On Thursday, my friend from Egypt Chris and I decided to take a short trip to Damascus. We arrived around 4 pm and explored the covered souq for a bit (which, I've come to realize, is actually not quite as big as the one in Aleppo) and then sought out an internet cafe. After some help from two gorgeous Syrian girls, whom in hindsight we probably should have spent a bit more time chatting up, we found one with the less than friendly service and inflated prices consistent with tourist oriented venues. Following this, we ate dinner and then met up with Chris' friend, Matt, who was staying at the Sheraton on business. He was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He had studied extensively in the Middle East, written his thesis in Iraq, and now held a job which required almost monthly visits to Damascus.
While settling in his room and getting ready to go back out, he kept on talking about an "adventure" he was taking us on. We left the hotel and managed to barely keep up with him as he flew through the souq looking for something seemingly important. Finally he found what it was he wanted: olive oil soap, and after buying three pieces he lead us to the oldest hammam in Damascus. This place was amazing. We went in, put our valuables in a locker, and then took off our clothes and wrapped towels around our waists. We then sat in the hottest sauna of my life until it became unbearable. After that we went into an incredibly steamy room with faucets and sinks and washed with the soap we had just bought. We were then lead into an adjacent room where a guy laid us down on the floor and rubbed our skin with what I am still convinced was steel wool. The point, as far as I could tell, was to take off a layer of skin to expose a fresh one. Following that rub down, we went to the massage chamber where the most jacked Syrian I have yet seen gave us all a four minute massage. We did a final wash in the first steamy room and then rinsed down with frigid water to end the escapade. After returning to the main room, one of the employees switched our towels quite discreetly, and then sat us down with some tea to bask in the glory that is a Damascene hammam.
Chris and I returned to Aleppo the next day on a "high speed" train, following a brief swim in the Sheraton pool. On an unrelated note, I will finally be moving into an amazing apartment either later today or tomorrow, and will post pictures of the best view of the old city that I have ever seen, which just happens to be from our roof/terrace.