Syria - Into the 'Axis of Evil'!
Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
48Trip End Nov 28, 2006
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Arriving at the border crossing, we had our passports thoroughly examined by the customs agent and questioned about all the stamps we've accumulated on our travels (they asked Amy where 'Malawi' was!). Once they were certain we hadn't been to Israel and weren't planning to go after our visit, their stern official look turned into a big smile and we were given a warm welcome. The customs agents even offered us tea and cigarettes (despite the big 'no smoking' sign in the lobby).
Syria's location between Israel/Palestine and Iraq hasn't made Syria a popular tourist destination, which became apparent to us quite quickly because tourists were few and far between. This is very unfortunate because from what we saw, there's absolutely no reason to worry. But the fact that this country is not overrun with tourists is probably a good thing for those who do come here, because Syrians are so appreciative of any tourists they meet. Everywhere we went, people would say "welcome to Syria" and we really did feel welcomed. Funny thing though...you'd think that for a country not traveled much by western tourists, English wouldn't be widely spoken, but the opposite is actually true in Syria. We found that many people there spoke English, much more than in Morocco and even Turkey, countries that experience high tourism.
We surprised ourselves by how much we enjoyed Syria, mostly because of the warm, friendly people and their sincerity and hospitality. From the people we met on the street to shopkeepers to kids playing, everyone made us feel that they were happy to have us in their country. Initially, we thought of Syria as just a country we had to pass through to get from Turkey to Jordon, but it's turned out to be an undiscovered gem of the Middle East.
No WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) to be found anywhere on our travels, but the highlights we enjoyed were:
a) Aleppo - the oldest inhabited city in the world? Although this claim will be strongly disputed by those from Syria's capital city Damascus, it's pretty safe to say that one of the major cities in Syria is the oldest. We visited the nearby ruins of the Basilica of St. Simeon which dates back to 400 AD. St Simeon's claim to fame was that he lived on top of 12-18 meter tall columns for 37 years because he wanted to show his devotion and be closer to God. And you thought David Blaine was crazy for standing on a pillar for 34 hours in Bryant Park, New York City!
b) Palmyra - The city of Palmyra is a desert oasis in the middle of nowhere. Once serving as an important camel caravan route along the silk road from Asia, it prospered and has amazing ruins. You can walk along the same streets and markets where caravans of hundreds of camels once arrived. Palmyra was also a chance for us to have some fun at dinner one night when we had a Bedouin experience dressing up in their traditional clothes and eating their traditional food.
c) Eating endless falafels and shawarma - We thought Turkey had the market cornered for cheap meals, but Syria can't be beat. For 15 Syrian Pounds (about 30 cents), you can get a falafel almost anywhere. Although Syria has no McDonalds or even Coca Cola, we were surprised to see Canada Dry 'Cola'! Not bad, and nice to have a bit of home (even though there's no such thing as Canada Dry 'Cola' in Canada!).
Now we can't wait to visit the other Countries in the 'Axis' to see if they are as amazing as Syria (well maybe Iraq can wait!). But first we have to see what Jordon will have in store for us...