God bless Ataturk!

It’s only about 70km from Aleppo to Antakya, but it feels like a completely different country – no wait, that’s because it is a different country! After walking around Aleppo surrounded by women who were completely covered in black – even their eyes – it makes a very pleasant change to be in a country where women are dressed closer to Western norms. Beer is widely available, the kebabs are good, and I’ve even been able to use some German! Turkey is good so far.

Due to some mistaken assumptions and poor planning on my part, I’ve ended up with a day to kill in Antakya. I want to push on to Capadocia, and I assumed that I would be able to get a bus this morning. Instead, the bus doesn’t leave until 15:30 today, and gets to Nevsehir at 23:00. This is going to cause just a few complications since I want to get to Goreme tonight, and I don’t have a place to stay. Oh well, I’m sure it will work out. Maybe I should have bought my sleeping bag with me though…

From Damascus I headed on to Palmyra, to view the ruins there. Quite a lot of old stones, and remarkably isolated. Palmyra really is a long way from anywhere, out in the desert. It was nice to later cross back over via Homs to Crac des Chevaliers, and see farmland again, rather than the relentless desertscape.

Syrian people did prove their hospitality going through Homs. The bus came into the other end of town to the other bus I needed to get to go to Crac des Chevaliers. Thanks for the great advice once again Lonely Planet. Homs has 3 bus stations, not the 2 described in the current Syria/Lebanon guide. Anyway, after I fought off the taxi drivers, a local guy showed me which bus to get on, paid for my ticket, went part of the way there, and invited me to his house for tea. This from an educated chemical engineer who only earns about $400USD per month.

Crac des Chevaliers was interesting, and remarkably complete. It didn’t take much to see what the castle would have been like when still in active use. Cool location too, sitting high above the surroundıng countryside.

Hama made a pleasant change for a place to stop that night. A nice smaller town, where the taxi drivers charged very reasonable fares, with little haggling required. Good food available too. The water wheels are from a different era. Good to see they have maintained them, even if they don’t raise water to aqueducts any more – they just spin around, groaning as they do so.

Aleppo did nothing for me, even if I did stay at the Baron Hotel, where the likes to Agatha Christie and TE Lawrence have stayed. The famed souq is maybe OK if you’re into that thing, but to me it was just more of the same shops selling the same crap.

A fun drive into Turkey. Clearly our driver was in a hurry. On more than one occasion we drove up on the footpath or off the road to get around backed up trucks. Once when stuck behind some trucks going down a road that had a raised median strip, the driver was unfazed. At an intersection we crossed to the other side and roared down that for a few kilometres. Oncoming vehicles were not so impressed though. Still, the trip, including customs, took about 2.5 hours. C.f. with the LP’s 4 hour estimate.

Speaking of customs, the phrase “couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery” sprung to mind as I watched them at work. On both sides of the border, trucks were backed up for miles. Both sides of the road through no-man’s land were chock full of trucks, all stopped. Hardly any movement was going on. Most drivers were either asleep, or sitting on chairs on the side of the road. Clearly, for these men crossing the border was an all-day affair. Commerce is a country’s life-blood, and it would seem to me far better to expedite the flow of goods across the border. Obviously you want to maintain certain security standards, but they could have moved those trucks much, much quicker if they wanted to.

Going into Turkey was also a bit weird. A pile of passports was handed through the window, then eventually handed back, stamped. No-one actually matched up our passports with our faces. Again, it was chaos. Instead of a line moving past a window, everyone just crammed up to the small window, where every few minutes someone would hand back a pile of passports, and take another pile. Somehow my passport got back to me though.

Obviously transporting foodstuffs between Syria and Turkey is the thing to do, as our driver and fixer had numerous bags of stuff, that they tried to associate with various passengers as we were being checked. The guards took great interest in the Turkish and Syrian bags, but barely even glanced at mine. I guess tourists aren’t moving a lot of stuff through the border.

But anyway, I’m here in Turkey, and happy about it. I’ll probably be here at least two weeks, maybe a little longer. It looks now like I’ll have time to visit Greece, and maybe one or two Greek Islands before heading back to the UK.