The trip from Aleppo to Lattakia was a 4 and a half hour train ride that cost one dollar, the same price as the cab ride from the Train station to the hotel. The train ride was fun despite the long trip. It was good to go up through the mountains and see the lush green of the trees. It looked a lot like California (as does everywhere because we basically have everything, hopefully not sounding too ethnocentric in saying that), but it was definitely refreshing. With my head out the window watching the trees rush by and the rivers pass below us, it reminded me strangely of the train scene from Slum Dog Millionaire, the only occasional danger was a passenger in one of the other cabins throwing trash out the window which could take an eye out if your not careful enough. Its something I really haven’t gotten used.
Lattakia is a city on the northern Syrian coast and is Syrias’ largest and main port. The unfortunate reality of that fact is that in the 70’s as a sign of “progress” they decided to build the port directly in front of town. A town that would have been a beautiful beachside place to hang out now had a wonderful view of thousands of Chinese Containers and cranes to haul them on huge ships. Although I did get a chance to go with a boy from Cambridge and a couple other people from the Hostel along with its owner, to a beach about 20 minutes away. It was a beautiful white rock beach with perfectly blue clear water, very little trash on shore (a good sign compared to the grossness of other beaches.) We swam around in the salty water for a while and then went up to the restaurant up top and had a delicious fish dinner watching the sunset with Lionel Richie playing in the background. It was something you would expect from a scene in a cheesy soap opera or a resort town in Greece. The fact that it cost almost nothing and was on the Syrian coast made it seem strange but relaxing.
From Lattakia I went down to Homs to meet up with Peter, my new roommate and also Ambassadorial Scholar, as well as our friend Mike who studied with us over the summer and is going back to study Arabic and Neo-Aramaic at UCLA. From Homs we went to Krak de Chevaliers. It is I believe the largest Crusader Castle left and one of the most imposing, sitting high on the mountain ranges of west Syria, guarding one of the only passages from the coast inland. It was great to go with Peter, who is basically a walking history book and can rattle off information like no other. He had been talking about this castle since we first met him and said he had wanted to visit it for years. It was good to be able to really get the background and in depth history to be able to appreciate more the immensity and insanity that the castle represents along with the more general Crusader history.
After Homs, Peter and I went to the Coast, to Tartus and Mike headed back to Amman. Tartus was a small town that had a very interesting feature. We went just to relax a little and prepare ourselves for the first days of Ramadan. But as we walked through the town we started to see what had been deemed an uninteresting old Crusader fortress that had basically been enveloped by the inhabitants of the town. Some of the other Castles where freestanding tourist attractions, but this one had people living all through it. You could walk back alleys and see immense arch like structures that made up a persons garage or houses and windows coming out of tower. It was amazing to see because it made the place come alive, more than just that staleness of the empty shell of the other castles it had life. It was really great to see.