Hammams and hurrahs

Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
Trip End Jun 19, 2006

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Flag of Syria  ,
Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Yep, cruising along the moors of Syria, through abandoned 1500-year-old cities, in a 1951 Pontiac is definitely something I could get used to.
Jon, Louisa, and I were on our way north to Aleppo, via a couple of the Dead Cities, again in a lovely vintage car courtesy of the Cairo Hotel in Hama. We explored the evocative windswept ruins of Sujeilla, lost on a high moor, and the churches and pyramid tombs of Al Bara, from where the Crusaders set out in the 11th century to commit one of their most terrible crimes. Running out of supplies, and in a brutal mood, they descended upon the town of Ma'asada in a torrent of slaughter and flame, butchering the inhabitants and devouring the bodies. Witnesses talk of babies being spitted over fires, and women being carved up for steaks.

Grim stuff, to be sure, and you can be certain that we looked at our next chicken shwarma with different eyes!

Passing through the savagery of history, we arrived in Aleppo, Syria's second city and the final stop here for Jon and Louisa, and myself. In a few days, I'd be heading north into Turkey, and they would be jumping on a train for a 3-day journey to Iran. Two more great friends would be left behind me, and another sad farewell to be made. But that was a few days away, and there was Aleppo to explore first.
Another of Syria's lovely towns, there was a palpable sense of prosperity about Aleppo, another excellent Old City to enjoy, and some fantastic food with some of Syria's best restaurants. Excellent stuff. We happily whiled away a couple of days taking in the sights and smells of the souqs, wandering the Old quarters, and enjoying a cold beer or two and many games of backgammon and Yahtzee.

The name of the final day though was Male Grooming. I desperately needed a shave, and Jon & I were well keen to check out a hammam, or bathhouse, and Aleppo just happened to have Syria's best. So after a attentive and very smooth cut-throat shave each, the two of us shortly found ourselves wearing little more than sarongs and (oddly) platform clogs, and sweating out the stress and dirt of weeks of travel in the super-hot steam room. Two hours later, we were sipping tea and cold water, and feeling like a million bucks, having been steamed, rinsed, loofah-ed, scrubbed, and massaged into a state of relaxed satisfaction.

It was a fantastic way to spend my last day here, and we finished it all off with a smashing meal out at one of Aleppo's finest dining establishments. Thankfully, here there was no repeat of my 'lamb's brains' debacle from Damascus, and we even managed to splurge on a bottle of Lebanese wine. It wasn't a nice Chianti, but bugger me if it wasn't great to have a glass of red!

Lots of love Syria, and onwards to Turkey.

El Condor
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