Saturday, February 27, 2010

February 27, 2010-- Happy Milad-un-Nabi!

Last weekend I took advantage of some downtime to visit the Corniche, a beautiful walk on the Mediterranean...


Fishing off the rocks of the Corniche

...and Pigeon Rock. All week I have been crazy busy with classes.

Pigeon Rock

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.

Hezbollah flag

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.

Cardboard cutout?!

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.

Umayyad ruins

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

Inside the 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.

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