Go for the Axis of Evil but stay for the ice cream

Trip Start Jan 19, 2008
Trip End Jun 01, 2008

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Where I stayed
Al Rabie Hotel

Flag of Syria  ,
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I meant to do this in Syria but never got a good chance.  Here goes:

After not too much trouble at the border (4 hours), we (Liz, Andrew, Jenny, Amelia) headed off for Damascus by bus.  The countryside was similar to the Jordan valley with maybe a little more green.  Whether in Irbid or Syria, it was really strange to see anything approaching the definition of lush.  Once in Damascus, we hopped in a cab (who tried to rip us off, of course), to our hotels/hostels.  The city is modern but lacks many stains of globalization that Amman is infamous for.  You can easily tell that Damascus wasn't built in a couple of decades.  The flats have more character and the city just makes so much more sense than Amman.  I can't say that the streets make a perfect grid, but over the roads are relatively straight throughout the city.  More than that, there are no hills.  Let me repeat that: there are no hills.  The smooth sidewalks and flat land make Damascus a city you can actually walk around.

We immediately went to the Old City after dropping our bags at the hostel.  The narrow alleys make the city seem more like an extensive system of caves than a neighborhood.  There is just enough room on most streets for a car to pass with no room to spare.  Even the smallest Kia tends to send distracted tourists diving into doorways for their lives. 

The restaurants deserve a mention as well.  We ate at nicer places than we should have and spent $4-5 everytime for much more food than we could ever eat.  Fatoosh, chicken fatteh, tabuleh, and kabobs were served in ridiculously sized portions for 150-200 pounds ($3-4).  Just in case we somehow weren't full, a restaurant or two followed the meal up with complimentary fruit baskets for every table.  The hospitality was unbelieveable.  I did my usual shop-hopping and as usual drank more tea than I ever thought possible.  Being a tourist wasn't too special to them, but once they found out we were Americans we got all the attention they could offer.  Being able to speak Arabic made them even happier.  Just being able to sit down with the average Hezbollah member/supporter and have a conversation about family or religion or politics was incredibly rewarding.  The best was eating at the most popular ice cream spot in the Suq of the Old City.  It was always packed and naturally flew the yellow Hezbollah flag.  Behind the counter they proudly displayed a Hezbollah-approved certificate.  See pictures. 

I most definitely want to go back to Syria to see more than just Damascus.  The furthest we ventured from the city was Mount Cassion which overlooked sprawling Damascus.  The view was incredible at night.  See pictures. 

Putting aside the supposedly higher numbers of radicals in Syria, cultural norms seemed much more relaxed in Damascus.  Hijabed women were in a small minority and even when they were worn they were much looser and laid back.  I'm not sure I saw a full burqa the entire time.  All in all, relations between men and women seemed a lot more relaxed than in Jordan.  Very ironic.

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