35 32.5 N 35
Mersin Marina rather later than anticipated as the passports and 'Transit
log' did not come back from the Harbour officials
until nearly 1700!
As we were officially leaving Turkey the paperwork had to be
Our sail to Syria
was again mostly a motoring voyage although we did have some reasonable wind for
the beginning and the end of the trip.
It was like a mini
armada as we left the Turkish coast with some 70 vessels all on the same course
and as it got dark all the navigation lights were
to be seen
twinkling in the gloom. It always appears to be misty here but we have been
assured it is not fog but dust in the atmosphere.
The journey was
again uneventful apart from the rather lumpy swell which made sleep a bit
difficult. Our arrival in Lattakia (2 days earlier than
the original plan)
caused some problems with moorings and so we had to wait again for a couple of
hours outside the harbour while boats were moved
and spaces 'juggled'
to accommodate us all. We had a stern -to berth and this has proved to be very
comfortable and we even have water and power
which makes life
easier - we can shower on board and keep the freezer running!
We took a coach tour
to the centre of Syria to see a 'dead city' of which there are several here.
Abandoned around 730AD after the silk route which they served
changed direction when
the Persian / Roman wars ended. These cities were build around 400 AD
in the Byzantine period. It was very hot when we finally
after a 3 hour
journey through mountains and a large fertile valley. The journey was almost as
interesting as the historical site and the tour guide kept us amused
jokes as well as
some very interesting facts about life in Syria. The country is much greener
than we imagined and had loads of agricultural areas with wheat and barley
harvested just now. We saw masses of fruit trees and olive groves as well as
loads of tiny plots in the most unexpected places growing what looked like chard
We saw charcoal
being made in a small road side lay-bye. by some Bedouin folk and many of the
fields had large tents where the laborer's live while working on the
It was surprising to
see that some of these even had satellite dishes!
Damascus and other
6th - 7th
We left Lattakia at
0730 for our overnight trip to Damascus and other sites en route. This time our
coach took the coastal road and we passed along a fertile plain with the major
port of Tartus on
our right before turning inland towards Homs and our first stop at the famous Crusader castle of
Crac de Chevalier.This World Heritage site is fantastic - as you approach the
upon which the
castle is set you can see the vastness of the structure and how it dominates
even today the surrounding countryside. originally a small fortification built
by local inhabitants
the castle was
extended and fortified by the Crusaders during the 12th century. The castle has
two walls and a partial moat with extensive cistern systems (for water supply)
and early gothic
arches in the great
hall and church. The sheer size leaves one in awe of how it was built all those
years ago and in such extreme climate conditions!
The coach stopped in
Damascus on the edge of the old city out side part of the ancient walls from
where we walked to an restaurant for lunch. This was charming - a large covered
with a fountain in
the centre where we were served with the usual Mezzes followed by a lamb and
rice dish and then delicious fresh melon, apricots and
After this our guide
took us through a warren of streets ( he grew up in this district so knows it
well) where we were able to see into some of the local houses. It all looked
rather run down and
but when he actually took us in the door of one house we could see that inside
was much more special. This particular place had an inner courtyard with
leading off into
rooms some of the doors were made of in-lade mother of pearl and silver -
We visited the
chapel of Ananais (the first Bishop of Damascus) who is reputed to have been
responsible for baptizing St.Paul after his conversion. After this we went to
the Umayyad Mosque known
as the most
beautiful in Syria and a very holy site for all Muslims through out the
world. The mosque has been built on the site of an Roman temple to
Jupiter which was subsequently changed to a
and then eventually into the mosque in 705 AD. Some other original stones and
pillars from roman times are incorporated into the building which consist of a
huge outer courtyard
with a covered edge
and tiled floor (at least four football pitches in size). The actual mosque is
fully carpeted and has an area designated for women to pray.
We had to don grey
robes which covered us from head to toe and the men had to wear them too if they
had shorts on!
We were struck by
the sense of community we witnessed here - families sat under the outer covered
area having a picnic, children played across the vast courtyard, while others
prayed. The golden
facades of the prayer hall were truly beautiful to see.
We then headed for
the bazaar and had time to wander through this for an hour (not long enough).
Here were numerous shops with clothes, spices, jewelry, materials, leather goods
etc. it was a
not to be hassled by the shop keepers so we were able to stop and look properly!
There were very few tourists here just Syrians passing through. One shop of
particular note was the
ice cream parlor
which has been in business since 1894 and is apparently famous throughout Arab
Soon we were heading
back to our hotel where we had a very quick check-in, showered and then we were
off out for dinner to a lovely restaurant again in the old city. (we both felt
we could have done
with out any more
food but wanted to go for the experience!). The meal was unremarkable much like
the lunch but the setting was delightful in a large courtyard with a fountain
and a mezzanine balcony
covered with vines
where some guests were seated. We were entertained first by a rather buxom belly
dancer, then followed a 'whirling dervish' in the white skirts and then this guy
changed into a very
skirted costume and performed further dances which were quite
We were pretty
exhausted when we finally collapsed into bed at midnight but the room was lovely
and it was super to have a night off the boat.
A 4 hour journey by
coach brought us to this amazing ancient site at around 1115. our guide was very
knowledgeable so we were given a good potted history of the place which just by
it's sheer size
alone makes it truly
amazing. The temple of Baal (or Bel as it is known in Syria) is huge and much of
the outer wall and some of the columns are still intact. The relief on some of
the blocks that once
crowned the top of
the columns was very well preserved. It was very hot as we toured the site, but
our guide always stopped in a shaded area for his talks so apart from being
rather hassled by
local lads trying to
sell us water and Arab headdresses or beads we found the tour fascinating. We
were however glad to get back on the air-conditioned bus and head back to
Lattakia via a lunch stop at
another small oasis
restaurant around 1430.
Again our journey
gave us the chance to see what Syria is like and as we headed east for Palmyra
the land became more barren and eventually was just desert with small wadi
breaking up the ground.
The fertile western
areas were abundant with fruit trees and other crops and of course were
much more built up. There appeared to be thousands of half finished buildings
everywhere which our guide told us were
started some years
ago paid for by wealthy Syrians who had nowhere else to invest their money
because of the embargo placed on Syria in the 1980s.
We made use of the
cheap laundry facilities at the marina as well as venturing into town for a
shopping expedition and Jacky was able to find and buy some lovely shoes for the
August wedding in London.
We took a short half
day tour to visit the site of Ugarit where tablets with the first written
alphabet have been found, parts of this site date as far back as 15000 years
though what we saw was from around the
4th millennium BC.
After this we went to see Saladin's castle which stand on a rocky hill with
steep ravines all around it. It was indeed magnificent and although started by
earlier Byzantine rulers it was completed by the
Crusaders in the
12th century before being taken by siege in 1188 by Saladin on his way south
to capture Jerusalem.
The rally dinner was
held at the marina on the lawns in front of the small cafe. We weren't impressed
by the food or the cues to get it but the entertainment and dancing were fun so
a good evening was had by all.
We leave for Lebanon