Haggling skills to the fore... Half way to the magic 80! We're counting down the days until the scumbag currently clinging to power in Syria is out on his ear, and we can start recommending people to travel to this fascinating destination again.
A most admirable place
When that day inevitably comes, we will once again wax lyrical about the wonders of the ancient city of Damascus; the elegant ruins of Palmyra, deep in the desert; the forbidding Crusader Castle Krak des Chevaliers described by T.E. Lawrence as 'perhaps the most wholly admirable castle in the world', and - most of all - the charms of Aleppo. Some people see fit to miss out on the northern second city but the ancient old town of Aleppo Syria, with its massive citadel and Umayyad Mosque, is every bit as appealing as Damascus, and ignored at your peril.
Souq it and see
Outside the city walls sits the Church of St Simeon the Stylite who famously sat on top of a pillar for 39 years. Each to their own, we say, but the highlight of Aleppo is a visit to the wonderful souq. These covered alleyways wind along for more than six miles and are so vast (the largest in the Middle East, in fact), and labyrinthine that your guide might well need a guide himself.
2,000 years of practice
There's a real sense of continuity here as Aleppans go about their business as they have for millennia, bargaining good-humouredly with stallholders. Beware, though, if you rate your haggling skills - these same stallholders enjoy the benefit of two thousand years of experience handed down from generation to generation, so don't expect to walk away thinking you've got a great bargain. They are also a very funny bunch - witness the chap above, bradishing a dagger and a sign saying 'a present for your mother-in-law'.
Aside from daggers, there are plenty of cheap and charming goodies to seek out, including hammam towels, honey, candles, soaps and the inevitable carpets, and the Syrian in the street or souq is one of the more charming people you are likely to meet, and genuinely appreciative that you have visited his or her country. Bring on the day that can happen again.