I suspect that the main priorities for travellers such as ourselves during this trip are Toilets; Water; Food; and Bed. The first (and sometimes the most urgent) of these has been particularly vexing in Syria.
There are a large number of public toilets but every time you go it usually costs 25 Syrian Pounds (about 40p), sometimes it costs more. To put this price into perspective, a litre of diesel costs around 31p (as against £1.27 in the UK at the time of writing).
Outside or inside or hovering around every toilet, there seems to be someone (in this case a small boy) dispensing a single sheet (or two) of toilet paper and trying to ensure that you do not go in without paying.
Inside the delights vary in standard and cleanliness from the above – a clean squat, to toilets so appalling that their images and descriptions have been censored for fear of offense!
Toilet staff“never have change” no matter how many people have gone through before you with exactly the correct money, and so there is a constant hoarding of small change to pay for a toilet or people go in groups.
In some old towns, public toilets are numerous and large simply because many of the shops / houses do not have their own mains connected toilet.
As a final comment, I offer a toilet sign we saw whilst on this trip
Our need was often similar to that expressed in the picture.
South to Bosra
Bosra is a small town on the road south to Jordan which is famous (amongst travellers) for its spectacular theatre.
The theatre is in very good condition because it was covered with dust and sand for many years and not restored until the last century. ITs capacity is about 6000 seated and 3000 standing – which makes it about 2/3rds of the O2 in London (although they do not allow standing).
There are the usual mosaics (this one has some fine camels)
and a variety of statues, some quite lifelike. It is certainly an impressive place and as usual, the acoustics are superb with the slightest whisper on the stage being clearly audible throughout the theatre.
We have been delighted and surprised with Syria. The amount of history which is distributed over the whole country is tremendous. The archaeological sites we have visited have been very interesting, the people have been very welcoming and the cost of being a tourist has not been high.
Crossing the border into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Crossing borders is always an interesting affair and sometimes is easy sometimes difficult. Since Syria and Jordan have good relations and we are simply a bunch of tourists travelling south on a well worn track, we did not have too many problems. The border is marked with the usual triumphal arches (these pictures were taken secretly because photography is not allowed at the border and hence the quality of them is a little variable) and lots of customs / emigration / immigration checks
Goods of all sorts are very much cheaper in Syria than Jordan and hence there is a thriving business of cars packing themselves totally full with goods in the last town in Syria and driving to the first town in Jordan to unload. As you approach the border on the Syrian side, you pass large numbers of cars awaiting orders which are phoned through from Jordan, they then load up, pay the border tax and unload.
Hence the customs area is full of cars awaiting assessment.
Having crossed the border, it is apparent that Jordan is a very much wealthier country than Syria and that tourism is well developed. We stop at Jerash and experience the first taste of a more developed tourist system.
Jerash is the site of an old Roman city known as Gerasa and was one of the towns of the Decapolis – the name given to at least 10 towns in a federation known for their trade and power. The town had around 20,000 inhabitants in Roman times and was at the peak of its power in the 3rf century.
In the remains of the Hippodrome, there are re-enactments of chariot races and Roman soldiers fighting – all viewable at an extra price if this takes your fancy – it did not but we did see a chariot gallop past a hole in the wall.
Hadrian (of Hadrian’s wall fame) made his mark here with a visit and in his honour a fine gate was constructed across one of the main roads into the town.
Immediately after the gate is the Forum – the main market place for the town. This is a particularly fine example of a forum with all of the pillars standing and the floor in good condition.
Leaving the forum and heading more into the city, one follows the main road which has pillars and shops all along its length.
Some of the pillars are very finely balanced and even though they weigh many tons, if you put your finger in the crack at the bottom, you can feel them move slightly in the wind.
The main crossroads (turn left here for Jerusalem) has the remains of roman shops on all four corners.
The road itself shows groves worn into the stone surface from the many chariots which passed along its length.
There are obvious signs of the main sewer which ran under the road
with manholes every so often and a neat hole in the middle of the manhole to enable it to be pulled out.
In the remains of a church near the temple, is a mosaic floor which has some images in it of animals found in the area at the time of its laying.
Here there is an Elephant and a Lion, both no longer found in Jordan.
The theatre is a quite reasonable unremarkable example of a roman theatre but what followed next made it very memorable. As we were sitting down admiring the general layout, some members of the Hashemite Pipe appeared and
entertained us with a number of tunes taken from “Scotland's Greatest Bagpipe Hits”. As they did so, a group of Jordanians decided to join in by dancing around the theatre. They told us that the British introduced bagpipes to Jordan in the late 1940s and they are very popular.
When the band played, it demonstrated the acoustics of the amphitheatre plus the determination of Jordanians to enjoy dancing no matter what the music.