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report on my trip to
Turkey, Georgia, Syria, Lebanon & N. Cyprus
including prices and commentary from between September 18 and November 1998

Author: Barry

Travel essentials:-
based on secondary research collected from the internet


Coming soon

PACKING
On this trip I took a bag which was just big enough to meet the "carry on" size requirement of KLM. Because I planned only to be in warm weather months I took a pair of long trousers, shorts,five underwear,five pairs of socks,sandals.shoes,four T shirts, a sweater,anorak,toilet articles and a chess set. It's surprising what you can fit into one of those bags if you ROLL up your clothing articles. Carrying a bag made it much easier to get around-you walk right off the plane into customs without having to wait for your backpack-you can easily get on and off city buses-for some long distance buses you can just rest the bag on your lap instead of putting it in the luggage compartment (there may be not enough room in there at times). All in all throughout the years if I can get away with it TRAVEL LIGHT,TRAVEL BRIGHT. Once you do it this way,you're sold the first time round.
MONEY
I spent US$1350 in 7 weeks.This included everything-transport, visas,food and accommodation. I don't smoke,do drugs and have the occasional beer. I never went to a night club, stayed in simple, clean and cheap hotels and ate where ordinary people eat their meals. Those of you who do anything differently will of course have to factor this into their budget but I was quite comfortable and did what I wanted. Some days I lived very well on $10-Other days It was not so easy and I'd use $40. It all depends on your comfort zone and what you want to see. I have no qualms about taking night buses to save money for example. I took US dollars in travellers' cheques which I changed just twice because they were a hassle and cash which was definitely king.
Turkey: When I arrived at Istanbul Airport at midnight there were a number of options -two banks which charged 4% for travellers' cheques, an ATM machine in between both banks, a postal unit upstairs in the departure area which changed cash only at a favourable rate without commission charges. I met a Canadian guy who used his ATM card everywhere in Turkey without a hitch. The machines are found in every medium sized town. In Georgia,Syria and Lebanon I changed cash. Syria has a black
market which will give 10% more for your cash dollars than a bank.
The rates:
when I arrived in the middle east were as follows-
TURKEY (Sept 18 US$1=273,000Lira)(Nov 05, 289,000)The rate of inflation is about 65% this year in Turkey so the
dollar rises accordingly.
GEORGIA( Sept 24 US$1=1.36 lari).
SYRIA ( Oct. US$1=46 pounds in the bank and 52 on the street) LEBANON(Oct US$1=1500 pounds)

Transport
Turkey
has an excellent network of buses. In all my years of travelling there is nowhere else to compare to it. They are now building enormous bus terminals outside the cities which are more like airports. A plethora of companies makes for stiff competition. When you arrive in a terminal you will be met by touts who will steer you to one of their companies-and there are many to choose from. Usually you are out of there within a very short time -especially for popular routes like Ankara to Istanbul. Rates are cheap; route costs are mentioned later. I took a number of night buses to cut expenses, and they are generally either Man(Dutch) or Mercedes buses which were comfortable You were often given tea,a biscuit, water,a video show and the stops were about every 4 hours.The fast boat from Tasucu,Turkey to Girne,North Cyprus runs 2 times daily, and it's expensive.
I took three buses in Georgia which were not that great but they were cheap.
Syria had even cheaper buses than Turkey. I went from Aleppo to Damascus for $1.90 (5 hours)!! and they were almost as comfortable as in Turkey.

Lebanon is just now reintroducing a national network of buses and I took them a couple of times-pretty cheap as in Syria. Service taxis are a quick way to go here-I went from Damascus to Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley,Lebanon in 2 and a quarter hours for $8-this included the time at the border. I did hitch a couple of times in Lebanon where there was no other transport connection-In
particular this was true from Baalbak over the mountains to the last remaining grove of Cedars and the Christian city of Bscharre-but they were great rides!
SECURITY
I never felt under any kind of security threat at any time on my trip. There was one time in Tiblisi, Georgia when I arrived at night during a blackout but I quickly got a cab driver take me to a family home which rented rooms. I felt a little nervous but people seemed helpful enough so it might have been my own paranoia on my first night in the country. A Georgian mentioned that "it's safe for you but dangerous for Georgians" and I suppose he meant the overall "social" security (no jobs, poverty level wages, mafiosi).

You will find, however,in nearly all Islamic countries a very low rate of petty crime-the main concern is the traffic (I was in one bus accident in Turkey) and the propensity to charge you a little more as a foreigner for some things. This didn't always happen and you can get around it by watching what others pay or else get some frequently helpful Turk/Syrian/Lebanese to offer advice. In fact you will be astounded at how helpful people can be. At first you
may suspect something like, "what does he want..." but no-you will be offered generous hospitality on numerous occasions. This is the case in the non touristic regions of Turkey, all of Syria and Lebanon. In Lebanon this was especially true, and I was invited into a private home for delicious food almost every day.

Of course you may be wondering about the state of civil society after so many years of war. The psychological scarring in the Bekaa Valley and Beirut where the most intense fighting took place was quite evident. Beyond all this the war is definitely finished and the prevalence of newly opened fast food chains such as Mcdonald's, Burger King,Subway, and Pizza Hut was a good enough indication of "normalization" for me. In Syria people would frequently greet me on the streets with "welcome!". In Damascus if I wanted to go anywhere I would have the hotel manager write it down in Arabic and I would show it to the first person on the street who would literally take me by the hand and shove me into a bus with instructions to the driver. Other passengers would help show the way. Rather than feeling wary during my travels I often felt like an honoured guest.

FOOD
I was never sick from food or water although I did meet a few who were in Turkey. I think my body has become quite accustomed to food and drink everywhere in the world and although in some countries I would never drink tap water I did most of the time in Turkey. Some rules of thumb-If you want a good restaurant anywhere then follow this advice-eat where there are a lot of local people- check out the purveyors-do they look healthy?Do they look like they enjoy what they're doing? Have you ever met a humourless person who made great food? I generally take my time to find a restaurant which meets this criteria and more importantly try to stay away from where tourists/travellers eat. A eating place with a permanent local clientale has a vested interest in keeping the food quality high, prices low and the amount generous with impeccable service.

Turkish food has been called the "French cuisine of Asia" and I really do enjoy eating there. Lots of fresh produce, beautiful vegetable and meat dishes and outstandingly good french white bread. In the morning a "Turkish breakfast" would consist of a plate with feta cheese,tomato,olives and cucumber. This was served with tea and all the bread you could eat. Lentil,mushroom and chicken soup was cheap and everywhere. I would often often eat an aubergine dish later on, and of course there is the ubiquitous kebab in various forms.
The
food in Georgia was poor by comparison. Although I stayed in a private home in Tiblisi the quality wasn't all that great and it was somewhat heavy. In Syria it was cheap and I ate a lot of falafel. In more expensive Lebanon a good meal was very costly but because I was invited into homes of families I was getting excellent food.

VISAS
Turkey:
Canadians pay nothing for their tourist 90 day stamp, Americans pay, I am told, $45 at the any point of entry. Other nationalities pay different rates or it's free.
Russia: Trabzon is the easiest place in the whole world to get a Russian tourist visa ( August, 1998 info). You go to the Russian consulate and they send you to a
travel agency across the street for a letter of invitation/voucher for a hotel in Sochi (Black Sea) for $30 and then back to the consulate for your visa at $40. They can give you a one month or two month visa and you can register anywhere in Russia. It takes a morning for the complete process. It must be some kind of scam as there is a LOT of business between Russia and Trabzon.
You can go to Sochi for a $100 by boat or transit through Georgia.
Georgia is easy to get at the consulate in Trabzon,Turkey a 15 day single entry visa for $20 and special service charge (bribe?) $4. no photo,20 minute wait in the morning for any western nationality.
Syria: The Syrian visa is a ridiculously expensive process in Ankara-For Canadians it's $65 plus $35 for a letter of introduction from the Embassy which just confirms everything your passport says as well as your religion. Never tell the Syrians that you intend on going to Israel or that you have been to Israel - You will not get your visa. For Americans the Embassy will not give the letter and officially you can not get a visa without one. But I met three Americans in Syria who got a visa from the Consulate in Istanbul without a letter. They don't always do this-it depends on your manner/patience. Some Australians get their visa on the border as the policy is apparently that if there is no Syrian Embassy in your country then you can get a visa on the border. Don't count on this one. Other Australians have been turned back. You will also get a single entry visa only in Ankara/Istanbul, and if you want to go to Lebanon then you have to get a re-entry permit from the immigration department in Damascus(no problem but a chaotic procedure, the mother of all bureaucracy). There is no Syrian Embassy in Lebanon.
Lebanon: The Lebanese visa is issued on the border for $17 in Lebanese pounds or $20 US cash.
North Cyprus: is recognized as an independent Republic only by Turkey. If you go there then the Turks will stamp you out of the country and you will get a stamp going into the country.
If you have either stamp you will not be allowed into Greek Cyprus or Greece. Try to get the stamps on a separate piece of paper.

COMMUNICATION
Turkish telephones are excellent. They have recently installed a new telephone service which makes calling home very simple. You can use Canada Direct or USA Direct without any problem (don't know about the others). You need a phone card for most phones which was 300,000 Lira for the cheapest. The calls to Canada were free,you just needed to slip the card in the slot and dial. I used my B.C. Tel phone card code to charge my calls, and I have yet to see how much cheaper this has all turned out to be but the convenience was great. I never used a phone in Georgia, Syria or Lebanon.
Email: Before leaving home I set up a free account with Hotmail (www.hotmail.com) where I accessed my e mail at the various internet cafes in Turkey. There are some in Lebanon as well. I paid between 750,000 - 1,000,000 Lira per hour and it worked "like a hot damn!!"
CLIMATE
I timed my trip to get the best possible weather with the fewest crowds. Late September was still a good time to travel the Black Sea and into Georgia. October was brilliant on the south coast of Turkey-warm days and warm nights. In Syria and Lebanon this is also a great time to travel as the hot hot summer has passed and the weather is excellent. But maybe I was just lucky - I remember being on southern Crete 15 years ago in the second week of October and freezing my ass off during a freak cold spell (17 degrees celius during the day).It was wet,windy and the hostel was never made for this kind of weather. But then things shifted back to sunny skies again. Still, during that cold spell I would look at the weather chart in the English daily "AthensNews" and notice that Rhodes (off of Marmaris and the coast of southern Turkey) was still experiencing warm temperatures of 27 degrees celius which got me thinking... Remember that I only left Istanbul on the 5th of
November and the day before it was around 20 degrees celius, so still OK. Another advantage to this time of year was the greatly diminished number of tourists - and the prices of accommodation dropping accordingly.
For example I stayed in this beautiful hotel in Dalyan (near Marmaris) with a balcony, hot water shower, still blooming flowers, swimming pool and a great buffet all you could eat breakfast for US$7 (another Canadian guy talked them down to 5). The beach nearby is one of the best on the south coast and the water was still
around 23 degrees C.
ATTITUDE
This is a big one for me. I really do believe that what you put out you get back. If you are a close minded bigot then you are going to see the worst in people. But if you open your heart yet remain "grounded", while respecting the dignity of others, you are probably going to have a really great time wherever you go. I find that if you are have a wonderful time at least 70% of the time then you are doing very well. There are always going to be those moments when you get sick,lose something,get ripped off, make a faux pas, feel homesick or lonely. But just remember that the good times are just around the corner if you have the right attitude. Often we are the authors of our own misfortune. In my many years of travel I have had money or passport stolen on occasion and every time when I really thought about it I can only blame myself for not understanding the circumstances leading up to the event. I tend to be a courteous person in public and learning a few polite words in Arabic or Turkish opened up a whole new vista in my relationship with ordinary people. They loved it!
Of course attitude doesn't always work to bring the price down-I met a Polish guy who paid a lot less for accommodation than me and I think it's because they really did believe him when he said he was a poor starving student from a not very well off country. One final comment-if you are just out of your country to party then fine, but when you get older you'll probably reflect on your time overseas as a missed opportunity to really understand yourself and others a little better.
SIGHTS
OK now I've been to Turkey 6 times and I'm STILL discovering new places to visit which are fabulous. This time it was Dalyan on the south coast (thank you Gord) and later on ,courtesy of a Dutch couple, the second longest gorge in Europe at Saklikent. In Dalyan I stayed at the aforementioned hotel, but I also took a boat cruise from the town up the river delta,to the sea caves where we dove off the cliff into turquoise water, to the nearby beach where sea turtles come at night to lay their eggs,to the Greco Roman city of Kaunos, past the Lycian cliff tombs, to the mud baths and finally to the hot springs for $4(!) and a seven hour journey. The town has a height limit on the buildings (3stories) and trees and flowers abound. There are pedestrian walkways by the river and bicycles are
ubiquitous. It's a bit too touristic in the summer but October was great. I really enjoyed my stay here and for families I think it's a great deal-a lot to do for the children. Saklikent was another fantastic surprise. At 14 kms long you can spend hours wading up the river in this very narrow canyon. It reminded me of Zion National Park in Utah. You arrive there and borrow a pair of rubber shoes for a better grip on the canyon floor as it is quite muddy. Then you start the climb and I walked for about 2 hours where at times you couldn't see the sunlight and sky above it was that narrow. The light quality was strange. It was like being in a room at night with just one very bad lightbulb in the middle of the ceiling. At times I was wading up to my chest in cold water but it was all so very exciting. Of course you've heard of Ephesus on the west coast and Pamukkale and Goreme which I've seen a couple of times in the past but Baalbek in Lebanon is one of the great sites of
antiquity and the acropolis makes the one in Athens look a little dumpy. Plus it is devoid of tourists. There is one temple there that is almost a complete Parthenon except for the roof. The one in Athens was blown up in the 17th century when it was used as an ammunition dump by the Turks. Syria has the best preserved
Crusader Castle in the middle east(Krak de Chevalier). It sits on top of a hill and the walls are amazingly thick. Palmyra in eastern Syria is another Greco Roman + city which is immense in scope. There is a street with columns on either side that runs nearly a km. Bosfra near the border of Jordan has a complete Roman
theater which is unique in that it is free standing (all others having been built into the side of a hill) and then fortified by the Arabs later on.
THE COSTS OF THE TRIP AND COMMENTARY
I kept a record of transport costs and approximate travel time between cities as well as the price of hotels.
TURKEY AND THE TURKISH REPUBLIC OF NORTH CYPRUS
US$1=273,000 lira Havas bus to Taksim Square 800,000 lira. The taxis charge you a hell of a lot more to get to Istanbul from
Attaturk Airport. The buses run from 6 am to 11:30 Pm.Get a good map of Istanbul and Turkey from the airport tourist office.Ferry to Yalova -1,500,000 lira -1 hour (best way to get going south). Yalova to Bursa 600,000 lira - 1 and a half hours. Bursa to Izmir 2,000,000 lira - 5 hours (I got the same bus coming back 6
weeks later for 1,500,000 lira-it pays to shop around). Izmir to Bergama 600,000 lira. Pension/Hotel for 2,500,000 with breakfast. This was the usual amount I paid everywhere in Turkey. Entrance to Bergama ruins 500,000 lira - get there early,right at opening time at 8:30 as by 9:00 the crowds were huge-There were at least 15 buses in the parking lot when I left and none when I arrived. Izmir to Trabzon 6,500,000 Lira with Metro bus company ( best say the Turks-22 hours). Trabzon to Ankara 4,500,000 Lira (overnight). Metro from new bus terminal to the centre of town 100,000 per trip and you have to buy a card for 500,000 (5 trips). The
cheap hotels are in the Ulus district in town (2,000,000 for a grotty hotel).Near the metro stop Kizilay you can take a city bus directly to the Canadian Embassy (no.112). The Australian is nearby.
Bus 413 goes to the Syrian from Kizilay. Syrian Embassy 40 Sedat Simari,Sokak,Cankaya,Ankara (tel. 440 9658).Need letter of
introduction which is US$35 for Canadians, 33 Pounds at the British Embassy. The visa was US$65 + 2 photos. Apply in the morning 9-10:30 and pickup the same day at 2:30.
Had trouble changing Travellers'Cheques in several banks except ffor T.C. Ziraat Bankasi which changed at no commission. Ankara to Fethiye 3,000,000 Lira (9 hours).Fethiye to Oluz Deniz 300,000 Lira (half hour). To Butterfly Valley 1,000,000Lira return by boat. The valley has "tree house" accommodation (really a wooden platform) for 750,000 lira a night-camping is a little cheaper. The food is more expensive than normal Turkish prices. George's up the hill (steep 45 min. walk) charges 500,000 a night and 400,000 per meal - the food is apparently excellent according to 4 people I talked to. Fethiye to Ortaca 750,000 (2 hours) . Ortaca to Dalyan 150,000 and half hour. Stayed in this beautiful Motel (Tugrul Motel) for 2,000,000 with buffet breakfast and took a great all day
tour of beach,ruins,mud baths and hot springs for 1,000,000. Ortaca to Fethiye 600,000 (?). Fethiye to Saklikent Canyon 500,000 (1 hour). Entrance fee 200,000. Rent rubber goulashes 200,000 (worth every penny) for a better grip on the muddy riverbed. Terrific walk up this breathtaking canyon, like Zion in Utah (see above). After your walk you can take some tea at the teashop built over the rushing river. Back to the main road 400,000 where I flagged a bus for Patara Beach 500,000 (1 hour). You have to walk or take a taxi to the main town from the coastal road (2 km) Hotel was 2,000,000 with breakfast. The sandy beach is 22km long. Patara to Kalkan 350,000.Kalkan to Kas 400,000. Kas to Olympus turnoff 1,250,000 (3 hours). You have to take a dolmus (11 km) from the main road down to the accommodation area (300,000). It's here where you can stay in a number of "treehouse" sites for about US7/night including breadfast and dinner. I enjoyed staying at the Orange Pension here for this price. The chimera is not far away( a hill where methane gas (+more) provides a constant flame which can not be put out by water or sand). During ancient times Greeks and others used to use the chimera to navigate their way down this part of the coast. It is also represented in Greek mythology(minibus from Orange Pension to Chimera at night 750,000 plus a 40 minute walk from the base of the hill best done under a full moon) Main road to Antalya 550,000 (2 hours).Malvi Pension 2,500,000 + breakfast,located in the old city.
Internet Cafe in the park for 1,000,000/hour. Antalya to Aspendos (best preserved Greco Roman theater in Turkey) 450,000. Entrance 750,000. Aspendos to Anamur 2,000,000 (5 hours). Eser Pension 2,500,000 with breakfast.Anamur to Antakya(ancient Antioch, near Syrian border) 3,500,000 (9 hours). I was in the station for about 10 minutes where I purchased a ticket for the 8 am bus to Aleppo and changed $100 cash for 5000 Syrian pounds in the same bus office(one stop shopping).Antakya to Aleppo (Syria) 2,000,000 (3 hours)...
After coming back from Syria I took a Bus from Antakya to Tasucu 1,450,000 (7 hours). From here I went to North Cyprus by fast boat 15,000,000 Return (2 per day) plus 4,000,000 in all the various taxes they throw at you coming and going to Girne (2 and a half hours). The slow boat was 11,400,000 return which you can take at midnight-I don't know if the same taxes apply.
Was it worth it to go to North Cyprus?That depends on your
interest level. If you just want a beach and to party then don't bother. Although it is virtually a colony of Turkey and they use Turkish lira here you will find that things are a little more expensive and the atmosphere a little more down-I missed the vibrant active street life on the mainland. They drive on the left and the bus
transport is not as frequent as in Turkey. Maybe the Brits were here a little too long!! But if you are interested in world affairs and politics than this may be for you. The Turkish army invaded North Cyprus ostensibly to protect the Turkish population living here from the attempt by a Greek dominated Cypriot government to unite
the country with Greece. There is a mixed feeling in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus about the mainlanders-Turkish Cypriots feel they need their protection but at the same time wish that Ankara would stop meddling in their domestic affairs. Nothing of substance is really done in the Republic unless the OK is given by Ankara since they spend a lot of money to maintain an army there. The mainland Turks I met here couldn't understand the resentment. If you go to Lefkosa (Nicosia) you can see the Green Line which is a fence dividing the Turkish from the southern Greek half of the city(and country). You will see Greek flags flying defiantly from the other side as well as hear music /singing from the churches "over there". The Turkish side is a little more depressing and more subdued. Gazimagusa (Famagusta) was once a very cosmopolitan
(and rich) Christian city where the Turks changed the huge cathedrals into mosques after the conquest of 1571 (from the Venetians). It gives you an idea what St Stephens in Vienna would have looked like if the Turks took the city during their two seige attempts. I've never seen anything like it. Castle Hotel in Girne
3,500,000 with breakfast. Internet Cafe 850,000 per hour. Girne Caste-well worth the 1,000,000 entrance fee. They have the best displays ( in English) I saw during my entire trip. Girne to Lefkosa 300,000 (half hour).
Girne to Gazimagusa 500,000 (1 and a quarter hour). I stayed only 3 days on the island. Tasucu to Antaly
2,500,000 (7 hours).Antalya to Ortaca 2,000,000 ( 4 and a half hours),then Dalyan again where I stayed in my
favorite motel . He says that the price for the (high) summer season 1999 will be US$22 or 40 DM per couple
with buffet breakfast (the best I had in Turkey). But remember in October at the end of season I talked him
down to US$7 and another Canadian guy paid only 5. The fax and telephone number of the Tugrul Motel is
252 (district code?) 284 2454. Ortaca to Mugla 750,000 (2 hours).Mugla to Seljuk (Efes,Epheseus)
1,500,000 (3 hours). Pension/hotel 2,500,000 with breakfast. Entrance fee to the ruins 1,000,000. Seljuk to
Bursa 2,500,000 (7 hours). Bursa to Yalova 600,000 (1 hour). Ferry to Istanbul 1,500,000 ( 1 hour).
Sultanahmet Hotel 2,000,000.
GEORGIA
US$1=1.34 lari
The roads are in terrible shape.Tiblisi to Trabzon or Trabzon to Tiblisi is $25 by bus (16 hours but it varies).The border is one big swindle on the Georgian side. When I crossed over I was asked for $5 by a customs official but I'm sure you don't have to pay anything. The trouble is that the custom officials and many other state employees(including the police) have not been paid for a long time.When I left the country the Georgians who were with me on the bus had a even worse time. They each had to pay a $20 exit tax,$2 for the customs declaration (leaving Georgia?), and $15 for the Turkish visa. I paid nothing. The Georgian who sat beside me on the bus spoke reasonable English and told me his story (the story of many in Georgia) He had a secure job as an engineer working for a state firm with contracts throughout the Soviet Union. When things fell apart in 1991 so did his firm. He sold everything he had over the years to survive but at age 55 with $500 and a visa for Italy he decided to leave the country for "whatever he can find".He didn't know about the sting at the border but it was a mighty big chunk out of $500. Life is miserable in the Republic. All law and
order has collapsed into a myriad of new arrangements. When you drive you stop on the Green just in case someone drives thru the Red like you usually do. The cops flagged down a car I was in (for a bribe) but the driver just kept on going with a quick nervous backward glance to be sure we were not being chased (we
weren't). I arrived late at night in Tiblisi and eventually found a family who took me in for $20 (26 lari) per night including three good sized meals. They were very happy to have me there as neither person worked and they are selling off their family heirlooms to survive. Their daughter has what is considered a good job at 300 lari per month ($220)-but she supports 7 people-her husband (who makes 60 lari a month), their young daughter,her parents and her husband's parents. Can you imagine the stress? DON'T YOU EVER BITCH ABOUT YOUR LIFE AGAIN. I paid the man an additional $100 for 2 and a half days of sightseeing plus a one day trip up to the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian border( 300 km trip return). I saw Mt.Kazbegi which is over 5000 meters. Beautiful scenery and we were virtually the only car (a big old Volga) on the road.
Tiblisi is a riot of different architectural styles - church beside a synagogue, beside a mosque, beside a Turkish bath - Georgia became Christian in the 4th century right after Armenia became the first country in the world to do so (before Rome). You'll see many old churches. Stay with a family, they can teach you a little about life in the country. You'll find that taxi drivers are more than willing to find a family for you for a fee ( I paid 10 lari) Hotels are notoriously expensive and the quality poor. Learn some Russian-hardly anyone speaks another language since this is already their second after Georgian. There are a lot of people meandering about in the center of the city with nothing to do and it may seem a little gloomy.

One memory stands out clearly. While visiting the "Georgian Vatican" (Mtskheta), 20 kms out of the city, I met an English
speaking guide who took me on a tour of the complex. To me she was trying hard to look western - platform shoes (which she looked a little uncomfortable in), pantsuit with tanktop and a jacket over top. It looked as if she was trying to copy some model out of Cosmopolitan, complete with heavy makeup. I think that she must
have spent her entire year's salary on this wardrobe... and when she smiled her teeth were completely rotten.
I felt a little sad about that - trying so hard to maintain some kind of dignity in a desperate situation when she should really be spending that money on her teeth.
SYRIA
US$1=46 pounds in bank.52 on the street
This is my second visit to Syria the first being 20 years ago. People were extremely helpful and curious. Every once in a while as you are enjoying their warmth the topic of Israel will be brought in and you will see a different and very,very hostile side of Syrian society. Do not under any circumstances respond to their call as you can end up in serious trouble. When asked for my opinion I would point out that the Koran is very specific about forgiveness and that Islam is a forgiving religion. THAT they could understand but I would take it no further. Be cautious when changing money on the Black market, if you so desire the extra 10%. An Italian guy who lived in Damascus and myself went to change some and we were lead into a clothing store on the second floor where we negotiated 52 pounds to the US dollar and the clerk promptly knocked on a shelf
and the whole wall turned around into a another room where the deal was done. Right out of a movie!

You'll find Syria to be cheaper than Turkey. Bus Aleppo to Homs 100 pounds (2 hours). Homs to Palmyra 100 pounds (2 and a half hours). The bus broke down along the way and another came by and picked up some of the passengers. They didn't want me to
pay anything because I had to stand. New Citadel Hotel 300 pounds in Palmyra.The ruined city is free. Really a great Greco Roman + site in the middle of a desert. There is a paved Roman road which has columns on either side running for a kilometer. Try to get there early in the morning before the crowds of tourists arrive.
There is a museum and temple area across the main highway which has a 300 pound charge. Palmyra to Homs with Karnak bus 65 pounds (2 hours) . Al Nasr Jaheed Hotel 200 pounds - really a nice hotel with a "genteel" English speaking manager. The taxi ride to the hotel from the Karnak Station, after soliciting the help of a passerby, was 25 pounds, which is the usual price in the city. i found great falafel in the city for 6 pounds. The microbus to Krak de Chevalier was 25 pounds. This is the great Crusader castle in the middle of nowhere on top of a hill. Massive walls, really worth seeing. Entrance 300 pounds. Homs to Damascus 75 pounds (2 hours). Dropped us off at the edge of the city but a city microbus is only 5 pounds per ride. Hotel 300 pounds in central Damascus. Because you can only get a single entry visa for Syria in Ankara you have to get a re entry permit at the immigration department on Furat Avenue near Al-Merjeh (Martyr's) Square in Damascus if you plan to travel to Lebanon, or Jordan, and back. It can take up to an hour and a half to go thru the process - a totally chaotic procedure where you are sent from this office to that office, papers in tow,
and a crowd of others going thru the same mess. Finally you end up standing in front of a closed door, where upon admittance you will see "the general" sitting behind a desk in his "tastefully" decorated air conditioned room. He signs the papers with a flourish and then you exit back into Chaosland. A truly bizarre yet interesting morning that costs 10 pounds in revenue stamps. A footnote - It seems to me, and I'm not 100% clear on this, that you can only use the road to Beirut to exit and re enter Syria from Lebanon. At least they
registered my departure particulars in a big book upon leaving which they checked when I came back with my re entry permit. I also had to pay 650 pounds for the new "visa" at the border. Damascus to Baalbek 400 pounds and 2 and a half hours by fast service taxi (worth every pound). When I came back from Lebanon I went Damascus to Aleppo for 90 pounds !!(5 and a half hours).
LEBANON
US$1=1500 pounds
I had a fascinating time in this country. Almost everyone wanted to talk politics and religion with me. I've got two ears, two eyes and one mouth and I would advise anyone to use them appropriately. Almost every day I was invited into someone's home for excellent Lebanese food or else very intriguing conversation. I remember
the first night in Baalbeck when I met a family after being knocked off my feet by the Roman acropolis. They were Shiite moslems and very very western. Shiites are the main religious group in Iran and are often associated with the more fundamentalist aspects of Islam. Their 13 year old daughter spoke excellent English which she learned from the internet on her home computer and her mother wore jeans and was quite comfortable speaking with me eye to eye. They showed me French translations of the Koran which give the
impression that there is absolutely nothing in Islam which requires a woman to cover herself or to remain cloistered in her home. There are passages which refer to modesty which of course are subject to
interpretation and your imagination. But that's it. I also got the impression that the Moslems wanted the Syrians to remain the main occupying force as they are referred to as "brother Arabs", but that many Christians called themselves Lebanese or Phoenician rather than Arab and identify strongly with the west.
Some mix freely with eachother but the tension is certainly still around. I'm hoping that this just isn't a pausein the fighting , they have certainly known enough trauma.
Baalbek hotel-Ash Sham Hotel 9000 pounds in dormitory (although I had the place to myself). The balcony had a door which opened up on an illuminated acropolis at night. I just laid in my bed and enjoyed the sight.
Baalbek entrance fee 10,000 pounds. Baalbek to Deir al Achmar 500 pounds by bus. This was fascinating.
Deir al Achmar is situated 10 kms on the other side of the Bekaa Valley and it is completely Christian. You can see the town from Baalbek and yet there is no traffic between the two except for the bus. You are actually a quarter of the way to Bscharre and the Cedars of Lebanon but there is no further bus connection and I had to hitch over a 2500 meter pass which is usually blocked by snow 6 months of the year. The hitch was easy and the entire region is Maronite Christian (tied to the Catholic Church in Rome). My first ride was with an Evangelical Christian who "found Jesus" after many years of living a sinful life by smoking hash and killing people in a militia. "HALLELUJA BROTHER" I exclaimed nervously.

The second ride was with a French educated couple who could have easily slipped into French society with their mannerisms. He was a lawyer and she had a PHD in comparative French literature. In Bscharre I stayed at the Hotel Palace 37,000 pounds (ouch) - It was the only place to stay. The entrance to "Les Cedres" 2000 pounds. They reminded me of the great Douglas Fir trees at home on the west coast of Canada, but other people are not that impressed by the remaining 400 trees.Bscharre to Tripoli 2000 pounds (1 and a quarter hours). Tripoli hotel - Al Koura
15000 pounds. Tripoli to Biblios 1500 pounds by bus. Biblios to Jouneih 500 pounds. Hotel St.Joseph 30,000 pounds. Jouneih to Beirut 500 pounds (1 hour). What a polluted mess Beirut is!. Expensive and a lot of traffic.
They are rebuilding the city at a frenetic pace and I was glad to stay in Jouneih instead. Much of the coast of lebanon reminded me of Italy in terms of the buildup and standard of living. You even have to pay to get on to the beaches in some areas. Beirut to Tyre 1000 pounds. Entrance to Roman ruins (includes Arch and nearly
complete Hippodrome) 5000 pounds. You are getting close to Israeli occupied Lebanon here.
Beirut to Damascus 7000 pounds on the bus (2 and a half hours).
Hope you enjoyed the read.
Barry


Copyright
Dave Berry, 1998.


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