When I’m asked what country I’ve had the most rewarding and interesting travel experience, my answer is easy. I don’t even have to think about it: it’s Syria.
This answer seems to often surprise people, as even before the civil war, it had an unfair reputation of being a dangerous place to travel.
I travelled there without Zab in November 2010 and spent almost the whole month there. I even learned some Arabic and made friends there.
But even if you’ve been a loyal follower of this blog from the beginning, you probably didn’t have any idea I’d ever been there, because I don’t talk about it.
I usually find it too upsetting to think about. So much so, that after the initial reports of the uprising in Syria in March 2011, just four months after I’d left the country, I stopped updating myself on the situation there, because I just found it too horrible and too personal to allow myself to consider.
The friends I made and the strangers who showed me generosity for no other reason than I was a visitor in their country could suddenly all be dead, or worse, and I had no way of finding out.
When I saw these images last year of Aleppo’s oldest mosque turned to rubble, I broke down in tears. Even now, writing about it, I have a hard time keeping it together.
I am of course aware of the irony and privilege of this first world problem, and that is also part of what prevented me from writing about Syria earlier: guilt.
One thing I can do through this blog is to remember how Syria was, tell people about it and perhaps dispel some people’s stereotypes about the country.
My time in Syria is full of wonderful memories. It's where I camped overnight in the desert and was woken in the morning by the howls of wolves.
It’s where I made one of my best traveller friends and also where I met up with Earl and wandered around Aleppo together.
It's where I witnessed the city of Aleppo rejoice jubilantly at their winning football team beating a Kuwaiti team in a very important match.
It's where I wandered around ancient ruins and crusader castles and ate wonderful food.
And of course, it’s where I met the most amazingly friendly, hospitable and genuine people I’ve ever met on my travels.
So when Syria becomes a safe place for the people living there, and then eventually for tourists to visit again, I hope to be able to return, this time with Zab.
Until then, I'll keep remembering this amazing country and telling anyone who'll listen why I loved it so much.
Have you been to Syria? What's your favourite country from your travels?