Thursday, May 27, 2010

Jeita Grotto

The Jeita  Grotto is located 18 kilometers northeast of Beirut.  This grotto has one of the world's most impressive agglomerations of stalactites and stalagmites.

We took a gondola to get to the upper cave.

The caverns extend about 6 kilometers back into the mountains.  However, the entire cavern is not open to the public.

Tom and "The Guardian of Time" - a sculpture by Lebanese artist Tony Farah.  We were calling the statue Mr. Stalactite man until I just found out his real name.

After the upper cavern, we had to walk outside to get into the lower cavern.  We had to ride a boat in order to explore this cavern.  This lower cavern is closed every winter because it is flooded by the rising levels of the Nahr-el- Kabl (or Dog River).

During the civil war, these caves were used as ammunition storage.  Luckily , the caves showed no damage from this.

After visiting South Africa, the guineafowl is my new favorite bird.  I just love their markings.

Since cameras were not allowed inside of the caverns, I took the pictures off of their website (

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Byblos, Lebanon

Here's what makes driving in Lebanon so exciting.  No lanes, no rules, and no street signs!  Notice that the cars parked on the right are facing different directions.  While driving in Beirut, most of the traffic lights don't work and if they do, they are merely used as "suggestions" of what you should do.  We never saw an accident while we were there and everyone is very calm driving this way.  We never experienced a single aggressive driver.

So...the maps and the tour books all tell us that the name of the town is Byblos but the few signs that we saw on the highway say Jbeil (Byblos in Arabic).  No wonder why we were lost again!

Byblos is a pretty fishing village north of Beirut.  It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.  Modern scholars believe that the site of Byblos goes back at least 7000 years!

We spent most of the day exploring the ancient ruins.

There is a very modern souk in Byblos - it is nothing like the souks that we had visited in Tunisia, Morrocco or Dubai.  The souks here are more like little shops - glass windows, wooden doors, paved walkways and fixed prices on everything.

Monday, May 24, 2010


We stayed outside of Beirut in the Btebiat-Hammana Valley in a town called Deir El Harf.  We tried to find a short-cut to Beirut and our new, fast route only took us 2 hours (remember - we are only staying 30 miles east of Beirut)!  We are having a difficult navigating through the hills, valleys and the signs that are only in Arabic.

How funny is this - the same name of the park that I walk in each morning in Paris!

Tom in front of The American University of Beirut

Pigeon Rocks - Beirut's famous natural offshore arches

We signed up for a 5 hour walking tour of Beirut with a Lebanese guide.  We met next to this huge banyan tree at the entrance of  the American University of Beirut.

A beautifully restored apartment building

The effects of Lebanon's civil war (from 1975 until 1990) can be seen throughout the city.  This building, which was a Holiday Inn, is located just blocks away from the apartment building pictured above.  The Holiday Inn had just opened a few weeks prior to the start of the civil war.  This hotel quickly became a prime sniper position.  The owners of this building cannot decide what they want to do with this building (keep it as a hotel or use it for another purpose), so it stands as a painful reminder of the war.

Our tour guide, Ronnie, showing us the ruins of a Roman Bath.

Since the French troops arrived in Lebanon in the late 1800's and stayed until the early 1900's, there are many streets names that are French.

A nice pedestrian area at the Place de L'Etoile

Rafiq Hariri, former Prime Minister, was killed in February 2005.

His remains are buried in the white tent which is next to the Mohammed al-Amin Mosque.

The Bekaa Valley and Baalbek

We headed northeast from Beirut to the Baalbek ruins.  Baalbek is known as the Heliopolis or 'Sun City' of the ancient world.  These ruins are the most impressive ancient site in Lebanon and the best preserved in the Middle East.

These 6 remaining columns were part of the Temple of Jupiter which was completed around 60 AD.

 Standing in Baalbek with the Bekaa Valley behind me.

The Temple of Bacchus

Going through one of the check points along the way.  We received a smile and a wave.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lebanon here we come !

Lebanon is a small country (10,400 square km) with a population of 4 million.
Here we are landing in Beirut, the  capital of Lebanon.  In the mid 1960's, Beirut was know as the "Paris of the East". 

We are staying 30 miles east of Beirut, but it took us more than 2 and 1/2 hours to drive to our hotel.  We spent the first hour just trying to get out of Beirut.  In Beirut, the blue signs on street corners do not give the name of the street itself, only the "sector name" and the street number.  In addition, numbered buildings are rare, and many streets do not have names at all or are locally known by different names than those given on the map.  Needless to say, we saw a lot of Beirut as we drove around looking for the highway to take us East toward our hotel.

Outside of Beirut, we encountered different problems -- highway and street signs that are only in Arabic.

Although I am behind on my "blogging", we have been in Lebanon for 4 days already.  Everyone is warm and welcoming, the food fanatastic, and the weather superb !