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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Would you like a bit of lettuce with your salad?

Written by Maz Towns. Uploaded 4 January 2006.

Syria, Country 10 (revisited), Diary entry 24th – 26th Oct 2005, Total distance in Syria (heading north): 1029 KM

We hope that you all had a merry and peaceful Christmas with your friends and loved ones over the holiday break and Santa delivered all you had hoped! We spent it stranded in the middle of nowhere, as the brake pads failed on Tinfish (more on that later!). We’d like to wish everyone a very happy and prosperous new year. We hope you have enjoyed our stories so far. We promise to keep them coming and hopefully entertain you during 2006!!

With dark approaching fast, we headed straight to our adoptive Syrian family once again. Job number 3 - Bashar adding the mix onto the pizza Delighted to see everyone, we sat outside their fast food shop drinking chai, desperately trying to understand all the familiar faces from our last visit who came up to chat with us in Arabic! We sat back to watch the hustle and bustle of people buying the mini pizza type things prepared by Bashar’s family. Who would have thought that making mini pizzas was such an intricate process? It was a good job there were 5 brothers in the family, each one of them had a job to carry out! First there was the base; from a little ball of dough a neat circle was moulded, then the tomato puree had to be neatly smeared over it right to the edge. Next the previously prepared mix (lamb mince, chopped tomato and onion) was dolloped on top. Straight from the oven! This then had to be scooped up and put in the furnace and of course later taken out cooked and given to the customer. A job for everyone – a true family business! All variations of pizza available as long as you wanted minced lamb, tomato and onion :o)

After a couple of hours, a feast was produced for us. Lots of B-B-Q’d chicken and lamb, dips, olives, the aubergine thingies Alex loved and chips to name a few of the goodies we ate. Having had our fill, we were encouraged to eat more and only finally when we looked ready to burst were we allowed to say we had eaten enough! They had also thoughtfully bought us some beer knowing it was our preference to Arak and we sipped this as we told them of our journey and adventures since we had last seen them.

Our plan for Syria was to stay one night with Bashar’s family before heading off to Palmyra and then north towards Turkey. However, it emerged during our discussions with Bashar about what our plans were, that he did not have the same idea! “You stay only one night? No! you must stay longer. Back with our family You must come back after Palmyra and stay another night.” Numerous attempts by all three of us to explain that we needed to make steps towards the border of Turkey fell on deaf ears and in the process we managed to gain Bashar and his friend for the sight seeing tour the next day! With Arak running freely, Bashar had decided that he was going to be our tour guide for the day.

An ongoing theme from both of our visits to their home was St. George’s church, their local orthodox church where they practise every week; a place which they obviously hold in high regard. Having first ventured down to Annaz from Crac des Chavaliers a couple of months ago, they wanted to show us then but time didn’t permit. Still very much in the forefront of their minds, we agreed we’d visit it after returning from our trip to Palmyra.

Inside the Temple
of Bel Now practised in the amount of tea and coffee consumption of the Syrians, we were careful not to drink our beverages too quickly for the fear of being re-topped every ten minutes! When I went back to England at the beginning of October for Ants and Steve’s wedding, I brought lots of ‘English’ foods back for Bashar’s family to try as we had promised to return. I got dairy milk chocolate, white chocolate, shortbread and digestive biscuits as a taster of the things we eat back home. Now, imagine trying a food for the first time, biting into it slowly and tentatively as you have no idea what it’s going to taste like, your face one of expectancy, curious until you know whether you like what you’re trying; this was exactly how Bashar’s family looked as they bit into their shortbread! It was very funny to watch knowing what shortbread tastes like and how much I like it. :o) I guess that’s exactly how we looked when they gave us our first dish of food we didn’t know! They said it was nice, but I noticed a few pieces of shortbread left on the side untouched! We however devoured a couple of pieces each. They didn’t try the chocolate, so I’ve no idea what they thought of that, if tried at all! Funny how you take foods and tastes for granted, but how the palate changes from country to country. With Martin nearly falling asleep on the sofa from the long days drive, we politely said our goodnights and set our alarms for 8am sharp.

View
of the from the walled courtyard With a nights sleep under our belts, by morning plans had changed yet again and Bashar was not coming sight seeing with us for the day after all. We set off to Palmyra after a hearty breakfast promising to return that evening. I’m not sure Bashar believed us. Even with leaving our clothes and wash bags at their house, he still checked at least three times that we would return! We first made a stop at the next nearest town to see if we could change some dollars as we didn’t have much Syrian money and the only ATMs we had found on the way down Syria had been in Aleppo. I was working on the laptop and with the sun shining in the completely wrong direction, I covered my head and the laptop with a sarong so I could see the screen. The Temple of Bel with missing brass nails I carried on working while the boys went to find a money changer (and Baklava!) causing much curiosity, unbeknown to me, as the locals couldn’t understand why I was covering myself. Alex did nothing to dispel their comments that I was just shy!! That’s me :o)

It took us 3 hours to get to this oasis in the middle of nowhere, known as Tadmor to the locals. Described as Syria’s ‘must see’, Palmyra is definitely worth the effort to go and explore. We found ourselves a guide as soon as we arrived and went into the 2nd century AD ruins. Our guide was a friendly chap and what shone out from the rest of the guides that we have previously had was that he had a little mirror to reflect the sun on the areas he was talking about. Clever little idea and impressed us all!

The Arab castle through the ruins Palmyra was at one time a Greek outpost of considerable importance. The city’s most famous character was Zenobia, who claimed decent from Cleopatra. The half-Greek, half-Arab queen by all accounts was an exceptional lady with great ambition, becoming ruler of Palmyra after her husband died a suspicious death.

We first ventured into the Temple of Bel, a temple of worship, which is the most complete structure and single most impressive part of the ruins. The temple proper stands in the centre of a walled courtyard and dates back to AD 32. Most of the structure and rooms within the courtyard have disappeared so difficult to picture what life would have been like, but our guide described the site extremely well and it was easy to imagine the animals entering the courtyard through small channels and being led down to the place of sacrifice. Maz trying her best to get a photo of the coloured bits of relief Here the channels for the drainage were still clear to see. On one side of the courtyard there are many columns still standing and steps up to the outer wall give a great view of the oasis nearby.

As you get into to the temple, you can see hundreds of holes in the wall. With such an ordered setting, it was difficult to work out why they were there, but our guide told us that the holes had been left after brass nails had been removed. The brass nails were used to help the flexibility of the temple during earthquakes but the Romans had ‘utilised’ the brass when they came to rule to make swords! Outside the temple there are sections of lintel which have fallen from the main structure, with bas-relief motifs decorating it, some still with a hint of colour. The double arch correcting the 30 degree bend in the road This is why it’s always useful to hire a guide – I’d never have thought to look underneath the lintel to see the more preserved coloured stone! Bit tricky to get good photos.

We then ventured to the main city ruins outside, to the monumental arch which used to be connected to the temple by a colonnade but is now part of the main road! The arch is actually 2 arches joined together like a hinge to mask the 30 degree bend in the main avenue. That would never have done in Roman times!

Walking down the great colonnade of which much has been restored, you get to the site of the obligatory amphitheatre. Buried until the 1950’s by sand and again extensively restored, it’s a nice section to stroll around but some parts look a little too shiny to be anything but new! Further down the colonnade is the reconstructed tetrapylon, a monumental structure that served to mark a junction of thoroughfares. Wandering through the ruins, you can still see the system used for routing water. Pretty advanced for their times. We then visited the remains where Zenobia used to bath herself. Such a large bathing area for one person!

The reconstructed tetrapylon We then returned to our cars to go and drive to have a look at some tall freestanding, square-based towers at the foot of some low hills towards the end of the ruins to the south. These are called funerary towers and coffins used to be kept in niches high above. Overlooking the ruins stands an Arab castle high on a hill. Thinking it would make a nice picture and with Alex standing on top of Martins car directing, I drove Tinfish to the foot of the hill so he could get some snaps. With Alex being the perfectionist he is, this took a little time. Using the radios to guide me ‘forwards, back a little, turn to the right, no back a bit more’ we found a good picture. As I was driving back, a voice came on the radio saying ‘hello’. Wondering who had stolen Martin’s radio I said hello back and then proceeded to have a disjointed conversation with a guy who had driven over on his bike to see what we were up to!

Driving past the funerary towers With light dwindling, we drove up to it to watch the sunset. Such a good idea, unfortunately lots of other people had the same!! We managed to dump the car blocking a few others in before the sun set and watched the mountains turn orange. It was a beautiful site. We then had the task of negotiating our way out of the small, overcrowded car park and begin the long drive back to Annaz. A little later than we had planned (no surprise there then!) we let Bashar know that we were on our way. It was soon dark and with no lights by the side of the road, the frequent potholes made difficult driving. With Martin leading letting us know when we got to big bumps, holes and unlit army trucks (and there were many taking over the whole road and not budging one bit to let us pass) we got back to Annaz unscathed.

Having promised to return to see St. Georges Church with Bashar and his friends, we had been told this was the first thing on the agenda on our return. The sunset from the castle Pulling up to their house, a dapper looking Bashar was working in the pizza shop – well I think he was directing his brothers rather than anything else – eldest brother privileges! Thinking we would be off to St. Georges soon, we sat and waited. And waited. And waited! No one seemed to be in a rush. We had a couple of cups of chai after about 2 hours they asked if we were ready! Unfortunately on arriving at the church it was shut! From the outside it looked very nice, but the inside will have to wait for next time.

We then went to a restaurant for food. By this time we were all pretty tired and were hoping it would be a quick affair, we should have known better. The Syrians like their food and to savour each variety, have it over a few courses. They obviously like their Arak too, so on arriving a bottle was ordered! Alex, Martin and myself ordered Mirinda (their equivalent of fanta) as a safe option! On seeing the whole bottle of Arak being poured into a jug and then the same amount of water being added to it, a 50/50 mix is not for the faint hearted and we were very relieved we had opted for the weaker drink.

We let the experts order the food and we started with a small salad and hummous. We hadn’t had salad for along time so it made a pleasant change. Maybe the restaurant secretly knew this as the next course consisted of a HUGE salad! And it was huge - not just the portion of it but the actual pieces of it! At the centre was a whole lettuce! Decorating the outside, we had whole cucumbers, whole tomatoes, whole chillies, whole peppers and whole radishes, a rather amazing site and difficult to know where to actually start! Along side this we had deep fried cheese balls and french fries, just so we didn’t feel too healthy scoffing the salad.

The centrepiece salad The next chapter of the course was meat. Delicious BBQ’d chicken. Loads of it. We were already pretty stuffed from all the other food but managed to force a few pieces down – what troupers we are! We were ready to burst after this and had to decline dessert on numerous occasions before we were believed. Basher and his friends being such hospitable hosts will rarely take ‘no’ for an answer! We also managed to decline coffee explaining we really needed a good nights sleep before our drive to the border the next day. On returning to Bashars we were ready to collapse, so said our goodnights and went to bed. Bashar then went round to his friends house for more Arak, coffee and smoking!

The next morning we were not allowed to leave until we had been given breakfast, so after a traditional feed to send us on our way we thanked everyone for being so kind and made a break for the border. With the roads being good it took us no time at all, OK about 3 hours and we stopped at the town before the border, Azaz, to spend the last of our money before returning to Turkey. Getting out of Syria was no problem at all and we whizzed past all the offices, with the correct stamps within about 15 minutes flat.

We seemed to be doing as well through Turkey too having remembered the routine from entering the country last time. We got all the way to the exit gate when we were confronted with ‘big problem’. Straight down the snake again. Not sure what the ‘big problem’ was, a man jumped into Martins car and we all drove back to the first office we passed. We were OK, the ‘big problem’ was Martin. As Alex and I drove through the first time, they stopped us and said ‘is your name Alexander?’, so Alex of course said yes and they let us on our way. We were a little perturbed that they knew this information without us giving any documents, however it later transpired that they needed to put our vehicle registration into their computer and all the information was brought up on screen. This is then documented in another book for formality, or job creation, we’re not sure which! Martin had obviously driven through here too quickly the first time for them to get the details from the car.

Having satisfied all parties concerned, we were allowed to drive out of the exit gate and back into Turkey……

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Comment from Hamid Omar
We've been watching your diary updates every week - you're way behind schedule!! You've got to start getting up at 9am sharp, as we always did in Baluchistan!!! Hope you start getting up even earlier (5am!) and catch up with your diaries/travels so that we know where you are, and the nice experiences we read/see through your travels!! So how was your stay in Amritsar? Where on Earth are you now??? Hope alls well with you all (Alex, Martin & Maz)?

Best Regards, and with LOVE from all of us here in Pakistan!
04 Jan 2006 @ 22:30:55