Bosra was my very last destination in Syria. It is an ancient Roman city located in the southernmost region of Syria near the Jordan border. It was only about an hour and a half from Damascus. The ancient Citadel below:
Kids playing soccer:
When I left Bosra, it was evening and getting dark. The buses were not running to Damascus at that time. I tried hitchhiking, but without luck. Fortunately a young man came out of his house nearby and offered me a night at his family’s home. He spoke some English. Though people are friendly in Syria overall, there is even more hospitality down in the country. I slept on this couch:
And had dinner:
The next morning, he offered to give me a tour of nearby Daraa. We took a taxi ride there. If this city sounds familiar, it had made international headlines just a couple weeks prior for violent uprisings. You could even say the very start of the war in Syria was in Daraa.
At the time, the city was calm. I didn’t notice much in the way of damage. It looked like things were back to normal.
Inside a cafe in Daraa:
The young man took me to a community pool next. He showed me a photo of his cousin, who died in the Daraa fighting just recently:
In the afternoon, I thanked the young man and left for Damascus. I stayed in Damascus for a couple nights and then took a train ride to Aleppo the next afternoon. It was night when I arrived and fairly late. I then took a taxi to the Turkish border and another taxi from the border back to same hotel in Antakya that I stayed a couple months before. It was about 4:00 in the morning. Syria ended up being a memorable trip, but I had little idea how significant this trip would be in light of the events the country has seen since.
Coming up next: Lebanon
Mar Musa was among the last place I went during my Syrian trip. This was back in June 2011. Mar Musa is an ancient Christian monastery located about an hour north of Damascus. It is one of the few surviving monasteries in the Middle East and dates from the 11th century. The monastery is perched on top of a cliff in a very remote area. Me and a group of three others went together from the hotel in Damascus to the monastery. They gave us free meals and accommodation for the night we were there. We attended service in the afternoon. It was an interesting experience.
Syrian Catholic Priest
This German man has stayed at the monastery on and off for months. He wants to become a priest.
Lunch. The lady at rear is from Ontario and to her left is from Oregon. they traveled together.
We slept here for the night.
Damascus is the heart of Syria. It is a city of almost two million. I spent a considerable amount of time here. Like many big cities in developing countries, a good bit of it is noisy, crowded, and polluted. I’m not a big fan of large cities in the poorer parts of the world, but like many cities you can uncover quite a bit of gems. Damascus is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world and there is a tremendous amount of history. These photos were back in May and June of 2011, before the war. Images below are clickable.
At the Hotel. A Dutch, French, and two Brits. We didn’t know each other before and became friends.
Same hotel. I came back to Damascus in June after a four week stint in Lebanon. Below are a group of Chinese backpackers:
Just outside the hotel, a fairly liberal youth scene. Many are college students:
Pro-Assad Rally in June
Children’s Clothing Shop
Old Detroit iron
Me and a guy from the hotel decided to head towards the Krak des Chevaliers castle and other ancients ruins just east of Hama. We arranged a driver to take us to these places. He couldn’t speak good English so it was difficult to know what we were looking at.
The Krak des Chevaliers castle is considered among the best preserved in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Each of the photos are expandable.
Continue reading “Syria – Castles and Ancient Ruins”
(Continued from “My Journey Through Syria in 2011 – Aleppo“)
I spent a few nights in Hama, arriving from Damascus by bus. Again the time period was May of 2011. I intended to stop here to take a day trip to the well-known Crac des Chevaliers castle just west of Hama. At the hotel there was just one other tourist, a young man from Japan. The hotel owner spoke fluent English and was really helpful in pointing out places of interest in the area. There were curfews after about 9 PM due to rising tensions. This was around the beginning of the disaster that would soon unfold over Syria. There were no violence, protests, or rallies in Hama at the time – just an atmosphere of concern. There had been skirmishes in Daraa, which is in the southwestern portion of the country, that had killed scores of people. The owner was more cautious about the events going on unlike the owner of the hotel in Aleppo where I stayed previously. The Aleppo hotel owner had little concern about rising tensions and just brushed it off as something temporary.
The town of Hama had a sad history. Back in 1982 the elder Assad, Hafez, ordered the army to come into Hama and take on the Muslim Brotherhood which was opposed to the government. It was a bloody battle that killed thousands of citizens and destroyed much of the historic city center. Some remnants still remain however:
Continue reading “Syria – Hama”
Palmyra has (had) among the world’s greatest ruins of the Roman Empire. I stayed in Palmyra for three nights. This was in mid-May of 2011. I arrived from Hama. During my entire stay, I saw just one other foreign tourist, who was from Germany. I basically had Palmyra for myself. There was a lot of hiking as Palmyra was a large site. Most shots below were taken with a Nikon D300. I used a Bogen tripod for a lot of evening shots.
I stayed in this hotel while visiting Palmyra. It was right next to the sights. The town was small and seemed to be built specifically for the tourist industry, which had suffered since 9/11. Sadly, much of Palmyra now lies in ruins.
May 14th, 2011 (images are clickable)
Continue reading “Palmyra Syria in 2011”
I took a day trip to the “Dead Cities” just outside of Aleppo. I had wanted to go to the Dead Cities, but it would have been expensive for me to go alone with a tour guide. In Aleppo I met a couple from Seattle when I was at the Citadel. We chatted and got to know each other a bit. We decided to go together on the tour and split the fare. The Dead Cities are ancient abandoned villages west of Aleppo that was inhabited from the 1st to 7th Centuries. They are mainly from the Byzantine Period.
(each of the photos are clickable)
Church of Saint Simeon built in the 5th Century
Ruins of Ain Dara Temple dating between 8th – 10th century BC
Farm just outside the temple
Afterwards our guide invited us to his home. He lived between the Dead Cities and Aleppo
(Coming Up: Hama, Palmyra, and Damascus)
I did a big Middle East tour back in the spring of 2011. I was traveling solo. This was near the beginning of the Mideast uprising. The reason I went was to see some of the historic sites before it was no longer possible to do so. It was timely because Syria was being devastated not long after I left. It was right in the beginning of the Arab Spring. There were curfews in Hama and Damascus on some of the days I was there, but overall things went very smoothly. Safety wasn’t an issue and I did my research before I left. I had read up on travel guides and forum posts prior to my travel. At the time it was a decent country. Crime was practically non-existent. Everybody had enough to eat and somewhere to live. What is portrayed in the media about the country is about the exact opposite of reality. I was in Syria for four weeks. Tourism not surprisingly was almost non-existent. I didn’t write about my travels at the time. Wish I had jotted a few things down, but I had planned to rely on my photos which I took hundreds during the trip.
Before Syria, I had spent three weeks in Turkey – mainly in Istanbul and Cappadocia. And before that I was in Egypt, where I had started my trip. I spent a night in Antakya, Turkey the day before I left for Syria. In May I crossed the border from Turkey into Aleppo. I had gotten my Visa several months ago back in the States. You could not do it at the border. I actually went to the Syrian embassy in DC to pick up the Visa. At the time I lived just across the Potomac River.
Upon crossing the border I noticed a big change in the living standards. Turkey was solidly a second world country, but Syria was more upper third world. The standard of living there was similar to Mexico. The immigration’s building in Syria was pretty shabby and deteriorated. Turkey’s building was a lot more modern (below):
It took about an hour to get from the border to Aleppo city center. I had a some difficulty finding my “hotel”. Of course a hotel here is not like a hotel in the states. The place was recommended by Lonely Planet Middle East travel Guide. I didn’t know any Arabic except for a few simple words and numbers. I asked somebody in a shop for directions. He knew some English and gladly helped me out.
I eventually found my hotel. The place was clean and comfortable. The man who worked in the hotel spoke good English.
When I was in Syria I realized my ATM card wasn’t working. In fact it had never worked. I shouldn’t have checked the card before leaving home. I was running low on cash which I originally had $3000 on me. It had carried me through Egypt and Turkey. Few places during my trip accepted anything but cash. I was getting a little worried. Fortunately I was able to get my dad to wire me money through Western Union. The money would last me several more weeks.
My Hotel (Each of the photos are clickable):
Continue reading “Aleppo”