City breaks 2010: Damascus

Later, outside the Umayyad Mosque, a flock of doves, disturbed, flapped up, up, past minaret and balcony, towards a pair of planes droning across the blue. You walked down Straight Street, the only one mentioned in the Bible – Acts 9:11, no less – and still Starbucks-free, past the house of Ananias, who plucked the scales of dead skin from Saul’s eyes

At lonely Palmyra, your guide, who had eyes the colour of jade, tucked a stray lock of hair inside her hijab, offered a water bottle, as you squinted in the sun, your brain splintered by the intricacies of history. The travel site said now’s the time to go. So you flew into the earth’s oldest living city, a topography of roses woven into its name. In a courtyard of marble and geometry, a lemon tree cast an arc of shade over your table. You scanned the parched walls for something simple to rest your eyes on, and found a stone carving of a vine, its grapes fat with promise, tendrils curling towards the future. 

Go now, the site said, before it changes. A waiter with a pony tail, a gold crucifix, and a civility that’s the bequest of millennia, brought olives and flatbread and sweet white wine. Stayed in a boutique hotel, with wifi and antique kilims, down an alley where the houses stand so close it’s as though they want to kiss.