So I'm going to try to make this as complete and thorough as possible. I'm finally done with midterms, done with spring break, and now the only thing standing in the way of me and this blog is my laziness. So if this ends up being a two-parter, I apologize. But I want to give everything that's going on enough credence and detail, so bear with me.
Midterms were two weeks ago. It was a hell of a week, compounded by the fact that my precious, my prized possession, my Macbook Louis, broke. The power cord got caught in the protective case I bought right before I left (oh irony, you cruel mistress) and pulled my computer off the dresser, flipping it screen-side down, and landing on the tile floor. I now have a steadily creeping black spiderweb of cracks inking across my screen, and I don't know how long it's going to last. Inshallah, I fix it when I get back.
In happier news, spring break in Lebanon was incredible. I'd have pictures, but I was traveling with two obsessive (and talented) photographers, so I figure I'll wait until they post theirs for me to steal a few and put them up here :) The first day I woke up bright and early to catch a cab with Nick and drive down south to the airport. We met up with the rest of our group and made it to our plane, taking off at around 10 and arriving in Beirut around 11. It was a short flight, less than an hour, but you gotta fly when you don't want to cross the Southern border of Syria, or pay 131 dollars for a Syrian visa. Nonetheless, we made it into Beirut after trekking up and down looking for a bus, beating off the horrific taxi drivers, and struggling up the hill to our hostel. We ended up staying at this hostel for 5 nights total, since Beirut is so central and it takes only a couple hours or less to get anywhere in the country. On top of that, the hostel was dirt cheap and fantastically located right next to the downtown souks/shopping district, which was all European and French. I didn't realize just how French Lebanon would be, but I was served a number of menus in French with no English or Arabic on them, and I felt incredibly lost. My favorite breakfast place, Paul, is a French chain with all French menus, and the biggest struggle of the morning was always ordering. In any case, we had ample space to explore, and it was completely safe; it's hard not to be when on every corner were concrete blockades and at least 2 officers with M-16s. There are around 4 different kinds of Lebanese police I believe, all with different uniforms, and it took a little to get used to them. In Jordan, you have the regular police and the army, and that's basically it, although the traffic police have got the best hats you have ever seen in your life:
A minor annoyance about Lebanon is the currency. They use both Lebanese Lira/Pounds (1 USD = 1500 LL) and the US dollar. At the same time. I have many checks that I've saved that give the individual price of items in LL, but then give the total in both LL and USD. And oftentimes, we'd have to pay with both at the same time. And get change in both. So it's very difficult to figure out how much change you're getting, if you're paying the right amount, etc. Even worse is that both Lebanon and Jordan do not split checks. The practice is simply unheard of. If you all sit at the same table, you all pay together. And since not everyone takes credit cards, it can be hard to figure out who has to pay who and when and whatnot. So the moral of the story is that not only did I have conversations in Arabic, English, and French, but I also had 3 different currencies in my wallet the whole time.
The first couple days we did nothing but wander around Beirut and eat. On the third day we went to Jeita Grotto, which is absolutely incredible - you're not supposed to take pictures, but I know Nick snuck a few, so if those turn out I'll post them, but if not, I HIGHLY recommend you google image it: it's absolutely breathtaking. The only downside was that we went when a bunch of school kids were doing a tour, and it was mayhem inside. On the lower part of the grotto you can take a boat tour, but since Middle Easterners don't understand the concept of a line (not stereotyping, it's a fact) even when there are metal barricades forcing you into one, it was extra hectic and long trying to get on the boat. People, old and young, kept trying to push past us and some were hopping the fence too. We got an extra 20 minutes of waiting for being natural line-formers.
On the fourth day we went up to Byblos/Jbail, which is a town with tons of ruins dating all the way back to before 1000 B.C. It's one of the oldest continually inhabited towns on Earth, and many of the old ruins aren't actually ruins at all - they still house people and business, especially in the old souk district. The town is right on the coast of the Mediterranean, so we even got some beach time while we were there. Our hotel was rather miraculous - the price was heavily knocked down since it's the off season, and we got breakfast and an ocean view included. For four unemployed students, that's quite a deal. The beach was pretty dirty, covered in trash in parts, but we were determined for some beach time so we went out the following morning. We ended up having a little audience of three random Lebanese men, but they were mostly harmless. They didn't talk to Lindsey or I, but they chatted with Nick when he wandered off and Matthew when Lindsey and I left as well. After the beach, we went and ate lunch at a restaurant Lindsey and I had found the day before. Most of the places to eat are along the harbor, many of them seafood places and rather pricey, but The Cookery was reasonable and served my new addiction, Kinder crepes. If any of you have ever had Kinder Bueno chocolate, you might understand the gloriousness of Kinder chocolate crepes. They are heavenly. We managed to find another crepe place (uniquely called "the crepe factory") in Gemmayzeh, near all the bars. Speaking of which, Nick and I found a bar on our little exploration through Gemmayzeh during our first day in Beirut called, I kid you not, Beavis and Butthead. Needless to say, we went back during the night and had a couple drinks with the bartender, a lovely young lady named Anis who gave us some great advice on where to visit in Lebanon, as well as free internet. We ended up back at Beavis and Butthead 2 more times with different groups of people, just because the bar and this woman and her boyfriend were so amazingly friendly and fun to talk to.
Anyway. Back to Byblos. We spent two nights there then moved back to Beirut and caught a bus to Deir Addine and some other castle whose name I can't remember - after a while, all the ruins just start blending together...in any case, we stayed at this very very French hotel off the side of the mountain road, called La Bastide. When I get pictures, I'll show this little hotel: It had a wonderful view and a very nice, albeit strange Frenchwoman who ran the establishment with her chaffeur and brood of Asian maids. We spent the next day exploring the little village and walking to the castles, admiring the stepped farms along the mountainside. It was raining, and the clouds were sitting in the valley and made everything foggy. We were walking along the road, which probably wasn't a good idea considering how narrow it was, how horrible Lebanese drivers are, and the fact that it dropped away at a staggering rate down the side of the mountain. But, we obviously made it back alive, so all in all a fun adventure. I was disappointed that we didn't get to go see the Cedar reserves, and Matthew was disappointed we didn't get to go to Baalbeck, but over all it was a great trip. Our last day was spent at an internet cafe and our hostel, just laying about and relaxing before heading back to Amman and school.
The one thing that I absolutely hated about Lebanon was the cab drivers. They were vultures, all of them. Aggressive, wouldn't leave us alone, ripped us off, and would hound us in packs and corner us on the street asking us where we were going. I definitely missed Amman with its clearly identified yellow cabs and meters. But other than the taxi drivers, Lebanon was good. I'll probably give another update on a few other things that stuck out to me while I was in Beirut, like the unfinished skyscrapers and the bombed out buildings, but this post is long enough already and I want to go to bed. Inshallah, another update soon.
p.s. I got all the classes I wanted AND awesome housing for next year, so I have things to look forward to at home!
p.p.s. Randomly met a girl in a serveece taxi going through Beirut - she's from Tunisia and very nice, even friended me on facebook, and it just goes to show how friendly people are on this side of the globe.