Monday, October 13, 2008


Elissa3 Her name is Elissa, a very famous singer from Lebanon. People started to know her when she appeared on a duet with super star Lebanese singer, Ragheb Alama, in 2000 – according to Elissa, she was already reached fame before appearing on that white linen video clip. She made 6 albums, appeared in different advertisements and commercials, such as for Pepsi a couple of times, and for a jewelry business. In addition, she held a performance at the pyramids of Egypt as the opening act for British superstar Sting. She was also the only Arabic artist to perform in front of the former U.S President Bill Clinton at the Stars Charity show in Dubai, where among other guests present were Queen Rania of Jordan and the Crown Prince of Dubai, Cheikh Mohamed Bin Rachid al Maktoum. Her stardom reached to another level at the end of 2002 when she inaugurated the opening of Kuwait's Virgin Megastore with Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the famous stores. Finally, the success of Elissa has been included in the book '100 Pioneers of Lebanon' alongside Lebanese music legends such as Fairouz and Wadih el Safi, according to Wikipedia.

A couple of days ago MBC satellite channel broadcast showed a concert of Elissa from 2007, but before talking about that I want to give some background information on Arabic music nowadays: Most of, if not all Arab musicians/singers record their albums using digital (or virtual) instruments in addition to live musicians, and with the advanced technology of synthesizers they can make great quality mixed and produced albums. For that reason, to me, watching a live concert of any singer is like going through the ultimate test: either that singer proves to be good on stage and deserve the title of a super star; or to consider that singer pathetic, where he or she would have no option but to keep failing musically and on stage in front of their fans or those watching him on TV. Some of those horrible performers (shame to call them singers in the first place) create a sort of a status que to let the audience accept them with such failure. With a lot of money being poured on such people, by consider them some commercial product that would gain a lot of profit through their image rather than their musical quality, they would remain to be seen on TV talk shows, their songs would be played every single hour daily on Radio stations, and their photoshop-manipulated pictures would be on the covers of magazines for years to come. Elissa is one of those samples.

I watched Elissa live on TV a number of times before… two conclusions: First, Elissa does not know how to sing; second, Elissa does not have any presence on stage.

The concert I watched on MBC a couple of days ago did not make any change in opinion: As it is the case with most of her live concerts; Elissa came out from back stage wearing a long elegant party dress with an eye-popping cleavage (her ultimate weapon – well, maybe this time it was a bit bigger than previous times!) She walked with the same look on her face: absorbed, lost in some thoughts far away from time and place… or shall I better describe it as a look of a dump? She stopped in the middle of the stage, nervous, maybe worried? Suddenly, as if she remembered something and before it was too late she turned her head to the right to greet the maestro who was conducting the group of musicians playing her songs on each side of the stage. During the whole concert Elissa did not have any interaction with the public, except for a few cold smiles here and there. She was most generous with the bearded maestro where she exchanged smiles and gestures. Oh yes, to be entirely fair: she exchanged smiles with the chorus standing in the dark at one end of the stage.

On every intro of every song she bursts into a deafening “aaaaaahhhhh” with eyes closed and mouth wide open – is she trying to tune her voice with the music melody played in the background? Or is this became another dump habit of hers? It can happen once, twice, but not with every intro on every song she begins whining and moaning loud as if to give a fake impression of being deeply emotional when hearing that melody.

I don’t think that having the flu made me so agitated by Elissa’s voice that night, because all who were sitting in the same room with me were became extremely upset with such joke.

Truth hurts: Her face was not of a very happy person (or shall I say hidden rage) during an interview on Elissa5 MBC’s celebrity talk-show, Al Arrab (The Godfather) when asked by host, Neshan Der Haroutiounian, when he told her “According to critics, when someone listen to an album by Elissa, it is depicted as some gorgeous bride on her wedding day; all pretty with the most beautiful dress and everything, and people listen with joy to your voice … on stage it is another story… after some half an hour of singing live some critics put your voice in the category of those singing out of tone, and other critics refer this to some poor or limited ability to sing in the first place.” Elissa’s admitted that “in the past I used to sing because I like to sing, and I used to go out-of-tone… I do that because I couldn’t listen to my own voice when singing… and it is not only me, all singers do that” A super star, as she claims, the second richest female signer in the Arab world (from sales of her albums) is saying that she is still learning how to get over the fact that she is tone deaf?

A lot of critics I read on the Internet or while watching TV about the deteriorating status of Arabic music, compare to the old days when the focus on music as a prestigious art used to be the highest priority, rather than focusing on the boobs and curves of female singers. Again, don’t want to be misunderstood, there are good female singers around, take Yara, for example, I didn’t like her last album but still love to attend her concerts or watch her on TV, why? I watch her and enjoy her music, because I feel that Yara is righteous to her music, and to her fans, to say the least. If Elissa can read this post, maybe it is useful to take a look and learn from this guy, how to stay on the same melody without going out-of-tone.

I started this post mentioning Ragheb Alama, just for the information; there is a guitarist in his band, a big man with light beard and moustache playing a red and white Fender Stratocaster. That guitarist plays very good, my compliments goes to him. He used to be the guitarist in Elissa’s band some years ago, and I watched him beautifully playing Elissa’s songs in different live performance on TV. Speaking of TV, would like to thank MBC, because since the end of Ramadan and on every night the past week, this TV station gave me the opportunity to watch a number of concerts of different Arab singers and musicians. I liked the concert of Lebanese female singer, Nancy Ajram. I can’t say that I enjoyed it 100% because the overall sound of the band playing (except for Nancy’s microphone) was extremely low and too much echoed. I don’t know if the acoustics on that venue was the right place for music shows, or is it the fault of those filming the show: no experience on how to mix the sound well and bring it right for TV viewers! However, I am not a fan of Ajram, but her new band, led by the great Basim Rizq (this man is a genies) did a wonderful and enjoyable performance.

Back to Elissa, in 1992, Elissa was still seeking for fame, so she participated under the name “Allisar” in Studio Al Fan, a sort of Super Star broadcasted on Lebanese TV in the 1990s. Elissa was asked about the most important factors for a singer to be always remembered by his fans. Her answer was “first of all the voice; second is good presence when going live on stage; third is good performance; finally musical knowledge. “ This is very sad; because I don’t see any of the four apply to this singer in a way or another. My suggestion is to focus and stick to one sort of performance; she did that on the Mission Fasion 2007 show. Another suggestion: I beg you, Elissa, please don’t sing covers of old Arabic songs; you butchered the whole melody from start to end.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Not fully fit, but I am OK. Freaking out dear ones and friends is not something I wanted to happen. It is just that since I came back from Syria and until this very moment I am not feeling healthy at all; Running nose, coughing, headache, every single bone of my body is aching big time, and taking lots of amounts of medicine.

According to the doctor, this is the time of the year in this country where a lot of people get such a killer cold/ flue.

You see the poor guy in the picture, well, I don't have the same look on my face, but I have the same feeling.

Facebook: Blocked From Adding More Friends

This post is not about bashing Facebook or something, It seems that I am not the only one, Gula is one of those having problem adding more people to his profile. Everytime I try to add a new friend I receive the message about approaching the limit for adding freinds!

My problem is worse, because Gula has over 450 friends, while I only have above 80!!!!!!!

Does Facebook believe in the say: Be selective in making friends with others?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Abbey's Random Thoughts Of Life

One of the things I missed for some time now is the new blog of Gale, under the name "Abbey's Random Thoughts Of Life". The new blog is already for sometime online, and as usual interesting enough to spend so much time reading through the deep insight these posts carry. The new blog is more focused on Gale as a person, on her past and current life. I was sad when I knew two weeks ago that she decided to stop, but that didn't last for so long and I am pleased to see new posts published, with new energy and look into the different issues. In addition to this blog, she is working on other blogs and sites, such as this one.

The original blog still online, still fun to read, but no new posts have been put there.

I am back

BLOG I know it, I have been neglecting my blog, but for no reason other than my deteriorating health since I came back from Syria, plus the ton of things I have to arrange at home, and at work. I already have a number of posts written about my trip to Syria, but didn’t have the chance to publish them since my return home. They can be read here and here and here

Thanks to everyone who kept on asking on me, and to all Muslims everywhere I wish all happy Eid.

Elvis Presley in Amsterdam

ElvisPresleyPosterC11791410 A group of Dutch hackers posted a video posted on ("THC" purportedly stands for "The Hacker's Choice") of an unseen person slips what appears to be a standard-issue European Union passport into a self-scanner at Schiphol Airport outside Amsterdam.

The screen pops up with the bearer's information: Elvis Aaron Presley, U.S. national, born Jan. 8, 1935, complete with photo and passport ID number.

No alert is raised; the passport's authenticity is not questioned; the fact that a physical European passport seems to be an American one electronically doesn't seem to matter.

Want to do it yourself? The hackers detail the steps, and provide source code, on the same Web page the video's posted on. Full article here.

Sarah Palin: Bad Disney Movie

This is the view of Actor Matt Damon on the U.S. V.P. candidate Sarh Palin. Why there are so many people dislike that woman? Why Europe want Obama to be the next U.S. president - well, those Dutch female politicians might be an exception, but there is a feeling of fear from a reality where McCain and Palin winning elections!

I wonder if awareness among Americans (including celebrities such as Damon) is now bigger than before that the country wants someone who could really make changes and not amend to the mistakes of the past.

Sunflower Seeds in Schiphol

SunflowerSeeds,RawInShell I thought of my trip to Syria would become special when I saw this:

I and the rest of the passengers traveling to Syria were waiting for the call to board the airplane. I looked opposite me to the right a caught my attention the silver with black plastic seat; the whole floor around and underneath the seat was covered with the remains of sunflower seeds. It was early in the morning, I was not happy with the fact that it was so early and no cleaning was done in an international airport like Schiphol! I turned my full attention again to the book I just bought from the airport (the story of Google), but the dirty empty chair was intriguing me, so I kept looking at the piles of sunflower seeds shells every few seconds. Another two minutes or three passed before I saw a man walking passing me and have a seat on the same chair. He was a man in his late forties, wearing light brown sandals, a brownish jacket, and a milky blue trousers (what color was it? I don’t know anymore whether these trousers were so dirty that I thought of its color blue turned to milky?). His look was of a very careless man, someone who looks too lazy even to reach out for his hand bag that was put on the floor. To my astonishment I figured out the puzzle: that man was taking sunflower seeds out of his jacket pockets, put into his mouth, crack them with his front teeth, and spit the shells out carelessly to the floor – even some of these remains were stuck on his shirt and jacket collars.

It was one of the two: that man was so bored to care or he was too nervous; because the moment all passengers were called to go to the airplane, he jumped up from his chair and went in a turbo speed of light towards the gate.

Syria in 2008

This is not my first trip to Syria; I have relatives living in the north of the country, in the coastal city of Lattakia. One thing I cannot argue about Syria in general is the beauty of this country, with its different elevations; green vast areas to the north stretching to the border with Turkey and along the coast line; huge desert to the east that reaches the western borders with Iraq, and the various hills and rocky areas to the south of the capital Damascus.

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In addition, no one can ignore how this country is one of the richest countries with its historic heritage spread in different areas and provinces. However, travelers can notice the economic hardship, which made it difficult for the country to rise among the most top tourist places in the world. Economic difficulties in the country obviously made its painful impact on its people, especially on this trip, this time, with prices risen triple in a very short time. There is an obvious gap between the poor and the rich (look at the cars on the streets and the models people drive). Compare this one to previous visits I could see improvements in some aspects of life for the ordinary people, but the pace of such improvement is extremely slow. The streets of Lattakia are cleaner than before; Police men are more into their work in organizing traffic on the streets, especially during traffic jams - different from the past experiences when a policeman stops you for no reason and end up putting some money in his hand while arguing to get rid of him. Ah, I almost forget, the police force there is very serious on stopping car drivers and fine them if they were found without seat belts on; a lot of housing projects with very beautiful design have been built; ATM machines in cities became more common, maybe not for all people, but I saw people queuing to get their money from one machine on one of the main streets in Lattakia. However, there is one thing that did not change since my first visit to this city: the look on the faces of salesmen when a stranger like me enters a shop. It requires some long 10 minutes to finally make that salesman/woman smile and give an impression of loosing tension! This became a common thing to me, it bothered me before, especially that there are some shop owners or workers or salesmen who really need some lessons on how to do marketing and how to deal with the client or the customer. Yet, this doesn’t mean that people there are not friendly; on the contrary, they are very friendly and help foreigners when they see one in need.

Anyway, upon arrival I didn’t stay in the capital Damascus except for a couple of hours, visited some friends and proceeded to Lattakia at around 10PM – arrived around 2AM there. This time I decided to rent a car and not depend on taxis while I am in the city, or call the usual taxi agency to take me to other places. I rented a Peugeot 206, which I think it was an Iranian version of that model in the market. I proved those people wrong, those who told me that it is impossible for a person who lives in Europe to drive in Syria. It was indeed challenging, though, in a sense, learning the “snake-method” of driving through cars like the taxi drivers, for example: there is no discipline with road-lanes, suddenly you notice a small yellow taxi (mostly are two cylindered-motors Daewoo model) slowly like a snake moving through in the middle and cut the street to the other lane. Traffic jam in the different main areas in the city of course is horrible, and when this happen some chaotic symphony starts; played by drivers blowing their cars horns from all directions.

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Religion is irrelevant in Syria, not meaning in the negative sense of the word, but Syria is free from committing its people into complying with the rules of the majority i.e. Muslims. I heard that people get jailed in United Arab Emirates if they were caught smoking in their cars during Ramadan! This was not the case in Syria. I could see Syria like “old” Iraq regarding the diversity of its population; consists of many and many ethnic and religious groups. In Lattakia and its surroundings, there are the major Sunni groups, there is also a big Christian community located in certain neighborhoods, such as “The Americani” neighborhood (very beautiful neighborhood). There are also other religious groups, like the Druz, al Murshediyah (link in Arabic), and the Alawyeen communities – the latter compose the majority of the population living in villages and little towns surrounding Lattakia and their presence stretches further to the north of the country and across the borders inside Turkey. For that reason, one can see when going out those who wear traditional custom, such as men with the turban or the typical Shami large trousers, and the opposite to that can also be observed: there are those who are obsessed with the latest hype in fashion and mode, such as girls wearing 12cm high heel shoes and tight jeans. I was delighted to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan while I was there. However, I was astonished to find out that there were a number of shops open in the main market, but I was more surprised to see restaurants open and people can drink or eat (or smoking a cigarette) during the day. Not all the shops are open in Ramadan, though, but the peak in the market usually begins after the Iftar (sunset time) where walking or driving around becomes almost extremely difficult.

Another thing NO one can argue about Syria is the Food, especially starters (or what is called Mezza), such as Tabouleh, Homous, Kibbe, Babaghanoush, Kibbe Nayye, Shanklish, Fattoush, Soujouk …etc Still, all the above would not be compare to the delicious mixed grills they have in their restaurants. By the way, I never noticed that Pepsi became available until this visit to Syria, I might be wrong, but I remember that only local-soft drinks allowed to be sold in shops. In addition, I was surprised to see Pepsi became an official sponsor of a number of local TV shows.

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Speaking of TV and the media, to me it was more than obvious the level of bad relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia has reached (especially on private Syrian channels like Dunya TV). That was one direction the media is focusing on daily. Another focus by the media is something regularly been taken care of: the relationship with Lebanon. I was in Syria when French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, visited the country, and how the media kept on for days full coverage on every event and every aspect of that visit – I was surprised, though, and still is, when I didn’t see the Syrian president receiving his guest at Damascus airport. Instead it was the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Muallem who was waiting for the French president at the end of the airplane-stairs. Speaking of the media leads to talk about the internet: the Internet in Syria is censored heavily by the government. Internet café is the only place where I could get reasonable internet speed. These internet café is not limited to boys or men only, I have been to internet café’s where young girls and women either browsing the World Wide Web, or talking to their relatives using mic and webcams, or search and apply for jobs. By the way, there are internet services for home users available and offered by the main telecommunication companies over there, but it is very expensive for ordinary people apart from the fact that it is extremely slow and not reliable.

Like on every visit, I won’t let a chance without going to one of my favorite places in Syria, Slenfeh. It is a tourist location, approximately 45 minutes drive north of Lattakia. Some considered it as the highest location in all Syria where nature and fun are combined together. The tourist complexes over there did not change that much since last visit, but Slenfeh is expanding rapidly because of the new villas and vacation-apartments been built in different places on the edges of the mountains there. Many people go to this place because many consider it as an escape pod from the bloody heat and humidity in Lattakia. The prices of goods and costs of food at restaurants in Slenfeh are much higher than in any other place – funny that there are much cheaper restaurants on the outskirts of Slenfeh!

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That trip provided me with many aspects of relaxation: I needed change; those who know me personally can confirm how much a hard working person like me deserved some time off from everything related to my daily life. I managed to have long hours sleep, very long hours – I can’t recall when was the last time in my life I did sleep for so long. In addition, going out in the evening and stay late at café’s was also fun, drinking Arabic coffee while modern and classic Arabic is playing in the background – some of café’s and restaurants owners took advantage of some TV shows or movies by putting pictures and posters of their favorite celebrities

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I wondered a number of times if it was worth staying longer in Syria, not thinking of how many days I can take days off from work, but I thought that the time I spent there was justified. I came back from Syria three weeks ago. I got a cold immediately one day after arrival, I am recovering, but very slow, I think it also has to do with the change in weather here? Well, maybe this is true, especially that summer did not visit the low lands this year.


Renting a car provided me with the opportunity to seek further into exploring Syria rather than traveling to places around Lattakia. In fact I wanted to travel to Lebanon, but at the last moment the decision was made to go to the ancient city of Palmyra. Took the family and departed around 7AM. Driving, seeing board signs saying “Lebanon” was tempting. I was joking with the rest with me if we would change plans and go to Lebanon, they were thrilled about it, but after a little last minute discussions before the crossings we decided to stick to the plan, and continue the way to Homs and from there to Palmyra. The road was well paved, and the trip took 3 and a half hours till I saw the city emerging out on the horizon. The first thing to I saw was the high hill and the old castle on the top of it. At that point it was to me a sort of an awkward moment; when I saw the sign on the road pointing straight forward and on it written “Iraq”, beneath it “260 KM”. I was almost 2 hours from Iraq! I kept on driving, following the signs to Palmyra which goes around the huge hill before I could see the town beneath and the ancient city on my right side.

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We were tired and hungry, and it was almost 12 midday, so we decided to find the good restaurant we have been told to go to, Bab-tedmur, which was on the other end of the ancient city. This means that we had to drive through the old city on a very clean and very rough road: the road was paved with small gray hard rocks to slow down drivers.

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Bab-tedmur is a hotel and a restaurant. When we arrived, an old tall-thin man wearing a black head-of-waiters suit welcomed us. He showed us the way to the huge main hall that was decorated so simply and beautifully with wooden graphics and semi-luxurious curtains, and had air-conditioning systems spread in different corners and spots. The waiter told us about a meze buffet to be opened in 15 minutes, and that we can order the food at anytime. We ordered coffee first and asked to bring the food later, the old waiter then told us about the event of his life: after 10 years marriage he and his wife have finally their first baby boy. He showed us a picture of the baby from his mobile phone. The coffee came and while drinking the electricity went off. According to the waiter, this was the 5’Th time on the same day. While waiting for the food, and with no electricity – they switched on a power-generator to continue their work; I went outside and had a walk around the compound. The owners of the restaurant seem to construct one side of their property and turned it into a sort of a corral or a pen. They divided it into three sections separated by barbed-wired walls; in one of them they put a big Ostrich and a number of chickens. In the other section I saw some deer’s, where the third section had a couple of ducks and gooses.

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I went back inside and saw the meze buffet has just been open for guests. By that time a big number of tourists entered the restaurant in groups – like they were in one bus? from European countries, such as Spain, Italy and the UK, and others from Asian countries, like Korea (that was a huge group). Our order arrived afterwards, Mansaf, which is a big dish divided into two; one with rise on it chicken pieces, and the other had Freekeh where big lamb meat chops on it. The food was not fresh, like it has been only warmed up from a previous day. After lunch and re-energize we headed back to the ancient city and started with the Temple of Bel.

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The temple is like a panorama of different religious rituals and belief. Romans, Greeks, Muslims, Persians, Early Christians, French occupation…etc all passed by or conquered this city and left their mark on its temple. Our tourist guide was a big man in his late fifties with a slightly big belly, wearing glasses and a white cap to protect him from the sun. His polite manners in addressing us were admirable, and his story telling deserves a big compliment. I liked his method of telling us about the history of Palmyra; he uses a small piece of a mirror, uses the reflection of the sun into the mirror to point to the different rocks, walls, gates, and other objects.

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He told us about how the temple was built, how Palmyra was ravaged with many disasters put upon it and caused by both man and nature (including earthquakes). When the visit to the temple was completed we asked him to continue the tour to include the rest of the city. At the gate of the temple of Bel we were confronted with a number of young and old men carrying goods and man-made products for sale. We also came across a couple of young men who offered us to ride the camel for a fee. We declined both and it took us a lot of effort to convince them that we don’t want anything.

We went to the Colonnade and the main gate of the ancient city, parked the car there and started our second part of the tour. I didn’t know that the main street was not made for pedestrians; instead it was made for cattle and men riding camels or horses. Pedestrian uses the narrow streets on each side of the main street, which was covered on the old times above to protect people from the rain and burning sun. We have seen the remains of many places like the summer and winter swimming place for queen of Palmyra, Zenobia; the main trade spot in the market where south tribes and carnivals used to meet with merchants and other travelers coming from the north; we saw how the people of Palmyra used what was considered very advanced technology to drain rain water into specific holes made for that purpose…etc

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Before the end of the main street of Palmyra, the guide asked us to follow him to the left side where we came across a huge long and rounded wall, we entered through the main door, a guard was sitting there watching blur pictures from the little TV he has. We paid for entrance and the guide walked us out through the door at the other end; it was the Roman colosseum of Palmyra – stunningly beautiful. After some background information and taking some rest from that heat of the sun, the tourist guide took us back to the main market of the ancient city where it market the end of our tour. We walked together all the way back to the main gate where the car was parked.

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The only thing we didn’t visit in the ancient city was the location of the tombs, which were closed for the public at that time of the day.

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After the visit to the ancient city we brought back our guide near the temple (where he had his old motorcycle parked on the wall of an old house), and drove back to the main city. We stopped at a very nice restaurant with a very weird service: Anything we order we get the answer “sorry, we don’t have that anymore” We ended up ordering some water and we waited till around 4 PM, the time for the museum across the street to open. The museum contained wonderful artifacts of Palmyra, but best of all were the four mummies exhibited on the second floor. I wondered why all the fuzz on how Egyptians used to mummify their dead ones, while in this ancient city the same technique is used with similar rituals?! When we were back to the first floor a handsome man in his thirties wearing the museum uniform walked towards us and started voluntarily telling us about the new discoveries in Palmyra – including the first ever artifact of a wagon on it is the official stamp of Palmyra. It was very educative seeing knowing the custom of those ancient people to differentiate between the rich and the poor, even in the way they were buried and the location of their burial places that was based on their social class in society at that time.

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We left Palmyra around 5 PM heading to Lattakia. We stopped on our way in Homs, a big city and very nice city – more organized and modern than Lattakia, in my opinion. We bought traditional Syrian sweets and more water and continued with our trip west to Lattakia.

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Palmyra is enjoyable, maybe the help of the our tourist guide made it more fun to look at these ancient ruins while someone is telling the story of such ruins. Yet, there is still a lot of work to be done; a lot of money is needed to pour on discovering more of this historical city; there are many and many places still buried underneath heavy dust of nature and history, and this remains to be seen in the future is this beautiful ancient city would be the focus of government and other archaeological organizations.

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