Crazy days in Lebanon!

Trip Start Mar 19, 2005
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4
Trip End Mar 30, 2005


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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

And so to my last few days in the country. It's been a really great holiday. Everything was very enjoyable, from the food to the sightseeing to the people to the weather. Highly recommend a visit here.

On my penultimate day in Lebanon, I decided to go back to Tripoli, as I'd had such a good time there last week, but hadn't really done any sightseeing. I have to say, the bus ride there was one of the scariest I've ever experienced.

Driving in general, in Lebanon is something of a frightening experience. You seem to take your life in your hands. As far as I can work out, the general principle seems to be - if you can get in front, the it's the car behind's responsibility not to hit you. This applies at roundabouts, junctions, crossroads, and even to pedestrians, who appear not to be thought of very highly. And traffic lights? I never saw any cars stop for red lights. Many accelerated straight through them. Crossing roads really is just a case of being brave enough to walk out in front of cars and hoping they won't hit you!

Buses are something of an experience too. There are no bus stops in the country, or at least, none that I saw. To catch a bus, you simply hail it from wherever you are standing. This applies as much in town as it does on the motorway! It is therefore not uncommon for minibuses to in the overtaking lane to suddenly slam on the brakes, veer over to the outside lane and screech to a halt. But strangely, passengers wait for the bus to come to them, so more often than not, the bus will reverse at full speed, on the motorway!!! I am truly amazed I didn't see more accidents.

Anyway, the bus ride to Tripoli was not very enjoyable. The driver spent much of the journey using his mobile phone, either to send messages, or to talk (and at time shout) to people - which of course involved much gesticulation. He also chain smoked, so frequently his hands were not on the wheel. And at one point he took his hands completely off the wheel to have a good long stretch - it must have lasted fully ten seconds during which his hands were above his head. I just closed my eyes...

So it was something of a relief to arrive in Tripoli unscathed. As I made my way to the citadel of Raymond de Saint Gilles I bumped into the guys I was smoking with the other day, who were surprised but amused to see me again - and of course offered me their nargileh again. This time I turned it down.

The citadel has been in existence - though not in its current form since perhaps 1102. Inside is a mixture of architectural styles and features and it's quite pleasant to wander round, as it is built on a hill and so offers great views out over the city and to the Mediterranean. One thing I didn't like about it however, was that there was no guard rails at all. And in many places there were sheer drops. You could actually climb right onto the top of the wall of the main castle structure and I don't know how far you would have fallen, but it would have been messy. There was also a stone staircase, possibly with only twenty or 25 steps, but it was about a metre wide, and some of the steps were worn. I managed to climb the first part of the staircase, despite there being no banister, and a drop on either side. But at the top, I just had to sit right in the centre of the step, trying to catch my breath. To get back down, I had to take each step one at a time, sitting on each. Think there were a few people wondering what on earth I was doing. However, I wanted to see the view right from the top, so after looking around the rest of the citadel, I managed to give the staircase another go - not for those with any fear of heights. Fortunately the second part of the staircase had a wall next to it, which I practically clung to as I walked up. The view wasn't that great at the top, so I had to get back down - again, very slowly.

After that I was in need of some relaxation, so I did what every girl does when stressed - I went shopping! Back to the souq - probably my favourite part of Tripoli. Had a good long wander around, saw another soap making factory, many fruit and veg stalls and bought some camomile and rose petals for tea. Very relaxing. Definitely helped me recover from the earlier hair raising experiences!

I have to say, I think my last day in Lebanon was one of, if not the best.

Everyone I had spoken to had great things to say about Baalbek, in the Bekaa Valley, so Idecided to leave it to visit last. Baalbek was the 'Sun City' of the ancient world, and is possibly the site of the most impressive roman ruins in the Middle East. Modern day Baalbek is a seat of Hezbollah and is somewhat renowned for anti-western politics. It is difficult to ignore the reminders of Hezbollah - the yellow and green flags (complete with machine gun insignia) are everywhere.

The ruins themselves are absolutely breathtaking. The complex comprises the Temple of Jupiter, the Temple of Bacchus and the Temple of Venus. The Temple of Jupiter was constructed with 54 columns in total, of which six are still standing in position today. These columns are the largest in the world - am amazing 22.9m high with a girth of over 2m! it was just amazing to stand next to them and be completely and utterly dwarfed.

But if that was good, then the Temple of Bacchus was just phenomenal. It remains remarkably well preserved given that it was completed around 150AD. It wasn't built on as large a scale as the Temple of Jupiter, in fact it was known as the 'small temple' in antiquity when its actually larger than the Panthenon in Athens!! You enter the temple up a flight of thirty steps and three landings. Columns support huge friezes decorated with lions and bulls. The ceiling is of curved stone, decorated with scenes of Mars Diana, Vulcan, Bacchus..... it was just incredible to wander around such a magnificent and ancient building, so much of which is still standing, having survived numerous earthquakes over the years.

It was really amazing, and such a great way to spend a few hours. If you get the chance, I totally recommend visiting this site.

I also paid a visit to the Ksara winery, but, despite being taken direct to the door by the friendly (but self confessed 'crazy') minibus driver, unfortunately, I arrived too late to get a tour around. But not too late to sample some of their produce and buy a few bottles to take home!!

And then down to my last few hours in the country. I was all set to go early to the airport in the hope of getting some sleep there before my early morning flight, but a couple of the guys I'd been hanging out with insisted we go out for 'one last beer' which needless to say turned into several, complete with smoking of waterpipes. It was a really pleasant way to round off my time in the country.

I collected my bags from the hostel and set off to try and find a taxi - which usually isn't difficult. But as I wandered along the street which is usually teeming, for once it was deserted. So I did the most obvious thing, and asked the machine gun toting twenty something soldiers who were patrolling nearby, where I could get a taxi. They insisted I was in the best place, so I stood chatting to them for over half an hour before a taxi finally showed up.

I have to say, it's a really amazing country. I have such good memories of it - and if you get the chance, I can't recommend highly enough that you go! You won't regret it!
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