Deprecated: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /www/htdocs/w0081e40/wp-includes/formatting.php on line 75
(And happy bayram…)
(And happy bayram…)
Ok, as I already said in my Amman travel log, this is the next day, which means post-holiday, so the rest of the journey home will be part of the epilogue.
Saturday, June 16th, 2007
Customs held a nice surprise in the form of some weird customs tax that people leaving the country have to pay.
If I recall correctly that was 200SP1, which of course wasn’t a high amount for me, but that wasn’t the problem.
I had given all the money I had left over to Caesar, so that he wouldn’t have to pay for the long and expensive ride back into the city all by himself. After all, he’d only made the long journey to the airport because of me.
Plus, I didn’t need any SPs anymore, did I?
You know, it would really have been nice if the people from the Syrian embassy in Germany had mentioned this to me.
Or someone at the airport when I arrived.
Well, luckily I do tend to keep some local money as a souvenir, so when the lady refused to take Euros instead I unhappily dug out a 200 note and handed it over.
Then I installed myself at the gate and waited.
At one point some airport employee came and chatted me up a bit; if I was travelling to Turkey then, where I was from, etc.
Before he left he gave me a tiny package of hazelnuts because at this time of night I must surely have been starving. Well, I was indeed starving a bit, so thank you.
The flight to Istanbul was uneventful, as was the plane switching…. as such.
My flight from Istanbul back to Germany got cancelled though and thrown together with another flight. The plane for this “double flight” was bigger and left about half an hour later than the original one would have.
So when the plane touched down in Düsseldorf, I was already late.
I claimed my luggage2 and trundled over to customs.
First a young man stopped me and enquired after souvenirs and the monetary value of them, but when I started throwing out prices in SP, converting them to Euros and adding them out loud, he soon lost interest. The overall value of my souvenirs apparently was way below the amount of what is permissable.
So I staggered on, vaguely bemused by the labelling of the exits, and when I was just about to leave, another young man stopped me.
He leafed through my passport and asked if I was travelling alone3.
Then he asked me over to a sort of desk/bench and started going through my bags. First my carry-on luggage and the plastic bag stuffed full of souvenirs, then the big travelling bag.
When he was done un- and repacking all of my clothes - all the while keeping up a chat on the purpose of my trip - he suddenly remembered the camera he had seen in my carry-on luggage and asked, no, stated: “That’s a digital camera, isn’t it? You wouldn’t mind if I looked through your photos, would you?4 I mean, it’s not as if you have anything to hide, right?”
I told him; yup; sure, go ahead; and indeed, not.
Guess it’s a good thing he didn’t start at the back where he would soon have been confronted with a bearded, grumpy Arab but at the beginning with photo over boring photo of the house. I guess it is not very surprising that he soon lost interest and re-packed the camera.
It seems that my boring, non-terrorist-camp pictures made him lose all interest in me, as he didn’t even go through the last side pocket of my big bag, which was probably just as well as I am still not 100% clear if it was ok to bring the spices and the garlic, lol.
By now I was about an hour late though and wondering if my sister who was going to pick me up again had already chewed her nails down to the quick, fretting for me.
I needn’t have worried.
When I switched on my cell phone, the first thing I got was an oldish message from her, informing me that she was stuck in a traffic jam. Two further messages and traffic jams later she finally arrived.
Not that I cared much one way or the other by that time.
I was sitting in the main hall, my feet propped up on my luggage, reading one of the numerous books I had bought and flying high on having been awake for more than 24 hours by then.
That’s a real odd state to be in, seriously.
As I already said in my prologue I am not too fond of the political system in place in Syria, and seeing some of the workings up close and in person sure did nothing to change that point of view.
Only recently, when he saw the drafts for my last postings, Caesar told me that I had it wrong about the situation at the bus station.
He said that at the time Syrian authorities were rather keen on hunting down Iraqis with expired residence permits.
So the people at the office inside the bus station were kind of torn. They should have notified the authorities that they had an Iraqi there who had no papers to prove he had permission to stay in the country.
On the other hand that Iraqi was with a European tourist (who was obviously already pretty pissed), and the image Syria presents to foreign countries is important to the authorities as well.
If Caesar really is right in claiming that I (or rather my presence) saved him that day, I suppose it’s just as well I wasn’t quite aware of that, or I may have looked too worried instead of annoyed and angry.
But nevertheless it is a beautiful country, stuffed chock-full of really, really ancient history, and I definitely want to visit it again (that time including places like Palmyra, and that is not a dig at you, Caesar, it was not your fault things went wrong).
Hell, just seeing the Old City again would be worth a trip.
I loved it there.
Okay, several things have been requested/pointed out to me.
I suppose it was mainly meant sarcastically, but maybe Lynnette does have a point and I should add the year to my post sub titles, considering how long it took me to finish my travel log.
Meanwhile Caesar is so in love with my style of writing that he imagines vast hordes of new readers to arrive on my blog and then mill around in confusion and suggested I include links to the previous Damascus posts.
It says “pt. 4″ and “pt. 5″ (and will say “Epilogue”), and I do have a search function on my blog, but to make things easier for any possible new readers (and to make my favourite travel guide happy), here goes:
Monday, June 11th, 2007
Well, *coughs*, I’m afraid here my detailed notes stop, so I have to rely on my hazy memory, which means shorter posts for the last couple of days.
After a late breakfast of peppers, zucchinis and onions it was alreay too late to head out and visit the Immigration Office.
Yes, Immigration Office.
Although I had applied for a visa for a longer period it said on it that it was only valid for 15 days. I had checked with the embassy before my trip and had been told that I’d have to go to a police station after 15 days to get a stamp, which would allow me to stay for longer.
Caesar was not so wild about the thought of going to a police station after the incident with the bus trip and suggested we go to the Immigration Office instead.1
But, as I said, that day it was already too late for that.
I’m afraid I don’t recall much else of that day except for buying veggies for dinner, which included a lot of eggplants, and Caesar claiming that the result was “awesome”.
I think the poor boy needs a veggie cook at home.
In the evening I finished off the bottle of strawberry liqueur under Caesar’s critical (analytical?) eye.
Obviously, the young man doesn’t deal with tipsy people very often.
When he left later that evening he remained standing in front of the house until I had reached the living-room again and waved at him from the window.
Thus he could go home in the happy knowledge that I had safely made it upstairs again without falling and hurting myself.
Should I have pointed out that later I had to climb down one flight of stairs again to reach the bedroom? Nah…
Tuesday, June 12th, 2007
Tuesday started with Caesar being worried about me as I didn’t answer my phone due to being under the shower.
Still worried about my “alcohol excesses” of the previous night…?
That day we managed to set out early enough to go to the Immigration Office.
After finally having found the right room I did get my stamp - and the information that even without that stamp my visa would have been valid for a whole month, and that I really needn’t have bothered.
Okay… at least now I know what the Immigration Office in Damascus looks like from the inside.
As we tend to say about bureaucracy here in Germany: “Often the right hand is not aware of what the left one is doing.”
A universal truth, it seems.
Caesar asked me if I’d rather walk home or take a taxi, and although I am a rather lazy person I opted for walking.
After only a few minutes of walking through the blazing noonish sun my faithful guide got overwhelmed by his worry for the White Woman and hailed a taxi anyway.
Soon after arriving back at the flat, Caesar took off to some meeting with the guy they’d rent their new flat from, so I was all alone when Khalid called to let me know that he was in Syria, “showing Whities2 around”. The reason he did that, he said, was to “show them how wonderful Jordan, Syria and its people are until they’ll commit suicide”.
When Caesar came back we went for some dusk veggie shopping, the results of which I had scribbled down in my note book as an example of how cheap veggie shopping in Damascus is for the western tourist.
It already is if said tourist goes shopping all alone and pays Silly White Tourist Woman™ prices, but it gets really insane if you get an Arabic speaking guy to handle the actual purchases.
We bought 1kg of tomatoes, 0.5kg of sweet peppers, 1kg of zucchinis, 1kg of eggplants and 0.5kg of onions.
For all that (4kg of veggies) I paid 90SP3.
Wednesday, June 13th, 2007
It seems Wednesday mainly consisted of eating, watching tv and shopping for souvenirs.
That’s all I jotted into my notebook on this last day of at least jotting stuff into my notebook if not keeping a full diary.
Thursday, June 14th, 2007
This is what you could see of the Omayyad Mosque from the roof of my rented house.
With zoom of course, but it wasn’t really that far anyway.
The following…. decoration…. adorned the wall above the door from the kitchen to the living-room.
What it was doing there, only Amer knows…
This day Khalid called back about a meeting.
He said he couldn’t shake off the Whities, and would be going out with them tonight and simply include me and Caesar.
When he knew more he’d call again to fix a time and place.
I had just bravely bought a falafel sandwich from the Cockroach Stall and was sitting in the shadow of the Omayyad Mosque, devouring it, when my phone rang again.
I think Khalid spends wayyyy to much time hanging out with his “Whities”.
Caesar answered my phone then for two reasons:
1. to try and confuse Khalid, and
2. because I was eating that sandwich and had my mouth full anyway.
He wasn’t too confused about Caesar answering, but what confused Caesar and me then in return was that Khalid didn’t even try to switch the conversation with Caesar to Arabic. That man is too fond of English!
Anyway, he told us to get over to the Four Seasons Hotel, where he’d be waiting in the lobby.
Now, I had been chatting with Khalid on yahoo in the past. Where he is using a somewhat - not to put too fine a point on it - outdated avatar picture.
I had certainly spotted no-one remotely looking like Khalid’s picture in that hotel, when suddenly this bearded bear of a man broke into a huge grin and hurried over to us, profusely showering us with greetings.
Tonight’s tourist activity consisted of dinner at a picturesque Arabic restaurant.
Which was imminent.
So “the Whities”, Khalid, another guide, Caesar and me rushed outside and crammed into various taxis, Caesar and me sharing with Khalid and two Americans, Debbie and David (not the one commenting on my blog).
Due to some miscommunication between the two guides we ended up at the wrong restaurant first.
Maybe Khalid can enlighten us here; did they have the same name or how did that happen? Fact is that some guy he asked for directions took us to the wrong one.
Well, a phone call cleared things up, and we managed to find the right restaurant in the end.
The picturesque restaurant turned out to be picturesquely Arabic because it was situated in the Old City, and not only that, it wasn’t very far from where I lived.
When I told Khalid that my choice for dinner was (the appetizer) Baba Ganoush he asked me “You want to eat Baba Ganoush for dinner?! May I laugh at you?”, did just that and then ordered it for me. Hey, it’s not my fault there were no vegan main courses…. *mumbles*
Khalid, looking sarcastically grumpy4 for some reason
In the course of the evening various topics were discussed, including blogs.
Khalid asked Debbie if she had ever heard of “In Iraq sex is like snow”, which she had. Before she could say anything else he added that this was a really horrible blog, wasn’t it? His whole stance made Debbie give the seemingly polite answer that, indeed, it was. The poor woman was then very embarrassed to hear that the author was sitting across the table.
When she was done apologizing and insisting that she liked it, I asked her if she had maybe noticed someone called Melantrys commenting on the blog. “Yes, I think I….. no! You?”
Small world, innit?
As only Germany seems to produce cola and orange soda mixes, and for some horrible reason Khalid is a Pepsi person, I had brought him some Schwip Schwap, which is the Pepsi version of my favourite Coca Cola Company drink, Mezzo Mix.
Alas, I am senile, and only remembered about the Schwip Schwap in my house now.
I asked Khalid if he had to herd his tourists back, or if maybe he could accompany us to my lodgings at the end of the evening to get his drink.
No herding was required, most of the group took off immediately after eating anyway, and as he didn’t want to stay there for long and I had assured everyone that it really wasn’t far from the restaurant, Debbie and David decided to tag along.
That way Khalid got his Schwip Schwap and “the Whities” got to see a regular house in the Old City from the inside.
I think the stairs impressed them the most….
By the way, did I mention that dinner was on Khalid?
No, I didn’t, and then it didn’t fit into the text flow anymore.
Well, dinner was on Khalid; thank you again.
Friday, June 15th, 2007
Wow, my last day already.
Obviously, I packed.
Including what was left over from the salt, pepper and curry I had bought, and the insanely fresh garlic, the latter of which I wrapped into various layers of plastic so it would not be smelled out.
It was a bitter-sweet day of walking around the Old City and thinking about the imminent departure.
In the evening we went into Bab Touma and found ourselves a restaurant that also served alcoholic drinks.
The menue was rather…. short though, and the only drink on it that I actually knew (although it doesn’t exactly range among my favourate ones) was a margarita.
Sooooo we ordered two margaritas.
Well, margarita is not really the most palatable of drinks, especially when you’re not in the habit of drinking, so I ended up drinking both of them.
And, no, that was not intentional.
Way too shortly after that we were back at the house, checking if I had packed everything, fetching my stuff and locking the door behind us.
Caesar pocketed the key, so he could give it back to Amer the next day.
Despite the late hour (the plane from Damascus to Istanbul was going to leave at 4:25am) we quickly got a taxi to take us to the airport.
Unfortunately, the driver stopped almost immediately, and practically in the middle of the road - without explaining himself - to hop out and buy himself a glass of tea from a street vendor at the side of the road.
I had totally forgotten about this incident (Repression?), but Caesar reminded me after having read this entry.
Nevertheless we arrived well on time, and as passengers were called to their flights from the main waiting hall, we still had lots of time left to just sit and reflect on the holiday.
When they finally called the passengers of flight 1255 to Istanbul to check-in, at least the bustle of dragging all that luggage over kept us busy enough not to make a spectacle of ourselves and totally burst into tears.
We hugged good-bye, and I went through the gate and checked in my luggage.
Finally, the end of the epic travel saga:
Friday, June 8th
I had breakfast, then sat watching “The Piano Player” on tv while waiting for Master Caesar.
He - coincidentally - arrived soon after some SMS threats and told me that his family would be moving to another apartment in a few days, and he’d been conscripted for some work connected to that.
I had been doing a bit of reading in my travel guide book and wanted to see the cellar chapel in the house of Ananias.
So we went back into Bab Touma and easily found it, although we had our noses in my book for guidance instead of checking for obvious street signs.
At the gate into the courtyard of St. Ananias’ house Caesar totally surprised me by announcing that I should give him a call when I was done, as he was not allowed to enter there, then he strolled off.
The man at the ticket office spoke English, took my entry fee of 25 SP1, asked me where I was from, handed me a glossy pamphlet about the chapel in German and pointed me towards the entrance to the stairs.
When I entered, there were a couple of French tourists standing in the main room of the chapel - to the left - obviously getting a guided tour, so I walked straight across into the only other room down there and started trying to take some pictures. Sadly most of them turned out really bad. I suppose I should either buy new, steadier fingers or a tripod if I want to make more photos without using the flash.
Anyway, that room tells the story of Saul, in 30 framed pictures, 15 each to the right and left hand walls:2 from his being struck blind on his journey to Damascus in order to prosecute the Christians there, over his conversion and baptism by Ananias, his flight from Damascus, and all the good he did as Paul in spreading the Word as one of the apostles, to his death as a martyr.
A bit confusing for a westerner was the arrangement of the pictures from right to left.
Shortly after I was done there and had returned into the main room, the French people were done as well and trooped into the room with the pictures.
The first picture below is rather shaky but I want to give you an overview of the chapel.
As you can see, there wasn’t really that much to see, so I soon left and climbed the stairs back up again.
I’ve been doing some reading, and it is said that this chapel is in what used to be the cellar of St. Ananias’ house.
Now, presuming they didn’t get the wrong house number, and the house of Ananias was indeed at this spot, the story still has a flaw.
Like so many really old cities Damascus is built on top of Damascus. So if the chapel is in Ananias’ house, it is in, say, his living-room, or his parlour, as most of the old Damascus of that time lies 5m below ground level today. By a stunning coincidence *wink, wink* this happens to be how just deep down the chapel is situated.
Some historians even put forth the theory that the house of Ananias was destroyed and a large Byzantine church built where it had stood, and today’s chapel is what remains of that church, which had been destroyed in part as well.
I stepped out into the searing sun again and informed Caesar that I was done.
As Hananiah Street branches off to the left of Straight Street right in front of Bab Sharqi, I took a few more pictures of the gate. This time from inside the old city wall and in glaring daylight.
In the background, on the left side, you can just make out a bit of the arch of the right pedestrians’ gate of Bab Sharqi. So, Hananiah Street was indeed very close.
On the way back we bought some vegetables in Bab Touma and new oil at the store beside my house.
Then Caesar took off to get his stuff from home, as he planned to spend the night at my place.
As you may remember, we had bought bus tickets to Palmyra, and the bus was going to leave at 8 am the next morning. The bus station was relatively close to my place, but far away from his.
I cooked the vegetables, had a dinner of first hommus (this time from around where Caesar’s family was staying) and bread as an appetizer, then the cooked food with some bread. That hommus was really good as well. Then I gazed at the tv and waited.
Some time after his arrival I was waiting again, as my host/guide/trash
collector depositor/knight in shining armour took off to try and buy another 1l bottle of coke. When he returned - without a small bottle - we watched the Simpsons; then decided to go to bed. I had left my cell phone in my bedroom, so I only then found several mised calls and an SMS from Caesar’s brother. Caesar had not only forgotten his own cell phone back home, but also his passport, which for some cryptic reason bus travellers are required to carry on trips within Syria. So the poor, senile man had to go and fetch it of course.
It was rather late, so I went to bed, but he managed to rouse me when he returned, so I could let him in.
And for those with evil nasty thoughts among my readers: I spent the night in my bed downstairs, while Caesar took one of the sofas upstairs in the living-room. Two closed doors, the kitchen and a dangerous flight of stairs between us. Sounds proper to me.
Saturday, June 9th
Surprisingly - after the short night - I heard my alarms, showered, got dressed, and then woke Caesar while making breakfast.
We ate, packed our stuff together and even managed to catch a taxi right in front of the house.
At the bus station Caesar enquired about the bus lane, and after a short wait the bus arrived. Everyone boarded.
The driver checked the passports, handing mine back to me, but keeping Caesar’s. After a while of settling in in our seats and waiting for departure time to arrive, Caesar got called to the front of the bus. His valid passport was not enough ID - for an Iraqi refugee in Syria - to legally board a tourism bus headed out into the desert to historic sites within Syrian borders. They also wanted other papers, including his residence permit. He tried talking to the people at the office inside the bus station, but to no avail. They kicked him off the bus, and thus me too, of course. I was not going to take a trip into the desert all alone in a country where not so many people speak English. Besides, I could hardly just take off and leave Caesar behind at the bus station.
They also refused to refund the money for the tickets. Ok, they hadn’t been expensive - from my tourist point of view - but quite apart from this being the icing on the cake their behaviour really pissed me off on general principle.
I surely don’t remember the dude at the travel agency saying anything about bringing more than just passports.
I wish Caesar had let me make more of a scene; I had the impression they looked somewhat concerned that they had pissed off a western tourist. But he just wanted to get away, which was understandable.
1. Iraqi people who are graceously granted permission to stay within Syria should not go about making scenes at being treated unfairly but are expected to be thankful and humble.
2. The poor man felt like crap for spoiling the trip, as he perceived it, and me ranting loudly about wanting my money back did nothing to cheer him.
As it turned out, Caesar’s residency card had expired and his father had intended to fix that at the Syrian embassy in Iraq - but so far hadn’t done so.3 So no trip for us.
But I am jumping ahead of the tale; I only heard about all that much later when Caesar returned from home.
So first we bought some veggies so that I wouldn’t starve.
One vendor didn’t want to charge us for the garlic because I only took such a ridiculously small amount: only one bulb (yes, one bulb, not one clove ). Ohhhhhhhkay.
Caesar gave him 5SP anyway.
We sat for a while, talking about what had happened that morning, then Caesar went home to discuss paperwork related things with his mother and to catch up on some missed sleep.
While I was cooking lunch I noticed a commotion outside.
A light blue minibus was trying to drive past my house from left to right. It took the driver quite some time of inching back and forth and annoying the heck out of all the people who wanted to drive their cars past in both directions4 until he realized that where regular cars barely fit minibusses do tend to get hopelessly stuck.
He somehow managed to back the bus up into a side street, allowed most of the traffic that had been waiting for him to finish his silly attempt to go past, then he returned whence he had come.
I took some photos of the event, but the mosquito netting got in the way in most of them, sent SMSs about it to all and sundry, and returned to my cooking.
Exhausted by the thrilling minibus event and all the work with the cooking, I sat down to have lunch and watched tv and read some until Caesar returned. I felt like booze but by that time it was pretty pointless to go and stare at the closed stores.
We met with Amer to give him the passport copy that he had requested, but then he suddenly said he needed a copy of the visa. Make up your mind, pal!
People who rent out houses should know about tourists and their needs, so we asked him about places that sell booze. He mentioned some square Caesar had no clue how to get to and Bab Touma of course.
We went and made a copy of my visa at the Suq Al Hamadiyya, then hung out at the house for a while until tired Caesar took off to get his beauty sleep.
Sunday, June 10th
On Sunday we bought a couple of books, and later a bottle of strawberry liqueur in Bab Touma. 100% artificial colouring, the flavour was ok though.
While traipsing around Bab Touma I aspied a place that offered “Pizza and Pasta” in big red neon letters, which indeed they did have on their menue.
I had a rather huge pizza with green peppers, tomatoes and onions while Caesar had some pasta with a sauce that looked like bolognese.
What was a bit confusing was that this Italian restaurant was playing French music while the walls were decorated with (item 1) a large ad for Scotch whiskey with Sean Connery and (item 2) a tasteless wooden(?) deer head.
The kids of the people at the next table at some point wanted coke, then quickly changed their minds when being told it was a Pepsi place. Clever kids.
After a nice dinner in the ambivalent ambience we strolled back home and tried the liqueur.
Well, that is, I tried the liqueur, while Caesar took mental notes.
At some point I complained to my sister,
Mafdet the nasty Kitten, about Caesar’s making fun of me drinking, which led to merry SMSing all around: my sis mock-scolding him for his behaviour and whatnot.
What with the Federal Elections looming on the horizon at the end of this month, all parties are busy holding rallies to catch more voters.
Yes, all parties, unfortunately so, including the far-right NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands - National-Democratic Party of Germany).
As so far all plans and/or attempts to forbid the NPD have led to nothing1 holding rallies is their protected right as a registered political party.
So on the 28th of last month the NPD was holding a rally in Kochel am See in Bavaria.
The original plan had been to simply ignore them, mayor Thomas W. Holz (33, CSU) told newspapers in an interview.
This was proving difficult though, as the NPD came “armed” with megaphones and huge loudspeakers, effectively drowning Town Hall and the surrounding area in their right wing drivel.
Not easy to ignore such a racket.
… a resident started mowing his lawn.
Another one “remembered” he had some urgent work to do that required the use of a buzz saw.
This inspired another to do some serious work in his garden with a chainsaw.
Other residents got out their lawnmowers and chainsaw as well.
Yet others drove by Town Hall with their tractors and cars, honking their horns.
According to the mayor the NPD could not interest anyone in their flyers either, and “Kochel has never been mowed so tidily before”.
Sources (in German):