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The Road to Damascus

Lebanon - Syria MapSometimes it seems that wherever I go in the world, I’m always too early or too late to the party. One week ago today I was hanging out in Beirut, Lebanon, walking all over what I found to be a beautiful city, stopping for cappuccino along the waterfront and then having 40-cent falafel for lunch.

Today in the news, Beirut is under siege and the airport is closed. I’m usually disappointed when I find out I’ve missed a party somewhere, but this situation is serious enough that I’m glad to have missed it, and I’m concerned about the people I met there.

Compared to what’s happening now, my time in Beirut was extremely uneventful. My biggest challenge was finding a place to do my laundry. I also got in trouble for taking these photos (click to enlarge), but I wasn’t told to delete them.

Beirut, Lebanon Beirut, Lebanon Beirut, Lebanon

For those who are interested, this guy is writing an hour-by-hour account of what’s going on over there this week.

Syria

A couple of days later, I headed out to Damascus, Syria by minibus. For only $7, the three-hour trip is a bargain. I had heard rumors of an incongruous Dunkin Donuts on the Lebanese / Syrian border, and I can now confirm that the rumors are true. It is perhaps the most oddly located Dunkin Donuts in the world (I’ll keep looking elsewhere in case I’m wrong), but unfortunately our driver wasn’t interested in stopping, so I was unable to sample the local Bavarian cremes.

Along the journey, I met up with two travelers from Toronto, Jessica and Ildar. The three of us ended up hanging out in Damascus for the rest of the day and on into the evening over late-night drinks near our hostel.

Simply put, Syria is amazing. After just a few hours on my first day, I knew it was definitely going on my “Top 10 Countries” list whenever I get around to writing it. I felt completely safe at all times, was never hassled or pressured for anything, and genuinely felt welcomed by many of the people we talked to.

In the evening we visited the Umayyad Mosque, one of the oldest and most historical mosques in the world. We went at sunset and enjoyed learning about the building’s history from a local guide.

Jessica and Ildar Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

I don’t always feel this way about places I visit, but I wished I had stayed longer in Syria. It exceeded expectations that were already high, and I would love to go back sometime.

Tunisia

My last stop on the trip was Tunisia, where I stayed with the family of a Tunisian friend I know from Seattle. It was great to experience Tunisian life up close and personal. Over the course of a weekend, I saw most of the city and surrounding areas including the historical city of Carthage. I also attended the semi-finals and finals of the Tunis Open, a challenger event on the world tennis tour.

On Saturday, my new friends had arranged a Tunisian blogger meet-up at a local café. We talked about the role that Tunisian bloggers are trying to fill in the country and blogging in general.

Tunisian Blogger Meet-Up Tunisian Blogger Meet-Up Tunisian Blogger Meet-Up Tunis, Tunisia Tunis, Tunisia

Tunisia was the last real stop on this trip, but on the way back I traveled through Amman (again) and Rome. In Amman I went out to dinner with another friend from Seattle, and in Rome I had to sleep in the airport for a night before catching a 6:40 a.m. connecting flight.

I don’t really enjoy sleeping in airports, and in fact I try to avoid it whenever possible. But with the tremendous expense of the euro and the fact that I would have to get up at 4:00 a.m. anyway to get to the airport, it didn’t make sense to stay in a hotel. I picked a relatively quiet spot by gate B-9 and made a sleeping area with some blankets I had saved from the last flight.

Sleeping in Rome FCO Airport Sleeping in Rome FCO Airport

I didn’t sleep much, but thankfully I wasn’t kicked out, so the next morning I was able to stumble on to the 6:40 connection to Frankfurt. By the time we got there, I was more awake and didn’t mind the 11-hour flight back to Seattle.

***

This trip involved a lot of flying and overland travel at a faster pace than I usually prefer, but it was also a lot of fun. I’m now back in Seattle for several weeks before the next trip in late June.

While I’m here I’ll be finishing up the final draft of the upcoming manifesto, “A Brief Guide to World Domination.” The manifesto will be free, 100% non-commercial, and available for everyone in mid-June.

We were mentioned in a New York Times blog last week, and the interest for the site is really picking up. More than 4,000 people have been coming by every day this week, and I’ve appreciated hearing from many of the new readers.

Thanks for following the journey!

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5 Comments

  • Sara says:

    I am now adding Syria to my list of countries I want to visit.

    I have to say, I think I look forward to your travel essay updates more than the other ones. 😀

  • Travjack says:

    Hi Chris, I’ve just returned from an 8 day trip into Lebanon. March 23-31, 2009. I flew into Beirut and used it as my staging area. Took the local busses anywhere that i wanted to go with costs of about $2-$5 per trip. North to Tripoil, south to Tyre… no problem. Across the mountains to the Bekaa Valley and into Baalbek for a look at the great ruins of ancient Heliopolis. Always felt safe.

    Was going to bus it over to Damascus but all web sites say that it’s difficult for a USA passport holder to get a visa at the border? You had no problems?

  • Alex says:

    I am curious to know what are the 9 countries in your Top 10. I did not seriously consider going to Syria … until now!

  • Isn’t it interesting how the most narrowly visited countries have some of the friendliest people? Not really if you think about it, which is ironic in that it shows how mass travel actually reduces the awe many people on the receiving end feel.

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