A day that started way too early.
This morning I woke up to an odd sensation. It wasn’t that I was tired, though I pushed the snooze button on my alarm three times because I didn’t want to get out of bed. I wasn’t sick… I felt completely fine, except–COLD. I was cold. It was such a baffling feeling! I don’t remember the last time I felt cold! It was certainly over five weeks ago! I love my air conditioner.
Anyway. Got up ridiculously early (7AM, after a bunch of snoozes) because I wanted to make sure I made it to church on time. Which ended up being futile, because I couldn’t even find the church that was supposed to have service at 9AM like my landlord told me. But whatever! I did find a church! It was the headquarters of the Syrian Catholic patriarchate, or something similarly impressive-sounding. I didn’t understand a word. Most likely (I am telling myself) because I entered late and didn’t know where they were starting. Whatever. It was nice anyway. Though I am really starting to appreciate that whole “Mass in the vernacular” thing.
Wandered around the Christian quarter for a REALLY long time (or maybe it only felt that way because I kept getting lost trying to find the Chapel of Ananias and ending up back on Straight Street). I never actually found the Chapel of Ananias. But I did find the Chapel of Saint Paul! This man came up to me and asked me in Spanish if I was lost and helped me find it! (Never would have otherwise. Seriously.) Unfortunately I understood everything he said in Spanish but couldn’t reply because AHH SO MUCH ARABIC IN MY BRAIN. Yeah. It was a nice little chapel. Not particularly exciting, but nice.
Then got some lunch and started looking for the Umayyad Mosque, but ran into some old Damascene houses first, so I looked in those. SO MUCH PRETTY. And then there was the al-Azem Palace, which was insanely beautiful. Pictures will be uploaded when I have a better connection (i.e., probably not until I get home, sorry). Then finally found the Umayyad Mosque, and spent at least an hour and a half just sitting and walking around. The place has an amazing history–the site has been used for worship for thousands of years, the current outer walls used to be part of a Roman temple, and the prayer hall looks very much like a basilica. According to local tradition, one of the minarets is where Jesus will appear at the end of the world. Sweet.
I am still surprised at how normally people act in mosques. Men were taking naps and people were picnicking and kids were chasing each other and it was just adorable and wonderful and exactly what a house of God should be like, in my opinion. It makes me want to drag all of the racist, anti-Muslim idiots in America to Syria, show a mosque to them, and then ask them again to explain why Islam is an inherently violent religion again?
Also, the Vatican would have been way more awesome if there were kids playing tag. Just sayin’.
Wandered a little while after in the souqs. Which is very pleasant and interesting, but I’ve discovered that I really don’t like buying things anymore. Like, even when I see something exquisitely, exquisitely beautiful, my first reaction is “pretty!” and my second reaction is “can I take a picture?” No where does “MUST POSSESS THAT THING” fall into the equation. This is probably healthy. But makes shopping for souvenirs particularly difficult.
Did end up buying one in an old madrassa that was apparently owned by the same Azems who lived in the palace that I loved so much. Not gonna say what it was because I want to surprise whoever it’s for! But I had a lovely time chatting in Arabic with one of the shop owners. He’s Sudanese and kept asking me if I could get him an American visa. I tried to explain that ordinary American citizens can barely get visas to Syria, let alone acquire American visas for Sudanese citizens living in Syria, but he kept asking. Sigh. Also, one of the other shop owners told me that his cousin is a Catholic bishop in Minnesota! And has more cousins living in Detroit! It was strange to think that this random man’s family is closer to Bubble Island than I am. But cool nonetheless.
Anyway, around 3PM I got completely exhausted and headed back to the apartment. Tomorrow I am not starting at 7AM. Ugh. Nothing’s even open then, which makes the walk to the Old City is considerably more pleasant (more cooler and less traffic), but… not worth it. (Also, I timed it today, and the walk to the Old City is defs at least 45 minutes from here. I am still happy with my lodgings, but I find it hard to believe that “only 15 minutes’ walk from the Old City!” was anything other than a particularly bold lie.) Besides, tomorrow all that’s on the agenda is the National Museum and its environs, and more Old City wanderings. Not really trying to get through everything mentioned in the guide book, as I have discovered that is the way to not enjoy doing anything ever.
Going to head down and explore the neighborhood and find some grub. Today’s spending so far:
400 SYP: souvenir
5 SYP: entry to one of the khans (reduced from 350 because I looked pathetic and said, “but I’m a Jordanian student!” yess.)
10 SYP: entry to Azem palace (see above re: student prices)
50 SYP: entry to Umayyad mosque (alas, no student discount)
345 SYP: nourishment/hydration. Most of this was water. Guess it’s time to embrace the tap.
35 SYP: assorted poor people
TOTAL: 845 SYP = $18.11
I am filled with shame. No more being convinced to buy souvenirs by nice shop owners.