And the road trip begins…

This morning we were up bright and early to pack up and ship out of Beirut, to start our driving tour of Lebanon.  We were initially hindered by an annoying taxi driver, who accepted the fare having been told the address, and only about 20 mins into the drive (on the other side of town) did it become apparent he had no idea where the street with the car rental office was. After much swearing in Arabic on his part, I jumped out the car to ask a friendly soldier for directions, followed by us driving 20 mins back in the same direction to the tune of much more swearing by the driver.   We eventually got to pick up our car an hour late, but at least we were off.

Tom drove us out of Beirut – which is quite a hair-raising feat, and we followed the coastal road south before turning inland towards the Mount Lebanon area.

We followed winding paths up into the hills, the temperature getting ever colder; and guessing the right way to go based pretty much on an eeny-miney-mo method of navigation, due to the fact that street signs are non-existent or in Arabic.

Luckily for us, we made it to Deir El Qamar, our first stop, in no time at all, and checked into a lovely hotel which is a converted old school, with views over the valley.

The very friendly hotel manager sat us down, gave us nuts and wine, and we discussed what to do with our afternoon. Before long, he had decided he would come out with us for the day, so we piled into his car for a tour of the town.

First we visited the old centre of Deir El Qamar, with exquisite buildings dating back to the 1500s and earlier.  However, it soon became apparent that our friend the hotel manager knows very little about the town, and in fact, only moved here 3 months ago.  So as we passed the local mayor’s office, I ducked my head in to ask for brochures about the town, to receive a very useful and informative 10 page guided tour of the town.

We spent hours strolling around the old palaces, mosques, churches, souks, and winding backstreets.  We also visited the wax museum, located in the old Emir’s palace – now essentially a palace full of life-sized wax figures of historically important people.  The old museum attendant obviously hadn’t had many visitors recently, and got inordinately excitable about the people portrayed in wax, often demanding that we take pictures of particular people.

One duo did tickle us – in the corner of one room stood George Bush senior, alongside the sitting Hezbollah commander Nazrallah… a bizarre pairing indeed!

Trekking around town, we also came across an old church, which was done up in the 16th century, but originally dates back to 451 A.D.

We jumped back in the car and our friend whisked us off to the Moussa Palace – simply put, the strangest place I have ever visited.

2 floors were filled with life-size dolls depicting everyday Lebanese life – some clustered around dinner, some outside farming, some dancing – all very eery looking dolls. Walking to the next floor, we were met by a 1-eyed man offering us cups of Lebanese coffee, and while we drank it he insisted on singing Arabic songs and beating a pestle and mortar for rhythm.  By the final floor of the museum – the underground cavern housing a gun collection – we were well and truly ready to leave, only for the power to go, and we found ourselves plunged into darkness underground, surrounded by fake people and guns.  Using our phones for light, we scarpered up the stairs and into the light.

Our hotel manager friend took us to lunch at his favourite snack bar and ordered us chicken wraps with garlic dip, with the restaurant owner grilling the chicken skewers on a fire in front of our eyes.  Very tasty!

Now it’s time to wrap up for the evening as temperatures are dropping.  I write this sat under blankets, with 2 pairs of socks on, gloves and a scarf, and still shivering.  It’s sure cold in the mountains.

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