Time for some pictures of Syria from our trip.
There was a smallish rally in Trafalgar Square yesterday in support of peaceful protesters in what must be a terrifying place to be right now.
Old Town, Damascus, with decorations on sale - we were there between the Western churches' Christmas and the later date observed by the Eastern churches.
Sweets and spices in the Souq al-Hamidiyeh.
We crossed from Jordan into Syria by bus shortly after new year and queued at the border for our visas to be rubber stamped. A little later, inspectors came aboard – and found the stamps hadn’t been moved around and were still showing the previous year. The whole bus had to return to the border for our two visas to be re-stamped – what a drag for everyone else (all local people).
Madhat Pasha Street/Via Recta/Straight Street - or, as the New Testament has it (in a flash of humour), 'the street which is called Straight'. It has a couple of turns & must have had in Biblical times, too.
Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world and we stayed far longer than we’d planned. The sweep of history makes itself felt in the architecture, the understanding of the people, the well-informed and wide-ranging discussions and the cuisine.
The man being carried on his friends' shoulders had just returned from Hajj - lots of bodhrán-style drums, singing, clapping and excitement to welcome him home.
Throughout North Africa and the Middle East you get the most delicious fresh bread.
I remember coffee with flamed cardamom, being looked after graciously by perfect strangers, leisurely chat over freshly roasted lemony almonds (they explode in your mouth), the hugely relaxed Omayyad Mosque (once a Roman temple, then a cathedral), heads and necks of camels hanging outside the butchers, looking for Fatima’s tomb and meeting a Dutch Shi’ite couple on honeymoon, lambs’ testicles for supper and, every day, lots of mint tea with fascinating conversations in English, bits of Arabic and French.
Slightly shaky photo of Hammam Nur ud-Din, Damascus - the oldest and for men. My son was shown the ropes and emerged gleaming and squeaky clean having been given the once-over with a black scouring mit. There's a sisterly atmosphere in the women's hammams. Presumably inherited from Roman times, there are cold, warm and (very) hot baths and steam rooms.
Krak des Chevaliers/Qal'at al-Hosn - a huge crusader castle overlooking the strategic 'Homs gap' near the Lebanese border. No National Trust health and safety considerations here, no railings and sheer drops everywhere, a nightmare for mothers of the adventurous but bliss for the sure-footed teenager himself.
The chapel built by the crusaders was converted to a mosque - you can see the minbar here. An inscription at the doorway in Arabic says, we were told, that the place is set aside for God, whatever religious tradition is followed.
We loved Syria and remember the people we met with great fondness.