After being in Syria for only a week, my husband and I traveled with some other students to the ancient ruins of Palmyra in the eastern part of the country. Above, you see the bus we rode in. We liked to call these buses "Happy Journey" buses, because that's what was usually written on the side of the bus, as you see below.
These buses were always garishly and creatively decorated, and they never spelled "Happy Journey" quite right. The bus above has chosen the particular incarnation of "Happy Jerny."
The 5-hour trip from Damascus to Palmyra takes you through the middle of nowhere, across a striking, windswept, slightly hilly desert landscape with no signs of life but the occasional Bedouin tent or flock of sheep. There is, however, one pit-stop about halfway along the route: a place called, inexplicably, the Bagdad Cafe (original spelling preserved). The Bagdad Cafe looks simple on the outside, but the inside is an ornately decorated living room with beautiful traditional artwork and handicrafts for sale, as well as the usual Ugarit Cola and Ruby candy bars.
We pulled in front of the Bagdad Cafe in our Happy Journey bus just ahead of a bus full of French tourists. They weren't in a Happy Journey bus, though. Their bus looked more like this, a modern luxury coach (below is a picture of my little brother in front of a Qadmous bus at a pit-stop on the way to Aleppo):
I'm sorry to say we felt ashamed of our little Happy Journey bus with its plastic bunches of grapes hanging over the dashboard. But we certainly didn't get away with not being noticed - the French tourists flocked around the bus, exclaiming at the kitschy-ness of it all. A few were even laughing and taking photos in front of it.
I guess I can't blame them. The Happy Journey buses are quite a sight to see.