Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Friday, September 09, 2005


The drive to Aleppo took around an hour longer than anticipated.

We ended up diverted by an accident between several trucks, at least one of which was loaded with massive rolls of industrial paper that knocked concrete road dividers out of alignment. Moving off the highway through the white dust, our green mercedes surrounded by colourful trucks and buses with musical horns, was somewhere between Jurassic Park and Mad Max.
We also took a wrong turn after lunch in the town of Hama, noted for its Byzantine-era waterwheels. This took us into really desolate regions of the desert, thought to be one of the regions that gave rise to agriculture. The landscape was dotted with tells (ancient city-sites, more a grave of a town than a skeleton), ruins and bedouin goat herders.

The old city of Aleppo, like Damascus, is a world heritage site. Or so the tourism materials claims. I would not be surprised if it actually is, as the huge citadel I explored this morning was truly impressive and extensively reconstructed. Workers flooded the place with wheelbarrows, welding machinery, scaffolding, and stone masons, making the whole place feel like it might have as an active military base back in the tenth century. The souks of Aleppo, of which I only really explored the wool and fabric sections, are almost entirely under cover. They seem much less dusty than Damascus's, and there are extensive stretches of cobblestones in the residential areas, unlike Damascus.

There have been many other things I would happily describe here, but I know you have better things to do than read my blog for the next hour. Suffice to say, the current hotel (Beit Wakil) I'm staying in is a fantasic treat. Check out their website. I love these types of historic homes, and being able to sleep in one is an experience I had not anticipated (thanks Mum and Dad!). It is also the last night I will spend somewhere truly luxurious.

Tomorrow at 4am I will catch a bus to Antakya, Turkey, and begin the months of solo travel that will dominate the Grand Tour. Bring on the fleapits!


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