The day of the big crossing, undertaken with some trepidation. Why the trepidation? I don’t have a Syrian visa. I read pretty conflicting reports about the Syrian visa before I decided to go to Syria without a visa. The Singapore MFA website writes that I needed a visa to enter Syria, which costs over $120, and takes a lot of trouble to get, but many reports online write that it is possible to get in through the border crossing with some other special visa that cost a fraction of an official visa. I decided to take the risk.
Anyway, I left Jordan Tower around 9 am. Initially, I wanted to take a JETT bus, but after talking a little to the people at the guesthouse, they decided that I should just try and do a share taxi. The shared taxi companies are located pretty near the JETT bus station, and taxi drivers will usually know where to take you for these shared taxis. These shared taxis usually leave for the border when they fill up with four people, and costs around 11 JD per person. Depending on your luck, it could take a while to fill up, or it could be quick. Thankfully for me, I think the taxi company said that they’ll leave in half an hour, even if they didn’t have the four people. We left in fifteen minutes, because that was how long it took to fill the taxi.
When we got to the border crossing on the Jordan side of things, apparently they collect an 8 JD exit fee from everyone. So, do keep some JD for this. If you don’t have any, they also do have money changers at the border crossing, who will sell you JD to pay your fee. Exit was easy, though two ladies of the car did take a while before coming back (think they got lost). Thankfully for them, the taxi driver was nice, and waited for them.
We crossed over to the Syrian side of the border. The first guy I went to, he saw that I had no visa, and just told me that I had to go back to Jordan. My heart did sink. I think my poor puppy dog face did have an effect on him. He asked another guy to look at my case, and the second guy, seeing my sorry face, decided to give me a transit visa that allows me to stay in Syria for 3 days, and costs me $25 instead. It did take a while, but once again, the very kind taxi driver, and the other three ladies in the car were really nice about how long it took. The driver drove us to a point maybe about 5-10 km from Damascus. I took a taxi that brought me to the old town of Damascus. I proceeded to try and find the place I was staying at – Damascus Hostel – which was quite an adventure, as it was not that easy to find, despite instructions. In the end, one of the neighbours of Damascus Hostel pointed out the place to me.
Damascus Hostel is a highly-rated hostel in Old Damascus. It is fair to say that it is one of the cheapest options in Old Damascus, but it isn’t exactly cheap in absolutely terms. I paid $60 for a single, private room, which was really tiny room that had a bathroom the size of a broom closet, and kinda floods the room every time I showered. The common areas were also kinda so-so, although the breakfast was pretty good. They also had a cool ladder stair that serves as a shortcut from Old Damascus to new Damascus, if you don’t want to enter or exit through the designated exits. The best thing about Damascus Hostel was its tours, as they have really good, and knowledgeable drivers, though the tours are also kinda pricey. They also have a thing near the kitchen door, which has slips of Arabic and their English meanings that will help you get around Syria. The main reason why I am writing this is because it has insanely high ratings on various travel websites, whereby many reviewers seem to think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. This was disproportionate to my expectations. All I am saying is, it’s decent, but don’t go there expecting it to be a five-star hostel.
As I arrived at three-ish, I still had half a day ahead of me. I walked about half of Old Damascus. Old Damascus is a UNESCO world heritage site, and its claim to fame is for being the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world (I think around 10 000 years). It tries to preserve the buildings as much as possible. Consequently, there are many buildings that are kinda lopsided, but it is allowed to stay that way, making all the narrow alleys pretty fun to explore. Presently, half the city is Christian, and half the city is Muslim, reflecting its long history. I walked from Bab Touma, the Christian quarter, to Umayyad Mosque, going through the souq. The Umayyad Mosque also reflects the history of the city. It used to be a Christian basilica, but a Muslim mosque was built on top of it. It reportedly holds the head of John the Baptist. I didn’t go in this time, but the Umayyad Mosque is really impressive – it’s SO big that there was no way I could photograph the whole place. The souqs were a little more fun than the ones in Istanbul, as the ones in Istabul were a little more touristy.
After my little late afternoon walk, I decided to head back to the Christian quarters for dinner at this place called Haretna. It is a middle-class place, and it was pretty popular. Although I showed up at five-ish, it was already full. Amazing. I had a Haretna chicken, which tasted decent. I then returned to the hostel to rest, as I signed up for a cool tour to the Crusader Castle in Krak the next morning.