Friday, 18 March 2011

Hammaming with the locals

My last train journey on this section of the trip was from Aleppo to Damascus.  The most interesting part of the journey was actually buying the ticket the day before.   Passport registered, I joined what I thought looked like a good queue.  I need to leave behind my British sense of queuing… in reality the only way for me to ever get to the front was to position myself behind a Syrian lady who then made it her business to get me to the front and my arm and passport through the ticket window.

Damascus is very different to Aleppo – the streets are wider and there is more noticeable greenery.  Life is still bustling but the streets are of a capital city and it just feels a lot bigger (ha ha, Aleppo has 4 million people!).  After orientating myself between my hotel and the Old City, it seemed like a good idea to have a post-train journey hammam.  I decided that I no longer needed the crutch of the tourist hammam and would go for the alternative in my book and go native.

Women can visit this particular hamman Mon-Wed from 10am until 5pm.  “Women” was the only sign on the door when I arrived.  The canny business women of Hammam Al Ward took care of me.  With their lack of English and my lack of Arabic (although I can now read the written numbers thanks to John), we communicated mainly through hand gestures and they took whatever money they felt necessary – 200 SYP plus whatever was needed for the accoutrements.  I was whisked away and the lady sang to me while she scrubbed and pummelled – I think that’s to help you relax and think of England.  It was made clear that a little ‘baksheesh’ would be required afterwards!  She and I disagreed on how long I should spend in the sauna (she laughed and pushed me back in) but eventually she let me escape back to the main area where I had tea and one of the other girls dried my hair (another 100 SYP!).  As I had read in my book that morning that leaving the building with wet hair is a sign of a loose woman, this seemed like a good deal.

And so after two days in Damascus, it will be onward to Amman tomorrow, hopefully by a comfortable service taxi.

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