Anjar and Baalbek

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March 15th 2019
Published: March 17th 2019
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Friday March 15, 2019 – Today Kat and I headed out to see two UNESCO sites, both archaeological. We stopped at the Wooden Bakery after Kat’s shower and she got some pastry, and we had to wait longer than expected for the Uber due to traffic. I was a little nervous, but we arrived in plenty of time. We checked in and got seats on the bus – this time in the second row. The Germans from Wednesday who sat behind us were now sitting in front of us. The French guys were also on this tour again with us. I tried to find the round bread guy, but no luck today. Our tour guide was named Lucy and she was much, much better at dispensing knowledge than the woman we had on the last tour. She told us a lot about the country on the drive to the first site, and then walked around with us as a group to give us information about the sites when we were there.

The first stop was at Anjar, an ancient city unique from being from only one culture, the Umayyad, which lasted only 50 years. Their city was very thoughtfully planned out along two main roads which intersected in the middle. Two large palaces as well as homes and over 600 stores have been accounted for. The weather turned rainy when we got there, and we were each given two strong plastic bags to tie over our shoes to protect them, but also (and probably mainly) to protect the bus when we got back in. It looked a little ridiculous and a little hilarious, but felt particularly wasteful today as people were marching for the climate in over 100 countries. Not only were we not rallying for a course we believe in, I felt we were actively betraying that cause by throwing away a ton of plastic bags for no good reason. #protectthebus

We spent about 90 minutes walking the site together, trying to take pictures in the rain, but then we had 15-20 minutes to take some other pictures and use the bathroom, and it had just stopped raining, so Kat and I rushed back to get some additional photos from different angles and without so many people. We were the last ones on the bus and were called out for it, but it felt good to use the full 20 minutes.

From there we drove another hour to get to Baalbek, a much larger and more impressive site, with one of the best preserved Roman temples in the world, the Temple of Bacchus. The weather improved while we were there and we even had some sun, despite the temperature staying cold. We started with a nearby quarry site from which the rock was taken, and which currently has “the largest stone in the world”. Not sure of the accuracy of that statement, but it was big.

At Baalbek, we saw the Temple of Venus from outside the gate, but it is quite small and not in great shape anymore. Inside, we came to the Temple of Jupiter which was really large and impressive. Unlike most of the ruins I’ve seen, which have been recreated/rebuilt, these were all still standing, preserved over time under the sand. Finally we saw the Temple of Bacchus, which is very well preserved. It has a lot of columns and was also very impressive.

Once the 90 minute tour was over, we had 25 minutes to go to the museum, use the bathroom, etc. I chose to use the time to run back to the Temple of Jupiter and take some more pictures. I also climbed up a structure I had seen others climb and took pictures from the top of there. It was good. I walked a little of the museum and then we left for lunch, a 45 minute drive away. I enjoyed both sites, but felt both were too rushed. I wish we’d had more time, as I really like to see everything and linger around, but this is what I sacrificed for the ability to get to both sites easily.

We arrived at the restaurant at 2pm and sat with Joe, a cancer researcher from San Diego, a woman who is a journalist with the BBC, and two women from South Africa. All were really nice to talk to. Lunch was good, more mezze dishes to share, but it was a little rushed as well. Maybe we were late getting there? Dessert had the option of fruits that were not ripe – much like Wednesday – and apricots, kumquats, and candied orange peel all in a thick syrup.

Our final stop was at the Ksara winery. I enjoyed seeing their wine caves and hearing the story of how it used to be a monastery until the Pope told them in 1978 to sell it all and move to another place, but I’m not much interested in wine and I gave all of my wine to Kat when it came to the wine tasting. I think they should get rid of that part of the tour and give more time at the ruins.

Back in Beirut, we got an Uber to take us home and bought some snacks from the corner shop to use up the rest of our money for snacks since we weren’t going to be hungry after the late lunch. FYI – the equivalent of $3.25 will buy 4 snickers and 3 bags of variously sized snacks at the Matar Market on Gophrael St. I showered, skyped, and laid down at 9:30pm to try to sleep before the flight. I was tired, but not tired enough, apparently. I might have gotten a little bit of sleep before midnight, but eventually I gave up, internetted and then when Kat got up at 12:40, we finished getting ready and left around 1am. Our first Uber canceled, but the second one came and we arrived at the airport in 15 minutes.

Despite traveling with the same airline one hour apart, we had to use different lanes to check in. Kat asked if it was possible for me to join her on her flight, and the check-in agent said no, which was a shame, since her flight was not full anyway. My line took much longer than hers, but there was a woman traveling with what might have been her two adult daughters who let me go in front of her, which was very kind. She didn’t speak English, but I thanked her and checked in quickly. After check-in and passport control, we found a place to sit. I finished my cheesy poofs and Kat bought a water and a jello and we chatted until she boarded her flight, very calmly, as one of the last flight. Once she was gone, I used the free 30 minutes of internet and then was the exact opposite, being one of the first people to get in line for my flight (along with the other 50 people who rushed the scene). Neither of us had paid to get a seat in advance, and somehow she ended up with two windows and I ended up with two middle seats. No one switched with me this time.

The first flight was two hours of me trying to sleep, but it was ugly. In fact, really early on in the flight, perhaps before take-off, I must have been asleep and then woke myself up by making some sort of loud sound, like a shout. I think I had a scary dream and scared the crap out of the guy next to me. I was startled and took off my eye mask to look around, and he was just staring at me. He himself was hard not to stare at with one of those handlebar mustaches, so it seemed fair. We reached Istanbul in an hour and a half, and shortly after the second security line, Kat found me. Our gate would not be announced for over an hour, so we went to get breakfast. We started out in a little airport restaurant, but I didn’t see anything I wanted, so we walked to the fast food places and Kat decided on fried chicken and I got a Turkish pits with baklava.

Once the gate was announced, we went to sit there, but there were no seats, so we went to another area nearby to sit. I was pretty tired by then, and all there was to do was wait. We didn’t sit together on the plane, and I sat this time between two women. One of them slept most of the time, until the end where she played an annoying sounding game on her phone. The other slept and then watched a movie. I slept and then read. It took about 3.5 hours and then we were in Basel. Again, on landing, a bunch of people got up and started opening the overhead bins, but this time they had to sit back down again. So funny to see the differences in cultures with airplane use. We got off the plane quickly and made it through passport control quickly, but my luggage took ages to come out, despite the luggage itself coming out quickly. Kat waited with me until it arrived, and then we took the bus and the tram home. We said goodbye at her stop and one stop later I got out to step directly on the bus that would take me one more stop home.

At home, I was greeted by cats super excited to see my bag and where it had been, but Jeroen was our shopping. When he came home, we had some lunch and I spent the rest of the day semi-comatose while catching up with my favorite comedy news shows. Not a bad way to spend the day. Looking forward to another full day off before work tomorrow.

I have good memories of Lebanon, and especially in the wake of the mosque attack in New Zealand on Friday, I want to say how very sorry I am for the victims and the country to have to suffer this intolerance. I have traveled to a lot of Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries at this point, and I want my friends and family who haven’t had these experiences to know that I’ve had so many good and positive interactions with Muslims, and that they have overwhelmingly made me feel welcome and treated me with respect and kindness. I’m no fan of religion, but I just want to be clear that Islam is not the enemy. Just the day before this attack, I was welcomed into a mosque specifically to watch the prayer session/service (I’m not sure of the correct term) by the man leading it. It was a very special thing to witness, and I was honored for the experience. And as I mentioned before, it was really clear how close it was to a church service, for those with that experience. I stand by the community and offer friendship and respect, as well as sadness for such a tragic event.

Additional photos below
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17th March 2019
Temple of Bacchus

Temple of Bacchus
We thought Baalbek was magnificent.

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