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We Were Told Not To Visit Aleppo…

The next morning I was feeling slightly better as we packed up our things and headed out from the hotel in search of more breakfast. We decided to sample one of the competitors to the simple hummus and flatbread restaurant that Samer had taken us to two days ago. And we were able to find one without much trouble. It was the same basic idea. Maybe not quite as jaw-droppingly amazing, but deserving of a very solidly applied seal of approval. I was unfortunately unable to eat much, but even sickened and without much appetite I was able to appreciate the love that went into those pastes.

We left that place and continued wheeling. It felt good to be back out in the sunshine. My energy levels were low, but pedaling felt good, breathing felt good, and Latakia was beautiful. I found myself swallowing curses at my illness for robbing from me a day of wheeling here.

We spent the afternoon exploring the city, poking our way through spice shops. Claudia had gotten the idea into her head that decorating her dorm room with sprigs of Syrian sun-dried objects would be the move.

And so that became our mission for the day. It brought us into a number of very interesting shops, and interactions with some fascinating members of the Syrian spice retail sector.

As Claudia was running into yet another shop, we stopped another bicycle coffee salesman, in order to procure some more lucidity. The fellow was very old, and nearly unable to speak. There was also a little bit of Popeye in the guy… at least in his hat. His coffee was quite good, though, and we felt confident that we paid a price easily four times the norm per cup, so we hopefully parted ways with him in good spirits.

After meeting back up with Claudia, we all began to make our way toward the Hotel Safwan, where we had stored our things. With all our belongings loaded onto the cycles, we headed back the way we’d come and arrived at the train station just in time to catch Samer, who had somehow figured out which train we were on and arrived there to wish us safe journey. We exchanged the warmest regards with him and climbed onto our train.

The Syrian railway was amazing. It was startlingly cheap, very clean, and luxuriously comfortable. The staff were amazing, and gave us a special place in the children’s play-car to store the bikes.

The children’s play-car was something like a McDonalds Playplace on the train, where your kids could let off a little steam, while you relaxed and watched the countryside fly by. And that was exactly what we did.

We arrived in Aleppo just as the sun was setting, and quickly unfolded our cycles right there on the platform.

We then wheeled right into the city. Our Syrian flashlights had now been determined to be total duds, useful only for a single ride, and long ago jettisoned. So we were once again without substantial lights. Luckily Aleppo too was very well lit.

All our Syrian friends to date had explained that all of their country was warm and hospitable (a fact with which we heartily agree)… except for Aleppo. For one reason or another, Aleppo was not popular with the rest of Syria. Hossam had explained to us that we needed to be careful walking at night there, and that the people would not be honest and would not respect women.

So it was with much interest that we took our inaugural wheel in this city. So far it was none too scary or grimy. In fact it had quite an affluent vibe.

When we saw a restaurant with a large picture of a drugged-looking cartoon bunny on the outside, we decided to stop to eat. It was true we had not found a hotel yet, but it had been way too long since we’d had that breakfast of pastes, and the search for a hotel and subsequent bargaining would be much more palatable on a full stomach.

The staff at the place was thrilled to have us around and busied themselves arranging places for our bags and cycles. We ordered a delightful feast of salads, pastes, and falafel sandwiches, and I did my best to put food in my body while Scott and Claudia ate hungrily.

Having eaten, the task of finding a hotel felt much more manageable, and it was not more than 20 minutes of wheeling later that we found ourselves checking into a very small, very clean, and splendidly affordable hotel in what appeared to be the tires and automotive parts district of town.


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