The first few days in the city
05.03.2010 - 07.03.2010 12 °C
Once at Charles Helou International Bus Station it is impossible even to reach the buses for taxi drivers asking you where you're going and pointing out their cars. The first guy asked me where I was trying to get. When I said "Bus to Halab", he immediately replied "No Bus, Taxi 20$" which seemed pretty cheap so I accepted and got in the Taxi. I then waited around for almost an hour for the Taxi to be filled up with others. In the end they couldn't find a fourth passenger, so asked me for 30$, and then off we went.
The roads in Lebanon are widely reputed to be the most anarchic in the world. I've already stayed in Lebanon for 3 months so I'm used to watching the chaos from a (fairly) safe vantage point on the pavement. However it's all the more dramatic when you're in the midst of it, every driver pushing round each other in the hope of gaining a few inches on each other in the heavy traffic of Beirut. Once out of town, cars drift between lanes, showing no particular preference for any of the lanes, or even for straddling two of them. On single lane roads one might have thought there would be some preference for the lane in which traffic is flowing with you rather than hurtling at 60 mph towards you, but this notion is definitely lost on the Lebanese who apparently select their lanes totally arbitrarily.
Anyway, once past the Passport check in Syria, all the driving calmed down a bit, and the roads seem fine too, so I'm still keen on using motorbikes here. We drove up to Halab at an easy 90 mph and got there around midnight. I found Kit and then we went back to our room in Hotel Syria, which we were sharing with a couple of Germans Kit had met.
The next day we got up around 11 and grabbed a falafel for 20 Syrian Pounds (about 30 pence!), then went up to the main citadel. Truth be told, it is pretty awesome. Occasionally sheer scale can be enough to impress by itself and the Citadel is large enough to dominate the entire city. Once on top of it you can see all of Aleppo, right to the edge of the city where the straggling suburbs give way to countryside.
That done we drifted through some souks, and then into a small Mosque, in which children were running around playing with toy guns. Then we left and drifted about the streets, ending up in one of the more poverty-stricken areas we've seen in Aleppo.
We wanted to see the Capital Mosque, the largest in Aleppo. It's minarets make a definite impact on the whole city-scape. When we arrived, however, we found it deserted. We peeked nervously around the bottom floor. There was some kind of building work going on, rubble everywhere. Marko found the stairs to the upper levels, blocked by a makeshift concrete wall. At the time rushing up it seemed like a definite bad idea, essentially breaking up into hte biggest Mosque in Aleppo. But we had been well up for seeing it, so after some shruggin we decided to peg it up. After totally ragging it to the top, aware this was properly sketchy, we emerged onto the roof of the Mosque. It looked totally awesome up there in the sunset, we took some properly good photos of the minarets silhouetted against the sun, and chilled there for 5 minutes. But we were aware we could be seen from the streets up there, and so climbed down. On the way out we did see one person, but his back was turned to us, so we just ran out.
That evening we had a quick look around teh Christian Quarter of Aleppo. It was worth drifting through, but there was nothing amazing there. After that we went to a cafe, and smoked Arguileh drinking tea. The Germans taught us some card game, and we played for the bill. I lost almost all the games, and ended up paying the bulk of the bill myself. After this we returned to the Hotel, stopping on the way only for a kebab. However, here Marko fainted onto the floor-apparently the hundreds of cigarettes he had been smoking, combined with the arguileh, had worked fairly hard on him.
Whilst trying to carry him back, we met a pretty strange bloke in a car-seemed pretty deranged, properly tried to run someone over in front of us. He asked us whether the food was good and then fucked off. Despite the fact that he was clearly a bizarre individual, we thought nothing of it at the time. We got back to the hotel around 4 AM and went to sleep.
At about 7 AM we were awoken by the sound of someone in our room. In my dazed semi-conscious state, I recognised that I recognised the man, but did not recognise him then as the man from the street 3 hours ago. I just tohought it was someone from the hotel. We told him to go away, and fell back to sleep. Once we were up, Henrike discovered that his wallet was gone, and my mobile had also disappeared. We still don't know what the fuck was going on, but agreed that we probably should have reacted more aggressively to the discovery of a strange man in our room at 7 AM.
After Marko and Henricke left, we went looking for motorbikes, eventually finding a shop, and having a lengthy conversation with the shop-keeper and his son, who were both studying English. They told us that a Chinese 125 can be bought for $550. After this we left and went back to the hotel.
The next two days were equally pretty uneventful. We enquired further about motorbikes, but everyone seemed to think that buying them as a foreigner is problematic.