Of course we all know you can better avoid Syria at the moment and it’s kind of out of nostalgia that I am writing this list today as everything changed 360 degrees since we’ve been there on holidays some two years ago.
That’s also what makes it so strange…. Seeing places on the news you’ve been to and that are absolutely unrecognizable now. Trying to recognize some street we walked through in the rumble of the city of Homs or wondering if the hotel you stayed in still stands or how the kid you bought that necklace from is doing.
Unfortunately this is not the first country I see crumbling to pieces and I think it’s a pity to see what we, people, are doing to this world.
Let’s get back to Syria. The Syrian people were very welcoming when we had been visiting for a few weeks. We would get invited just about everywhere by just about everyone. We were traveling with our three children and with them running around with their blond hair we sure got noticed everywhere we went. “From where? From where?” they would call out, and “Welcome to Syria”.
We were driving around and I was reading the maps which resulted in a few wrong turns (I’m kind of stubborn: no, no I don’t need a GPS) but as soon as we were at risk of getting lost we would call out to the first cab that drove passed us and not once did they not tell us to follow them. This way they would bring us to our destination and they never, in the weeks we were in Syria, asked for anything in return of their help.
Aleppo was the first town we drove to and a great town to start your roadtrip as you are completely immerged in the Syrian culture from the start. The busy streets and cars hunking their horns everywhere.
Aleppo is characterized by mixed architectural styles, having been ruled, among the other, by Romans, Byzantines, Seljuqs, Mamluks and Ottomans. Syria’s second city is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visit the citadel, the souqs, the Umayyad Mosque and the Christian quarter. Stroll around the old part of town surrounded by it’s thick old walls and look at the nine gates.
We stayed at the Martini Dar Zamaria Hotel. It is a charming and beautiful and luxurious hotel on a perfect and central location. The decoration is very nice and traditional. The rooms are clean and spacious. The breakfast was a real dream. The food is fresh and well presented. The service is friendly and helpful. Nothing to add for this great hotel! (N.B. Unfortunately the Martini Dar Zamaria hotel has been destroyed during the recent events)
Hama is known for it’s Norias, large water wheels that were used for irrigation. They used to be nearly 700 Norias in Hama. They are impressively large, up to 20 meters in diameter. There are 17 left nowadays.
While in Hama, sit next to the river with a Shawarma sandwich and some Syrian baklava, these are delicious!
We stayed at the New Basman hotel. We were the only clients that day. The hotel is clean and basic. The staff was super friendly. When we checked in they asked for our passports (they did in most hotels actually) and when we checked out we forgot to ask them back and they forgot to return them.
So hours later, in Palmyra, I realized our passports had stayed in Hama. I called the hotel and to my surprise the owner sent a taxi right away on his costs to bring us our passports about 3 hours drive from Hama. I thought that was incredible!
Don’t miss the beautiful ancient city of Bosra. It’s about 70 km South from Damascus. It has many interesting Roman sights. One of the main tourist attractions being the Roman theatre which is very well preserved.
The Greeks, Romans and Byzantines left their marks in the gorgeous capital of Syria. There is a lot to visit in Damascus like the Umayyad Mosque, the various Souqs, St. Paul church, Al-Takieh Al-Suleimaniyeh, Bimarstan Al-Nory, St. Ananias church, Saladin’s tomb and the citadel.
But do also just stroll around and try to grasp the special atmosphere of this historical city.
After driving on quite a boring stretch of desert road, the oasis of Palmyra looks stunning. The ruins are monumental, majestic, breathtaking and Queen Zenobia’s bathroom is larger then 6 times my apartment.
No tourists venture in the little town of Palmyra itself. There are just loads of tour busses arriving at the ruins site where you can get tours in about any language possible, and leaving a few hours later.
We stayed at the Zenobia Cham Palace hotel which I would not recommend. It is the only place we stayed in Syria where the staff was unfriendly and unhelpful. The room was super small, actually it was not really a room but a inimini-claustro-container-like- thing. The hotel is on the sight of the ruins though, giving amazing views from the terrace of the restaurant.
There was this guy who wanted to sell us stuff on the site. But we did not have any money. It was in the evening, the tourists where gone, it was picture perfect beautiful, anyway…Another guy shows up and wants to sell us carpets and necklaces or something and eventhough we kept saying no, the guy kept coming back on his motorcycle.
So then the first selling guy comes and tells him: “Leave them alone, they are very poor tourists, they have no money” and he kind of chased the other guy away. It was very funny. The other guy did not come back and this guy started telling us how much guides asked for tours and that he thought it was really expensive and then he told us “come, I’ll give you a free tour, I’m finished working anyway” and we got a tour of 1,5 hours at sun set. It was perfect! And then he left and said he had to go to his wife for dinner and that in the morning we had to drop by for some breakfast. “Where do you live?” we asked. He showed us a hill and said “After that mountain second tent to the left”. Perfect, I’m telling you!!
I probably should have made a top ten or eleven because you can’t visit Syria without passing by Ma’alula, The Dead Cities, Dayr az Zawr, the Apamea ruins, As Suwayda and the crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers.
I really hope one will be able to visit this special country and region one day soon and that it’s people will not suffer much longer. At my age one does not believe in world peace anymore but I really do hope the war in Syria will end soon. It’s people have already had their share of misery.