...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.