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Melantrys’ Page » travels

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Trip to Damascus - Epilogue

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

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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.

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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? :wait:

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 :P 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.

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Concluding remarks:

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.

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  1. € 2.94 or $ 4.00 [back]
  2. which had not got lost unlike at my return journey from Amman… [back]
  3. a bad combination, coming from Syria, having been in Jordan the year before and travelling all alone, it seemed [back]
  4. Of course I’d bloody well mind, Mr Customs Officer; photos are kind of… private?! [back]

Damascus - Interlude

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

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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:

prologue

part 1

part 2

part 3

Trip to Damascus - pt. 5

Monday, September 7th, 2009

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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. :blush:

After a late breakfast of peppers, zucchinis and onions it was alreay too late to head out and visit the Immigration Office.

Immigration Office? :think:

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.

strawberry liqueur
Hhhhhm, booze…

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… :heehee:

.

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. :rolleyes:

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”.
Ohhhhkay. :shifty:

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. :bigeyes:

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Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

It seems Wednesday mainly consisted of eating, watching tv and shopping for souvenirs.

:shifty:

Ok.
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.

:shifty:

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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.

Omayyad Mosque among the roofs
the Omayyad Mosque peeking out among the rooftops

The following…. decoration…. adorned the wall above the door from the kitchen to the living-room.
What it was doing there, only Amer knows…

ugly
Why?!?!

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 :P 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. :lol:

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
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? :D

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? :bat:
No, I didn’t, and then it didn’t fit into the text flow anymore.
Well, dinner was on Khalid; thank you again. :)

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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. :shifty:
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.

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  1. More on that topic in the “Epilogue” that will follow shortly.
    Yes, shortly, ‘cross my heart and all that. :eh: [back]
  2. i.e. some Brits and Americans [back]
  3. € 1.35 or $ 1.80 [back]
  4. Or grumpily sarcastic? [back]

Trip to Damascus - pt. 4

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

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Finally, the end of the epic travel saga:

Friday, June 8th

I had breakfast, then sat watching “The Piano Player” :yawn: 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.

entrance
entrance

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.

way down into chapel
way down into chapel

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.

story of Saul 1
the story of Saul 4-6, 12-16

story of Saul 2
the story of Saul 17-19, 22, 23, 25, 26

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.

the chapel - altar and pews
the chapel - altar and pews

altar
the altar up close

As you can see, there wasn’t really that much to see, so I soon left and climbed the stairs back up again.

exit
exit

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.

Bab Sharqi 1
all 3 gates of Bab Sharqi

Bab Sharqi 2
Bab Sharqi with all of the minaret

street sign
a street sign we spotted then

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, :eh: :wait: 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.

minibus
retreating minibus

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.

.

  1. Know it by now? No? Ok, still € 0.375 or $ 0.50. [back]
  2. Actually, there’s 16 to the left, with a smaller rendition of picture 3 in a more noble looking frame hung up before (to the right) of picture 1 and only 14 to the left, as number 24 seems to be missing. [back]
  3. So much for leaving official dealings like that to the head of the household. (Which seems to be an Arabic thing.) At times it’d really pay off to get important stuff done yourself. [back]
  4. which of course involved a lot of honking of car horns [back]

Kasteel Doorwerth - pt. 3 - the surroundings

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

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I may have neither the know-how nor the impressive gear that Kik has, but still we have one thing in common: give us a camera and some nature and we’re happy as a pig in the muck, and cavort around, taking pictures of just about anything.

Which we then did.
As you might have guessed.

I tried to narrow it down to a certain type, but did not succeed, so all I can say is that the following pictures show mallow.

pink flowered mallow
pink flowered mallow

pink flowered mallow, zoomed
zoom on pink flowered mallow

pink flowered mallow, closed buds
closed buds of pink flowered mallow

pink flowered mallow, opening bud
opening bud of pink flowered mallow with bug

white flowered mallow
white flowered mallow

Near a pasture I found a patch of white clover (Trifolium repens), which stunned me somewhat:

giant white clover 1
white clover

“Well, yes, that is white clover,” I hear you say. “Seen it, searched for the four-leaved ones, thanks to those never-quite-dying superstitions… But those are all only trefoil, so what’s the big deal, Mel? Don’t get out much, do you?”

“No, no,” says I, “I know my clover. Actually, we have tons of it growing in our lawn, unfortunately.”

“Well, it looks a bit tatty,” you say, trying to be polite.1

Ok, it seems you’ll never guess, so I’ll just show you, ok?

giant white clover 2
OMG, it’s teh giant man-eating clover, ruuuun!!!

*coughs*
Sorry.
Got a bit carried away there.

Anyway, a bit further on we found some normal sized clover, which came as a bit of a relief for me.

normal white clover
normal white clover, with bee

And there was more - albeit less astounding - flora to see:

thistle
thistle

grain
some grain growing wild, with insect

white campion
white campion (Silene latifolia)

But what’s a foray into nature without some buzzing insects?

soldier beetle
soldier beetle, on flowering goutweed, if I am not totally mistaken

Then someone got it all wrong about photos and how they are taken and alighted on the telephoto lens of Kik’s camera…:

common scorpionfly
common scorpionfly (Panorpa communis) being “photogenic”

Let us now get to the point Pandora has already been demanding in part two of my castle posts:
The shy creatures that were on the pasture I mentioned earlier on.

sheep 1
“Bummer, that two-legged creature found our hiding place…”

sheep 2
“… let’s go, Lizzy.”

landscape 1
And last but not least…

landscape 2
… a bit of a view.

P.S.:

baaa
“Who’re you lookin’ at?!?”

.

  1. I can’t help the feeling that this sounds like the type of conversation I might have with Pandora…. [back]

Kasteel Doorwerth - pt. 2 - the moat and some oddities

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

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Like any good castle the Kasteel Doorwerth of course has a moat.

bridge
moat, bridge and castle

The most important picture I took, I think:

stick
stick beside the moat

through arch
moat, seen through an arch

water lilies
water lilies

ducks
ducks, in and out of focus

plants
some plants, as seen from a bridge

huh?
Anyone got any idea what those baskets are for?

determined plant
determined plant, clinging to the wall of the moat

ugh
Um, ugh, ok….

Push to call…. the Vikings?!?!? Um, better not….

strange device
strange device at one of the doors

garbage
could be so authentic… except for the plastic….

Kasteel Doorwerth - pt. 1 - the castle and the old tree

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

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The day after seeing Disturbed we did not lazily recuperate but drove to a castle that is not very far from Kik’s place: Kasteel Doorwerth.

Dating back to the 13th century (and originally named Kasteel Dorenweerd until around 1800) the castle has been burned and bombed (ahem…) to pieces a few times and has been through the hands of various owners, including German ones through the 17th and 18 century.

These days you can come and gape at the castle and the surrounding landscape, visit a museum situated inside or eat at a restaurant there.
We settled for gaping and snapping photos.

turrets
turrets, as seen over outer wall

court
a view from the inside court

from behind
view from behind

castle gardens
the castle gardens

gate to nowhere
gate to nowhere

Growing inside the the court is a somewhat tattered (*cough, cough*) black locust tree, or false acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia), which is said to be the oldest one in the Netherlands.
Considering that it was apparently planted in the first half of the 17th century, only shortly after the North American tree was introduced to Europe by the Frenchman J. Robin in 1601, this sounds very likely indeed.

close-up 1 Robinia pseudoacacia
close-up 1

close-up 2 Robinia pseudoacacia
close-up 2

close-up 3 Robinia pseudoacacia
close-up 3

Robinia pseudoacacia
false acacia in all its splendor

Disturbed in Tilburg

Friday, July 10th, 2009

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As some of you may be aware of, only two days after mutilating my finger I went on a 1.5 handed drive to foreign places1.

Thanks to my navigation system I took the scenic route through the city Kik is living in. It told me to take the first exit off a huge roundabout but showed me to take the second, which seemed just as wrong as the first one to me.
So I took the third.
That was almost the right decision under the circumstances2, as the navigation system then made me turn around and suddenly knew where I was.

After I had arrived we just had time to fix and eat some dinner, then we had to leave to pick up Kenny, er, Jeroen and Rifca and head out to Tilburg.

The club was insanely hot, humid and stifling, so we fled to the gallery, which was the place with the least “pollution”. Unfortunately the best places were already taken, but we managed to find a spot on the second tier up from the railing.

The opening act wasn’t very exciting, but at least they weren’t utterly horrible either like those…. people… who opened for System of a Down a few years ago.

I had been told that Disturbed were a very good live band, and a special edition CD with a few live bonus tracks that I own seemed to prove that, so I went there with high expectations.
And they didn’t let me down.

The performance was really great both from the musical point of view and concerning interaction with the audience.
At some point the singer even complimented the Dutch audience on their being able to understand what he was saying, and went on to lament the fact that in most other countries the audience had no clue whatsoever what he was going on about.
So, ok, maybe he says that to every audience, but if he doesn’t then I am afraid he has a point. The average Dutch person certainly knows way more English than the average German, and that’s a fact.

But enough of the words, let’s see some pictures - still and moving:

Hannibal
Here they release Hannibal Lecter onto the stage…

Disturbed 2
romantic moments

Disturbed 3
more light and action

Disturbed 4
“Listen to me” ;)

Here’s a little something the audience sang for Disturbed between songs:

Unfortunately I only started filming this rather late, here’s the version of someone who was faster.
Unfortunately, the sound quality of the following song that he or she captured as well leaves a lot to be desired. Digital photo cams just aren’t made for capturing loud audio like that.

My first reaction to the chanting was the same as David Draiman’s by the way: “What?!

I’ll leave you with something that I found by following the related videos that I got to my upload:
Excuse me, but is this the right concert? I am confused. ;)

(If your computer and/or your internet connection allows that I’d advise you to watch the high quality version of this video; it is sure worth it.)

We are…”
“… Disturbed!”
We are…”
“… Disturbed!”
“We all are…”
“… disturbed!”

.

  1. the Netherlands [back]
  2. actually, I should have taken the fourth exit [back]

Conquering the world…. in 10,000 easy steps…

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

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I saw this on Journaliya’s blog (in German) and just had to make my own:


Hm, looks like this needs yet more work….

.

.

.

create your own visited country map

Trip to Damascus - pt. 3

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

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Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

On Sunday I finally showed Caesar the vegetable market.
That way I had an interpreter and a bag carrier all in one person, hehe.
Apart from that, I seemed to be paying less for the vegetables than I had when I had been on my own. Not that it mattered much to me with Syria’s tourist-friendly prices, but nevertheless…

When we had returned to the house, my guide took off until I was done cooking and eating. (Especially the cooking can take quite some time with me…)

He ran into Amer, who promised that the “cleaning lady” would come at 9:30 to fix the tv problems. When he hadn’t shown up by 9:40 we thought of Saturday and left.
Shortly after that Caesar got a call from the dude, and we walked back. Fortunately it didn’t take him very long to fix what had been wrong, whatever exactly that had been. Seemed to have been some problem with the wiring.
Soooo we shopped for some coke and a phone card and watched some tv. :)

What a boring day, eh? Here’s a pic to darken brighten it up:

Al-Gharbiye (western) minaret
the Omayyad Mosque’s Qad Bey minaret by night

.

Monday, June 4th, 2007

On Monday I changed another € 100 at an exchange office, then we bought some drinks and grabbed a taxi up to Jebel Qassioun (Mount Qassioun), which sits just north of Damascus.

Well…… actually…… before that I forgot to pocket my cell phone, realized it while we were just about to leave “my” house, hastened back up the stairs and around the corner leading to the first floor… and ran face first - smack! - into the metal stairs that are leading up to the next floor. Ouch…
The impact of bone on metal sounded rather loud to me. Come to think of it, I never asked Caesar if it had been as loud for him. He did enquire about my well-being from around the corner though, so he must’ve heard something.

At a huge roundabout our taxi driver got stopped and harassed a bit by the police. Can’t they at least stop empty taxis for that…?
There we were, sitting in the back of the cab, with no fresh air getting inside, slowly starting to boil…. and wondering: “Should we get out and flag down a new taxi…?”
When I was just about to suggest that, our driver returned, and we continued the trip up the mountain.

Once there, we walked up and down a bit until we found some nice spots to gaze out over Damascus and snap a few photos from.
Caesar tch’ed me for taking the first picture below, but the view from the mountain is the view from the mountain, and that was the direct view down over the little wall we were standing behind. Besides, it is kind of a hobby, nay, duty of mine to take un-tourist pictures wherever I go. See the famed “Broom behind Pillar in Umayyad Palace” photo I took last year in Jordan.

view from Jebel Qassioun 1
View from Jebel Qassioun…

view from Jebel Qassioun 2
… from left to right…

view from Jebel Qassioun 3
… all across Damascus…

view from Jebel Qassioun 4
… the sprawling capital city of Syria.

view from Jebel Qassioun 5
the roundabout

A close-up of the roundabout our taxi got stopped at. (You can also spot it on the second panorama view of Damascus, not counting the first picture. ;) )
To the left of it one of the ever-present huge pictures of Bashar that can be found all over the city.

eye
the eye is harder than metal

My - thankfully - not-black eye with the bruise from the impact neatly hiding in the eyebrow. I was equally thankful for not having suffered the mother of all headaches for my carelessness.

Back to the storyline.
Taking the above pictures - and a few more - exhausted us so much that we had to sit down on a bench and gaze out across the city while having an occasional sip of the soft drinks we had brought along.
It can get quite windy up there, and I was glad I had a hair ribbon in my pocket, or else I wouldn’t have had much of an undisturbed view. Well, ok, I was habitually carrying that hair ribbon around, for the taxi rides.
Anyway, a lot of people come up Jebel Qassioun, so all of the buildings along the road at the top are cafés and suchlike of course. Not surprisingly there also were some pedlar kids around, trying to sell us chewing gum and the like and doing their best to entice Caesar into buying from them by wishing him that our relationship may be endlessly beautiful - or was it beautifully endless? - and similar things.

When we had sat and gazed enough we took a taxi back down again.

We walked around a bit in the modern city, then tried to find a restaurant. Eventually, we found a take-away one, even one that made excellent falafel sandwiches, which we ate in some park around the corner. The good food made me greedy, so we went back and got another falafel sandwich for me to eat and some falafel (about 20 for 25 SP1…) and hommus to take away.
We met up with B. and O. at an internet café because they had offered to take us or me along on one of their sight-seeing trips. But their plans for Tuesday and the following days were so vague that - despite their solemn promise that they’d put me on a bus back to Damascus should our ways part for some reason - I really didn’t feel like travelling with and relying on them. Hell, even Caesar hardly knew those guys!
We made up some excuses and left again.
Were I blessed with Second Sight I think I’d still have made the same choice.

While browsing on the internet just now to research some facts I came across a picture that helped me locate a rather important landmark in one of the above pictures. You might still remember it.

Omayyad Mosque from Jebel Qassioun
Spot the mosque!!

See? I circled the Omayyad Mosque. My lodgings were aaallllll the way over there! :D *beams at you*

.

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

I breakfasted on the hommus and falafel and some bread, did some laundry and caught up on my diary. (Yes, I know, you’re starting to curse the day I bought it, dear audience, as keeping that diary sure is making the posts about this year’s holiday way longer than last year’s. Mwahahahaha.)

Caesar had to take his brother, who had suffered a sunstroke, to the doctor and then go and fix a pc at work (he had taken some days off, but grrrr…), so he was naturally being rather late.
He had some of my lunch (peppers, zucchinis, cucumbers, tomatoes and onions - for those who are interested), then we went to the spice market, where I bought some curry and sweets.
On our way back we were overtaken by two garbage collectors2 who - instead of sweeping up and collecting the garbage - seemed to be racing one another. Ohhhhhhkay….
We dumped my purchases at the flat, then Caesar took me to another old city gate marking the outer border of Bab Touma (the quarter), the Eastern Gate or - in Arabic - Bab Sharqi.

For some unknown reason I only took pictures from outside of the old city wall, thus - this being the eastern gate after all - looking from east to west. Early evening was slowly approaching, which might explain some of the shadows… ;)

Bab Sharqi with 13th century minaret
Bab Sharqi with 13th century minaret

To the left of the minaret you can see the main gate (for wagons or - these days - cars), through which you can spy a bit of the street beyond.
To the right is one of the two pedestrians’ gates; a bit hard to make out much of it in this lighting though, my apologies.

Bab Sharqi and view into Straight Street
Bab Sharqi and view into Straight Street

On this picture you get a better view of the main gate and Straight Street (Via Recta, or Shari Mustaqim3, depending on which century you are currently being in)

To the left you can see one of the city’s feral kittens demonstrating the correct use of the second pedestrians’ gate.

My dear children! Let us pause a while, close our eyes, take a deep breath and reflect on the Bible.
In Acts 9:10-19 it says:

And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,
And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.
Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.

The above mentioned “street which is called Straight” is indeed Straight Street. A very humbling thought concerning the history and age of the city of Damascus.
I did not go and seek the house of Judas. It is said that the church that had been built there to commemorate this important biblical event has long since been replaced by a small mosque.
Commemoration these days takes place in the alleged former cellar of St. Ananias’ house - the Chapel of Ananias (more about that later).

St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church
St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church

Just a bit further to the left you can see the Armenian Apostolic Church peeking over the old city wall.
We kept on walking in that direction along the wall until a bird4 shat onto my head. :bigeyes: Then we headed back again and begged the use of the sink in their toilet off the people at a restaurant just outside the gate. Damn crapping animal.
Caesar claimed that it’s lucky to get shat upon. :shifty:

On the way home I bought some vegetables - including fresh okras - and a couple of bottles of coke and Fanta. I ended up carrying all the veggies while Caesar insisted on carrying the drinks. You could watch his arms getting longer and longer and starting to drag on the floor, poor man.

Later, we tried going to the closest internet café but their connection was down. They claimed it was an overall problem but another one around the corner was online. Voice chat was impossible though, as the volume and sound/connection quality was just too bad for that.

hommus, falafel & bread
a late dinner of hommus, falafel & bread

.

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

Caesar arrived surprisingly early. I was still lying on my bed, wrapped in my bathing towel, and reading while drying off, when he gave my phone a few rings and knocked at my door.
:bigeyes: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah! I jumped into my clothes and let him in.
After a quick - ahem - breakfast of warmed up leftovers from yesterday :) we left the house.
We had not walked far yet when we had a very shocking experience.

no white car
WTF! OMG!! The white car is gone!!!!!

The white car was gone.

It had been sitting on that little hill - day in, day out.
And then it was gone.

Anyway, we finally mailed off my postcards back home, then took a taxi to the National Museum.
The taxi driver apparently dropped us off at the backdoor of backdoors. Confused and slightly lost, we wandered around until we found an entrance, but that was a back entrance, and they sent us to the front entrance halfway around the building.
At the front entrance they sent us away as well to first get a ticket from the ticket booth at the front street entrance. Mwah.
Things would have been so much easier if the taxi had dropped us off at the right side of the building…
Well, at least we got to see a lot of the park belonging to the museum.

Unfortunately, it was forbidden to take any photos, and there seems to be no official English language website for the museum. The best I could find is this link with information and this one with at least a few pictures.

Some of the exhibits had no plaques at all, some only Arabic or Arabic and French ones. Most had English plaques as well though, although quite a few consisted of some funny English.

Caesar seemed to particularly be taken in by fertility goddesses (clutching their breasts) and statues and statuettes of naked men. ;)

During our tour of the museum I urgently had to - ahem - powder my nose, for which task we got sent outside to a café on the grounds, behind which the toilets were hidden.
The…. down-to-earth kind of course. But at least they were clean. w00t.

We must’ve spent about three hours at the museum.
When we were done looking at the exhibits - and worrying the guards who occasionally came peering around the corners at us when we seemed to be having altogether too much fun - we bought a few more drinks for thirsty me and ambled back home.

Suddenly, we were starving, so I cooked the bamya with onion, tomato, zucchini, parsley and garlic. For a while I was sweating and trembling while preparing lunch. One of these days I shall have to have a few very strong words with my capricious blood pressure about it ganging up with the rest of my body against me and going into shock for no reason at all. At least this time it only was a very mild one, probably brought on by low blood sugar as well.

dinner
dinner

Caesar must’ve been really hungry, as he got himself a second helping. Well, so did I.
After lunch Caesar wandered into the kitchen, sadly (I guess) eyed the sink that was filled with pots and other stuff that had been needed for cooking and asked if he should just put his stuff in there as well. I said yes, but for some reason he washed his plate and fork anyway. Good boy.

We settled down in the living-room and watched some weird movie about a vitual actress. Very, very weird movie. It was called “S1m0ne”.
Then it was soccer time. :-|
Iraq versus North Korea in the second round of the qualifications for the 2008 Summer Olympics. They even won 1:0. Yay. I suppose.
From halftime on we mostly watched “Meet the Parents” on another channel though. A double yay for that.
After Caesar had left, I updated my diary in front of the tv until it was past midnight and “24″ had ended. I was tired, so I dragged myself downstairs to bed.

.

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

That morning Khalid called me to tell me - again - that he’d arrive on the 12th. He asked - again - when I’d leave Syria and then threatened to shoot me should he not like me. :eh:
Good old Khalid. You just gotta love his charm…
I immediately SMSed 13 and demanded that he protect me, but he just messaged something vague about Khalid being harmless back to me. No, really?

Baaaad Caesar was late again this day and arrived long after I had eaten my lunch.
We went and photocopied my passport for Amer in one of the side alleys of the Suq Al Hamadiyya.
Then we wandered around the city looking for travel agencies and book stores with English language books

The travel agencies there didn’t seem to be much into Syrian historic places and more into trips to the seaside or other countries.
We did manage to buy tickets for a trip to Palmyra though at one of them. Ancient ruins in the desert - that sure sounded interesting.

Out of desperation I bought “The Da Vinci Code” in one of the bookstores we had entered.
A bigger store someone had pointed us to was already closed, so we decided to check that store out some other time when it was hopefully open.
Why out of desperation, you ask? Easy. The book had been praised just a bit too much. I mean, seriously, most stuff that gets such a lot of praise turns out to be rubbish.
In the case of this particular book though I was positively surprised.

cool water 1
Hm, looks like someone left his water…

cool water 2
… in the freezer section of the fridge for too long…

It wasn’t me!!!

.

  1. € 0.375 - or $ 0.50 - at that time. [back]
  2. I suspect it is because of the narrow streets here that garbage in the Old City gets collected by men pushing around metal trash bins on wheels. They can make quite a lot of noise early in the morning.
    People just throw their garbage bags (or their garbage) into the streets, and those guys come and pick it up. Not a job I’d like to be doing. [back]
  3. or more commonly known as Suq et-Tawil (the long market) and called Suq Madhat Pasha from the monumental Roman arch on anyway… [back]
  4. Or an early bat? [back]