Unless you are planning to spend a fortune on one of the two Cham chain hotels, this is the best hotel in Tadmor.
It's rated three stars. Many of the rooms have great views across the palmery to the famous ruins. It is about five minutes walk to the Archaeological Museum (from which transport runs to the Valley of the Tombs) and about a further 15 minutes to the Sanctuary of Bel.
PO Box 75, Palmyra/Tadmor, Syria
Aleppo is famous for its olive oil soap, much of which is mixed with other oils so there is a great choice.
The most precious of the regular combinations has 60% laurel oil and sells for 75 Syrian pounds (about 75p) per block. Try to track down a bar from Al Joubali soap factory in the old city.
Widely available in the souks of Aleppo
Of the listed restaurants in the Christian quarter of Aleppo, this is the best value in terms of atmosphere and food. It has two entrances, one signed from the side of the Armenian cathedral and the other from Qastal Ibshir Pasha street. Beer and wine on offer.
See above for directions. tel 2224462.
100 metres from the souk complex, very much part of the old city, this 18th century house has been converted for bed and breakfast accommodation (12 rooms).
It would be hard to imagine anywhere with more atmosphere, even if the facilities are not luxurious. Very helpful staff, happy to organise day-trips at a reasonable price. The only drawback is that it's a 20 minute walk to the Christian quarter if you want to have a restaurant meal with alcohol. I paid £12.50 per night for a single.
Clearly marked by signs, about 200m from the Bab Antakia gate to the Old City. www.halabiatours.com
This place is legendary, in an obscure-as-you-like divey drinking den kind of way. Blink and you could easily miss this bar, it’s so small. Essentially a liquor store with a few tables squeezed in as a mere after thought. Don’t be intimidated by the dark, smoky haze and the seedy pictures on the wall not to mention the resident old timers and their raucous alcoholic chatter. Open the door and go in, the locals will soon make room for you and start pouring out the arak. The beer is also very cheap and the banter top notch.
148 Sharia Bab Sharqi
A Syrian kebab cannot be beaten. They are available in jaaj (chicken) and lahme (lamb) varieties, including the wonderful local garlic mayonnaise.
Also look out for tabbouleh, the wonderful parsley salad, hummus bi lahm (chickpea puree with meat and pinenuts), felafel and labneh (a yogurt dip).
No one should visit Damascus and miss having an ice cream at Bakdash Ice Cream parlour in the Souk Hamidiyeh. (There is an imitator, so beware). Bakdash has mountains of white ice cream in the window, chandeliers, and lots of customers at all hours of the day. You buy a token for 25 Syrian pounds (about 20p) and exchange it for an enormous cone of ice cream that is rolled in pistachio nuts. Yum!
Bang in the middle of the Souk Hamidiyeh. Ask anyone - everyone knows it
Syria is the most beautiful civilised country, with a real family atmosphere. I would move there tomorrow. Loved it... great people, the best food I have ever had and the most incredible culture and sites. Ignore all the rubbish and go. I travelled with my Mum - so it's very very safe. Far better than anywhere else I have been.
It only costs £3 and you can stay from morning until midnight, hang out, talk rubbish with your mates and get really clean.
Our Dave, Nigel and I were sweaty and touristed-out and entered this splendid old hamman, which is located in the souk somewhere between the Omayyad Mosque and the Biblical Street Called Straight (any other directions are meaningless in the convolutions of a bazaar).
The old guy behind the desk takes your money, your wallet and locks them safely away. You're given three towels each and taken to a dry steam room. It's hot- nostrils are incinerated and then it's time for a scrub. It's all very homoerotic and Dave got weirded out by men gleefully lathering up their pals in an empty marble room. But what the hey-ho ... no one's taking pictures (I don't think).
Then you're led to a second large, empty marble room with a cloud of steam descending to about four feet off the floor. All you see are men's torsos - very stark and eerie. Here you swill off your lather (expertly- and rather tenderly I must add - applied by your mates) and get scrubbed by each other.
It's at this point that a baleful Damascus masseur points to one of us at a time and beckons us to his antechamber, where you are laid on the marble floor like a chunk of meat (Halal meat, I should point out) and you are twisted, pummelled and pulled. Then he motions you to lie on your stomach. Our Dave thought he was to enjoy forbidden pleasures at this point- he's old public school and taken with these fantasies- but Big Nigel expressed the view you were not in a strong position to argue with anyone at this point. Anyway, there were no shenanigans, but more pulling, twisting and deep muscle tweaking.
Then it was back to the steam room and a gentler massage and then a cold shower.
That took about 40 minutes and at every confusing turn of events, Damascene bathers or hamman workers were happy to help you along. It was all very matey. They seemed intrigued we were there - confused, European, pale. It was akin to someone slightly exotic coming into your local and you showing him just how to down a pint of Old Skunktongue.
After getting scrubbed clean through, we were jettisoned to a large open mezzanine where all the lads were bundled in towels, hanging out, drinking sweet tea, having a fag, taking pictures with their mobiles and probably talking about ... what else … footy.
Time rolls on, the hours are punctuated by prayers and more tea and the sound of the souk outside.
Women are allowed on Friday nights. The bazaar has some pretty lively restaurants for a good old nosh after bathtime and prices are about £3 or £4 pp for a blow out.
Damascus as a city is laid back. Folks leave you alone- probably because a good chunk of the population probably works for the secret services or the military.
But, really, who knows who anyone is in the hamman when your clothes are on a peg and you're getting all in a lather.
Hamman Nureddin; Between the Omayyad Mosque and the Street Called Straight(near the spice stalls),
Damascus has its own character and style. It is cheap and has many great things to see. People are very friendly and warm. They will go out of their way to show me my way.
There are hundreds to monuments to visit. After all it is the oldest capital in the world.
The part I recommend most is Souk Al Hamideah (Al Hamidea Bazar). It was built during the Ottoman Empire.
Al Hamidea Bazar - very famous, can easily be found if you ask anyone in Damascus
Backpackers hotel in the centre of the new city, but just 5 mins walk from the old city. A reasonably well maintained hotel in a centuries-old Damascene 'Arabic House'. It's courtyard will transport you back through the ages - the ivy sheltering you from the sun, and the sound of car horns a couple of blocks away. Some rooms have en-suite facilities. Most rooms are double, but there are one or two dorms for the really tight-fisted. Prices are about Â£2-Â£3 per room per night. Yes, that is two pounds I've typed. Welcome to Syria! If you want something a bit higher standard, the nearby Al-Majed hotel is a world apart. Definately not for backpackers, this one. It's lobby and rooms feel like a three/four star hotel in Britain. Price per room is Â£15 per night.
Al-Rabie and Al-Majed are in Souq Saroujah - very close to Merjeh Square (the centre of the new city). Most taxi drivers know Al-Rabie (pronounced Rab-ee-ah) in Souq Saroujah - they might have more difficulty finding the Majed. saroujah.blogspot.com
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