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Saturday, March 12, 2011


What to do on a lazy Saturday? Take the bus to Batroun. Officially Batroun is in the north, but the town most resembles Lebanon's coastal cities (like Jbeil, aka "Byblos"), the mostly Christian cities just north of Beirut.

To go north from Beirut, one must get a bus from the Charles Helou terminal (terminal=dodgy underpass where a bunch of buses park). In our neighborhood, we hop on the #4 mini-van toward downtown. But this can be tricky, because as I learned when my parents were here, there are actually two #4 routes and the other route goes...well, to tell the truth, I have no idea where we were that day we hopped on the wrong #4. The mini-vans pack in as many passengers as the drivers can fit--they often get flat tires--and often drive around with the sliding doors open. Luckily, either because we look American or because Nicole's a lady, the drivers come to a complete stop when we ask to get off ("hone, minfudluck" works). We hop off in Martyr's Square, walk down to the Helou, and get on a bus heading north, usually easy to identify because the drivers yell "Trabouls, Trabouls," the Arabic word for Tripoli, the northernmost point on the coastal route. The bus runs north and south all day, along the Sea, you just hop off when you get to your city.

Batroun is very friendly. You can see the Mediterranean from pretty much anywhere in the village, which is full of sleepy streets, citrus groves, and cafes that serve Batroun's famous fresh lemonade. We grabbed a couple sandwiches and the waitress said to us, "Welcome to the most beautiful place in Lebanon." Why thank you. Eating our sandwiches, we saw a guy walk by with a goat on a leash. Two other goats followed behind them. Gotta love Lebanon! We wandered in and out of various old Maronite churches, including St. Stephen's, also known as the church of the fishermen. The church overlooks a marina where guys sewed fishing nets and worked on their boats. Next to the marina, the old "Phoenician wall," which some say is the oldest man-made thing in Lebanon. Actually, it's only partially man-made, as the Phoenicians fortified a natural rock wall to protect their city from flooding. We climbed on the wall, took pictures, and enjoyed the sun, which is always impossibly bright over the Mediterranean. But the great thing to do in most little towns in Lebanon: walk. Moderate temperatures, friendly people, the sun. That's why walking is the best.

To get back to Beirut, you just go stand along the side of the highway and the next bus that goes by stops for you. You pay your fifteen-hundred lira (one dollar), although sometimes they charge two-thousand on the weekend, and you're good all the way back to the capital.

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