Monday, 18 February 2019

Downtown Hilton Hotel (Beirut, Lebanon)

Was up fairly early to be ready for my tour of a few places outside of Beirut, beginning today at 11:00 a.m. I arranged for a driver to pick me up from the hotel and drive to one of the villages outside of the city, then up to a cedar forest, and finally to Our Lady of Lebanon to view the sunset.

My driver, Akram, was ready at 11:00 and we were on our way. As we left Beirut we drove through a number of towns, making our way to our first stop, the city of Zahlé. This city is known for many homes with red roofs and a historical castle. This stop gave us a chance to walk around and stretch our legs.

On the way to Zahlé we started the first of many conversations about world politics, religion and Trump. We actually started talking about Trump before we left Beirut. My driver started the discussion and had many questions. It gave me a chance to vent my frustration with current events.

Also along our drive Akram told me about what it was like growing up in Lebanon, his education and family, and even movies he likes. His English wasn’t great but seemed to improve the more we talked. French is taught in school along with English. The French controlled Lebanon for a number of years which is why there is such a strong influence of the language in Lebanon. A little over half of the people who live in Lebanon are Muslim and around 30% are Christian.

After Zahlé we continued driving upwards until we reached an entrance to the Shouf Biosphere Cedar Reserve. Akram mentioned the special honey that is made from the cedar trees and sold at the small store at the entrance. We were able to have a small sample of the rich-tasting honey. From there we proceeded up the hill. After a few minutes the snow was falling and accumulating quickly and I just as I recommended we start back down his car began to slide. I wanted to see some snow, but perhaps I wanted snow too much because it was snowing heavily by this point. We made it back safely, but not before I became concerned that we would get stuck along the way.

After driving for about 15 minutes down the hill we stopped in a small town to have lunch. He recommended a restaurant that served a variety of local foods. I decided that I’d rather have a hamburger. I’d already explained that I’m not too adventuresome when it comes to food. The hamburger turned out very well and the bun was loaded with sesame seeds which I love.

On the way to our final destination we passed the school he attended until the 8th grade before going to “college”, which I gathered was like our high school. From there we drove back into Beirut to get to our final destination. Heavy traffic made our journey take longer than planned. We talked about so many subjects, mostly world affairs, that I suggested we could write a book or produce videos. We could name them, “Discussions By Two Men In A Car”. We seemed to be in complete agreement as how to solve international and domestic problems.

As it was getting close to sunset, we started our drive up the hill to Our Lady of Lebanon, a church and garden located high on a hill to the north of Beirut, about halfway to Tripoli. Akram drove a bit faster to make sure I was able to see the sunset that was already starting to form. When we arrived in the parking lot I quickly made my way to the viewpoint and was able to take many pictures of the sunset. It was one of the best sunsets I’ve seen in many years. Yes, even better than the ones I saw in Larnaca.

At the Our Lady of Lebanon location, there was a tall Marian shrine (mother of Jesus) statue that is reminiscent of the Christ the Redeemer statue above Rio de Janeiro. Both are very large statues placed over a high point over a city. We walked around for a few minutes before driving back into the city.

Though we really only stopped at a few locations, our journey today took over 6 hours. Most of it driving and talking. I told Akram that today was exactly what I had in mind. First to see more of Lebanon, to learn more about the Lebanese people, visit the Cedars of Lebanon (and hopefully see some snow), visit a village and then watch a beautiful sunset. My expectations were greatly exceeded and thanked him for the snow and the sunset. We both laughed.

After we said our good-byes I returned to my room for a nap. When I walked into the main room it felt like a sauna. I guess the heating was not quite fixed since it seemed as though it was on full blast even though the thermostat was only set to 20 degrees Celsius. I just turned it off and soon it was fine. Thankfully I had turned off the heat in the bedroom.

After my nap I ordered the same dinner from room service that I had the night before. Why not? I really enjoyed the fire-roasted chicken. It wasn’t too long before I turned in for the evening.

Tomorrow I will walk around the downtown area of Beirut and visit the marina. Also will prepare for my visit to Cairo the following day.

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