Monday, July 14, 2014

Krak des Chevaliers Tour

We get going around 8:30 for the one and a half hour drive to 'The Krak'. Our driver Hassam doesn't speak much English but seems really nice, and it's here we get a real lesson in how driving in Syria works. Hassam is a real pro, but is not aggressive or unduly dangerous so that's good. If you are coming up beside someone and are going to pass, you give a tap on the horn so that they know you are there. If you are merging at high speed, you judge where you are going to fit into the flow of traffic and go for it no matter what. If you see someone walking with their back to you on the road, you give them a tap on the horn so that they know to look out.  I don't think we have to stop even once on the way there, as the roundabout system really works if you know what you are doing. Oh, and very few people use their lights here until it is absolutely necessary, like as in dark.
So, Krak des Chevaliers is a very cool old castle from around the 1100's. It's big and complete and a fascinating place for all of us to explore. Lots of nooks and crannies, great views, and crazy winds up top.

The only downside was that it was a bit cool and very windy and cloudy, but that sort of added to the experience I guess. What wasn't adding to the experience was the feeling in my stomach, so lunch today in another spectacular location, directly across the road from the castle, is less exciting. Matthew is not feeling well either, so he and I merely push the food around in our plates before giving up.
The typical Krak tour includes a couple other stops so we drive north to Misyaf, another castle. Coming out of the hills, the sky completely clears up, and we step out of the car at Misyaf to crystalline blue skies. 

We have the option to carry on to Apamea, so we look around just long enough to be polite (and find and use the rest room), then jump in the car and drive north. From the pictures at the Riad Hotel, Apamea looked like one of those places you shouldn't miss. Misyaf might have been one of those places had we not just seen Krak des Chevaliers.
As we arrive at Apamea, we can see the remains of the massive walls that once surrounded this city, but it's obvious from a distance how impressive this place is. Columns. Lots and lots of columns. Hassam drops us off at the entrance and explains that we walk through and he will be waiting for us on the other side. He points west and says, "You walk, I wait other side."
Got it.
We go to the ticket booth and it takes a few seconds for the guy to look up at us. 

Note the rather unassuming ticket booth on the left.

"Oh!" he almost jumps when he notices us. He looks surprised to see anyone out here but recovers quickly and gives us a big smile.
"How much?" we ask.
"Where are you from?"
"Ah, Canada Dry (a joke that still elicits a smile from us because he says it like we could not have possibly heard it before (not remotely true))!. Welcome here! Kids are free, so 300 pounds," or six dollars. Another guy comes out of the booth and tries to sell us some postcards. "150 pounds," he says, and I'm fairly certain that's the only English he knows. I ask the guy behind the counter, with a bit of a smile, if that's a good price.
He says, "Yes, that's a good price." Then he talks to post card man for a bit, and then says, "100 pounds, that is a very good price."
We could get 20 cards in Rome for one Euro, but the museum that houses the mosaics on these cards is closed already so we pay him.
He wishes us well and we walk in to the site. A delightfully diligent arch greets us, 

I take picture after picture, and Jonas says, "Uh, Papa." I don't immediately respond. "Papa, I think you should take a look at this." When I turn, something catches in my throat as I look at my family, standing awestruck before two kilometres of pillars lining what was once Apamea's main street.

The city of Apamea was founded in the 2nd century BC and prospered for many centuries. It was apparently flattened by an earthquake in the 1100's. What remains, and what has been restored (I think) is pretty amazing. Two and a half kilometres of columns along what was once the main road. The afternoon light is magical and for the first few minutes we are the only ones here, other than these guys racing around on dirt bikes who pull up and try to sell you things like the ancient coins, more postcards, stamps and other things. They are persistent, but not outrageously so. One of the guys keeps pointing things out to us. There is the basilica, Roman houses, don't miss that, look at this, etc. Thanks, thanks.
Both Matthew and I are starting to succumb to the effects of an overdue shwarma from the Hama bus station so we just try to keep moving, but we still walk for an hour through the columns. 

We reach the end, the sun is setting, and Hassam greets us and drives us home, pointing out a few more interesting things on the way. There are a number of Bedouins who are living in tents very near to the highway and within spitting distance of the nearest town. It's not exactly the romantic image I had in mind when thinking of the Bedouin lifestyle.
It's been a wonderful and fascinating day, but now I am ready for bed. As we pull up to the hotel, Matthew quips, "Wouldn't it be funny if I threw up in the car?" Hilarious. We come inside, Laura greets Abdullah, the proprietor, but I carry on because I need to lie down. I fiddle with the keys for a moment, unlock and open the door and Matthew walks straight to the bathroom and from the doorway vomits directly into the toilet without having said a word like, "Hurry!" or "Quick!" or "I am feeling a little nauseous, could you open the door right away and let me inside?" I am thinking of a book entitled '101 Good Reasons to Leave the Toilet Seat Up'. So far I have one entry.
Matthew and I are not interested in food this evening so Laura goes out and gets some felafels and bananas and brings them back for her and Jonas. We watch some stupid television show, then call it a night.