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Published: December 26th 2009
Kids in Aleppo
So Syria, eh? What’s that place all about? To be honest we didn’t really know either… probably a little less liberal then Turkey, hopefully less expensive and stacked with history. So with passports in hand we said good by to Turkey and jumped into Syria.
This was our first boarder crossing with the group and it was a doozie! As expected every second boarder guard wanted to “check our passports” (aka: check out the girls on the truck) and then wave us on to the next guard who wanted to do the same. But after four hours of “Welcome to Syria - don’t mind the AK-47 over my shoulder - passports please” we made it though - yeah!
Our first stop was Aleppo, the second biggest city in Syria, after Damascus. Although it was late, the city was chaotic due to the “Eid al-Adha” , a four day Islamic feast celebrated this time of the year, which brought masses of Turks and rural Syrians into the city. The packed streets, the honking horns, the garbage, the lights and the random smells (some good, some not-so-good) were more of what I expected on this trip and now we were experiencing
The following morning we did a walking tour of the city with legendary guide “Ahmed” who’s spent his whole life in Aleppo and could possibly know all of the 4.2 million people there. He was a great guide who handed out “bon-bons” if you answered his question right and had a wealth of knowledge to share; including the “fact” that Aleppo was not usually this dirty, but because so many “Turks” were in town to celebrate the Eid al-Adha the streets looked the way they did. (We all found this funny, having just come from Turkey where their streets were quite clean by comparison.) We entered the old town encircled by it’s high walls, walked the Souqs where the caravans of older times would stop to rest and sell their goods, and explored the massive 12th century citadel (castle) in the centre of the old town. Due to the Eid al-Adha, our Aleppo experience was definitely intensified as there were masses of kids climbing all over the citadel and in the Souqs people were slaughtering truck loads of sheep right on the street, covering our path in blood and causing a few of our co-travellers to go a
little queasy. (As part of the Eid al-Adha, those with money pay for a sheep to be slaughtered and the meat is dispersed to your family and the poor.) All in all, Aleppo was a good start to Syria, but there was more for us waiting in the south.
The next day we travelled inland to Crac de Chevaliers (the Castle of the Knights) a stronghold for the Crusaders during the great Christian Crusades (popularized by the movie “Kingdom of Heaven”). It was a massive castle with impressive underground tunnels, archers towers, pour holes for boiling oil, moats, Chapels (later turned into Mosques), and of course a round table for the Lord Knights…all in the name of Christianity… From Crac de Chevaliers we drove further south to the ancient Roman city of Palmyra, where we bush-camped only a couple kilometres from the ruins.
The following day we took down camp and walked through the ruins that seem to have been left alone in the middle of nowhere (no main entrance or no admission fee) and saw what once was a long, columned street (over 1km long) in an ancient city that hosted and protected caravans travelling the silk-route.
From there we travelled further south (as close as you really want to get to the Iraq boarder) and headed for Damascus.
In Damascus we camped outside of the city in an area where the kids thought it was funny to shoot us with bee-bee guns when we walked around, but Damascus itself was an amazing city. We took the day just to walk around and get lost in the endless alleys of Souqs and Mosques (visiting a couple, both Shi’ite and Sunni) and also St Paul’s Chapel in the Christian quarter. The streets oozed with “Biblical & Islamic” history and it was cool to consider the Saints and Caliphs who walked these same streets hundreds of years ago. The “Syrian Pizzas”, pasticcio covered ice creams, thick coffees, and sweet smell of sheesha pipe smoke made our day in Damascus that much better.
The next day we did a day trip to Lebanon (see next blog) and then our time in Syria was up and our truck would take us further south to the Kingdom of Jordan.
Although our time in Syria was short, the friendliness of the people and the historical significance of the area made
a big impact on us and we enjoyed our time. Although we hear about conflicts with Syria and Lebanon and Israel, it’s not the day to day battle of the general population, who were very hospitable and genuine. Hopefully with their new (British PhD Educated) President more peaceful ties will be created in the region and Syria will continue it’s historical significance in this day and age.
Until Next Time…
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