Return to Home Page                            Return to Archive Index

Brian's Pictures From His Middle Eastern Holiday in Syria and Jordan

This is the story of a train trip experienced by my work colleague Brian Eames and his wife, who went on a ten-day tour of the Middle East in October 2005, the twist being that it was a Steam Tour, and the couple are not frantically interested in trains.  "Usually, we make our own way on holiday, but we felt that independent travel was probably not the wisest option for Jordan and Syria, the countries we wanted to see,” Brian explains. “Additionally, train travel meant we would probably see places we’d not get to otherwise".
 

“Having said that, I think that everyone has a bit of fascination for steam trains, and the Hedjaz Railway, which we went on, has a special story to tell. It was built around the early 1900s by Turks wanting to help pilgrims get to Mecca although, it would seem, economic and military strategies had  more than a little influence on the idea".

“The line came under sustained attack by Lawrence of Arabia during Word War 1, and we saw what were described as the remains of his gun emplacements … although, later, we heard that people dug holes in the ground around stations because stashes of gold were buried nearby".


 

Brian and his wife enjoyed the chance to join others and opt out of the  train schedule, and highlights of their non-steam days included squelching through mud to float in the Dead Sea, walking round narrow streets in Old Damascus, visiting Mount Nebo near the burial place of Moses, and, one sunset, meandering around the Greco-Roman city of Jerash.

 

On one occasion, Brian accepted an invitation to ride on the footplate of one of the veteran steam engines. “The extreme heat and noise – I couldn’t hear properly for two days afterwards – was totally terrifying at first but, after ten minutes or so, I was able to calm myself down and enjoy it as a unique, amazing and totally exhilarating experience,” he said.  

There were one or two other scary moments during their trip.

 “We spent two nights in a fantastic hotel right in the middle of Damascus and, around 3am each night, we were woken by very loud explosions in the street outside. They were said to be firecrackers of some sort but, it seemed to us, someone was letting it be known that they could easily create real explosive mayhem, if they chose to".

 

“A few weeks after we came home the hotel we used in Amman escaped the bombing which caused death and mayhem in a handful of other hotels in the same neighbourhood of the Jordanian capital.

 
“Our guides agreed that while military factors explain why the line stops short of its original length, the survival of what’s left owes much to stubbornly-durable imported European steel sleepers which, had they been wooden, would have been lifted and used by locals long before now.”

(And it looks like there are still a few spare!)
“There were a few times when kids threw stones at the trains - one rock went straight through an already-open carriage window - and some trouble-bent teenage boys tried to clamber on board in Syria. This was mostly prevented in Jordan by the presence of armed tourist police. They came with us on road coaches too. ”

Would Brian recommend this holiday?

 “It’s not the most peaceful part of the world of course but the answer’s yes, providing you’re prepared to spend sometimes very long days on trains chuntering their black ways slowly across dusty, baking deserts, sometimes starting at 5am and not getting back until very late at night.  

 
Extremist and totally selfish steam-heads (around half of the group) couldn’t get enough of what the rest of us came to consider then loathe as far, far too frequent stops for drive-bys, and the physical discomfort of horribly aged carriages (historic yes, comfortable - good grief -  no) was made distinctly worse by the dilapidated state of neglected loos which were an oversight too far, especially for anyone with a traveller’s tum!

“Each day ended, eventually, in the welcomed comfort of five-star hotels.

 Notably, the Jordanians were very friendly. They made us feel very welcome.”

 
Return to Home Page Return to Archive Index