Driving towards Krak des Chevalier in the morning we caught the first glimpse of the war. Destruction was of course not what I came to Syria for but somehow I was extremely intrigued about it though. It actually felt a bit unpleasant to realize that I really wanted to see the destruction and what war had done Syria. I apologized to myself a bunch of time, but I was in awe with everything I was witnessing...
On day 1 of my trip to Syria I explored Tartous which luckily was spared during the years of the Syrian War. Click on the link to read about my first day in Tartous, Syria and the border crossing from Beirut. Or curious about the best things to do in Syria in 2019, then you should read my latest Syria blog.
The destruction we saw on day 2 of our trip to Syria wasn’t even that much compared to what we would see in the next couple days, but it was the first time we got in touch with it. Yes I have been to poor countries and saw very sad things from close by, but this was different. The crumbled houses are something inhumane. Something people did with purpose, to each other!
The war signs made me quiet, a deep impression it left straight away and this was only from the side of the road, just what we could see from the car. At one of the many checkpoints I got out of the car and walked up to house full of bullet holes. Once for sure a beautiful house, not anymore… I stood and stared!
Saying goodbye to Tartous
Before leaving Tartous we first visited the Cathedral of our Lady Tortosa in Tartous, according to historians one of the best preserved religious buildings of the crusades. This place reminded a little bit about the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul: built as a church, turned into a mosque and later became the National Museum of Tartous. Inside you can find many sarcophaguses and stuff from the 12th century.
Unfortunately it was not allowed to take photos inside, but still a great place to visit in Syria when visiting Tartous. This also is were Peter became a priest they say.
Our guide’s adoration for Mr. Assad
The drive from Tartous towards Krak des Chevalier was only about 1,5 hours. A road trip in where our guide told us how big of a fan he was of Mr. Assad, the great leader. At first I was a bit confused in like I didn’t expect it from him. He was very knowledgable and lovely but suddenly he lost a bit of his credits, at least to me. May be I am too down to earth to ever adore someone in the first place, but his adoration was rooted in his life it seemed. Everything about the president was the best, the greatest, etc. not a single negative word about him.
Fine you can love your leader, but we all know nothing in this world is perfect, right?
For 15 minutes he would explain why Syria was the best country before the war and how all of that was thanks to Mr. Assad and his family. I was a little disappointed! Not because of his believes or his opinion. Nah, I didn’t really care so much about that, it was more because during my trip I would have loved to ask some questions here and there… I needed him as a translator at the same time. I was just willing to learn how the Syrian people think nowadays. But after his 15 min speech about the great leader I was stuck with my questions.
A simple question raised from the first day I saw Presidents Assad's photo everywhere: ‘How do Syrians feel about the fact that their country is not a democracy for decades?' How did they feel before the war and what after the war… unfortunately I never felt it was appropriate to ask anymore!
Note: I don’t like to discus politics when I travel as that is something I have no knowledge about in the first place. Second I care about the people in the streets, not in the government. I went to Syria to explore its rich culture, to meet its lovely people and to see the amazing archeological sites, but also to somehow support the Syrian people in rebuilding their country.
I only ask questions to learn about people’s opinions, not to start a discussion because I want to change their opinions! I am a guest to their country I want to make friends, not question their lifestyles or believes.
In 2013 I also took a trip to Iran that was questioned by a lot of people. Read my stories (one of my first blogs published in 2016) in the link.
Krak des Chevalier
Anyway a little later we reached our highlight of the day: Krak des Chevalier, one of the best things to do in Syria for sure! Our journey up the mountain led us through almost completely destructed villages. So here and there you would see someone walking around and a handful kids playing in the streets, but that was it. Almost every building was totally destroyed.
Our driver stopped at a photo spot that had a great overview of the immense castle from the 12th century. Krak des Chevalier is considered one of the most well preserved medieval castles in the world and luckily also survived the Syrian War.
Next to the photo spot though there was a former restaurant that definitely did not survived the war. We walked into the completely ruined building with the most amazing views over Krak des Chevalier. I could see with my own eyes that it must have been an incredible spot to come for lunch or dinner when visiting Krak des Chevalier. Nowadays there was only a sticker of a famous Italian coffee brand on the wall left.
Krak des Chevalier used to attract thousands of tourists every day. At the moment only a handful tourists come here and 99% Syrians. The family that owns the restaurant is planning to rebuilt it and open the restaurant within the next 6 months.
I hope by writing these Syria travel blogs I can contribute to slowly have more tourists choose this country as their next destination. There are so many amazing places to visit in Syria and as of what I have experienced it was safe! Regardless what all those people keep yelling, mostly those who have never been there!
When I say it is safe, then that is my honest opinion. I paid a 100% myself for this trip and I can tell you it is the most expensive tour I have ever booked in my life!
In case you have questions about my trip to Syria please send me a message on my Instagram @traveltomtom. Im more than happy to answer your questions. Also that is where you will find many photos and my daily videos about my Syria trip.
Of course we also toured inside the castle. There is so much to see and I was happy with our guided tour so we could learn what was what. Normally when I travel solo I hardly ever hire a guide to show me around. When in the future you may visit Krak des Chevalier I would recommend you to have a guide on your side.
Inside the castle we explored for about 2 hours and not a single moment I got bored. Of course we took a lot of pictures and videos, so that took a little time as well, but it simply is an amazing site. Krak des Chevalier for me is one of the best places to see in Syria.
Passing through Homs
From what I learned when doing research for my Syria trip is that Homs was one of the cities that was affected by the war the most. From far away I could clearly see the Homs skyline with loads of completely destructed buildings. Andi (@destinationchaser) was asleep and I woke her up to point in the direction of the destruction.
As we drove more into the city the destruction more or less disappeared although here and there you could still see crumbled buildings and bullet holes in the facades. The city of Homs was not on our schedule for today, but we were passing through on our way to Aleppo.
We decide to go for a quick lunch on the go and stopped at one of the shawarma places on the side of the road. Once again we got in touch with the amazingly friendly Syrian people. It was only day 2 but all our encounters with locals had been super lovely. Most are a little shy in the beginning as they have not seen tourists for many years, but they all have the biggest smiles. One guy gave us free falafel and we wanted to tip him $1, but he refused. Eventually we found a way to leave the 500 Syrian Pound note behind in his shop after we took some selfies.
The shawarma rolls were big and CHEAP! Per roll we paid $0,50, the big bottle of water was $0,20! If you would be able to travel to Syria by yourself then it totally would have been a country to list high up in my article about the cheapest countries in the world to travel!
From Homs to Aleppo
After a quick lunch we hopped back into the car continuing our way to Aleppo. Just a couple minutes after we left we drove through an area that looked liked something you only see in movies. I simply couldn’t believe my eyes, I was completely speechless. Andi and I looked at each other with our eyes wide open.
What we witnessed was unbelievable! As far as I could look I saw destruction, but not just a couple houses. I was looking at completely crumbled apartment blocks as big as 15 floors high. And not just a few blocks, like hundreds of huge buildings, everywhere I looked. Not a single building was spared. I opened the window and tried to film it and at the same time I asked the driver to stop, as I wanted to see it from up closer and have a moment to comprehend what I was actually seeing. ‘We will come back here on day 4’, he replied with his calm voice.
It was silent… our car continued its way to Aleppo.
There is a direct highway from Homs to Aleppo, but at the moment of my Syria trip, that area is a no-go. The Syrian war is still not completely over and in Idlib the area north of Homs and south of Aleppo is where the fighting continues at the moment. Therefore our route from Homs to Aleppo contained a massive detour through the desert. Yes not ideal, but the landscapes were amazing in this region of Syria.
Beehives Houses Syria
Well to be honest I would suggest to add this region to your Syria itinerary anyway as not only were the landscapes amazing we also passed by the iconic beehive houses in Syria. On top of that they were located next to a massive salt lake where salt mining operations started again after the war. A great Syria tourist attraction!
We were right in time to wander through a deserted beehive village and for your interest this has nothing to do with the war. The Beehive houses in Syria are not used anymore for decades and therefore deserted. There architecture with roofs like Beehives were to protect the villagers from the heat here in the hot Syrian desert and at the same time to collect as much rainwater as possible.
They now make for amazing photo spots. I wish we had a little more time here, but since it was already getting dark we really had to make our way to Aleppo. But just before we wanted to hop back into the car a super friendly local came by on his motorbike. He actually invited us to come down to the salt lake and drink tea with the workers, but unfortunately there was no time.
On our way out of the desert the sun was setting and the colors of the landscape changed constantly. The sun was as big as on the African plains and the seemingly endless straight roads looked like from a movie scene on a road trip through the USA.
Almost forgetting we were in Syria! :)
That magical sunset moment was the perfect end of a great day we had full of sad but also loads of positive emotions.
It was already dark when we reached Aleppo and we quickly checked in, dropped our stuff in the hotel room and went out for dinner with the driver and the guide. Finally we got our first real Syrian food experience as we got to try Aleppo Kebab. Im still not sure how to differentiate Aleppo Kebab from other Kebabs but I can tell you I LOVED it. Im such a sucker for Kebabs and the best thing is that you can just eat with your hands and stuff yourself as much as you want and how you want.
All this food and more (4 people) was only about $8!
Another great day on my trip to Syria had past. After yesterdays adventure visiting Amrit archeological site in Tartous, we were already looking forward to tomorrow: exploring Aleppo! Find all my Syria travel tips in this link.
Thank you for keeping up with the adventures of Traveltomtom!