After Sunday evening’s splurge, we had decided to go back to our normal travel style. The plan was to travel to Baalbek to see the ruins of the ancient Roman city. We hoped on one of the service minibus to Baalbek and were there around 2 hours later.
We only planned to stay one night in Baalbek so we had to check in an hotel and go see the ruins. The first surprise when we arrived was that a lot of construction going on in front of the hotel that seemed best based on Lonely Planet (2003). We still got in and asked for a room. I did not like the rooms because they were quite shabby and it was smelling moldy. Since we were only staying for one night and Rod wanted to get to the ruins fast, we still checked in after the owner had told us it would go away with some aeration.
We went on to visit the ruins. The ruins are quite compact and it does not take that long to visit them. There are three temples:
- The main temple was the temple of Jupiter that must have been massive with columns of 20 meters but there is not much left standing today.
- The second temple and the most impressive is the temple of Bacchus that was called the small temple at that period. It has nothing of small to tell the truth and it is quite well conserved. Very impressive!
- The third temple is actually not on the main site and cannot be approached. You can see the temple of Venus from 15 meters away when you are outside the main complex. It is not in a very nice shape though.
Construction work of the theatre for the Baalbek festival starting July 13th are going on so it removes a bit of the site. The amphitheatre is located in between the two main temples so it was not preventing us from visiting though.
There are also two museums on site and they should not be missed as they are very nicely documented and present some nice pieces.
The guide and people are raving about Baalbek but I still prefer Jerash for its cheer size and overall conservation and restoration state. Baalbek is not to be missed still and I would advise to visit it over Palmyra if you had to make a choice.
After visiting the ruins and the nearby cool looking mosque, it was time to get a beer and watch some football so we went around looking for a bar. Experience taught us that your best bet when you are in a smaller town in the Middle-East was to go for the bigger hotels.
And we started with the most famous and actually oldest hotel of Baalbek. The Palmyra hotel is located near the ruins and was considered the best hotel in town by the same Lonely Planet Middle-East. It is a great looking building with a nice garden but the reception was not very friendly. It was not bad but nothing very inviting so we decided to move on and try our luck somewhere else.
We did not really know where to go from there since there was nothing else in the guide. But on the way to Baalbek, we had seen commercials on the side of the road about an hotel called Hotel La Memoire that was not in the guide. And we also had seen an indication of where it was located when we had arrived in town. So we decided to go and check it out. Maybe we would be luckier.
The hotel is not very far from the main road actually but still far enough to be in a calm little street. We climbed the steps of the entrance and made our way to the reception where we were very well greeted by the receptionists. Soon after, the manager showed up and offered to set up a TV so that we could watch the games.
Sadly, the hotel is not serving alcoholic beverages so far so our hopes for beers were a bit shattered. Mr Kamal, the manager, offered us to try a non-alcoholic beer as a welcome drink and this is something you should not refuse in Middle-East.
While we were drinking and some staff was setting up the TV for us. We had a very nice discussion in a mix of French and English about the hotel, Baalbek and the Bekaa Valley in general. It turned out the hotel was only open for 9 days! And since it was still quite new, guests were scarce.
Mr Kamal then gave us a tour of the hotel. It is a very nice boutique hotel of only 9 rooms. Every room’s door has a very nicely handmade metal cover. There is a VIP suite, a Junior suite with a balcony with a view of the ruins and 7 other rooms with either a king bed or two king single beds. Each of them is richly decorated but not overloaded. Quite modern with touches of ancient. For example, our room had this old chair and ottoman that I wanted to take home with me. Each room comes equipped with at least one plasma TV, A/C, a personal fridge and safe box. The hall and lecture room are richly decorated with ancient furniture. The two outdoor areas are very nice.
I was quite sold to the idea of moving there by then but Mr Kamal was still not there yet. After realizing we had just seen the old Roman temples, he graciously offered to lend us the hotel car with a driver to take us around town to see other sites of interest.
The very young driver took us to some places. The first one was the site of “the largest stone on earth” that is a stone carved out by the Romans to be used at the temple complex. I am not sure if it is the largest stone on earth but the story of the site that was provided to us by the unofficial guard is quite interesting :).
The driver then drove us around town to the main park and “lake”. It allowed us to realize that Baalbek was actually a big city with 150 000 inhabitants as we would learn later.
As we got back to the hotel, we were both sold for sure and decided to move from the shabby hotel to this great place. I don’t think we will ever regret it.
We first had dinner but since the hotel does not have menus yet, the chef came out of his kitchen and gave us some ideas of what we could get. We went with his suggestions and got served a fine meal. It was not as good as the dinner of the day before but it was definitely good. The waiting staff was clearly inexperienced so service looked a bit hectic at first but nothing bad happened :).
We finished the evening watching Italy-Ghana projected outside on one of the white wind protection placed around the terrace.