It is easy to get too positive about a country when it has required a fair bit of money, special security arrangements and month of planning to get there. You want it to be well spent money. You want to say that “yes, it was expensive but it was worth it”.
After a few days in Syria I wasn´t ready to make that claim, even though my excellent guide Wasim did his very best to convince me that I, as a former teacher of history and political science, was basically in heaven. He passionately gave me all the rational reasons for it, and although they all made sense, I still didn´t “feel it”. I had spent the first day walking the streets of Damascus and on the second day seen the awesome Krak des Chevaliers. We had passed many towns and villages, most with a normal life going on, but also more ghost towns than I have ever seen.
Then, on the third day, we came to Palmyra.
The beauty of traveling to places one is advised not to go to: there are few other visitors around, if any. I found myself alone in Palmyra. Alone in one of the world’s largest excavation sites. Even though Wasim couldn’t hide is frustration (and rightfully so) of the damage and looting the eggheads in Islamic state had done to Palmyra, it was still one of the most awesome places I have ever seen. Palmyra is in many ways like I felt about Bagan (Myanmar) and Mogao caves (China). It is not a place you visit and leave. It is one of those places that never leaves you.
Before coming to Syria, I had looked forward to three places. See Palmyra, walk the streets of Aleppo, and while there, a visit to the Baron Hotel. A couple of days after Palmyra, I walked back to my hotel on the dark streets of Aleppo with a smile on my face. I had spent the last two days walking those streets of Aleppo. And I had not only visited the Baron Hotel, I had also sat behind the desk in room 203 in a futile search of inspiration. It was here Agatha Christie started writing on “The Murder on the Orient Express”.
After another day in Damascus, I was off to Jordan, looking forward to being on my own. Heading south from Damascus I thought about the money I had paid for this week. Was it worth it? Of course. How could it not be?
PS. If Syria decides to rebuild what Isis/Daesh blew up in Palmyra I will be f***ing pissed. Remove plaster and attempts to hide faces, absolutely. But please do not rebuild. But more on that another time. It is, as most interesting things are, a complex issue.