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Syria

I arrived at the border at around 9pm, tired and hungry, but too tired to cook… Sandwiches and a couple of beers were all I could manage before I fell asleep on the back seats of M in the queue with the truck drivers waiting to cross the next day. This confused people somewhat – they all said – “you can go, you’re a car – no problem – go!” but I wanted to make the most of my 14 days in Syria so crossing in the morning was the only option.

3rd March 2007
The border crossing was a very confusing one – helpers negotiated leaving Turkey (who I tipped $10 to), and in Syria things became quite odd. I’m sure I was overcharged by $40, but as all of the receipts are in Arabic (which I can’t read) it’s hard to be sure.
I wish I’d researched the crossing in more detail, I wasn’t aware of the diesel tax $100 USD weekly, and at the time of the crossing was very suspicious, I’ve since been told that this is valid, and is applied to every foreign diesel car crossing the border. Anyway, after probably being ripped off slightly by my “official government tourist agents”, I crossed into Syria, one of the countries I’ve most looked forward to visiting on my journey.

I headed straight for Aleppo, the major city of the north. Only 50km from the border it took me just over an hour to reach the city itself but almost two hours to find my bearings, find parking and locate the hostel (the spring flower hostel) in central Aleppo. The hostel is great – well located, and with dorms as well as single and double rooms available. I’ve taken a single room (at £350SYP per night – just under £3.50 in English money). I’ve a bathroom, twin beds and I don’t have to setup the tent each night – which is a very refreshing change!

I’m keen to make the most of my time here so I dropped off my things and headed straight to the Citadel. My walk to the Citadel was great, getting slightly lost I meandered through the back streets and Souq’s and finally finding the Citadel, which although is very large and hard to miss from a distance – is surprisingly elusive when you’re surrounded by buildings on all sides, with only narrow alleyways available to peek down every few metres.

Citadel

Citadel1

Citadel2

Once at the Citadel I climbed to the top of the structure, and met Fatan, her son and a friend Mohammed, they’re from Aleppo, both were studying law and although they’d already spent some time exploring the site they offered to show me around.

Throne room

Throne room2


We walked for around an hour, clambering over the various ruins, and down to the ancient prison cells. After Faten asked me what religion I was, and my answer was “none”, they took me to the great mosque in the centre – which was quite an experience, and my first ever visit to a mosque… Within an hour of arriving, two locals had already taken me under their wing and were so kind and hospitable it’s hard to describe…  Middle Eastern hospitality is legendary, and of special note in Syria – I’ve a feeling I will love it here.

After leaving Faten, her son and Mohammed, with promises to meet up or at the very least keep in touch (which I certainly will) I headed back to the hostel, met an American called Daniel who’s been collating pictures and information on the historical sites here for over a year and went for my first Syrian dining experience… The food is incredible, many starters or Mezze contribute to the meals here – truly outstanding food at rock bottom prices (and we were in a very good restaurant).

Daniel’s planning a similar route to me – going east towards the Iraqi border and heading down to the Oasis city of Palmyra before heading towards the coast and onto Damascus – so we decided to travel together in M for just over a week, Daniel’s intimate knowledge of the country, it’s sites and where to stay and eat will be a great help – I’ll be able to see the best of the thousands of historical sites here and have a proper insight into their history.