Dates: 8th-9th April 2011
In Hama I spent the morning of the 8th (a Friday) resting in the hotel and writing, and I really felt like staying another day, but I had to move on to Aleppo. I unwittingly caused quite a bit of amusement at the bus station. Here’s what happened: I got on to the bus that I believed was bound for Aleppo, and just as the bus was starting I asked a guy next to me –
“Does this bus go to Aleppo?”
Ah okay then, my bad. So I got a little panicky and started to get down, just as the bus started moving. I asked the driver to “stop, stop” and was about to get down when the conductor set me straight, explained the situation to the other passengers while trying to keep his giggles down, and caused general merriment all around.
Because you see, Haleb is what Syrians call Aleppo. The english names and local names here are sometimes quite different. For example, Palmyra is known as Tadmor, Damascus as Dimashq. Even Syria is called “Suriya”. Now, those I knew. But not Haleb. Sigh… Live, get laughed at and learn.
Another thing is that most of the bus stations in Syria are way out of town! At the bus station in Aleppo I tried teaming up for a taxi with the only other person on the bus with a backpack – a wonderful Australian lady who seemed to have it all together, as opposed to me who was pretty much fumbling around the bus station, believing the taxi drivers when they said “no bus, no bus”. There was, of course, a bus.
In the bus, the fellowship of the backpack was joined by Cedric, A Belgian-Lebanese who’s quite the vagabond himself. He was a bit down thanks to some events in the past few days, and we teamed up to find a cheap room. We saw a couple of places and eventually settled on a 600-pound room at the “Spring Flower” hostel. We walked through the closed souq, around the citadel and back outside the city walls, past the “world’s oldest hamam” and into the Armenian neighbourhood of Al-Jdeidah, where we sat for some time in the gorgeously lit Hatab square for some people watching. This area, being predominantly Christian, was bustling with activity while the Muslim areas remained closed. Sunday would be the opposite, I assume.
The next day we went into the Citadel of Aleppo, and once again walked around the city and into the souqs. I took a long nap in the afternoon and in the evening I went to the opposite direction where I walked into what looked like a fancy neighbourhood and sat around in a cafe updating the blog.
Later that evening, I met a really interesting German gentleman and the three of us (with Cedric) decided to grab a beer or two at the Baron hotel, which has played host to the likes of Agatha Christie, Lawrence of Arabia etc. It has an old world atmosphere that’s really intriguing. Here we met an American girl from London and carried on the night at our hotel where one of the Syrian guys had long chats with us about Syria, this and that and what not. Some other characters that I met that day include a middle-aged German artist and an Australian guy who is cycling from Spain to Australia!
In fact these conversations will forever dominate over my recollections of Aleppo. We did see a quite a lot of Aleppo in the hours that we spent walking around but these people and their stories really kept my mind occupied and I had little time to take the number of pictures I usually do.
But fellow travellers aside, Aleppo is definitely a more agreeable city than Damascus, and this is an opinion shared by many that I spoke to. If you disagree, I will let you argue with huge 20 Pound (Syrian Pounds – money, not weight) falafels. Spoiler alert: you can’t win that argument. Aleppo is also a strong contender (along with Damascus) for the title of “The Oldest Continuously Inhabited City in the World”, and has seen quite a few ups and downs in it’s time. It has seen the rule of Alexander The (what was the word?), the Mongols, and of course the Ottomans (among others).
- Hotel: 600 (300 + 300)
- Transport: 160 (Taxi at Hama, bus to Aleppo and local bus in Aleppo)
- Food and drinks: 490 (Falafels, Shish Kebabs, Coffee, Juice, Snacks, Almond Fruit and Chocolate Croissants)
- Citadel Ticket: 150
Total for 2 days: 1400 SYP (Approx. 1300 INR & 29.5 USD)