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Europe Backpacking Trip

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S: H O T E L

FC: Hotel's Trip To | Damascus, Syria | Jack Wills Nick Gonzales Nicole Sanchez Sarah Allen Taryn Kronkyte

1: Table of Contents Preparation Society Logistics Documentation Culture

2: Preparation

3: Health and safety recommendations Here is a list of important phone numbers we saved for our trip: Ambulance: 110 Police: 112 Shami Hospital: 373-5090 or 373-4925 U.S. Embassy Damascus: 3391-4444 Emergency: 3391-3333 RSO: 3391-3465 Syria has a low crime rate, mainly because of brutal punishments enforced by police. There have been reports of petty theft and credit card fraud, however, against Americans, who are considered to be wealthy. There have been multiple reports of locals using distractions to draw away attention from bags, which are then stolen. To avoid this, we refrain from showing large amounts of cash or jewelry. I asked a man in the airport about the problems between Syria and Israel, when he told me that discussing politics in Syria can lead to arrest, so we refrained from any political conversations. There have also been multiple reports of physical and sexual assaults on western women in popular tourist locations. To avoid this, no one walked around on their own, we always traveled in pairs. .

4: I spent most of the flight reading a book I picked up before leaving about the geography of Syria. The geography is mostly arid desert plateau with some coastal plain and mountains to the west. During the summer time Syria's weather is semi arid, but in the winter the weather is moist, and snow is common in Damascus.

6: Society

7: I have to say that I was not very excited about traveling to Damascus as I thought that it would be very boring and the people would be rude and non American like. However, I became a lot more interested on the plane flight over since there was a lot of pamphlet with information in the seats. I was interested to read that Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, carbon dating by scientists shows that Damascus was probably occupied as early as 6300 BC. Even in ancient times it was an important city in terms of science, culture, politics, art and business. What really made me interested was that Damascus was at one time part of the Roman empire, since I am interested in Roman History. It was hard to read all the history because Damascus has been conquered and occupied by so many countries, civilizations, and religious groups most of which I have never even heard of.

8: A few really interesting facts I read in the pamphlet was that Damascus was one time ruled by Alexander the Great, I saw the movie Alexander but did not know that Damascus was one of the cities conquered by Alexander the Great. Damascus was also the site of some important battles of the Crusades, I liked learning about the Crusades in the movie Kingdom of Heaven (one of my favorite movies). The Black Death of 1348-1349 killed half of the people in the City, which is sad but it pretty interesting that one disease could kill that many people. Before our plane landed in the airport the pilot alerted us were flying over Damascus and said that it lies about 50 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. From the plane, you could see Damascus plus the ocean at the same time, which I thought was pretty sick. Its bordered by a mountain range called the “Anti-Lebanon Mountains” which is 2,230 above sea level. One of the men on the plane lived in Damascus and saw me reading the pamphlet about Damascus history, spoke really good English and suggested that the most important and interesting part of Damascus is The Old City of Damascus, usually just described as the “Old City.” He said that in ancient times the Romans and other rulers built a wall around this area that still exists. There are seven gates in this wall and a lot of interesting things to see, so my group and I decided that after we checked into our hotel we would get a tour to the Old City.

9: From our hotel, we took a mini-bus with other tourists to the Old City which lies on the south bank of the river Barada. Its surrounded by a suburban area that looks pretty modern when we drove past it. Although they were new most the streets are very narrow. Once inside, we sat in a small park outside a place called Umayyad Mosque which is apparently very famous (even if I never heard of it). Before we actually got the tour, we had to listen to a talk about all of Damascus to give us background information where I learned that the population of Damascus is 1,669,000 and that the entire Country of Syria has a population of 21,906,000 which is the 52nd largest country in the world. Damascus is the main education center of Syria and has the largest university in Syria, Damascus University. Damascus has a semi-arid climate, Summers are dry and hot with less humidity and Winters are mild with regular rain and the occasional snow. The economy of Damascus is pretty good. They manufacture many goods and sell them to all of Syria and to countries in the Arabian peninsula. More hotels are being built because more and more tourists, mostly from Europe, come to Damascus. Our tour guide said that the Old City was the most popular tourist area in Damascus, so I guess that man picked a good place to come and see. Our tourist guide said that about 75% of the people who live in Damascus are Sunni Muslims and about 15% are Christian. The guide said that there are more mosques in Damascus than any similar sized city in the world containing over 2,000 of them. The most famous of them was right where we were sitting, the Umayyad Mosque.

10: The tour guide said the food in Damascus is very good but I did not like it. I don't like hummus which they serve with almost every meal, then they pour huge amounts of oil or garlic on it to make it worse. Ba’lawa is a pretty good food which is a pastry filled with chopped nuts and soaked in honey, Arabic flatbread is pretty good too. Syrians are also well-known for their cheese which was pretty good. I didn't like any of their other foods though. The actually restaurants however were interesting because almost all of them have live music or singers at night, The music is not American but it is fun to get entertained while you eat something I wish they did more of in America We finally got over the orientation talk and got to actually go into the Umayyad Mosque. It is one of the largest mosques in the world and also one of the oldest sites of continuous prayer since the rise of Islam. A shrine in the mosque is said to contain the body of St. John the Baptist and a famous warrior named Saladin (who was a character in the Kingdom of Heaven movie) who is also buried there, Saladin was a good Muslim leader during the crusades. he sad part of the tour was at the end when the guide told us that the population of the Old City is declining because citizens like the more modern houses outside this area. More and more ancient buildings are being abandoned, and because there are so many ancient buildings in Damascus and Syria in general, a lot of government officials and regular citizens don't appreciate the value and beauty of old buildings as much as they should. In March of 2007, the Syrian government announced that they would be demolishing many Old City buildings. This resulted in the Old City being put on the World Monuments Fund list of the 100 most endangered sites in the world, which will help protect these beautiful buildings. I'm amazed to see anything over 200 years old but in the Old City of Damascus, they probably didn't have anything even built that recently.

11: We took a bus tour of Damascus outside the Old City, the Syrians are very proud of the modern amenities it has. Our guide pointed out to us that Syrians are usually pretty well dressed. It was hot out and he pointed out that shorts and t-shirts are not culturally acceptable outside of beach areas so I guess Damascus is a lot different than California! I was surprised to learn that residents of Damascus like the United States and were very polite and friendly to us wherever we went. Thousands of Iraqi refugees come into Syria each month and most of them Damascus. Iraqis are allowed to get Syrian government health care and their children are permitted to attend public schools, but they can't get work permits. They are trying to do the right thing but don't want to take jobs away from Syrian citizens. I thought this was interesting and I think Syria must be a nice country to allow all those refugees in. It reminded me that so many Californians don't like illegal immigration into the United States, but Damascus (Syria) has a similar issue. It would be interesting to learn how many countries in the world have “immigration issues.” Maybe our issue of Mexicans coming into our country is not that unusual. Our trip to Damascus was not long enough and I would have like to have seen more of the wonderful Country so I would like to go back someday.

12: Logistics

13: Flight Plan We left to Damascus, Syria on April 14. Our flight was at 11:30 AM and we all arrived at 9:30, except for Nicole, who was at her brother's ninth birthday party, though she too made it in time. Our flight was very long, but comfortable. We were all tired, so we slept move of the time. The flight was 25 hours and 25 minutes. We arrived in Damascus on Monday afternoon. | Ground Transportation | We took a taxi while we were visiting Damascus because it was reasonably priced and our hotel was too close to the city to take a bus. Aside from the taxi, we spend a lot of the time taking advantage of our stay, so we traveled on foot.

14: Hotel During out trip, we stayed at the Beit Ramza Botique Hotel We checked in Monday Evening and got situated in our rooms We reserved two rooms, one for the boys and one for the girls. .It was amazing to see how different the hotels here were from the U.S. It was a beautiful hotel and all of the decorations were intricate and colorful. Our rooms were large and appeared house-like, which made us feel comfortable. The rooms were $148 per night, and we stayed 3 nights and 4 days..

15: Food | The food we ate at Syria was unique to the food we were used to in the U.S. A lot of the dishes were different from what we were accustomed to, but we appreciated the different tastes and flavors that came from these foods.

16: Itinerary | At 12:45 PM, we arrived at the airport, took a taxi to our hotel and checked in for the night. We were exhausted from the plane ride and the differences in time made us feel disoriented. After unpacking our things and settling in, we fell asleep for the remainder of the night. We woke up early, excited to see the things that this foreign country had to offer us. We woke up, ate a breakfast early and found a taxi nearby. Jack seemed most excited to visit the Old City first, the most ancient parts of Damascus. We decided against calling a taxi, because we wanted to take advantage of visiting such beautiful city. Almost everything was close enough to travel to by foot. So, we did. When we arrived, we spend hours marveling at the history and beauty of everything around us. For lunch, we walked to a nearby food place. The meals were inexpensive but we took our time eating and sitting down. The rest of the day we spent cruising around town and buying souvenirs, which weren't too expensive, but took a lot of our money as we wanted to be nearly everything we saw. We ate a dinner, then became tired and called a taxi over to take us back to our hotel. The third day was our most activity-packed. We decided that today would be our day to see the city and the sits of it. We took a taxi that day, in order to travel more quickly and efficiently. A travel guide came along with us and brought along to tons of different places to visit and observe.. A lot of the time we bought food to eat while we traveled, and it was unique to discover all of the history behind Damascus, because in the United States, we don't see very many ancient or historic architecture. In Syria, Damascus especially, history was practically a walk out the door. We exhausted ourselves , and by the time it was starting to get late, we packed up our things and drove back to the hotel. We thanked the taxi payer, went into our rooms and slept. The next morning, we packed all of our items, and got ready for the flight back home.

17: Unforeseen Event

18: Logistics | Documentation

19: Starting budget- $14500 Hotel $148 per night x 3 nights= $444 dollars Visas $175.95 per person x 5 people=879.75 dollars Flight- Emirates air $750 per person x 5 people=$3700 dollars Meals Approx $20 per meal x 3 meals a day x 5 people x 3 days=$900 Taxi fare- approx $300 Souveneirs-$1,400


21: RELIGION It was obvious to us that the majority of the Syrian population was Muslim. We had already known that before we traveled to Syria, and it didn't come as much of a surprise to us. We picked up an informational pamphlet in the lobby of out hotel that described Syria's religion. The types of Muslims include Ismailis, Shiites, and Alawites. Of the non-Muslims in Syria (Which is an astonishing few), most are Christians, mostly Greek and Armenian Orthodox. The religious minorities are Druze (who follow a religion related to Islam), and a community of approximately 1,000 Jews. 70% are Muslim, 12% areChristians and 18% are other minor groups including Jews and Druzes | Sightseeing Though there are many sights to behold in Syria, the most grand and magnificent of all, we decided, was the Umayyad Mosque. At first, we weren't quite sure what purpose the building had served in the past or why it was deemed to important, but many English speaking translators were on the site to help us to understand what it was. Also referred to as the Great Mosque of Damascus, this was the first monumental work of architecture in Islamic history. It was built in 8th century. It had a deep religious past to it that seemed to be very important to the people of Syria. There were many other stunning sites to visit. Nearby were the remnants of the Roman Temple of Jupiter, the Ottoman Azem Palace, the Chapel of Ananias, the Tekkiye as-Sulaymaniyye Mosque, A newly built museum, and the local Mount Qassioun which provided us cooler air and a beautiful view over the magnificent city of Syria.s

22: Syrian Culture | LANGUAGE In Syria, Arabic is the official language, spoken by 89% of the population. We expected this before we arrived and asked a clerk at the front desk of our hotel to reassure ourselves. He gave us an overwhelming amount of information, explaining that 6% speak Kurdish, 3% speak Armenian and 2% speak other languages. English is spoken mainly by tourists or citizens not native to Syria. Some French is spoken along with that, though mainly for business or trade. To better cope with this, we decided to purchase an English to Arabic translating book that was available near a shop at the hotel. | CUSTOMS Some Syrian customs have revolved around their arts and crafts, and it wasn't difficult to come to that conclusion. We saw Syrian art everywhere! Traditional crafts are still made the way they were jewelery of years ago. It seemed that many women enjoyed to create these masterpieces. The skills of ceramics, embroider, pottery, basketry, and jewelery are all passed down from one generation to the next. These traditions seem to exemplify Syrian values. The family is the heart of Syrian social life. Lengthy Visits and exchanges of invitations for meals among family members are a necessity to daily life. It is common for those of the same religion to mix and marry, but arranged marriages that are chosen by parents are not as popular as they used to be. Neighborly relations and kinships among members of different religions are not uncommon in Syrian cities.

23: A shop we visited. It had many different trinkets for us to buy! | Souvenirs In relation to the customs Syria, pottery, embroidery, ceramics, jewelery, and basketry were all available to be bought. It wasn't difficult to purchase one of those works of art, they were everywhere we went.

24: Hotel thanks you in joining them in their travel to: Damascus, Syria

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