Trip Start Mar 21, 2009
Trip End Apr 29, 2009

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Where I stayed

Flag of Syria  ,
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The tour of the second axis of evil begins!    Damascus was quite a culture shock for the first day after having been in Iran for a few weeks.   There is a lot more activity on the streets, more shops, more people wandering around.  Not to mention a LOT more tourists than in Iran, though still nowhere near as many as elsewhere.    Definitely an assault on the senses but I'm getting into the groove now.    I got off to a little bit of a rough start since the immigration agent was very grouchy, and then I spent the first half day running around the city trying to find an ATM that would work since their banks don't always have great connections to the international bank networks.   After finally being able to get some local currency I was able to get started exploring.

Damascus has an old city that used to be surrounded by walls, many of which are still intact.   Lots of little alleys to explore and get lost in.   The souks (bazaars) are world famous and go on and on, selling everything from perfume to spices to household goods.   Lots of fun and very easily to spend an entire day browsing.

Culturally Syria is very differnent from Iran.   There is a mix of religions here, approx. 70% Muslim, 20% Christian and 10% Jewish, and it's very noticeable in the way the city is laid out.  In the Muslim quarter, which is Sunni (vs. Shia in Iran, two very different branches of Islam), the women cover their heads very tightly and don't allow any hair or the front/back of their necks to peek out, unlike many of the Iranian women who wore very loose-fitting scarves.   They don't wear chadors here but still wear long sleeves and long pants.  On the other hand, the most conservative women cover themselves completely and wear a black veil over their faces.  I guess they must be able to see through it in order to know where they're going, but good grief, that's a rough way to navigate the streets.

However, in the Christian and Jewish quarters you see women dressed much as you would in non-Muslim countries.    Many of the sites of interest are in the Muslim quarter, but most of the restaurants, etc. are in the Christian and Jewish quarters because they can serve alcohol.   All three groups seem to co-exist and mingle between each other without any issues and have been for centuries.  Very impressive.   There are also quite a few tourists from Saudi Arabia so it makes for good people-watching.

At my hotel I met a mother and daughter traveling together from Ireland and London, respectively, and the daughter was my age, the mom was retired.   We ended up having dinner together on a few nights and at one of the restaurants they had "whilring dervishes" perform for entertainment.   A dervish is from the Sufi mystic religious group, and they spin in hopes of going into a trance.   Pretty cool to see the white long dress that they wear spin around and around and I was dizzy just watching.

I also took a day trip yesterday to see the "Crac des Chevaliers", one of the best preserved Crusader castles.   In the afternoon we went to see Palmyra, a sprawling set of ruins that was just beautiful at sunset.   It made for a very long day since we didn't get back to the hotel at midnight but it was well worth it.

Today I'm taking the train up to Aleppo, Syria's other main city, and will park myself there for a few days.   More later!
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jsmerkle on

Re: Fun travels
Funny, I actually took a lot of pictures of families dressed up in their Easter-best and will post them once I get access to a decent internet connection. But yes, overall it seems that the Christians in Syria celebrate Easter much as we do in the US, with the exception of the food of coures - instead of an Easter ham, they have a lot of fantastic dishes that I'm going to have to learn how to make.

jsmerkle on

Re: camels
Nope, wasn't me, but I do hope to ride one when I get to Jordan and with any luck will be spending a night in the desert!

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