We didn’t give ourselves enough time yesterday arriving late at Baghdad Station in downtown Aleppo. We were chosen by the well intentioned porter from hell, we had little choice in the matter so had to roll with it. When we got into the station we had to buy tickets so with the assistance of our very own Arabic Lurch we headed to the ticket desk whereupon we had our passports taken and their details written into a book. Once this was done we could then go to another hatch where we attempted to buy the tickets. Lurch barged to the front of the que and at once got into an argument (sounded like one anyway) with the guy on the ticket desk.
The guy on the ticket desk was dealing with a flood of requests coming thick and fast from an assortment of disparate Syrians all screaming at the same time for his attention. He had our passports at this stage and started to take the details of them once again, Lurch interjected with some more choice arabic and whatever he said was the straw that broke the camels back. The ticket guy said something to me, mimed washing his hands and returned our passports without issuing tickets and left by the door behind him.
At this stage we were surrounded by a group of Syrians all trying to help one of whom kindly told me the trains to Damascus had left. That was it , back we went outside with all the baggage, hailed two taxis to return to the hotel , but not before buying tickets for the next days train to Damascus . First class to Damascus cost €4.00 each for myself and Lisa and €2.00 for each of the kids.
I wasn’t going to miss the train a second time.
We are now on the 10.10 to Damascus, after missing the 16.45 the day before. Had our passports checked for the fourth time this morning. I think at this stage it is sometimes being done with a view to engage us in conversation. The people are very friendly and interested in a family travelling in their country and we are being asked all the time where we are from, and especially what do we think of Syria. On the train this morning the ‘Captain’ of the train bought us coffee in the dining car and promised Axel he would get him up to the engine. We also had three soldiers travelling in the car with us, I got the impression that they were travelling without tickets and this was further re-inforced when the ticket inspector came through our car. There was a bit of banter I think about what they were doing in this car and the inspector gave one of them a friendly cuff on the side of the head and left it at that. There seems to be always some military or police presence close by.
The journey itself is very relaxing. The train ambles through the Syrian countryside at a leasurely pace, stopping occasionaly in some small town.
The last town we passed through was in the middle of its market day, there were hundreds of bedouins trading thousands of sheep. The country itself outside of Aleppo is very fertile and the fields are green with the shoots of new plants, The rocks from the fields are piled in straight lines with the area between planted with crops, they don’t build walls with the stone. There has been a lot of rainfall in the last few weeks and some of the fields have standing water in them. Dotted here and there on the landscape are bedouin camps with their sheep in what look like pens weaved from thorn. It is a beautiful spring day, blue sky, little cloud.
Approaching Homs the landscape becomes rocky and barren and doesn’t support much vegetation. It’s amazing to see the land turn from lush green to arrid desert in the space of a few kilometers of travel .
We are travelling through a flat wide vally with impressive mountains on either side.
The captain of the train, Mohammed kindly made good his promise and myself and Axel got a train drivers eye view of the desert in front of us. The electrics man tell’s us the engine is south Korean and after Homs would be cranking it up to 120kph, life in the fast lane. It is a very different view from up here.
Lisa is in the play area at the back of the train making more friends with another mom and her kids, It is amazing how women can immediately find common ground no matter where they are from or what language they speak. The lady with the kids is a radiographer in one of the hospitals in Damascus and after a few hours of chatter they swap numbers and email addresses where Axel and Melek may or may not become pen pals in the future . Meanwhile Elka is hugging her new best friend whom she has only just met .
When we finally arrive at Khaddam Station on the northern outskirts of Damascus we are greeted by Samir and his nephew Mahmoud. Samir is the brother of Yassin who is married to Anne who is a sister of Maureen who is Lisa’s Mom’s best friend and who have very kindly offered their apartment in the centre of Damascus, wheel’s within wheel’s. Mahmoud we had met in Dublin as he was over with Yassin & Anne improving his English for a couple of months so it was great to see a familar face when we arrived . In true Syrian form we were brought to the apartment where a well stock fridge lay in wait and two bedrooms so lots of privacy !