I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in Libya (9)






When we travel, we try to gather an insight into wherever we are, going beyond the simple tourist sites and learning more about ordinary life and culture.  Travelling to Libya last year, we felt that we’d gone some way to achieve this and came home with a different image of the country and its people from the one we had previously.  As a result of this, the ordinary people of Tripoli are very much on my mind this morning. 




I believe the BBC correspondent was standing not far from this spot this morning, outside the elegant hotel where we spent a couple of days.  He described the events going on around him to the sound of shells and gunfire.




I wonder what’s become of these people?  Where is the young woman who stopped to wish us welcome to her country, to thank us for visiting and to hope that we enjoy our stay?  Where are all the refugees from elsewhere in Africa, that were welcomed into the country as part of the regime?  Where are all the families in the marketplace, the young women we met whilst visiting the museum, the charming young man we met at Leptis Magna and his family?




What’s happening in those delightful newly-restored buildings in central Tripoli, where hopes were high for a tourism revival and confidence in the future was placed in beautiful small guesthouses like this?




But uppermost in my mind this morning, what’s become of our dear friend Mohammed and his family?  The incredibly well-read man who made us laugh with his comparison between the Sahara and Weston-super-Mare and who taught us a great deal about life in Libya and the world in general, seen though very different eyes? 

Sad to say, I have no idea.

See more of our photographs of Tripoli and beyond here and hope that all will be well.  Read the blog posts of our incredible time in Libya starting here and hope that, sometime soon, we’ll be able to go there again and feel that Sahara sand between our toes




because really, it’s a long way from Weston super Mare.


So, to sum up...

...it all felt so much more than a long weekend!  To think we were less than four hours flight away is incredible.


For sure, a visit to Libya isn't a last minute option.  First, our passports needed Arabic translations, then visas were required.  As far as I know, it's not possible to travel there independently - we made all our travel plans with a reliable and knowledgeable travel agent.  We had a last minute panic when, just four days before our visit, travellers from countries in the Schengen area of the EU were denied entry, even though they had valid visas.  We breathed a sign of relief when we read that British citizens were ok.

All of this planning and preparation was amply rewarded by the people of this remarkable country, who without exception offered a warm and friendly welcome to us.  The wealth of treasures, in the form of both historical remains and natural landscapes is second to none - and we hardly scratched the surface.  there is plenty more to see and now our appetite has been whetted...well!



Abdullah, our city guide in Tripoli, pointed out the pink set on display in the silk souq.  "For Wednesdays" he said.


"Because traditionally women visit the hammam that day and it's customary for them to wear pink afterwards".

So many small stories, things to learn, customs to share.  It's these things which make our travelling so interesting.  When we told friends where we were heading for our February break, they raised an eyebrow: Why on earth were we going to a country with a reputation for - well, all kinds of things?  Were we wise to go somewhere so "foreign"?  Would we be safe? 



In answer to that question, I suggest a close look at the photograph above, taken in the weavers cooperative in Tripoli around mid morning on Tuesday.  Totally empty of people but full of goods: silk, materials, the normal tools and belongings of the people who work there.  Open to all and yet, 100% secure, because no-one would dream of going in there and taking something which wasn't theirs, or creating mischief of any kind.  Here we are in a capital city like no other where we felt completely safe, trusted and comfortable.  I'm not saying that I don't feel safe in London, but I guess that anyone with an office or storefront on a main thoroughfare would be a little hesitant to leave it all quite so open and empty.  Such a lack of petty crime here was refreshing.



Of course, it's hard to make accurate judgements on the basis of just four days in a couple of places, but we were struck by the fact that we saw little evidence of real poverty.  Most people looked healthy, well dressed and drove what we'd regard as "ordinary" cars.  At the opposite end of the scale, neither did we see any signs of ostentatious wealth: No flash cars, flashy jewellery or designer labels.  For sure, there must be a broad range of social standing and class, but such things were difficult for we outsiders to identify.  We saw only a broad range of "ordinary" and that, to us, looked pretty good.



We were fortunate to have the company of a first-class guide who shared a wealth of knowledge with us and by doing so enlightened us to the reality of a country which is changing rapidly.  We left with a real thirst to see more; to visit Cyrenaica and Benghazi, to travel to Ghadames and experience a different part of the desert.  We'd like to visit Leptis Magna again to spend longer "just looking" and take another look at those magnificent mosaics in the museum.  On a future visit we'd be braver and be more prepared to venture that bit further beyond; to stay in a traditional Tripoli hotel like the El Khan and go looking for a more authenic menu than the soup/chicken/rice/salad/chips we were generally given on this occasion.  I'd prepare a little better by learning a few more words of Arabic, too!



If it wasn't for the fact that we rather enjoyed having the place to ourselves, I'd suggest that this is a place which should feature on everyone's list of "must sees".

We'd better make our next trip quick, before it does.





One last detour

via the market



I'd mentioned to Mohammed that I'd like to take home some dates.  Following our walk around the city with Abdullah, he met us and promised to stop at the best place on the way to the airport.  This turned out to be the "Italian Market" and my goodness, what a place!



I always enjoy looking around a foreign food market, especially one like this which has so many good things on offer.  So many fish, smply displayed and looking so appetising, fresh vegetables and fruit mostly home grown but a few imports (bananas and apples)



Arriving in the "dried fruit department", Mohammed jostled and bantered with the young saleman in a good natured way.  He explained that, no, he wasn't a regular at this particular stall, but that by building a bit of a relationship with the seller, a better deal can be secured and the business transaction can be made more enjoyable.


How true!  This concept was one which stayed with me and I found myself thinking back to it later.  Isn't this something we've lost here, where we buy from anonymous supermarkets where sometimes, I don't even speak to a member of staff (if I use the Quick Check facilty).  Isn't this something which makes shopping in a Farmers Market so much more pleasurable?  Perhaps our discomfort in haggling in an exotic marketplace results from the loss of these basic social skills, our inability to establish a friendly  relationship with the seller before embarking on the process of buying something? 



I watched Mohammed in action again at the olive stall, where the seller and he exchanged a few greetings (and tastings) before choosing which olives they'd recommend for me to bring home.


Hmm.  So much more to take home from that marketplace than a bag of dates and olives.



In the Museum

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I took so many photographs in the museum that I've simply uploaded a slide show. Some have notes accompanying them, as before, others need no explanation. Bear in mind that the mosaics are mostly made of tesserae no larger than 5mm square - quite awe inspiring effects from such skilful use of shade and colour. Look out for the pair of feet and ten toes sneaking into one of them! What a delightfully human feature to include in the design.

In the Medina

Our last morning brought us full circle, beginning our walk through the Medina with Abdullah in more or less the same place as we'd finished our first exploratory mooch when we arrived on Friday afternoon, the Arch of Marcus Aurelius.




We walked around, better able to put it in perspective now we'd seen more of the city and been to Leptis Magna.



The blue skies and warm, comfortable temperatures brought the city to life.



Abdullah took us inside the Zumit Hotel, one of a new breed of restored places to stay in the traditional style.  The Zumit hotel had been a caravanserai and retained all the atmosphere of those days.



As we stood in the courtyard dining room, gazing up to the blue sky, a small tortoise wandered along at our feet, quite at home here in the sunken part of the building.



Next stop, the Gurgi Mosque, small but beautifully decorated and very atmospheric.



Wandering through the old streets of the Medina, we heard of plans to renovate these fine Italian style houses, formerly homes of wealthy merchants and their families.



Frequently on the corner of a small street or Zenghat, there would be a Roman pillar, "reclaimed" from Leptis Magna and put to use in a slightly different way from that which was originally intended.



Life goes on in 21st century style in streets not really made for vehicles and we step inside another restored building to take a look.



This one is the El Khan Hotel, stylishly decorated in a very sympathetic way and certainly somewhere to consider for our next visit - yes, there will be another trip here before long!


Across the street, then, past another pillar on the corner, and into the House of Yusuf Karamanli, now a small museum of life here in Tripoli.



Another beautiful courtyard, more tiles and patterned surfaces.



The darkened rooms contained a collection of bits and pieces, including some terrific pieces of embroidered clothing with some great trapunto style work on silk jackets - we'd seen an elderly gentleman wearing such a jacket earlier and it was good to learn a little more about it.



Another corner, another pillar and down another zenghat and we got a quick look inside a weavers workshop, then a quick mooch around the silk purchasing cooperative next door.  Both places open and empty, their occupants having gone off for a break but no matter, no need to lock up or anything - Tripoli is just that kind of place.



Now Abdullah knew that textiles were "my thing", he turned sharp left and there we were, in the silk alley where shop after shop was filled with glorious colour and sumptuous fabrics.  Heavy beaded pieces hung by the doorway and we were assured that women did indeed wear such things if only on special occasions!



Out into the open again and finding ourselves on the main route back into Green Square, we regained our bearings - we were near the Copper Souq we'd explored on Friday, when all was closed.



Time to step inside the Jamahiriya Museum now and an opportunity to see the treasures of the city, most particularly some fine mosaics we'd heard were essential viewing.



More about that in the next post.

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