The wonders of Baalbek City.

Can you imagine I have been living in Lebanon for three decades and I have never ever visited the city of Baalbek located 85 km from Beirut in the northern Bekaa Valley.

For those not familiar with the city of Baalbek you might be wondering what’s so special about this city in particular. Well within the following post I will paint for you the historical rich city of Baalbek, its Roman temples of Jupiter and Baachus Temple, the remains of the Temple of Venus…  I bet I caught your attention now!

We woke up my sister and I energized on this Sunday morning (two weeks ago) excited about visiting Baalbek with a couple of other friends. My camera was all set, being charged the previous evening, phone batteries check, coffee sipped quickly and off we were picked up and on our way to the Bekaa.

The Bekaa region is a fertile valley within the eastern part of Lebanon. It is a farming area which I advise you to take nice shots of when seeing its sight from the mountainous height before descending towards it. I did not have the privilege of snapping some shots as my lovely riders were more interested in their bellies and looking for a snack to have breakfast. We stopped at Jaber Jaber, one of the snacks along the roadside and they each ordered a couple of 2arisheh. The latter is a famous sweet made of cottage cheese wrapped goodie with honey that is well known in the Bekaa area and to which many Beirutis drive to eat solely at. Not something I would eat but they swore to me it was delicious. I believed them as they ordered more than two (but hey who’s counting, right? 😉 )

We continued our trip after our 30min break.

A little bit of history.

As I mentioned, Baalbek is at 85 km from Beirut. It is a long road trip so I advise you to have an iPOD plugged into your car radio as the frequency gets messy the further you distance yourself from the capital. According to an online website, “Baalbek is Lebanon’s greatest Roman treasure and can be counted among the wonders of the Ancient World. They are the largest temples ever built and among the best preserved. Baalbek is located among two main historic trade routes. One between the mediterranean coast and the Syrian interior and the other between northern Syria and northern Palestine. ” .

Tourists flock to the city of Baalbek to visit the famous temple complex of Baalbek which is made of the Jupiter Temple and the Bacchus Temple adjacent to it. Further away is the circular Temple of Venus and  only part of the staircase remains of a fourth Temple dedicated to Mercury.

When we first reached Baalbek, we instantly saw the imposing monument of the Temple of Jupiter. You must be blind not to be hit by its beautiful stand on your left side. We parked on the road and started walking towards it. A nice man led the way to the entrance, of course beware of the local vendors who would insist on you buying scarfs or souvenirs from their cart.

We walked for more than hour. We took a lot of pictures. We met many foreigners visiting the site and listening avidly to the stories of their respective guides. It was charming listening 60+ year old guides talking fluently in English to their visitors. Which further proved to me of Lebanese pride in their history.

The Temple of Jupiter is made of six Corinthian columns thrusting 22meters into the sky. Built on a podium of 7 meters this would give you an idea of the vast structure at its original structure. Originally it was surrounded by 54 external columns which at this day lay in fragments around it. The standing columns are decorated by a frieze of bulls and lion heads.

Next the Little Temple of Bacchus is anything but little. Constructed during the half of the 2nd century, it is said that the temple was consecrated to a mysterious and initiated cult around the Young God of Baalbek. This God was identified as a solar and growth deity, whose birth and growth promised regeneration and eternal life to the faithful. Thirty three steps leads to its entrance, adding to its structure sitting on a platform 5 meters high.

We climbed those stairs and entered the temple you see above in the picture. It is very imposing. I left like an ant within its walls. Notice the man sitting in the middle? Turns out it is a popular place to take a picture of yourself sitting on a throne and imagining being a King- like.

We ended our tour and have we had the time would have visited the city itself. However it was already time for sunset and we preferred having our two hour drive back home in daylight and before the rush hour (it was Sunday, remember?).

On our way back, we stopped at a bakery and my sister and friends ordered the renowned ‘sfi7a baalbakiyeh’  which is a dough filled with meat. Another goodie that I did not try because I don’t eat meat (boohoo sue me!). However I did try a veggie item which I loved.

The return back to the capital was exhausting. It was longer than I imagined, but it was worthwhile discovering the Temples of Baalbek. My sister and I agreed that another visit is a must to explore the city itself and mingle with its inhabitants.

Visiting Baalbek should be crossed off every Lebanese citizen’s list.

Xo

Hiking at the Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve – A Sunday Getaway

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Sunday 22nd of January 2017, my alarm rang at 7.45. Why that early? because I had promised my very close girl friend to join her on a hiking excursion that very same day. A promise I intend not to cancel as I am known for backing away last minute.

No No Ranya, this time I am IN, I said to myself, over and over again in my head as the time to meet up drew closer. What was I getting myself into? Whoever knows me, knows very well that I am regularly active at the gym. Squats, jumping jacks, rope jumping, running, I do that easily, but hiking? Meh!!

And I went.. and I was up for a (good) surprise. Not only did I meet very interesting and well grounded people, I experienced newfound feelings and very much challenging constraints that I overcame.

The Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve is located approximately 30-45min drive out of the capital in the Shouf district of Lebanon within the slopes of the Barouk mountains (an area of 550Km2 comprising the forests of Al-Maasser el Shouf, Barouk and Ain Zhalta). Yes you can imagine how vast the area is. I was thrilled when I knew we were going to the cedars of the shouf as that mountainous region is my favorite in Lebanon.

We arrived at destination and after renting our hiking ski shoes started onto our journey. My face dropped when I realized we were climbing the damn mountain. Sue me, I thought hiking comprised a straight forwarded path. Yes that triangularly shaped blessed mother natural thing, I was going to C-L-I-M-B. Thank you Ranya for your on-point information. I guess if she had told me that specific detail, I would have definitely not taken part of this suicidal mission. Did I forgot to mention to you all that I am scared of heights so ..yeah imagine my face. I took my destiny into my own hands, I mean bodily composure, and walked. And walked is what I did, for 3 hours!! Climbing those narrow passages were not easy. Zig zagging to make way to others when stopping to catch some breath, wanting to damn give up in the middle of this wonderful joy ride and trying not to look down (that much) was quite the experience for me.

It is only when we all arrived at some grounded snowy area and I was sure that from this point on there was no way I was facing oblivion, did I realize that I loved every minute of this hike.

The fresh air, the physical as well as the psychological challenge were overcome beautifully. Mother nature sure engraved some beautiful snapshots in my head and my phone (which I will share with you further down the blogpost).

We ended our journey having lunch catered by Bio Coara which produces organic and vegan healthy food. A soup to start with, salad, a main dish comprising rice, potatoes and the vegan type of Kafta, ending with dry cake. You can say that the whole day was perfect for a #HealthyLiving #HealthyLifestyle Instagram blogger.

Would I go hiking again? yes, now that I know what to expect. If there is a straight walk pathway, I’d go now though 🙂

Hope you enjoy the rest of this wonderful day with these picture perfect moments.

Thank you Galeb and Hussein for this unique experience and my lovely Ranya for the beautiful much-needed company.

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ps: Thank you guys for the pictures shared (Galeb, Hussein & Rasha) and check the FB page of “IAM Production by Imad & Monah Ashkar”  by clicking on the following link https://www.facebook.com/IAMproductionlb/  and if you are interested by the vegan and bio food I mentioned earlier, click on their page and #EatHealthy https://www.facebook.com/CoaraKfarqatra/  😉

xo

Arz – Ehden; through Her & I

On Sunday, we decided to visit the mountain side of the country up North. Lebanon is famous for its coastal shore, beach resorts however people tend to forget its mountainous aspect during summer. Hence, Ranya suggested we go explore the Cedars of Bsharre (Cedars of God) and Ehden village of Zgharta. I am going to admit to you something. I have never ever seen a Cedar tree in my life. Except for the one on our flag! Oops yeah I know, shame on me! but you know what they say, better late than never!!

Rana picked me at noon and we set on our road trip. I prefer not to drive up hill as I am scared from heights. Trust me when I say I am not a good road trip companion when on the roads of a mountain. Ask Ranya. On this trip my figure turned every color of the rainbow (#lovewins. not! ). Ranya is a very meticulous person. Whenever you say road trip, she says google map on speaker. Trusting that technological device we drove as Miss Maria (yes we named her) suggested. Let me tell you one think; never trust technology 100%. Its a device after all. She led us through dodgy routes and all I could notice is that we were being swift away towards the sky. Remember I am scared as hell from heights. Many times, our guide told us to turn right, straight to a ditch and God forbid the valley to our death. And if you don’t comply, her voice takes it a notch. She even yelled at us one time. I swear!!! We lost two hours of our time listening to Maria, ditched her sorry tech-ass and drove the old fashioned way. However I took this lovely picture on our way:

IMG_20150706_004944We arrived at Bsharre on time to explore the Cedars of God reserve where the last of these kind of trees are preserved. I was flabbergasted at the site of such greenery (lacking in the city) and serene atmosphere it emanated. The reserve is open from 9am to 6pm, last entrance being at 5:30. A few stops after absorbing the scenery and taking pictures, we wandered trough the pop up boutiques nearby selling hand crafted wooden souvenirs.

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Next stop:Ehden. This time we decided to ask as many locals we met on the road for the right directions and we arrived safe and sound to Ferdous, a local Lebanese restaurant with a view for a dinner. Honestly, I loved this place. Trust me when I say that’s a big thing, considering that food isn’t my cup of tea. We ordered the following and we were both fulfilled.

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The food was delicious, the staff overly friendly and welcoming. Value of price vs food correct. I would suggest anyone visting that part of the country to stop at Ferdous and have their meal. You won’t be disappointed (at all).

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Coming down to Beirut was tricky. It was pitch black. We were high up 1500m+ from the coast. I was scared. Literally scared. We passed through the village of Ehden. The ambiance was amazing. Youngsters were hanging at the cafes- restaurants. Women and children were wandering around the streets. I noticed many families gathered on their terrace drinking coffee/tea chattering and looking at the passerby. You could feel that everyone knew one another and the atmosphere was of a big happy family.

We took the highway down to hell (Beirut). We were following a driver who was heading back to the city, since we were both new to the surroundings. He was kind and reflected the hospitable citizens of Zgharta. I was livid and praying the whole trip back. Ranya even got me an ice-cream for my better behavior downwards (although deep inside i was in a worse state!!!)

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Three words to the people of Zgharta and specially Ehden; I love you!

xo

 

Batroun; through Her & I

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First and foremost, this new segment came to life over lunch on the shores of Batroun. You see, we decided, Ranya and I to discover Lebanon over the weekends (on sundays), instead of lazily spending the day under the sun at some beach resort, drinking cocktails and gazing at God sent Middle Eastern men(Not!).

Whenever we travel abroad, we tend to take part of tours so as to get to know the city we are visiting in- depth and explore its culture/ history through ancient ruins and past civilization. We tend to forget, often dismiss, that our country is rich with history and holds many villages with their own custom and unique way of life. I have been living in Lebanon, more or less 20 years now, and I admit I do not know pass its capital, Beirut. Yes, it’s a shame. But it’s never too late, hence wanting to share my experiences with you, each and every time we set to head somewhere. Enough introductions.

Batroun, here we come!

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Leaving Beirut around 11am, it took us merely a 50minute drive to enter the Northern City of the District of Batroun. Batroun is located on the coastal shore. It is one of the oldest city in the world blending Phoenician, Greek and Roman ancestry. Rich with culture and history, you can say that Batroun is a little heavenly place for a weekend-scapade.

Driving within the narrow streets is a skill an urban person will find hard to master. However, Ranya managed to find a spot to park. Since it was a Sunday (lunch time), we noticed many houses with doors wide open; the men preparing the food on the charcoal grill on the street, while children were running around. The aroma of grilling meat was distinct and the atmosphere around the family gatherings heart warming.

We started walking towards the famous Phoenician Wall. The Batroun docks is separated by a 225m long wall built by the Phoenicians in the 9th century. Its purpose was to protect the locals from attacks from the Assyrians. This fortification stands still until this day and is a famous spot for tourists form all around Lebanon. You can take amazing panoramic shots of the view.

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Just before leaving, I noticed a modest door leading to a chapel. The Chapel in question is called  Saydet el Baher which was built on the ruins of a Byzantine Church. Her icons date from 1813. I was attracted to this peaceful refuge instantly and lit a candle while praying.

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I personally am a person who loves to take strolls and discover new places. I usually do that in and around Beirut and I am always amazed at what I see. Same goes within the streets of Batroun. Of course, the souk was closed, it being a Sunday. I felt abroad. The whole time we were walking, I felt I was taken back to Pafos (Cyprus) and Rodos (Greece) simultaneously. The old architecture, the port itself, the whole vibe was out of this world.

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Do not forget to visit the famous Church over shadowing the docks; St Stephen. I am sure many locals celebrated their blissful wedding in that Church. I imagine future generations to be officiating their weddings and children’s Baptism traditionally there as well.

So far the day was flawless. We decided to have lunch in a restaurant located along the sea shore. It was very windy yet the temperature exhilarating. I had seen a lot of pictures of Chez Maguy, the local restaurant we decided to dine in, yet never took the time to read the reviews. I remember one local person warned me against going there. Said it was over rated. I wish I had listened to him. And I had read those reviews. The food we had was average. Not mind blowing at all. Your typical fattoush and hummus were served along side warak enab. The hummus tasted like those fresh out of a can, not even decorated like in your typical Lebanese restaurant,whereas the fattoush was too acid Furthermore, the fish we selected was average and the main pieces burnt. The staff was friendly and the bathroom clean. This place is your typically endorsed over rated restaurant. The price for the food intake is mind blowing. I know I would try another local hidden gem in Batroun but never again Chez Maguy. Oh and will use Trip Advisor more often.20150628_155232_resized

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This is my second time in Batroun. I know it won’t be my last. It’s a gem of a city. Cosy and full of nice  welcoming people.

I am a person that is much attracted by the sea. I imagine myself living in a small coastal town, curled up on a chair, comfortably sipping my coffee, watching the blue-ish never ending waters and listening to the waves crush onto the rocks and sand. Picture perfect right? One day… That dream will come true. Till then let’s enjoy Batroun more frequently.