Damascus, Syria, Summer 2010, Part 1

When I told my friends in Lebanon I was going to make the most of my long weekend off from work by visiting Damascus I was met with universal pleas recommending I should change my plans. I wouldn’t like it they said, the people weren’t nice, the food not as good as in Lebanon, I woudln’t be safe, the list went on, hardly surprising when you consider the two countries recent histories. So it was with some trepidation I made my way to Charles Helou early one morning to catch a service taxi to the Syrian capital. We stopped in the familiar town of Chtoura in the Bekaa for coffee and arishe, a soft, mild cheese drizzled with honey and served in Arabic bread which I was grateful for as I had chosen to go to Damascus during Ramadan and I wasn’t sure when i would next get to eat on arrival in Damascus. The familiar roads of the Bekaa turned into the boarder control with Syria and I purchased my entry visit visa allowing me to enter Syria without any of the stress or hassle I had been expecting, the guards laughing at my Lebanese sounding Arabic and wishing me well on my journey. It wasn’t long before the suburbs of Damascus came into view and the driver pulled over and hailed a local taxi for me in which I was to continue my journey to the city centre to the small youth hostel I had opted to stay in. As we arrived at the hostel, I was delighted to see it was built around a stunning courtyard with a large fountain at its centre, people of all ages and nationalities were relaxing with books and enjoying a late breakfast before heading off to explore. Leaving my bag in the small private room i had been lucky enough to secure (I felt I was a bit old to be bunking down on a mattress on the roof!) I headed into the old walled city to explore. I spent the day wandering the narrow, cluttered streets, exploring the incredibly Ummayad mosque – home to the tomb of Saladin, true history at work and the souks with their exotic spices, soaps and other nick nacks. After some hours I found myself in the old Christian quarter where i was delighted to see a restaurant that was open and serving a very late lunch. Naranj is apparently one of Damascus’s’ better restaurants and Iftar preparations were in full swing however they were kind enough to let me choose a couple of mezze to lunch on whilst they carried on around me. I chose hummus, a sort of ratatouille and grilled kibbeh all of which were exemplary, as was the amazing freshly baked bread they pulled out of the oven in front of me to accompany the meal. I have attached some pictures of the first days exploring and some of the people I met on my way, I have spent a lot of time thinking about them this past year, pondering their fates but this is how I like to remember them.

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