We had a wonderful day today, which started at 10am for breakfast in Houda & Maroufs apartment not far from where are staying. On arrival we were greeted by our hosts and their children Alaa & Hassam,who welcomed us with open arms and warm smiles ear to ear to their beautiful home.
I had the kids warned that as soon as the door opened the shoes had to come off before entering the apartment or there would be murder. Our host would never have asked us to take them off if we just walked in but it would have been rude of us not to respect the Arab custom. Thick piled carpets felt great under foot and it was not long before Elka was rolling around and making her self feel at home.
After chatting for a while in the reception room it became apparent the furniture was made by their son in law who also make for the presidents family and the Syrian parliament buildings. A beautiful hand made card table with a chessboard & backgammon fold out section was opened out and Axel got to play a short game with Marouf.
Breakfast was served in the dining room and the table was full of food. This morning we had Fattah which is a loose consistency soup like chickpea dish mixed with flat bread, oil and lemon juice, omelet , olives , hummus , stuffed corgettes , yoghurt , cherry jam and of course lots of sweet black tea . It was delicious and great fun, everyone was laughing and joking with each other and not that different to eating with family in Dublin.
After breakfast we were invited to see a 400-year-old house in the old town of Damascus which belonged to an aunt of Alaa‘s so off we went. This house is just off the souk and you would think nothing of the outside as a small discreet door is all you see. On entry through the door we walked into a city oasis, which felt like another world. A 250-year-old orange tree sat leaning over the central pond where birds in dome shaped cages hung at different levels swinging gently in the cool breeze which was a pleasant break fro, the climbing heat
The house has been meticulisly kept and details such as the two 400-year-old Jewish stars, which sit over the archway into the downstairs bedrooms, added to the history of the house. Over to our right hand side was a covered open plan sitting room with antique furniture and an oversized Persian carpet.
Up the stairs there is another sitting room, bathroom & two kitchens…. there are ten family members living in the house at the moment. The custom is that the youngest son and his family live there and don’t move, as they will basically look after the mother and father when they are older. The house then stays in the family and is passed down from generation to generation to the youngest son or daughter if it doesn’t go to plan.
Within ten minutes of our arrival, individual platters of fruit and freshly squeezed blood orange juice were presented .We had only started to digest the breakfast and when I looked over at Eric he had a face of terror . I knew he had eaten more then he would normally eat at the breakfast and now he was going to find it really difficult to get all this fruit down too. On the plate for each person was full banana, a peeled apple, half a pear, six strawberries, a large orange and a mandarin !
You can’t really say no over here as their hospitality is taken very seriously and once offered you must attempt to finish your plate. If you try something and really don’t like it then you have to politely say that you don’t really want any more but you do have to try and eat as much as possible.
By the time we left the house it was about 2.30 pm and we still had to visit Damascus Castle and the Palace and manage to be home in time to feed the kids dinner before we were to be in yet another families house for 8pm where we were invited for a large sit down meal.
Over here we are faced with a dilemma as to what to bring when invited to eat as being a Muslim family there would be no alcohol and wine would not be appreciated. We decided to get fresh flowers as there was a nice florist down the road from our apartment but on getting there it became apparent that the flowers in the window were all plastic and this was not going to do!
8pm we arrived at the beautiful home of Mouna and Yassir and here we were invited to experience evening dining. We were let into a stunning modern Persian style living room with large wrap around sofas and beautiful pale carpets.
In came the freshly squeezed orange juice and I started to pray to Ala that neither of my kids would knock it over onto the carpet or onto the sofa . Usually they knock their drinks over so my fear was justified!
After getting to know our guests for about 20 minutes we were brought into the dining room. There on the table was the biggest feast I have ever seen for six people. I was still full from breakfast and the oversized fruit platter at lunch and could not believe how much food was going to have to be eaten to even put a dent into the spread that lay before us.
Everything we tried was wonderfully delicious. Mouna is very highly regarded in the family circle as being a fantastic cook and we could not disagree.
At about midnight we fell into our beds, stuffed and ready for sleep .
It could not have been a more perfect day,