The border lived up to its reputation of being a pain in the bum. We were wondering wether they would give us a visa at all, but it turned out that they were happy to give us one only it was three times the price! $100 Aussie dollars each! We didn't have enough cash on us so no visa. Our bus left us stranded at the boarder and we were wondering what to do next. Our savior turned out to be an old Norwegian man who was kind enough to lend us some money only it was a currency they wouldn't accept. So our next knight was a syrian guy who we entrusted with a lot of cash to go change it on the black market on the Syrian side and bring it back. Luckily after while he returned and we got an expensive stamp in our passports. Our new Norwegian friend had come over the border by taxi so he kindly let us jump in and we made our way to Aleppo in northern Syria.
Now we felt like we were really in the middle east. We passed dusty fields with more rocks than blades of grass. We constantly went by the typical donkey and cart and utes full with about 8 families each.
We stayed in a hostel with a great middle eastern atmosphere for $9 and shared a local dinner of humus, tabuli, falafel, pita bread and pigeon.
Aleppo has as much Middle Eastern atmosphere as you could pack into a city. The ancient mosques and the worlds largest bazaar made an extremely entertaining morning. I had to fit in with the locals so I bought the red and white Syrian head scarf. Then we made our way to the towering citadel which is an imposing walled castle that was never defeated in its long history. The amount of locals who came up and welcomed us to Syria must have made up half the population of the city. The Syrians have to be the friendliest people I have ever met. The day included what seemed like a hundred hand shakes and photos as we wandered around the old town which contained a Christian quarter where we spent some time chatting to a Maronite priest who showed us his church and was keen to explain his take on Syrian historical and political affairs.
The next day we visited Hama and a famous crusader castle called "Crac des Chevaliers". This castle also was never defeated and it was clear why as we drove up to it. The surrounding walls are huge and then there's a moat inside before the massive walls of the inner castle rise up powerfully from the murky water. I think it would have taken modern tanks to succeed in an attacking battle. Best castle I've ever seen.
And now we are in Damascus the worlds oldest city. We have had a few unbelievable days wandering around the old town. The Umayyad mosque which was built 1300 years ago contains some holy relics including the tombs of John the Baptist, (the third on our trip so he must have had 3 heads) the prophet Mohammed's martyred grandson and the all conquering Islamic fighter Saladin.
The mosque is big and tranquil inside the large courtyard. But inside where the tombs are it's crazy. Hundreds of pilgrims have come, some probably spending their life savings to get to Damascus just to touch the tombs. They go bananas try to get as much of a feel as possible before someone else pushes them out of the way. While this was going on numerous islamic leaders were preaching to seated groups most of which were crying while the seated Muslims also wept and beat their chests. The whole scene was very impacting. As usual my blond curly hair stood out and any pilgrims who could speak a little English and could pluck up enough courage came over and asked where we're from and tried to explain what was going on. A few of these burst into tears as they tried to retell the fate of the martyr. I spoke to a few people from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon who were all so happy that we were sharing and learning about their faith.
We also had a look at where it's believed St Paul was healed of his blindness in Ananias house and where he was lowered in a basket over the old Roman wall. The immense history in this city is evident everywhere. We also had a look at a ottoman era palace which was really good too.
So Syria has surpassed all expectations. The people are the most friendly I've ever met and the sites are unforgettable. Today we are off to Lebanon, and I can't wait...