Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Great Race

Already when arriving in Damascus in February had some friends invited us to participate in the Dead Sea Marathon - the 10 km part of it! For some reason, we have said yes immediately, thinking it would be a fun thing to do. The race took place April 11th by the Dead Sea, Jordan side. We went with two good friends, Sarah and Sophie, in a taxi to Jordan for a weekend of race and relaxation.

The race took place early Friday morning - it gets hot pretty quick when you are 400 meters below sea level. The 10 km went great for all of us and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves when we returned back to the hotel for a delicious champagne breakfast buffet and a full day by the pool and floating around in the Dead Sea.

I think we might be back for the event next year....

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


During Easter we went to Aleppo - a beautiful old city 350 km north of Damascus close to the border of Turkey.

We left Thursday afternoon with the famous fast train. The train is known for its fancy design (from Japan) and fastness, so we were excited about the trip. It was a nice train and it felt more like being in an airplane on business class with comfortable seats and staff serving coffee and tea. There was even a small screen and small headsets making it possible to watch a movie during the ride....

However, the fastness of the train was questionable since max speed was 50 km per hour - still, we made it to Aleppo and on time!

Like Damascus Aleppo claims to be the oldest inhabited city in the world and is a very beautiful city with a fascinating old and new city parts. The old city has a famous souq (market) that opens out to an increible citadel/fort. This place is a very present reminder of the history of the crusades. The citadel was used to protect the citizens against the crusaders - and with success as well. It is still standing but lost of work needs to be done. This doesn't stop the locals from flocking to the place for picnics and family outings.

Also the "new" city is impressive. Small cobblestone streets with plenty of charme and life. This is the Christian part of the city and we were lucky enough to meet the priest of the Armenian church. He took us on a small tour of the many churches in the area and due to Easter there was lots of life and activities in most of these churces.

We also had time for a small trip outside of Aleppo to the ruins of a Byzantian church from the 5th century. According to legend a monk by the name Simon went to live here to meditate without any disturbance. However, the rumour of this monk all alone on a hill spread and people came from all over to see the guy. Simon was not too happy about this and decided to build a pillar to sit on creating some distance from the crowds. More and more people came and it is said that the last pillar that Simon built was close to 40 meters high and that Simon slept with a chain around his foot to avoid falling from the pillar....

Simon died in 459 and today there is little left of his last pillar - apparently pilgrims have taken small souvenirs of the pillar with them leaving little left for tourists to see...Surrounding the pillar a church was built to honour Sct. Simon - and though everything is in ruins today it was a beautiful place to visit.