Sunday, October 31, 2010

Palmyra, Syria

The Syrian desert.

The mountains near Palmyra.

I arrived in Palmyra, the hotels said they were full. If you talked to them long enough, something always became free. Eventually, I grabbed a double with someone else in the same boat as me. They made me miss my delightful Istanbul travel partner.

A camel and rider in Palmyra in the early morning.

Tetrapylon at Palmyra.

I don't think there are any quality midrange or cheap hotels in the Middle East. Well, there are for where we are, but you get what you pay for. Those same low end hotels give you more in other places. Our Palmyra hotel and its staff were a little weird. It always seemed like they were trying to rip us off. It didn't help that I didn't get much sleep with our room's window over a busy road. Oh well. I think there is a movie, maybe Syriana, with Brad Pitt checking into a hotel room in the Middle East. What I remember from that scene is pretty much what you get. If you pay over a hundred you can get a midrange US hotel room or, if you are lucky, that fabulous boutique hotel I found in Aleppo. What else? They will say yes to any request even if they don't understand you. They want your business or maybe they want to please, but the answer is always yes.

The Palmyra ruins at sunrise.

The ruins at sunrise.

My morning started really early because we were told sunrise was at 5:50. I thought it was around 6:30, but decided to trust them since they live there. We were at the ruins by 5:15 to catch the morning colors before the sun comes up. It was still very, very dark. The morning colors did not start until after 6am. Grumble, grumble. I think sunrise means something else in Arabic. Stumbling around the site in the dark, we found a dog's turf. He wasn't happy. He let us know. However, being up that early was worth it.

The rising sun give these ruins that pink tint that everyone talks about.

The monumental arch and entrance to the Palmyra ruins.

The Great Colonnade at Palmyra.

The site is amazing at sunrise. There were very few people around and it felt great to wander and let the imagination go. The site was so big that the imagination had plenty of places to go too. Sunrise is the only time that I saw the rose colored stones that people were talking about. Perhaps, I just couldn't distinguish the slight pink color in full daylight. Maybe, I'm a little color blind. Who knows.

The tetrapylon with the Towers of Yemilko in the background.

The Temple of Baal Shamin.

I know the site is huge. One tour bus rolled up when the sun was almost up. However, even with ten or twenty tour buses, it would not matter too much because the site is so big. You can always spread out and find your own spot, at least at sunrise. Later on, the touts and heat will track you down. This is the first Roman site I have visited that looked like an entire town because it was spread out and not just one or two buildings. Palmyra grew a lot in the 2nd century because it was a link between Eastern and Western empires.

The motorbike driving touts were back!

A sarcophagus.

The Towers of Yemilko, multistory burial chambers.

A view overlooking almost the whole site of Palmyra into the blinding sun.

Camel rides, get your camel rides here!

On the mountains behind the Roman ruins there were two different sites that make for a great backdrop, the Towers of Yemilko and the Qala'at ibn Maan. The towers are multistory burial chambers. The Qala'at ibn Maan is an old castle. I think I tried to sneak them into the background of every photo that I took. There were quite a few. This is another blog where I didn't know if there were too many good ones or a bunch of so-so ones. It was hard to narrow it down.

The Temple of Bel at Palmyra.

This block was great because everyone was laying down underneath it to see the carvings underneath. Without a tour guide, I also had to lay down to see what everyone was taking a look at.

The inner temple of the Temple of Bel at Palmyra.

This lion guards the museum.

After a long morning exploring the site, I decided to head back to the more populated part of Syria. The afternoon sun was making me wilt and I thought riding an air conditioned bus would be the best way to weather that heat. Getting on the bus was a fight again. One guy said 100 for me and 50 for the bike. The driver said 200 even though it was a full size bus that had nothing underneath it. I finally was sick of the crap. I just grabbed my bike and took it off the bus. The original guy came over and had an energetic talk with the driver. I got on for 150 and was off to Homs.

There were a lot of places in Syria advertising things that were especially good for me. Apparently, cowboys are the definition of virile.

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