So it was that at 03:30 one Monday morning we arrived at Damascus airport. Crazy time, but for some reason that is when Middle Eastern airports operate. We took a taxi into the city to our booked hotel, through empty streets, nobody walking or driving except us, until we approached a roundabout near our hotel at which point another car lurched out from the right and stopped in front of us. Although our driver had plenty of time to react he decided to drive towards it at high speed and screech to a halt, just missing it. This gave him an excuse to wind his window down and shout abuse at the hapless driver.
He then reversed and accelerated around the back of the car, but to our alarm the other car sped after us and cut in front so that we had to stop. They proceeded to hurl abuse at each other for a minute or so, until, honour obviously assuaged all around, the other driver pulled away and left us with our own driver telling us, "These Syrian drivers are animals". Welcome to irony-free Syria.
In fact, after this early morning incident, despite travelling through many swirling, lane discipline-free high-speed rush-hour motorcades, we never saw or came close to a motoring incident. For which I say, "Al hamdu li Allah".
|Inside the Ummayad Mosque|
|The Khan As'ad Pasha|
We stayed for a few days in Damascus, adjusting to the very different culture, taking in some of its wonderful sights, such as the Ummayad Mosque and the Khan As'ad Pasha and eating in beautiful courtyard restaurants like Beit Jabri. We also managed to meet N, a daughter of one of Helen's old friends and her Syrian husband, who proved to be wonderful, kind hosts, offering us a couple of nights in their apartment as we passed in and out of the city.
From Damascus we took taxis into Jordan to end up at Petra, where we stayed for three nights at a 'Bedouin camp site' just outside the town.
|Just one of the amazing corners in Petra|
|Unsustainable tourist spotted in Petra|
|Did I really walk along that ledge?|
|After walking through the desert, the first sight of the Monastery was astounding|
|TE Lawrence rides again|
|Aqaba on Sea|
We then decided to push on down to the Red Sea and spend a few days in Aqaba. This is a corner of the Middle East where Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia share a few kilometres of coastline with Israel. By night the lights of Eilat shine out brightly across the water from Aqaba, and it was hard to realise that there was such a political crisis in existence between these nations.
Our one day in Aqaba was spent on a tourist boat, watching the coral reefs pass underneath its glass bottom, snorkelling and enjoying a fine lunch.
From Aqaba it was back doors to Damascus all in one day, staying overnight with N before continuing the next day to Palmyra.
|The beautiful Tetrapylon|
|The Palmyra citadel|
Many of them have been kept in service ever since, and while they do not always operate we were very lucky the evening we arrived, when several of them were rotating, creating a very distinctive groaning noise as they turned, which reminded me a little of Jimi Hendrix playing the 'Star Spangled Banner' at Woodstock.
Then it was back to Damascus, and a day of shopping before catching the 03:50 flight back to Budapest. Oh, the shock of it. Arriving in the cool, grey Budapest morning at about seven, taxi back to our apartment, a shower and then on my bicycle to work. Grim reality strikes.