posted Dec 13, 2011, 12:39 AM by Gilles Depardieu   [ updated Dec 21, 2011, 11:13 PM ]
While crossing Turkey and just after visiting Urfa, Abraham's birthplace  [see pic] and a sacred site for the 3 monotheist religions, I stopped in the Silk Road city of Antioche or Antakya in Turkish. As I tried to cross the border with Syria , I was told that visas on arrival were not available at the border, but a proper visa had to be required in Ankara. Another option is to fly directly to Damascus [which I did later].

Happy like a Syrian trader in Antioche
I was thus stuck in Antioche, which is a fascinating Mediterranean city with a few Crusaders ruins. A few treks are easily accessible from Antioche Centre and roam the Eastern mountain range [Although a lot of military posts have to be avoided].  
Antioche Centre is now a busy Red Light District city catering to lone Syrian men, mostly traders. I felt the clients had their needs satisfied, as they were quite generous after the deal was done. It was relatively easy to get them to pay for my Efes beer, so that they could tell all their stories, with a lot of exaggeration on their sexual prowess, oriental style!

I thought that these deprived men could probably not find such sleazy business inside Syria, but it proved to be wrong as I realized later during a visit to Damascus.

Happy like a Christian in Damascus
A trip to Damascus is like a trip to the past, with a taste of late Ottoman Empire. Large hotel lobbies are full of  Mukhabarat moustache men dressed with black leather jackets, listening to guests conversations. "Russian" clubs are everywhere in the centre, and they don't sell only vodka. Alcohol flows freely, especially in the well preserved Old Town Christian quarter. 
There's a lot to see in the Old Quarter: Roman archs, magnificent mosques and churches, food is fantastic.....

I have seen the ugliest hookers in all my life in Damascus Le Meridien underground disco, but they seemed to enjoy a kind of celebrity with the locals. A few I talked to explained to me they were working before somewhere in the Gulf countries. I guess Damascus is the last place on earth they still could make money. It's probably the most male centric society I have seen. 
Syria bad reputation in the West appeared to be unjustified to me, as Damascus adopted after all most of the "western sins". In the event of a revolution against Assad, Christians will be less well treated than now, and it's a reason Christians are not vocal against the Baas regime, although I have not visited other regions.

I didn't have enough time to visit the Crusader castle called Krak des Chevaliers [see pic below], and I still regret it, as it's not possible now due to the current violence level.