Saturday, August 1, 2009

Some scenes from around Byblos (Jbeil)

I really had a lovely time in Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic). I went up last Sunday on a surprisingly comfortable bus (I'll write about my trip to Baalbek one of these days). The bus station, which was a real bus station (I'll write about my trip to Baalbek one of these days), made it very easy to find a bus to Byblos. Of course, it being Lebanon, there is no real bus schedule - we left when the bus was full enough to justify leaving, but in the end I only waited about a half hour before we took off.

It was the getting off which was the adventure. See, the bus systems operate on a hop on wherever you want, get off wherever you want basis. I knew that. But I had assumed the bus would actually stop at a station in the five cities from Beirut to Tripoli. As we all know, assuming makes an ass out of you and me. So I see the sign for Jbeil and realize the bus isn't going to get off the highway, so I shout as we pass the Jbeil exit. Of course, the driver doesn't speak English, so the army guy next to me and the guy in front of me shout at the driver to stop (no one ever claimed the Lebanese aren't helpful people - in fact, they are known for their hospitality, and there is no exaggeration there.) So the bus pulls over to the side of the highway, where cars are going fifty miles per hour or so, and I am dropped off there. Imagine a bus dropping you off on the side of an interstate highway.

At this point I was about a mile from the exit, so I scrambled up the hill on the side of the road to get off the highway and start walking. I snapped the photo of the banana tree on the side of the highway to commemorate this going bananas way of transportation. What can you do but laugh in this kind of situation? It wasn't too long before I saw a nice coffee shop where I could get out of the heat and sit down with the map so I could figure out where the heck I was supposed to go to see the old stuff. It was actually pretty simple. I walked in the direction I thought I wanted to go and stumbled into a twelfth century city.

So I walked around the city and the old crusader castle and then I had a nice lunch of fresh fish, hummus, and tabouleh and a couple Almaza beers while staring out at the Mediterranean. I got to choose my fish. To be honest, I've never eaten a fish still on the bones so when they handed me a spoon for the fish, I had to improvise. At least they took the eyeballs out. The lunch was at Pepe's Fish Club, a restaurant that used to serve the rich and famous back before the war - Marlon Brando ate there every time he went to Lebanon. Now it caters to tourists, and I couldn't help feel a bit of sadness at that. But hey, I wouldn't have gotten to eat there back in its glory days.

After lunch I wanted to go on a boat ride but couldn't find where you caught the boats. I think perhaps they had shut down for the day, maybe because of choppy waters, maybe because they just wanted to. So I walked around a bit, stopping at the beach and two twelfth century churches, both which were preparing for weddings. I walked around the tourist shops, stopping in at the place with the 100 million year old fish fossils, before going to the side of the road to catch a bus back to Beirut. It was like hailing a taxi on the interstate. All in all a good day.

I'll post the castle photos in another post.


  1. hi! It's great to stumble upon your blog. I'm also new here in Beirut, and yep, transportation, and its discovery, has been a ... let's say... interesting experience so far. I've been here for about five months from Canada and I'm still disoriented.

    I was thinking of going to jbeil. Would you recommend I go through charles helou bus station? or from cola 'station'? ( i don't think it's a real station, but...)

  2. I've been on the connexion, heading straight to tripoli, sitting at the window seat, spotting the sign "jbeil" on the highway. Never imagined hopping off, though, it's like in the middle of nowhere.

    Do I walk up? Or do I walk down from the highway? Like up where all the rocks and hills are?... forgive the clueless questioning, I kinda can't help it these days ... ay...