Syria at Christmas
A bit late, but here are some brief scribblings about what we did over Christmas:
Friday Flight to Istanbul – delayed – snow in Amsterdam, rain in Istanbul – late arrival in Istanbul – to hotel – I go to Tekyon and meet Ibrahim, exchange presents
Saturday – Fred not feeling well – walk through Cihangir and Cuckarma, Istiklal, pomegranate juice, Galata Bridge, taxi back to hotel to pick up Fred – same route down to Eminonu. Ferry across to Uskudar, met shoeshine man, Murat, then Marc from flickr in posh tea house. Ferry back to Besiktas and taxi to hotel, sleep, dinner at posh kebab house, after seeing the intestine places in Balik Pazar, drink with Turkmen friend, miss out on music bar, go back to hotel for sleep.
Sunday – another grey morning, Fred stays in bed, I walk down to the other side of Istiklal Caddesi, through the steep streets of poor houses with colourful washing across the streets, find church, gypsy flea market, fruit market then go back to pick up Fred and do the same. Afterwards take taxi to Edirnekapi for closed Mihrimah Mosque, St Saviour in Chora, the Theodosian Walls and pigeon market. Back to hotel, late checkout, Fred sleeps, then a snacky dinner before taking taxi to airport. Big frustration, plane cancelled, finally go back to our hotel and a quick drink at an empty Tekyon.
Monday – walk down to fruit market from yesterday but it is closed. Frustration again at the airport and take taxi back to fish market at Kumkapi, walk through Sultanahmet, visit Kucukayasophia, up to Blue Mosque, the Great Bazaar, buy felt Father Christmas and fake jeans, try to find Suleymaniye Mosque, have orange juice down in Sirkeci before dinner at Cesme restaurant near Kucukayasophia. Back at airport, finally get the flight to Damascus and arrive at about 02.00 am.
Tuesday – picked up by Kaldoun at Damascus airport and taken to al-Zaetona hotel, for large comfortable room and much need sleep and rest.
Wednesday - Damascus
Thursday – Damascus, Seidniye, Maalula, Misyaf, Aleppo
Driven around by Fred's driver Kaldoun, who had picked us up from the airport. I find the Christian areas a bit boring but better when we get off the motorway and Homs and take the backroad through to Misyaf. Flat, misty, green and damp, villages strewn along the road. Some rustic scenes such as cows, ducks, turkeys, pony and traps not to mention the odd shepherd with his flock of sheep on the dyke above the road. Stop ofr photos of a young chap making rounded sweets and later for three shepherds and their herd by the side of the road, before speeding up from Hama to Aleppo. Check into al-Gawahir (not exactly to be recommended) before going to to see Mostafa, from the olives, who I had seen from the taxi. Given a wonderful wlecome as Mostafa showed me my number on his mobile phone and offered us first juice, then shish tavuk dinner and some presents of olives and cheese while we help him with the English on his olove oil labels. Greta, just a pity to hear that he will not be there tomorrow - its is Friday and everything closes for Christmas - hmmmm... again! Find Mohammed for a fruit juice and wander to teh quiet Christian area where we have a quiet dinner in the place we first hqd dinner five years ago when we first came to the city. Not a lot of activity on Christmas Eve,
Friday – Aleppo – wrong place to be for Christams, souk closed as it is Friday and only a few church services, BUT a lovely sunny day and we find some streets going off to the east of the Christian area, with lots of life. It is Christmas so I try to concentrate on taking photos of the children in the streets, most of them very willing, many of them very cute. We take some videos at the Citadel, which is very green and quite crowded, no brokeback mountain boys though. Walk through to the western gate and see many people playing football under the walls, and some little ones decide to start the third intifada by throwing stones, no idea why. Bought some cakes before finding Bab Antakya, going back to our not very nice al-Gawahir hotel and getting a taxi to the out-of-town bus station in the ever-thickening mist, before catching an al-Aliydah bus down to Hama, where Abdullah is waiting for us!
Saturday – Hama, Salamiye
Sunday – Hama, Apamea, Serjilla, Damascus
Monday – a late-ish start for a terrible breakfast. No news about our flight so we take the 10.30 shuttle bus into town, where we soon find out that we are on the 17.35 flight to Istanbul. Disappointing in that we miss a day in Damascus but at least we will be flying before the fog comes down. As it happens, the day is cloudy, so no fog to worry about. Wander down to main road and the market just below the Citadel, no time to develop photos of the butchers from the other market. We meet up with Omar, the Egyptian guy from New York and the Syrian guy from Coventry. Bus to airport, check-in, wait, catch flight, problems at Istanbul airport, finally get taken to a dreadful Corendon package tour hotel, rubbish buffet dinner but great company. We are just too tired (and have a bit of a cold) and an early start and no money so no trip into town. Pity. In the meantime, Sergey has been delayed and has to fly through Vienna. I have arranged for Henk to pick him up from the airport and after about 40 sms’es and some telephone calls, it a;ll wporks out and Sergey makes it safely to his hotel.
Tuesday – woken up at 4 and again at 5 and then 6, in plenty of time for flight back to Amsterdam, flying over sunny Europe and cloudy and frost Holland. Henk picks us up and then helps Fred with buying booze for the NYE party and I go out to find Sergey at his hotel in Sarphatipark. We go to Albert Cuyp, lunch at Bazaar, walk to Leidseplein, Rembarndtsplein, Utrechtsestraat before giving him a lift on back of bike (he falls off) back home. I cook the spaghetti all’amatriciana, Fred makes the salad. We watch Beautiful Thing while it snows outside, quite big flakes. We get a taxi for Sergey and then watch the Strictly Final. Video cuts out just before the result but we catch it on youtube and Chris and Ola win! YES! Fred not so happy but his fave won last year so he cannot complain.
Wednesday – most of snow has melted into dirty sludge, back in the office, no delays on trains, no snow outside of Amsterdam, Fred takes Sergey around Amsterdam, banned from red light district and Nieuwmarkt – ha ha!