Just strolling and saying good bye to Syria

IMG_8731The better part of the day was spent walking up and down streets ranging from alleys to boulevards in old town which now was bustling with life. From spicy (but of poor quality) lingerie to candy or toys, pretty much everything had a stall or two. Smells of spice mixed with horse dung or nagilah (fruity tobacco smoked through a water pipe) would have teleported us back in time a millennia or two if it weren’t for the cellphone-stalls.

Since our feet wasn’t completely mangled, we decided to check out the newer parts of Damascus again and of course treated ourselves a decent milkshake on the way. After ending up in a park just contemplating for some time we headed back to the hotel. We had reserved tables at Elissar, a restaurant that was highly recommended in our edition of Lonely Planet.

By a mix of black magic, luck and Mirsada’s eyesight we managed to get to the restaurant in less time than expected and got there only fashionably late. Since past dinners had been only mezze or a bunch of appetizers we decided to go straight for a main course and a small bottle of arrac, the local spirit which seemed to be the same thing as ouzo.

Raki-nightSaid and done, apparently these small bottles were about half a liter each. Mirsada surely made an impression after ordering her meat rare and later outdrink yours truly. A long day of walking in the heat with little food and water could have made this an interesting night but since we were getting up around 0500 next morning we left before things got out of hand.

Mosque and wandering in old town

IMG_8669We had a breakfast above expectations but the bathroom were stinking so we decided to scout for alternative hotels. Since we were lazy we started with the hotel one floor above which had much cleaner and nicer rooms. Said and done.

On the way to old town we asked for directions when a young man clad in white explained he was heading the same way. He started to chat and it ended up that he gave us his contact information if we needed any help or so while in Syria when we parted.

Since it was Friday most of the shops were unfortunately closed but it was still impressive to wander around, and some shops were still open. We walked “Straight Street” and since we’re talking Damascus the old town is quite old. This street is mentioned in the old testament.

After a lunch-break we were still strolling around when I was struck by a sign of luck, or at least considered to be so in Croatia, a foul bird had defecated right in my head. Mirsada was laughing uncontrollable before helping me to wash my hair.

IMG_8673The Umayyad Mosque lies within the old town and has been the place of religious worshop for some 3000 years. It started with a Aramean temple for the god Hadad, the romans used it for Jupiter before going christian and then switch to John the baptist. The moslems kicked out the christians around 700 AD and since then it have been a holy place seconded only to the holy mosques in Mekka and Medina.



IMG_8661Islam seems to take it way more lightly in how to behave in their religious buildings than e.g. christians. Kids were playing around and people were generally slacking, only the required covering clothes and forbidden footwear was a give-away of the holiness of the mosque.
IMG_8692After a dose of culture it was time to entertain our sugar cravings and we had tried some really nice ice-creams. The place was very popular and we will try to go back here tomorrow. Well fed we started to walk towards the hotel and of course we ended up taking a taxi in the end when not knowing where we were.

The taxi driver drove for about 3 minutes when Mirsada thought she recognized the streets and asked the startled driver to stop. We got off and actually did not recognize us when the taxi had speeded off. Some walking in the direction of the cab brought us to a landmark however and we could walk the last bit.

Being rather tired from all the walking we were close to just fall asleep but we thought that at least we should go out and get a milkshake in central Damascus. We found a street stall quite soon, gulped down the awesome milkshakes and scurried back before the sugar-coma would hit us. A well needed shower and some reading we fell asleep.

Leaving Hama and going to Damascus

IMG_8628Mirsada did feel better, but not by much, it was still a rather slim diet and frequent bathroom visits. We made a quick visit to the central park a block away and watched some Norias, the large wooden water wheels used to get water into an aqueduct where it then could be used for irrigating the surrounding fields. Quite impressive for being 13th century design.

IMG_8620Despite taking it slow and slacking in the shadow, Mirsada was fatigued and we decided that we would book another night in Hama. Possibly leave later in the afternoon but not before noon which was check-out. I went on a stroll to get the time tables for the buses to Damascus as well as check out some more Norias.

After getting another round of rice for Mirsada and a chicken wrap for myself we did some resting at the hotel. Having rested a whole hour after eating with no bathroom visits we decided that it was now or never we should leave for Damascus. The hotel manager did some very friendly handling of our bill since we paid less than the two days and we had also bought food and drinks. If you ever stay in Hama, check out the budget hotel Cairo, nice and clean for a good price!

We got to Damascus without any incidents and bartered for a cab to Al Diwan, the hotel we had thought we would end up at the very first night in Syria. Prices had gone up a bit and the room quality down, we haggled for some time and ended up paying 44 dollars per night. Fair enough. We asked about the laundry service and thought it was a bit expensive but needed to wash clothes so handed them in and went out for a proper meal this time. Before we left we moved the beds together however revealing a not so well cleaned floor, we asked them to vacuum this before we got back.

IMG_8630At Pizza Roma I got more cheese than my poor body could handle but I did a brave attempt on the pizza hut clone and considered it a draw. When paying the bill didn’t match up and when asking what the items on the bill was we were informed that one of items were apparently napkins. First time I’d seen that one, not that we ordered that or so. Rather than arguing about it, we took the whole box of napkins with us.

After stumbling back crippled by the fat bomb in my stomach we saw some dvd-stands and figured we treat ourselves with another calm night. As we were discussing movies we were approached by a guy, probably in his late teens, who starts a conversation by asking us not to call him stupid in good english but please answer his question. He had a keen interest in my shoulder bag (white one bought in Beijing, with the animal from the anime xxxHolic) and asked if I perhaps had bought this in Syria or if it was from abroad. I told him that it was bought in China and he shrugged and explained that it’s very hard to find such stuff here but thanked me for answering before vanishing in the crowd.

Speaking about fashion one thing that’s a big difference here in Damascus and the rest of Syria is the Burkhas and head-cloths. I’ve maybe seen 5 or 10 ladies showing their hair in total earlier and now its maybe 20 in an hour. Some girls also wear make-up, tight jeans and t-shirts. I thought the idea of wearing make-up and covering your hair kind of contradicted each other but apparently not. I guess it’s the same thing in any country, people are more aware of other cultures and less conforming to the norms in the major cities or capitals than the less privileged outskirts.

In the elevator back at the hotel there is an older arab man who when we get off asks us in swedish if this was the second or third floor. A quick flashback to what conversation we had in the elevator brought back the memory of me using the always classy and useful phrase “vakôster’u?”.

The laundry was already done and we got it back drenched in perfume and with a bill larger than the total for the very nice dinner we had in Aleppo at the posh place. The room was not vacuumed, but before we could complain a bellboy arrived with a broom and tried his best to clean the thick dusty carpet.

We haggled concerning the laundry bill and reduced it a bit but it seems we had misunderstood the prices as well. No big money in the long run but still a bit lame. After watching the movie we were about to hit the sack when we realized that there are no sheets in our beds. We notified the now well-known porter of this and he after some explanations understand what we wanted and gave us sheets. Did I mention that there was no toilet paper before we mentioned this neither? Depending on our laziness we might look up another hotel tomorrow.