Sunday, July 31, 2005

Quickly

bedouin sisters
Just had two fantastic days.... one in the desert and one touring castles. Pictures are uploaded in flickr. Will tell more tomorrow, or whenever. Not sure what plans are, but gong out in Hama this evening with three local guys.

P.S. We had a good evening out with the lads (thanks Bekri, Obadaa and Hamad - good luck with the results!), all studying English literature at uni here. It was a bit scarey when they asked us whether we wanted to become Muslims, but for the rest it was fun!

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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Hama

Syria - Big brother We zijn nu in Hama. Donderdag zijn we via een omweg van Aleppo naar Hama gereisd. In het verhaal van Charles hebben jullie kunnen lezen hoe dat verliep en wat we onderweg allemaal gezien en vooral niet gezien hebben. Maar goed als je bedenkt dat we nog zo'n 5 1/2 maand te gaan hebben en als we in die periode net zoveel gaan zien als in de laatste twee weken, dan krijgen onze oogjes nog veel te verstouwen.

Hama heeft een wat rare klank. In de jaren 80 is hier namelijk iets gebeurd waar mensen het liever niet over hebben. Er was een opstand o.i.d van de z.g.n. Moslim Broeders. De regerende president (vader van de huidige) heeft toen 1000-en soldaten ingezet, de boel omsingeld en honderden mensen zijn om het leven gekomen.

De huidige president (Bashar) schijnt wat milder te zijn. Eigenlijk was hij niet voortbestemd om president te worden. Hij heeft in Engeland gestudeerd, woonde en werkte daar. Hij is oogspecialist van beroep. Maar zijn macho broer, Basil, die bekend stond als een lady-killer, van paarden en snelle auto's hield, kwam om bij een auto-ongeluk en dus werd de tweede zoon opgeleid om president te worden. U ziet we doen hier niet aan verkiezingen. De 3 boys: overleden pa, overleden broer en de huidige president staan om de twee meter wel ergens afgebeeld. De mooiste afbeelding vind ik de boys met zonnebrillen en het lijkt wel of je naar de Blues Brothers zit te kijken. De postzegels voor onze ansichtkaartjes hebben maar 'e'en soort postzegel.. juist de jongst blues broertje.
Naast de vlag van Syrie zie je heel vaak een andere vlag en dat is die van de regerende Ba'ath partij. Deze partij stond een mix van socialisme en Arabisch nationalisme voor. Ook de president van Egypte, Nasser en de ex-president van Irak, Hoessein waren lid van deze partij.

Religie in Hama is wat duidelijker aanwezig dan in Aleppo. Het valt op dat hier de meeste vrouwen gesluierd zijn. In Aleppo wonen natuurlijk ook veel christenen. Maar hier lopen velen in burka's of op zijn minst in het zwart. Alcohol vind je hier ook niet. Terwijl dat in Aleppo gewoon in bars, restaurants en zelf in kleine slijterijtjes te koop was.
Syrie is opzich relatief tolerant t.o.v. andere geloven. Zo heb je hier verschillende soorten christelijke groepen. Maar voor Joden is het erg moeilijk. We spraken een joodse Koerd die zijn geloof moest ontkennen. De autoriteiten zijn ook erg anti Israel en je moet dan ook geen stempel van dat land in je paspoort hebben.

Maar ondanks alles is Hama een gemoedelijke stad, erg druk (vooral het verkeer) en erg levendig. 's Avonds om 12.00 uur of nog later, zie je en hoor je meer dan genoeg mensen.

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Friday, July 29, 2005

A long day visiting castles

C, Sarah, Clair, F - Qalaat Saladin A day with Clair and Sarah, visiting crusader castles along the coast.

06.10 a taxi to bus station
06.40 minibus to Latakia
08.40 walk to minibus station
09.00 minibus up to village then onwards to Saladin's castle
12.00 taxi back to village
12.20 minibus back to Latakia
12.40 taxi to minibus station
13.00 minibus to Banyas
14.30 minibus up to Qalaat Marqouf
15.50 taxi to Banyas (perimter)
16.00 walk to minibus station
16.20 minibus to Tartous
16.50 walk to other minibus station
17.30 TAXI from Tartus to Hama
19.40 back in Hama

In all this, we crossed over to the coast and went from north to south, almost into Lebanon, for less than half the price of a single on te Heathrow Express (which takes 15 minutes)!

In between time, we saw two fantastic crusader castles, drove through pretty green countryside, steep mountains and grey drab coastal plains met and had fun with the local people, got frustrated with certain minibus drivers and all we had to eat all day was biscuits. Fred, because his stomach was playing up and me because there didn't seem to be any time to pick up anything else. The crusader castles were great, with round towers, square towers, cellars, dungens and beautiful views from high.

It was fun spending the day with Clair and Sarah, although Clair ended up with a bad stomach. We wish them well on the rest of their respective travels and thank them for being such good company.

Latakia and Tartous are the two main towns on the Syrian coast and Banyas is in between. Syria will never develop as a prize Mediterranean beach destination, as the towns are ugly and industrial, the coastal plain is uninspiring ribbon development, worse than what Sicily can provide and the people seemed a lot less friendly than in the rest of the country. Damning, eh? I will just say that the mountains just inland from the coast are beautiful and very green.

That said, the people we met at the castles, either working with donkeys, cement or on film sets were all very cheerful and welcoming. Had a good view of the declining moon in the deep blue morning sky in the clear mountain air.

Hope you enjoy ther photos of the best parts of the day.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

To the desert.... (and back again)

Al Ressaffeh The idea was to go to Al Raqqa on the banks of the Euphrates in the desert to the East of Aleppo... but we were persuaded out of it by the staff of the Syria hotel, where we had been staying (without airco) for the past three nights.
Instead we agreed to take a minibus out to the desert to see the main sites and get a lift down to Hama, which was our following destination.
We are now in Hama, which seems to be a nice place, with vast water wheels, on the banks of the Orontes River. Also staying at the best hotel yet - the Riad Hotel, where we have met up again with Sarah from NZ and Clair from France.
Anyway, the bit in between was both good and bad. Good because of the places we went to and bad because of the places we did not go to (but were on the way). We had an out of control driver who, by tearing along almost every road, from highway to byway at a standard speed of 120 km an hour. It was very difficult to get him to stop, even though we passed through the two best preserved bee-hive house villages in the Middle East and also the magnificent castle of Qalaat Shimmannis, standing on top of a lonely hill, much like the place where Strider had to fight off the Ringwraiths after Frodo had been stabbed (name someone?). The good news is that these places are not far from Hama so we can go back another day.
Not exactly, our driver's fault (but a bit certainly) was the fact that we did not make it to the Castle in Lake Assad (where we could have done some swimming). This was because he DID stop to let me take some photos of the magnificent dam... which seemd to upset some Syrian soldier who came charging at us shouting and looking mean and aggressive. So we had to go back to the military control post where, after having our passports taken away, we were told (once again) Welcome to Syria! We think that we could have carried on back over the dam to the Castle but the driver seemed to think this was a good opportunity of skiving off driving the 30 kms or so it would take to get us there....

Anyway, we DID manage the following - a stop at Fah to see some beehive houses, a stop at a town on market day, a visit to the ruins of Al Ressaffeh and lunch at a roadside cafe in the desert... followed by the highlight of seeing a caravan of over 200 camels crossing the desert. This was the last time we stopped and it had me running over the desert in tempreatures in the low 40's, struggling to catch up with the fast disappearing camels in order to photograph them. They sem to amble along very quickly. All sorts of colours they were, many of them grunting. It seemed like a set from Star Wars with their desertscapes and strange creature creations.

Al Ressaffeh was amazing. A completely walled city in the desert, mentioned in one of the earlier books of the Old Testament. The walls were made of glistening stone and were extremely well preserved, after having been scaked in about 1600 (I guess at these dates). Inside, the remains of another Byzantine basilica, built to celebrate St Sergius, a so-called Christian martyr, who had been a soldier in the Roman Army and who had to walk through the desert with nails in feet before being put to death.

Speaking of which... death in the desert... at the hands of religious nutcases... please have a look at the following post.... which is extremely distressing.

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Call for action - petition against killing of gay people in Iran

This is an online petition. It condemns the excecution last week of two Iranian boys (Mahmoud Asgari aged 16, and Ayaz Marhoni, 18 years old) because of their homosexual relationship. Officially they have been convicted for the rape of a 13 year old boy. But human rights organisations believe this accusation has been made up, in order to prevent public sympathy for the boys. The 13-year old 'victim' was never found, and the rape hasn't been proven. Human rights groups claim the government of Iran excecuted more than 4000 Gays and lesbians over the past 25 years. That's more than one person every 3 days. This must be stopped!!!! Please sign the form, and forward this message to as many people as possible. It's easy to be sarcastic and and say it isn't going to help. But not doing anything CERTAINLY isn't going to make a difference. Here's the link: http://www.petitiononline.com/1021ir/petition.html Thanks for your help. (We did not post the photo of the boys with the noose being lowered over there heads as it was too distressing).

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Rustdag in Aleppo

is dit de man die onze druivebladeren gepikt heeft?

Hier gaat alles zijn gangetje. Mijn mobieltje heeft zijn eerste zwemles niet overleefd, tenminste hij ligt nog op de ' intensive care' bij te komen. (maar nu doet hij het goed - CR). Het verhaal is dat hij door mijn eigen stomheid in de toilet/douche ruimte beland is en toen Charles vanmorgen een douche nam, heeft hij schijnbaar mijn mobielje de oortjes gewassen. Nou ja pech gehd. Ik heb net mijn emails gelezen maar het reageren lukte niet erg, zodat onze blogspot toch de belangrijkste vorm van communicatie blijft. Dank aan allen die in onze gastenboek schrijven, het is erg leuk om jullie berichtjes te lezen.
Zoals jullie hebben kunnen lezen zijn wij gisteren op tour geweest en hebben een aantal ' death cities' bezocht en een opgravingsproject ' Ebla' . Ebla was een stad gebouwd in de tijd voor de Hittieten. Gisteren was niet geheel mijn dag. Maagklachten en buikloop. Maar goed na terugkomst hebben we eindelijk een scheerbaas gevonden en ons lekker te laten scheren. Mijn meneer was wat ruig en schuwde geen bloed. Na het scheren wat gegeten en toen toch maar een drankje gedronken in hotel Baron. Lekker twee gin-tonics, de prijs was hetzelfde als die van een nacht in een tweepersoons hotelkamer, maar ja ...Vandaag besloten om wat te gaan uitrusten. Na het ontbijt naar de bank geweest om na een halfuur wachttijd te bemerken dat een paspoort voor het inwisselen van je travelcheques niet voldoende is, ze willen ook de aankoopnota zien... en die lang nou net in het hotel. Dus maar weer terug naar het (illegaal) inwisselen via de hotels. Straks naar het museum.
Morgen gaan we richting de woestijn, naar de stad Raqqa. Syrie bevalt erg goed zo goed zelfs dat we er over zitten te denken om onze visa te verlengen. Je kunt maar 15 dagen op je entree visum blijven en na verlenging nog zo'n twee weken extra
Jullie merken vandaag dus niet zoveel nieuws en weinig avonturen... maar toch leuk om jullie even weer op de hoogte te houden.

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Random thoughts

tea, coffee and sweets

Aleppo is full of yellow taxis, seemingly talking to each other through almost constant tooting.

The streets are full of people waiting for a taxi.

Next to the bales of sheepwool in the souks, one finds half sheep skewered up with the balls hanging down.

What do you get when the local government doesn't provide rubbish bins? Loads and loads of litter... everywhere.

World travellers... staying at the backpacker hostels, travelling with fake student identity cards, so they can get in for 10 SP instead of 150 SP. Great, isn't it?

We like our shoes - Fred his Lowa walking shoes and me my Lizard sandals.

Wearing sandals means one does not need socks... I have about 7 or 8 pairs (of socks) ... I think some will need to be sent back.

The towels are great too.. thanks Ineke and Jan.

Fred and I are both out of credit on our mobile phones and there seems to be no way to top up.

Apparently there are stiff penalties for anyone here who annoys tourists... we never get pestered.

James, if you are watching or reading, you would be interested to know that there are lots and lots of public toilets in Arabian countries, situated mostly near the mosques, as Muslims like to be clean when they pray. We did come across a couple of walls with that smell, no trees.

Giovanna, as you may have heard, there are no Trussardi shops here and the barbers are not to be trusted (they slashed poor Fred's face to pieces last night and tried to cover it up with white powder), so maybe this is not altogether your place.

No hairdressers.

Taxis are yellow but green is the Muslim colour. The minarets and the palm trees are floodlit in green in the evenings.

If you hear thge lambada, it is probably a lorry or bus reversing.

If you hear an imam call, and you are not near a mosque it may be a reli-ring tone.

Cheap hotels are often found near a railway station along with pizzerias and sandwich shops, sex cinemas and prostitutes. In Aleppo, the cheap hotels are to be found in the car tyre neighbourhood, along with bicycle shops and fruit juice bars.

Most bars have TV on in the background. The choice is TV Imams or airbrushed pop starts and TV presenters.

At dinner this evening, at a posh French-style restaurant with views over the Citadel we were offered lebanese or Syrian wine. We thought we would be patriotic and choose the St Simeon wine from Syria. A mistake. Good for cleaning paint brushes says Fred.

Following Fred around a city he doesn't know is a great way to get lost. Getting lost is a great way to discover some unexpected parts of the city. Thanks Fred!

Magical moment - earlier this evening - standing on the balcony of the hotel - over the busy road (full of yellow taxis), the muezzin calling out for evening prayers and little flocks of homing pigeons whirling around in the sky......

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Eric van harte met je verjaardag

Danielle and Eric

Eric van harte met je verjaardag! We hopen dat je een leuke en vooral een zonnige dag hebt.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Dead Cities



There are about 600 of them in this part of Syria. Old towns and cities dating back from late Roman/early Byzantine days. They were never really invaded and destroyed. More abandoned and left to the wills of the weather and earthquakes. They can be found in the countryside in between modern villages or right in the middle, with some of the buildings being used as dwellings for the local folk and their animals - goats, sheep and horses, as you can tell from the photos.

Amazingly, many of the buildings stand almost as they were abandoned, two to three stories high, gaps for doors and windows, and inscriptions still in place. Of course, all the mosaics have been removed, many to a local museum, which just happened to be closed today (much like the barbers yesterday - just as we were both so much looking forward to a shave). So, it was very much like coming face-to-face with the towns as they were 1,500 years ago.

It happened to be much hotter today and there were many Dead Cities to be visited, so needless to say we suffered a bit from fatigue, and Fred's insides are playing up a bit. Anyway, the final stop was at Ebla, a city from the Bronze Age, 4.000 years old, which has been excavated and skillfully restored by a group from University "La Sapienza" in Rome. They produced some very good descriptions in Arabic, Italian and English, the first time we have come across any explanations to any of the sites since we have been here.

Tomorrow, we go either to the Raqqa, on the Euphrates, in the desert to the east of here or we go south to Hama on the Orontes River, with its big water wheels. If it is the desert you will nto here from us for a while.

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Happy Birthday, Fiona!

quiet before the storm

Fred and I would just like to wish you a very happy birthday. Hope you were not planning a party in the garden, as I heqar the weather isn't so good. Just turned a bit hotter here today, so just the day to go out to the near desert to see some more Dead Cities! Please congratulate Thomas on winning his sprint.... and better luck for you next time with the egg and spoon race... better get started with your training now!

There are lots and lots of handbag shops here..... so if you'd like one just let us know the colour... beautiful Arabian styles!

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Basilica of St Simeon (the Elder)

Basilica of St Simeon (the Elder)

A parallel post to Fred's next to me. This is the Basilica of Saint Simeon (the Elder), which we visited this morning with Tom and Martin from Germany and Samir, the driver/guide. I had heard and read much about St Simeon but was unprepared for the beauty of the spot. The basilica is Byzantine in design, albeit slightly ruined, set on a hill overlooking a rubbly plain, full of olive trees stretching back towards Turkey. At the time it was the biggest church in Christendom. For me, now, it is one of the most beautiful, with the large open spaces, the rounded arches, the decoration on the columns, the honey coloured stone and the beautiful views down across the valley. A group of Syrian students was singing songs, some raucous, some beautiful and haunting. Magical moments.

St Simeon went up there sometime in the 5th century to live as a holy man away from the crowds in the village.He started off a trend of stylites, lay men who went off to live hermit lives, usually on top of hills, making life as difficult for themselves as possible, to prove how devoted they were to God. It became a bit of a competition to see just how extreme they could be. Living on top of pillars, in wells, in specially constructed cages in which they couldn't stand and so on....

This St Simeon climbed on top of a rock, after he got fed up of putting spikes in his feet and burying himself in the soil. The pillar startde off being 3 high, then it was raised to 7 m and finally to 11 m. The remains of which can be seen in the centre of the photo. The rest of the pillar was taken away by relic seekers in the 1,500 years or so since his death. Gradually as time went on the rock was raised so that he ended up living on top of a pillar, never coming down. He attracted great crowds due to the fact that he could perform miracles like healing the blind and the sick, raising the dead, curing donkeys of arthritis and so on...

A curious thing is that these stylite's magical powers increased as they neared death, such that as soon as word got out that one of them was dying everyone nearby would flock to benefit from the boost to the miracular powers. Unfortunately, the Christians were also keen on relics, as these had magical powers too, such that there was a mad scramble to get a piece of the dead man once he finally died, such that people would rip his clothes off, tear his hair out and goodness knows what else.

Fortunately this hadn't caught on by the time this St Simeon died so he was allowed to be buried in Antioch before being moved to Constantinople, at the Hagia Sofia.

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Arabische nachten en andere dieet tips

lunch in the souk

Zo ook maar even een berichtje van mij in het Nederlands. We zitten nu 4 dagen in Aleppo en het bevalt prima. Zoals jullie al uit de berichten van Charles hebben kunnen lezen ondernemen wij tal van zaken. Vrijdagmiddag laat aangekomen na een imposante treinreis van zo'n 32 uur. Nadat we een mooi hotel gevonden hadden in de christelijke wijk, hebben we zalig gegeten aldaar. Het leek ook de handtasjes wijk zo niet dan de schoentjes wijk, zoveel van die winkels hebben we gezien. Jammer dat Channelli niet bij ons was! Vroeg naar bed; het is hier snel donker.

Zaterdags toch maar een ander hotel gezocht. Ons budget is helaas niet berekend op sjieke hotelkamers van zo'n 90 U.S. dollars per nacht. Ik als echt Hyacinth Bucket moest natuurlijk wel even slikken. Rest van de dag lekker door de stad gelopen en voornamelijk de bazaar/souk bezocht. Trots als we op ons zelf zijn: geen tapijten, rollen stoffen of iets anders gekocht. Toch goed die injecties tegen ' craft disease' . Zondag hebben we met een groepje van 5 en een gids een stadswandeling gemaakt. Veel hadden we al gezien maar nu kregen we er goede uitleg bij. De citadel was indrukwekkend en onze gids kende bijna elke steen. Daarna een oude hammam bezocht... daar gaan we later nog eens een keertje heen om echt te baderen. Helaas was de laatste deel van de tour een wandeling door de bazaar waar natuurlijk om de vijf minuten een aardig iemand probeerde je te overtuigen dat je even in zijn winkeltje moest komen kijken: free of course. ' s Middags wat geslapen en wat liggen te lezen. We lezen samen een boek over het lot van de christenen in het Midden Oosten vanaf de 6de eeuw tot nu. Erg leerzaam. In Syrie zijn er nog tal van christelijke groepen die ergens elders in het Midden Oosten, met name in Turkije vervolgd worden.

's Avonds een biertje gedronken op ons dakterras waar veel backpackers zitten. Met een groep mensen uit Nieuw Zeeland, Frankrijk, Australie, Denemarken en Engeland zitten te kletsen. Sommigen waren al meer dan 9 maanden onderweg, terwijl een vrouw in haar eentje een maand door Iran wil gaan reizen. Hoewel ik altijd wat gemengde gevoelens heb over dit soort van mensen, heeft het contact ons erg goed gedaan. Na het biertje met de groep uit eten gegaan. Weer een verrukkelijke maaltijd en dat voor 100 Syrische ponden (= 1. 50 Euro). Daar kan zelfs de Febo niet tegen concureren.

Vanmorgen om 8 uur opgestaan, alles ingepakt omdat we vrijzeker onze kamer moesten verlaten, gewacht op onze gids. Vandaag hadden we namelijk een tour gepland naar de zogenaamde ' death cities' . Deze doden steden waren Byzantijns, dus pre-islamitisch (zeg maar van ongeveer 300 tot zo'n 700 na Christus). In die tijd leefden ze voornamelijk van de productie van olijfolie en wijn en natuurlijk van de handel in deze producten. Er zijn zo'n 600 van deze dode steden, helaas totaal verwoest. Sommige ruines laten zien hoe belangrijk en rijk dit gebied was. Een van de plaatsen die we bezocht hebben is de plek waar Simon de Pilaarheilige woonde en stierf. De arme man zat op een zuil/pilaar om zich terug te trekken uit de decadente wereld van toen. Dagelijks kreeg hij bezoek. Volgens het verhaal heeft hij zo'n 40 jaar op die pilaar gezeten. Toen hij stervende was kwamen allerlei mensen aangesneld in de hoop dat zijn dood geneeskrachtig zo zijn voor anderen. Dus een bonte stoet van mensen met zieken kinderen, katten en honden stonden onder aan de pilaar. Toen hij stierf is zijn lichaam door 600 keizerlijke soldaten meegenomen naar Antioche. Nu ligt hij in Istanbul (Hagia Sophia) Na zijn dood is er een enorme kathedraal om de zuil gebouwd (hoe zo goed begrepen dat hij een voorstander was van een sobere leefstijl). De kathedraal en de rest van de citadel is ook verwoest maar de ruine laat goed zien hoe groot en imposant het gebouw wel niet was. Na de dode steden hebben we nog wat Romeinse graftombes bezocht en toen weer op weg naar Aleppo.

Vanmiddag hoorden we dat onze kamer niet meer beschikbaar was. De eigenaar liet ons naar een ander hotel brengen waar we in eerste instantie ja tegen hadden gezegd maar tijdens de lunch kregen we steeds meer het gevoel dat dat niet onze plek was. Helaas lagen onze paspoorten bi8j de receptie en stond onze bagage in onze kamer. Nieuw hotel gezocht en toen de stoute schoen aan om te zeggen dat we ergens anders wilden gaan slapen. We waren bereid om 100 Syrische ponden te betalen (= 1.50 Euro) als compensatie. Daar trapten de boys niet in. Ze weigerden onze paspoorten terug te geven als wij niet de volle 400 pond gingen betalen. Ik heb me nog even kwaad gemaakt maar dat hielp allemaal niets. Betaald, paspoorten en bagage meegenomen en naar ons ander hotel.

Nu op weg naar de hammam. Tot 17.00 uur is het alleen open voor vrouwen en daarna tot 0.200 voor mannen. Op weg naar de hammam nog even langs de scheerbaas en dan even uitstomen. Voor morgen staat er vrijzeker nog een tour naar andere dode steden op het menu. Ik denk dat we woensdag de stad gaan verlaten om door te reizen naar Hama of naar de woestijnn.

Nu zullen jullie wel denken waar slaat die titel op? Nou dat is niet zo moeilijk. De Arabische nachten zijn hier wel kort maar in de meeste restaurants wordt er gewoon een koud biertje geschonken en als je bedenkt dat de hoeveelheden voedsel die je krijgt er niet om liegen, dan begrijp je ook gelijk deel twee van de titel. De Syriers, schijnbaar net zoals als andere Arabische volken, eten heel veel zoetigheden. Het stikt hier van de bakkerijen, venters met allerlei zoetigheden en koffie of thee zonder suiker is erg schaars. Dus ik gok maar op ons Afrikaans deel als het gaat om de afvalligheid.
Groetjes van Charles en mij.

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

In the Citadel

Haleb Haleb

Syria - The Citadel in Aleppo

It seems to be hotter today in Aleppo and it turns out that yesterday was especially cool. Still there is a good breeze and it is not unbearable... ifot particularly sensible to be walking around town in the middle of the day, which is why we are back at the hotel, Fred taking another snooze and me loading up some more photos.

So we are enjoying our backpacker experience, at the Zahert Al-Rabih hostel (Spring Flower in English). At first it seeemd we hads stumbled into the set of Midnight Express as the guy on the door was still half asleep and seemed to be doing a good impression of Max. The stairways were dark through exposed old brick/rock work, with inlays of Arabic texts in stone. Anyway, Fred was won over by the promise of air conditioning in the room and this was ours for two nights. There's a big crowd arriving tomorrow so we may have to move on, which'd be a pity seeing as are hoping to be here for five nights.

Today, we went on a city tour, which promised a lot, but ended up being a trek through the same souk and caravanaserai's as yesterday but with the added attraction of a guided tour around the impressive Citadel. Think Kingdom of Heaven, think Lord of the Rings (Helm's Deep or Gondor) or even Troy, this was the real thing. A citadel which protected the city for century aftyer century and was never broken or breached. Impressive from a distance, it gets even better when walking up the bridge over the 20 metre deep moat to access the citadel itself. The walls rise above you, layers added as time went one, massive stone building blocks and giant arabic inscriptions, friezes of serpents and lions and feet thick wooden and iron gates. Amazing. And one clever thing.... the gate did not face outwards back towards the bridge, no it faced to the side. In this way it could withstand the battering rams (the ones which breached both Helm's Deep and Gondor). A very clever idea and presumably a very old one too, it is surprising that other defensive structures didn't follow the same design.

Just lost a bunch of text as the computer lost connection just as I was saving my work... how typical....

Anyway, I was talking about our visit to the hammam, how ridiculous the prices are here - from normal home prices to incredibly cheap, how good and fresh the food is here and about our plans for today and tomorrow.... oh well... here goes....

Just to say that it is Sunday and we had hoped to go to church but we have not done so because no-one can tell us where the churches are and at what time they are open. Although the Christian communities have in many cases been around here for an awful long time, it turns out taht many of the churches are not to be found near the centre. I had been reading From the Holy Mountain, by William Dalrymple on the train down and he had mentioned the existence of an Urfalee church (they are refugees from Urfa in eastern Turkey) where they are supposed to sing the most ancient forms of Christian songs still surviving... this music being the basis of the later Gregorian chants.

The plan instead is to go to the hammam for a good scrub and massage.

But first we will visit our fruit juice man. He is just around the corner here and can make juice from any mix of fruit you would want - peach, apricot, apple, pear, orange, banana, strawberry, blackberry... mmmm... a whole pint for half a euro.

With food, fruit and drink so abundant, so fresh and so cheap, we are probably eating more than we need. But food is like love.... if it is offered it is silly to turn it down

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Travels

Dear Charles and Fred,
Great to read your experiences so far and to see the photos.No doubt you have heard that there were more attempted suicide bombers in London but their devices did not go off.
The Police have been given shoot to kill orders for Terrorists which they carried out on a Tube, but unfortunately, the person they shot was an innocent Brazilian!!
Nothing to report from this end, but we are enjoying the veggies from the allotments.
Have an enormous number of shallots and a lot of the spuds have been eaten by slugs!!Speak to you soon.
Lots of Love Mum & Nick

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

light and colour in the Aleppo souk

Aleppo Aleppo

Well, let us see how far we get with this post. Fred is having a snooze but cannot be relied to to continue to do so for as long as it takes to write this piece. In the meantime, photos are being loaded very slowly into Flickr.com.

We love Aleppo. Fred especially.
It is noisy, it is dirty, it is smelly, it is windy, it is hot.

It is also full of an amzing mix of people and cultures and almost everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. There are Sunni Muslims, othe Muslims, Armenians, Syrian Christians, Maronites, even Nestorians. An amazing mix of clothing to be seen, although they all seem to speak Arabic. And, fortunately for us enough people seem to speak English and with the hands and the feet for us to be able to get around and feed and refresh ourselves.

The best place to see this mix - and to photograph them is, of course, the souk, the largest souk in the Middle East, apparently - although the Grand Bazaar - being the equivalent of a souk - seemed to be pretty big as well. Still, the atmosphere generated in the Aleppo souk was much more vibrant.... I hope you get a bit of the taste with the photos.

So, our taxi driver from last night managed to get us to the Beit Wakil hotel in the jedonite quarter, but a Britisg family who had driven up from Saudi Arabia had g0t there just before us and decided they would take the double room for the four of them, despite having paid their travel agent for two rooms. So we had to hunt around and found a new hotel which had been established in another of the Christian homes in the quarter. This was the Thorwah hotel. Expensive but beautifully restored with wooden painted ceilings and a number of rooms around a large airy - but hot - courtyard - a bit like a riad in Marrakech - see link!!!

Airco on and a nice refreshing splash under the shower and we were ready to face the night..... a simple case of following the advice of the Rough Guide - which found us on a rooftop eating the most delicious meal of humous, dolmas, watercress salad, kofte stuffed with nuts and cheese and spiced chicken.

Sorry... we have just lost some of the text... so will briefly let you know that we have left the Hyacinth Bucket-type residence and are firmly ensconsed in Onslow and Daisy type backpaker land - no room for a donkey - notice that we LIKE donkeys? Anyway, fear not, we are not sleeping in the dorm on the roof but well in the privacy of an airconditioned room with own shower and toilet. Paying less for this than the tax on the bill of last nights place.

Adieu!

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Toros Express

Haydarpasa station - gateway to Asia

Yes,we made it to Aleppo! Only 32 hours in the train. It was a beautiful journey and only towards the end did it become a bit tiring. It is amazing to see just how little one can do in 32 hours! Sleeping, reading, looking out of the window for hours on end, trying to take interesting and well-composed photographs, chatting with the fellow passengers - 3 Swiss girls, studying Arabic, an American studying Arabic, a Catholic Japanese girl, following a Saint Paul trail, a Tunisian family and a Central Asian Republic family - both families with little children small enough to whine for hours on end - and of course vour Syrian conductor Khaled - who had a secret stash of coffee to serve to needy passengers. The train left the impressive Hyderpassa station exactly on time and we were very pleased to be told to close the windows as Khaled wanted to put on the air conditioning.... so we were set for a train ride to remember.

Anyway, the highlight of the journey was the countryside we passed through. Turkey is a big country and we went a circuitous route in a vaguely south easterly direction, following river valleys, in the main. But still,it was incredible to see how rich the agriculture was. Kilomters after kilometres of cherry trees, red with ripe hanging fruit, then the same with peaches and pears... it was very tempting to put ones hand through the window and to help oneself. After that we had fields of still-uncut wheat, peppers, tomatoes, sunflowers and so on. There were also rows and rows of plain trees to make it all look a lot like the Po valley but this all seemed to be on a much grander scale. The only strange thing was that we saw very few people actually picking the fruit even though it looked very ripe and there were piles of fallen peaches under the trees. Of course, the nearer we came to Syria, the drier and hotter it became - the second day - but even still there were plains of wheat, sunbflowres and eventually olive trees.

Evening was good. The air had cooled and we were going through a particularly marshy area so there was that sweet small of evening dew in the air. There were many birds to be seen including the colourful bee-eaters, many storks, wagtails, crows and eagles.

The biggest treat of the journey was the rising of the full moon. It just so happened to be rising on the left hand side of the train, coming up over some far distant mountains, the orange light reflecting off a lake which just happened to be there at the right time. An amazing and one which caught everybodys attention. I tried and almost succeeded in capturing this on my camera and I will try to upload the photo.

The second day was slightly less fun as it was a lot hotter, we had to spend about three hours shunting around tbe border areas, with passport control. When we started off in Istanbul we were the last of seven carriages, mid-morning on the next day, we were near the front of what was now a train of about one kilometer, many goods carriages having been attached and by the time we arrived in Aleppo we were the first of just two carriages.

Crossing the border to Syria was fine. We were greeted with welcome to Syria and it felt good to leave what we knew to be a tense situation in Eastern Turkey to arrive at the peaceful and multi-cultural, tolerant Syria. We hadnt seen much sign of roadblocks in Turkey although a few of the towns we passed through did have large army or air force barracks.

Syria was first just boring rows of olive trees, a bit like Andalucia, bit soon we came acrodd fields with Bedouin with their goats and sheep. It became very dusty too and near the towns there was lots and lots of rubbish,mainly plastic bags. The houses were very dull... built of grey concrete bricks, totally uncoated or plastered. Many had pens in which to house the animals during the night. Eventually, we were told we were almost in Aleppo, just before sunset and soon it was time sto start worrying about the fact that it weas Friday evening and we had no hotel and no Syrian pounds. Maybe this is something we can do better in the future. Anyway, Fred managed to do a deal with Khaled at the ㅎgrand Aleppo station before we said our goodbyes and hopped into a very tint taxi with a driver who didnt understand a word of English.... and sobegan our adventures in Aleppo.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Wednesday ın Istanbul

Insıde the Blue Mosque I am afraıd to say that we have done lıttle more than beat the standard tourıst path around the Blue Mosque, the Hagıa Sofıa and the Grand Bazaar (and beyond) and were numerous large contıongents from the Prıncess cruıse shıp, docked majestıcally ın the harbour. Groups wanderıng around each wıth a dıfferent coloured stıcker, who seemed to happen up every place just at the same tıme as we got there. We dıd not have Istanbul to ourselves, not by any means. Anyway, we spent the day wanderıng around, watchıng the people (defınıtely more headscarves around today.... notably ın the head scarf street - but lıke yesterday, they were very colourful and cheerful), poppıng ınto mosques, feelıng the lush carpets under our barefeet and samplıng the local food (anyone for chıcken kebab wıth salad?).

Wanderıng around bazaars or souks and poppıng ınto mosques wıll probably become a way of lıfe for us ın the next few weeks. I am as sure that we wıll get mosque-fatıgue ın just the same way as we had baroque-fatıgue ın Sıcıly last summer. Fred quıcker than myself, for some reason. Anyway, the vısıt to the Blue Mosque was enlıvened by an muezzın competıtıon. A bıt lıke Strıctly Ballroom, we had Strıctly Imam. A number of local muezzıns performıng set pıeces, accordıng to strıct rules, wıth a jury full of local worthıes sat and lıstened ın judgement. There ıs no song, no tune or rhyme as such, but well establıshed methods and sequences, whereby the muezzın has to pıtch and hold certaın words ın certaın ways. Fascınatıng, but somethıng for the experts. There should be a photo of the one Fred lıked ın the photo album.

We also had a shave. Thıs ıs a great treat, far better than a normal haırcut, the way the barber perpares and applıes the lather, gets out a new razor and goes twıce over the face, leavıng ıt as smooth as the proverbıal baby's bottom, takıng dead skın and the years off as he goes. Then ıt ıs tıme for the splash, the cologne, the neck and temple massage, after whıch he lıghts up hıs cıgarette lıghter and burns off all the unwanted haırs sproutıng from the ears. The photos of the shave and the clean faces are on the Istanbul album on flıckr.
Walkıng up the road to thıs ınternet cafethıs evenıng, a chap asked us what had happened to us. I thought he was dısappoınted that we had not gone to hıs bar for a drınk last nıght, whıle ın fact he was enquırıng about our fresh clean-shaved faces. He agreed wıth us that we both looked a good deal younger (ha ha!) ...... now the task of burnıng off the excess kılos... (as ıf...)

We dıd not go to the hammam. We wıll go ın Aleppo.

Gıven that we are to board a traın for 30 hours, one whıch we have been told does NOT serve foord or drınks, we have also been buyıng ın for the journey. Peaches, cherrıes, drıed aprıcots and mueslı bars are what we have laıd our hands on so far. We are thınkıng that any number of lıtres of water wıll not be too many. Bıscuıts and loaves of bread should suffıce for the rest.

So, thıs wıll be ıt for a day or two and we wıll just have to see how easy all thıs ınternet stuff wıll be ın Syrıa. I am uploadıng photos dırectly from my camera to the computer usıng a usb cable. Hopefully, wıll be able to contınue to do so as we travel on. It ıs also ınterestıng to wrıte a log wıth the ınternet access clock tıckıng away..... not the best way to collect one's thoughts and wrıte them down, but that's lıfe ın 2005 and ıts great!

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Young, free and happy

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Moon - over the Sea of Marmara

Eındhoven, thıs mornıng

Byzantine waiting room

Istanbul

Turkey - Istanbul or San Francısco?

Well, we arrıved safe and soıund. No problems. Henk and Martın took us to Eındhoven and from there ıt was less than three hours to Istanbul, gateway to Asıa.

It ıs great to be back here after 14 years away. We are stayıng ın the same area as then...Sultanahmet, the old part of the cıty below the Hagıa Sofıa and the Blue Mosque... both of whıch can be seen from the very pleasant roof of our hotel - the Naz Wooden House Inn. We were welcomed by the friendly Suleyman and shown to room 3. A tiny little room which ıs barely bıg enough to take our rucksacks. Freds came ın at 11 kg, Charles at 13 kg.... even wıth fıve paırs of underpants each!!!!! The weighing scales in the room told a different story however.

So, the fırst task was to get our tıcket for Aleppo ın Syrıa and thıs took us fırst to a delıghtful street ın the local area full of renovated wooden houses, now a backpackers area. The travel agent there suggested that we mıght be able tro take a traın out on Saturday to Tehran and change there... for a journey of 69 hours, but we knew better. From there, we went to Sırkecı statıon, past the Blue Mosque. A bıt dısappoınted not to see the hollyhocks whıch were there ın 1991,but the gardens were delıghtful. No luck at Sırkecı, so ıt was a ferry rıde across to Asıa to Hydarpassa statıon. So beautıful, these old statıons wıth there large halls and theır ıntrıcate tıle-work. So quıte an expedıtıon, but all was well ın the end and the lady at the statıon helped us wıth great effıcıency to gıve us beds 17 and 18 ın the Toros Express leavıng at 08.55 on Thursday. We have our tıckets for the sleeper... 30 hours of journey for just Eur 45 each.

Charles was remarkıng to Fred how much the area remınded hım of San Francısco, wıth ıts hılls, ıts watersıde settıng and the wooden houses ın the Queen Anne style. Fred agreed..... but all of a sudden we were asked ıf we were lost..... no, I replıed, I thınk we are ın Istanbul, OK! Anyway, to the extent that Istanbul does resemble SF, both the place and the people of Istanbul are a lot warmer.

Thıs ıs our thırd tıme ın Turkey and ıt has to be saıd that every tıme, we always have a good feelıng about the place and ıts people. Hard to descrıbe. If thıngs have changed here much sınce 1991, I would say that ıt has become a bıt more extreme. More Islamıc (colourful headscarves and burkas - although I woukld say there are fewer here than ın Amsterdam Oost on a good day) and more Western ın terms of commerce and caterıng to the tourıst Euro.

Fred ıs off for another Efes and I wıll waıt here untıl some photos upload. It ıs late and the owner wants to close so thıs ıs a bıt rushed.... but I wanted to record somethıng of our fırst day here. Thank you everyone for gıvıng us such a good send off.

Cheers,
Fred and Charles

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Trip to Middle East and Africa

Hello All,

I am writing to let you know that Fred and I start our six month journey
to the Middle East and Africa tomorrow. We will be trying to maintain a
weblog at the following address as we go along
http://charlesfred.blogspot.com, as well as uploading pictures onto the
following site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/charlesfred/sets/ . It is
possible to leave comments on the weblog by clicking on 'comments' (in
green underneath each post) and following the instructions on the next
page (click 'other' by identity), or by signing the guestbook and
leaving a message there.

It will be great to hear from you, either in
this way, or by e-mail in the normal way. We hope to keep the weblog
current and interesting and promise to do our best to bring you stories
and anecdotes rather than a diary explaining who got up first to have a
shower and what was served at breakfast.

Fred managed to get a six month sabbatical from school, which is
well-timed because the new system in Holland requires History to be
taught in blocks each of half a year, so he will be back for the second
block. I have been enjoying a period without work since finishing the
job at Nortem, spending a bit of time in England and some in Italy. I
think the idea is for me to look for a job when we get back.

As can be seen on the weblog, we have a rough idea of where we want to
go,but aprt from the flight tomorrow to Istanbul and the hotel there for
two nights, nothing has been arranged. We will be carrying rucksacks,
travel guides and seeing where the road takes us. There are many things
that we would like to get out of this journey adn hopefully we will be
able to give a flavour in the weblog.

Sorry for not making this a more personal e-mail but all of a sudden,
time seems to have run out on me and I still have to pack!

So, I wish you all the best and hope to hear from you somewhere along
the way.

Cheers for now,

Charles

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Far away places


Dear Charles and Fred

Here's wishing you all the very best in your travels. I'm sure you have nothing to worry about so long as you are sensible!!

All I ask is not to 'do a Richard' on me which I know you won't!!

Lots of love to you both Mum and Nick

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Sunday, July 17, 2005

Feestje!

group photo going away party

Bedankt iedereen (Mariette, Vera en Timon, Jan en Ineke, Annemiek, Bram en Marja, Henk, Martin en Gillian, Els, Sander en Mireille, Hein en Marion, Doortje, Meta, Eric en Danielle, Ida, Jon en Pieter, Rob en Jose) voor het komen, voor je kado's en je goede wensen ... het was een hele gezellige middag in de tuin..... we zullen jullie heel erg missen.

Voor meer foto's kan je op deze foto klikken en kom je op onze site in flickr.com (http://www.flickr.com/photos/charlesfred/sets/) . We hopen de foto's van de reis op deze site te zetten, georganiseerd in sets (foto albums).

We zullen het erg leuk vinden als jullie 'comments' schrijven op onze postings of in onze gastenboek. Om een 'comment' te geven, klik je op comment (onderaan elke post), schrijf je tekst en klik op 'other' en vul alleen je naam in en klik op 'publish your comment'.
Om iets in onze gastenboek te schrijven, klik op 'sign guestbook', schrijf je tekst en klik op 'post message'. Het is voor ons handig dat je je e-mail adres invult. Het is niet voor het grote publiek toegankelijk, alleen wij (F&C) kunnen het we lezen.
Succes!

Veel liefs,
Fred en Charles

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Happy couple

Beautiful!

Happy couple

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Friday, July 08, 2005

Edna Ismail, Foreign Minister of Somaliland


Fascinating!

We first see Edna Alda Ismail's name on the front of the hospital named after her in Hargeisa, capital of Somaliland in the BBC programme - Holidays in the Danger Zone - Countries which don't exist. We then see her walking into a ward just while a new Somalilander is born. We then find out that she is also the Foreign Minister of Somaliland and get shown a meeting of the Cabinet.

We next hear that she is to appear on the Johannesberg edition of Question Time, timed to coincide with the G8 summit in Gleneagles. This was on last night, so it was also timed to discuss the terrible bombings in London, earlier ion the day. So, we watch with interest. I am amused by the way, Edna pauses to reflect on how the question posed affects 'her own' country of Somaliland. David Dimblebey has to tll her to keep the subject.. they were supposed to be discussing Mugabe, not Somaliland!!! Anyway, she did very well and I was extremely proud of her, a sensible and measured, but altogether positive contribution.

Anyway, I phone my Dad earlier this evening and we talk bout the trip and then about Question Time last night. Unfortunately, he missed it, but he did tell me he had seen the Countries Which Don't Exist programme and tells me he has written a letter to Edna. It turns out that she came back to Hargeisa from completing her nursing studies in London during the time he and my Mum were living there (1960-63) and that they had invited them round for dinner. So, he wrote to tell her that Fred and I are planning to visit Hargeisa in mid-September and would she be able to spare a few minutes to meet us. What a treat that would be.

I mention this to Mum and she says that she could remember the two nurses, couldn't rememb the dinner but did remember that one or two of them were there at the birth of either myself and/or my sister Diana! Amazing!!!!!

I am very excited.
Still not sure we will actually go to Somaliland, because if we hear that it is very dangerous or has become unstable, we will not go there. As mentioned elsewhere, we do not have a fixed idea of where we want to go and will only do sensible things.

Anyway, here is a picture of me as a young Somalilander... (at the top!)

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Birth certificate


from the Somaliland Protectorate

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

The good, the bad and the ugly

Palermo - The good, the bad and the ugly?But which one is which?

Palermo FC


Palermo FC, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Testing a picture from Palermo this time last year...... during the Festival of Santa Rosalia, just after Palermo FC had won promotion to Serie 'A'. The whole town was pink and black, a coming together of the religions of football and Catholicism.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Getting ready

We have booked our flight out and we will leave from Eindhoven to Istanbul in the morning of Tuesday 19 July, flying with Corendon. Henk says he will bring us to Eindhoven, which is good news.

We have booked a couple of nights at the NAZ Wooden House Inn in Sultanhamet, near the Blue Mosque etc etc. They would have given us a free transfer from the airport, but our (cheap flights) airport seems to be miles out of the city on the Asian side, so it is an expensive taxi/shuttlebus ride into the centre. Oh the joys of budget air travel! Still not booked the Toros Express to Aleppo, so probably have to do this at the station in Istanbul. Expect to leave for Aleppo on Thursday 21st July, arriving 30-36 hours later. Hoping to get rooms in Beit Wakil Hotel in Aleppo, but again, not possible to book from here.

Further, the visa for Syria is ready, unfortunately only a single entry one and we will pick this up tomorrow or later today, when we can also pick up a visa for Eritrea. The plan would be to fly from Amman in Jordan to Asmara in Eritrea some time in September. Then it would be down to Djibouti and Somaliland and across to Ethiopia, just as the rainy season ends when the countryside should be at its greenest and most beautiful.

Yesterday we had our injections at the AMC. The nurse said we were a bit (well, very) late but she gave us each three in the arm and one in the leg, one of which we have to follow up in a months time when we are in Lebanon (hepatitus B). Also have to pick up malaria tablets - lariam - which may or may not make you psychotic. We will find out in the next 3-4 weeks. Reading all the literature about the diseases makes one a little apprehensive and it is to be hoped that the only thing we will be needing will be the anti-diarrhoea tablets we bought on the way out. Fred paid € 350 for the injections and there is another € 180 to be paid for the malaria tablets. Maybe we need to take another look at our budget.

On the other hand, the (hopefully) comprehensive travel insurance cost just €85 for the both of us, which is not so bad.

Otherwise, the house and the garden are being cleared out of accumulated rubbish, not that six months makes a lot of difference, but it is a great feeling to create empty spaces again. Our friends Hugo and Howard will be staying in the house while we are away, which is a comfortable feeling.

The boys on the bench Posted by Picasa

London bid

Will London win the bid?

They know the winner, but just aren't announcing it....

Exciting!


Fred in Berlin.... strangely enough (February 2005) Posted by Picasa

funny faces Posted by Picasa

getting ready for our cycle ride to Broek in Waterland to find the canoes July 2005 Posted by Picasa

Our recent visitors

Fiona and Thomas came to stay... it was a weekend of Risk, football and canoeing, with Charles capsizing and drowning two cameras and his mobile phone (none of which have since shown any signs of life). Was great fun though.
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