Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Palmyra I [updated with pics and more; first posted 11/03/09]

Palmyra is such a beautiful place.
On the 9th, I got up at 8:30ish, went down for breakfast (same as last time but without the olives), and then went up to pack. I had planned to wander around Damascus a bit before going but at the last minute decided to just go. I paid my bill at the hotel and went to find a taxi to the bus station. I had asked at the hotel, first, how much I should be paying for the taxi (I was told between 50 and 75, no more than 75). The first taxi said 200!! I said no, 50. He said absolutely not, and then said 100. He wouldn't budge from that, so I said no and walked away. Another taxi pulled up and said 100. I said no, 60. He said no, 100 or nothing. I said I wouldn't pay more than 75 and then he said ok. It was about a 15 minute ride to the bus station.
I guess I should note that the money is in Syrian Pounds.
At the bus station, first you have to go through the security area, where all bags are scanned. Then inside, I had no clue where to go at first. A bunch of men were shouting out asking were people were going. A couple asked me, I said Palmyra. One lead the way to the ticket office for that destination. My ticket was 200. Then I had to go up and down stairs to get over the fence. Strange that you can't just go through a gate. I was placed in seat 1, right behind the driver. I am glad for that. The bus ended up being so full. It left at around 11:40 with several seats still empty, but picked up a lot more people after a short time. There was a bit of an arguement as I think more seats were sold than were available. For some reason they left the seat beside me empty! Nice. I was the only foreigner on the bus.The bus ride was only a little more than 3 hours. I had a small snack on the way (from what I had bought the day before) and the bus attendant gave me some tea (he only gave tea to the front seats - the two women behind him and me). Ugh. At one point during the trip, he was sitting there picking his nose... really digging. Gross.
Palmyra, originally known as Tadmor, an ancient city built by King Solomon, has a very long history. The Romans, led by Marc Anthony, tried to take it in 41BC but failed. It was ruled by Queen Zenobia, who established the Palmyrene Empire, which was cut short by Roman Emporer Aurelian in 212, after which it was a military base for a while.
When I arrived in Palmyra, I took a taxi to the Sun Hotel. There are not many taxis here, at all.
For a single room it is 500 for the first night, 400 for the second, if I stay two nights, is what the hotel said. Fine by me. I dropped my bags in my room and headed out.My first stop was the museum. It isn't a large museum, so didn't take a long time to go through. It is full of all of the good statues and carvings, tombstones and such from around Palmyra. There are also 4 mummies from some of the nearby tower tombs.After the museum I wandered into the area with the ruins. Amazing!!! It is such a huge area.I only managed to check out the closest temple; The Temple of Ba'alshamin ["It was devoted to Ba'alshamin God of heavens, storms and fertilizing rains, built at the 2nd Cent AD."] before a camel guy came up. Ahmed was his name. We made an agreement for a 1 hour ride through all the ruins, to the tombs and to the castle, and then to the oasis for tea, and I hopped on.He took me the shortest route through the ruins straight to one of the tower tombs. On the way there, two of his friends came up on their camels to say hi, and then left. He took me to one of the many tower tombs, though not the biggest and most well preserved one.Then when I was in the tower tomb, the friends returned.It was decided that I would go with Ali from there on (with my consent, of course). Apparently, he had asked Ahmed to let him take me around instead. According to Ali, Ahmed is not to be trusted. They are friends, but not close friends because Ahmed is not a good guy, says Ali. The camel guys seem to have a bad reputation here. Many of the hotels warn the guests about them, saying be careful.Ali took me around the area where all the tower tombs are. He wanted to take me the long way around, but his camel was being stubborn and decided he didn't want to go that way, so that was that. We went back through the ruins to the oasis. I asked about the castle, and he said the camels can't go all the way to the castle, only to the base of the hill. He said Ahmed was probably 'just joking' when he said he'd take me to the castle. Nice.We went along the narrow roads in the oasis, with high stone and mud walls on either side. I loved it. Then he dropped me off and said to wait, as he would get his motorcycle to take me all the way to the castle. He returned a short time after and off we went.The Fakhr-al-Din al-Maani Castle is beautiful, but I didn't actually get to go inside. For some reason, when I was there, it was closed. :( Too bad.[the old camel race track - a 5 km track, and the town and oasis of Palmyra beyond]I wandered around the castle and checked out the amazing view all the way around.It was getting quite cold by that point.We sat on the side of the mountain, beside the castle [on the smaller mound to the right in the picture above, which would have been part of the outer side of the moat which encircled the castle] and watched the sun set and talked a bit.[That's the moon to the left of the castle.]He invited me to go to a Bedouin camp for tea, and then his home for dinner, and he offered to pick me up at 5AM the next morning so I could watch the sun rise over the ruins.The Bedouin camp is quite a ways out into the desert, past the castle. There wasn't anyone there except for the Bedouin man that owns the tent. His wife had just left to go visit family. In the summer, and many times through the rest of the year, guides take tourists to the tent for dinner, a show, and often to camp there. As a result, it's a bit fancier than an actual Bedouin home would be (of course). After finishing our tea, we went back to the oasis and to his brother's home (almost attached to their family home). Ali dropped me off and went to get some food, as it was late already. His brother, Adel, is interesting. He has tattoos on both arms. I asked where he got the tattoos. In the army and in prison was his answer. ?? He went to prison a couple of times. Once for fighting, once for causing an accident. He had all sorts of music videos saved and so we had plenty to watch. Things like NeYo and Akon and Britney Spears (womanizer). LOL. Didn't expect to be seeing that in Syria!!! Ali returned with the food. Shwarma. Yum!!! Chicken with a tahini sauce wrapped in flat bread and cut.
After dinner I was on the net for a couple of hours. Yay!!! They have a way around the block on facebook!!!
Then it was way past my bedtime. 4AM was not far away (in order to be ready to be picked up at 5).

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