My one and only visit to Syria was some thirty years ago and did not leave a good impression. The place was full of hate with anti-Israeli slogans painted on buildings and roadside rocks everywhere. Reports from others - such as the redoubtable Dervla Murphey, who had a really nasty experience at the border - only confirmed the impression.
It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I accepted the commission to film in Syria this year (2002) and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The people were friendly, the drivers - against whom both the guide book and the chap in the car hire shop specifically warned me - no worse than anywhere else, and the atmosphere was very different.
There was still anti-Israeli propaganda - hardly surprising in view of the fact that Sharon had just sent his tanks into Jenin and then refused to admit a UN commission that might have exposed his war crimes - but it was not as virulent as I remembered and was balanced by equally prominent statements in favour of peace and condemning terrorism.
I can recommend Syria as a most interesting place to visit - well, I could in 2002. Since then the country, which was slowly improving under its president Bashir al-Assad, has erupted in civil war and many of the treasures we saw are now destroyed. It will be many years before tourism can start again in Syria, which is a tragedy.