It's a free day in Damascus before the tour proper starts. We venture out and head towards the National Museum. Technically, there's a pavement taking us there from the hotel. In practice, the line between pavement and road is a little blurry here.

The museum's sculpture garden is filled with objects scavenged from Syria's archeological heritage, with no undue attention paid to classifying them. Inside, a more closely designed exhibition takes us through the many different periods of different civilisations in Syrian history. The summary for lazy people: Syria was the crossroads of world trade for thousands of years and during that time was invaded by anyone who was anyone.

On the next street down from the hotel, there's a handicrafts market. It's in a former hermitage, which is delightfully dilapidated. The cells are now full of hawkers in the finest tradition of Middle-Eastern souqs.

After the market, the next stop is Damascus's Old Town, via a shawarma. The Old Town souqs turn out to be fantastic. They're wide and covered, giving a more open and safe feel to the place than the more frenetic markets in Fez and Marrakech. All the sights and sounds and smells of metalworking, spices, meats are here, but it's OK to just walk and watch without being invited to buy.

It's been an interesting day out in Damascus. It's one of those place I've been wanting to visit for a long time, and it hasn't disappointed. It's a chaotic city, but it's definitely a good-natured chaos. It's dirty, slightly less developed than elsewhere in the region, but more importantly, feels warm, friendly and safe to the visitor.

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