Thursday, April 29, 2010

Trip to Syria (2)

Last week we went on a last-minute trip to Syria! A country which surprised me a lot. Since there are no direct flights yet between Istanbul and Aleppo in Syria, our final destination, we choose to fly to an Turkish airport which is close to the Turkish-Syrian border: Hatay. Unfortunately all the flights were already booked; the border between Turkey and Syria is just open for 3 months so many Turks decided to go on a long weekend to Syria. And we had to take a flight from Istanbul to Adana and from there an 3 hour bus drive to Ankatay in Hatay, where we took a private taxi to cross the border all the way to Idleb in Syria, which is another 2 hours. Since all the hotels in Aleppo werebooked, only the Carlton in Inleb, a place of 9.000 people, had a room for us. I must admit, that I didn’t look forward to a trip which included: a car drive, a flight, a bus, twice a taxi and in the end crossing the border with a private taxi for 2 hours. But it was fun in the end. The service of the Turkish flight company, bus company and taxi drivers are not comparable. Turkey has one of the highest standards of service while travelling and its hospitality management industry is exceptional.

When we arrived in Ankatya, we didn’t know what to expect. They tried to get us in a bus to Syria as soon as possible for 15 TL which is around 8 € (or 10 $) for that two hour trip. But I wanted to go by taxi, which was in the end only 25$ or 18€….for 150 km….and the service of the taxi driver! So, we took that cab with a Kurdish taxi driver who spoke fluent Turkish and Arabic. Imagine: a taxi driver who picks you up, helps you with your luggage, helps you at the border, arrange something to drink and eat and brings you to the door of your hotel where he brings your luggage into the lobby? I remember taking a taxi in Amsterdam for 5 minutes from Central Station to my hotel donw town. 5 minutes and 12€. And I had to take the luggage out the trunk since the taxi driver was to arrogant to help me. Never mind.

Abdullah, the taxi driver was a nice and funny guy. When we paid him, we drove from Antakay to the Syrian border to pick up another passenger! No problem at all. We were comfortable on the back seats. With our refreshments and some bread he bought for us. That he was smoking one cigarette after the other, in his Syrian taxi, on Turkish soil, was okay (more about that later). After one hour we arrived at the border. I had the same feeling as crossing the Mexican/USA in border California, or the border in Cyprus, between the North and the South. Tough, it was  differenet for an open border: hundreds of Turkish trucks waiting to enter Syria, patiently. Abdullah drove us through this mess safely to the Turkish border control were Ö got the notice to pay a fine of 10 $ for leaving Turkey and I got a stamp in my passport that my residency permit of 1 year ended and that I could enter Turkey again the next day with a visa of 15€. But now we had to cross the Syrian border, where I had to buy my visa as an European passport holder. But first we visited the new established Syrian Tax Duty free shop. Probably the cheapest I ever entered in my whole live: 1 Liter of Johnnie Walker Whiskey for 8€ or a package of Davidoff cigarettes for less than 1€. Mobile phone for half of the price and so on. This was fun-shopping!

After we bought what we needed we really got a taste of Syria;’ buying a visa for me’. Europeans must buy their visa at the border for 33$. As we entered a huge Syrian building in no men’s land Abdullah introduced me to the General Manager of this border control post. Kisses on the cheeks and we could proceed, which means: paying your visa. But…since they have to send my visa application to Damascus, I had two options: wait for 1 hour or pay an extra 10$ so they were ‘able’ to fax it directly…call it a favor from their side. And since we were already 10 hours on this trip, we paid. And we could drive through the Syrian customs with all our stuff without a problem all the way to our hotel in Inleb, Syria. And the traffic was relaxed and the nature beautiful! And our hotel was waiting! Carlton in Inleb, 5 stars but not according Arabic standards. But still a lovely hotel. (more later)

Anne Frank Huis celebrates 50 years

The Anne Frank Huis museum celebrated its 50th anniversary yesterday.

Anne Frank's diary, written during the Second World War while the family was hiding from the Nazis in a secret annex, will be on display in the new exhibition space. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl has been translated into dozens of languages and is still one of the most popular books in the world.

De facto, a virtual Anne Frank house went on line yesterday as part of the anniversary celebration. Virtual visitors won't have to stand in line for hours anymore; with one click of a mouse, they will be able to tour a re-creation of Anne Frank's room in the secret annex.

Day Opening - April 29

Maldives; one cloud per island