Sunday, May 2, 2010

15th April 2010 - 30th April 2010 - Bahrain, Jordan and Syria

The land of meat

Arriving in Bahrain, Sheena really didn’t know what to expect, and I kind of expected a little Dubai. A little Dubai is pretty much it, and although Bahrain doesn’t have a plethora of tourist sights, we still very much enjoyed our stay. This was because we stayed with Sheena’s masi (aunt) and uncle. Deepa masi and Tony uncle spoiled us with food and drove us around over the few days we were there (even chucking a sickie to get some time off work) taking us to the F1 track, and all the way over the causeway to the Saudi Arabia border.

One of the interesting things about Bahrain is the influx of Saudis that flood there over their weekend (Thursday and Friday) so as they can do all the things they’re not allowed to do back in their home country. Masses of men come in their fancy cars, drive really fast, drink lots of booze, and womanise, and it’s for this reason that the Saudis don’t seem to be looked fondly upon. Standing at a viewing tower at the border looking into Saudi Arabia, Sheena and I had the heebie jeebies and it made us so glad we don’t live in a country where such strict and to be honest ridiculous rules apply with horrendous punishments to those who “break” the law. Saudi Arabia will not be on our list of countries to visit anytime soon.

Deepa Masi & Tony Uncle on
the Saudi Arabian border

On the contrary, Jordan is a country that everyone should have on their “must visit” lists. Those who do make it over to Amman, Petra and around will be continuously having the same conversation that goes something like this.
Random Jordanian man: “Where you from?”
Uneasy tourist overly scared of being in a Muslim country: “Australia”
Random Jordanian man: “WELCOME TO JORDAN!”
Then again, if you happen to stay at the Abbasi Palace in Amman, where the owner Nijma treats you like her long lost child she hasn’t seen in 20 years, you will definitely get used to Jordanian hospitality very quickly.

Drenched by the waterfalls in Wadi Mujib

Simon's bowl cut and the obligatory float in the Dead Sea

We visited some fantastic sights in Jordan, such as Wadi Mujib, a fantastic “valley” (really actually a crack in two big rocks) filled with a flowing river and waterfalls and we had the obligatory float in the Dead Sea. Petra of course was well worth the 2 days of exploration, with the sheer size and magnificence of the Treasury being something to behold. Our only problem with Jordan was the transport (or lack there of) and taxi drivers demanding ridiculous amounts a problem found in Syria too. Our only other commentary on Jordan is that we both found it slightly more conservative religious wise than what we expected, and I also found it a little less developed than what I envisaged.

On the contrary, Syria was a lot more developed and lot less conservative (in most parts) than what we expected. With Jordan to the south and Turkey to the north, Syria on initial glance sits somewhere between the two, culturally and development wise.

The Treasury - This is where we totally kicked
some Nazi ass, fought a crusade knight but eventually
lost the Holy Grail when we tried to take it over the sacred seal.
Shame really.

Sheena looking out over the ruins at Petra

Arriving in Syria relatively late, we were just glad to arrive at all, not knowing whether immigration was going to let us in. We had read many stories and heard conflicting information. In the end we got through with relatively little problems, although at a price… We heard so much about the unbelievable hospitality of the Syrian people, however it took us a fair while to experience, with a lot of people treating us with nothing more than indifference with a little bit of hostility (taxi drivers!!!). However upon leaving Damascus, we came across some extraordinarily warm and helpful people whom proved the stories correct.

As one of the oldest if not the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world with fantastic architecture, old streets, and a bustling souq, Damascus and it’s cosmopolitan inhabitants made for a fascinating stay. We stayed in a converted old house with a beautiful courtyard and spent our days wondering the old city eating sweets and occasionally sitting down for a Turkish coffee and a puff on a nargila (shisha). The streets are filled with young girls wearing designer clothes and tight fitting tops walking next to older more conservative Muslims who don’t seem to mind, and amongst everyone are hoards of Iranian pilgrims in very conservative attire who make a pilgrimage to Damascus to visit the mosques where shrines to a specific relative of Mohammad are. We witnessed the power of religion observing the Iranian women uncontrollably weeping around the shrines and kissing everything from the floor to the door handles. We don’t understand that level of devotion, however for them it is obviously an extremely powerful influence in their lives.

Turkish coffee, nargileh, the sounds of prayer
- pretty much sums it up

Fresh strawberry juice on every corner. Yum!

More sweets in damascus.
Famous Bakdash ice-cream

Sheena in her new hoodie

The souq in Damascus

Pretty photo overlooking the Umayyad
Mosque - Damascus

We also visited many ruins in Syria such as Palmyra and Apemea, along with a fantastic castle, Crac de Chavilliers. I won’t go into details because now we’re in Turkey and there a many more Roman ruins to come.

So now we’re in Turkey having withstood an epic 21 hour bus journey from Aleppo (another really old city similar to Damascus) to Antalya, and we’re ready to relax in what could be described as a much easier environment. We have eaten tonnes of tasty food (mainly meat) in the Middle East and drunk plenty of coffee, now it’s time for some Mediterranean beach side relaxation!


Ruins at Palmyra

More ruins at Apamea. Pretty wildflowers.

Stuff of Disney dreams. The Crac Des Chevaliers castle.

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