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Posts from the ‘Syria’ Category

about travel days…

I read a blog post by Almost Fearless the other day that got me thinking (actually it was posted by a guest-blogger on her blog). The post was about what travel days show us. Most people I know, including myself, despise travel days… the lines, the waiting, the junk food, the bathroom stops and the smelly passenger. However, this post made me think of them in a different way.

It carries on saying that travel days should be considered a luxury. They are days to think and days to reflect on the past, present or future. I began to think more about this and sure enough… it was true! All the days spent on and in buses, trains, planes, taxis, sheruts, cars, boats were some of the best days of my trips (if I put aside some of the previously mentioned things).

While living in Argentina we took many bus rides through the night and I remember many bus rides I would spend just sitting and looking aimlessly through the window… but thinking…pondering… or listening to music. A song would come on and I would think of something or someone else…a memory…an event.

Again, on the Middle East trips, the travel days (oh and there were so many) were a blessing. They forced me to sit and relax, rest, and prepare for the next step. They allowed me to meditate on the days before… what had happened, who I met, what I saw. It was a moment that I otherwise wouldn’t have given myself and a moment necessary for all travelers.

Often I spend so much time planning a trip, some time on the trip, and even less time reflecting the trip. Actually, I often forget what happened… small details… people I encountered, conversations I had. For this reason, the days in between travels are for recording these events… either on paper or in our mind. The moments spent with only ourselves (and the smelly passenger) are the moments we should cherish the most.

I remember waiting at a bus station in Syria somewhere between Palmyra and the Iraq Border and waiting for hours… but more than this I remember the time I had to observe the people and the culture around me. The striking difference in communication between men and men, women and women and men and woman. I remember observing the looks people gave me (being the only foreigner). I remember observing the positions and places where men and women would sit. It was a time of reflection and I see that now.

In the hustle and bustle of traveling I often forget to do the most important thing. Sit. Think. Observe.

Travel days confirm our beliefs or ideas. They contradict and negate others. They anticipate future plans and keep an eye on the present.

Think about it the next time you curse the unforeseen travel day.

p.s.- Especially with an exploding Volcano, travel days seem to be more common over here.

about Syria…


Dear Syria,
I must admit that I was a little hesitant in starting a friendship with you considering I have heard so many rumors about you. However, rumors are rumors and you proved to be nothing of the sort. It was a pleasure to meet you, to get to know you, to spend time with you and fall in love with you. You were so kind from start to end and when I felt like dying you were there to pick me up again and make me feel better. I am forever thankful.

Your food surprised us greatly. We filled up on fresh juices, the best falafel, fuul, and shwarma. However, I must say that the best part proved to be your people. They don’t seem to have very much that is tangible, but their hearts are filled with so much warmth and kindness that it’s impossible not to fall in love. This is what made my time in Syria so memorable. I ask that you never change and that your country may only improve economically so that many of your people would have a better quality of life.

I shall return very very soon, if not for the food, definitely for the people.

Until that day comes,

about the Syria-Jordan border crossing…

Leaving SyriaArab man

trip: Damascus to Amman
how: by shared taxi
miles total:  4707
days: 1

This time the border crossing was relatively easy and a little more organized than the Turkey-Syrian crossing. Despite having to pay 500 SYP to leave Syria and then another 10JD to enter into Jordan, the border crossing went smoothly and I was pumped to be entering into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Leaving Syria was difficult because we met so many people that we really connected with and the people in general are so lovely in Syria, it would be hard for anyone to leave. We took a shared taxi to Amman because we didn’t make it to the Damascus bus station in time for the last bus to Amman (about 3pm). In the end,  the taxi is the same price as a pullman bus and you are in a car with just 3 other people. The only down side is that you have to wait until your car fills up until the taxi driver will leave (and small tip: don’t pay more than 60 SYP each for the ride down to Amman). Well, we are only in Amman for 2 days so we have to make the most of it!


about Palmyra, Syria

Jumping at SunsetPalmyra

trip: Damascus to Palmyra
how: by bus, Al Sultan Bus Co.
miles total:  4568
days: 1

Leaving Damascus was, in some ways, freeing. I had left behind my viruses, bad mood, discouragement, and I was ready to start again. I didn’t want to move away from Damascus feeling any other way because I knew that I wouldn’t have enjoyed anything if I was still feeling down. In the end, all I wanted was to feel better and I did.

We took a 2.5 hour bus ride to Palmyra where we were dropped off about 2 km outside of the town, the only bus stop the town has. When we finished haggling a good price for a taxi ride (50 SYP) we arrived at our hotel, Sun hotel, dropped our bags off and walked to the ruins of Palmyra.

The town itself it very small, and doesn’t have much character to it. Actually, the only reason this town exists is because of the many tourists that come to see it’s ruins, but it didn’t stop the Syrian hospitality from extending a warm welcome. The ruins, which are located in the city, are spectacular. We were told that Palmyra is best seen when the sun is setting and rising so we made a point to see both.

A brief history of the town, Palmyra linked Persia with the Mediterranean Ports of Roman Syria and came under Roman control. During the following period of great prosperity, the Aramaean and Arab inhabitants of Palmyra combined Parthian and Graeco-Roman customs. Palmyra is also mentioned in the bible, but as Tadmor (Arabic) and is described as a desert city built by King Solomon.

More interesting for me was the story behind one of it’s greatest rulers, Queen Zenobia. Zenobia took over in the name of her young son, Vabalathus. However, the Romans were not happy about this decision and sent an army to kill the Queen. Zenobia defeated this Roman army and led her army to another victorious battle in Bosra and then successfully invaded Egypt. She then declared her independence from Rome and continued to expand her Empire. Although in the end she was defeated by Rome and lived the rest of her days there, she made her mark on this desert city. And on me.

Palmyra was everything it was cracked up to be. Beautiful at sunset, night, and sunrise. The colonnaded streets and massive temples in the city are surrounded by an oasis and looked after by the citadel high above the city and is one of the most remarkable places I have been to so far.

Sun Hotel is nothing to write home about, but a cheap and convenient bed if you need it. The trip lasted in total 24-hours and was well worth it. I’m heading back to Damascus now to see if we can make the last bus to Amman, Jordan (leaving around 3pm)…

Insha’Allah! (god-willing),

about Damascus, Syria…


trip: Hama to Damascus
how: by bus
miles total: 4425
days: 4

It’s unfortunate that we arrived in Damascus on such a negative note, especially because it was G’s 25th birthday and I was in no state to celebrate. However, it was comforting to be in a bigger city and we stayed at Lindsay’s place, so it was even better.

Talking about my hospital experience may not interest most, but I feel it is necessary to tell people how positive my experience was at the Cham Clinic. First of all, if you want fast, good, and English-speaking health care in Syria, then you must go private. Otherwise, the state system is available for everyone, but you always risk having to wait a while and the standards may not be what you’re used to. The average price for a consultation in a private clinic in Syria is about 1000 SYP or  about 15 Euros. I wasn’t willing to take any more risks and I was getting progressively worse, so I went private.

Cham Clinic is small, central and clean with a very helpful and caring staff. I will spare you all the details of how bad I really got, but I will tell you that I had food poisoning and gastroenteritis, was put on an IV for five hours and had 6 different antibiotics injected in me. Needless to say, I started crying at the sight of my first needle and all I could think about was going home. My first IV ever…. and it was in Syria. Excellent. I think I was extra emotional because it was G’s birthday and we were spending it in a hospital.

Well, G and Lindsay picked me up after about 6 hours and I barely remember anything else about that night except waking up the next day feeling weak and drugged, but slightly better. After all… it couldn’t have gotten worse.

After three days of laying in bed and recovering I motivated myself to take a walk around the city. After one hour I could feel my body wanting to go back to bed… instead I treated myself and G to a tea and muffin at Costa (at the Four Seasons). It was a little slice of home in a much needed moment.

Feeling stronger (and poorer. tea+muffin=Syrian budget for four days) we spent the rest of the day exploring Damascus. It’s a beautiful, chaotic, and lively city. You can walk for hours aimlessly through the old town and it’s souqs. It’s very different from it’s rival city, Aleppo, with more trees, quainter areas, cleaner streets and more tourists. The streets bustle with a mix of students learning Arabic and Syrian students speaking English.

The souq is different too, if you ask people from Aleppo they say their souq is better and vice-versa. The fact is, they are completely different and both worth a visit.

Damascus, in the end, was a beautiful and fascinating place, but my most recognizable memory will always be the hospital! We have decided to make a fast 24-hour trip to Palmyra since we missed it on the way down…

Until then…

about Hama, Syria…


trip: Aleppo to Hama
how: by bus, Al-Sutan Bus Co.
miles total: 4258
days: 4

Although sad to leave Aleppo, I was excited to see more of Syria. We left Aleppo on a morning bus to Hama with our new friend Lindsay who was living in Damascus for 2 months (she is from NY). Hama is where we were basing ourselves and making day trips to Crac de Chevaliers, Palmyra, and Apamea. The bus took about 1 1/2 hours and then before we knew it we were negotiating, yet again, a decent taxi price into town  (it’s not the fact that I can’t afford a 1 euro taxi ride, it’s the fact that it should only be 20 cents, this is what bothers me the most).

Hama is known for it ‘norias’ (water wheels), which on a boiling hot day are just worth a picture then an immediate escape in to the closest cafe, otherwise you might be tempted to jump into the oh so lovely green water being turned by the wheels. We stayed at Hotel Riad, the hotel was central, clean, cheap and had AC… what more could you ask for?

That afternoon we made our way to Apamea (in arabic it is pronounced as Afamea) in a minibus. At least, I hoped it was going to Apamea, but sometimes you are never sure if they understand or they just say ‘yes’ to make you pay. Either way, we made it. Another thing that makes it a little tricky is when you go to show them your map of where you want to go and then you realize that you are showing them Apamea in English letters and not Arabic…oops…this is soon followed by the blank stare.

Apamea, as Lonely Planet states, is a condensed version of Palmyra (another Roman ruins site). The grand colonnade is the most extensive and best preserved in the Middle East. We got dropped off about 2 km from the actual ruins and hitchhiked our way up. Some kind Italians picked us up and also took us all the way back to Hama in the evening.

That’s when it started I suppose… the weird stomach grumbling. We went for a falafel that evening, but I couldn’t even bare to eat it because I felt so sick. I ran back to the hotel and stayed there for the net 36 hours. bed toilet bed toilet bed toilet… you get the idea. Unfortunately, between the vomiting, fever, and diarrhea it just didn’t stop. Our time in Hama was cut short and we had to make an emergency trip to Damascus to go to a hospital. No Palmyra and No Crac de Chevaliers (and nothing left in me).

cheers to good health.

about Aleppo, Syria…

Aleppo CitadelIMG_6990

trip: Antakya to Aleppo
how: by bus, 5 hours (including border crossing wait time), ghe-tto bus co.
miles total: 4170
days: 4

it’s hot. it’s chaotic. and i’m loving Syria.

After being dropped off on the highway and told that this was the city center, we then paid what we thought was a deal and later found out was a super overpriced taxi ride to the clock tower in Aleppo center. I love being ripped off. This is where we met our CS host who took us for an amazing fresh juice, then to the place we were sleeping at, to leave our bags. I soon discovered that Syria wasn’t necessarily on the same lines of sanitation as turkey or any other place I have known in my lifetime. Despite this, I told myself I needed to put that part of me aside for this trip and try not to dwell too much on squatting toilets filled with other people’s poop, no electricity in shower rooms, dirty streets, yellow water, pollution, and funky street smells. Yes, that’s right I was going to move on past that… or at least to some extent.

Our host, Jamal, took us to his friend’s cafe and we met other CSers. We stayed with these people for the rest of our time in Aleppo. Actually these new friends of ours are probably the reason why I loved Aleppo and why I now say Syria was my favorite place… it’s all about the people. I was looking through our Middle East guide yesterday and I was looking at the top ten things to do in Middle East. Each country has their monuments, ruins, attractions, and treasures… do you know what they said for Syria… the people. For certain, there is nothing like the people of Syria. They do not have a lot to give, but they give so much. It’s is so often the case.

The Aleppo citadel is the most prominent structure in Aleppo, that and the souq that is about 1.5 km long (there is a sort of rivalry between the people in Damascus and Aleppo about who has the best souq). After that night G and I didn’t sleep very well at our host’s house so we decided to get 2 beds with AC the next night. Only to find out that the hotel owner wouldn’t charge us because he liked the CSing idea and liked to give CSers a night free. I love Syria.

About 5 days total we spent in Aleppo and they were all fantastic. The city is great for people that want a little more of a “Syrian feel” than Damascus. It is easy to get around and of course do I need to say again… the people make it special and unforgettable.

It’s hard to leave our friends here, but I have no doubts we will see them again soon.

Next stop: Hama.

Ma‘a salama  مع السلامة