Actually this is an update from the “shores of Tripoli” —remember the Marine Hymn? I’m in Lebanon as I flew to Beirut from Amman. Beirut is still unbelievably damaged from the ‘70’s civil war between the Muslims and the Christians. They are attempting some restoration but there’s an awful lot more to do.
I got a hotel right off Hamra, the main shopping street. I rested a bit, then went for a long walk along the Cornishe, a promenade along the Mediterranean Sea. Luckily I found a Lonely Planet Guide to Lebanon to buy, so I can plan my visit here. The weather was cool but sunny and the walk was great.
Sunday I went to the horse races and watched the beautiful Arabian horses run. I noticed that I was the ONLY woman in attendance! A man, about my age, asked me in English if there was anything that he could help me with. I smiled and said, “No, thank you.” Actually we did start conversing later and I got some information from him regarding museum opening times, etc. In fact he told me that the National Museum was closed now, because there was some kind of financial scandal. When I left, he also left and showed me where to get a service taxi (a shared taxi that runs like a bus) and asked me if I would like him to show me the downtown area tomorrow (which I had told him I was going to visit). So we agreed to meet, which we did and the tour was fine, although there’s so much devastation downtown that it’s depressing. Many buildings are being lived in but look as though they are falling down.
I asked him to choose a restaurant so I could treat for lunch. He picked the greatest low-key, Lebanese restaurant called LeChef—and we had oodles of food: artichoke with garlic and lemon, rice-stuffed grape leaves, hummus, radishes, olives and pickles, tomatoes, lamb and rice (with cinnamon and raisins), spinach and French-fried onions, bread and coffee and the most wonderful Ksara red wine. Roland had a couple of araks which is the anise flavored fire water. Roland ordered all this from an Arabic menu. Actually the lunch was by far the best part as there isn’t much left of downtown Beirut and Roland nattered on about uninteresting things.
Wednesday I took a bus to Byblos—the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, although I think I’ve heard this said about more than one city. There were ruins of settlements from the 4th and 5th millennia BC as well as Roman and Amorite ruins—a temple from 4000 BC, the Obelisk Temple from 2000 BC, the Kings Well, a reconstructed Roman Theatre and it had a Crusader Castle to top it all off. Here, anything from the 12th. century is ‘new.’ I also met ‘Pepe the Pirate,’ a local character (now in his 80’s) who has a restaurant on the port and has been visited by (and photoed with) all the glitterati. I drank a half bottle of Ksara blanc de blanc—as good as the red! I finished out the day by watching the sun go down behind the fort in the harbor.
On to Tripoli! I walked to the highway, crossed the freeway (oofdah) and waved at a minibus—they signal with lights and then you wave if you want them to stop. It rained the night before and was still raining a little. Roland had told me that for 2000 years it had rained on Good Friday, which was the next day.
I spent quite a bit of time in Tripoli looking for several 12th and 13th century buildings shown on the Lonely Planet map, but the map was mixed up—although I finally did find some. I ate a street sandwich and then went to RaFat Hallab Fils for their specialty of halawet el-jibn, a delicious dessert made of white, crumbly cheese on which you pour a sweet syrup. They also served water in a beautiful carafe that you had to drink by pouring it into your mouth, without touching your mouth to the carafe. I tried, but mostly spilled it on my chin.
More excursions—I shared a taxi with a young couple, Sabina (Belgian) and Bastian (Dutch) to go to Bcharre. It was rainy but as we climbed up and up, the sun partially came out to illuminate the wonderful cliffside town of Bcharra with snow-covered mountains nearby. There was gorgeous scenery—a huge gorge, a thousand or more feet straight down!
Then we went on to ‘The Cedars,’ which is a small grove of cedar trees, some of which are 2000 years old. (You’ve heard of the Cedars of Lebanon) There was snow in amongst them, which made the setting very beautiful. On the way back down, we stopped at the Museum to Kahil Gabran, who was born in Bcharra. That evening I ate at a restaurant with no English name or menu. I had a lamb kebab, French fries, salad, and hummus, a very tasty meal.
I was planning to go on to Baalbek, a Roman ruin, but the roads are closed from Tripoli due to snow. I did some more sight seeing and I had some more map problems. That’s the first time I’ve had problems with Lonely Planet maps. I finally found the Citadel and then took a service taxi to Al Mina and a pleasant walk around ‘the shores of Tripoli.’ Do you suppose the Marines meant the Tripoli in Libya?
I returned to Beirut by bus and got a service taxi to the hotel. I returned to LeChef restaurant where I had eaten with Roland and had another fine meal.
I went to Baalbek by minivan, which left when full. The temples were fabulous—I’m amazed that I have never heard of them before. They are Roman, from the 1st and 2nd century. There is a huge temple to Jupiter and also a temple to Venus that is bigger than the Parthenon in Greece, and much better preserved. There were many other ruins all over the place, which were fun to explore and photograph—it’s a very large site. There was even an eroded statue of Cleopatra!
I had lunch at a modest restaurant consisting of half of a spit-roasted chicken, fries and much salad stuff with a lot of basil, and dry yoghurt with garlic, all very good. An older woman came up to my table to drink some water out of the mouth of one of those carafes so I gave her the white meat of my chicken, which she accepted with gratitude—well better than just leaving it! When I paid, the man gave me a little meat-pizza, a specialty of Baalbek, he said. It is Easter Sunday today but I saw very little sign of it.
On the way back I got a minibus going to Zahle and got off at the Ksara Winery, expecting it to be closed and it was, but I photoed it anyway. I flagged another taxi who took me to the next town and to a minibus which took me to Beirut. Then I got a service taxi to my hotel. Later I walked down Hamra and stopped for a schwarma, then for an orange juice, and then for a Cappucino—that was dinner!
I enjoyed Lebanon—Beirut and the northern part. One is warned about visiting the southern part as there is still heavy conflict there. My, those Romans were everywhere, weren’t they? So now I’ve seen the Cedars of Lebanon, and even bought a little egg cup made from branches that fall down.
I shall fly to Istanbul, Turkey next—stay tuned!