Syria Aleppo 2001.04.22 - 04.23

"Welcome to Syria"

We reached Aleppo by overnight bus from Göreme, Turkey with transfers in Kayseri and Antakya (both in Turkey). Syrian visas must be obtained in advance. They are not issued at the border. We easily got ours in Istanbul at the Syrian Consulate (hours: 09:00-11:00). Also, learn to read numbers in Arabic before arrival. Just knowing the numbers helps with prices, departure times, telephone numbers, bus numbers, and coin/cash values. Don't count on anything being written in Western letters or numbers.

In Turkey, fellow travelers said the Syrians are the friendliest people in the world. We found this to be true.

In most countries, when the locals shout, "Where are you from?" they're really saying, "Hey, come buy some of these!" When the Syrians ask where you're from, they actually want to know. Instead of a hustle, they usually say, "Welcome to Syria," and walk away. We experienced several versions of this greeting. Masami's favorite was:

Syrian: Where are you from?
Wes: America.
Syrian: Oh, I'm sorry.

On our 15 hour bus ride to Aleppo, we met a Canadian named Ryan, and we started traveling together. Our intended itinerary through Syria, Jordan, and Egypt is near identical, so we may continue to travel together for some time. Between the 3 of us, we seem to make a good team. We find the best prices, have similar interests, and like the same food. We spent the day in Aleppo wandering about.

In Aleppo, we had 2 main objectives. Ryan wanted to visit the Citadel and Masami wanted to buy olive soap that was recommended by a Japanese woman in Singapore. We accomplished both.

The Citadel was better than expected. The S£ 300 entrance fee (S£ 15 for students) is justified with the passages inside the fortified gate and the elaborately decorated prayer room above. At the outdoor theater at the top of the Citadel, a group of black-scarf shrouded Syrian women beckoned us to join them. They didn't speak English but that didn't prevent conversation. One of the rotund women was particularly animated. She handed us bread rolls with chili paste and explained by wiggling her hand in front of her mouth and butt that it's spicy going down and spicy coming out. The other women were laughing out loud and clearly enjoying themselves and our company. When we decided to continue our walk, they gave us cucumbers and we think the rotund woman said, "You need to eat more to get big like me!" We thanked them, "Shukuran" and were on our way.

Masami found olive soap in the souq (market). It isn't the best smelling soap but it alleviates dry skin and rashes. It's good.

From Aleppo, we visited Qala'at Samaan, a church commemorating an unusual Christian from 423 AD who climbed up and lived on a pillar for 36 years. Today, the pillar is little more than a mound of stone but the church is impressive. Qala'at Samaan is about one hour northwest of Aleppo by minibus and is easily visited in a half day. The last minibus stop is in the town 6km away from the church but normally for an extra S£ 100, the minibus driver will deliver you directly to the entrance. The site is open daily except Tuesdays and admission is S£ 300 (S£ 25 for students).

The covered souq of Aleppo is fairly hassle-free and sells any type of local product. Masami found her much desired olive soap here.

Our favorite place to eat in Aleppo was this falafel stand. S£ 15 buys an excellent falafel sandwich and all the veggies you want.

From the top of the fortified gate of the Aleppo Citadel, we overlook the ramp that spans the Citadel moat and the city of Aleppo in the background.

Arches of Qala'at Samaan church surround the remains of the pillar that was home to an unusual Christian for 36 years.

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