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48 hours in Damascus

india Updated: Feb 03, 2011 01:21 IST

The ancient capital of Syria — Damascus, in the words of Syrian film director Nabil al-Maleh, is one of the last cities on the planet where most problems are solved with a smile. Assuming you are on a short trip, here’s how to make the most of the city in 48 hours.

6pm: Ignore new districts and head to the old city. The decaying grandeur is guaranteed to grow on you. The 17th century Beit al-Mamlouka near Bab Tuma was among the first to be converted into a hotel and has a cosy bar.
9pm: Hungry? Laila’s, opposite the 8th century Umayyad Mosque, has a magnificent view of one of Islam’s holiest sites. Entrees, such as eggplant fatte, are typically Damascene.
11pm: Check out the nightlife. Marmar in Bab Tuma blasts Arab and Western tunes and owner Munther Kubba likes to mix with the crowd.

Grab a hummus and meat breakfast at Sham Palace hotel.
10am: There is no better place to start than the National Museum. Syria was the crossroads of the ancient world, and the museum’s collection spans the Bronze Age sites of Ugarit and Mari, the Roman Empire and the trading oasis of Palmyra.
12pm: Cross the street to Takiya Suliemaniyah, designed by the famed Ottoman architect Sinan. Bask in the peace of the mosque’s simple facade.
1.00pm: Isthtar at the intersection of Qishleh and Straight Street has sidewalk tables and serves very cold beer. Turkish coffee is made with the right dose of sugar, at Havana Cafe near Youssef al-Azmeh square. Here, Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad plotted his 1970 coup.
3pm: We’re back in the old city and the Umayyad Mosque is a must. Its dome, rebuilt after a 19th century fire, looks like a German military helmet.
7pm: Try handmade ice cream with Arabic gum and pistachio from the 1898 landmark shop of Bikdash in Hamidiyeh souk.
9pm: A bath is in order. Hammam Nureddine Zinki in Asrounieh is the oldest bath open to the public.
10pm: For dinner, try Narenj opposite Meiramiyeh church.

9am: Grab a zatar mankoshe, an olive oil and thyme mix pie, from any bakery and head out.
10am: No tour is complete without seeing the local houses up close. Among the most impressive is the home of Syrian statesman Khaled al-Azem, who died in exile in Lebanon in 1960s.
1 pm: Lunch at Beit Jabri, for an unassuming atmosphere, or at Elissar in Bab Tuma.
3 pm: Shopping time. Yasser near Nofara specialises in kilims from the Kurdish area of Ifrin in northern Syria. For antiques, try Abu Jassem who operates out of an apartment in Rukn al-Din district.
7 pm: Catch up on Syrian art.