"Syria or Lebanon?" (10/31/2009)

That was the question our cab driver asked us as he stopped in the middle of the highway where the road split off towards Lebanon. We had just visited Crac de Chavalier fort and were planning on catching a bus from Homs to Damascus.  However, while admiring the view from the fort, we realized we were actually looking at Lebanon just a short distance away (proving the once again the signifigance of the fort’s location on the highest mountain in the region and why those that held the castle in the Crusades controlled all of upper Syria and Lebanon). We decided it made more sense to enthusiastically reply “Lebanon!”  A few short hours later (border crossings unfortunately are not quick) we found ourselves in Beirut.  While enjoying a beer during happy hour, we felt we could be in any European city (or New York City, for that matter.)  Except, of course, the hummus wouldn’t have been as good anywhere else!

The next morning in the rain, we rented a car and drove through the Bekaa valley, stopping for lunch in the town of Zahle where while Meg was enjoying her Dunkin Donuts coffee (she couldn’t pass up the very unexpected opportunity) and Jed was receiving change for lunch in US Dollars, we again remarked on the fact that Lebanon felt far less foreign than we imagined.  We have spent the past 48 hours trying to squeeze in all of Lebanon—a visit to the Ksara winery, a quick view of the ruins of Baalbek, a drive over the mountains to the lovely town of Bcharre, a hike in the Qadisha valley, sorting through fish fossils in the town of Byblos, and a driving/walking tour of Beirut today.  Compared with other countries we have visited, Lebanon has far less tourist infrastructure- eg virtually no signs to anywhere that aren’t in Arabic. While this is most likely due to far fewer tourists, given the variety of scenery and sites—from big city to the beach from the mountains to the vineyards—it seems that it is a country that should have many more tourists and is well worth visiting.

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