Rock the Casbar
Sunday 6th June
We set off at 7.00 am for our two day trip to Damascus and Palmyra, well we should have done, but there were organisational issues with the coaches, two of which had English speaking guides, one French and a fourth had a German speaking guide. The first catch was that there were too many English speaking passengers for the number of places so a ‘prisoner exchange’ was agreed with the German bus. Then it transpired that our guide had recently been involved in a coach crash and was refusing to sit in the ‘suicide’ chair in the very front of the coach. Finally all was sorted and we set off 40 minutes late, but this time issue was resolved by re-arranging our itinerary somewhat. I was a little concerned about leaving Serafina for two days in such a difficult mooring position, but was hugely reassured to discover that Harken who is a director of Najad and the owner of the Najad 570 in front of us had decided to stay and look after our boat (and possibly his). Can it be that all Najad owners receive such excellent after sales service?
Damascus almost certainly needs no introduction from me. It claims to be the world’s oldest continually inhabited city being over 4000 years old and its place in history is well documented!
We headed straight to Damascus and arrived in the old town with time to visit the house where St Paul was baptised before a huge and very fine lunch in a restaurant also in the old town. We then walked all the way down the road called ‘straight’ until we reached the Hamidiyeh Souk or Bazaar (Casbar is an African term, but it was the best we could do!) The first part we saw was the spice market which was very impressive, but we then were outside the Umayyad Mosque, (The Great Mosque) considered the most famous of Islamic mosques and it became the inspiration for architects for many centuries trying to build its equal. This was originally the site of a Byzantine church and claims still to house the head of John the Baptist and also in the grounds is Saladin’s mausoleum. To enter the mosque we all had to remove shoes of course and the men wearing shorts had to put on skirts and the women had to put on full length robes. The inside of the mosque is cavernous and certainly very impressive. From here we returned to the bazaar and had time to wander the extensive under cover market that it houses. This was every bit as impressive and probably more extensive than Istanbul and although the streets were narrower, the nature of the Syrians makes this a much more enjoyable and relaxing experience as the traders are not constantly ‘in your face’ hassling you to buy. Sarah was a little miffed as we had passed the most interesting looking shops at pace, earlier on the walk from the restaurant.
We ended this part of the day waiting at the agreed to spot to meet the coach which was where the old town meets the new Damascus and we all had a fascinating 20 minutes watching and photographing the incredible scenes at the road junction. It is quite impossible to convey here the extraordinary scenes of multiple lanes of traffic at a huge junction, sort of controlled by lights, but largely regulated by use of the car horn and dogged perseverance. Add to this the cyclists who having absolutely no regard for their own safety, set off at random in any direction choosing any lane or any direction that suited them best, frequently heading blithely down the wrong way of a dual carriageway. Then to top this all off were the foolhardy occasional pedestrians who just walked, ran or stood still in fearless attempts to cross the junction at all the wrong times. The photos we took do no justice to this chaotic scene, but it was quite an experience to watch.
We were whisked off to our 5 star hotel to shower and change before heading back to the Old Town for dinner in another restaurant. The stars are not issued quite as pedantically as they are in Europe, but nevertheless this was a nice clean hotel on the road to the airport with its own golf course! So once again we found ourselves eating too much food but this was broken up with some entertainment which was headed up by a belly dancer who livened things up. She was followed by a chap who performed a whirling dervish dance, which was nothing like the full performance we had seen in Cappadocia, however he span at a much faster rate and it is impossible not to be both fascinated and very impressed by their ability to keep spinning for so long with their eyes shut and not end up crashing into everything! But he returned minutes later to perform something quite unique and although it was based on the same spinning technique, his special rainbow coloured costume lit with tiny lights allowed him to deliver a stunning and dramatic performance which had us all on our feet in admiration. (yes of course I had forgotten to take the camera!)
We returned to the hotel fairly weary and very full of food and all set our alarms for 5.00am as we have a long day ahead tomorrow.
Photos and full log at www.rhbell.com