Byblos, Baalbek and back to Beirut


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Middle East » Lebanon » Baalbek
February 11th 2016
Published: February 12th 2016
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Byblos



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 LebanonOur Lady of LebanonOur 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 CrusadersCastle of the CrusadersCastle 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.



The 12th 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 LebanonOur Lady of LebanonOur 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
St. Paul's CathedralSt. Paul's CathedralSt. Paul's Cathedral

Harissa, Lebanon
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
MassiveMassiveMassive

Baalbek, Lebanon
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
Byblos near sunsetByblos near sunsetByblos near sunset

Shimmering sea
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.


Additional photos below
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MJ and DaveMJ and Dave
MJ and Dave

Enjoying Lebanon
Brutus in ByblosBrutus in Byblos
Brutus in Byblos

Yes....he's hanging out in this seaside town!
Great hat!Great hat!
Great hat!

He was hanging out in Byblos...the hat is worth the photo!
Sunset in ByblosSunset in Byblos
Sunset in Byblos

Mediterranean Sea
Our waiter in ByblosOur waiter in Byblos
Our waiter in Byblos

Patient.....great for us as the menu was in Arabic and French!
Yummy calamariYummy calamari
Yummy calamari

Excellent cooks in this part of the world!
Brutus on the rocksBrutus on the rocks
Brutus on the rocks

Not a bad thing....visiting the castle.
Brutus studies historyBrutus studies history
Brutus studies history

Contemplates the past


13th February 2016

What a great way to start your trip
I am happy that you are taking time to enjoy your first stop on this trip. The food sounds outstanding and I love that you met with people you have a connection with back in Ohio. Keep overcoming those fears MJ, we have a balloon ride in our future. Looking forward to seeing you, but enjoying this virtual travel through Lebanon with you.
13th February 2016

Great way to start
I'll not be stopped by fear. I'll hold on tight. The Toledo connection has really made a difference for us. We've been able to see their country through their eyes.
13th February 2016

Harissa
I got very excited when I read that you'd stopped at Harissa, as it's one of my favourite chilli pastes...but then I remembered that Harissa paste is from somewhere in north Africa :) I'm getting the impression that you've both slipped into fully relaxed travel mode now, keep those food photos coming. Safe onward travels.
13th February 2016

Harissa & travel mode
Indeed we have our rhythm going now. All is well. so many fabulous things to see. We are in northern Africa now so I'll keep an eye out for chili paste. As always food photos will follow.
13th February 2016
Temple of Bacchus

Lebanon
Wow... nice blog and stunning pictures. I never really thought about Lebanon as a place to visit, but reading your blog has changed my perspective.
13th February 2016
Temple of Bacchus

Lebanon
Lebanon does not have the tourist travel down as well as other countries but with a little effort you can see some amazing things. Hope you will consider traveling there.
13th February 2016

Lebanon looks incredible
We missed an opportunity to visit Lebanon 16 years ago, and we are now kicking ourselves. The historic sites look amazing, and how lucky are you to get home cooked meals, we are so jealous.
13th February 2016

Lebanon looks incredible
Indeed the home cooked meals can make all the difference plus understanding the country through local eyes is always best.
13th February 2016
Temple of Bacchus

Thanks for writing about Lebanon
Again, thanks for writing about Lebanon. I absolutely love sites like Baalbek. Emma is less fond of Roman and Greek ruins however but if I show her this photo she will probably go with me without protesting at all. /Ake
13th February 2016
Temple of Bacchus

Writing about Lebanon
We were surprised by the Ancient site in Baalbek and its size. We were surprised it remained in the condition it was in. We enjoyed our time in Lebanon, of course it was enhanced by our acquaintances from Ohio who have moved back to Beirut.
13th February 2016

Lebanon
Great photos. How great to have a local connection.
14th February 2016

Lebanon
Sheila, thanks for following along. Yes, it made all the difference having a connection in the country. Loved the home cooked meal.
13th February 2016

I'm pleased you were able to visit Byblos...
which stood out for me in my family's visit to Lebanon in 1964.
14th February 2016

Visiting Byblos
It was one of our favorite places. Those smaller towns usually end up capturing our attention.
14th February 2016

Wonderful!
Great writing and pics. Loved the ones when you were playing around. So much info and history. Yes, it always amazes and humbles me when I think about the ancient civilizations the people of the Middle East had. I am soooo happy to hear from you via your blogs. It is strange but this one never came to my e-mails address I only happened by it when I went to the travelblog front page. Stay safe. I know you will LOVE Egypt. Carolyn/ gunga
14th February 2016

Wonderful Lebanon
Carolyn, thanks for following along. It is hard not to appreciate an ancient land where civilization began. We realized yesterday no one got the email so I will send them out manually today. Thank you for commenting.
14th February 2016

Ancient worlds
Yes old is really old i... I loved photo of the temple of Bacchus ... Fabulous ruins. And it's great that you met the locals ...that makes such a difference when travelling. I wondered how you travelled around ... Car and driver or bus ??? Stay safe in Egypt.
14th February 2016

Ancient worlds
Locals make all the difference. We ended up with a car because the tours we wanted to book were full. But as you know some of the time we were with our acquaintances.
14th February 2016

Not my favourite
Lebanon was not my favourite part of the Middle East but if you like your Roman ruins big, buxom and empty you simply can't go past Baalbek. Brutus seems to be enjoying himself.
14th February 2016

Not your favorite
In the Middle East so far we've only been to Dubai and Lebanon. Who knows how we will feel at the end of this trip. Certainly our views were tainted by genuine local hospitality. I suppose it could have changed some since it has been a few years since you were here. But we all get different impressions as we travel and that is why we all must go check it out. For instance, we've never been in love with Kathmandu but many love it.
14th February 2016

Lebanon
Loved all your pics and travel notes. Yummy food pics!
14th February 2016

Lebanon food
They do know how to cook! Having a good time.
14th February 2016

hosts
The pics were staggeringly beautiful, as always. I particularly enjoyed the ones in your hosts home. It is lovely and how fortunate you got to personalize your trip by meeting them and enjoying their hospitality. Can't wait for the next adventure and congratulations, MJ on overcoming your fear of heights and not letting it limit you.
14th February 2016

Hosts
Lebanon has a lot to offer and the historical sites are being preserved. It made all the difference to be in the company of locals and their hospitality. People around the world are so nice. So many more good people than bad no matter what the media portrays.
14th February 2016

Glad I didn't miss this one!
Must say a few things- the ski in the Byblos pic was such a rich blue! I cannot imagine the difference in "old"! Fun with photography gave me such a big smile and lastly, Dave looks pretty darn good in a hat (and MJ is lovely as always!) love you two-C
15th February 2016

Glad you didn't miss this one
We were having fun. Our guide kept posing us. Yes the sky is lovely and we had a good time. So much history.
15th February 2016

Awesome pics
Your photos are great and help bring your whole experience home to us. Keep them coming....loving my vicarious tour of Lebanon and looking forward to Egypt.
15th February 2016

Awesome pics
Sonja, you'll need to add this part of the world to your travel plan. Lots of history and archeological sites. You will enjoy it.

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