It was ten years ago today that I typed the following email about the week which I had spent in Lebanon, part of my trip around the Middle East, my first overseas adventure. Edited only slightly for public viewing, here is that email in which I described my adventures in Beirut and beyond.
Beirut is just beautiful. I spent five days dining my way around the city, which reminded a bit of Fremantle in Western Australia. The buildings are old, but fully refurbished. The entire city centre resembles an Italian piazza, and it’s full of stylish types sitting around smoking nargileh (sheesha) over cappuccino. I also spent a lot of time sitting around the reception of the hotel talking with new-found friend Jalal, a Damascite who was working there. I did the “Lonely Planet Walking Tour” of Beirut which is highly recommended, especially the end of it which saw me sipping Arabic lemonade and smoking nargileh as the sun set into the Mediterranean. I will definitely come back to this place. Also, Arabic lemonade is a drink that I’m determined to have imported into Australia – think fresh lemon juice, sugar (no bubbles) and orange blossom essence – just divine.
Now those who know me, and even those who don’t know me but have heard about me will know that I have this tendency to make life interesting for myself. So when Ramadan, the holy Muslim month of fasting, ended, I had planned to be in Tripoli which is in the Muslim-dominated north of Lebanon. However I heard that it was a fairly sedate place. So instead I headed up to Baalbek, in the Hezbollah-controlled Bekka Valley. Baalbek itself is usually a quiet little village, blessed with 2000-year old ruins of the Roman empire. However the day I arrived the air was full of celebrator gunfire. It was the most exciting place I’ve been to so far, I’m sure of that.
On other days in Beirut I headed out to bayside Jounieh with its mountain cable-car, and Byblos which has been completely reconstructed after a thousand years in ruins. There I met a bunch of local guys – Mohammed, Ahmad and their friends – on a day trip from Beirut, and had shish tawouk (grilled chicken) for lunch at a lonely cafe.
Three days after Eid I took the bus to Tripoli in the north of Lebanon to check out the town. Honestly it was a bit of a disappointment. The city is a bit depressing and there was only enough stuff to keep me entertained for about three hours. What struck me most about Tripoli was how friendly al the people were. After one night there, most of it spent over a cup of coffee and baklava, I hit the road for Aleppo in Syria. At the Lebanon/Syria border post the Lebanese guards looked very bored, and spent about thirty minutes searching my passport and glancing upwards occasionally to make sure that I still looked like my picture. On the other hand, the Syrian guards were great, and even wanted to know if I was in a rush or if I could stop for tea!
That’s about it for Lebanon, but tune in next weekend when I relive my journey in Syria, ten years later! Thanks for reading!