One of the most fantastic parts of working for Imaginative Traveller is hearing about the wonderful adventures our customers experience when they travel with us. We were recently sent this fantastic diary from a single traveller after her recent trip to Syria, a very popular destination at the moment! If you are thinking of visiting Syria, or just interested in booking one of our adventures as a single traveller - make sure you read this great insight from Ellie Parker!
Syrian Caravan Diary
When I first told family and friends that I wanted to go to Syria, it was met by mixed reactions. I guess that this comes from how Syria is generally portrayed by the media. I have always loved the idea of visiting the Middle East but even I had to admit I felt slightly apprehensive about going as a solo female traveller. I have independently backpacked through Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia and until I decided to go to Syria, I have never been interested in doing a tour in the past.
I arrived in to Damascus on Saturday night - I was met by the representative from Imaginative Traveller and we were driven to the hotel in Damascus. We were met by friendly staff behind the reception desk and I was given the key to my room. There was a note from my tour leader welcoming me to Syria and telling me that I had to be up at the crack of dawn so we could catch a train to Aleppo! Welcome to Syria and good night!
Bleary eyed, I met my group at breakfast and we left for the train station. We had allocated seats and I was surprised by how comfortable the train was! Nice big seats and a lovely young man who came through the carriage offering everyone hot drinks. This journey was a great opportunity to get to know some of the other people I would be travelling with. It was brilliant as I was sitting next to a girl, slightly younger than me and we hit it off immediately! We talked solidly for the entire journey and I was starting to feel that travelling in a group was not as bad as I had imagined! There were cool people on my tour!
We arrived in Aleppo a few hours later and after checking in to the hotel, we were given the opportunity to go and find out what treasures the city of Aleppo has to offer. We were all given free time to walk around at our own pace and we could choose where we wanted to visit. There were five of us that decided to get lost in the souq! I had a fantastic time ‘haggling’ for jewellery and meeting lots of people. I lost count of the number of times that someone said welcome to me as I walked past. This was out of kindness and it was not the case that everyone was trying to sell me something. We visited some churches in the Armenian Quarter and I thoroughly enjoyed a freshly cooked falafel from a tiny hole in the wall type establishment! I knew it must be good as there was a queue of local people outside. In the evening, we had a lovely dinner at a restaurant in the Armenian Quarter. This was a good time to talk to the entire group about their experiences in Aleppo.
The following day, our tour leader organized a trip to St. Simeon’s Monastery. We had a guided tour around the site and apart from the rain; it was well worth the visit. We headed back to Aleppo and had a guided tour around the Citadel. It was really enjoyable and we got caught up talking to some local school children, who were very keen to practice their English! The children even gave us an impromptu concert and sung three or four songs for us. Our guide was excellent. He reminded me of the old French actor, Maurice Chevalier. He was very expressive and made the tour very interesting. We had the rest of the day to relax and explore Aleppo further.
The following day, we visited the magnificent Crusader castle, Crack Des Chevaliers. It is said to be one of the best examples of a Crusader castle in the Middle East. I loved it here. It has a great history and our guide gave us a great insight into medieval life. We wandered through the castle and tried to imagine what daily life would be like. We were also lucky (or unlucky depending on how you look at it), to experience some very varied weather whilst we were there. It was extremely windy, dark storm clouds were hanging over the castle, it began to rain and then hail, and then rays of sunlight broke began to break through the clouds. It made the visit much more dramatic and interesting for me!
We drove to Hama, which is famous for its water wheels! There are numerous wooden water wheels located at various points across the city. We even saw a group of men fixing one of the wheels; it was very funny as they dropped one of the large pieces of wood. We laughed and cheered and they did the same! It was a comedic moment! The market in Hama was great for wandering through and we met some lovely people here.
The following day, we took a public bus to the absolute highlight of Syria for me - Palmyra. Palmyra is an amazing set of Roman ruins dating back to the 2nd century. It is thought that 65% of Palmyra is still to be discovered. The parts of the city that has been excavated are spectacular. Numerous columns and archways which line ancient roads situated in the middle of the desert, glowing in the sun. What is incredible about Palmyra is that you can walk in to the site and wander freely throughout. We watched as local people sat and picnicked on column stumps and men would ride bikes around the dirt roads.
The guide we had to take us around Palmyra was exceptional. He really captivated the group and I was lost in his stories of this ancient city. At the end of the day, we went up to a look out point and watched the sunset. We had a view of the entire city and it was stunning! The following day, we had a full day of exploration. We went to the tombs and were even treated to a private viewing of some tombs that were not on the tourist trail. This was a real bonus and meant we could see something different to everyone else!
We left Palmyra and travelled back to beautiful Damascus. This was the last stop on our tour and we had plenty of time to get immersed in the city. Our tour leader took a small group of us to the Omayyad Mosque, which is one of the oldest and most famous mosques in Syria. It was very impressive and the mosque is the central point of the old part of Damascus. I went to the National Museum, which had a replica of a tomb from Palmyra; I strolled through the narrow streets, ate amazing pistachio ice cream in the souq and enjoyed bread, baked freshly in a stone oven.
What I particularly loved about Damascus is that I was walking through the city and everyone was going about their business. I was essentially an observer and it was fascinating to see how people interacted with one another. It was bustling and friendly and was a hive of activity. People were buying goods at the markets, praying at the mosques, sitting in the streets, chatting and laughing with eachother; I also enjoyed the fact that there were people who would come up to me and say hello and start a conversation. Then after a few minutes, we would say our goodbye’s and continue with the day!!!
I had a couple of days to enjoy Damascus with my group and on the last evening, we had a lovely group meal together. It was a fabulous trip. I have made some friends for life and hopefully I will get to travel with a couple of them again. Our tour leader was fabulous and we all appreciate that he did organise some special things for us. The guides we had at the historic sites in Syria were not only incredibly knowledgeable but they really did make each place come to life!
I would not hesitate to do another Imaginative Traveller group tour. As a former independent traveller, I can now see the benefits of small group travel, especially in certain countries and appreciated the expertise of my tour leader and guides. Also, I did not feel unsafe in any way at all whilst I was in Syria, but knowing there were people on hand, just in case, it did make me feel much more relaxed and this allowed me to really get to know the country. Thank you Imaginative Traveller for a wonderful trip!
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