After yesterday’s long plane ride, I slept fitfully but somewhere around 5 a.m. found myself hearing the not-too-distant call to Muslim prayer—a sound both mournful and humbling. I figured it was a good time to get up and pray, anyway, so climbed out of bed and did Morning Prayer. “All you heavens, bless the Lord,” I prayed, along with countless other Christians around the world—but now, with Muslim cries echoing a few blocks away.
As daylight broke, I got a first look at the view out my window. Behold, downtown Amman.
At 6:30, I made my way downstairs for breakfast. The hotel, I discovered, is stunning—a study in marble and soaring ceilings and vibrant splashes of color.
The restaurant was nearly empty, but I spotted a few of my fellow travelers, waved hello, and started to survey the landscape on the buffet table. I plunged into the pastries. (Don’t tell my wife. Or my doctor.)
Then, around 7:30, I waddled out to board the bus. We all begin our two hour drive to the upper border of Jordan, the ancient town of Umm Qais.
About halfway on our journey, we made an unexpected stop to check out a small river—really, more of a creek. It was somewhere along the banks of this gurgling river that tradition tells us Jacob wrestled with an angel.
“Faithful Traveler” and Patheos blogger Diana von Glahn set up her tripod and went to work.
Then, it was on to Umm Qais (or Umm Qays).
In earlier times, it was also known as Gadara, and was a thriving metropolis. Below, the city’s version of Main Street. It was cold and drizzly this morning—only about 50 degrees. I felt like I was back in New York. (I’ve seen roads like this in Queens. Really.)
Gadara was also a popular venue for the arts; it once had two amphitheaters.
The Romans who settled the city, it turns out, were also practitioners of an early form of dentistry. The museum curator showed us some of their tools—and our guide Ra’ed explained that it’s believed these dentists used for anesthesia something many Christians will find familiar: myrrh. He told us that it was this mixture (translated sometimes as vinegar) that was offered to Christ on the cross, to help deaden his pain.
Gadara is also believed to be the place where Jesus drove demons from a possessed man, sending them into a herd of swine, who fled down these hills. Those far hills across the valley are Israel’s Golan Heights. In the distance, harder to see, is the Sea of Galilee.
The plant life here is colorful and inviting—the fields dotted with bright red flowers which someone told me are anemones. I’m a city boy. I’m clueless.
From here, it was on to the town of Pella for lunch.
The chef stopped by to say hello.
The view from the restaurant was stunning—and, I have to say, so much of Jordan is just beautiful. I went expecting lots of desert and crags and dust. I discovered rolling hills and astonishing varieties of plant life.
The ruins of Pella, just below the restaurant, have revealed an ancient Byzantine church, from the 5th or 6th century.
Then it was back to Amman, surveying the scenery as we rumbled by: vegetable venders, sheep, a mosque or two or three (or 10 or 20…lotta mosques in Jordan.)
Some of us slept. The Wimpy Catholic this afternoon was a sleepy one.
Tonight, we head to an Easter Vigil. Exult!