Saturday, December 1, 2007

Watch out, Bashar's about.

I'm having a chick pea crisis at the moment. We are eating them every day in some form or other but they're wreaking havoc with me. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em, I suppose. We have found a decent internet cafe in Damascus, but although we can post to this site we can't actually look at it ourselves. It would appear that blogspot is a banned website. However, I can still get the footie results and read e-mails. All around Syria there are posters of Bashar the President. There are still plenty of his dad too. It's a strange feeling - he is always looking at you when you walk down the street, when you ride in a minibus, when you eat in a restaurant. Today we met an old communist who reckoned that Bashar is a bigger dictator than his dad was ("He's an optician but he has no vision"). It must be hard for the ex-opthalmist though. In some of the images we have seen he is wearing aviator glasses, a military cap and some stubble - and it just makes me think of George Michael - not quite the Tough Guy image that is intended. And in all our time here we have never felt like we are riding on the 'axis of evil'.

We met the comrade, Riaz, outside a carpet shop in the old city. We were invited in to look, not buy, and he translated for us. He had lived in exile for many years, including a stint in Scarborough, which puts a new slant on the meaning of exile I guess. We liked the carpets a lot - they were all from Iran, and when we explained that we were going that way, Riaz immediately said "Don't buy anything here!", so we just chatted and drank tea and said thank you. The old city is extremely relaxing - lots of narrow streets, and a large souk, and very peaceful compared to the mayhem on the roads in the rest of Damascus - we have almost been flattened twice by minibuses shooting red lights. There is a wonderful old mosque here built by the Umayyads on the site of a Roman temple. The courtyard was once covered in mosaics - but thanks to the mongols, earthquake and fire it is no longer in its full glory. However, it's still impressive. Gayle had to don a gown to enter - as in other mosques - a preparation for Iran.We are also enjoying the street food - lots of pastry shops and bakeries aside from the ubiquitous doner. We also found a wonderful Indian restaurant in the upmarket side of town - what joy.......

We arrived here from Palmyra, Syria's prime tourist attraction, the ruins of a Roman city in the desert. We had travelled there with James, a compatriot who is taking a similar route to us, and who was very good company. The ruins are impressive, spread over a large area, and overlooked by an arabian fortress on a hill. It was misty and cold as we wandered around, but there was plenty of walking so we didn't mind so much. The town itself is a sad place, full of touts and touristy restaurants overcharging for lousy food. We stayed in a cheap and not so cheerful place but it all added to the atmosphere of the place. On the bus journey to Palmyra, we passed a road sign to Baghdad, which felt a bit odd. James has headed on down to the Euphrates whilst we plan to cross into Lebanon for 10 days or so. We were waiting to see the outcome of the presidential election there before deciding to go. Fortunately we are meeting lots of other travellers coming and going which helps to get some up-to-date information.

contemplating the majesty of Palmyra

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