22.12.2010 15 °C
Syria has turned out to be everything we expected. Syria allows you to walk through time, from beautifully preserved roman ruins and imposing crusader citadels, stunning mosaic mosques to medieval souks and ottoman palaces. The food is rich and exotic, raising the bar for the rest of the region. The factor that really sets Syria apart however are the people. Warm, welcoming, funny and altruistic, Syrians have perfected the art of hospitality to dusty travelers over millennia. Forget what you hear, Syria is as open minded and accepting as it is ancient.
From Aleppo we travelled south to Hama and got a car to show us the castles of the region. Our driver was a delightful old guy who didn't mind driving on the wrong side of a 3 lane highway. The highlight here was Crac de Chevaliers, a massive citadel build by the crusaders in the 12th century. This place was better suited to a fairy tale or fantasy story. When you wander these places, you have to remind yourself that they are actually real and not a set of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.
It was getting dark, so we negotiated a good rate for old mate to take us through the desert to Palmyra. This town has been a vital station for caravans linking the west and east. Over the centuries many civilizations have occupied it, yet it was the roman era of prosperity that has left it's mark today. We were lucky to get a hotel in the ruin site which allowed me to see the city at sunrise (pics to come). A day roaming this magnificent roman city was concluded with tea in the family garden of a guy we met and sunset from the castle perched high on a nearbly mount.
We arrived in Damascus that night and immediately fell for the old city. Tight, busy and winding cobbled streets decorated in Christmas lights, fashionable locals sporting the latest designer wear and us, shlepping our luggage completely lost. We finally found our hotel which is a converted villa. The hustle and bustle immediately turns to a tranquil courtyard, complete with overarching orange tree and bubbling fountain. The customary welcome tea recharges our batteries to explore the city. Our affection for Damascus only grows as we roam, repeatedly get lost and stumble on the best shwarma we've ever had - ever!
Yesterday we got to see the Umayyad Mosque which houses the resting place of Saladin, the head of John the Baptist and the shrine of Hussein, grandson of the prophet. Things got pretty hairy in small spaces as the giant scrum of burkas push and jostle to touch significant objects. Three souks later and we were ready for lunch and a nap. We had dinner reservations at 'the place to be in Damascus' which didn't disappoint. Amazing food and people watching. The moon was full and the immortal city inspiring so we got engaged under the roman arch and took the long route back to our villa.
We're taking a rest day today before heading south to Bosra and Jordan. The next chance we will get to blog will probably be in Jerusalem. Till then, much love. CP & Lee