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An air of excitement

We were all very excited at breakfast today as we knew we had two glorious days by the sea ahead of us.

Making our journey from Tartous to Latakia we stopped to visit Al Marqab Castle. The castle is perched on a 380 metre volcanic mountain and overlooks the city of Banias. It was built in 1062 by the Arabs and taken over by the Byzantines in 1117. It was then transferred to the Hospitallers in 1187 and later used by the crusaders. It was made into a prison by the Turkish between 1554 and 1914 and the French used it as a base from 1918 to 1946.

The castle’s features include a chapel that was converted to a mosque in 1280. A small room attached to the mosque still preserves a mural of Jesus and his apostles at the Last Supper. The centuries old castle is entrenched in stories and the views from this site are awesome.

From the castle we took a long scenic route all the way to Latakia. This seaside city is utterly charming, with its lush green pastures and blue skies. We were also blessed to be staying at the Meridian Hotel – a wonderfully located resort right on the beach.

Some of us spent the afternoon swimming in the sea and then after dinner in the hotel restaurant we visited the town square to check out the nightlife. It was the weekend and everyone was making the most of it. It was like a festival with people of all ages taking to the streets and dancing to Syrian music. Cars, bicycles and small trains circled the square, while other people watched as they smoked sheesha at the many open air coffee shops along the street.

The atmosphere was electric and as we sat drinking chai (tea) in a coffee shop on the street we waved and joked with passersby. Ali added to the entertainment by renting a bicycle so he could join in the never ending tour of the square. What I will always remember from tonight is the warm spirit of the Syrian people who really know how to have fun and are keen to share it with others.

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