Syria Continued

Following on from Hi From Aleppo.

Besides Alicia , I met many other interesting people in Syria:

Sasha, the middle-aged Russian journalist who added a shot of gin to her morning Syrian coffee at Saint Simeon’s. On the tour we also visited Krake Shamass, the Valley of Death at Qatura, the Basilica of Muchabk (next to a military area) and a hilltop temple with statues that bore a passing resemblance to Mount Nemrut in Adiyamon Province, Turkey. The area we visited was full of rocks, similar to Ireland’s Aran Islands. At one place I fell and I was very lucky my hands hit the rocks the same time as my nose, causing grazes but nothing more. The day after the tour Sasha was hand in hand with a local ‘tourist-hunter’ at a cafe near the citadel.

Dominic, the recent Arts/Law graduate and Bombers supporter from Melbourne who had previously helped Texas death row inmates. He came to Aleppo from Beirut where, the previous night, he had visited an over the top, outrageously expensive and hip nightclub. The 10% alcohol beer imported from Denmark did not tempt Dominic on this occasion.

Rick, the Vancouverite travelling with his wife. They are graphic designers visiting the Middle East after studying arts courses in Italy and Greece. Rick told a great story about meeting a CIA agent on a Greek ferry. The agent didn’t tell Rick that he was an agent, just all his movements, speech patterns, looks and circumstances lead Rick to this conclusion. After this story I guessed that Rick was from Vancouver. He asked me, “How did you know?” I started telling him “Because of your speech, the way you walked, etcetera.” And then I told him he had previously stated he was from Vancouver!

Sameer, the tour driver and brother of the hostel owner, Ussama. In the hostel and on the tour to settlements north of Aleppo we chatted about almost everything including the pressure to get married in Syria, the potential for illness from the stone quarry dust and the border dispute between Turkey and Syria. The Syrian government still officially recognises Antakya (Antakia) and Iskenderun (Iskandaroun) as part of Syria.

Click on the map to see a larger version.

Intriguing, hey?

Selam and the other hostel workers.

The Italian couple, the female of whom illustrated children’s books. With them I chatted about the political and media situations in Italy.

Antje, the German lady who Alicia had met in Lebanon. Antje was fresh from being entertained in the Lebanese mountains by a Maronite (?) priest and his family. One evening the three of us ate dinner at an Aleppian restaurant. The local red wine tasted like dessert wine and the bottle was placed in an ice bucket but the kebabs were good!
The next morning we eventually made it to Aleppo’s Christian Quarter where an old truck with angels on the back grabbed our attention. The truck looked as though it was a hearse. At one stage church bells intermingled with a neighbouring mosque’s call to prayer.

The Japanese couple I shared the taxi ride from Aleppo to Antakya with. The man was in the middle of a two year Arabic language learning stint in Damascus and the woman had previously visited Egypt 6 or 7 times but never Turkey or Syria. At the border, dozens and dozens of passengerless Turkish buses were waiting to cross into Syria. I guess they were going to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to help with Hajj pilgrimage logistics. Antakya bus station (otogar) seemed very quiet. I guess cars weren’t constantly tooting their horns like they were in Aleppo.

Other random points:
* The streets of Aleppo teemed with soldiers in uniform, particularly on the holiday Friday
* I found a fresh sugarcane juice shop near the Christian Quarter
* One shop in the souq (bazaar, pazar) sold fresh ginger
* The weather for the whole trip was sunny but cool
* With the clear weather, the views from the citadel were much nicer than on my visit two years previous
* For myself or other people I brought back from Syria sweets, biscuits, Saudi dates, flat bread, two spice mixes, pita bread, Arabic coffee, cashews, almonds, shell-less pumpkin seeds, a small can of pineapple and duty-free bottles of tequila and vodka. Most of these items were either unavailable or more expensive in Mersin.