Monday, 25 February 2013

jordan day 3: greek orthodox church of st. george in madaba

first stop for our 3rd day was madaba, about 1.5 hour south of amman. it's known as the "city of mosaics" in jordan, due to the the 6th century byzantine mosaic map of israel that was unearthed on the floor of the greek orthodox church of st. george.

at the entrance of the church. need to buy a ticket to enter this archaeological site, even though it's a functioning church. 

those people with their heads bowed were not praying, but were actually looking down at the mosaic map on the floor. 

parts of the map that they managed to preserve, with detailed information of the ancient cities and important landmarks, including the earliest representation of byzantine jerusalem, marked as "holy city".

 this was how the full map looked like...

after visiting the church, our driver said he has a surprise for us and will show us something that is not part of our itinerary but something amazing that we should see, at no extra charge. he said this is the latest archaeological site that was just unearthed recently and not known by a lot of people. but as the land belonged to his friend, he is able to show it to us. however, it would be good to give his friend a small tip after seeing it. not knowing what it was, we agreed.

we arrived at the top of a hill, with some abandoned bedouin settlements dotted here and there.

our driver's friend brought us to an shed and threw open the doors. inside, we saw a big mosaic picture on the floor, with a burnt mark in the middle. according to our driver, before the mosaic was unearthed, some bedouins were having a bonfire out of doors and it was directly on top of the mosaic, hence the black burnt mark on the mosaic.

anyway, we were not really impressed with the mosaic picture, as the whole thing seemed dubious. so we just stayed for a few minutes (didn't even bother to take photos) and then moved out.

then we saw this adorable baby donkey, just 4 days old! we were more interested in taking his pictures than that of the "archaeological site". 

upon leaving, we didn't even bother to give a tip to the owner, but our driver gave him JD 5 (≈ RM22!) and then "reminded" us that we've forgotten to give the tip and said he's paid on our behalf. so we had no choice but to pay him back! yeah, we felt kinda cheated there!

anyway, on the way to our next destination, our driver made a stop at one of those roadside tourist traps and said we can spend a bit of time looking and shopping around for souvenirs there.

 first they gave us some introduction to mosaic making... most of the people who worked in mosaic making are disabled and is a government-supported industry.

very detailed work and some masterpieces can take up to 3 months or more to complete...

we spent about 30 min there, where i bought a small square mosaic (like coaster size) for a blardy cut-throat price of JD 10 (≈ RM45). even that also i was conned coz i think it's only JD 7 (≈ RM 31) and they overcharged me! whatever...

day 3 to be continued...

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

airport drama

i started this post some 2 weeks earlier, before i flew back home for the chinese new year. so it will not include the airport drama that i encountered for THAT trip home... will save it for another post (if i kuasa to write about it!).


i think i've mentioned before that i'd be going on a short trip. that place was here:

3 hours flight from the desert...

even though this was only gonna be a 3 day trip (technically 2, minus the traveling time), i was quite excited coz we won't be engaging the service of any tour operators, but planned things out ourselves. or rather, i planned everything, coz lovely lily said for me to plan everything and she'll just tag along.

i did my research, read thru the lonely planet book, surfed the web and came up with such a detailed plan!

print screen of the notes in my phone... reason for including the local writing is, the majority of the people in georgia don't speak english, and according to a colleague who've been there, they can't really understand our pronunciation of place names too! so it's better to write the local language and show it to them when asking for directions and stuff...

anyway, our flight was scheduled at 2.15am, so lovely lily and i arrived at the airport at 12am. we checked-in and went thru immigration but when we got to the departure hall, we were shocked to see it was packed! lots and lotsa people, all sitting around, some in groups on the floor and some even sleeping on the floor! we were shaking our heads and thought, "this is the price of flying budget". an ang-moh colleague, who grew up in india, told us later that that's exactly the scene in most public places in india... 

so anyway, we wanted to get some mcD, having skipped dinner due to last minute packing, but the queue was horrendous, with people (mostly men) queuing like this:
literally sticking to each other!

so we gave up on mcD and went to costa coffee instead. the queue there was long too, but not as horrendous as mcD. and since it's over-priced gourmet coffee, the crowd there is more erm... different.

after getting our sandwiches, we went to look for a seat and settled down for the wait. at 5 minutes before boarding time, we heard this over the p.a. system: "passengers for flight number xxx, kindly make your way to the information counter for more details of your flight status". puzzled, we went to look at the screen and found that our flight has been canceled! WTH?!? in fact, most of the flights on the screen were shown as canceled.

slightly panicky, we went to the information counter and asked the airport staff there but they just told us to go ask the airline staff. some information counter! so we made our way to the counter near the departure gate and saw that a crowd had already gathered there. i tried squeezing to the front, but couldn't find a chance to speak to the staff there because a lot of people, staff and stranded passengers, were all speaking at the same time. so we hung around, trying to listen in on the various conversations on what was going on. alas, we can't gather anything and were still in the dark.

after a while, we went to sit on the bench and waited, hopefully there'll be some announcement or change of status for our flight. we saw a group of ang-moh looking passengers and gathered that they must be georgians. so we sat near them coz then if there are any changes, we'd know as well. 

we slept on and off sitting down on the bench. luckily my camera backpack is tall enough that when put on my lap, it comes up to my nose and i'm able to rest my forehead on it and doze. now we know why there are so many people sitting and sleeping around there!

after and hour or 2, we heard some commotion and saw that some of the georgians were gathered around a man in uniform. so we rushed over as well, and again, couldn't get up front to find out what's really happening. i asked a georgian woman standing in front of me if she knows what's going on, but she just glared at me, pointed to her ears and shook her head, indicating that she don't speak english. not very friendly, huh lady?

anyway, the man in uniform took down our names and then went away. another man, i think the tour leader for the georgians, spoke english and i asked him, "what now?". he said they're going to try to put us on another flight to doha, and then on to georgia from there. so more waiting...

sometime around 6am, i was woken up by some loud talking and shouting. some of the passengers have had enough and were arguing with the airline staff. but the fact remained that our flight was still canceled, so i went back to sleep.

after a while, some airport staff came to distribute sandwiches and water, but didn't come over to the section where lovely lily were sitting. we also didn't go over to get it coz we didn't wanna leave our seats, which may be taken up by someone else when we come back, with the airport so crowded! and we weren't interested in eating anyway, so we went back to sleep.

at about 7am, lovely lily woke me up to say that another lady from the airlines has come to speak to us. as usual, a crowd has already formed around her, but this time i managed to squeeze to the front. she said that they still have no flights for us and is sending us away from the airport. her staff will arrange hotels and will inform us of the next available flight. i asked if we can get a full refund for our tickets, since we're not georgians and have decided to cancel our trip. so she got one of her staff to arrange for us to go over to the arrival hall to have our "exit stamp" canceled and promised that we'll get a full refund.

while waiting for things to be sorted out, i asked the staff who were handling us about the cause of the flight cancellation. she said it's bad weather. puzzled, i mentioned that we saw some flights taking off and dubai's weather were excellent that day. she said the problem was not the weather in dubai, but at the places where the aircraft were coming back from. the flights were not able to come back, so there aren't any aircraft to take off to the next destination! haiz... that's how budget airlines work...

long story short, we arrived home at 9am, totally exhausted and feeling icky from sitting in the airport the whole night. what a disaster! and at about 3pm, we received an sms informing us that there's a flight scheduled to georgia at 7pm and for us to make our way to the airport immediately. but we ignored it coz we've already lost one full day and it's not worth the trip anymore. furthermore, we've already canceled everything. luckily the proprietor of the b&b that we've booked was understanding and said he won't charge us for no show, as it wasn't our fault.

oh yes, the airlines did give us a full refund, including the internet fee of dhs 8 that they charged for credit card transaction during booking. and it only took them a little over 2 weeks to make the refund, even though they said will take 1 month.