yesterday again so he could squire us around but, unfortunately, there was a different guy waiting for us this morning. Mohammed was a very nice, young man but he didn't speak a word of English so I have no clue what we were seeing on the drive to Jerash, about 45 minutes north of Amman. I am not sure if it because we are Canadian, but he was also cranking the Celine Dion and I was really not ready for my heart to go on.  I am never ready for that. 

At the end of the day he got us to where we needed to go in one piece and we had a great day so I let it go. 

Last night I forced myself to stay awake til about 8:30 or so when I finally succumbed to my jet lag and passed out despite the constant honking, motor revving and yelling that was going on outside of our window - and we have the "quiet room at the back". I woke up, bright eyed and bushy tailed, at about 12:30am. Because I was still wide awake at 2:00, I knew I was in trouble when I remembered I had some sleeping medication somewhere in our bags. Using my trusty iPhone as a flashlight, I tore every bag apart and finally found them in the fourth bag. I split it in half so I wouldn't be groggy in the morning seeing that it was already 2:30 by this point and the alarm would go off in five hours. I realized that we forgot to get some bottled water and I have no idea whether the tap water is safe so with no other choice, I washed it down with a swig of cough medicine. The Kid helpfully pointed out that this is something they tell you not to do with either medication. Thanks kid. 

Needless to say, I was a bit loopy for the first couple of hours. The breakfast at the hotel is simple but fresh and filling and you won't hear me complaining about the fact that they serve the hummus and the  fol from Hashem, the restaurant we ate in last night. A hard boiled egg, some olives, a nice, strong cup of coffee and we were ready to seize the day. 


First stop was Jerash to see the Greco-Roman ruins of the ancient city of Gerasa. Hadrian's Arch was built in129 AD so you get the idea about what we are talking about here. We spent two hours wandering on our own, taking photos and reading all of the signs explaining what the different sites represented. You can hire a guide as well but sometimes I would rather just do my own thing. 

This is an impressive site and has been beautifully maintained but the amount of trash everywhere is off putting. Who goes to such a beautiful place and throws their water bottles, cans and bags on the ground? Not a Canadian, I can tell you hat. The Kid was was doing some major pearl clutching, I assure you. 

I was told it would take us about two hours, and it did. Of course, they saw him coming from a mile away so The Kid was basically forced to buy his head scarf the minute we got out of the car and I was later swindled by a an old dude dressed as a Beduoin but the scarf was stunning on him and it serves me right for being groggy and not on my game. No harm, no foul and it's only money, right?

The Citadel
After that, we returned to Amman and toured The Citadel. There is a building there that was once a Byzantine church and then became The Umayyad Monumental Gateway, the formal entrance to the Umayyad palace where visitors would be screened before entering the palace.
The interior of the gateway

 In the 1990's the gateway was restored by a team of Spanish archeologists and they added the dome you see there.  This building was my favourite sit of the entire day. A very stern but helpful tourist policeman showed us around and explained what all of the different areas were once used for. We had turned down a very persuasive older gentleman guide at the gate so I really apprecited the mini tour. I could have stayed in there forever but The Kid wanted to move on. 

The Umayyad Monumental Gateway

After a bit of a rest, we set off to find Rainbow Street, a famous local street full of shops and restaurants. By the way the crow flies on the map,  it was very close to our hotel. The map did not point out the Porto like flight of three million steps we had to climb to make it up there and by the time we reached the top, I was near death. Usually, this would not be the case but I have been sick since getting the flu at Thanksgiving so I haven't been taking my usual daily, long walks and my asthma is terrible right now. Thank heavens that the falafel shop we were looking for was about ten feet from the top of the stairs. 

Falafel Al Quds is considered one of the best falafel sandwiches in Amman and I have to say, they might be right. Hot,crispy, bright green falafels are deep fried on the spot and sandwiched in a sesame covered flatbread, covered with tahini sauce, some pickle (hot sauce in my case) and then flattened and cooked like a panini. Despite the fact the I had a coughing fit between each bite, I inhaled the entire thing in about 90 seconds flat. I think it was about $2JD each but the transaction happened so fast that I can't be sure. This is a busy shop and ain't nobody got time to dick around with a tourist who still hasn't got her money down. 

Farther down the street we found Panlicious Ice Cream. It's a brand new shop that is actually in the midst of a soft opening and I think it's going to be a hit. The gimmick is a -30C steel pan that freezes cream and turns it into ice cream in about two minutes. He throws your choice of flavouring in with the cream, whizzes with an immersion blender and pours it on the freezing cold pan. A steady stirring and turning over as it freezes ensues, he throws in any add ins you would like and BAM you have a cup of delicious, all natural ice cream. The Kid's banana Reese's peanut butter cup ice cream was, indeed, Panlicious.

By this time we were both dying for a Turkish coffee. How much do you love the twelve year old with a smoke hanging out of his mouth hanging out at the shop? He made me feel better about my own kid throwing back that rich, cardamom laced black jet fuel, so thanks for that, little smoking kid. 

I dragged my son around with me so I could buy some pretty scarves and we scored some him "Gucci" sunglasses for 5JD. He crashed the second we got back to our room so I changed our dinner reservations for Sufra to tomorrow night. Tonight we will just wander the streets, following our noses, in search of kebabs. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Journey to Amman

Friday, Nov 14
So, I spent days and days packing and repacking. I removed items of clothing that I really wanted to take and tried to reconfigure everything. I bought those bags that you pack and suck the air out to make more room. I finally got it to a place where we were both tightly packed into one checked bag each and was worried about how to get the stuff we might purchase home. I know I won't be able to fit a baby camel in there but I was assuming I would buy lovely scarves, maybe some clothing, some lovely tiles etc.

Then the texts started to come from Shack. Can you bring a whack of Maalox (WTF), a king can of Longbow beer... The last straw was the 10 lbs of text books The Kid plopped on the table that need to come because he has to do two weeks worth of work while we are away.

I was barely able to fit in my own panties at this point. I was on the streetcar and went to the airline on my phone to check the baggage restrictions one last time when I noticed something in teeny, tiny writing that they clearly don't want you to see:

If the flight originates in North America and goes to THE MIDDLE EAST or ASIA YOU CHECK TWO BAGS FOR FREE.


I called to make sure and I checked all three airlines we will be using in combination, going and coming and they all say the same thing.
We each get two bags!
I have never been so excited in my life.
Suddenly, the white linen pants were back in the game! Silver flat sandals? Pentax camera?Smart, lightweight silky blazer?


Hey kid, bring BOTH pairs of jeans and throw in your black dress shirt and vintage vest while you're at it!

In the golden, olden days, when carry on bags were the size of an actual small suitcase,  we managed with carryon only. We did do 10 days in Portugal and all I used was this kid's suitcase, the only bag that fit the new, tiny requirements because it was June and we were renting apartments with laundry the whole time and so we all packed for four days.

The problem with Jordan is that although it is the safest, probably the most liberal Middle Eastern country you can visit, you still must be respectful so that means covering arms and shoulders, long dresses and pants unless we are at the pool and you just can't fit two weeks worth of clothing in that tiny skull bag, regardless of how adorable it is. Add to that, four days in Amman, where it's jacket and jeans weather and then ten days in Aqaba where it's 30C during the day but sweater weather at night and rugged outdoorsy trips to the Wadi Rum and Petra and a girl needs two damned bags.

Saturday Nov 15 - D Day

If you want to be able to watch movies that you have downloaded yourself or burned from your own dvds on your ipad, you have to jump through a few hoops. It took me about 5 hrs to figure this out so that you won't have to waste your own, valuable time.

You don't really have to convert to play in VLC, in theory, but everyone says you should convert the file to .mp4, so that is what I do. You can use a separate app for that but since most of my downloaded movie files are done through Vuze, I will show you this method:

If you downloaded using Vuze (my preferred app and I have always just used the free version), open it up. Go to your library and just drag the downloaded file over onto the itunes folder that is on the left side menu of your Vuze app, under device playback. This will convert the file to MP4 and put it in your home movie file in itunes. This is great for syncing with your ipad so you can go watch the movie in bed but you are just streaming the file over wifi. Not useful if you want to watch the movie at hour 7 on the airplane.

If you don't have it already, you will need to download VLC viewer onto your ipad and Dropbox on both your computer and your ipad.

Next, find the actual file on your hard drive and drag the converted movie file into your drop box. Hint - if you just move the file, it will move the physical file, not a copy and you will no longer have it on your computer harddrive. If you want to keep the movie on your computer as well, you must duplicate the file first and drag the copy to dropbox.

After it's done uploading in dropbox, open VLC on your ipad and click on the little orange and white road cone icon. Go to dropbox on the left hand side and open. It will show you all the files in your dropbox, click on your movie file and it will ask if you want to download and you say, of course, HELL YES.
It will take a couple of minutes because decent quality movie files are large (i try to keep them under 2G) but once it downloads, it's now contained in your VLC and you can watch it anywhere, anytime.
You're welcome.

Sunday Nov 16. I think. 

It's only 7pm Amman time and The Kid is already out cold. We left Toronto at 6pm and arrived here at 3pm Amman so that means we're up all night and our bodies thought it was 8am just like it thinks it's noon right now. The trip itself could not have been smoother. A Lufthansa plane operated by Austrians is a very smooth way to go. No glitches, delays, hold ups or drama, no line ups and our luggage was all there on the carousel waiting for us when we got here. It was almost eerie. 

The only odd thing that made both of us give each other a " holy shit we are not in Kansas anymore" was when the seatbelt light came on and an announcement was made the the Israeli government was now demanding that all passengers on flights landing in Jordon must remain belted into their seats for the final 30 minutes before landing or when they are flying over Israel. Ruh Roh 

We are staying a cute little guest house in the heart of the old town called The Boutique Hotel. We made arrangements with them for a driver to pick us up at the airport and, sure enough, a lovely man was waiting for us with a sign and a shiny, new Honda. We liked him so much that we hired him to pick us up tomorrow morning to take us to Jerash and then back to the city to tour the citadel, the roman coliseum and the old town proper. 

The only thing we had the energy for once we got checked in was running out to buy a local SIM card for my jail broken iPhone and eat. We were told to try out Hashem, an open air vegetarian place that appears to only make the silkiest hummus, an oily, spicy mashed bean thing and falafel which was okay with me because it was exactly what we needed. They served us each a steaming glass of strong, sweet tea with fresh mint that could seduce me away from coffee and We feasted until we were stuffed for 4JD   ($6) 

Oh, speaking of coffee, we stopped at a western union to change money and a man came and handed us two little plastic cups full of dark coffee with cardamom. Just came and handed them in through the car window. Get out. 

I can't add links or format on my iPad so until I get to Aqaba and Shack's laptop, we are roughing it on The Yum Yum Factor. I will come back and edit and add links etc later on. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Week In Yum Nov 8-14 Paula Costa DInner at The Depanneur, Zomato Meetup at Pai and Getting Ready To Go To Jordan

the lovely and talented Paula Costa

I was a lucky lady this weekend because I scored two spots at Paula Costa's Ottelenghi Inspired Dinner at The Depanneur on Sunday! Because Shack is in the middle east eating actual Ottelenghi style food at the moment, I took my friend, the female half of the MVPs. Because I am a total idiot who has nothing on her mind but her impending trip, I made my friend pick me up to get me there for 6:30 only to find out the doors opened at 7:30 and dinner was not until 8! 

We had some tea at Starbucks and killed an hour so by the time we were in there and seated, we were starving. From the hummus to the olive oil and apple cake dessert, everything we put in our gaping mouths was delicious. We both lost our minds over the fennel salad and the chicken was perfect. My friend doesn't really drink so we were the only people who didn't bring wine but you are welcome to bring a bottle or two for yourself. 
roast chicken with sumac, za'atar and lemon
A few times a month, a different person takes over the helm and cooks up a feast for the members of the "supper club". It cost's $40 pp to join the club and your membership expires at the end of the evening so you are basically attending a private meeting, being fed food at your meeting and if you choose to bring a beverage, so be it. Anyone who would like to prepare a meal here can sign on so you never know who will be cooking at any given time. It might be an established chef wanting to try out some new recipes, a blogger or a food truck operator.

Click to check out a couple of upcoming dinners here
green beans with walnuts and orange and couscous with apricot and squash
 Paula writes The Dragon's Kitchen and is a blogger that I have gotten to know a bit over the last little while and I jumped at the chance to taste her food. The photos of the sweet potato galette alone are pretty much responsible for my decision to attend and I was not disappointed. Tender, flaky and butter with soft slices of cooked yam, a smattering of pumpkin seeds....oh my.

fennel and feta salad with pomegranate

Sweet Potato Gallette

Nathan's Famous New York Style Pickles

I attended a pickle tasting party last week and the stars of the show were the Nathan's Famous sours and half sours. Nobody was more shocked than I was that both Shack and I chose the half sours over the Strubs because we have always been a hardcore Strubs family. Nathan's got wind of our pickle devotion and offered to send me some pickles to try out at home and they came right this week! I was pretty excited over the arrival of the sweet horseradish pickles because I love sweet pickles. Neither of my dumb menfolk like sweet pickles so these are going to be all mine. 

The horseradish is really strong in these puppies, which I love but be forewarned that if you are not a fan of the radish of the horse, you are going to hate them. I ate a few slices straight out of the jar and that was enough for one sitting - I can't gorge on them the way I can the regular pickles but that is not a bad thing. I have a plan for what to do with them but it will have to wait until next month when I am home again.

Nathan's pickles come from the same company that has been serving up delicious Kosher hot dogs since the company began in 1916 on Coney Island. The pickles arrived in Canada this past September and appear to be taking the place by storm and for good reason. These are damned fine pickles. For now, you can buy your own pickles at Loblaws, No Frills, Fortino's and Value Mart. Just keep your dirty paws off of mine.

Pai Northern Thai Kitchen

I looooooooooove Thai food so when I got the invite from Zomato to join them for a little meetup at Pai, I was pretty damned excited that A. it was at Pai and B. that I would be able to attend because we don't leave til Saturday. Did I mention that WE ARE GOING TO SPEND TWO WEEKS IN JORDON AND ARE LEAVING SATURDAY???
Yeah, I didn't think so.

So, we have the private dining room behind the bar and there are at least 20 bloggers and general active online reviewers there to meet and enjoy an evening out eating and talking about food. If you haven't heard of Zomato yet, you will. They are a restaurant review/social media platform that originated in India and have finally arrived in Canada, starting with Toronto. I discovered them when I was looking for information on some of the smaller Portuguese restaurants that we ate in on our trip to Lisbon and the only place that I could find anything at all was on a site called Zomato. It looked like a European Urban Spoon or Yelp so instead of just getting the info I was looking for, I left reviews in english as well in case other adventurous travellers were looking to eat somewhere off the beaten path.

As soon as I found out they were here in Toronto, I hooked up with Jimena, a lovely Spanish Zomatite who has relocated to our fine city to get things underway here and I have been adding reviews like a madwoman ever since. I really like that someone from Zomato actually goes to EVERY restaurant listed and they check up again on them periodically to ensure that the information is still current. I am loving it.

Okay, back to dinner. We were served a set menu but since I eat everything, that was okay with me but I can't wait to go back and order other stuff to try.  We started with a tray of crispy shrimp chips, chicharron, rice noodle nests and a big pile of Som Tum Tad ($12), a green papaya salad with salty little dried shrimp. I didn't not like it but I wouldn't order it again but that was the only thing I can say that about from the entire dinner, so it's all good. The shrimp chips and the chicharron were not oily and nice and crispy - checking out a couple of deep fried items is always an indicator of skill in the kitchen and these were great.

For mains we had a green curry chicken ($16) served in a gutted coconut that was brimming with freshness. I could taste lime leaf and lemongrass and it was clear that the paste is made in house.  
I was surprised by the level of heat and happy to say that although too spicy for a couple of people, most of us were going back for more until the coconuts were empty. Pad thai ($14) with chicken was also delicious, fresh and full of tamarind and heat, the noodles soft and springy and not stuck together but not overly oily either. Wonderful stuff. There was a little container of homemade chili oil that only a few of us braved but none of us who did had any complaints.

The third dish we had was a pork larb that was a special and not on the menu. Larb is a very traditional Laos dish and it's basically a meat salad, which might not be your thing but I love it. this Northern Thai version was made with minced pork meat with some liver and kidney goodness, fried up with lots of spices - it was the first time I have seen white cardamom- and most importantly, pigs blood. It's crispy and spicy and chewy and, perhaps not for everyone, but I would absolutely get it again.
The meal ended with a beautifully presented platter of sticky rice on shiny leaves and a slab of ripe mango.

an example of small worlditis - Chef Nuit Regular's son and my son go to school together and are friends in geekdom

Pai Northern Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Apart from the dinner out on Sunday and my dinner at Pai, it was a whirlwind week of getting ready to take The Kid to see his father in Jordan. We had to get out summer clothes, pack, launder, buy last minute supplies, get all of his school work in order because even smarty pants have to do homework when they take a 2 week trip mid semester. Pretty much the only thing I actually cooked all week was Spaghetti With Panko,

We will get there Sunday night so you might want to sign up to follow me via email up there on the right as I am going to try to post updates daily. Expect hummus, hummus and more hummus.
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The next time I post, it might be on our layover in Vienna while eating little cakes or in Jordan, impersonating two zombies, pie eyed and drooling with exhaustion, wandering the street with hummus in our hair after about 18 hours of travel.

Have a great week!

Pin of the week: Because I am going there, of course lol

Instagram of the week: VIsit Jordan has managed to make me stay awake till the wee hours lately

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