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Lebanon and Egypt holiday – 2004

August 3, 2006
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I did say I was going to describe our past holidays in no particular order. The current crisis in the middle East reminded me of what Sue said before we booked this holiday: “Let’s see as much of the middle East as possible, while it’s safe to do so.”

So, August 2004, another Kuoni tailored holiday: a week touring the Lebanon and a week lazing in a nice hotel on the
Red Sea – Hurghada, this time. Remember, never the same place twice.

Lady of LebanonWe start with the obligatory city tour, taking in the ziggurat known as Harissa in the Junieh district of Beirut.

It’s crowded with pilgrims from all over the Arabian area praying to ‘Our Lady of Lebanon’. It’s on top of a forested hill, just inland from the coast, with fabulous views.

Later that evening we walked from our hotel to the base and rode the cable car up to the same spot.

We should have got there at sunset but a power-cut left us suspended half-way up for about 10 minutes.

There is also a rather spectacular 100 year-old church up there.

Then on to the caves, the Jeita Grotto,Grotto by a train-type cable car.

All cameras had to go in lockers so this photo is actually a post-card.

You could walk, and climb numerous flights of steps around most of the beautifully lit caves full of stalactites and stalagmites but we also took a boat ride at a lower level.

The hotel was not the best thing about the holiday, but never mind.

Carved treeDay 2 and it’s north around the Qadisha valley towards Mount Lebanon (which is actually a range of mountains), via some spectacular scenery, to ‘The Cedars’.

This is a very old Cedar forest and, sadly, about the only remaining area with a decent number of these trees – the emblem of the country.

One of the most amazing sights was what local artists had done there, including this carving on a lightning-struck tree.

At lunch we saw adjacent grapes grown on a series of horizontal wires so the grapes hung down, just within reach. I copied that idea (on a small scale) in my own garden.

Then it was down to the coast at Tripoli, with its Crusader
Castle and narrow streets, the oldest Muslim school in the country, a Souk and a soap “factory”.

Day 3 included a trip to Byblos, reputedly the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, with its town square, crusader church and fortress, Roman and Phoenician ruins, harbour and shops – where Sue spent quite a bit of money!

More time in central Beirut the next day. It has a very modern city centre around a star conflux of six streets with pedestrian areas and busy cafes, Christian churches and excavated Roman baths all within a few metres of each other. Some of the bullet-marked older walls have been left unrepaired, as a reminder I suppose.

We moved to a typical, older city hotel in West Beirut for the remainder of our stay. The area still retains a number of shelled and destroyed buildings from the last war. In the evening we walked through the busy streets to the promenade which overlooks ‘Pigeon Rock’; actually a pair of rocks.

Like any such place on a warm sunny evening, it was thronged with lovers, families, local residents and a few tourists. We were always greeted with respect and helpfulness whenever we needed directions or to buy something.

Next came Sidon, an old stop on the caravan trade route. It boasts the ruins of a 13th century Crusader castle at the end of a lovely stone jetty in the sea, St Paul’s house and some good shops and restaurants on the sea-front.

Then inland to Beiteddine and an 18th century Palace. How the other half used to live!

Always, Kuoni arranged interesting places to stop en-route for refreshments etc. and, despite the fact that there were only five of us on this tour, we always had a knowledgeable guide with us.

BaalbekInto the Baqaa valley, first via Anjar, a ruined and abandoned town, no longer important to the silk route.

Then on to Baalbek with its temples and local quarry, home to the ‘biggest stone in the world’. So big it’s still in the quarry, probably because there’s a crack in it.

Sue just had to take this photo inside the temple complex. With its Hezb’allah leader’s poster, it looks awfully similar to the photos on the news recently.

This, the temple of Bacchus, Templewas more typical of what tourists come to see.

We visited a winery on the way back to Beirut but we were disappointed in the wines we were given to taste and didn’t buy any.

The next day should have been free but we persuaded the guide to arrange a trip to Tyre, in the south of the country.

Various Roman ruins, including a huge Hippodrome were on the itinerary, along with some mixed ruins which led out into the sea and incorporated an amazing system of heated water cisterns and baths.

On our last (half) day, we visited the Beirut City Museum.

These are some of the original Phoenician figures, Figuresdrawings and copies of which abound all over the world.

On the pavement outside the museum, presumably rejected as not being of the same standard as the exhibits inside, was this complete Sarcophagus which would take pride of place in most other museums!

Sarcophagus

I wonder just how much the lovely people we met and places we visited have suffered recently and if they can recover.

And, finally, our flight to Hurghada and the Oberoi Hotel.What can I say? The Oberoi group has a well-deserved reputation for luxurious hotels.Beach, snorkelling area in its own reef, pier, infinity pool, superb food, room service, beach service, set in beautiful grounds (if a bit isolated from the rest of the area by rock and desert) and the room! It wasn’t a room, it was a bungalow suite with its own covered and uncovered areas of patio. Be jealous. Be very jealous.

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  1. Cathy G

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