Damascus To Aleppo - Syria.

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Flag of Syria  ,
Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Today was a red letter day. Fruit for breakfast!! We are already liking Syria! We have had buffet breakfast through out Egypt and Jordan and whilst there has always been some sort of eggs, olives, tomatoes and yoghurt the standard buffet is overloaded with sweet pastries to please the European palate and never any good old Aussie multi grain toast, muesli or fruit.

The night before, we had arrived quite late and our organized pick up was not there for us .Eventually we got another tour operator to ring our tour group, and ascertained our pick up person was in the airport. It turns out he was waiting for us in the visa area without realizing we had to have our visas before leaving Oz, and had therefore already cleared through immigration.

The tour was to be the same deal as Jordan - it was explained that we would have the one driver but local guides would be organized on site.

Our driver Musa (Moses in Arabic) picked us up at 8.00am the first morning and we headed straight out of the city to Maaloula, a Christian village famous for the fact that Aramaic, the language of Christ is still spoken. We visited a very old monastery and convent still in use. No guide materialized but looking after ourselves is sometimes less exhausting!

After a few more hours drive we arrived at the old crusader castle, Crac des Chevaliers. This is set high on a hill in mountainous country and we were very pleased to have warm clothes as it was very cold. We had a guide who showed us around and explained that whilst building was originally started in 1031, it was the crusader knights who around the middle of the 12Th century built and expanded the castle to hold a garrison of 2,000 men. They had every convenience covered including a refrigeration room (cooled by a system of wind and water), hot water piped everywhere, sewerage, cooking, bakery and storeroom facilities designed to hold food for 2,000 people for five years.

The castle (or more correctly the Citadel) is three and a half hectares and has inner and outer walls with a moat between, dug out of sheer rock. It is all in amazingly good condition with only a few minor restorations done. Massive round rocks remain stacked up ready for the catapult and above all doors are the slits and platforms for the hot olive oil to be poured on the enemy should the castle be breached.  All around the inner and outer walls are the slits for the archers to unleash their arrows. It is just the sort of place where your imagination runs wild and you can visualize a 12Th century time of repeated attacks and sieges and the castle standing firm.

Our guide offered several versions of what happened in the end. The most accepted theory is that the numbers in the castle had fallen to around 200 and they had for some time been completely surrounded by the armies of Islam and even though they could not breach the castle the remaining crusaders put out the white flag and agreed to depart the castle for safe conduct all the way home. The castle was then used by the armies of Islam with the only real change being the conversion of the chapel to a mosque. Crac castle was definitely a highlight of Syria.

We drove on for a couple of hours and we were very interested that Syria has done massive tree planting over the last 20 years or so. Mostly Australian trees too! Another thing that was of interest was that there are a lot of fun fairs complete with Ferris wheels and water slides. I guess it stands to reason this would be a popular pastime as 50% of the population is under 20 years of age!  

Finally our driver stopped at a restaurant. We were starving as it was about 3pm.  What followed was rather comical. Our driver's command of English is at the level of single words e.g. "eat? Come". We say to the waiter and to our driver "Menu?". They both say "No" and then nothing happens!   We try "buffet?" "set menu?" and get blank looks in return. OK we are REALLY hungry - where do we go from here? Finally the waiter takes us to another guests table and shows us what they are eating and puts $500SP on his calculator. ($12A each) OK we say - whatever. It turned out to be a fabulous Arabian Meal we wouldn't have missed for quids. First we were brought four dips, different olives and hot pocket bread straight out of the oven. Then a big pan was put on our table to share, of stewed mutton, tomatoes and garlic, a bowl of thick creamy unsweetened yoghurt, and more bread to mop up the juice. Lastly a "to die for" slice of pistachio pie.

Back in the car we drove on to Aleppo where we were scheduled to stay two nights, our hotel was a fabulous boutique hotel in the winding alley ways of the old town. Created out of a very old house with the rooms around a central courtyard  (like the Riads in Morocco) it was just the sort of place we love to be, to explore and in our first foray that night we found bananas, figs and a big bottle of water for around $1A and decided we had really fallen in love with Syria.

Footnote: Crac des Chevaliers and Qal' at Salah El-Din is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site.
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