Cappadocia really does have it all. Well, everything except low prices, that is. The landscape here is amazing. When we arrived, we came in during a lightning storm, shortly after sunset, so the lightning was flashing behind all these API Call Errorrock formations. One particularly large formation, which looks a little like a castle, had a flash go off behind it just as we were going by, and looked like something out of a Dracula movie.
What a difference a border makes. It is only 100km from Aleppo to Antakya, but once you cross the (very disorganised) border, all of a sudden, you enter Europe.
While we are technically still in Asia, it is a much more European atmosphere. The streets are wide, traffic is a bit calmer. Headscarves have gone from being worn by a moderately sized majority, to being worn only by a tiny minority of women, mostly older women, at that. Western brand names, which were almost non-existent in Syria, have reappeared. The stores are better stocked than anywhere we’ve been since Malta (excepting the Amman Safeway).
There are still a few things to remind us that this isn’t Europe yet. The call to prayer is still heard 5 times a day, though still soundly ignored by most people; there are still people wandering the streets to shine shoes, sell tea, and, in a new addition, weigh people.
So we haven’t been blogging much from Syria. This is largely due to the general lack of excitement we’ve had. Syria is certainly an interesting and API Call Errorbeautiful country, but we’ve found that we’ve spent an awful lot of time seeing things, and haven’t actually done anything of interest. So for a brief recap:
From Palmyra we took a private car to visit some far-flung sites, turning what could have been a 2 hour bus ride to Hama into an all day trip on the scenic route, visiting a API Call Errordesert castle, API Call ErrorQasr al-Heir al-Sharki, the API Call Errorruins of the API Call ErrorRoman/Byzantine/Ummayad city of API Call ErrorRasefeh, and a brief stop to see the API Call ErrorEuphrates river, unfortunately far upstream of the most interesting historic sites that are closer to the Iraqi border.
API Call ErrorTaxis: we weren’t keen on trying the taxis in Egypt, as we were still intimated, not wanting to get taken for a ride (no pun intended!), and Cairo cabs in particular have a bad reputation for milking as much money out of tourists as they can. As it turned out since we booked a tour for Egypt, there wasn’t any need for them. Our first foray into Jordan proved quite manageable. We probably paid more than necessary for the ride from the ferry into Aqaba, but the driver was kind and friendly, and we didn’t feel ripped off, and that’s what really matters. We took a taxi to Wadi Rum (arranged by our tour guides there) without any trouble, and again from Petra to Dana. By the time we got to Amman, we didn’t think anything of flagging down a taxi to take us across town, especially as they are quite supposed to use their meters. A trip clear across town ended up costing us less than $4 (and this in a country whose costs are generally only slightly less than back home).
Well, we’ve been in Syria for about 5 days now, and to be honest we haven’t done a lot.
We arrived in Damascus latish at night on the 11th. Our first order of business was to get ripped off by a taxi driver. We’d originally agreed to pay a price higher than we’d been told we should because we only had very large bills, and needed change. So after confirming that the driver could provide change, 100 Syrian pounds (about $2) seemed reasonable. When we got to the hotel, the driver says “no change,” and requested as payment $3 US (this was after he went on a spiel about Canada, Italy, France… good, USA, UK bad during the ride), which we ended up paying just because we were too tired to bother arguing.
Well, today was definitely an interesting day. It didn’t start out great, as we woke up to find our leftover chicken was missing from the fridge, so our breakfast was lacking in protein. But we made our way first to the JETT bus office to arrange our tickets to Damascus for tomorrow, and then to Abdali bus station to catch a local bus to Jerash. It was shaping up looking like it would be an exercise in frustration, comparable to getting to Amman, because the first bus we were directed to was a full sized bus. We would have been the second and third people on this bus, and they don’t leave until they’re full. Getting to Amman, we were the 7th and 8th people on, and still waited almost 2 hours to depart. But we asked around some more, and a very nice gentleman pointed us to an actual minibus that was almost full and departed within 10 minutes.
Something generally lacking in the Middle East has been grocery stores. Fresh produce is readily available, and there are many “supermarkets” that sell chips, chocolate bars, water, pop and maybe two or three other products. But there’s still been a bit lacking.
So conveniently, in Amman there is actually a Safeway. Our visit there was a generally uneventful occasion, in which we stocked up on things like cereal bars, cookies, and other non-chip snack supplies. But the real surprise was the candy store, where they were selling chocolate coins. Canadian chocolate coins, just like we’d get at home. We actually didn’t get any because they were expensive, but it was kind of odd nonetheless. Continue reading
We’ve just arrived in Amman, after spending 3 days on the Dana Nature Reserve. Despite how much I try to hide it, I’m just not a city girl at heart. It was so wonderful just to sit around and enjoy the relative quiet, the shouts of a few people, the braying of donkeys, the crowing of a rooster or two, and the many many songbirds. And for the first time, I learned that bats do actually make an audible noise – I always thought their sounds were too high-pitched for us to hear, but when I enquired about the weird nighttime squeakings (get your mind out of there!) – there were crickets, but also some high-pitched squeaks that we were told were the bats. Neat.
We’ve spent our third day in Petra now, and it was definitely the hardest. We’d wanted to visit the second most famous facade in Petra, API Call Errorthe Monastery, and we’d planned on taking horses one way, as we’d heard you could do that.
Unfortunately, we had no such luck, apparently the horses are unable to climb all the way to the Monastery. You can take donkeys, but you have to walk about 3 or 4 km from the entrance gate to the centre of the site to get a donkey. The first one we asked started at an unreasonable price, and by the time he’d come down to the realm of reality, we were so frustrated with his tactics that we weren’t going to buy from him anyway.
So we walked the whole distance. Probably only about 6 km or so from the entrance gate to the monastery, but it involves dropping right to the bottom of the valley, and then climbing a mountain out. Then turn around and go the other way. So we got a lot of practice on the stairs today. It was worth it though. The monastery, like the Treasury at the other end of the city, is an unforgettable sight.
We leave for Dana tomorrow. We’re not sure where next internet will be available, so it may be a while before you hear from us again. Don’t worry though, we’re fine.
We have been in Wadi Musa (the town beside Petra) for 3 days, and have been to Petra for 2 days, going back again tomorrow. We haven’t really taken much rest in the past week, and are getting a little tuckered. Nights haven’t been fully restful either, as our room is not at all insulated, and we can hear every shout, car horn and prayer call quite clearly – the first call to prayer of the day seems to happen sometime around 4am, though we really can’t figure how many people are actually up at that time, unless they just haven’t gone to bed yet, since it seems to be a very evening and night-oriented society. (which has made finding breakfast on occasion quite a task – many places in less touristy areas don’t open until 9 or 10 am)