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 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!
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. The theatre is 102 metres across and has seating for about 15,000 people. It’s built so that speeches made from this stage reach the farthest spectators with the greatest of ease and no amplification.Sadly the site has been damaged in the Syrian Civil War. But I’m sure the amazing sunsets are still there.The next day we drove north, towards Aleppo. We first stopped at Maaloula, where some people still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ. Among its extraordinary sights is the Greek Orthodox Convent of Saint Thecia, hidden in the rocks. It’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! And, whilst I’m always up for trying local food, I though I’d give the sacrifice a miss. We journeyed on to discover the famous castle of Krak des Chevaliers. Steeped in history, this Crusader Castle was first inhabited in the 11th century. Full of atmospheric corridors and alleyways, doors and courtyards. Richard the Lionheart was there… You can tell it from his own lion decorations. New frescoes continued to be discovered there right up until the 1970s. Sadly this too has suffered damage during the Syrian Civil War. I’m so glad we got to see it before it was damaged. Dominating 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.From 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! Historically used for irrigation, today they are purely kept for the decorative appearance. In 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. The city suffered some damage during its 2011 siege. The next day we carried on north, reaching the ruins of the Church of St Simeon Stylites. 19 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.It’s a beautiful ruin, with some exquisite carvings. This beautiful site hasn’t survived the recent conflict well. Much of it is now in ruin. It didn’t help that pilgrims and visitors kept helping themselves to stones to take home as relics. But it seems that an air strike by the Russian Air Force in May 2016 has destroyed most of the site. Irreplaceable history lost for ever. From the Church of St Simeon Stylites we retraced our steps back to the fascinating city of Aleppo. At the heart of its city, the citadel. A popular destination for school trips too! One of the oldest and largest castles in the world, the citadel is a medieval fortified palace. Here’s the relief on the main door! And who can resist this decorative cat gargoyle?! As you’d expect, the view from the top is (or rather, was) commanding! This is the entrance to the Throne Hall with its extraordinary ceiling But the throne isn’t there! You could get lost for hours in there I think this external gate has been damaged in the 2012 Battle of Aleppo, sadly. One of my main memories of Aleppo was of its remarkable Grand Souk. This, too, sadly, is largely destroyed. Just ordinary people, like you and me, going about their business, trying to make a living. Although 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. And the fruit drinks were simply wonderful.The 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.
Possibly the most remarkable place I’ve ever been. This is our favourite photograph, combining ancient and modern:
Leaving Palmyra, you get to see exciting road signs like these:
And we even stopped off here! Which 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. In the way that Jordan felt remarkably British in its vibe and personality, Damascus feels remarkably French. The traffic is chaotic, the people very demonstrative, the cafe culture was alive and bright. And, just like Aleppo, it was thronging with children! Not sure where this is, but the red domes are very striking!
Here’s the statue of Saladin It’s a very lively place But the traffic is something else
It too has its fair share of amazing souks
Including M. Stephan’s shop with these amazing old pattern machinesThe world famous Umayyad Mosque is a sight to behold Look at the gold And inside is majestic too But if you thought Damascus was only about Islam, think again. It’s a very important Christian centre too. St Ananias’ House is a popular place for Christian pilgrims. So many memories of so many extraordinary places in this amazing country. Not forgetting the bread. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to visit. I expect tourism will never be the same again there.
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