Friday, September 17, 2010

Trip to Damascus

It’s been a manic week at work so not had chance to blog this until now. We had a good visit to Damascus for the Eid holiday.

We stayed right in the heart of the old walled city, which from the rest of the country has a higher population of Christians. It was an interesting contrast to the UAE as there was a strong mix of religion and cultures. We heard the Friday sermon and prayer calls from the mosque and the church bells on Sunday.

This is a picture across the city from the roof our our hotel. A nice juxtaposition of the Mosques and Churches.


The city used to have a city wall with 8 gates. The gates are still in place but most of the wall is destroyed. There is one part between Bab Touma and Bab al Salam. On this stretch you can see that houses have been built into and on top of the wall over the years. This guy has made an interesting entry point!


One of the other gates is Bab Kisan, which is renowned as being the location where St Paul was lowered in a basket to avoid a baying mob whom he had upset with his preaching.


There were some interesting souqs, the main one being Al Hamidiyeh - which I have to say most sold a load of tat, but did have a shop selling really nice ice creams! The place was absolutely heaving which made our passage through somewhat tiresome. There were hoards of kids about in groups, most of whom it would appear had never seen a white/blonde girl (caz) in real life - given their staring and adolescent drooling!



The more interesting souq we wanted to look at, Madhat Pasha, was close for Eid. The very few shops that were open gave us the impression they would have more art/antiques/crafts etc. The architecture of these souq is interesting, with the holes in the roof creating nice shafts of light pouring in. I am told by a Syrian friend that these holes are the result of firing from a previous French invasion!


Within the city there were some great tight little street to explore, like warrens running though the whole place. Every now and again you would stumble across what looked like a nice restaurant and hotel tucked right out of the way.


The Umayyad Mosque was very nice (can’t believe we came from Abu dhabi and visited a mosque!) - it is described as the first monumental work of architecture in Islamic history. After Mecca, it was a central gathering point for Muslims. Inside it didn’t seem to have the same reverence as you find at the Zayed Mosque in Abu dhabi. Kids were running around inside causing mayhem (they seemed to play a game of “who can get past the security man with a stick” at the entrances!) and it seemed to be used mainly for people to escape the heat and sleep!



There were various remnants of Roman rule, including this Roman arch.


There seemed to be lots of old cars around; American, French, Italian. This old Citroen (I think) caught my eye, as well as the Fiat Mirafiori which is the same as the one I learnt to drive in 26 years ago - even the colour. (for anyone that knows him, it was Stuart Wards’ car - but actually was a Super Mirafiori, woo hoo).



This sign got my attention too - not something you see in Abu Dhabi very often


While out and about one morning we stopped at a local coffee shop. This was the english side of the menu. Highlighted are a few interesting selection!


So, I thought “in for a penny, in for a pound” - I’ll order them! So here is my fried sheep’s testicles (chopped with about 6 chips) and the sheep’s brain fatteh, which is basically a yoghurt over the meat. The testicles had the texture of tofu about them, but didn’t taste unpleasant and the brains were just a slimy mush really, that didn’t actually taste of anything, only yoghurt. I think this will be a once in a lifetime selection, if out of choice!


On our final night there were took a trip up the Qasiyoun mountain, where there are coffee shops and foodstall and you can see down over the city. Again it was packed, it is a very popular destination. It is cooler up there and has some nice views. I didn’t have my proper tripod or remote, so I wasn’t especially happy wiht the picture result, but you get the idea. Pretty much all the green bits you can see are mosques.


All in all, we enjoyed the trip, but we did come home exhausted from all the walking. If we had more time I would have liked to explore more of Syria, maybe another time. Although I think I would like to do Lebanon next - I have plenty of would-be tour guides amongst my customers who hail from there and of course believe it is the nicest place on earth!

My full album of pictures can be found here :-

Trip to Damascus, Syria

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