Time to head south. The early bus to The town of Hama to be exact, famous for its ancient wooden water wheels or Norias as they are known locally that helped supply the essential water that irrigates the land and provided drinking water.
I did not have much chance to look at them when I first arrived, as I had got chatting to one of my fellow passengers who wanted to practice his English. He then invited me back to his house for a longer chat and to drink some tea. We chatted for some time about Syria and Great Britain and for some reason cochlear ear implants, weird. I eventually managed to escape after numerous cups of tea. He was very pleased that he had chatted to an english person and had a chance to put the english he had learned into practice.
I was desperate to get to an ancient site called Apamea on the eastern side of the Orontes valley. I ran across town and then got the next bus in that direction. It did not however, take me all the way, just to a junction several miles from the site itself. After a bit os a chat with the locals someone appeared on a motorbike. I hopped on the back and off we went, no helmet, just me hanging on with my rather heavy rucksack. It was well worth all the effort to get there though. I had the place to myself, all that could be heard was the sound of the wind in the grass and the odd cricket here and there. It is the remains of a 2nd century BC town, now in the middle of no where. What I found was broken columns and pillars here and there, the outline of a town plan amongst the rubble. In the late afternoon sun it was a great place to sit down and take it all in. My imagination ran away with me, I could quite easily imagine dogs and chickens running around the main street with children playing hide and seek amongst the pillars, whilst learned ladies and gentle men dressed in togas go about their business passing the bakery and the fruit and veg sellers as they pass by. Funny how your mind wanders. The city was huge so it took quite a while to explorer the whole site. It was great to just meander between the ruins and so easily bring the place to life in your mind, despite it being 3000 years old. It was very late when I returned to Hama, but well worth it.
The following day I had time to explorer Hama. The Norias of Hama are very distinctive. The sound they make is a creaking or moaning sounds as the wooden drive shaft rotates on its moist bearings. In the middle of a very warm Syria they make a stupendous site and sound sat in the park watching them rotate slowly around. The Azem palace in Hama is very similar to the one in Damascus I saw earlier in the holiday. However, the 3rd century mosaic floor in the attached museum is the highlight. Extremely lifelike, just a simple depiction of life at that time, with food and musical instruments (sounds like a great evening to me).
The following day it was a bus journey across the desert to the oases town of Palmyra. And what a location to finish my trip to Syria in. The ancient city of Palmyra (or Tadmor in Arabic). The site has been important for 3000 years as a trading route. However, its height was in the 3rd century BC and the tales of Queen Zenobia, who stood up to the Romans and created her own enclave… for a short while. The ruins are vast. I spent a couple of days just wandering around this city on the edge of the desert from temples, to scores of column lined streets, a theatre, a forum, some funerary towers and an Arab castle. Words do not do it justice. A once mighty city stood here and it still shows. It somehow has more significance being set on the edge of a vast desert, not only doing battle with invaders but standing up to and working with with the element of nature.
Though an Islamic country they do serve alcohol to foreigners, out of a teapot and in cups, so as not to offend local traditions. Having one of these beers at the end of a very warm day wandering amongst the ruins was a true delight. So far the holiday has been great, all the sites have more than lived up to expectations and the Syrians have been very helpful indeed.
Tomorrow I am off to start the next adventure in Jordan, lets hope it is as good as Syria.