Four-by-four of the Levant (2)

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This is a continuation of my account of the most enjoyable moments and the most beloved aspects of four Levantine countries – Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. I have written about the first two in the last post, and now its time to think about four things I love and Syria and Lebanon.

Again, they will not be in any particular order, I write them as they come to my mind.

SYRIA

1. Old Damascene houses turned into restaurants

This is a big one! I love the renovated courtyard where music is played and the waiters come with the array of mezze, mmmm …. I have had so many sweet encounters with friends at these places, eating, drinking and smoking shisha for hours, enjoying the music and our conversation. Relaxing and refreshing.

2. Lemon juice with mint

Light, full of vitamins, shining green! Those are the attributes of this amazing drink that you can put as much sugar in as you like, according to how sweet you want its taste to be. I go for less sweet, rather sour version of it, and I enjoyed it most after a filling lunch or dinner in any place in Syria. I know they make this awesome drink in other Arab countries, but in Syria it has reached its perfection.

3. Sunrise in Palmyra

If something can beat the fabulous sunsets in Jordan, it is the sunrise in Palmyra. That moment, when the wind ceases and the first rays of sun kiss the ancient ruins … everything turns light pink, or rather apricot color. My last sunrise in Palmyra in 2011was the most memorable one, having some of my best friends around me and thinking of what is going to become of Syria in the years to come …

4. Breeze and pine fragrance by Qalaat Samaan

Oh, what a place! Hidden in the northernmost corners of Syria lies an early Christian ruin of a monk who lived on the top of the pillar. While I often thought this must be a made-up story, I understand that if it was for real, the pine forests with its amazing fragrance when the breeze moves must have given the pious man so much relief in his self-chosen physical suffering.

LIBANON

Moving just a bit to the west, we hit the tiny country of Lebanon, and these are the Lebanese top four:

1. The moment you see all of the country in once …

Lebanon is so tiny, that you can actually see it from west to eat from the same place, you just need to turn your head! This place is in the Lebanese mountains, above the Cedars of the Lord where the road first climbs up to the top of the mountais pass, and then slowly descends down to the Bikaa Valley. Turn right, and you have the Qadisha Valley in front of you, and beyond the mountains are retreating and giving way to a narrow strip of lowlands before disappearing in the Mediterranean sea. Now look left, and the Bikaa valley is first what you sea, with the Anti-Lebanon mountains marking the border with Syria following. This is a huge and big WOW, which I just cannot get over!

2. Living as a hermit

I wonder if I could do it – I guess I could, if I had the internet connection in the Hawqa hermitage in the Qadeesha Valley which is where Dario Escobar has been living since 1990. His little house with an adjacent little chapel and the gardens around looks like an ideal getaway for busy postmodern Europeans. Even a couple of hours in this place serve as a much needed relaxation.

3. Yummies of Em Nazih

And there is the food again! Each Levantine has its culinary attractions, and Lebanon is not an exception. When I think of good food, I think of Em Nazih, which is the mother of Nazih at the Saifi Language Institute, and this precious lady with her family prepares delicious while cheap dishes at the café of same name. Yum! The first that comes to mind is the biryani dish which caused me so much trouble in Iran and then there is mujaddara, lubyeh and of course the wonderful manaqeesh! Simply precious and priceless.

4. Anjar and its beauty

If I had to name one historical site and recommend it to visitors of Lebanon, it would definitely be Anjar. It is not well known and thanks to that, it is very rarely visited (compared to Baalbek and Byblos). Its uniqueness is in the fact that it is the only early Islamic city whose layout and most of the buildings have survived until the modern days. Set on the slopes of the Anti-Libanon hills and not far from the Syrian border, it is a great place to spend a couple of hours before sunset. Look for McDonalds sign when you are there!

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