Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Across Syria - by Bus!

When we last left off, we were heading to bed with the intention of waking up early, taking a bus to Aleppo, and stopping along the way to tour Krak des Chevaliers, and the Norias of Hama. Unfortunately, jet lag caught up to us, and we woke up a bit after 8:00. Undaunted, we pored over our guide book and began to consider the most efficient route. With a semi-firm plan in place, and pastries in our bellies, we hailed a cab and found our way to the Damascus bus station.

The bus station is in an industrial part of Damascus, and we felt a bit out of place as we struggled to locate the station entrance, identify the logo for the bus company recommended in our guide book, purchase tickets, communicate our travel plans to the police, spot the arabic numeral identifying our bus bay, locate our assigned seats, and generally not appear to be completely lost.

We were seated in the front of the bus, under the careful eye of the bus driver and his attendant, a man who managed to gracefully serve tea as we hurtled through the Syrian countryside. Some careful time-table perusal indicated that our hope to view what T.E. Lawrence called, "perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world" were unrealistic in the extreme, and that even viewing Hama's Norias might not be feasible. We had only purchased tickets to Homs (B on the map below).

Damascus to Aleppo

After deciding to skip Krak des Chevaliers during this visit, we next attempted to determine if our bus would continue on from Homs to Hama. The attendant stated that it would, but that we would need to purchase our tickets and re-board the bus during the short ten minute layover. Our time in Homs was short, and harried.

We arrived in Hama and secured tickets to Aleppo that would allow us time for a brief detour to view Hama's Norias and what remained of Hama's old town after Assad's massacre. Our plans were a bit complicated by the fact that the Hama bus station had been relocated since our guidebook had been published and the fact that our presence had attracted a 16 year old, leather jacketed tail that we couldn't shake. We hired a taxi to solve both of these problems.

The scale of the Norias was remarkable:

Al-Kaylaniyya, As-Sahuniyya and Al-Jabariyya Norias

Al-Mohammediyya Noria

As was the brilliant simplicity of their construction:

Square Peg

The Norias certainly make an appealing backdrop for a portrait:


Unfortunately, Assad's destruction of Hama's old town was almost complete, and little of it remains beyond the Norias, an alley and a few mosques:

An-Nuri Mosque


With daylight fading, we made our way back to the bus station, and the rest of our time in Hama was relatively uneventful. Our arrival in Aleppo was a bit more exciting.

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