Our day in Damascus was slow, easy and relaxing. We wandered again around the old city, visiting the palace of As`ad Pasha al-Azem, the 18th century governor of Damascus. It was bigger and more elabrate architecturally than its smaller cousin that I wrote about in Hama, but the latter had been more carefully restored and, on a purely aesthetic level, found it more impressive. This Azem Palace in Damascus was more like a museum, with the focus being on the objects filling the rooms, and less on the rooms themselves. The cheezy dioramas were still there, and there were a great many artifacts that had been left in the old house or recovered from elsewhere. There were copious signs detailing the historical context of this period of the Ottoman Empire, although there was only passing mention of the diversion of resources (including the cutting off of Damascus’s public water supply) that was necessary to build this magnificent palace. What mention there was of such matters was left unexamined, while other signs made note of all the luxurious appointments built into the palace, such a retreat and respite being a virtual necessity for a man holding such grave daily responsibility as the Pasha. What a bunch of hogwash.
Perhaps the reader is thinking, “and what about you, o intrepid traveler? What has been so taxing about three weeks of vacation (and two more to go), wandering about the countryside of Syria, treated as a guest of honor wherever you go, that you should be in need of such ‘rest and relaxation’ in Damascus?” Touché, dear reader, touché. And it is not without a twinge of guilt that I announce that I’ll be giving up on the part of this trip that has been genuinely challenging: the cycling. Between my bum knee and Elaina’s “delicate constitution”, as she puts it (with a touch of irony, I presume), cycling through the much less hospitable (in terms of the terrain and the elements) territory of Jordan seems like stubborn folly. Instead, we’ll be doing the unthinkable: renting a car. It’s a little more than we’d like to spend, but will allow us to visit the sort of out-of-the-way places we might have hoped to have seen by bike, and is certainly cheaper than a knee operation.
With that in mind, the only obligation we spent the day attending to was figuring out how to get ourselves to Amman via bus (it was not possible to rent a one-way car to al-Aqaba from Damascus). The rest of the day was spent wandering, resting, relaxing and generally vacationing, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Try not to let your jealousy get to you.