The train station at Aleppo smells of roses. There are no roses inside but the air is perfumed somehow. It’s very lovely with a wooden ceiling and huge clusters of lamps. I’m gently guided onto the fast train to Damascus.
We pass through beautiful desert – not crowded or pretty but a spare beauty. It’s so flat, opening out to the horizon with many changing colours, like a calm sea.
And finally Damascus; it’s now after dark, but my excellent information from one who knows helps me find a cheap room and miraculously avoid being ripped off by a Damascene taxi driver.
I’m surprised by what’s in front of me, by the traffic and the fly-overs and the half-finished buildings. It’s not the romantic destination I had in mind but rather a Middle Eastern twenty-first (twentieth?) century city. I think I was expecting the thirteenth century.
Mohamed (blessed be his name) said he would not visit Damascus because he wanted to visit Paradise only once, after death. If you arrive in Paradise then the journey is over. I’m reminded that I travelled here for the joy of the journey at least as much as the destination.