South Ossetia is mountainous, isolated and home to only 55.000 people. The drive from Vladikavkaz/North Ossetia to Tshivali, the tiny capital of this tiny county, was long but scenic. A smooth road meanders along the bottom of a narrow steep gorge, all covered with trees that come in all shades of green. But the real highlight of the trip is passing through the Roki Tunnel connecting Russia and South Ossetia.
Snow-capped mountains, deep gorges, popular shrines of traditional Ossetian religion, ancient watch tower, Dargvas, the city of dead and the most pleasant capital Vladikavkaz. Yes, rattling off all of North Ossetia’s wonders leaves you breathless, like the natural beauty of this Russian Republic. The place breathes history. Starting with the Alans, ancient warriors of the Caucasus region to World War II, when the Germany attempt to grab the oilfields of the Caucasus region was stopped right there.
Lebanon once shaded by ancient Cedars trees breathes history. Every civilization from the Phoenicians to the French left their mark on the country, its culture and cuisine. In this blog entry I will give an overview of my ten day trip to Lebanon in October 2018 and a shorter trip in April 2019 when on my way to Syria. I was based in Beirut and did day trips to all the places describes in details in each link. Those who still think of Lebanon as a war torn country: the Civil War ended in 1990. Not one tiny second did I feel unsafe, not matter where I went.
Many places on this globe claim to be the oldest, but Byblos truly is! Byblos has been continuously inhabited for 5000 years. Theoretically only half an hour north of Beirut and with Jeita Grotto and Lady of the Lebanon nearby makes it Lebanon’s most touristic sight. Byblos has been influenced and controlled by many civilizations, the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, The Assyrians, the Persians, Alexander the Great, the Romans.
The Quadish Valley is Christian territory, many houses are marked by simple crosses and gigantic churches dominate the landscape. But the real highlights are the scenery, the monasteries hewn into step cliffs and the lovely mountain village of Bcharré. Byblos, the oldest town in the world and spectacular Jeita Grotto are sights on the way.
Baalbek and Anjar are two very spectacular archeological sites about a two hour drive east of Beirut, near the border to Syria. Traveling there takes you through the wide, fertile Bekaa Valley. It has been cultivated over thousands of years and was once Rome’s breadbasket in the Levante.
Like everywhere in Lebanon, in Sidon and Tyre you are wading in history, thousands of years of history. During my 10 day stay in Lebanon I was based in Beirut. Some excursions I did by public transport, some by taxis, for this trip I joined an organized tour (90US) and learned a lot from a professional tour guide.
For many the country is still associated with Hezbollah and Lebanon’s Civil War, even 20 Years after it ended. What I found was a land of stunning archeological sites, amazing scenery and the best food ever. Every possible civilization that passed through the Middle East has left its traces. I travelled the country alone in October 2018 and not for one tiny second did I feel unsafe. Just the opposite, the Lebanese bend backwards to make you feel welcome. The glamorous days may have passt but the bar and restaurant scene in the districts of Hamra and Gemmayze are as cool an bohemian as in todays Paris.
Most likely a trip through Lebanon starts at Beirut airport. On my first trip I had not arranged a pick-up and was turned not to find a taxi at 2.30am. So I jumped into somebody’s friend’s car that somebody called and felt pretty stupid doing this. On my second trip I had the hotel send me a taxi, which should between 20-25 US (April 2019).Within Beirut I walked a lot and this is the best way to explore the city. I strongly advise to join the walking tour with Alternative-Beirut at the beginning of your trip. It is a great way to get to know the various neighborhoods of Beirut and to meet people for future outings. To give you an idea of distances, I walked one from the water front to the Nationals Museum without much effort. Even the whole Corniche along the. waterfront can be done.