Syria: Qala’at Samaan, Serjilla & Al Bara

I am really enjoying Syria so far. Just had 2 busy days checking out the countryside north and south of Aleppo (a.k.a Halab)

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Last night I met Anobel – a cool Doctor to be from San Francisco. Anobel is in Syria for 6 weeks as part of his Medical Studies – he is working with Iraqi refugees who are living in Damascus and a town out in the east of Syria. As part of his project here in Syria he is taking great photos and will be presenting them when he’s back in San Fran. Check out his blog to see more of his great work.

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I joined Anobel for a trip about 45 minutes north of Aleppo to a place called Qala’at Samaan, a.k.a Basilica of St Simeon, where apparently in AD 423 a crazy christian guy, by the name of Simeon, sat himself on top of a bunch of pillars for 30+ years. Crazy people. The site is impressive – it all seems fairly intact considering its age. The octagonal yard surrounded by giant arches is pretty cool. Worth the short excursion if you are in Aleppo. We got around to the sites with lifts from passers by so it was super cheap 🙂

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Back in Aleppo we tried to get into the Citadel buy unfortunately missed it again (shuts at 4pm) so wandered around and checked out more of the Souqs and had a look in the Christian area and spent a few hours puffing on sheesha/qalyan.

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The next day we headed south to the ruins of Serjilla & Al Bara once again hitchhiking our way there. Both sites are incredible but I think I enjoyed Serjilla more – maybe it was easier to walk over and take in the size of what is there. Al Bara us HUGE but is covered by Olive trees and farmland so is a little hard to take in what is there besides the Pyramid-type roofs on some buildings and just the size of the place.

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It seems there are so many ancient ruins littered all over the countryside. Between the sites documented in the Lonely Planet book are other ruins in the paddocks and yards of what looked to be peoples’ backyards and some people live in them.

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Along the road we saw a guy walking out of a paddock holding what looked like a dead lamb – all covered in blood. When he reached the road he put the lamb on the ground and it started to walk around and then we realised it had just been born!
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I am sure that without the linguistic skills of Anobel I would have had a fair bit of difficulty making it to these places. Seeing Anobel speak Arabic (he said he took some lessons back in San Fran) has convinced me to get some lessons myself when I get to Damascus!

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2 terrific days! What a great start to the adventures in Syria!

Syria: Aleppo

Are you Syria?

Umm… Aleppo is awesome.

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After Iran I spent a few days in Turkey in the cities of Van & Gaziantep – both great cities and a must see if you head to Turkey. But, Aleppo is awesome.

Yesterday I left Gaziantep and crossed into Syria near a town called Kilis. Was reasonably easy and only took a few hours. From the centre of Gaziantep I took a dolmus to the otogar, then another dolmus to Kilis and then a taxi from Kilis to cross the border. Exiting Turkey took a few minutes.

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To get into Syria I paid $30 (paid in euro & lira) to get a 15 day single entry visa for Syria – the immigration people were friendly but not friendly enough to give me the double entry 1 month visa I was after (plan is to go to Jordan then cross back into Syria and then to Lebanon).

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My taxi mate dropped me at the nearest town and put me into a van to get to Aleppo. Less than an hour later I was at the bus station on the outskirts of this wicked city. £60SYP (about €1) and 10 minutes later I was in downtown Aleppo!

What a beautiful city!

I couldn’t get into the highly recommended Tourst Hotel but directly opposite I found a cool placed called the Spring Flower Hostel – got my own tiny room with a shower & toilet for £450SYP (€8) Syrian.

I think I could walk around this city forever.

Today I woke up around 8am and went for a walk around the old city & the souqs, tried to get into the citadel (not open on Tuesdays), and then saw a gigantic mosque in the distance so decided to go check it out.

The mosque ended up being a good score because I was quickly befriended by Milar who’s Dad and colleagues were working on the construction of this Mosque – due to finish within a year. The guys on the construction site were great and let me walk all over it and get some photos of them.

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