So just in case you're reading this and thinking to yourself, isn't this guy a teacher? The answer's yes. I've just moved my class online this week, so all my teaching is taking place on my course moodle pages. Students are conducting research, assembling annotated bibliographies, and responding to each other electronically. I'm coaching their research and responding to their bibliographies online. So I can do the work during downtime during K&P's visit and in the evenings. I could say more about the projects students are working on (the possibility of civil marriage in Lebanon, drug problems in the Bekaa Valley, the growing presence of western fast food in Beirut), but I'll save that for another post or two. For now, adventures in frugal middle east adventures, Bill and Nicole style.
Have I ever blogged the telefrique? It's an old cable car that connects the seaside town of Jounieh to the Our Lady of Lebanon cathedral at Harissa, directly above the bay at Jounieh. From Harissa, Beirut is a tiny speck to the south, little villages dot the mountains to the north, and the very blue waters of the Mediterranean are in front of you. And you are VERY high, on a mountaintop. The bus does not go to Harissa, and I'm generally too cheap to spring for a taxi, so I'm all about the cable car. The lonely planet book's explanation of the telefrique is full of Hitchcock jokes--get ready for vertigo as you peak in the rear windows of Harissa residents from the terrifying telefrique.
After a few hours exploring the ruins of Jbeil (aka, "Byblos") and eating fish sandwiches at Feniqia, the place that gives you a little baby-sized saj to warm up bread at your table, I convinced the gang to hop off the bus in Jounieh and ride the cable car. They were closed in the morning because it was too windy to run the cars. Nicole initially wanted to stay on the bus and just meet up back home in Hamra, but we bribed her with the promise of stopping at Sea Sweets along the coastal road. So Nicole was in. The cars are pretty much just like the cable cars at Cedar Point, except you travel a much greater distance. You cross the highway heading away from the sea toward the mountain and, sure enough, you are looking in people's windows. When you get to the mountainside, the car hits a much steeper incline and instead of looking in people's windows, you're looking at trees that appear to grow horizontally, away from the side of the mountain. Vertigo? Heck yeah. Especially when you start to think about the fact that internet connections are lousy and the power goes out constantly here. Sure enough, our car stopped at one point and we just dangled over the mountain for about three or four minutes. Yikes. I think we were waiting for a generator to kick on.
K&P really liked Byblos, birthplace of the alphabet, birthplace of writing. Phoenician Kings ruled Byblos and were close allies of the Egyptian pharaos. Their stone temples and royal tombs, from four and five millennia before Christ, still survive and are pretty amazing. The Romans built their town over this complex, overlooking a Mediterranean harbor. The Crusaders later looted the Roman city for stones to use to build their own citadel there, which also survives to this day (and has survived umpteen empires conquering this place and decades of civil strife in the Middle East). That's some good architecture. The four of us did stop for chocolate from Sea Sweets and did the obligatory run down to Snack Faysal for spinach pies et al.
Yesterday's destination was Tyre, in the south. I think K&P found Saida to be the more charming of the southern cities, thanks to its partially enclosed souks in the old city, but Tyre's ruins didn't disappoint. Tony, if you're reading this: the ghost was not in Tyre this week; maybe he only shows up when you're visiting. Tyre's hippodrome has got to be one of the most amazing and well preserved remnants of the ancient world. Three days in a row of tombs, temples, and crusader castles, all thanks to the amazing buses of Lebanon. They might be smokey, but boy is the price right. Might be the last time Nicole and I visit some of these cities too, so I think this has been as meaningful for us as it's been for Pritham and Kristina. Our friend Karine met up with us in the evening and we had a nice visit. Certainly went to bed with lots to be thankful for, especially good friends from all over the world.