So many castles, so many Romans
Leaving Mar Musa was hard. Both in the “saying goodbye to friends” way and in the “the taxi I was supposed to be catching with a group of Danish girls forgot about them and never came” way. I ended up hitching a ride to Nebek with a bunch of Spaniards. Then took a bus from Nebek to Homs, then a taxi within Homs to get to the other bus station, then a bus to Hama, and then a taxi to my hotel. OMG. After four days of relaxation I was ridiculously frustrated by the time I got to the hostel. I dropped my bags off and decided to have a look around. By the time I got to see the famous norias (huge wooden water wheels used for irrigation), I was hot and sticky (THERE WAS HUMIDITY! I WAS LIKE, ARGH I DID NOT SIGN UP FOR HUMIDITY) and decided to take a taxi back to the hotel. Weirdest taxi ride of my life. Not really creepy, just… weird. The guy drove REALLY slowly, took my guidebook in the middle of the ride and started reading it (which would have been really scary if he hadn’t been driving SO SLOWLY), dropped me off at the wrong hotel (only by a block, but still), and didn’t charge me anything. ? Okay, whatever.
Made friends with a French guy and a British guy in the same dorm. They were like walking stereotypes of their nationalities. The French guy had a really thick accent and was all religiously skeptical, and the British guy was named Oliver and wore shorts and had this huge camera and spoke with a really intense accent and went to Durham and was inordinately attached to tea. Ha. Anyway, had dinner with them and ended up signing up for the same tour they were doing the next day. (I decided against Palmyra because it was so far and I wouldn’t be able to stay the night to see the sunrise anyway, which they say is what makes it all worth it.)
The tour was fairly amazing. Once we got to the first place (a castle whose name I forget because it wasn’t actually on our itinerary), I realized I had forgotten my memory card. AGHK. But there was a Greek couple who offered to email me some of their pictures. Apparently one of them is a professional photographer, so the pictures will probably be better than what I would have taken anyway. Sweet.
Anyway. We visited a castle. It was pretty cool, in a generic castle kind of way. (All castles, when you get down to it, are pretty much the same. EXCEPT ONE which I will get to in a minute.) Then we went to Apamia, which is supposed to be one of the best-preserved Roman sites in the world, but I was like, “eh,” because it was nice, but again, in a generic abandoned-Roman-city sort of way. (I felt bad because I could think of at least two people who would have thought it was absolutely fascinating. You probably know who you are.)
Then we went to Musayif, which was another castle. Some famous group called the Assassins (Ismailis) held it for a while, and it was historically significant. Again, “generic castle awesome.”
Then we stopped at a monastery dedicated to Saint George (very popular Middle Eastern saint) with really old icons and I thought it was SO AWESOME but everyone else thought it was boring because churches are boring, apparently. Anyway. I bought an Arabic-English Bible there! I was really excited.
Finally, we went to Krak de Chevaliers. Supposedly it is the most awesome castle in the world (according to TE Lawrence, anyway, who I suppose would know about such things), but I was prepared to be disappointed because of my castle-weariness.
SO. COMPLETELY. AMAZING.
It was like walking onto a movie set. EXCEPT IT WAS REAL. The entire castle was complete, not in ruins like all of the other ones we saw. It had a MOAT. With WATER in it. And an outer wall with spectacular views and TOWERS with tiny winding staircases (I was terrified but couldn’t not go up because it was JUST TOO AWESOME) and SECRET PASSAGEWAYS and it was even HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT because it was one of the last Crusader outposts! And there was Gothic architecture, which reminded me of Yale! But then it also reminded me that this was a Crusader castle and that the Crusades were, like, really problematic. Which made it a little less cool. BUT IT WAS STILL REALLY REALLY COOL.
To top the day off, Lady Gaga started playing on the radio on the way back to Hama. AWESOME DAY.
Which brings us to this morning. I had asked the hostel to do my laundry last night, and since they charged me heftily for it I sort of figured that they would hang it up or something. Nope. I found it wet in the dryer this morning. So, my departure was delayed while I waited for at least some of them to dry. Whatever. Ended up getting to Aleppo (Halab in Arabic) around 12:30, which wasn’t too bad. I even took a real bus! Not, like, a big van, but a REAL BUS. And I had borrowed an iPod charger from someone in the hostel, and they GAVE us a bottle of water on the bus (!!), so it was basically like living in the lap of luxury for two and a half hours. It was great. Not so great was that they dropped us like 11km outside the city center. The hell? Anyway.
My hotel is very nice. Clean, and quiet. No wireless, but it’s close to the only functional Internet Café in Aleppo and I have my own shower, so.
Started exploring the city, but I got way too hot and the Citadel was closed (WHY DO THEY CLOSE EVERYTHING ON TUESDAYS, I DON’T GET IT, IT’S SUCH A RANDOM DAY), so I started heading back to the hotel. But then I got lost. But then this guy helped me! He walked me all the way there (it was faaar) and then showed me where the Internet café was because I mentioned I couldn’t find it. And then he paid for me! It was ridiculously nice. Like, really nice. Almost too nice. He said he would show me around later this evening and take me to dinner at his house, to which I hesitantly agreed, except then I got back to my hotel and realized that was a HORRIBLE IDEA because it didn’t sound like he was married and, like, there’s a 50% chance it would work out fine, but I wasn’t willing to take that chance. So I left the hotel about an hour before he said he would come get me and told the reception to tell him I didn’t want to see him if he asked about me. I felt sort of bad about it, because he might have just been being nice, but it was the right decision.
Anyway, I was wandering around sort of feeling bad about that, when I ran into this big beautiful Maronite cathedral! Just in time for Mass! So obviously I went, because apparently I’m the person who gets excited about going to church now. They had a missal so I could ACTUALLY follow along in Arabic, and I was quite pleased. The Maronite Mass is kind of different, though. It was interesting.
Wandered around the Christian quarter a little bit afterwards. SO PRETTY, I CAN’T EVEN TELL YOU. Basically, it’s the most romantic city I’ve ever seen. And with lots of little kids running around playing! I love love love it. I’d really love to spend a summer here. Hmm. Perhaps in the future.
Anyway. It is getting late and I should get back to my hotel. More on Aleppo to come as I explore more!