Crossing borders is always an entertaining, and possibly stressful, task. But, for this one, our bus driver took charge, and had us in and out/over in no time at all. To top it off, he shouted us falafel and coke just before the border and then juices and salty yoghurt drinks on the other side.
“On the road to Damascus”
Damascus is a busy vibrant city which we took to straight away. The locals took to us as well, all eyes on the westerners! Some returned smiles, others just stared in awe. Our guide for the day took us to the main mosque of Damascus. The chicks all needed to “robe up” ensuring no flesh was exposed.
Inside was the tomb that held the head of John the Baptist who was considered as a prophet by the muslims. The mosque is one of the 6 largest in the world. The Call to prayer followed us everywhere. Usually a low-light, especially at 4 o’clock in the morning, or even at 9 at night while trying to watch tv or on a Friday at 12 (goes for an hour or more). Our guide thought it an experience we wouldn’t forget at Umayyad at this time, with 7 men singing into a mic. Craig isn’t so sure!
More of a highlight was the second mosque – the Iranian Shiite Mosque. The entire ceiling was made of mirrors, to give the impression of chandeliers all through. Men and women were separate. There was a tomb of some woman (forgive me for forgetting her name Fatima?) and the women, all in black, prayed to the point of tears touching the tomb.
The Guide took us through the old city and at the end propositioned our group leader for a dinner date!
The souq (market) was huge. We saw banners denouncing US and Israel policy, coupled with loads of green banners that were in celebration of the prophet Mohammed’s birthday. Very colourful. Margaret and Anna checked out a lingerie store, out of curiousity, to discover that they were serviced by men! The belly dancer outfit was a highlight – the male shop attendant fitting the bra top onto Anna was hilarious (over clothes of course!). Icecream was very good too…
We arrived in Palmyra on a public bus, and were greeted by the Hotel owner in his 1954 Mercedes bus, which took us up to the castle for a sunset tour. It chugged chugged chugged and clunked up that hill!
Palmyra is a desert oasis, not that exciting. There were ruins from Roman times, but to be honest we are a little tired of ruins. What have the Romans ever done for us? hehe. More interesting was being only about 130 clicks from the Iraqi border!
Crac de Cavaliers:
Awesome castle from Crusader period. Tour of the castle by a man whose family once lived inside, before the french (bastards!) kicked them out – no compensation, no offer of alternative home, only told to leave. The families took with them stones to build their new homes.
Our hotel opposite afforded an amazing view.
On a walk we met a group of children – refreshingly they didn’t want money or pens, only high fives and photos!
Hama – aka Pervy-man town!:
Hama is famous for its wooden water wheels, which moan like sick donkeys! But for us it will be infamous for the badly behaved men! Anna got groped!
On our way to the Beehive houses and then to Aleppo we overtook truck loads of people being carted around – easily 50 per pick up truck!
Here we Discovered Ramsis Hotel which served Lavazza coffee! Woo hoooooooo!
Met Mohammed (“my weiner does tricks…….. but not always!”) who took us on a walking tour to his shop in the main souq. We walked past the “ginger beer” hammam and into gay Syria. It was a fun-filled afternoon of innuendo (in whose endo??). We met Magid who lived in Sydney for a short time in Oxford st. Some classic aussie sayings in an arabic accent – “About bloody time”, “20 kms you’ll be in Dubbo”, “Horses hoof”. Magid had a “rainbow” t-shirt and a freo dockers t-shirt. About the only place in Syria homosexuality is tolerated.
We had a great tour of the Citadel in Aleppo and the guide translated conversations between us and local women. His name was Ahmed and he gave us lollies when we answered his questions correctly.
Had a morning breakfast at the Ramses Hotel, just for the coffee and western breaky which was a nice change.
Then we crossed the border into Turkey. Karyn secured a bus all to ourselves, which is good and bad – good as it will reduce hassle, but bad coz i wanted to see all the smuggling!
Syria has left us with an impression of an isolated country (can’t buy coca cola. “Seven up” is not available and a local alternative called “cheer up” is.) with loads of charm. Lots of motor and push bikes. Lots of little shops (no big supermarket chains here!). The people stare incessently and are unnerving in some places and the men hold hands!!! The place is so diverse though with good food and ever changing landscapes.