Today we were leaving Damascus for Palmyra - a site in the Eastern desert on the road to Baghdad. It was a good job we were leaving, it had been raining and the weather looked miserable. Damascus doesn't do rain well - the drainage system doesn't cope and there were huge puddles everywhere.
We made our way out to the bus station, got dropped outside and then found we had to walk miles to go through security - and by this time it was raining again. Once inside the bus station, there were 20+ bus companies. We had to find one going to Palmyra. We located one and yes he was going in 30 minutes. Purchased the ticket and then had to get it stamped by the police - no idea why. After another hour the bus left the station and started its way through the outer suburbs of Damascus. These quickly gave way to scrub and desert - pretty boring terrain. The rain stopped but then later the wind started up and we were in a sandstorm. The sand even seemed to be getting into the bus. The driver had to slow right down as visibility was like being in a thick fog.
After 3 hours we arrived at a little café and were told this is Palmyra. It looked pretty desolate as the wind was still blowing. We got into one of the smallest taxis I have ever been in and went into the centre of town. This seemed a little bit better - half a dozen hotels and restaurants all making their living from tourists visiting the Roman ruins.
After checking in, we decided to venture out. The wind was still howling - going down wind was fine but against the wind was awful. We decided to give away any notion of seeing the sights and settled for a pancake (banana and chocolate) and doing emails.
After spending a night freezing in our hotel - no heating and the temperature dropped a lot overnight - we got up to better weather. We ventured out to see the Roman town. It was a brisk walk from the hotel and the site seemed enormous.
The first site was the Temple of Baal - a lot of which was still standing (most of Palmyra had been covered in sand and fallen down in earthquakes). The scale of it was impressive - lots of enormous columns and even more bits lying around. It was then down the main street - complete with even more columns. There was a little amphitheatre which looked like it had been reconstructed (We are getting expert on amphitheatres now having seen 5 in the last week). There was a large set of columns arranged in groups of four - and impressive structure. The further we got into the site, the more ruined it became with lots of it still to be excavated and large blocks of stone just lying around.
At this point it started to rain so we decided to see some of the outlying sites. We hired a taxi and made our way to the citadel - a 17th century structure best remembered for it's views over the Roman city. We then came back, and as we had ½ hour to kill, we went round the museum. Despite the predictions in the guide book, the museum was surprisingly good - many of the statues from the town and the funeral towers were in there. We then went off to see the funerary towers as they had specific opening times. The funerary towers are where the Romans buried their dead. They were multi-storied buildings that had slots to store the sarcophagi in slots like a mortuary. Each tower could contain over a 100 bodies and were sealed with elaborate carvings of the dead people. They were like nothing we had seen before. One of them was not a tower but an underground cavern - this was very much like the Egyptian tombs we had seen earlier - except no where near as grand.