(This report from our clients who went to visit their son in Syria on a Fullbright.)
It's taken me a few days to begin to be normal after our remarkable trip. I cannot tell you how extraordinary it was, and how much your help meant. I will try to sketch in a few remarks to give you a flavor of our experience.
Our son knew I was nervous about the circumstances, and he met us at the Damascus airport with our own personal cell phone, pre-programmed with the daytime and nighttime numbers of the American Embassy, and the numbers of his English-speaking friends who were most savvy and could be the most helpful in emergencies.
We never encountered emergencies, though we saw streets blockaded in Hama on Friday 4/8 when we went to see the 2,000-year-old Roman water wheels, which are enormous and impressive. As it was Friday we made a point of arriving and leaving before noon prayers. The streets blockaded led to the mosque.
We had a good van and an excellent driver, Mouwaffa, who's now a friend. We enjoyed the company of Roustem, our (pleasantly) cocky 31-year-old guide, who somewhat resembled Derek Jeter. Roustem accompanied us with Mouwaffa in the van when we went to Aleppo, which we all think rivals Damascus in almost every way. To and fro on the Aleppo journey we saw astonishing things in great number.
Not on our original itinerary, but added by us at the tail end of the Syria stay, was Palmyra, once the eastern-most edge of the Roman Empire, where the remains of that once-great city still stir the soul and astonish the mind. We did the trip in one day--most people spend the night in Palmyra when they go from Damascus. I must say, doing Palmyra as a day trip worked beautifully for us, probably because by this point we were very good friends with Mouwaffa, and because the van was so comfortable, and Mouwaffa was such a very good driver that even I (not a very good passenger) had no anxiety at all about his dealing with the Damascus-Palmyra road.
Traveling by van was a great choice for us. Najwa pointed out that it was more expensive than being part of a tour and traveling in a big bus. But it gave us the intimacy of traveling just the three of us.
I've barely mentioned our time in Istanbul, where I fulfilled my life-long ambition to see Hagia Sophia, an overwhelming experience for me--a great high point; where we wandered around Topkapi Palace taking pictures and discussing screenplay ideas inspired by that unique, gorgeous place; where we ferried up and down the Bosphorus and understood the genesis of some of the Western world's greatest myths. And again, the hotel you arranged in Istanbul was so outstanding, so perfect for us. We never would have found it without you--and I now know that a great trip cannot be left to good luck, but must be architected by California's most outstanding travel agency!
Annette, client of Marsha Coron