Rain is atypical weather for this arid region, and while the water is welcome for parched fields and reservoirs, grey skies and damp knocked us into a funk. We wanted to travel. On the cheap.
We started at Turkish baths, or hamams: versions of ancient Greek and Roman bathhouses with elements adopted from the Ottomans. Gender-segregated bathers spend long hours (and little money!) in a series of ritualistic cleansing and relaxation procedures; permissable levels of undress vary in each Middle Eastern country (keep your bottoms on in Jordan!). And if you want advice on how to get to Amman, Jordan from anywhere try latedeals for some tips.
Al-Pasha Turkish Bath rules in Amman. Less opulent than ancient hamams found in Morocco or Iran (see lead image for Iran’s spectacular Sultan Amir Ahmad historic bath), this one is tucked in an old part of Jabal Amman.
Walk around it’s unremarkable exterior, through a side garden filled with old motorcycles, and enter a grand palm-filled salon with a central fishpond, sky-lit from above.
Perch on a gorgeously inlaid Syrian bench and enjoy a Turkish coffee while awaiting your appointment. Or tuck into a sheesha if it’s later in the day.
At least two hours of pampering is yours for 25 JD (about $35) plus tips if you like, including unrushed stays in a steam room, dry sauna and a piping hot jacuzzi. A full body scrub with a loafa and olive oil soap leaves you with theskin of a newborn, followed by a full body massage – 30 minutes that feel like a month.
Super friendly technicians serve you frosty hibiscus juice and water; lounge on a heated marble slab if you are waiting for friends. All done? Shower up and teeter out on wobbly legs into the dreary weather.
Like heat-seeking missiles, we drive down quirky Rainbow Street, a fast right turn at it’s end onto Khirfan Street (the oldest street in Jabal Amman) – an area emerging as Amman’s epicenter for even quirkier arts.
Beit Shkair is a once-stately home overlooking the oldest part of the city. The former residence of the Syrian Shkair family who moved to Amman from Damascus in 1925, it’s decorated with pieces of their furniture and photographs. The building once served as Amman’s first girls’ school, now reclaimed as a cultural center.
Small rooms on several levels have been converted to shops and studios for local artisans, but the restaurant is what pulled us in. A wide menu of Arabic food served up in a glass-fronted room overlooking downtown. Even on a stormy day, the view is fantastic.
Babaghanoush, hummus, chicken wings in garlic and lemon, cheese wrapped in filo pastry, and a tower of warm flatbread set three of us back less than 20 JD (about $28) – and we probably could’ve done with 1/3 less food.
Urgently needing to walk off the mezze, we once again braved the elements.
The street is filled with small galleries and workshops where artisans make furniture and hawk local handicrafts; it’s the real deal. First stop was an intimate 3-room affair housing Ola’s Garden where artist Ola Mubaslat displays an exquisite collection of jewelry, clothing, handbags and art pieces – all made by Ola from wood, sand, leaves, paper, old buttons and beads, metals and cloth. Says Ola, “Beauty never dies it just emerges in a different way.”
Ola (see her through the glass door, above) offers classes too, and while a fantastic jazz soundtrack loops around in the background, she explained the techniques used in each unique piece. We lost track of time in this magical shop so a planned trek upstairs to another artist-owned shop called Love on A Bike (pictured below) was postponed.
Pace yourself better than we did and you can cover alot more ground on Khirfan Street. These examples of how to blow a rainy day in Amman are just drops in a bucket.
Image of Sultan Amir Ahmad historic bath in Kasha, Iran from Shutterstock, all others from author.