Lockdown Armchair Travel – Tunis, Tunisia, 19th December 2012

Finally moving off S and on to T, and T is for Tunisia and one day spent in its capital, Tunis, during a Mediterranean cruise shortly before Christmas in 2012. So, when you think of Tunis, what do you think of? Probably not this…

But our cruise was one of the first that called into Tunisia after its 2011 revolution, and there were still plenty of military around, worried about security.

However, it didn’t spoil our day – the country was desperate to revitalise its old tourist industry, and the soldiers simply ignored us. Tunis is a delightful mix of the old and the new. Modern architecture like the City Hall

Sit comfortably side by side with sights such as the Catholic Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul.

The modernity of the University

And the tradition of the Youssef Dey Mosque

As with many Muslim cities, you get the best feel for real life in the bazaars and the souks. Tunis has a wealth of them.

You can have your hair cut

Buy from a tailor

Have a coffee

Buy food

Buy decorative trinkets

And of course, a magic flying carpet!

And there’ll always be a traditional dancer there to encourage you to buy!

The architecture of the souks and the old town is fascinating too. I love the old doors

And those Moorish arches

And, of course, the tiles

Walking the streets is where you see the real people and the real sights

Outside Tunis, Sidi Bou Said is known for its beautiful blues.

Just one day  in Tunisia is obviously not enough, but you can get just a taste of the life here.

And there’ll always be a traditional welcome for day trippers off a cruise!

 

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Syria, November 2008

More lockdown armchair travel and the last country on my list to begin with S is Syria – perhaps not one’s first thought for a holiday destination, but back in 2008 when we were there, it was an exciting, exotic and stunningly historical country, which we visited as the second part of a tour which also went to to Jordan (you can check out my Jordan pictures here if you like!) So when you think of Syria, what do you think of? Perhaps I should rephrase that and ask what did you think of?

The face of President Al-Assad appeared on many buildings – I always think he bears a curiously unemotional expression. This was on a back street behind our hotel in Bosra, the border town with Jordan where we first entered Syria. The town has one major sight – and it’s extraordinary.

Its amazing Roman theatre that dates from the 2nd century AD. BosraThe theatre is 102 metres across and has seating for about 15,000 people. BosraIt’s built so that speeches made from this stage reach the farthest spectators with the greatest of ease and no amplification.BosraSadly the site has been damaged in the Syrian Civil War. But I’m sure the amazing sunsets are still there.BosraThe next day we drove north, towards Aleppo. We first stopped at Maaloula, where some people still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ. MaaloulaAmong its extraordinary sights is the Greek Orthodox Convent of Saint Thecia, hidden in the rocks. MaaloulaIt’s not just a convent and monastery town though. We saw the fascinating local habit of people buying their freshly baked bread, and then spreading it out and waving it around in an attempt to cool it down for eating! MaaloulaAnd, whilst I’m always up for trying local food, I though I’d give the sacrifice a miss. MaaloulaWe journeyed on to discover the famous castle of Krak des Chevaliers. Krak des ChevaliersSteeped in history, this Crusader Castle was first inhabited in the 11th century. Krak des ChevaliersFull of atmospheric corridors and alleyways, doors and courtyards. Richard the Lionheart was there… Krak des ChevaliersYou can tell it from his own lion decorations. Krak des ChevaliersNew frescoes continued to be discovered there right up until the 1970s. Krak des ChevaliersSadly this too has suffered damage during the Syrian Civil War. I’m so glad we got to see it before it was damaged. Krak des ChevaliersDominating the surrounding countryside, it’s not difficult to see its strategic location! What was useful in those days, today we would say was a stunning view.Krak des ChevaliersFrom Krak we went on to Hama, famous for its waterwheels, or norias. Hama is the fourth largest city in Syria, but its appeal was all about the norias! HamaHistorically used for irrigation, today they are purely kept for the decorative appearance. HamaIn the early 1980s, Hama had emerged as a major source of opposition to the Ba’ath government during the Sunni armed Islamist uprising, which had begun in 1976. HamaThe city suffered some damage during its 2011 siege. HamaThe next day we carried on north, reaching the ruins of the Church of St Simeon Stylites. St Simeon Stylites19 miles outside Aleppo, this is where the ascetic saint St Simeon Stylites lived for 37 years on a pillar. This is all that remains of the pillar.St Simeon StylitesIt’s a beautiful ruin, with some exquisite carvings. St Simeon StylitesThis beautiful site hasn’t survived the recent conflict well. Much of it is now in ruin. St Simeon StylitesIt didn’t help that pilgrims and visitors kept helping themselves to stones to take home as relics. St Simeon StylitesBut it seems that an air strike by the Russian Air Force in May 2016 has destroyed most of the site. St Simeon StylitesIrreplaceable history lost for ever. St Simeon StylitesFrom the Church of St Simeon Stylites we retraced our steps back to the fascinating city of Aleppo. AleppoAt the heart of its city, the citadel. AleppoA popular destination for school trips too! AleppoOne of the oldest and largest castles in the world, the citadel is a medieval fortified palace. AleppoHere’s the relief on the main door! AleppoAnd who can resist this decorative cat gargoyle?! AleppoAs you’d expect, the view from the top is (or rather, was) commanding! AleppoThis is the entrance to the Throne Hall Aleppowith its extraordinary ceiling AleppoBut the throne isn’t there! AleppoYou could get lost for hours in there AleppoI think this external gate has been damaged in the 2012 Battle of Aleppo, sadly. AleppoOne of my main memories of Aleppo was of its remarkable Grand Souk. AleppoThis, too, sadly, is largely destroyed. AleppoJust ordinary people, like you and me, going about their business, trying to make a living. AleppoAlthough we didn’t buy it in the souk, one of the things we did take home from Aleppo was a good quantity of their remarkable olive soap. But shopping was great in Aleppo. AleppoAnd the fruit drinks were simply wonderful.AleppoThe next day we made our way from Aleppo to the desert jewel that is Palmyra. I could just blitz you with endless photographs… ok perhaps I will. Palmyra

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PalmyraPossibly the most remarkable place I’ve ever been. This is our favourite photograph, combining ancient and modern:

PalmyraLeaving Palmyra, you get to see exciting road signs like these: Palmyra

PalmyraAnd we even stopped off here! PalmyraWhich was actually a wonderful little place, but I don’t think it’s there any more. Like the Apostle Paul, we were now on the road to Damascus. DamascusIn the way that Jordan felt remarkably British in its vibe and personality, Damascus feels remarkably French. DamascusThe traffic is chaotic, the people very demonstrative, the cafe culture was alive and bright. DamascusAnd, just like Aleppo, it was thronging with children! DamascusNot sure where this is, but the red domes are very striking!

DamascusHere’s the statue of Saladin Salah Al Din StatueIt’s a very lively place DamascusBut the traffic is something else Damascus

DamascusIt too has its fair share of amazing souks

DamascusDamascusIncluding M. Stephan’s shop Damascuswith these amazing old pattern machinesDamascusThe world famous Umayyad Mosque is a sight to behold DamascusDamascusDamascusDamascusLook at the gold DamascusDamascusAnd inside is majestic too DamascusDamascusDamascusDamascusBut if you thought Damascus was only about Islam, think again. DamascusIt’s a very important Christian centre too. St Ananias’ House is a popular place for Christian pilgrims. DamascusDamascusSo many memories of so many extraordinary places in this amazing country. DamascusDamascusDamascusDamascusNot forgetting the bread. DamascusI’m so glad we had the opportunity to visit. I expect tourism will never be the same again there. Palmyra

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Spain – Granada, 2017

Time for another Lockdown Armchair Travel memory, and we’re still on the letter S. And S is, of course, for Spain, a country I’ve visited so many times during my life, from the Costas to the cities to the islands, and I always love it. I hummed and hahhed a lot deciding where in Spain I should pick for this travel memory and decided on the beautiful Andalucian city of Granada, which we visited for a long weekend in June and July 2017. So, what do you think of, when you think of Granada (apart from the Manchester ITV station and TV rental sets of course!) Probably here:

The Alhambra! And where better to start our roaming around the city. I was lucky enough to go there when I was twelve, on holiday with my mum, and it’s a place that’s full of history, and beauty and memories.

Doors and alleyways lead you into room after room of Moorish moreishness!

Arabesque archways and Islamic calligraphy abound

And you just get lost in the beauty of it all

The Courtyard of the Lions is probably the most famous part

With those lions everywhere

In the Alhambra, there are no trials and tribulations, only tiles and tessellations!

The Courtyard of the Palace of Carlos V is used for concerts

And the views from the top are stunning!

And the Generalife gardens are the perfect place to relax after a couple of hours’ intense sightseeing