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Syria

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Must Do

Visit the Umayyad Mosque

Mimi Hanaoka

11 May 2009

Syria

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Mimi Hanaoka

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Wander around the Old City market of Damascus and visit the Umayyad Mosque. Visitors and non-Muslims wearing appropriate dress are welcome to enter the mosque for a nominal fee. You’ll be lent a hooded cloak to cover yourself if you’re not adequately dressed. The mosque – built between AD 705 and 715 – is one of the finest structures in the Islamic world and is the oldest surviving stone mosque. The mosque is built on an earlier Hellenic temple and as well as a later church of St. John the Baptist, and a shrine within the mosque allegedly houses the severed head of St. John.

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Packing

Shroud yourself

Mimi Hanaoka

11 May 2009

Syria

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Mimi Hanaoka

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If you’re a woman, pack a scarf when you head to Syria. The country houses magnificent Muslim and Christian sacred sites, and you’ll be required to cover your head whether you’re visiting a Christian convent or a Muslim mosque. Scarves will keep you warm, too – unless you’re visiting Syria in the summer. The arid climate and lack of any central heating in residences and cheaper hotels can mean you’ll be freezing at night from fall until April.

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Politics

Avoid talking about domestic politics while in Syria

Mimi Hanaoka

11 May 2009

Syria

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Mimi Hanaoka

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Really. President Bashar al-Asad likes to listen closely – very closely – to his citizens, and there’s a saying in Syria: “Even the walls have ears.” President al-Asad does not suffer domestic opposition, and you won’t be welcomed by the locals if you try to engage them in politically sensitive conversations.

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Music

Check out Quran recitations

Mimi Hanaoka

11 May 2009

Syria

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Mimi Hanaoka

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You’ll hear raucous Lebanese pop and crooners from Persian Gulf blasting out of Damascene taxis and music stores in the Old City market, but if those aren’t to your taste, consider listening instead to a recitation: the Quran. There are Quran recitation CDs on sale in any market, and some reciters are renowned for the beauty with which they recite and intone the Muslim sacred text. Quranic Arabic is considered the most pure Arabic, so if nerve-jangling Arabic pop isn’t your thing, you might find the recitation of the sacred text a welcome alternative.

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Health

Don’t drink the water

Mimi Hanaoka

11 May 2009

Syria

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Mimi Hanaoka

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Don’t drink the water in Damascus, but if you do and get sick, know that there are plenty of well-stocked pharmacies around the city. Many pharmacists also speak English, so you won’t have to run to the pharmacy clutching your phrasebook if you’re already clutching your stomach.

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