Monday, October 8, 2012


Lesson learned. Never let Amanda be in charge of the camera. Apparently, I have a talent for not taking a single important picture. This is why I married Ryan- we really should have included camera possession in our vows. On this trip I was partially in charge of the camera and hardly any pictures were taken, surprise, surprise. 

Our friend Shelly (aka party/excursion planner extraordinaire), arranged for a large group of us to go out to a winery in eastern Lebanon.  Apparently, this is her favorite winery to visit and we soon found out why.  I'll go over that but first a little background about the winery and it's location. 

Massaya, located in the very fertile area of the Bekaa valley, is owned by two Lebanese brothers Sami and Ramzi Ghosn. The winery's estate, Tanail, has belonged to their family since the 70's but the civil war forced the family out of the area in 1975.  Seventeen years later, the two brothers moved back to the family home and dedicated their lives to making wines and Arak. Go Sami and Ramzi!

We loaded up a huge, awesomely air conditioned, bus and drove the hour + drive there.  Lots of windy roads but also lots of cool shops and people watching along the way.  Nothing like driving towards Syria to make you pay attention to everything!  Then the shops end and we are driving in a big construction site. The roads were gravel and I was starting to question our bus drivers navigation skills and party-planning-Shelly's taste in "incredible places to visit".  But, within minutes my mind was changed. We took one turn and all of the sudden we were at a lush winery with fields of lavender, big olive trees, and herbs galore. 

Did I take pictures of the entry? No. Did I take pictures of the estate? No. Did I take pictures of olives? Yes.

I realize this is hard to imagine with my lack of pictures but just beyond the estate and fields of heavenly smelling plants, there is an outdoor dining area that blew my away.  Let's put it this way, what's the one thing that you want to do after you eat a ton of delicious food and wine? If your answer is "take a nap" then we can be BFFs. There were beds/benches everywhere. People were sleeping and smoking Hookahs. Funny that I now feel like that's normal at a restaurant.

The beds/benches that we all ate at. This is our fun ACS group of elementary, middle, high school teachers and administrators!

The wine came out before you really got food in your tummy but they gave us a "breakfast"of snack food before the huge meal that was supposed to come out in an hour. A snack to this group could have been a meal to me!  We had bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, yogurt, and a bunch of other things I can't remember but made my tummy very happy.

We were surrounded by lush gardens, but this basil centerpiece made it all the more fresh.

To see all the stuff I forgot to take pictures of, please, PLEASE watch this episode of Anthony Bourdain's trip to Massaya. It's exactly like our experience and they capture all the grapes, lavender and copious amounts of food that was served. Fast forward to about 03:40 and you'll see it all. 

I was eating for hours and hours so no pictures were taken. If I can steal some from a friend, I'll put them up. Until then, you can see the pictures of what happens when open container laws aren't in place in a country. We were already having fun talking and relaxing, then.... the bus driver turned the radio on. I'm not sure I totally get Lebanese music but to a bunch of tipsy/drunk people it turned into their favorite new song. I couldn't stop taking pictures. The exact opposite of what I did at the actual winery. Boo.

If you only knew how hard it was to dance on a bus that was driving switchbacks.

My husband can groove. Sexy man.

This is Andrew (high school Health and PE) and Susan (Curriculum Coordinator)

My favorite picture of Mike who finally moved in the stair well for the door so we could dance and hold railings.

Our friend Julianne had to tell Ryan how amazing he was with a kiss.  I proceeded to punch her afterwards.  JUST KIDDING! This is a kissey country anyway.

When my arms were tired from holding the camera while trying to not crash into dancing people, Ryan took over and caught this little gem.

We loved Massaya and can't wait to go back and gorge ourselves some more (that's what I'm saying in the picture).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sunset/Moonrise hike in the Al-Shouf Cedar Preserve

Our wonderful school organized a hike up in the Al-Shouf Cedar Reserve.  If you've been reading this blog, you'll have noticed we already done one hike up there.  Since it's a HUGE reserve, it was a completely different hike starting from a completely different area. We headed south outside of Beirut to get to the trail head.  The goal of the hike was to hike up to the summit and then get to not only see the sun set over the west of Lebanon but also to see the moonrise over the Bekaa valley.  This is extra special because it was a blue moon (when a third blue moon happens in a season that has four full moons). I guess this only happens every two of three years so it's unique.  No, it's not blue. 

This post will mostly be pictures because it was just one of those happy walks where the world seems perfect.  Nothing super interesting happened except for happiness and good conversation.  The world seemed like a much smaller place up there.  I am in a country and could see two other countries that I never thought I would be in.  I was with people that are interesting, kind, friendly and way more fun than I ever thought I would meet in Lebanon.  I'm not sure why I find it so deeply profound that people from all over the place seem to agree on what beauty in nature is.  This was it.

Our groups split up into difficulty levels to get to the summit.  Being a stubborn (but not physically fit) hiker, I took the hard one.  Honestly, in the end I think we had the easier hike.  We went up steeper stuff initially, but we did avoided the longer somewhat steep climb that exhausted everyone else. 

View near the summit, overlooking the west of Lebanon.  

Still climbing! It was great that some of the ACS people brought their kids to hike with us.  The one kid I was hiking with speaks 4 languages and told me he prefers French because its the easiest.  Once again, when is all this Spanish I took going to come in handy?

The sun starting to set. 

I'm still a little confused about these pools that we saw around there.  Apparently, the Chinese (someone else told me Japanese and then I heard Germans later) gave Lebanon money for them to build these reservoirs for the animals.  Please, if someone understands this let me know!

Overlooking the Bekaa valley.  The moonrise is going to be on this side.  We could see Mt. Hermon (technically a cluster of mountains) which is in the Anti-Lebanon mountain range.  The two major mountain ranges in Lebanon are the western range, the Lebanon Mountains and the eastern range, the Anti-Lebanon mountains.  Just so you get an idea, the summit of Mt. Hermon is at about 9,232 feet.  It actually is the dividing point between Lebanon and Syria and considered the highest point in Syria. 

Our friend and fellow ACSer, Tracy.  She suffers from the same torture inflicted by her husband that Ryan inflicts on me.  They both sings parts of songs and then we get them stuck in our heads for days.  I was so glad to bond with her over this and know that others feel my pain.

The gorgeous Bekaa valley.  In a future post, we will head over this way to go to a winery called Massaya.  The valley has incredibly fertile ground which makes it the most important agricultural area in Lebanon.  I still haven't made it to Baalbek, where there are some really cool Roman ruins, but I'm sure we will before they fall down.

We are at the summit!  Time to grab a comfy spot and shove some food in our mouths.

So....we found the perfect spot to sit and look over watch the sunset but it also happened to be in the way of everyones picture taking. Oops. We snapped a few pictures before feeling too guilty to sit there anymore. 

Ryan has this thing where he makes me ugly laugh.  I just don't get it.

The sunset (and also the background on my computer).  This is an extra amazing picture considering we had just totally broke the lens on the camera and lost some other semi-important parts in the process.

Ryan practicing his shadow puppeting.

It's almost gone!

Time to turn around and head over to the other side of the mountain and see the moonrise.  Tiny moon over the mountains.

Moonrise over Mt. Hermon

And this is where it just got too dark and I got too distracted to take any pictures.  We both got cold, which was a first since arriving in Lebanon and still had a great time.  Fireworks were going off in the west (I guess they are common to light off at weddings) and looked amazing over the clouds.  Andre, the tour guide from the last hike we went on, made us all chocolate fondue that could not have tasted better.  People drank wine and talked and fell down in the dark (not because of the wine- the moon wasn't quite high enough for us to see where we were going for a while).  We hiked down with the moonlight as our flashlights.  Thank you everyone that went with us- we had a blast and loved sharing that beautiful experience with you!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wine tour of Lebanon

I would be harder on myself about the tardiness of this blog post going up but it's been an ordeal getting all the pictures from our wine tour. I can upload about 3 pictures at a time and then either the power goes out or my computer runs out of internet "traffic". Enough complaining, let me show you this great tour we went on.

This was the first tour that we went on of something that wasn't through the school. The company, Vamos Todos, does hiking tours, wine tours, trips to the beach and even out of the country tours. This wine tour went to three different wineries mainly in the Batroun region.

First we visited the Trappiste Priests winery. We had a typical Lebanese breakfast of cheeses, bread, olives, flatbread and then some of the jams they make. They are a pretty small winery and but they produce a high quality organic wine. We got the chance to wander through the winery before the very nice and very French priest told us all about the wine making in a language I don't know. Fortunately, a very nice Lebanese woman translated everything to me that he said to us.

Pictures of the monastery:

The breakfast spread plus all the wines for us to try. We had a fun group from all over the world.

Some of the wines that we tried. 

Me and the friendly French priest. I think French (in addition to the Lebanese Arabic I need desperately need to learn) is going to be my next language.

Ryan's principal, Fabio and us.

The person taking this photograph made me pretend to be drinking (out of an empty glass!), thus why I can't not smile.

Outside there was a little garden on the way to the gift shop.

Our second stop on the tour was in a town called Ghazir. Chateaux Musar looked like just a huge house on the side of the hill but ended up being an old 17th century castle. The winery is famous locally and internationally and was established by Gaston Hochar in 1930. The vineyards of Château Musar are located at an altitude of over 1,000 meters in the Bekaa Valley. The wines of Château Musar are known for their complexity and maturity.

The wine barrel cleaner person. Awesome job- you get too hot in the roasting summer weather, just spray yourself with some water and go get a drink of wine.

Entrance to the production area. They not only make wines but also Arak. If you don't know about it read up on it. It was both mine and Ryan's first taste of it and definitely my last. Black licorice flavor is similar to eating tires and skunks in my book.

Grape skins after being pressed.

The Arak barrels. I'll admit it smelled a little less like tires and skunks in here and more like Christmas.

Then we headed in the cellar to see all the barrels of wine and the bottles sleeping in their spiderwebby slumber.

Apparently, the spiderwebs help insulate and regulate the temperature of the wine. Also, the spiders themselves eat all the bugs that might eat the corks and spoil the wine.

Fellow ACS teacher friends, Mike and Gretchen.

Ryan with a super old bottle of wine that we got in trouble for touching. Oops! Ryan would be smiling more but I was whining and all freaked out because we might get caught.

The wines we tasted. Don't get me started on the tour lady. Let's just say I might have had a small fantasy about smashing one of these over her head to get her to shut up or quit counting over and over again on her fingers.

Then we went to the monastery of Kfifan, where where we visited Saint Neemtallah el Hardini and the beatified monk, Estephan Nehmeh. Yeah, I still haven't found out who they are but the gift shop sure sells a lot of stuff with their faces on it! Then we saw the winery of Adyar, located in the monastery of Kfifan. Adyar was established in 2003, cultivating vineyards in Batroun, Metn and Chouf, and producing unique wines. The vineyards are not exposed to any chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

View of one of the vineyards,

The tombs.

You can't see it but there is actually a mummified dead guy laying there. I think there should have been a warning on a sign somewhere. The little kid next to me asked his mom if the guy was made of plastic. 

Adyar produces white, rose and red wines and we got to try them all. This was the first well organized winery tasting, in my opinion. We even got little crackers to snack on and bottles of water! Thank you Adyar!

Our group at Adyar.

After a long day, we were ready for some good food! Batrouniyat is an old house made of stone walls. The shop sells homemade jam, oil, dried fruits, honey, pickled vegetables and other organic foods and goods. It was delicious and just like the rest of the traditional Lebanese meals, I was beyond stuffed afterwards. Ugh.

We had to cram so many people in the car that Mike offered to sit in the trunk to keep an eye on all the wine we bought. Isn't he so kind?

Thank you Mark (from Vamos Todos) for a great tour!

And now for your moment of zen...