Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Damascus

Fri Jan 21, 2011 10:54am EST
 
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS (Reuters Life!) - The ancient capital of Syria, in the words of Syrian film director Nabil al-Maleh, is one of the last cities on the planet where most problems are solved with a smile. Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most from a short stay in a city of culture, conquest and intrigue.

FRIDAY

6 p.m. Ignore new districts and head to the old city. The decaying grandeur is guaranteed to grow on you, although several Arab courtyard houses with carved wooden ceilings, stone-inlaid ornaments and citrus trees have been restored and converted into boutique hotels. Beit Zaman is a tastefully restored structure with reasonable rates (beit-zaman.com).

The 17th century Beit al-Mamlouka (www.almamlouka.com) near Bab Tuma was among the first to be converted into a hotel and has a cozy bar, while Talisman (www.hoteltalisman.net) in the Jewish quarter raised eyebrows by building a swimming pool in the main courtyard. For an exquisite example of Damascene architecture, visit the Danish Institute (www.damaskus.dk/index.php?id=2) but beware that opening hours are tight.

9 p.m. Hungry? Laila's (+963119456) opposite the 8th century Umayyad Mosque has a magnificent view of one of Islam's holiest sites. Entrees, such as eggplant fatte, are typically Damascene. Made from broken bread, garlic, yoghurt and butter, fatte is not for the fainthearted. Cherry kebab on the menu comes from the northern city of Aleppo, whose rivalry with Damascus is historic. Other options are the Illiyeh restaurant in Qeimariyeh quarter. Halabi (+963113391000) at the Four Seasons is pricey but the Aleppan food there is good.

11 p.m. Check out the nightlife. Marmar in Bab Tuma blasts Arab and Western tunes and owner Munther Kubba likes to mix with the crowd. An Arabic band plays at Laterna on May 29 Street. Piano Bar in Bab Sharqi has Karaoke every night. For a late drink try Oxygen in Qeimariyeh, which gained a bit of local notoriety for throwing out the U.S. consul a few years ago.

1 a.m. If you still have the energy, take a cab to Qasioun mountain for a view of the lit city below. Stalls on the uppermost roads sell coffee and grilled corn. Ahla Taleh restaurant has the best view, but prices carry a premium.

SATURDAY   Continued...

 
<p>Western tourists walk in Old Damascus March 2009. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri</p>