“This is a place I would love to retire,” I once told AdventureMan, as we wandered the streets. “It has all the things I love. Beautiful architecture and a rich history. It’s on a river. It gets cold in the winter. You can walk to local stores.”
Today, with great sadness, I read that Damascus is now rated the #1 Most Unlivable City in the World, beating out Douala, Cameroon; Harare, Zimbabwe; Karachi, Pakistan; Algiers, Algeria; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Lagos, Nigeria; and Tripoli, Libya. This is what the report summarized about Damascus:
Damascus has forgotten more than your city will likely ever know-and it has been a battleground for almost its entire existence. The City of Jasmine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit, the least livable city in the world-for good reason. More than 13 million Syrians require humanitarian aid, 6.5 million have been displaced, and almost half a million have been killed on all sides of the conflict there-government soldiers, opposition soldiers, and civilians. It’s scores are predictably abysmal, with a 15 (out of 100) for stability at the bottom end and a mere 43.3 for culture and environment at the top end.
This is a city which has been at the crossroads of civilization about as long as civilization has been around. This is a city which was refined, and tolerant, a city which was once full of caravans carrying spices, silks and riches to the West.
We were last there in 2007, and we are so glad we went when we did. Damascus was revitalizing, building up a tourism business with grand hotels, and lovely, intimate boutique hotels.
We stayed at the Talisman. We grieve for the fine people we met there, and for all the losses they have suffered.
AdventureMan said “why don’t you do a photo-share, like you did with Doha?” At first, I didn’t want to, but then, I looked at the photos – and once again, I was smitten. I pray for a miracle for Syria, for new, enlightened, tolerant leadership and opportunities for the good Syrian people. For renewed vigor in churches and mosques and synagogues there. (The Talisman is in the old Jewish quarter, where the Greek Orthodox also have their headquarters.)
This is the majlis – sitting area – at the Talisman.
A restaurant nearby the Talisman:
Breakfast at the Talisman:
The historical nearby Bab, or gate:
A nearby Tabak and the friendly operator:
A courtyard restaurant, with lovely dishes. And note the Christmas tree; Christmas decorations and greenery everywhere!
A Christian Shop near Bab Thoma:
Interior at Umayyad Mosque, all are welcome and abayas provided. You leave your shoes at the door. This is the rear of the Tomb of John the Baptist:
Naranj, our favorite restaurant. I understand branches of Naranj have opened in Gulf Countries, Qatar, Kuwait, as wealthier Syrians take their money out of Syria and wait for more peaceful times. I am betting they will return to Syria as soon as they can.
A merchant in the Souk al Hamidiyya
A courtyard restaurant set up for Christmas dinners:
I’ve never met a Syrian who wasn’t educated and working hard to make a good life for his/her family. We wonder if we will ever be able to visit Syria again in our lifetime?
As I was trying to clear out some files, I came across a file of photos I had saved from Doha, Qatar. Many of my earliest photos there were shot on film; I am guessing most of these are 2005 or later. When we arrived in Doha, it was still a sleepy little Arabian Gulf country on the edge of momentous growth and change. It was a charming country, the people were courteous and sweet.
One trip to Al Shamel and around to Fort Zubara, a man followed us along the forsaken and challenging road, just to make sure we made it safely. Qatar was like that, full of gracious people.
Here are some glimpses of Doha in transition:
When the heir to the throne was getting married, all the families / tribes gathered on their lands to dance in his honor, to celebrate. I loved the gold robes, do not know which family this was.
A truck load of sheep on the way to market. Trucks were often overloaded, and often tipped over at the roundabouts.
Who even remembers Parachute Circle? The day it was being knocked down, I made a special trip to capture this dusty demolition:
Dinner at the Majlis, one of our favorite hide-aways:
Old Kharaba Mosque:
The Beehive Souk where the Honey Man had his shop:
A shop in the Gold souk
Khanjar in the old Doha Weapons Museum
Building the new souks at Al Waif
Doha Corniche building with mosque in a niche on facade
Destroying old buildings on Al Rayyan to make way for the new
Doha from the Sheraton; the boat used to go to Palm Island. I’m not sure there is an island anymore.
Doha coffee maker
I bet you think we are going to write about a grand adventure partying in New Orleans, crowded with people eager to watch the Sugar Bowl, parades, grand times. I could – but our visit was a little different.
AdventureMan and I DID have a grand adventure – taking the 6 year old and 3 year old grandchildren to New Orleans for three days. We were a little aghast at the enormity of our undertaking, but AdventureMan did a little investigating, and found a wonderful solution – The Audubon Nature Institute has an annual family membership which gets you into the New Orleans zoo, the Aquarium, the Butterfly Garden and the Insectarium, and invited to special events, for a year.
Even better, the cost of the year-long family membership is so reasonable that our first trip to the zoo paid off the entire membership. The next day, the children voted that we visit the zoo again, and the third day we visited the aquarium. We can go back all year, walk in through the membership gate (that is a great feature, beats standing in line for tickets) and get a membership discount in the gift shop. This is a real deal. You can find it at Audubon Nature Institute, you can join online and print out your temporary membership card. What a great value for the money.
(This is not the actual slide; the YMCA slide is indoors, and has two loops)
Our brand new YMCA has opened in Pensacola, and it has TWO pools – and a water slide.
Yesterday, there was one swimmer and one wallower as I entered the swim area for water aerobics with two of my friends. This was the perfect time. I asked the life guard if he could open the water slide long enough for us to go down.
My friends looked at me like I had grown a second head.
“If not now, when?” I asked them. “We’re not getting any younger. Who knows, tomorrow we might not be able!”
They were game. They followed me up the stairs, then others began to follow. It occurred to me that there was no going back, and that I had put myself in this position, where I couldn’t back out.
The lifeguard turned on the gush of water that lubricates and speeds your ride through the tube. I didn’t wait to let fear claim me, I jumped into the entry and went.
It was dark. It was fast. It was terrifying. You come out twisted and disoriented, not sure which way is up. It’s a lot like being born – there is NO light in the tube, and when light appears, there is a big gush of water as you are thrown out into the pool. I cam up sputtering.
Everyone did. We all looked proudly at one another and agreed that we are glad we did it – once. And never again.
“We see it all the time.”
As long as we lived overseas, AdventureMan and I never had a problem with our credit cards. I used ATM’s all over Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait to make cash withdrawals when I needed what my Mom calls “jingle money,” you know, walking-around money for lunch out, for fabrics in the souks, for whatever we needed cash for. It was easy, and it must have been safe. We never once had a problem.
Now, we’ve had to change our numbers several times.
This one was particularly odd, though. I got a second notice on a card I call my “hurricane” card. When you live in Florida, massive calamity can happen literally overnight. You may have to suddenly evacuate to a strange city and need funds for emergency housing, and housing the pets. No running to the bank for a withdrawal when an area has been destroyed by a tornado; it can take months for infrastructure to be back up and running normally.
The charge was made just after we returned from traveling, so my first instinct was to check my wallet, and the card was not there. Oddly, while it was my account, it was AdventureMan’s card, which has a different number. He assures me he never made the change. I believe him; I find both cards safely tucked away, unused, in a safe place.
I call the bank. I explain that we had been traveling, but neither of us think we made this charge, the only charge on this card, the card we not only never use, but don’t even keep in our wallets. The bank lady takes a look and laughs and says “Oh yes. That was a bus ticket to Mexico. We’ve seen that before.”
Long story short, this kind of fraud has become so routine that they have routine practices that go immediately into effect to protect us, to protect their other customers and to restore our hurricane card.
But when she said it was for a bus ticket to Mexico, I burst out laughing, and all my anxiety disappeared in a heartbeat. No. I did not charge a bus ticket to Mexico, and neither did AdventureMan.
It’s just so odd, to me. These are cards that have never even been in our wallets. They never leave their safe place. How was someone able to use them?
There is a freedom to being retired, a lovely freedom, you begin to care a lot less about “should.” Like, “OMG, we’ll only be in Venice for three days we SHOULD ________” and there are a million things to fill in the blank. We’ve actually been in Venice before, and that takes off a lot of pressure. When we feel, in late afternoon, like a nap before dinner, we don’t feel guilty, we take that nap.
After napping, we know where we want to go, we’ve read about it on Trip Advisor and passed it several times, La Palanca, right by one of the vaporetto stops. La Palanca does not serve dinner, but they do serve little snacks, and after our wonderful lunch at Rosa Rossa and our Tiramisu at the cafe, we aren’t interested in eating a big dinner, a snack is fine with us.
This is the only photo I could take; this is the bar where people are gathered. There is a party of ten or so back where we are sitting, all old friends and neighbors, drinking, eating snacks. Just after I took this photo, more and more people come in, almost all standing around this counter where wine, beer and little open faced sandwiches are served continuously. We were there a couple hours, we never felt out of place, although everyone else knew each other. One man had his little dog with him, and the dog was a big hit.
If we were going to live in Venice, I think we would like living in Guidecca, where there are not so many tourists, and life seems to be more normal. We like the neighborhood feel, and we don’t mind the vaporetto rides.
We shared a grilled caprese (tomatoes, basil and mozzarella di bufolo) sandwich, then, later, saw a tray of shrimp with onion coming out, and AdventureMan got a couple of those. The onions and the shrimp were pickled; it was a small treat, but memorable.
La Palanca does a great lunch time business, and had we not gone to Rosa Rossa, we would have tried to eat a lunch here. They get great reviews.
After leaving, we took a last vaporetto ride by night, and by the time we returned, the neighborhood party at La Palanca had spilled out onto the large sidewalk along the canal. It was a Thursday night, maybe they are all celebrating that the weekend is near.
We wander the streets, following Guido Brunetti’s path, and then wander back towards San Marco and our shuttle back to the hotel. We’ve spent the day wandering, on foot and on vaporetto, and we are beginning to feel a need for a nap before dinner. Wandering in Venice is sheer delight:
When we get to where the shuttle is supposed to be, there are, literally, hundreds of touristy looking people, and fortunately, several Viking people. We ask about the shuttle back, and they say it will come in half an hour. We head for the nearest cafe and check to make sure it has a ladies room, which it does, but oh-my-goodness, no seat, no lid, and a pull thing to flush, just like the old days when we lived in Germany when I was a kid. These people know the value of location – take a look at the prices.
The waiter was shocked! Shocked! when we asked for ice cream. No! No! Never in October! (LOL, we didn’t know!) I ordered a coffee and AdventureMan ordered a Tiramisu.
The Tiramisu was fabulous, everything we have dreamed of so long. It had liqueur in it! It had that unforgettable taste!
We tell a story in my family of our first trip to Italy, when I was 15 and my sisters were younger. It was my Mother’s birthday, and at the hotel where we were staying, they presented her with a surprise birthday cake. It was all so lovely and so gracious. My Mother cut the cake and the waiters brought pieces of it to us, and then, as my mother bit into her piece, she grimaced – the cake was soaked with liqueur. She told my father in a low voice, and he looked at us girls, with a fixed smile that told us he meant business and said “You will eat every bite, and you will smile.”
We were raised to be gracious, and to have grateful hearts. I don’t remember being so all-full-of-gratitude at the time, but I grew to like the Italian style. and didn’t realize how much I had missed it until I tasted this REAL tiramisu.
I remember that also, very graciously, after we had each eaten our piece, even my little 6 year old sister, choking down that liqueur soaked cake, my mother asked the management to please share the joy of her birthday by sharing the rich cake with all the employees and guests (it was a large cake).