Day one: A day of firsts

What a day. I’ve sampled my first hubble bubble(shisha) pipe, been a passenger in a car with nine people crammed inside for the first (and probably last) time and taken in my first views of Damascus at night from the Syrian mountains.
Seems the surprises just keep on coming.
A traditional Dasmascene breakfast kicked off the day rather late once I’d recovered a few hours of sleep. breakfast.jpg
Incredibly salty local cheese, pickled turnips and olives, hummus, yoghurt and boiled eggs were a tonic. All beautifully presnted and film-wrapped across every inch as if some Christo-inspired kitchen assistant was improving his craft – even the spout on the teapot was clingwrapped!
After a brief business meeting I was treated to a true Arabic experience in a vast coffee shop.
Every table had the hubble bubble on the go. Not unlike the atmosphere in a pub, people gather for a chat, to smoke to share with friends. hubble.jpg
Although smoking really is no longer my vice – when in Rome!
The tobacco is fruit flavoured – in this case it was apple – and because it flows through water isn’t hot or acrid in the slightest. (And no, there are no other drugs involved). The ornate pipes are delivered to each table with waiters dropping round and topping up red-hot chunks of tobacco mixture for as long as customers stay.
And it’s not just the odd cafe where this happens – it seems to be standard across the city. I must conceed it is a very social way to interact with people, but eating and sitting around in a smokey atmosphere just feels alien to those of us for whom the UK smoking ban can’t come quickly enough.
restaurant.jpg
A late lunch or early tea (it took that long to order, serve and enjoy) took the form of a feast of traditional dishes in a multi-level restaurant on the Old City.
Sitting at tables on a mezzanine floor above a courtyard with orange trees I was treated to a whole range of dishes thanks to a Syrian journalist’s family and their hospitality. feast.jpg
We had Arabic spiced pot roast chicken, craked wheat dumplings filled with spiced lamb, fatta and hummus, pickles, a pancake stuffed with creamy chicken and mushroom, tabboulleh and – french fries.
This was all washed down with an amazing mint lemonade – just stuffed with crushed mint leaves – and followed by yet more smoking.
lemade.jpg
Walking through the amazingly narrow, cobbled streets of Old City where the upper floors of the building nearly touch overhead, an old Buick seemed to appear from no-where to take us all to the mountains above Damascus to see the spectacular view of the city at night. If you’ve ever attempted to get five adults and four children into a car you will appreciate the squeez. Two adults in the front seats, three in the back and the children ranging from a 14-year-old to a three-year-old down the centre of the car.
Speeding over the bumpy roads through the chaotic traffic was a hair-raising experience – and one that prompted some second looks from other motorists.
As we sipped hot chocolates (and did some more smoking) in one of the many restarants on the high ridge over the city I certainly did marvel at the view. And wonder what more surprises are in store.

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