Day 2: Damascus - Hama

Hama Travel Blog

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Hama

Apparently there is a prayer at 4 o'clock every morning. I hadn't noticed a thing to be honest, slept like a baby.
We woke up around 6.30. Today is Friday, which is like the Islamic Sunday. All banks and government buildings (including museums) are closed, there are less shops open, mosques are not open for public, in short, a perfect day for travelling.

 

Our original plan was to go to the city Homs, however, in the city itself there isn't an awful lot to do, so we figured we might as well travel all the way up to Hama, 225 kilometres north of Damascus.

 

It was difficult finding the right bus company for the right destination (after all, we can't read Arabic) and after buying a ticket it proved even more difficult finding the right bus on the right platform.

Noria in Hama
The first Arabic we had to learn was the numbering, because otherwise we would never be able to understand prices, distances or bus platforms.
But we managed, and even had half an hour to spare for a little bus station breakfast.
It struck me how a bus station here in the Middle East is hardly any different from bus stations in Asia, which in their turn look exactly like bus stations in South America. It seems that no matter where you go, some things are the same everywhere.

It was at the bus station that it suddenly sank in: I was travelling again! It had been more than two years since my last trip and oh had I missed this feeling. Was so happy being on the road again. Just the bustling chaos at the bus station and then the bus trip itself, I loved it!

Some two and a half hours later we arrived in Hama.

Norias in Hama
Hama is mostly known for its 'Norias'. These wooden water wheels are the remains of an ancient aqueduct system that scooped up water from the Orontes river onto aqueducts that irrigated the farmlands beyond the city.
These days irrigation is done by diesel pumps and pipelines, but of the 200+ Norias there are still 17 remaining on the banks of the Orontes, most of which do still work (though solely for touristic purpose)

We had a nice stroll along the river banks, past some of those Norias, before settling down on a terrace under tree, where we spent a few hours just watching the chaotic world go by.
After a while we were approached by a guy who liked to practice his English with us. We had a nice little chat with him about life, the universe and everything, before we went our own separate ways again.

We continued with a nice walk through the old city, or what is left of it.

Old city in Hama
In 1982 former president Hafez Al-Assad felt he had to make a point and violently struck down a rebellion uprising in Hama. To make sure they wouldn't get up again he also took it upon himself to bomb the entire old city, obliterating what was once called 'the most beautiful city in the Middle East'.
These days a couple of streets have been restored, but it is not much. Along the river banks you can still see how this city would have looked like 1000 years ago, with the Norias and aqueducts.

On the way back to the town centre we met two Syrian guys, Diaa and Zaher, who wanted to have a chat with us to practise their English. They invited us to a little café to try a local specialty: Halawat al'Jibn, which is some sort of cheesy dough pancake, filled with cream and honey. I know, it doesn't sound like much from my description, but it is utterly delicious!
After our meal I wanted to pick up the tab, but Diaa and Zaher would hear nothing of it.

Zaher and Derk and some remains of Halawat al'Jibn
It was their invitation, so their treat. This is something I have never experienced like this before. I have had a bite or a drink with locals many a time while travelling, but it was almost considered normal that I, being the the rich foreigner, would pick up the tab (which I have absolutely no problem doing either). But not so in Syria, where hospitality truly means hospitality.

I was amazed by the way we had been treated so far in this country. We'd been here for less than 24 hours and already met about a dozen locals, all of which were incredibly friendly and welcoming.

For dinner we went to restaurant Le Jardin, which is part of the 5-star state owned Cham hotel chain. A chain characterised by a total lack of, uhm, character, poor service and high prices.
But as none of the restaurants listed in the Lonely Planet for this part of town still existed, and we didn't want to walk all the way back to the city centre, we decided to give it a go.

the unsurpassed dinner view

The restaurant was a gem! Affordable, friendly, delicious and a view to die for! We started to feel at home in the Middle East (after all, we'd been here for a day and a half already) so ordering our food went a lot smoother than yesterday. We even managed to order a main course this time!

 

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Hama
Hama
Noria in Hama
Noria in Hama
Norias in Hama
Norias in Hama
Old city in Hama
Old city in Hama
Zaher and Derk and some remains of…
Zaher and Derk and some remains o…
the unsurpassed dinner view
the unsurpassed dinner view
me in the old city
me in the old city
Noria in Hama
Noria in Hama
Derk and Noria
Derk and Noria
me :)
me :)
Norias in Hama
Norias in Hama
Hama Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Best restaurant in Hama
Although the Le Jardin restaurant is part of the state-owned Cham Hotel, the quality is surprisingly good. The menu consists of great Lebanese mez… read entire review
Hama
photo by: Biedjee