July 17, 2001 – Damascus




I wake up early this morning after a first interruption around 4:30 am for the prayer call. In the next weeks, we don’t hear this call anymore, it is part of our new life. The other calls help guys like me with no watch to know what time is it just by hearing the call.


The Al Harramain hotel is nearly a French territory this morning we are 27, a record. Last week there were a lot of German and at the end it was Belgian.


I go with my new friends to the Alitalia office to know at what time they may have their luggage. After we go through the souks near the hotel before leaving to the Sulaymania complex near the national museum and the university of Damascus.


The complex is made of a small street with different shops that sell specific items. In the middle of the street, a big door opens on a vast square that was part of a coranic school (madrasa Sulaymania) where the former students cells have been transformed into shops where you can see locals working. On the right after the entrance there is a small passage and at its end we can see the factory of a glass blower. The heat is nearly unbearable for us and for the employees too, they need huge fans to bear the heat produced by the furnace. In the square, we can see weavers elaborating carpets. One man needs nearly a month to make a carpet of 2m by 1m. At the end of the complex, we arrive on another square dominated by a basin and a dervishes’ convent. The army museum is next to this building and many planes are displayed.


This afternoon, I will visit by myself the straight street and Bab Charqui, the Christian and jewish district of Damascus. The straight street corresponds to the decumanus of the roman town but all the parts of this time have vanished except a roman arch in the middle and Bab Charqui, the north gate of the decumanus. This street groups together many corporations but the heavy traffic of cars is annoying the serenity of the place. In the streets on both sides, I visit some nice houses despite the fact that most of them are closed on Tuesday. In the streets, these houses don’t seem to have any distinction but when you can come inside to have a look you are astonishing by the beauty of the places. In most of them, there is a huge square with flowers and trees, many places are dedicated to have some rest with ceilings decorated in painted woods.


At the end of the street, I take on my left to join Bab Touma and leave the old city to get lost in the streets before going back to the hotel.


In the lobby, I meet Jean, from French Guyana, who just comes back from Bosra. I ask him some details because I plan to go there before going to Jordan in 2 weeks. Very quickly, we speak about our other trips, the best and worst moments of them. He tells me about his current trip started in Turkey on June 15, his first steps in Syria without a guide book, his stay in Lebanon.


Around 5 pm, I see two smiling faces, Narcisse and Lydiane with their bags but Bertrand and Jacqueline have been forgotten again. For them, the next rendezvous will be in Aleppo on Friday. Now they are in the souks to buy some useful items with the USD 100 of Alitalia.


With the help of the hotel manager, we are planning our excursion on the Qassioun Mount to admire the sunset and the wonderful view on the city. We take a taxi, SP 150 for 5, it is not expensive. At the top the view is excellent and I understand why it is the favorite place for lovers like the view on Los Angeles from the Griffith observatory. By taking pictures, I notice that I have a problem with my camera, the film was not totally installed so I missed some pictures. Hopefully I will have time to take these pictures during my second stay. But the best view on Damascus is for sure the one offered to Bachar El Hassad from his well guarded presidential residence.


Qassioun Mount : View on Damascus


Presidential residence


The town at night is even more impressive with all its green minarets. After 2 hours at the top, it is time to think of the better way to go to downtown bu as our taxi mentioned it to us, it is hard to find someone because there are no taxi waiting. Normally, the tourists come here to have a quick look, take pictures and go down. So we are walking to find someone who will help us by driving us down. Suddenly a Syrian offered to drive us for free inside his Mazda pick up, we spend a wonderful time seated at the rear with the warm wind on our face. This the Syrian hospitality after some dried fruits offered by a family along the road. Thank you ! Choukrane ! It is not worth saying that Syrians are a wonderful welcoming people.


Tonight, we decide to chose another place to eat from our guide books, it will be the Aboul-Ezz, where you can have your lunch while watching a derviches’ show. But the menu is too expensive for us so we try another well-known restaurant in Damascus, Jabri House, located in a little street behind the mosque and whose door and entrance are very common. Inside, there is a big surprise waiting for us, the restaurant is magnificent ottoman palace of the 18th century restored with class. There is a big square with a fountain in the middle and a vast room in the background. The setting is splendid. The youth of Damascus seem to join together in this place under water sprays and many fans. The bill is like everywhere else, light, with traditional mezzehs, local meal (Fetteh), tea (Tchaο) and the first but not least Narguileh (apple flavour). The waiter will propose us another one for free (red fruits).


Finally, we come back at the hotel for a deserved night under the stars. This will be the last night together because tomorrow our ways are different. Narcisse and Lydiane stay in Damascus for one more day to see Maalula and, Bertrand and Jacqueline are going to the Krak des Chevaliers and further in the north. I will go to Palmyra in the morning but I am sure that I will see them again during this stay.





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D1 : Lyons – Damascus

D2 : Damascus (1)  (2)

D3 : Damascus

D4 : Damascus – Palmyra

D5 : Palmyra – Hama

D6 : Hama – Apamea – Aleppo

D7 : Aleppo

D8 : Aleppo

D9 : Aleppo

D10 : Aleppo – San Simeon – Aleppo

D11 : Aleppo – Qalaat Al Saadin – Tartous (1)  (2)

D12 : Tartous – Krak des chevaliers – Beirut (1)  (2)

D13 : Beirut – Tripoli

D14 : Tripoli – Damascus

D15 : Damascus – Maaloula – Damascus

D16 : Damascus

D17 : Damascus – Bosra – Damascus

D18 : Damascus – Amman – Dead Sea – Amman

D19 : Amman – Jerash - Amman

D20 : Amman – Madaba – Amman

D21 : Amman – Kerak – Dana

D22 : Dana

D23 : Dana – Petra (1)  (2)

D24 : Petra

D25 : Petra

D26 : Petra – Wadi Rum

D27 : Wadi Rum – Aqaba

D28 : Aqaba

D29 : Aqaba

D30 : Aqaba

D31 : Aqaba

D32 : Aqaba - Amman

D33 : Amman

D34 : Amman – Lyons




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