Krak des Chevaliers and out into the dessert, Palmyra


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June 2nd 2010
Published: June 2nd 2010
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Krak des Chevaliers and out into the dessert, Palmyra
From Aleppo were journeyed to the Crusader fort called Krak des Chevaliers. Like many old religious and fortified structures in the Middle East it represents a mixture of styles as each new conqueror arrived and put their mark on it. The fort is in a remarkable state given its age, dating from the 10th century. The French undertook some restoration work in the 1930’s but since then nothing has been done, the Syrian government preferring to leave it in its current state.
After ‘attacking the castle’ as our guide refers to our explorations we were taken to a restaurant with a set menu. Now when your guide says you are going to this place, it’s going to cost you £300 and there is nothing else on offer within cooee, it’s nearly 3pm and you’re starving, you kind of have to go with the flow. It’s busy too, lots of big coaches outside.
There was a large group of Italians, four tables of them, with some camp guy in a pink shirt hamming it up at the top of his voice in Italian trying to organise them all. Could it get any worse? It transpired that this guy was the Maître’d if you like, and a very efficient one as well. Think Syria’s answer to Basil Faulty - but with efficiency. He would take drinks orders from four tables in his head and have the drinks delivered without delay to the correct person. It actually became very amusing watching his banter with all the customers. I don’t know how many languages he spoke, but he had fluent Syrian of course, Italian and Australian. He knew all the favourite sayings. Lunch started with a selection of dips, olives and a delicious aubergine salad, followed by grilled chicken - a half of one, and a garlic dressing. Yum. I never ate dinner that night, I was still full.
My terrace room for the night has a wonderful view of the castle from the adjacent hilltop. The small towns at the bottom disappear into the heat haze with their subdued colours. It’s only at night when they are illuminated that you realise just how many settlements there are in this valley.
This morning we headed out into the desert, into the vast barren flat expanse, with strict instructions not to take photos of any military installations we may pass on our journey. If someone did, and if we got caught, the whole group would be in trouble.
We are in the desert town of Palmyra for two nights, an oasis town once a stop on the Silk Road route. As we drove here I observed many Bedouin camps, they drive trucks now, not camels, some donkeys and sad looking sheep standing in the midday sun, no water, nothing to eat. Just dust. No military installations.
The hotel is called The Orient. Sounds exotic, it isn’t. It’s a small basic room with no view and the air-conditioning seems to be making a lot of noise and the streamer attached to the vent is hardly moving. Oh well, these are the joys of budget travel.
Facebook is banned in Syria, also if you go to an internet cafe you have to show your passport. The wifi has not been functional in our last three hotels; so I’m hoping the cafe around the corner will allow me to get two blogs loaded and send some emails. It may be that the travel blog site is blocked as well as Facebook. I feel a bit out of touch.
I’m told that in Syria I shouldn’t walk about on my own. I don’t like having to be reliant on someone else to walk with me to ensure my safety. It’s a female thing; the men can be quite rude to women on their own. So far they are quite friendly, asking me where I am from.
The idea was when it cooled down a bit we would attack the ruins on the outskirts of town. It was still stinking hot, but amazing, and we are in a desert after all.




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