Monday, August 15. Palmyra, Syria. From Damascus, it's a three hour bus ride (110 Syrian pounds; $2) northeast through dessert to the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria's prime tourist attraction. I was the only foreigner on the bus and the only one to get off at Palmyra. When traveling, particularly if you are the only foreigner on the bus, it's important to always let the bus driver or attendant know where you're going so that you get dropped off in the right city. The bus, fortunately, was air conditioned, with heavy curtains covering all the windows. Outside it was at least 40 degrees Centigrade.
Before I could even get my bearings after getting off the bus, a man approaches me and asks if I need accommodation. I politely decline. Another man drives up in a beat up black 1962 Mercedes and offers his services as a taxi. I accept his offer, and his later offer to chauffeur me and a Danish couple to some of Palmyra's outlying sites. He picked us up at 4:30 pm and drove us to Palmyra's tombs and main site, and then an Arab castle to watch the sun set.
The city of Palmyra dates back to 2nd Century A.D. It was an essential watering hole on the Silk Road and a key link between the Mediterranean and China. At its peak, it had a population of 200,000 and rivaled Rome in majesty. The Great Colonnade, Palmyra's main street, is nearly a mile long and lined with nearly 300 columns.