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Old 07-23-2012, 02:54 AM   #1
bokad OP
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Unexpected Syria - Day Trips From Hama

Unexpected Syria - Day Trips From Hama



Syria has been on my mind (and in the news) alot lately. It is one of those countries I would return to without hesitation and recommend to everyone.

Syria had never been a country that I was eager to visit. Actually it had never entered my conscious at all except for some vague idea of "bad place, seems like Iraq under Saddam".
In early 2009 I had had to go there a few days for work and was so intrigued that I decided to come back as soon as possible for a proper exploration.

This was not a typical moto trip. The riding wasn't the whole thing, just a few day part of longer travels.
There will be no discussion about panniers, bike mods, or extreme riding.
To be honest the riding was not exceptional but the scenery and feeling certainly were.
Driving across wide open spaces with the wind in your hair there is an amazing sensation of freedom and adventure. Like an eagle soaring over the desert.
This was not a trip about miles travelled but instead things seen.

I rented the bike from a local, the cousin of the waiter at the restaurant down the street from my hotel in Hama.
It was a Delta (WTF is that?) which I think is made in China and has somewhere between 125 and 250cc. It did nothing particularly well and we never got above 80km/h. The clutch was wonky, the brakes iffy, and the suspension useless, but it kept chugging and never broke down.

My first experience in riding it I thought it was just garbage as I couldn't get it in to second gear no matter how hard I tried. So I brought it back to the owner and told him it was junk. He showed me all the gears were down from neutral and I felt like an idiot. Definitely he was getting the better end of the deal though as I was paying $50/day to borrow it and was worth maybe $300 tops.

Although contemporary me can't imagine doing such a thing, apparently I did all this riding without a helmet.
There was also no GPS. I'm amazed we found anything. I'm perpetually lost without it today.

Sometimes the rides you enjoy the most are those with the least planning and preparation.

These destinations (Aleppo, Krak des Chevaliers, Palmyra, Dead Cities) are all easy day trips or overnighters from the city of Hama in central East Syria.

This all happened some years ago and I'm known to have a bad memory so words will be few and there may be some mistakes.


Pictures (includes some from non motorcycle portion of the trip)
--------------------
Best Of:
http://lotsapics.smugmug.com/Travel/Syria-Best-Of/

Best Of Shown As Pins On A Map:
http://maps.smugmug.com/?feedType=ge...4292919_P3BSjM

All Photos (too many to count):
http://lotsapics.smugmug.com/Travel/Syria/


bokad screwed with this post 11-08-2012 at 12:03 AM
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Old 07-23-2012, 03:15 AM   #2
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About Syria In General
--------------------------
I thought with my American passport I might have some trouble getting in. US and Syria not being on the best terms and all that. To read the the entry/visa requirements on the various travel and the offical Syrian websites, it seemed like the visa was really going to be a PITA and take over a month to arrange. I've learned though that doing the visa yourself and going through the embassy is often the most difficult way. So I called the hotel in Damascus where we would stay the first few nights and asked if they could arrange it for us. $20, 4 days notice, authorization letter given, and we could pick it up at the airport on arrival. Awesome.

I didn't have any particular problems with entry. No snooping or questions by the immigration or police.
Actually, I never had any encounters with the authorities at all during my time there.

All of the Syrians I met were genuinely friendly. They said hi because they were curious, not because they wanted to sell us something. I didn't hear a single bad word about American policies, our actions in the middle east, or our relationship with Israel.

One of the best things about Syria was people watching. They all seemed to have a certain character abou them that I found fascinating. They are a diverse bunch and can look anything from very arab to very Caucasian.

p.s. One factoid about Syria that you may not know is that the current President (read dictator), Bashar al-Assad, had been living as an eye doctor in London and was never expected to become the leader.



On the train out of Damascus these adorable kids chatted us up in pretty good English and tried to adopt us in to their family for the duration of our stay.
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Old 07-23-2012, 03:55 AM   #3
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Hama
--------------------------
Hama is the city from where all out rides originated. It's a good central location to reach most of the major sights in Syria. I didn't care for the city itself much though. Kinda damp and grey. Traffic is reasonable though and scooting around town is fun.

It's notable for it's many Roman era water wheels and aqueducts . A nice bit of practical and simple engineering to distribute water from the river to farms and people many miles away.

In the last 40 years it has been home to many uprisings against the Syrian government.


Middle east standard electrics in our hotel


Grey and wet


Roman era water wheel and aqueduct


Roman era water wheel and aqueduct


Roman era water wheel and aqueduct


Old aqueduct passes through the new city. Poster of the president top left.
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Old 07-23-2012, 05:08 AM   #4
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Aleppo
--------------------------
140km from Hama

Aleppo is Syria's second city and self proclaimed as one of the the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It's over 7000 years old, most of the ancient city lies unexplored, buried layers beneath the new.

It's a pleasant two hour ride north over flat land and open spaces.
I grimace whenever we pass police as I don't have a valid license or any other documents for that matter but nobody pays attention to us.

The main points of interest are the old walled city, it's massive tunnel like Souq (market) and the hill top citadel.



The road from Hama to Aleppo


New Aleppo still looks pretty old. Here there must be some Russians as there are signs in Russian language.


Courtyard of a hotel. This is actually a renovated old merchants house in the traditional style with many rooms opening up in to a common center.


Flags of Syria and the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party


Reminds me of a mischievous villain from a Tintin comic. Watch out Snowy!



A woman quietly begs for money on a narrow walking street.
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Old 07-23-2012, 12:06 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bokad View Post
Syria had never been a country that I was eager to visit. Actually it had never entered my conscious at all except for some vague idea of "bad place, seems like Iraq under Saddam".
Seeing the thread title made me think something like this. Syria is probably still not going to make my short list of places to take a trip, but those are really incredible ruins and amazing scenery. I hope you can remember more from the trip and post some descriptions with more of the pics in your links!
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Old 07-23-2012, 02:10 PM   #6
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Nice pictures, if u wanna see more Roman ruins u should travel west to Lebanon where i was born. U shouldn't be far away from temple of Baalback ruins, city that is dated back to 10,000 years ago. It was on Science Chan. few months back. The whole area is full of undiscovered history. Be safe enjoy ur trip.
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Old 07-24-2012, 04:46 AM   #7
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Aleppo, The Citadel
--------------------------

The citadel sits on a mound in the center of the old city. It's big, it's cool, and you can wander thoughout it's many levels of towers and passages. I was in heaven.


It's a big place. Imposing from the outside.


And on the inside a never ending multi level maze.



The entrance is protected by a very large ditch, a bridge, and two massive fortifieds towers.
The entrance passages contain many doors, curves, and slits for arrows to be fired upon you. Holes in the roof for boulders and liquid fire.
You don't want to arrive without an invitation.


Just look at the size of that thing! Those colored dots on the bridge are people.


No matter how you attack it's going to be rough. Better to stay at home.


The citadel is a popular meeting place for young couples. Semi-privacy.


The citadel is a popular meeting place for young couples. Semi-privacy.


A view out over one of the external towers and the old city


One of the external towers. Connected to the main fortress by tunnels.


This is my favorite picture from the whole trip. What character. These guys saw me eyeing them and invited me to take a photo.


Must have been a holiday, lots of kids running around. They were all friendly and well behaved.


Public square in front of the citadel


Awesome!
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Old 07-24-2012, 11:11 AM   #8
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This is not someplace I ever expect to go so thanks for posting and allowing me to see some of it.
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Old 07-24-2012, 11:26 AM   #9
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This is not someplace I ever expect to go so thanks for posting and allowing me to see some of it.
Great pictures! It's amazing how awesome those countries are with such a rich history. I traveled around AFG and IRQ quite a bit and was just in awe with some of the architecture and how great the people that weren't trying to kill me were.

Ate a lot of home cooked ethnic food and made a lot of friends.

Glad you got to see it before it got all crazy!
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Old 07-24-2012, 02:16 PM   #10
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fantastic!!!!!!

thanks!!
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Old 07-24-2012, 07:41 PM   #11
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Thanks. The best pics are yet to come. It really was a fantastic place to tour and not at all what I expected. Would love to go back with my own bike someday.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Yardstick View Post
Seeing the thread title made me think something like this. Syria is probably still not going to make my short list of places to take a trip, but those are really incredible ruins and amazing scenery. I hope you can remember more from the trip and post some descriptions with more of the pics in your links!
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Old 07-24-2012, 07:49 PM   #12
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Yah, I hear really great things about Lebanon. Want to go there, need to make it happen. I hear you can go to the beach and skiing in the same day. That and the cutest girls in Arab music video are often Lebanese.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DR650SEDDY View Post
Nice pictures, if u wanna see more Roman ruins u should travel west to Lebanon where i was born. U shouldn't be far away from temple of Baalback ruins, city that is dated back to 10,000 years ago. It was on Science Chan. few months back. The whole area is full of undiscovered history. Be safe enjoy ur trip.
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Old 09-02-2012, 04:03 PM   #13
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Aleppo, The Souq and old town
--------------------------

Wikipedia says:
Souq al-Madina is the largest covered historic market in the world with an approximate length of 13 kilometers


What I know is that if you need a sheeps head or some hand made soap this is the place to be!

The old town itself is a complex maze of narrow alleys. What a great way to get lost for a few hours and find yourself in unexpected courtyards.


I know what everyone is getting for Christmas this year!


Love the contrast with the oranges.


Love the contrast with the oranges.


Found a history museum of Islamic science, medicine, and exploration amongst the alleys.
Pretty damn interesting actually.


Ahmed Brownbeard, the first muslim pirate.
Arrrrrh!


The buildings were always brown and drab but the people and products always vibrant.


The soap man... he got a little creepy.


In the covered market.


In the covered market.


A maze of narrow alleys.


A maze of narrow alleys.


A maze of narrow alleys.
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Old 09-02-2012, 04:14 PM   #14
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Cool Pics

Nice report. Not as bad as some would say it was. Wonder how they can cause such a worldly disturbance?
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Old 11-07-2012, 02:26 AM   #15
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The dead cities. Somewhere North of Hama.
------------------------------------------
My only explanation for how we could of found this place is pure blind dumb luck.
No GPS, no road signs that I can read, no language that I can understand.
But found it was. One minute you are on a winding road amongst rocky hills and olive trees and the next thing you know there it is. Ancient, still, expansive, empty.

There wasn't any formal entrance that I could see. Just parked the bike in the grass and climbed over a low stone wall. Someone we met inside had a booklet of "tickets" and asked for an entrance fee. Maybe it was legit, maybe not. It was empty and ours to enjoy in quiet solitude. Only the occasional noise of rustling wind and grazing sheep.

There are a few places like this in Syria. Once prosperous Byzantine cities that were abandoned intact for some reason or another 1500 years ago. Disease, weather change, bad neighbors, who knows. They've survived wind, rain, and earthquake surprisingly well for hundreds of years. A few places just need a roof and you could move right in.

What an excellent place to explore, climb, sleep, ponder.



The sky that day was a magic combination of deep blue and clouds.


It's not so hard to imagine donkeys and ancient men winding their way down these dirt paths.


Building and building and more buildings. Houses. Churches. Government. Flower mills. Etc...


Amazing that any of this stuff is still standing




The only paint on anything for at least 5 miles.


Feels very roman.


Sheep and shepherds are the only residents now.


Just love the look of earth and sky on that day.
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