Enjoying Christmas as a Solo Traveler

Shared by resident Phyllis Dale

All of my 11 years working on the steamboats, the holidays were on my schedule. On many Christmas cruises, my late husband Gary would join me. The holiday activities on the cruise were unforgettable. They were so much fun and I loved performing in the Delta Queen holiday shows and in the lounge. How I enjoyed singing with the passengers especially “The Twelve Cajun Days of Christmas”. I loved the audience participation.

After Gary passed away in 2006, I felt like spending holidays alone so I booked myself on some interesting trips. One of my most memorable holiday journeys was in December of 2009. I flew to Nairobi, Kenya, for another terrific safari, then on to Damascus, Syria, and spent Christmas there which included a day in Beirut.

I hired a driver guide, Mohammed. This wonderful man drove me hundreds of miles in Syria and in Lebanon. He also took me to Old Town Damascus and introduced me to his friends who in their small shops, made household items, car parts, kitchen knives, cabinets; sold veggies, spices and fruits, baked goods and so many other trades. They all would hug me and speak to me in Arabic words that, luckily, I understood. I can still feel those hugs today. One day, Mohammed drove me to a very old winery a couple of hours outside Damascus. I actually had some delicious cider there and saw a lovely Christmas display.

The next day, he drove me to Beirut, stopping at Baalbek, Lebanon, to view the ancient ruins. I had a delightful visit with a shop owner, practicing my Arabic. He and his wife were so kind. They gave me some souvenir books as
a gift.

After arriving in Beirut, Mohammed gave me a wonderful tour of the city followed by lunch at a local café to dine on Lebanese cuisine that I hadn’t enjoyed since my father died. My dad and grandfather were amazing cooks. I enjoyed seeing the holiday decorations in the restaurant and even Mickey Mouse balloons. There was a very tall Christmas tree all lit up in the city.
It was heartwarming to see a Mosque, a Jewish Temple and an Orthodox church located next to each other.

Returning back to Damascus and my beautiful hotel, I rested in my lovely room. The next morning, I had breakfast in the atrium restaurant. There were several Christmas trees.

You wonder why I chose Syria and Lebanon as a travel destination. My paternal heritage is middle eastern…Syrian and Lebanese. I had wanted to travel there since I was a teenager. It was a dream come true. I’m so glad I went when I did because after spending New Year’s Eve in
Cape Town, South Africa, I returned home.
A month later, the “Arab Spring Uprising” began.