Right. So, we wanted to be good and travel from Aleppo to Damascus by train, using the rare opportunity to use public transports for once in the Middle East. We thus went to the Aleppo train station, all proud and happy with ourselves, only to be told that the train was leaving at 5:45. That’s in the morning. That’s NOT a good hour. Not if you don’t want to be murdered by me anyway.
So we took a car (yes, yes, the pride subsided, but wait, if we hadn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this post, and admit it, you’d be bored right now.)
Driving towards the capital, we made a little detour and took the opportunity to visit the christian villages of Maaloula and Sadnaya, where Aramaic is still spoken. The scenery was simply breathtaking. Imagine acres of ocre land, spotless blue skies, age old rocks where cave dwellers used to live. You’d honestly think you’ve gone to another age. Crosses lining the horizons, with the odd minaret keeping them company, Maaloula and Sadnaya are places of pilgrimage for people from throughout the world. I mean it. People do literally come from throughout the world: Shi’a Muslim women from Iran wearing the full chador patiently climbing up the stairs leading to the Sadnaya convent, Lebanese who just crossed the border to pray, Chinese, Italian, French, Spanish and Russian tourists kneeling and praying. The atmosphere, far from being severe, is of joyous piety. At the Mar Takla Convent in Maaloula, the holy tomb of Saint Takla gathers both Christians and Muslims coming to address their concerns to the saint and to drink the blessed water from the grotto spring. White tissues and wool bracelets freely float around the bell towers of the Sadnaya convent, whispering to God decades of prayers and asking for solace.
The energy coming from Sadnaya and Maaloula is sweetly compelling, and praying in such an atmosphere is easy.
So we did, just before taking with us blessed oil and incense (bakhour) and hitting the road again towards Damascus, paving the way for new adventures.
But this, my friends, is a whole other story.