Two Castles and a Bus

Trip Start Aug 23, 2010
Trip End Oct 13, 2010

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Flag of Syria  ,
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Today I went to two more castles.  The first is Marqab, which is right on the coast of the Mediterranean Ocean.  The second is Safita, today only one tower left and it houses a Greek Orthodox church.

Took a minibus up to Marqab-- today I'm avoiding taxis for the long haul trips.   A minibus costs about 50 cents, so it's the much better deal.  A guy on the bus helped me out, getting me off the bus at the right stop (the bus runs a rout and stops whenever someone wants to get out, or hop on).  He talked another bus to taking me up the hill to the castle which was nice too.  I'm finding out that having a "lost tourist" look and asking for help is a great way to be shown around, as people love to help here in Syria.

The castle was made of volcanic rock, giving it a black color unlike other castles in the area.  Marqab was the HQ of the Hospitallers, who also ran Krak, and was the largest castle in Syria.  According to my guidebook, it could store supplies for 1,000 men to survive a five-year siege.  It was the last crusader castle to fall, after only a five day siege, because manpower had become so dwindled by 1285.  The views over the ocean were nice, and there were no tourists.  There were a lot of dark areas to explore, no bats though.

Headed back down and asked for directions to a minibus back to Tartous, and found the station after some help.  Then took a minibus to Safita.  Sat next to an older guy who was helpful, and told the driver where to drop me off ("somewhere suitable" for the castle).  He had good English, and invited me to dinner with his family at his house, but I had to decline as I had a bus booked for 4 p.m.

Safita's castle was called Chastel Blanc by the crusaders, due to its white color.  Only one tower remains, and inside is a Greek Orthodox church because the chapel was never converted to a mosque.  The castle was a Templar castle, rather than a Hospitaller castle.  The doors to the church were locked and a note in Arabic was on the door, and a tour group was waiting outside looking bored.  Since I had a bus, I took the minibus back rather than waiting for the door to be opened.

Then the fun started.  The driver of the minibus thought it was awesome that an American was taking his bus.  He had me sit up near the front where he could ask me questions, and play American rap music and dance to it (as he was driving).  He kept joking that he hated America, and wanted to know if I drink beer, have a wife and family (a common question over here), and what US women are like.

At the bus station I sat with him and other drivers and had mate, or tea, served South American style with hot water poured over tea leaves, and drinking through a spoon with little holes in the bottom.  Syrians put one or two scoops of sugar in each glass, so it was very sweet.  It was fun.

Caught a bus to Hama, which is past the mountains inland in Syria.  Checked into my hotel, grabbed dinner, and booked a tour of a castle and some ruins for tomorrow in a shared taxi with others from the hostel.

One thing I noticed on the coast was the number of churches there are.  They have steeples and bells too, not incognito like in Istanbul.  It surprised me that I would see them in Syria (one of the pics is of a church on a side street).  I've seen them mostly on the coast, part of the Levant (the Holy Land area under crusader control).  But in driving around I've seen shrines to the Virgin Mary, even one in the middle of the road.

I also enjoyed the people on the coast.  Women mostly did not wear headscarves and Syrian guys even wore shorts at times; none of that in Aleppo (or even in Hama where I am now).  The evidence that Syria is a crossroads of empires is also evident, as there are people who look Arab, Greek, have blue, or green eyes, red hair etc.  What unites them is the Arabic language, much like the Greek language united a wide range of people in antiquity after Alexander the Great's conquest.


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