Tres bonne année 2010. I'm just back from a three week vacation and my luggage is still somewhere in Bucharest..
Well, let me start from the beginning: My old friend Florian relocated from Amsterdam, NL to Tel Aviv, IL. He owns a pretty cool Mini-Cooper Convertible and the most obvious way to get it down there was - of course - just drive.. After a bit of preparation - ie. to get a Visa for Syria, some change some Euros into Baksheesh suitable currencies and organize a flight back - we hit the road on December 13 2009. Carolina in the back, Florian and me on the front-seats. 10 days, 11 countries, 5500km.
Amsterdam → Munich → (Villach) → (Ljubljana) → (Zagreb) → Beograd → Sofia → Istanbul → (Akçakoca/Black Sea) → Göreme → حلب/Aleppo → دِمَشقُ/Damascus → (عمّان/Amman) → البتراء/Petra → (אֵילַת/Eilat/Red Sea) → רְחוֹבוֹת/Rehovot
Our deadline was x-mas, so in the beginning we blasted through with almost no stops - known territory - through snow-storms to Beograd where we stayed in a boat-hostel on the Danube river and had 15 cm of snow on the car next morning.. Passing into Bulgaria we left the European-winter behind and welcomed the sun with some Vodka in Sofia. We were on the road every day, apart from Istanbul and Damascus where we stayed two days each. Sounds fast, well it was, but so were we: We had enough time to discover major cities and landmarks on the way. Heck we even did a full day hike around Petra. Looking back, we could have taken 3 Months for the whole journey.
Having been in Istanbul before, the most stunning part of the journey started with the border-crossing into Syria. It took us 90mins to clear customs, which is very fast by Syrian standards, but apparently we got lucky and found the right people to talk to. Aleppo (Haleb) was a culture shock and well worth the stay. It's a messy, dirty and crowded place full of Arab atmosphere. It was by far the largest non-touristic city on our way, buzzing with life that most of the time made no sense to us: “Is that a bank or are they selling passports there?”. While it was sometimes hard to communicate, the people were really friendly and helpful. By the way, parking the car in the Sheraton basement for a night cost just the same as our hotel-room for 3 persons: 1000 Syrian Pound.
Next stop: Damascus. The oldest still inhabited city in the world. Our stay in the Damascus Hostel brought yet another cool adventure. It is located in a tower of the old-city wall and unifies ancient Syrian style, willful design and pleasant hospitality in an adventurous location. Our way in was to climb the old-city wall by rope-ladder. The owner - Raymond - and his team were not only forthcoming and funny but also really helpful, sharing local secrets and advice that got us started exploring Damascus in a way not described in any tour guide. After traveling the north of Syria on our own this suddenly felt like being with a family. The old-city is a huge Labyrinth shared by Christians, Muslims and a few Jews. Damascus is very diverse in all accounts: architecture, people and shops. Lot's to experience, hard to describe..
Unforgettable in Syria is the portrait of Bashar al-Assad, just because it's everywhere you can look at. I also have to say it's the region with the best food - only contested by the Israeli Hummus and Shakshouka..
On we went, passed Amman, and drove to Petra. What we thought would be a few hours of visiting turned into a full day impressive hiking excursion. The site is breathtaking. We took more images there than on all other days combined.. still you best go there for yourself.
Exhausted from the day, we made it just in time to Aqaba before the border-control closes. You expect a international crossing to be signposted, but there's no sign, nothing, we needed to ask a Taxi to drive ahead of us to find Eilat. Crossing into Israel was yet another experience. The good thing: you know what to expect and that everything is pretty safe. The downside: “Please take everything out of the car.” We ask: “Well, we have accumulated quite a bit of trash and what about those engine-oil and gas canisters?” The reply was simple: “If we say everything, we mean everything.” . So they ended up x-raying our rubbish before we could throw it away.. At least it was good to clean out the car, and the customs officer was fascinated, too. He drove an extra round after the inspection because it was his first Mini.. After a late dinner on the red-sea we took off through the dessert - amazing star-gazing - and arrived in Rehovot (close to Tel Aviv) at two in the morning on x-mas day.
While Florian flew back to see his kid on x-mas just the day after we arrived, Carolina and me stayed 10 days in Tel Aviv, visiting friends, Yarriv's parents and grave. Toured to the dead-sea and Jerusalem; celebrated 2010 at a friend's place in Yafo; went swimming on new-years day.. in short we had a pretty good time: Israeli winter feels like a summer in Amsterdam (though Carolina says that BS. She says: “There is no summer in A'dam and the sea is much more clean and warm in Israel”).
After all the great experiences there had to go something wrong, right? Right. Due to snow chaos in Europe the flights were delayed.. My trip to Paris went pretty smooth after all, however my luggage got lost halfway. I still hope it will show up - it contains almost all my clothes, a hand-made Shisha from Syria and my digital camera - but it's already been 2 days without update on it. Carolina was even less lucky: After waiting 4 hours on board without starting she got a nice hotel-room in Tel Aviv, before going via Riga (yet another hotel) and Stockholm to Amsterdam.. Picture Gallery of excursions to the Dead-Sea and Jerusalem