From Palmyra we travelled by public bus to Homs, and from there to the castle of Qala’at al Hosn, or Krak des Chevaliers.  Paul Theroux described the castle as “the epitome of the dream castle of childhood fantasies of jousts and armour and pennants” – we could certainly see what he meant.

 The castle sits on a hilltop with a fantastic view all round, and across to Lebanon. We stayed in a place on the next hillside over and so had a great view of it from our balcony in ever changing conditions.  Saffy was very excited about going to see a castle and kept asking if we’d see Snow White or Cinderella there. She searched and searched but didn’t manage to find them, bless her! It was huge inside with lots of passages leading off and rambling ramparts (unfenced, which didn’t help Kirstys fear of heights).  

Blowing bubbles on our hotel balcony

Lebanese beer - this one became our chosen beer of the holiday!


The castle in ever changing conditions

Early morning mist, this is actually in colour!

Indy and Kirsty inside the castle

the building on the next hill is our hotel

Tommy and Saffy up on the ramparts

We headed to Hama from the Krak and spent a very pleasant afternoon just pottering along the river encountering its famous water wheels which groan incredibly.  They date from the 5th century AD are upto 20m high, scooping water up into aqueducts which then goes to irrigate surrounding farmland. 

car driving through one of the aqueducts

The kids were constantly picked up, hugged, kissed and played with

Saffy with her beloved jie jie doll

Saffy and Tommy playing magnetic fishing

From Hama we took the bus to Aleppo and were met by the wife of one of Tommy’s colleagues. Maha is an Aleppo native and so immediately took us for great food – they claim Aleppo serves Syria’s best food and it was definitely good, with a huge array of fattoush, tabbuleh, kebabs, falaffel and other mezze all scooped up with fresh bread and washed down with Syrian beer. Tommy was also tempted to try kibbeh nayye – or raw minced lamb – he said it tasted pretty good!!

Maha also took us on a tour of the Al Jdeida district of Aleppo, especially, being a Christian, the churches – of which there are many! This district is one of the most attractive in Aleppo and has many renovated building which are now upmarket restaurants and hotels (including ours – we splashed out – well it was our wedding anniversary!!) all set around courtyards with fountains. Very atmospheric.  She also took us out and about around the new city and told us all about the developments Bashir has implemented for modernisation of the country – the Syrians definitely act as if they think he’s wonderful, his picture is absolutely everywhere!

Kirsty also took a wander around the backstreets of Al Jdeida at 6am when Indigo refused to sleep! The only people who seemed to be up were the bakers and we constantly had breads stuffed into our hands, until no more could be carried! It was a great time for getting photos of the rambling alleyways, but people in Syria don’t seem to like having their photos taken – which is slightly annoying, especially given how they all seem to want to take photos of our kids. In the end we started saying to people that they could only take photos if we could too.

We spent the morning hanging out at the hotel and taking advantage of the nice facilities – Saffron and Indigo had a wonderful time blowing bubbles and running round (Saffy anyway!) in the old courtyard. Later on we explored the old city with its huge souk, impressive mosque and citadel – yet again, we failed to find Snow White or any of her fairy tale contemporaries!  And then we went for a great dinner of pizza and pasta with chips – we were all, especially Saffy, a little mezze’d out having had combinations of bread and hummus and labneh for breakfast, lunch and dinner most days! This was followed by a beer in a street café overlooking a town square – a simple pleasure which was all the more wonderful as it’s something we very definitely can’t do back in Abu Dhabi.

That evening Indigo had her overnight train journey initiation! We took the midnight train from Aleppo back to Damascus. 600 Syrian pounds (or 6.50 GB Pounds!) got us our own compartment with 2 beds. Indy and Kirsty had the top bunk and Saffy and Tommy the bottom. The beds were divine, definitely the most comfy train beds we’ve ever experienced (and Kirsty (being a bit of a train geek) has done a lot of overnight trains in at least 10 different countries!) – which was a real waste given that the journey was only 7 hours!!

Our rucksack on the bus to Aleppo - next to a box with two goats in it!!

Inside some of the churches


The streets of Aleppo

Pictures of Mecca above the doors show that a Muslim family lives there

breads cooling in the early morning

boxes for wedding favours

random man who wanted his picture taken with Saffy!

Daddy and the girls blowing bubbles in the hotel courtyard

Inside Aleppo souk

The citadel

Man selling tea outside the citadel

Tommy and Saffy at our hotel bedroom window

Ready for another day's sightseeing

looking out of the windows into the coutryard

The girls on the train

Indy on her bunk

Tommy and Saffy on their bunk



We arrived early to find our hotel (another gorgeously renovated old house around a courtyard, for our final night in Syria) not yet open and the streets completely deserted. It being Friday they were pretty quiet all day and the empty souk was quite eerie. The only shops open were sweet shops trying to tempt the kids as they came out of the madrassas (equivalent to Sunday school), and Bakdash, the famous ice cream stall which we had to stop off at – especially as there was no queue on a Friday!! We walked past again the next day, when everything was open and the queue was half way up the street! We also went to the Azem Palace – a stunning old building, built in stripes of black basalt, limestone and sandstone.  

In the afternoon the kids caught up on sleep while we watched the Olympic opening ceremony and reminisced about China. Then we all went for a rather touristy dinner at a crazily kitsch place with entertainment to keep Saffy amused in the form of musicians and a whirling dervish – which she seemed to find rather scary actually!!

Our final day in Syria was spent just pottering down the backstreets, sitting in cafes, a bit of shopping in the souk (not much, not a lot of space in the bag!) and some final soaking up of the atmosphere. This was much more what we expected when we moved to the Middle East and we’d loved it. Then it was off to the airport (a slightly crazy experience itself – the airport, not the journey there) and full advantage of the business class lounge, as damnit, there were no economy class seats left when we booked our flights!! And home to Abu Dhabi again.

Girls at the hotel - Saffy chose her "special Zhong Guo" t-shirt for 08.08.08

Saffy being kissed by women in the souk - she wasn't hugely impressed - neither were we - they asked us if we were Uzbeks!!!

Tommy and Saffy having ice cream

The Azem Palace

Sweets for sale in the souk

We couldn't find Tsing Tao, so this Jordanian beer was the closest thing we could get to celebrate the Olympics opening!

whirling dervish

Tea seller in the souk

nargileh/shisha/water pipe mouthpieces

nargileh/shisha/water pipe's

Bashir-al-Assad - his picture is everywhere

Outside the mosque


People photographing us, and us photographing them back!


our hotel courtyard

flower in the hotel courtyard

Inside our room

Indigo in her travel cot

Indigo chilling in the business class lounge, Damascus airport

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