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Anyone been to Syria recently?

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I am planning a trip to Syria in about a year. The three cities I would like to visit include Damascus, Aleppo, and Palmyra?

I plan on teaching myself a bit of Arabic. With that having been said, is it worth taking a pre-arranged group tour in the country? I am pretty good about traveling independently- but I wonder if the language barriers will get in the way.

Any good recommendations on mid-range hotels in Damascus, Aleppo, or Palmyra? Comments on bus and train travel in Syria would also be appreciated.

Thanks in advance for all replies!

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