Category Archives: Syria

Syria: Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Wanted to wake up early to see the ruins in the rising light, but slept through the alarm. Quick breakfast and met Saleh at 8:45, off to Krak des Chevaliers. Drive-through desert and growing shades of green to Krak, way up the hill. Beautiful views and a half tour with a limited English guy.

Leaving Palmyra with our Bedouin driver Saleh

Leaving Palmyra with our Bedouin driver Saleh

On the highway from Palmyra to Homs.

On the highway from Palmyra to Homs.

Tour at Krak des Chevailers

Tour at Krak des Chevailers

Krak des Chevaliers

Krak des Chevaliers

Drove through town, eating nuts and fruit on our way back to homes. Stop for bananas (“mooz”) and along the highway for a tray of ripe strawberries.

Roadside strawberries, bought between Krak and Homs

Roadside strawberries, bought between Krak and Homs

 

Pulled into Homs (no action) and headed for the train terminal. Saleh did our talking, we found a restaurant next door, said our goodbyes to Saleh and paid him $100 for his awesome work.

Homs train station

Homs train station

Restaurant OK – empty, would make a good wedding reception room. Later I realized I left my black jacket there.

Boarded microbus shuttle to “main” train station across town (included in SYP360 total charge for tickets) and waited five minutes for the train. Train ride decent – WC in terrible condition but clean – nice sunset and silver crescent moon. A boy pulled when Linda’s hair. Divider rattled when brakes used. We were in the wrong car.

On the Homs to Aleppo train.

On the Homs to Aleppo train.

Arrived at Aleppo, taxi to hotel-immediately felt the city was like New York. Went to Dar Halabia Hotel, but they switched us over to Dar al Kanadil and took us there to check in.

Dinner at Restaurant al Kommeh-decent food, nice people with a baby next to us. First cherry kebabs, a specialty of the city (OK)-Real Madrid vs Tottenham was on TV.

Our friendly neighbors at Restaurant al Kommeh

Our friendly neighbors at Restaurant al Kommeh.

 

Syria: Sunday, April 3, 2011

Breakfast, Linda feeling a bit better. Tim & Linda went to mass (local church not open), went to St. Paul for 10:00 mass.
Elaine and I went to Khan Assaad Pasha, 1752 and recently renovated, “the boldest and most striking of the Damascus khans” (Burns) then back to Adnan Kilims by the Umayyad and purchased 3 rugs (fish eye runner, orange Kurdish and a small slit-weave for R&M). Was a great time to be in the suq because it was quiet.

Khan Assaad Pasha, Damascus

Khan Assaad Pasha, Damascus

Bread vendor, Damascus suq

Bread vendor, Damascus suq

Over to Bab Touma for a taxi to Harasta terminal where we scrambled to figure out which bus was ours to Palmyra. Had to get ticket stamped by security and dealt with the chaos of getting bags and bodies on the bus. Free waters for all 20 minutes in, handed out by a small boy. 3-4 hour ride across austere desert to Palmyra.

Furry stick shift

Furry stick shift

Upon arrival we secured a SYP 50 taxi to the Zenobia Cham Palace hotel. We didn’t have a reservation, but we agreed to meet Saleh (our driver) the following morning at 8:20 for a ride to the tombs, temple and citadel. Also arranged a camel ride for 3 at 6:30 am, before our taxi tour.

Zenobia Cham Palace Hotel, Palmyra

Zenobia Cham Palace Hotel, Palmyra

Hotel Zenobia, 1921

Hotel Zenobia in 1921

Negotiated rate of EUR 80/night, two double rooms; came out for a coffee/polo/tea snack but the wind and rain came up, so we went in. The weather intensified into a sandstorm, blanking out the spectacular ruins, and later turned to wind, rain, thunder and lightning. DInner (not very good) at the hotel restaurant.

About to snack at the Zenobia Hotel, Palmyra

About to snack at the Zenobia Hotel, Palmyra

Linda in the sandstorm

Linda in the sandstorm/rainstorm

Got an hour of internet and Skyped a bunch of people, a little Euchre and then bed. Early start tomorrow!

Syria: Saturday, April 2, 2011

Woke at the Convent of Our Lady of Seidnaya, 9:30 breakfast.

Breakfast at the convent

Breakfast at the convent: seasoned pita, bitter olives, eggplant and hot sweet tea.

Paid Sister Stephanie, walked down the hill to the microbus station. Joked around for a few minutes with 8 guys who were smoking–wish I had had my cigarettes at the ready.

Seidnaya convent

Leaving Seidnaya convent

Microbus to Damascus was SYP 25 per person; with our bags we had to pay 2 extra fares; crazy ride. Got out at Bab Touma thanks to a girl Elaine made friends with–also a couple kids taught her to count 1-10, we gave them some NYC postcards.

Linda was sick–went to Beit al Mamlouka, checked in and she went to sleep, staying in the room for the rest of the day. We had some coffee and headed for a walk. After a bit TIm went back to check on Linda and Elaine and I visited Azem Palace, originally built 1749-50 by the Ottoman governor of Damascus, Assaad Pasha al-Azem, and partially rebuilt twice in the 1830s (renovations) and in 1925 (after a fire).

Courtyard at Beit al Mamlouka, Damascus

Courtyard at Beit al Mamlouka, Damascus

Returned to Mamlouka, waited for Katie–but cell and internet service were out across the region. When she arrived we hired a cab to take us up Mount Qasioun.

Night view over Damascus, from Mount Qasioun

Night view over Damascus, from Mount Qasioun

Took the same taxi to an Iraqi restaurant where we had leg of something and big mezze, only SYP 1400 for the four of us. Taxi back to Bab Touma, we picked up some red wine and N/A (strawberry) beer, staying up late with Katie looking at her pictures.

Iraqi restaurant, Damascus

Iraqi restaurant, Damascus

Syria: Friday, April 1, 2011

Woke up late; hotel empty (Iranians left last night)
Checked out of City Hotel, boarded van (driver: Jawad) at 8:30
Saw demonstration on the way out of Damascus (unclear whether pro- or anti-Assad; later Jawad talked about how the youth “couldn’t be controlled,” with negative connotations)
Deir Mar Mousa (countryside: Bedouin; landfill; dry scrub; desert-like; sheep and goat herds)
360 (or so) step climb to Mar Mousa; frescoes magnificent, listened to lecture in French
30 minute drive to Maalula; stopped for lunch on the outskirts [later identified as the source of some GI discomfort]
St. Sergius (Aramaic spoken)
walk through gorge
Convent of St. Tekla
Drive to Seidnaya; arrange stay in Convent of Our Lady of Seidnaya and Jawad leaves.
Elaine not feeling well
Divine liturgy service (hours long; I observed for 40 minutes)
Back room with a painting of the Virgin reportedly by St. Luke

With Jawad between Damascus and Deir Mar Musa

With Jawad between Damascus and Deir Mar Musa

Beginning the walk to Deir Mar Musa

Heading up to Deir Mar Musa. SILENCE! please

Inside Deir Mar Musa

Inside Deir Mar Musa, frescoes

Deir Mar Musa, looking down towards the parking lot with cable transport box

Deir Mar Musa, looking down towards the parking lot with cable transport box

In the gorge at Maalula

In the gorge at Maalula

Saint Tekla, Maalula

Saint Tekla, Maalula

Seidnaya at dusk

Seidnaya at dusk

Syria: Thursday, March 31, 2011

Scolded for approaching the vegetables at breakfast (they were for the Iranian pilgrims)
Elaine & Linda got bus tickets
Tim & I made calls to Seidnaya & car service
Handcrafts gallery (mostly closed)
Tekkiye mosque (closed)
National Museum (partially closed)–saw the library from the doorway and the first alphabet
Spoke with high school and university students in the Nat’l Museum gardens–lots of them wanted to practice English
stationery & clothing stores
Naranj, great meal
Adnar rug store
Umayyad mosque, tour with Jamal ($10)–guy upset that Elaine & Linda were near the St. John the Baptist reliquary; observed call to prayer & aftermath
Old city walkabout, drink at the Agenor boutique hotel overlooking Straight St
Linda & Tim bought a carpet for Nolan
Taxi home

Adnar rugs, Damascus

Adnar rugs, Damascus. We purchased the runner hanging behind him on the right.

Umayyad Mosque, Damascus

Umayyad Mosque, Damascus

Syria: Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Breakfast at City Hotel, Katie meets us there.
Walk to cafe–pro-Bashar demonstration outside–had coffee and water; watched the men playing games and smoking hookah; met Ryan & Rachel.
SIM cards for phone
Suq al-Hamidiye–met Basel and Kati for lunch
Straight St. and Old City tour with Basel
Bab Sharqi, north to St. Ananias chapel
West and north to Bab Tuma
St. Francis church, passing Elissar and Mamlouka
Umayyad Mosque
Back through Hamidiye to ice cream
Coffee & tea in City Hotel lobby
Chat with family from Iran
Planning next days, spoke with Tarek about hammams

Spice shop in Suq al-Hamidiye, Damascus

Spice shop in Suq al-Hamidiye, Damascus

Lunch in Damascus Old City

Lunch in Damascus Old City

Suq al-Hamidiye, Damascus

Suq al-Hamidiye, Damascus

Syria: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 (New York-Istanbul-Damascus)

0:29 NYC time. Glad to be at the airport and on the way–news reports have been distracting, most folks that know us have had serious reservations about our trip.

A few friends & family have been very supportive and encouraging and trusting that we’ll make the right decisions when we get on the ground and see for ourselves what it’s like.

“For security reasons, there is no post box at JFK airport”–1:30 am NYC; 2:30 current location; 8:30 Istanbul

8:20 am NYC; 15:20 current/Istanbul. Landing in 10 minutes. some turbulence south of Grenland/Iceland. Otherwise smooth, we all feel a bit gross and swollen. Looking forward to a Turkish coffee in IST.

Istanbul:

  • Blue Mosque
  • Aya Sofia/Sultanahmet Park
  • DHL saga–getting the package sent to Katie in Syria. Purchased Turkish visa for $20, left bags at counter in IST airport, taxi to DHL then to downtown IST. Return to airport for IST-Dam flight.

10:00 pm Damascus

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Blue Mosque, Istanbul