Amman to Jerusalem: one Expat’s experience

I would like to give a big shout out to Elissa, who immediately after I asked, if she was interested in writing a guest post, compiled a thorough and well written post about visiting Jerusalem from Amman. Make sure to check out her Facebook and Instagram and follow her on her journeys. So here is her version of visiting Jerusalem:

An American Expat living in Amman visits Jerusalem for a weekend AKA
“I can’t believe it took me this long to go!”

Last weekend, after living in Amman, Jordan for almost 7 months, my husband and I finally decided to head to Jerusalem. With several friends there, and our family back in North America asking when we would go, it would seem like a “no brainer” — especially because of the short distance. However, after previous research I had done had indicated that it was complicated to cross the border, we had, up until now, been sort of hesitant. As for previous research, we couldn’t have been more wrong. While the crossing is not completely straightforward, it really wasn’t very difficult.

The logistics:

Get from Amman to the King Hussein Bridge crossing. That was super easy. We hired a local driver that we’ve used and trusted implicitly (Dry Ver Jo). The cost to get to the bridge was 19 JD – we tipped a little extra as we stopped for a coffee on the way. We were picked up from our apartment in 5th Circle at 9:00 a.m. and arrived at King Hussein Bridge before 10:00 a.m. Once we arrived at the crossing, we were directed to the Departures area of the terminal. There are 2 different departures areas; one for locals and another for “tourists”. As we are traveling on US and Canadian passports, we headed for the tourist area. Once at the departures window, the agent took our passports and we paid our exit tax (10 JD per person) and were then sent to a shuttle bus, which we boarded and waited until the bus was full — not very long. Once the shuttle was full, a border agent returned our passports to us and the driver took payment for the shuttle (7 JD per person without luggage) and we then headed through a series of checkpoints to the Allenby Bridge side of the crossing. Total time between our arrival at King Hussein to our arrival at the Allenby Bridge side of the crossing was under 30 minutes.
Once we arrived at the Allenby Bridge arrivals terminal, we entered the terminal, our bags were scanned through the X-Ray, and we proceeded directly to passport control. A couple of very quick questions (‘where are you heading?” And “is this your first visit?”) And we headed out to catch a “sherut” (shared taxi) to Jerusalem. The cost for the shared taxi was 10 JD each — yes they take Dinars, so no worry about needing local currency quite yet. By 11:00 a.m., we had cleared Customs, were loaded on the shared taxi and headed to Jerusalem. The sherut stops several times along the way to let off other passengers, but the final stop is at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. The perfect location to head anywhere you need to go in the city — close to the walls of the Old City and directly across from a bus terminal, as well as the tram that takes you up Jaffa Street, it is extremely convenient. Door to door, the crossing and arrival to Damascus gate took under 3 hours.

As our hotel was in the City Center, we should have taken the tram, but didn’t realize we could have paid by credit card. Since we didn’t have local currency, we walked a couple of kilometers to our hotel, stopping to hit an ATM and obtain local currency. Important to note is that banks in Jerusalem did not accept our local Arab Bank debit card to take money out. Fortunately, we travel with a North American bank card and we were able to obtain local currency (NIS “shekels”). I recommend if you only have a Jordanian bank, that you take out US dollars or Euros prior to your trip — many stores will accept them and you can also change them to NIS once you are in Jerusalem.

By 1:00 p.m., we arrived to our hotel (http://www.paamonimhotel.co.il), a lovely, affordable boutique hotel at the most perfect location: the intersection of Jaffa and King George Streets (and directly across from a tram stop). A quick stop for lunch, and we met up with one of my University friends that lives in Jerusalem. We were extremely lucky, as she’s a tour guide there and was determined to show us “local Jerusalem”.

First stop: Mahane Yehuda Market (the shuk) for a wander around and to grab some cold drinks. We stopped at a very cool craft beer place, Beer Bazaar (https://beerbazaar.co.il/#home-eng), where we were introduced to some very hipster craft beers. I’m not a beer lover — in fact, I avoid beer 99.9% of the time — but I enjoyed the Pilsener. They have a limited eclectic menu, but perfect for a snack with your craft beer, with offerings such as NY style Hotdogs with mustard and sauerkraut, sandwiches, and a really smooth, creamy hummus.

Continuing on with our “local” experience, we headed over to a food truck festival,

Beer
Beer

located on Guy Ben Hinom Street, just outside the Old City Walls. This is a well attended event, every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening throughout July and August. With about 10 different trucks and a variety of food to choose from, as well as a well stocked bar and live music, its an opportunity to experience something a little different when traveling. The area has plenty of table seating, as well as lots of areas with blankets and pillows to sit with a group and just relax. A friend of mine from high school that lives outside of Tel Aviv met us there, and the night ended on a high note.

Day 2 (Friday)

began bright and early. With a full day of walking around, a filling breakfast was our first thought. One of the breakfasts I’ve missed while living in Amman was a staple for me growing up in NYC and thoughts of bagels with smoked salmon filled my head. Within a 5 minute walk from our hotel, just a blockoff King George Street, I was placing my order and I was soon happily reminiscing about my childhood. After breakfast, we began the walk down Jaffa Street to the Jaffa Gate entrance of the Old City.

Jaffa Street is a bustling street with an eclectic mix of cafes, pubs, and a plethora of shops. Definitely worth planning a stroll on your visit. Entering the Old City is the stuff dreams are made of if you’re a history buff (or even a religion buff). Thousands of years of history collide among throngs of people speaking a multitude of different languages. Tour guides and cab drivers abound, eager to your shekels). Since we had a destination in mind, and are also happiest when touring a city on our own, we easily ignored the guides and just began taking in the entire scene.

As you enter by the Jaffa Gate, you come upon the Tower of David museum — a spectacular monument to admire and a wonderful museum. Currently they have an exhibit called “The Mount”, which gives an extensive photographic and written history of Temple Mount over the years. I highly recommend visiting, not only for this exhibit, but for the sweeping panoramic views over the Old City and into the hills. Of note, you are able to walk the ramparts of the Old City starting here, which I highly recommend (https://www.tod.org.il/en/). During the summer, they also offer a light show, but we didn’t take advantage of it this trip.

Once you pass the Tower of David, you enter the winding streets of the Old City. The stones you walk are the same stones from the pre-Roman era; it definitely gave me something to think about, as I wondered about the generations that walked these streets before me. The winding streets are a combination of tourist shops loaded with souvenirs, cafes, and even barber shops. It has the distinct feeling of a souk/shuk, with locals and tourists mingling to create an exotic atmosphere. Many a shopkeeper will invite you in for a coffee or tea and some conversation. As my husband noted: once I agreed to a coffee, I (and his wallet) were done for! We shared stories with a shopkeeper and walked out with souvenirs for ourselves and our families.

Our next destination was the Western Wall, which was quite moving. It was important to me to visit this sacred location. While it is an important place for Jews, people of many religions stop there to pray, meditate and simply reflect. Despite the crowds, it was strangely quiet and was extremely moving, emotionally. I’ll admit, I did shed a few tears.

Upon a recommendation from another friend, we made sure to drop by the Austrian

View from Austrian Hospice
View from Austrian Hospice

Hospice (https://www.austrianhospice.com/en/), the oldest Christian hostel in the Holy City, and, as we were advised, the best Apfelstrudel outside of Vienna. We went up to the rooftop to check out the view and were simply mesmerized.

Later in the afternoon, we made our way back to the Mahane Yehuda Market (https://en.machne.co.il) to meet some friends that I know through a Bruce Springsteen fan group I’ve been in — not only do we “like the same music, like the same bands”, we have a similar mindset about meeting like-minded fans around the world. As the afternoon drew to a close, the Sabbath horns sounded, signaling shops and restaurants to close. We left the shuk, finding the streets eerily silent and empty, the carpets rolled up for the Holy Day, and the sun setting behind us.

Sunset
Sunset

Day 3, Saturday

left us a a few logistical challenges. As Saturday is a holy day, most shops and restaurants are closed. Local residents spend time with friends, family, or in prayer. We decided to once again meet up with my friend from University at the King David Hotel, where we admired the opulent decor and the autographs on the lobby floor, and learned a little about the colorful history there. From there, we went directly across the street to tour around the YMCA (cue music…), one of the most beautiful landmarks in Jerusalem, which strives to foster equality and friendships among all religions, with an emphasis on Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Late in the afternoon, hunger stoking our adventures, we stumbled upon a neighborhood that actually had a few cafes open, and we took full advantage of some ice cold beverages and dinner.

Day 4, Sunday

morning, we realized something about ourselves: we are no longer as young as we used to be and, after 3 full days of activity, we were ready to take the morning easy. Our plan

Streetart in Jerusalem

was to leave Jerusalem around 1:00 p.m. to begin heading back home to Amman, so we wanted to maximize our time, as lazily as possible. I decided I wanted to, once again, take the short walk over to Mahane Yehuda Market, because each and every storefront, when closed, is covered in street art. Over the course of each of our visits, I managed to get a few pictures in, but I wanted to complete a set. Street art is one of my passions when I travel and the art in the shuk did not disappoint.

Leaving Jerusalem to head back to Amman,

we continued in “lazy mode” and decided to take a private taxi back to the Allenby Bridge border. We were picked up at 1:00 p.m. and arrived to the border by 1:35 p.m. (cost: 300 NIS). At departures, we immediately went to pay our departure fee (178 NIS or $50 USD each) and then to Passport Control, where we presented our visas (computerized on a separate piece of paper than our passports), spent under 5 minutes chatting with the border guard (yes, chatting…no, we were not interrogated) and were then directed to go wait for the shuttle to take us back to the King Hussein side of the border. Once we boarded the shuttle, it was about another 20 minutes to get to the other side. When we arrived back to Jordan, we sat on the shuttle bus and waited for the guard to take our passports and payment for the shuttle (only 5 JD total this time). Then we went inside to arrivals to wait for our passports back. In all honesty, this was probably the most disorganized part of the process. Everyone was standing around the window, like gate lice at an airport gate, waiting for the guard behind the window to call our our name. We had our residency cards ready to show, but were never asked for them. At this point, it was around 2:30, and since our private driver wasn’t arriving until 3:30, we decided to proceed to the Duty Free Shop, in another area. This was definitely a mistake on our part, and one we won’t make again. It is in a separate arrivals hall (for locals) and is extremely confusing.

Once our driver arrived (Dry Ver Jo) again, cost for pickup at the border: 23 JD), we were whisked back to Amman.

When asked if I would do this border crossing again, my answer is a resounding “yes”. It was wonderful to meet up with friends that I’ve felt so near, yet it has seemed at times like they were a world away. I now know that isn’t the case. Jerusalem is a wonderfully modern and international city, with all religions and cultures living and working together peacefully.

All text and pictures by Elissa Goudge

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