Day 12 - Sat 9 Dec 06
Didn't sleep that well last night, the noise from the traffic I can handle, but my room opens onto the reception area and there were visitors there until about 23:30, even that noise I can handle, but the smoke from the cigarettes I can't. I had to open the window (more noise from the traffic!)
Up at 07:30 for a good hot shower, and breakfast - tea, bread and jam. It seems that my would be guide has to work today, so I've saved myself $20. I head off to get my Travellers Cheques changed and attempt to buy my railway ticket again, but when I get to the Syrian Bank they won't change it. All I get is "today closed". Hmm, getting a bit frustrated now, I try another branch, but get the same outcome, but a different story "computers being upgraded". However I was pointed in the direction of a private bank by a helpful cashier.
The Bemo Saudi Fransi bank will happily take my TC's for a 3% charge, so my $100 turns to $97 which in turns gets me 4976.10SYP, then its the short walk to the station, and guess what? I'm told I can't buy the ticket today. I just hold my head in my hands and smile. Eventually they take pity on me and write my name on a reservation sheet, which is something, I guess.
So, I walk back down to the old city and the Al Jdeida area (the Armenian section) and got to see a couple of churches, a maronite one and a Greek catholic one, and end up in the same square that I was in yesterday. Then a wander takes me to the Armenian cathedral of the 40 martyrs. A fab church with some great art. There's a huge painting of the day of judgement with labels for all the different types of sin, including an image of people in bed in hell. Those are people who did not got to church on a Sunday.
It's still pretty early and most places are still shut, Saturday morning seems like an extension of the Friday holiday, but places are opening up slowly. Then it was onward to the Citadel, 150SYP to get in. There are fine views to be had over Aleppo, the most surprising thing is a big room above the main gate which has a flat marble floor, wood lined walls, a beautiful wooden ceiling including a stained glass light. After a good poke around I sit down in the Citadel cafe and get charged 50SYP for a cup of tea!
Then it was on to the Souq, which is by now in full swing, but before that I walked through "electric town", so I tried to by a two pronged mains lead for my camera charger. I drew a picture of what I wanted for one shop keeper who then took me around the corner to another shop where I got one for 25SYP - 25p a bargain! In the Souq everything was for sale from Jewellery to vast 40 gallon drums of petroleum jelly.
It's pandemonium in the Souq with gentle pushing and shoving, women with vast bags ready to push you out of the way, and you have to dodge the tiny Suzuki trucks that ferry goods from the outside, not to mention the kids pushing sackbarrows, the old scooter, and the even a guy riding a donkey. It's great fun!
I popped into a charming little hotel that I'm going to try to spend monday night in, after a chat with the guy on reception it seems the rooms are 25 Euros, that means I could stay two nights..
Back to the Baron hotel to collect the written bill they promised me, and the guy asks if I wanted a trip - after a lot of chat it comes down to $80 for St. Simeon and the Roman bridge - too rich for my blood, or $30 for just St. Simeon's, now that's more like it. Back at my hotel I change my $10 room to a $20 room to get away from reception.
In the evening I head back to the Citadel to get some photos at dusk, and then to the Mashrabin restaurant to get something to eat. After that it's to the Baron Hotel to finalise the deal for my trip to St. Simeon tomorrow. Who did I bump into the bar but Geoff the Canadian who I first saw in Hama! Small World! Then I spotted a couple I'd seen in the Souq, they were from London and had caught the train from Istanbul and been picked up by car at the Turkey/Syria border and driven to Aleppo. They are on a bit of a tour and are moving on to Jordan and then Egypt via a ferry from Aqaba.
Back to my hotel to do a quick clothes wash, I'm going to check out tomorrow, do my tour and check into the Dar Halabia in the Souq, when I get back.