A Travellerspoint blog

Moving up the coast


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large_5550_12785111481827.jpgClock tower in Tripoli.

The other Tripoli

This morning I moved up the coast from Beirut [Beirut-travel-guide-1041297] to the second largest city, Tripoli (Trablous) ... which bears the same name as the one in Gaddafi-land (Libya). The coastline is very built up along most of the way with high-rise apartments, beach clubs, factories etc.

One thing I’m certain of is that Beirut is the place for the rich and the beautiful ... but you don’t have to wander far (eg. southern Beirut) to see Yemen-like conditions. That’s the same in Tripoli. The divide between rich and poor is quite great.

It is easy to forget that Tripoli is a large modern city as well ... over the years and even now, I have to keep reminding myself that Tripoli is in Lebanon .large_5550_12785111497803.jpgThe main square; gotta pull out the pics from 2002 to compare. Can't remember it being so smart... not Syria. It just seems like worlds apart from modern Beirut that I tend to associate it (around the Old City anyway) with Damascus and Aleppo.

I do faces really well

This morning, as I was making my way to my “Pension Haddad”, a man offered to help me ... he said that he is Haddad’s neighbour. At that point I recognised that he was the owner of the Pension we stayed with 8 years ago which was opposite Haddad. I apologised profusely for not staying with him this time as he had renovated and put the prices up substantially ... he had gone a bit upmarket.

Meet the Haddads

My Pension is interesting :

* Coming up to the 2nd floor (English designation), was a shocker. The stairs was filled with rubbish including blood-stained tissues.large_5550_1278511149654.jpgThe main square; gotta pull out the pics from 2002 to compare.
* It is an extended family with grandmother, mother, daughter, aunt etc.
* I have a room with three beds; so not sure if you call that a dorm room ... it has a balcony where they hang their washing so I suppose I have to leave the door open for them during the day to access. It gives them air and light too into their living room.

Is the Magic still there?

Tripoli’s main attraction is the Citadel of St Gilles of Toulouse. It’s part of the Crusader movement down the Levant in the 1100s but what we see now was rebuilt in the 1300s. Second time round, it is still more than impressive. It’s quite surreal that you can have a 700 year old Crusader citadel with an Middle Eastern medieval labyrinth and modern city all side-by-side.large_5550_12785111504174.jpgMaamoul (cake) shaped soap.

The soap factory has changed a bit in the last 8 years. They made plain blocks of soap (of different colours and scents) then. Now, they are nicely packaged and they even have soaps shaped like cakes ... my favourite is the ma’amoul shaped soap.

It’s not quite the special treatment we got 8 years ago when we got given a private tour by the kids, of the upper level why they dry their cannonball soap of different colours and scents ... followed by a clamber on the rooftop and hopping on the neighbouring ones including the hammam!

Yes, the magic is still there second time around. It’s not quite the same but there are lots of finer points I’m picking up on second time round (including in the cuisine) that makes it very rewarding too.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Lebanon Comments (0)

Holiday in Hezbollah Land


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large_5550_12783231245212.jpgThis is what Baalbek used to look like.
This morning I took my third trip to Baalbek ... yes, it is that good ... it is the most impressive Roman ruins I’ve been to (not that I’ve been to that many). The Lonely Planet says it outshines any of the Temples built in Rome itself.

This has always been a poor and conservative area and the Hezbollah have made inroads into the people’s hearts by providing what the government hasn’t ... schools, water, medical etc. Like the Islamist party in Yemen. A bit like the Salvation Army.

What’s different this time is that the Hezbollah have setup an information centre right at the entrance to the Baalbek ruins. I took a peek and there were no-holds-barred pictures of body parts and charred bodies from Israeli attacks.

Local vendors are now also selling Hezbollah T-shirts. Not a good shirt for going through airport security or customs on the way home.

By the way, the thing that was conspicuously absent on this excursion were Syrian soldiers. The Syrian withdrawal after my second trip has left the intercity roads now staffed by Lebanese soldiers.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Lebanon Comments (0)

It's Beittedine, not Betadine


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large_5550_12782534135548.jpgView of the Chouf Mountains.

Early Start

I woke at about 4:30am due to my body clock being on Colombo time (2.5 hours earlier). I messed around until about 7am and took a sustaining breakfast of fuul at a nearby cafe ... the Lebanese version here is different from the Yemeni. For a start, the broadbeans are mixed with chickpeas ... and it is more flavourful due to the spices, lemon and lots of garlic. Also the beans are whole rather than mashed.

Beittedine and its Festival

I took a bus to Beittedine about an hour south-east in the Chouf Mountains. Using public transport gave me a better taste of Lebanon because the last two times (with two and four people respectively), we had the economy of scale of using a taxi everywhere.large_5550_12782534131248.jpgBeittedine with the setup for the Festival.The downside was that the bus dropped me out-of-town from Beittedine and I had to walk in. Ggrrr! But it was much cheaper than a shared-taxi.

Beittedine is a castle built by an Ottoman-appointed governor about 200 years ago. It was an impressive residence but disappointment set in when I realised that I’d miss the Beittedine Festival ... and it was also its 25th anniversary.

The Beittedine Festival brings together an eclectic mix of musical performances over July/August each year ... both Arab (eg. Fairuz and Om Kalthum) and non-Arab (eg. Elton John, Kiri Te Kanawa, Placido Domingo). As for Shakira ... she’s both!

Actually I could go to a performance by Pink Martini tonight but I had never heard of them before. The only performance that I knew was Il Divo, but I should be in Hama, Syria on the day of their performance.large_5550_12782534129116.jpg... not Betadine.

I made a brief stop at the picturesque village of Deir al Qamr on the way back. How? Err ... I hitched. A van of army guys picked me up but they were moonlighting as a shared-taxi service at the same time, so there was a small payment due at the end of the short ride.

Mass Poisoning by Carbon Monoxide

From Deir al Qamr, I took a shared taxi back to Beirut [Beirut-travel-guide-1041297]. All was uneventful until when we approached Beirut. The traffic on the southern motorway was chocka! I don’t know why!? It was like someone had spread a vicious rumour that the southern neighbour was having a bad hair day and it was best to evacuate to the north!

It got worse when we got into a long tunnel underneath Beirut International Airport.large_5550_12782534132495.jpgSome of the performances this year.Imagine if a few drivers passed out from carbon monoxide poisoning and further choked the tunnel ... it would have a domino effect ... we’d all die in the tunnel together, no?

Soccer Fever Knows No Bounds!

I hopped off the taxi in the Beirut Central District re-development area to find that it has expanded substantially since my previous visit. There’s now a souk-style mall in addition to the reconstructed shops and cafes. Very impressive!

Once it had cooled down in the the evening (it is about 32 degC and a bit humid), I took a 1.5 hour walk (each way) to Manara Lighthouse where there is a an outdoor restaurant by the sea. One can watch the waves lapping against the rocks or big jets doing their final approach into the airport.large_5550_12782534136149.jpgIn the main courtyard of Beittedine.

It became apparent that Germany had defeated Argentina in the World Cup. Cars and bikes with people hanging off them were waving the German flag and chanting "Allemania" (Arabic for Germany). It wasn't just an excuse to party ... soccer-fever knows no boundaries ... there was a woman all dressed in black with a black headscarf with two German flags painted on her cheeks!

Toilet Hygiene 101 for Men

While at Manara Palace I needed to use the loo ... the urinal ... it was interesting to note that each one was equipped with a hand held mini-shower nozzle (called a hand bidet in some countries when installed next to a toilet bowl). I believe it is to enable people to wash afterwards as it is a religious requirement!

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Lebanon Comments (0)

Beirut-bound


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Bad start in Colombo

I woke nice and early and showered for my 2 flights (Dubai then Beirut [Beirut-travel-guide-1041297]). I couldn't find a taxi to the airport so took a tuktuk ... which took 1 hour. It wasn't hot but it was the early morning traffic jam ... I now smell of 2-stroke fumes.

Colombo Airport, like much of the city is high security. Strangely though, they do not have LAG (Liquid, Aerosol and Gel) restrictions. It was only 3 years ago the place got bombed and much of the national airline's fleet got wiped out. And it was only days ago that a bomb went off in Colombo itself ... I read it while in Melbourne :-(

Transit in Dubai

As for my stinky self ... fortunately I managed to fit in a shower (an some yummy food) during my 4 hour transit in Dubai, at the Lounge. It pays to know that with a Diners Club card (which I don't even pay for), one gets access to many airport lounge around the world ... in Dubai, it is the same one used by Qatar Airways' First Class passengers. Hush!

Arriving in Beirut

I arrived in Beirut in the evening, on board a flight full of Lebanese Australians. They had connected from Sydney and Melbourne ... it’s the season to take the whole family to Lebanon to escape the Aussie winter.

I always love flying into Beirut ... suddenly you break through the haze and the urban sprawl of the high-rise concrete jungle appears. The plane glides over the turquoise water; you get a glimpse of the seaside apartments and finally the landmark Pigeon Rocks before you touch down.
Immigration took forever. This time, Malaysians no longer require to pay for a visa on arrival, so there’s no separate queueing for the visa payment and then to enter the country. I can’t believe that so many Aus-Lebs had to either pre-pay their visa in Aus or upon arrival ... whereas I get in scot free!

Even though Beirut airport is close to the city, there is an official “nice” taxi service ... yes, that means expensive ... about USD25 for 15 minutes. As with previous visits, I walk up to the departures level and try catch a normal taxi who happens to be dropping-off.

I thought my trick wasn’t going to work as the first driver wanted to charge me about USD30. Fortunately, this isn’t one of those places where all the drivers gang up on the poor visitor and refuse to budge. There’s healthy disagreement (yes, that’s why they had a bad bad civil war) ... and a competitive spirit ... so within seconds another driver took me for the price I had offered, which was about USD16.

I settled into my Pension (Al-Nazih) which is in East Beirut (formerly the Christian area during the war). This will be a change from trendy Hamra in West Beirut which was the Muslim area. It isn’t far from the Green Line which was the demarcation between the East and West ... there were plenty of broken homes with bullet holes during my previous visits.

A quick walk outside to get some essentials showed that Football Fever is on ... with the Soccer World Cup on, Lebanese are picking sides to support. Eg. they were most dismayed that Brazil were beaten by the Netherlands.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Lebanon Comments (0)

To the capital


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large_5550_12780672135367.jpgBuses and trains have seats reserved for th clergy. I got this seat!
Today I took the bus from Hikkaduwa [Hikkaduwa-travel-guide-585386] to Colombo [Colombo-travel-guide-583234]; it was easier than the train ... I only had to walk out to the hotel gate and hail one down as opposed to having to take a tuktuk to the railway station at additional cost.

It seemed too easy because I got on an air-conditioned minibus within minutes ... only to have it break down after about 15 minutes. Most passengers managed to get into are replacement vehicle but I had to wait.

I smiled at the conductor and shook my head; he smiled back and shook his head too. Soon enough, I was on my way ... it was cramped and uncomfortable but cool. Whereas the train was hot but spacious! Choose your poison.

Once in Colombo, I walked around the Fort area and had some briyani for lunch at a Halal restaurant. Yummy. I deserved a repeat visit so I went back for dinner.

After that bus ride, I was a bit worn so lay in bed and watched TV. Indian Idol was running ... beamed from across the Palk Strait. It's quite funny because I had to guess whether the judges were impressed or unimpressed ... they kept shaking their heads. It is contagious as I end up doing it within a day!

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

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