After a easy train ride across the the barren northern deserts of Syria, we arrived in Aleppo (Haleb in arabic). Aleppo was apparently already a powerful city by the 18th century BC, and after many changes throughout history, it may have been continuously inhabited for over 8000 years! We arrived in the early afternoon and promptly got lost on our way to the hotel area. After some helpful locals corrected our directional ineptitude and insisted on walking us unnecessarily most of the way to our hotel, we started to wander the massive souqs of Aleppo.
The souqs are truly a serious assault on all five senses! A plethora of smells from the spices, olive and laurel soap and perfume shops; tonnes to look at in the way of sparkly dresses, scarves, various handicrafts, household goods and meat carcasses hanging in windows (including hoofs, tongues and other body "pieces"); various sweets, shawarma, doner and fruits to taste; the sounds of people shouting about their goods, kids playing, horns honking and the ever-often said "Welcome in Syria"; and being that the alleys of the souqs are no more than 8ft wide in most places, it is inevitable that you bump shoulders with many local men and women along the way... All told, it was slightly overwhelming at first, but I definitely fell in love with this souq/area!
We also spent awhile wandering around al-Jdeida (the Christian Quarter), which reminded me a lot of walking around the cobblestone alleys of Stockholm last summer (but with a middle east flavour). It is a little bit more of an "upscale" area, with many beautiful 200-600 year old buildings and townhouses having recently been turned into boutique hotels. This isn't usually my cup of tea, but it was a very nice place for one (terrible pun intended)!
Syria has been an amazing country (perhaps my favourite travel destination yet!) and the people are a great part of that (not to discount the amazing sights though). I thought I might get sick of people saying "Welcome in Syria" everywhere we go, but it never get's old! I can't count on both hands and feet how many times I have been stopped by locals wanting nothing else but to ask me my name, where I'm from, how I like Syria, and any other things they've learned to ask in english (and of course to welcome me to their country). Even if they don't speak english, we've still managed to sign-language our way through a conversation...
I guess my experiences in Syria and the amazing local people here just goes to show that you can't believe everything you hear/read about a country in the news (not that I ever do believe what the news tells me). And I definitely feel that it is imperative to be able to separate the actions and policies of a government from the attitudes and actions of the people under that government. Ok, I'll get off my high horse now, but I hope that each and every one of you has the chance to experience Syria one day!
And with that, I'm north to Gaziantep, Turkey to continue the second half of my trip! If it's half as good as the first half, I would be extremely happy with that!
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