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Published: July 27th 2008
Our Bradt Guide didn't paint a pretty picture of Tartous, the second biggest port in Syria. Nor did it recommend going to Arwad Island, the only piece of Syrian territory off shore. We thought we would go anyway and are really pleased we made the effort.
Tartous isn't a pretty place but wandering through its streets it has a certain charm. Seeing the sea again was nice, but with the moisture of the Med comes cloud and humidity. The temperature was no lower than in Damascus but there wasn't a lot of sun. Still, it made it easier to walk around without feeling scorched all the time.
On Friday we joined the hoardes and took a boat over to Arwad Island. It was a bit choppy to say the least, and one man had to be helped to the rear of the boat to jettison his lunch! We had nice comfortable chairs to sit on, the benefit of getting onto the boat before it's eclectic mix of seats were taken. Seriously, we had a couple of pink upholstered chairs and sat in complete comfort!!
I think Trish was pleased to get onto dry land though. We then wandered
through the maze of streets packed with tatty souvenir stalls and ice cream sellers. Our first stop was the citadel which was in surprisingly good condition. The views could have been better but homes have been built all around and in places stop you from seeing the sea at all.
Afterwards we found a path leading all the way around the island. The took us past a boat building project called The Phoenician
where we stopped to have a look and take some photos. It seems they are ready to launch pretty soon. We then clambered over the phoenician wall and took in the sight of the waves crashing ashore, people swimming, fishing and playing football. We even saw the area where boat building is still going on today. it was really interesting.
A less choppy sailing back to the mainland was followed by a siesta. Unfortunately that meant we missed sunset! After our snooze we walked along the corniche along with hundreds of Syrians before heading to a restaurant. We had been told not to expect wonderful fish and these warnings weren't far off the mark. Considering the variety of fish which are caught here, it was disappointing
Old lady on the boat
She hardly moved on the whole crossing, other than to replace her veil at the end!
that only standard white fish is used. Still, it was nice enough and made a change from hummous!!
On Saturday morning we had a wander along the now deserted corniche. At the end there was a circus tent. If only we had known!! The noises and smells from the animals enclosure defied belief and the sight of the colourful Big Top was a little incongruous. After that we made our way through a park to the bus company offices to get our tickets to Damascus. On our way we were stopped by a group of 5 lads who wanted to practice their English. This stretched as far as "My name is ......., I would like to introduce you to my friend ........". It was a bit of a busman's holiday for us but we humoured them anyway!!
Then the fun started!! After queueing patiently(ish) for 20 minutes we were told that the police needed to see our passports before we could buy tickets. We were told they were "under the tree", and indeed they were! After a cursory glance he said we were okay and we then pushed our way back to the front of the crowd, sorry
Highest Point on Arwad Island
The muezzin's call through those speakers was truly deafening!!
- queue, where we were given our tickets.
We walked back to the Daniel Hotel to collect our things then took a taxi back to the bus company. Our bus was a "VIP" one, with less people and more comfort. Unfortunately it also included an engine which overheated badly onthe way back. The driver slowed down dramatically and even used the side of the road for a while. When the smell of burning got too bad the conductor went along the cabin with an air freshener!! We were quite relieved to arrive back in Damascus!!!
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