The Top Gear Christmas special was an absolute boon for me. A quick look at Final Gear and the boys were off on a pilgrimage to Bethlehem. We’d already booked tickets for Jordan and Syria a few months earlier and it made the trip all the more awesome! This post will give you a bit of insight into some of the attractions in Syria and Jordan that make a truly memorable holiday.
When they’re coming out of the desert, the Roman ruins you see are in the city of Palmyra. It is clearly amazing, but what is really good about Palmyra is you buy one ticket for basically all the attractions in the city are included. The ticket lasts 2 or 3 days and costs about 500 Syrian pounds (10-12 US dollars) each.
Palmyra is about 300 kilometres away from the Syrian capital of Damascus. It’s quite a long drive down undulating desert roads. It will cost you about $90-120 US dollars a day for a taxi driver that speaks a bit of English (off season – and the same in Euros in peak season). We took a taxi from Aleppo to Palmyra and it was a long day of driving through the desert, nicely punctuated by a visit to stellar attractions like Qala’at Samaan and the Dead Cities. The next day the driver took us from Palmyra to Damascus with time to stop at the pork serving Christian village of Maalula and a weird hippy, non demoninational Christian convent (it’s the only time I saw pork anywhere in the whole 3 weeks I was in the Middle East!). Be warned, the “mid range” Ishtar Hotel we stayed in at Palmyra had no fancy luxuries like a Television in the room, carpet, or a fitted sheet on the mattress. Rest assured there are poncy luxury hotels with a view of the ruins, just not much in between that and the Ishtar.
The Souqs of Damascus
Where the boys buy their gold, frankincense and murryh is in the souqs of the old city. You can easily spend a few days here. Nuff said. If you make it to Damascus you can’t miss the souqs, almost literally. You enter the old city by going through the Bab Touma gate (most taxis drop you off there as the streets are very skinny for cars), find your way to Straight Street, turn right and you’re in the souqs. Even for this part of the world, there’s a special crazy chaos to the old city 24 hours a day. I preferred Aleppo (not visited in Top Gear) up north, but Damascus is a very special place.
Getting from Damascus to Amman for their next stop can be done by a service taxi very cheaply ($50-100) and takes about 4-5 hours. It all depends on how quickly you can get through the border checks. Going form a developing nation like Syria into Jordan is an interesting contrast. One the Syrian side the cop cars are all buggered old Mercedes and Peugeots 404s. The Jordanian cops have new Audi A6s!
The last site where they’re doing the Roman chariot racing their convertibles is called Jerash. It’s about 50 kilometres out of Amman, capital of Jordan down the King’s highway. It was such a cushy drive I thought I was back home in Melbourne! And despite seeing loads of Roman ruins (Apamea in Syria was probably he dumpiest), this was definitely a favourite. It has loads of mosaics, an excellent ampitheatre, a small museum, the lot! You could easily do the citadel and Jerash in 5 or 6 hours without rushing. A guide is essential.
We went to Jerash by chance when we went to the Amman Citadel (be warned no average Joe Arab has a clue when you say ‘citadel’. You might as well be asking them for Mila Kunis’ phone number and when she’s most aroused in Icelandic), our citadel guide offered us a day trip out there for about 80 Dinars. If you are in Amman, there are 3 other things I can recommend for you:
- Visit the King Hussein car museum. I mean come on you’re planning your holiday around an episode of Top Gear, it’s a no brainer.
- Eat at the Reem Al Bahwadi restaurant. A grandiose display of Middle Eastern hospitality and truly amazing food.
- Get the hell out. Little wonder the guys didn’t spend long here. It’s a bit of a shit hole (at least it is down town)! Not really much to see here
I can’t vouch for all the destinations in this episode, but I hope it helps. Any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’ll do my best to help.
- Be warned, even during the winter the desert sun is hot in the car. In summer it would be excruciating. I’m told spring is the nicest time to visit.
- At the time of writing 45 Syrian Pounds equals about 1 Aussie dollar/US dollar.
- One Jordanian Dinar was about 70 Aussie/US cents.
- Taxis and accommodation are your biggest expenses. Food is cheap, tasty and in ridiculous abundance and there’s very few trashy malls or duty free stores to buy stuff you’d buy at home.
- Most taxis are nuggety little Korean cars. So you’d struggle to fit more than 3 passengers in with packs, making car pooling a bit difficult.
- You take taxis everywhere in the Middle East. Even Service Taxis will take you into other countries. It becomes very normal after a few days. Even over long distances it’s fairly cheap.