A looong day of travel, ending up in Aleppo

IMG_8516After standing in all sorts of queues, filling out forms and stating for the third time that my father originated from Sweden we were all set to jump into a cab and check in at the hotel in Damascus. Then Mirsada came up with the idea of going to Aleppo instead to avoid trashing two nights, at 4 am I was in no state to argue, so we checked the early flights to Aleppo.

Unfortunately all the flights was booked, but according to the guidebook buses left from some bus central every now and then. We pondered if a government taxi presented less or more risk than the taxi-taxi guys. Greed won and we jumped into a car and ended up at some bus terminal just outside of Damascus. We knew the name of the recommended company but the arabic written language didn’t provide much clues. The friendly locals guided us and we ended up in a small ticket office where one sign stated Aleppo in good old roman letters.

After standing in line for a few minutes a friendly lady approached us and explained in english that we had less than a snowballs chance in hell to get a ticket if we just stood there. The trick was to get up close and personal with the rest of the guys. When we positioned us so no one could reach the ticket booth the ticket vendor still didn’t accept our cash. Again we were assisted by locals explaining that they were out of change. We solved this somehow and finally got two tickets, yay!

We outlined the strategy for getting good seats so that Mirsada would jump on the bus while I’ll handle our backpacks. Said and done, it worked like a charm until the ticket-guy ushered us away, apparently the seats were numbered on the tickets and ours were not the premium ones we thought we so swiftly had secured. Mirsada tried to fake motion-sickness but to no avail.

Our seats were however taken by other locals trying to convince the ticket-guy to place us in the designated smoking area. A little flash of emotions did the trick and some other poor yokel were sent to the gas chamber rather than us. We then fell into a coma waking up in Aleppo in broad daylight and an army of taxi-taxi guys welcoming us, lovely.

After a quick random selection of hotel we hailed a cab, I was baffled by the ratio of taxi cars to regular ones but Mirsada explained that this was the way it was in Syria. We’re talking more than half of the moving cars are taxis, I write moving since the parking regulations seems very liberal if existing at all.

IMG_8519The hotel looked very nice, the price was low enough and when we saw the rooms we were pleasantly surprised. While Mirsada returned to coma-sleep I read up on Aleppo on the guidebook. Apparently we’d chosen the right hotel, Lonely Planet has a separate text about the place: “Built at a time when travel invariably involved three-weeks sea voyages, a set of garden shed-sized trunks to be carried by porters and a letter of introduction to the local consul, Baron Hotel belongs to a very different era”.

Former guests include Lawrence of Arabia and Agatha Christie (when writing Murder on the Orient Express) which sets an air of history together with the four meter high ceiling. Speaking of history Aleppo has been around some time as well, I was a bit surprised to read that it was mentioned as the centre of powerful state at 18th century BC, and may have been constantly inhabited for some 8000 years. That still doesn’t explain the insane ratio of taxis though.

After some sleep we have a nice lunch at a nearby restaurant, the food was so nice that we didn’t get upset by the fact the food costed around 40 times the taxi-fair. We walk around in the areas and headed towards old city and Souq, which is a large marketplace. The marketplace is however still the place were the locals buy most of their stuff, we didn’t spot any other tourists and apart from a few “where are you from” questions it was very calm. No touching or blocking the way or such.

The Souq had it’s fair share of different goods; spices, meat and livers (of course hanging in the sun), jewelry and my personal favorites; leather holsters or why not a genuine syrian hand-made automatics case with extra clip holders? After some time we headed back to our hotel, Mirsada didn’t feel to well and I had some blogging to catch up with.

After rest and blogging it was time for food again, such is the nature of our lives. On the way down we thought we would honor the old Lawrence chap with a beer in the very well-used leather sofa. To make things a little more interesting I was taking the lead to guide us to the restaurant. After some time with beer running in our systems the situation started to look grim. We took a cab.

The restaurant, Beat as-Sissi, looked rather posh and we weren’t exactly dressed for success. This was upped further by the fact that we were greeted in french and that the menus lacked price. Well, how bad could it be? We ordered a few plates of very nice food. When the bill finally arrived it was cheaper than the lunch earlier. I guess we won’t be eating lunch at the same place again. On the way back Mirsada took the navigation task but cheated by using the map. Now it’s time for sleep, we will see what tomorrow brings…