It was just after nightfall when we heard three loud explosions. The extraordinary thing in Damascus is that people now know where to pinpoint the car bombs.
Within seconds two men approached me. One said: "Journalist! It is the interior ministry."
And it was. State media took only a few minutes to inform Syrians that two bombs had exploded at the gates of the ministry. It has come to something when, even by night, locals can instantly tell you where the bombs are and what the target is.
During the day there is sudden screaming overhead, then people point at the sky, all saying the same thing: "MiG?… MiG!" The regime orders its Russian-supplied fighter-bombers to bomb its own capital, day in and day out.
Three miles east in the Al Amal Institute, children from families displaced by the fighting in the suburbs are playing happily outside, oblivious to the wider surrounding violence of their world.
Then, the ear-splitting explosion sends them screaming, terrified and bewildered, inside, where Red Crescent volunteers lead them to the relative safety of a basement.
There, older brothers and sisters were having an art-therapy session, drawing pictures under the supervision of child psychiatrists to discover if they are suffering from the trauma of war.
But now some of the veiled girls from the Sunni neighbourhoods under attack are weeping silently, as their screaming younger brothers and sisters are herded in.
A class in trauma therapy is ended by another explosion.
We are told the bombs had been placed in litter bins about 50 yards from where the children had been playing.
Moments later, another power cut plunges the basement into darkness. This passes with no comment - it is perfectly normal.
"I could never imagine this would happen, not here," said a woman called Sausan, in her late fifties. "This fighting in Damascus is incredible. I cannot believe. I cannot believe."
Everywhere there is fear in Damascus on levels that cannot be imagined outside this country. About a mile away is the turn-off for the airport road. It is a familiar journey of 30 minutes out to the international airport and normally a routine affair.
A smooth, four-lane dual carriageway, bordered on either side by pine trees, it is a pleasant change from the dramatic, stark, arid rocks and mountains that fringe Damascus.
That routine ride is now over. The carriageway is an empty zone where the war begins. The rules of the road have changed.
You wait for a truck or, better still, the longest articulated lorry still driving here. You tuck in the inside lane keeping the engine block of the truck in the next door lane on the outside, as some possible protection from incoming bullets and motors.
Or you can simply floor it, going 90, 100mph or more. This is not without risk. The ashphalt is pitted with the results of fighting - anything from holes, bits of vehicle, dead dogs and, until recently, human bodies. Hit any of those at speed and the results could be just as lethal as the fighting.
Coming towards you are cars and trucks with lights on main beam, hazards flashing and horns blaring - because they are driving the wrong way up the carriageway. It is the fastest route from A to B in either lane.
We give it a go for perhaps 10 miles or so before we decide we have ridden our luck far enough. In a wasteland of wrecked houses, factories holed by shells and a large, new and now smashed up conference centre, we turn and head back to the relative safety of the city.
All of this to the immediate crack of high-velocity rounds, the sudden explosions of incoming mortars and the distant thump of air strikes and artillery fire.
Heading back, the first district you reach is Jaramana. A Christian and Jewish island among the largely Sunni suburbs, its bazaars are still open and busy. Its squares are dominated by statues of President Bashar al-Assad and his predecessor and father, Hafez. They are revered here.
As soon as we get out of the car, the not-very-secret police appear instantly in their telltale cheap black leather jackets and ask us the usual "Who? What? Where?"
Filming the Assad statues of course will not be a problem. Filming the long queue for diesel most definitely is. Curiously, we are allowed, indeed invited, to film the wreckage of the latest car bomb.
It is 10 feet away but I haven't even noticed, being absorbed in dealing with our friends in the leather jackets. But there it is, another twisted, crumpled chassis of what was once a car.
For here the threat is sectarian, not mortars, artillery and snipers. There have been at least eight bombs in recent weeks sent to kill indiscriminately in communities perceived to be wholesale loyalists to the Assad regime.
Yet people here are resilient and not without a dark sense of humour. We have come to meet Father Elias Sallum of the Church of Jeremanos. He is wrapped in a black woolly hat and scarf, long black coat and dog collar.
A handshake, and suddenly he's wrapping his scarf around his face so that only his eyes are visible: "Look at me - I am Salafi. I am al-Qaeda!"
For a second I am completely stumped. A joke wasn't what we had bargained for in this embattled yet resolute community.
But Father Elias insists that perspective must be kept in difficult times. I ask for his explanation of this bitter sectarian dimension to the war: "We all have our God, of course, and my God, the Christian God, teaches us to accept and welcome all people," he explains.
"But our neighbours are cloaking themselves in the name of their God to kill us. Why? It makes my people angry, afraid."
Yet he is loath to blame Syrians. It is perhaps more comforting to toe the line of the government and blame all this on the radical Islamist fighters and al-Qaeda forces from outside the country.
Though, privately, he will agree this cannot explain the wholesale war and slaughter claiming scores of lives throughout Syria each day.
Later that day, after we left, another car bomb exploded in Jaramana, killing one more resident in the densely packed bazaar of a district on the edge.
It is on the edge of the city physically, on the edge psychologically and on the edge politically. Jews and Christians here say they are caught up in a wider struggle between moderate and radical Islam.
Dr Tamer Kassam, a prominent Jewish leader in Jaramana, a cardiac specialist by trade, says he wants to try to remain distanced and philosophical about what is going on all around him.
We are invited to his flat where Saraya, his Romanian wife, produces delicious home made chocolate and almond cake in the Damascene style. The doctor says: "People here will always tell you it is about outsiders, that it is about foreigners creating problems in our country and that is, of course, true."
But then an admission: "But of course, many, many Syrian people are fighting now and we have to accept that the government has made a lot of mistakes."
All the while, Syrian television denies reality, showing tanks roaring across the desert, soldiers heroically leaping on assault courses and salvos of rockets firing to destroy the unseen threat to the nation.
When I was last here in the summer, air strikes were unthinkable. Three months ago, the shelling of suburbs was intermittent and there were no MiG air strikes on Damascus.
In the course of writing this article, I have witnessed three separate strikes on the eastern and southern suburbs not two miles from my hotel.
There is plenty of evidence of human resourcefulness. Go to Harasta, where the main road leads north out of Damascus heading to Homs and then Aleppo; the A1 of Syria. Here are dazzling car showrooms - Toyota, BMW, Landrover and Porsche.
Now the gleam is of shattered plate glass, cracked marble and pulverised neon signs. The fighting has come to the northern fringe of town. The showrooms are damaged and the cars are gone.
But travel south to a central district beyond the range of rebel mortar or sniper fire and street after street is filled with gleaming new luxury cars.
I stand here and a salesman approaches who knows a lot about cars and nothing about British journalists' salaries.
Ahmed Sahyone says business is not as bad: "If you think about it," he says cheerily, "a lot of people want to leave Syria in a hurry so they come here to sell their BMWs. So our BMWs will sell now for almost half price. Please, do tell your friends in Britain."
As we chat, he points out that the market for Mercedes, particularly black ones, is not strong. This make and colour are associated with the regime. The car industry is far from the only sector adjusting to increasingly difficult times. There are long queues for bread at many bakeries just as there are for fuel. The main roads everywhere are increasingly disrupted by rebels who attack from the north, the east, and the south.
The wealthy, in large numbers, are selling up the family Beamer at the car dealerships and leaving for Beirut and beyond. But, equally, tens of thousands of people displaced by the fighting now converge on the capital. Bad as things remain, they are better by far in Damascus than areas that have seen sustained fighting.
Abdulahmed Darbok once used to own a mobile phone shop in Aleppo. He said: "It is tough here, but at least you can move safely around the city centre and do business. That was completely impossible in Aleppo."
That is true for now. But with no sign of any political deal, the ability of Darbok to do business looks in doubt - as does the future of Damascus itself.
Alex Thomson is Chief Correspondent for Channel 4 News