Tuesday, June 8, 2010
I went down a side street because I saw this beautiful building from afar. Upon closer inspection, it was covered in shell and bullet holes.
A kid, Ivan, gave us a tour of the town. He was 11 when the war began, and is one of the few people who are more than happy to talk about it and have moderate views. Later that night we talked after everyone else had gone to bed and he said that at the time, he was really nationalistic, really angry because all he knew was his life was being turned upside-down and his dad had to go to the trenches. But now he recongnizes that the war was more in shades of gray, that both (in fact, all, international forces included) were party to atrocities. He thought that communication between ethnicities would go a long way toward peaceful coexistance. He told me an example of this, how throughout Croatia they use these 'Hepo' cubes to help light fires. Everyone pronounces it like you probably just read it, kind of like 'hippo.' But these cubes are made in Serbia, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Read in Cyrillic, it's pronounced 'Nero,' like the emperor. But no one in Croatia had ever talked to a Serb or even realized it was in a different alphabet. His friends are still amazed when he corrects their pronounciation. He says it's like an epiphany.
The next day my fellow travelers took a canoe (sp?) trip. It was a bit expensive and not really my cup of tea, so I stayed back and wandered around town for a few hours. I started off in the daily Central Market, a huge farmers market with fresh produce and some clothes. Then I wandered around, through the underground mall and all around town. I did a bit of shopping-clothes are much cheaper here- and then managed to get myself lost for a good hour and a half in this tiny town. Go figure.
Outside the Basilica was a rally marking the 90th anniversary of the Treaty of Trianon, which divided Hungary into a smaller state following the end of WWI. I was first a bit nervous because there were a disproportionate amount of white, mustachioed, camo-wearing men than I'm used to. But since it was part of a mass going on in the Basilica, I'm pretty sure it was legit.
The next day, I grabbed an amazing hotel breakfast on the patio overlooking the river, then transferred to my cheaper hotel... sad!! I then went to the House of Terror, located on 62 Andrassy Avenue, and the former headquarters of both the Nazi and Communist regimes. Today it is a museum and monument to the victims of both regimes. The basement, used in the past as a prison, torture chamber, and execution hall, was also open to visitors.
I then continued down Andrassy and ran into a street festival full of different foods, wines, beers, crafts, and art projects. It was a really interesting way for me to see a lot of Hungarian culture all at once, and culture packaged for Hungarian consumption, not for foreigners. I saved all the climbing for my last day in Budapest. I crossed over to Buda on the opposite side of the river and climbed up Castle Hill, a really old part of town complete with tiny, cobble-stoned streets.
I spent a few hours there, then went back for a proper visit to St. Stephen's and visited the Dohany Street Synagogue, the oldest in Europe.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
For photos, see my Facebook page or ask me for the link. I'm on a minicomputer and not sure it has enough memory to upload all the photos.
Monday, March 15, 2010
I took a trip through the Quadisha Valley, home to numerous waterfalls, villages, and monasteries. We stopped in Bcharre, a small village that is the birthplace of Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese poet and artist.
We stopped at the Cedars, a ski resort and home to a forest of the Lebanese national symbol.
We couldn’t go in because it was closed for the winter—the snow hides the baby cedar trees and tourists would trample them.
After a mezze lunch, we visited Dier Mar Antonios Qozhaya, an 11th century monastery that established the first-known printing press in the Middle East.
The monastery is built near a cave where miracles are said to happen. When we were there, a priest was praying over a sick girl who had been escorted to the monastery by her family.
Saint Anthony is the patron saint of those with mental illnesses and fertility issues. Pots are piled on one wall of the cave. When women who are having difficulty conceiving come to pray for a baby, they leave a pot open side up in the cave. After they conceive, they come back with their baby and flip their pot upside down.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Inside the Mohammed al-Amin mosque
I went to the Virgin Megastore, then headed back toward Hamra. I walked by the Holiday Inn, which opened shortly before the civil war and was used as a sniper hideaway. Covered in firearm holes, it is apparently still structurally sound but stands the same as it did for the past few decades, as a shell of a building.
The Holiday Inn
From the Holiday Inn, walked down to the Corniche, where I hung out until sunset.
Corniche at sunset
It was a lot livelier than the first time I visited (no rain, and a Saturday night instead of Sunday). For a while I noticed some kid was always around me. Annoying kid. He walked up to me and said, “You have beautiful eyes. Can I take your picture?” “No.” “Please? It’s not for the internet, but for school.” “No.” He kept on talking, and asked me why I was taking pictures (because there’s pretty scenery, a-hole). He said his name was Hassan, but I probably met a lot of Hassans. And his last name was Mubarak, like the Egyptian president. Wow. He asked me where I was from, and I said the States. About Lebanon, he said, “Oh, I bet it’s not like in the news.” I told him it was exactly what I was expecting. Then he said he had a friend from America who hated the United States. I told him I loved my country. He then said it wasn’t the country she hated, but the politics. George Bush.
That’s when I got pretty annoyed. I told him I loved politics, and that I wasn’t a fan of Dubya. Honestly, he’s been out of office for over a year. I get that he fucked up, and if any region deserves to complain, it’s the Middle East. But just as Lebanon isn’t just the country of Hezbollah, the United States isn’t just the country of George W. Bush. There’s a lot more to the United States, and there’s a huge difference of opinions on everything. All comments like his show ignorance. Probably not the best way to hit on me.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
One of the brothers and his wife live in (what I thought looked like) a Smurf home.
Unforunately, Papa Smurf wasn't home.
The village was also dotted with fruit (I can’t remember what I ate, but it wasn’t something available in the States) and almond trees. I had never seen almonds on a tree before—I had no idea they were green.
What almonds look like in nature. Who knew? Not I.
Hilla also put this weird plant that spun around on my coat. Better than a bug, I guess. We picked some fruit and almonds for a snack before heading back to the car.
Our last and most important stop was Tripoli, the second-largest city in Lebanon.
View of Tripoli from the Citadel.
It was huge, but we spent most of our time in the Old City. We climbed up to the top of the Citadel of Raymond de Saint-Gilles, which was built in 1102.
It was another example of how the archaeological and architectural sights in Lebanon are the embodiment of Lebanon’s layered history. When one ruler comes in, he builds upon what the previous rulers had built—Ottoman upon Crusaders, etc. We also wandered through the souqs. At one bakery, we all got free bread because the owner thought I had beautiful eyes.
The bakery where I was given bread for mis ojos.
After getting most of my souvenirs, we got lunch at Rafaat Hallab and Sons, or the “Palace of Sweets.” Tripoli is apparently famous for its sweets, but it kind of tasted like all the other sweets I’ve tried.
I was told this was the spoils of war.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Fishing off the rocks of the Corniche
...and Pigeon Rock. All week I have been crazy busy with classes.
Yesterday was Milad un Nabi, the Prophet’s birthday and I celebrated with a trip out of the city to Bekaa Valley. Bekaa is infamous as Hezbollah’s strategic headquarters, and hawkers near the tourist sights definitely sought to capitalize on this by selling yellow Hezbollah tee-shirts and flags.
I decided against purchasing such souvenirs, figuring that coming back from Leb with Hezbollah paraphernalia in my bag would be a surefire way to bring unwanted and time-consuming attention to myself from airport security officials on the way home.
I went with this girl Hibbah, who lives in nearby Beiteddiene and some Greek guy, who had the really annoying habit of being stuck to my hip. Whenever I stopped to take a photo, he waited for and watched me. Drove me nuts. I told him that I wanted him out of my personal bubble and he thought I was being funny. One thing I have learned from my travels is men are retarded across the cultural spectrum.
Our drive out to Bekaa in the rain was a bit unnerving. We drove through windy mountain roads dotted with broken-down cars and standing water, undoubtedly made scarier by the Lebanese need for speed and tendency to pass slow cars into oncoming traffic. Hibbah took us to Aanjar first, which is a predominantly Armenian town founded by refugees from the Turkish genocide. We visited the Umayyad city ruins, the Umayyads being, I believe, the first Islamic dynasty.
We drove to Baalbek, the site of amazing Roman ruins.
Temple of Jupiter
It’s a huge complex of three temples, one to Bacchus, one to Jupiter, and one to Venus.
Temple of Bacchus
The ruins are amazingly intact, and many of the ruins still had a lot of detail too.
We made a quick pit stop to the Biggest Stone in the World, as advertised by the gift shop nearby. It’s known as the hajar al-hubla (Stone of the Pregnant Woman) because women who touch it apparently get pregnant like magic. I stayed far, far away.
We went to a couple of vineyards after, the most notable being the Ksara Vineyard. Lebanon’s oldest vineyard, it was founded by Jesuit monks who were eventually ordered by the Vatican to sell their profitable wine-making complex, as, well, it’s not very Catholic to make mucho dinero off of alcohol. The vineyard had really cool underground caves where the wine matures. During World War I, the Jesuits hid men from Ottoman conscription in the caves, and in return the men widened the caves to their present state.
Ksara wine caves
After lunch at a nearby hotel restaurant (mezze, of course), we loaded into the car and headed back to Beirut. After a long, rainy day, we were greeted with a rainbow in the valley below the mountains.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
My first stop was Beiteddiene, a village and palace in the Chouf Mountains that is home to Byzantine mosaics that were found in a nearby village and moved there during the 2006 war.
It was so beautiful I couldn't choose one photo.
After that, I stopped in Saida and saw the Sea Castle, but unfortunately the souqs—what I really wanted to see—was closed. Depending upon time, I may go back to see that.
View of Saida from the Sea Castle
After Saida, we went to Tyr, which was what I really wanted to see. After going through more than a handful of Lebanese army checkpoints and passing through miles upon miles of banana and orange groves, we reached Tyr.
al Bass, with a Palestinian camp in the background.
I am having difficulty putting into words my thoughts about Tyr. It was amazing to see the first site, the al Bass archaeological site. There are about either 300 or 3,000 sarcophagi there (I can’t remember which), and a roadway that leads past a Roman hippodrome and aqueducts. The site is in the shadows of one of the biggest Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. They’re not even camps anymore—now, these ‘camps’ are build up with permanent dwellings. Seeing the camps neighboring the Roman ruins puts American politics and our squabbling (see: death panels) into perspective.
It was interesting to contrast the propaganda in the south to that found in Beirut. In Beirut, one can’t go two feet without seeing a poster of Rafiq Hariri. In the south, the posters of Hariri were defaced and posters of Hassan Nasrallah, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Hezbollah martyrs were everywhere. In one traffic circle, there was a pyramid that said, “Stop Uncle Sam.” Despite the apparent hatred for all things Western, I saw about five KFC delivery guys running around.
Lunch was so good. We ate little restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean, with plenty of mezze and steamed fish and rice for the main, with dessert of bananas and oranges. We walked along the beach for a while, where there was so much sea glass, I couldn’t believe it. In the States, my family and I scour the beaches for sea glass and consider ourselves lucky if we find one piece during our week-long vacation. Here, I grabbed about a handful but could have easily filled bags upon bags of the stuff. After lunch, we went to see the seaside ruins at the al Mina archaeological site. From there, you can see Israel in the distance.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
I finally made it back to my apartment after getting wicked lost (but helped by a hot policeman), studied a bit, and watched W. I’ve noticed there are no legit DVDs in Lebanon; they’re all burned.
I met up with some AUB kids I met two days ago, and we got went dinner to Kebab-ji, a good chain right behind my place, and then went to a café to sit around a bit and enjoy the weather.