I went on another trip arranged by the Riad Hotel. This one was to Qala'at Salah ad-Din (Saladin's Castle) and Qala'at al-Marqab. There were two others on the tour with me - Paolo from Italy and Mariko from Japan. Paolo has been studying for a month in Damascus. An interesting option if I decided I want to learn more Arabic. :) It is around 300Euros for a 1 month course, with home stay at around 200Euros for the month. Not bad.
It took a while to arrive at our first castle of the day. Qala'at al-Marqab, meaning 'Castle of the Watchtower', is built on an extinct volcano and is unique in that it is built using black basalt, making the whole castle black. It was originally built in 1062 by the Arabs and then sold to the Byzantines and added to. The Crusaders held the fort until Sultan Qala’un (of Egypt) won it in battle. Such an amazing place!!! The views of the Mediterranean sea and the surrounding countryside are fantastic. It took a long time to wander. The only bad thing about the day was the weather. It was SO windy. You could literally lean into the wind and not fall over. Especially in a few places around the castle that became pretty much wind tunnels. Going up on top of the walls and roofs was a bit scary. It felt like the wind was going to pick me up and carry me away. At one point going through the castle, we some how got separated. It is like a maze in there!!! I was glad I remembered to bring my flashlight! :) To one side of the castle are the remains of the village. Very nice. Unfortunately, I found that after being separated and the other two I was with didn't see that part. I'm not even sure where they disappeared to. I think they went around the outside of the wall. The village was so peaceful, though kinda sad. There were no people anywhere. I think we might have been the only tourists there at the time!!! The only others were the guards at the front entrance. Can't complain. I love not having to wait for people to move out of the way of my pictures. :) After a few hours of wandering it was time to move onto the next destination, Qala'at Salah ad-Din. We stopped at the opposite side of the valley at a little restaurant (with the most flamboyant waiter I've ever come across) for lunch and to take some pictures. We then spent a few hours wandering about the castle. Saladin's castle was originally built by the Phoenecians and then lost to Alexander the Great around 334 B.C. There is an ineteresting story as to how he did it. The Byzantines then took control in the 10th century A.D. In the 12th century, it fell into the hands of the Crusaders. Right from the beginning, the castle was continuously added to and improved, mostly by the Crusaders, so the structures in some places look quite different from others. In July 1188, Salah ad-Din/Saladin and his army then took the castle.Fantastic!! Built a top a ridge with very deep ravines on either side, it would not have been an easy castle to reach or attack!! Once again, I was thankful for remembering to bring my flashlight!! :)These giant rock balls were all over (that's my foot for a bit of size comparison). From the catapults, I assume? The view out the windows (looking down) was breathtaking and frightening (a tad high up for my liking). Along one side, because there was no ravine, they made one! It is about 28 meters deep. Imagine how long this would have taken to carve by hand!!!A pillar was left in the middle to support a bridge that could be raised or lowered. For some reason, there are several donkeys wandering around the area. Guess there is not exit for them to sneak out! Sometimes the stairs going up or down to places are rather worn and crumbly and quite scary. This set was very steep and narrow, as you can see - I have Paolo in front of me to show how narrow they are. Had to keep one hand on the wall to keep balance the entire way down. Yes, scary, probably a bit dangerous, but... my sense of adventure takes over. ;) I LOVE EXPLORING!!!Peace!! Part of a fountain.A skylight!More donkeys!! :) making a friend. :)The white one wasn't as friendly and ran as soon as we got near. Can you see it (in the photo above)???There is only one road in to get to the castle. It goes switchback down the other side of the ravine and up this side to reach the front entrance.View of the rest of the castle grounds.Some of the rocks used for the castles have fossils in them. Very cool.Looking up!!This sort of shows how deep the hand cut ravine is. That is the bridge pillar in the middle.Back in Hama I went for dinner with Mariko, back to Aspasia. I was very happy with their shish taouk (unlike my reaction to the other dish I had tried there). Once again I got free dessert. Just like last time, it was freshly made, only this time with chocolate ice-cream instead of vanilla. :)Back at the hotel it was time for me to update my journal. While writing, I had Cookie, Abdul's little bird, sitting on me. For some reason, she seemed to like me (or maybe it was just my pen she liked?). She slept on the tip of my shoe, climbed up my leg, sat on my knee chewing my pen, etc. A few times, I put her off, and she came right back. Funny. Cute. She doesn't like being touched, though. Abdul said she is still fairly new and has only ever gone on his knee!! The first time she went on my knee, she flew there from her cage (only a couple of feet away).Anyway... I'm in Dahab now and it is getting late. I need to get up early tomorrow as I will start my diving course at 10 (and have to eat and do a few other things before then).