65km Almarh to Damascus

Friedel and the current Syrian presidentToday may well be one for the record books after we cruised into Damascus in less than three hours, landing in the souk before midday instead of at sunset as we’d expected. Until we hit the road from our hilltop campsite, we had no idea that much of the distance between us and the world’s oldest city would be downhill. What a welcome surprise that was after yesterday’s difficult pedalling and a chilly night, which made us keen to get into a hotel with heating and a hot shower.

We flew along, hardly working at all, and before we knew it we were fighting it out with the taxi drivers, porters and general crowds on the streets of Damascus. Happily for us, by late morning the sun was out and with its rays warming our backs we didn’t mind taking our time to get oriented and find our hotel. Of course, as always happens in cities, we got lost and then rescued by a kind local man who turned us around and walked us several blocks in the opposite direction to get us back on the right track.

With our bags unpacked and laundry sent off for washing, we headed out for lunch. Usually we turn to street food to fill our large appetites at small cost but today we decided that cycling to Damascus was something to celebrate so we went for a more upmarket spot where plenty of well-dressed couples were dining on tables covered in gold cloth. Let’s just say we stood out a bit in our scruffy clothes but the waiters didn’t seem to mind and we truly enjoyed our curried lentil soup, followed by Saudi chicken and rice. The bill for our splurge came to less than $10. We are enjoying life in Syria!

Now we are sitting in the covered, heated courtyard of our hotel. A little water fountain gurgles away in the centre and it’s a lovely spot to pass the evening. We will surely spend a few more nights in these chairs, deciding where to go next. Much will depend on how quickly a replacement camping mat will arrive from Ireland. One of our two mats developed a problem a few days ago and without it our options are limited. The weather is just too cool now to even think about tenting without proper insulation from the cool ground. If the mat arrives within a few days, we are quite tempted to carry on south, but for the moment nothing is certain.


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    Road notes: The last 65km into Damascus is a breeze, tempered only by short stretches where the shoulder disappears and you have to ride close to the cars, but these areas pass quickly. Once inside the city the traffic slows but do be careful of taxi drivers who show no mercy, car doors opening in your path and other hazards. We compared the Al Rabie and Gazhal hotels and had a hard choice between them. We liked the courtyard at Al Rabie better for its comfortable furnishings, its bigger size and lighter feel. Costs were similar. Rooms without a bathroom went for 700 SYP at Al Rabie and 900 SYP at Gazhal, although the second includes breakfast. What swung us towards the Gazhal was the bigger room and the sparkling shared bathrooms. The Al Rabie bathrooms looked a bit musty and the room we were shown was tiny. Service so far at Gazhal has been wonderful and they have a book exchange, although we haven’t met many other travellers yet.

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