Christmas morning in Jordan's Madaba wasn't as romantic as I'd imagined. Fellow adventurers with children will not be surprised by this revelation. There was something slightly desolate about the guest house. The halls were too empty and the walls too white. Mainly, the absence of normal holiday ceremonies echoed with every attempt to synthesise holiday cheer. We tried to recreate a feeling of holiness by looking at thousand-year-old mosaics, including a map of the Holy Land, and by ascending (in a car) the mountain that Moses climbed. We drove down the King's Highway and headed for the crusaders' castle at Al Karak while our one-year-old Lola slept.
The drive to Al Karak was the only portion of the journey south that didn't involve getting lost. We pulled right up to the castle, ate lunch at the Kir Heres restaurant, recommended by the Lonely Planet guide, and wandered around. Al Karak was a crusader stronghold back in the day. The castle is perched on the edge of a triangular craggy outcrop that overlooks valleys and the Dead Sea on three sides. We saw massive kitchens with double sink basins carved into rock, Greek inscriptions over doorways, and horse stables dimly lit by tiny skylights. As we wandered around on the castle roof, a Saudi man carrying a baby approached my husband and asked for a photo with him and Iola. His two wives whispered to me that the boy was seven months old. We admired each other's babies and then gathered on the steps that Saladin conquered some 822 years ago for a photo together.
If Christmas morning was a bit anticlimactic in Madaba, Christmas evening at the Dana Guest House, situated about two and a half hours from Amman, near the nature reserve in Wadi Araba, was stunning. We arrived after sunset due to several wrong turns but immediately sensed in the almost-full-moon semi-darkness that "guest house" was an understatement; this was a beautiful lodge in a majestic setting. It had a really spare aesthetic with wrought iron furniture, natural wood and rock tile, and each room had its own childproof balcony overlooking a wadi more than 600m deep. There are only nine rooms so you feel like you can get to know everyone there. And the rooms, with a wide array of local breakfast foods included in the price, are reasonably inexpensive, costing from about US$85 (Dh311).
The weather was crisp, the views were amazing, the food was good, and the people were friendly. We sang carols by the fire, serenading a group of German tourists who had just retired for the evening. In the morning, we hiked into the nature reserve briefly but we were all sad to leave. Next time, we vowed, we would hike the six hours to Feynan Lodge and stay overnight there. But we had a programme to keep. Our next two days were slated for exploring the tombs and city of the Nabateans. We made it to Petra by midday and found a hotel called the Petra Inn. It was adequate - Wi-Fi in the lobby to make overdue Skype calls home - but, alas, it was no Dana Guest House. Oh well, I guess Christmas only comes once a year.