After the immigration ordeal, it was time to make my way to the hotel. Based on recommendations on FlyerTalk, I’d sorted a taxi with the hotel, and two hours later he was still waiting for me in the arrivals area. Or, at least I thought he was. He walked me outside, and introduced me to my real driver, who was waiting for me. The taxi was 37,000 LBP or approximately $24 one way, and it was a reasonably quick drive to the hotel.
I’d booked in at the Four Points Verdun in Beirut, who informed me I’d been upgraded to a junior suite upon arrival. Room was modern and comfortable, one of the nicer Four Points I’ve stayed in, with very friendly and helpful staff. It was also 2-for-1 happy hour in the hotel bar/lounge when I arrived, so couldn’t resist sampling the local craft beer. I got seriously addicted to these nuts!
As I believe I mentioned earlier, Lebanon is one of the first places I’ve ever been that doesn’t allow foreign mobiles to data roam on its networks, so I had no clue until I got to my hotel that my tour company had canceled my tour to Baalbeck in the morning. Their reason? “There have been problems with ISIS in the area.” Uh, gee, great. Thanks to the wonderful ladies at the front desk I got a map of other possible options and she started calling around to see what might be bookable:
After enjoying my 2-for-1 beers I checked in, and unfortunately all the tour companies claimed to be full the next day, so the only option was to hire a driver. She quickly sorted out a six hour hire the next day at a reasonable rate and pointed me in the direction of Ward El Cham, which she said was a great local restaurant near the hotel. It was maybe a five minute walk away, and when I arrived it was packed with locals smoking shisha and had a super lively atmosphere. I declined the shisha in favour of an Almaza which came with a bread basket and some tasty little munchies to start:
Decided to start with grilled halloumi as an appetizer
…and finished off with some delicious kebabs that the waiter recommended.
I don’t remember the name of the desert he recommended, but I asked for something traditional. It was a sort of semi-soft cheese wrapped in crepes and filled with honey, ground pistachios, etc. Quite tasty!
Got back to the hotel, and they’d brought up plates of fruit, nuts, and a bottle of wine. I have no idea if it was intentional or not, but the Jason Winery was a new one to me! If this was intentional I’m seriously impressed!
After a long day of travel, I managed to crash for over eight solid hours. Unfortunately, I woke up seriously jetlagged and disoriented. The combo of “enough” sleep and being seven time zones “off”…no, wait. My body had no idea what time zone it should be in by this point – anyways – I basically woke up sluggish because I was just plain exhausted. I decided to check…just in case…if there was Starbucks in Lebanon…
Ta-da…a 10 minute walk from the Four Points, and I was very happy. You can see from the photo just how exhausted I was at this point, lol. Just a coffee, and then it was back to the Four Points for a quick breakfast. Normally, I don’t do hotel breakfast, but at the Four Points the Platinum benefit is 250 points (worth $5 in my book) or free breakfast for two nights. Figuring I’d get at least $2.50 in value out of it, I took the breakfast. However, I decided to Starbucks in addition in order to have predictable levels of caffeination. Not a bad call. A good amount of hummus, pain au chocolate, and hair boiled eggs later, I was ready for the day!
My driver showed up right on time at 8am, and it was time to negotiate. Yes, the agreed upon price was for six hours, but he was happy to work more time if I decided I needed it by the hour. Excellent. So, question number one: is Baalbeck really unsafe? He said normally he would be happy to drive it, but yes, two days ago there was some insurgent activity in the area and he wouldn’t recommend it. However, “I work for you today Sir, so wherever you want to go we will go.” Hmmm…maybe I should do Baalbeck after all…
I decided at this point to throw out a teaser. “So, I hear the highway to Damascus is also more or less safe.” “Oh yes Sir, that highway is just fine, Damascus is no problem. The Syrians all drive than road to fly out of Beirut airport.” Hmmm, this is interesting. We decided that while we planned out the day our next stop would be the ancient city of Byblos….with a bit of a long detour for some driving through the countryside to enjoy a bit of more rural Lebanon. We drove down a very busy highway, had a very fascinating coffee, ticked a box, and then were off to Byblos. Moving on…
Byblos was first settled somewhere between 8000 and 7000 BC (yes, approximately 10,000 years ago) and is said to have been the first city in ancient Phonecia. It is one of a few cities in the Middle East suggested as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, having been inhabited continuously for over 7,000 years. That’s a long time!
Guide helped me paid the entrance fee, and then left me to wander alone. There were good signs, and no touts offering to play guide, so I was on my own. First site was the crusader fort from the 12th Century AD: