Thinking ahead to Syria

A street scene in Palmyra

I’m starting to prepare for my upcoming holiday.  I’m off to Syria and Lebanon on a package tour for 8 nights.  It starts in Damascus, tours around places like Palmyra (left) and Aleppo, and then darts across into Lebanon to Beirut, the Bekaa valley, and Baalbek.

My main reason for going is to see the Roman remains.  I shan’t mind someone else taking care of the travel arrangements one bit!   Neither country is mainstream tourism material because of the slightly dodgy political situation.  I may be mistaken, but all the troubles in that region seem as quiet as they have ever been, and are ever likely to be.

I’m not much of a traveller.  My interest in the exotic departs around 5pm, and unless a hotel has room service I am pretty reluctant to stay there!  The tour company promise 5* accomodation all the way.  In the East, that tends to mean “best available” and “international chains where possible”, rather than the standards that one might expect in an American 5* hotel.  I’ve never been to either country before, but in Egypt there are really only two grades of hotel.  The first grade is labelled 5*, and means “reasonable”.  The other grade is labelled 3*, and means “not reasonable.”  In the 5* establishments, all sorts of things go wrong but the staff are apologetic.  In the 3* they look at you and shrug as if to say “what do you expect in a dump like this?”  It may be the same in Syria and Lebanon, in which case I have done my best; if it is better, that will be good.

I ordered the Lonely Planet Syria-Lebanon guide today (US version here), which Amazon promise will arrive in the next three weeks — a curiously slow delivery.  I’ve also remembered that I ought to check that my tetanus (etc) shots are up to date.  I don’t know what currency will be best to take.  Probably US dollars will do!  Also I needed to  book some parking at the airport — an area in which UK airports excelling in overcharging — and a place in the executive lounge there; essential unless waiting in deep discomfort for a flight is your idea of the best way to start a holiday.  I’ll have to take my camera as well, of course.  But I shall NOT be taking a laptop.  Let the evil machines take a rest!

Package holidays of this type tend to be booked by people in their 50’s and 60’s.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to be the youngest person on the tour.  (Where all the hot chicks go on holiday I don’t know, but perhaps nowhere I’d want to go!)

9 thoughts on “Thinking ahead to Syria

  1. Get some Euro with you too, they’re more and more often used there because $ = US = (in the mind of some) “bad, evil, target” while € = european = (in the mind of the same guys) “stupid nice guy with whom we got a love/hate relationship”.

    Anyway I whish you a very pleasant stay there for, as you’ll see, they are wonderfull places, especially Baalbeck

  2. When I was in Syria in 2002 Syrians did not know what the euro was, though let us not forget that back then it was only 6 months old. The hotels on which I stayed in Syria were great, I had no problem due to the hotel that could not be solved. The biggest problem was the climate but that hit you as soon as you left the hotel, not before

  3. The Beeb did a nonfiction radio series, based on a book, all about following Agatha Christie’s travels through Syria and Iraq. I think it was dealing with 2003 or so, but that’s still the most recent travelogue I’ve seen about Syria. Maybe you could get the book or radio series (preferably free) from your library or the BBC 7 website?

    Ah! It’s called “The 8:55 to Baghdad”, and the book and radio series were both by Andrew Eames.

  4. Interesting – thanks! H.V.Morton did a book “Through lands of the bible” which is very evocative of the interwar period in those parts — the only period in history, either before or since, in which sensible people could wander around and find sensible officials.

  5. Colin Thubron’s Mirror to Damascus is a great read, too, though centres on Damascus, obviously. Excuse the shameless plug, but I reviewed it over on my blog…!

    Don’t worry about the political situation. Syria is a very stable country, and you’ll be made to feel very welcome here by the locals. Lebanon is also great, though much more modern and diverse. There are wonderful ruins down in Tyre (Sour in Arabic) which would be well worth your time seeing, too. And the wine tasting in the Bekaa valley is great, too!

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