By our second evening in Aleppo and our second evening in Syria, both Alicia and I were thankful that we had decided, having heard that any sort of budget accommodation can be difficult to find if not booked in advance, to book into a hotel room with air-conditioning, a ceiling fan, a balcony and a private bathroom, even though the room was slightly over budget.
I will always remember Aleppo as hot, dirty, dusty, confusing and smelling overwhelmingly of rotting meat and car tyres.
The first night, we ate at a local restaurant close to our hotel. After being thoroughly disappointed with Turkish food, we might have overdone it a little. But there was proper humus! And baba ghanouj! Thick, creamy yoghurt! Olive oil! Lamb! And piles and piles of flatbread!
Our second day, we headed out early to beat the heat, and spent the morning wandering through Aleppo’s incredibly atmospheric souq. There were hardly any other tourists around, and wandering along the cobblestones and under arched doorways was like stepping back in time a hundred or more years. It really doesn’t feel like life has changed all that much in Aleppo.
We passed by stall after stall of hanging meat. Carcasses, entrails and skins shining red and purple. The smell of raw meat doesn’t typically bother me, being the avid meat eater that I am, but apparently meat without proper refrigeration does. We walked quickly through these aisles, and I tried not to look.
Being a Tuesday, the day in Syria when most sites and monuments are closed, we couldn’t visit the citadel, which offers a view over the entire city, but we could visit the mosque. We handed over 50 SYP (just over 1 AUD) for our hooded cloaks, left our shoes with an attendant and circumambulated the courtyard. Are you supposed to circumambulate mosques, or just stupas? I don’t know.
In the evening we ate again at the local restaurant. Again we had lamb, and although it was freshly prepared and grilled in front of us, all I could smell was the meat from the souq. But it tasted pretty good.
Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and sat on our balcony while the sun went down and the heat completely disappeared from the day. We listened to the final calls to prayer, and went to bed.
A Bathroom Emergency
At four in the morning on our third day in Syria, both Alicia and I woke up simultaneously, and neither of us could retain food, or much water, for the next 36 hours.
It was a frustrating waste of time, and a pretty miserable way to spend our few days in Aleppo, but after each trip to the bathroom neither of us could stop laughing. Was this the shape of things to come in Syria? We met a Canadian in the reception of the hotel who had been in the country for three weeks, and had been sick for two of those weeks – it didn’t look good.
After being largely confined to our room, the afternoon of our fourth day we organized a private taxi to take us to the city of
Hama, two and a half hours south of Aleppo. It cost 2000 SYP ($50). The bus would have cost about 100 SYP (just over $2) each. Neither of us had a problem being sick on the side of the road, but we did have problems with being sick on a bus that wouldn’t stop for us.
In the end it was worth it for the peace of mind, and we made it to Hama without a single stop. Finally our time in Syria was starting to look up.
On my RTW trip during the summer of 2010, I met my friend Alicia in Istanbul and we spent the next 46 days travelling overland through Turkey, Syria and Jordan before I headed to Egypt solo to join up with a quick organised tour through upper Egypt.
Read more about this leg of my trip on my Middle East roundup page.