Half as Old as Time

The White Pigeon
Saturday 4th March 2023


At the crack of dawn, which today was 5:21am, the call to prayer woke us up. After only four hours sleep its holy reverberations had eertainly lost its charm. Once silenced the birds chirped up, then the car horns soon followed. Thankfully we were so tired we fell back asleep.

A few hours later we woke up to our 9am alarm.

Breakfast was decent enough with a good selection of dips, such as hummus, mutabal and labneh, small (if some what dry) falafel and flatbreads. I was in my element. The dish I was most excited about was the foul medames, a fava bean stew that is eaten for breakfast throughout the Levantine region.

It didn't look inviting served out of a large tin pot, not dissimilar to a milk churn, with a long stemmed ladle to scoop out the beans. It was accompanied by a choice of condiment such as tahini sauce, sumac, garlic infused olive oil to drizzle or scatter over the top.

The flavours were superb although the foul was tepid. It had probably been out since breakfast began, four hours ago.  

Julie played it safe with her go-to breakfast no matter where she is in the world, bread and cream cheese. 

After breakfast we arranged for an Uber taxi to take us to the Citadel. It was our first glimpse of the city in the daylight and I literally had my head in the window the entire five minute journey.

Amman is another one of those cities "built on seven hills".  The Citadel was built on one of them, Jabal Al Qala'a, right in the centre of it all. From there the city sprawled out in all directions.

There was nothing noteworthy about any individual building but collectively, with their pale colours (apparently dictated by a city law) and being randomly stacked on top of each other, there was a certain beauty to them.

We paid 3 dinars each to enter the Citadel.

There wasn't much in the way of ancient history in Amman, but this was the epicentre of what was preserved. As is the case across Europe, most of what's left is owed to the Romans.

Not that they were the first nor the last Empire to rule over these parts.

The first rulers worth mentioning were the Ammonites, which is where the city's name is derived. It was known as Rabath Ammon back then.

Then after the Assyrians and the Babylonians came the Egyptians, with the Greek pharaoh Ptolemony II at the helm. His full name was  Ptolemony Philadelphus and this city was renamed Philadelphia. 

They were quickly followed by the Romans who conquered all before them, which of course transitioned into the Byzantine Empire. Next came one of the earliest Islamic caliphates during the 7th century called the Rashyids who were succeeded by the Umayyads. This is when the name reverted back to its Ammonite past, with Amman.

The first thing we did was to walk towards the edge of the hill to admire the incredible view over the city. Below us was a huge Roman Theatre cut into the hillside and a much smaller theatre or Odeon to the left.

Looking further East our eyes were drawn to this unexpected mural painted on the side of a building. It was of a man, standing tall,  as straight a column, holding a corinthian capital on his head. I'm not sure what it represented but it was quite a departure.

Looking to the South houses clung to the hillside of Jabal Ashrafieh with the exception of a rare ribbon of green space where it was too steep to build.

There was also another expression of street art with a mural of a woman wearing a blue headscarf. Whilst adding a splash of colour these flaunting of city laws were in the minority. In fact the streets were noticably free of graffiti.

At the top of the hill, standing tall above all the sandy houses was the beautifully decorated Abu Darwish mosque,  built in black and white stone to create a striking striped pattern.

Feeling a little thirsty we returned to the entrance to buy some water and sat on a shaded park bench. It was a very pleasant sunny day, warm but not too hot, perfect weather for a day walking around a hilly city.   

Refreshed we began exploring the Citadel following the path towards its main attraction, the Temple of Hercules. Two restored columns stood nine metres tall, with a single lintel across the top. There were also four or five partial columns still standing.

It was built by the Romans around 166AD. Large stone cylinders lay strewn on the ground where they fell, probably destroyed by a major earthquake in 749AD or countless others that have taken place here.

I walked off the path to have a closer look. It was wonderful to be able to walk up close, touch the stones and indeed climb onto the temple. A piece of the lintel lay on the floor. It had an inscription but I couldn't make it out.

I rejoined Julie and we continued to follow the path around the temple. The view improved with each step as the angle changed to incorporate the city in the distance.

At the far end of the temple there was a small patch of grass on which were fragments of what once must have been a colossal statue of Hercules. Only his left hand, an elbow and a few other bits and pieces remained.

Julie pointed to one piece which looked a bit phalic. "It can't be? Can it?" we asked. Were we actually looking at a colossal penis?

After a good chuckle we moved along to the Jordan Archaelogical Museum.

I wanted to get a photograph of the stairs leading up to the entrance without anyone in the shot but this couple weren't moving from by the near the door.

We waited with diminishing paitence. Eventually they went inside the museum only for another couple to walk past us up the stairs. I huffed and gave up in the end, deciding to try again later.

When we got to the top we noticed this fabulous stone carved face of Medusa, right next to the door. This is what the couple were looking at and we stood there for a few minutes oursleves doing the same.  

Up until recently some of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were on display here. They were ancient Hebrew manuscripts of books which were later incorporated into the bible. They were written on papyrus and sealed in terracotta pots. A shepherd found them in a cave in Qumran, in what is now the West Bank. During that time, immediately after the Second World War, the region was known as Trans-Jordan.

I would loved to have seen them but unfortunately they had been permanently moved to the new Jordan Museum and we weren't going to have enough time to go there today. "It's always good to have a reason to return" said Julie putting a positive spin on it, as always.

There was still plenty of other interesting things to see. The next most highly regarded artefact were these small neolithic statues known as the Ain-Ghazal statues. They dated back the 8th century BC, which would make them about 9000 years old and one of the oldest surviving statues in the world.

Now that's really impressive!

Unfortunately I didn't appreciate them properly when I walked past, only giving them a cursory glance. There were four pieces on display here. There were more in the Jordan Museum.

It was much later when I saw them in the photo (above) did I realise their significance.

One item that did grab our attention was this tiny jug with a delicately carved woman's neck and head forming the spout. The fact it dated from the Middle Bronze Age (about 2000BC-1500BC) made it even more remarkable that it had survived intact. But not as remarkable as those 9000 year old Neolithic statues!

Another artefact that caught our imagination were these Roman era glass tear vases. Apparently they were made to collect the tears of mourners and then buried in the tomb with the deceased. How fascinating. 

The archaelogical fun didn't stop there. There were some coffins believed to be from the 7th century BC. A reproduction of a stele, a carved slab of rock declaring some important facts from the time of King Mesha of the Moabites. (850BC). The original, which itself was partially recreated, is in the Louvre. 

Despite these wonderful displays of antiquity we only spent 15 minutes inside. Perhaps we should have taken a little more time.

We left the museum, took a quick people-free photo of the steps, (hooray!) then followed the path, past the gateway of the Umayyad Palace until we reached the Western end of the Citadel walls.

Looking out over Amman we saw the modern edge of the city with new skyscrapers dominating the skyline. The tallest, the Amman Rotana Hotel in the centre, the sleek W hotel on the left,  and the Abdali Medical Centre on the right.

Apparently this is just the first phase of bringing Amman into the 21st Century.

Whilst the skyscapers of the future may look impressive, they could never beat the earthy beauty of the wonderful fifty shades of beige that sprawled across the city's seven hills. Thankfully downtown Amman will stay like this.

We returned through the ruined palace grounds, known as Al-Qasr in Arabic. It was built in the 8th century AD and was a large complex.  It even had a colonaded street within its walls. The reconstructed building at the end of the street looked like a mosque because of the dome but it's also known as the "monumental gateway" or the kiosk. Its purpose was probably as an audiance hall where the Caliph would welcome his guests.

Inside looked more religious than simply a cermonial entrance hall. It was without question built in the shape of a cross and probably over an old Byzantine church. 

It looked impressive, especially these narrow niches wrapping around the entire wall.

Although not all of it was original. The wooden dome of course but other parts had also been added. Some of the embelishments (or stucco as its called) were new. 

Whilst I explored Julie took some time out on a convenient bench.

There were a few side rooms by the main entrance but there wasn't much to see.  It only took a minute or two and I was ready to leave.

I sat down with Julie for a while, people watching, before moving on.

Outside the palace there was a large open space with a small mound. It appeared to be the highest point of Jabal Al Qala'a from which there was a full 360 degree uninterupted views of the city.  

When I say "uninterupted" that didn't take into account this couple that got in the way of my video. I had already claimed the hill and was busy trying to shoot my 360 degrees when they walked towards me and then straight down the other side. They didn't even stop to admire the view. It was as if they did it on purpose. The mound was only small, in fact there was only really enough room for me. It was off path so you had to go out of your way to get to it.

Anyway, after pulling faces behind their backs I returned with Julie to the small shop by the entrance and sat down to drink an iced coffee from a tin. Mr. Brown's Cappuccino was suprisingly good. 

We had spent about an hour and a half at the citadel and were now ready to leave. Our next destination was to be the Roman Theatre.

Instead of calling another taxi we decided to walk down the hill. We followed the road as it meandered its way down until we came to a flight of steps. Like a game of Snakes and Ladders it offered us a fast track down a level or two. 

When we met the road again we arrived at the base of the building which had that amazing mural of the man carrying a column capital on his head. Even this close up the detail was still incredible.

"Orange Juice?" I heard someone shout.

Opposite the bottom of the steps a small cafe had set up a stall selling freshly squeezed juices. I wasn't thirsty but the guy won me over with his banter. I didn't mind the 2 dinar price because the juice was both incredibly sweet and very refreshing.

Just around the corner there was a great view of the Roman Theatre. The city obviously knew it was a perfect spot and had put up a "I 'heart' Amman" sign which actually spoilt the view!

We soon reached the bottom of the stairs. From there we could see the Hashemite Plaza in front of us but first we had the small matter of crossing the road.

For whatever reason the city's administration had neglected to install a pedestrian crossing along the most popular route between the citadel and the auditorium so we had to fend for ourselves, crossing the multiple lanes of traffic.

Although, fortunately I'm sure the drivers were quite accustomed to avoiding wayward tourists because, as if by magic, not unlike Moses, the waves of vehicles parted and we walked safely across to the other side.

We walked towards some shade on the Eastern side of the square where Julie decided to take some time out whilst I went to explore the small odeon theatre.

 It turned out to be a well restored little theatre with ten rows of seats set in a semi circle spreading out from the stage. It was built at the same time as the much larger auditorium, so it would have served a different purpose. Probably the main use of this 500 seater odeon would have been to hold public debates.

The entrance brought me into the back stage area from where stepped out onto the stage. I expected a round of applause for my dramatic entrance but I was the only person there.

I left the stage and walked up to the cheap seats at the back where the compact little theatre could be fully admired. I sat there for a while absorbing the energy before deciding to fetch Julie to share in the experience. 

From the Odeon we walked along a partially colonaded street in front of the theatre to the entrance. They were checking tickets but they weren't selling any, which was a little confusing.

A friendly local guide explained (in English) that we needed to walk back to the entrance to the plaza, to a small portakabin, to buy the tickets. 

Julie took one look at the sheer  magnitude of the auditorium and decided to sit this one out. When I returned with my ticket the friendly local guide asked me "Where is your wife?". I had to explain that we were very tired having just arrived in the middle of the night.

He processed what I said and bounced back with a cheerful offer to show me around on a private tour.  "We'll got right to the top and I'll show you both museums" he said, refering to the Museum of Popular Traditions and the Folklore Museum, which was included in the price of the ticket.

I politely turned him down, blaming Julie's jetlag and that I needed to be in a hurry to get back to her. He graciously accepted my answer. I was most impressed by his laid back attitude. 

I headed straight to the seats and gradually made my way up. The rows kept on coming. I don't know if it was me getting tired or the steps getting steeper but I ended up on all fours, scrambling up the last few to the top. 

When I turned around and realised how high I had climbed my knees suddenly felt very weak. I took a few steps away from the edge, and stood against the back wall to steady myself. My heart was racing, adrenalin rushing through me. The view of the auditorium from here was spectacular. 

After regaining my composure it was time to return back down. I didn't fancy heading down the way I came up. It felt too steep to walk. I was genuinely fearful of falling and tumbling all the way down to the bottom.

I could have shuffled backwards on all fours but I didn't think it was a good look, so I headed to the sides where the incline appeared to be less.

I stopped at regular intervals to admire the 6000 seater theatre. It was unbelievable to think it was built sometime during the second century AD. An inscription was found  suggesting it was built in honour of the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius. (who I met once in Athens!)

Safely back on terra firma I thought about skipping the museums but in the end I decided to have a quick look in case I missed anything. The Folklore museum was full of manequins in traditional dress telling the story of the bedouins by recreating scenes from their everyday lives. I literally only spent four minutes in here.

I then scooted around the other museum, on the opposite side of the stage, the one about Popular Traditions. This was a little more interesting.

The focus here was on genuine historical clothing. There was a soldier in uniform from the time of the Arab Revolt (1917), several examples of a type of a bridal headress, kown as a wuqayat al-darahim, adorned with silver Ottoman coins and an example of tradional dress from the Circassian people who settled in Jordan during the mid-19th century, fleeing genocide in their homeland, a region just North of Georgia, now Russian territory.

It was time to rejoin Julie but not before I stopped to listen to this busker blowing an amazing tune from such a simple flute. He deserved the handful of small change I scattered into his donations box.

We left the Hashemite Plaza and started walking down the busy Al-Hashemi Street. We were on our way to have lunch at a well known restaurant called Hashem.

This very popular name comes from Hashem, the great grandfather of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him - as its customary to say).  Both were members of the Quraysh tribe then within this group their descendents branching from Fatima, Mohammed's daughter, identified themselves as the Banu Hashim clan.

The Jordanian Royal family are descendants of this family and proudly announce their Hashemite heritage and direct lineage to the prophet.

The road forked and we took Al-Quraysh Street, walking past a few more intersting murials before turning towards the Roman Nymphaneum.  This would have been a public fountain and built at the same time as the theatre and odeon. It's restoration only  began in 2015 and is still ongoing.

The gate was shut, although I could have pushed it open. We decided against breaking and entering a national monument and were content to look at if from afar.

We were now entering the souks, not in the sense of the atmospheric warren in Marrakech, nor the ancient shopping mall of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul but simply the shopping district. Here on Kalil As-Saoud street we found all the food stores. There really was an abundance of fruit and vegetables piled high on aluminium platters. 

Most we recognised but there were some we had no idea what they were, like these green things. They looked like large beans but were possibly a kind of nut?

Further along there was a stall selling all sorts of dates, some loose, some pre-packed. I do love a good medjool date, all sweet and moist. I should have bought some but didn't.

We turned another corner and headed away from the direction we were going specifically to see the Grand Husseini mosque. When we got there it was so busy outside we couldn't get anywhere near it. Instead of joining the throng we just admired the two minarets before crossing the road. 

Continuing our walk towards lunch we found oursleves strolling through the souk of strange toys. There was some seriously creepy dolls for sale, the kind to give your children nightmares! One in particular was a doll sat on a swing swaying back and forth whilst her head moved from left to right. Quite disturbing.

We crossed the road again, King Faisal Street, at what resembled a proper pedestrian crossing.  We were on the lookout for an ATM to take some cash out, enough for the next few days. Google maps had indicated there was one at the Arab Bank, a large building with huge golden doors.

The doors were firmly shut and there were no ATMs on the front of the building so we walked around the bank. To the right of it was a queue of people waiting in line to buy knafeh from a store called Habiba. There were more people just sat on the floor tucking into this traditional dessert of cheese and vermicelli.

I had read about them and "eat knafeh" was on my list of things to do in Amman.

Still no ATM, so we continued around the back of the Arab Bank and then down the other side where finally we found it, opposite Potato Land!  This street had a nice feel to it filled with several cafes. Wicker baskets hung from wires which I suspect light up the street at night.  

With a pocket full of dinars we walked the short distance to Hashem restaurant, an Ammani institution and rite of passage for any tourist visiting the Jordanian capital. Everyone says "You have to eat at Hashem"

We walked into what essentially an alleyway, a covered walkway in between buildings where tables ran along one side. A little further in there was a small room to the right with a few tables, all taken, and further along there was a larger room tightly packed with diners. Despite its reputation for tourists most of the people appeared to be local.

The "alleyway" continued up some steps to the left but there wasn't a free table in sight.  We were just about to give up when we saw a table right next to the kitchen being vacated. We grabbed our chance, swooping there before they had even left. We felt a little pushy but we had no choice. More people were coming in, looking for a tables.

Feeling relieved we sat down and waited to be served.

There were plenty of staff buzzing around, carrying large trays of food in all directions. Eventually we caught the attention of a supervisor who clicked his fingers and sent a waiter in our direction. He cleaned the table in one move, picking up the corners of the disposable tablecloth and lifting the entire leftovers into a large knapsack.

He then lay a fresh sheet of plastic almost like a large roll of cling flim.

He returned and asked us what would we like "Falafel? Hummus? Mutabal? Yes?" There was no menu, so I said yes. It was my kind of lunch with naturally no meat involved.

There was a tomato dish I wanted to try but I just couldn't remember its name. (It was qaleyet and it was on their webpage.)  With no menu to point at I asked for the "Tomato dish?" and hoped for the best. He nodded and whizzed off.

The food soon arrived. First came the hummus. It was a large bowlful, topped with chickpeas and a big glug of olive oil. Whilst we waited for the bread to arrive we started using the crinkle chips, which arrived next, to scoop out the dip.

I'm not the biggest fan of the crinkle variety, I find them a bit childish and often greasier than straight cut. However they were the perfect shape, with plenty of surface area to maximise scoopage.

The hummus was delcious, much smoother and richer than what we get at home and hardly any garlic if any at all.

The falafels arrived next. They were quite small but there were plenty of them piled on the plate. At least a dozen. They were nice and moist and could be eaten on there own.

Then came the mutabal with pieces of tomato scattered on top. I think this was the waiter's interpretation of what I wanted from my "tomato" request.

Eventually the traditional flatbreads finally arrived, not on a plate but uncerimoniously dumped on the table. They were warm, comforting, slightly chewy but in a good way and definitely worth the wait. I tore a piece off, wrapped it around a falafel and dipped it into the mutabal. It was heavenly.

I was in my element and loving every minute of the experience. There was so much food that I couldn't finish it all. We still had a flatbread left so spread all the leftover hummus and mutabal over it, then the remaining three falafels, some crinkle chips and a few pickled veg from the salad.

We were sat next to the take-away hatch and I could see into the kitchen. They had a steady flow of people taking out falafel wraps so I kindly asked the guy there to wrap up my leftovers. Which he did without hesitation and with a smile. 

The bill arrived in Arabic, looking like a list of all they had on offer, with our choices ticked off. There weren't any numbers on there that I recognised so I took two 10 dinar notes out of my pocket to pay. The waiters didn't handle the cash. That was the responsibility of the cashier sat in a booth.

We queued up to pay. The money man totted up our choices and then looked at me. He didn't say how much so I just handed him 10 dinars, thinking "if he wanted more, he'll ask". But he didn't. In fact he gave me 5 dinars back in change!

Wow, that was good value for money, about £6 for two people plus another wrap to take out. 

It had gone 2pm and the plan now was to return to the hotel for a siesta. To get there however we had to walk up quite a lot of steps. They were known as the Al Kahla stairs. We took them in our stride reaching the top without any fuss.

 There were several shops and a few interesting cafes along the way. We stopped briefly for Julie to buy a small traditional woven bag, impressively haggling down the price to 5 dinars. It was only large enough to hold her phone and perhaps her coin purse, but that's exactly why she wanted to buy it.

From there we followed the road gradually uphill until we reached our hotel where spent the rest of the afternoon resting in our room. We'd only been out of the hotel for four hours but we had packed some miles into them.  

A few hours later, at 6pm we were ready to meet our Intrepid guide and fellow travellers for the next week. We all gathered in the hotel's atrium.

The group was made up of twelve people. Three of them, Alexandra, Ceri and Stuart already knew each other having just arrived from doing the Egypt trip with Intrepid. The same one Julie and I did last year. Alexandra and Ceri went further back than that having met on a previous trip and became good friends..

Then there was a young couple Adam and Lauren, with their respective in-laws, Darren & Andrea and Kevin & Angela.

Then last but not least there was a single solo traveller called Tiffany.  "oh, that's a fabulous name" remarked Julie. 

Our guide introduced himself as Thaer Musa "please call me Musa" he said "it's easier to remember". He was softly spoken but also seemed a little nervous or pre-occupied. He then announced that he couldn't spend this evening with us because he had to go home to see to a private matter but had arranged for a friend and former Intrepid guide Faisal to chaparone us.

Whilst we waited Musa, which is Arabic for Moses, gave us a few options for places to eat. One of them was of course Hashem, another was a restaurant directly opposite our hotel.

Faisal arrived a little late. So not to waste time he immediately talked about supper. He guided the group towards eating at Hashem. He was a very upbeat and positive guy. You could tell he was an experienced guide.

We all left the hotel an walked towards the downtown area. The sun was setting and the white pigeon, as the city is sometimes refered to, was looking even more beige, taking on a warm glow.

Despite walking down with everyone we didn't get much opportunity to chat to anyone. They all must have been starving as they raced on ahead leaving Julie and I straggling at the back.

They all waited for us at the bottom of Al Kahal stairs which was where we went our seperate ways.  The first meal of a trip is an opportunity to get to know your travel companions but there was only so much falafel and hummus one could eat in one day, so we opted out.

They went around the corner to Hashem whilst we crossed the road to Habibah, the bakery selling knafeh. 

This wasn't the hole-in-the-wall we saw earlier down the side of the Arab bank but their sparkling flagship store. Inside was spotlessly clean, a little clinical in all white and aluminium but the air was warm, sweet and comforting.

We worked out we had to go to the money man first to pay for what we wanted. "knafa" I said not knowing if I was pronouncing it right. "large or small?" he asked. "large, definitely large" I replied.

I then heard "I like your tattoos". I turned to see a young woman who was also ordering some knafeh. I smiled and nodded.

It was very forward of her, especially in such a conservative society such as in Jordan. However, she was not dressed conservatively. With her red lipstick, fluttering eyelashes, jet black hair uncovered she looked like any young unrestrained European woman.

We took our receipt to the counter. There appeared to be a choice of two varieties, both baked on circular trays about a metre in diameter.  The young woman had followed us to the counter. "I prefer this one" she said pointing to the one topped with finer vermicelli and chopped pistachio.

I followed her advice, handed over the receipt and pointed to the one on the left.

The member of staff, dressed all in white, including a white catering hat cut a large slab, placed it on a paper plate and handed it over.

"Can I have it wrapped to take-away?" I asked. I had seen them do it for another customer. He looked at me confused. I tried using my hands to mime I was wrapping something up which left him even more perplexed.  

 The young woman tried to help but I think she confused him even further as he went to cut another slab. "No, I've only paid for one" I said.

Eventually, through our local interpretor we got our one piece of knafeh, on a plate, then wrapped up in paper. The moment we stepped outside we realised we didn't have any cutlery to eat it with. I rather sheepishly had to go back inside and ask for some. 

We took our dessert and sat down on the steps of Al Kahal stairs not far from a busy little cafe. There was a great atmosphere here.

My first bite of the knafeh left me underwhelmed. All I got was syrup soaked vermicelli, but the second bite, with plenty of the cheese was amazing. We took it in turn, cutting a piece off with our plastic spoon. We were moaning and groaning with pleasure. 

We didn't want it to end. "We should have taken the two slabs!" suggested Julie.

Having eaten dessert it was time for our main meal. We returned to our hotel and crossed the road to find the entrance to restaurant Sakeyat Addaraweesh. If we hadn't been told about it we would never had guessed that it was a restaurant. Their sign was only in Arabic.

The steps down brought us into a lovely garden of potted plants and hanging baskets where we followed the crazy paving path towards the entrance.

The welcome could not have been any warmer as several members of staff came over to say "hello".  The one who won the challenge of showing us to our table was from Egypt. We knew this because it was the first thing he said about himself.

It was a large restaurant which despite having plenty of diners still felt empty and lacking in atmosphere. They had an outdoor terrace which was busy but he suggested we should sit inside. "It will be good to listen to the music" he added

Within minutes we were being entertained by one man and his oud singing melancholy Arabic songs. It was the perfect background music.

We browsed the menu. I had plenty of choices and I probably ordered most of them!

It all began with a lentil soup. It was smooth and light, the opposite end of the spectrum from a thick dhal, yet it was still full of flavour.  Then came a simple platter of griddled halloumi which Julie and I shared.

Her lamb chops were next to arrive. She really enjoyed the flamegrilled flavour, although it came with grilled sweetcorn which didn't belong on her plate.

 The best dish was the batatas harras (spicy potatoes). They were really delicious. A little greasy perhaps but the seasoning was balanced to perfection with chilli, lemon juice, parsely and a pinch of salt. We should have ordered two of them! No three of them!  It was one of those dishes you didn't want to come to an end.

The last to arrive was the dish I'd been waiting for the most, the Qalayet (or often called Galayet ) the tomato stew. The menu described it as "in a clay pot" which was exactly how it arrived, in a small urn on a iron stand, sealed to hold in the juices of the slow-cooked stew.

They waiter open the pot by literally hitting it with the back of a knife causing it to crack precisely where he wanted it.  It created a lid that was easily lifted off, leaving the bottom two-thirds. After a quick inspection for shards of pottery he poured it into a serving bowl.

It was an absolutely lovely dish, sweeter than I had expected, from all the onions I guess, which gave it greater depth of flavour. To mop it all up we had ordered manakish, a traditional flat bread topped with finely chopped thyme. 

The restaurant didn't serve any alcohol, so after our meal we relaxed, listening to the oud playing singer-songwriter whilst sipping a zesty glass of lemon and lime juice. All around us were tables sucking on a bubbling hookah pipes. It had a fabulous local vibe which was exactly our sort of place to eat.

The bill came to 34 dinars which wasn't bad considering the quantity and quality of food we had.

We returned to the hotel and thought about grabbing a night cap at the hotel's bar but there wasn't anyone there. The light's were on but the staff had abandoned their post.

However tempting it was to help ourselves from behind the bar we decided to retire to our room, eventhough it was way before 9pm!

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