Petra, passion in the desert

Corinthian Palace at Petra

After crossing the border from Syria, I first arrived in Amman, Jordan for a quick change of buses. Finding the bus was quite easy at the Amman bus terminal. A few hours later I arrived in Petra where I spent three days wandering around tombs, palaces, temples and other ruins like Indiana Jones.

Going back to Amman was very straight forward, too. After talking to the bus driver, he agreed to drop me off at the airport turnoff, so that I could avoid the unnecessary round-trip to downtown Amman.

Continue reading “Petra, passion in the desert”

Krak des Chevaliers, Damascus and Bosra – French style

Krak des Chevaliers

The Krak des Chevaliers is a Crusader castle dating back to the 11th century. Being one of the major historical sites in Syria, I decided to visit on the way back South of the country. Coming from Hama, this trip involved changing several times the bus. However, the connections were short, and for the last part of the trip to the castle, I ended up in a small minivan filled with local people. The castle is located on a small hill, next to a small town. This final climb wasn’t really strenuous, and the view upon arriving was simply amazing. T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) described the Krak des Chevaliers as “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world”. Well, this place really is worth the trip, but I do refrain from the superlatives he used because there are so many well preserved castles in Syria. Continue reading “Krak des Chevaliers, Damascus and Bosra – French style”

Conquering Apamea and the Dead Cities

Ancient village in the Zawiya mountains

This was now the fourth day in Hama. This city was the perfect base to explore Syria. By now, my driver knew the drill: Leaving early in the morning for day trips, returning late in the evening. Those were long shifts for him. However, he also knew that he had plenty of time by himself, once we arrived at a site. While I would extensively explore ruins and castles, he could take a nap, chat with his friends or make some extra money driving around local people. Continue reading “Conquering Apamea and the Dead Cities”

The superlatives of Aleppo

Qala'at Samaan (St. Simeon)

Syria is a country of many contrasts. Its countryside reminded me sometimes of being on a road-trip through Central Europe, where strategically placed castles overlooked green valleys filled with trees. However, here in Syria, landscape can changes completely after several turns on the road. Right after a green valleys can lie desert plains, where Bedouins are camping next to Roman and Greek temple ruins. Continue reading “The superlatives of Aleppo”

1001 nights at Hama and Palmyra

On the road to Hama

One of the more esoteric travel tips out there claims that swift border checks won’t happen with new passports. According to this myth, the reason is that customs agents are wary about being the first one’s to stamp a brand new passport, thus authenticating the document. So they will check twice, three times the passport for falsification or tampering. Well, I never really believed in this story. And crossing the Lebanese-Syrian border near Damascus certainly confirmed that the above travel tip is an urban legend. In fact, my passport was full of visas, entry and exit stamps. Out of the 40 pages, there was only one page left with room for the Syrian entry seal. Well, did I forget to mention that the border agents search for evidence of an Israeli entry in passports? Continue reading “1001 nights at Hama and Palmyra”

Bad conscience in Tyre and Sidon

Sidon Sea Castle

The South of the Lebanon is less traveled by tourists. Nevertheless, it features – among others – two historical sites worthwhile a visit: Tyre and Sidon (Saida). Again, I left early in the morning from Beirut, taking a minibus to the city of Tyre. The trip was about 80km long with a change of bus at Sidon. On the second bus, I met Jalil – a Lebanese who was eager to tell me everything about his hometown, Tyre (or: “Sour” in Arabic). He told me the story about the separation of the old town which has a Christian (Haret el Masihiyeh) and a Muslim (Haret el Jalaji’) area. These areas are separated and the people tend not to mix. The Muslim area is the busier of the two, but it also is considered to be the “area of the common man”, while the Christian area has the better infrastructure, such as schools and medical centers. Looking for some ancient Roman history in Tyre, Jalil made me aware that this town has an ongoing history. Being located near the Israeli – Lebanese border certainly does not help. The last Israeli attack was only a couple of years back (2006) and there are tons of unexploded cluster bombs and mines that blow up from time to time. Continue reading “Bad conscience in Tyre and Sidon”

The melting pot of civilizations at Baalbek

Uncompleted Jupiter temple in Baalbek

The road to the town of Baalbek, situated in the Bekaa valley, is a scenic two hour bus drive from Beirut. There are many mini buses covering this route and therefore getting there was quite easy.

Baalbek has a population of about 80’000 people. This place has been continuously been inhabited since the eight millennium BC. To see a place where history took place, look no further. The Romans called this city Heliopolis (not to be confused with the Egypt city by the same name). Trips to historic sites is one of my favorite activity when I am traveling. If I ever wanted to see a historic site, this definitely fits the bill. Over thousands of years, the political, religious and cultural environment changed serveral times. Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, European Crusaders and Turks – among others – in turn dominated this territory. All the conquerors did rule for several centuries here, except for the Crusaders who barely made it for two centuries. All of these cultural influences left their mark. Continue reading “The melting pot of civilizations at Baalbek”

Jet set in Beirut

Holiday Inn Beirut

It has now been almost a year since my round-the-world trip. It is definitely time for a new trip – on a much smaller scale – to explore some historic sites I am interested. The Middle Eastern countries contain some of these ancient sites. They did spur my imagination as a child, when I was reading books or hearing stories about exotic places. When planning the round-the-world trip, I couldn’t really fit the Middle East into my general direction. Well, looking back now, I can’t really think of any valid reason why I didn’t adjust the route back then. Maybe I wanted something interesting to be left when I return. Continue reading “Jet set in Beirut”