We knew there was lots to see, so we bought a couple of travel books and booked our tickets. Though at the time most tourists travelled in guided bus tours, the four of us decided to rent a car and strike out on our own. We did indeed encounter some tourist buses, especially around Palmyra and Krak des Chevaliers, but saw no other Europeans in rental cars travelling by themselves. We got lost regularly, especially when trying to find the right road to a minor tourist attraction, but were always able to ask for directions by pointing out the Arab name in the travel guide book and looking lost. Often, people would simply point us in the right direction, but sometimes they would jump on a scooter or in a car and motion for us to follow. Once we were even given beautiful pomegranates, because the man helping us out was just harvesting them.
The locals in the country side were always very friendly and interested. Once they even asked if they could take a picture of us. When walking around in villages or towns, we were careful to always stay together, so that my sister and I were protected by the presence of our husbands. Even though we always wore long pants and t-shirts with sleeves, we got a lot of curious looks, but we were never accosted or insulted.
We travelled from Damascus to Palmyra in the desert and then to Aleppo, where we stayed a couple of days. Then to Latakia by the Mediterranean Sea, to the Krak des Chevaliers and back down to Damascus. My sister had a GPS, which could at least tell us our coordinates, even though it did not have a map of the Syrian roads. Some of the personnel in hotels and restaurants spoke French and we always managed to get a bed and a good dinner. The local cuisine was not very varied, but quite tasteful. Lots of hummus, falafels and salads. Often the cheapest places would serve the best food, though the hygiene standards were not the same as in Western Europe. I had turista the whole trip, but the others were not much bothered.
When we were not visiting ruins or making plans for the next days, we would often play cards to pass the time. But most of all we visited ruins, ranging in age from 1600 BC (Ebla) and 1200 BC (Ugarit) to medieval forts from the crusader era. Some were really creepy and deserted (dead cities around Aleppo), others were not ruins but still inhabited (like the monastery of Maloula). We visited temples to old gods, to Christian martyrs and to Allah, even some buildings which had been all three at different points in their history. We saw a lot of desert around Palmyra but also green hills around Latakia. We saw yellow sandstone, giant granite building blocks and even glittery rock with crystals in it.. we saw a lot of rock. From austere constructions for martial purposes to lavishly decorated town houses with vibrant green plants in the interior courtyards.
If you’re interested in our route, you can follow this link : Google map.