Travel time…Syria

I took a bus from Antep to the small border town of Killis. Once all the other passengers had disembarked, the driver happily took me to the border itself ‘for a few dollars more’. I approached the border control checkpoint on foot. The guard called out “no foot…car, car”. I looked at him and expressed (in my best body language) its just me, myself and I. He gestured to me to take a lift from a random driver and as luck would have it, a driver beckoned me over. I threw my bags into his car, had my passport stamped at Turkey “departures” and we made our way to “arrivals” on the Syrian side.

car to Azaz

border taxi from Killis, Turkey to Azaz, Syria

The Syrian customs looked at my passport and quizzed “you go to Palestine?” “No, no – I go to Aleppo, Damascus, then Jordan” I replied. He stamped my passport and then left me hanging whilst he updated the details on his computer. People came and went. Passports got stamped. Money passed hands and dropped into pockets swiftly. Finally he gave up on filling my details and disappeared. Another guy appeared – he looked at me, stamped my half completed arrival card, handed me my passport and gestured me to move on. I obliged.

I jumped back into the car with my adopted taxi driver. His car got ‘strip searched’ at Syrian customs. Nobody said a word to me. He sped off to Azaz ( border town in Syria ) and dropped me off at the bus station. I paid him for services rendered and took my seat on the full bus to Halep/Aleppo.

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15 Responses to “Travel time…Syria”

  1. Matt O Says:

    Great to hear your travel updates matey. Sounds like an adventure so far, I hope you are keeping well and having a great time. Keep ’em coming my old friend, nice relief from the clouds and rain over here – You’re not missing much!! Just one request – more photos!

    And remember, if you need anything doing over here or visits to your folks place for anything…you know I’m always on hand.

    Big love. All the O’s x

  2. Nadeem Says:

    It’s easy to say now, but a few days in and the warmth and gentle nature of the Syrian people is very evident. They appear slightly distant, yet curious. Ironically this lures you in. The cafe owner begins “Is the coffee good?” The conversation ends 2 hours later, with me at the back of the shop looking through his english books, complimenting him on his spelling and use of punctuation.

    faces of Aleppo

    The many faces of Aleppo

    Aleppo’s Citadel is a wonder. The fortress affords panoramic views of the city and leads down into the old city, christian quarter and the sweeping indoor bazaar. Hanging lanterns, burrowed shops and stalls forge their way through the maze of streets and back alleys that create the vein of the bazaar. It’s a joy.

    Aleppo Citadel

    Panoramic Aleppo

    Paradoxically, Friday sees the shop shutters come down and the city open up. Only sweet sellers occupy pavements and the roads are relatively uncluttered compared with a working day. The old city is made up of long, narrow winding streets that reveal cobbled courtyards where children are playing, men sitting, chatting. Heads peer from windows, women hang washing from balconies, men ‘water’ the streets, bakers prepare evening bread, people come in and out of mosques.

    children of Aleppo

    Children playing, Old City, Aleppo

    The sweets are to die for. Beyond exquisite.

  3. Nadeem Says:

    I left Aleppo behind and took the early train to Lattakia, on the west coast. The train snaked its way through rural villages and open canyons. I slept, woke up and peered out of the window, then slept again.

    I noticed the other day that arabic browsers type from right to left in the navigation bar. It’s cool when you don’t expect it. Not that it should surprise me or anything. The lady in the internet cafe reminded me “No facebook in Syria – its okay for you?” “Ofcourse, no problem, thanks.”

    On the face of it, Lattakia is a reflection of contemporary Syrian society compared with it’s conservative Halepian neighbour. The beautiful people fill the streets, shops, cafes, markets, parks and restaurants. Like many places I have visited, the town awakes from its slumber in the evenings, as people come out and bring real meaning to the words night and life.

    Train to Lattakia

    The early train to Lattakia

    Setting aside politics, I think that societal conservatism and modernity work seamlessly in places like this because people are aware of their cultural heritage – almost see it as a duty. It’s all around them – from the souqs, the citadels, the mosques and churches; to the constant interaction between old and young. The Syrian legacy is embroidered into the social fabric of people’s everyday lives. Physical reminders of the past that are embraced and entwined as people leap into the present. You cannot help but be engaged by it.

  4. Nadeem Says:

    I remember thinking I should go and visit a castle or something. Four days of Syrian holiday meant most places in Hama were shut. All I wanted to do was to sit in the park and have a ride on the ferris wheel. A sure metaphor for life if ever there was one.

    I waiting eagerly in the queue. What a delight. Up and over, down and under, up and over. I took chay and sat in the park. Candy floss, the waft of nargileh (pipe smoking), families in their droves sitting on benches, talking, eating, waving, smiling. “Hello, Welcome!” “Hello.” And the ferris wheel. The innocence of it all. I felt an urge for chewy, toffee sweets.

    Around Hama

    Around Hama

  5. Nadeem Says:

    I must buy toothpaste.

    I arrived in Palmyra, a small bedouin town buried deep in the East Syrian desert. The landscape changed in a matter of hours to a dry, sandswept mountainous terrain. Large towns were replaced by small villages. Ruinous Palmyra was expansive, but easily eclipsed by the citadel perched on a distant mountain top.

    The evening sunset blanketed the ruins in a bright orange red and I took chay. I walked up to the citadel and took in the panaroma of my surroundings, before heading back into town. I stopped to watch a group of youngsters having a kick around. The citadel provided a glimpse of days gone by, seemingly casting an eye on the future.

    I bought toothpaste.

    VideoVideo: The view from the Citadel, Palmyra

    Palmyra and its surroundings

    Palmyra, its past and present.

  6. JOHN CONSTABLE Says:

    Hello Nadeem,

    Enjoying your travel diary and think it an amazing experience. I would have panicked had I lost my passport, credit cards and money. To be
    on my own with no ID is not a happy thought. Your expansive travel
    makes my trips into Europe seem very tame but I bet there are no Wagner performances in Palmyra! Of course my extensive visits to the USA were for me as exciting in my own way as that country always meant so much to me from a very early age and to experience it at close hand was tremendous. The Middle and Far East is so different and I envy you the memories. The furthest east I have been is Jericho!
    Good luck for the remainder of your tour – John

    • missedabitoftravel Says:

      Hello Sir! Yes I am having a great time, loving the middle east and its incredibly warm people. I am in Damascus right now – its quite wonderful. As you say, I think ( wherever you travel ) its the memories that make the experience so precious, and personal. May there be many new journeys in store for us both! Best wishes, respectfully, Nadeem

  7. marc Says:

    Personne ne parle français sur ce blog?
    good to read from you again! your travel seems to be fantastic. I miss my backpack. Take care

  8. Mohammed fahad Butt Says:

    Hey Nadeem sounds like your having an amazing time in Turkey and Syria. Wish I was there with you.

  9. Nadeem Says:

    All roads lead to Damascus. I’ve been dying to say that. I arrived early, took a shuttlebus into the downtown area, dropped my bags and headed for the souq in the old city. What a pleasure. Holes in the oval tin roof let in rays of light, bouncing off shop windows. People of all descriptions wandered. It had something of the “Orson Welles” about it.

    A quick word about ice-cream. Not that I know anything about ice-cream. When its churned right, it is to die for. Doused in pistachio nuts, coned and overflowing. Every day for four days.

    Damascus, Old City

    Damascus, Old City

    I traipsed the full length of the souq, took my shoes off and entered the Umayyad Mosque. It was like walking through a time warp. Red, gold and green mosaics decorated the stone walls; pigeons gathered high up on the arched ledges. In the wide open courtyard, men and women sat, some in contemplation, others in prayer. Children ran amok. I found a spot to call my own and let the afternoon unfold. Every evening during my time in Damascus I would go to the courtyard, sit, watch and pause for thought.

    Umayyad Mosque

    Umayyad Mosque, Damascus

    A few days into my stay, I spent the afternoon walking into the valley that looked down into the heart of Damascus. Small cobbled steps traversed there way up, passing homes, schools, shops, mosques – all perched, side by side. The city noise died away. I could hear families talking behind closed doors, music playing, see men huddled drinking chay; women hanging washing. “Hello Mister! You want to take a picture?” children called. This felt like real Damascus to me.

    I reached my ascent, looked down and took in the view.

    “… Hold me closer tiny dancer, count the headlights on the highway, lay me down in sheets of linen, you had a busy day today… ”
    (Tiny Dancer, Madman Across the Water, Elton John, 1972)

    Damascus Skyline

    Climbing Damascus

    Consolidated, the following day I took the bus to Jordan.

    For travel time in Malaysia, click here.
    For travel time in Vietnam, click here.
    For travel time in Jordan, click here.
    For travel time in Turkey, click here.
    For travel time in Laos, click here.
    For travel time in Cambodia, click here.
    For travel time in Thailand, click here.
    For travel time in Myanmar, click here.
    To go to the start of this blog, click here.
    To go to missedabit.com, click here.

  10. Judy Says:

    Dear Nadeem,
    I’m completely in awe reading your blog! I really feel you should be a travel writer! Maybe in the future?
    Take care and best wishes – Judy

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