Day 8: Aleppo - Latakia
Latakia Travel Blog› entry 16 of 54 › view all entries
Once again our alarm was set at an unearthly early hour. We had to get up at 5, because we would have to be at the train station at 6 - 45 minutes prior to departure. This was mandatory because of travel registration and passport checks. So we arrived at 6 o’clock sharp, only to find us checked and ready by 6:05. So we had to entertain ourselves for another 40 minutes before we would be allowed to board the train.
Once the mightly Orient Express used to stop at this station, but these days all memories of that seem faded. As is the rest of the Syrian railway network; while there is still over 2000 kilometres of railway track in use, most routes are travelled faster by bus. The train ride was remarkably comfortable. Because hardly anyone travels by train in this country they have tried to make train travel more attractive by having only one class on the train: first class! And for the astronomical amount of 1.
Latakia is a bit of a weird city. It is the birthplace of the Assads, the presidential family, so unsurprisingly the city has prospered these past 30 years. This might be the reason why the city is much more liberal than the rest of the country. You hardly see any women walking around with heard scarfs let alone all-covering Burkas. Instead the girls walk around in tight jeans and even tighter shirts and you’d almost forget this is in fact a strictly Islamic country.
Also the nightlife is much less traditional. There’s an American Quarter, a street filled with Western style restaurants.
Unfortunately none of this makes the city any more attractive.
But we didn’t come to see the city. No, we were here for yet another crusaders castle, located some 30 kilometres from Latakia: Qala’at Sallah Ad-Din, or, as the Crusaders used to call it, Chateau Saone.
The castle is strikingly situated in the middle of the mountains, in a ravine, surrounded by high cliffs. The crusaders thought the castle would be unconquerable, yet it took Sallah Al-Din’s army only two days to conquer the castle.
Once in Muslim hands the castle was transformed into a fortress and still looks the part to this day. The castle is known as ‘the second-most’ beautiful castle in Syria, although TE Lawrence wrote in his journals that he preferred this one over Krak des Chevaliers.