Blow Bother Dash @#$!!!!

I’ve finally come to the conclusion that blogging is like photography. You (or I) have to make a choice. Either I can wield the camera or wiggle my fingers over the keyboard OR enjoy the experience with scant attention to recording it. Not that blogs like photos need to be recorded in real time, but still, one shouldn’t let so much time lapse that the events, names of places etc need to be dredged up from the depths of memory.

Take this post for instance, I had actually begun writing it back in October, right after my return from Beirut. But couldn’t finish for whatever reason and then the muse refused to strike and then, oh yeah I had two more trips (including the one that inspired the fried ancient native allusion) about which I haven’t really blogged either. And lo and behold its nearly time for my third trip after Beirut. So here goes a quick series of the sites, sights and my impressions thereof.

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Four friends with a mission. To get out of Cairo no matter what over the Eid break. Ideas overflowed – Malta, Cyprus, Majorca, Lebanon. Yasir was determined it had to be out of Egypt. But tix (the cheap ones) were all sold out. Cyprus didn’t seem to be working out for many reasons. Eventually when some of us were not doing anything about it, YK went ahead and booked for Beirut. I’ll admit I was hesitant. In fact had even told them to count me out but at the last minute decided I’d go anyway. Good decision that.

Lebanon, and especially Beirut, lies at the cusp of the Arab and Euro-Mediterranean world both geographically and culturally. It lies on the sea, but unlike Alex it’s not desert country. Reminded me a bit of Bombay actually with it profusion of high-rise buildings and a very Marina/Nariman point like lookout, in the area of Hamra which is where we stayed.

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This was how far I’d gotten before I stopped and never began again. And now I notice that all three of my travel companions have since posted their pictures and versions of our trip. (Check out their blogs I have links to all of them). So I’ll just fill in some of my impressions …

Once we’d checked in and stuff, we set out to do some exploring on foot, which is actually possible in Beirut because it’s a real city with proper roads and sidewalks and traffic that for the most part obeys rules. Okay,  so I actually had two near accidents with cabs starting up before I was actually in them, but that seemed to be my bad luck. A nice walk to, and then southward (mostly) along the seaside brought us a lookout point called Pigeon Rock, which as my fellow traveler YK has pointed out is a Beiruti photo nearly everyone takes. I did too, I’ll admit but since my efforts are not nearly as nice (worse camera and definitely less talent) I’ll leave curious readers to follow the link to his blog. Of my own efforts that evening, I’ll post the first of the lollipop garden sculptures I spotted during this trip. This one had pops of only one color – red. Others offered a larger variety of flavors, not that I tasted.

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Dinner that night – quick detour here to say that while not quiet in the league of the consistently superlative quality of eating out in Italy, Beirut can hold its own anywhere and has its fair share of representation in the superlative category – was a revelation of what really excellent Levantine cuisine should be like. Our friend Frances had reserved a table for us at what she had described as a Lebanese-Armenian restaurant called Mayrig, so there it was we went.  A a short chat with the waitstaff persuaded me (us?) to leave our dining experience in their hands, and the results were worth it. Of particular note was the unusual tabuleh salad seasoned somewhat differently from the usual variety and served with raw cabbage (most of first thought that was a joke!), three different kinds of cold kibbeh – lentil, potato and the classic lamb – and IMO the highlight of our experience, a delectable sour cherry sauce resplendent with whole dried cherries, which served as a base for some koftas. I would have been content with that sauce as both the main course and even dessert. All of which was accompanied by a nice wine, whose price did not break our bankbooks. Coming from Egypt where even crappy wines cost a fortune and where the 5-Star hotels like the Four Seasons can charge 130 Egyptian Pounds for a glass (not a bottle) of wine, this treat seemed almost too good to be true.

The next (Friday) morning, full of fuul olives zatar etc etc (the hotel appeared to alternate this offering with the “western” breakfast) we set off, driven by the friendly Francois, who is the cousin-in-law of Frances, with the general aim of visiting Byblos for the day. First though we went a little further North and visited the Jeita caves (at Tiff-through-her-student’s recommendation) which are possibly the largest limestone caves I think I’ve ever seen. It was a veritable Disneyland of phalluses (oops sorry pillars); stalagmites and stalactites and those that met, and included an underground boat ride, which certainly clinched the theme-park atmosphere.

Made it to Byblos around lunchtime, and after a leisurely seafood lunch at a table above a pier (best item the Provencal style baby octopi mmm) we set off on an equally leisurely stroll through the town. A charming little seaside town with a Crusader castle overlooking the sea and a substantial Roman ruin, im002581Byblos actually rivals Damascus in its claim to being one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities of the world. Furthermore it boasts relics that date back even further. Walking along the main shopping street we chanced on a shop selling fossils from a quarry some 10 miles out of town. The museum part of the shop had some real one-of-a-kind finds. A fossilized imprint of an octopus, which might well be the only known fossil of its kind, was my personal favorite but the shrimp fossils were kind of cool too. The Crusader castle was charming with its capstone, cracks, turrets, ramparts,  lookouts and basically all the goodies a medieval castle is supposed to come with. Since it was built upon the ruins of an ancient Roman village, there were further bonuses such as roman pillar, and crypt-like passages and a sarcophagus tucked away out of reach from all but the most intrepid (which now include in the ranks, Tiffany and myself). There were times I felt I was living in the pages of an Enid Blyton novel of my childhood, though the geography didn’t exactly match. But the sense of adventure most certainly did.

One would think that the caves and castles would have seen us (dusty and filthy by evening’s end) completely beat and ready for bed but the night had more for store in us – dinner at Frances & Alexi’s home. Their house is a 3-storey soon-to-be-magnificent edifice-in-progress in a little Christian village high above the city. Waay high above the city I should say, for  we took a cable car im002594to a certain point by a church – an exhilarating ride with spectacular views of the darkening bay as dusk crept in over Lebanon (I guess I’ve never gotten over my enthusiasm for funiculars and the like) – where Francois met up with us again to take us even higher into the mountains for a very pleasant evening with my favorite ingredients – good food and good company.

 

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