Monday, May 30, 2011

Highlights of Lebanon: Day 2

Our second day we headed north, tummies full with French pastries for breakfast--yumm!  First, we hit up Byblos--an impressive ancient city surrounded by a picturesque modern city.  We could've spend days at this one spot alone!  The ancient site represents almost all time periods in history, and is intimidatingly massive even though the full extent of it hasn't been uncovered.  (If you want more details on the actual archaeology, you might want to check Owen's blog.)  There was a beautiful old port where we walked out on the kurkar bedrock into the Mediterranean; the tide was out, so we dipped our toes and got an up-close-and-personal look at some crabs, sea apples, and other shallow-water sea-life.  There were some local guys out diving for something, and they waved for our pictures.  It was so relaxing to just wander along the sea-shore...there's something magical and calming about water.
feeling the ocean on our feet
the harbor, ancient tell off to the right
We had spent about 3 hours at Byblos, and when we were ready to go it was hot and we were tired and hungry.  So we piled ourselves into the muggy car...only to discover that Jack had turned on the lights before we left and the battery was completely dead.  Not the most exciting discovery when you have a whole country to see in 2 1/2 days!  We tracked down some really friendly young men in a Beamer, still in swim trunks since they had just come from swimming, who were able to scrounge up some jumper cables and get us on our way.
an old church in Byblos
one view of the archaeological doesn't begin to show the expanse of it
The next stop was Tell Fadous-Kfarabida...I don't know much about it and didn't even get out for this stop.  Owen took Jack up, but Safita was sleeping in the car, and the whole site required a machete to traverse--covered in tall thorns and weeds.  We didn't stay long, although when we were ready to go Jack decided he was going to stay there by himself and play with the pile of rocks left by the nearby construction crew.  He is an independent boy, for sure; we even all got in the car and pretended to go without him, and he just contentedly waved goodbye.  The promise of ice cream was the only way to make him budge.  
Fadous from the road...nothing spectacular
On our way to fulfill that promise of ice cream (which we were all dreaming mouth-wateringly of at this point) was a "quick" stop at Batroun, where the Phoenicians carved an impressive sea wall out of the local kurkar stone.  It was a little hard to find, surprisingly--you'd think it would be easy since it's on the coast.  We've noticed a trend in Lebanon (and perhaps the greater Middle East) that the road-sign crew seems to think one sign pointing out the general direction is sufficient for aiding travelers in their journey; there is no succession of signs.  I think we spent half the trip getting lost and going in circles.  Anyway, at this stop Jack was happy throwing rocks into puddles, and even Safita tried her hand at it.
the kurkar wall on the right
throwing stones!
The Mussaylha Fort was a short stop off the road on the way to Tripoli.  It was pretty cool to look at, and had a very romantic and quaint stone bridge that you had to cross to get to it.  It was, unfortunately, fenced off and closed that day, so we were unable to climb up and explore, but still definitely worth a stop.  

Tripoli was much larger than we anticipated.  Again, it took us a while to find the old city, due to lack of road signs and/or helpful maps.  And once we found it, it swallowed us like quick sand.  It's MASSIVE--I think it's actually several souks all right next to each other, parts of it drivable by car and other parts pedestrian, just a mass of winding alleys perfect for losing yourself in.  And lose ourselves we did.  We were searching for the best sweets shop in all of Lebanon, according to Lonely Planet--a place called Raf'at Hallab Brothers.  The baklava we had there was worth the pain we went through to get there--it is seriously the best baklava I've ever had in my life: flaky, crisp yet tender, full of flavor, was like the sweet dew of heaven in your mouth.  We ordered one of each for there, and a box of our favorites to go.  
Tripoli souk
before dismissing this as just a picture of trash, take a closer look to see the giant bones in and around!
We had heard they had old-time coppersmiths in the souk, and have been in great search of reasonable copper items (I somehow have fallen deeply in love with copper), so one of our goals here was to find some copper.  But as I mentioned, we had gotten very seriously lost in the labyrinth and had no idea how to get back to our car; we began by trying to retrace our steps as best we remembered, and on the way the Lord answered our prayers by sending a very eccentric man dressed all in red plaid, and possessing an intricate knowledge of the souk, to guide us back.  And it turns out, he also was age-old family friends with one of the copper shop-keepers, and gave us a whole tour of the recesses of the shop where they make the stuff!  So cool.  Alas, it was too expensive, but it was amazing just to see how they do it. 
coppersmith's shop: production area
By the time we left Tripoli, it was after 6:00 pm, but we foolishly decided to try to fit in an excursion to see the cedars of Lebanon.  I think we thought it was much, much closer than it was.  The drive up was an incredible view, but it became a late, dinner-less night, and by the time we got to the cedars it was too dark to actually see them.  When we finally got back we had to endure kids screaming through showers and a midnight pizza run for hungry tummies, but eventually, somehow, we all got to bed. 

As an aside: My favorite things about Lebanon include:
1) They have curtains for their balconies!  
2) The architecture is the perfect blend of Arab and French, for such a warm, quaint look.  My favorite was when I saw a typical unfinished, run-down, poorly-constructed Arab-style concrete block house--with French shutters on it.  Shutters make all the difference!  I made a note to self: someday, when the only type of house we can afford is a run-down, fit-for-the-dump house, we will buy shutters, and all will be well. 

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