14.01.2008 - 21.01.2008 3 °C
This is the phrase that I heard over and over again on almost any streets in every town in Syria. 'Welcome' is also the answer to most questions especially when my knowledge in arabic language is only 'shew shew' (very little).
To most westerners, Syria is not always high up on their travel destination list. However, to those considering coming to the middle east, Syria is not only a hidden gem with ancient ruins that rivals those in Athens and Rome, but also people that is tremendously friendly and ready to led a helping hand to anyone. A single woman backpacking through middle east may seem daunting to most people, but in Syria, it is almost certain that when one need help, it is literally everywhere.
I took a shared taxi to cross the border from Amman to the outskirt of Damascus, a city that claimed to have the longest inhabited city in the world. Like any other cities, tourists are target of overcharging. My taxi driver drove his car into the narrowest alley inside the famous 'Old City' only to find my hostel closed. He then took me to Al Haramine, another budget hotel on a street under construction with a 2-feet sidewalk and 3m dirt hole in the middle. It takes skill to carefully balanced myself with my heavy backpack to get into this otherwise lovely hotel. The high pressure hot water showers are the best I have taken for the past two months.
The next day, a local friend of another friend of mine took me to Maloula and Sednaya, two Christian towns less than an hour away from Damascus. We visited a few churches including Monastry of Theka who escaped from her Roman father's disapprovement of her Christianity belief. Supposedly the story goes like this: the mountain opened up for her to bypass and the wheat fields at the exit grew miraculously fast to led her father's soldier believe that she had passed for months and stopped the chase. The siq for her escape now is the proof to Christians nowaday.
At night, I visited the huge Umayaad Mosque inside the old city and let myself soaked in the atmosphere of the famous souq Hamadeyi, a street with thousands of stores, in other word, the ancient solution of shopping mall.
We took a bus from Sweida and rented a car to drive to Bosra, a huge ancient city built with local black basalt stone, located more than an hour south of Damascus. The Roman theatre here is perhap one of the largest in the world and definitely very impressive due to its sheer size and dark color.