Syria, July 2019

Community Highlights Africa & The Middle East Syria, July 2019

We’ve just come back from a brilliant trip to Syria with Golden Target (sandwiched by time in both Lebanon and Cyprus). Khaldoun, the owner, arranged both the visas and the itinerary and we were assigned Assadi as a guide and Khaled as our driver in Syria; both excellent. Khaldoun met us at the first hotel and gave us each a lovely gift. We were in Syria for six days, five nights.

Syria itself is recovering from what they call ‘the crisis’ and many parts of the country are still in ruins. Damascus itself seems like any normal Middle-Eastern city but, once out into the country, it was clear that Syria still has a long recovery ahead. There are numerous army checkpoints and both permits and passports are regularly scrutinised, especially on the roads to and from Palmyra and Aleppo. Lots of the buildings close to the Citadel of Aleppo are in ruins and many towns and villages, particularly around Almishtya seem to be abandoned. Palmyra has not escaped without damage; the Temple of Bel only has a pair of pillars standing.
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We met just one foreign tourist, a young traveller from Japan. He told us that he was on an eleven-day tour but his tour company, Mithra, was unable to organise a permit to visit the ruins at Palmyra. He also told us that his Japanese embassy was telephoning him on a daily basis to ensure that he was safe.
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Some personal highlights for us were sitting at a petrol station drinking whiskey with the owner along with a couple of majors in the Syrian army, being interviewed for Sana News while walking around Palmyra and the excellent Beit al-Mamlouka, our accommodation in Damascus. The local people were all welcoming and hospitable and everyone seemed pleased to see that tourists were visiting the country once again.

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Our full itinerary:

Day 1 - Transfer from Beirut, picked up from our accommodation (Saifi Urban Gardens) at 9am and driven to the stated accommodation, Beit al-Mamlouka (2 nights) in Damascus. This included any help required with negotiating the two immigration offices (the payment for the visa was extra - US130 each for NZ passport holders, USD140 for UK passport holders). Once in Damascus at around midday, we had the afternoon and evening to ourselves to wander around the old city and have dinner.

Day 2 – A full day guided Damascus city tour on foot including the House of Saint Ananias (allegedly where Saul was baptised), some of the city gates and arches, Straight Street, the Azem Palace, the Mausoleum of Saladin, Ommayad Mosque, the old souqs and bazaar and the National Museum.

Day 3 – A long drive to Aleppo (via Al-Salamiyah and Khanaser because of the continued fighting in Idlib) including a stop at the Convent of Our Lady of Sednaya, one of the oldest convents in the world. Our accommodation for the one night was the Riga Hotel. We had dinner at the Alkommeh restaurant, just down the road from the hotel.
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Day 4 – A guided tour of the Citadel of Aleppo followed by a bit of shopping in the old town before the drive to Hama (via Al-Salamiyah and Khanaser again) for a look at the Norias of Hama (ancient waterwheels) and then on to the town of Almishtya and our hotel for the next two nights, the Al Wadi.

Day 5 – A guided tour of the Patriarchal Monastery of Saint George followed by Krak des Chevaliers and then an early evening of leisure.
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Day 6 – An early start for the long drive through army territory to the stunning ruins at Palmyra followed by the drive to Damascus, a change of vehicle and the drive over the border to the airport at Beirut.

This featured blog entry was written by Borisborough from the blog Syria - July 2019.
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By Borisborough

Posted Tue, Jul 30, 2019 | Syria | Comments