Our long Eid weekend was winding down and decided to cap the trip with a bus ride up to Jounieh; a bayside aspiring resort town located about 15 km north of Beirut. During the war the region was a safe haven for Christians. My impression was that it is more of a playground complete with a casino and a nightlife atmosphere evident by all the clubs and restaurants lining the streets. A passenger on our bus suggested that we pay a visit to the Virgin, meaning Our Lady of Lebanon aka Notre Dame du Liban-a bronze statue (painted white) situated on top of a steep hill overlooking the town and bay. He pointed out the most direct way to her was by taking the mono-cable gondola lift which is like a slow moving enclosed ski lift crossing over roads, a highway, and in-between people’s apartments (voyeurism with a twist). Not only am I’m terrified of heights, but enclosed spaces have been known to induce the occasional panic attack. Think of it as a buy one disorder get the second one free kind of Sunday afternoon.
The end of the line
The bus dropped us off on the side of the highway because that is how the transportation system rolls-you can get picked up and dropped off anywhere you want along a route. The trick was finding how to get to the other side. A friendly restaurant owner directed us towards an underpass. Once we arrived at the entrance to the gondola it quickly became the all too familiar dreaded feeling of waiting in line at a supermarket in Egypt, completely uncivilized. Fortunate for us, Ana and I befriended a couple of locals and we created an alliance keeping the infidels at bay and preserving the concept of a line with operation “wait your damn turn!”
On the trip up
The line was long, almost an hour to purchase ticket plus an additional thirty minutes to get to the lift. Another passenger in queue fainted just moments before our gondola arrived, it was good boost to get my anxiety firing on all pistons. When our car arrived, we boarded and I immediately closed my eyes for the duration of the ride. I lied, I took an occasional peek at the surrounding scenery, especially into stranger’s apartments…kidding. The crescent shaped bay was stunning; it was the million-dollar view. Awaiting our arrival was the Virgin along with thousands of other thrill-ride jockeys and curiosity seekers. Our visit on the summit was short and sweet. We entertained the thought of returning to the bottom via a taxi until we learned a new pair of new sneakers might cost less. The trip back down was cake, we were slightly amused by passengers in passing baskets yelling random statements at us.
Notre Dame du Liban
I chatted with my friend Patrick back in CA who once upon a time was a bona fide citizen of Beirut. He related his experience of going to see the Virgin in a car as scout badge worthy overcoming the trials of hairpin curves up and down the mountain. After some research I learned a bit of folklore that “unmarried” couples take advantage of the gondola to enjoy some intimate time together in the nine or so minutes it takes to get from point A to point B. Consider the above statement in the context of living in the Middle East where it is next to impossible for an unmarried couple to check into a hotel together. Sometimes you have to applaud people’s problem solving abilities.
Checking out the neighbors
Ana ensuring our safe landing
We returned from Jounieh hitting Beirut’s enormous indoor shopping center. I found a pair of shoes and lottery scratchers in Arabic. The supermarket inside the mall was giving out samples of wine, liqueurs, and yogurt.