I had half-plans to go to Baalbek today but, erm, I got up late.
Decided to walk around Beirut - there must be more to it than just posh shops. Sat around with shays chatting with the manager and a few others for a while and set off about midday.
I'm on the north side of the city, not far from the sea, so decided to follow the coast south. Just walked and walked really. Through the posh area, through reconstruction areas, through a scruffy suburb, along a nice corniche.
There really is a lot of development/reconstruction going on. They're clearly determined to regain Beirut's former reputation as the Paris of the east. It's ironic that recently, with it's riots, Paris seemed pretty keen on becoming the Beirut of the west!
Got to Pigeon Rocks and took a few photos. A local told me that a few brave souls dive off the top of these in the summer months. Also bought a really tasty spicey fish sandwich there.
Walked along a nice beach and out of Beirut and into a very scruffy village that reminded me of northern Egypt, apart from the heavy war damage. At about 3:30 I decided to turn back and cut through the city. Got lost but after a while I recognised the Cola bus station. Took a few detours down interesting sidestreets, got lost, got very lost, got disorientated, it got dark, it started raining.
After a lot of wandering I reckoned I'd walked too far north - a few landmarks that looked familiar from my bus journeys. Carried on anyway to check-out a big sign, it said "thankyou for visiting Beirut" - I'd walked right out of the north side. Eventually found my way back, had to shelter from one brief downpour - otherwise just spitting, at the hotel at 6:15. A bloody long walk but very nice and I got properly lost.
Sat with the others a while and went for a shower. Did some diary in the room. Heavy and close thunderstorm outside and torrential rain. Thunder and lightning in Beirut!! - I bet 3/4 of the population are hiding under their beds . . . . . it ain't half dusty down here . . . . .
High: good bit of exercise today Low: a serious change in the weather
The weather's not good at all - it rained all night and it's still showery and windy. Not a good day for Baalbek. There aren't many other sights I want to see here so I decided to stay in Beirut again.
Went out about 10am to walk in a different area. Got some breakfast and took a few photos but the weather was getting worse. After an hour being showered on and blown about I decided to find a bookshop, buy a book and return to the hotel.
Found a nice little shop and bought "A History of the Middle East" for US$16 - it's about time I properly understood this area. Left the bookshop in torrential rain so sheltered before making the dash across the exposed route back. Stopped in a supermarket and bought some food. I was really struggling to get to the supermarket - uphill, gale against me, slippery surface - I only just made it without ropes!
Back to the hotel about 12:30 and sat around reading all day with a few others who'd reached the same conclusion.
It looks like there's a few going to Baalbek tomorrow so we'll probably go as a group. I'm going whatever the weather - last chance really.
I misunderstood something yesterday, there's not a group going to Baalbek. Jez and Amanda are going but they're going somewhere else first. Set off about 10am and had a great 3000LL sandwich and shay breakfast at the local sandwich café.
The weather's looking a bit better - roads are still wet but there's blue sky breaking through the clouds. Caught a minibus to "the airport bridge" to pick up the Baalbek minibus. I was wrong about the weather - it absolutely hammered down on the way. Splashed my way through the deep puddles in my leaky shoes to the Baalbek minibus. Quite a bit of pulling and shoving competition for my custom but I got in the fullest one for the shortest wait. Slow, wet and windy journey - I read most of the way as you could barely see out the windows.
Got to Baalbek about 1:30, grabbed a quick shay and went to see the ruins.
Baalbek is a Roman ruin and is the best archaeological site in Lebanon - it's touted as one of "the wonders of the world".
Pricey 12000LL ticket to get in. It's a huge construction, not spread out like the cities of Palmyra or Aphamea, this is a collection of temples that are pretty much like a single mass.
I soon bumped into Jez and Amanda on their way out. After a rainy journey I was pretty lucky with the weather, it stayed dry while I was there but it was quite cold and blowy.
A very major site - some of the stones are a collosal size weighing up to 800 tons. I left the site about 4pm.
Walked down the road and took a couple more photos. The Beqaa plain in the very fertile Beqaa valley - this valley was the source of the famous lebanese hashish, and maybe it still is. And a shot down the road of the Hezbollah flags flying and the almost finished very impressive new mosque.
Stopped for a shay and found a minibus going back. It was full of students and one girl who spoke a bit of english was very chatty. She was studying business and I asked her what she wanted to do when she finished studying. She said it depended on what jobs she would be allowed to do. I assumed she was a palestinian - there's many (good) jobs they're not allowed to do here.
Drove back to Beirut in torrential rain again and got dropped in a place I didn't recognise at all. Service taxi to Cola station - the driver told me there's talk of a typhoon here tomorrow, that's not going help my flight! The rain stopped so I splashed the 2km back to the hotel.
Had a shower and sat around with the usual crowd in the evening. Got an email from Suzi - my parcel's arrived, great news!!
Just a day left for a tiny bit of shopping and not much else. Then to the airport in the evening for my 3am flight home.
High: Baalbek - an amazing construction Low: wet shoes, wet socks, wet washing on the balcony
Up and mostly packed in the morning. Couldn't get it done properly as there's a lebanese in our room who never gets up before midday. Went out for a walk and a shop about 12.
To my half-surprise nearly everything is closed for Sunday - especially the big posh shops. I guess most of the big money is in christian hands. Wandered around unenthusiastically, I'm not a great shopper but the walking seemed to be drying my sodden shoes out so I kept going. I'm particularly keen to get my shoes dry as 160 days of long sweaty walks means they don't smell too good when wet!! I can smell 'em meself when I'm standing up!! And it's not helped by the fact that I've been wearing the same sodden socks for 3 days as my spares have been "drying" in the rain on the balcony.
Stopped in a little local's café in a backstreet and had ful. My first for ages, hardly seen it since I left Jordan. Very nice too with a good plate of fresh salad. Got a couple of shays and started back towards the hotel as it clouded over. I've got to get my washing off the balcony, it should finally be dry now - and it was.
Out again and found a supermarket open and bought a few bits - nothing like I'd planned but with everything closed . . . . Back to the hotel about 7pm. Got changed, aah clean and dry socks and only damp shoes. Sorted my gear out properly and I've got tons of space in the big pack where my shopping was supposed to go. Chatted with a really nice french girl just arrived with her boyfriend. She was keen to get as much info out of me as possible.
Decided to go early to the airport. It's a 500LL minibus now or 15000LL taxi later - might as well sit around there as here. Simple journey and I was there just after 9pm. 6 hours to wait but I'm an expert at waiting now - I've waited hours and hours for buses and trains these past few months and it doesn't bother me as long as I've got a book or 2. Read a while, had a ludicrously expensive 4000LL shay and wandered through to check in about 1am.
High: nice ful and nearly-dry shoes Low: shops nearly all closed
The queue seemed to have stopped so I sat down on my pack - I can wait . . . no rush . . . "the flight's delayed". It turned out that there's too much ice on the runway at Prague so we can't go yet - maybe 10am. After 15 minutes of people pointlessly complaining the displays were showing 11am. I thought this might stretch my waiting ability but I soon resigned myself to it and couldn't have cared less. We've been assured that connecting flights will be available - it looks like I might actually get into Heathrow which is much more convenient than Stansted. We were given a voucher for a snack - a measly sandwich and a drink but I still don't care.
Got chatting with an old english bloke - Peter, who turned out to be half-lebanese, on his way to visit his son in England for Christmas. He lives in Lebanon and was here with his family during the troubles. He was alright and we had a good chat about Lebanon, and he was really interested in my travels.
Sat around reading and watching the air hostesses walk by in their very short skirts and very high heels.
We eventually boarded and took off about 11:30. Great views as we left Lebanon and went out over the Med. The cloud formations were really spectacular. Over Turkey and the Black Sea - lots of snow on the ground. We got to snowy Prague about 3pm local time.
Big queues with everyone trying to sort out their connections, I got sent to a different office as I wanted to change my destination. Got it sorted and got given another snack voucher which none of the others seemed to get - 1845 to Heathrow. Sat around with Peter until we got our call. In the departure lounge we were advised of a further delay while they finished some work on an engine - just 20 minutes.
Straightforward flight to Heathrow, relieved to find my big pack also made it through the complications, and waltzed through customs with too many cigarettes. Tube to Kings Cross (wrong!), walked to Euston, train to Leighton Buzzard, taxi home - arrived at midnight.
The house is still standing, I still own all my possessions, the grass isn't as long as I feared it might be and my neighbour has weeded out all my junkmail and left me a neat pile of mail to deal with. It's nice to be home - few phone calls to the family and settled down for a few hours with my sadly missed guitars.
High: seeing my big pack at Heathrow, and not getting collared at customs Low: thinking about all the work I've got to do before I can hit the road again . . . . .