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mood in syria?

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my husband and i travel to europe once a
year; we have considered visiting syria
and wonder what the mood is like there.
we know many syrians and lebanese people
who are first and second generation american
who have never been and are unable to share
info. regarding their native land. all of the syrians and lebanese that i know are orthodox or catholic; is orthodoxy practiced
in syria? what is ratio christians vs. muslims there?

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    Having difficulty posting my reply, so I'll try to post on 2 parts:I travelled to Syria several times between Sept. and January this past winter and managed to visit several places. Syria is a wonderful country to visit: the people are very nice and the historical sites quite diverse - Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and much else in between (even Babylonian & Persian in the north and east).

    Damascus (especially Old Damascus) is one of my favorite cities. Straight Street (Via Recta), the bazaar, the Mosque and the warren of old streets with their Damascene houses, mosques and churches tucked here and there occupied me well on many visits.

    Alleppo was another pleasant city - lots to see and wonderful restaurants. Palmyra is a fascinating archeological site; I stayed in the Hotel Zenobia right in the ruins. Krak des Chevaliers is an amazingly well preserved Crusader castle, with a fascinating history. Hama has the norias - waterwheels that creak and crack as they turn (they stop around mid-Sept.). And there's so much more: Byzantine "dead cities", Bosra's Roman ruins of black basalt, Sergiopolis & the Bedouin, mosaics, desert castles, fortresses, churches, mosques, etc..

    About the "mood" in Syria ... I'm not sure what it is that you are worried about specifically. In the next post, I'll write about what I found, generally.

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    Part 2:
    Politically, Syria has greatly relaxed internally since Bashir Asad took over from his father. Externally, Syrians are worried about Israel. Syria currently has the best freshwater resources in the region (the Orontes & the Euphrates) and Israel is running out of freshwater options fast. Plus, there are long-standing issues of land disputes (i.e. Golan). None of this affects the tourists directly.

    I found intriguing the Syrian fascination with the Asads. You see car stickers and posters everywhere of Hafez Asad, Bashir and his deceased brother (above and beyond what was legally mandatory). In the bazaar, you'll even find pens and stick-em notes with their pictures!

    Most tourists are European, although I met a few North American and Asians tourists as well. Americans I met reported not having any problems at all. This country is very safe for tourists - as a woman travelling alone, I did not have to worry and I was not hassled.

    Immediately post 9/11, tourism dropped by about 80% - severely hurting the tourist industry. I've been told that tourists are coming back since spring, but not to the level of previous years yet (not by a long shot).

    It IS a good time to go. You have the sights & museums practically to yourselves and no problems with getting into first choice accommodations & restaurants.

    As far as religion is concerned, Syria is quite diverse: there has been a long Christian presence in Syria. Many Catholic orders have convents in Damascus and the Orthodox church is active as well, especially the Armenian Orthodox. I met some Russian Orthodox at Saint Simeon's pilgrimage site, as well as a mix of Muslim and Christian archeology students on a study trip that same day.

    One of the things that impressed me about Syria was how well Islam and Christianity co-exist. I guess it's because of the pluralistic nature of the various religious communities (Sunni, Shiite, Catholic, Orthodox, etc..). I have no clue as to the various percentages/ratios between all of these. It's unfortunate that the Jewish population of Syria had to flee, because this too was a long-standing community and now this heritage is lost to Syrian society.

    I encourage you to visit Syria. I think that you will be pleasantly surprised. If you price your air tickets to Syria, you can buld in a stop-over in Europe on your way there/back.

    Lebanon is too close by to not include in a Syrian itinerary - especially the Roman ruins at Baalbek! Beirut is a quick drive from Damascus and Baalbek can be done as a daytrip from Damascus or Beirut.

    Try to pick up the Footprint's Syria & Lebanon Handbook - this guide served me extremely well ( http://www.footprintbooks.com/destinations/destinations_book.asp?groupID=1&bookid=110 ).

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    Don't now current political climate, but I went to Syria two years ago, and it was one of the better trips that I have taken. Usual stuff - Damascus, Aleppo, and Palmyra, which was well worth it. But the best things was Syrian people. Of all the places I have been to, the Syrians were the most hospitable and friendly that I have run across in 30 some countries. (For the record, I am U.S., and it seemed to make people nicer. We sure got better treatment than the Germans, and boy did the Syrians bad mouth some other groups they are alligned with - at least in theory)

    Make sure you get to the Christian section of Damascus. And if you have some vision problems on the way there, don't worry.

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