Published: November 21st 2007August 6th 2007
Hole in the Wall
If you take a look at the map of Lebanon, which is situated at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, bordering Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south, you will realize that Lebanon is pretty small. Most people will be surprised that there are, unlike most other countries in the Middle East, no deserts in Lebanon. The landscape varies from beaches at the coast to mountain ranges with snow white peaks. It sounds amazing but it's possible to swim in the Mediterranean Sea in the morning and to ski down 3000m high peaks in the afternoon!
So, shame on me that I have to admit that I neither spent some time at sandy beaches nor did I ski down one of the snowhite Lebanese mountain peaks - not that I ever had that in my mind, and not that I can ski but would be somehow fun to say something like: I got sunburnt in the morning and then caught a cold in the afternoon - and all that on one and the same day! :-)
But then what might sound like a holiday paradise is due to volatile political situation rather an abandoned
Castle of St Giles
Grace and me, Castle of St Giles, Tripoli
(Photo Credit: Grace)
destination by tourists. And if you read like the travel advice of the Australian "Department of Foreign Affairs" or other countries, you will get the impression that Lebanon is full of terrorists attacking, bombing or kidnapping Westerners. And it's a fact that since late May 2007, there has been a series of fatal bombings and grenade attacks in Beirut's suburbs and just a few weeks ago, on 19 September 2007, a car bomb killed at least 7 people, including a Lebanese politician in the suburb of Beirut. And it's true that scores of people were killed and many others injured after fightings began on 20 May 2007 between Lebanese troops and militants in Tripoli and the surrounding area, including at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp north of the city. Even though the fighting at the camp ended on 3 September 2007, but sporadic clashes between extremists and the Lebanese security forces still continue.
And therefore, as I said before in my last post, Lebanon stays potentially dangerous. But then it's by far not as dangerous as Iraq or Afghanistan (at least I guess so) but just if you happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time
Aarti, Me, Omar and Grace in Tripoli, Castle of St Giles
- but you can happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time anywhere else in this world. So, I do believe that if anything happens it's fate and the possibilty very low as long you keep to your common sense.
Anyway, without having any idea or at least not thinking too much about all that Grace, Yousef, Omar, Aarti (all Americans) and I rented a car and ventured out for a trip to the north and along the coast to Byblos and Tripoli, not knowing that it was strongly advised by the Australian "Department of Foreign Affairs" not to travel to the Tripoli area in Northern Lebanon or to Palestinian refugee camps at this time. In fact noone in Beirut ever mentioned that it could be unsafe in any way and we actually never felt unsafe. So, we were either just lucky or governments are just overcareful with advices and I leave it to you to decide which one is right. - Byblos - The City of the God El -
Driving with four Americans in a car is a kind of interesting. Grace was as usual hungry and whenever she is hungry she
Man in Tripoli
will point out every nice looking restaurant and food stall in town and suggests that we should just go in there for some food before moving on, she kind of have the ability to make other people hungry even though they are actually not. So, whenever we passed by fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, Pizza Huts, TGIF Friday’s, Chili’s, Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks etc etc..., which populate the landscape and are dotted everywhere along the streets in Beirut, Grace couldn't help but to shout out loudly "Look! They have Mc Donald´s here!", "Look, they have KFC too!"... "Guys, look... they have Dunkin´Donuts!"... followed by "Have I told you that I am sooo hungry!?". So to calm Grace down, we decided to stop by Burger King Drive In and ended up having a bunch of Whoppers, Chicken Burgers and french fries before getting out of Beirut. Lesson 1: Travelling with Grace makes you fat!
After about 45min drive we arrived in Byblos. Located about 40 km north of the capital, Byblos is claimed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited town in the world. Long before Greece and Rome, this ancient town was a powerful, independent city-state
The five of us. Guess who is who?!
(Photo Credit: Grace)
with its own kings, culture and flourishing trade. Byblos is literally cluttered with relics of the past. There are wondrous ruins from the days of the Phoenicians, Romans and Crusaders.
According to Phoenician tradition, it was founded by the god El. Although its beginnings are lost in time, modern scholars say the site of Byblos goes back at least 7000 years. For several thousand years it was called Gubla and later Gebal, while the term Canaan was applied to the coast in general.
Under the domination of the Egyptian Pharaohs in the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC, Byblos was a commercial and religious capital of the Phoenician coast. About the same time the scribes of Byblos developed an alphabetic phonetic script, the precursor of our modern alphabet which had traveled by the year 800 BC to Greece, changing forever the way man communicated.
Then it was the Greeks, some time after 1200 BC, who gave the name "Phoenicia", referring to coastal area. And they called the city "Byblos" (Papyrus in Greek), because of the importance of this commercial center in the papyrus trade.
Grace and Yousef were ambitous and visited the ruins, the rest of us
Wall of houses
Castle of St Giles, Tripoli
just wandered around the old city, Omar ventured into the shops for some souvenirs for his aunt in Cairo, Aarti and I decided to have a seat somewhere in the shades, sipping on some cold beverages, having a chat and watching life pass by.
Aarti carried the latest edition of Harry Potter with her and I was impressed to see that she was able to read like an half page when she found some time inbetween conversations or a few more pages on the ride, as I can only read a book when I have the time and the calmness to do so. And it was interesting that out of us 5, only Aarti was into Harry Potter, as Harry Potter became so popular all over the world that it became general knowledge to know the characters. But besides of Aarti, the other 4 of us had no clue about Harry Potter and his fantastic world. I think it's usually the other way around... if you have 5 people in a car... it's most likely that 4 of them had read Harry Potter. Lesson 2: You are no Alien if you haven't read Harry Potter yet!
Wall of Houses
View from the Castle of St Giles
was ok, but nothing spectacular. Though I didn't enter the ruins but what I saw from the pictures, it doesn't provide anything that I haven't seen before. So I was pretty fine with just trying to soak up the atmosphere of finally being in the Middle East again as it was my first day since my long odyssee from Antalya. - Tripoli - The Capital of the North -
We continued our road trip and drove further north to Tripoli, 85 km north of Beirut. Thanks to its historical wealth, relaxed lifestyle and thriving business climate, Tripoli is known as the capital of the North and Lebanon’s second largest city.
In ancient times, it was the center of a Phoenician confederation which included Tyre, Sidon and Arados, hence the name Tripoli, from the Greek meaning "triple city". Later, it was controlled all the different Empires you can possibly name. Then the Crusaders established the County of Tripoli there in the twelfth century. The Crusaders settled in Tripoli for about 180 years. The Crusaders laid siege to the city at the beginning of the 12th century and were able finally to enter it in 1109. During the Crusaders'
at the edge, Castle of St Giles
rule the city became the capital of the County of Tripoli. Therefore, main attraction in Tripoli was the Castle of St Giles which dates from the Crusades.
The five of us strolled through the Crusader Castle and took a bunch of pics. From the top of the castle you have a great view over the city and on a "wall of houses" which was an impressive background for pics.
After that we drove into the city and pigged out on the best ice-cream I have eaten in years. I think everyone of us ate at least 5-10 scoops of ice-cream. At first, the girls got an extra scoop of ice-cream and we guys thought it's a kind of unfair. Like the girls paid for 4 scoops and got 5. I paid for 4 scoops and got 4. But well, that's life, I said to myself. But why do people say "It's a men's world?", it's apparently a way better to be a girl now and then. But then once more, life proofed me wrong or god (or whoever, or whatever is up there watching us) seemed to listen to my words! After we have eaten the first scoops
Taking a pic of Grace
(Photo Credit: Grace)
we couldn't help but went for a second round of ice-cream and this time I got my extra scoops as well and the girls didn't, what kind of made me a happy boy and to thank god (or whoever, or whatever) that he showed me that it's not so bad to be a man - not that I ever seriously doubted that! :) Lesson 3: You don't need to have boobs to get an extra scoop of ice-cream for free!
On the drive back we could see the sun fading away along the coast and behind the horizon. I think sunsets at the sea are always especially scenic because the water reflects the last sunrays and the world a kind of looks like a shimmering redish plate. And sometimes I think of all the women in older times, who stand at the shore every day waiting for their men to return from the sea, from a long long journey. Unsure if they are actually still alive and if they will ever return at all. So sunsets are beautiful and then they are in a way melancholic and sad, because like for all those waiting women it must feel
like "another day is passing by" and "another day without that he has returned"... yes, I think sunsets are beautiful and sad, but then at the end it's always "hope" that keeps us holding on in life and to go to the shore again the next day to see if a ship is coming home, hope - as we all know that the sun always rises!
When we reached Beirut we got into a massive traffic jam, caused by Lebanese cruising through the city and honking and waving flags. It took us a while to find out the reason. It was the day before the elections and the supporters just felt like going out on the streets to support and cheer for their favoured party. So, it took us another while to finally get back to our guest house.
After we had returned to our guest house, we went out to have dinner in a local restaurant nearby, and it turned out that they had live music and dancers. The people were lifely and I liked the relaxed atmosphere and the plenty of food we ordered. Afterwards we had a few drinks at bar before heading back for
Old city of Byblos, Lebanon
If you think of Lebanon, you have a certain image in your mind. You have seen all the news about this country, the bombings, terrorist attacks and and and... but as I said before, at the end every country is different to the one you know from TV. At night people in Beirut go out for dinner like in every country of this world, drink at bars, dance and kiss and love. At the end life is life, wherever you are, just maybe in a slightly different colour... it's life. Lesson 4: Life in Lebanon is more than just what we see on TV news! To be continued… next: Lebanon - The City of the Sun...
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