Time to leave Damascus. I got the 12:00 bus to Hama, and was the only foreigner on board a bus full of young lads from the Syrian army in full fatiques, all with shaved heads and typically handsome Arab faces, who were obviously keen on talking to me but none of them managed to muster the courage, or just weren’t allowed, and I wasn’t sure if their captain would be pissed off if I engaged them in conversation, as he might think I may be inclined to ask sensitive questions in the manner of a probing political journalist. Arrived in Hama after an uneventful trip, and checked into the Cairo Hotel, the owner of which was very friendly and spoke excellent English. I dumped my bags in my new room and headed out with a map of the sights of Hama.
Hama is famous for it’s norias (wooden water wheels) that stand in various parts of the Orontes river, and have been on the Hama landscape since the the 5th century AD. They can be up to 20metres in diameter, and are quite impressive to look at. Strolling along the riverbanks, in places it seemed Hama had more in common with the canal and the surrounding area in my home town of Brighouse in West Yorkshire than it did with the rest of Syria, banks lined with trees, well-tended gardens here and there, and a small town feel to it. The overcast, chilly weather was certainly the same, but here there were no bottles of White Lightening Super Strength cider lying on the grassy verges, no graffiti plastered on the bridges, no hooded chavs preparing to pelt you with stones before taking your dog, putting it in a bin liner, tying it to a brick and throwing it in the drink. None of that here. Indeed, I found Hama to be a very pleasant and hassle-free town. I met a few local youths – all very friendly, just wanting to chat, no requests for money. They were curious, as not many tourists pass through, especially during winter. They wanted to take photographs with me, so took it in turns to take snaps posing with me with old camera phones. I enjoyed the stroll immensely. The place is very picturesque, and exudes an air of charm and a distilled market-place vibe.
After my long walk, I stopped for dinner at the Taj Mahal restaurant for a cappucino, garlic bread, and a pepperoni pizza, enjoying the traditional Syrian fare. I strolled through the souk, colourful yet quiet compared to Damascus, and finally to the hotel. Earlier, I’d booked a trip to Palmyra for the next day, and a trip to Crac des Chevalier the day after that, followed by transport all the way to Beirut for a combined total of 133GBP – or 9,700SRP. I was happy to have something arranged. I checked my emails, then returned to my room, which as freezing as it was outside.