The following day (Monday 20th December 2010), we left Damascus and made for Palmyra, the home of some pretty impressive ruins. Some ran off to explore and get their snaps whilst others chose to chill and get some grub at a local restaurant...it was after eating lunch here that we stumbled across the chefs hard at work preparing dinner (dismembering a sheep) in the car park.
|Pretty surreal build up to Christmas...in the middle of the desert, in a majority Islamic country, Paddy dons his Santa hat in the sun.|
|Dinner being prepared for the evening punters in the restaurant car park. Thankfully we were eating off the truck that night.|
|As Ish, Son, Ronald and I walked around the ruins, Kimbo and Berbs came out of nowhere on this bike.|
The highlight of our time in Palmyra was actually the place we stayed at: we slept in a Bedouin tent; everybody scattered out on the floor; on mats and in their sleeping bags and with an awesome furnace in the middle. After a nice bowl of warming chicken soup (cooked up by Dan and Yoich) we got cosy huddled in the tent, those that were quick enough managed to secure a place close to the in-tent stove. The chimney poking out through the middle of the tent only did half a job and every so often we had to let the thick smoke out of the door…more for the fear of one of those hands coming out at us like in that movie “The Fog” than anything else.
We left Palmyra relatively late in the morning and arrived in Aleppo in the evening for our stay at The Spring Flower Hostel. It was a kind of gothic little place nestled in between hardware stores down a side street. It had dimly lit, stone corridors set at jaunty angles and the communal area at the top of the building had a section cordoned off (by little more than a curtain) which doubled up as a cheap dorm, with even cheaper mattresses for our lot. It was extremely basic, and there was nothing to block out the noise from other guests watching tv or playing cards in the communal area…but we didn’t mind.
|The "dorm" we stayed in at The Spring Flower Hostel. Very cheap, very basic.|
|The communal area - right next to the dorm.|
|The (locked) hostel library.|
|Our wee room in the Syrian restaurant...separated from the riff-raff. (Photo courtesy of Allison Harvey.)|
|This was my (blurry) distraction shot. I got Alli to pose for a photo as behind me, the rest of the gang hurried to get the candles lit on her birthday cake.|
I spent the next two days (our entire time in Aleppo) pretty much tucked up in a mattress feeling rough. Not sure if it was the food, or the general feverishness that had come and gone every now and then over the past few months, but I was pretty incapacitated. Lying in bed ill for the next couple of days, I came to realise one thing...I was probably born upside down...
|My feet smell...|
|...and my nose runs.|
Before we left the hostel, I had one last run-in with the owner: as you've probably seen from the photo above, the hostel library was very well stocked - albeit with multiple (photocopied) versions of the same book. We were evidently at a regular stop for overlanders going both north and south as there were guides (Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Bradt etc) to both the Middle East and African countries. As we had a few copies of the LP East Africa guide on the truck and didn't need it anymore, I thought I'd enquire about the hostel's openly advertised 'book-trading/buying' scheme.
Once the owner had located his keys to the bookshelves, he donned his - no word of a lie - special, rubber, book-handling gloves and got me down some books he though would be a fair swap for my almost pristine condition East Africa guide. When I suggested a straight swap for his used, one edition out-of-date Turkey guide, he snorted at me and said I'd need to buy that off him for 15 EUROS...oh, and give him the book too! When I explained that that was more expensive than it would cost in the shops he simply said, "well, I suggest you go buy it from a shop...if you can find this book in one here." Man, this guy was so anal he'd have made Elton John blush with inadequacy. Thankfully, we were moving on.
I don’t want to make a sweeping statement about a city I hardly saw, but the impression I got from the others was that apart from an old castle/citadel here and there, there was not much to get excited about and it certainly didn’t compare to Damascus. Damascus seemed full of character, a heedy blend of the old and the new, of east and of west whereas Aleppo seemed more like an urban jungle. I should have found time to at least visit the Citadel of Aleppo, but feeling under the weather was just the excuse I needed to disguise my lack of motivation to see yet more old stuff...it's sad but it's true.
|The view of the "urban jungle" from the roof of the Spring Flower Hostel.|
Syria – our short stay with you flew by but don’t lose sleep over it: you’ll definitely have the pleasure of my company again, even if only in Damascus.