In preparing for this trip I bought a Volkswagen Passat station wagon with a diesel engine and some extra items I thought I would need for this trip. The station wagons size is fine. We had to take enough clothes for this trip as well as for the first period in Holland till our sea freight arrives. That stuff is in the 2 bags we leave in the car. The rest is in 3 soft pack bags which we take out at the hotel. We also have a large bag full of shoes (also for when back to school/work in Holland). The diesel engine is performing fine. Fuel consumption is only 13.5 km/l average right now and I only paid Euro 63 for the diesel (+$100 tax) to get us here in Aleppo (5500 km). I had a 220 Volt socket installed and the boys are using that extensively to hook up their DVD player and Play station. Especially after the wire extension to the rear cigarette lighter melted (see day 9). I had extra carter protection placed under the car. That was very useful on 2 occasions today. One was a black speed pump which I took at a too high a speed so that the nose hit the ground. The second time was when we got pushed off the road by an oncoming truck who did not leave us any room. We heard a loud scratching sound when the front wheel went off the road. I have not spotted the damage (yet). Following Mark Kopers advise we had the car seats covered and a flap made which covers the luggage so it is not so obvious. In the big city’s you have to park your car overnight on the street so you want the luggage as much as possible out of sight. We also had a sand storm protection made to cover the front lights and hood. We did not need to use it in Saudi although there were swirls of sand floating over the road.
Today we left the Hotel later than normal. While Jamaliah and the boys enjoyed a lie-in, Rudy (been a restless person that he is, why waste time when there is so much to do) decided to go for a morning walk. When he got back from going to the internet café (the walk never materialised. The internet café took a lot of time) the family was still not up. Keeping the web page up to date is a good way of relaxing and having the day pass by in your mind. Posting the text on the internet is also a good excuse to go out of the Hotel and venture through the streets. This morning in Hama I was just logged in when the whole power went out in the building. I had to look for another place and decided to use the Cairo Hotel facilities which I could not get working the night before. At the Cairo Hotel we all slept in 1 large room. This was on the 4th floor and meant a lot of stairs if you forget something. No lift. Given the trouble we had finding our way into Hama we were expecting the worse to drive out. Still we only needed to ask the way 3 – 4 times and were only 2 x on the wrong road. We visited some more of the large water wiels along the river on our way out to the Roman ruins at Apamea.
Once in Apamea it is difficult to find them since they are on a hill next to the town. There was a motor cyclist who showed us the way up to the ruins by driving in front of us. Later it appeared that he was a guide/hassle who showed us a bit around but actually was primarily interested in selling us artefacts which he claims he dug up out of other burial sites in the neighbourhood. Later, when we were walking though the ruins more hasslers appeared and made our tour through the colonnaded Roman street less relaxing. In the end we did capitulate and bought a clay figurine and a small glass vase). These ruins are almost as extensive as Palmyra and are made from a darker colored lime stone and in some cases from granite. The excavation is still ongoing by a Belgian team who come every summer for 2 months. There is still a lot of digging to be done. Only the 1500 m long main street has been uncovered. The hassle/guide who kept following us did have their use in point some interesting details out to us. One such detail was a pair of phalluses which were carved in a capital high up on the columns. In Apamea we also visited the local museum which houses the mosaics which were uncovered at the site. A real shame that they had to be removed in order to prevent further damage (looting). The display was in a large old Ottoman caravanserai (khan). Which was interesting by itself. You could see in the hall lots of individual fire places. I can only assume that each group of travelers cooked their own food on one such fire place. A bit like one of the longhouses up in the Bario region on Borneo. From Apamea we crossed the fertile Orontes valley where irrigation canals brought the water to the fields. In several places the locals were swimming in these canals. On the other side were drove a long winding road up the forested mountain (climb from 170 to 800 m). The temperature drop, fortunately from 40 to 27 deg. On the other side we went down to Qala’at Saladin.
This castle is at the end of a ridge with 2 narrow ravines on each side. To protect the castle the point of the ridge with the castle was cut off from the mountain by a 50m deep man made gorge with a pillar in the middle for the draw bridge. From the castle we planned to drive via Lattakia and the take the motor way to Aleppo. It was already close to 18:00 when we drove further down the mountain. It was some 150 km to Aleppo. In Lattakia we followed the signs to Aleppo and saw the motor way in the distance. After 30 min the motor way was still far away. When we finally reached it, it became clear that it was still under construction. Now we know what the lighter colors on the map mean. It was a slow drive behind trucks and other vehicles winding in and out of the road construction towards Aleppo. We therefore arrived there late and in the dark. Orientation in the town was impossible and we just drove a bit around through very narrow streets till we found a hotel. This one was full as well as the one next door. The receptionist also could not clearly explain how we could get to the main hotel area, however he could show us on the map where we were. We set out again in roughly the right direction, only to get lost again in all the one way traffic. At a petrol station we asked the way again and seeing how hopeless it would be to explain the road to us, one of the friendly people at the station offered to drive in front of us to the Hotel area. It was almost 23.00 hours by then. There we chose the Ambassador Hotel (Next to the famous Baron Hotel). The very late evening meal was had on the rooftop of a nearby restaurant (full of men smoking shisha).
p/s: Jamaliah has a cold today. Got it from Anton. She got a splitting headache, sneezing, running nose and generally feeling miserable.