Wednesday, June 11, 2008
After a very smooth sail we arrived in Jounnieh, a port north of Beirut. This is where 'le tout monde' of Beirut spends leisure time. Our young friends Arthur and Brune ( aged 15 and 9) from 'Arcaloune' were delighted to discover that most people spoke French. There was a 50m salt water swimming pool which was absolutely delicious.
We had been apprehensive about Beirut because of the Hisbollah fighting in the centre of the city just a few weeks ago. However a week before we arrived the factions had met in Doha and signed a peace accord. So the first night we were there we went into central Beirut which was clean, rebuilt, and bristling with security - riot police and armoured troop carriers. There was a concert to 'reopen' the city and even celebratory ice creams at Haagen Dazs. Our meal in an open air restaurant near the place de l'Etoile was typically middle eastern fare; yoghurt, chick peas, and so on.
The Lebanese have just elected a new President who by law must be Maronite Christian: General Michel Sleyman - and the other two major leaders, Prime Minister and leader of the House of Parliament, must be from the Shia and Sunni moslem faiths. There is so much hope for this new regime; there are pictures of the new President everywhere.
On 1 June our tour was to the Jeita grotto; an astonishing complex of underground caves discovered by a hunter who heard a strange echo when he shot at a fox. Truly stunning and very impressive. The lower caves you navigate by boat; there's a pathway through the upper caves which are skilfully lit.
We also visited Baalbeck - stunning Roman extravagance and grandeur, impressive in scope and opulence even as a ruin today.
Byblos is a seaside town where the Phoenician alphabet was developed and which saw a succession of cultures using the unique port with a north and south facing harbour.
It was great to explore these places with my Mum Diane and we had a special trip into Beirut to visit the museum - many of the special treasures from the places we visited were preserved there, especially the beautiful ex voto statues from Byblos. Well worth a visit and set aside a couple of hours - it's not big, just everything is so fascinating.