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Report on Libya
Presented by Rex Fritschi

www.rexclass.com           rex@rexclass.com

For the intrepid adventurers who relish exploring truly off-beat destinations, such as Mongolia, Ethiopia, Mali, Albania….. Libya is an extremely rewarding travel experience!  Visiting the outstanding, world-class sites as Roman Leptis Magna, the haunting, 700 year old, fortified Berber granaries, the deserted Saharan oasis city of Ghadames, interesting museums, etc. outweigh the temporary inconveniences and lack of some creature comforts.

Libya is not an impoverished third-world country.  Its millions of barrels a day of oil,  unlimited fresh water (thanks to the Great Man-Made River Project) gushing out of the ground - and soon a huge natural gas line threading under the Mediterranean to Europe … all this make the five million Libyan well to do with their free housing,  free schooling, free medical attention cheap gas and power.  It also makes them happy go lucky.  With just a little effort Libya could be another Morocco, Egypt or Tunisia. 

A very pleasant surprise was that the people were wonderful,  sincerely bidding us welcome – specially when we told them we were from the USA.  Politics were never discussed.  Gadaffi’s villa we bombed in ’86 is left in ruins as a monument.  It is within a walled compound and is only visited by foreign dignitaries.  The people are very honest. I witnessed no street crime so prevalent in Barcelona, Rome, etc.,  and never felt threatened walking alone anywhere.

Even though Italians comprise the greatest number of tourists, the Libyans decry Mussolini’s conquest and occupation from 1911 to WW2 – even though modern downtown Tripoli is resplendent with fancy government buildings, boulevards and roads built by the Italians.  The Italians introduced modern farming,  and all excavations stopped after the Italians left.  The famous paved highway from Libya to Egypt that Rommel drove up – and back down again – was build by the Italian general,  Balbo.

As in all Moslem countries women are clearly treated as 2nd class people.  I did see two women driving cars.  Most are covered head to foot  -  some older ladies exposing just one eye.  Virtually no women have a job, except hotel maids.  Even shops selling womens’ intimate apparel are served by men.

A Few Specifics

Transportation:

Many major airlines now fly into Tripoli and some to Benghazi.  There is limited domestic air service – mainly between Tripoli and Benghazi..  Ghadames has an airport but currently unused.  No railroads.  The public transportation – even in the cities – is handled by jitney taxis and minibuses.  Plenty of private cars that create huge traffic jams.   There is a shortage of expert, English speaking guides.

 

Right now,  most visitors should tour Libya in a group in their chartered motor-coach.

Travel by private car with driver and guide poses a problem due to lack of suitable equipment and a shortage of good guides.   Driving by rental car is impossible!  For one reason….. all road signs are in Arabic.

Hotels:

 

With the exception of two new ones,   the expensive, business-men oriented Corinthia Bab Africa in Tripoli and the Apollonia in Apollonia,   all the others are in various stages of decay.  The Uzo in Benghazi is not too bad. At the newish and quite comfortable  Zliten Hotel the elevators have not worked for a while.   For visitors to Tripoli, by far, the best hotel would be the Kabir due to its excellent location in easy walking distance to all the touristic sights.  It is due for a complete make-over.

Most hotel rooms have beat up TV sets without remotes that offer CNN or BBC.

 

 

Food & Drink:

What is excellent is the bread – approaching what one gets in Italy.  Otherwise the food in monotonous with pretty much the same served everywhere. .  Most hotels serve buffet meals in their dining rooms.   On tour,  at the meal stops, lunch is usually the same:  a nice salad, then a “Libyan” or fish soup, followed by couscous with chicken .  Desert is usually an imported apple (from Tunisia) and/or banana (from Ecuador).  In fact, most food is imported – except for olives and dates.  

I did experience fine dinners at two sea-food restaurants in Tripoli.

Libya is very strictly non-alcoholic.  Available is excellent non-alcoholic Beck’s beer from Germany and Efes from Turkey.  Also canned beverages,  such as Pepsi and Pepsi Light,  Spitz – a grape juice from Austria,  Bitter Soda – fruit-based with the color of Campari – also many great fruit-flavored drinks.  Hot green tea and decent coffee.

Water is no problem!  It is plentiful everywhere in sealed plastic bottles.  Every restaurant has bottles on the tables – free of charge.   The water from faucets cannot be ingested – not even for brushing teeth!

Money:

This was a surprise!   Here I carried bundles of dollar bills.  They did not really want dollars or Euros and preferred their own Libyan Dinars  ($1 = 1.34 LD).  Bring cash in dollars or Euros and change them into LDs at airports, banks and hotels.   Checks and credit cards not accepted anywhere  -  with one exception, at the Corinthia Bab Africa Hotel Visa and Mastercard are accepted.

Shopping:

Really not much to buy – antique Berber and Tuareg silver jewelry and ugly stuff brought over from Egypt.  I did not encounter any contemporary Libyan art or handicrafts.  There is no bargaining;  the shop keepers do not know how to bargain and don’t enjoy it.

There are many Internet Cafes – small and very crowded.  But, getting through is very difficult, slow and rare.

Essentials to bring:

  • Roll of toilet paper,
  • Wash & Dry towelettes
  • Batteries for cameras.  For you with digital cameras with rechargeable batteries bring a cigarette lighter charger.  This can be used in busses and cars.   Few hotel bathrooms have a 110 volt shaver outlet.
  • A flashlight in case the electricity goes out, also to shine into dark corners at museums and ruins.
  • An all purpose sink stopper, face cloth and decent bar of soap.
  • Swiss Army knife for peeling fruit.
  • Cloth hat to ward off the sun.  Sun screen.  Eye and nose drops against the dust.
  • Forget swimming gear!  The miles and miles of beaches are unusable.  Most hotels have no pools, or the pool cannot be used.
  • Very comfortable sandals or walking shoes for clambering over all those ruins and in the desert.
  • Wear NO shorts.  Ladies should bring a cloth to cover head and arms to enter mosques.

And,  come with plenty of patience and bring a

                                            GOOD SENSE OF HUMOUR !

Why come to Libya:

  • The sights are truly outstanding!   Many great archaeological sites,  such as the virtually intact Greek temple of Cyrene with its springs and water works and huge, intact 1000-seat theatre;
  • the Greek city and beautiful theatre at Apollonia with ruins of five Byzantine churches and palaces, Roman baths;
  • the many large and wonderful mosaics in museums and in the open – mostly Roman;
  • the Sidi Abdusalam mosque and attached madrassa (religious school) in Zliten.  Here you will see boys sitting around a mullah busily learning the Koran by heart.  If only they would learn math and English!
  • the immense Roman city of Leptis Magna – truly the finest and largest Roman city – anywhere.  This and the other sites are so well preserved as they were covered with sand until the Italians partially dug them out.

Here you will see a magnificent Arch of Septimus Severus dominating the cross-            roads of the two main city streets,  the immense Hadrianic Baths – larger than      those in Rome – the Fora, markets, old harbor, amphitheatre and circus;

  • And nearby Sabratha  -  smaller than Leptis Magna, but with the largest theatre in Africa that once could seat 10,000 spectators enjoying Christians being fed to the lions. All these sites were only 25 % excavated by the Italians.  Since the rest remains uncovered.  The museum here is one of the best.

Unique to Libya are the many huge, fortified 700 year old granaries where local Berber villagers stored their grain and olive oils in hundred of family cubicles and protected them from thieves and raiding tribes.

  • All over there are many colorful ruined, deserted stone Berber villages  that were inhabited for generations and  had no water, sewage or power.  Then, in the early sixties with the gushing oil the villagers were able to decamp for new houses with 20th century conveniences.  The old villages are left to decay.
  • Easily reached is the great Sahara desert with the unique deserted oasis city of Ghadames.  This major Libyan attraction  was a caravan trading center reaching back to Roman times of some 60,000 souls.  A jumble of tall mudwalled houses were connected by narrow, mostly covered lanes.  The kitchens were on the top floors and the women socialized and moved around the town from roof-top to roof-top.  Water from the oasis springs runs throughout the town in underground channels.  After the advent of oil the entire city was abandoned and everybody moved next door into a new town.  However, old Ghadames is lovingly preserved, painted.  It is great fun to wander through the warren of dark lanes (bring a flashlight).

The new town has a fine restaurant and a number of tourist shops.  But, beware!              Some of the silver jewelry passed off as Tuareg actually comes from Thailand!          Wandering around are many proud men resplendent in their flowing Tuareg  costumes.  Many ride camels, but these are being replaced by 4X4 pick-ups.              The excess camels are left wild to roam the desert, or end up in slaughter houses.

  • A must is to drive out to the huge sand dunes,  climb one and watch the red sunset.  Ghandames is truly fascinating and worth the arduous 400 mile desert drive from Tripoli (and the 400 miles back!).  If only air service would resume.
  • Benghazi is a ghastly disappointment.  Very dirty.   It has a colorful and crowded souk and a street of buildings from the Italian colonization with the old town hall (now a derelict) with its famous balcony from which Mussolini addressed the crowd, Rommel reviewed his troops and King Idris gave speeches.      There is also a WW2 cemetery.
  • The capital, Tripoli,  is actually a very pleasant town.  Downtown was rebuilt by the Italians with tree lined boulevards with large, white “Italian, tropical, baroque” buildings and up-market shops, government offices and a huge cathedral (now a mosque).  The governor’s palace is now the national library.  The boulevards all lead to the Green Square – actually, a huge parking lot – located at the main gate of the walled Medina. The old fort has been converted to a very well laid out and excellent National Museum. 

The Medina is a pleasant walking area with many shops,  coppersmiths, jewelry             stores, coffee shops and a few restaurants.  Walk as far as the great Marcus             Aurelius arch with the nearby Ahmed Pasha Karamanli mosque and the old       British and French consulates. The nearby Catholic St.Francis church is open to          view, but not operating.

Downtown Tripoli and most of the Medina are pretty much kept clean.   Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive.  2 LD will take you most anywhere, but have your             destination written in Arabic.

If you have extra time drive out to the Allied WW2 cemetery,  also to the Villa Sirin, a recently discovered Roman beachfront villa with wonderful mosaic floors and beautifully, vivid wall paintings. 

 

 

 

Rex suggests you make a one week side-trip from Europe to

  L  I  B  Y  A

Home to the most significant remains of the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans of bygone days, and offering a vivid Bedouin lifestyle in the Sahara, Libya holds some of the most interesting attractions in the world. This tour covers three of the five World Heritage Sites in Libya, and provides an in depth look into this fabulous country, and empire of which little is known today. This 8-day program can be combined with Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.

Many flights from a number of European cities to Tripoli and Benghazi.

 

Day 1: Arrive Tripoli

Ahlaan wasahlaan “Welcome” to Libya – we are warmly welcomed and after clearing Custom and Immigration, we are met at the exit gate and transferred to our hotel. The drive gives us our first glimpse into the life of the people who live in the capital city.

Overnight: Kabir Hotel, Tripoli (1 night) (D)

                                                 

Day 2: Tripoli / Benghazi (Flight)

Our Libyan experience starts with a tour of Tripoli, founded by the Phoenicians in 1000 B.C. and later conquered by the Romans.  Our tour of this beautiful metropolis covers the huge fortress, the National Museum, the old souq and the Islamic quarters. Later in the day we are transferred to the airport for our short flight to the second largest and most beautiful city of Libya, Benghazi. Upon arrival in Benghazi we are met and transferred to our hotel. Evening we enjoy a typical dinner at a local restaurant.

Overnight: Uzo Hotel, Benghazi (1 night)                                                                                                                            (B, L, D)

 

Day 3: Benghazi/El Beyda (Drive 210kms/130miles)

Our day starts with a tour of this beautiful resort city of Libya. The second largest city of the Jamariya houses a spectacularly maintained War cemetery (Libya played a major role in the North African Korps). We see the old town with its artistically designed buildings, and colourful souq. Benghazi also offers us the opportunity to meet the Libyan folks and enjoy tea with very friendly people who have lived history in the making for several thousand years. An interesting drive along the eastern coast gets us to the small town of El Beyda. El Beyda might not be much in terms of tourism, but it is the best base for those exploring the great ruins of Cyrene, Apollonia, and Slonta. It also has a number of colonial-style buildings, as well as an Islamic university. The religious importance of El Beyda harks back to the Sanussiyy movement that has had a formative impact on modern Libya.

Overnight: Loloat Jabel Hotel, El Beyda (2 nights)                                                                                                                          (B, L,D)

Day 4: Cyrene & Apollonia  

Our journey today starts with a visit to the World Heritage Site of Cyrene.  The city was part of the 1st century five city state of Pentapolis and was second in size only to Athens.  Cyrene was founded by the Greeks in 631 B.C. and was later occupied by the Romans and then the Arabs.  We also visit the famous temples of Zeus and Apollo and after lunch we visit incredible Apollonia (Sousa), which was the port of Cyrene and is located 20 kms/12 miles to the north.  Here our visit includes a detailed visit of the majestic Theatre, the Roman baths as well as the Byzantine palace.                                                                                                                          (B, L, D)

 

Day 5: El Beyda / Qasr Libya / Benghazi (Drive 210kms / 130miles) / Tripoli

A morning drive through Jabel Akhdar gets us to Qasr Libya where we visit an interesting museum that houses more than 50 pieces of mosaic artifact fragments dating back to the 6th century AD.  Our next stop is Ptolemais, the former capital of Pentapolis, offering today remains of palaces, theatres, Bouleterion and a 3rd century bridge. Lunch at a local restaurant and then we have some free time in Benghazi before we are transferred to the airport for our flight to Tripoli. At Tripoli we are met and transferred to our hotel.

Overnight: Kabir Hotel, Tripoli (3 nights)                                                                                                                          (B, L, D)

                                                                                                                                       

Day 6: Leptis Magna

The highlight of any journey to Libya is visiting the renowned World Heritage Site of Leptis Magna located east of Tripoli. From a Berber settlement it became an important community when it was established as a city by the Canaanites and reached its climax under the rule of Roman Emperor Septimus Severus.  We visit the vast site including the Triumphal Arch, huge Basilica, Forum, Public Baths, Hippodrome, and Amphitheater etc. Lunch will be at the local restaurant at the site before returning to Tripoli.        (B, L, D)

Day 7: Sabratha

Amongst all the coastal sites, Sabratha stands out as the most beautiful. A World Heritage Site, Sabratha was founded by the Canaanites (6th c. B.C.), ruled by Carthage, Phoenicia, Numedia and then Rome in 46 B.C.  The site offers a majestic collection of public buildings, arenas, temples of Liber Peter, Srapis, Isis, and Hercules. Tripoli “ Oea“  (the bride) of the Mediterranean is the capital of Libya.                                                                                                                          (B, L, D)

 

Day 8: Depart Tripoli

Morning transfer to the airport for our departure flight after what will have been a wonder trip to see and experience the wonders of Libya.                                                      (B)

 

Tour Details: The Wonders of Libya

 

Tour services includes:

  • Hotels as mentioned (or similar).
  • Meals as mentioned (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
  • All sightseeing and transfers by private transportation.
  • Services of local English speaking guides.
  • Entrance fees to museums and sites included in the itinerary.
  • Economy air ticket Tripoli/Benghazi

 

Tour price does not include:

International airfares, airport/departure taxes, insurance, visas and services not mentioned above.

 

Tour price for 2005: US $ 2195.00 per person sharing, US $ 275.00 single supplement

 

Departure dates for 2005:  

May 08 Jun 26               Jul 10                Aug 21            

Sep 25              Oct 09              Nov 20             Dec 18

  Membership limited to a maximum of 15persons!                                                                     

 

=   World Heritage Site

 

World Heritage Sites visited:

  • 1982 Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna
  • 1982 Archaeological Site of Sabratha
  • 1982 Archaeological Site of Cyrene

 

 

Rex invites you to experience a total Solar Eclipse in the heart of the Libyan desert.  E-mail him at rex@rexclass.com

 

 

SOLAR ECLIPSE TOUR

to LIBYA  &  EGYPT

 

March,  2006

 

 

March 24 Friday: Arrive Tripoli

Ahlaan wasahlaan “Welcome” to Libya – we are warmly welcomed and after clearing Custom and Immigration, we are met at the exit gate and transferred to our hotel. The drive gives us our first glimpse into the life of the people who live in the capital city.

Overnight: Kabir Hotel, Tripoli (3 nights)                                                                    (D)

                         

March 25 Saturday: Tripoli               

Morning departure to the extensive ruins of the Roman city of Sabrata. . It was founded by the Canaanites in the 6th century B.C. and then came under the rule of Carthage followed by Phoenicia and then the nomidans of Rome in 46 B.C. The site offers a majestic collection of public buildings, arenas, temples of Liber Peter, Srapis, Isis,

Hercules, the forum, theatre, etc.                                                                                  (B, L, D)

                         

March 26 Sunday: Tripoli          

Full day to exploring the wonderful site of the Roman City of Leptis Magna including a visit to the excellent museum. The highlight of any visit to Libya is to see Leptis Magna, now known as Libda. From Berber settlement it became important when it was established as a city by the Caanite ships from Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia. In the 3rd century it became an even more important trading port under the Roman Emperor

Septimus Servarus. We will see the vast site including the Triuphal Arch, the huge Basilica, the Forum, the Public Baths, the Hippodrome, the Amphi-theatre, etc.   (B, L, D)

 

 

March 27 Monday: Tripoli / Benghazi (Flight)

Tripoli “ Oea“  (the bride) of the Mediterranean is the capital of Libya.  Founded by the Phoenicians in 1000 B.C. Tripoli was later conquered by the Romans.  Our tour of this beautiful metropolis covers the huge fortress, the National Museum, the Old Souq and the Islamic Quarters.   Afternoon flight to Benghazi

Overnight:  Uzo Hotel, Benghazi (1 night)                                                                 (B, L, D)

 

March 28 Tuesday: Benghazi / Eclipse Camp Site (Drive)

This morning we will have a brief tour of Benghazi, arguably the most beautiful city in Libya, visit includes the spectacularly maintained World War II Cemetery.              Continue onto the camp site.

Overnight: Tents (1 night)                                                                                          (B, L, D)

 

March 29 Wednesday: Eclipse Camp Site / El-Beyda (Drive)

Viewing of the eclipse then head to El-Beyda.

Overnight: Loloat Jabel Hotel, El Beyda (2 nights)                         (B, L, D)

 

March 30 Thursday: El-Beyda   

Full day exploring the sites of the Greek cites of Cyrene and Apollonia.  Another interesting day into the Greco-Roman times. Cyrene was part of the 1st century five cities „state‰ called Pentapolis, which was second to the size of Athens. It was founded by the Greeks in 631 B.C. and was later occupied by the Romans and then the Arabs.  The

interesting sites here are the temples of Zeus and Apollo plus the Byzantine churches. Apollonia (Sousa) was the port of Cyrene and is located 20 kms north. Here we see the great Theatre, the Roman baths and Byzantine palace.                                     (B, L, D)

 

March 31 Friday: El-Beyda / Tobruk / Mersa Matruh (Drive)

Early morning departure to Tobruk, a Libyan port famous for the British victory over the Italians in January of 1941.  The battle demonstrated Italian incompetence and prompted Hitler to send his famed Afrika Korps to help battle the British.  We visit the very well maintained World War II cemetery, where we pay respect to the many soldiers who died in Tobruk.  Afternoon cross over to the Egyptian side and continue onto Mersa Matruh.

Overnight: Camp or guest house, Mersa Matruh (1 night)                          (B, L, D)

 

April 01 Saturday: Mersa Matruh / Alexandria (Drive)

Depart for Alexandria.

Overnight: Sofitel Cecil Hotel, Alexandria (1 night)                                     (B, L, D)

 

April 02 Sunday: Alexandria / Cairo (Drive)

Our tour this morning starts with a visit to the newly opened Bibliothek.  At the beginning of the 3rd Century B.C. the ancient city of Alexandria was the birthplace of the Bibliotheca Alexandria. The library and its vast storehouse of learning were destroyed in a fire that ravaged Alexandria. A new library was opened at the same location, endowing the world once again with an important focal point for culture, education and science. We then visit the Greco Roman Museum, the Catacombs, Pompey’s Pillar, Montazah Garden, the Citadel of Qaitbay and the Roman Amphitheater.  Continue onto Cairo.

Overnight: Oasis Hotel, Cairo (1 night)                                                                     (B, L, D)

 

April 03 Monday: Depart Cairo

Morning departure transfer.                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (B)

 

Tour Details: Solar Eclipse Tour 2006

 

Tour services includes:

  • Hotels as mentioned (or similar)
  • Meals as mentioned (B–Breakfast, L–Lunch, D–Dinner)
  • All sightseeing and transfers by private transportation
  • Services of local English speaking guides
  • Entrance fees to museums and sites included in the itinerary
  • Economy air ticket mentioned

 

 

 

Tour price does not include:

·        International airfares

  • Airport/departure taxes
  • Border taxes
  • Insurance
  • Visas
  • Services not mentioned above

 

Tour price for 2006: USD 2885.00 per person sharing, USD 585.00 single supplement

 

Minimum: 10 persons                                                           Maximum: 20 persons

 

  =      World Heritage Site

 

World Heritage Sites visited:

 

Libyan Arab Jamahiriya:

 

  • Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna (1982)
  • Archaeological Site of Sabratha (1982)
  • Archaeological Site of Cyrene (1982)

 

 

 

You may e-mail us at rexclass@aol.com.

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