Sidon and Tyre sound like the Bible, right? They are. The southern part of Lebanon is where the Marriage Feast of Cana was held (though in a town now better known here as the place where UN peacekeepers from Fiji were killed by a Israeli attack during the 2006 war — UN peacekeepers still patrol the region). Both Elijah and Christ preached here; Mary is said to have waited for Jesus in a grotto in Maghdouche, just up the hill from Sidon, commemorated by a new basilica and several statues and icons. And unlike churches in Europe and the US, this is a church where Arabic is spoken, as seen in this familiar stained glass window image of Christ with the book, but without Roman writing:
- In the Basilica of Maghdouche
These are Phoenician cities and sea towns. In Tyre, the rediscovered old cities reach the sea, though modern construction has divided the old Roman road, so when it was uncovered, the ruins became two separate sites, divided by a school and housing. Hippodrome, necropolis and shops above, temple columns near the sea.
- Tyre by the Sea
But then the rains came. And came, and came. That made Sidon — even the souks, which were not completely covered — so much less entertaining. And oh so difficult to photograph. And those even more wet than me who made it down the walkway to the great Crusader castle at the sea were shooed away by the guards because of dangerous weather conditions.
- The Sea Castle in a Downpour
Alas, the rain continued through our visit to the souks. I was still wet when we got back to Beirut, 40 kilometers away!
The Ba’albek site contains the largest Roman temple ruins — Jupiter, Bacchus and Venus, with the Bacchus temple incredibly well-preserved. Jupiter’s domain still has six of its original 22-meter tall columns, surviving wars and earthquakes.
The Ba’albek ruins are unmissable — though they are located in the part of Lebanon in the Bekaa Valley that is under Hezbollah administrative control. You can buy a Hezbollah t-shirt if you like; I did not (the two Brits and I on the tour wondered how our respective countries customs officers would react on seeing one in our luggage).
The temples sit with the Lebanese mountain behind them – mountains covered with snow all year long.
The Temple of Bacchus at Ba'albek
But Aanjar, an eighth century Umayyad city, with palace, temple and harem –and shops! — though smaller, was more instructive. Built as if it were a Roman city (two main streeets with crossroads) the unearthed architecture contains elements of multiple cultures. And it exits 2 kilometers from Syria. Our tour group of 12 were the only visitors. You could see the border – at the top of a pretty difficult to climb mountain — from the sites.
The Syrian Border from Aanjar
As we shopped for souvenirs (at a store run from people from the local Armenian community), I talked with an older Lebanese man just hanging out in front of the site. He had many languages — and so we talked in German (my teacher Anuschka would be proud of me). But he did not know that the pull-on hat he was wearing (it was quite cold in the moutain area) was emblazoned with the NY Yankees logo — or that the Yankees were a baseball team.
The view into the Mediterranean
I am more accepting of the sharp changes within the city; and the blown-out Holiday Inn now seems more like an incongrueity next to the new skyscrapers and high-end stores of the downtown area. The ESOMAR panel was held in the Phoenicia Hotel, which is beautiful and gaudy, perfect for celebrations. Outside the building (which is heavily guarded) you see the ocean and the beach and the palm trees, as well as the new buildings under construction, and the older buildings with signs protesting their impending destruction.
Outside my hotel, a happy celebration of the season...
ne image from today went unphotographed. In my first full day in country, I was walking from a meeting in the completely rebuilt Central District– with a view of the Mediterranean, and brand-new high end “souks” — to the very friendly neighborhood of my hotel. Passing through a mass of new construction (there is a lot of building and rebuilding taking place), all of a sudden there was a vacant high-rise still with the holes from shells and bullets. That. I learned, was the old Holiday Inn. It was so unnerving I couldn’t even take a picture.
I needed to get some local currency — at the Bank of Beirut. And that’s what the ATM gave me…but my card didn’t make it out. So into the bank I went, and there I waited while various people tried to figure out how to extraxt the card that shouldn’t have been there. The card was supposed to have come out BEFORE the cash was dispensed.
But I was invited to sit at a bank officer’s desk, and was served excellent Turkish coffee while I waited and chatted with my personal banker about Hawaii. Then my card arrived, though I believe it convulsed the ATM, whichwent out of service.
You’d think one trip’s air travel mistakes couldn’t get worse — but they could. My flight out of Dullles was so late that United thought I’d have to wait eight hours in Frankfurt for my transfer to Beirut. BUT…instead I ended on on Middle East Airlines (the Lebanese airline) and arrived at 5:25 p.m., NOT 1:40 a.m.! Only about an hour and a half behind schedule. Oh, and United has given me a $250 credit for my troubles. RULE: Fly as much as you can on one airline — they really do have to be nice to you.
Of course I did have only 30 minutes to make that flight, and the gate agent warned me I might not get any food. But I did eat — salad, cheese, a madeleine, some pasta. RULE: Food really is always better on non-US airlines. And miracle of miracles, my bag made it aboard, too. The advantage ofbeing on MEA is that most passengers were local; the line for visas was non-existent. The Rafiki Airport is modern and efficient (though the walk from the plane to immigration is about as long as the hike at JFK!). Leaving customs, the major hotels have kiosks, and there was my name in giant letters on the big screen! When it gets light, I will be able to see if there is a view from my balcony!
Rested and ready to sightsee in Beirut!
There are times when a trip starts off badly — with missed airline connections, bad seats, etc. — but turns into one of the best experiences….here’s hoping my chain of delayed and cancelled flight today means only good things for this trip.
ESOMAR is sending me to Beirut to talk about media polls and elections in a panel with Lebanese politicians, researchers and journalists. It takes four flights. I left Hilo last night, knowing that my second flight — from LA to Dulles — had been cancelled. But there are lots of flights, and I was rebooked with plenty of time to make my connection to Frankfurt.
But that Frankfurt flight has been delayed coming in, and is now scheduled to arrive in Frankfurt so late I will have only 20 minutes to make my connection. I am hoping for huge tailwinds.
There are other flights to Beirut from Frankfurt, but this change could mean changing my pickup at the airport (I don’t really like to coordinate itinerary changes in foreign lands, I’m just too embarrassed when I have to ask people to speak English because I don’t speak their language). Then there is the question of checked luggage. RULE: Always take a carryon with enough clothes in it to get you through extra days without luggage — including emergency business attire for your presentation!
And another travel RULE: Traveling a lot means the airline will probably be a LOT nicer to you!
I’ve had this happen before: the last time we traveled to Europe, United had to completely reroute us. We got there late, but were still able to get where we wanted to be — and we had an amazing trip (well, except for trying to walk around Paris at 39 degrees –Centigrade — the equivalent of 103 Fahrenheit).
I am really hopeful that this trip will also be incredibly memorable!