So we haven’t been blogging much from Syria. This is largely due to the general lack of excitement we’ve had. Syria is certainly an interesting and API Call Errorbeautiful country, but we’ve found that we’ve spent an awful lot of time seeing things, and haven’t actually done anything of interest. So for a brief recap:
From Palmyra we took a private car to visit some far-flung sites, turning what could have been a 2 hour bus ride to Hama into an all day trip on the scenic route, visiting a API Call Errordesert castle, API Call ErrorQasr al-Heir al-Sharki, the API Call Errorruins of the API Call ErrorRoman/Byzantine/Ummayad city of API Call ErrorRasefeh, and a brief stop to see the API Call ErrorEuphrates river, unfortunately far upstream of the most interesting historic sites that are closer to the Iraqi border.
In Hama we had a couple more private tours arranged. The first day there, we took a trip to visit the castles of API Call ErrorMisyaf and API Call ErrorCrac des Chevaliers. This was probably one of our most exciting days, though not really in a good way, as we had a crazy driver taking us on back roads through the mountains, careening around blind corners on single track roads (very API Call Errorinteresting car, though). On the plus side, though, we did see some beautiful scenery, as the mountain range, just north of Lebanon, is very API Call Errorlush and green everywhere you look, and much of it is terraced into farms. This was also a very tiring day, as I think we climbed several API Call Errormountains worth of stairs at Crac, which is a API Call Errormassive complex. It was originally used by the Crusaders to control much of the western interior of Syria and Lebanon (Interestingly, the order of knights that occupied the castle, the Knights Hospitallers, are the same order which later ruled over Malta for several centuries after they got kicked out of the middle east and Rhodes).
So the next day, we were quite tired, and couldn’t really get interested in the dead cities we visited. We started with the Roman site of Apamea, which we were told was better than Palmyra. It’s not. All that’s left there is the API Call Errorcollonaded street, which is pretty generic and could be any Roman city. The next two stops were the Byzantine cities of Bara and Serjilla. API Call ErrorNothing much remains of Bara, just a few tombs, but API Call ErrorSerjilla is a site worth seeing, if only we’d had the energy. The ruins there are much more in line with what you tend to find in the christian west…stone buildings with sloped roofs and the like. It seemed oddly out of place in Syria, where buildings, both modern and ancient, seem to have universally flat roofs.
And so, exhausted, we decided we would head to the Mediterranean town of Lattakia to relax. We’d been told it was a neat place, that was more outward looking than much of Syria. Unfortunately, it’s more of a port than anything else, and, while Jordan found space on its tiny coastline to fit both a port and a nice beach, Lattakia, with a much larger coastline, was unable to do the same. And I’m not quite sure what was meant by outward looking. Lattakia seems marginally more liberal than east of the mountains, but that’s not saying much, given that Syria not even remotely conservative, even compared to Jordan, also a fairly liberal country. We also had more language trouble in Lattakia than anywhere else we’ve been, which makes everything harder to do. We ended up only spending one night in Lattakia.
The trip out though, was made worth it by the trip back. We opted for the train ride to Aleppo. It was a little more hassle, since there are fewer trains than buses, and we had to wait out a few hours at the station, but it was cheaper (only 80SP each, less than $2), more comfortable (first class seats, lots of leg room), and a better view, as it once again went through the mountains, this time without the risk of running over some village dweller who’s out for a walk. And some of the views were stunning, looking over valleys of orchards and olive groves.
We’re now in Aleppo, where we’ll spend one more full day before continuing to Turkey. Aleppo is a bit overhyped, I must say. The old city isn’t half as interesting as Damascus’, and, though I’d read, even amongst fairly recent visitors, that the API Call Errorsouq here was amazing and not at all touristy, it has unfortunately started to go down that path, as there are now several shops selling clothing that you don’t see on locals, and various nicknacks that could be from anywhere, which I also doubt are bought by local people. And, even worse, when these types of tourist-targetted shops start to move in, their owners are desperate to catch the attention of any tourist who happens by, making for a much less pleasant shopping experience. Where, in Damascus, we were able to wander and look in shops without feeling pressured, here, just walking down the souq can get you hassled. The one place that Aleppo’s souq edges out Damascus’ is in architecture. The souq here was definately built to be a covered building, and it has vaulted ceilings, and is really quite beautiful. The one in Damascus, was really just a lovely old street recently roofed over with corrugated metal. So, if you’re heading to Syria, at least for the moment, I’d recommend doing your shopping in Damascus.
So that’s where we are now. Kathy went for a hamam today, which she should probably write about some time, and we’ve otherwise been enjoying ourselves in a thoroughly unexciting way.