Stop in Istanbul on the way to Central Asia
Take the bus for several days through Turkey to Gaziantep (I've wanted to go there ever since reading The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean), stopping in various places along the way. Or we could take the train from Istanbul to Aleppo, but it would be sad to miss so much of Turkey
Cross into Syria and spend several days in Halab, going with the travel advice from our American friend who grew up there.
Go by bus to Damascus
Head to Beirut, spending several days with our soon-to-be-living-in-Beirut friends
Return to Istanbul by boat