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.

Entry Info

Balabakk and the God of ThunderSince spending one week only in Beirut seemed to be bit too long, I decided to go to Balabakk to see the old temple when I switched the accommodation. The main transportation I used was of course Service. In the other countries, Service means a shared taxi operated with a normal car but here in Lebanon, the term covers a mini bus which carries about 10 people as well. Basically they are mostly used by the local people and not by foreigners except for the budget backpackers like us.

Almost all local people in the Middle East countries don't speak English but how do we manage to get in the local bus used by such people only. The basic strategy is quite simple; just repeat the name of the destination. Like "Balabakk? Balabakk?". If the driver beckons, this must be the bus you can use. On the payment, probably people around you help counting the notes. While the private taxi drivers often try to rip you off, this kind of thing usually wouldn't happen in Services as you just need to pay the same amount as the other people. Besides, in order to make the trip safer, it's quite effective to get notes of your destinations' names written in Arabic from the accommodation. Showing the notes, you can make sure the driver would drop you off at the destination. Oh, don't forget to get the name of the return trip's destination as well.

Temple of the God of Thunder

Balabakk and the God of ThunderThe ruin of Balabakk is very famous for the well preserved temples which were originally built in the ancient Roman era. The temple appeared absolutely magnificent even for me who is not usually engrossed with those kind of ruins. How come the ancient people could construct such a huge building? What's more, there were just a few tourists on the site and I could peacefully stroll around and shoot photos. This is very important as the tremendous number of tourists often spoils the atmosphere of the place though I know I'm a part of them.

However when I was enjoying photo shootings, the sky was getting darker. Although it was a beautiful sunny day in the beginning, before I noticed the sky had became gray and finally the big rain drops started falling with thunder and lightning. Coincidentally, the name of the temple I visited was "Jupiter Temple". In a way, this is a very well made story as Jupiter is known as the god of lightning. But I had to take shelter from the rain at the museum on the site for 2 hours. According to site managers, it hardly rains in the area, probably a few times of precipitations per year. Well, I should feel honoured for this rare experience.

Incidentally the name of accommodation I stayed at that night was "Jupiter Hotel" too. The price of 15USD for a dorm room without hot shower system was quite touristic but as there were no other visitors there I could use the room privately. Though they had a decent private room with shower, I'd rather go back to Beirut and eat something nice than spend 40USD for a mediocre room. There were nothing special to do at night and I was just reading book on a shabby bed. At the time, I was reading the Lord of the Rings on my iPhone and the adventurous story cheered up my heart towards travelling.

Meeting with a Nice Guy.

Next morning, the rain stopped and the sky became clear again. After walking around the area for a while, I made my way back to Beirut by Service as usual. After a while of the departure, the middle aged guy next to me tried talking to me with his little broken English. He said he was a lawyer living in the next town of Beirut. After chatting idly like "Where are you from?", "How's Beirut" and such, the guy suddenly offered me a lift to Beirut. In fact, the Service we were on would terminate on the outer edge of Beirut and I had to change the bus to go Downtown. Immediately the bad memory of being severely ripped off in Bangkok flashed into my mind but considering the circumstances, a guy who accidentally sat next to me on a local bus wouldn't be that kind of fraud. Besides, Lebanon was the country of Muslims whose principal is "Be gentle to travellers". Therefore, I got up my courage to follow him. Anyway, I can manage most troubles if I get seriously involved with some.

Somehow we went to his office at first and drunk tea together and after that he surely took me to the Beirut downtown, precisely in front of the accommodation. What a nice guy he was! In reality, the local people in this area were absolutely kind to travellers. I couldn't count how many times they helped us. For instance a man walked with us to the accommodation in a minor town; a lady tried to find someone who could speak English to help us. It was definitely because of their kindness that I could safely travel though the area that the language was totally different from ours. Thanks to them, I started thinking about being gentler to the foreigners coming to Japan after this trip.

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