This post is part of a series called Lebanon July 2018
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Beirut to Tripoli

The next day, woke up early, checked the Amex CC, and still no unknown charges, nor any payment to Babar. Strange.

Had breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and then took an Uber to Rafik Hariri International airport, where I had booked a Budget car for our trip through Lebanon. Since it was relatively early (8AM), the traffic to the airport was light, and so we reached the airport quickly. We went to the Budget counter in the arrivals section of the airport, and since this was not North America, I had budgeted at least an hour to rent the car. Instead, I was very pleasantly surprised that everything was ready and the rental car counter person was expecting me. And the class of car I had booked (mid-size 3 door car) was indeed what was waiting for us. This was probably the easiest and most painless car rental experience I have had outside North America. The only thing that I could complain about was the gas in the car was only 7/8 full; minor issue.

I set up the GPS on the local SIM card phone, and got Waze to direct up on the road to Tripoli. Tripoli is in northern Lebanon, and the airport is in south Beirut, so we had to drive through Beirut to get to the north. By this time, the traffic had started building up, so it took a little time to navigate through Beirut. Plan was to drive north along the coastal road and check out Byblos, Amchit, some nature areas, followed by Batroun, Anfeh and finally Tripoli.

First stop was Byblos; the GPS navigation was taking us there, but there were no road signs for Byblos; instead , the GPS was taking us to road signs for Jbail; confusing until we figured out that the Arab name for Byblos was Jbail; Byblos being the Greek name given to this ancient city. We came to find out that multiple Lebanese cities had such double names, and all places are not well signposted so travel is more difficult.

Byblos was first inhabited between 8000BC-7000BC, and has been continuously inhabited since 5000BC; making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. That of course makes it a UNESCO World heritage site. We drove through the old town, and made our way to the old port

Beirut to Tripoli Ancient port area of Byblos, with the ancient city and citadel in the background
Ancient port area of Byblos, with the ancient city and citadel in the background

Below are some scenes of old Byblos, as we explored it a little

Beirut to Tripoli Old & new Byblos
Old & new Byblos
Beirut to Tripoli Smallest ancient church Nossa Senhora Da Penna I have ever seen; seating for 12 .
Smallest ancient church I have ever seen (Nossa Senhora Da Penna); seating for 12 .

As we walked around the town, we came across an old Maronite Saint Jean Marc church, and it had people streaming into it in their Sunday best. So of course we had to join in. Inside was an old majestic cathedral, and a service was going on in full swing

Beirut to Tripoli Saint Jean Marc ancient church
Saint Jean Marc ancient Maronite church
Beirut to Tripoli Service inside the Saint Jean Marc Maronite church
Service inside the Saint Jean Marc Maronite church

The service was very nice, see video below

What I found strange during the priest’s sermon was that it was all in Arabic, and though it was a Christian church, I kept hearing words that I recognized from the Quran, like Allah etc. Confusing because I always associate Arabic with Islam, but Arabic language is also used in Arab Christian churches, and Allah still means god in either religion.

We then went back to the old port area

Beirut to Tripoli Fortification guarding the harbor entrance from the olden times, lone fisherman
Fortification guarding the harbor entrance from the olden times, lone fisherman
Beirut to Tripoli Fishnets ready for tomorrow’s fish
Fishnets ready for tomorrow’s fish

We then left Byblos, and drove to find Amchit, a small village, but it did not have much happening there. So we drove inland a little to the Bentael nature reserve and stopped at a beautiful church atop the highest hill in this area, the Mar Mema church.

Beirut to Tripoli Mar Mema church in Bentael
Mar Mema church in Bentael

We drove towards the nature reserve and came across a family of 10 (2 parents and 8 kids) in a view spot lookout, that had come to this spot for a picnic in a battered old car, and had started a charcoal BBQ with chicken roasting on it. They gesture-invited us to join them (as no common language) but since we needed to reach Tripoli that evening with several stops on the way, we politely thanked them and declined. Another very nice gesture from complete strangers.

Beirut to Tripoli View from the lookout where we met the nice Lebanese family
View from the lookout where we met the nice Lebanese family

We found the Green Shell restaurant we had read about, after getting lost a little, but it was just opening and since we did not have time, we had a soft drink here and kept driving

Beirut to Tripoli View from the Green Shell restaurant, of the Bentael nature reserve
View from the Green Shell restaurant, of the Bentael nature reserve

We got back to the coastal highway, and the next stop was Batroun. Batroun is another ancient city and has a few beautiful churches, and is known for its citrus fruits from the surrounding citrus groves Lemonade is famous here. Below are some scenes of Batroun, as we explored here.

Beirut to Tripoli Saint Stephan’s cathedral, that overlooks the old port area of Batroun; note the guy with the sword on top
Saint Stephan’s cathedral, that overlooks the old port area of Batroun; note the guy with the sword on top

The church inside was being decorated for a wedding later that day; and as we walked outside, we saw the couple that was getting married there later that day

Beirut to Tripoli About to be married couple, getting pictures out of the way; I love her outfit and colors
About to be married couple, getting pictures out of the way; I love her outfit and colors, She is very beautiful also 🙂

We then visited another old church nearby, the Mar Gerges (St George’s) church, which had strange music (sounded almost Chinese to me) being played inside it to an empty chamber; check out the video below

We stopped at Le Garage for their famous lemonade; this was a small family run restaurant, which was quiet that hot afternoon. We talked with the owner and he explained that he was a Maronite Christian, and that John Maron had started this church many years ago in northern Syria, and that Maron had fled prosecution in Syria with his followers, to Lebanon, where there is a thriving Maronite population.

Beirut to Tripoli Lemonade stop
Lemonade stop
Beirut to Tripoli interesting architecture
Interesting architecture

Late lunch was at Chef Georges Seafood kitchen, recommended by the owner of Le Garage, where we had a couple of seafood pita sandwiches; very nice and delicious sandwiches.

Beirut to Tripoli Chef George’s Sea Food Kitchen
Chef George’s Sea Food Kitchen

As we went back to our car, we came across several Ethiopian women, all wearing white headscarves, who told us that there were “too many” Ethiopians in Batroun, and that they were on their way to church, which happened to be the St George’s church we had been to earlier with the strange Chinese type music. We went with them and the church was now filled with Ethiopian women, every one of them wore the white scarf covering their hair. They had their service using an ancient Aramaic language with singing and drums. Very interesting.

It was time to keep moving towards Tripoli. We got back onto the coastal highway.

Beirut to Tripoli Coastal highway towards Tripoli
Coastal highway towards Tripoli
Beirut to Tripoli Light at the end of the tunnel
Light at the end of the tunnel
Beirut to Tripoli Outskirts of Tripoli
Outskirts of Tripoli
Beirut to Tripoli City of Tripoli, and bathers enjoying the sea from the flat rocks in the water
City of Tripoli, and bathers enjoying the sea from the flat rocks in the water

We drove into Tripoli, and onto the port area or El Mina. El-Mina is the site of the ancient city of Tripolis that dates back to the Phoenician era, and is one of Lebanon’s oldest cities, alongside Byblos, Tyre, and Sidon. The site of Tripolis moved inland after the Islamic reconquest from the crusaders, and today’s El-Mina became the harbor district of greater Tripoli. We had booked to stay at the Saint Francis Convent, an 800 year old order.

Apparently, they needed revenue and turned some of the rooms into guest houses. So we called Father Quirico and informed him we were close by. He gave us rough directions, and met us at the gates of the Convent. After checking into a basic room ($70 per night for 2 of us; accommodations are not cheap in Lebanon, because basic cost of living is high), he gave us a bit of a background on what to do and where to go for sightseeing and eating, and letting us know that after 10PM, we would have to call him to come from his home nearby to open the gates for us.

After freshening up, we walked over to the corniche area, passing several restaurants where they had put up outdoor screens to watch the world cup soccer; the Lebanese are quite into soccer. The corniche was quite a busy area with families and lots of people enjoying the evening and sunset.

Below are some scenes from the evening here in El Mina

Beirut to Tripoli Screens outside restaurants where patrons could watch world cup soccer
Screens outside restaurants where patrons could watch world cup soccer
Beirut to Tripoli Busy corniche area with lots of families, street vendors, bicycles, scooters and people
Busy corniche area with lots of families, street vendors, bicycles, scooters and people
Beirut to Tripoli a little privacy to catch up…
a little privacy to catch up…

The corniche itself was clean, but the seawall area was littered with empty plastic water bottles and trash; another pity.

Beirut to Tripoli This soldier asked me to take his picture and send to him on WhatsApp; small island offshore linked by a bridge
This soldier asked me to take his picture and send to him on WhatsApp; note the small island offshore linked by a bridge

It was now getting dinner time, so we walked to the Al Nakheel Restaurant, facing the corniche for a seafood diner. The waiter spoke some English, and he wanted to practice so he was quite chatty. He said he was a refugee from Syria, from Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus that had seen brutal fighting a few months back.

He said that if he and his brothers had stayed, they would have either been conscripted by the army or forced to fight by the rebels, so all 3 brothers had left Syria, leaving behind their older parents and his sisters. Very difficult and sad choice to make. There was no alcohol served here; the waited said that Tripoli was a conservative area, and so alcohol was only served in 5 star hotels. For dinner, he recommended a local fish dish; we ordered the food and had a great meal after some hookah of course, since there was no alcohol

Beirut to Tripoli Salad and local fish dish
Salad and local fish dish
Beirut to Tripoli Chill time in Tripoli corniche in El Mina
Chill time at Al-Nakheel at Tripoli corniche in El Mina

We returned to our Convent before our curfew, for a good night’s rest, after checking out the Amex CC status online. Still no strange charges, and still nothing from Babar. This is strange.

Beirut to Tripoli Saint Francis Convent, El Mina
Saint Francis Convent, El Mina
Beirut to Tripoli Map
Map

Tripoli exploration next