From Turkey into Syria, Urfa to Aleppo
After leaving Cappadocia we headed south east to a small very conservative place called Kahta. It looks like some sad forgotten border town. This morning was the first time since our arrival that I saw women, two housemaids; otherwise it’s been all men and boys.
Kahta is really the last place of any size to base yourself to get up Mt Nemrut to see the marvellous stone heads. It’s not big on the list of usual tourist destinations in Turkey as it is off the beaten track, so the facilities are limited.
Our evening meal options were two restaurants run by the same team, on either side of the street, offering the same menu. Option one was clean, bright and busy, option two was dark and dingy and had several men just hanging about, but it had alcohol. If we chose this they would run our food across the road for us. We chose the bright place and ordered Pepsi. The food was so good we went back again for lunch before our bus trip down to Urfa.
So off we went again, squashing ourselves into the too small mini bus, even I had
no room and I’m 5’5”. As we arrived in Urfa our hearts fell, we really thought the driver must be lost as he drove down dodgy little side streets that became narrower and narrower. Our Cape Town girl adds ‘If you’re in a taxi in Joberg and he takes you somewhere like this - jump out while you can!’ Another well travelled guy adds ‘It looks like Bagdad!’ And then the bus came to a halt. Cries of ‘You’ve got to be joking!’ An army of young men appear and our bags are whisked away, hopefully to the hotel and not somewhere else. But looks can be deceiving, and as we walked up lots of steps a series of courtyards were revealed with terraces, roses, shady trees and tables. It was delightful.
We said our goodbyes to seven of our tour who were heading back to Istanbul. They were on the overnight bus that would take about 19 hours. The remaining eight of the group headed off to the Syrian border; squashed into two small non air conditioned beaten up taxis. Border formalities took about an hour as you pass through several different checkpoints. Get the exit stamp from Turkey,
next one check the exit stamp from Turkey. One kilometre of barbed wire, fill in paperwork for entering Syria. Get visa stamped. Next check point, is the visa stamped? Next checkpoint we underwent a token bag search. The guard really didn’t want to pick though our dirty laundry.
Yeah - we made it to Syria. Our hotel is over the road from the Sheraton, it has nice clean shining glass front doors, and that’s where the similarity ends. My room is pretty good, but I am now paying a supplement to get a room on my own. I’ve got hot and cold water, air con and a fan, but I do face the busy street, and Syrian drivers love to honk their horns, all the time. So I expect it won’t quieten down a lot.
Our new guide met us on our arrival to the hotel and took us to get food and money. It was half three by now and we’d not had anything since breakfast. I’d not had anything at all as I had Sultans Revenge all night. Mastercard is not accepted in half the ATM’s in Syria, fortunately I had some Turkish Lira, but only the illegal
back street money exchanges will take Turkish Lira, and don’t expect a good rate. But we got a great rate, and the money even looks real. We had falafel for lunch; it was going to cost £35. Syrian pounds that is, sounds like a lot but it’s only about 75 cents. Then for some odd reason the owner of the stall shouted us. It was so good we went back today for lunch and happily paid.
We met up with four new tour members, three Brits and an Aussie, and then headed off to explore the Citadel of Aleppo and a 10th century monastery in the countryside called St Simeon. It was lovely to escape the bustle of Syria’s second largest city for the quiet of the country for an hour or so. We have our very own mini bus for the week and we all fit in it without having to squash ourselves. Luxury.
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