I arrived safely, albeit very late and delayed, in Damascus. I’m currently attending an intensive Arabic course, 4 hours a day 5 days a week. Syria is fabulous so far and I should have a few pictures to offer within a few days. Today was my first regular day of class and after class I also partook in the most exquisite meal at a Syrian restaurant downtown. I can only recommend everything here. I live in the Christian quarter of old Damascus which is strikingly different from the rest. Just by the people walking around one can immediately see where the Christian quarter ends. This is by far the most liberal part of the city with women walking around wearing American and European fashions. Walk a few minutes away and all the women are covered, some from head to toe.
I’ve decided to go to whatever security office is necessary on Thursday to get the permit to head out to the Golan heights, or rather, what’s left of the Syrian part. I plan to head out there Saturday and will definitely post some pictures of it. Here’s some information from Wikipedia on Quneitra, the city I’ll head to there.
Quneitra or Al Qunaytirah’ (Arabic Ã˜Â§Ã™”žÃ™”šÃ™” Ã™Å Ã˜Â·Ã˜Â±Ã˜Â©) is a city of southwestern Syria that is now largely abandoned. It lies in the UN-monitored demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel. The city was a commercial and cultural hub for southwestern Syria until the Six-Day War, when Israel attacked the Golan Heights and captured it. Israel claims its attack on the Golan Heights was purely in self-defense as a response to Syrian shelling of the Galilee. The city was placed back under Syria’s control for a short while in the Yom Kippur War, but Israel recaptured it. The Israelis withdrew from the city in 1974. Syria claims that Israel deliberately destroyed the city, and systematically stripped it of its usefullness. Israel claims that the city was destroyed in the fighting from both sides. The General Assembly of the United Nations condemned what it saw as Israel’s role in the destruction of the city in Resolution 3240 dated 29/11/1974. Syria chose not to resettle the city and leave it as a testament to what it calls “Zionist brutality.”
Since 2005, Syria has pledged to reconstruct the city. It has started construction projects which include a multi-million dollar hospital and a new highway from Damascus to Al Qunaytirah.
Friday I’ll probably go to Bosra which is a treasure trove of Roman ruins and has an ampitheater which can seat 15,000 almost totally intact. I also must say that the Syrians are very low key people, you won’t be harassed much by various venders as in Turkey and the rest of the middle east. Every once in awhile someone may ask you to look but they don’t persist, which is very refreshing. Prices are also amazing. A 10 minute taxi ride costs around 30 cents, a tasty falafel is 15 lira and 52 lira = 1 dollar. Getting to Syria may be expensive, but living here is dirt cheap like I’ve never seen. Also to my disappointment, everyone and their grandmother is learning Arabic here in Damascus. There are very few Americans, but hordes of Germans and apparently have been for some time. There’s a smattering of other Europeans and even though I wouldn’t classify Damascus as touristy by most standards, it’s not as off the beaten path as one would believe. More soon!