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THE SYRIAN SERIES, DAY 2

BEIRUT – AL MASHTAYAH

Driving into Syria. The day has finally come, I’m on my way to Syria and I’m beyond stoked for it.

WELCOME TO SYRIA

It’s been 3 long years since I first toyed with the idea of visiting here and many times I thought it just wasn’t going to be.

Obviously, there was the civil war, which is still ongoing in certain regions but COVID as per, played a big role in the trip getting delayed, but fear not 😬 I am here now!

WHERE IS SYRIA?

Syria

THROUGH THE DAHR AL-BAYDAR

After getting collected from my hotel we made our way through the Lebanese Mountains (the pass of Ḍahr al-Baydar), and after a quick Arabic Espresso (strong coffee and military checkpoints not the best mix!) we reached the Lebanese border. After meeting a few young Syrians who were keen to earn a few ££ as porters you soon learned they couldn’t speak a word of English.

“That’s our future,” said an older local with a hopeless look.

Bless the kid, he’s not had a chance and has just been through probably the worst civil war in our generation, but funny humour all the same.

DAILY INFO….

  • HOTEL – Hotel Al Wadi, 7/10
  • RESTAURANT – La Grotta (Malula), Shish Tewook, La Monde (Al Mashtayah), Chicken Shawerama
  • ATTRACTIONS –

1 Million Check points
Seydnaia
Monastery of Seydnaia
Icon, Shagura
Malula
SergusBachus (small church beside resto, damaged dome, girl prayer in language – Aramaic. Only 3 towns speak this language.)
Walk down The Gap of Malula
Saint Takla – Monastery (Tomb of Saint Takla)
Below this is the church that was burnt – Church of Saint Takla
Al Mashtayah, town beside Krak des Chevaliers

TO THE SYRIAN BORDER

There is a 10km drive between the two borders (wild!) and I have never felt so excited! All these trips can at times take the fun out of travelling, like when you don’t get the same energy or anxiety crossing a border you know you’ve visited too many risky places. But Syria had this, I could feel it here, I was well and truly in the moment!

I then made my way to Damascus where I met Khaldoun (Golden Target), the gent who arranged my visa, trip and now my money, this wouldn’t have been impossible without him. Although exchanging the money in the corner of the Sheraton Hotel was a bit suspect.

DAILY TRAVEL STATS….

  • Steps – 8,500
  • Miles covered – 275 mi
  • Highlight – Malula

SEYDNAIA

After a quick chill I headed out to our first stop, Monastery of Seydnaia where we listened to a prayer from one of the nuns. All churches and mosques are incredibly well kept, a huge difference than the streets outside.

FLAG….

  • RED – The shed of blood for freedom.
  • WHITE – A peaceful future.
  • GREEN STARS – Syria and Egypt together.
  • BLACK – The oppression that Arabs have suffered.

OILY MARY

I wouldn’t be the most religious person but the views from the top were a highlight. With such history comes many bizarre tales. One of which I heard at the bottom of the stairs where a column of rebar was assembled. “Word is” that someone left their bottle of oil at this very spot and upon lifting it, a figure if the Virgin Mary appeared. It’s still here as you can see and I’m no one to say it didn’t happen but I’ll let you make up your own mind.

SERGUS BACHUS

At the top of Mulula we stopped at SergusBachus, a small church who’s dome was damaged during the civil war. Some of the repair work here is just incredible as I wasn’t able to tell what was new and what was old! Before going we listened to a prayer in Aramaic, a language now only spoken by 3 towns here.

Driving into Syria

  FACTS:
  • Lake Assad (no guesses where the name came from) is the largest lake in Syria and is actually man-made. It has only existed since 1968 (11.7km3)
  • It is well known the idea of civilization started in ancient Syria as the Mesopotamian civilisation and is also known as the cradle of civilisation.
  • Umayyad Mosque, located in Damascus, is the fourth holist place in the world. It also contains the mausoleum for the tomb of King Saladin, along with a Shrine of John the Baptist.

EFFECTS FROM THE WAR

After some Shish Tewook at La Grotta we then took a walk to the Gap of Malula. It was here, and right beside the restaurant actually that I noticed the first effects of the civil war. Something strange about eating your Tewook while looking at a building and childrens playpark riddled with bullets. As we walked towards the entry of the gap, we could see heaps of potholes. But naturally they were the effects of explosive fire; mortar rounds, missiles or RPGs, crazy!

Driving into Syria

GAP OF MALULA

The gap of Malula was something special and very similar to Petra’s corridor in Jordan and Antelope Canyon in the U.S. The corridor was carved from century’s of water but more recently the installation of a pipe has allowed for locals and tourists to walk the path

Driving into Syria

SAINT TAKLA (THECLA)

It’s still only day one but I’m already beginning to become overwhelmed by the number of church’s and mosques and I know there are plenty more to come.

At the bottom of the gap, we arrived at the town of Malula and checked out the Monastry of Saint Takla.

Driving into Syria

SAINT TAKLA’S STORY

Takla was a young girl (18) from Qalamoun. Like many she was to be involved in an arranged marriage, setup by her father to a Pagan. But as Takla wanted to be a Christian she fled and word has it Roman soldiers chased her through the mountain ranges all the way to Malula. Here she encountered a problem, the path was blocked by a huge rock face and so she knelt down to pray.

Like a miracle (obviously) the rock parted ways (creating the gap of Malula) and she avoided capture and death and continued her journey. She then spent the rest of her days in the grotto preaching Christian faith and healing the sick from the natural spring she dug into. At the tender age of 90, she passed and was buried in the same grotto. There is an interested apricot tree which goes through this same building. Make of that what you wish!

  ABOUT THE COUNTRY:
  • Language – Arabic
  • Hello – “As-Salam Alaykom”
  • How to cheers – “Fe Sahatek”
  • Popular beverage – Arak
  • Popular Sport – Football
  • Staple diet – Pita bread

CHURCH OF SAINT TAKLA

Just below the tomb is the Church of Saint Takla, another victim of the civil war but also restored. It seems the effort and attention are always on the religious monuments here, other things might be light years behind the rest of the world but never will a church be in a state of disrepair for too long!

Driving into Syria

AL MASHTAYAH

Our last stop today is the town of Al Mashtayah to rest the head at Al Wadi hotel before visiting Krak des Chevaliers in the morning, another of Syria’s highlights. It will be doing well to beat todays!

Driving into Syria

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’m getting an absolute education here 😬

NEXT UP

Time to visit Krak des Chevaliers and a night by the Mediterranean Sea!! Click to read.

SAFE TRAVELS, DS x
152/229

This post is part of The Syrian Series, for the entire series click here or for episode 1, click here.
To watch the video of my trip, head to my highlights on my Instagram.

Question Time

  • Are you religious?
  • Do think religion is overall good or bad?

Let me know in the comments below . . .

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ON MY WAY TO SYRIA
WHATS THE KRAK IN SYRIA

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