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East is Best

June 6, 2010

from Zagreb, Croatia to Sofia, Bulgaria where I was diverted from the comfort of my train to an expensive bus. Silly Tamsin listened to horrible tricksters...

Okay.  HUFFFF/  This is frustrating.

Afraid I’ve written this three times now and at variously annoying moments the connection spluttrs and everything is lost so… this will be more photo blog than the celebration of Syrian kindness and magnificent ancientness that were the first three incarnations.  But really – Syria is incredible – I have never felt so safe, excited, happy, fascinated and hot (in a 30 degrees, not a cloud in the sky kinda way).

my journey from Zagreb to Sofia was thunderstorms then bright sunshine as rainbows arched over and poppy filled meadows below

it was raining in Sofia. I was rushed from my train to Istanbul by two men who I only noticed as very very shady after I'd left my cabin. They grabbed my bag and wouldn't give it back til the train had left so that I had to give them money for a bus ticket. This was the bus station. The rain was all a little pathetic fallacy. I was in a grump.

But the bus was moire than a little wonderful.  A lot of Turks who were super excited that I was travelling alone to(wards) their country.  All night long they swapped in to the seat next to me to exchange as many words as they knew.

When we arrived in Istanbul the morning papers had just reached the newsagents that line the bus station (biggest bus station in Europe apparently). That evening the Flotilla activists would be flying home (at least for those that were Turkish).

I sat with my new pals (they did keep me up all night with charming chat) and we drank soup (at 6am) and Mustafa translated and commentated on the paper.

Mustafa and Massi: two men who spoke very different views about Israel/Palestine. I acted as referee. Not fun.

The 6am arrival, the night spent chatting meaninglessly to fascinated Turks and the more than thirty hour journey from Zagreb meant that I was pretty whacked.  I slept all the way to Aleppo.

When I woke it was hot and strange and I was being hurried from the bus. I’d hoped that my couch surfing host would meet me at the station (small and dusty) but there was no sign of him.  A boy offered me his phone – I found out that I should go to the citadel so he led me there.  Half way he recognised someone who spoke English.  He yelled ‘Hassan’, said some words and now I was in a new pair of hands being taken to the Citadel.

Hassan took my bags and hurried through the streets. On the way I guess he noticed I was squinting so he took off his sunglasses and asked that I wear them.  He would not let me refuse.  We arrived at the citadel (a twenty minute walk) and i was fretting a bit that I had no Syrian pounds to tip this sweet guy.  When we arrived he smiled, shook my hand, said welcome to Syria and walked off.  I tried to give him his sunglasses but he waved them away and smiled, ‘Welcome to Syria.’  He waled off again before noticing a traditionally dressed man selling iced tea.  He stopped, bought two and brought one to me.  I downed it fast.  He asked if I wanted another. I said no (but probably meant yes.) He bought another, called my couch-surfing host, yelled at him to come and collect me and then left.

I sat down and watched a marching band  that was playing on the steps of the Citadel.

on the steps to the citadel this boy waved in the marching band

Okay… back to the photo diary approach (but also – this level of kindness is just one example of so many that have happened in just two days – people stopping their cars and asking if they can take me anywhere, people offering me their phones to call my ‘loved ones’ in England,

people inviting me to classical music concerts in beautiful antique courtyards etc.

One more strange and very sweet thing that happens here.  The ‘sites’ aren’t filled with tourists apart from Syrian tourists who I guess come from the smaller cities and villages.  When they see me there apart from offering me some kindness (even sleeping at their house and eating with their family), they also ask that they can have a photo with me, or they force their poor child to be held by me.  Here are some of those photos:

in the baths

in the mosque

and the funniest of them all. the family whose baby this is have invited me to stay with them when I reach Damascus.

Tomorrow I am taking a lift that was offered to the Dead Cities and then to the coast, castles and Damascus. Such MAGIC!

lying on my back in the baths (turkish style) this is the view

my travelling partner until I make the coast - wonderful Catherine from Quebec.

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