Friday, 11 March 2011

A warm Syrian welcome

It's amazing what difference a few metres makes.  On crossing the border into Syria, the countryside and buildings looked instantly different - there were fields of lush grass and all the buildings are made from the same sandy coloured stone.  Our bus dropped us outside town and we were soon in a taxi into Aleppo.  I'm not sure how this happened but the taxi dropped us off outside the Germans' hotel and I had to walk to mine.  I knew more or less where it would be if only I could read the street signs!  Twice when I got my book out to check the map, a friendly Syrian came over to help me on my way.  As I as was thanking the 2nd man, I stepped out of the way to let two young ladies in full black veils come past me.  "Thank you" said the first girl, sounding pleased with herself.  The second girl nudged her and said "Thank you very much", copying what I had said to the helpful man!

My hotel was in the souk and as directed, I found the gate to take me into the labyrinth.  I knew it wasn't far but after a metres, I stepped over to the side to check my map again.  Instantly two children came over, fascinated by my book, and pointed me in the right direction.  Fortunately after all this effort, Dar Halabia did have a room for me and I was quickly installed in the courtyard of this "Hotel de Charme" with a glass of tea.

I ventured out for dinner to a place recommended in my guide.  Although it looked as though it had been spruced up since the book was written, I was warmly received.  I had to choose dinner from a menu with no prices so was pleased to see at the end that I had not racked up a huge bill but somehow only 315 Syrian pounds.  Even with a generous tip, that is less than £5!

On my walk home, I was befriended by a young man named Ahmed.  Having a local to walk back with meant that I did not have to contemplate busy street crossing alone.  I declined his offer to go for a drink but he gave me his card and hoped he would see me again (turned out that he is a tour guide).

I curled up in my (very cold) room and had a good "post-sleeper" train night's rest.  First task this morning was to change to a warmer room!  I later discovered that I wasn't the first person this week to ask to be moved out of room 16.

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