35 32.5 N 35 45.6 E
LATTAKIA Marina Syria
We left 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 correct.
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 arrived
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 with
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
crops being 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 and potatoes.
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 crops.
It was surprising to see that some of these even had satellite dishes!
Damascus and other historical sites
6th - 7th June
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 Syrian
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 hill
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 courtyard
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 cherries.
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
poverty stricken, 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 beautiful doors
leading off into rooms some of the doors were made of in-lade mother of pearl and silver - quite stunning.
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
Byzantine cathedral 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
covered mosaic 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
pleasant surprise 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 lands!
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
brightly coloured skirted costume and performed further dances which were quite spectacular.
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.
Lattakia 8th-9th June
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 this afternoon.