August 31, 2011
I recently visited Anjar on a guided tour. Its quite an amazing place that was built by the Umayyad in the 7th centaury. It took twenty years to build then was only used for thirty before being destroyed in war. It then lay buried till 1949 when it was discovered and restored. The Umayyad had the 5th largest empire in history stretching from China to Spain.
The Sultan ruled this from Damascus, but as it was too hot there in summer he had Anjar built as a summer retreat. It is in a valley between two mountain ranges but is still at a height of 1000 mtrs above sea level so much cooler than in Damascus. Its more of a town than a city but there are walls round this which can be seen today. The wide main street of this site leading to the sultans palace is amazing as every so often there is drains leading down into a sewer.
Restoration work has been undertaken but some of it not very well, as columns and buildings have been erected with parts that didn’t belong to them originally. Inside the palace this is particularly evident and the walls are quite noticeably at different levels. It’s a very interesting site which the tour guide was well informed about and made our visit more enjoyable. Centred in the middle of the Bekaa valley it was incredibly peacefull with hardly a sound to be heard.
March 21, 2011
I went for a hair cut on Wednesday. I walked about two miles to a place I had been previously, as the guy did a really good job. I was a bit worried, that the shop may not be open after all that walk. Anyway it was open thankfully, but it was a different barber!!
There was one guy just finishing getting his hair done, which was really short anyway. The barber carefully snipped round his hair, for around 10 minutes, like it was a sculpture or something. I though fine, at least he takes a pride in his job.
Just as I sat down in the chair two other people appeared also wanting haircuts. My haircut took 4 minutes !!!! It was OK, just… But it was nowhere near as neat as the previous time. No more haircuts for me in the Lebanon !!
March 12, 2011
I have spent quite a few months in Beirut over the last year and whilst walking around, or travelling in cars I have seen some amazing sights on the roads. Normal cars with up to ten adults and children inside. A car with the boot lid up and three children sat there. motorbikes doing wheelies along the motorway and other streets. A scooter doing a wheelie !!
Motorcyclists here are not required to wear helmets and very few do. Apart from that no one bothers about wearing any other protective gear. The man on the scooter above is overtaking a car I was travelling in. He seems to be sending a text whilst holding on with one hand .
One day whilst walking alongside the motorway, I saw a motorbike with two people on board roar past at about 100 KPH doing a wheelie. There was quite a lot of traffic on the road and the once again, no one on the bike was wearing a helmet or any protective gear. I was slow getting my camera out, other wise I would have had a very spectacular shot. The picture above is taken at distance but you can still see what is happening.
March 9, 2011
There are many interesting things to see in Beirut and the Lebanon. It may not be the kind of place you would want to spend two weeks, but there is plenty to do and see in a short stay of around five or six days. The best places to visit I found were: The Jeita Grotto; Our lady of the Lebanon; Byblos; Anjar, Baalbek, and Pigeon rocks. The walking tour of Beirut is a great way to see and find out a tremendous amount about this city and its history.
Al Amin mosque
There are many fantastic churches and mosques in Beirut. The largest of these in Beirut is called the Al-Amin mosque on the edge of Martyrs square right in the centre of the city. I had never been in a mosque before, so this was an amazing experience for me. Anyone is allowed to go inside and amazingly… take pictures. You have to take your shoes off at the entrance and carry these to a special shoe storage place at the far end.
Inside the mosque, the whole floor is covered in a rich deep pile carpet, that has the pattern of thousands of prayer mats. The artwork on the dome and the massive chandelier are very beautiful. At the front prayers were being conducted and there were half a dozen worshipers there. The preacher is on the same level as the congregation which was different, as I had only previously seen preachers up in pulpits. I must say, there is a very relaxed and quite magical feel inside the mosque and I felt better for having visited the place.
Al Omari Mosque
Also located in downtown Beirut is the Al Omari Mosque. This is quite a remarkable building as it was first built in 1150 by the Crusaders as the Cathederal of St John. It was then converted to a Mosque in 1291 by the Mamluks. However the building still points in its original direction which is almost Easterly so not in the direction of Mecca which is South.
Designer shops at Beirut Souks
A brand new shopping area crammed full of expensive designer shops has been build in downtown Beirut in an area know as the Souks. The whole area like the rest of downtown Beirut is spotlessly clean with not a peice of litter to be seen anywhere.
October 17, 2010
I visited Houston many times in the 70s, first as cadet then as Third Mate. A few times in LOF, but mainly in Bank Line on the US Gulf to Aussie and NZ service. (Great run!)
The docks in Houston are a long way from town and when you get into the centre there was not that much to do. I have two abiding memories of my visits to Houston.
A nice memory:
The seaman’s club in Houston is very close to the port and was one of the best I have visited in my time at sea. There was a nice swimming pool and a lovely football pitch, which could be floodlit if seaman wanted to play at night-time. The restaurant served great food and I remember enjoying a perfectly cooked succulent steak there. A real treat as the food was not so clever on board (Bank Line).
One night I was recruited into a football team. A Norwegian ship was one man short, so I offered to make up the numbers. Our opponents? A Yugoslav ship!!! There were some serious footballers amongst the Yugoslavs’. They went into tackles like there were in the last-minute winning 1-0 in the world cup final. A bruising encounter and it’s lucky no one was injured. Anyway although the Yugoslavs’ won 8-2 in the end, it was still great to participate and play on such a nice pitch.
Not such a nice memory :
Another time in Houston whilst on a ship called the Meadow bank around eight of us decided to go ashore and visit some bars just outside the dock gate. It was about ten o’clock at night and as we walked along a brightly lit road close to the port all chatting away merrily, no one noticed that a beat up car had stopped close by.
The next thing I knew, I was staring down the barrel of a gun. This small scrawny Negro stood in front of me and threatened to shoot unless I handed over my cash. His hand was shaking so I did not argue and duly handed over thirty dollars, which I had only got from the captain an hour previously. He then went down the line and took money off everybody. The whole encounter lasted just a few minutes, then he was back in the car and roared off with his accomplice.
We were all quite traumatized by the event. But the really worrying factor was we had no money left for beer. Fortunately the Third Eng had kept some money in his shoe so when we reached the bars at least we could have a couple of beers each.
October 14, 2010
Despite a large navy presence in the Gulf of Aden pirates still abound and attack ships daily. Below is an account of my experience of the problem in June 2009.
During a voyage on a multi-purpose vessel, we had to transit the Gulf of Aden on our way from Singapore to Suez. This was a particularly worrying time for all on board, especially as our sister ship had been attacked the previous month and narrowly avoided being hi-jacked. Another problem which served to further compound our worries was the fact that only one of our two engines was working properly. We would only be able to use the other in an emergency and even then at reduced power. Our maximum speed would then only be 14.0 Kts, instead of 17.5 and only 11.0 if the second engine gave up the ghost.
Long before we arrived at the danger zone (a corridor 450 miles long) we started on our anti piracy measures which included tying many floating objects at the break of the focsle. These were to drop into the water to discourage pirates from approaching, which was a measure successfully applied previously by our sister ship We also rigged many hoses along the deck pointing down to potential boarding places. A good supply of rocket parachute flares were on hand as the first line of defence. Drills were held and every one made familiar with the signals and what to do in case of an attack.
Tension mounted on the ship as we approached the area and anti piracy watches were started. Daily we were getting reports of one or two ships being attacked so the threat was very real. Unlike pirates of yesteryear content to rob ships and make off with the booty (The big prize in recent years had been the cash from the masters safe) these people would be hi-jacking the ship and holding the crew hostage for months till a ransom was paid.
Anyway lady luck was smiling on us… As we had some sensitive high value cargo on board and our slow speed, the powers that be arranged for a naval escort for us. This was great news and a navy ship escorted us the whole way and into the Red Sea, well clear of the pirate area. During the two days we were in the Gulf of Aden more ships were attacked one only 12 miles from our position. We also saw a collection of the dreaded skiffs waiting near Bab El Mendep (Entrance to the Red Sea) and one passed quite close ahead.
Piracy in that area is on going with no end in sight, despite the strong navy presence. A depressing and worrying thought for seafarers that have to transit that area in slow vulnerable vessels. I had previous experiences of piracy in West Africa in the 1980s and this forms the basis of my novel “Shadow on the Moon” www.piracybooks.co.uk