The Irresponsible Traveller

travel and tourism worldwide

Posts Tagged ‘syria

Blog Roll Despair

leave a comment »

It’s time to update to my blog – once a year, regular as clockwork…  What has predicated this further prodigious outpouring?  An earnest need to record social injustice, a duty to highlight an humanitarian catastrophe, an epiphany that the world should know Dubai is not after all a sterile, air-conditioned prison of bars and spas?  Or is it the gurgling gastro-intestinal imbalance of the soul, common in all ‘great’ bloggers, that makes me reach for the soft, strong and very long online page?

Another Afghanistan

Another Afghanistan

Anyhow, today from Afghanistan comes depressing word of yet another brave high profile woman murdered by illiterate thugs – the ‘halcycon’ days of The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan must must seem far distant.  Then from the US, news that a ‘harmless’ Buddhist convert opened up with an assault rifle, killing twelve, which leads me to believe his conversion was at best incomplete.  Add to this, 24-hour rolling Parbuckling Live and the tin lid is firmly on my despair – in future, I’m sure I’m not alone in calling for coffee companies to stay on dry land and stick to what they know best.

Elsewhere, ‘conventional’ civilian deaths mount as the nettle of Syria’s tragic farce remains yet ungrasped by an understandably war-weary West – others are not so fatigued.  I wonder whether, amidst devastation, the dry humour of Armen Mazloumian – ‘We’ve been rather quiet, so we’ve given the barman a holiday.’ – manager of Aleppo’s Baron’s Hotel, still has an audience?  What too of the eloquent Hassan Zahabi and his Damascus emporium of fabrics and ceramics? – ‘We prefer to live with our sorrows… because we never know whether your promises will bring more sorrow.’  Unknown to us both the writing had been on the wall in Hassan’s shop, a pottery plaque announced ‘Al waqt hawa’l hayat’ – ‘time is life’.  ‘Some people they believe time is money,’ he’d said, ‘I don’t agree.’

For me the pensions of Beirut, fleapits of Kalis and foggy, winding roads across the Anti-Lebanon Mountains have to wait.  For the most part the travel press commissions copy that brings in advertising and sells holidays, perhaps accounting for a diminished readership – many of those I know consign travel sections, along with sponsored advertorials, to the same pile as Scotts of Stow catalogues and UPVC window flyers…

So, having given up pitching into the wind of editorial indifference, my desk is clear and tomorrow I’m off to climb a hill in Italy…

Have a good week.




Written by Nick Redmayne

September 17, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Posted in Travel

Tagged with , , ,

Driving to Aleppo

leave a comment »

Team Desert Bradts

After a full two hours of exhaustive preparation we were off...

In November 2011 as part of the Petra Challenge I drove from Newcastle to Jordan, crossing from Turkey into Syria and staying in Aleppo. Later, continuing onwards via Beirut and Damascus to Amman.

Driving a British car across Syria’s land border is at the best of times potentially problematic. In the middle of a period of domestic unrest when foreigners are viewed with increased suspicion it’s a process many would consider foolhardy. However, despite this myself and co-driver Chris Tweddle, found our way through ebullient traffic to Syria’s most historic, if well-worn, hotel.  Since then events have rather overtaken the humour of my recollection, but anyhow here’s what happened…

Jostling in an unruly queue, I wait. Laughing, untidily uniformed immigration officers contemptuously process passports, consult lists, and draw hard on their cigarettes. ‘What is your job?’, ‘What is the purpose of your visit?’ – I answer truthfully if not completely. Even so, the laughing stalls, replaced by uncomfortable stares. My heart shifts a gear. Bang. ‘Welcome to Syria.’ I’m in.

If only it was that simple. The bureaucratic paper chase of vehicle insurance, carnet, and painstaking columns in venerable double-width ledgers that close with a thump, never to see the light of day again, has only just begun. Two hours later we ease away from border control. Aleppo, Syria’s second city, lies 40km south through the darkness.

Foreigners generally conclude that Arab drivers have instinctive knowledge of horn etiquette and the subtle skills necessary to squeeze five cars into two lanes. Indeed, though Syrians are friendly and welcoming, once behind the wheel the genie is out of the bottle and their three wishes are that you hurry up, move over and get out of the way. Foreign plates and a steering wheel on the wrong side confer no special status.

I have a broad idea where to find Aleppo’s historic Baron’s Hotel. That said, upon the second circuit of a now-familiar traffic–choked square it’s time to seek assistance. Stepping into the night, I ask the way in basic Arabic. A wide-eyed, bearded youth engages with me. He rubs his finger and thumb together hopefully and I offer a two Euro coin, and then another… ‘I drive, you follow,’ he says. I jump back in the car and describe what’s afoot to my colleague, Chris. ‘See that poxy white van, the one that sounds like a chainsaw?’, he nods, ‘Well, don’t lose it.’

Thaks you Fuji Heavy Industries

End of the line...

An adrenaline-fuelled, heart-stopping rollercoaster ride ensues, complete with honking horns, belching exhausts, near collisions and a catalogue of Highway Code contraventions. Then, the van pulls over. The driver jumps out, stretches out his arms and in a grand gesture and swings around towards Aleppo’s magnificent mediaeval citadel – precisely not where we want to be. A passer-by asks in English if he can help. He speaks quickly to the white van driver, there are nods of understanding, and we’re off again, helter-skelter through the seething maelstrom. I strain to recognise streets as we drive, but can’t pin anything down. ‘There it is,’ cries Chris in disbelief. Our dragoman stops, dismounts and beaming broadly kisses me on both cheeks – he’s delighted, as we are.

Inside, the Baron’s feels like a cantankerous elderly uncle’s townhouse. A décor of dignified decline is characterised by a yellowing BOAC route map on one wall, an original pastel-coloured Orient Express poster on another, along with a tattered map of ancient Syria. The hotel’s similarly authentic manager welcomes us in carefully enunciated unhurried English. ‘I’m the manager, Armen. We’re rather quiet at the moment so I’m able to offer you a very special rate on Lawrence of Arabia’s room.’ I recount having a beer in the hotel bar a couple of years ago. ‘Yes,’ he looks at me resignedly, ‘I think you would have found us a little busier then.’ I fill in the register and ask if the bar is still open. ‘Well,’ says Armen, obviously embarrassed, ‘As it’s been so quiet we have given the barman a holiday, but I’m sure we can find someone to serve you satisfactorily.’

Armen disappears into a back room. A lady in her 70s hands over a heavy key fob. She looks worried. ‘I’ve grown old with this hotel you know. Even during the war it wasn’t like this. This is a cold war. Some people they say by Christmas it will all be good. Alhamdulillah – By the grace of God’

Written by Nick Redmayne

February 10, 2012 at 1:34 pm

%d bloggers like this: