Monday, April 26, 2010

Divine Damascus

It’s hard to know where to start with the Damascus update. Firstly – 2 days is just not enough time – but what’s a girl to do when getting time off work is harder than taking off in a volcanic ash-cloud?

We were travelling with Fly Dubai (a new budget airline) which leaves from Terminal Two. For those that know Dubai airport, Terminal Two is the absolute worst of them all (at least Terminal One has a bar!) and as we were delayed for 90 minutes it was a pretty dull start to the trip. Thank goodness for celebrity magazines and gin poured into 7 Up cans (classy girls).

It’s only a short flight so 3 hours later we arrived in Damascus. The journey had already provided quite eventful as we made friends with a lovely young man who had the good fortune (or misfortune depending on which way you look at it) to be sat next to us. We talked his ear off for 3 hours, but he must have liked it as he came out with us on Friday night…more of that later.

Damascus airport makes Jersey’s look like JFK – it’s tiny, and in the middle of nowhere. After wrestling our carry on off the plane we proceeded to get mobbed by extremely dodgy looking taxi drivers, and eventually agreed a rate with the one that we decided looked least like a rapist. 30 minutes later and we were at the hotel. By this time it was midnight and we were pretty exhausted, but thankfully there was a bar in the basement of the hotel so we trundled down for a nightcap – it would be rude not to.

Hilariously the bar was an English styled pub (imaginatively named: ‘The Pub’) complete with red phone box, Ye Olde baked potato oven and (not English but hey) a sushi chef at the door. As the only Western blonde women in the place we did cause quite a stir, and we polished off a bottle of white wine before bed. Also hilariously (laughter was a main component of the weekend) the best deal that we could find on Expedia was a ‘romance package’. This meant there was fresh fruit and sparkling wine waiting for us, breakfast in bed each day, and a late check out. No surprise that the check-in boy had a smile on his face as he checked three girls into the same room…..

Friday we set off at a reasonable time (after scoffing aforementioned very large breakfast) and headed into Old Damascus to explore. What to say about it? It’s extremely old, very beautiful, winding streets and lots of very traditional souks. We stood out like sore thumbs and we soon discovered that the local menfolk were utterly transfixed by us (Syrian husband anyone?). We did draw the line at the pack who videoed us as we walked along…such is life as a travelling celebrity!

We were armed with a whole host of tips from our Syrian friends (bless) so roamed around until hunger and the urge for vino overtook us. To be honest, it wasn’t long. We headed to what we were told was THE best restaurant in Damascus (Naranj) which lived up to its reputation. We reckoned it was pretty good by the number of dignitaries/Syrian Mafioso sat inside, WITH their security guards. We hot-footed it upstairs to the lovely terrace and spent a very productive few hours sampling the local food, wine and enjoying the cool breeze. Bliss.

Back to the hotel for a disco nap before squeezing into an inappropriate outfit and heading to a bar for drinks with the boy from the plane and a friend of a friend. One drink led to twenty and next thing it was 5 am and we were still dancing in a nearby club. A hilarious night was had by all.

Spirits were a little subdued the next day (top hangover tip: clamp sunglasses to face as soon as you wake up, even when lying in bed), but we still made it back into the Old Town for a bit more exploring.

So: Damascus – definitely worth a trip. And it’s worthy of much more than the two days that we spent there. Amazing, friendly people, ridiculous amounts of history, and a generally laid-back vibe. Next stop: Kerala in May….

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