Today we witnessed what we thought we might never see after leaving Europe – an amazing bike mechanic who took Andrew’s broken spoke, pulled it out, replaced it and trued the wheel so it rolls straight as an arrow. Then he moved on to Friedel’s wheel, which was also suffering from the wobbles, and in minutes it was vastly improved as well. Perfect! There couldn’t be a better welcome to Syria. We found our miracle worker in a little alley just off one of Aleppo’s main drags and were surprised to discover some fairly high-end tools among the chaos of piled up nuts and bolts and spare tyres. In minutes the job was done far better and faster than we would have managed. In fact we tried to get Friedel’s wheel running straight in Turkey and the result after over an hour was only a good deal of frustration for us.
In the bike shop we met Tyson, a traveller from Chigago who’s been on his own epic bike journey from England to the Middle East. His back rim had collapsed and the same mechanic was building him a new one from scratch. He’s off to Jordan next so maybe we’ll meet him down the road. There certainly aren’t the number of tourists here that we saw in Turkey but the ones we have met so far have been exceedingly friendly, just like the locals.
Things are cheaper here so we can notch up our living standards a level – a welcome change after having to budget more than we expected in Turkey. Hotels are well within our reach now, although we still expect to do quite a bit of wild camping outside the big cities, and tasty, fresh falafels can be had on the street for pennies. Our little cooking stove may not see much use over the coming weeks.
Our other initial impressions of Syria are of a country that is incredibly friendly and exciting to discover. The city streets have a real buzz to them that we didn’t get in Turkey, even in Istanbul. Workers at fresh juice stands call to us to try their tasty concoctions, next to them shops selling homemade soaps and then a whole district of motorbike shops, tyres being rolled down the streets en masse by the mechanics.
The roads are also an adventure. Drivers have a whole new level of vigour and determination to squeeze through “that spot” honking their horns like mad as they go, which probably explains the number of dents in the cars! We will have to keep a heightened level of awareness as we cycle but despite feeling like the game has been raised we don’t have any real worries. The driving may be energetic but at the same time everyone here is also used to seeing all manner of vehicles on the road – not only cars but bicycles, donkies, horses, porters pulling large loads, street sellers and pedestrians dashing out to cross the street
6th November 2007 at 4:04 pm #
Road notes: The last 20km or so into Aleppo are slightly hillier than the first stretch but still fairly manageable. We took the second exit into Aleppo and then followed signs for the city centre. In the centre, we settled on Hotel Nejm Illahdar, not far from the clock tower. It is clean but the rooms and bathrooms are a bit worn, although the roof terrace is a nice bonus. Tomorrow, however, we will switch to Hotel al-Gawaher around the corner (just off Bab al-Faraj), which has the bonus of being both cheaper and nicer. The rooms are brighter, the bathrooms cleaner, the staff friendly and there’s a great lounge area. If we’d seen it before we found our current spot we’d have gone there instead. Both places are listed in the Lonely Planet Middle East guidebook, 2006 edition. If your bike needs fixing, find the clock tower and then turn onto Sh al-Maari street. On the corner with Sh Rashid (one street before the road with the Tourist Hotel and Spring Flower hostel on it) you will see some bicycle shops. Just up this road on the right, beside Otani Tires, is the bicycle repair shop. It is not signed but in a garage that looks a bit dark from the street. Just walk in and you will see heaps of bicycles and lots of locals waiting for repairs. If you can’t find it, the bike sales places back on the corner will direct you to it.
What we spent: 225 SYR bike service, 500 SYR camping, 600 SYR hotel, 125 SYR food
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