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Just back from three weeks in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon

Just back from three weeks in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon

May 6th, 2011, 01:19 PM
  #1  
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Just back from three weeks in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon

I haven't posted in ages because I've been posting mainly to my blog, but I thought I'd do a mini trip report here and post a link to my blog, where you'll find lots more, for those who might be interested.
http://somuchmoretosee.blogspot.com/

We spent three weeks in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan and had a fabulous time despite being in Syria at the beginning of the demonstrations. Syria is a great destination and though there aren't too many Americans there are a to of French, Italian and other European visitors, most in groups.

There are some lovely restored houses that have been opened as hotels and we found them very reminiscent of the riads in Morocco. We stayed in a couple and particularly like Beit Salahieh in Aleppo. I have lots more about this hotel with photos on the blog.

We had no problem getting a visa to Syria though we live in the US and my husband is an American. Everyone was very friendly and solicitous, they really cared that we had a good impression of the Syrian people and in this respect it reminded me of our trip to Iran.

The Roman ruins throughout the region are fabulous, Palmyra, Bosra and Apamea in Syria, Baalbeck in Lebanon, Jerash and Petra in Jordan, they are all worth visiting. Aleppo and Damascus are wonderful destinations in their own right, we enjoyed the souks, the food and walking around the old city centers. The Ummayad mosque in damascus was fascinating with gorgeous Byzantine style mosques which were very much earlier than the blue and white tile work we had see in Iran and Bentral Asia. The food was wonderful, mediterranean flavors, lots of fab salads and mezze. I highly recommend the restaurant Naranj in Damascus.

Our experience we greatly enhanced by the driver we had Abdul Ibrahim. Abdul was a great companion, amusing, thoughtful, flexible and professional. I highly recommend him, he was only available for 4 days so we didn't have him with us the entire time. However, he helped us arrange another driver when things began heating up politically and he kept in touch to make sure everything was going well for us. He has a website at http://syriaroad.blogspot.com/

Syria had more impact on us than Jordan but we very much enjoyed our three nights at Petra and three nights at the Six Senses' Ma'in spa. I highly recommend the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp where we stayed outside Petra. It's run by an English woman and her Bedouin husband. Without their advice we wouldn't have had half of the experience we enjoyed. I have a long post on our impressions and advice about the site on my blog so I won't add much more here.

I'm happy to answer questions on any of the place we visited. Hope this helps anyone planning a trip and do check out my blogspot somuchmoretosee.
welltraveledbrit is offline  
May 6th, 2011, 04:25 PM
  #2  
P_M
 
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You mentioned an English woman and her Bedouin husband--I met their son at Petra!! He shows us the book she wrote. What a small world.

I didn't go to Syria but I did love Jordan. I'm glad to hear the Syrians are very welcoming and wanting everyone to have a good impression of Syria. I found the exact same to be true in Jordan. Never before have I been stopped on the street by so many people so they could thank me for coming to their country. Syria and Lebanon are on my list of things to do, as well as a return to Jordan.

Thanks for the report.
P_M is online now  
May 6th, 2011, 06:53 PM
  #3  
 
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I'd wondered where you'd gone. Syria (moreso after reading your blog) and especially Lebanon are also on my radar. Beit Salahieh looks very inviting. Thanks for posting.
Femi is offline  
May 7th, 2011, 06:51 AM
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I also loved Syria, enough to return 2 more times, and also was there at the beginning of the protests and I wish the very best for them. It's heartbreaking to read about what's happening there now. Like you, I enjoyed Syria much more than Jordan, though Petra and the Dead Sea are definitely worth a visit.
moremiles is offline  
May 7th, 2011, 01:28 PM
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Nice to see someone else visiting Syria! Thanks for the post. Hate the current situation.
thursdaysd is offline  
May 8th, 2011, 10:05 AM
  #6  
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Thanks for the replies and nice to see familiar names! PM I think I remember your very funny trip report to Egypt and perhaps even a jingle that went with it?
Beit Salahieh was really lovely, I'm sure you'd enjoy it Femi.

What's happening right now is heartbreaking. While we were there (perhaps you saw the same thing moremiles?) there were enormous, organized pro-government rallies. They felt like a warning, watch out, don't even try to demonstrate against us. The government announced a 20% pay increase for state workers to curry favor and began a merciless campaign of disinformation saying the protesters were Palestinians, druggies or foreigners coming from Yemen and Libya etc.

What was very distressing was that when we first arrived people were waiting and waiting for Assad to make his move. He has great sway (and is revered by many) and he took too long to speak and offered too little before later coming down with an iron fist. There was a sense of hope that just evaporated.
welltraveledbrit is offline  
May 8th, 2011, 10:27 AM
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Yes, my impression was that Assad was considered a big improvement on his father, but what he's doing (or allowing) now is unconscionable.
thursdaysd is offline  
May 8th, 2011, 02:16 PM
  #8  
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welltraveledbrit, I am so flattered you remember my report with the audio. Thanks, you have made my day!!
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May 9th, 2011, 07:39 AM
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Yes, the protests had just begun towards the end of my visit, primarily in Deraa, but there were plenty of pro-government processions and celebrations(at least, that's what it felt like) although some aspects of them seemed orchestrated to me. Everyone I met did not want chaos and they seemed to like Assad but not other aspects of their regime, like the Secret Police. Tourism has come to almost a standstill there, especially in Palmyra, and I just hope this is resolved soon and with no more bloodshed.
moremiles is offline  
May 9th, 2011, 10:35 AM
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Interesting interview with Syrian exiles tracking events via social media: http://thestory.org/archive/the_stor..._show.mp3/view
thursdaysd is offline  
May 9th, 2011, 11:24 AM
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How is the architecture in Damascus? Very Middle Eastern, obviously, from what I imagine, but are there many ancient Roman ruins, or hangovers from the French colonial era after WW1? Ottoman-era maybe?
WilhelmSchmidt is offline  
May 9th, 2011, 12:51 PM
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Thanks for the link.
It sounds like we had a similar experience to moremiles, Assad certainly had a reservoir of support and in many ways the western media downplayed the pro-govenment demonstrations. However, we felt the reluctance of people to speak openly and the memory of the massacres, in 1982 under his father, suggested the firm hand of the regime.

The architecture is very varied through the different areas of the city, everything from monumental squares to ancient souks. In Calcutta we took a tour with an architect which was fabulous and while we were in Damascus we were saying that it would be fabulous to go on a walking tour with someone who could really draw together the different style and histories that you see.

The Azem Palace is from the Ottoman period and is a good representation of the period. The French Colonial/Art Nouveau stuff is maainly in the new city and suburbs rather than the old city. The Lonely Planet has a walk that takes you through an upper middle class neighborhood (near several embassies) with a combination of 1930's apartment architecture and several old tombs and mosques, we enjoyed it.

In the old city we tried to visit several of the Damascene houses that were described in our book but all three of them were being renovated into a lavish Serena hotel. We managed to get a tour, and were luck enough to meet a chap from the Aga Khan foundation which is involved in the restoration work. We spent a lot of time discussing the tensions between public vs. commercial restorations which was very interesting.

Hope this give you an idea Wilhem!

In addition to the Syria posts (Palmyra, etc) I've posted some stuff about the Dead Sea and Petra on my blog http://somuchmoretosee.blogspot.com/
http://somuchmoretosee.blogspot.com/
welltraveledbrit is offline  
May 9th, 2011, 12:54 PM
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There are Roman ruins right in the middle of the medina. For pix see http://kwilhelm.smugmug.com/Travel/C...-2009/Damascus
thursdaysd is offline  
May 9th, 2011, 01:36 PM
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Loved your picture, we're hoping to make it to Georgia sometime so I was thrilled to see your photos, it looked great.
welltraveledbrit is offline  
May 9th, 2011, 02:22 PM
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Thanks! Definitely consider Georgia - one of the great budget destinations. I didn't get up to Kazbegi as I had planned (see http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...omment-5961546 ) and need to get back to I can do the high mountains.
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May 11th, 2011, 12:12 AM
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thursdaysd,
Thanks for the link, I loved your blog. I'm so impressed that you're blogging from the road, it's an advantage of traveling on longer trips. I stopped posting here on Fodors when I felt too burdened with an enormous RTW trip report, so I'm most admiring of your stamina!

The photos and observations are wonderful.Rather cheekily I'm going to post your link in case there are people in this forum who might be interested, not just those in the India forum who may be currently following.
http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/

Thanks again.
welltraveledbrit is offline  
May 11th, 2011, 05:23 AM
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What is happening in Syria right now is just horrible.

We just got back 2 days ago from 2 weeks in Lebanon, and had the most wonderful time. We were on a culinary tour led by a fellow food blogger who is launching a touring business in Lebanon. She is Lebanese-American and spent most of her childhood there, though she now lives in the UK. The tour was FANTASTIC, and there were just 4 of us in the group, led by my blogger friend and her younger sister, plus our fabulous driver.

And then Pete and I added some extra nights in Beirut on the end. Wonderful city.

We loved the people and food of Lebanon and had such warm, hospitable welcomes everywhere we went, and people were so generous to us.

We visited Batroun, Tripoli, Byblos, Baalback, Chtaura, Zawtor (tiny place in South, by Litani river) and more and were able to visit some fantastic specialist, traditional food producers.

Did not want to come home!

I would like to visit Syria too and Iran is also on my list. We went to Jordan in 2003 and loved it, will go back one day. A fantastic region to visit.

I'm going to be blogging some of our trip on my blog, Kavey Eats, but will be a few weeks I think, before I catch up!

x
Kavey is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 02:35 AM
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I can only concur with everyone's views on Syria. I visited late March this year and loved it. I also recommend the Naranj restaurant - it's not cheap but fabulous food and service.

All of the Roman ruined cities are amazing - much better than I'd imagined. Aleppo and Damascus are fascinating cities with great souks and food and fantastically friendly and helpful people.
Lynneb is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 05:57 AM
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I'd really like to visit Syria, but looked like situation was getting worse, not better. We are generally happy to go anywhere provided FCO aren't directly advising against, but when they are, travel insurance is often invalid, so that's the deciding factor for us. We don't feel we'd be in any danger, but should we have an accident or medical emergency, we want valid travel insurance to cover costs.
Kavey is offline  
May 12th, 2011, 08:46 AM
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I feel so bad for my friends there, esp. the ones in Palmyra, as tourism and the economy has come to a standstill and they greatly depend on tourist dollars in a lot of those places. The video clips coming out of Syria are difficult to watch as the security forces fire upon their own people.
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