Istanbul to Cairo - Middle East here we come!!!

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by ozzy, Sep 17, 2007.

  1. ozzy

    ozzy Cool Runnings!!!

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Oddometer:
    37
    Location:
    Istanbul, Turkey
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    After two years of dreaming, planning, postponing, procrastinating and finally getting the much dreaded spousal approvals, we finally got our act together and left Istanbul in mid May. 5 riders, 5 loaded bikes + 1 wife, we headed south to visit Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. My spousal approval arrived with one condition: No Iraq and no Lebanon....Well, Iraq was certainly out of the question, but Lebanon, especially the vibrant Beirut and the ancient Roman city of Baalbek in Bekaa Valley were of great interest. Unfortunately, Israel's plan to turn the south of Beirut into a parking lot, put a dent in our plans so we had to skip Lebanon...Oh well, maybe next time....

    Here is our humble ride report...Firstly, the group:

    Hakan Erman and his wife Deniz Erman, KTM 950 Adventure
    Levent Firat, BMW R1200GS
    Orhan Arsel, BMW R1200GS
    Görkem Özgelen, BMW F650
    Derya Savaş, BMW F650

    In early May, we took care of the paper work. By paperwork, I mean visas. Apperently, depending on your citizenship, you can get visas at the various borders, but we did not want to take a chance with the notorious middle eastern customs officials, so we took care of it in Istanbul. Syria wanted to see the Egyptian visa first, Jordan did not want to be bothered, and insisted we get our visas at their customs. We also had to get international drivers licences and 'carnet de passage', international circulation document for motor vehicles from the Touring and Automotive Club of Turkey. Both of these documents are a must if you want to enter Egypt. We heard horror stories involving some Italian riders spending 1 week at the Egyptian customs bacause they thought it wasn't necessary. In mid May, armed with the Middle Eastern section of the Lonely Planet, we headed south to the Syrian border.


    Arriving at the Turkish - Syrian Border south of Antakya.
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    Buying Syrian liability insurance and getting ripped of (but nicely)
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    Paying some tax that we have no idea about, and being ripped off again (but nicely)
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    And again, some more tax (no clue). But we are offered some ice cream as well....
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    Beware.....
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    Leaving Turkey and entering Syria.....
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    <table style="width:auto;"><tr><td><a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/orhan.arsel/IstanbulToCairo/photo#5110083724220035906"><img src="http://lh4.google.com/orhan.arsel/RuqqEqKj80I/AAAAAAAAADs/OQMzRxB_rL4/s800/01-77%20Entering%20Syria.JPG" /></a></td></tr><tr><tr><td style="font-family:arial,sans-serif; font-size:11px; text-align:right">Kimden <a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/orhan.arsel/IstanbulToCairo">Istanbul to C...</a></td></tr></table>


    Getting cheap and dirty gasoline...The price of unleaded gasoline in Turkey is USD 2.15/liter, and in Syria USD 0.20/liter. No unleaded though.......
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    Fixing a busted headlight of the KTM. It's getting dark, and we don't want to take chances. After the border crossing we went via Latakia, a nice Mediterranean coastal town, then turned inland towards Homs and headed directly for Damascus. We were rushing bacause the idea was to reach Cairo as fast as possible, and than crawl back up doing all the sightseeing we can handle.
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    After hitting a rain and sand storm on the way, we arrived in Damascus late in the evening after about 600 km of riding, with the hopes of finding a decent bed&breakfast. Well, we tried every single hotel and pension mentioned in the Lonely Planet, but couldn't find a single room. Our last hope other than a bus stop was the 5 star Cham Palace. We found three rooms there, with a not-so-middle-eastern price tag of USD 190/room.
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    After grabbing a quick bite in a neibourhood restaurant, we crashed. Our plan is hitting the road early, cross to Jordan and reach the legendary Wadi Rum (Roman Valley) the next day.


    A billboard showing the ex-King Hussein of Jordan with his wife on his Harley. The funny thing about Jordan is, the King banned all motorcycles. ALL. That means only you the tourist, the king, and his police can ride on motorcycles of any kind. You can leave the key on the ignition. Nobody will touch it.
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    On the way to Jordan's capital, Amman.
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    Another rain storm with heavy winds, blowing lots of sand. The King's Highway is crossing the entire country vertically. The road surface, already polished by tires of heavy trucks, got quite slippery with rain and sand. We all had a few instances where the rear tires lost track. Scary situation in a foreign country.
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    Getting rest on the road side.
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    A thoughtful truck driver stops to check on us. He wants to know if we need any assistance.
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    Our first camels....
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    The Hejaz railroad, built by the Ottomans at the turn of the century to connect the capital Istanbul to Damascus, Amman, Aqaba and Mekka.
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    #1
  2. sidawg

    sidawg Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2006
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    Colorado
    :clap
    Great report so far... keep it coming!!
    #2
  3. SNOBDOC

    SNOBDOC Adventurer

    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2006
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    Location:
    Antalya/Turkey
    Very exciting adventure. You made our dreams come true :clap
    #3
  4. kktos

    kktos on a bright side of life

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    :lurk :lurk
    #4
  5. GB

    GB . Administrator

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
    65,347
    Fantastic!!! :super

    Entering Syria by moto will be a lot easier than doing so in Egypt... many forms to fill.. and dues to pay... :(:

    :lurk :lurk :lurk
    #5
  6. ozzy

    ozzy Cool Runnings!!!

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Oddometer:
    37
    Location:
    Istanbul, Turkey
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    When in the Middle East, you hope to have some sun shine, but the first two days were anything but sunny.
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    Finally, we arrive at Wadi Rum (Rum or Roman Valley) on the southern tip of Jordan close to Aqaba. It's a small scale Grand Canyon, with magnificent rock formations on a sand desert. The rocks provided safe heaven to many troughout the millenia. From ancient Nubians, to Jews, Arabs, Romans, Greeks, Ottomans and even Lawrance of Arabia hid among these rocks. Apparently, my great uncle who was an officer in the Ottoman Army, fought against the revolting Arab tribes and their leader, Lawrence, in this area. I was planning to take a leak at Lawrence's grave to honor my uncle, but they told me that Lawrence is buried in England. Oh, well.... The area is under protection, and will certainly become a mojor tourist attraction in the future.

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    We were greeted by a bedouin who offered his tent for the night. A lonely tent, next to magnificent rock...A beautiful night under the skies..You cannot imagine how tranquil and beautiful a night sky can get without noise and light pollution. My ears were ringing because of the silence.
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    Hakan preparing breakfast....
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    There is no filter on the camera. The sand is absolutely orange...
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    After spending the night in Wadi Rum, we took an early tour at 6:00 am around the rock formations on the desert sand with a Toyota 4x4. We didn't dare riding our loaded bikes, because the sand can get deep and treacherous. Even the truck got stuck in sand a few times.

    We wanted to reach the port of Aqaba in order to catch a ferry across the Gulf of Aqaba to the Sinai, Egypt. It is possible to take the road from Jordan to Egypt via Israel, but there is problem. Since Syria and Israel are still theoratically at war, once you enter Israel, Syria does not give you permission again. Hence no way of going back home. So we have to avoid Israel and take the ferry.
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    There are two ferries running between Aqaba, Jordan, and Nuweiba, Egypt. The newer faster one and the older slower one. The fast one takes about 2 hours. The slow one anywhere between 3 to 24 hours, depending on delays and malfunctions. We were lucky to catch the new one, for the price of USD 100/bike.
    #6
  7. demenshea

    demenshea 1% Angel 99% Hooligan

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Oddometer:
    271
    Location:
    CA Foothills of the Sierra Nevada Range...woohoo!!
    I am in absolute awe of this moto-journal and your incredible pictures. I dream of visiting such awesome and exotic places, yet don't have the necessary courage to say nothing of needing a different bike!!

    What an amazing trip. The sand pictures are simply beautiful.

    :lurk:lurk:lurk
    #7
  8. kktos

    kktos on a bright side of life

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    excellent so far !
    keeeeeeeeeeeep going !:norton
    #8
  9. Uzay

    Uzay Adventure Dreamer

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    Oddometer:
    6,765
    Location:
    Istanbul, Turkey
    Another great ride, let's see more pics, i'm stalking Hakan to take me to his next trip:D

    :wave
    #9
  10. ozzy

    ozzy Cool Runnings!!!

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Oddometer:
    37
    Location:
    Istanbul, Turkey
    After a 2 hour trip with the comfort of an air-conditioned fast ferry, we arrived at Nuweiba, a run-down port on the Sinai. Now, remember my previous complaint about lack of sun shine in Syria and Jordan. Forget it. We had plenty of excrutiating sun and 40 C weather at the Egyptian customs. For 5 HOURS........

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    See the "homeless" looking guy on the right? When he first approached us we thought he was begging for something and waved him off. Well, it turns out he is a customs official wanting to compare the chassis number of the bikes with the bikes documentation. We had not experienced such bureucracy before. After 28 pages of photocopies for each bike (everything from our licenses, registrations, international licence and registrations, insurances, carnet de passage, etc.), getting a dozen stamps and signitures from 20 different officials and repeating the procedures because some schmuck stamped the wrong page, or filled out a wrong document, and paying the equivalent of USD 150/bike (part of which are bribes but we don't know why and how much), we finally got.........Eygptian license plates and registration papers. Cool eh...One funny thing. Everytime we needed a signiture from some official, he would hold our passport and then ask for our names. I thought it was a bit strange. After the zillionth time, I told the guy to look at my passport which he is holding in his hands with the ID page open. It turns out, they can't read the latin alphabet....Just like we can't read the arabic alphabet.....

    After 5 hours of custom formalities, we have our Egyptian licence plates.
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    By the way we meet an Italian couple, trying to board the same ferry we arrived with, to cross over to Jordan. Obviously, the same buraucracy prevents them from catching the ferry, and they have to stay overnight at the customs. They cannot leave the customs to stay in an hotel, because they have started the exit formalities....It's a good lesson to keep in mind on the way back...

    After the Nuweiba customs, we rode about 40 km south to the resort town of Dahab to rest and spend the night.

    We found a beach side massage parlor in front of the hotel.
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    After a very short ride but a very long customs day, just what we need.
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    Enjoying some coffee and shisha (or nargile in Turkish, for tobacco pipe).
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    Next day, we ride across the Sinai desert from Dahab to Cairo. On the way, right in the middle of Sinai, on top of the Sinai mountains, we visit the St. Cathrine monastery, the oldest Greek Orthodox monastery dating back to 400 AD.
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    In the middle of the desert, we saw two young girls herding camels. There was not a single house or adult in sight. We took this chance to go off-road and take some pics. The innocence and friendliness of these kids is incredible.
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    St Cathrine monastery
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    The skull room.
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    The written permission of Prophet Muhammed to the monks of the monastery so they can operate freely (700 AD). This permission was continued by the Memluk and later the Ottoman sultans ruling the area. Such religious tolerance nearly 1300 years ago........
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    Water stop at an oasis.
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    Reaching the western coast of Sinai, the Suez gulf.
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    Crossing under the Suez channel. It is a weird feeling when 200.000 ton oil tankers are floating above your head.
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    And finally, Cairo.
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    Some more shisha and Turkish coffee.
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    Wanna trade???
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    Blending in the society.....
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    Muhammed Ali Pasha Mosque, built by , who else , Muhammed Ali Pasha himself, the ruthless Turkish governor of Egypt. The mosque has a typical turkish dome structure unlike Arab mosques , which have flat celings.
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    The stepped (and the oldest) pyramid, south of Cairo.
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    The bent pyramid over the horizon. The first try by the Egyptian architects of a flat sided pyramid. When they realized the sides were too steep and unstable, they changed the wall angle. Better late than never.
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    A mosque belonging to the Ismailiah sect , a very fundamental and strict sect apparently, and I was warned to be extra respectful.
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    El Ezher mosque and university. One of the oldest temples of Islam and the center of Islam&#305;c philosophy, and off course political Islam.
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    Old Cairo. Intersection of Coptic, Jewish, and Christian quarters.
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    It was a long but fantastic day in Cairo. The next day we want to ride south along the Nile to Luxor. But the authorities don't allow foreigners drive alone that route for security reasons. Nearly a dozen or so security check points from Dahab to Cairo made that clear to us. We either have to take part in a convoy with military personnel guarding us or take an overnight train. We figure , riding behind tourist busses and truck all night is not a pleasant experience , so we deceided to take the train. That's part 4....
    #10
  11. iamrs1215

    iamrs1215 Bike Nut

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2007
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    29
    Location:
    Cumming GA
    Thank you for sharing. I feel like I have been on vacation.
    #11
  12. doyle

    doyle RallyRaidReview-ing

    Joined:
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    Wow. :lurk
    #12
  13. kahoon

    kahoon who's yer daddy??

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2006
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    Location:
    Toronto, CANADA
    Fantastic!!!


    :clap:clap:clap:clap
    #13
  14. motoital

    motoital Dork on 2 wheels

    Joined:
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    Below the 'OC'
    Vvvverrrrry-very cool! Thanks for sharing your experiences with all of us!
    #14
  15. bernas68

    bernas68 Eternal dreamer

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Lisbon, Portugal (it's in Europe twit!)
    Great report Ozzy!:thumb
    #15
  16. Lobby

    Lobby Viel Spass, Vato!

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2003
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    Location:
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    :lurk
    #16
  17. econan

    econan Adventurer

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
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    Location:
    NorCal also Istanbul
    Ozzy, Great trip + report. Very informative.
    Elinize saglik! :clap
    #17
  18. ozzy

    ozzy Cool Runnings!!!

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Oddometer:
    37
    Location:
    Istanbul, Turkey
    It was a long day in Cairo. Too many sights, not enough time, but we had to continue. We left the bikes in Cairo, took as little luggage as possible and boarded the night train down to Luxor. Now, I have to admit that my expactations of an Egyptian passenger train were not too high, but we were all pleasantly surprised by the air conditioned sleeping compartments, hot dinner, and a bar full of alcoholic beverages. My kind of train.
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    We arrived in Luxor very early in the morning, checked-in , rented an air-conditioned mini-bus with a guide and hit the sites. A/C is certainly a must, because by mid day, although it's only spring, the temperature goes upto 45 C (that's nearly 115 F for you guys on the left side of the pool).

    Luxor Temple. Some years ago, terrorists murdered several dozen Japanese tourists on these steps, so I don't have to tell you how paranoid Egyptian security personnel are.
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    Gigantic statues showing pharoas as gods.
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    Inside King Tut's tomb. Apperently, we were not allowed to take any pictures inside the tombs, but our law-abiding friend Hakan did not want to miss this opportunity. Hence, his beautiful Canon Eos was taken by an over-zealous official, and retrieved only after a prompt payment of USD 10.-
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    At the hotel in Luxor, there was a stand promoting hot air baloon trips, and after a brief bargaining, we agreed to take an early morning sun set tour for USD 60,- per person (down from 120,-). What an experience!!!
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    And maybe a donkey tour afterwards, for the more adventurous...
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    And a boat trip on the Nile.......
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    Helping the local community....
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    At night, we took the same train back to Cairo, arrived there early in the morning, retrieved the bikes from storage, and hit the road. This time we decided to take the northern route crossing the Sinai from east to west. A lot of sand....
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    more sand.....
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    and more sand.....
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    400 km of lonely desert. And the hor air blows like an hair dryer. It was a real endurance test. Then we reached the western, moutainous part of Sinai, and riding along the winding canyons was a thrill. The air was also much cooler.
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    We reached Nuweiba late in the afternoon, and took the suggestion of the Lonely Planet and checked-in at the Sultana Village resort with stone bungalows right on the beach. For USD 15,- /night it is a real bargain.
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    Buying necklesses from a cute little Egyptian girl.
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    #18
  19. GB

    GB . Administrator

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
    65,347
    :bow :bow :bow

    I've been to Egypt many times, and the bureaucracy is a nightmare.. but the rewards are plentiful... Thanks for a most interesting report and awesome pics...

    :lurk:lurk:lurk
    #19
  20. ozzy

    ozzy Cool Runnings!!!

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Istanbul, Turkey
    Next morning, we went to the port as early as possible, because we knew what kind of bureucratic bull-shit was awaiting us. As expected the exit procedures lasted almost as long as the entry. Signitures, stamps, going back and forth from one official to the other......By the time we were done, and ready to return our Egyptian licence plates, the ferry had been ready for departure for 20 minutes and waiting only for us. We were lucky to have a very understanding ferry crew otherwise we would have to wait in the customs zone for another 24 hours like the Italian couple. It was a close call. As soon as we entered the ferry, it took off.

    In the ferry.
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    Aqaba port
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    Arriving in Aqaba..
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    Enjoying some late night hummus, muammara, and grilled chicken in Aqaba.
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    It was almost midnight, and we had not done any riding that day whatsoever, crossing borders and the Gulf of Aqaba. So we decided not to stay in Aqaba, but ride north for about 100 km to the ancient city of Petra. Which was going to be one of the highlight of this trip. Petra is an ancient town carwed into rocks by the Nubians (early inhabitants of the middle east) by nearly 3000 years ago. Throughout history Petra was occupied by the Romans, Jews, Christians running away from the Romans, Byzantium, Memluks, Ottomans, etc. You name it. Everyone was here. The entrance of the city is by a narrow but 4 km long canyon called the Siq. You enter here....
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    You walk...
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    And walk....
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    And walk....
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    And walk....
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    And find this.....
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    Every single structure in this ancient city is carwed into rocks. Houses, temples, even the great amphi-theater.....Unlike Greek or Roman theaters, this one is not built piece by piece. It is literally carwed into a single piece of huge rock.....
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    A coffee house carved into rocks.
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    On the peak of Petra.
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    Apparently, people lived in these caves until as late as 1980s. They are very cool in summer and stay warm in winter. Then the government decided to relocate the inhabitants and declare this place a world heritage site.
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    Leaving Petra, this time via the little "siq"...
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    Lunch break in Petra. Great Middle Eastern cuisine.
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    After Petra, we continued north via the King's Road and reached Kerak, a wonderful crusader fortress.
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    King's Road from Petra to Damascus.
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    Crossing from Jordan to Syria. Compared to Egypt, this has been a breeze.
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    And we arrive in Damascus. On the way down from Istanbul, we had arrived quite late in Damascus and left early in morning, so we had not realized that the entire city was decorated with banners and posters.... there were elections in Syria....with Beshar Esad the only contender....

    demonstrations......
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    Surprisingly, we find Syrians much more sincere and friendly compared to the Egyptians in general. There was a lot of hassling going on in Egypt due to heavy tourism, but Syria is still not effected by mass tourism yet...Don't believe in the media frenzy....They are very nice people, and we had not had a single negative experience there.

    Shopping for some nuts...
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    The old house was the residence of the last Ottoman governor of Syria..
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    Wonderful handcrafts...
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    Syrian Custom chopper....:)))
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    The wonderful courtyard of Umayyad Mosque in old Damascus, one of the four most important Islamic temples (the others are Qabe in Mecca, El Ezher in Cairo, and Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmet Mosque in Istanbul)......

    From the Sacred Destinations Guide:
    "Damascus is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world and the Umayyad Mosque stands on a site that has been considered sacred ground for at least 3,000 years!

    It was 1000 BC at the latest when the Arameans built a temple here for Hadad, the god of storms and lightening. A basalt orthostat dating from this period, depicting a sphinx, has been discovered in the northeast corner of the mosque.

    In the early first century AD, the Romans arrived and built a massive temple to Jupiter over the Aramean temple. The Roman temple stood upon a rectangular platform (temenos) that measured about 385 meters by 305 meters, with square towers at each corner. Parts of the outer walls of the temenos still survive, but virtually nothing remains of the temple itself.

    In the late fourth century, the temple area became a Christian sacred site. The Temple of Jupiter was destroyed and a church dedicated to John the Baptist was built in its place. The church was (and is) believed to enshrine the head of the Baptist, and the site became an important pilgrimage destination in the Byzantine era.

    Initially, the Muslim conquest of Damascus in 636 did not affect the church, as the building was shared by Muslim and Christian worshippers. It remained a church and continued to draw Christian pilgrims; the Muslims built a mud-brick structure against the southern wall where they could pray. Under the Umayyad caliph Al-Walid, however, the church was demolished. Between 706 and 715 the current mosque built in its place; an indemnity was paid to the Christians in compensation. According to legend, Al-Walid himself initiated the demolition by driving a golden spike into the church.

    At that time, Damascus was one of the most important cities in the Middle East and it would later become the capital of the Umayyad caliphate. The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus was accordingly a magnificent structure. The work of thousands of craftsmen of Coptic, Persian, Indian and Byzantine origin, the Umayyad mosque complex included a prayer hall, a vast courtyard and hundreds of rooms for visiting pilgrims. The layout was based on the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina. "

    I wonder what kind of positive statement it would make to use this building as a mosque as well as a church at the same time...
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    Roman columns and early Christian mosaics in the mosque.
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    This Christian chapel inside the mosque is the burial site of St. John the Baptist, and it is very interesting to see Muslims praying to him.
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    Burial site of the first Turkish airforce losses ever, in 1914. The three pilots were flying from Istanbul to Cairo, and crashed near Damascus.
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    Resting in an old Damascus courtyard cafe, playing backgammon and enjoiyng some shisha.
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    An artist's shop in the bazaar.
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    Spice market in the bazaar.
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    Sweets, lots of sweets.....
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    Sampling pastries...
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    Umayyad Mosque in the evening.
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    Public transportation fashion statement...
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    Next morning, we left Damascus and hit the desert road taking us east to the Syrian desert. Our destination was Palmira, the ancient easternmost Roman town near the Iraqi border.

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    #20