Unravelling Lebanon in 6 Days

Welcome Back.
I promised to come back to give a detailed report of my time in Lebanon. For Visa requirements and quick facts on Lebanon, please read previous post titled Lebanon Moments. In 6 days, I got to explore 11 Lebanese cities which are distinctively different and unique.
Beirut
My first destination in Beirut was a Mall. I told the service driver I was going to the city centre meanwhile I was going to Downtown Beirut. The service driver dropped me in front of a mall with City Centre written boldly on it. That is the moment, I realised I had goofed. Language barrier was going to be an issue. I roamed the mall for a few minutes and stepped outside to find a taxi to the National Museum. After a few minutes haggling, we were finally on our way to the Museum for $10.
Entry into the Museum was free on the day I visited but the entry fee is LBP 5,000 per adult and LBP 1,000 per child. The Museum is open all day of the week except Monday from 9AM to 5PM. The National museum which was officially opened in 1943 is said to have collections of about 100,000 objects, most of which are significant artefacts  and medieval finds from prehistoric to Mamluk times.
The Museum suffered extensive damage during the 1975 Civil War in Lebanon. The Museum served as the divide between the warring factions. We got to watch a short clip which detailed the origin of the museum, the excavations and how it survived the war.

Next destination was Downtown Beirut which is home to the Beirut Souks, Roman baths, 800-year-old Al-Omari Grand Mosque, St. George’s Maronite, Place de l’Etoile, Martyrs’ Square and the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque. This was my initial destination until I turned downtown Beirut to the “city centre” which turned out to be a Mall. My first stop was the Mohamad al Amin Mosque, a Sunni Muslim mosque which is also referred to as “the blue Mosque”. The mosque is one of the most impressive structures in Beirut. Entrance to mosque which spots a blue dome, towering minarets built with stone from Saudi Arabia is free dnd if you are a lady you will have to put on a free flowing black robe to enter (there is a rack by the entrance where you can take one). I am a sucker for beautifully built mosques and this inspired by Ottoman one was a beautiful sight to behold. From the chandelier to islamic art and the way it lits up at night is a must not miss if ever in Beirut.

Adjacent to the Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque is the Martyr’s square Monument. Behind the mosque is the Saint George Maronite Cathedral and after which I roamed the Beirut Souks which is basically a shopping Mall. I tried to get a SIM card but was told I needed to provide my passport. Downtown Beirut gave the European city vibe. The building structures and streets are similar to a regular street in Bonn or Paris.

On my way back to the airbnb apartment, it was so difficult describing my hotel to the taxi driver. I got the name of the neighbourhood but apparently the neighbourhood is split in two by the highway. The cab driver dropped me at some point when I realised the confusion, I found a man who understood English and was kind enough to send me on the right path to my airbnb. I found a restaurant on my way and balanced to have dinner. The food was a lot that I had to ask them to pack the rest for me as take away even though I ended up thrashing it 2 days after. After dinner I began the sojourn back to my airbnb and called it a night.
Bcharre and Qadisha Valley
I was off to the Bsharri (Bcharre) town with my tour guide and another tourist, Bernie from Ireland who currently lives in Abu Dhabi on my second day in Lebanon. This is the only tour I pre-booked before landing in Lebanon. My tour guide, Robin happened to be a Nigerian of Lebanese origin who grew up and lived in Niger State until his last visit to Lebanon when he made up his mind to make Lebanon country home. Our destination was the Deir Mar Antonios Qozhaya (St Anthony of Quzhayya) situated along the Kadisha Valley.  A Maronite hermitage founded in the 11th century is the largest in the valley and is famous for establishing the first known printing press in the Middle East in the 16th century. We hiked the Cedars of God in the cold, the weather was 14°, at some point it rained. I got to hug the oldest cedar tree which is said to be over 6000 years old.


We visited the Khalil Gibran Museum because Bernie is a fan but unfortunately the Museum is not open on Mondays.

We drove down the Qadisha Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to get to another Maronite monastery. The valley  which is home to a number of monasteries and cave churches was the refuge destination for fleeing maronite monks. For this tour, I paid $80.
Saidon and Tyre

For my next tour of the country, I went out solo. I took a service (pronounced “servees’, shared taxi) from my airbnb bus stop to Cola intersection. My destination for the day was the city of Sidon, known locally as Sayda, which is around 45 minutes from Beirut. I teamed up with a British tourist who was on the bus with me to Sidon. We explored the Sidon Sea Castle, actually we basically just took pictures and left. The entrance fee to the Sidon Sea Castle which was build as fortress of the holy land is 4,000 LBP. It is a beautiful structure but there is no guide to tell you anything. The security guy only collects your money and sends you in to get lost. It is  however a beautiful destination for pictures.

We got on a bus to Tyre locally known as Sour, the ride was over 2 hours long. In Tyre, we got to explore the Tyre Hippodrome and Al-Bass Necropolis- a UNESCO World Heritage site. We entered this structure from the end of the street and did not get to pay any entrance fee but apparently there is another entrance at which you pay 6,000 LBP. We also got to explore the  Narrow streets of Tyre’s Christian Quarter.
Old Tyre- Christian Quarter

Jeita Grotto, Harissa, Halat
I moved to a different city on my fourth day in Lebanon. I got on a bus heading towards Tripoli from the Charles Helou bus station, this is the closest station to my Airbnb. I got down at the Ajaltoun exit, from where I took a cab to Jeita Grotto. Because I was moving with all my luggage which was basically a bag pack, my laptop bag and a paper bag, I told the cab guy to wait for me and he dropped me at Jounieh. I can’t really remember how much I paid for this ride but I think around 4,000 LBP.
Jeita Grotto believed to be the longest cave in the Middle East consists of two separate but interconnected limestone caves. This is one of best tourist attractions of Lebanon and must not be missed. There is a ‘No photography’ rule enforced at the Grotto, all phones, cameras are dropped in lockers at the point of entry. To my amazement, I met a bunch of Egyptians in the upper grotto who had sneaked a camera in. I told them to take of picture of me, which was later sent to me via WhatsApp. I kept gasping in awe at the sight because the grotto is truly beautiful. We got on a cable car from the entrance to access the upper Grotto. A train took us to the  entrance of the lower grotto. A tour of the lower grotto involves the use the of an electric boat trip.


My cab driver dropped me at Jounieh from where I took the cable car, locally known as Téléphérique to see the statue of Our Lady of Lebanon. I could literally see the insides of people’s home from the cable car. The car stopped for a few minutes and I honestly didn’t even realise there was a power cut, it was on my way back down that I realised, Lebanon “Nepa” carried light while I was hanging in the air. The Stature of Our Lady of Lebanon, which was crafted in Lyons-France, is a 13-ton statue, made of bronze and painted white honouring the Virgin Mary perched on top of a hill, overlooking Jounieh Bey.

I headed to my new home in Halat which is a one bedroom and parlor self contain apartment overlooking a public beach. I basically was in the house to sleep and wake up as I was out of the apartment the next morning by 5.
Baalbek, Anjar and Ksara
The Baalbek ruins was my best experience followed by Jeita Grotto. This is another guided tour I decided to join last minute. Robin came to pick me at the new apartment and we drove to Beirut to get the others. This time, my tour buddies were a British Couple, Bernie from the Qadisha Valley Tour and a Peruvian with the Canadian Permanent Residency. The journey from Beirut to Baalbek took us over 2 hours. The Roman Ruins of Baalbek is located at the edge of Lebanon’s troubled region, the beqaa valley and just miles away from the Syrian border.

Important to note that Baalbek is an important stronghold of the Shi'a Hezbollah movement. Hezbollah is a Shi’a political militant party considered a terrorist organisation by the US, EU, and many other state parties. This is one region, that I won’t advise anyone visits solo, at least visit with a local if you can’t afford a guided tour. We all had our international passports with us for identification, but at no point were we asked to show our IDs.
Our first stop in Baalbek was the Roman limestone quarry not far from the ruins which is also known as the Stone of the Pregnant Woman. It is believed that any woman who touches the stone will experience increased fertility. The story of the preservation of the quarry by a local man who has a shop right opposite the quarry is an interesting one. He spent years unveiling a treasure while people believe he had embarked on a futile journey.

The Ruins are the most impressive and magnificent structure in Lebanon or maybe I should just say the best I saw. The ruins consists of three temples: The temple of Jupiter is the principal temple of the triad, the exceptional and best preserved  temple of Bacchus and the temple of Venus also called the round temple is the smallest of the triad.


In Baalbek, I also saw the most beautiful mosque ever. The exterior is the mosque known as The shrine of Sayyida Khawla, which was built during the period of the Roman rule, is so shiny and beautiful. Robin informed us that the mosque is now occupied by the Hezbollah military, so we could not explore it or openly take pictures.
From Baalbek, we drove along the Beqaa valley passing several refugee camps of displaced people from Syria to Anjar. Anjar is actually closer to the Syrian border than Baalbek. The Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges serve as backdrop to the quaint city of Anjar. The Anti-Lebanon Mountains are mountain ranges that form most of the border between Syria and Lebanon.


Anti Lebanon Mountain
Prior to the civil war in Syria, Anjar was a major tourist attraction. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is best known for the large number of Armenians who reside in the city and  of the Umayyad ruins. Even though the ruins is not as impressive as the Baalbek ruins, the anti-Lebanon backdrop gives it an aesthetic feel. The ruins of Anjar include the walls of the Umayyad palace, harems, a mosque, the palace of the Caliph, thermal baths, and many pillars which include some elements of the Roman architectural style.

We rounded up our tour for the day with a tour of  Château Ksara, the oldest winery in Lebanon established by Jesuit priests in 1857. We took a tour of the caves where wines are stored and then had complimentary tasting of with several of the wines produced in the winery.

Byblos and Beirut
On my last day in Lebanon, I decided to visit the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world since 5000 BC, Byblos known locally as Jbeil. Halat is about 10 mins drive from Byblos. I got into a bus headed towards Tripoli and dropped at the Byblos bus stop, from where I took a cab to the Byblos Castle.

Byblos is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Byblos castle is a crusader castle also known as the castle of Gibelet. I honestly found the castle underwhelming but not on the same scale as the Tyre ruins but still underwhelming. The castle gives an aesthetic view of Bylos After roaming around the castle, I visited the Wax Museum which is spooky but worth the visit. I walked around the museum for a few minutes and headed to the souks. I walked through the souks which was just opening and bought few souvenirs. It was nice to get the middle easterner feel at the souk, this is something that is now missing in Beirut.
Activities are sort of limited in Byblos apart from the visit to the crusader castle, wandering around the souks and relaxing by the harbour. I had lunch in one of the many restaurants situated in souks which offered free  WIFI.

I wasn’t going to leave Lebanon without sighting the Pigeon’s rock in Raouche, Beirut. The iconic 60-meter high limestone twin rocks was formed in the prehistoric era by a geologic movement. I spent hours staring at the rocks, watching the sunset in awe, actually I was passing time until it got dark and I then I headed to the airport.

What do you think of Lebanon?

 Have you been to Lebanon, What was your experience like? is Lebanon on your travel bucket list?

♥Lara

'Lara A

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