The Duke’s Diwan, Al-Malek Faisal St, Downtown Amman
Habibah Sweets, Al-Malek Faisal St, Downtown Amman (below the Duke’s Diwan)
Refurbished as a project funded by the Duke of Mukhaybeh - a long-time friend of Jordan’s King Hussein - this 1924-built townhouse sits with open doors on the central street downtown among restaurants, coffee shops, trinket stores and an assortment of other enterprises. The beige cement building is easy to miss among the many beige buildings lining the street, despite the banner out front reading “The Duke’s House.” However, once up the entryway staircase, one is struck by the charming rooms filled with antique furniture, paintings by local artists, vintage photographs and countless books of all genres.
The Duke’s Diwan is meant to be an open space for artists, intellectuals, community leaders, travelers and locals alike to use however they wish: to collaborate, study, discuss, work, or take a step away from the simmering September heat of the streets below.
I visited the Duke’s Diwan on three occasions.
On my first visit I was alone with my pen and sketchbook. After timidly stepping inside, I was warmly welcomed by the caretaker of the property, a small elderly man who spends his days in the Duke’s House maintaining the property, brewing mint tea and ensuring that all who step foot in the house sign the leather-bound guest book on the entryway table. I spent this first brief visit chatting with the caretaker and sketching the surrounding room, promising to return as I eventually exited the building.
On the next visit I brought my good friend Amr, a journalist from Palestine. This time when we reached the top of the stairs, along with the caretaker we saw several groups of people visiting, including a local government official, a family of four Arab tourists, and an old man with a violin. Amr - who can always be relied on to make friends no matter where he is - quickly began speaking animatedly with the government official, and was soon exchanging phone numbers with the man. After a while, it was decidedly time for kunafa (the sugary crumble-topped cheese dessert which is regularly craved by Jordanians). Amr and I brought several plates of kunafa upstairs to be shared with the other two men. We were soon joined by none-other-than the Duke himself, accompanied by one of Jordan’s most beloved soprano opera singers - Zaina - and her parents. After chatting with the Duke and Zaina’s family, we were invited to join them for lunch. Sandwiches were delivered to the house, mint tea was brewed, and the violinist began to play softly in the background. For several hours we remained in the Duke’s parlor, eating, then eating more, and finally finishing with a second round of kunafa - this time delivered via a tray lowered with rope from the balcony to the sweets shop on the street below.
My last afternoon spent at the Duke’s Diwan was with my Arabic tutor and friend Abby, and my Airbnb roommate Amanda - a journalism student from Denmark. With our cameras in hand, we began our little photoshoot (after a round of kunafa, of course). We were soon joined by two friendly Iraqi photographers, who I ended up modeling for as well.
Aside from being a charming old building that gives visitors a glimpse of authentic Jordanian art and culture, this quaint townhouse has a way of bringing together unlikely people while creating the perfect setting for joyful memories to be made. Never would I have imagined that I - an English-speaking American teenager - would be dining in Downtown Amman with a Duke, a Jordanian opera singer, and a journalist from my favorite news outlet, who were mere strangers to me before entering the open doors of the Duke’s Diwan.
Getting to Aguas Calientes By Foot
On a recent trip to Machu Picchu, rather than taking the $24 USD tourist train to Aguas Calientes (the town at the foot of Macchu Picchu), my friend and I decided to take the alternative route of trekking through the rainforest alongside the train tracks. Although the walk ended up being over three hours long (many websites say 2 hours, but we walked relatively quickly and only stopped a few times and it still took us 3), the scenery was gorgeous, and there is something very rewarding about arriving at your destination on foot and carrying your belongings on your own back. The path follows the railroad the entire way, and leads you over several rickety bridges and long, dark tunnels. As you walk along the trail you can see countless varieties of lush trees and colorful flowers, you can hear the calls of birds flying through the trees above, and you can smell the ever-present sweet musk of the rainforest. It is truly magical to see and experience the raw nature that surrounds you, and definitely worth the long walk.
Some recommendations for your trek, if you choose to take the scenic route described above:
What we did to get from Cuzco (leaving around 7:30 am) to Aguas Calientes (arrived at 5 pm or so) was as follows:
-Taxi from the airport to the collectivo station (not an actual “station,” just a street where all of the collectivos (privately owned cars and vans that are as cheap as buses, and are much faster) wait for passengers.
-Take a collectivo to Santa Maria (It should cost about $8 USD per person, and is about a 3.5 hour ride.
-At Santa Maria, you will switch collectivos at another “station” that the driver will take you to. Take a collectivo to Santa Teresa (otherwise known as the Hydroelectrico station). This should cost no more than $5 USD per person, and I believe it only costed us $2 actually. This ride is about an hour.
-From the Hydroelectrico station, you will easily be able to find the path that begins right next to the train tracks and leads to Aguas Calientes.
At first we were skeptical of getting in cars with drivers who did not work for a specific taxi company or had taxi licenses, however we felt safe the entire time, and all of our drivers were great. That’s not to say that the roads and the speed at which the drivers drive are not somewhat frightening. The roads are curvy, made of dirt in some places, and are right next to steep mountain edges. However, the drivers do know what they are doing and are used to driving in these conditions, so we were able to feel safe and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Rounding the final curve of the path to be struck with this view was a highlight of the entire trip, especially since it meant we wouldn’t have to walk in the dark for very long. The quaint town of Aguas Calientes nestled among the towering mountains of the Andes was an indescribable image that will be engrained in my mind for years to come.