Hiking out to Qala´at Saraam

IMG_8538We’d set the alarms at seven but happily snoozed away until 11. Vacation is after all vacation, we missed the included breakfast but got served tea at least. The plan for today was to visit Qala’at Saraam which was a bit north of Aleppo, but first of course some food.

We found a kebab/salads place with locals and had a nice brunch for a low price. When leaving the owner asked if we were married, I answered no by reflex and Mirsada added ‘but we will marry’ which made the already smiling owner widen the smile. It seems that not only was Mirsada being frowned upon for living in sin (no blame goes to the guy apparently), he also thought that I tricked her by saying I would marry her ‘later’. I was more pleased with the situation than Mirsada (I could probably have high-fived the guy).

We found our way to the minibus station and after several re-directions we found another parking space where a minibus claimed to be going to Daret Azze. Slightly less than an hour later we were dropped off, the price for us both was less than a dollar. Now it was about 6 km walking or hitch-hiking left. We didn’t walk more than 20 meters before a pick-up truck with three ladies and an older man on the back picked us up.

IMG_8555They started talking limited english with us and asked where we were from and so on. The landscape was nice so I took some pictures but had to respect the ladies wishes not to be photographed. I’m a bit lost in the views when suddenly Mirsada asks me how long time we’ve been married and pulls out my hand showing my Chalmers-ring to the ladies and explain that we got married last year. This leads to the question of children, and Mirsada is again frowned upon (jokingly but still) for not conceiving any children. One of the ladies is the proud mother of eight and clearly the winner of the popularity contest.According to Lonely planet 40% of the population is under 14 years of age, has a life expectancy on 67 years and a population increase of 2.5% (which now was lower than previous years). Seeing the rate of unemployed already today makes me wonder how sustainable such a population growth is.

We arrive at the old church which was the biggest known in the world at the time it was finished (490 AD). Rather impressive size and even though what’s left of it now is mostly blocks of stone one could get a feeling of how it would have looked like at that time. It was raised on the site where a guy called Simeon used to preach.

IMG_8551Simeon was bent towards the more ascetic side of life and actually started the whole spending-ones-life-on-the-top-of-a-pillar trend. This generated lots of kudos at the time; fellow christians from as far away as France and England went here on pilgrimages and after his death they built this church. The tallest pillar (he built them higher and higher to get further away of the pilgrims who wanted to touch him) were some 18 meters but there was little left of this, most of it had been chipped away as religious souvenirs. We decided that we’d seen enough and started to head back to Aleppo.

We asked for directions and walked along the road for some 15 minutes before another guy picked us up and dropped us in a crossing in Daret Azze. We there got picked up by a mini-bus who drives us to the other mini-buses for free (opposite the direction he was going). We changed bus and got back to Aleppo for the same price of less than a dollar.

On the way back we walked through some fruit markets and bought some delicious black berries and cherries. We didn’t get the expected change back from one guy and questioned him, he pretended we got the correct amount until we read the price written on his sign and then gave us the rest of the change with a smile while his friends chuckled. It helps to learn their numbering system, which is rather easy even if somewhat peculiar to a westerner.

It goes something like this; one is one, two is a backward seven and three is a backward seven but a little longer. Four is a backward three, five is a zero and six is a seven. Seven is a V, eight is a upside down V, nine is nine and zero is a central placed dot. Not that hard once you get used to the backward thinking.

Back at hotel Baron we gulped down close to a kilo fruit before going into siesta / blog-mode. We should make arrangements for tomorrow when we plan to see the dead cities (or at least a few of them) and of course eat again.