Sunday, January 22, 2012

2011 May - Stockholm

I left Lebanon and headed to Stockholm, Sweden! After a layover in Prague (still need to visit that city), I arrived in Stockholm around noon. My wonderful friend Noriko lives in Stockholm and was kind enough to let me stay with her for the weekend. Noriko and I worked a lot of long hours together in NY and I was so excited to reunite with her again!

I dropped my bags off at Noriko's and then ventured around the city until she got off work. Stockholm is really a beautiful city. I really liked it. I just wondered around, taking pictures, and doing some shopping.

After walking around Galma Stan (the old town) and taking in as much as I could....I met up with Noriko and we headed back towards her place. Her husband met up with us for dinner at a delicious Thai place near their apartment.

Noriko had to work the next day, so after going for a run in the morning and doing some laundry....I did more wondering. And decided to go to the Vasa Museum which stores a 17th century ship.... It was pretty impressive.

The next day was Saturday so Noriko was able to spend the day with me! We decided to go to the Stockholm Archipelago [Islands].

The Islands are usually full of people in the summer months - but since it was only May and still a little chilly out, they were quiet. But still beautiful and very peaceful.

We got lunch on the Island at the only open restaurant. Of course I had to order the Swedish Meatballs and ligonberry jam! They were so good!

Then some ice cream before heading back on the boat back to the city!

When we got back, Noriko took me to a place to look out over the city. The sun was starting to set so it was really beautiful. Then we grabbed dinner on the way back to her place and I packed my stuff to get ready to fly to Norway the next day!

May 2011 - Final Day in Lebanon [Ruins in Baalbek]

My last day in Lebanon, I went on a tour with my cousins to Baalbek to see the ruins. We took a bus from Beirut to Baalbek. Baalbek is actually probably only about 20 miles away from Syria.

Anyway - the ruins were quite impressive.... Here are a few pics...

This was the second location of ruins we came to....

Temple of Jupiter

Temple of Baachus

We also stopped at a winery and had a delicious lunch along the way. It was a good tour. We were pretty tired out by the time we got back. Thankfully, I had already packed because I was heading to the airport at midnight to catch my flight back to Europe.

My trip to Lebanon was absolutely amazing. I really loved the country, the people, the food, everything. I'm so happy that I went. Lebanon was not ever really a place that had crossed my mind to travel to. And I'm sure that had Jen not chosen to get married there, the chances of me ever going would have been slim to none. But now - I actually wouldn't be surprised if I return some day. Especially if Jen and Elias end up there. It was a fantastic trip! And I can't say enough about the hospitality of Elias' family! They really made the trip wonderful!

May 2011 - Lebanon [Beirut]

The next day we finally made it to Beirut to check out the city. Meagan and I took a taxi downtown and grabbed lunch at a cute little cafe...

I was really surprised at how new a lot of the buildings and area is in Beirut. I'm not really sure what I expected, actually. But I didn't expect it to be so modern and high fashion. Some call it "the Paris of the Middle East"....

Of course there are still buildings like these from the years of war that Lebanon has sustained - a building with tons of gun holes.

But you can tell they have been doing a lot of rebuilding. And there are some beautiful buildings, churches, and mosques. Lebanon is about 40% Christian and 60% Muslim. Before going, I actually thought it would have a higher Muslim population than that.

Meagan and I were walking around and we ran into Uncle Greg, Jen, Elias and Mel....

Clock in the center of the city

Trying to get a picture of the police that roam the streets with machine guns.

The Al-Omari Mosque....I think it was originally a Cathedral that was later transformed into a Mosque.

Pigeons Rock (Raouche)

Getting some delicious Schawarma!

Some more pictures of the Grand Mosque......

We hung out in the city for a while... walked around...sat at another cafe. And then finally took a taxi back to the convent. Meagan was starving so she got some McD's on the way home...

And then we crashed. It was a good day. Great city.

May 2011 - Lebanon [Day After]

The day after the wedding...we slept in. Everyone recovered from the long, fun night. And then we [the family] were invited to meet Jen and Elias for a late lunch up in the mountains - in Faraya. It was colder up there and also beautiful. Lunch was also amazing. Like all the food that I had in Lebanon. Loved it!

After we ate, Elias' family took us to this lookout area and we [I] took a bunch of pictures....

Me and Melissa


Mel, Jen, Meagan, and Christine

The entire gang!

Me and the new bride!

Playin' around on Zyad's bike.

May 2011 - Lebanon [The Big Day]

So - the whole reason I decided to go to Lebanon was because my cousin Jennifer was getting married. "Why Lebanon?" everyone asks. Well - Elias is from Lebanon (duh!). Jen and Elias met in Montreal (and currently live in Morocco) but decided they wanted to get married back in Lebanon.

I don't get to see my cousins very often so it was so fun to be able to go to the wedding and share her special day with her! She is such a wonderful person and it was fun to see her so happy!

Mel, Uncle Greg, Jen, Aunt Colette

It was fun to see all the traditions they have in Lebanon for when they get married. Traditionally, you always visit the Bride or Groom the morning before they get married at their home. So - Megan and I walked first down to Elias' to see and congratulate him and then we got a ride to Elias' sister's home where Jen was being greeted by everyone.

The photographer was taking so many pictures (and so did I). Jennifer just looked so beautiful! And she had a gorgeous dress.

After all the bijillions of pictures... Jen and her Dad came out of the building and people threw rose petals down from the balcony as they headed to their car. A few of the cars were decorated as well and a procession of cars followed behind the bride, honking horns, all the way to the church!
They were married in a small, quaint church with a gorgeous view of the sea and the town (I think the town was called Jounieh where they got married).

Elias and his Mother before the Ceremony

Jennifer and the very proud Father of the Bride

The happy couple!

Ringing the Church Bell after the Wedding!

Exciting the Church! Yay!

The reception was held at a nearby restaurant. I loved the setup. Everything was just so beautiful. The way they introduce the couple was also a very fun tradition. It's called Zaffeh (i think?). A group of dances escort the groom and dance with him. All Elias' friends joined in and they danced in a circle around him. At one point he was even on someone's shoulders. Then the dancers dance with the groom to go get the bride. And they both came back dancing. Everyone greets them, claps, dances! And of course the bride also gets hoisted up on some shoulders!

The dinner was amazing. I LOVE Mediterranean food! I was full just from the appetizers because they were so good. And then they had fish and tons of grilled meats. It was so, so, so good. My mouth is watering just thinking about it right now. Actually - I didn't even get to try most of the meal because you weren't sitting down for too long before everyone was getting up to dance!

Listening to the toasts - first by Melissa (my cousin) and then Ziad (Elias' brother).

The first dance

Father/Daughter dance. Very sweet.

The Wedding Cake!

On the dance floor!

Elias threw a bunch of water (or something) as a joke before actually throwing the real garter!

Megan caught the bouquet and Elias' friend (who caught the garter) was pretty happy about that. (And so was Megan). ;)

The wedding was amazing. It went late. We danced for a long time and I loved it. They definitely know how to throw a wedding in Lebanon! The night didn't even end there... after the reception was over, we all (including even the bride and groom) decided to go to a Shisha Cafe (aka Hookah Cafe). Shisha is pretty trendy in Lebanon. They have it all over - kinda like finding a Starbucks on every corner...there seems to be shisha cafe's everywhere.

We definitely got some looks as we strolled up all dressed up with the bride and groom.

But that didn't stop Jen! :)

The guys playing some backgammon. A popular game in Lebanon.

The entire day was just amazing. It definitely made my trip to Lebanon worth every minute of this day! So happy I was able to be there and take part in the celebration!!