Here is where I start my blogging adventures, from back in April 2009 in Damascus, Syria; a city that many believe to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. A city that has been around for over 10,000 years and today is home to 4 million people.
Tarrying through this magnificent, vibrant hub and tripping on the cobbles of the Roman roads is me, positively taken aback with amazement on my first solo trip. It’s hot and dry with blue skies and soft clouds. Perfect weather for this expedition. Easter is nearly upon the city and preparations are being made throughout the Christian quarter. Banners and decorations strung up above the streets are flapping in the breeze and brass bands are rehearsing in courtyards. It feels like I’ve arrived at an exciting time.
I am based within the imposing old city walls and my place of residence, The Damascus Hostel, is built within said walls in the Bab ash-Sharqi area. The hostel is homely and fantastic, especially for the lone traveller as the staff become like a surrogate family, making sure all problems are covered and that you get the most out of your trip. The hostel seems to double up as a mini zoo and at the time I was there, there were four tortoises, a rabbit, multi-coloured Easter chicks and a hamster called Carrot-head with her newborns. Animals, guests and staff all converge in the main lounge for food, drink and chatter. Breakfast is a fine affair and a fellow traveller counted no less than eighteen different foods on the buffet table. I have to mention the Damascus Hostel because it underpinned the whole chapter of my visit to Damascus. This is where I first experienced the great Syrian hospitality that I would continue to enjoy for the rest of my trip.
I must tick off all of the main attractions. Maktab Anbar; a fine example of a Damascene villa – check. A meal in the hidden courtyard oasis of Beit Jabri – check. Shopping in Souq A-Hamidiyya – check. Salahuddin’s tomb, the Arab Epigraphy Museum, the International Museum, walking the length of Straight Street …. yes, all of these places are impressive but the Umayyad Mosque, one of the most important buildings in Islam, really hits that touristic craving deep within me. Before I can enter I must step through the doors of the ‘Putting on special clothes room’ in my new attire – a large hooded sack that skilfully conceals my womanly pointy bits. Within the grounds of the Umayyad it is a sea of calm. Tourists wander amongst the worshippers, contemplating the artistic precision of the the complex. Inside and out , it is a thing of beauty.
Later that day I wandered into the Oriental Arts and Folklore emporium owned by Husam al-Khouli. What a thing of wonder this shop is. An establishment full of delights that threatened to rid me of every last penny I owned. After showing a moderate interest in some hand-embroidered blankets, I was led out of the shop by Husam and another man, down the alleyway and through a rather inconspicuous doorway. The door was locked behind me as I wondered how I’d allowed myself to get into such a situation. Fears of disappearing without a trace soon dissipated as lights were turned on to reveal a cache of stunning hand-embroidered blankets, stacked floor to ceiling with assorted cats snoozing on the soft steppes of these material mountains. Tea was served, blankets were discussed and cats were stroked. On this occasion no textile purchases were made; my credit card just couldn’t take the hit. Before I was allowed to leave however, I was led upstairs. I had been given the opportunity to view the Umayyad Mosque from the rooftop, specifically the ornate Minaret of Jesus and felt rather privileged. I was encouraged to take many photos and enjoy the view for as long as I wanted. Syrian hospitality at its best.