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Published: November 13th 2009
The Lebanese FlagBeirut
Looking a little tattered
is a city of contrasts and one undergoing rapid change. On the one hand you have tall, modern apartment buildings, ubiquitous with any city in the west, on the streets below numerous sleek designer stores compete for your Lebanese Lira. On the other hand though you have the bombed out and bullet riddled remains of a civil war era concrete shell, an armed military presence on most corners in the city and check points on the country's roads.
Beirut is not a great city for tourists in my opinion, not too much to do and keep you occupied apart from walk around and soak up the atmosphere. I'm sure it is a fantastic place to live in though as the night life is meant to be fantastic, given my poor travelling status I was reduced to the solitary night out for only a couple of beers. Day Trips
I did a couple of trips from Beirut the first few days I was there. One was to Byblos
, where there is nice castle on the edge of the sea. Another to Jeita Grotto
, a stunning cave system full of stalagmites and stalactites. No photos allowed unfortunately. Another was to
the south of the country to Saida
, which has a great little souq and a rather worn down castle sitting on an outcropping of rock in the Eastern Mediterranean. Baalbek
The ancient Roman ruins at Baalbek are enormous. The unfinished Temple of Jupiter
was the largest of its kind in the entire Roman empire. Unfortunately these days the only remains are six columns, cleverly called the six columns of the unfinished Temple of Jupiter
.* The second of Baalbek's great temples is the Temple of Bacchus
, significantly more of the structure has survived and it is still possible to discern the figures in the reliefs atop the columns. The entire site is well preserved and in the early morning light it was a very nice place to wander around and wile away a couple of hours. Unfortunately the man got me this time and I had to pay an entrance fee.
* OK I made that up.
On the way back to Beirut I stopped in at the Ksara Caves
, Lebanon's oldest winery, although not without difficulty. After getting a little lost trying to find it, giving up, getting on a bus, sitting down, thinking I hope we
don't drive past it now, driving past it as I sat down, getting off the bus in a hurry and walking back to the winery I was ready for a drink. The free tour consisted of an overly dramatic 10 min video with a voice-of-god style voice over on the history and working practices of the winery, a short tour of their caves where they mature and store the wine and then the main event, the wine tasting. I tasted 5 of their wines which were all quite nice, the whites better than the reds in my opinion, and some arak. A great way to spend an hour, especially since I did it on an empty stomach and got quite a nice little buzz on during the wine tasting! The Cedars
Given that these trees are on the national flag of Lebanon and mentioned in the Bible I thought it well worth my time to get up here and have a look. Located in the north of the country, an easy day trip from Tripoli
, albeit with another hair-raising Lebanese driving experience.** The grove of trees I visited is the largest in Lebanon, a crying shame considering that they
used to cover vast swathes of the Lebanese mountains. They are perched at the head of a steep valley surrounded on three sides with high majestic peaks covered in a dusting of snow. The most beautiful place I went in Lebanon. The trees themselves are pretty unique, wide branches spread far out from the thick trunk, although a lot of them are heavily trimmed to minimise the risk of collapse under the weight of the snow in the winter. This was followed by a hike down the mountain in the early afternoon sun, bliss!
** The Lebanese road rule consists of edging into traffic until the chance of an accident is so high that the oldest part of the brain where basic survival instinct resides kicks in, then the drivers coming the other way brake a little, thus allowing time for your vehicle to jump into the lane. Harrowing. I regularly saw two lane roads with 5 cars abreast of each other.
And that was pretty much my time in Lebanon.
Next time Jordan.
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