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Published: October 16th 2008
A view of Syria
This is a view from our 'Hotel' in Syria
It finally feels like I am in the Middle East
We are leaving Turkey behind today as continue travelling south towards Syria. I’d been in Turkey for a total of only two weeks and in that time I had barely touched the surface. It is a country with so many contrasts - in the city you have all the affluence that you could expect in a modern city but as we continued to travel around the coastline, we also caught the glimpses of what I would expect the real Turkey to be like - one that has more of a rural, conservative feel that is not felt so much in Istanbul (more specifically the Istanbul that is predominantly viewed by tourists). My image of Turkey is one of a country on the verge of joining the European Union - not a country that I would use as the basis for visualising what the Middle East would be like - I would get my understanding of this today, as I made my way into Syria.
Our entry into Syria was what I had expected it to be - very disorganised and very lengthy. We reached the Turkish Border sometime after
My first glimpse of Syria
The landscape of Syria upon arriving from the border.
12pm - where we stood as a group huddled in the corner of an currency exchange booth waiting to be ‘processed’ by the Turkish border control. Processing eventually consisted of us surrounding a booth with a very befuddled immigration offer as he juggled multiple passports being thrown at him in all directions, whilst trying to stamp the exit stamps inside each one.
Leaving Turkey was rather straight forward and we left a little over 1pm to make our way over to the Syrian Border, stopping briefly at the Duty Free Shop to stock up on very cheap alcohol, sweets and cigarettes before heading through to immigration. Immigration on the Syrian side of the border to took just over 2 hours to complete while we all sat and waited for the verdict of our entry on the bus. We had finally arrived in Syria - and the difference between the two countries was noticeable almost instantly. My first glimpse of Syria
To begin with - the Syrian landscape itself was significantly different - more arid, with nothing but rock as far as the eye could see and the odd olive tree scattered around. Border patrol guards stood at high
Arabic street signs
On our way to Allepo
peaks in the mountains with machine guns to monitor traffic through the Syrian Border. Thankfully - They couldn’t help but smile at the big blue truck full of tourists and managed a nod whilst holding their machine guns, as we waved at them.
What hits you straight away as you enter into this country is how rural it is. As far as the eye could see we saw nothing but small concrete dwellings mixed together with row after row of half finished or significantly run down dwellings. In the middle of nowhere would sprout out a home that was completed and painted in an assortment of colours to match the surrounding desert (such as white, yellow or ochre) but would be in a field with burnt our or broken homes - leaving you to wonder if anyone actually lived there to begin with.
As we made our way towards Allepo, our first stop in Syria , we stopped the truck at what seemed like a small little outpost - complete with shepherds, donkeys & curious men & children wanting to know who we were. It was here that we would get our first indication of the antiquities that
A gas station in Syria
we would find in the country- an original Roman road built, in the middle of this tiny town and still used by the locals as part of their everyday life. Allepo’s Falafel street
Driving into Syria was a vastly different experience from Turkey. The landscape itself was significantly different - more arid, with nothing but rock as far as the eye could see and the odd olive tree scattered around. Border patrol guards stood at high peaks in the mountains with machine guns to monitor traffic through the Syrian Border. Thankfully - They couldn’t help but smile at the big blue truck full of tourists and managed a nod whilst holding their machine guns, as we waved at them.
Allepo was some 40kms near the border and we reached it around 8pm. We parked the bus in what seemed like the centre of town and made our way on foot to what out tour leader called ‘Falafel Street’ for dinner. This street consisted of one falafel shop, one kebab shop, one pizza shop & one chicken & chip shop. It was full of people eating dinner except for one significant difference - There were only men eating and
no other women to be seen anywhere (except us of course)!!
We stood as a group and were offered falafel balls to sample to see if we wanted to purchase a meal. They were sensational, possibly the best I have ever tasted. There was no menu, so for those that wanted to eat, the process was simple - Take a token from the man in a booth at the front of the store and hand it to the man inside the counter. In exchange he will give you a falafel roll, filled with mixed salad and some sauces.
The men eating & serving were all laughing and pointing at us, welcoming us and saying “Hello, where are you from…?” It was all very good natured - which was probably helped by the fact that all the girls in the group were surrounded by the men of the group while we ate.
My meal that evening of falalfel roll & coke was a very expensive 40 Syrian pounds (or 90 cents) and was our first introduction to Syria. A bed for the night
We had parked the truck approximately 5 minutes walk from the ‘hotel’ we were
going to be staying at for the night. This meant that we each had to carry our backpacks with us, making for a rather unpleasant experience in the rain and sludge of the Syrian streets - and was only made far worse given the fact that my backpack felt like it weighed over 50 kgs.
Our hotel could only be described as ½ star (or much less). It was in an alley way beside the very new and very nice Sheraton hotel. We walked up the five flights of stairs to get tour our rooms - with wonderful views of the garbage surrounding the streets and the Sheraton in full view. Sigh!!
However, anything is better than a tent - so I gladly dumped my backpack with a sigh of relief and settled myself in for the night in a somewhat comfortable bed for a fitful nights rest.
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