1852 (local time)
At the moment I'm currently staying in a hostel in Aleppo! The hostel I'm staying at is just full of Muslim blokes, the beds are very average because they are all bent and out of shape, the pillow isn’t really a pillow, more a sack filled with rolled up socks and I have to share the dorm with 3 other Muslim fellows that snore! But its cheap, 200SP ($5AUD) and Aleppo is a pretty cool city!
Last time I wrote to my dearest diary, I was planning on meeting Mohammad so he could take me out around the town. Instead I tried calling him several times, until eventually he returned my phone call, and told me to hand the phone to a person that speak Arabic. I handed it too a man, who then told the taxi driver where to take me. The taxi driver took off, and pulled up to what seemed like an amusement park although there were no rides! Mohammed saw me walk in and greeted me at the entrance! I sat down with 2 of his friends, Omar and Osama. We talked and smoke plenty of Shisha, I drank a Turkish coffee and we chatted some more. I was trying to organise my trip so that I could visit Rasafa (ruins) and Qala’at Ja’abar (castle). Omar said he would help me get to Rasafa as his work took him past there. The night finished and Omar said I should call him at 9am in the morning and he will tell me where to meet him. So I woke up at that morning at 8am, attempted to have a shower in the terrible hostel that I was staying in, realising that there was no shower, so I put some deodorant on and ventured outside into the blistering Syrian sun. I eventually got a hold of Omar on the phone, he told me that the car wasn’t coming, so I should call him at 11. So it was a long time to wait, 2 hours. So I went back to the hotel and slept on the couch listening to 2 Syrian blokes screaming at one another!
Anyway, I finally got in touch with Omar at 11.10am, he said to get on a Taxi to the bus station, so off I went. It took me a while to find him but I eventually did.
We both got on a mini bus together, that took us to Al-Mansoura, from there ill be getting in what I thought was his work car and getting a lift to Rasafa. So I'm sitting there with Omar and 3 of his work collages. So the car turns up, well it wasn’t really a car, more of a run down old-school smelly bus. So I stumbled on with all my bags. Everyone on the bus was Syrian or Iraqi, it was as if they had never seen a Westerner before, or at least a Westerner on their bus before, because they all just stared with grins on their face. The bus was comical, I took a seat at the back, that wasn’t screwed into the bus, so whenever we went over a speed bump, Omar and myself went flying. I was cracking up in laughter, Omar didn’t find it so amusing. Myself and Omar were getting bombarded with questions “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” “Do you like Syria” “Where are you going next?” “How much does it cost to travel?” etc etc! I answered with a smile on my face and with Omar translating for me we were a good team. So the bus dropped me off at Rasafa, I said my Good-byes or “Maa-Salama” to everyone on the bus. I wished Omar well, and he said “Don't forget me when you go back to Australia” I told him not to worry as he got back on the bus. My new adventure I thought to myself as I crossed the desert road in the middle of nowhere!
I walked toward what I thought was the entrance and saw 4 kids playing in the rocks! I greeted them and they got down! I took some photos of them as we walked into the ruins. Rasafa was an old abandon walled city that I found in the middle of the desert! It is about 25kilometres south of the Euphrates river. I was expecting more from Rasafa and if I didn’t have an absolute legend of a guide helping me out, it would have been fairly boring. One of the kids, ended up walking around with me showing me all the cool spots to stand, get photos and climb through!
He was an absolute champion of a kid, and mega cute as well, check out the photos! I gave him a few lollies that I had in my bag for the troubles!
At the cafe I met an Austrian Couple that were also doing a similar trip to me, I found out that they had a car, and asked them if they could give me a lift back to Al-Mansoura, so I could then get a bus to Ath-Thaura and then on to Qala’at Ja’abar. Instead they offered to drive me to Ja’abar and then on to Aleppo. I found out that the guy is actually a UN Soldier trying to sort out the mess and keep the peace of the extreme turmoil between the Israelis and the Syrians. He then pointed out, that we had a police convoy to take us to every location to ensure that he is safe and happy! Pretty cool stuff being followed by an unmarked police car. I had some interesting convocations with him about his job. When we crossed the bridge over Lake al-Assad we drove through a windy road that overlooked the lake, and then we went around a left bend in the road, and we then saw an amazing castle, Qala’at Ja-abar. Pretty surreal site, to see this castle that was pretty much situated in the middle of this lake, it actually looked as if had risen from the lake. The castle was... pretty cool. I would have been better if it hadn’t been so restored but what can you do.
I have just realised that I have really become a ruins critic! I have seen so many, that I'm not judging one from another... this is a bad habit to get into; instead I really should be looking at them individually.
No worries, so the castle was pretty amazing for its age, seeing the lake from an amazing position was quite beautiful. We took some photos and then we had a quick bite to eat, the lovely polish couple paid for my meal, and we hit the road again. I don't remember much of the journey from the castle to Aleppo, because I fell asleep, we eventually arrived in Aleppo, the polish couple found their lovely hotel to stay at, we said our goodbyes and we went on our merry ways.
And that brings me to where I am now, in the weird hostel!
Actually, also today the 2 Melbourne girls, Kate and Amelia that have been following me around from Damascus, not really following me, but we are on the same route and we ‘just happen’ to bump into one another saw me again today whilst I was walking around the Aleppo Citadel which is amazing ill talk about that in a minute. So we arranged to meet up for dinner. The dinner was nice, we had some lovely kebabs and yogurt and just chatted about our travels, Melbourne and where to next. We all went back to their hostel, which is a proper backpacker hostel where I met a few new people and we were able to arrange a mini bus to Qala‘at Samaan for about 500SP (about $12.5AUD). But that is for tomorrow.
Right, so the Aleppo Citadel is probably the coolest castle/citadel that I have been in since my travels. This was one of the only times where I was glad to have a Lonely Planet guide to take me through the castle. The Lonely Planet guide gave me a massive insight of why the castle was quite good in its day. Little things like, the main door of the citadel is situated on the right, which stops the enemy using a Battering Ram, and that there are Bastions positioned around the castles to help with the defence.
Where the main door is situated there are slits opposite the wall, where archers can shoot at people trying to get into the castle. On the walk way up to the castle, there are more slits in the wall, where archers can fire arrows at attackers on the bridge and ultimately flank them. There are also spots where the defenders can poor boiling hot oil onto the attackers to prevent them from entering.
Once in the castle, there are a series of right turns and there would have been steel doors at each of these corners to stop attackers, unfortunately only one door remains.
On entrance to the citadel, there are a few mosques but it has unfortunately been highly renovated and now only ruins remain and some cafes! But it was a very cool experience. I'm starting to really dig castles.
Till next time