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“Damascus is the centre of the world,”

My guide, Abdul, is getting into his stride. “Damascus is the centre of the world,” he says. “Just look at a map! It’s exactly at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. That is why, in the days of the Arab empire, it was the richest city in the world. All the Silk Road traders stopped here. Everyone!” He breaks off as the waiter brings our coffee, and chats briefly to the boy in Arabic (“He’s one of my students from my Heritage Tourism class!”) while I gaze around. I’m in love. Not with Abdul, endearing though he is, and with whom I am sitting in the Damascus National Museum’s open-air café – a vineroofed affair, with tree stumps for table supports, overlooking the museum’s straggly garden filled with ancient statues. A thoroughly knowledgeable guide is the greatest travel luxury – and Abdul is the best in the city, according to the local Madame Fixit.