Temple at Baalbek and About Beirut
Beirut Travel Blog› entry 5 of 31 › view all entries
Temple at Baalbek
Today, we took a shared minibus to Baalbek. This is the site of an ancient Phoenician (later Roman) temple. Without doubt one of the most impressive Roman ruins, with pillars rising some 22m ... makes the Acropolis in Athens look modest.
The journey itself was interesting with Lebanese military checkpoints along the way, but in some sections alternated with Syrian ones. Our reading suggests that Syria still occupies parts of Lebanon, but it is hard to get a better understanding of this due to language barriers. Apart from Syrian occupation, there is a similar situation in the South with Israel but we'll not be wandering down that way to find out!
We've mainly travelled around by service (=shared) taxis or minibuses. Just make it clear to the driver you want a service (ie. shared) and you'll be taken to your destination with him honking at pedestrians who might want to head in the same direction. Economical and interesting for meeting people. All taxis here are older Mercedes Benz.
Now, about Beirut. The city is located on the Mediterranean coast with an attractive Corniche. Tall buildings are built on the flat and extend up to the nearby hills. Many of these are tall apartment buildings with very elegantly dressed occupants and flashy European cars. The buildings, people, their dress, and their cars reminded us so much of the posher suburbs of Buenos Aires.
However, scenes of war-ravaged buildings peppered with bullet holes and some bomb scars are still evident. We'd expect that these to disappear within a few years, judging from the re-development we've seen in the old city centre.
That area is without question one of the most charming piece of town-planning we've ever seen. New buildings are being constructed on the sites of the old city in the same Arab style with mustard and white sandstone. Full of trendy restaurants and street-side cafes. The heart-breaking side is that, occupancy of these properties is low probably due to high rental necessitated by the cost of the re-development.
Having travelled in India or Egypt, it is easy to arrive with an attitude that we must be on the look-out against people trying to take advantage of us. Having read so much about Arab hospitality in Lebanon and Syria, we've been more open to going with the flow and being pleasantly surprised. Yeah! No pushy sales people or street peddlers.
Tomorrow, we plan to head up to Tripoli (not to be confused with the capital of Libya), with a stop in Byblos, one of the oldest inhabited towns in the world.
That will take us to the northern frontier with Syria which we'll cross in a couple more days.
So far, we've enjoyed Beirut. Can't stress how pleasantly surprised we've been by the warmth and charm of the people we've met. Just a pity that Beirut still conjures war-torn images in most minds. We feel as safe here as at home. Apart from the parade of young boys scouts / girl guides which included a Palestinian contingent with their families supporting them on the roadside with pictures of people killed or maimed by the conflict with Israel.