Syria
So hard to say goodbye
Written by Rebecca Torr   
Sunday, 08 June 2008 15:39

It was our last day in Syria and you could feel everyone's disappointment to be leaving. We packed our bags and headed to our last destination - Aleppo. This city is not to be missed; it is full of character and charm and is steeped in history.

On arrival we checked into Planet Hotel, located in the heart of the suq, and headed to Citadel of Aleppo. This grand castle was built between 12 and 16AD on a 50 metre high hill. It contains everything a city needs including a mosque, dungeons, amphitheatre, baths, water cisterns, store houses, a school and so on.

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A taste of Syrian hospitality
Written by The Friendship Arabia Team   
Friday, 06 June 2008 23:26

Friendship Arabia team members being interviewed on Syrian TV

 
Today we went for a leisurely drive in the cool coastal mountains of Latakia. The sights from here are truly breathtaking!

As we climbed the mountains we got to take in a panoramic view of the city and its deep blue lakes and golden and green countryside. Once when we stopped to get a close-up of the scenery we were spotted by a Syrian family who invited us to their house to share chai (tea) and stories of our trip. Jalal Abu Mohammed, a minibus driver, and his family were charming and typical examples of Syrian hospitality at its best.

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An air of excitement
Written by Rebecca Torr   
Thursday, 05 June 2008 23:23

We were all very excited at breakfast today as we knew we had two glorious days by the sea ahead of us.

Making our journey from Tartous to Latakia we stopped to visit Al Marqab Castle. The castle is perched on a 380 metre volcanic mountain and overlooks the city of Banias. It was built in 1062 by the Arabs and taken over by the Byzantines in 1117. It was then transferred to the Hospitallers in 1187 and later used by the crusaders. It was made into a prison by the Turkish between 1554 and 1914 and the French used it as a base from 1918 to 1946.

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More journeys into the past
Written by Rebecca Torr   
Thursday, 05 June 2008 13:36

We bid farewell to Palmyra today and headed for Tartous. On our way we stopped for lunch at Noria Restaurant in Hama. This is a beautiful pit stop since it overlooks a 14th century waterwheel which is still in operation to this day. 

It was originally built to provide water for the village but nowadays it is used to irrigate the land. The restaurant has superb food and I was particularly excited that they had Fata, a dish I am told is a must if you are visiting this area. 

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History is alive in Palmyra's ruins
Written by Rebecca Torr   
Wednesday, 04 June 2008 23:25
The coffee shop that provided basic internet across from our hotel in Palmyra. Mahmood, who runs the place, was very helpful. 
The coffee shop that provided basic internet across from our hotel in Palmyra. Mahmood, who runs the place, was very helpful.

 

It was a bright sunny morning in Palmyra as we headed out to explore the ancient city and its treasures. 

Our first stop was to see the Palmyra ruins, which cover about six square kilometres. We could feel ourselves being transported back in time to as we fixed our eyes on the Grand Colonnade, which was built by the Romans in the second century. 

It's a magnificent looking street, defined by its grand granite and limestone columns. Close to the street you can see Queen Zenobia's Baths. 

The tour led us on to the Temple Bel, which as its name suggests, was built for worshipping the god of Bel - you could still see the place where they use to sacrifice animals. In the 10th and 11th centuries the temple became a fortress for the crusaders. At different times it was also used as a church and then later as a mosque in the 12th century. (Click here for a 360º virtual tour of the temple). 

Near the temple is a Roman style theatre which was used for plays and animal wrestling – it is still a remarkable place and if you close your eyes tight enough, you can imagine the cheers and roars from the crowd.

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A taste of the Bedouin life
Written by Rebecca Torr   
Tuesday, 03 June 2008 14:24

Rebecca, Haider and Taha try on some Bedouin costumes

 

Before we left Damascus, Haider and Taha treated me to a brief tour around 18th century Suq Al Hamediyeh and Omayyad Mosque. The suq is a shoppers’ paradise, especially for women. It has boutique after boutique selling bags, shoes, clothes, jewellery and perfume. 

What makes this suq different from others is its ancient heritage and dynamic atmosphere. It’s full of hustle and bustle, with men dotted about pouring grape juice into glasses for tens of thirsty customers. 

Nearby you will see people of all ages walking around holding biscuit cones full of Arabic ice cream – we of course had to try some – the taste is amazing because it is so fresh. If you catch the ice cream makers at the right time you can even see it being fashioned and pressed by hand – it’s fascinating! 

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Appetising way to start my tour
Written by Rebecca Torr   
Monday, 02 June 2008 23:49

Less than an hour on Syrian soil and I was being whisked away to join the Friendship Arabia team for a media gathering in Nobles Palace – a restaurant regarded as one of the classiest in Damascus. It was a beautiful setting and the food and service was undoubtedly first class. 

A large group of local media came to greet us and they immediately started asking questions and taking photographs. I explained to one of the Syrian papers that not only was the aim of the Bahrain to Britain Friendship Tour to promote Bahrain and the Bahrain International Circuit, it was also about spreading a message of peace and understanding among nations. 

I highlighted to them that as a Briton living and working in Bahrain for more than six years I had come to realize that the West and the Arab world shared far more similarities than they did differences. I told them: “We all have the same aspirations for ourselves and our families and the majority of us are just normal people who want to live in harmony and enjoy our short time on this earth.” 

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Taking in the attractions
Written by Petra Beuchert   
Monday, 02 June 2008 22:59

Greeting riders on camelback on the way to Palmyra

 

Today, some of the team went back to once more walk through the main market, while others visited a craft market close to an ancient mosque. Apart from leather products, pottery, baskets and handmade jewellery, there was also a small glass blowing workshop.

At noon, we left Damascus for Maaloula, a small mountain village. Its main attraction is the monastery, St. Serge.

From here we started our journey to Palmyra, situated some 200km northeast of Damascus. Two thirds into the journey, we stopped for refreshments at a very original restaurant, Bagdad Cafe 66. The cafe has a souvenir shop and part of its attraction is that you can dress up in traditional Arabic costumes and have your picture taken. Outside, you can also view an original Bedouin tent.

When we arrived at Palmyra, the sun was about to set and we headed straight to its famous attraction, the magnificent ruins of an ancient metropolis which was ruled by the Queen Zenobia in the 3rd century AD.

 
An unbelievable reception
Written by Ammar Hammad   
Sunday, 01 June 2008 23:57

Bahrain's Ambassador to Syria Mr Al Sayar asks team leader Ali Mushaima about his experiences

 

Today was an amazing day in Syria, starting with a visit to the world's largest intact Roman amphitheatre and ending with the most amazing reception held for us by Bahrain's Ambassador H.E. Waheed Mubarak Al Sayar. 

In the morning, we left Damascus and headed to the ancient city of Bosra, site of the amphitheatre.

Later Zakaria took us to his restaurant where we had a delicious home-cooked meal.

We returned to Damascus and a group of us went back to the Suq El-Hamidiyeh and ate homemade Arabic ice cream.

The highlight of the day was the reception that the Bahrain Embassy organized for the Friendship Arabia team. It was covered by all the major newspapers who sent their reporters and photographers. The reception was held at a restaurant that was said to be the best in town and attendance was great.

We had the chance to talk to the Bahraini Ambassador about our trip.

Almost all members of Friendship Arabia were interviewed by the press, amid a frenzy of photo-flashes.

 
A homecoming of sorts
Written by Ali Mushaima   
Saturday, 31 May 2008 19:26

A mosque only 200 metres from a church in Damascus

 

 

It is so nice to be back in Syria... it feels like home. Visit this country once and you will always come back. 

In Syria, history is everywhere, people are very welcoming and it's certain you will make new friends.

I have been familiar with Syria for a very long time. As a child, I used to accompany my late parents and we visited the country every summer. If you enjoy history, museums, music, shopping or just want to learn something new, Syria is the place.

Today, we visited the old suq as well as Azem Palace. We met our friend Ahmad Sadat, a tour guide who also runs the Rosa Damascina Motel. Ahmad had looked after us during the 2004 Friendship Tour.

We visited his motel and had tea with him. David also did a live interview with him for Radio Bahrain during which he spoke about the history of his country.

After a very good lunch in the Italian restaurant at the Semiramis Hotel, we headed to Bloudan and Zabadani and enjoyed the beautiful weather in the mountains.

After dinner, we will head to the airport to welcome Petra Beuchert, who also did the 2004 Friendship Tour. Petra will join the team for a week before she returns to Scotland.

 

 
Goodbye Maria, hello Syria
Written by Ammar Hammad   
Friday, 30 May 2008 19:45

The team enjoys some fresh tea with mint leaves by the Roman amphitheatre in downtown Amman

 

After a wonderful six days touring Jordan, the Friendship Arabia team is now in Damascus, Syria.

Earlier today, we packed our bags in Amman and got ready for the two-hour drive across the border. En route, we stopped by the Roman amphitheatre in downtown Amman and it was a spectacular sight. 

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