Two weeks in Lebanon
After a brief stay in Syria to organise the visit of Christian's parents, we crossed the border into Lebanon. We received a warm welcome (and a cup of Turkish coffee) by the Lebanese border and customs officials. The busy road between Damascus and Beirut crosses the Anti-Lebanon range and reaches more than 1500 meters before winding down to Beirut at sea level. A first surprise was had a few km after the border when we stopped to by bread at a small bread shop cum factory. Flat sheets of pastry on a conveyor belt going into the oven would blow up to large balloon-like buns (40 x 25 cm) in a split second. Flower is said to be of better quality in Lebanon than in Syria and a plastic bag full of bread is the common baksheesh paid to Syrian border officials to get something done that little more quickly. A second surprise was had on the way to Beirut. A recent rainfall had made the poor quality or old road surface so slippery than several cars could not get up what was only a small incline ! One of the road rules in this part of the world is that, in a traffic jam, any available space can be taken. That includes the petrol station or the lanes of traffic coming the opposite way. At one stage on the way down, there were 7 lanes going down and... none in the opposite direction. With some vehicles struggling to move again once they had stopped, that's exactly what one needs for a smooth and fluid flow of traffic. Brilliant ! We never ceased to be stunned by the sheer lack of courtesy of most drivers in traffic jams.


Lebanese bread "en route" to the Syrian border (left), first traffic jam in Lebanon (centre), Troopie in a Beirut car park after a first night in a new country (right)


A trip to the south : Sidon and Tyre
In the last days of 2001, we drove of to the South with Martin and May to the small cities of Sidon & Tyre, major centres in ancient Phoenicia. In May 2000, the Israeli army left the South of Lebanon after 22 years of occupation and a visit to Tyre is now possible. We had to pass several check posts manned by the Lebanese army and the tension of the Christian driver -that had been arranged for this trip- going into Muslim cities was very clear. "If you want to have a beer, have it now before it's too late !"


Sidon's sea castle (right), 80m off shore but linked to the shore, was fortified by the Crusaders in 1228. 



A visit to the wonderful Soap Museum in Sidon : soap is poured all over a floor and is then cut into small cubes using a rattle-like cutting device (left), olive pit oil and laurel oil give Lebanese soap its smell and its initial colour (centre). Each manufacturer has a seal to mark its products (right) 


When Herodotus wrote about Tyr in 450 B.C., the city was already 2300 years old. Over the years, it has been ruled by the Egyptian pharaons, Assyrians, Babylonians and was so successful that for a time, the Mediterranean Sea was called the Tyrian Sea. Tyr was the only city to resist Alexander the Great. At the end of a 7 month blockade, the city's 30,000 inhabitants were massacred or sold into slavery. The Greek rulers were followed by the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamluks, French and... the Israelis. It's a wonder so many wars have left any old building standing. 


Tyr is home to the world's longest (480 m) and best preserved Roman hippodrome (left), Debanne Palace (centre) and a picturesque harbour (right)


A trip to the north : Byblos, Tripoli & The Cedars
After having celebrated the New Year in Beirut, we headed North to Byblos, one of the world's oldest continually inhabited towns : 7000 years. It retains a crusader castle (where one of the oldest alphabets has been found in a royal tomb), the splendid church of St John the Baptist (or St Marc ?) and Pepe's Fishing Club. Before the civil war, this is where the world's famous would come for a drink and for an evening at the Casino du Liban which is not too far. Marlon Brando, David Niven and Brigitte Bardo were regular visitors. Nowadays celebrities are "a bit thin on the ground" (LP) and the latest pictures on the walls were those of Miss Latvia embracing Pepe the Pirate who isn't getting any younger.



Pepe's "Fishing Club" (left), the fishing harbour of Byblos (centre) and the beautiful Church of St Marc (right)


Off to Tripoli, north along the Mediterranean coast, Lebanon's 2nd largest city famous for its Medieval souq and citadel. Yasser Arafat set up the PLO's headquarters here during Lebanon's civil war before being kicked out on going to Tunis. Several things happened to Martin in Tripoli. Besides a first visit to a mosque, Martin also met Tripoli's President of the Court of Appeal. Within a conversation of half an hour, the "President" managed to ask Martin for his book on the art of judging to be translated into German, published and financed. He would travel to Germany and Martin would have to organise press conferences and autograph sessions ! All of us regretted giving the man our business cards ! Martin had booked a night at the "Chateau des Oliviers" run by Madame Nadia. She kindly invited us to stay for the night and we spent several hours listening to her war-time stories. During the war, her hotel was occupied by hundred of journalists covering events that she speaks of as "her children". 


A craftsman hammering metal into large decorated trays (left), Harry Potter's influence is everywhere ! (centre), at home with Madame Nadia (right)


We had wanted to cross the Mt Lebanon range at the popular ski resort of Les Cedres into the Bekaa Valley to visit the Roman complex of Baalbek. Some people had told us the road was closed, others had told us the road might be open. Even after our recent (very) close encounter with snow in Turkey, we still wanted to go and check it out for ourselves ! At least, we would drive through the beautiful Qadisha valley (home to the Christian Maronites) and see some of the few remaining Cedar trees. Alas, the road was closed with more than 10 meters of snow at some points and we had to return all the way to Beirut in order to go to Baalbek : 6 hours driving instead of 1 and a half. Some 2500 years ago, most of the Mt Lebanon range was covered with Lebanese cedars. Because of the hardness and durability of this wood, the Phoenicians quickly grew prosperous by selling it all over the Mediterranean to build ships and, some claim, to roll the heavy stones used to make the Egyptian pyramids ! Today, there are only 800 trees left several of which are more than 1000 years old !


On the way to the ski station of "Les Cedres" (left), one of Lebanon's many sweet biscuit shops (centre), some of the few remaining Lebanese Cedars (right)


Baalbek to Beitetdine 
From Baalbek to Beitetdine we again had to drive through the troubled mountain road linking Damascus to Beirut. Recent heavy snowfall did not help matters. It snowed in Damascus for the first time in 10 years and a few days later, Athens airport was closed because of snow. In Thessalonica, it snowed for 46 continuous hours.


Kathleen & Martin in rainy Aanjar (left) and another one of Lebanon's brilliant traffic jams. In this case some drivers without snow chains tried to get through a police check stop (centre & right)


Beitetdine's early 19th century palace complex (left & centre) and Troopie in front of a 18th century provincial house in Deir al-Qamar (right)


Here is the first of our extra pages on Lebanon : the buzzing city of Beirut

We are doing well !

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