Posts Tagged ‘Damascus’



September 14, 2008

            Today J, Caro and I left Beirut in a taxi to Damascus. Its the fourth time I’ve been to Syria this year, and was the quickest and simplest it’s ever been. I think its probably because its during Ramadan and on a Sunday: during Ramadan, life in general is more quiet because the fasting is so energy-sapping, especially in the heat. The fact that it’s Sunday is significant because it is the first day of the working week in Syria, which means that most people who would have crossed over for the weekend (Friday and Saturday) would have come back on Saturday evening. However, crossing the border in the opposite direction (Syria-Lebanon) on a Sunday is a truly painstaking process, because the Lebanese weekend is Saturday and Sunday (except in some places in the South where its Friday and Sunday).


            Regardless, the relatively easy journey was especially welcome after the stress of hearing from Di and Jeevs, who had gone ahead to Damascus in order to buy out train tickets to Iran, that there were problems and that we had to come ”as soon as possible”. When we finally arrived at the hotel to meet them, we realized that the cause for such haste was that, contrary to the information that I had received from the train station a month ago, they couldn’t purchase the train tickets with the scanned copies of our passports and Iranian visas. Which means that we all have to go to the train station at 6am tomorrow morning and try to get them then, before the train leaves at 8am.


            We also learned that they were being told that British passport-holders have to pay $150 at the Turkish border, while the French are let in free! Again, different people say different things and we still haven’t confirmed this. Notwithstanding, J has made it clear that he thinks that the fact that the Brits have to pay at all while the French are let off scott free is the height of ingratitude, considering the Brits’ relatively open attitude towards Turkish integration into the EU compared with France’s uncompromising secularist discourse on the issue…


            And funnily enough, I am very often surprised at the overt reverence that so many Arabs ( in my experience Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian) have for France compared to their vocal disdain for the US and the UK. Obviously, such attitudes are more the product of the violence perpetrated by the latter in the 21st century. That reverence, however, completely glosses over the horrendous history of French colonialism and its legacies in the region. Especially in Lebanon, I am constantly shocked at the francophilia present in all echelons of society, not just among the nostalgic Maronites with their superiority complex and ‘French education’. Surely, they recognize the French role in establishing the confessionalist system that continues to plague their country? Often, no; they would prefer to denounce the monsters of more recent history instead, as if some precarious balance of blame had to be maintained in which not all imperial powers could be held accountable at the same time.


            Anyway, our crossing into Turkey, provided that we do get on that train tomorrow, could be condemning some to falafel and fruit diets while enabling others to be a bit more frivolous in the bazaar’s of Tehran…


            We strolled through the old part of Damascus after Iftar had finished and the shops had re-opened. The town, charming in ordinary times, is doubly enchanted in the evenings of Ramadan. The winding alleyways, the stone arches, the balcony overhangs supported by wood that tilt occasionally, betraying their longevity… All these time-machine scenes are rendered more magical by the proliferation of fairy lights and flags strewn overhead, the late-night chanting that rises from the mosques all around and the festive family atmosphere. Children know they can profit from their parent’s good spirits and do not miss an opportunity to ask for an ice cream, a pair of earrings or the latest novelty toy, which they are rarely refused.


            And a wonderful first city to start this journey in. The architecture, the food, the hospitality and the current vibe all combine to make it lovely to pass through Damascus. We have all visited Damascus before, so for all of us it is not a discovery, rather a welcoming inkling of comfort before a vast horizon of unknowns.



last minute packing, as always…

September 13, 2008

My flight leaves from Nice airport at 3pm. It’s now 1 and i still havent packed my bag. Predictable.

The initial ‘leg’ of this journey is infact a false one: it takes me from Nice (where i’ve been for the last 10 days visiting my mum and stepdad) back to Beirut, from where the real games begin. However, it is nonetheless stressful, and will take over 12 hours and 2 stop overs (Paris and Budapest)…

I should arrive there at 4am tomorrow (Sunday). Just enough time for me to go to my friend’s house, take a quick nap, shower, and pick up my big backpack, before heading out to Damascus round noon with J and Caro.

In Damascus, we will meet up with Di and Jeevs, who have gone on ahead of us in order to buy the train tickets to Tehran. Our train is scheduled to leave at 8am on Monday morning. The train is 2350 km long, and taks over 50 hours.

Route: From Damascus, it takes us north into Aleppo, and then further up into Turkey. From there we turn east and run along into Kurdistan, till we reach lake Van. I think then we have to take a shotr ferry. Then back on the train till the Iranian border, where we cross at Razi. And then we descend south-easterly into Tehran.

For a detailed timetable, see here.

So that’s the first stage… Quite hectic, but that only increases the excitement.