A Travellerspoint blog

Lattakia, Syria

Day 23, Easter Sunday in Syria

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Val, Greg and me hired a car, driver and guide to take us to Saladin Castle and around Lattakia for the morning. It was a very good morning with perfect weather.

Although Qala’at Saladin is less celebrated than Crac des Chevaliers, TE Lawrence was moved to write, “It was I think the most sensational thing in castle building I have seen”. The sensational aspect is largely due to the site – the castle is perched on top of a heavily wooded ridge with precipitous sides dropping away to surrounding ravines. It’s pretty amazing.
That afternoon it was off into town to look at the bazaar – fantastic. The guys like to have their pictures taken; not so for the women. The people are so very friendly and open – on many an occasion they would invite us in to eat with them. They don’t get many tourists in this country and they welcome them with open arms and heart.
A quick stop at the duty free at the port for some beer – Dutch beer called Amsterdam; it’s 500ml at 11.6% for only US$1 – so had to get a few!

Posted by dpedler 22:51 Archived in Syria Comments (0)

Tartous, Syria

Day 22, Syria Independence Day

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The day started at 8am when Val, Greg and I spent 10 hours touring around south-western Syria with a local driver named Marmot (sic). The places included: the old city of Tartous; the island of Arwad (from a distance); Amrit and the Kings’ Tomb; Crac Des Chevaliers; Safita and citadel; and Qala’at Marqab.
The first stop was the old city of Tartous known to the Crusaders as Tortosa. Wonderful friendly people greeting us at every turn as we walked the thin streets.
The Kings’ tomb at Amrit was wonderful; only the three of us (we beat the tour bus). I enjoyed it more than the Valley of Kings in Egypt.
Crac Des Chevaliers – “the epitome of the dream castle of childhood fantasies” (Paul Theroux); “the finest castle in the world” (TE Lawrence) – they sum the castle up perfectly. The first fortress was built in 1031, but it was the Crusader knights who in the middle of the 12th century largely built and expended the castle.

The predominately Christian town of Safita was next and another castle on the hill. In this town the citadel in now a Christian church.
Qala’at Marqab was the last castle for the day and was originally a Muslim stronghold, possibly founded in 1062. After falling into Crusader hands in the early 12th century, the fortifications were expanded. The main defensive building, the donjon, is on the southern side, as the gentler slopes made that aspect the castle’s most vulnerable. After several attempts, Saladin gave up trying to take Marqab. It eventually fell to the Mamluks in 1285.

The walls and towers are the most impressive element of what is left today, and the interior of the citadel is rapidly being overrun with vegetation and rubbish.

The day finished with a stop at the driver’s home, on the way back to the ship, to meet his wife, son and grandson; eat some interesting sweet food and my 2nd ever cup of coffee (WOW – strong stuff in a very small cup). Although their unit didn’t look much on the outside it was lovely inside. A wonderful Muslim family.

The people are all wonderful (not just our driver and his wife) – they all welcome us with a smile and a greeting. I must return to this lovely country, this time visiting Damascus. The good news is I have another day in Syria’s north-west tomorrow.

Posted by dpedler 22:39 Archived in Syria Comments (0)

Beirut, Lebanon

Day 21, 17 April 2009

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Lebanon is a very small country – only 180km long and 50km across. Today a small group of seven caught two taxis 90km over the Mount Lebanon Range into the Bekaa valley to the site of Baalbek. The other side of the valley are the Anti-Lebanon Ranges. The Bekaa valley is also the base of the Hezbollah (Party of God) and they can be seen throughout the area.

The range is very high with several peaks over 2500m. Sunny when we left Beirut, heavy fog on the range, even snow on the edge of the road at the high point of the pass. The previous week the roads in the valley were blocked due to snow.
The World Heritage listed site of Baalbek, the “Sun City” of the ancient world, is arguably the most impressive Roman site in the Middle East. Built on an extravagant scale that outshone anything in Rome.
The ruins of Baalbek date from Roman times in the 1st century BC. The six remaining columns are each 20m high. Also, the Temple of Bacchus is wonderfully preserved. The pictures will describe this site better.
The Christians in Lebanon celebrate Easter this weekend; so today is Good Friday. Also, being a Friday it is the holy day for Muslims. Thus most shops are closed.
The military seem to be every few kilometres; all with rifles or machine guns. Lots of military trucks and tanks in convey.
On the return we continued the tour around Beirut – a city of contrasts. Cosmopolitan and glitzy in parts and a bombed out shell of its former self in others. Still crazy drivers and the only traffic lights I saw are in the city centre – but not as crazy as the Egyptians. Many of the cars are expensive new Mercs and BMWs.

Lebanon is another country worth a longer return.

Posted by dpedler 22:38 Archived in Lebanon Comments (0)

Suez Canal

Day 20, 16 April 2009

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A day on the ship as we transit the Suez Canal. 21 ships heading north; we are number 13 in the convoy. 23 ships heading south which were anchored in the big lake in the middle awaiting our pass – around 11am.

Posted by dpedler 22:36 Tagged cruises Comments (0)

Cairo, Egypt

Day 19, 15 Apr 2009

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There is very little to do in Suez other than watch the maritime traffic. It is even worst where the ship has docked at Port Tawfiq. So a small group of seven organised a mini-bus to Cairo.

The trip to Cairo is about a two hour trip. The desert between Port Suez and Cairo is typical of the many of the other Arabic location already visited. Lots of sand, rough mountains and very unhospitable.

Upon reaching Cairo the traffic dramatically increases – don’t worry about lanes as two trucks and our mini-bus (in between the trucks) can fit on a two lane highway. And this is just the start as we enter this chaotic city. And don’t worry about the rare traffic light in this metropolis of 30 million – the colour of the light really doesn’t matter. The first stop is the Citadel and I am surprised to see only two smashed cars – it’s unusual to see a straight car.
The Citadel has the most marvellous view of the city and the Giza Pyramids can just be seen in the distance through the think haze. It turned midday whilst viewing this grand city and the cries from the dozens of local mosques across the city could all be heard – fantastic.
The Mohammed Ali Mosque is very impressive – built between 1830 and 1848. Also a visit to the Mosque of an-Nasr Mohammed (built 1318 to 1335) – the Citadel’s only surviving Mamluk structure (Mamluk’s being the former overlords of Egypt before Mohammed Ali’s start of rule in 1805).
The Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx is our next visit. The pyramids are more than 4000 years old and the oldest (the Great Pyramid of Khufu) stands 146m high. The Sphinx is the guardian of the Giza Plateau and is dated back to 2500 BC, making it the earliest known sculpture of ancient Egypt.
Although the citadel, pyramids and temple of Karnak are all very impressive, this is a country I have no plans to ever return too; I am glad I visited. I am, however, far from impressed by the people, the culture and the environment (in that order). Jordan on the other hand is a lovely country, lovely people and I would recommend to anyone – especially a visit to Petra.

Posted by dpedler 22:32 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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