Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Walking Old Damascus (3)

I can never get enough of Old Damascus, but for those of you who are bored already, I will only do one more after this one. And my friends, I am only skimming the surface – Damascus can keep you busy and happy for a long time. Along one of our favorite streets, Al Qamariyya, we saw a sign that said Calligraphy and Lute instruction, and we looked at each other with a grin – we could be happy for weeks learning lute and calligraphy!

We had met up with an old friend who loves Damascus as we do, and he suggested a walk OUTSIDE the walls, from Bab Thouma (Thomas’ gate) to the Bab Es Salaam, which we did. The Bab Thouma is only a five minute walk from our hotel, straight up al Hijari, crossing Street Called Straight where it becomes Sharia Bab Thouma – how easy can it be?

The walk along the northern outside walls in this section is spectacular. For one thing, look at the differing levels of construction in this, one of the remaining walls of Old Damascus:

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From outside the northern wall, looking north toward the mountains:

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Then you come to the Gate of Peace/ Bab es Salaam:

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There is a whirl of reconstruction going on in the old city. Some fear modernizations which will change the character of the old town, but others say that the restrictions won’t allow that to happen – we shall see:

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Here is what we love – in every country, you will find volunteer supervisors where construction or reconstruction are going on:

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One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to Ananias’ chapel. This is not the actual spot where Ananias baptized Paul, a mosque has been built over that site (It is called the Jakmak Mosque and you can see it in the long covered souk at the beginning of the Street Called Straight) but this is the church/chapel which commemorates that baptism, and it is very beautiful.
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Time for a cup of coffee, and to plan the next walking expedition, and we find this wonderful cafe next to the church at Bab Sharqi:

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We think there is a museum for the Hijaz Railway, which fascinates AdventureMan, but this is all we can find:

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At our friend’s recommendation, we also try the Old Town restaurant, and we like it so much we go there twice:

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Nice to have some pasta for a change, and the pasta here is really good!

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Interesting old balcony:

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I keep looking for the Issa/Jesus spire of the Umayyad mosque, and I think this might be it, but I am not sure. Legend has it that this is where Jesus will prevail over the forces of darkness and evil on the Last Day.

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We are told you MUST make a stop at Leila’s, near the Ummayad Mosque, near the Hamadiyya Souks, and so we do. It is very conveniently located when you are shopping for visiting the mosque:

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They had a Baba Ghannoush there unlike any I have had before, but very much like something we used to eat in Tunisia, called mechoia – grilled eggplant and peppers and garlic, with a very smokey taste. Yummmmy!

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You know me and light fixtures – this is one of the Leila lamps:

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Tomorrow I will take you to our absolute favorite restaurant in Damascus, and finish up the trip, I promise, as much as I hate to leave!

(Happy Islamic New Year!)

January 10, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Building, Cold Drinks, Cultural, Education, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Lumix, Photos, Travel | , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Walking Old Damascus (2)

You know how it is, when you are flat-out totally in love, you can’t see the flaws. In moments of clarity, I can understand that there could be hardships to living in Damascus. There could be problems meeting the codes for historical preservation while trying to install modern plumbing. There could be bureaucrats to bribe, there could be problems with labor, I don’t know any of this, I am just guessing.

None of it matters to me, I am so head-over-heels happy. Thanks be to God, AdventureMan shares my insanity, and we are having a wonderful time walking, walking, walking. He is SO patient with me, and all the photos I have to stop to take.

Today we visit the Ummayyad Mosque which also contains the tomb of John the Baptist. I think this is one of the reasons we love Damascus so much – the co-existence of Islam and Christianity, and the sharing of sacred spaces.

The parking area in front of the mosque is full of vendors. My favorite are the bread carts:
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Non-Muslims have to go to the entrance where you can rent an abaya with a hood, so that you can visit the mosque. All visitors are welcome; entire tour groups are going through, French, German. You also have to take off your shoes, and the beautiful marble flooring is VERY cold! In some places, there is carpeting.
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This is a tree-of-life detail from the treasury:
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Once inside the Ummayad Mosque, they have that in-floor heating, so you can warm your tootsies back up while experiencing the magnificence of the mosque interior (please note the horseshoe arches):

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The tomb of John the Baptist:
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A funny story: as we are leaving the Mosque, AdventureMan says “where is this tomb of John the Baptist you wanted to visit?” and I looked at his in puzzlement. We had finished touring the whole mosque, and I had photographed the tomb.

“We already visited it!” I told him.

“When?” he asked.

“It was that beautiful tomb in the main mosque area surrounded by people praying!” I replied.

“No, that was somebody named Yahyah,” he corrected me.

“Yahyah is the name for John the Baptist,” I told him. Guess he would have appreciated it more if he had known at the time. I just assumed he knew.

I must have been a magpie in another life. I don’t know why, but I love these glittery Chinese decorations. AdventureMan bought one for me, a golden crown with big red “jewels”. The shops always catch my eye:
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This is a famous ice cream place in the Souk Hammadiyya:
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This shop was on the traditional medicine shop street. It had herbs, and dried creatures which can be used in healing, and unusual soaps, and also seashells:
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This is the traditional souk at the beginning of the Street Called Straight (al Mustaqeen) which is undergoing renovation. Just wanted you to see the bulletholes through the roof:
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I don’t know if you could find a truly bad meal in Damascus. I think you would really have to try! We found this wonderful restaurant, Al Kawali, not too far from our hotel, and we loved their food and we loved the atmosphere, and we loved having the bread baked right under our noses:
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For those of you who, like me, are addicted to spaces and details – look at these gorgeous light fixtures, Damascene glass:
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And last, but not least – we find the food so fabulous that we are eating too much. Our first time at Al Kawali, we order just some favorite mezze dishes and soup. When the tastes are so perfect, it takes less to fill you up, and this food is perfection.
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We found this old house as we were leaving Al Kawali to walk back to the hotel:
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January 9, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Building, Bureaucracy, Community, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Photos, Travel | , , , | 8 Comments