Subject: Syria short Travelogue
Hello Ziners,

I'm back from a month trip to Syria where I traveled 2 weeks with a friend and the rest alone. Follow a short travelogue.

I flew into Damascus and visited the city and surroundings (the Christian towns of Maalula and Seidnayya) for 5 days. Good time to get the right feeling of this city. The weather was hot but dry, so not bad! After Damascus I went to the Roman ruins of Palmira in the middle of the desert. Then to Hama, Lattakia (by the Mediterranean sea), Aleppo and down to the Iraqi border along the Euphrates river. Then again on the Mediterranean coast in Tartous, a couple of days in a monastery along the Antiliban mountains 80 km north of Damascus (a stunning quite place) and finally in Damascus again for a couple of full days before flying back to Italy.

Damascus is an interesting city with its old towns, the Ummayade's Great Mosque, the colored Souk, the Christian quarter and its old baths (Hammam). Damasco and, actually, all the country was virtually free of western tourists and, for example, in the Archeological Museum (one of the more important of the middle east) they turned on and off the light just for us! Moreover they showed us some areas of the museums, usually closed, because we were the only visitors in the museum.

On the other hand, Palmira was a nightmare because, while the ruins was stunning, it is a town grew up around the ruins and lives from tourism, since we was the only tourist there all the seller jumped on us to try to sell souvenirs and postcards. We decided to stay there just one night.

Hama has got a lovely city center with a park along the Oronte river where there are some old Noires still working (they are big wooden water wheels) where it was enjoying take a walk in the evening and sit in a teahouse there. This is the most Islaam orthodox city in Syria and more women than in other cities was black covered. Hama was a good base to visit some ruins and a crusade castle (Crak du Chavaliers) very well preserved.

Lattakia is the more important Syrian port, where we took a couple of days on the beach, and a good base to visit the ruins of Ugarit (where archaeologist discovered on of the first alphabet tablet) and an other great crusade castle.

>From Lattakia we took the train to Aleppo, the second Syrian city. Aleppo is well know for the souk and the impressive fortified citadel. From Aleppo we visited some Hittite ruins, the ruins of the Saint Simons's monastery and some Byzantine dead towns. Then my friend left Syria and flew back to Italy from Aleppo.

After 4 days in Aleppo I traveled alone along the Euphrates river for 5 days visiting other ruins and towns down to the Iraqi border.

Back on the coast in Tartous, close the Libanon border, I visited the tiny island of Arward and an other Crusad castle than, on the way to Damascus, I stopped 2 days in a Syrian Catholic Monastery 14 km away from the nearest town along the Antiliban mountains. In the church there was interesting Byzantine frescos. A peaceful place where I had a rest off the chaotic Syrian towns and then back in Damascus.

Well this was my itinerary, what about the people ? I found Syrian friendly people (even though I found more expansive Iranian last year) and willing to help a tourist in any way and, as I travelled by public transports and, sometimes, hitchhiking, I needed lots of help! In Syria you have to be careful about the crazy traffic, the taxi drivers that, sometime, try to overcharge, and about the carpet sellers that try in any way to push you to buy a carpets. It was really a pity don't see any western tourist there because many Syrian incoming are from tourism and, moreover, Syria is a real safe country: I felt more safe travelling around Syria alone than in many Italian (or western) cities. Syria is a "police" state and police is everywhere, that is not a bad things for a tourist.

Talking with people we couldn't not talk about the war in Iraq and the situation in the middle East. They explain me their point of view and I had some interesting talk about. Anyway I found that people are angry with some government but NOT with single people. I mean that they make a well distinction between politician and what is a single person: I have been took as an American once and still treated as well as an other tourist! Even in the town at the border with Iraq I found a person that would pay the bus ticket for me just because so happy to see a western tourist there!

At the end of the trip in Damascus, I felt as in my city so that I moved around the old city without any map and shop seller didn't recognized me as a tourist so that I could have my last look to the Great Mosque entering from the gate for Muslim instead from the gate for tourists.

What is the best memory about the trip ? When I accepted an invitation for dinner from a Palestine, meet on the train, in his home: only when he was bringing me to his house, I realized he was living in a Palestine camp in the suburb of Lattakia. I had a good Palestine meal and had an interesting talk about the Palestine's life stile in Syria getting a new point of view that I never though about.

What was the worst thing that happened to me ? 1st when a hotel keeper wouldn't allow me any discount for a (not so good but expensive) room, and 2nd when my camera broken definitively in the middle of the trip :-(

Finally, I can say that Syria is one of the most safe country where I have ever been, people are friendly and this time is the best to visit the country because so few tourist and hotel prize and fee entry are going down (in some sites the ticket office was closed because paying a person to stay there would be too expensive!).

As many of you I like cultural vacation and not just a beach one. In this view Syria is a great destination and I'm also happy that I meet many interesting people.

Ciao, Marco in Milan - Italy