Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Turkey Tips

Turkey shocked us by how expensive it was, or at least by how cheap it wasn't. Here are the rough costs of our journey through Turkey:-

Tulip Guesthouse, Istanbul, dorm bed per night - 15YTL (inc breakfast and internet)
Meal in Istanbul - Kebab on the street - 5YTL
Entrance to Topkapi Palace - 20YTL
Entrance to Blue Mosque - free
Kumpir in Ortakoy - 8YTL
Bus from Istanbul to Canakkale - 40YTL (7 hours, at least it was a club class bus!)
Konak Hotel, Canakkale - double room per night - 40YTL (inc breakfast)
Kebab in Canakkale - 3YTL, plate kebab 12YTL
Beer from shop - 3.5YTL each
Minibus to Troy - 4YTL
Troy entrance ticket - 15YTL
Bus from Canakkale to Izmir - 35YTL (7 hours)
Bus from Izmir to Selcuk - 7YTL (1hour)
Boomerang Hostel, Selcuk - per person per night - 15YTL (inc breakfast and transfer to Ephesus)
Entry fee for Ephesus - 20YTL
Meal in Selcuk - kebab - 5YTL
Bus from Selcuk to Goreme (Capadoccia) - 50YTL (13 hours)
Emres Cave Hostel, Goreme - dorm bed per night - 8YTL (with free internet)
Bus from Goreme to Kayseri - 5YTL (1 hour)
Bus from Kayseri to Antakya - 25YTL (12 hours)
Bus from Antakya to Aleppo - 10YTL (3 hours, plus delay at Turkish-Syrian border)

Approx daily costs per person - 40YTL ($25USD or 18GBP)

Four Seasons of Snobbery

I picked up a copy of the Four Seasons hotel group complimentary magazine in a guest house the other day. Expecting to find at least a couple of intersting articles I was bitterly disappointed to find just a vacuous whos-who of the rich list. Who dines where, what they wear and how they get there - "If you don't fly private jets it can be difficult to get seats together"!!!!

The tips for travellers section was perhaps the most amusing (and shocking, in equal measures!) - no mention of visas, travellers cheques or mosquito repellent here, the most important items were deemed to be:
"Cairo - Must pack - For men: Lacoste karkis and Valentino jackets. For women: Armani jeans, Dior handbags, D+G tops and Plein Sud dresses.
Chiang Mai - Don't forget! - non-black Prada and Gucci.

It was all very fun having a dig at their total ignorance and misuderstanding of whats happening in the real world or their total disregard for cultures that have been around a lot longer than the latest fashion designer - "Avoid revealing dresses in conservative Syria" - is spat out from the page on getting from Amman to Beirut (of course no one would actually stop in Syria, or in fact explore Jordan or Lebanon further than their capitals). However, it is really shocking that these people for whom Cartier means more than Kabul and Dior more than Darfur really exist. Iw ould love to lock them all up in a room together dressed in clothes from primark and with a stack of broadsheets and copies of The Economist to browse through! The more society favours people like Gok One and Paris Hilton the more and more morally destitute our world is going to become!

The cost of Prague to Istanbul

OK, I know its taken a while but here is the first useful post on this blog, the one that tells you just how much money you would need to get from Prague (or indeed Norwich) to Istanbul overland.

Norwich to Prague
Bus from Norwich to Stansted Airport (in lieu of a lift from a close family member) - 20GBP
Flight with Easyjet STN-PRG - 27GBP
Prague 90min transport ticket - 1GBP
Subtotal - 48GBP per person

Train from Prague to Budapest (online special) - 550Kc (approx 18GBP)
East Side Hostel, Budapest - dorm bed per night - 5Euro (approx 4.4GBP)
Beers in the nice pub on the same street - a couple of quid
Self catering in the supermarket (bread, cheese, crisps, beer, noodles) - about 3GBP
Entrance to the Szecheyni thermal baths - 3200Hf (about 10GBP)
Train from Budapest to Szeged - 2800Hf (almost 9GBP)
Small train from Szeged to Subotica - just a couple of quid.
Subtotal - 55GBP (includes 2 nights in Budapest) per person

Shared taxi from Subotica to Novi Sad - 800SD per person (roughly 7.5GBP)
Downtown Hostel, Novi Sad - dorm bed per night - 10Euro (9GBP)
Shopping (pasta and ayvar sauce) - about 1GBP
Train from Novi Sad to Belgrade - 210SD each minus 20% discount for group of 2 - 370SD (less than 2GBP per pax)
Food in Belgrade (Borek, bread and pate, crisps, 2 beers) - under 3GBP
Night train from Belgrade to Sofia - 2000SD (just under 20GBP)
Subtotal - 42GBP per person

Sofia to Plovdiv train - 9leva (4GBP)
Food (crisps, yoghurt) - 3leva (1.5GBP)
Plovdiv to Istanbul bus - 40Leva (17GBP)
Visa for Turkey (certain nationalities only, British yes, Czechs no) - 20USD (14GBP)
Subtotal - 23GBP per person

Grand Total - 120GBP per person (plus the Turkish visa if you need it), plus the 48GBP per person cost of getting from Norwich to Prague.

It turned out to be more expensive than we first thought but there were a few reasons for this. Firstly, it was cold, and often raining, so hitch-hiking was not really possible. Secondly, we wanted to see a couple of places enroute (Monika had never been to Budapest and I wanted to see Norwichs sister city of Novi Sad). Also we wanted to visit the baths in Budapest. Finally, we had couple of beers as we knew we would not have the access to much good beer for the next 8 months or so!

Monday, April 27, 2009

viza do Sudanu

Tak jsme dneska dostali viza do Sudanu v Kahire, az nato co predvedl cesky konzul, tak to bylo bez problemu.
Cesky konzul mi odmitl dat dopis, ktery sudanska ambasada vyzaduje. Kazda jina ambasada napise dopis, jmeno, cislo pasu...a razitko s podpisem konzula. Kdyz tyhle dopisy ambasada nedava, tak napise dopis, ze takovyhle dopisy nedava, jako napr na anglicke ambasade clovek dostane dopis s razitkem za 30 liber, kde je receno, ze tyhle dopisy nedava. Dobry, to na sudansky ambasade staci.
Cesky konzul mi rekl, ze se se mnou nebude bavit (po telefonu z recepce) a zadny dopis mi nenapise. A ze pred dvema mesici tam taky nekdo byl zadat o tenhle dopis a taky jim ho nedal!! Bajecny pristup, vsichni tam postavali a rekli, ze jestli to rekl pan konzul , ze tak to bude. A ze razitko se jen tak nerozdava a stejne nechapou proc bych mela jezdit do Sudanu a ze viza si muzu udelat ve Vidni, ze pro cesky obcany neni mozny si vyrizovat viza v cizine!!!! Jedna takova mlada pani mi chtela pomoc a jediny co mi mohla orazitkovat, bylo potvrzeni mojeho podpisu z pasu za asi 15$ a ten zbytek jsem si tam dopsala sama, pan konzul o tom asi nevedel, na sudansky ambasade se jim to moc nelibilo, ale nakonec to proslo.
Tak takovyhle pristup me uplne sokoval, nejaky zakomplexovany konzul se se mnou nemini bavit, tak nechapu od ceho tady ta ambasada je, kazda jina ambasada se snazi pomoct svym obcanum, tak urcite ne ceska v Kahire!!!!

The Sudanese visa

So, after hearing all the scare stories we are relieved to finally have Sudanese visas safely entered in our passports. There is so much conficting information going around that we were wondering on Satruday night if we would have to fly to Ethiopia instead of going through the Sudan. Even people in Cairo were telling us that British passport holders have to wait three weeks, and then are generally rejected, or that they are no longer issuing visas after the ICC stuck their noses in.

The process was not without its troubles though. A successful application requires the application form in duplicate, with two passport photos, a copy of both the ID page of the passport and the page with the Egyptian visa and a letter of introduction from the applicants embassy. Oh and $100 in cash, clean bills only. Three of our fifty dollar bills were rejected for being dirty so we had to scrape together loose change, and borrow a stack of fives from Stepan, two of these were initially rejected as well, for being old, until a friendly Sudanese guy stepped in and convinced the cashier they were genuine.

This was not the main problem though. The main problem was obtained the letter of introduction from our embassies. Actually for me (Allan) it was no problem, roll up to the UK embassy, suffer a joke about my passport photo, go through security, explain the purpose of my visit, pay 240LE (Egyptian pounds, this is roughly 30GBP) and wait five minutes. For Monika it was not so easy. Unfortunately we have had many negative experiences recently with Czechs in positions of authority who have developed some sort of complex and are not able to be helpful at all. In fact, not only are they unhelpful but downright rude and unsympathetic as well. Sometimes it seems as if the Czech Republic is stuck in pre-1989 eastern Europe. Mr Ambassador basically told Monika that he would not give her the letter, that she should have arranged her Sudanese visa inVienna (?) and he doesn't know why anyone would want to visit Sudan anyway. No apologies, no "I wish I could help but..." just a flat refusal. And quite why he feels that he can advice someone over where they take their holidays I don't know. Of course this dialogue took place over the phone, he would not reduce himself to actually have to speak face to face with a simple vassal of his own country. I should add here that I have met and heard third hand of travellers from countries such as Canada, South Africa, Germany, Norway, Finland, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Poland and Switzerland who have had no problem applying for the letter from their embassy, both here and in other situations where it is required (Pakistan visa applications for instance). No, he was just a pompous prick with a problem. As I said, experiences like this are becoming all too regular these days. Stepan, our Czech friend who lives in Dubai, had a week off work (as a steward for Emirates) and joined us to travel from the Sinai peninsular to Cairo. He had to hang around the various embassies with us yesterday, his last day of holidays. He recently wrote a formal letter of complaint to CSA (Czech Airlines) about the rudeness of the check-in staff. They replied, stating that "his complaint had no standing". What is that? Would any company from the West dare to use such language? He is not sure if he will ever go back to the Czech Republic to live, why would he, he lived in the US and Switzerland for two years each and has now been in Dunai almost 2 years, and is used to being treated as a human being. Every time he returns to the Czech Republis he becomes more and more depressed by the total lack not only of customer service but of humility and friendliness between the people. No-one minds being refused something, as long as they are refused with sympathy.

Luckily for us we found a loophole. The secretary of the ambassador, who was more sympathetic, told us all she could do was "legalise a signature". So we wrote a letter, in plain English, stating that Monika had visited the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Egypt in order to obtain a letter of introduction to support a Sudanese visa applciation. The secretary confirmed her signature with an official stamp. We are unsure whether the ambassador even knew about it. At the Sudanese embassy they were dubious but we convinced them of its legality.

So, by 12:30pm yesterday we had completed the application process and just had the agonising wait until 10am today to find out if we were successful. We were!

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Last Crusade

It's been a while. Sorry for my total disregard of communications recently, a combination of both my lethargy and the occasional lack of any connection to the world wide web. I must also apologise to anyone hoping to read the political opinions of a traveller passing through the Levant, the fertile crescent. The title of this post alludes not to the despicable actions of a bunch of religious neo-cons (the precursors to Messrs Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld!) during the 11th-13th centuries but rather to a more modern, and less sinister source. I am not willing to delve into history and politics here. Many of you will know my stance on the issues that have dogged the history of this region and all I will say is that they remain the same, if not stronger, for the experience.

It took us three bus rides to leave Turkey. The first, from Goreme to Kayseri, was remarkable only because there was a group of Turkish transvestites on board, in full battle gear, accompanied by a posse of young Turkish lads following in admiration. The conductor banned them from speaking to us, the only foreigners on board, was he protecting us or them? In Kayseri we had to wait a few hours for the bus to Antakya, close to the Syrian border. This bus was full of really provincial (read "villagers") Turkish families, from whom the pungent odour of goats emanated, masking even the smell of my hiking boots! And finally from Antakya to Aleppo. A really strange journey in which we were 'sold' from our first bus to a second when the first decided to go to Damascus and not Aleppo, and then from this second bus to a small minibus just across the border because over 3/4 of the passengers had been stopped at Syrian customs and were refused entry because they were trying to smuggle too many bed-sheets and blankets in!

Aleppo was a fine introduction to the warm Syrian hospitality, cries of "Welcome to Syria" greeting us from every street we walked along. We enjoyed walking through the bustling souqs, admiring the impressive citadel and relaxing in the grounds of the Grand Mosque. The other main highlight of Aleppo for us was the introduction of Syrian cuisine. We had begun to tire of doner kebabs morning, noon and night in Turkey and it was with relief that we tucked in to pitta sandwiches, bulging with falafel, aubergine, chips, omelettes and salad. Sometimes all at once.

We did sense a conservative outlook to life in Aleppo so it was fascinating to move across the mountains to Lattakia, on the Mediterranean coast and experience a much more relaxed, Western looking side to Syrian life. Perhaps it was the sea breeze but people here seemed to live their lives several paces slower than those in Aleppo. This made the people even more friendly, free coffees and juices, salads and hummus in exchange for afternoons spent chatting in the shade. It wouldn’t do to have to tight a schedule in Syria, then you would not be able to take up the myriad offers of tea, a chat, a look in the family albums or a bit of telly.

From Lattakia we made two day trips. The first to Ugarit, an ancient city which was apparently the home of the first written alphabet. Unfortunately there is not much left of the ruins but surrounding them is a maze of orange and lemon groves, perfect for an afternoon stroll, as long as you don't stray into the military area that separates the groves from the coast. The second trip we made was to the Castle of Salah-ad-din, the famous warrior fighting the Crusaders. It is perfectly located, on a hill jutting into a canyon, giving it natural protection alongside the walls and battlements. We did not go inside but preferred to marvel from the opposite side of the canyon, in the same way many of his enemies must have done as they caught sight of the castle.

I enjoyed Lattakia immensely, not least the local delicacy of spit roast chicken with chips, bread and garlic mayo, it was a nice place to slow down a little bit but soon we had to leave. We headed back over the mountains to the small town of Hama. This is a clean and pleasant place, although most of the old town was destroyed in the riots of 1982. Despite this a small part survived, included one of Syria's oldest hammams and the towns hallmark, its wooden water wheels, several are spread along the river through the town. There is not much to do in town but again it made a good base for further excursions. A long day trip out the famous ruins of Palmyra in the desert was the first of these. It is Syria's most well-known site and probably the most visited. It is justified as the setting of this ancient city in the middle of the desert is incredible, especially when the sun is shining. During the two brief sandstorms we experienced it was not so amazing, but they only lasted about twenty minutes each! The negative effects of mass tourism rear their ugly heads here however. Fed on a diet of tourists paying over the odds for everything, or even just giving stuff away, the town is full of touts and hangers-on and the taxi drivers swarm like flies on shit.

Probably Syria's second most visited destination is the Crac de Chevaliers, another crusader castle on a hill, this one in incredible conditions, much more preserved than Salah-ad-din. After visiting Paul Theroux was moved to write - "Crac de Chevaliers is the epitome of the dream castle of childhood fantasies; of jousts and armour and pennants", whereas TE Lawrence could only state "the finest castle in the world". We were not quite moved to such superlatives, we are probably too spoiled by the fine specimens we have visited in the Czech Republic, but still it was very impressive. Again however, it was blighted by touts and cheats, not the least the minibus drivers, holding tourists to ransom for double the fare back as they charged to for the journey there!

Finally we took a trip out to the beehive houses of rural Syria. Akin to the architecture of West Africa these strange buildings were the traditional homes here, but now they are used primarily for keeping livestock or storing grain. We had been told of them by a Czech guy and assumed they were a special secret, the photos on the wall of our hotel in Hama put paid to that myth, but the fact that we were accosted by kids with their palms out, begging for money was still a shock, especially in a country that otherwise treats its visitors so well. We also saw another castle along the way, Ibn-Wardan, where we met a friendly group of Bedouin, who became hysterical with giggling as they dressed us up in their clothes. This more than made up for the reflections of damage cased by uncontrolled tourism that we had witnessed.

It was already time to leave Syria, for now at least. We headed into the Lebanon, another country with a chequered past. From information I had gathered I expected Lebanon to be much more developed than Syria, especially the transport infrastructure. This was not the case, there was no discernable change at all, perhaps apart from the paintwork of the military checkpoints changing from boring camouflage to the bright colours of the Lebanese national flag. At our first stop, the well-preserved and compact Roman ruins of Baalbek, a guy outside was selling Hezbollah t-shirts.

We did find the developed and 'civilised' Lebanon by the time we reached Beirut. A congested city under perpetual development, although this isn’t entirely their own fault. Beirut is famous for its nightlife, but I am not really sure why. Although to be honest I am never really sure why anywhere becomes famous for its nightlife, surely its what you make of it, not where you are? If you like wandering in glitzy, designer shopping malls instead of crowded souqs, or if you like eating in Michelin starred restaurants and not from a street stall, or your idea of a good night out is a glitzy nightclub with loud music and louder clothes rather than a coffee shop with a bunch of old men playing dominoes, then Beirut is probably for you. Personally I found it to be crass, impersonal and soulless. The people, both locals and visitors all seem to be slaves to fashion. And fashion is a word I abhor. Maybe I am doing Beirut a disservice, but it just didn’t click with me, and the only visitors it seemed to click with were those who perhaps shouldn’t be holidaying in the Middle East to begin with.

One aspect of Beirut life I did appreciate however was taking a Sunday stroll along the Corniche, the promenade, watching the world go by. Watching the immaculately turned out denizens of Beirut see and be seen. But a closer look revealed a sinister trait, behind ever posh woman, tottering on her heels with her nose upturned, was a housemaid (always from either the Philippines, the subcontinent, or Ethiopia), dragging the overweight, spoiled Lebanese children behind. These domestic helpers really don’t have it easy, the embassies of these few countries are always clogged with women escaping violence or sexual assault from their employers.

Other parts of the Lebanon were far more pleasant, once you had battles through the hour or so of traffic that snarled up the routes north and south out of Beirut. Sidon (Saida) the port town to the south with the castle on the harbour, the labyrinthine souqs and the immaculate soap museum was a highlight. Travelling north to Tripoli we stopped in Byblos, kind-of a well-off cousin to Sidon, it to has a harbour castle, but it is surrounded not by souqs but by holiday homes, churches and yacht moorings, very picturesque though. And Tripoli itself, Lebanons second largest city, though more Syrian in appearance, again, here it more about the souqs and mosques and markets. Finally to Bcharre, the birthplace, and final resting place of Kahlil Gibran, a beautiful village overlooking the stunning Qadisha valley. The last remaining forest of biblical cedars and a modern ski resort are just kilometres away. The snowy peaks and mountain air seemed worlds away from the smog and pollution that greeted us as we returned to Beirut in order to transfer to a bush taxi to Damascus, obscuring our views of Beirut until we were right back in the centre.

It was a relief to get back to Syria, akin to loosening your tie at 5pm on a Friday. And it was a pleasure to reach Damascus. Although I was not quite as taken by it as Monika, who now has it in her top five cities worldwide, it is a lovely city. It is a cliché but it does have bags of character. The souqs, the old town and the Ummayyad mosque are all beautiful enough to hold ones gaze a moment longer than expected. It is a poster pin-up of the typical middle eastern city and, in my opinion, a thousand times nicer than Beirut.

Soon it was time to head down into Jordan, stopping first in Amman. From what I had heard and read I was expecting a clean and modern yet somewhat staid city, something like Dubai, or at least Brunei. But no, Amman is not so modern and not boring. It is set on a series of hills which makes for remarkable scenery, as well as making it that much easier to get lost! On the top of one of these hills lies the old roman Citadel, and from here the panoramic views are stunning, especially those gazing over to the giant Raghadan flagpole, with its equally huge flag flying from it. The third-tallest free standing flagpole in the world.

Many people visit the ruins of Jerash in northern Jordan. We did visit Jerash but did not enter the ruins as they seemed quite disappointing and over-priced, instead we simply walked around the perimeter of the site, we could have snuck in through any of numerous open gates but it really was not worth it, plus our moral fibre is tougher these days. More exciting was visiting the Dead Sea from Amman. We hitched to a small, deserted public beach with an adjacent hot spring. We just managed to fight our way in (the water seems to constantly try to push you out!) and take the obligatory photos of us floating on top in unusual ways before several packed buses of school boys turned up and found great amusement in chanting "hello, how are you? What is your name?" at us in unison several thousand times a minute. Needless-to-say we quickly packed and left.

Of course the highlight of Jordan for many visitors is Petra. For once I think the hype is justified. It is every superlative you can think of. Immaculate buildings carved into the rose red rock. It is unbelievable that they were able to create such a place of wonder and beauty back in 100BC. I doubt if it would be manageable today with all of our modern technology. Around a thousand people a day visit the sight and as they charge a whopping 21JD entrance (about twenty quid), that’s a hell of a lot of money. To put it in perspective, a bed in a hotel in Jordan costs from 3JD, a meal from 0.5JD and a three hour bus ride 3JD. In fact almost everything costs 3JD in Jordan (except for Petra!) so much so that you soon feel like an extra from Star Wars addressing a droid, going around muttering "3JD, 3JD" all the time. So, 21JD is a lot of money to pay. To avoid the crowds we got up early, as in 4:45am, only to find the ticket clerk had slept in. The gate was open however so we could have just walked in. We didn’t however (those pesky morals again). With such a high influx of tourists the hotels have to work pretty hard to stay ahead of the game. Our hotel did so by offering a fantastic All-You-Can-Eat dinner buffet for just 4JD (it was worth more than 3JD!) and nightly showings of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which was partly shot at Petra, that’s the Treasury that the Holy Grail is supposedly hidden within.

Perhaps even more impressive than Petra, honestly, is the desert landscape around Wadi Rum. Intrinsically connected with the experiences of TE Lawrence (of Arabia) the rock formations, canyons, dunes and other sights here are simply breathtaking. Seeing all this whilst the dry desert air scorches your throat only adds to the experience. There are expensive tours of "sights" – Lawrences spring, Lawrences house, a bunch of Neolithic drawings, etc – but we decided just to hike around by ourselves. The first day we walked around 10 miles or so through the desert, stopping at the aforementioned canyons, rocks and sand dunes before we found ourselves on the other side on the mountain to the village of Rum. A group of hikers advised us of the route across the mountain, telling us it was easy. After several delays whilst we waited to be "found" and several sections of quite treacherous climbing, I was petrified in places, we finally made it down, about 8 hours after setting out, bruised and battered but feeling utterly invigorated. The next day however we took a more pedestrian route, a short 3 hour jaunt around "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" a rock formation named after Lawrence's famous book. There were also some more impressive dunes here.

So, despite the overall warmth and friendliness we experienced in Syria I have to say we saved the best for last, Petra and Wadi Rum are amongst the most impressive sights I have had the pleasure of seeing anywhere, not just in the Levant. All that was left was to make our way to Aqaba and take the over-priced ferry to Egypt.

For photos (this post is already long enough!) check out the Picasa web album on the right hand column, and look for the 'Road from Prague to Cape Town - Allans Photos' web album.



Do Ammanu , hlavniho mesta Jordanska jsme prijeli autobusem z Damasku, viza za 10 Euro, bez jakych koliv problemu, jsme si vyridili na hranicich. Par dni jsme uz cestovali s nasim tureckym kamaradem Bericem a na doporuceni jsme se ubytovali v nejlevnejsim hostelu Venecia, nevim jestli uz starnem, ale to bylo i na nas trochu moc:):) I kdyz tam byl moc prijemnej majitel, tak tam uklizeni moc nedali, hlavne zachodu, kam se dalo vstoupit leda tak v holinach!!! A tak jsme se druhej den prestehovali a obetovali ten 1$ extra za neco cistciho.

Jeste se vratim k Bericovi, byl z Istanbulu a uz 15 let byl v duchodu a ocividne si ho uzival, vyrazil si na 5 mesicu na cestu po Dalnem vychode, mel sebou malinkej batuzek a v nem rychlovarnou elektrickou konvici na tureckou kavu.

Docela takova zajimavost z Turecka jeste do nedavna se chodilo do duchodu po 25 letech prace muzi a 20 letech zeny a tak hodne lidi je v duchodu uz od 40 ti let.

Amman toho nema moc k nabidnuti, ale je dobrou zakladnou pro jednodenni vylety. Prvni den jsme podnikli vylet do Antickych rozvalin mesta Jerasch a dalsi den stopem k Mrtvemu mori. Mrtve more je nejnizsim mistem na Zemi , neco kolem 400 m pod urovni more. Je tam nekolik luxusnich hotelu, kde se da vyuzit jejich plaze se sprchou za 15$ na osobu. Voda obsahuje pres 30% soli, takze sprcha je docela prijemna po koupeli. Dorazili jsme asi 15km za vsechny tyhle hotely na mistni plaz s horkym pramenem, bylo tam docela hodne odpadku, ale byli jsme tam prozatim sami, stihli jsme si zaplavat. Je neuveritelnej pocit jak ta voda nadnasi, ze se clovek malem zlomi:):) ale najednou tam zacali najizdet autobusy se skolakama a najednou jich tam bylo asi 500, strasnej rev a my jsme zajimali vsechny uplne nejvic a tak jsme se oblekli a bez koupele v horkem pramenu jsme sli zase na stopa, musim rict, ze to trochu stipalo, ale 2 hodky se to dalo vydrzet. Stop byl prijemnej nejdriv palestinec v nakladaku s kamenim, pak hodne bohaty manzelsky par ze Syrie a nakonec manazer hotelu Mariot az do Ammanu.

Taky se mi stala takova neprijemnost a to, ze mam tecku na kazdy fotce, nejaky smytko nebo prach v objektivu, stravili jsme cely den chozenim po Ammanu, ale nikomu se do toho nechtelo, vsichni mi na to rekli, ze na to potrebuji profika a takovyho prej v Ammanu nenajdu. Tak dalsi moznost je Kahira, ale nevim...

Dalsi destinaci byla Petra, skalni mesto, absolutne uzasny zazitek, i kdyz vstup je 21 euro na jeden den, stoji to zato!!! Petra ma pry az 3000 navstevniku denne. Bydleli jsme ve mestecku Wadi Musa, asi 5km od Petry.

Pokracovali jsme do chranene krajinne oblasti Wadi Rum, nadherna poust s cervenymi dunami a neuveritelnym pohorim. Ve vesnici Rum byl kemp a tak jsme konecne ozkouseli nas bajecny stan. I kdyz jsme to neplanovali, nakonec jsme tam zustali 3 dny. Dva dny jsme podnikli pesi vylety po pousti a pres Kanony, moc takovych blaznu tam nebylo, vetsinou to vsichni podnikali v dzipech a ty vesti blazni na lanech po skalach. Kemp byl plnej lidi co lezou, vetsinou hlasitejch izraelcu, a par francouzu a spanelu.
Rakhabit kanon byl narocnejsi nez jsme cekali, a kdybysme nepotkali par horolezcu po ceste, asi bysme se z toho bludiste nedostali. Myslim, ze Wadi Rum byl pro me tim nejhezcim mistem, co jsme na tomto vylete navstivili.

Pak uz nebylo daleko do pristavu do Aqaby a za neuveritelnych 70$ trajektem do Nuweiby do Egypta. I kdyz to mel byt rychly trajekt zabralo nam to skoro cely den, asi 2 hodiny jsme cekali, az budou mensi vlny abysme mohli zaparkovat a jizda trvala necele 2 hodiny. Meli jsme spolecniky, belgicky par, ktere uz jsme potkali v Petre.
A ted si zaslouzime nejaky odpocinek na plazi, par dni v Tarabinu a pozdeji presun do Dahabu, kde se potkame s kamosem Stepanem.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Syrie, Libanon

Prvni zastavkou bylo Allepo (Halab) mesto na severu Syrie, kam jsme dorazili po dlouhe noci v autobuse a nekolika presedani na hranicich.
Prvni den jsme byli uneseni uplne vsim, jak lidmi, kteri nas neustale oslovovali na ulici a rikali " vitejte v Syrii" a chteli si povidat, tak jidlem, ktery bylo uplne sokujici. I kdyz jsme ocekavali, ze jidlo bude dobry, to jsme netusili, ze to budou az takovy orgie.
Zacali jsme falafelem (smazeny cizrnovy kulicky ochuceny koriandrem v pita chlebu naplneny salatem a cesnekovou omackou) a k falafelu vsichni prikusujou nalozenou zeleninu, kysely kozi rohy a cerstvy listy maty.Pokracovali jsme grilovanym lilkem a humusem (mleta cizrna a tahina polita olivovym olejem) a to jsme zapili cerstve vymackanym dzusem z pomerancu.
A uz jsme vedeli, ze se nam bude v Syrii libit.

Prvnich par dni jsme bloudili staryma ulickama Allepa a obdivovali jsme hlavni trziste, kde clovek muze stravit nekolik dni jenom pozorovanim vyzdobenych kramku, plnych susenyho ovoce, orisku, olivoveho mydla, koreni, sladkosti, latek....

Chteli jsme vyzkouset vlak, presto, ze je to nejpomalejsi dopravni prostredek v Syrii a presunuli se na pobrezi Stredozemniho more do mesta Lattakia, kde toho nebylo zas tolik k videni, tak to bylo moc prijemny tam par dni pobyt a podel pobrezi jsme si udelali nekolik dennich vyletu, jako zanikle staroveke mesto Ugarit a dalsi den jsme jeli na hrad Qala at Salah ad-Din.
Pres den jsme vetsinou byli pozvani nekam na caj nebo kavu a stravili nekolik hodin klabosenim s mistnima.

Dalsi zastavkou byla Hama, proslula starymi drevenymi vodnimy koly, kde jsme pobyli skoro tyden a vyrazili na nejvetsi turistickou atrakci Syrie a to Palmyra, oaza uprostred pouste, krasne ruiny mesta z 2.stoleti, meli jsme tmave modrou oblohu a bajecny podminky ( az na 2 15minutove pisecne boure) a nekolik nahanecu na suvenyry.
Taky jsme vyrazili na skoro opustenej hrad Qasr ibn Wardan se zastavkou ve vesnici Sarouj, kde maji tradicni domky ve tvaru vcelych ulu. Meli jsme prijemny setkani s jednou asi 20ti clenou beduinskou rodinkou, ktera jela taky na vylet na hrad, byl totiz patek, coz je pro muslimy svatek, takova nase nedele a tak jsme to vubec nemeli jednoduchy s dopravou, bohuzel jich uz bylo hodne a k nim bysme se nevesli, ale hrozne jsme se jim libili, hlavne ja. Tak si nas neustale fottili na mobilni telefon a zensky me obvesovali satkama a koralkama a pak si me fotili a hrozne z toho meli strasnou srandu.
Z Hamy jsme uz prejeli do Libanonu, sice jsme jeli ze silenym blaznem a ty 4 hodiny jizdy byla pro nas skoro smrt, jel 150km/h v jedny ruce kafe, v druhy cigaro a mobil a jeste si zapisoval nejaky cislo na papir a venku byl silenej slejvak. Na hranicich jsme to ale meli rychlovku, protoze se ze vsema znal. Viza byly za par minut a zadarmo, coz se pro cechy zmenilo nekdy pred mesicem, drive stavali asi 20$.
A vystoupili jsme Baalbeku jeden z nejzachovalejsich antickych komplexu na svete a odpoledne pokracovali do Bejrutu.

Libanon je zemi cedru, je jenom 250km dlouhy a 50km siroky. Dalsi zajimavost, v Libanonu zije 3 mil obyvatel a 10mil obyvatel zije v cizine, takze je tam hodne starsich osamelych lidi, protoze mladsi generace, se vetsinou po studiu stehuje za praci.Je tam hrozne videt valka, hodne budov je rozbombardovanych a vsude jsou vojaci. Obcanska valka tam byla od roku 1975 a trvala 20let, hlavnim problemem byla politicka moc krastanske pravice, muslimska vetsina a hodne palestinskych uprchliku . Izrael neustale utocila na palestinske tabory a na jihu Libanonu jsou neustale problemy.
V Bejrutu neni jednoduchy najit levny ubytovani, vsichni tam jezdi hlavne na vikendy kalit, je tam hodne klubu a baru, jezdi se tam nakupovat luxusni, znackovy zbozi a v centru mesta by clovek nerekl, ze je na Dalnym vychode, ale nekde v centru Parize. Vsichni musi mit vytuneny bouraky a osolenou muziku naplno, negelovany vlasy a slunecni brejle, zensky chodi zmalovany v kratkych suknich a musi mit sluzku na noseni nakupu a starani se o deti ( vetsinou z Filipin, Indie nebo Afriky). Samozrejme to takhle neni vsude, ale to byl nas prvni pocit z nedelni prochazky po Bejrutu. Teda nase nedelni prochazka po Bejrutu nebyla az tak v klidu, protoze nam prestali fungovat obe debitni karty najednou a to mame kazdej jinou banku a nemeli jsme penize, vsude bylo zavreno a my jsme se pokouseli volat do Anglie do banky, aby nam to zprovoznili. Nakonec to bylo z bezpecnostnich duvodu zablokovany.
Tak doufam, ze se nam to nestane nekde v Africe, kde je bankomat v kazdy druhy zemi.

Vyrazili jsme na jednodenni vylet na jih do mestecka Sidon, krasny stary mesto s pristavem a zajimavou vyrobnou olivoveho mydla a muzeem, trziste a jeden z nejlepsich falafelu!!!

Presun na sever Libanonu, Tripoli (Trablous) zivy mesto, ktery nam pripominalo spise Syrii, uz jsme meli dost mest Libanonu, vsude bylo hodne smogu a prachu a silenej provoz, tak jsme unikli do hor do vesnice Bcharre, celej den jsme chodili udolim Qdisha a koukali na zasnezeny vrcholky hor, kde se jeste ted lyzuje.

Z Tripoli jsme se museli vratit zpet do Bejrutu na prestup zpet do Syrie, tentokrat na jih do hlavniho mesta Damasek.Damasek je krasny mesto, s nadhernou mesitou Umayyad, stara cast mesta a trziste jsou nejlepsi!!!

14dni v Syrii jsme si uzili, Libanon byl zajimavej a vcera jsme prejeli hranice do Jordanska a jsme v hlavnim meste Amman. Jinak cestovani po Dalnym vychode si porad uzivame, jidlo nam porad chutna, obdivujeme krasu islamske architektury a lidi jsou fajn. Jordansko mame v planu tak na tyden, predtim nez se placnem na plaze Sinaje v Egypte.

Flying high..

It looks like an optical illusion. A giant flagpole, with an equally large flag flying from it, stuck inbetween the buildings and a mosque on one of Ammans 17 hills. Gazing at it from the Citadel on another of the hills it really seems out of place, a challenge to ones perception of size and depth. It would confuse even Jan Deregowski!

It is actually the Raghadan flagpole which was previously the worlds tallest free-standing flagpole but is now languishing in 3rd spot on that illustrious list. It is actually 126m tall and hoists a flag of massive 40x60m proportions. There is a flashing light on the top to warn off low flying aircraft and the whole pole is illuminated at night.

Here is a typically kitch photo of Monika with the flagpole.

A different 99

Perhaps the most popular place in all of Damascus is the Backdach ice cream parlour in Souq Hamidiyeh. The chaos and clamour just to get your hands on one of their, admittedly delicious, ice creams topped with pistachios was tremendous but it was well worth the fight.

Clean in body and mind

Just the name Lebanon evokes strong images for most people, regardless of their religious or political orientation. However I want to talk about two different experiences we had in this country that is burdened with such a tumultuous past. Two places which have survived the various wars and bloodshed over the past 30 years or so.

The first is of the Audi soap museum in Sidon (Saida). Sidon is about as far south as most people go without starting to take precautions for their safety. It is a small port town with a beautiful old centre where covered souqs get you lost in no time. One of the main tourist attractions is the castle situated on the harbour. A lesser known attraction is the soap museum, paid for by the influential Audi family. Entry to the museum is free and a variety of displays, handouts and exhibits describes in detail the soap-making process and its history in this part of the world. Some of you are probably now thinking that this sounds like a twee little place you would find in the Cameron Highlands but it was really interesting. And visitors were almost encouraged to use the toilet facilities!

Wall of Soap

The second place is the Kahlil Gibran museum in Bcharre. Bcharre is a small mountain village in the north of Lebanon, perched on the ridge of the stunning Qadisha valley, just below the last remaining forest of biblical cedars. It is one of the strongholds of the Maronite Phalange organisation but is also the village in which the poet, philosopher and artist Gibran Khalil Gibran was born. Before anyone in the world recognised his name it had been simplified to Kahlil Gibran. His most famous work 'The Prophet' has become one of the backpackers favourites. Often criticised for being a bit too idealistic, the point is that sometimes this is exactly what the reader is looking for. As per his dying request his body was laid to rest inside a monastery cut into the rocks at the end of the Qadisha valley. The views from the monastery are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. The entire monastery has now been converted into the Gibran museum, displaying excerpts from his manuscripts as well as a significant collection of his lesser known artistic work as a painter. The 'tomb' is open to visitors also, although his coffin is partially hidden behind a tree root that has grown through the ceiling! Is nothing about this place less than perfect?

Gibran Museum


Sorry it has been a while, it was not possible to access our blog whilst in Syria, all blogger.com domains were blocked by the national firewall, alongside other dangerous sites such as facebook.

Syria was actually one of the friendliest countries I have ever visited, the welcome we received was as warm as those you might receive in Burma or Pakistan for instance.

I will write more about our trip through Syria and the Lebanon later but for now I would just like to describe our visits to two of the more famous mosques in Syria. The first was the Grand Mosque in Aleppo and the second was the Umayyad mosque in Damascus. Although I always feel a slight unease when visiting another persons place of worship, be it a mosque, Hindu temple or Buddhist monastery there is something very serene about sitting in the marble courtyard of a mosque. OK, so the countries in which you would be most likely to visit a mosque have a climate which supports sitting on a marble floor, or indeed walking barefoot across it. But still, watching the children run about doing 'skids' whilst their parents enjoy a moment of peace and quiet, watching the old men who are watching everyone else, or just relaxing in the shade is a very enjoyable way to pass the time. Maybe if some of the churches in England brightened up a bit, made themselves the sort of place people really would go to spend some time, and I mean the people who do not go to churches today, perhaps then they wouldn't all be standing desolate slowly crumbling.


Grand Mosque, Aleppo

Umayyad mosque, Damascus