Damascus

Entry Info

Historical Site Tours in SyriaSyria has been inhabited since the prehistoric era and even the Old Testament is set in the country many times. Besides in spite of the rich history, the country was not widely developed yet and there were less fewer tourists compareding to the other countries. IOn this entry, I'll introduce some historical sites where I went on the days of staying atduring my stay in Damascus and Hama.

Palmyra

Historical Site Tours in SyriaWhen I was staying at in Damascus, I went to Palmyra by bus. It took about 3 hours from the bus terminal connected to the central area by mini bus. Palmyra has the biggest archaeological site in the central area of Syria and there are still many Roman style buildings from 3rd centuryies are remaining. A huge temple, a well preserved amphitheatre, a road with many pillars, you can enjoy various types of ruins. Besides, notwithstanding the scale of the site, there were unexpectedly not many tourists walking around and I could enjoy taking photos.

Historical Site Tours in SyriaA group of local school kids tried to talk with me, gesturing as if they wanted to take photos with me. I wrote this kind of story on the entry of Luxor; it seems like Eastern Asians like me is are very rare for the local kids in this area. In return, I aimed my camera to at them and it made put them into total chaos. The teacher was just standing and smiling. It was somehow quite heart warming. Nevertheless, be careful to the kids of the local pedlars. They have only two phrases in their dictionaries, "Buy this." and "Give me." Sadly, I became able to distinguish the difference between eyes which become merchandises and those which keep their innocence. Now I'm wondering about after coming back to Japan, how will the eyes of kids there appear to me?

Private tour to the Northern Syria

In order to go to the historical sites ion the Northern area of Syria, I used the private tour organized by the Riad Hotel at Hama with Shin, Tomoko and a Japanese man staying at the hotel at the same time. The 8 hour private trip going to 3 sites cost 700SYP (15USD). I think it was quite reasonable. Actually, using local bus would cost less but with the nominal fee, we were released from worrying about the bus schedule and at ease with playing our own music in the car. If you can find some people going to the same places, a private tour should be a great value.

Apameia

Historical Site Tours in SyriaThe first destination was Apameia allegedly as the biggest archaeological site of Northern Syria on a par with Palmyra located at the centreal. The length of load with pillars is long 2km long. I felt very unexcited, sadly because I'd already seen the a very similar site in Palmyra. Comparing the photos from the each site, it's interesting to see the difference of the materials of pillars and vegetations. But I couldn't notice such things on the actual site. Basically, Apameia has only pillars and some extra debris which used to be "bathhouse", "library" and others. I would recommend going to Palmyra which is well preserved and has various buildings if you can go only to one place.

Masyaf Castle

Historical Site Tours in SyriaThe next place we went for to was the Masyaf castle. According to the receptionist of the Riad Hotel, the castle is very good condition and a kind of a good out-of-the-way place. When we reached the site, we all said "Oh, well it's a castle." We could've had very different impression if we had come here in the very first days of the whole journey but in those days we'd been developing a kind of frigidity. But a funny event happened there as we encountered the local kids from school trip again. What's more as it was a fortress, the passages were very narrow. The scene looked like a super star group tried to get out through a stage passage after their concert. Cheering and clapping the kids extended their hands to make handshake with us despite the control from the secret services, no, the teachers. It was not really annoying as they had just pure interest towards us. I could say it was a very interesting experience.

Castle in the Sky, Krak des Chevaliers

Historical Site Tours in SyriaThe final destination was Krak des Chevaliers which is very popular among Japanese travellers as allegedly the castle is the model of the movie "Castle in the Sky" directed by Hayao Miyazaki. From the planning stage, this castle was the main destination of this trip for us as well. The first two places were in a sense "opening sites". On the way to the castle, we lifted our sprite spirits by listening to the soundtracks of the movie from on the iPod. The western style fort on the top of a 600m height mountain used be an impregnable strategic point. The contrast between the blue sky and the ivy-covered wall certainly had the a similar atmosphere to the movie. Not only the view from the castle, but view to the castle from the other side of the mountain to which the taxi driver led us was very beautiful.

Historical Site Tours in SyriaAfter walking on the outer wall, we enter the castle and somehow found strange people some of whom were wearing armours and being tied with ropes. I got sick at once as it looked like a very cheap tourist attraction but they were in fact the actors for the local cinemas. Using Egyptian costumes and putting many articles on the site they actually ruined the atmosphere but we were alright to see such a bizarre scene.

The thoughts after many historical sites in the Middle East

I'm bit afraid as I shared some negative images of this trip. Nevertheless, this is the style I intend to make. At short term trips, so new and exciting is the everything we see that we tend to feel going all the places on the guide book. In contrast, it's quite difficult to keep this mind state on a long term trip we become unno caring about most of the marginal places. However, because of this, the emotion towards the "real" places is just inexpressible. For instance, I won't be able to forget the feeling when I saw Petra and Karnak at for the first time. I think I'm seeking for this sensation during this trip.

Well, it was the time that I should move to the next country Turkey as I'd had enough time at in this area.

Entry Info

Damascus Solitary WalkingAfter parting from the friends, I remained at in Damascus and the time for a carefree solitary walking came. I actually like the time that I don't have to think about others and feel relaxed with walking around without specific purposes. It is said that Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the world as the city has been inhabited for more than 10,000 years. Due to the conquests after the conquests, most of the ancient cities were buried under the new cities but still the remaining old town has more than 1,000 years of history. And the best charm of Damascus is that we can walk through two areas with very different atmospheres, the Muslim area and the Christian area.

Damascus Muslim Area

Damascus Solitary WalkingAt the centre of the old town, Umayyad mosque, one of the biggest mosques in the world stands there and many pilgrims from all over the world come. Starting from the mosque, big souks (shopping streets) lay and various shops are selling their goods. According to the local people, you can buy anything there. As a person from Tokyo where you can buy literallry anything, I felt it was bit overstateding but in fact they have much many more local consumer goods than the other neighbouring countries. Looking at some cool leather stuffs, I thought I'd come here if I was a buyer of fashion items.

Damascus Christian Area

Damascus Solitary WalkingOn the other hand the Christian area is less busy than the Muslim area. There are no big shopping streets like the souks, just walking along the narrow allies, I could find some small churches and mysterious souvenir shops. Although Syria registers Islam as their official religion, some Christians have been living for generations in Damascus even since before the Islam was born. At the Christian area, there are still some roads and churches mentioned in the Old Testament.

Trying "hammam"

Damascus Solitary WalkingI had a chance to try "hammam" known as Turkish bath in the Moslem area. This hammam place has an amazingly long history. According to them, they've been running since 7th century and even the real crusaders used the actual site. Although this place is used as a kind of a social place for the local people, a foreigner like me was courteously welcomed too. After slipping into a seat of with a towel wrapped around my waist, the first stage was a dry sauna. This sauna was absolutely awesome. I felt like as if a lot of waste accumulated in my body scattered away and realised that I was quite tired at that time. The next stage was a steam sauna where everyone washed their body. And finally a brawny hairy Arabic guy was there to give me a peering and massage. Not listening to my moan, he continued his service rigorously for some minutes. It was actually nice despite some strong pain.

After all, it was the time for breaking downtaking a break with a bottle of coke as they don't have any alcoholic drinks for the Muslim rule although a bottle of beer must've been the best beverage on this occasion. For this full menu, they charged 600SYP (13USD approx.) Considering about the local prices, this was almost the same as going to a decent restaurant. Though it's quite nice amount of money, I can understand as I suppose this should be quite similar act to Japanese people going to big public baths. After checking out, they gave me a small cup of Arabic coffee and the drowsiness caused by the bath went away completely.

The legendary croissant.

Damascus Solitary WalkingA croissant from Damascus, I heard about this story from many travellers from the North when I was in Dahab. At a back alley in the Christian area, there is a small bakery being talkedspoken of as a sort of a legend among Japanese travellers. Although they sell some sweets like éclairs, their main product is a delicious croissant baked with full of batters . The butter oil would stick to the paper bag if you don't eat quickly enough. Besides, one piece of it is merely 20SYP(0.5USD) and big enough for a small lunch. Though it might be difficult to find out the place as the area looked like a city maze, if you have a chance to go to Damascus, this bakery is definitely worth trying. As the Christian area is not so large you'll possibly see the store if you just walk around without a map. You wouldn't miss it since there are always queues by the local people and the smell of the butter is very intense.

The food culture at Damascus

Like this croissant, it seems like Damascus has a very vast range of food culture for the local common people. I always bought Kebab sandwiches on the street and draunk fresh fruit juice everyday using "vitamin supplementation" as a good excuse. Either mango or banana could be the best for me. What's more I must mention about a the gelato. There is a famous traditional gelato shop on the big souk at the Muslim area and their milk gelato was so smooth and tasty. It's absolutely essential for walking around the souks. Though the foods are totally different from Beirut where I stayed at just prior to Damascus, I suppose the food culture of each city just flourished according to the people who dominate there.

Entry Info

20th (Tue)
Jul 2010

[day111] Damascus with Friends

After staying in Lebanon for a week, I went back to Damascus again. For this time, I got the 14-day tourist visa and travelled around Syria. Besides, I expected to see a couple of my friends from Dahab, Shinya and Tomoko in Damascus. We travelled together until Amman and though we once separated there -they headed to Israel while I went to Lebanon- we made a promise to meet again in Damascus as we were planning to visit the city on a close date. Before leaving from Lebanon, I let them know that I was coming to Damascus on the day. After get out from the taxi, worrying about how to actually meet with them I was walking to the Marche Square where there is a lot of budget accommodation ally and found a familiar guy waving to me. Oh, it's Shinya! They anticipated my scheduling pattern and wait there having tea. It was a quite an impressive welcome indeed.

Damascus with FriendsIn the evening, we ate a famous grilled chicken for dinner. A whole chicken for 240SYP (6USD) was quite good value. Taking it to the accommodation, we started eating the meat with bare hands. The succulent meat with thin bread originally having wrapped the meat was absolutely delicious, probably the best in Syria. Besides accompanied with this juicy meat, we definitely needed some chilled beer. Although it was quite hard to find a liquor store as the Damascus downtown where we were staying was for Muslims, we finally managed to locate a small store by asking quite a few people around us. The beer with friends talking about each travels was far better than usual.

Shinya and Tomoko were planning to visit Lebanon for about a week from the next day. This was the time that I could make use of the fresh information there and they told me about Israel in return. It was quite enjoyable to exchange this kind of information from the fellow travellers. Though both of our plans were very tentative, we promised to get together again in Hama, the northern part of Syria probably in a week. Besides, they left me an important task saying "Please say hello to Iyo. She'll be back to Damascus Tomorrow."

Iyo is a girl we met in Dahab too. In order to visit Israel, she had left Dahab before us but coincidentally met again in Amman. We actually came to Damascus together and went to the Chinese restaurant on the night. After seeing off the couple, I visited the accommodation in the old town where she would be staying but she was not there. Losing any idea where she was, I was just strolling around the Moslem area with a special ice cream there and found a familiar girl pointing to me. Oh, it's Iyo. Though Damascus was a quite large city, it was not very rare to encounter some travellers since the places strangers can walk around were limited.

Standing at the corner and chatting, she explained that she had just finished travelling around Syria and had a plan to go back to Japan the next day. It was almost the end of her half a year round the world journey. Therefore, I was honoured to accompany her for her last dinner abroad and we decided to go a fashionable restaurant in the old town's Christian area. There are quite a few den style restaurants along the small alleys at the Christian area and many local young people seemed to visit them.

Damascus with FriendsSomehow she looked bewildered when she saw the menu on the seat. I asked why and her answer was "There are no prices on my menu." I presume this was a sort of a gentle message from the restaurant to MY guest "Don't worry about the price and order whatever you like." Of course, I had a decent menu with prices. I didn't have the faintest idea a restaurant in Damascus would do this style. Well, this would be my treat though I'd been thinking about it. Anyway the bill was not as scary as Lebanon although we ordered some a la carte dishes and glasses of cocktails (Non alcoholic only, disappointingly!)

During the dinner, she told me a lot of useful information about the places and the accommodations in Syria. Besides, she gave me a Japanese guide book about the Middle East countries. Though I usually prefer not to bring any physical books during this trip, the guide book seemed very helpful in this area where the net often didn't work. Anyway I found meeting with friends again and again in the other countries is very interesting. It was a precious occasion to stay in Dahab such a long time. I feel like meeting with them again in the near future.

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