The way Damascus Hostel works, they have a board with a list of available tours with cost. If you want to do something, just put your name down and see if there are other people wanting to go along with you. There were a couple of realistic options for me – Bosra, the place about 1-2 hours away with Roman remains, or Krak, where they have a Crusader castle. I decided that I had quite enough of Roman remains through my other travels in Europe, so Crusader castle it is. But, the people who signed up for Krak also wanted to go to Maaloula and Saydnaya. I have absolutely no clue where those places are, what’s there. But whatever. Randomness rules! After all, it would actually make the stuff I studied in Christianity in World History come alive.
The Crusader castle in Krak was pretty cool. It was set atop a hill, so you had great views of everything around. In the distance, lies the mountains of Lebanon. Evidently, it was designed for horses, because the pathways leading into the castle were just so wide and high! They also had some pretty cool secret passages, jails, and other more mundane but interesting things like toilets! I thought that was pretty cool! Climbing up and down the various parts of the castle was actually kinda scary. They didn’t have many handrails, and there were definitely gaps here and there. People back then must have been more sure-footed than I am.
We took an hour’s lunch break, and then, we started the drive back to Maaloula, which was actually pretty close to Damascus. According to our driver, Maaloula is actually a more Christian town, so it’s famous for its churches. We visited one of them, and saw some icons. Another attraction of Maaloula is best described as the Syrian-version of the Jordanian Siq, but without the tourists. He dropped us off at the entrance, and we did a short trek through it. We saw some caves, whereby there were signs of former human habitation. And with my kind of luck, snow follows me everywhere. So we saw some snow that was leftover from the snow storm a week ago. We then went to another church, where we saw a spectacular sunset.
After Maaloula, we headed towards Saydnaya. Saydnaya is supposed to be the second most important pilgrimage site for Christians after Israel. Approaching the Church of Lady Saydnaya was just amazing. My best description? It was basically the Christian version of Germany’s Neuschwanstein. It had such a castle look about it. We went in, and because the driver knew them well, they opened the chamber which contained their icons. The Italians on the trip were thrilled, and said their prayers. Perched atop a high hill, it was nice to be able to see the town of Saydnaya from the church. I could spot many crosses, and even a huge Christmas tree in a roundabout. I’m really thankful that I just simply tagged along, and ended up seeing all these awesome sights.
All in all, a great day!
Crusader Castle from Afar
Secret Passage in Crusader Castle
View from Crusader Castle
Syrian version of the Petra Siq in Maaloula
Church of the Lady Saydnaya