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Published: February 12th 2016
To the north of the sprawling metropolis of Beirut is a small seaside town of Byblos. It is here where we are truly learning and embracing the concept of “old.” While it is only about 40 km away, traveling by car in this nation is an undertaking that requires patience and time. Simply translated: sit back and don’t be in a hurry because you will arrive as soon as you get there due to the fact that there are lots of cars on an overtaxed system of roads.
On the surface, Byblos appears to be a nice resort town of about 40,000 people, but we’ve learned that this is only a best guess, as Lebanon has not taken an official census since 1932, due to what is explained as “confessional political balance.” As the system of government is set up to ensure that the three main religions are represented, there appears to be sense of timidity regarding actually counting the denizens of this fine nation so as to not upset the political apple cart that is Lebanon.
But more to the point is the amazing fact that Byblos is actually quite
Our Lady of Lebanon
Impressive statue high above the hilltops.
old. Now when you consider the concept of “old,” this becomes quite an exercise in conceptually imagining what this really means. Being from the States, this concept is much harder to embrace, given that North America was discovered by Europeans some 500 years ago or so and began to build more permanent settlements much later. We’ve got some buildings that date back several hundred years ago, but they are few and far between as most were built of wood. So, that is old to Americans. This of course doesn’t take into account the Native Americans who most likely have been around much longer, but were much more nomadic in nature overall.
Byblos on the other hand, is said to be among the oldest inhabited cities in the world, dating back to 5000 B.C. Now that is seriously “old.” It puts a whole new twist on the concept and helps us to focus in on what is really ancient. Upon seeing where Byblos is located and the climate it enjoys, it makes sense why people have been around here for a long, long time.
But enough of that….as we traveled north from Beirut along the
Castle of the Crusaders
The castle in Byblos is chock full of history.
coast to Byblos for a few days we made a stop in Harrissa. Here we took a gondola to the top of a small mountain. The locals call the gondola a teleferique—we had not heard that term before. You may remember in past blogs MJ has a fear of falling and is sometimes freaked out by heights. She decided to brave it and take the gondola to the top of the mountain to view “Our Lady of Lebanon” shrine and she did extremely well. She’s always a sucker for a good view and she says she is practicing for Switzerland! She braved the mile-long seriously uphill climb to the top. Once there, we were both rewarded with some outstanding views. Visibility was very good and you could see over 20 miles on a fine sunny day. Jounieh Bay was resplendent.
Our Lady of Lebanon has been up here over a century, which is quite a feat in that it must weigh more than a few tons when they decided to place her on this perch. You climb more than a few steps to the top. MJ once again overcame her fears, albeit briefly to take in the
view. There are also a couple of churches up here and Pope John Paul apparently made a visit at one point.
But on to Byblos, which is a smallish seaside town with winding cobbled streets, street side cafes, souks and a castle chock full of archeological importance. We were happy to have had a few days moving slowly and enjoying this quaint town. We strolled along their tiny marina admiring the fishing boats and watched the local fisherman swing their poles from every rock formation nearby.
century castle and scenic seaside grounds offered a few hours of peaceful wandering. As with most buildings in this country it was built from the indigenous limestone and it is our opinion that when the buildings are shades of one color it presents quite nicely on the whole. Needless to say, the views from the top of the castle are outstanding and once again, we experienced a clear day so we could see all the way to Beirut. The coast of Lebanon is really quite beautiful. We are often drawn to these places and often rewarded.
This site is the cumulative work of
Our Lady of Lebanon
Different view.....just as impressive.
several civilizations building upon what was already in place. From the Bronze Age through to the Romano-Byzantine times, the site was enlarged to accommodate the people of the area. It is a rather large site and no doubt was quite the hub of activity back in the day.
Modern day Byblos is a tourist town that offers lots of outdoor dining and shopping in the souks, which line more than one street. We were able to enjoy several fine Lebanese meals and would recommend this small town to anyone who ventures this way. Baalbek
We’d been in Lebanon long enough to know about Baalbek and done a bit of reading before our trip. It sounded interesting enough and we thought we’d go take a look. Now, one of the tourist hazards you can encounter is that you can become a bit lazy when spending couple of days in a somewhat sleepy off-season town like Byblos. We were no exception….we were going to go straight back to Beirut, but at the last minute we changed our plans and headed to Baalbek. As previously mentioned, this is a small nation, but it takes
quite a while to get anywhere. The journey to Baalbek took over three hours. You have to retrace your steps back to Beirut, then climb up the roads for quite a while, passing through numerous small towns and villages. The temperature continued to drop as we climbed above the snow line. A storm earlier in the week had dropped a fair amount of snow on the mountains. Did you know you can ski in Lebanon? We did not know that before our journey, but are more than aware of that now.
Before we had arrived at this site we had seen a photo or two and a couple of postcards, but they all showed the same snapshot of the 6 columns left standing. So naturally, we assumed that we would see little else so when we arrived we were surprised by the size and grandeur of this archeological site that equals some of what we have seen in Greece and Rome. As luck would have it, the site was not busy at all and we hired a guide shortly after entering. In turen, we were left full of history, stories and loved our guides humor! It seemed
as if we had the place almost to ourselves. Off-season travel can have it advantages, and this certainly was a fine example.
We arrived back in the Beirut just after sunset and could say that we had quite a day’s journey. We began the day on the sunny coast, experienced some snow up in the mountains, then returned to the capital. Beirut
As we leave we are left with positive impressions of Lebanon, although it took us a couple of days to warm up to Beirut. This country does not have some of the booming tourist infrastructure that many countries offer. Yes, there are tours and many forms of transportation for hire but you have to work for it a bit. It is not in your face like in many countries and in the end we found that a positive although a bit more costly than expected.
They have done a nice job of rebuilding from decades of civil war. As you move around the city you find all the modern shops of Cartier, Hermes, Christian Dior and Lamborguini. Someone’s got a fair amount of money
here. Another interesting note is that through conversation with Osta's niece that we discovered that there are those in Beirut who do not cook often, but order out quite a bit. It seems that you can order almost anything to eat and have it delivered, even .......gulp! McDonald's...sushi, Lebanese food.... whatever you want! McDonald's delivery is scary stuff!
One thing we enjoyed is that no matter what restaurant or cafe you went in, once you had ordered they brought you a small serving of sliced carrots in some lemon water and a dish of assorted nuts. This was an enjoyable treat.
Our stay here has been enhanced by the fact that we were able to spend time with Osta and his family. They have been very warm and welcoming and allowed us to see Lebanon through their eyes. We’ve been touched by their kindness and generosity.
Our last night in Beirut we feasted on a home-cooked meal that left our “taste buds dancing” as MJ is prone to say. Fine food and great conversation made this meal one for the ages. While there, Osta phoned the States and we
spoke briefly to Sami, who provided us the fantastic information and connected us with Osta. We were made to feel like honored guests in this fine nation….but now on to Egypt and a meeting with BV Chef!! We hope that you have time for all of our photos.
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