Awesome Amman: I’m Back!

Hello Dear Readers!

Now that you all know how Harrison and I managed our stay in Jordan, it’s time to talk about the trip itself. I was only in Israel for one night before we were due to fly to Amman, but very unfortunately for me, it just so happened that I got extremely horrible food poisoning. I’m talking can’t-stand-can’t-eat-can’t-leave-the-bathroom bad.

This first started at around, oh, seven in the morning, and our flight was at midnight that night. Right around 4pm Harrison turned to me sternly (while I lay helpless in bed) and told me in no uncertain terms we were not flying to Jordan that night.

So when we got to the airport at ten I rallied and managed to keep from vomiting at any point before or during our flight. It was a real struggle, but no way was I going to miss the opportunity to take Harrison to Jordan, one of my favorite countries on the planet.

Luckily, the next morning dawned and I felt much better, though my stomach was still in shreds. But who cared? I was in Jordan!

We had only one full day in Amman, where I took Harrison to all my old haunts, starting with breakfast at the Waffle House.

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I’ve literally never been happier.

We then traipsed around Rainbow Street and down to the city center, which was exactly as busy as I remembered it.

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One awesome thing? I hadn’t been to Jordan in two years, and since then I’ve spent tons of time and effort on my Arabic (MS in Advanced Arabic, anyone?). Well, the previous times I’d visited, everyone refused to speak to me in anything but English, despite my attempts to communicate. This time around I managed to hold my own completely in Arabic and the one time somebody tried to switch to English I took great joy in chastising him about my ability to understand him. That’s progress!

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I also took Harrison to my favorite rooftop bar downtown, which has an amazing view of the amphitheater and is full of bunnies, chicks, and turtles. No seriously, they roam about freely for you to pet and feed. There I got to have my favorite Carakale beer, direct from the only microbrewery in all of Jordan.

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Best of all? We made our way to the gold souks, where hoards of lavish jewelry beckoned invitingly from behind dozens of shop windows. And there we found Harrison’s wedding band, beautiful and luxurious and immensely more awesome that we got it while traveling.

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“Harrison let’s take a selfie”

We spent our evening at Mijana, an amazing Arabic restaurant with a gorgeous outdoor terrace and live music.

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Before too late we headed back to the hotel, tuckered out and ready to prep for our extremely early trip to Petra the next day.

-Carissa “Noor” Rawson and Her Sidekick Harrison

Jordan, Like a Boss

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from the *acute* comfort of my very first Ryanair flight, a four hour debacle commencing in Tel Aviv and culminating in Kaunas, Lithuania. I’m taking Harrison for a very special surprise birthday trip- having managed to keep our destination a secret until we arrived to the airport in Tel Aviv. Pretty cool, right?

Even cooler is the fact that last weekend Harrison and I took a weekend trip to Jordan. That’s one of the nice things about Israel; it’s located in the Middle East, which means that direct flights to quite a lot of the world are extremely short.

Now, before I talk about all the fun we had, I do want to tell you guys how I managed to minimize costs for the trip. This is a points and miles (and travel) blog, after all.

In case you didn’t know, relations between Israel and the rest of the Middle East are…tense. It’s the reason I took a sketchy unmarked flight across the Sinai, and also the reason that the base price for a thirty minute flight between Israel and Jordan starts at $350. This a is a 70 mile journey, folks.

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But basically a world away.

Luckily, British Airways is one of the last few airlines that maintains an award chart based on distance flown rather than ticket cost. And since the two airports are so near each other, the cost for a reward flight on British Airways is a mere 4,500 Avios (and some fees) each way.

British Airways is a transfer partner of American Express, so I transferred over 9,000 Membership Rewards (worth ~120 dollars) for two tickets for Harrison and I, meaning we spent about $250 in points and fees for our $700 flights.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t award availability for our return flight, so we used the land crossing. That story will be coming soon.

We stayed a total of three nights in Amman, and I finally, finally got to use my buy-one-get-one-free night certificate from Intercontinental (you can pay $200 for a year of elite status at IHG, which, among other benefits, gets you one free weekend night/ year with purchase of another night). With two nights covered, I redeemed 25,000 IHG points on our third night.

All told, we spent $302 and 25,000 points on three nights at the Intercontinental Amman. Even better? That aforementioned status (Ambassador) guarantees you a room upgrade, and since availability must have been good, they exchanged my twin bed room with a king size suite overlooking the city- for all three nights!

The breakdown for our costs is this:

Regular Price Our Price
Flights $700 9,000 Avios (worth $120) and $130 in fees
Hotel $1560 25,000 IHG points, one free night certificate, and $302
Total Cost $2260 $432

I’m not going to lie, seeing this breakdown makes me feel pretty awesome. And it just serves to highlight how valuable points and miles are. In case I haven’t harped on that enough.

Stories of our trip are next!

-Carissa “Queen Noor of Jordan” Rawson and Harrison “Basically Her Sidekick” Goldensteinbergowitz

 

Helpless and Afraid

Hello Dear Readers!

Today I want to talk about a bit of a conflict I had while in Jordan. You all know I like to keep the blog pretty upbeat, and I think I do a decent job of that. However, sometimes bad things happen and we don’t know how to address them.

And I’d like some help on that. Are you ready?

You all know that I frequently extoll the virtues of Airbnb. It’s been my go-to for a long time, and has saved me tons of money. I booked an Airbnb for the first two weeks of my stay in Jordan, at a place that was pet-friendly (since Nala was originally supposed to be with me), and was relatively new. It had just a couple reviews, but they were all very positive.

The apartment itself wasn’t bad. It was a basement, and cold, but the location was good and it had all the necessities. As you know, David was there for the first few weeks, but he ended up leaving and I was staying alone in the Airbnb. Now, obviously the owners were living above us, a pharmacist and a doctor, and they seemed pretty nice. The husband (the pharmacist) even invited us in for lemonade and dropped us off for the minibus ride to the Dead Sea, which was generous of him.

I had two days alone in the Airbnb in Jordan. Now, I enjoy traveling alone, and I’m generally pretty brave, but I’m not stupid. I’m not about to venture around alone in Amman by myself. So I decided to just stay in the apartment until it was time to head to the Dead Sea. I had already arranged for Alaa to come pick me up and drop me off, so I had no worries there.

However, on the day I was due to leave, Alaa was running an hour late. I had already told the owner that I was leaving at 2pm, but then needed to ask for an additional hour to stay. So, I headed upstairs, knocked on the door, and asked him if it was ok. He agreed, then offered me some lemonade.

I hesitated, since I was by myself, but didn’t want to be rude. So I said ok. Keep in mind here that I hadn’t planned on staying upstairs at all, so I was mid-conversation with David and had even left my internet hotspot downstairs. I sat down on his couch, just like David and I had a few days before, before he casually asked if I was alone.

Yes, I was, I said, but only for a few days before I went home to the States. He then informed me that his wife was out of town too. I knew this already, since I had talked to her a few days before. However, he told me with such purpose that I immediately began to feel uncomfortable.

It then dawned on me that I was in a house, alone, in a strange country, with a man I hardly knew. A man who had just informed me that we were quite isolated together. And I had an entire hour before Alaa was going to be there to pick me up.

But I kept casually chatting, bringing up his wife and kids and work- anything- to keep the conversation going. He made some lemonade, then asked me if I was hungry. Obviously, I told him no.

“Ok, I’ll make you some food,” he said. (This is a cultural thing).

So I stood, awkwardly, in his kitchen, while he heated up some Arab food.

Then, he said, “I’ll bring you arroz, ok?”

And, I mean, I like rice. Doesn’t everyone?

He then left the kitchen, and I started reading some Arabic text on the wall, waiting for him to get back and trying to figure out how to politely leave.

He returned a minute later, with a freshly cut red rose in his hand, which he handed to me while swiftly wrapping his arm around me.

A rose. Not arroz.

I moved away from him and put the table between us, laughing nervously and setting the rose down.

Then, he asked, “so why did your partner leave? Did you guys fight?”

“No,” I said, “he had a family emergency.”

He smiled knowingly at this, and shrugged, obviously not believing me. “Don’t worry, I’ll fight with you,” he told me, while I glanced at the world’s slowest toaster oven, which was still heating up the Arab food.

I figured I could make my exit immediately after eating.

What does ‘fighting’ with someone even mean?

I was trying desperately to give him the benefit of the doubt here, you guys. I really was.

Then, since the conversation died again, he offered to show me around his house. I figured that was a pretty safe topic, so I agreed, and he began walking me through.

“This,” he said, opening a door with a flourish, “is a guest room. We can fight in here.” He gestured at the bed.

Then he led me upstairs, showing me two more bedrooms where we could fight together, before finally getting to the master bedroom and bathroom.

“The bathroom has a jacuzzi tub, it’s really nice.” He pointed to the tub. “You can take a bath in here after we fight.”

Is this making you guys uncomfortable? I feel uncomfortable just writing this. Walking back through it, I see a thousand ways I could have run out, but in the moment I was too afraid to do anything. I mean, all my stuff was downstairs, still in his house, and Alaa wasn’t due to arrive for another 30 minutes.

Then he turned on the tv upstairs, sitting down and gesturing for me to sit with him. I told him I’d rather be downstairs, so down we went, to the sitting room.

I perched on the edge of the couch, ready to run at any second. He noticed, as he sank down beside me, and said, “don’t worry, this is nothing to be ashamed of. You can sit back and relax.”

How do you respond to that?

I should also mention that he tried to get me to cancel my hotel at the Dead Sea, insisting that I should stay with him for the rest of my time in the country. When I continued to decline, he then tried to get me to cancel my ride, offering his car instead. He even offered me money for my time in Jordan, telling me that he could take care of me. Again, I declined, several times. Finally, he shrugged, giving up, and said, smiling, “See? We’re already fighting.”

Then he told me he liked that I had spirit, because his own wife was too quiet and passive.

In desperation, I asked him about his work. He told me that he imported different creams and such, and stood up, returning with a small tub of cream in his hand. He then took the liberty of opening it, putting a dollop on my hand, and rubbing it in.

Can you feel the panic yet?

I stood up quickly, saying that I thought the food was probably ready. It was lukewarm at best, but I let him pile my plate and vacuumed it down, making sure my chair was nowhere near his.

He smiled indulgently at my appetite, then asked me if I wanted dessert. I declined, to which he replied:

“Ok, I’ll make you some.” (Seriously cultural)

He then rummaged around in his fridge while I went to go wash my hands, checking the clock as I went. Forty minutes had passed, and I only had twenty left before my ride was due to arrive. I ran into him as he came out of the kitchen with a box of sweets, which I hurriedly shoved in my mouth before leaving to wash my hands again.

I then very obviously and very pointedly looked at the clock, before telling him I had to go finish packing.

He was clearly extremely disappointed, and asked me again if I would stay. I told him no, but then, cheering up, he remembered that I was due to return to Amman in a few days.

“You’ll stay with me, won’t you?” He asked hopefully, handing me the rose as I strode quickly to the front door.

“Yeah, sure, of course. I’ll message you.” I told him, literally closing the door in his face as I rushed to get out.

I made it back downstairs, locked the doors, drew the curtains, and video called David, so there would be a witness in case anything happened.

He could tell I was upset, and was obviously very angry. But what do you do? I couldn’t just leave the apartment, and I absolutely wasn’t going to walk outside without Alaa already there waiting in case the guy tried anything.

In the end, Alaa showed up, and the guy hung outside his door, calling to me as I went, “I’ll be here waiting for you!”

I threw my stuff into Alaa’s car, climbed into his front seat, and let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.

So.

I don’t know what to do about this. I haven’t reported it yet, because some part of me thinks he wasn’t trying to be the world’s most sleazy and awful person, and instead was simply trying to find himself another wife.

Which is very likely.

On the other hand, his actions were completely inappropriate and I wouldn’t want him to pull this shit on anyone else. I made it out ok, but if I hadn’t already had a ride scheduled and an obstinate desire to stick to my plans, I think he would have tried a lot harder to fight with me, right then and there.

I’m conflicted on this. What would you guys do?

-Carissa

Going Native: Having the Time of My Life

Hello All!

It’s been a few days, hasn’t it? You can always tell when things are getting adventurous because my blog posts decline accordingly. After all, who can write when they’re exhausted from tramping around all day?

Luckily, I have some spare time now to write, and boy do I have stories to share. I suppose the biggest news is that I’ve decided to stay my full time in Jordan, rather than leaving and going to Germany for a few days.

I’ve told you guys in the past that a lot of the reason I decided to go to Jordan was to improve my Arabic. I also told you that I was having a lot of trouble communicating because the Arabic I learned is not even comprehensible to the average citizen. Imagine trying to speak King James’ English to someone from the backwaters of Louisiana. It doesn’t work out well.

Well, I mentioned a few posts ago that David and I met a really nice Uber driver, who could not only understand us, but was really nice and even loved Americans. He ended up taking David to the airport, and even offered to drive me to and from the Dead Sea. (I mean, did you guys see that suite??) I’ll tell you guys later about our awesome trip to Jerash and Ajloun, where Alaa (that’s his name) showed us around, but long story short we also got to meet his family and have coffee at their house.

So I invited Alaa and his family to hang out at the Dead Sea with me (after all, what’s luxury if you can’t share in it?). We had a total blast, and I was even invited to Alaa’s son’s birthday.


If you guys ever wanted to learn a language, try sitting in a room full of people shouting during a birthday party. It’s…educational. And fun! I’ve been hanging out with them ever since, and have been having an absolutely wonderful time.

I’ll have detailed posts for you guys about the birthday party, and my trip to Aqaba, and my forthcoming trips all around the rest of Jordan with my new awesome friends.

People always talk about meeting others as being the most satisfying part of their trips. I had hoped to make tons of friends while traveling, but for the most part hadn’t managed yet, possibly due to language barrier, or maybe because I’m actually kind of shy, but now I have, and they’re right. This is so rewarding, so cool, and so totally what I was hoping for. Talk to you guys soon- going to hang out!

-Carissa “Nour” Rawson

And Then There Was One

Hello All,

David went home today, due to some unforeseen circumstances. Does it suck? Yeah. Will I survive out here alone?

Not sure. So! We have a slight change of plans here. Rather than spend a few weeks out here alone, I’m going to spend a couple nights at the Dead Sea (because I already paid for it and I’m totally cheap) and then I’m flying to Germany.

You guys remember Sarah, right? And the hysterical necklace shenanigans we had in Rome? Well! I’m staying with her out in Germany for a while. This even means I get to see my dog! (Though now I realize I probably didn’t explain that she took Nala while David and I were out here in Jordan. But she totally did). After that, it’s business as usual, with a flight back to Madrid, some time spent out there, and then Bali!

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

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Look at this cheerful photo!
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Such distractions!

-Carissa

When Things (Don’t) Go Right: Minibussing Through Jordan

Hey All!

I’ve been frolicking away the last few days here in Amman, Jordan. (Ok, and the Dead Sea) and I have so much to tell you!

So, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to you guys, but the place we’re staying in is a little…cold. It’s in the nicest part of town (which I did for safety reasons, obviously), but is…a basement. Yes, it’s a very nice basement, and has lots of hot water and also a gas stove, but it’s a little like putting lipstick on a pig.

Thus it was that yesterday, David and I (ok, I) decided to make a spontaneous trip to the Dead Sea. The Hilton Dead Sea just opened there a few weeks ago, and I was pretty anxious to get my grubby hands all over the awesome new stuff there.

We were one second away from ordering an Uber out front of our apartment, when our overly zealous host offered us tea and lemon juice. Thus, we found ourselves engaging in awkward small talk in his really rich, really nice, house.

Pause here for a moment, because I feel like you guys need to know something. Half the reason I came out here was for the opportunity to practice my Arabic skills. And you know what? Almost no one can understand me. This isn’t just because of the crap way they taught me Arabic. (Modern Standard) This is full on proper speech and everything and still, everyone looks at me like I’ve grown three heads. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it has something to do with my particular skin color and gender. Very frustrating. Such was the nature of this conversation.

Anyway, since we didn’t want to be rude, we spent a half hour drinking lemon juice, at which point our host told us not to bother with a taxi, because the minibuses were so much cheaper and more effective. Do you see where this is going?

He drove us clear across town, and insisted on speaking with the bus driver himself in order to ensure that we were taking the correct bus. (We were planning on just waving goodbye and taking an Uber anyway). Thus, we found ourselves crammed in the back of a minibus, where I self-consciously held my shirt closed and still 10 Arab men stared lustily at me.

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After the bus emptied out

After two more hours, we finally found our resort, and things smoothed out from there, which I will illustrate to you in a series of photos, because let’s be honest, I’m lazy:

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Breakfast with a view
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Because dignity is overrated

Now we’re back in Amman! And looking forward to more fun times ahead.

-Carissa “Black Beauty” Rawson

Awesome Amman

Hello Friends!

So I wouldn’t say that my time in Jordan got off to a…good…start. As you guys read previously, almost everything went wrong immediately. However! We’re both fully recovered and have spent some fun time wandering around this city.

I told you guys that I lived here before, so there have been lots of things I wanted to show David. It’s surreal being back. We’ve been making the rounds, climbing up to the citadel:

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Checking out the Roman Theatre:

And eating at every restaurant I’ve ever been to. It’s been a stomach-busting adventure, and we’re having a lot of fun.

In fact, yesterday we made some new friends! Basically as soon as people figure out we can speak Arabic, we’re instantly 100% more interesting. (Me, mostly. It’s the hair).

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Look at this stuff. So hairy

So we spent the entirety of our Uber ride yesterday chatting with our driver, who declared us his new friends from California, and asked if he could climb into our checked luggage back to the US. Something…tells me that wouldn’t work out.

And oh my god.

While we were at the Roman theatre, we made friends with a couple of kids who were there hanging out. Now, I don’t know if you guys know this, but the Jordanian concept of personal space is very different than in the US (for men only). Thus, we found ourselves sitting at the top of the theatre with a couple of 17 year-olds, who immediately started hanging all over David and asking him to sing.

So he did. He obliged them with a rap.

Have you met David?

It went a little something like this:

“My name is David and I’m in the city of Amman, sitting here with my new friends- I forgot your name- what’s your name? Kasm! Yeahhhhhhh”

I actually doubled over in laughter. And no matter how impressed they were with our American-ness, they were not impressed with this rap. The disbelief, doubt, and confusion ran across their faces as they stared at him, wondering if he was joking.

He wasn’t. He’s just not…uh…adept at rapping.

After this debacle, we headed to a rooftop bar, where we enjoyed amazing Arab food, including mansaf, which is the official dish of Jordan. It’s a sour yogurt, rice, and lamb dish, and pretty good if you like Arab food overall. (Which we do).

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Mmmm

It was a great day with a beautiful ending.

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Today we’re heading out the the souks for a little shopping and hopefully more new friends.

-Carissa “Nour” Rawson

Murphy’s Law of Jordan

Hello All!

I still have tons to write about for my whole European adventure, but today I’m interrupting your regularly scheduled programming to write to you about Jordan. Because…guys…I’m pretty sure this country hates me. Let’s get on with it!

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My only photo of Jordan

Ok! So I arrived to Jordan after a long day of travel (Naples -> Rome -> Athens -> Amman) on March 29th. Now, most of you probably know this, but I lived in Jordan last year, so I’m familiar-ish with how to get around. Jordan doesn’t have much (any) public transportation, so, since my flight landed at 01:30am, I made sure to book myself a private transfer to my hotel. David was coming to join me the next day, but, as I’m sure you guys understand, you don’t want to be a lonely girl in the middle of the Middle East, no matter how much you like its people. Thus, I also booked a nice hotel (ok, the best), and was supposed to be dropped off there at around 02:30am, once I got through customs, etc.

Note how I said supposed to?

Yeah.

I finished up with my luggage and customs and walked out to the lobby, where my driver was *guaranteed* to be standing around waiting for me. Except he…just didn’t show up? I wandered back and forth for a few minutes, wondering if I had missed the sign, before concluding that, yes, my private driver had indeed abandoned me in the middle of the airport at 2am. In Jordan. I finally managed to get ahold of a very sleepy man (using the company’s *emergency* number), who seemed shocked to learn that he had a customer waiting, and asked if he could call me back.

While waiting for his return call, I learned that Uber is a thing in Jordan! And dear God thankyousomuch for Uber, because it saved my ass. I called a car (which took twenty minutes to get to me, since there was apparently only one driver in all of Amman) and politely told the missing transfer driver to eat it.

So, I gratefully climbed into the Uber and headed off to my hotel, arriving at around 3:30am, where I greeted the hotel receptionist in Arabic and told him I wanted to check into my room.

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Look! Nala!

Now pause here for a moment. Half the reason I booked this hotel, and not any others, is because it participates in the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts program. That means you receive a room upgrade, 12pm check-in, 4pm check-out, free daily breakfast for two, and a $100 food/beverage credit for the length of your stay. Since I didn’t want to be wandering the city alone, I figured the massive quantities of free food would work out for me while I waited to David to arrive. I also meant to luxuriate in the heated pools and maybe even work out (lol no).

Ok, back to check-in. There I was, standing exhaustedly after my car debacle and just wanting to head to my room, when the receptionist (who was very kind), told me that my reservation was set for 28-30 April, not March. I was thus one month early.

Well. Shit.

It also turned out that the hotel was fully booked for the next few days. Seeing the look of panic on my face, the receptionist offered me water and tea and asked me to sit down while he figured something out. Promising that he’d be back in 15 minutes, he disappeared for the next hour.

Finally, he returned, saying something about possibly a room that they may have but it might be really expensive and also I might have to leave at noon? At this point, I didn’t care, and simply nodded.

Another hour later, the actual night manager returned, who told me they had found a room, which I guess was somehow previously unbookable? They had cleaned it and set it up for me, and I would be able to stay for the two full nights with all the amenities from American Express. Silently expressing my joy, I followed the manager up to the room and fell over into the bed, finally falling asleep at 5:15am.

So, a pretty iffy start to Jordan, right? But at least I was in the best hotel in Amman, right?

Yeah, true. But then I woke up with food poisoning. (Or, at least that’s what I thought it was). Let me tell you guys, there is nothing so pathetic as me lumbering around a hotel room by myself, whining and watching 10 episodes straight of RuPaul’s Drag Race. David finally arrived at around 11pm that night and proceeded to shove pepto bismol and pedialyte down my face, which was a far cry from the $100 steak I had been envisioning eating, but I was grateful for nonetheless.

Now, it’s three days later and I’m almost better!

But, David has gotten sick now. And let me tell you guys, there is nothing so pathetic as David lumbering around our Airbnb, whining about his tummy while watching 10 episodes straight of Spartacus. Men are babies. (I’m conveniently forgetting how pathetic I was, ok?)

I guess…it can only get better from here?

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Enjoy this unrelated photo!

-Carissa “Murphy’s Law” Rawson