Palmyra Day 1

Sat, 14 Jun 2008 15:01:00 +0000

Disaster: I lost my backpack Index Palmyra Day 2

I woke up early after a night of dreams filled with childhood nostalgia. I'm still suffering homesickness for Perth, and after losing my bag my psyche is regressing to the familiar. Stupid psyche.

Anyway, I waited until half past seven before waking the guy at reception, who didn't seem best pleased to be checking people out at that hour. But that's his problem. As yesterday, I caught a taxi from the road, but this time I put my bag in the footwell with me. I won't make that mistake twice. At least, not twice in two days.

I found the bus company I'd been recommended, "al Kadmous", pretty easily. In fact I did so by recognising the shape of the letters from the hand-written arabic scrawl I'd been given by the guy at reception. I felt pretty pleased with myself for that feat. I've got a feel for the hindu-arabic numerals used here as well. Not bad for a couple of days.

I had a felafel while I waited, which was pretty uninspiring. The bus isn't that great either: no toilet, and no reclining seats. Luckily the DVD was broken and refused to play the film. Unfortunately since I don't have my hard disk, and I left the card with my music on behind in Perth, I don't have any music to drown out the DVD players any more.

But I really enjoyed the bus journey. It's proper desert out here, some scattered thorn bushes but mainly dust and rocks. It's an exotic landscape for me to see from ground level (as opposed to flying over it on the way between Perth and Sydney).

Palmyra is a small place, but the bus stops at the utter opposite end from the ruins and the hotels. Since I didn't really know where the hotel was, I took a taxi, who charged me 50 pounds. Pretty steep, but truth be told I rather overstocked on Syrian pounds and I don't mind getting rid of them. The hotel is OK, a slightly tatty bathroom but usable. Also the power was off for much of the early afternoon, for some reason.

Since the sun is pretty scorching, I decided to wait until about 4:30 before heading out to see the ruins. Instead I had lunch at a nice-looking restaurant. I had zuchinni stuffed with spiced rice, which was a bit flavourless but good. There was also a thin peppery soup and flat bread: I didn't know what to do with the soup, so I dunked the bread in it.

So having decided that the sun was low enough, I walked out to the ruins. They really are very spectacular. It looks like I imagine Rome would look if you removed Rome and just left the ruins. A huge complex of columns and walls spread over a swathe of the desert.

The most spectacular feature is the temple of Bel, which I paid 150 pounds to go inside. There isn't much to see inside really, but there's no doubt it's an impressive pile to build just as a temple.

From there I walked up to see the funerary towers, which being on a hill provide a good view of the rest of the ruins. I resolved to see the Arab castle tomorrow, and instead just randomly walked around all the minor temples. There were a few tourists around, but mostly I was all on my own. It's hard to describe what it's like walking around a place like that, but I had a fantastic time. The blue sky, a nice breeze, the desert crunching underfoot, no-one around. I kept walking up to a new, deserted landmark and just thinking "wow, what a cool place this is.

But I only spent a couple of hours walking around. I decided to get an early night so I could see the sunrise tomorrow. I got a toasted "cheese and tomato sandwich" (actually a wrap with the ubiquitous flatbread), which was pretty crap. I also bought a boxfull of dates stuffed with almonds, which are really tasty.

I wasn't sure whether I'd spend a full day in Palmyra, but I've decided to leave tomorrow. You can overdo a thing like this, and I reckon I can get in a trip to Petra while I'm in Jordan if I get a move on. Neither Palmyra nor Petra were in the original schedule, so I'm doing OK.

Disaster: I lost my backpack Index Palmyra Day 2