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Published: July 13th 2009
From Tripoli we travelled to Hama. Lebanon was humid and it affected our competency... We milled around the central square looking lost and red-faced, waving postcards and saying the words 'stamps' and 'bus station' to bewildered Arabic strangers. In the end a young man in faded jeans enthusiastically lead us to the door of the unmarked ticket office in the building next to the section of pavement serving as an impromptu bus stop. We alighted the bus which Lizzie may have mistakenly described as 'plush' and muddled our way across yet another border, reminding ourselves that silly little girls should not make jokes in the company of immigration officials or serious Mexican diplomats. The only remarkable aspect of the journey were the bizarre stop offs: twenty minutes for the women to replenish their crockery supplies in a road-side earthenware out-let and twenty minutes for the men to devour authentic Syrian cheese based sweets slathered in syrup. Needing to stop to use a toilet caused confusion and inconvenience; however the toilet was found and was not as bad as all that. One day I will write a blog entry entirely devoted to grotesque holiday-toilet experiences... Oh they are numerous and have involved such horrors as having to wear the provided wet flip-flops in piss-floods and blood on filthy walls. The worst of it had me kneeling on the floor with my face in my hands pleading with the burly toilet guard to find me an alternative to the death-by-shit scene I had been shown to... But today is not that day, even if the restaurant we ate lunch in did have a squatter with a wet floor and no soap...
So we are now in Aleppo, having arrived this afternoon... But I was going to offer some highlights of Hama, famed rather drably for it's large wooden waterwheels on the river that runs through the city. We stayed for three nights in the Cairo Hotel, which was above a body-building club with an unappealingly veined muscle-man on a sign outside. Middle Eastern men seem to be quite into body building, I realised. More than a few times has a man mentioned his body building interests to me... I hadn't really clocked this as it's the kind of comment I hear and push to the back of my mind. But perhaps I should start asking people if they work out; could be a great conversation starter. Very soon, along with the Toilet Blog, which I know you're all looking forward to, I will also update with a Middle Eastern Men blog. I love them! Hours of entertainment! Some adorable characters to report back on. And some delightfully not-adorable ones, too. Lizzie mentioned our charmless host for dinner in Lebanon. Mahmood, as was of course his name, has subsequently been dubbed the worst man in the world - I'm serious, he's the limit! - and should have at least 200 hundred words devoted to him. Just as a taster: "I'm crazy, go crazy with me Mary!" and "They call me a freak" (who does, sorry?) " but I'm just unusual..." (no, you are just a retard...) . He made me read his poems. He said he was not a misogynist; he just loved the female form. Needless to say, we parted on bad terms. He deleted me from his facebook after I blanked him in the street. Oh this saga needs it's own novel not a passing mention in a forlorn internet blog...! But no, I am trying to talk about Hama.
Hama. We went to the most fantastic castle ever, called Crac de Chevaliers - I kept forgetting its name and called it a variety of other things but I believe this is the real one. It took us an hour or so to get there, via Homs, another city, using local micro buses and saving ourselves more than half the cost of a hotel organised tour. Ah yes money. I think Lizzie mentioned that we had a windfall in Damascus but said no more.... Well there was a little incident where a confused cashier accidentally gave us five times the amount he should have done when we exchanged one hundred dollars in the bank... Now I realise both of our mothers are going to be astounded that we walked away with all this money and I must stress that it was our first day in Syria and we did not realise until hours later, whilst marveling over this inflated exchange rate, that it was in fact a slight of mind and not what we were due. So our time in Syria has been virtually free... Still, it's more fun not to be driven everywhere in organised cars...
I'm running out of time so Lizzie and I are going to bullet point the highlights of the last few days:
1) The castle: Huge, still intact. Inspired us to impersonate History Channel presenters and use superlatives such as 'phenomenal' and 'staggering'. Had a long mezze lunch on a beautiful terrace, looking out over the Syrian countryside which reminded us of Tuscany, where neither of us have been.
2) A tiny felafel shop where we shocked the waiter by refusing to eat bread and drank eye-wateringly sweet tea from a miniature urn.
3) Wandered through the old town, ineffectively using the moon as a compass as we found ourselves lost... We realised we know very little about the workings of the moon. However, we have learned the capitals of every single country in the world apart from 16 North American islands which we will tackle tonight. We can't wait to be tested.
4) The ice cream shop where we were forced to sit down and eat seven flavours of ice cream in one small bowl... highlights included: Nescafe, milk and chocolate, lemon sorbet, dark chocolate etc etc. A man begrudgingly allowed us to take his photograph whilst rolling a sweet-cheese pastry but he was quite put out and ignored us for the rest of the evening. He is the first Middle Eastern man to actively dislike us and we naturally fell in love with him and returned the next day.
All done! Update soon on toilets and men xxxx
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