No idea why, but we woke quite early this morning. Breakfast was the fairly standard middle eastern affair of flat bread, olives, hummus, preserves and eggs with plenty of tea or coffee to wash it down with. By the time we had eaten our fill we were ready to face the day.
Stepping out into a fairly sunny and warm day, we headed to the visa office via the northern walls of the old city. The route was fascinating passing through narrow, ancient and often dilapidated streets.
Eventually leaving the old city behind via one of its ancient gates, we headed into the throngs of people and traffic that seemed to fill every space outside the walls. We were nearly at the office when the heavens opened, so much for the good weather. Fortunately it was only a shower, but the skies did look a little grey.
Finding the right room in the visa and immigration offices was a little challenging. There were people everywhere thrusting pieces of paper at the officers and our somewhat bewildered looks prompted somebody to point us towards an office. Going into the office didn't make things any clearer, there were just as many people in there. Eventually approaching one of the officers, we were informed once again that we definitely have 30 days, and we couldn't extend our visas until that period was over. This was what we wanted to hear, assuming the border guards have been told the same thing, we won't incur any problems.
Leaving the office the rain started again, this time heavier than before. We were invited into a bookshop to take shelter from the rain and given directions to a nearby mosque that we wanted to visit. The rain didn't last long and the grey skies gave way to a bit more blue.
Leaving the bookshop we headed to the Takiyya as-Suleimaniyya Mosque. The mosque was designed by the same person who created the Suleimaniye Mosque in Istanbul, which is my personal favourite of the Istanbul mosques. Like its counterpart in Turkey the mosque was undergoing some extensive renovations, so we were unable to go in. We could however walk round the craft market that now inhabits the courtyard walls and old Madrassa (Islamic school). The complex is certainly not on the scale of the one in Turkey but it had some beautiful pieces of inlay work in the walls and the mosque itself was very attractive.
Returning to the old city, we walked along the start of Straight street and into Souq Medhat Pasha. Unlike the narrow streets of Aleppo's souks, this was a wide high ceilinged thoroughfare, with more expensive looking stores inset into the walls. Just off the souk we stopped to have a look at an attractive Khan (traders rest stop) and then turned off into a street selling spices and sweets. Midway along the street we came to Khan As-ad Pasha, a strikingly impressive structure built in 1752 with striped black and white walls and beautifully decorated domed ceilings.
Moving on from Khan As-ad Pasha we reached the Azem Palace. Built between 1749 and 1752 it was the private residence of the governor of Damascus, As'ad Pasha al-Azem. Now it is a truly beautiful building, housing a museum that contains a collection of the most hilariously bad mannequins we have ever seen. Strictly speaking it seems that photography within the palace rooms is not allowed, although some rooms have signs and others don't. Consequently we don't have many pictures and those we do have were taken surreptitiously. For us it was a shame that they didn't leave the building alone, looking round the beautifully decorated rooms would have been enough, without the distraction of historical re-enactments.
By now we were quite tired of walking round so we returned to the hostel, where we learned a couple of variations on the game of backgammon. Dinner was taken at one of the hostels recommended restaurants, which turned out to be no better than average. 'Old Street' restaurant was alright we suppose, but we have had a lot better, not to mention cheaper, elsewhere on our travels. We grabbed a few Lebanese beers on the way back to the hostel and settled in for the night. More sightseeing tomorrow.