Syria

Entry Info

26th (Thu)
Aug 2010

[day119] The Road to Cappadocia

Although I had enough time there, I decided to move on to Cappadocia located in central Turkey, as written in the previous entry that I felt enough in the Middle East. The backpacker couple Shin and Tomoko came with me as well. In those days, I began to realise the Japanese saying "Dumplings rather than blossoms", which means the person who prefers something to eat rather than those to see, definitely applies to me and in terms of foods among Japanese people Turkey is regarded as one of the top three delicious countries as well as France and China. I don't know why these three were chosen but certainly it would be better than the other Middle East countries which I was bit tired of.

Aleppo, the Second Biggest City in Syria

As Syria borders on Turkey, there are plenty of bus lines between these countries. However since there was no direct connection from Hama, we had to move to Aleppo, the second biggest city in Syria, at once. Although Aleppo is quite popular among travellers for its world heritage registered souk and castle, being preoccupied with the thought of Cappadocia we just stayed there one night for transit. Incidentally, there was one surprising point there. Aleppo has quite a few number of liquor stores. Although we had to bother a lot of passersby in order to find the liquor stores in Damascus and Hama, we could just see a lot of them on the street. Besides, the local people seemed using them too. I presume we were just entering the circle of influence of the Western culture.

According to the bus company at Aleppo, the only bus going to Antakya, which is the border town of Turkey, leaves at 5:00 every morning. On the next morning 4:30, we went to the bus station rubbing the sleep from our eyes. Though a heavy rain stroked us and the baggage inspection somehow took so long, the border crossing was as easy as usual. Having a Japanese nationality, we got the stamp to enter Turkey without visa. O.K. I entered Turkey which was the 13th country of the whole trip.

At the Antakya Station

After a couple of hours on the bus, we arrived at the Antakya station from which we had to find the connection route to Gyoreme at the central Cappadocia. No sooner had we stepped out from the bus than many local guys try to sell us the ticket to the next destination. The annoying hassles again. Though the people in Syria and Lebanon were quite shy - they wouldn't approach us unless we made eye contact intentionally - people here were quite aggressive. The building in front of us was too magnificent to make us realise it was the very bus terminal we should've enter and being weary and sleepy from the early departure, we just followed one guy who offered the bus to Gyoreme.

"No problem" was his favourite phrase. Whenever he answered our question, he added "No problem". "We wanna go to Gyoreme" "No problem, use this bus", "How much?" "No problem, XX lira(a rip off price, of course)", "Too expensive! Our guide book says XX lira" "No problem, it's OK.", "We don't have the Turkish lira yet." "I can take you to the money exchange. You can put your luggage on the bus." Like these, his attitude was quite dubious. Nevertheless, we anyway embarked on the bus as the price became appropriate and we had confirmed the bus was going to Gyoreme.

Is This the End?

The long distance buses in Turkey are famous for their high quality service. Usually, they have a dedicated cabin attendant and started with a wet towel, some snacks and amenities are served during the trip. What's more the reclining seats were large enough to get relaxed during 10 hours of travel. When I was looking at the scenery through the window with a little snooze, I realised the bus had stopped at the big terminal named Kayseri. And the cabin attendant told us that the bus would terminate here. What? We were on the bus going to Gyoreme, weren't we? We showed the ticket to her and she said it was written "To Kayseri" in Turkish language. Oh no, the guy tricked us! The memory of the guy saying "no problem" made our bloods\ boil. Even though we explained our situation to the people of the bus company, they didn't really understand us well due to their poor English. According to them, we could go to Gyoreme with a few dollar extra. Perhaps we could have accepted the deal as we really wanted to let our hair down at the accommodation.

"We paid for the bus to Gyoreme! You should bring us there! It's very unfair!!" Yelling at the staff of the bus company was a Taiwanese girl who was using the same bus as us. Since it was better to let the strong one negotiate, we, three Japanese and one Thai girl, were just watching how things went. As the driver and cabin attendant couldn't handle her, they brought us to their ticket counter and she kept howling. Even though the bus company offered a discount price, she didn't have the faintest idea of paying any more cents. After some 15 minutes, thanks to her amazing negotiation skill, the bus company yielded the free bus tickets to Gyoreme for all of us.

Strictly speaking, the people in Kayseri were not at fault. The culprit was the guy who sold the ticket. Thinking like this, we Japanese are prone to obey the absurdity while the Taiwanese girl fought against being mistreated. Probably, we should learn from her strong ego. Besides, it was the bus company's fault that they just let the irresponsible guys deal with their customers. I hope they make some improvements at the Antakya station due to the number of claims like ours.

Chewing some gum given to me by a vulgar looking guy (he was actually a nice friendly guy!) sitting next to me, my eyes had caught some strange shaped stones through the window. Finally, we arrived at Gyoreme the centre of Cappadocia.

Entry Info

Historical Site Tours in SyriaSyria has been inhabited since the prehistoric era and even the Old Testament is set in the country many times. Besides in spite of the rich history, the country was not widely developed yet and there were less fewer tourists compareding to the other countries. IOn this entry, I'll introduce some historical sites where I went on the days of staying atduring my stay in Damascus and Hama.

Palmyra

Historical Site Tours in SyriaWhen I was staying at in Damascus, I went to Palmyra by bus. It took about 3 hours from the bus terminal connected to the central area by mini bus. Palmyra has the biggest archaeological site in the central area of Syria and there are still many Roman style buildings from 3rd centuryies are remaining. A huge temple, a well preserved amphitheatre, a road with many pillars, you can enjoy various types of ruins. Besides, notwithstanding the scale of the site, there were unexpectedly not many tourists walking around and I could enjoy taking photos.

Historical Site Tours in SyriaA group of local school kids tried to talk with me, gesturing as if they wanted to take photos with me. I wrote this kind of story on the entry of Luxor; it seems like Eastern Asians like me is are very rare for the local kids in this area. In return, I aimed my camera to at them and it made put them into total chaos. The teacher was just standing and smiling. It was somehow quite heart warming. Nevertheless, be careful to the kids of the local pedlars. They have only two phrases in their dictionaries, "Buy this." and "Give me." Sadly, I became able to distinguish the difference between eyes which become merchandises and those which keep their innocence. Now I'm wondering about after coming back to Japan, how will the eyes of kids there appear to me?

Private tour to the Northern Syria

In order to go to the historical sites ion the Northern area of Syria, I used the private tour organized by the Riad Hotel at Hama with Shin, Tomoko and a Japanese man staying at the hotel at the same time. The 8 hour private trip going to 3 sites cost 700SYP (15USD). I think it was quite reasonable. Actually, using local bus would cost less but with the nominal fee, we were released from worrying about the bus schedule and at ease with playing our own music in the car. If you can find some people going to the same places, a private tour should be a great value.

Apameia

Historical Site Tours in SyriaThe first destination was Apameia allegedly as the biggest archaeological site of Northern Syria on a par with Palmyra located at the centreal. The length of load with pillars is long 2km long. I felt very unexcited, sadly because I'd already seen the a very similar site in Palmyra. Comparing the photos from the each site, it's interesting to see the difference of the materials of pillars and vegetations. But I couldn't notice such things on the actual site. Basically, Apameia has only pillars and some extra debris which used to be "bathhouse", "library" and others. I would recommend going to Palmyra which is well preserved and has various buildings if you can go only to one place.

Masyaf Castle

Historical Site Tours in SyriaThe next place we went for to was the Masyaf castle. According to the receptionist of the Riad Hotel, the castle is very good condition and a kind of a good out-of-the-way place. When we reached the site, we all said "Oh, well it's a castle." We could've had very different impression if we had come here in the very first days of the whole journey but in those days we'd been developing a kind of frigidity. But a funny event happened there as we encountered the local kids from school trip again. What's more as it was a fortress, the passages were very narrow. The scene looked like a super star group tried to get out through a stage passage after their concert. Cheering and clapping the kids extended their hands to make handshake with us despite the control from the secret services, no, the teachers. It was not really annoying as they had just pure interest towards us. I could say it was a very interesting experience.

Castle in the Sky, Krak des Chevaliers

Historical Site Tours in SyriaThe final destination was Krak des Chevaliers which is very popular among Japanese travellers as allegedly the castle is the model of the movie "Castle in the Sky" directed by Hayao Miyazaki. From the planning stage, this castle was the main destination of this trip for us as well. The first two places were in a sense "opening sites". On the way to the castle, we lifted our sprite spirits by listening to the soundtracks of the movie from on the iPod. The western style fort on the top of a 600m height mountain used be an impregnable strategic point. The contrast between the blue sky and the ivy-covered wall certainly had the a similar atmosphere to the movie. Not only the view from the castle, but view to the castle from the other side of the mountain to which the taxi driver led us was very beautiful.

Historical Site Tours in SyriaAfter walking on the outer wall, we enter the castle and somehow found strange people some of whom were wearing armours and being tied with ropes. I got sick at once as it looked like a very cheap tourist attraction but they were in fact the actors for the local cinemas. Using Egyptian costumes and putting many articles on the site they actually ruined the atmosphere but we were alright to see such a bizarre scene.

The thoughts after many historical sites in the Middle East

I'm bit afraid as I shared some negative images of this trip. Nevertheless, this is the style I intend to make. At short term trips, so new and exciting is the everything we see that we tend to feel going all the places on the guide book. In contrast, it's quite difficult to keep this mind state on a long term trip we become unno caring about most of the marginal places. However, because of this, the emotion towards the "real" places is just inexpressible. For instance, I won't be able to forget the feeling when I saw Petra and Karnak at for the first time. I think I'm seeking for this sensation during this trip.

Well, it was the time that I should move to the next country Turkey as I'd had enough time at in this area.

Entry Info

15th (Sun)
Aug 2010

[day115] Some meetings at Hama

As I enjoyed Damascus fully, I decided to go to the next destination, Hama, located in the northern part of Syria. Many travellers stay there long time for its convenience as a location to the other important sites around the area although the town itself has only huge waterwheels for the tourists' attraction. The long distance coach was quite comfortable. It has only 3 columns(1:2) and I could sit on the one without neighbours. After feeling drowsy for 3 hours, I noticed the bus arrived at Hama.

The best cheap hotel in the Middle East

I checked in to the Riad Hotel recommended by Iyo that I met in Damascus. According to her, many travellers praise the hotel as the best cheap accommodation in the Middle East. As it would be safe, unusually I made a reservation by email beforehand. (Though they don't have a website, you can contact with them by email "riadhotel@scs-net.org") In fact, the quality of the hotel was quite high. Although I would argue the accommodation in Damascus had a better atmosphere since the Riad Hotel is in an ordinary building, I liked this hotel very much for its absolute cleanness. The price for a single room with no bathroom was only 600SYP(13USD). Though it was quite a small room with a single bed and a little desk, it looked enough for one person. Incidentally, the ensuite double room even had a private fridge, which is quite rare in this class. I can recommend this room to couples who are travelling.

After checking in, I walked around the area to find a nice dinner but there are somehow few restaurants on the streets. Usually every town has bustling streets with restaurants and local people. However the receptionist told me there are no such streets in this town. Although there were plenty of cloth or grocery stores, I could find only a couple of Kebab shops and I bought one Kebab sandwich from them then took it away to the hostel. I began to feel bit tired of Kebabs as I ate one almost every day.

Meeting again (and again)

While eating the sandwich, I heard a very familiar voice. Oh, Shin and Tomoko, who had parted at Damascus, came again. Counting Dahab and Damascus, this is the third time to meet them. Likewise the case in Damascus I felt really comforted by seeing friends' face. Since the Riad Hotel has some private tours to the surrounding area, we decided to go together with a Japanese man staying there at the same time. I'll write about this episode later as it takes bit too long.

Serendipitous meeting

We had one more wonderfully unforgettable meeting at Hama. When I walked with Shin and Tomoko to go to a hammam we lost our way at the old town. The map of the Japanese guide book didn't help at all and the night had already started falling. It's a theory to ask passersby when we get lost. Therefore, we started asking people randomly in English. Although most of them not understanding English looked just bewildered, luckily one young guy using his mobile phone responded positively. He could speak English a little. I told him that we are looking for the hammam and he offered to lead us there as it was very close to where we were. In fact, the hammam was located at just on the middle of a narrow passage connected to our original location but I suppose we couldn't have reached there without his support.

He is a university student in Saudi Arabia and came back to his home town here. His name is "Obada". Before going to the hammam we decided to go to dinner together as he suggested he could take us to a nice local restaurant. The meal was grilled whole chicken which we ate in Damascus too. It was quite a large amount and actually delicious. What's more, surprisingly he paid for all of us. I hadn't realised his intention when he withdrew some money from the ATM on the way to the restaurant. Obada said, "Isram has a rule 'Be Gentle to Travellers' Never mind you are my guests." We accepted his kind offer.

On the next day, after coming back to the tour we met again and Obada gave us a walking tour around Hama old town. He took us to some very local spots like the back of the waterwheels and small market. He looked very proud when he was introducing his town to us. During the walk we talked a lot about our country, religion and business. As he is learning programming, we took our opportunity to work together too. Besides, he treated us to dinner again. Though we tried to pay, he stuck to his custom. In this case, we have to treat him with delicious Japanese meals when he has a chance to come to Japan. We should keep this friendship for a long time though it was just a coincidence to meet him at first.

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