The birthday boy enjoying his seafood lunch with a view.
Riding around the walls of the ancient city we have sweeping views over the high grassy moors.
Syrians love their sweets, and so do we. This one is covered with pistachio nuts and is particularly nice.
Good looking dude and an ugly Arab. You guess who's who.
Locals getting the run down on some of Jack's hi tech equipment. I thought I'd impressed them but then this one fellow pulls out a remote control key fob and remotely starts his $450.00 Chinese bike! I think BMW need to know about that little gismo!
This woman has a hard life with long days working her fields in the desert but she takes time to welcome us into her world, the knife is for the plants!
Customs and immigration on the Turkish side went smoothly just the final boom gate to go and then onto Syria... but there is a problem. The guard checks his computer and says again, 'problem, problem, go back'. Well, to cut a long story short it seems the police had contacted the border and we have to pay the fine before they will let us pass. This is obviously a money making racket as they even have an office where we can pay, and we queued up with several other unfortunate motorists and begrudgingly paid our dues –about $240. To say we are pissed off is an understatement and that experience has sadly tarnished our impressions of Turkey. We have to wonder how the hell we are going to complete a tour of north/west Turkey traveling at 70km an hour?
'Welcome to Syria', the immigration officials bellowed, 'of course you can have a 14 day visa, just fill in this simple form and you can be on your way'. The carnet for Jack was quickly processed and insurance purchased and we were on our way within 30 minutes, a record for a border crossing. We're always excited to enter a new country and our senses are attuned to the differences. Syria seems immediately poorer, the cars and trucks are older and there is more rubbish laying around. The people are friendly though and give us a wave and even as we ride past we hear them shout and wave, 'welcome welcome'.
Our destination for tonight is Allepo, a big city of 4 million only 70km from the border. The roads into the city are wide but polished with use and quite slippery as we soon found out when a car did a U turn in front of us and I hit the brakes. Jack's brakes are excellent and normally this would not be a problem, but on this occasion he slowed initially and then just continued on even though I was squeezing the leaver hard. What had happened is that the ABS had kicked in to prevent the wheel locking and reduced braking on the slick surface. We were able to swerve around the car but it was a bit of a reality check and we'll have to watch out on these slippery roads.
As always, one of our biggest challenges of the day is finding a suitable hotel. Our guide book has a recommendation and we're close, but we can't find the right street. Remember street names are written in Arabic script and it's one of those languages we never mastered. As usual though in this part of the world, someone noticed our predicament and offered to help. Turns out he is Syrian but has lived for more than 30 years in Australia. He offers assistance and we find the hotel, but it's fully booked. No worries and we soon find another nearby and settle in. Hotel al-Gawaher is clean and comfortable enough with a great roof top view of the city but the best news is that prices are reasonable again, $20 a night.
It's our anniversary today, 29th May and Dianne tells me we've been married for 32 years! Anyway an opportunity to show my appreciation to a wonderful woman, best mate and number one wife by getting her a necklace at the market and dinner at the nearby Sheridan Hotel.
The following evening the Australian/Syrian we met earlier, Mark and Adel his Syrian wife took us out for dinner at one of Aleppo's best restaurants housed in a beautiful old house with an atmospheric courtyard. A memorable night, we had a huge choice of tasty mezze and great company and an opportunity to find out more about life in Syria.
After the usual three days in Aleppo, everything felt familiar and we had worked out the lay of the land, a sure sign that it's time to move on and this time we head west to the Mediterranean city of Lattakia, passing through fertile valleys and over some quite high hills. There are several Crusader castles from medieval times in this area as well as 'dead cities' from the Roman era, all providing an insight into the complex history of this region.
West to the Mediterranean sea
The next day we pass by the more littered beaches near Lattakia and rode as far north as we could soaking in these spectacular views with blue skies, the turquoise ocean and white cliffs.
Just 60kms west of Hama is Apamea. Founded in the 2nd century by Seleucus 1, one of Alexander the Great's generals. It survived the Roman period, the Byzantine period, was destroyed by the Persians in 550 AD before being seized by the Muslims about 650BC. Sadly it was virtually flattened by an earthquake in 1157, but walking through the remaining colonnaded street on the original paving we can still get a feeling of just how great this city must have been in it's heyday when it was on the silk road.
We enjoyed Hama, it was just different, and we soon felt at home at the Riad Hotel near the clock tower. Dianne was allowed in the kitchen to cook a meal and after shopping in a near by market she made a healthy stew and spaghetti. It was just as well we were so comfortable as I have again been struck down with diarrhoea. It's been one of these on and off things that has dragged on for too long and Dianne decides I need to get tested. Fortunately there is a laboratory nearby and they soon identify the bacteria and we get antibiotics from the chemist. The test and the drugs cost about $5.00. Makes one wonder why we have to pay so much in western countries.
An easy ride east from Hama takes us through Beehive villages in the desert (below) and more impressive ancient ruins – Qasr Ibn Wardan and Ash'Shamamis.
Another major attraction SW of Hama is Crac Des Chevaliers and if there is only time to see one castle in Syria, this is it. The fortress, standing largely intact, takes one back to a time of knights and round tables. It is described in our guide book as "the epitome of the dream castle of childhood fantasies." and TE Lawrence simply called it "the finest castle in the world". Built by the Crusader knights around the middle of the 12th century the castle was never breached and could hold a garrison of 2000 men with supplies to last up to 5 years. That didn't help the Crusaders though when they were surrounded by the armies of Islam. After a one month siege they agreed to surrender the castle in return for a safe passage.
Crac Des Chevaliers
The highway south to Damascus is hard work with strong side winds but we turn onto minor roads to pass through the interesting desert towns of Maalula and Seydnaya.
It was 39 degrees C when we arrived in Damascus and the traffic was heavy. Our guide book gave the Al-Rabie Hotel a good rap but the one way streets made it difficult to find and get to. We eventually found it down a small dead end street and settled down in the wonderful court yard where we met many like minded travelers. Here we again met Michael, a Swedish bloke who has ridden down from Sweden. We saw him last in Aleppo and just by chance he was walking past the hotel and saw Jack.
Here are a few people shots. We enjoyed Syria, learnt a lot from its history (in what is regarded as the cradle of civilization) but for us again it was the people's smiles that made us feel so welcome in their country that made the journey worthwhile. We look forward to the return trip through Syria after Jordan.
Click Next page to continue our journey in Jordan