The Best Meal Ever
Just look at all those dips....this is only half the food, we couldn't fit it all in!
We set off after Palmyra for Crac Des Chevaliers, a well preserved crusader castle. The trip went well and after changing buses in Homs, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by greenery we hadn't seen in Syria before. All of a sudden large sweeping valleys opened up full of crops, olive groves and little villages looking more like what we'd expect from the Greek or Italian countryside. It was a lovely change of scenery after three weeks in the desert.
Crac Des Chevaliers (or 'The Crac' as it is otherwise known) is not hard to spot. Perched atop one of the highest points in the mountain range it looks over all the small villages and roads leading to the top. It is quite majestic and awe-inspiring. Our hotel had nothing going for it other than having stunning castle views, being set across the valley; eating breakfast while admiring the unspoiled views was worth the musty room.
As I had promised to skype my family back in Melbourne, we were in a rush for internet once we arrived and we couldn't have been in a worse place for it. As the location is a bit isolated, dial-up internet is still the
The Splendid Crac!
this was the view we were admiring while eating lunch
way to go. The hotel manager offered his “cable” for our computer which he pulled out from his fax machine. We figured we'd try further into the village and started our walk around the valley. We passed by a restaurant and thought we'd try our luck. The hotel owner was a lovely guy who was more than happy to help. He didn't have wireless, or cable, in fact, he also had dial-up, but he used skype himself and offered his office and personal computer. It was a wonderful act of generosity and kindness, as he expected nothing in return and seemed genuinely concerned that I might not be able to contact my family. Even though the conversation dropped out once or twice it was lovely to talk to everyone, including my Grandmother who we had not been able to see in China.
Once our chat was finished we thought we should have lunch at the restaurant to try in some way to pay back the hotel owner. We walked upstairs to behold a stunning view of the castle, probably equal that of the view we got at the hotel, if not better. The owner said he could do a
mezze with meat and soon out came all the food: dips of every variety, chips, sauteed eggplant, fried cauliflower, salad, pickled vegies, olives and some grilled chicken for my two carnivores (which Nick says was “perfectly succulent without being dry, had perfect charcoal flavour and crispy skin, and it was just, it was....so perfect”). It was amazing, not least because it was the last thing we expected ambling in to inquire about internet, but was also, hands down, the BEST food we'd eaten in Syria so far. Probably Jordan too. Throw in the fact the we had stunning views, it was a perfect day, we were actually quite hungry, and the owner and staff were great, and it all adds up to be one of the most memorable meals so far on our trip.
Completely satisfied and full to the brim with mezze we rounded the bend towards the castle. As none of us had actually seen a real castle until now (that's if you don't include the one at Palmyra, which was quite different anyway), wandering around was lot's of fun. Everywhere you looked there were secret passageways, and funny little entrances with dark hallways; it was just
what clever soldiers
as you would imagine a real castle to look like as a kid (and still now as an adult). We made it to the 'inner sanctum' and saw the beautifully preserved chapel which had many decorative carvings and completely intact pulpit (even though it was turned into a mosque after it was captured by Muslims). Fairly impressive seeing as it was basically built by a bunch of soldiers. Further up the top was a tiny spiral staircase which we clambered up (even though a bit of claustrophobia had set in), and finally got the highest point which rewarded us 360 views of the whole valley and we think even into nearby Lebanon. We found so many things interesting, from the fact that all the doorways seemed perfectly designed for my height (a mere 5”3'), and that some bits seemed literally built on top of others, as the castle was continually extended and re-fortified in it's heyday. The castle has never been captured, instead it was surrendered by the crusaders, whose number had dwindled to 200 by the time they negotiated their safe passage to Tripoli in Lebanon with the Islam armies.
The following day we headed down to the
I'm serious, these are the mens urinals (no womens toilets here sorry). The one at the top is not a urinal...it's for holding a statue...of course
bus stop with our packs to catch the bus back to Homs. A league of bored taxi drivers taunted us with claims, first that there is no bus service to Homs (quickly rebutted by me who informed them we caught the same bus yesterday), then that the bus was not running today (because it's Friday - the bus driver yesterday had confirmed otherwise for us), and then that there was a bus but it would be coming in one to two hours. “That's ok we'll wait” was our response, and then they pointed to Phoebe saying “what about your baby?” We held firm with another “that's ok, we'll wait”....and guess, what....in no less than 10 minutes a bus came roaring up the hill beeping away to attract passengers. We smugly hopped on board and waved good-bye to the taxi drivers.
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