dead cities and not so dead cities..

11/22/04

after writing my post the other day, we went to a restaurant nearby to have dinner. this place was decorated all fancy, and yet the meals were still dirt cheap. they had all sorts of freakt things on the menu that we ended up being too afraid to try such as lamb brain, lamb spinal cord, lamb medula, and whole sparrows. another funny thing about this place was that they dont have any free napkins to use, but charge you for a box of napkins that they put on the table. at the end of the meal, we figured that since we paid for the napkins, we may as well take them home, so several of us grabbed 4 or 5 napkins each out of the box. the syrian family sitting across the room from us just thought this was the most hilarious thing they’ve ever seen and were totally laughing at us. heh, silly tourists…

11/23/04

after only a short 2 day stay, we left allepo to go on a tour of the dead cities. these are a string of cities between allepo and hamma that were built in the 6th century and then completely abandoned. our tour took us to 3 or 4 of these cities and we got to wander through the remains of the towns. the areas that these towns were in were completely full of rocks and debris. in most of them, you could barely even see the ground cause there were so many rocks strewn about. amidst the debris, there were many half formed partly destroyed homes built from the same kind of rock. we climbed into and through these demolished structures. these cities have been abandoned for centuries, but in recent times, some families have moved back into a couple of the towns, so here and there we would see a random person hearding sheep or bunch of chickens running around. it’s kinda crazy that people in modern timesd live in these ruins, farming their animals in primitive conditions in stone buildings. it’s like if you went to greece and visited the parthenon only to find a few ancient greeks in togas still chilling there. although, i guess in some ways, these stone houses aren’t all that different than a lot of the structures that people in small syrian villages live in.

halfway through the tour, we stopped in a small town to get some fallafels since we were all starving. we walked into the small shop and the ownder started making fresh fallafel for us. here, the fallafel balls are small and have a hole in the middle like miniature donuts, and they have a special tool that they can use to scoop falafel balls extremely quickly. soon enough, there were 6 *huge* fallafel sandwchiches waiting for us. total cost for 2 fallafels (so big that caryn couldnt finish hers) and a large coke? one dollar!! one thing that we werent prepared for, was the welcoming we got at this shop. i dont think this town gets very many tourists (or any actually). as soon as we came in, people from around the town started pouring into the shop to look at us. pretty soon, the shop was literally full of little kids and adults just standing around, talking to each othern, and gawking at the bizarre tourists. at one point, there were actually peoiple lining up at the windows peering inside!! heh, we were such a spectacle. the few people who could speak a tiny bit of english, tried to struggle their way through converstaions w/ us. it all was such a funny scene! on the way out, i all of a sudden remembered that i had my camera, and everyone who was still left got extremely excited that i would take their photo. after taking the photo, everyone clammored around me to get a look at the sceenshot on my camera. all the little kids were unbelievably psyched to see their photo!

the final stop on our tour was apamea. this is another ancient city, but this one instead of the old rock house structures, had more of a roman kind of feel to it, and the rubble was mainly this long promenade w/ huge columns on either side. in certain parts, you could see indentations that were left by chariot wheels from a long time ago.

one done with our tour, we continued on to Hamma, where we stayed for the night.

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syria!

yesterday morning, the 6 of us got to syria after taking the night bus, and as usual, were pretty trired. the city we’re in right now is Allepo and is one of the two largest cities in syria. syria is very different than turkey.. actually, in some ways i’d kinda say that it has some similarities to morocco. unfortunately, it was pouring like crazy yesterday, and so we were hardly able to go out at all. we went and barved the rain to go hit up tha atm, but when we got there, the atm was broken. out of the blue, this guy comes up and offeres to show us where another atm in town is. we ended up talking to him and his name is Ahbit (sp?).

back home, a lot of people hear “middle east” or “syria” especially, and immediately imagine a place filled w/ angry terrorists who despise america and probably have a few bombs chilling in their hut back home. when i first told people that i was going to come here to syria, a lot of people freaked out. i heard “dont go” countless numbers of times. “it’s dangerous!” etc etc. i think many people thought that i’d be basically entering a war zone. on the flip side, i kept reading on lonely planet etc that the people of the middle east are extremely friendly… among the friendliest people around, and that they are very welcoming.

i knew that i had to see this for myself, so that i could have my own opinion. were the people in america right? i was definitely apprehenisve on coming here, but hoped for the best. one of the things i am most curious about is what people here think of america. back home, i also heard people urging me to tell people here that i was from canada, or anywhere else. so anyways… we talk to this guy Abhit for a while. turns out, that he has some family that lives in NY… but when i ask him if he’d ever go there, he says that he would never. he tells me that he absolutely hates the american government, esp bush and condoleeza rice.. but then stresses very strongly that in no way does he hate the american people.

and i think thats the main thing that everyone really needs to remember. hating a government isn’t the same as hatig the people from that country. all of the people here in syria that we’ve told that we are from the US have been extremely friendly to us. no one has hassled us about it or made rude remarks or anything at all. later on that night, we randomly ran into ahbit again (he keeps popping up around town) and he was telling us about how syria has lots of mosques and chuches side by side. when i asked him which he visited, he said that he is a muslim, and followed that up by saying “i am muslim, but not terrorist! not all muslims are terrorists! not all syrians are terrorists either, even though your president says so…”.

i dunno… all of this is really disturbing to think about. the syrian people here have open minds about us americans despite our governmet, but so many people back in the states dont have an open mind about them. heh, and i’m just talking about people from liberla california… not even to mention the conservatives in the middle of the country who want the whole middle east blasted back to the stone age! i guess, really, this is why traveling is so important. part of it is to gout into the world and gawk at all the differences in the way people live… but another every important part of it is to see just how much people are all the same. the syrians etc are people just like us… and not evil diabolical killers.

anyways.. enough on that. when we wewre hungry enough that we just ahd to go out and find food despite the downpour, we found this nice restaurant serving traditional syrian fare. no menus! when we walked in the door, the guy just montions for us to come back into the kitchen w/ him! he uncovers pot after pot after pot of different kinds of foods and tells us what each thing is and we got to choose right there in the kitchen. all of the food was great! and fairly cheap. in fact, everythig here is cheaper than turkey. our hotel room is 9 bucks. you can get street food (like a wrap or something) for like 50 cents. nice!!

later at night, as i mentioned before, we ran into Abhit again. he took us out for a “drink”. of course, in the Us, going out for a drink means alcohol, but he took us out to get fruit smoothies. the smoothies were really really good, and abhit insisted on paying for all of us. nice!!

we got up tofay and walked to go check out the citadel on the hill. it stopped raining finally. getting through the streets here is sometiumes really difficult. it’s just madness. first off, allepo has for some reason, a billion and one taxis. taxis taxis everywhere. and the streets are jam packed w/ these taxis and other cars. traffic runs rampant, and when you try to cross a street, it’s like that game frogger. you run this way and that, avoiding cars, and hope for the best!

on the way to the citadel, we walked through dsome fo the covered souqs here. it was not quite as crazy as the souqs in morocco, but also wayyyy less hassley which was really nice! despite the fact that i’ve seen a ton of souqs in morocco, and some souq-like shops in turkey, i still find it so fascinating to wander through these. it’s definitely something very unoique to the middle eastern countries. everyone yelling, spices gallore, rugs, weird meat, strange smells, silk scarves, etc etc. so fun! on the other side of the souqs, we wandered through the citadel on the hill. the price for the citadel was a mere 150 syrian pounds (3 bucks!) but with our student cards, it came down to 10 syrian pounds (about 20 cents!). it’s nice being a student!

after the citadel we wandered a bit more. lots of random people just walked up to us off the streets and talked to us, and even gave us mini-tours without asking for anything in return!! caryn and the girls went off to the baths in the afternoon, and the rest of us just headed back to our hotel…

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