Syria 21 – 26 May 2010

As you all know by now, Murray and I went off to Syria this past week for a 5 night / 6 day organized tour of the country.
It was absolutely amazing, and we could have easily spent another few days there, taking extra time in Aleppo and Damascus, and easily seeing other parts of the country.Our trip started on a bit of a “fun” note when we arrived at the airport to be told that Murray requires a visa prior to arrival (on an Aussie passport)… so we remained clam while they called a whole bunch of authorities and eventually we started having other people (part of the tour group) arrive and also have problems with their visas.
I had applied for a visa as I’d been told I cannot get one on arrival.
Eventually, after a number of phonecalls back and forth, he (along with the others) was allowed on. We found out that usually Australians (Germans and a few others) can only get organized tour visas on arrival, and because Murray was part of a tour, this is what he was given.

Anyway, on arrival in Syria, we were greeted by our tour guide, Nabil. He was just fantastic! One of the best tour guides I’ve been with. He is extremely knowledgeable on all the sites he took us to, as well as local history, and just pretty much anything we asked.
He was also a good laugh and did his best to accommodate anyone’s requests.

We were on the go constantly, right from the moment we arrived. We got to sort of meet everyone else on the tour very briefly, and as time went by we started to really enjoy spending time with certain people.

Our first 2 nights were spent in Aleppo and some of the sights we went to were the Aleppo Citadel (the oldest and largest in the world); St Simeon Monastery; and a local market (souk) where we were able to do some shopping.

Every morning was up fairly early, but a lot of the time we were able to sleep on the bus between cities.

Day 3 we left Aleppo and headed off to Palmyra, via Crak des Chaveliers – one of the most well-preserved citadels in the world.
The weather turned on us badly on this day and everyone was being windswept all over the Crak des Chaveliers…. But we made the most of it after covering up with extra t-shirts / borrowed jerseys etc!
Lunch was extremely enjoyable on top of the mountain with spectacular views of the fields below.

When we arrived in Palmyra, we headed up to the ruins of Palmyra and up to the top of the mountain to the castle ruins where we enjoyed a beautiful sunset!

Dinner we decided that we’d had quite our fair share of Arabic food for a while and as it was a free night, a few of us went into town (which consists of about 3 tiny hotels and about 20 stores surrounding them…) for some pancakes instead.

Murray decided to walk back to the hotel after dinner so that he could get some night time shots of the ruins, while we all cabbed back.
He got some really stunning shots which I plan on stealing off him so as soon as I do so, I’ll get to show you all.
He did say that it was a fair bit scary walking through the ruins alone, at midnight.
Syria is (according to CNN) the 3rd safest country in the world, after Singapore and Malaysia, however we were a mere 200-odd kms from the Iraq border. He also heard a lot of dogs howling and kept looking around for something he’d be able to climb should a dog decide to come bounding for him!

We only got to spend one night in Palmyra, so the next morning was up fairly early again and on our way to Damascus. Damascus is the oldest continually inhabited city in the world.
On our way there we stopped at this lovely little café in the middle of nowhere, called Bagdad Café. A short while after that, we reached a turning point in the road where we could go right to Damascus, or left to Iraq – a mere 172 kms away!

Damascus is a very interesting city divided into an old and a new quarter. The buildings are all very old, and remind me of Victorian style buildings.
The city holds a combination of mosques, synagogues, and churches – all within only a few short kilometres of one another.
Our hotel was a lovely little old building and had such an inviting feeling to it. And one of the best parts of it was the shower in the room – an actual shower, not one over a bath!!! Haven’t had one of those in a while!

In Damascus, we spent quite a lot of time walking through the market streets because to get anywhere from our hotel we had to pass along the main street. Our hotel was walking distance to many of the sights which was great, but also by the time we got to Damascus the weather had started hotting up and we all got a bit suntanned on the first day there…

Some of the sights we visited in Damascus were the Sydnaya Church – located 1200m above sea level – and then we drove to Maaloula, which is 1,600m above sea level. This is one of the only villages in the world where they still speak Aramaic – the language of Jesus Christ. We had a girl say the Lord ’s Prayer in Aramaic for us. The convent we sat in was originally used by pagans for sacrifice, and they gave it to the Christians as a gift.

We visited Umayyad Mosque which is believed to be dated back to 1000BC where the building was originally used by the Armeans. John the Baptist’s head is buried 6 feet below the surface, within the mosque.

Dinner on the last evening was at a restaurant on Qussain Mountain where it is believed that Cain killed Able on the mountain side.
The restaurant was situated over 2000m above sea level.

We had a very late finish to the tour with a flight departing Damascus at 10pm, and arriving in Dubai at 02h20 the following morning… and off to work the next day!
But, it was totally worth it! I loved every minute of the holiday!

Syria was a very cheap place for us to visit – in fact it would be cheap for most people. We were paying between AED12 and AED15 for a beer on average (one of the hotels had the cheek to charge us double that – !! – so we then went and drank elsewhere… that’ll teach them!)
Syria is a country of much diversity and it’s very interesting how the Muslims and the Christians live together so closely with both religions very much on display, everywhere!

My pictures are all in an album on Facebook because there was no way I was going to fight with this blog application to load more than 150 photos!
I hope you enjoy looking at them… I had great fun taking them!

Well, that brings me to the end of this update… in only 2 sleeps I will be back in Jo’burg for my next very exciting holiday!!
I’ll be seeing many of you there!

Until next time




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