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Syria

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Beit Rose Hotel
Beit Rose Hotel - dream vacation

Main Road Of Bab Toma - Old Damascus, Damascus

Four Seasons Hotel Damascus
Four Seasons Hotel Damascus - dream vacation

Shukri Al Quatli St P.O.Box 6311 Damascus Syria, Damascus

Semiramis Palmyra Hotel
Semiramis Palmyra Hotel - dream vacation

P.O.Box 30301 Damascus / Syria, Palmyra

Dedeman Damascus
Dedeman Damascus - dream vacation

Choukry Kouatly Street P O Box 5531 Damascus Syria, Damascus

Afamia Hotel Damascus
Afamia Hotel Damascus - dream vacation

Omayad Square, Victoria Behind The Post Office, Damascus

Hanania Hotel
Hanania Hotel - dream vacation

Hanania Church Street, Bab Sharqi(Eastern Gate), Damascus

Syria (?????????? ???????? ????????? Al-Jumhuriya al-`Arabiya as-Suriya, the Syrian Arab Republic) was one of the larger states of the Middle East but is now in prospect of fragmentation. Its capital, and second largest city after Aleppo, is Damascus, the world's oldest continuously inhabited city. Syria is bordered to the north by Turkey, to the east by Iraq, by Jordan and Israel to the south, and by Lebanon to the south-west. In addition, the western part of the country has a short coastline on the Mediterranean Sea.

Regions

Syria officially has 14 governorates, but the following conceptual division used to make more sense for travellers:

Claimed territory

Cities

  • Damascus — the capital claimed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world
  • Aleppo — a once-great ancient citadel with great views, much of Aleppo has been destroyed by fighting in the Syrian Civil War.
  • Deir-az-Zur — a desert town on the Euphrates River bank
  • Hama — waterwheels
  • Homs — an ancient city by the Orontes river, amazing green mountains in Spring
  • Latakia — a major port city, Saladin's Castle, Fronloq Forests and Al Samra Beach near Kasab
  • Tartous — a historical port city and historical small island called Arwad

Other destinations

  • Apamea — a former Roman city which once housed about half a million people. Apamea was hit by an earthquake in the 12th century and much of it was destroyed but it still boasts a long street lined with columns, some of which have twisted fluting.
  • Bosra — a Roman city in southern Syria close to the Jordan frontier noted for the use of black basalt stones and its well preserved theatre
  • Crac des Chevaliers — the archetypal Crusader castle, magnificently preserved and not to be missed
  • Dead Cities — A series of towns which once formed part of Antioch. They have long since been abandoned but make an interesting stop for tourists. Al Bara boasts pyramidal tombs and formerly grand archways set on modern farm land. Serjilla is another famous dead city
  • Der Mar Musa — not a tourist site, but an active Christian monastery actively promoting Islamic/Christian dialogue. Welcomes Christians and followers of other religious traditions. It is 80 km north of Damascus.
  • Palmyra — formerly held the once-magnificent ruins of a Roman city, in the middle of the desert. Once considered the main attraction in Syria, no longer a viable destination as the UNESCO-listed heritage site was destroyed by Daesh extremists in 2015.
  • Saladin's Castle — a quiet gem in a valley with pine trees about 37 km inland from Latakia
  • Salamieh — Salamiyah is an ancient city which was first known during Babylonian times in 3500 BC; contain Shmemis castle, Greek temple of Zeus, The old Hammam,the old Walls,Remains of Roman canals

Understand

Syria has a population of 21,906,000 people (UN, 2009 estimate), of which 6 million are concentrated in the capital Damascus. A moderately large country (185,180 km2 or 72,150 sq miles), Syria is situated centrally within the Middle East region and has land borders with Turkey in the north, with Israel and Lebanon in the south, and with Iraq and Jordan in the east and south-east respectively.

The population of Syria is predominately Arab (90%), with large minorities from other ethnic groups: Kurds, Armenians, Circassians and Turks. The official language is Arabic, but other tongues that are occasionally understood include Kurdish, Armenian, Turkish, French and English. The Syrian Republic is officially secular. Nonetheless, it is greatly influenced by the majority religion of Islam (80% of the population, split between 64% Sunni Muslim and 16% other Muslim, Alawites and Druze). There is a large Christian minority that amounts to about 10% of the population.

The President of Syria is Bashar al-Assad, who replaced his father Hafez al-Assad soon after his death on 10 June 2000. Having studied to become an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) in Damascus and London, Bashar was groomed for the presidency after the 1994 car accident of his elder brother Basil. As a consequence, he joined the army and became colonel in 1999. Bashar's modernising credentials were somewhat boosted by his role in a domestic anti-corruption drive. More recently, however, after an initial period of increased openness. Bashar's position as head of the Syrian state rests on his presidency of the Baath Party and his command-in-chief of the army.

Assad's regime and the Baath Party own or control the vast majority of Syria's media. Criticism of the president and his family is not permitted and the press (both foreign and domestic) is heavily censored for material deemed threatening or embarrassing to the government. A brief period of relative press freedom arose after Bashar became president in 2000 and saw the licensing of the first private publications in almost 40 years. A later crackdown, however, imposed a range of restrictions regarding licensing and content. In a more relaxed manner (perhaps owing more to the fact that these matters are largely beyond possible government control), many Syrians have gained access to foreign television broadcasts (usually via satellite) as well as the three state-run networks. In 2002 the government set out conditions for licensing private, commercial FM radio stations, ruling at the same time, however, that radio stations could not broadcast news or political content.

Tourist Information Offices; Damascus: 2323953, Damascus Int'l Airport: 2248473, Aleppo: 2121228, Daraa (Jordanian-Syrian border gate): 239023, Latakia: 216924, Palmyra (Tadmur): 910636, Deir-az-Zur: 358990

Get in

Visas are needed for most individual travellers. These are available in 6-month (single/multiple entry), 3-month (single) and 15 day (land borders only) versions. Citizens of Arab countries do not require visa, except unaccompanied Moroccan women below 40 years old. In addition, citizens of Malaysia, Turkey and Iran do not require visas.

Getting visas in advance is expensive and confusing. Americans are required to apply in advance at the Syrian embassy in Washington DC, even if they live elsewhere, and pay USD131 or €100. Most other travellers, though, can get them anywhere, a popular choice being Istanbul (Turkey) where they are generally issued within one day for €20 (Canadian citizens) or €30 (EU citizens). A "letter of recommendation" stating that your consulate has "no objection" to your visit to Syria may be required. The visa issued must have two stamps and a signature, otherwise the visa is considered invalid and you will be turned back at the border. It is necessary to keep the blue arrival form as it must be submitted upon departure.

Official policy says that, if your country has a Syrian embassy or consulate, you should apply for your visa in advance. Most nationals must apply for a Syrian visa in the country in which they are a citizen. Alternatively a foreign national may apply for a Syrian visa from a Syrian Consulate in a country other than their own if they hold a residency visa valid for at least 6 months for the country in which they are applying. There are very few exceptions to this rule. In practice it is possible to obtain a visa on the border for most nationals.

By land

Almost every national can get a visa at the border, regardless of the fact it is not officially written or recommended. But do not buy a bus ticket that will take you all the way across the border. They will always leave you there because it does take 2-10 hours for US citizens and they will not tell you that in advance at the time of purchasing of the bus ticket. Buy a ticket to the border via minibus/shared taxi (servees) then do the same when you get to the other side. US citizens cost US$16 or €12, while others are more costly, Japanese are USD12-14 or €9-11, Singaporeans are USD33 or €25, Australians/New Zealanders are about USD100 or €75.99, Swiss are USD63 or €47.88. They only take US dollars or Euros. You may only receive a 15-day single-entry tourist visa and will have to go through this process if you ever re-enter Syria. When you exit Syria, you will have to buy/pay an exit card for about USD12 or €9.15.

If going by land, and you are planning to get a visa on the border, bring US dollars, euros or Syrian pounds. Other foreign currency will not get a good exchange rate and at most crossing there are no facilities for credit/debit cards. Travellers cheques are also not accepted.

American citizens need to beware of sanctions on Syria. While travelling and spending money in Syria is permitted, you may not fly with Syrian Arab Airlines, and more importantly, many US banks err on the safe side and ban all business with Syria. Some credit or ATM cards may not work, although many Americans today experience little problems in this regard. Be wary, however, as some travellers have had their bank account access frozen, regardless of whether or not they informed their bank of travel to Syria.

Due to the conflict various areas of Syria are not under the control of the Syrian central government. Areas near to Turkey are under control of Kurdish forces and rebel forces. Foreigners will not be allowed to cross at these borders, and Turkey/Syria borders in general are closed now because of the conflict. From the Kurdish Region of Iraq there are people crossing over the river into Syria at a place called Faish Khabour, however the crossing is only for humanitarian workers and any non-aid workers may not be allowed crossing.

By plane

Syria has three international airports: Damascus International Airport (DAM), 35km (22miles) southeast of the capital, Aleppo International Airport (ALP) just northeast of Aleppo in the north of the country and Bassel al-Assad International Airport (LTK), south of Latakia, main sea port of the country. Due to the current civil war, most airlines have suspended service to these airports.

Upon arrival, a free entry visa can be delivered to almost all travellers if they are being received by a local travel agency. Call the Syrian Embassy in your home country for more information.

Syria levies a departure tax of SYP550 (~US$13) at land and sea borders. Since Summer 2009 airport departure tax is included in the ticket price, and airlines will put a manual stamp on your boarding pass.

One of the practical and reasonable ways to enter Syria from Turkey is to take a domestic flight to Gaziantep and then taxi to Aleppo through Oncupinar border-gate in Kilis. The journey takes around 2 hours including custom formalities. The fare is USD60, per car with max 4 and one way. Taxis holding licence can be arranged in Kilis or Gaziantep. Turkcan Turizm, 0348 822 3313

By train

There are two international train connections to Syria: Tehran - Aleppo - Damascus and Istanbul - Aleppo

  • Turkish Railways page "trains to Middle East". Shows up to date prices, timetables. The Syrian Railways site has not been updated in English for some time so this Turkish page is a better source of information. [1]

Flying to Istanbul followed a train/coach down to Damascus is a very cheap alternative to flying direct to Damascus (GBP200 return flights from the UK to Istanbul) it takes about 36 hours max to Aleppo (leaves on Sunday morning; see [2]). Contrary to popular belief it does not continue to Damascus, you have to change trains. Seat61 is very accurate and should be consulted.

All trains from Istanbul (Haydarpa?a train station on the Asian side of the Bosporus) are operated jointly between TCDD (Turkish) and CFS (Syria) and are by far the cheapest way into Syria from Europe, flying to Istanbul and continuing by rail can cost €200 - €300 less than a flight to Damascus.

Recent track renovations across Turkish rail network resulted in Toros Express driving Istanbul to Gaziantep (from which another train into Syria can be caught) being suspended, and it is not certain when and if it will resume service. However there are still daily night trains Istanbul to Adana, which is a short bus ride away from Antioch and Gaziantep, the former of which has extensive bus connections to Aleppo while the latter has twice weekly train connection with the said Syrian city.

Tur-ista travel agency can book your train tickets before you get to Istanbul, this is a good idea with trains booking up very quickly (Tur-ista tel: +90 (212) 334 2600).

By bus

Buses run from Turkey, with frequent connections from the city of Antakya (Hatay). You can also travel by bus from Jordan & Lebanon.

When arriving into Damascus by bus, make sure to move away from the bus terminal to find a taxi to the centre of town. Otherwise, you run the risk of paying several times the going rate, which should be around SYP150, as cars posing as taxis operate next to the terminal.

This is normally a two-man operation, with one person trying to distract you, while the driver puts your suitcase into the trunk of the "taxi" and locks it.

By car

When travelling from Lebanon, service taxis (taxis that follow a fixed route only, usually from near one bus station to another) are a convenient way to reach DamascusHomsTartusAleppo or other Syrian towns. A shared service taxi from Beirut to Damascus will cost about between 700 and 800 Syrian Pounds per person ($17), based on four people sharing the same taxi. If you want a private taxi then you will have to pay for every seat. From Latakia to Beirut a seat in a service will cost SYP800 with around SYP500 being charged from Tartous to Tripoli. In most cases it is necessary to buy a Syrian visa before leaving home, often costing about USD130 or less, depending of the country of residency. It's possible, to obtain free entry visa for tourists if being received by a local Travel Agency. It is also possible to arrive by car from Turkey. A private taxi from Gaziantep Airport (Turkey) will cost about USD60.

Service taxis run from Dar'a across the Jordanian border to Ramtha; from there microbuses are available to Irbid and Amman -- the stop in Dar'a permits a side trip to Bosra, with UNESCO-recognised Roman theater and ruins.

By boat

  • The nearest car ferry port is Bodrum in Turkey.
  • Occasional passenger ferries run between Latakia and Limassol, Cyprus. This service has come and gone over the years, and only 4 sailings in each direction are scheduled for 2008. Confirm that the departure will occur with Varianos Travel before making plans that incorporate this route. [3]
  • Latakia and Tartous serve as ports of call for a number of Mediterranean cruise lines.

Get around

By taxi

The taxis (usually yellow, and always clearly marked) are an easy way to get around DamascusAleppo and other cities. Arabic would be helpful: most taxi drivers do not speak English. All licensed taxis carry meters, and it is best to insist that the driver puts the meter on, and watch that it stays on. Most drivers expect to haggle prices with foreign travellers rather than use the meter. A taxi ride across Damascus might come to SYP30. Taxis from the airport to the downtown Damascus cost about SYP600-800, slightly more at night. Private cab services (which advertise prominently at the airport) charge substantially more.

However, there is also a bus from Baramkeh station to the airport for SYP25 per bag and SYP45 per person

By car

Cars can be rented at various Sixt, Budget and Europcar locations. Cham Tours (formerly Hertz) has an office next to the Cham Palace Hotel, which offers competitive rates starting at about USD50 per day including tax, insurance and unlimited kilometres.

Sixt rent a car is one of the premier car rental companies in europe, has recently opened in Syria at the Four Seasons Hotel with its brand new fleet, Rates starting from USD40 per day (All Inclusive).

If you have never driven in Syria before, make sure you take a taxi first in order to get a first-hand idea of what traffic is like. Especially in Damascus and Aleppo, near-constant congestion, a very aggressive driving style, bad roads and highly dubious quality of road signs make driving there an interesting experience. so do be careful.

The only road rule that might come in handy is that, as opposed to most of the rest of the world, in roundabouts, the entering cars have the right of way, and the cars that are already in the roundabout have to wait. Aside from that, it seems that motorists are fairly free to do as they please.

If you have an accident in a rental car, you must obtain a police report, no matter how small the damage or how clear it is who is at fault – otherwise, you will be liable for the damage. Police (road police No:115) probably will only be albe to speak Arabic, so try to make other drivers help you and/or call your rental agency.

Gas (marked as "Super", red stands) comes at SYP40 per litre (+10%tax) so it is SYP44, diesel (green stand) at approx. half the price. If you manage to get out of fuel (try to avoid it), which is quite easy wherever eastern of Damascus-Aleppo highway, or mountains western from it; you can manage to find some local able to sell you few litres from canister, but prices may be high (say SYP70 per litre). Usually gas stations are only in bigger towns and major crossroads in the desert, so try to refuel whenever you can.

By microbus

The microbuses (locally called servees, or meecro) are little white vans that carry ten, or so, passengers around cities on set routes for about SYP10. The destinations are written on the front of microbus in Arabic. Usually, the passenger sitting behind the driver deals with the money. You can ask the driver to stop anywhere along his route.

Often, microbuses will do longer routes, for example, to surrounding villages around Damascus and Aleppo, or from Homs to Tadmor or Krak des Chevaliers. They are often more uncomfortable and crowded than the larger buses, but cheaper. Especially for shorter distances they have usually more frequent departures than buses.

By bus or coach

Air-conditioned coaches are one of the easy ways to make longer hauls around Syria, for example, the trip from Damascus to Palmyra. Coaches are cheap, fast and reliable way to get around the country, however the schedules, when they exist, are not to be trusted. For the busy routes it's best to simply go to the coach station when you want to leave and catch the next coach, you'll have to wait a bit, but most of the time it's less of a chore than finding out when the best coach will be leaving, and then often finding it's late.

By train

The Syrian railways were reasonably modern. Rail travel is inexpensive and generally punctual, although railway stations are often a reasonable distance out of town centres. The main line connects DamascusAleppo, Deir ez-Zur, Hassake and Qamishle. A secondary line serves stations along the Mediterranean coast.

In the summer, on Fridays, a little steam train leaves from the Hejaz Railway Station in Damascus (which has a good restaurant) and climbs into the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Many locals enjoy the ride to picnic in the cooler mountains.

By bicycle

While travelling by bicycle may not be for everyone, and Syria is by no means a cycle tourist's paradise, there are definite advantages. Syria is a good size for cycling, accommodation is frequent enough that even a budget traveller can get away with "credit card" touring (though in the case of Syria, it might be better to refer to it as fat-wad-of-cash touring). There are sites that one can not get to with public transportation like the Dead Cities and the people are incredibly friendly often inviting a tired cyclist for a break, cup of tea, meal or night's accommodation. The problem of children throwing stones at cyclists or running behind the bicycle begging for candy and pens (such as in parts of Morocco) does not seem to have appeared in Syria. Locals young and old alike will, however, be very curious about your travels and your bicycle and if you stop in a town you can expect a large crowd to gather for friendly banter about where you are from and your trip.

Wild camping is quite easy in Syria. Perhaps the biggest challenge is not so much finding a place for your tent but picking a spot where locals will not wander by and try to convince you to come back to their home. Olive groves and other orchards can make a good spot for your tent, except on a rainy day when the mud will make life difficult. Another option is to ask to pitch your tent in a private garden or beside an official post like a police station. It is unlikely you will be refused as long as you can get your message across. A letter in Arabic explaining your trip will help with communication.

Unfortunately, the standard of driving skills in Syria is extremely low and other road users tend to drive very aggressively. They do seem used to seeing slow moving traffic and normally give plenty of room as they pass. Motorcycles are perhaps the biggest danger as their drivers like to pull up alongside cyclists to chat or fly by your bike for a look at the strange traveller and then perform a U-turn in the middle of the road to go back home. Perhaps the safest option in this case is to stop, talk for a few minutes and then carry on.

Finding good maps tends to be another problem. You should bring a map with you as good maps are hard to find in Syria. Free ones are available from the tourist bureaus but they are not very good for cycle touring. Even foreign-produced maps can contain errors or roads that don't exist, making excursions away from the main route a challenge. Asking several locals for the right road is a good idea when you come to a crossroads. Without good maps it can be hard to avoid riding on the main highway, which while safe enough (a good wide shoulder exists on almost all the highways) is not very pleasant due to the smokey trucks and uninteresting scenery.

You should think about bringing a water filter or water treatment tablets with you. Bottled water is not always available in the smaller towns. Finding local water is easy. Tall metal water coolers in many town centres dispense free local water and water is always available near mosques. The Syrian word for water is pronounced like the English word “my” (as in “that is my pen”) with a slight A afterwards and if you ask at any shop or home for water they will happily refill your bottles.

Talk

Arabic is the official language. It is always a good idea to know some words ("hello", "thank you" etc.). A surprising number of people speak at least (very) rudimentary English. It would however be worth your while to learn basic numbers in Arabic in order to negotiate taxi fares. Personnel working with foreign tourists (like tourist hotels, restaurants, tour guides, etc.), generally can communicate reasonably well in English.

Due to the general lack of ability by the public at large to communicate in English beyond basic phrases, Syria is a great place to force yourself to learn Arabic through immersion, should you wish to improve your Arabic skill.

See

  • In Hama there are the Al Aasi Water Wheels in a river ( ?????? ??? ?????? ).
  • Al Hosn Castle in Homs.
  • Qala'at Samaan (Basilica of St Simeon Stylites) located about 30 km (19 mi) northwest of Aleppo and the oldest surviving Byzantine church, dating back to the 5th century. This church is popularly known as either Qalaat Semaan (Arabic: ????? ?????? Qal?at Sim??n), the 'Fortress of Simeon', or Deir Semaan (Arabic: ???? ?????? Dayr Sim??n), the 'Monastery of Simeon' .
  • Tartous with its Crusader-era Templar fortress
  • The Yarmouk Valley

Do

  • Take a scenic tour. Travel from Latakia (beach), Syrian Coast and Mountains (Safita tower, Mashta hikes and cave

Marmarita: Virgin Mary memorial, St George Monastery, Crac des Chevaliers, Palmyra (ruins), to Damascus (souq, mosques).

  • Hike. in Syrian Coast and Mountains region.
  • Geocaching. Find geocaches in the area.

Buy

Money

The unit of currency in Syria is the Syrian pound or 'lira'. You will see a variety of notations used locally: £S, LS or S£, Arabic: ?????? ??????? al-l?ra as-s?riyya, but Wikivoyage uses the ISO currency code SYP immediately prefixing the amount in our guides. The pound's subdivision 'piastre' is obsolete.

The black market rate for U.S. dollars may be substantially higher: in August 2016, you could get over SYP520 for US$1. Hard currencies such as US dollars, pounds sterling or euro can not be bought legally; the only source of foreign currencies available to Syrian businessmen, students and the very many who wish to escape abroad is the black market. The maximum foreign currency amount that it is technically permissible to export is a remarkably generous USD3,000 equivalent per year for each traveller. Any amount in excess of USD3,000 risks confiscation by the authorities and time in jail. There are restrictions on export of Syrian currency of a maximum of SYP2,500 per person.

Because of high inflation and political instability, amounts expressed in Syrian pounds in these guides are subject to significant change.

Before the civil war started, ATMs had become available in most major cities: banks, main squares, and 5-star hotels. None of these ATMs now access the international networks. The Real Estate bank had the widest network that accepted foreign cards but cards also used to be used in machines run by the Bank of Syria and Overseas and the Commercial Bank of Syria. Even before the war ATMs did not exist outside of big cities and it would be wise to carry enough cash when leaving big cities to complete your tour in the countryside and return to the city before running out of cash. Bank Audi used to be the best to try if you had a US issued card. It is nearly impossible to change travellers cheques in Syria.

Shopping

An international student card reduces the entry fees to many tourist sites to 10% of the normal price, if you are younger than 26 years. Depending on who is checking your card it is even possible to get the reduction when you are older than 26 or have only an expired card. It is possible to buy an international student card in Syria (around USD15). Ask around discreetly.

In the souks (especially the Souk Al Hamidiya in the Old City of Damascus where you can easily "get lost" for a whole morning or afternoon without getting bored), the best buys are the "nargileh" waterpipes, Koran, beautifully lacquered boxes and chess/draughts sets and (particularly in Aleppo) olive soap and traditional sweets. The quality of handicrafts varies widely so when buying lacquered/inlaid boxes, run your hand over the surface to see that it is smooth, check, in particular, the hinges. In the souq haggling is expected. Bargain ruthlessly.

Syrian traders who price goods in foreign currencies now face up to 10 years in jail after a decree issued by President Bashar al-Assad forbids the use of anything other than the Syrian pound as payment for any type of commercial transaction or cash settlement. This was because of the increasing "dollarisation" of an economy in ruins after two years of civil war.

Eat

Falafel, deep-fried chickpea patties, are available for SYP15-30. Another popular vegetarian meal is Foul. Don't let the name put you off. It's actually pronounced “fool” and this fava bean paste – topped off with cumin, paprika and olive oil and served with flatbread, fresh mint and onion – is not only tasty but satisfying and filling.

You may also be able to order a salad of Fatoush with your soup. Chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and herbs are mixed together in a dressing and finished off with a sprinkling of fried bread that resembles croutons. Cheese may also be grated on top.

Meat wraps such as shwarma cost SYP35-50. A half-chicken with bread and mayonnaise dip to take away costs SYP175.

Lunch or dinner in a fair restaurant costs SYP450. An expensive restaurant lunch or dinner will cost about SYP1,000.

Drink

Generally you can drink water from the tap, it is extremely safe, but if you're unsure ask the locals first. This water is free compared to bottled water, which comes at SYP15-25 for 1.5 L.

Fresh fruit juices are available from street stalls in most towns. A large glass of mixed juice (usually banana, orange juice and a few exotic fruits like pomegranate) costs SYP40-50.

Beer is cheap, costing from SYP35 in a shop and anywhere from SYP50-100 in most budget accommodation and local bars for a half litre bottle or can. Syrian wine can be found starting at about SYP150 and Lebanese and French wines are also available in a higher price bracket, starting at SYP350-400.

Tea is served in a little glass without milk, sweetened with sugar. Add the sugar yourself as the Syrians have a collective sweet tooth and will heap it in.

Sleep

A double room you can find for around SYP1500, although this cost may be higher in Damascus. A double room in a three stars hotel costs about USD50, USD80 for four stars, and can reach USD250 in a five star hotel.

Learn

Syria is becoming a major destination for students of Arabic. There are several institutions in Damascus that teach Arabic:

  • Language Institute at Damascus University - The Language Institute fully immerse their students in Arabic; the course materials and all interaction between students and teachers are done in Arabic. Students are placed in beginning, intermediate, or advanced courses based on a placement test.

Ma'had Abo Noor A private Language school, an Islamic Organization very cheap as it is good school to learn Arabic.

  • Ma'had - This state-run language academy is in the Mezze district of Damascus.
  • The British Council - While the classes may be expensive, they are mainly aimed toward diplomats and businessmen.
  • DSA - Damascus Language School for Standard Arabic- The school provides basic courses for beginners and advanced courses also on certain topics as for journalists, physicians, diplomats, engineers etc. Normal classes have maximum 4 Students. Lessons with private teachers are even possible. Twice a year, there are certain courses for students available at half price. Teachers are well experienced in teaching foreigners. Basic courses start every Saturday.
  • Arabesk Studies in Damascus - The institute offers extensive classes in Arabic. Aide with living arrangement provided.
  • TikaTrip - Travels and Studies in Syria - Providing private Arabic tutors as well as professional language teachers and all important services: starting with the pickup service at the airport, arranging accommodation and advices on how to tackle the bureaucratic procedures.
  • Ma'had Abo Noor A private Language school, only receives Muslims from all over the world.

Work

If you entered the country on a tourist visa, don't try to work and earn money. Foreign workers should always get official approval to work. Despite this, many foreign students supplement their income by teaching and many institutes in Damascus will happily hire foreigners and pay them under the table.

Stay safe

Since January 2011, Syria has been gripped by a political crisis. Thousands of people have been killed by armed insurgent groups, government security forces and the military and shelling is largely indiscriminate. The developing military insurgency in Syria that is opposed to the Assad regime has carried out several high profile attacks on government targets. Stay away from government buildings, demonstrations and military forces as much as possible.

Travellers should avoid all large gatherings as they may turn violent. Foreign travellers have been targeted by political groups, especially in the south of the country.

You could find yourself in trouble if you engage in open criticism of and against the Syrian government or the president. Your best bet is to avoid political conversations altogether just to avoid any possible problems. If you do engage in political discussions with Syrians, be aware that they might face intense questioning by the secret police (mukhabarat) if you are overheard. As a general rule, always assume that you are being watched by plain clothes policemen. You will notice that not many uniformed policemen can be seen in the streets, but this is because the police have a wide network of plain clothes officers and informants.

Since begging is common in some parts of Syria, particularly outside of tourist attractions, mosques, and churches, it has been known that beggars occasionally demand money and may follow you around until you give. Some have even been known to "attack" some tourists just for money and food. It is advised to wear appropriate Arab clothing and try to blend yourself in. It also better to keep your money in your front pockets and safe with you. Many scams by beggars have also led many foreign tourists to lose quite a bit of money; be aware of these scams.

Drugs

Death penalty for drug trafficking or cultivation.

Women

Women travelling alone may find that they draw a little too much attention from Syrian men. However, this is generally limited to stares or feeble attempts at making conversation. If it goes beyond that the best approach is to remain polite but be clear that approaches are unwelcome. Be loud and involve bystanders as they will often be very chivalrous and helpful.

Women who are arrested under suspicion of immoral behaviour (eg: being alone in a room with a man who is not the woman’s husband, or being in a residence where drugs or alcohol are being consumed) may be subjected to a virginity test.

Homosexuality

Syrian law criminalizes homosexual conduct under penal code article 520, which states that each sexual act "contrary to nature" is punishable by as long as three years in prison.

Stay healthy

Health Care in Syria is well below Western Standards, and basic medication is not always available.

Local pharmacies are well stocked with treatments for most common ailments such as stomach bugs and traveller's diarrhoea. Pharmacists often speak a little bit of English. You can ask your hotel to call a doctor if necessary and a visit to your hotel room will cost about SYP700-1000 as of November 2007.

The best treatment of all, of course, is to stay healthy in the first place. When eating, pick restaurants that are busy.

If you have a treatment, take it with you. Don't expect to find all medicines in Syria. If you have to buy something from a pharmacy, ask for a "foreign" EU or US brand. You will have to pay a premium for that, but at least you will increase the chances to have an actual medicine. Some products come from uncertain origin and are ineffective, according to certain local pharmacists.

Respect

Clothing

Male and female visitors can generally wear whatever attire they would normally wear in their home countries. Contrary to what some Westerners may believe, it is possible for women to wear T-shirts and it is not necessary to wear long-sleeved tops unless visiting a religious site. Head covers are recommended when visiting Muslim religious sites. Dress as you would normally dress in the West to visit Christian religious sites, avoid wearing shorts at churches. Many local women dress in Western attire, especially in Christian neighbourhoods. Shorts are common for both men and women. Be mindful of your environment, outside of areas frequented by tourists it is wise to dress in more modest clothing.

Women who wish to attract less attention should wear shirts that reach the elbow, and have no revealing cleavage. T-shirts and jeans are acceptable attire in Damascus.

Religion

If you are of European ancestry most Syrians assume that you are a practising Christian. Most Syrians will also be puzzled by a suggestion that you are an atheist, due to the strong influence religion has in Syrian social and cultural life. However, a considerable percentage of the Syrians are not practising Christians or Muslims themselves and do not hide their lack of religious affiliation as Syria is officially a staunchly secular country. The coastal areas are much more progressive when dealing with religion and the same applies to areas of Damascus most frequented by Western tourists such as Bab Touma, the Christian Quarter. The further you travel east, the more conservative people are. In order to avoid any protracted philosophical discussions, it is best to avoid identifying as an atheist or non practising Christian.

Israel

Syria views Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights to be illegal. Syrians have negative views of Israel due to this occupation. There is still a small Syrian Jewish community living in Damascus, and they are subject to fierce repression and intimidation by the government. Unless you have a heart for prolonged discussions, avoid any debate about Israel.

Syrian politics

It is unwise to make any remarks about President Assad, the government and the Ba'ath Party and such comments may cause alarm. Syria is not a democracy and critical comments regarding the Syrian government are to be avoided.

Connect

Phone

The international calling code for Syria is +963.

Internet

Syria has easy and cheap internet access. Internet is very common around the cities at internet cafés. Facebook and YouTube have recently been unblocked but there are still some websites blocked such as certain news sites. The cafés are very friendly but in order to avoid being price gouged it is best to ask a local how much the internet costs per an hour before agreeing to sit down. It is usually SYP50 per hour (USD1), but can be anywhere up to SYP100 per hour (USD2). It is best to avoid political debates regarding the Syrian government, or reading Israeli newspapers or websites on-line.

Prices for high-speed access are quite varied. As of November 2007, Aleppo's Concord internet café was charging a hefty SYP100 an hour, while in Hama the going rate seemed to be SYP75for an hour and in Damascus the price dropped to around 50 S.P an hour (less if you pay for several hours in advance). Power net in Latakia was charging only SYP20 many years ago.

Photo by author

Photo by author

One of the most beautiful travel experiences I’ve had was a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq. While there, I was able to help improve — even by just a small amount — the situation of those suffering one of the worst humanitarian crises in our history. The camp I went to is called Darashakran. It’s about 40km north of the Kurdish capital, Erbil, where there are several refugee camps. The majority of these camps have been operating since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, which is now in its sixth year. More than 50,000 Syrian refugees (a mix of Sunnis and Kurds) live in this Darashakran camp and its population has increased constantly since it was set-up four years ago.

Darashakran is basically a small city. And yeah, it’s damn crazy.

Preparing for the visit

My objective of going to Darashakran was not only to find out how refugees were living but to provide them with any kind of food or supplies that might be useful to them. These refugee camps in Iraq do not receive a lot of attention. War and misery are happening all over Iraq too, so the locals have many things of their own to worry about.

When I spoke to a local Kurd, he told me that most of the help the Syrian refugees receive comes from the Kurdish Government and it’s mainly just to satisfy the primary needs: pasta, rice, or milk. So I planned to bring food, but after speaking with several locals I stopped at Erbil’s bazaar to buy two bags of 30 different toys as well.

Getting there

The only way to get to the refugee camp is by car. Shafia, who was the receptionist at the hotel I stayed at, introduced me to a friend of hers who could take me to the camp by car. The driver turned out to be a young Syrian man named Blend.

On our way to the camp, I spoke to Blend as we passed green fields, wheat plantations, and shepherds wandering them in the distance with their sheep. Ten years ago Blend moved from Syria to Iraq with his family in order to find better opportunities. This massive migration of Syrians into Iraq is actually nothing new, it’s been happening for more than a decade — all because of the dictatorial regime led by Bashar Al-Assad.

Entering Darashakran

Photo by author

Photo by author

Darashakran was huge — much bigger than I could have ever expected. It was fully militarized by local peshmergas (Kurdish soldiers) who were preserving the Syrians’ safety. There was a checkpoint at the camp entrance but, thanks to Blend, I was able to pass with my supplies without any trouble. I had food and toys, I was more than welcome at the camp.

Once inside, Blend pulled the car over and I went across the street to offer a toy to a Syrian girl who was passing by. She took it shyly and went quickly to her mother. Soon a few other children approached and timidly picked up a toy. At first, everything went smoothly but within a few moments, I was swarmed by a massive crowd of people asking desperately for a toy. They asked politely, but eventually, the toys were grabbed from my hands. I ran out of everything I had brought in less than a minute and people were still asking me for more.

Photo by author

Photo by author

I wished I had brought more for them, but I knew it would have been the same. Later, a couple of mothers came up to me and showed their gratitude with very honest smiles. That moment was the most beautiful of my life. They invited me for a meal but I refused, I felt they couldn’t spare it. I accepted some tea instead.

Life in the camp

Darashakran is like a small city not just in its size, but in its culture as well. Refugees have built shops, a school, and a mosque. Families no longer live in tents but have built solid houses instead with materials provided by the Kurdish government.

Photo by author

Photo by author

I think it’s easy to assume that Syrians have just started a new life for themselves at these camps, but the conditions were just as bad as I imagined. The streets were dusty and dirty, and there was no easy way for people to bathe. There was water supply and medical services provided by Unicef Iraq, but it was clear that this wasn’t enough.

Photo by author

Photo by author

There were two things that really surprised me about my visit to Darashakran. The first was that children made up the largest population in the camp, they were everywhere. The second was that Darashakran was filled with men dressed in suits. Many Syrian refugees have high levels of education and were once part of Syria’s middle class. I met engineers, lawyers, these people had jobs in their home countries that required them to dress well. So they brought their suits to these camps.

The true story about a Syrian refugee

After staying at Darashakran well into the evening, Blend and I said goodbye. On our way back to the hotel, he took me to another camp which was meant only for wealthy Syrian refugees. The camp was filled with villas for people to live in, and there were cars. This was where Blend and his cousin’s family lived. We went to his house for shisha and tea.

I asked Blend’s cousin how he ended up in Iraq and he explained that he was from a beautiful village in eastern Syria. When the Islamic State took over the village, his family had two choices: either submit to their rules or leave. That was the only story he could tell. More like this: 5 things social media is getting wrong about the refugee crisis

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons

Syria has been in the news since 2011, when the first pro-democracy uprising demanded the ousting of the then-current President, Assad. The government crushed the protests, which led the country to collapse into civil war. By 2012, small rebel cells were fighting government forces for control of major cities. The Islamic State, a terrorist organization attempting to take control of large chunks of the Middle East, have also been carrying out multiple attacks in an effort to control (and cow) the population. Russia and the United States have been attacking Syrian locations in an effort to wipe out the Islamic State, which is wreaking more havoc within the already faltering infrastructure. In December of 2016, government forces launched a military offensive (codenamed Operation Dawn of Victory) in the city of Aleppo which killed more than 1200, more than half civilians.

More than 4.5 million refugees have flooded out of the country, and some estimate there are almost 7 million more who are internally displaced. 70% of the remaining population is without access to clean drinking water and 30% have no access to food. The Islamic State continues to attack eastern Syria, preventing humanitarian organizations from successfully providing aid. Despite Donald Trump’s plan to ban refugees from entering the US, you can still help people whose lives are literal piles of smoking wreckage.

1. Donate.

A lot of the time, your money is the best thing you can give people in crisis. Humanitarian organizations can do the work they do because they have the infrastructure in place to move quickly and effectively. Donating to a reputable aid organization can do wonders to help not only Syrian refugees, but Syrians still in their country. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, provides heating and stoves to people in refugee camps, as well as insulation, tents, and thermal clothing. Doctors without Borders is providing vaccinations and health care through mobile units in countries neighboring Syria, as well as attempting to service the internally displaced refugees within Syria. Shelterbox is an emergency disaster response in a reusable box: every box contains a tent and ground cloth, water purification system, mosquito nets, and other utensils. When empty, a Shelterbox can be used as storage or even as a crib for a new baby.

2. Welcome refugees in your community.

In Germany, an organization called Refugees Welcome bills itself as sort of “AirBNB for refugees” — it allows interested Germans to sign up their apartments to flatshare with refugees in need of somewhere to stay. The company will assist with rent payment to ensure no refugees are turned away due to lack of funds. In Australia, Joining the Dots runs the Welcome Dinner Project: they train facilitators to assist community members in hosting dinners for refugees and migrants, allowing them to make contacts and feel welcomed in their new homes. You can also donate money or clothing to local charities, churches, and other organizations that are collecting supplies to aid refugees in individual municipalities; in Montreal, for example, a local group was overwhelmed with donations of winter clothes for Syrian refugees and had to beg community members to stop donating until they could find a larger storage facility.

3. Do you speak Arabic? Volunteer with the International Refugee Assistance Project!

This group empowers lawyers and law students to provide international aid to refugees and potential refugees. If you can assist with translation, you can help lawyers do Skype interviews with refugees in need of legal advice. This can help the most at-risk refugees get to places of safety, or allow a family to be reunited.

4. If your country is involved with airstrikes in Syria, call them out.

There are many countries involved in doing further damage to Syria, under the policy of “acceptable casualties”. For the millions of Syrian refugees, there is no acceptable level of casualties. Take the opportunity to speak out to your government and tell them you oppose further attacks on the already decimated Syrian landscape and civilians.

5. Arrange film screenings in your community.

This can raise awareness of the crisis, and also provide opportunities to learn more about the refugees who may already be in your area. Some possible titles are: Return to Homs, Border, The Suffering Grasses, We Can Go There Now My Dear, The Journey from Syria, Our Terrible Country, Streets of Freedom, Syria: Snapshots of History in the Making. Cultures of Resistance Films can help provide screening copies free of charge.

6. Advocate for better coverage on Syrians.

Ensure that news coverage of Syrian refugees in your area includes actual contact with refugees. Challenge problematic stories and demand corrections. If you are hosting an event to raise awareness of refugees or provide information on how to help, invite Syrians to speak. Step aside to let their voices be heard! Similarly, advocate for protection for refugees and bring it to the media if you do not get a response.

7. Support businesses run by refugees.

The hardest part of moving to a new country (under terrible duress) is the financial hardship. Most refugees have only a small government stipend and had to leave most of their possessions and assets in their home country, never to be reclaimed. There are plenty of opportunities to support refugees as they attempt to get their feet underneath them; check out this Syrian man who sold pens on the street in Beirut and was the subject of an Indiegogo campaign that raised almost $200,000.

8. Check your government web pages for information on refugees and how you can help.

The Canadian government has a centralized web page for information on the crisis, which provides a regularly-updated tally of how many refugees have been accepted into Canada (39,671 as of January 2, 2017). It also provides information for refugees to help them transition to their new lives, and interviews with new migrants to tell their stories.

9. Are you a business owner? There are lots of ways to help.

Hire refugees wherever you can; Chobani makes Greek yogurt, and 30% of their workforce of 2000 is composed of Syrian refugees. You can mobilize your employees to do outreach or fundraising events, or donate a percentage of your profits to refugee aid organizations. The Norwegian hotelier Petter Stordalen offered 5000 free stays for refugees in any of their Norwegian locations. Find out what refugees in your community need the most, and figure out a way to connect your business. You can also use the hashtag #WelcomeRefugees on social media to demonstrate your willingness to provide support. More like this: What happens when a millennial becomes a refugee

Photo by Lorie Shaull

The problem

This past Friday, Jan. 27th, President Trump signed an executive order banning all people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States for at least 90 days — even if they had a visa, a Green Card or were actually in the air, returning home to the States as the order was signed. The order also bans all refugees from entering the U.S. for at least 120 days and bans all Syrian refugees indefinitely. Even permanent legal residents of the United States were detained at airports over the weekend, some for more than 30 hours.

This is the “Muslim Ban” Donald Trump ran his campaign on — bundled up in a neat package that is supposed to make us feel safer. Even though, according to a recent report by the Cato Institute, not one single foreign national from any of the above-listed countries killed any American on U.S. soil between the years of 1975 and 2015. Trump is claiming that this ban is only temporary, they’re just working on tightening up the U.S. immigration vetting procedures. In reality, our vetting procedures are some of the strongest in the world and they do not need to be tightened up.

The good news is that the American Civil Liberties Union is on it, they’ve filed a class action lawsuit. And a federal judge successfully blocked part of the order — temporarily — ruling that any traveler with a valid visa who has successfully landed in the U.S., shouldn’t be sent home or be detained at an airport for hours on end just because nobody knows what to do with them. (As of Sunday evening, though, four people were still detained at JFK airport.) In addition to all that, protests and rallies broke out across the country. JFK and LAX airports were among those filled with allies holding pro-Immigrant signs, standing in solidarity with the people who have been detained or turned away, purely because of their nationality and/or religion.

A photo posted by @chivexp on Jan 29, 2017 at 6:55pm PST

Here’s what you can do.

Show up to your nearest airport. Or join a rally or protest near you.

Many protests occurred over the weekend. Think Progress published a schedule for many of them here. To keep up-to-date with others that may be occurring in your community, follow your local ACLU branch.

Remember that you don’t need to attend a scheduled rally or march to protest Trump’s Muslim Ban. All you need to do is show up with some friends and family at the arrivals section of your nearest airport to stand in solidarity with those being discriminated against.

Call your senators and congress people.

Call 202-225-3121 in D.C. and tell the operator who you’d like to be connected to. If you’re unsure of how your representatives have reacted to the Muslim Ban, look into it. Vanity Fair has a round-up of Republican reactions here. Many Republicans have already come out opposing the ban, others (like my own Maine Congressman Bruce Poliquin) have claimed they just aren’t going to vote on it.

All you have to say is:

I do not support President Trump’s Muslim Ban. It is unconstitutional, un-American, and I expect you to take an immediate stand against it.

But if you want to add some points of your own, here are some other things you can say.

If your representative supports or has remained silent on the ban: Why are you agreeing with [or remaining silent on] the same measure that KKK Grand Wizard David Duke is currently praising?

Cite the Cato Institute reportTrump’s Muslim ban prohibits people from seven different Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The Cato Institute looked into all of those countries, and between the years of 1975 and 2015, not one foreign national from either killed an American on U.S. soil. Why are these countries being targeted? 

It’s been proven that when a city or town accepts refugees, the local economy receives a boost. I am looking forward to welcoming refugees from other cultures into my community. Why has President Trump banned Syrian refugees indefinitely? 

Ask your representative to give you one reason why this Muslim Ban is not an example of discrimination based on nationality and religion. 

If you have a friend or family member who identifies as Muslim, tell your representative about them. Share a memory or story that illustrates how important this person is to you. Maybe that person has experienced some form of hate speech or discrimination. If you have their permission, share their story.

That’s all you have to do. Time estimate: less than 5 minutes.

If you completed this action, or have other thoughts, leave your comments below. Matador Network is committed to providing you with easy ways to speak out against the issues that impact us all. If you have an Action Alert suggestion from your community, state, or country, contact Emma at emma@matadornetwork.com.

More like this: Action alert: support a woman's right to choice

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THIS PAST FRIDAY, Jan. 27th, President Trump signed an executive order banning all people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States for at least 90 days — even if they had a visa, a Green Card or were actually in the air, returning home to the States as the order was signed. The order also bans all refugees from entering the U.S. for at least 120 days and bans all Syrian refugees indefinitely. Even permanent legal residents of the United States were detained at airports over the weekend, some for more than 30 hours.

Click here to know what steps to take against Trump’s Muslim ban.

IN TRAVELER CIRCLES, THERE ARE a couple of accepted truths about the Muslim world. The first is that the people don’t hate Americans and westerners. Piia Mustamäki, one of our Finnish writers, writes that Iran is a great and hospitable place to travel, even as a solo woman traveler. British writer Will Hatton loves Iran, too: he met his wife there — on Tinder, of all places. Writer Shawn Sippin found that even Egypt, post revolution, was a fun place to visit with hospitable people. Photographer Jeremy Ullman says, “I feel safer in Amman than I often do in London.”

The second accepted truth is that, if you listen to the media, you could be forgiven to think that Muslim countries are extraordinarily dangerous, especially for westerners. But this, for the most part, is not true — there are, of course, places like Syria and Somalia, where you should not be traveling right now. But most of the Muslim world is safe.

In light of the recent events targeting Muslims here in the west, we’ve dug into our Travelstoke archives. The Muslim world is — like the rest of the world — a beautiful place full of beautiful people. It stretches from Oceania through Asia, across the North of Africa, and into Europe, and cannot be painted simply in broad strokes. It is as diverse as the Christian world, with about as many people. Don’t believe the hype.

Jordan

 Petra by NightPetra District, JordanPetra

 Amman CitadelAmman, JordanAmazing city views up here! Loved hearing the call to prayer while the sun went down. #myjordanjourney

 Ajloun CastleAjloun, JordanReally cool castle overlooking the city and some beatiful rolling hills.

Turkey

 CappadociaGöreme Belediyesi, TurkeyParallel universe

United Arab Emirates

 MesquitaAbu Dhabi, United Arab EmiratesAbu Dhabi

 Burj Al Arab JumeirahDubai, United Arab EmiratesSunset over the famous Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai. 💰

Iran

 Zoroastrian Towers of SilenceYazd, Iran#Zoroastrian #dakhma or Tower of Silence on the outskirts of #Yazd in #Iran. Believing a dead body was unclean and would pollute the soil, the Zoroastrians placed bodies at the top of this tower and exposed to the sun and vultures instead of being buried in the ground.

Egypt

 The Great Pyramid at GizaNazlet El-Semman, EgyptThe most surprising thing about the Great pyramids of Giza is how close they are to Cairo. You can actually see them while driving in the city. The second thing you notice is how small they are compared to your childhood imagination. But still, they are amazing. Whether it was alien laserbeams that created those things or the hands of lowly slaves, it is an impressive feat. Be careful of the locals, they will try to rip you off or rob you. Also be careful of the swirling mini sand-nado’s. If it gets in your eyes you will lose precious viewing time 🙈 ain’t no body got time for that!  Also head to the Sphinx statue nearby, find the best view from the bathroom of KFC! #sandy #wonderoftheworld #ancienthistory #egyptians #architecture #amazing #statue #history

Pakistan

 Mazino Base Camp, nullGreat please for spend time

Kyrgyzstan

 Alp-Lager Ala ArchaAlamudun, Kyrgyzstan#hiking #outdoors #Kyrgyzstan #bishkek #mountains

Indonesia

 Dusun BambuCihanjuang Rahayu, IndonesiaWonderful nature

 Teluk KiluanKiluan Negeri, IndonesiaKiluan #bay is the #cheapest place you can see a #dolpin . #extreme experience used small wooden boat go to #sea to watching #dolphins . #scary also #exciting #experience .

 Sewu TempleBoko Harjo, IndonesiaWithin the Prambanan temple compound. Eerily captivating, and has a very ancient spiritual feel here. Take a break away from the Prambanan crowd, and walk over here for some peaceful moments especially in the late afternoon sun, before ending your visit. #history #temple

Malaysia

 Perdana Botanical GardensKuala Lumpur, MalaysiaPetrona Towers, impressive skyscraper.

 Batu CavesBatu Caves, MalaysiaBatu Caves in Malaysia, climb 272 steps. You can go in and see the temple and on your way down make sure you go on a tour into the Dark Cave is quite and experience. #cave #temple #malaysia

Albania

 Divjaka Resort, AlbaniaOne way

Bosnia and Herzegovina

 Old BridgeMostar, Bosnia and HerzegovinaMeander around the narrow cobbled streets with an ice cream and browse the arts and crafts, or take to the shade under the trees at one of the many cafes nestled on the river banks. Marvel at the charm and character of what was a war zone in the early 90s…

Morocco

 Ait BenhaddouProvince d’El Hajeb, MoroccoOne of the coolest ancient Arabic cities in the world. Was a stopping spot for the caravans coming out of the Sahara on their way to Marrakech. Also where the Gladiator, Game of Thrones and countless other movies were filmed.

 Hassan II MosqueCasablanca, Moroccowhen in Casablanca, a visit to this impressive place of worship is a definite

 MedinaAsilah, MoroccoGreece or Morocco?

Gambia

 Leybato’s Hotel & RestaurantSerrekunda, GambiaA good place to relax for some days. Great view & nice people. #free-wifi

More like this: Why westerners should travel to Muslim countries
space-travel

Art by Jaideep Khemani.

The future of travel is here

In 2018, two space tourists will make a loop around the moon. SpaceX, the private rocket company owned by billionaire and mad scientist Elon Musk, has announced that it is going to send two tourists on a loop around the moon in 2018. Unfortunately for us, those two people have already been chosen, and are going to be paying big money. The exact amount has not been disclosed, but it’s safe to assume it’ll be in the tens of millions at least. This would be the farthest any human has traveled from earth in over 40 years, back when Apollo 13 used the moon’s gravity to slingshot itself back towards earth. [Time]

Also in futuristic travel science: Airlines are using science to make plane food better. You know how every comedian has a joke about bad airline food? Turns out, that’s not because of a lack of culinary expertise in the skies. It’s because the low air pressure, the noise, and the dry air can mess with your taste buds and your dining experience. Now, airlines are trying to use science to make plane food taste better. They know, for instance, that grapes grown at higher altitudes (like in Chile) make for better wine in the air. So they’re going to push more Chilean wine in-flight. They also know that our sensitivity to sweet or salty foods decrease in flight, while our ability to taste umami foods increases — so they’re offering more umami foods. One brewery based out of Denmark is even brewing beer specifically for airlines. Scientists may just make airline food jokes a thing of the past. [New York Times]

This week in “people being awesome.”

Leftovers from Oscars after-parties fed over 800 people in LA. The Oscars are known for their extravagance. The after-parties are known to be exquisitely catered, but all of those beautiful people don’t really eat all the food that’s put in front of them. So actress Freida Pinto (most famous for Slumdog Millionaire) teamed up with local charities to make sure that food didn’t just end up in the trash. The charities made sure that the leftovers ended up in local food banks, and in the end, 800 people were fed with what was left behind. [Global Citizen]

So excited to be kicking off Oscar weekend with this fantastic initiative. This year #Copia and I team up with some of Oscar weekends biggest parties to recover excess food and deliver it to communities most in need in Los Angeles. #zerowaste #zerohunger Because this food is too good to be wasted. Thank you Women in Film for your incredible support 📷@hellomikeamico

A post shared by Freida Pinto (@freidapinto) on Feb 24, 2017 at 11:45pm PST

A Michigan Muslim woman is running the Boston Marathon to raise money for refugees. Rahaf Khatib is from Damascus, Syria, originally, but has lived in Michigan since the 1980’s. She’s also a pretty serious marathon runner — she’s done 6 in the past two years. This year, she decided to run the Boston Marathon in order to raise money for Syrian Refugees. She’s already raised nearly 10,000 of her 12,000 goal with 46 days left. You can help close that gap here. [MuslimGirl.com]

Muslims are stepping up to fight anti-Semitic vandalism across the country. Over the past few weeks, 2 Jewish Cemeteries have been vandalized in St. Louis and in Philadelphia. The vandalism has been received with near-unanimous horror across the country, but a silver-lining story has come out of both attacks: Muslims are leading the way in fighting the vandalism. In both cities, local Muslim cultural centers have stood up in solidarity with their Jewish neighbors, and have raised crazy amounts of money to repair the damages headstones in the cemeteries. It hasn’t been just Muslims, either: police, politicians, and labor unions have all chipped in as well. As horrifying as the vandalism has been, it’s been heartening to see the rest of the country rise up in rejection of the anti-Semitism. [CNN]

America is my home. When I chose to become a U.S. citizen 20 years ago, I swore to protect it from enemies, foreign and domestic, and I take this oath very seriously. If refugees posed a credible threat, would I vehemently oppose their entry into the U.S.? Absolutely. But there is no evidence suggesting that refugees are, or will be, a threat to America. These refugees are escaping terror, and the robust vetting process protecting our borders ensures that this is the case. Yet many of my fellow Americans support a Muslim ban.

I am a refugee from one of these banned countries. This is my story.

***

I was a rebellious teen. What set me apart from millions of other rebellious teenagers around the world was that my acts of rebellion could have gotten me executed.

I had all but forgotten what freedom was like, even though deep in my belly I knew this wasn’t right.

That’s because I was a 13-year-old in post-revolution Iran, where the laws deemed any sort of opposition as an act of treason. And not any kind of treason. It was treason against God and therefore punishable by death. Acts of treason included, but were not limited to: playing chess or cards, listening to unapproved music, fraternizing with a person of the opposite sex to whom you were not related, women displaying unapproved body parts such as hair, possessing contraband literature, and expressing any negative opinions about any of the above.

I was guilty of a number of these infractions, but most were committed in the privacy of my home, which was only raided once. I had lived under these laws since I was 6, and I had all but forgotten what freedom was like, even though deep in my belly I knew this wasn’t right.

My resistance began when I was 7, founded on a fierce belief in equal rights. The new law had me cover my hair, while boys could dress as they pleased. I defied this law by pretending to be a boy from time to time — until people began recognizing me in public, and I had to stop.

So I engaged in secret deeds of defiance that would have given my parents a heart attack if they were privy to them. While every morning at school, I was forced to chant “Death to America,” in the darkness of the night I snuck out and wrote these words on my neighbors’ walls: “Death to Khomeini. Death to the Dictator.” The messages stood in stark contrast to the pro-regime graffiti that covered walls at the time. I would write on every clean space I could find; when the owners of the houses would paint over the blasphemous writing, I would rewrite the same messages the following night.

Soon after the revolution, my sister’s classmate was arrested and executed without trial, which was not uncommon. She was 16. At the time, half of my sister’s classmates were in prison for normal activities like possessing anti-revolutionary literature and expressing defiant views, now a crime under the new rule of law. Sometime later, my dad ran into the slain girl’s father and asked why she was executed. The man had shaken his head; “they never told us.”

Clearly capital punishment wasn’t a deterrent, as I continued my illicit activities while my parents were sleeping. Perhaps I was depressed over an unending war that had my people in a perpetual state of mourning. Or I just could no longer carry the mountain of everyday restrictions on my shoulders. Death was one answer. The other was to escape the nightmare of Iran and flee to America. But that was as lofty a prospect as winning the lottery.

***

I knew my history. I knew that once upon a time we had a fledgling yet thriving democracy in Iran. Iranian oil was nationalized, and my mother recalls purchasing oil stocks as a teenager. But the British, with the help of the CIA, deposed our democratic leader, so they could continue enjoying access to our cheap oil. The ramifications of this coup d’état led to the mistrust of the U.S.-backed Shah and eventually prompted the Iranian revolution. Even so, I couldn’t find too much fault with a country that produced Michael Jackson and Madonna.

More than anything, I wanted to move to America.

When I was 14, my mother wrote a poem about India’s Independence Day, and when the Indian ambassador took a liking to it, we got a visa to go to India. From there, I was eventually able to obtain a U.S. visa. I landed in Las Cruces, New Mexico with my parents, who then left to return home to Iran to be with my sister. Being completely out of my element in America was like a twisted anthropological experiment.

I was thrilled to be in America, but every time I thought of Iran, a deep saudade brought tears to my eyes. Eventually, I settled in to my home — and all the daily restrictions I was so accustomed to gradually disappeared. Trauma has a way of taking one’s voice away. It took a long while to get used to the freedom of speech. I found myself astounded that people could openly criticize the President without retribution. The Constitution protected my rights, and most people I knew respected the law rather than feared it. My new home certainly wasn’t free of problems, but I continually saw how people stood up for the oppressed and tried to make laws more just. It was hard not to fall in love with America.

***

When anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiments began spreading last year, I became concerned. Then a parent at the pick-up area of my son’s multi-cultural elementary school exclaimed, “When Trump becomes President, all you immigrants will be deported!” Something broke loose inside me. This was my home, and the only home my child has known, yet I was viewed as the “other.”

It was hard not to fall in love with America.

This time, I had my voice. I began speaking out. Through this activism I met a woman from the Kurdistan region of Iraq. It turns out that we spent our childhood growing up on opposite sides of the Iran-Iraq war. As we got to know one another, we realized that our experiences from that time bore striking similarities.

I remember being 7 years old, doing homework in the darkness of our basement as the earth shook from Iraqi bombs. She recalls being 14 in another basement fearing that she might die by an incoming Iranian missile. This war lasted eight years and claimed more than a million lives. We both recall the brutal loss of our family and friends.

Like the last scene of The Usual Suspects where the detective is putting together the clues, I connected the dots: My family members who had been drafted by the Iranian army were quite possibly responsible for the death of my new friend’s family — and vice versa. The U.S. was selling weapons to both Iran and Iraq during that war. In 1988, Saddam turned his chemical weapons against his own people in Kurdistan. He was supported militarily and politically by the U.S. and other Western countries. In 2003, Iraq was invaded by the US. Now, along with more than a million fellow Iranians and Iraqis, my Iraqi friend and I live in America.

To add irony to the present predicament, my Iraqi friend first took refuge in Syria before migrating to the U.S. Now she is helping Syrian refugees settle in the U.S. Both of our families and those of the Syrians are now subject to the Muslim ban.

***

I call America home. I take my oath to protect it seriously. And while the fate of refugees hangs in the balance of a fierce legal battle, I am compelled to reflect on my past. In Iran, it took only a matter of months to cut women’s rights in half, jail journalists, target people of a certain religion, become involved in a deadly war, and label dissidents as terrorists. The Iranian government cited security to trump freedom and rights, and its supporters followed along without questioning the new laws.

Under those new laws, for participating in even the most minor of infractions, I most likely would have died or been imprisoned if America hadn’t welcomed me. Girls were imprisoned, raped, and killed for showing hair or talking to a boy; boys were killed for possessing anti-revolutionary pamphlets or hashish.

***

In the early days post-revolution, we knew something was wrong when numerous fatwas were issued to brutalize us and do away with our civil rights. But consider what a fatwa is: It’s an executive order, unhindered by checks and balances, issued by a supreme leader. Our American democratic ideals and rights guaranteed by the Constitution are being undermined right now.

There are enemies I must protect America from. And they’re not the refugees.

This story originally appeared on The Establishment and is republished here with permission.

More like this: This was my experience visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq

Rudi is a runner, he loves the great outdoors and running long distances. He also holds a Ph.D. in linguistics and once talked about “ataraxia”, this incredible state of freedom that he sometimes reaches during long alpine outings. This film is about understanding that feeling. More like this: Running as sanity in Syria

This week’s winning tale

Thai art on a plate

The monsoon arrived early in Thailand. Amid the daily deluge, sunbathing was limited and a huge umbrella essential. Khao Lak, ravaged by the 2004 tsunami, looked forlorn – but the hotel offered solace in the form of delicious Thai food.

We enjoyed nightly feasts of fragrant curry, its heat tempered with jasmine rice. Every plate was delicately garnished with exquisitely carved vegetables. I was eager to try myself, so joined one of the hotel’s food-carving workshops.

I was the only student, faced with a non-English speaking chef and two assistants who translated and smiled a lot. The chef wielded a scalpel-like tool with a flourish, turning a humble tomato into a delicate red rose. They looked at me expectantly. After a number of ham-fisted attempts, I created a tomato rose, carrot “leaves” and spring onions with dainty curling tips. Such attention to detail is admirable. My Thai carving knife is yet to be used.

Anne Crittenden, from Berkshire, wins a £500 voucher with TravelLocal

The worlds 18 greatest cities for food

More feedback from readers

Sweet memories of Aleppo in Istanbul’s ‘Little Syria’

Once the jewel in Aleppo’s culinary diadem, Salloura was known throughout Syria for its heady yet tender, intelligently balanced pastries. Most venerated were the Halawet el Jibn: pancake dough drenched in rosewater and orange blossom, filled with clotted cream.

Today, Salloura Oglu (“Son of Salloura” in Turkish) gleams quietly and proudly 500 miles to the north, in the thronging Askaray neighbourhood of Istanbul, known as “Little Syria”. The dining area is a stark little room with neon lighting, a humble setting that contrasts poetically with the majesty of the Aleppian cuisine brought to your table: lamb and quince stew; ground lamb and pistachio meatballs in rich yogurt; and muhammara, a dip made with red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses.

On your way out, stop at the pastry counter and buy a selection, including Halawet el Jibn. These will be placed in an appropriately regal purple box with golden lettering gleaming in Arabic and English: From Aleppo to Istanbul.

Alex Witt, Cambridge

Aleppian cuisine is on the menu in Istanbul's Little SyriaAleppian cuisine is on the menu in Istanbul's Little SyriaCredit:ALAMY

A Penang cookery class with views as hot as the food

My husband and I were staying in Penang, Malaysia, and enrolled on a cookery course at the local spice garden. First we walked round the garden with a herbalist and a chef, collecting our herbs and spices. Then we went back to the kitchen, where we learnt how to fillet fish and make sambal – a very spicy, chilli-based Malay dish.

Afterwards, the whole group (eight of us) went up onto a covered veranda in the forest to eat our dishes with a selection of salads, sea vegetables (samphire and fern) and jack fruit. It was all accompanied by nutmeg juice, which has a strange taste but is oddly moreish. The birds and monkeys were all around us, and we enjoyed amazing views of the sea. The experience was unforgettable.

Jane Murray, Newcastle upon Tyne

Making spicy sambal sauce in MalaysiaMaking spicy sambal sauce in MalaysiaCredit:ALAMY

Five courses of culinary magic in Cambodia

Street lights sparkled above the dusty pavements of northern Siem Reap, Cambodia. Generators throbbed above the noise of insects and tuk-tuk engines, their owners desperate for a fare. Was it really sensible to walk out for an evening meal? We are, after all, in our 60s.

In the restaurant we chose, lighting was provided by bulbs ingeniously housed in old-fashioned graters. The food was prepared open plan, behind glass, by staff in immaculate whites who demonstrated amazing speed and precision. Woks steamed. The commands from the main man were indecipherable.

The meal comprised five courses of Cambodian magic: carpaccio of snakehead fish with a poached egg; a consommé marinated in red ant powder; curried Mekong langoustines; fried pork eggplant and peppers; and a perfect chocolate fondant with mango and passion fruit sauce.

Seriously, did we just eat that? It pays to be adventurous at 60-plus. John and Greg from MasterChef would certainly have approved.

Craig Findlater, Hampshire

Gruesome food: 20 of the worlds most bizarre dishes

An Indian Sunday lunch in Singapore

It was a hot Sunday in Singapore’s Little India, which was milling with Indian workers on their day off. Being the only woman was intimidating.

Ambur Biryani in Cuff Road provided a refuge from the heat and bustle. As we sipped cold beers, the sight and smell of the huge plates of biryani being enjoyed by workers at our long table proved overwhelming. Soon we, too, sat eating piles of fragrant, aromatic rice and fish.

We began to feel part of it all, exchanging pleasantries with our neighbours as far as we could with no knowledge of Tamil. Smiles and gestures go a long way. The bill was staggeringly low for what had been a gastronomic delight.

Diana Jones, London

A Biryani served on a banana leaf in Little a href=A Biryani served on a banana leaf in Little India, Singapore Credit:ALAMY

Malaysian food hall serves fragrant alfresco feast

We had arrived on a humid April night after a 13-hour flight to Penang, Malaysia. The noise, smell and lights of the city’s outdoor Long Beach food court immediately transported us to the heart of Asian cuisine.

More than 20 vendors sold everything from the renowned “chicken and rice” to hot and crispy dosas served with delicious lentil dhal and spicy pickles.

One stall served bite-sized chicken and beef satay by the dozen. There was freshly baked naan, fragrant laksa and great big bowls of noodles served with fresh greens, meat and tiny shrimps, topped with an egg. Sizzling prawns were piled high.

Traditional rice-based dishes included nasi lemak and nasi kandar, made even tastier with brinjal, or aubergine. Other delights included rich beef rendang and hokkien mee (fried noodles) with an amazing garnish of crispy fried pork lard.

Mariella Ardron, Middlesex

Penang is a feast for the eyes as well as the bellyPenang is a feast for the eyes as well as the bellyCredit:AP/FOTOLIA

Trout and mountain views at an Iranian tea house

I was lucky enough to live for two years as a teenager in Iran. One of the many delicious meals I had was in a valley near Tehran, called Lashgarak. We ate at a roadside chai-khana (tea house), under a leafy vine canopy, just across the road from a rushing river filled with trout. It was overhung by precipitous mountains leading up to an old assassins’ castle.

Our meal began with half a dozen sardine-sized trout – blasted from the river, apparently, with a stick of dynamite. This was followed by a whole baby chicken each – which, like the fish, was charcoal-grilled because it was far too remote for electricity. All this was accompanied by glasses of yogurt, sabzi (a rocket-like salad) and unleavened bread. It was delicious, and the flavours remain with me even now.

Mrs Carol Paton, Hampshire

reasons to visit Iran

Beautiful broth was the best meal in Borneo

This valley beyond Kinabalu, in Borneo, was not tourist territory and the hotel clearly catered for the local Chinese population. Our waiter had no English, so we indicated with gestures that we wanted enough food to feed the three of us.

A massive steel pot arrived, with a tray of vegetables, meat, eggs and sauces. The waiter demonstrated how to put prawns into the steaming broth, then retired to watch the foreigners, along with his giggling colleagues.

The thinly sliced beef and chicken came out of the broth tender and fragrant. The vegetables, dipped into soy and spring onion sauces, were fresh and delicious. We were not sure whether we had to poach the eggs or drop them in whole. Neighbouring diners mimed how to crack them into the broth and fish them out with a bamboo strainer. Finally we drank the broth itself, by now extra tasty. It was the best meal of our trip.

Susan Beer, Kent

10 great food holidays for solo travellers

How to enter

Tell us about your favourite city in Australia: you might favour stylish Sydney, cosmopolitan Melbourne or tropical Darwin. You could refer to the culture, the architecture, the food or the atmosphere. The reader who sends in the best entry will win a £500 travel voucher.

Lens on Syria: A Photographic Tour of Its Ancient and Modern Culture

Daniel Demeter

Thousands of remarkable monuments and relics fill the land of Syria from the coast of the Mediterranean to its desert borders, dating back to the dawn of human history. The sites include: Bronze Age ruins, Roman temples and necropolises, churches and monasteries from the early Christian and Byzantine eras, Muslim forts and mosques, Crusader castles, and many more. When conflict broke out in 2011, these treasures were put at great risk and in subsequent years, many were destroyed in battles—some were even the intentional targets of extremists. From 2006–2009, American photographer Daniel Demeter traveled broadly throughout Syria, documenting the country’s warm and kindhearted people, vibrant markets, exciting landscapes, archaeological sites, historic monuments, and religious architecture. In seven chapters organized by region, Lens on Syria offers a unique visual experience of pre-war Syria and serves as an invaluable record of the country’s long history, rich heritage, and diverse culture.

Syria: A Historical And Architectural Guide

Warwick Ball

revised & updated edition

With a wealth of historical splendors matched by few other countries, Syria has remained almost undiscovered by mass tourism. As a result, little has been spoiled, much is unknown, and there is much to discover.

It is a land of immense antiquity, boasting cities and archaeological remains that are among the oldest in the world. Hittites, Hurrians and Hebrews, Aramaeans, Assyrians and Arabs, Egyptians, Canaanites, Persians, Nabateans, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Turks and French have all come, leaving behind some of the most spectacular monuments that can be seen anywhere. Today, entire deserted cities such as Palmyra or Resafeh, immense castles like Crac des Chevaliers and a bewildering array of palaces, mosques, temples, theatres, churches and other ruins strewn across the country provides Syria with one of the richest and most diverse heritages in the world.

Syria's timeless monuments overawe the visitor. But they can enchant as well: to lose oneself in the back-streets and bazaars of old Damascus and Aleppo - still perhaps the most wholly satisfying traditional cities of the Arab world today - or to experience the sheer enchantment of the utterly haunting Dead Cities - probably the greatest concentration of ruins in the entire Mediterranean - is to experience travel at its very best. Most of all, the visitor to Syria meets with the characteristic courtesy and hospitality to outsiders that makes travel in the Arab world such a pleasure. Syria is still 'the best kept secret'.

The new completely revised and updated edition of this book is to keep pace both with the rapid increase in travel to Syria and the new material which has appeared on Syria itself.

With lucid and informative text, this book reconsiders the history and heritage of Syria and surveys the major sites, making a strong case for reassessing its importance in our perception of the growth of civilization out of the Middle East. With its many site plans and maps, readable text and 96 color plates, it makes available the immensely wealthy history, archaeology and architecture of Syria to the general reader and the interested traveler.

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq

Sarah Glidden

"Sarah Glidden’s remarkable Rolling Blackouts adds a new twist to the [graphic journalism] form. Glidden accompanies a team of journalists through Syria and Iraq and her muted watercolours record not only the lives of people in war zones but the way the media interacts with them. Highly recommended."―The Guardian

Cartoonist Sarah Glidden accompanies her two friends―reporters and founders of a journalism non-profit―as they research potential stories on the effects of the Iraq War on the Middle East and, specifically, the war’s refugees. Joining the trio is a childhood friend and former Marine whose past service in Iraq adds an unexpected and sometimes unwelcome viewpoint, both to the people they come across and perhaps even themselves.

As the crew works their way through Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, Glidden observes the reporters as they ask civilians, refugees, and officials, “Who are you?” Everyone has a story to tell: the Iranian blogger, the United Nations refugee administrator, a taxi driver, the Iraqi refugee deported from the US, the Iraqis seeking refuge in Syria, and even the American Marine.

Glidden (How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less) records all that she encounters with a sympathetic and searching eye. Painted in her trademark soft, muted watercolors and written with a self-effacing humor, Rolling Blackouts cements Glidden’s place as one of today’s most original nonfiction voices.

The Monuments of Syria

Ross Burns

Syria is home to some of the world’s richest historical and archaeological remains dating from the Bronze Age through biblical and Byzantine times to the early Islamic and Ottoman periods. Yet even in an age of mass tourism these magnificent monuments are little known and rarely visited--in other words, ripe for discovery by independent-minded and adventurous travellers. The Monuments of Syria is organized as a gazetteer of all Syria’s historical sites, with complementary sections on history and architectural influences and comprehensive chronologies and glossaries. This fully revised edition includes the latest information about site visits and the layout of museums, extensive and detailed itineraries for further travel and a new 24-page color section.

The Desert and the Sown: Travels in Palestine and Syria

Gertrude Bell

Born to transcend the social constraints of Victorian England, Gertrude Bell left the comforts of her privileged life for the unconventional — but thrilling — world of the Middle East. One of the first women to graduate from Oxford, she traveled to Persia and became passionately drawn to the Arab people, the language, and their architecture. A skilled archeologist, historian, and linguist, Bell traveled the world and wrote compelling, perceptive accounts of her daring journeys. The Desert and the Sown is considered to be one of her masterpieces. A magnificent account of personal discovery and political history, this intriguing narrative traces Bell's 1905 sojourn through Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. With an eye for vivid detail, "the female Lawrence of Arabia" offers intriguing images from her often dangerous "wild travel" through regions never seen by another foreign woman. One hundred sixty extraordinary photos illustrate camel caravans; ruins of castles and monasteries; local markets and bazaars; Damascus with its gardens, domes, and minarets; and more. But it's Bell's impressions and conversations with contacts and confidantes of varied cultures that will hold you captive. An inspiring portrait of a woman who overcame the barriers of her generation, as well as a piece of history that offers insight into current events in the Middle East, The Desert and the Sown is fascinating reading for travelers, explorers, and citizens of the world. The book also served as the basis for the 2016 Werner Herzog film Queen of the Desert, starring Nicole Kidman, James Franco, and Robert Pattinson. Map included.

Syria, Lebanon = Syrie, Liban = Syrien, Libanon = Sziria, Libanon (Country Map)

Cartographia

Folded road and travel map in color. Scale 1:1,000,000. Distinguishes roads ranging from motorways to dirt roads. Legend includes state boundaries, border crossings, provincial boundaries, regions of Palestinian Autonomy, cease-fire lines, salt lakes, wells, stony deserts, lava fields, forests, scenic views, holiday resorts, gas stations, international airports, airfields, castles, ruins, historic ruins, churches, monasteries, mosques, places of interest, hotels, camping sites, motels, beaches, watersports facilities. Includes inset of Beirut, Damascus, Halab, Plan of the antiquities of Palmyra. Extensive index on back of map.

Lonely Planet Syria & Lebanon (Lonely Planet Syria and Lebanon) (Multi Country Travel Guide)

Terry Carter

Discover Syria & LebanonSmile your thanks when the elderly caretaker of a Damascus house opens the door just for youTest-drive your Arabic as you fly through the Syrian desert in a 1960s Dodge taxiWhat conflict? Find your peace hiking amid waterfalls, hermitages and monasteries in Lebanon's gorgeous Qadisha ValleyLather up with olive oil soap from Aleppo's famous souq - and learn how to pick one fit for a queenIn This Guide:Three authors, 140 days of on-the-road research, one international conflict, countless invitations to teaAsk the archaeologist: all your questions on Syria's stunning ruins answered by a specialistGet the local lowdown: special color chapter featuring travel tips from Syrians and Lebanese

SYRIA Country Studies: A brief, comprehensive study of Syria

CIA

A brief yet detailed report on the country of Syria with updated information on the map, flag, history, people, economics, political conditions in government, foreign affairs, and U.S. relations.

AVOID ALL TRAVEL

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The Government of Canada takes the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provides credible and timely information in its Travel Advice. In the event of a crisis situation that requires evacuation, the Government of Canada’s policy is to provide safe transportation to the closest safe location. The Government of Canada will assist you in leaving a country or a region as a last resort, when all means of commercial or personal transportation have been exhausted. This service is provided on a cost-recovery basis. Onward travel is at your personal expense. Situations vary from one location to another, and there may be constraints on government resources that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide assistance, particularly in countries or regions where the potential for violent conflict or political instability is high.

Civil unrest and demonstrations

The security situation has deteriorated into a civil war throughout the country, including in major centres such as Damascus and Aleppo. There has been extensive use of force by the security forces and military in suppressing demonstrations across the country. Many casualties and fatalities have been reported, and protests and violent repression, including military operations and bombings, continue. Security operations have involved the complete lock-down of entire towns for periods varying from a few days to a few weeks. This may take place with little warning. Syria’s chemical and biological weapons program also contributes to the volatility of the country.

If you choose to travel to or remain in Syria despite this warning, you should know that the Government of Canada’s ability to offer consular services is very limited. The Embassy of Canada in Damascus has suspended operations until further notice. Canadian officials have left the country. Canadians in Syria and relatives in Canada seeking information should contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at 613-996-8885 (collect calls accepted), by email sos@international.gc.ca or by submitting an on-line form.

Terrorism

Heightened tensions throughout the Middle East, together with increased threats globally from terrorism, put you at greater risk. The security situation in Syria is very volatile, and violence associated with the crisis is ongoing. Some recent developments demonstrate that the general threat of terrorism in Syria has increased. Car bombings and other violent incidents have been reported on numerous occasions, killing and injuring many civilians.

Maintain a high level of personal security awareness at all times, as the security situation could deteriorate rapidly on short notice. Exercise appropriate caution in crowded places, including pedestrian promenades, shopping malls, open markets and restaurants. Monitor local news reports and follow the advice of local authorities.

Kidnapping

Since the beginning of the civil unrest in March 2011, instances of kidnappings have been increasing throughout Syria. While some have been politically motivated and related to the ongoing crisis, there have also been a significant number of criminally motivated kidnappings for ransom by armed gangs targeting random victims from the general population. Kidnappings are occurring in various parts of the country including areas of Aleppo and Damascus. If you remain in Syria despite this warning, you should be extremely vigilant when travelling, especially after dark.

Crime

The crime rate has increased in Syria. Exercise a high degree of caution and ensure personal belongings, passports, and other travel documents are secure.

Women’s safety

There have been incidents of women being harassed. Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information specifically aimed at Canadian women.

Transportation

Aggressive drivers and poor driving standards make travel hazardous. Avoid driving outside of major cities after dark. Pedestrians should remain vigilant.

Roadblocks and checkpoints have been set up on roads, including major roads and highways in and around DamascusAleppo, and other major cities, as well as along the Damascus-Aleppo, Damascus-Jordan and Damascus-Beirut highways. Road travel restrictions may be imposed without notice making travel slow and dangerous.

Use only officially marked taxis.

Urban buses are safe but may be crowded and uncomfortable.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

For assistance, contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at 613-996-8885 (collect calls accepted), by email sos@international.gc.ca or by submitting an on-line form.

Telecommunication services and road access to some cities may be disrupted due to security operations.

Journalists attempting to operate in Syria without official approval from the Syrian government place themselves at considerable personal risk. Foreign journalists are being particularly scrutinized by Syrian authorities.

Syrians and foreigners alike can be arbitrarily arrested and detained, and obtaining consular access or information on these cases is extremely difficult. If any foreigners, including Canadians, are detained in Syria for any reason, they cannot assume that Syrian authorities will help them contact their government.

Carry identification documents at all times. Carry a photocopy of your passport and leave another one with a relative or friend at home.

Borders

Restrict your travel to major roads between urban centres or to border crossings, and only travel during daylight hours. Border crossings may close or be subject to restrictions on short notice and roadblocks may be set up.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Polio

There is a risk of polio in this country. Be sure that your vaccination against polio is up-to-date.

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Western Asia, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Western Asia. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Cholera

There have been cases of cholera reported in this country in the last year. Cholera is a bacterial disease that typically causes diarrhea. In severe cases it can lead to dehydration and even death.

Most travellers are generally at low risk. Humanitarian workers and those visiting areas with limited access to safe food and water are at higher risk. Practise safe food and water precautions. Travellers at high risk should get vaccinated.

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Western Asia, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria, Rift Valley fever, and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Leishmaniasis, cutaneous and mucosal

Cutaneous and mucosal leishmaniasis causes skin sores and ulcers. It is caused by a parasite spread through the bite of a female sandfly. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Protect yourself from sandfly bites, which typically occur after sunset in rural and forested areas and in some urban centres. There is no vaccine available for leishmaniasis.


Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in some areas in Western Asia, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Adequate medical care is available in major cities but not necessarily in remote areas.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

An international driving permit is required.

The work week is from Sunday to Thursday.

Illegal or restricted activities

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect severe penalties which may include the death penalty.

Photography of military or government installations is prohibited.

Homosexual activity is illegal in Syria.

Dual citizenship

Although dual citizenship is legally recognized in Syria, the law indicates that Syrian citizenship takes precedence. If you are a dual citizen or are eligible for Syrian citizenship, you may be subject to compulsory military service and other aspects of Syrian law. Holding dual nationality may limit the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular services. If you are a dual citizen, check your status at an Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic or a consulate prior to departure from Canada.

If you are a dual citizen and are contemplating travel to Syria, determine if you or one of your relatives or acquaintances is sought by the Syrian authorities for being or having been in contravention of Syrian law. Be particularly vigilant if you have left Syria without a passport, have previously been unwilling or unable to obtain a Syrian passport, or have reason to believe that you have been convicted in absentia by a Syrian court.

Consult our publication entitled Dual Citizenship: What You Need to Know for more information.

Religion

Islamic practices and beliefs are closely adhered to in the country’s customs, laws and regulations. Dress conservatively, behave discreetly, and respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities, particularly when visiting religious sites.

Wear beachwear and shorts only at the beach or poolside.

Money

The economy is primarily cash-based. The currency is the Syrian pound (SYP). Credit cards and traveller’s cheques are not widely accepted. Automated banking machines are available in major cities, such as Damascus and Aleppo, but cannot always be relied upon. Due to international sanctions, credit institutions and banks in several countries have suspended their transactions with Syria. This includes MasterCard and Visa credit cards and bank cards operating under the Cirrus, Maestro and Plus transaction networks. This list is not exhaustive. Inquire with your financial service provider prior to travelling to Syria.

Carry U.S. dollars. It is illegal to convert money on the street. Foreign currency must be exchanged in banks or at official exchange counters. Keep all official exchange receipts, as they are required should you want to exchange local currency into foreign currency before departure. The Syrian pound cannot be exchanged outside the country.

In August 2011, the Syrian government established limitations on the withdrawal of foreign currency in Syria. Regulation regarding financial transactions and currency exchange can change without notice.

Climate

Syria is located in an active seismic zone. It is also subject to dust storms and sand storms.