This morning I decided to skip visiting the Harran ruins, I heard that much of them have been destroyed as the locals create a more modern town. So I decided to try crossing the border into Syria. From the beginning of my trip, this was my biggest concern. Most foreigners, especially from North America, must have a visa ahead of time. I didn't get mine, but I read on the internet that sometimes they let you through, issuing a 15 day visa at the border. I also heard that people have waited 12 hours only to be turned around. Needless to say, I was a little apprehensive.
From the Urfa bus station I hoped on a mini bus and got to the border in about an hour. As I walked to the border line I was invited for tea by some Turkish Arabs. I got my first taste of Arabic, which is sooo much harder than Turkish. I sat down with them for half an hour trying to communicate using English, Turkish, Arabic and whole lot of hand gestures. It was a pleasant experience.
After some tea, I decided to brave the border guards. It wasn't nearly as bad as I imagined. Immediately the Turkish border guards noticed I didn't have a visa. They called the Syrian border guards who decided to be generous and issue me a visa at the border. Both sides spoke pretty good English. During this experience I met three tourists from China, one who was also trying to get a visa at the border. We decided to stick together until we reached the closest Syrian city; Rakka. Together we got to the border bus station and crammed into a mini bus with a bunch of Syrian people.
I sat in the back between two, both were extremely friendly and tried to teach me some Arabic. The friendliest one was Ahmed, the one I'm sitting next to in the photo above. His English was also the best. The rest of them were not so keen on photos.
The bus got to Rakka where we transferred to a bus to Aleppo, the second biggest city in Syria. That is where I write from now. It seems to be a city that has a lot to offer in sight seeing, tomorrow I will explore. There is definitely a lot of difference from Turkey. Cleanliness is the most noticeable, in terms of hotels and internet cafes. At this cafe cockroaches are crawling around the computer desks. Also, my hotel smells funky and it's the one I settled on after seeing rooms at four others. On the bright side, the people seem to be extremely friendly and there seem to be a lot more tourists here than the places I visited in Turkey. I should be able to make some friends.
On a side note, the Syrian government has banned access to Facebook and blogging seems to be somewhat restricted too. Strange.