Webmaster's Note: Because the BikeAbout team is traveling in smaller groups for a little while, we have changed the format of the journal slightly. The rider notes for the lead group (today it's the guys, who are in Lebanon) are followed by notes for the other group(s). When the group rejoins in late February or early March, we will return to the original format for these pages.

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While Corinne and andrEa are still on Rhodes, Anthony, Ethan, and Padraic are traveling in Lebanon:

topics: Znoud el s'ett (food), Citadel of St. Giles, Ottomans, cedars, Crusaders; jump to dispatch


Rider Notes: February 5–6, 1998

Food of the Day: Znoud el s'ett

Znoud el s'ett, or Bras des dames in French, means "Women's arms" in English. It It is a rich Lebanese sweet pastry that looks a little like the sleeves of a dress, but the sleeves are made of a light dough filled with a delicious creamy cheese and then covered with a sugary sauce. click to view a photograph We were inspired to try this bit of inspiration after having been told that Tripoli is the pastry capital of Lebanon and that znoud el s'ett is the most famous and amazing Tripoli-an pastry.

Word of the Day: Mahoul? — "Is it possible?"

Mahoul click to hear an audio clip means "Is it possible?" in Lebanese Arabic. For example, we told everyone we thought we could get Syrian visas at the border, and many replied "Mahoul?" Or, if you said, "I think U.F.O.s will land tomorrow," someone might reply, "Mahoul?"

Tech Fact of the Day: Cedars of Lebanon

The cedars of Lebanon are some of the world's most famous trees. They grow principally on the slopes of Mount Lebanon, due east of Byblos and Tripoli, and are capable of reaching heights of over 36.5 m / 120 ft (with trunks almost 12 m / 40 ft in diameter), with a fragrant and durable wood.

The cedars of Lebanon have been sought after since the third millennium BC. Mentioned, for example, in the Old Testament as the wood used for Solomon's First Temple in Jerusalem, the cedars of Lebanon have played an important part in the culture, trade and history of the ancient Middle East. Over the centuries, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians traded for this wood with the people of Phoenicia, who also built their merchant fleets out of them. In the last 1500 years, these precious cedars have been used mostly as fuel (during the Middle Ages), senselessly destroyed (by the 19th-century Ottomans), or, after the advent of railroads, employed by the British to build the railroad between Tripoli and Haifa. Today, there are only a few groves left, located high in the hills above Tripoli.

In general, the cedars were important for shipbuilding and were used for the roofs of temples, to construct tombs and other major buildings. The Egyptians used cedar resin for mummification, and pitch from these trees was used for waterproofing and caulking.

Person of the Day: Oren Gruenbaum and Hannah Williams click to view a photograph

Once again, we use this section to honor those that have so generously given us a place to stay. Oren Gruenbaum and Hannah Williams are Peter's roommates and coworkers at the Beirut Daily Star. Both are native Britons who have settled in Beirut to gain valuable journalistic experience and to enjoy its lively lifestyle. For their kindness, generosity, and hospitality — to say nothing of Oren's habit of sitting in refrigerators — they have our eternal gratitude.

Place of the Day: Citadel of St. Giles in Tripoli

Judging from our dispatches, one might think that the Mediterranean is an ocean of ruins. We have seen the remains of Egyptian, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arabic, and Turkish (Ottoman) civilizations, as well as some prehistoric ruins (for example in Malta), and some ruins that appeared only a few years ago (for example in Beirut). Today's Place of the Day, the Citadel of St. Giles in Tripoli, offered us a welcome change — not because it was not the product of a faded civilization, but because it was really not that ruined. click to view a photograph

Although a number of structures have stood where the present citadel stands, this surviving structure dates from the time of the Crusades (12th century), with a number of notable additions and renovations added by both the Mamluks (15th century) and the Ottomans (19th century).

From below, the St. Giles Citadel, with most of its battlements and towers intact, looked like a fully functional castle. click to view a photograph And even when inside, as Padraic peered out over the city looking for invaders, parts of the Citadel seemed almost too perfect, like the castles we imagined as children. In fact, Ethan shot imaginary arrows off the ramparts, and Anthony pretended to prepare boiling oil (though we're not sure whether he wanted to pour it on attackers or use it to prepare falafel click to view a photograph).

We were surprised to find that the present state of the Citadel owes much to extensive restorations carried on by the Ottomans in the 19th century. This took nothing away from our admiration of the Citadel. Indeed, the visit was worthwhile if only for the view from the tower at sunset as the lights of the city spread out before and below us began to come on. click to view a photograph

Group Dispatch (Lebanon), February 5–6

picture of Padraic

Feeling the chilly air outside of our cozy tungalow, we decided to sleep in until nearly 9 a.m. before returning to visit the archaeological sites in Byblos.

This meant that, by the time we had tramped through the ruins and sat down to a pizza lunch, it was nearly noon. However, with Tripoli less than 60 km away, we saw no reason to rush. Instead we made our way along the coastal road at a leisurely pace, stopping on occasion to admire the sea views and eat whatever fruit we found. click to view a photograph Fortunately, we managed to avoid most of the traffic of the crazy coastal highway by choosing a parallel route closer to the water. Our biggest hazard was running off the road while staring at the numerous Syrian troop emplacements along the coast.

By the time we had settled in our hotel in Tripoli, the light was fading so we rushed out to see the Citadel (see the Place of the Day) before sunset.

After an early dinner, we decided to try out one of Tripoli's famous pastry shops, Hallab Brothers. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph Not satisfied with just one znoud el s'ett (see the Food of the Day), we ate two apiece, and then let ourselves be convinced to try another kind of pastry — a cheese-filled delicacy — whose name we promptly forgot.

Stuffed from our large dinner and over-indulgent dessert, we returned to our hotel to work ourselves to sleep. Unfortunately the building's electricity went out shortly after our return, so we worked just as long as our computer batteries lasted. We welcomed this enforced curfew because we still hadn't caught up on our sleep from our late night out in Beirut.

The next morning we rose early to cycle the seven kilometers (4 mi) uphill and inland to the city of Zgartha for a 9 a.m. appointment at the Première Ecole Officielle of Zgartha. There we met Mr. Georges Abi Dalter, the director of the school, and Ms. Victoria Kouzi click to view a photograph, a teacher, both of whom explained the school's mission, and gave us a tour of the school's facilities (including a new computer lab). This school, covering roughly first grade through remedial junior high school (but concentrating on primary-school-age children's needs) is one of a few government-run "pilot" schools in Lebanon that closely follow the French model and teaching philosophy. We had learned about the school from Ms. Kouzi's brother, Tony, a friend who lives and works in Paris.

Unfortunately we could only give our BikeAbout presentation to Mr. Abi Dalter, Ms. Kouzi, and a revolving audience of teachers that passed through the office. Given the recent war trauma and the still touchy political situation in Lebanon, this was the best we could manage. Most schools are wary of projects not already on the curriculum and have little computer equipment. Those government primary schools that do have computer facilities are not yet allowed Internet access. We wish to thank for Mr. Abi Dalter and Ms. Kouzi for their attentiveness and hospitality. We hope to welcome them online sometime soon.

Because it was still not yet noon, we returned to Tripoli to see some of the sights we had missed the day before. Luckily, just about the time our map failed us in the twisting and narrow alleys of Tripoli, a young native, Balil, offered to show us around. We were struck by how great but subtle an impact the Crusades had on the architecture of the city. The Crusaders captured Tripoli in 1109 and held it for 180 years as an important stronghold on the coastal road to Jerusalem. And yet, with the exception of the Citadel, we saw no outward or obvious signs of the Crusaders' presence, and indeed little sign of a Christian presence at all in this very Arab city. However, a closer look at some sites where no one would ever expect to find European influence revealed the Crusaders' handiwork. For example, the 700-year-old Great Mosque was built around the remnants of an old Crusader church and shows similar features to some church towers in Italy. click to view a photograph And at the Souk Al-Haraj we noted the huge granite columns supporting the vaulted ceiling under which this market had been built. The architects of this 14th-century souk cleverly incorporated remnants of Crusader monuments into their new building. Finally we saw the impressive Khan Al-Khayyitin, a tailors' market constructed under a row of arches — again remnants from an old Crusader structure. click to view a photograph

Before he left us, Balil helped us find an Internet café, where we quickly took care of some pressing matters online. To thank Balil for all his help, we invited him to drink a cup of tea with us and impress us with his formidable knowledge of American movies (Tripoli's movie theaters carry many Hollywood movies).

After we took our leave from Balil, we stopped to pick up a take-out dinner (complete with a take-out dessert — another znoud el s'ett) and feasted in our hotel room. We turned in early since the unique challenges of the Syrian border awaited us in the morning and we wanted to make sure we were well rested.

Meanwhile, the ladies were still exploring Cyprus and Rhodes. You can read about their journey in the February 2-8 dispatch.

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