Day 14: Back in Damascus
Damascus Travel Blog› entry 24 of 54 › view all entries
We took the bus from Palmyra back to Damascus, to finally visit this city properly. After all, our first day here had only been a teasing glimpse.
Completely naturalised we entered a souq that was absolutely packed with people.Where a mere two weeks ago we entered this very same street with a feeling of "OMG, what are we doing here?" we were now navigating the souq like a couple of pros, as if we had been living among the locals for years. We cheerfully greeted all the shopkeepers back, shook some hands here and there, had a tea, and did some proper sightseeing of the entire old centre in a couple of hours.
We also visited the National Museum, the biggest and most important of all of Syria's museums. Though I am not very keen on museums, I do like history, and if it is one thing this country has, it is history. Basically Syria is the cradle of all modern history; the first civilizations of Mesopotamia, the first alphabet, the biblical era, Roman times, crusades... all these things I learned about in school basically happened here in this country.
The museum was a great place to spend several hours and escape the heat a little bit.
In the evening, before going to dinner, we visited the Hammam Nourreddin. A Hammam is a Turkish bath house, and Nourreddin is the oldest in Damascus (in continuous business since 1169!!). We went for the whole kit & caboodle: Sauna, steam bath, scrub, soap and massage.
OK, I am saying all this very bravely, but I have to admit I was feeling slightly less confident at the time, entering the place with wobbly knees and wearing no more than a thin loincloth.
I mean, the last time I had a professional massage while abroad I had this tiny Vietnamese lady walking around on my back, while cracking each and every bone in my body for an hour, before literally grabbing me by the balls asking me 20 bucks extra to massage my special spot. I can’t say that memory didn’t cross my mind when we entered this ‘men-only’ hammam and were greeted by this big, hairy Syrian guy who introduced himself as our masseur!
But we decided to let it all just happen to us. I mean, with 838 years of experience you’d expect they know what they’re doing, right?
We started with 15 minutes of sauna, before heading to a steam room where we could was ourselves with a piece of genuine Aleppo soap (famous for its unique composition with olive oil).
After this it was rinsing off and back to sweat some more in the steam room, before getting absolutely mangled for five minutes by said big ‘n hairy masseur, and finish off with a freezing cold shower.
All this took just under an hour, so an hour later we found ourselves sitting in the strikingly decorated lounge area of the hammam, completely wrapped into four big towels, relaxing with a nice cup of tea (what else?)
Dazed, confused, but remarkably refreshed.
As this was our last night in Damascus (or at least, that was the plan) we decided to spoil ourselves. We went for dinner in a very luxury restaurant, Elissar, beautifully situated in a restored 16th century Khan, or trading house.
By now we’d had enough kebab, and we weren’t really interested in the French cuisine, so we just ordered a table full of mezze (starters). Of course we mainly chose stuff we hadn’t had before, or better, stuff we couldn’t pronounce. The food was terrific. Definitely the best we’d had our entire trip. With a glass of nice Lebanese wine to wash the stuff down, this was definitely a perfect ending of our journey through Syria. If only it had been the end...