Thu, 12 Jun 2008 11:39:22 +0000
Dubai Day 2 Index Damascus
Today was my journey from Dubai to Damascus. The day started early, I woke up around ten to five in the morning to check out and get my taxi, booked to arrive at half past. I shared the taxi with another guy going to the airport, who was rather less quick off the mark than I was. Still, I got to the airport in plenty of time to get rid of my remaining dirhams. I had over 100 left, which is quite a lot of coffee, croissants and so on. Eventually I had to stop stuffing my face and buy some nougat to get rid of the 20 dirhams left.
There wasn't much of a view out the window from Dubai to Bahrain. The whole coast seems to be covered in a foggy haze. I assume it can't all be smog, although certainly the colour over Dubai suggests that's what it is.
Bahrain airport doesn't reach the heights of shopping madness of Dubai, but it was still a comfortable place to hang out for a bit. Unfortunately I ended up hanging around longer than scheduled. First the departure boards showed a delay of three hours, then they showed no departure time at all. The gate changed twice. I was all but convinced that the whole flight would be cancelled. However, eventually we did board. And a right scuffle it was too. The other passengers didn't seem to have any concept of queuing. One guy trying to push in got into quite an argument with the guy checking the boarding passes.
I didn't much enjoy the company of the guy I was seated next to either. First he was in my window seat and I had to get him to move. During the flight he couldn't sit still, and pushed his elbow way into my personal space. He also pushed his knees into the seat in front, which didn't affect me, but people who do that in the seat behind me are one of my biggest pet hates.
The descent into Damascus was pretty spectacular. The place really is just desert, it's incredible that a city can exist here. Also making the landing fun was some turbulence, which had the cabin buzzing. As we were coming into the runway the wobbling of the plane had the lady behind me gasping "bismillah!" a few times. It wasn't all that bad though, and the eventual landing was as smooth as you could wish for. The cabin applauded, which I generally find a bit naff (it's the pilot's job to land you safely: no-one applauds me when I write a function that doesn't have any bugs in), but maybe this time it was justified.
Damascus airport is pretty ratty. But they accepted my visa without any problems, so I was happy. Watching all the uniforms hanging around, and the portraits of Bashar Assad everywhere, it occurred to me that this is my first time in a military dictatorship. Good times. One of the two ATMs was working, so that was my other worry cleared up (I'd stocked up on US dollars in Bahrain in case ATMs were a problem). So that was going pretty well.
Getting a taxi was more problematic. Wikitravel had told me to pay 500 pounds, which is about ten US dollars. But I couldn't get any taxi to stop for me - it looked like they only dropped off, not picked up. There was an "airport taxi" stand, which I'd avoided since it seemed to charge 1200 pounds. But I decided that maybe they'd somehow wrangled some kind of official monopoly at the airport, so I just swallowed the outrageous charge. It was already gone six and I wasn't all that confident that my hotel booking had been successful, so I didn't want to faff about.
The taxi ride was moderately hair-raising: at one point the driver even knocked bumpers with a taxi in front at the lights, apparently without causing any damage. He got me to the right place though, and it turned out that my reservation had worked OK.
The hotel is definitely budget, despite costing 20 US dollars a night. But it seems OK. It has a squat toilet, so I'm finally going to have to get used to those. The hotel is in the Souq-al-Saroujah, which turns out to be largely dedicated to shops selling computer stuff. It still has a great atmosphere though, especially down the alleys. Tomorrow I'll see if the sights of Damascus are within walking distance.
Dubai Day 2 Index Damascus