Friday, August 12. Damascus, Syria. I caught a mini-bus to Damascus from the bus terminal near my pension (7000 lira or ~$5). Syria was the one country I got a visa before departure. There is a Syrian consulate in Newport Beach's Fashion Island, only about a 5 minute drive from my home. The single entry visa cost $100 and must be used within 90 days of issue. On the bus I met a Syrian, Abdulkrem, and a Dutch couple, CJ and Merike. We chatted throughout the three and a half hour ride to Damascus of which almost an hour was spent at the border crossing. I had no issues with my visa, but everyone on the bus had to wait for a Korean woman, who arrived without a visa, to purchase a visa.
Upon arrival in Damascus, Abdulkrem hailed a taxi for me (I did ask him to) and paid the driver to take me, CJ, and Merike to my hotel, Ar-Rabie. I had a reservation, but CJ and Merike did not. They found a room in another nearby hotel. We met later that afternoon in my hotel and walk to the old walled city of Damascus. As it was a Friday, the Islamic holy day, virtually everything was closed and there were few people in the streets. Still, we continued to the souq in the old city and later the Umayyad Mosque. We dined at a small restaurant filled with local Syrians enjoying dinner and sheesha pipes.
Saturday-Sunday, August 13-14. Damascus, Syria. It's 40 degrees Centigrade (105 degrees F) outside, making it very uncomfortable throughout the day. Many in my pension rest during the day and confine their activity to the early morning or evenings. I spent the weekend resting and updating my journal. There's not much to see in Damascus other than the Old City, which I went back to several times to explore its many areas. One of the more interesting sights I saw in the souqs were groups of women in chador dress shopping for bras displayed in a rainbow of colors and sizes, with the male proprietors doing their best to make a sale.
When you use Lonely Planet guidebooks, you will inevitably run into people you've met in other countries who are using the same guidebook, particularly hotel recommendations. In Ar-Rabie Hotel's courtyard, I ran into Raul and Anika who I met at my pension in Beirut a few days before. They were on their way to Jordan, stopping in Damascus just for the night. I joined them for dinner at a outdoor café next to the Umayyad Mosque in the Old City. Including drinks, the bill was 100 Syrian pounds or $2 each.