Diary  Home March 2001 May 2001 Maren & Kirk

April 2001 Daily Diary

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(Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel)



We are stuck on Chios another day.  The ships did not leave port again today.  It was too windy.  During the day we did a little hiking and had lunch up on a hill behind Chios town.  We finally finished our jar of peanut butter. Yum!  Once again we were very happy to have the Columbia Jackets today.  They really protected us from the wind and kept us warm. Tonight again we had Souvlakis.  We hope to catch the ferry tomorrow!


Finally the weather was better,  the strong winds were gone and the ferry would be able to leave port.  We had to pay  high departure tax,  3000 Dr each.  On the ferry we took part in a survey from 2 Greek students. It was a travel survey over the Greek ferry system.  It also included what we had done previously on our trip and what transportation we had used.  So they had a lot to write.  They were very nice girls.  The ferry ride took 1 our over to Cesme, Turkey.  Again Kirk was hit with a high Visa tax, 45 US$.    At 11:00 am we took a bus to Pergamon.  After looking around a little we found the Pension Athena.  We bargained the price down a little to 6.000.000 TL.  During the day we checked out the town,  buying food for our dinner at the market. We could use the kitchen facilities at the Pension. Maren cooked a great spaghetti dinner with beans.  We met a traveler Phil who had dinner with us and Aydin (owner of the hotel).



In the morning we climbed up to the Pergamon ruins.  We had to walk through the lower Agora, the lower, middle, and upper gymnasium,  the huge theater,  and up to the Trajan Temple. From there we had a great view of Bergama.  The afternoon we were at the Pension. We helped Aydin (the owner) to take digital pictures of his Pension.  (He took 300).  We then helped him make his website. A basic one,  but it was much more than what he had before.  He invited us for dinner as a thank you for helping him out.  At 9:00 pm we took the overnight bus to Istanbul.  



We arrived at 7:00 am in Istanbul Otogar.  After we took the bus and metro to Sultanahmet we searched for a hotel. We found the Hostel Ararat for 10 dollars.  He wanted 12 $.  The place is very dirty but it is cheap, has free tea all day and laundry service.  We then had a 1 hour walk to the Syrian embassy to try and get a Visa,  but Maren needed a letter of recommendation from her embassy.  So we will have to go back tomorrow. On our way back we visited the Grand Bazar with more than 4000 shops inside, selling all sort of souvenirs. We also went into a few mosques, one of them was the famous Blue Mosque. 


We got up very early in the morning to be at the Syrian Embassy at 09:30 am. Everything was very uncomplicated, but we had to pay about 160 US $ for both of us (Kirk`s Visa fee was 100 US $). We were shocked about the fee. Tomorrow we have to come back at 14:30 pm to pick up the visas. Later we were looking for an outdoor shop, because we needed a new backpack for the laptop. The one we have had was not right for carrying a laptop the whole time. In the shop we also  saw some really light sleeping bags which we decided would be more suitable and less heavy for our trip. The costs sort of damaged our daily budget,  but we think the trip will be much more enjoyable.  Tomorrow we are sending a major package home.  In the afternoon we visited the Aya Sophia, a very old mosque which is now only a Museum.  It is one of Istanbul's must sees.  Again for dinner was a Doner on the menu. 



After we sent home another 10.5 kilos of our stuff, we visited the Topkapi Palace including the Harem which was the palace of the Ottoman's Sultans until the 19th century.  In the afternoon we picked up our Visas at the Syrian Consulate.  We shopped around for our bus tickets to Kusadasi.  The International Youth Hostel had the best deals. 



In the morning we took a 6 hour boat tour around the Bosphorus, including a three hour stop over at the beginning of the Black Sea. At 9:30 pm we left Istanbul on our overnight bus to Kusadasi.



Arrival time in Kusadasi was 8:00 am.  The  owner of the Hotel Sezgin convinced us to stay the night in is Hotel. We went with him because his hotel was listed in the Lonely Planet.  After dropping off our luggage, we took a mini bus to Ephesus (a well preserved classical city).  



In the morning we took a three hour bus to Pamukkale, the famous calcium ledges.  They do look like the photo prospect from the 70's which are hung up on travel agency's walls all over Turkey.  However it was worth visiting because it was on our way to Cappadocia.  We spent the afternoon in Pamukkale and then caught the night bus to Goereme.  The bus actually leaves from Denizli.   



We arrived in Goereme (Cappadocia) at 8:00 am and found the Berlin campsite for 4$ a night.  During the day we hiked all over Goereme.  We walked through the Open Museum visiting various rock caves and an around 1600 years old rock church.  For dinner Maren made spaghettis, which we had not had for a long time.  During the night it rained heavily, but our tent kept us dry.


After breakfast we left our camp ground for Kaymakli.  There is an old underground city which goes four levels down. The city according to archeologists is up to 4000 years old and last inhabited about 600 AD.  It is a worth while visit.  Then we took a bus to Avanos which is famous for it's pottery.  Tonight we take the night bus to Aleppo, Syria. 



We arrived at 7:30 am in Antakya,  the last stop before the border to Syria.  There we changed our bus to Aleppo Syria. We crossed the border without any problems. It was good that we had arranged our bus trip from Goereme all the way to Aleppo.  In Aleppo we walked around the old city visiting the Citadel,  the Great Umayyad Mosque, and the Souqs. What we noticed right away was how much takes place in the streets. People are screaming, selling,  and the cars and taxis are honking all day long. Driving etiquette  does not exist.  In the late afternoon we took the bus to Hama where we stayed the night.


Early in the morning we took the bus to Homs for a half day trip to Krak des Chevaliers,  one of the nicest and well preserved Castles in the Middle East.  In the afternoon we took a bus to Palmyra from Homs.  In Homs we were a little taken in from a kid who helped us with directions after we could not figure out where we were. It cost us 50 cents. We reached Palmyra in the afternoon and stayed on the rooftop of the New Afqa Hotel to safe some money. To watch the wonderful sunset over the desert and the Palmyra Oasis we climbed up to the Castle overlooking the town.  It was beautiful and gave you a relaxing feeling. What we really noticed is that the majority of the people are extremely nice and helpful.  It was not like in Turkey in which they were only mostly nice when they thought they you could sell you something. Except in small few instances they were not at all pushy. 


We woke up early in the morning to visit the ruins of Palmyra. The site was  fascinating and gave one a really good picture how the old town used to look like. We took a bus to Damascus and met a nice German couple on the bus who we shared a taxi with to the center of town.  After leaving our luggage at our hotel, we walked through the Souqs of Damascus and visited the Umayyad Mosque.  It is the most famous mosque in Syria. In the evening we went out to dinner.  Bargained the meal down from 300 SP to 200 SP for 2 half chickens, rice and pita bread.  It was just ok. 


In the morning we visited the National Museum which presented the history of Damascus and Syria.  It actually was really well done and interesting. A great tip if you are a student,  make sure you have an international student card.  The rebate is often over 90% off the normal price.  In the afternoon we worked on our web site.  The day before we were happy to learn that Syria now has and allows the use of the internet.  All guide books had said it was not permitted.  So we will hopefully check our emails later.  (Internet Cafe Zoni: Damascus Sook Saruja -al-ward Mosque -Abdeen 3rd Floor- email: zoni@net.sy).


We woke up early to go to Maalula, a small city that is a one hour drive north of Damascus.  The city lies built into the mountain and all the houses are painted light blue and yellow.  If you do not have too much time in Syria,  it is not a must see.  There we visited a Christian Church called St. Tekla. We tasted a home made wine from the Priests. It was sweet and thick.  In the afternoon we visited the Anzem Palace near the Great Mosque which is a historical museum and is worthwhile visiting for it's architecture.  In the evening we spoke to other travelers in our hotel,  trying to get information on our next travel destinations.  


We got up early to take a tour to the Golan Heights  from the Syrian side offered from our hotel.  The 17th of April is Independence Day in Syria. We  believe it became independent from France in 1946.  The bus ride took 4 hours through many UN and Syrian checkpoints.  Not to mention the thousands of packed cars and trucks heading also to the Golan Heights to celebrate. We went to the destroyed ghost town Quneitra which had never been rebuilt after the war with Israel.  We were walking along the boarder of no mans land and taking pictures when a man approached us. He could not speak English, but he started asking questions in French.  Maren pretended not to understand him because he wanted to have our passports.  He then motioned to us that we should follow him.  Maren first stood there and did not move. Kirk started to follow him, thinking it might be the better thing to do. While following him Kirk noticed that he had a pistol tucked in his pants and realized that he must be some sort of secret police or something.  As Kirk told Maren that she should follow,  another guy must have told him that we were ok.  He just then told us we need not follow him any longer.  That was a relieve. It was a little nerve reckoning for both of us.  However the trip to the Golan Heights  was definitely  worth it.  



At 8:30 am our bus left for Beirut Lebanon.  A guy from Singapore (who we originally met in Hama, then again in Damascus) wanted to travel with us, but he only got to the Border.  He could not get a Visa at the Border becuse he was from Singapore. So he had to go back to Damascus.  That stinks!!  In Beirut, it is a mixture of  old and new. Next to a new building there is a building falling apart,  all shot up from the latest war.  The atmosphere is really relaxing here.  It is much different than other Middle Eastern countries, you are not always being hassled.  The city and the people are very modern and it seems to be an open minded country. People are very helpful and speak English well.  We were lucky when the bus from Damascus dropped us off in Beirut,  a German speaking Lebanese man passed by and gave us a lift to our hotel for free.  It would have been a 2 hour walk! 


Today we took a day trip to Beiteddine,  where the summer residence of the President is.  Lebanon is much more expensive than  Syria, it is almost as expensive as Germany. The palace is located in a very beautiful setting and surrounding.  If you have ever been to the French Riviera,  that is what it looks like here.  We are very impressed with Lebanon so far, especially since the war ended only 10 years ago.  


In the morning we took a bus to Byblos to see the ruins which dates back to 7000 BC. Later on we got a bus to Tripoli, 1 hour north of Byblos. There we stayed at the Pension Haddad, which was recommended by other travelers.  It was  a great place.  In the afternoon we went sight seeing.  We walked through the Souqs (which were closing because it was Friday afternoon),  saw the citadel, and the soap factory.  


We decided to make a trip to the Kadisha Valley.  There we went hiking for a couple of hours.  The scenery was beautiful,  except for the garbage lying around everywhere.  Kirk decided he would take a short cut down a hill and ended up with scratched legs from going down a steep and prickled bush hill. But we made it.  Actually we wanted to go to Baalbek in the afternoon,  but as we wanted to take the northern passage to Baalbek, it was too late.  So we decided to spend  another night in this lovely pension.  Prompt we were invited for dinner, a great rice and beans meal. As thank you we offered to make a web page for them of their hotel.  Wow they got all excited about it,  so we went to work.  We took pictures and made a simple website (see http://pensionhaddad.8m.com ).  We then went to an internet cafe to upload the site.  Of course Emile did us a favor and organized the internet usage for us for free.  When we returned, other family members turned up and we were talking, drinking peppermint tea, and showing the new website with the family into the middle of the night. To our surprise they told us that we would not have to pay for the night stay.  The family is real nice, warm and lovely.  The Pension has  a real relaxing atmosphere, like at grandma's house where you feel like a part of the family.  Hello Grandma Georgette,  Emile and the rest of the Haddad family. Thanks for the great stay.


After typical Lebanese breakfast we were given a warm goodbye from the whole family.  When Kirk offered to pay for the night, he received kisses on his cheek.  We were sorry to leave.  It would be nice when all pensions were like this.  It left us with great memories of Lebanon.  Going from Tripoli to Baalbek via the northern route,  was in theory very easy.  Emile wrote down the villages where to change buses,  but in reality it was more complicated because there are no buses running between Qoubayet and Hermel.  We had to hitch hike on that part which goes through a small scenic mountain range.  We were lucky and just waited about 5 minutes when we got a lift all the way to Hermel from a military guy who did not speak one word English or French.  All in all the trip to Baalbek took 4 hours.  In Baalbek we visited the ancient ruins which is the best preserved roman site in the middle east.  We were also very impressed and felt it was one of the best ruins we have seen so far.  Later we wanted to visit the winery in Zahlè which was unfortunately closed.  We then bargained for a taxi ride from Chtaura to Damascus Syria.  The taxi ride and the occupants were a little fishy,  but we got there for 10000 LL.  In Damascus we again slept on the rooftop at the Al - Haramein Hotel.  Both of us for the first time had a small case of diarrhea.  



We took the 7:00 am bus to Amman. Getting a Visa at the boarder was no problem, we just had to pay 10 JD each.  After finding a hotel,  we walked around downtown (the old city) and were bad. We bought some western food.  The reason was both of us were not feeling good and thought it might help improve our stomachs.  There is not much to do in Amman,  except for a few things like the roman theatre (200 AD).  


The first thing we did in the morning was going to the police station to get a multiple entry visa for three months for Jordan.  It took about fifteen minutes and was no problem to get.  Later we took a service taxi to the Israeli border (King Hussein Bridge).  There we had to take a bus to the Israeli side.  We then took the more complicated way via Jericho to Jerusalem. For each stretch we had to bargain heavily for a reasonable price. But we saved around 5 dollars and got there anyway.  Somehow we always get to our destination eventually. In the afternoon we went sightseeing through the old town of Jerusalem.  We went to the Western Wall.  As far as we noticed,  Jerusalem is a well restored and beautiful city.  There were a lot of soldiers patrolling the streets.  Maren cooked a great rice meal with onions and pineapple. 



Wow today was an interesting day.  In the morning we decided to go to the Yad Vashem, Holocaust Museum.  They offer free guided tours at 10 am and the entrance is for free.  We were the only ones on the guided tour, so we could speak personally with the tour guide.  This turned out to be a very uncomfortable tour for Maren as right in the beginning she asked her  what her nationality was.  Maren of course answered German.  The tour guide immediately treated her differently and hardly spoke to here the whole tour.  She also could not understand how Kirk could live in Germany and how it is to live with a German.  She also tried to make it out that Maren's generation is no different than  World War II generation and saying that this could only happen in Germany again and that she did not feel safe when she visited Germany. We both believe whole heartedly that what happened under the Nazi regime in Germany was and is totally unforgivable, not human, wrong in everyway, and should not be forgotten.  However,  it can not be right to generalize this generation for something what happened in the past.  On the contrary it should be seen that Maren is showing interest in what has happened by wanting to visit the Museum and to go on the tour to hear the stories of the suffering of the Jewish Population during and before World War II.  The tour guide in our opinion should set an example,  welcoming people,  from every country without exception.  Showing that hatred and racism has no place in the modern world. This whole tour gave us a sour feeling in our stomach,  and made us not concentrate on the very well done exhibition,  but on the hatred this women felt for Germans. She said to Maren she does not want to blame her,  but she has a lot of trouble talking to Germans.  It is really sad that this hatred still exists today. We can just hope that this hate and position is not the general opinion for the whole population. It does not bring peace and happiness any further.

The second part of the day took us to Bethlehem.  After getting off at an Israeli checkpoint (the bus was not allowed to go any further),  we starting walking through to the Church of Nativity.  We soon realized that we were the only tourists, when we mean the only tourists,  except for Leon (a British fellow we met on the bus), we mean the ONLY tourists!  It was nice on one hand  but very spooky on the other hand.  Most of the shops were closed and a lot of military were all over (Palestinians and Israeli).  The church was beautiful with the original mosaics and you could imagine how it was in the past.   


This morning we visited the Israeli  Museum. They displayed art, from impressionism to  modern art,  including photos and sculptures.  They also had big a ethnological section with art from all over the world. The Museum was very interesting,  but had to much to see in a day.  The entrance was free today because of Israeli Independence Day, except the display of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  There you had to pay a hefty fee of 37 NIS.  The normal entry fee for the whole museum.  The information desk were really helpful and told us that is was not worth going in for us.  They handed instead out a pamphlet with the three main things one can see inside. That was really nice.  One guy was actually from New York,  the island.  Later on we walked through the old city and the Via Dolorosa,  the street where Jesus carried the crucifix on his back.  We also visited the birthplace of  Virgin Maria.   


Today we did not do much.  We took a sherut to Tel Aviv where we are staying for the night.  Man, is it expensive here.  It is going to break our budget.  In the afternoon we sorted out some stuff to send home and also bought a new backpack for Maren and some other equipment.  Kirk decided not to get a new backpack, as it was not worth two hundred dollars.  Tel Aviv has nothing much to offer except for beaches and nightlife.  So we are probably leaving tomorrow night.  


In the morning we got up early and fill up on the free breakfast, consisting of bread, jelly, and butter.  Having butter again was marvelous.  Later we walked along the beach in Tel Aviv.  Since it was Saturday,  many people had the day off,  which made the beaches full.  At 4:30 pm we took a sherut to Akko.  For dinner we had Potato Chips and beer.  That's healthy!  Sorry mom,  we just did not have hunger for anything else here that we could afford.  


Today we got up early so we could send a package back to the states. However the Post office did not have a large enough box.  So we think that we need to send the stuff from Jordan.  We then took a bus to Nazareth,  where we stayed only one hour waiting for a bus to Tiberias.  In Nazareth we saw the Virgin Mary's Well and the Orthodox Church of Annunciation.  If you do not have too much time in Israel,  you can easily skip Nazareth. In the afternoon we walked around Tiberias and went swimming in the Sea of Galilee where Jesus walked on water.  We are staying in a luxury dorm.  Again we were spoken to by an Israeli,  on how we could dare to come to Israel, while Maren is German.  We tried to explain to him why, but he just would not listen.  Commenting that what happened 60 years ago was in Maren's blood.  It is really sad that there are so many people that dwell on the hatred of the past,  not concentrating on trying to get along and understanding one another.  This attitude in Israel, gave us a real unpleasant feeling.  We can just hope that the majority of people in Israel do not have this attitude.    


Today we woke up early to go back to Amman, Jordan.  Of course at the border we were again hit with paying for a Jordan Visa,  even though we were told that we would not have to pay for it again.  On the way to Amman our bus blew a tire,  so it took 4 hours, not the planned 2 hours.  Otherwise we did not do much except walking around Amman a little and buying some food.  Tomorrow we are planning to go to the Dead Sea,  and then down to Petra. We are both getting excited about going to Africa,  especially after talking to a guy from Montreal that was just there.


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