Friday, December 22, 2006


Seasons greetings.

Last night I had a end-of-year dinner with some friends. In between the food, drink and speeches, there was time to open a few Christmas crackers and groan at the jokes. Here are some of the gems

Q: What is big, hairy and flies?
A: King Concorde

Q: How do you make an apple puff?
A: Chase it round the garden a few times

Q: Why did the apple turn over?
A: Because it saw the jam roll

Q: Which athlete is warmest in winter?
A: The long jumper

Q: What did the fish say when it ran into a wall?
A: Dam

and finally...
Q: Why won't we have calenders in the future?
A: Because their days are numbered

Monday, December 11, 2006

My wheels

My bike was in need of a bit of maintenance this morning, so getting up a bit early, I set about pumping up the tyres, checking the brakes and readjusting the seat. The whole process took only a few minutes, but reminded me of the first time I tried to do some upkeep on my wheels, when I did something quite spectacularly stupid. No laughing or rude comments, please (unless they are behind my back)...

I was ten years old and had recently got my first bike. I’d spent the whole summer riding falling on the mean streets of Kilburn, and the chain now needed to be cleaned and re-oiled before I could get back out there. Better get to work, I thought. Nobody else in the family used a bicycle, though, and being unprepared, I hadn’t thought of buying some bicycle chain oil before I started cleaning. Hmmm. After much (serious!) consideration, I decided against using cooking oil, and instead decided to have a rummage in my dad’s motorcycle kit; surely he’d have something appropriate. I couldn’t find anything for ages though, and was just beginning to give up hope when I spotted some Duckham’s heavy duty lubricating oil. Bingo! This should work I thought, and scooping some out, began generously applying it to the chain. Ten minutes later I was done, and had a quick cycle around the block to test the ‘improvement’ out. The ride felt okay, but now what to do about the ugly big grease patch along the inside right leg of my jeans? Never mind, I though. I’ll just wipe the excess off the chain, and let my mum worry about the stain.

It was only two days later and once I’d soiled four more pairs of trousers that I decided to ask for some advice, and realised the error of my ways. It took me two hours of fun with soap and water before I finally managed to remove all the grease on the chain, and I ended up spending the next six months walking around with conspicuous grease stains on all my jeans.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

(Biscuit) breaking news

Research from the University of Loughborough has suggested why so many cookies in packages are in bits before they are eaten. Using a technique called digital speckle pattern interferometry, the team found that as biscuits cool down once they are removed from the oven, they gain moisture around the rim, which causes them to expand. Simultaneously, water in the centre causes the biscuit to contract, leading to the development of 'fault lines'. These weaken cookies so that they easily break apart when they are handled or transported. Check this out for more details.

The researchers hope that their work will help biscuit manufacturers alter their cooling processes so that perfect biscuits are produced evey time.

So now you know!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


On my way to the hospital this morning, I heard a lady in a niqab swear!

She was crossing the road with her school age daughter, and didn’t realise a car coming rapidly towards her. Fortunately no one was hurt.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Brazil 3-0 Argentina, five pitch invasions and a Kaká wonder goal

As part of the celebrations for Arsenal’s new Emirates Stadium, the two biggest footballing nations (and rivals!) in South America were invited to play a match there and showcase their talents. Many of the stars were listed to appear (though not Ronaldinho, unfortunately), and it promised to be a great match.

I got to the stadium two hours before kick-off and already the atmosphere was very different to a club game. There was far more of a carnival feeling, with a sea of yellow shirted Brazil fans talking and singing loudly and exchanging lots of friendly banter with the much smaller group of Argentina supporters. The fans were not segregated which, despite the teams’ rivalries, made it seem more like a match between friends.

When the teams were announced and the national anthems started playing the banter stopped temporarily, but Brazil dominated the early exchanges and when they scored the first goal there were loud celebrations and exuberant dancing all round. Midway through the second half, with Brazil two-nil up and in control, a supporter draped in a national flag decided to liven up proceedings by running on to the pitch. He went to hug one of the players, and what followed was a comedy chase round the ground as he tried to evade the guards. He was quite agile, and the crowd cheered every time he managed to escape from the pursuants. Seeing the guards preoccupied, another fella decided to join the first on the pitch, which caused even more chaos. Play resumed a few minutes later, but at the next stop another two fans tried their luck, and in total there were five pitch invasions. When one of them was wrestled to the ground I thought he might need first aid, but he wasn’t hurt and we had little to do throughout the match.

By that time the crowd were becoming restless, but that was all forgotten when Kaká scored a wonder goal. Running the length of the pitch, he escaped from three defenders before slotting in a shot past the keeper. What a goal.

All in all, a fun day.

Friday, July 07, 2006


I'm still in the office, and just made a trip to the gents. After completing my assignment, I went to wash my hands. But some dweeb had closed the tap so tightly that I couldn't get it open. I tried for almost a minute! Ended up having to use the sink in the kitchen.

Friday, June 23, 2006

If only

If only research was so easy...

The 'Feynman Problem Solving Algorthithm':
  1. Write down the problem
  2. Think very hard
  3. Write down the answer

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Linux woes

No! No! No!

The server on which all my data is stored is being rebooted, but it’s taking way way longer than anticipated, so I haven’t been able to run any scripts for the past two days. Meanwhile, my supervisor is attending a course in Italy and wanted to show my data to a researcher over there. She keeps emailing me asking for data but I can’t do anything till the server is back online.

Feel completely paralysed at the moment.

Friday, June 16, 2006

World Cup Stories

I found the following article in India Today magazine:

"As part of coach Juergen Klinsmann's new-age methods, the German team watched a 10-minute film on the culture of Costa Rica before their opener against the Central Americans. The duration of the film was recommended by the team psychologist who noted that the men under his charge had an attention span of exactly 10 minutes for most things beyond their normal areas of interest."

"The civic authorities who ran extra tram services in Gelsenkirchen to get fans in and out of its World Cup stadium quickly discovered that some fans didn't want to get off - namely the Ecuadoreans, who came to town for the match against Poland and had never travelled in trams before."

"Spain's El Pais newspaper called the England team "flat, grotesque and contaminating" and its striker Peter Crouch a "two-metre asparagus"."

"Even the turf is official: only two varieties of grass are prescribed and allowed to be grown as football turf in World Cup stadia: the lolium perenne (rye/perennial grass) and poa pratensis (blue grass/Kentucky grass)."

"The Ghanian camp includes the mother of one of the players whose express purpose for being in Germany is to cook her son's favourite dish of rice and groundnuts."

Friday, June 09, 2006

World Cup Predictions

I have World Cup fever!

With the tournament kick-off only minutes away, I thought I'd share my predictions for the competition. That way you can chastise me when I get it horribly wrong.

Winners: Netherlands
Golden boot: Fernando Torres (Spain)

What do you reckon?

Next week sees the climax of the Dauphine Libere, an important warm up for the Tour de France. My tip for that was Floyd Landis, but he's still outside the top ten. For the Tour itself, Ivan Basso looks mighty but I'm hoping Jan Ullrich shows just how good he can be.

Talking of cycling, I had a bad an expensive problem on Wednesday. I have cantilever brakes, and cycling back from College my rear brake cable snapped. My supervisor (a bit of a bike expert) recommended I get a new cable professionally fitted, but Halfords have quoted £70 (£4 parts, the rest labour) to do so. Ouch!

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Research hero

I’m away on a conference in Seattle at the moment, and just met a research hero: the inventor of the whole field I am working on. I was so in awe I couldn’t look him in the face. What did I notice? He wasn’t wear socks.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

What is MUN?!

Some of you have been asking what MUN actually is. Sorry I didn’t explain it earlier.

The following was taken from the Model United Nations websites of the International University Bremen, Queen’s University Belfast and the Interscholastic Association of Southeast Asian Schools (IASAS). The IASAS website in particular has much more information about the qualities required to be a good MUNer.

"The concept of a Model United Nations was developed by students in America after World War II in order to simulate the challenges of diplomacy and international negotiation. These model conferences particularly focus on areas of peace and conflict resolution that are a part of the day-to-day work of the United Nations. During a MUN conference participants are assigned to delegations representing a specific country – never their real home country though. These delegations represent the positions of their countries in the General Assembly, Security Council and the respective committees. The debates are held in English, and the student diplomats strictly have to observe all rules of the United Nations protocol."

"Before playing out their ambassadorial roles, students research global problems to be addressed, drawn from today's headlines. Members learn how the international community acts on its concerns about topics including peace and security, human rights, the environment, food and hunger, economic development, and globalization. Model U.N. delegates also look closely at the needs, aspirations, and foreign policy of the countries they will represent at the event."

Friday, April 14, 2006


If you type in "littlegirls of deformation" into Google Turkey (without the quotation marks and with no space between 'little' and 'girls'), this blog comes up as the first hit.

Thanks to Statcounter for this info.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Spectroscopy volunteers

Are you worried about your health? A colleague in my lab is looking for volunteers for a magnetic resonance spectroscopy study of lipid levels in the liver. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll pass on your details to her. The investigation itself is non-invasive and non-ionising, but having just volunteered, I should warn you that it’s pretty boring and a bit cramped in the scanner.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

That's not you!

Something a bit strange happened today while I was on transit in Finland. I got a call on my mobile asking for Moc. “Speaking”, I replied. “Are you sure?” “Yes, it’s me Moc.” “You don’t sound like Moc”, he retorted, and promptly cut the phone. To be fair the reception wasn’t great, but it was the first time someone has ever hung up on me because they refused to believe my identity. I didn’t recognise the caller’s voice either and still don’t know who it was.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Density times volume times g equals...

This might seem like a bit of a random post, given that it's so long since I regularly updated the blog. Sorry about that.

So, this week I've been in Oxford on a Medical Image and Signal Analysis Spring School for PhD students. And boy is it intense. Probably the most intense academic experience I've had, given that the lectures are geared towards engineers and physicists and included slide upon slide of challenging maths. Anyway, this evening was the formal dinner, and we were in frivolous mood. During one of the unusual conversations, someone asked my lab mate how much she thought that he weighed. She considered for a second, looked confused and replied with the classic quote
"How can I guess how much you weigh when I don't know your density!"
Spoken like a true physicist.

P.S. How much do you think I weigh?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


As part of the course, we had to prepare a poster on the aims of our PhD project. Here's mine.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Oxford Spring School

In Oxford, on the first night of a Medical Imaging and Signal Analysis Spring School organised by the Interdisciplinary Research Council for PhD students working in the field. The actual talks start tomorrow and I’m looking forward to hearing those on validation methods for non-rigid registration algorithms.

Whilst we were waiting in Marble Arch for the coach to Oxford, we were passed by London’s largest Arba’een (Chelum) procession of Iman Hussain. Chelum is commemorated forty days after Ashura, and remembers the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson. Iman Hussain, along with over seventy of his supporters, was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680AD (61AH)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

LINKS committee training weekend

This weekend the IC LINKS committee are in Strood, Kent, for a training weekend. The aim is to get the resources and learn the skills required to perform our roles, as well as to meet the rest of the LINKS teams in London. I’ve learnt a lot about what’s going on within London District, and also got to gel with some of the new committee members. This was helped by some of the team games we played. In one, we had to go roam round the streets of Strood trying to find objects beginning with each letter of the word ‘ambulance’. It was tough, but for ‘b’ we lugged back a blue door from a cul-de-sac twenty minutes away, which won it for us. :o)

The venue

The view

The games (Polar bear!)

The team

Thursday, March 16, 2006

New CPR protocols

Gave a talk on ‘Poisons: First aid in the home’ at College today, which I can email to you if you’re interested. At the end, I talked about the new adult, child and baby cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) protocols that are being introduced. A major study in the US found that “half of chest compressions given by professional rescuers are too shallow, and chest compressions are interrupted too often during CPR”. On the basis of this and other findings, the new guidelines simplify CPR and call for an increased ratio of chest compressions to rescue breaths. This could save more lives than our current protocols, so please check out the sites of the Resuscitation Council UK and the American Heart Association for the complete recommendations (there’s much more than I’ve outlined in this short paragraph).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

WorldMUN position paper II

Here's my position paper for topic B in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees simulation: Unaccompanied minors.

Committee: UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Topic: Unaccompanied Minors
Country: Nigeria
Delegate: Moc, Imperial College London, UK

Nigeria has ratified both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and embodies the principles outlined in these. Being acquainted with the unique and extremely difficult problem faced by thousands of accompanied minors, Nigeria welcomes initiatives to nurture and protect the full entitlement of human rights and liberties of this vulnerable group. In a part of the world where mass migration for political, cultural, economic or social reasons is becoming increasingly common, Nigeria recognises that unaccompanied minors are often the subjects of abuse, neglect and human trafficking, and are sometimes unwilling combatants in armed conflict, and in partnership with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has taken steps in line with to ensure this does not happen within its borders. With funding from the UNHCR’s Regional Support Hub in Accra, Nigeria has been able to strengthen its “protection capacity” and “pursue durable solutions for both camp-based and urban refugees”. By doing so, Nigeria has been able to afford assistance and shelter to refugees from Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Sudan.

Unaccompanied minors from Nigeria are also victims in other countries, and Nigeria recognises that minors are used as “anchors” to obtain asylum in other countries of refuge, where they are often subject to exploitation. One of the major reasons for this is the frequent lack of any documentation in refugee situations, which is exacerbated by minors often finding themselves in new surroundings where they do not understand the language, culture or bureaucracy of their country of refuge and may not be aware of their rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These minors often require especial care and support, and Nigeria feels that the mandate of the UNHCR requires this body to provide all the support necessary for member states to provide for this vulnerable group.

The burden of care for unaccompanied minors mainly lies with developing countries, in particular those in Africa and Asia, and Nigeria feels that the successful programs already being implemented by the UNHCR all over the world could be specially tailored to the needs of unaccompanied minors in these regions. In particular, Nigeria feels that extra funding to countries of refuge to help with education, vocational training, income-generating activities, repatriation (where appropriate) and asylum processes are critical so that these often marginalised children can have their material and psychosocial needs met. Nigeria is very pleased that this issue is being discussed by the UNHCR and welcomes efforts from all member states concerned with this issue to help provide for all unaccompanied minors.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Last week I had lunch with one a friend I’d made at a College event I’d attended. He’s a nice guy and travelled all the way to Hammersmith Hospital to meet me, but I feel a bit mislead as to his motives. Rather than a friendly lunch, he spent his time trying to convince me to join a new society he was forming. I declined and haven’t heard from him since.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

St Patrick's Day Food Fair

Next Friday is St Patrick's Day, and the Irish community in London geared up with a food fair in Covent Garden yesterday. We were there in our capacity as first aiders and got to sample some free Celtic delights, which was nice.

No one to treat today. Whilst we were on foot patrol one little girl went to the the first aid station for some treatment for a sore head, but other than that a plaster (band-aid) was the only thing we gave out. Was nice to see some friends before the imminent exam season though. It's gonna be tough.

Covent Garden

Saturday, March 11, 2006

WorldMUN position paper I

I’ve now finished my position paper for topic A in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees simulation. The committee aims to find a solution to the problem of (predominantly Hutu) Rwandan refugees residing in Burundi. Here is the position I think Nigeria would take regarding this. As always, any advice, comments or criticisms would be welcome.

Committee: UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Topic: Rwandan Refugees in Burundi
Country: Nigeria
Delegate: Moc, Imperial College London, UK

As a signatory of both the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1969 Convention Concerning the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. Nigeria watched in horror as events unfolded in Rwanda in 1994. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed and even more were forced to flee their homes fearing persecution as violence broke out between Hutus and Tutsis. However since the return of relative stability to the region many have returned to Rwanda and have, with the assistance of governments throughout Africa’s Great Lakes region, begun rebuilding their lives.

In the aftermath of the violence, an independent report on the United Nations’ role in the conflict cited the UN peacekeeping mission’s “lack of resources” and stated that “Rwandans in need of protection had been abandoned”. Since then, attempts to hold those accountable for the atrocities have been initiated by the Rwandan government, whilst the international community has made its efforts in the form of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). In addition, Gacaca tribunals, dispensing community justice, have been established officially within Rwanda to punish perpetrators of the violence. However, fearing punishment for their actions or retaliation for the actions of others, since April 2005 approximately 10000 Hutus have fled Rwanda for neighbouring Burundi.

Both Rwanda and Burundi are obliged under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1969 Convention Concerning the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa to prohibit the return of persons to territories where they could be at risk of serious human rights abuse. That said, both governments have stated that repatriation of refugees is their common goal, and the Rwandan government has publicly assured all Rwandan refugees of their safety and right to a fair trial. Nigeria has the utmost confidence in the two states to uphold their obligations and fulfil their promises. Nigeria welcomes the steps being made towards peaceful democracies in the region and is convinced that recent dialogue between the two states will further this process. Many in Rwanda are still haunted by the hostility that has erupted since ethnic divisions were first encouraged in the region, and Nigeria feels that the proposed goals of fair trials for those involved as well as the paramount protection for all those that are innocent is the best way forward. On this note, and given the mistrust many Rwandans feel towards UN peacekeepers and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Nigeria believes the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should primarily play the crucial role of providing refugees with humanitarian assistance. Many Rwandan refugees are currently living in overcrowded, disease ridden camps, and Nigeria is sensitive to the fact that Burundi faces understandable difficulties in providing for these people given its current economic situation. By partially alleviating this burden the UNHCR would build many bridges with all peoples and contribute to a more stable future for all nations in the region. However, Nigeria believes that a local approach, under the auspices of the African Union and relevant UN bodies, would be the best approach in resolving the political and social problems of Rwanda and Burundi.

Nigeria is a friend of all peace loving nations and all member states working to ensure security and stability in the region. Like many African nations, however, Nigeria hosts significant numbers of refugees, and is convinced that the only way to achieve long-term stability is through regional dialogue and leadership.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Recurrent miscarriage

The Consumers’ Forum of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) organises regular talks for members of the public affected by or interested in issues in the specialty. I attended my first one today on recurrent miscarriage, defined in the UK as three or more miscarriages. This is an unfortunate fate suffered by around one in a hundred women, and can have profound physical, mental, emotional and social consequences. However, most couples who have had recurrent miscarriages still have a good chance of a successful birth in future, and Prof Regan talked through the “most important causes of sporadic and recurrent pregnancy loss, useful investigations, available treatments, the emotional and psychological aspects of miscarriage and getting ready for the next pregnancy”.

I found more good information on the condition on the website of the St Mary’s NHS Trust’s Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic, where Prof Regan works.

Monday, March 06, 2006


I just got a rollicking from my supervisor. And I deserved it. :'(

Friday, February 24, 2006

Annual general meeting

After the lecture yesterday, I dashed to the IC LINKS annual general meeting. I’m the new chair for 2006/07. Quite a few of the rest of the committee are pretty new to SJA, but they all seem competent and enthusiastic so I’m looking forward to working with them. Hope we meet your expectations.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Lab winner

My lab mate just won a prize of £250 for her poster! The competition was held in conjunction with the Hounsfield Memorial Lecture, which was presented by the director of the molecular imaging program at Stanford. Well done SJ!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

China and WorldMUN beckon

I’ve just bought a ticket to China. Towards the end of next month I’ll be going to Beijing to participate in the Harvard World Model United Nations. It’s the world’s largest student MUN simulation, with around one thousand four hundred delegates from all over the world expected to attend and eighteen different UN committees being simulated. I’ll be representing Nigeria in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Seeing as it’ll only be the second MUN conference I’ll have attended I’m pretty apprehensive about how productive I’ll actually be, but I’m really looking forward to it. It’s the first time WorldMUN is being held in Asia and it will be my first time in China and I can’t wait to explore. Fortunately, I’ve been given an extra week off by my supervisor so I’ll also be able to see some of the country.

In the mean time, though, I have to do some serious preparation. I know next to nothing about the country I’m representing (Nigeria), let alone the topics we’ll be discussing (Rwandan refugees in Burundi and Unaccompanied minors). Position papers are due soon so I’d better get to work. Help!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Resolution passed

Phew. We finally passed a resolution just minutes before the close of meeting. View about the topic were so polarised that there wasn’t much compromise on either side. Amendments were rejected and the resolution voted for was badly received by some of the delegates representing some of the African nations where female circumcision is most common.

I’m glad I signed up for LIMUN in the end. The debates were really stimulating and dynamic and we had the chance to meet people from all over the world. Would definitely do it again.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


My first MUN conference.

London International Model United Nations (LIMUN) is the biggest annual university-based MUN conference in the UK, and this year it’s being held at Imperial. I’m representing Turkey in the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural committee, a specialised subset of the UN General Assembly. We’re debating female circumcision, or ‘cutting’, and things are already pretty heated. I didn’t have time to extensively prepare for the conference, but as far as I know female circumcision isn’t practiced in Turkey and it doesn’t seem to be a topic that it’s government has strong views on. So I’m not that active in discussions, but it’s interesting to note that, amongst others, the delegates representing Kenya and Egypt are totally against a resolution urging member states to impose a ban, even though their governments have already enacted bans (I really should have done more research as to their extent).

Anyway, committee is over for the day, and the social event beckons: a boat party on the Thames.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A promise (and apologies)

Yep, I know I've been really slack with the regularity of posting lately. I've been...well, lazy really. Yesterday I was belatedly drawing up some 'New Year's(!) Resolutions, and one of them was to keep up with the blog. So from now on I'll be posting more, and will also backdate my entries to add more holiday pictures.

Till tomorrow,

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Hyde Park Relays

Hyde Park Relays earlier today. Not much too do first aid-wise, but we did leap into action when we saw a rider-less horse galloping down the Serpentine Bridge. No one appeared to have been hurt though. There was also a competitor who had a tonic-clonic seizure and was rushed to hospital, but I wasn’t around for that. Hope they’re ok.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Welfare officer

ICMUN (Imperial College Model United Nations) held their annual general meeting today. At the start of the year, I knew next to nothing about how the UN works and the skills required to be a good diplomatic, but the hard work done by the previous committee has encouraged me to get involved. They’ve been committed and dynamic, coordinating regular UN committee simulations, helping members to attend external conferences, organising our very own mUN@IC and hosting London International MUN (LIMUN), all the first year of the society. So I ran for a post, and am now welfare officer for 2006/07.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

International Night

International Night is a College tradition and one of the biggest nights on campus. Every year, the national societies come together to showcase the variety of cultures here in an evening of food, culture and dancing. This year was slightly different, though, with the food fair being cancelled to give more time to the live show, but this didn’t seem to be too well received. The show itself had a great range of songs, comedy sketches and dances, most of which were pretty spectacular, though some societies gave the same performance they have in previous years, unfortunately. Still, it was a fun night, as these pictures hopefully show.

Opening ceremony

Malaysian Society

Hellenic Society (I think)

No idea

Iranian Society

Japanese's Doraemon!

Arabic Society


Saturday, January 14, 2006

Travel tips

We’re back in London now. Second time lucky. When we got to the airport on Monday, Just before the start of the four day Eid Al-Adha public holiday, we checked in but were stopped at immigrations for not having an entry visa stamp. We explained that the passports were newly issued, showed them the police and British Embassy reports but still they wouldn’t let us board the plane. Before leaving, we had to get a stamp from the head of immigration back in Damascus. With it being the holiday season, it was a further two days before we could finally leave. Usually, I wouldn’t mind exploring for longer, but we spent most of that fortnight in offices and I was desperately worried about how far behind I would be with work when I got back.

Anyway, it’s all over now. I’d like to share some of the lessons we’ve learnt from the trip. Most of it is common sense, but pretty easy to overlook:
  1. Always keep photocopies of all your important travel documents (passport, flight ticket, etc.). This saved us even more hassle. Another good tip that a friend gave me is to scan your documents and email them to yourself. That way you can easily send them on or make extra copies as required.
  2. Be contactable. Try and keep a local mobile phone number, the phone number of the place you’re staying as well as that of a friend. Also, note down the contact details of your national embassy in the country you are visiting.
  3. In case of emergency, have some back home who can transfer money to you or help you in any other way.
  4. Even if you’re travelling in a group and one person is carrying most of the money, give each person at least enough cash to get back to where you’re staying.
  5. If you’re planning on taking travellers’ cheques with you, make sure that wherever you’re heading they can be easily replaced in case they are lost/stolen (it’s best to ask the company issuing the TCs directly). Write down the cheque numbers and keep this paper in a safe place.
  6. Plan a rough itinerary, so you at least have an idea of where you can stay and what to visit in each of the places you’re going to visit. It’s easy to do this with the help of a guidebook.
  7. Whilst you’re looking in the guidebook, check the climate and pack appropriately. I didn’t and froze in Damascus.
  8. If you’re a student, take an ISIC card with you.
  9. Take some basic meds with you, just in case you fall ill (diarrhoeal meds, throat lozenges, anti-histamines and anything else appropriate to your destination).
  10. Don’t underestimate the kindness and helpfulness of strangers. If you’re not dealing with someone whose livelihood depends on tourism or you’re not in a solely touristic city, it’s usually safe to trust people. And if you’re ever lost, ask a local for help!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Omayyad Masjid

Omayyad Masjid. Incredible.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Aleppo's Citadel

The massive and imposing Citadel dominates Aleppo, rising 50m above street (and souk) level. Surrounded by a moat and steep sided (48 degree) sides, it was almost inconquerable, and the extensive renovations being carried out makes the inside similarly impressive. In fact, I think it's the most awe-inspiring building I've seen here so far.

A street level view of the Citadel. Fancy breeching that.

The monumental gateway

The amphitheatre (it's modern, built in the 1970s)

The roof of the incredible throne room

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Aleppo in pictures

We went on a walking tour through Aleppo today. Aleppo is Syria's second largest city, and with the capital vies for the statues of the oldest continually habited city in the world. It's not as cosmopolitan as Damascus, but remains a vibrant, thriving city that's expanding rapidly; I love it!

National Museum entrance

Old town souk

New friends

Colourful lighting

Turkish bath

St Simeon (Qalat Samaan)

Transcribed from our guide book (Footprint: Syria and Lebanon Handbook):
“The beautiful fifth-century church of St Simeon represents the largest and most important surviving Christian monument of the early Byzantine period…

"St Simeon Stylites was born in 386AD, the son of a Cilician farmer… In 412 he joined the recently established monastic community of Deir Samaan… Increasingly drawn to a life of asceticism, he gained permission to withdraw from the main community and lead a life of solitude and meditation on the hill where the Church of St Simeon now stands. He soon gained a reputation for his extreme piety and began to attract large numbers of pilgrims from far and wide. Wishing to maintain his detachment in the face of so much attention, he had a 3m tall pillar constructed with a platform on top. From then onwards, until his death forty-two years later, he lived on top of a pillar, or in fact a series of pillars, each taller than the one before, culminating in one between 17-20m high… From his vantage point he preached to the pilgrims who continued to arrive in ever increasing numbers, gave advice on their problems and mediated disputes. According to one of his contemporaries, Bishop Theodoret of Cyrrhus, his fame was such that pilgrims came from as far away as France, England, Spain and Italy.

"[After his death] work began almost immediately on the Church of St Simeon, which was built around his famous pillar. [The pillar itself has now been] reduced to a worn and insubstantial lump of stone by the countless pilgrims who over the centuries have chipped away pieces to take home as holy relics."

Ain Dara

Ain Dara is famous for a neo-Hittite temple dating from the tenth-ninth century BC. It is dedicated to Ishtar, a Semitic fertility goddess of Babylonian/Assyrian origin. Like the other places we've visited over the past few days it's fairly out of the way and we didn't meet any other tourists there. This gives it a sense of grandeur but also a feeling of being forgotten, which is a pity given the quality and beauty of so much of what we've seen.


Hama is the fourth largest city in Syria, and is famed for it’s massive and unique norias (waterwheels). There are seventeen dotted along the Orontes River, the largest of which has a diameter of 20m. As they rotate they make this wonderful groaning sound that can be heard all along the pleasant riverbank.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Syrgilla (Serjilla)

The ruins of the dead city of Syrgilla.