her are photos of damascus
her are photos of damascus
what was i thinking?!! i am now looking back at the photos i took of palmyra, and am wondering wy i wasnt excited while being there?? palmyra is amazing looking!! i guess it must have been that both caryn and i were partiall ill at the time and that put a damper on things… but just looking at these photos, i’m really wishing we had been feeling better enough to properly enjoy the place!!
here is the palmyra gallery and a few choice photos are below!
damascus is a huge city where around every corner you find the contrasts of the arab world mixing w/ the modern west. though not as modern as for instance istanbul, you can tell that this city is by far the most modernized in syria. looking up, you’ll find mosques and billboards both crowding the sky while on the streets men in business attire walk alongside others wearing robes and headscarves. the shops sell fancy watches and nike outfits next to arabic glimmering waterpipes. the city is very busy, and the streets are a crazy snarl of traffic and taxis, all of them honking their horns at once. if there was a soundtrack for the city, the resounding echoes of the call to prayer would be scattered throught the blares of constant honking. crossing the street, you take your life into yor hands as traffic hardly lets up to let you squeeze on through. it’s a shame that we had so little time to see the city.. it’s so big that we only got to see a tiny chunk.
the most interesting part of town is the walled old city. it encompasses many many shops and souqs. the main street leading into the covered city is pretty modern and almost loos like a covered shopping mall.. but as you venture farther into the old city, you slowly go back throug time, and soon you’re walking on cobbled streets among old buildings, mosques, and churches. the highlight of all of this is the Umayad mosque. it is one of the most famous mosques in the world and was built shortly after the start of islam on the site of an old byzantine church. if you’re a girl, you need to cover up upon entering so caryn had to wear this dorky ewok robe, heh.
walking around inside the mosque was really cool. it is basically 4 huge halls surrounding a gigantic open courtyard in the middle. you could definitely see why this mosque was world famous as the courtyard was very beautifuly decorated. another interesting thing about this mosque, is that several extremely famous people are buried here. john the baptist is one of them, and the other is one of the descendants of mohammed… Al hussein who is extremely important in the shiite religion. it was crazy to watch people go into the room where his tomb is. people totally crowded around it and everyone was trying desperately to touch the glass walls outside the tombs and then touch their own face afterwards w/ the hand that touched the glass. one man even blessed his baby by touching the glass and then his babies face.
we spent the rest of the day wandering around the old city, and also perusing hookahs. we planned to get up early the next day and finally buy some… but we woke up the next day and realized that it was friday. every friday pretty much everything closes here in syria. crap. no hookah stores were open. i guess we’ll have to wait until jordan to buy some. oh, one interesting thing that happened. i walked into a place to buy a diet coke and the guy at the couter started asking me where i’m from etc. when i said america i got the usual “ahhh, america!! good very good! welcome!!” etc.. and then he just gave me the drink and told me not to pay! wow!
around 3 today we got on a bus to jordan. in 4 short hours we got to amman after a very painless border crossing…
our mission, if we chose to accept it, was to buy 2 hookas for Liv. we bravely set of to the souqs to start searching. the thing is, we dont know anything about hookas, we dont know much about bargaining, and we know even less about shipping… except that it’s really expensive. turns out, that shipping a hookah home would probably cost several times as much as the hookah itself. at this point, one of the merchants suggested we try a cargo shipping place, so off we went. the cargo guy, although really friendly, let us know that the only option with his company woud be to ship at least 100 kilograms worth of hookas. ouch.
we got to talking to the guy and he asked us the usual “where are you from”a nd when we told him it was america he got really excited and asked us what we thought of his country. of course, we told him that we loved it. he went on to say that he was really glad and that the syrians are a really friendly people who really really like foreigners… and that is why they are so upset that people form other countries, especially america, think badly of them and think they are all terrorists. he looked genuiely hurt as he told us this, and i felt so bad for him and for all the rest of the syrian people who, having done nothing but live under an unfavorable goverment, have such a stigma attached to them. having this conversation made me all the more glad that we came here, and that i am writing in this blog which, although only read by a small handful of people, will let people know how nice people are here and shed some light on syria…
after shopping, we wet to go get some dinner w/ Dave, a journalist from washington DC, that has been traveling w/ us for the last several days. after missing out on the nice dinner from last night, i was really looking forward to a good meal. this was my first day being able to eat properly, and the only i had eaten so far was a horrendibly dissapointing kebab. we went to this place elissar that was highly recommended in our guidebook, and the food was soooooo damn good. this place was on the fancier side, and they even had things like caviar on the menu! unfortunately, like some of the other places we’ve eaten at in syria, they had no prices at all on the menu. so as we ordered item after item, we had no idea whether the bill would come out to ten dollars or a hundred. after the wionderful appetizers, i ordered a steak for my mai course. now, since i wasnt eating red meat leading up to the trip, i havent had a steak in over 3 years now. it’s been ages. now, syria definitely isn’t famous for it’s steaks, and when a friend of ours ordered one before it was kid of dissapointing, so i was prepared for just about anything. it turned out that the steak was incredibly good. perfectly cooked, delicious, and with a great roquefort cheese sauce on it. we also had wine w/ our meal and smoked nargileh to top it off. quite a decdent meal all in all. wehn the bill finally came, we were afraid to look, but it came out to be 14$ per person. way expensive for syrian standards, but for all the stuff we ate, and drank, and smoked, quite a bargain!!
in our guidebook, it said that if you see only one thing in syria, it should be the ruins of palmyra. the ruins were only a little way from the center of town, and we walked about checking them out. as far as ruins go, they were actually quite impressive. a pretty cool walkway with massive columns on either side, a gigantic temple (the temple of bel), and several other remains of buildings etc. if this had been our first day in syria, we probably would have had an incredible time… but to be completely honest, we may have seen a bit too much of ruins. as i snapped away w/ my camera, i wondered just how many photos of columns i had by now. probably tons! as we walked through the ruins, we kept having little kids come up to us and try to sell us anything from postcards, to camel rides, to the scarves that many syrians wear.
after the ruins, we caught a bus to damascus. caryn told me later, that while i slept we passed a road sign indicating that iraq was 150 km to the east. pretty crazy that we’re so close to iraq right now. and actually, we were driving westward when she saw the sign, so when we were in palmyra, we were much much closer. anyways, as we first neared damascus, the first thing i noticed was the car dealerships. tons of them on both sides of the highway w/ brand new Audis, Volkswagens, and Toyotas. i hadn’t seen a gossy car dealership in a long time… and then around the bend i saw the huge sea of lights. damascus if enormous.. unlike any other city we’ve seen in syria. even allepo, the second largest city, was nothing copmpared to this. as we finally entered the city, the bus was quickly swallowed up by tons of insane traffic as we drove amidst large highrises everywhere. we havent been in a town like his since istanbul…
damascus, is the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city. it’s been around for approximately 5,000 years. i was pretty excited to see what the city had to offer, but instead, i spent the next day seeing nothing but our hotel room and the bathroom down the hall. out of the 6 people in our group, every single one of us had gotten ill within the last several days, and i was the last one. my time had come, and the day was spent absolutely miserably. my stomcah was just killing me. to make matters worse, this was the last day that our little group would be together, as two of them were going to jordan and the other two to beirut. to mark the occasion, everyone went out to this fancy restaurant where the food looked absolutely amazing (yet remarkably, the prices were just as low as most other syrian places). of course, i could barely even look at my food. i just barely finished a small bowl of soup and that’s all.
i woke up today finally feeling better. thank god! the main decision that we had to make was where we would go next. i had read about 300 pages about beirut in the book i’m reading and so i was really really interested in seeing the city. unfortunately it turns out that if we go to lebanon, we’d have to pay another 110$ each to get abck into syria since syria is the onhly country that borders it. add to that 30$ each for a lebabnon visa. well, not matter how nice beirut must be, we couldnt justify spending around 300$ just to go see one town (not to mention hotel bills, restaurants etc whil we were there). so we’re skipping it. instead, we’re staying here another day and the it’s on to jordan….
today we traveled from hamma to palmyra. to get there we had to stop in homms on the way. in homms, we got a bit lost and didnt know how to get to the bus stop. we asked someone, and soon there was a whole mob of syrians surrounding us and helping out! they hailed a taxi for us, and then told the taxi driver to take us to the station and even told the taxi driver to get out at the station and go into the bus terminal w/ us to make sure we got on the appropriate bus! it was so nice.. i couldnt belive just ho helpful everyone was trying to be. i couldnt imagine sucha reaction and so much help if we were lost in the states. really impressed.
we havent explored palmyra yet, but it seems like there are quite a few places here selling dates. i HATE dates. they are sooo disgusting. and yet, every place that we walk buy, someone will run out w/ a whole plate full of them and offers us dates to try. they are very insistant, and we dont want to be rude, so i’ve ended up being forced to eat several of them. ugh!! oh well.. i guess ya gotta do what ya gotta do!
today we ventured out to check out some castles. we saw the assassins castle and crc de chevalier, a huge castle built by the crusaders. both were really cool although the weather was total crap today. tons of rain, really cold, some hail, and *huge* gusts of wind. although the castels were really cool and fun to explore, i dont really know what else to write about them, so i think i’ll just cut this post short. tomorrow, we’re leaving hamma and going eastward to the city of palmyra…
here are photos from Allepo and the dead cities tour….
oh and i wasnt able to post if before since i hadnt uploaded it, but here’s a photo of the turks we hung out w/ in goreme. yavus on the left and kadir is second from right.
i woke up today and it was thanksgiving. normally, this would be a really big deal, and i’d spend the first half of the day rushing about trying to buy groceries before stores closed for the holiday. people left and right would be wishing each other a happy thanksgiving, and everyone would be getting excited for the huge meal ahead. but today, since i was nowhere near the united states, nobody around could give a crap less about thanksgiving. for a while now i had really been wondering if we would be able to celebrate thanksgiving at all, and i was kinda bummed that we probably wouldnt be able to. at first, yesterday i had some grand ambitions of going down to the souqs and trying to find a turkey to eat, but i think it probably would have ended up being too much trouble.
several hours into the day though, i decided that i wanted to celebrate thanksgiving no matter what. instead of turkey, we decided to just go out and buy some of the roasted chickens that they sell around here. but what to do about the rest of the stuff? the main thing we wnated to make was mashed potatos and gravy, so we headed off to the souq. after a bit of searching around, we were able to get some butter, flour, garlic, potatos, milk and some greenbeans. it wasnt the easiest thing to do, since it’s not like there is one big grocery store where you do your shopping. we had to go from merchant to merchant, and buy each ingredient separately. it was confusing trying to get our needs across here and there, but we got everything… well, everything except for the main ingredient for gravy: drippings. luckily, we were able to fins a place with grilled chicken on a vertical spit, and asked the guy for some of the oil at the bottom of his pan. he wasn’t to pleased by our request… in fact i think he thought we were really bizarre. why the hell were we asking him for some nasty oil from underneath his roast chicken? but he gave it to us anyways, and we rushed home.
back in the hotel we cooked up a storm and actualy ended up w/ a really good thanksgiving dinner. it wasnt turkey, but it was still damn good, and caryn was able to whip up some really good gravy from what we had. it was a pretty random thanksgiving. us, sitting in Syria of all places, with 4 other people, none of whom were american, eating chicken… but it was still really really damn cool!
happy thanksgiving peoples!
today we spent the day in Hamma, a smaller town in the middle of Syria. the town is most known for it’s huge waterwheels. these gigantic wooden wheels spin around and lift water to be used for the surrounding agricultural areas. sine they are made of wood, they make this loud groaning sound as they slowly creak around and around. we had read about them in lonelyplanet, and yeah, i wanted to see them since they were famous, but in all honesty, what could be so exciting about a big wooden wheel? well, actually, turns out these wheels are really cool looking. i dont know if it’s their sheer massive size, or the water trickling down all sides of them, or the creeky sound, but watching them is quite entrancing, and we walked up and down the river checking out these wheels.
so, here’s a little more about syria:
as i’ve mentioned before, the people ehre for the most part are quite friendly, and since there are hardly any other tourists in town (this is the off season, and in general syria isn’t the most touristy spot), we attract quite a bit of attention. in hamma, although people dont go totally crazy like they did in the small village where we got fallafel, they are still very curious about us. as we walk buy, most of the people look at us, and often follow us w/ their eyes as they pass us. tons of people yell out “hellloooooo” to us, or sometimes “welcoooome!”. we hear these from people walking by us, shop owners, people across the street, or even people driving by!! unlike in morocco, where everyone says hello and then tries to sell you a carpet, here the hellos are genuine and the people want nothing in return. often times, it’s more than just a “hello” too. random people keep stopping to chat w/ us on the streets. they ask us about where we are from, tell us about their town and what they do, etc. it’s so fun, to be able to just walk down any street and be greeted everywhere by the choruses of hellos everywhere.
the town of Hamma itself is fairly modern looking. everyone has a cellphone, there are plenty of cars in the streets, and there are huge builboards advertising cola etc. at the same time though, there is no doubt that you are in Syria. little kids run around trying to shine people’s shoes, old muslim men sit selling various nuts or fruit in the streets, beautiful mosque minarets rise above the buildings, and as everywhere in the middle east, 5 times a day the call to prayer rings out. i’ve mentioned before that the call to prayer is very beautiful sounding and is an amaing “soundtrack” to any place you happen to be standing, but lately we’ve witnessed another even more amazing phenomenon. often you’ll find yourself in an area that happens to be close to several mosques, sometimes up to 8 or 9 of them. when the call to prayer rings out, you hear the call coming from all the mosques near you, and since each call is different and start at a little different times, you hear this overwhelming loud cacophany of overlapping sound as the calls come from every direction, and reverberate through the air.
the men in town dress fairly modern. most of them wear western clothing except for their head covering is often the usual red and white checkered cloth wrap. the women in town vary. some of them wear western clothing, while others wear the long flowing outfits you typically see in the middle east. although we didnt see it as much in allepo, her in hamma, almost every woman we see is wearing a kerchief to cover her head. maybe like 10% of them wear the full face covering that just has their eyes showing, but most of them just have their head covered and face open. a lot of the women wear makeup, and we’ve noticed this interesting style where some of them have *tons* of white powder on their faces and accented makeup so their face looks almost like a china doll.
the food here is really good, and as i said before, ridiculously cheap. tonight, we had a huge feast. in fact, we accidentally odered too much food, and soon the table was overflowing w/ different dishes: hummous, kebabs, babaganoush, yogurt, soup, etc etc. we barely had room enough on the table for it all, and none of us were able to finish all of our food. at the end of dinner the bill came: just over 4 bucks a person. nice! we’re staying at a hotel that’s much nicer than what we’re used to… it even has tv in each room with english channels. still, a double room is only 9 bucks! entrance fee to some of the dead cities we went to yesterday was just twent cents each. we’ve been *easily* getting by on 20 bucks each per day, and actually i think we might be spending less than that!
by the way, we are so excited about the tv in our rooms. heh, i know that tv should be the least of our concerns when visiting new and exciting countries, but while traveling, you definitely end up missing the little things from home. all 6 of us were completely overjoyed to have tv to watch, and we’ve watched even the most crap movies, just cause they’re on. yesterday we went to the liquor store nearby and bought a bunch of beer to drink in our rooms. alcohol is techniccally forbidden to muslims, but many of them drink it anyways. at the store, they put our beer in these thick black non-seethrough plastic bags, and we’re not sure if that was so no one would see us w/ alcohol as we walked around. we walked back to the hotel with our black bags of shame. heh.
one thing that we’re really sad about is not getting to celebrate thanksgiving. but, we’ve heard that there is a place in town that sells turkeys. although, from what the guy said, we got the feeling that these were real living turkeys!! now, no matter how bad we want thanksgiving, i doubt any of us would be ready to butcher a turkey ourselves and pluck it! so we’ll see. if there are pre-plucked turkeys for sale, the six of us just might spend tomorrow cooking in our hotel and have a little mini-thanksgiving!
heh, anyways, despite all this stuff about being nostalgic for home, i am really really gald to be in a place so different from home. the trip started out in europe, which is pretty standard (but of course fun), and then after a wild crazy detour in morocco, i ended up back in europe for croatia. i had a really really good time in croatia, but a part of me was really hoping to hurry up and get to more exotic locales. turkey was much more unusual and was a huge step in the right direction, and now syria is even more so. i love walking around and getting new surprises everyday. i love the fact that hardly any tourists come here. i love trying to interact w/ the people and seering their curiosity. it’s funny how for everyone, the things that are new and exciting are so different. for instance, on the dead cities tour, all of us were so excited to see the sheep grazing and whipped out our cameras. the people there must have really thought “crazy tourists! havent they ever seen a damn sheep before?!”. and yet for us sheep are so new and excting. and for the people here, americans are new and exciting! they walk around and peer and stare at these bizarre people in their midst.