A Travellerspoint blog

The Road to Damascus

sunny 15 °C

Syria has turned out to be everything we expected. Syria allows you to walk through time, from beautifully preserved roman ruins and imposing crusader citadels, stunning mosaic mosques to medieval souks and ottoman palaces. The food is rich and exotic, raising the bar for the rest of the region. The factor that really sets Syria apart however are the people. Warm, welcoming, funny and altruistic, Syrians have perfected the art of hospitality to dusty travelers over millennia. Forget what you hear, Syria is as open minded and accepting as it is ancient.

From Aleppo we travelled south to Hama and got a car to show us the castles of the region. Our driver was a delightful old guy who didn't mind driving on the wrong side of a 3 lane highway. The highlight here was Crac de Chevaliers, a massive citadel build by the crusaders in the 12th century. This place was better suited to a fairy tale or fantasy story. When you wander these places, you have to remind yourself that they are actually real and not a set of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.

It was getting dark, so we negotiated a good rate for old mate to take us through the desert to Palmyra. This town has been a vital station for caravans linking the west and east. Over the centuries many civilizations have occupied it, yet it was the roman era of prosperity that has left it's mark today. We were lucky to get a hotel in the ruin site which allowed me to see the city at sunrise (pics to come). A day roaming this magnificent roman city was concluded with tea in the family garden of a guy we met and sunset from the castle perched high on a nearbly mount.

We arrived in Damascus that night and immediately fell for the old city. Tight, busy and winding cobbled streets decorated in Christmas lights, fashionable locals sporting the latest designer wear and us, shlepping our luggage completely lost. We finally found our hotel which is a converted villa. The hustle and bustle immediately turns to a tranquil courtyard, complete with overarching orange tree and bubbling fountain. The customary welcome tea recharges our batteries to explore the city. Our affection for Damascus only grows as we roam, repeatedly get lost and stumble on the best shwarma we've ever had - ever!

Yesterday we got to see the Umayyad Mosque which houses the resting place of Saladin, the head of John the Baptist and the shrine of Hussein, grandson of the prophet. Things got pretty hairy in small spaces as the giant scrum of burkas push and jostle to touch significant objects. Three souks later and we were ready for lunch and a nap. We had dinner reservations at 'the place to be in Damascus' which didn't disappoint. Amazing food and people watching. The moon was full and the immortal city inspiring so we got engaged under the roman arch and took the long route back to our villa.

We're taking a rest day today before heading south to Bosra and Jordan. The next chance we will get to blog will probably be in Jerusalem. Till then, much love. CP & Lee

Posted by CP LEE 06:56 Archived in Syria Comments (0)

The Homous Weekly

With CP taking care of business (map reading, negotiating with taxi drivers and all things gadget related) an opportunity has presented itself which involves unveiling one of the most compelling situations facing the middle east today..
As we travel far & wide throughout these wonderful and war-torn countries, my attention has been turned to ponder the age old question-
WHO put the H in homous??
Word in the souk is that the tahini made by the palestinians is da bomb. Anyway we are expecting some explosive flavours when we get to Israel.

Lebanon will be very hard to beat. We had some wonderful homous experiences the highlight being a humble little cafe in Gemmazeyeh, Beruit. The homous was silky smooth and warm with a delightfully generous serving of pinenuts & homemade olive oil..
However, while staying in a charming little chalet in the snow, we were informed that they had NO homous!! To which CP whispered I wonder how they'll brush their teeth tonight?' Obviously a few points were deducted here.

Lebanon homous experience- 7.5 chickpeas out of 10.

Posted by CP LEE 10:54 Comments (0)

Byblos to Syria

Skiing and souks

We're in Aleppo in the far north of Syria, which vies for the title of being the oldest town on earth, but more about that in a minute.

Since Byblos, we've travelled into the Mount Lebanon Range and through some of the most incredible cliff top towns to the Cedars with the hope of skiing. The travel gods blessed us with 2 meters of fresh snow much earlier than usual. We had an afternoon on the lower slopes (as it was too dangerous for the lifts) which allowed me to get my snow legs and Lee learned to ski after living on a snowboard. The next day, the lifts were open and we spent the whole day carving up fresh powder until our legs gave way. Great day, stunning scenery and a memorable experience.

From the Cedars, we crossed over into Hezbollah territory and to their headquarters at Baalbek to roam some very well preserved roman temples. It has to be said at this point that we are the only western tourists in the entire middle east, or so it seems. In every town it's just us and the locals, every set of ruins we roam on our own as if it's been reserved just for us. We get the best hotel room at the best rate and all the service. We're loving spending more time with locals rather than battling the crowds.

Yesterday, we came out of the mountains and after half a dozen military road blocks, we crossed into Syria and on up to Aleppo. The main reason for coming this far was to roam the medieval souk which runs over 1.5 km within the old city walls. We found a great place to stay right in the middle of the souk (one of only 2) with tapestries covering Byzantine era walls and a friendly manager to show us the town.

Today was shopping day souk style. Everything was on show in a feast for the senses. Spices, herbs, fresh camel, nuts galore, dripping sweets, hot bread and of course, homous and BBQ. That's just the food, not to mention the silver smiths, cobblers, soap makers, fragrance dealers, and merchants for every type of clothing and material imaginable. Our show bag includes locals soaps, camel hair pashminas, a silver ring and retro cassio watch for me and an ornate Arabic tile with "in the name on Allah" inscribed. Heavy bartering was the sport of the day and great fun. I think both parties walked away thinking they got a great deal!

Tomorrow we head south the Palmyra, Damascus and beyond. Thanks for keeping in touch and for all of your messages. Hope all is well.
CP & Lee

PS - we're unable to load photos from where we are so snow and souk photos to come on the next entry.

Posted by CP LEE 09:19 Archived in Syria Comments (1)

Beirut to Byblos

1st travel blog entry

semi-overcast 15 °C

We're sitting in a family hotel on the beach, cold beer in hand and the usual wide selection of fresh nuts and seeds on the table. We're looking out over the Mediterranian back to Beirut where we landed a few days ago.

The highlights so far:
The first crisis happened before we arrived in Abu Dhabi. In getting ready for landing, Lee realised that her sapphire ring was missing. Thorough searching was to no avail and as stress levels started to rise, we had the entire flight crew on hands and knees. Half a dozen, beautifully presented Etihad attendants filtering through filth and ground crew ripping up seats found nothing. As we contemplated the loss of this highly valuable and sentimental piece during our three hour stop over, our grief was halted by a quick check to the bra area where the said valuable was safely tucked. Relief and joy accompanied us on our flight to Beirut.

When you land in Beirut, you’re immediately hit with two things: 1) bullet riddled buildings; and 2) the level of commercialisation. Everything from mobile phones to Kentucky Fried Chicken is advertised in English among images of Che and the Iranian President.

We walk by the tank and military bunker on our hotel corner to explore the city. What you find is opposing forces living side by side. Mosques and Cathedrals (Lebanon is roughly 50:50 - Christianity and Islam) new developments next to bombed out blocks. You can see that Beirut is trying to make a new start with modern apartments and office space, but the recent war with Israel has ensured that the battle scars remain.

A walk around the National Museum shows us that the land has had many discrete eras from the Phoenician to the Romans, then Byzantine and Arabic with a hint of the Crusades. The shopping district is full of Christmas cheer, the bar strip abounds with affluent Beirutis having their Land Rovers valet parked and the Uni district has all of the bohemian charm that you’d expect from 1960’s Paris. The French influence can still be seen in the architecture, the language spoken and the food options.

We choose back alley local haunts for meals and bar hopped with the locals last night. Beirut is a confident and complex place full of sophistication and hope. You get the feeling that they’re on the verge of getting back to their best. Let’s hope regional factors don’t take that away.

We arrived in this little fishing village today and wandered the part Phoenician port, Roman fort and Crusaders citadel. A wonderful seafood lunch by the harbour and a wander around the ancient souk brought us to Pierre Abi Saad and his workshop, Memoire du Temps. Google this guy it’s a great story.

The sun’s going down and we’ve been told to stay here the night as Tripoli (our original destination) is not advisable for two plucky westerners like us. The plan is to ski tomorrow (recent storms have dumped snow) and then north into Syria.

Posted by CP LEE 06:43 Archived in Lebanon Comments (0)

Middle East Travel Plan

Our overall plan and route map.

20 °C

Well we're off on another adventure, this time to the Middle East. At this stage we fly into Beirut in the 12th Dec and out of Cairo on the 11th Jan. What happens in between is a bit fluid, yet likely destinations include:

- Skiing among the cedars in Lebanon
- Roaming the Souk in Syria
- Floating the Dead Sea in Jordan
- NYE Party, Tel-Aviv style
- Wandering the Valley of the Kings in Egypt

Route Map
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Have a great Christmas break everyone and see you on the other side.

Love CP and Lee

Posted by CP LEE 16:00 Archived in Australia Tagged trip preparation Comments (2)

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