Welcome to Our Lebanon travels

We are in Beirut - day 1. My two cousins, Richard Soliba and Hikmat Hobeika, met us at the airport and got us situated at the hotel. Then Hikmat took us to the city and a feast at Lila ’ s Restaurant, which was excellent. The malls are like our malls with the same stores. There is a wonderful night life. Hikmat is on the left and Richard on the right.

Day 2:We are staying in the safe area of the country. The Lebanese people are from the Phoenicians although they now speak Arabic. The towns we toured today in the mountains have Phoenician names. My cousin Hikmat took us on a tour of all the mountains. We went to Bikfayer where my dad met my mom. And we spent a lot of time where mom ’ s family grew up, Biskinta.

We went to the family home for Hikmat Hobeika and then we went to his sister Janette ’ s home. She has Josephine, a maid from Etheopia, who helps her. Cousins Lina and Richard, and Ivette Hobeika and grandchildren Lara and Raheem (bringing family delicious wine - mom Lena who is Janette ’ s daughter) joined us. We saw a church where two spires had been added, one for Hobeka father named Roucos and one for his mom, my aunt Natalie Hobeka. Jenette at 88 prepared a feast for us - chicken with garlic, potatoes, rice, eggplant with tomatoes, spinach Fatya, taboole served with a young white sweet cabbage, delicious beans and tomatoes from the garden, hibous, home made olives from Hikmat’s place, cantaloupe from Hikmat’s garden, fresh goat cheese, and for dessert she made a Carmel flan, a ground sweet cheese with honey, and a mixture of pomegranate seeds, fresh pine nuts, and pistachios.

Baskinta - mom ’ s home town.

Janette ’ s two granddaughters. The girls, Lina, Hikmat, Janette, Yvette, Richard. At table cousins Lina, Richard, Janette, Roseann, Walt, Hikmat

Cousins Lina and Richard took us to the home where mom grew up.
Then Hikmat took us all around the area.

And we saw where St. Rafqa (from our family) was from and a sign showing where they are building a church in her name.

Then Hikmat took us to Himalaya where my father ’s family lives. I met a lady who lived next door to my grandpa and when she saw me, she said you are daughter of Anise, which surprised Hikmat. She took us to meet my grandfather ’s brother ’s son, Assaad Rayess. His father was Rizk Rayess. I met his sons and daughters who I will add to the family tree. Everyone is very cordial. We were welcomed with open arms.

Here I sit with Assaad and some of his children. Assaad Rayess has two sets of twins - Children include: George, Samir, Tony, Joesph and Samia, Samira, Noha and Hauda

Day 3: On Sunday I walked more than 10,000 steps and most where up and down stairs. Cousins Richard Saliba and Lina Ghoussoub took us to the Jeita grotto which is now one of the wonders of the world. They are most beautiful and breathtaking.

Jeita Grotto is the is a compound of crystallized caves in Lebanon located 20 km north of Beirut in the Valley of Nahr al-Kalb (Dog River).

Jeita I was first noted in 1833 by Botta and excavated by Godefroy Zumoffen in two positions in 1898, 1900, 1908 and 1910. It was later excavated by Auguste Bergy with materials from both excavations now with the Museum of Lebanese Prehistory, the Archaeological Museum of the American University of Beirut and the private collection of Dr. Gigues. Henri Fleisch noticed an Upper Paleolithic level with further finds including polished Neolithic pieces, primitive potsherds, burned bones and end scrapers. Jacques Cauvin noted similarities in these finds to the Néolithique Moyen period of Byblos. Evidence of later occupation included a Chalcolithic tripod pot found by Father Fleisch and a combed-ware sherd suggested to date to the Early Bronze Age levels at Byblos.

Jeita II (Dahr el-Mghara) is a rock shelter situated on a platform, above and equidistant between the dry cave of Jeita I and the entrance to the grotto at Jeita III. Excavations were made by the Duc de Luynes and Lartet in 1864, by Zumoffen in 1900 and 1908 and by Bergy in 1930. A large number of flint tools, bones and hearths were found that were accredited to the Aurignacian. Further excavations were made in 1964 by Francis Hours which revealed much more extensive, deeper and richer deposits than had previously been suspected. Father Hours permitted Lorraine Copeland to disclose that the upper material appeared to display late Upper Paleolithic or early Mesolithic characteristics, probably including Kebaran. Excavation was to be continued but the area as fenced off and owned by the government.

Then we went to lunch at the seaside in the biggest restaurant I have ever seen. This lunch tops all others in food. Richard treated us ordering almost everything possible. My cousin Olivia and her husband Joesph joined us. Both very charming. My favorite food was kibbee Nayee.

Next we went to Byblos which is a citadel built in 1100 BC to protect them from the Romans. Byblos is one of the top contenders for the "oldest continuously inhabited city" award. According to Phoenician tradition it was founded by the God El, and even the Phoenicians considered it a city of great antiquity. Although its beginnings are lost in time, modern scholars say the site of Byblos goes back at least 7,000 years. Today Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic) on the coast 37 kilometers north of Beirut, is a prosperous place with glass-fronted office buildings and crowded streets. But within the old town, medieval Arab and Crusader remains are continuous reminders of the past. Nearby are the extensive excavations that make Byblos one of the most important archaeological sites in the area.

Last we took gondolas to a high mountain where we lit candles for special intentions and prayed in church of "Our Lady of Lebanon of Paris Cathedral." It is located in Daroun-Harissa which is a municipality that consists of two villages, Harissa and Daraoun, in the Keserwan District of the Mount Lebanon Governorate of Lebanon. The municipality is located 27 km north of Beirut. The shrine belongs to the Maronite Patriarchate who entrusted its administration to the Congregation of Maronite Lebanese Missionaries since its foundation in 1904. It is one of the most important shrines in the world honoring Mary, Mother of Jesus. The shrine is highlighted by a huge, 15-ton bronze statue which the French made. It is 8.5 m high, and has a diameter of five meters. The Virgin Mary stretches her hands towards Beirut.

On Monday we took a tour bus as we wanted to see the southern historical cities. The tour company is able to drive safely where others can ’t. We went to Sidon and Tyre near the border. When we drove through Sidon we passed the home of the head of the Hezbollah. As we drove south we passed many fields of banana, orange, and lemon trees. All other crops are grown in the valleys and the mountains. We had to go through guard stations of the United Nations. After about 65 years many Palestinians are still living in tents.

Sidon is one of the Famous names in ancient history. its past has been tragically scattered and plundered. In the 19th century, treasure hunters and amateur archaeologists made off with many of its most beautiful and important objects, some of which can now be seen in foreign museums. Sidon was inhabited as long ago as 4000 B.C., and perhaps as early as Neolithic times (6000 - 4000 B.C.). Sidon's Phoenician period began in the 12th - 10th century B.C. and reached its height during the Persian Empire (550 - 330 B.C.).

We also visited Tyre. We walked through the sooks. Like all of Lebanon ’s coastal cities, Tyre has seen a myriad of passing armies, conquerors, civilizations and eras. Tyre was a prosperous Phoenician city that was responsible for the founding of Mediterranean colonies, such as Carthage and Cadiz. The city ’s production of purple dye, coveted by European nobility, made the city a hub of commerce for centuries. Much of Tyre ’s ruins come from Roman times, and roaming around the cities, traces of the fallen empire are strewn about. Tyre’s Hippodrome is a sprawling spectacle of ancient Roman grandeur. The Hippodrome once held up to 40,000 people, who sat along the stadium stands to cheer on chariot races.

And we went to see Mary waits for Jesus in a cave in Maghdouche near Sidon in the South of Lebanon now known as Our Lady Of Mantara while Jesus made wine at the wedding. (Awaiting). At the village of Maghdouche there is a high tower with a statue of the Virgin on the top. This is the sanctuary of “ Our Lady Of Mantara ” .

Maghdouché's most famous landmark is the tower of Our Lady of Mantara, which is a Marian shrine built May 16, 1963, above the cave that is believed to have been the resting place of the Virgin Mary as she waited for Jesus while he preached in Sidon.