Monday, November 01, 2010

Crac des Chevaliers, Syria

Crac des Chevaliers


In my notes about today, I have that I hate squat toilets. They are prevalent in the Middle East. I'm just not a fan. Part of it is that I just don't squat much in general. My hips have lost that flexibility, so in that light it is good for me. On the other hand, no matter how many times I do it, I just can't get used to it. I don't want to either. I am sure there is a dissertation somewhere on which is better. These little things are why we travel. By immersing ourselves in parts of these other cultures, we learn about them, but also push ourselves behind our comfort zones and learn more about ourselves.

The bus tour from my hotel.

I like the charging system where locals get a discount. They do it in Hawaii too.

The entrance hall to the castle.

The moat between the outer and inner walls.

Another area that I am not getting used to is the bargaining or people trying to rip people off. At the bus station, there was oddly no buses to where I was going. Then, there was one, but after a taxi driver talked to the bus driver, they said the bus might not run. It was weird. The driver suggested I take the taxi. I ended up grabbing the taxi to try and stay ahead of schedule and not spend the night somewhere I had no desire to be, but something seemed off. I decided not to care. My cab driver got me to care when he dropped me off and didn't have any change. He would make no effort to get change either. He felt it should be a tip. Grumble, grumble. I have tried getting used to that part of life here, but it just isn't happening. I can bargain more, but I get grumpy. Actually, I am getting better. I just walk away more now instead of letting myself get pulled into it. Slowly, but surely. Oh yeah, in the bargaining department I forgot that when I went from staying in a room to camping at the same hotel, the price only went down 100 at first.

A guard tower.

The outer courtyard.

The chapel inside the castle.

This hotel lacked in a lot of stuff, but it was right next to the castle. Also, it was also host to a 21 day bus tour full of 20 Commonwealth countries people. I got to chat with Australians, Brits, and, my favorite, Kiwis (New Zealanders). The one Kiwi girl tried to convince me that she was unfit. I have never heard of such a thing. They are all so active, but maybe that is because I hang out with ultimate players. Anyway, their tour was going from Cairo to Istanbul along almost my same route so they had a lot of great tidbits. It was great to get some non-guidebook advice from people who had been there recently. I was able to offer them the same, but they didn't have nearly as much need of advice because their tour is the tour, minus a few extras.

The inner courtyard.

The inner castle.

I think this was the commander's room.

I guess I camped twice in Syria. I wrote earlier that I only did once. I didn't use my tent this night. Anyway, after a slow morning breaking camp, I went down to explore the castle that TE Lawrence called 'the finest castle in the world.' It was originally built in 1031, but expanded in 12th century by the Crusaders. Whoever controlled this castle, basically controlled Syria because a fresh army of 4,000 was able to sit inside and wait for anyone who wanted to pass through the area. The castle was never taken by force. When it fell to the Mulmuk sultan Beybers, the Crusaders negotiated safe passage to Tripoli after a siege. They had 5 years of supplies left.

Another view of the inner castle from the tallest point in the castle.

A view of what they were defending.

Another view of the space between the inner and outer castle.

The castle captures all of my childhood musings of what a castle could be. There was a moat. There were arrow holes overlooking the outside area and inner courtyard. There were holes in the floor to pour oil through. There were secret and trick passages. It was great. The one part I struggled with was where they would have kept 4,000 people. Did all of them stay in the castle or did they spread out around the castle until they were attacking or defending? It might not have been the prettiest from the outside, but on the inside it had not been turned into cushy living quarters or a museum. I think that is why it kept so many childhood ideas about castles alive.

Two guys keeping the castle clean.

The Khaled ibn al-Walid Mosque in Homs (I might have just loved this because it had grass).

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