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Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Syria  ,
Sunday, December 3, 2006

The ride from Killis to Aleppo was again blissfully smooth and flat, through olive groves and scrub. The city itself is densely populated and permanently busy. As a tourist I attracted surprisingly little attention. As an oddball on an overstuffed bicycle, I attracted rather more. Aleppo itself has two principle attractions: an ancient bustling souq, which has not been hijacked by purveyors of tourist tat, and a magnificent citadel. I toured the souq first, after checking in to one of the lonely planets recommended hotels (not their 'editors favourite' one though. It seems that as soon as a hotel gets serious praise from LP they stop trying). I didn't buy anything, of course, souvenirs being something of a no-no on this trip, but I did enjoy getting lost in the labrynthine alleyways. I went to look at the Citadel, which unfortunately closed just as I was arriving, and the main mosque, both of which were inspiring structures.
At one point a shop-keeper invited me to have some tea.
-No thanks, I really don't need anything
-No, you don't have to buy anything, I just want to invite you for tea! Syrian hospitality!
-Seriously, I'm not going to buy anything
-I invite you!
So he led me off down a few side-alleys and between some buildings, to his carpet shop. He opened an ordinary looking door near no other shops saying 'this is my shop'. Inside there was a large, industrial looking machine and what seemed to be a workshop of somekind. No sign of any carpets. I hung back, ready to run for it when the man's accomplices emerged from the shadows brandishing cudgels, while he walked  through the workshop to another door, 'come, here is the shop'. I peered over his shoulder, and could just make out the stacks of folded rugs inside. After one glass of tea and 4 sales-pitches I made my escape.
Syria has many interesting achitechtural sights, most of which require day trips, for which I did not have time to spare. There's Palmyra, of course, which I discovered was famous, huge, unmissable, apparently earth shattering to even the most determined philistines and not on the way. But also, near Aleppo, there was the remains of the church of St. Simeon. The church was built to commerate the prophet who lived on the site as a hermit, until visiting pilgrims started to wind him up. To escape them he built himself a post to live on (naturally) first 3m high, then 5m then 10m. (actual heights not remembered, but the gist is right) as his unusual habitation made him more and more famous and drew more and more pilgrims. Classic.
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