For our family holiday this year we decided to explore locally and travel to Jordan and Syria for 11 days. We spent longer in Syria because logistically it's more difficult as you have to obtain visas in advance, and therefore Jordan is easier to go back to at some point in the next few years while we're living in this region. Read on for tales of our travels and a small selection of our photos.



We left Abu Dhabi with our one rucksack (weighing 18kg at check-in) and flew to Queen Alia International Airport, Amman, Jordan. Getting visas on arrival was no problem and we were met by a driver we’d arranged from the hotel we’d booked. Rather than stay in Amman, we headed straight to Madaba, a lovely relaxing little town famous for its mosaics, particularly one of a map of the biblical lands, supposedly constructed in AD560 and containing more than 2 million pieces. The first night we just went for food, and had, looking back, some of the best mezze of the whole trip – we went back for lunch again the next day too we loved the place so much.   

Next morning we set off to see the mosaic map, which is on the floor of St Georges church which is guarded by armed police, despite Madaba being known for being a centre of religious tolerance. We also visited the archaeological park where mosaics date back to the 1st century BC, and include an amusing one of Aphrodite topless and smacking Eros! The afternoon was spent chilling by the pool where Tommy and Saffy swam and threw themselves about, whilst Indy and Kirsty sat and sunned themselves whilst reading Ahlan magazine (Ahlan being the Arabic word for “Hello”!).  

out for dinner on the first night of our trip

ready for some sightseeing

the mosaic map


more mosaics


carpets for sale


smacking Eros

old cars were everywhere

cactus fruit

a wedding ground being prepared

Tommy and Saffy tuck into some fattoush


chilling by the pool


We went to stay with some Jordanian friends, Samer and Ruba in Amman, and they, along with their 2 daughters, Maya, 7, and 4 year old Farah, took us to Jerash. Jerash is one of Jordan’s main tourist attractions, along with Petra (which we didn’t visit as it would have been far too hot for the children). It was amazing, and really well preserved, with impressive arches, 2 theatres, colonnades, a forum and a hippodrome.  It is vast, and in all honesty we probably saw less than half of it - it would have been impossible to see the whole site in one afternoon with little legs!! But the kids did enjoy some of the wide open spaces and being able to run around. And Saffy loved that there were bagpipers and drummers in the theatre – she has a bit of a thing about bagpipes!

Samer and Ruba also made sure we ate lots of local food while we were in Amman, both home cooked and at places they took us out to.  And mint tea was in abundant supply, as well as very strong thimbles of coffee, and of course baklava, the divine Arabic sweets (which Kirsty would eat all day if it wasn’t for their crazy calorie content!!!)

We also visited Amman town centre, and in the heat viewed the sights mainly from the car! We did venture into the Roman Theatre, built into a hillside and capable of holding 6000 people, even today, when it’s used for concerts.  It was very pleasantly empty, possibly due to a crazy Palestinian having shot 6 people there just 2 weeks before.

Saffy with Samer

Hadrians Gate

in the forum

Samer, Ruba and the girls

There were 2 drummers and 2 bagpipers in the theatre

Cardo maximus, or colonnaded street

The girls did a photo shoot each!!

In the theatre


The Roman theatre in Amman

Kirsty's sitting in there somewhere

Saffy and Farah out to dinner


We took a Syrian service taxi from Amman to Damascus and the children slept pretty much all the way, despite the Arabic techno music the driver thought he’d brainwash us with! Kirsty could also have slept the whole way as she didn’t even need to get out of the car for immigration formalities – Tommy got us all out of Jordan and into Syria all on his own – aaahhh, the beauty of being in places where the man is in charge of his wife – the wife can just sit back and let him do the queuing and jostling!!  The taxi had bizarre electric curtains which the driver raised and lowered depending on the proximity of police – very surreal!

Once in Damascus we had to change to a regular taxi to head to the old city where we were staying – our guy must have flagged us the oldest taxi in the country – Saffron found the clatters and bangs hilarious and sang songs the whole way round Damascus, to the amusement of the old fella driving it! Our hostel was tucked away in a dark corner of the Christian district of the old walled city and run by a Palestinian, Jordanian, Australian guy – quite a character, and rather difficult to shut up! We stayed here on our way up through Syria, and splashed out on a nice old restored courtyard house on our way back down again!

Damascus was very medieval feeling, with lots of houses overhanging the streets and lots of narrow, winding alleyways. You could totally imagine people throwing their slop buckets out of their windows and the plague spreading like wildfire!! We went to the Umayyad Mosque which was stunningly beautiful, and incredibly tranquil, despite being full of people – both worshippers and tourists.

having mezze for breakfast

shops on the streets of the old city

The Umayyad Mosque

The shrine of John the Baptist

Inside the main prayer hall

People hanging out at the mosque

and children playing in the courtyard

The ablutuions fountain

tile details

ceiling of the entry

huge baklavas - yummy!!

pictures of the streets of Damascus old city

From Damascus we journeyed to Palmyra by bus. The bus station was as crazy as long distance bus stations everywhere with touts vying for trade. Tommy was sitting next to a Kurdish Syrian (man of course, women won’t sit next to men unless related to them) who was explaining some of the differences between the ethnic groups in Syria.

Following dinner in Palmyra we had a late night beer at the Heliopolis Hotel as the sun went down over the ruins. The view from the terrace on the top floor there was great. Then the next morning we rose early and were out at the ruins at 7am.  As the daughter of a classicist Kirsty has seen a good few Roman remains in her time but these really did totally blow her away. They were amazing – a true highlight of the trip – and at that time in the morning there was virtually no one else about and we felt like real explorers. The only other people were a few local guys zooming round on motorbikes trying to sell postcards (not very hard – one NO and they went away!) and a few camel guides. In fact until we got to the temple of Bel at about 9:30 we probably only saw half a dozen other tourists – then suddenly there were 4 tour busses!! The ruins are mostly 2nd century AD and the excavated remains stretch over 50 hectares (so far) – needless to say, with 2 kids we didn’t manage them all, but we did cover a lot of ground!  The Arab castle Qala’at ibn Maan up on the hill behind the site provided a dramatic and contrasting backdrop too.  And the skies were an amazing blue once the early morning haze had lifted and before the midday glare set in.

Kirsty with children in front and back carriers at the bus station

our luggage, one big rucksack, Tommy's daysack, small bag for Kirsty and Saffron's Peruvian rucksack

Kirsty and the girls on the bus

Ruins as the sun goes down

castle at sunset

Roman columns everywhere you look

The tetrapylon

checking out the photos

Tommy and Saffy met a camel

The great colonnade

The monumental arch

Kirsty and Saffy with the tetrapylon in the background

Saffy met more camels

The beers of Syria... this one's from Egypt!

This one's Syrian

Tommy and Saffy self portrait!

Saffron tucks in to that universal backpacker cuisine, the pancake!


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