Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Tyre and Sidon

Our last day in Lebanon.... and how quickly the time has gone. 15 days and teh country seeemd so small after Syria, but there is a heck of a lot of things to do and pklaces to visit here that we will be leaving having missed out on most of the South of the country and plenty of bits in the middle. Today, we made a dash down the coast to the two ancient cities of Tyre and Sidon, both mentioned plenty of times in the Bible and important places in the Crusades. Both have suffered more recently from the Israeli invasion and occupation and general neglect from the Beirut-centric government.

The mini-buses we took, took us along the coast, which was typified by string developments of furniture shops, tyre sellers, car spare part sellers, chassis sellers, petrol stations and the occasional grocers. Amazing how much trade can be made related to cars and how ugly it can all get. Anyway, in between there were very fresh looking banana plantations and olive groves and stretches of coastline, mostly rocky, looking out to a muddy then clear blue sea, and then every now and then... a beach, or more often a beach club, called Golden Sands or Bamboo Beach, all conjuring up prettier images than what was actually on offer (usually a swimming pool with umbrella shades, situated somewhere near the sea.

We drove into Sidon, past an impressive looking football grandstand on the beach, before changing buses and going on to Tyre, further down the coast. Here we were dropped off by the harbour, so the first thing to do was to take pictures of the pretty boats in the harbour and introduce ourselves to the local fishermen... all of which can be seen on the flickr site! Not exactly sure why, but maybe there is something in Islam against fish, but all of the fishermen were Christian, and in the middle of the harbour at the end of a jetty, there was a shrine to Our Lady of Lebanon and St Maron, complete with candles and other objects of devotion, while outside a grizzly fishermen was repairing his nets. Of course, there were pictures of Samir Geagea hanging all over the bar and we became very popular all of a sudden when we said we'd bene to Bcharre. The bar owner himself having been a member of the Lebanese Military Forces, soon to emigrate to Sweden. We were shown the way to the local Maronite church and found behind what seemed to be an 'unofficial' dig of a Byzantine church under the foundations.

Then it was off to look for the Roman ruins, first past the local souks but we both knew, with neither of us being fully fit, it being the hottest time of the day and these being yet another set of ruins, that it was unlikely that we woudl actually go in and see them..... and so it turned out. The view of the columns facing out to the sea southwards was a precious enough experience for us. On the south side there were some beaches, but as can be seen from the photo..... the beach was not all clean.

Back in town we were taken in by a family of furniture makers who showed us the antiques they were making (or repairing) in a building which had been bombed from the air by the Israelis (killing two) as well as showing us the bunker they stayed in to avoid the bombs.

We didn't bother looking for what is the largest remaining Hippodrome from Roman times (in Tyre) and decided to catch the next bus back to Sidon to give us a bit of relief from the hot sun and a bit more time there. But first, we bumped into Sarah, the New Zealand girl we had met at Aleppo and had bumped into later in Hama and Palmyra. She had not got her visa to Iran, so had stayed longer in Damascus and had only yesterday made it to Lebanon. We would see her again later in Sidon, where she and a new French travelling companion Sylivie, would join us for dinner and the bus ride back to Beirut. Maybe we will see each other again in Jordan.

In Sidon, the harbour was less interesting, despite there being medieval casle on the quay, but the souks had more to offer. Unfortunately, we ran into yet another German-speaking Palestinian who insisted on showing us around the souks. Very interesting it was as we visited a couple of beautiful mosques and an old Ottoman palace, in the process of being restored, but it was not what we wanted. Fred did his best to get rid of him but he stuck to us like chewing gum. Finally, back at the harbour, we managed to drop him, whne he came up with a story of him being unemployed and having two children and all that.... It wouldn't be so bad but this was our third bad experience with German-speaking Palestinians since we have been here, bringing back memories of domineering German-speaking Turkish women in Turkey 12 years ago. Oh well.....

As it was going to be our last evening in Lebanon (for this time) and as we were next to a lively fishing harbour, Fred agreed that we could stay in Sidon to eat a fishy dinner.... and so it turned out. An excellent dinner it was, by the harbourside, with friendly and efficient service, and to help us finish it off, along came Sarah and Sylvie. Fred enjoyed his alcohol free beer and I indulged in an alcohol free cocktail, washed down later on our return to Beirut with a bottle of real Almaza beer!!!

Back at our hotel, the Mace Hotel, which, thanks to Michel and Xena (thank you both very much), has felt like a home from home during our stay here in Beirut, we were surprised to find that our pick-up for Amman tomorrow leaves not at 7, as advertised, not at 7.30 as we requested, but at 6 am! So a short nigh tonight, after the photos have been uploaded. I have to pay the balance of the bill, but the sly, greedy man working the evening shift is trying to rip us off, so I have a plan to get back at him. A pity this sort of thing has to happen as his colleagues have been so kind and helpful.

Anyway, we leave Lebanon with much more positive thoughts than the ones we had when we first arrived and we have left enough to be done and seen to justify returning one day.

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Blogger Moe said...

all of which can be seen on the flickr site! Not exactly sure why, but maybe there is something in Islam against fish, but all of the fishermen were Christian

you're tottaly wrong
85 percent of the fishermen here are Muslim and have nothing against fish.
That was funny to say :D

11 July, 2007 18:02  

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