Al Hallab Bakery


Abdul Rakhman Al Hallab bakery and coffee shop is a famous Lebanese institution much beloved by the natives. It is producing delicious cakes since 1881. The original ‘mother’ shop is located in Tripoli in northern Lebanon not far from the Syrian border and MB had the good fortune to visit there at end December 2016, when he was in Lebanon for the wedding of a work colleague. MB is now back amongst the Lebanese for another wedding, again that of a work colleague, this time in the ancient habitation of Byblos in the modern day town of Jbail. More on that wedding anon.

Google the city of Byblos, if you will. It’s one of the oldest habitations in the world with human occupation going back some 8,000 years as far as MB is aware. The Roman’s and many other civilisations were here, and the 1,100 year old Crusader castle still stands tall on the Byblos waterfront, one of Lebanon’s major tourist attractions. One can see some of the demolished Roman circular columns used on the lower parts of the castle walls. MB presumes this was a war psychology idea on the part of the Crusaders. Look at us, we are bigger and bolder and better than the Romans. You can see their demolished history at the base of our castle walls – sort of thing. 

The words Bible, and biblioteque (French for ‘library’) amongst others, derive from the Byblos name, as far as MB is aware because the Phonecians, who gave the world the first written alphabet, were also dwellers of the city of  Byblos. 

Archaeologists have managed in the past to decipher the Phonecian script, and when one visits the Crusader castle it is possible to get one of the guides to explain how to write one’s name in the ancient text.

Anyway, MB has digressed. MB was walking along a Byblos street yesterday evening when he had the good luck to stumble across an Al Hallab ‘daughter’ shop. He duly went in and had himself a tasty cake and an espresso.

A picture paints a thousands words, as the old ‘picture paints a thousand words’ saying goes. Herewith, some mouthwatering shots that MB shot off on his phone. Enjoy!

Weekly Photo Challenge – Structure


Structure.

Jen has thrown down the gauntlet to all this week with the word ‘structure’, showing us some impressive leaves. Well, MB is well up for the challenge and steps up to the plate with a mighty structure indeed. The greatest man-made structure on the planet – The Great Wall of China (horns blaring in the background). Read More

Moscow – The Kremlin


Diplomatic relations between Russia and the Western nations are at a particularly low ebb at present, the worst in many years. It, therefore, comes as no surprise to HX followers that MB has made a recent trip to the heart of the Russia to try to mend some fences. And when one travels to the capital city, one knows that fence-mending doesn’t happen in ornate cathedrals, hotels or fancy metro stations. No Siree. If fence-mending is your game, then there is only one location in Moscow to head for.

The Kremlin.

MB received word prior to travel that Vlad Putin was busy and was unlikely to get a chance to press the flesh with MB. MB took the news on the chin as one would expect, and soldiered on regardless. But in the end, the paths of the two men did indeed cross, as the ‘main man’ emerged from the Kremlin complex one evening in his nuclear bomb-proof car, accompanied by some serious looking dark-glassed 4x4s, as MB was walking past. Needless to say, the Russian President gave MB a thumbs-up as both men made eye-contact. MB responded in kind with an air high-five. Mr Putin smiled. So did MB.

A day or two later, MB found himself not outside the Kremlin walls, but within. Do not ask MB how he manages such magical diplomatic feats, as he is not at liberty to say. Anyway, informing all the Kremlin security staff that he had the personal permission of Mr Putin to photograph at will, MB ran amok with his Canon 7D, and photographed anything that moved. And much that didn’t.

Seriously, a visit to the red-walled Kremlin complex is a huge thrill. The area called Cathedral Square from the outside is stunning, and one can also enter the inside of the churches to see the ornate Orthodox-style religious decoration. If ever HX followers wish to travel in the footsteps of MB, just shoot MB a private message, and he will immediately take the permission of Mr Puttin to get you inside. Guaranteed.

On the occasion of MBs visit, a class of young military cadets were celebrating their graduation, so many family members and guests were in attendance, as can be seen in some of the below photos.

Expect international diplomatic relations to start improving dramatically. Real soon!


Traffic is stopped (1st photo) to allow Mr Putin’s entourage to exit the Kremlin onto the adjoining public street (2nd photo)

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The Kremlin Complex:

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The Kremlin Palace (event hall):

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Cathedral Square, etc

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Moscow – Metro


MB was taken on a speed-of-light tour of some Moscow Metro stations last weekend by Russian friend NK. MB had previously heard that the Moscow stations were architecturally impressive. ‘Impressive’, MB can assure followers, does not do justice.  Read More

Moscow – Tretyakov Gallery


MB has already given followers a photo post on the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. So he doesn’t intend to discuss it further in text. Just click on the link to get the Wikipedia info on it if you wish to learn more. The stories behind many of the paintings are fascinating. And if you are ever lucky enough to visit Moscow please do not miss it.

Some photos to give you all a flavour:

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Moscow – Moscow River Cruise


If you want a chilled relaxing evening in Moscow, MB can highly recommend a cruise on the Moscow River. Food, of a very high quality, and alcohol are available in abundance. MB particularly enjoyed a few goblets of damn fine Russian vodka. When in Russia! The tickets can be bought online and one must then arrive at the river pier next to the Radisson Hotel at the appropriate time.

The historical buildings are memorable enough during daylight hours but are truly spectacular under the night lights and golden-hour twilight.

Herewith some of MBs favourites shots from the trip:

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Delta (Change)


Transitions/Change/The Passing of time.

It’s either a sign of MB’s personal ignorance of the art world or ignorance within Western countries generally of Russian history and culture (MB is not sure which), that he had never previously heard of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow until his Moscow visit of a few days back. The gallery houses the largest collection of Russian art in the entire country and was originally donated to the State by an art-collecting merchant called Pavel Tretyakov (in 1892).

Tretyakov’s donation comprised some 2,000 works of art at that time, but the collection has now grown to some 150,000 pieces, including some sculptures. The gallery itself is overwhelming, as are many of the paintings which are huge in physical size. MB got lost a number of times in the gallery such is its extent, and its labyrinth layout. The paintings generally portray famous characters or aristocracy figures from Russian history, famous moments of Russian history, and many religious themed paintings.

MB gives you all one such painting from the gallery, appropriate for this week’s photo challenge from many aspects MB is thinking, which depicts the arrival of Jesus to some of his followers. MB heard the full description of the painting on his gallery audio guide but sadly forgets most of it by now. MB remembers that some of the characters have just emerged from the Jordan River following their baptism by John The Baptist, and four of the future apostles appear on the left side of the photo (in beards & one with red hair).

MB will post a follow-up post on the Tretyakov Gallery in the coming days. Big thanks to Russian friend NK for organising the visit and many others over the weekend. MB Os U!

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Moscow – The Bolshoi Theatre


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If you fancy a night out at the ballet or opera lads, MB would respectfully suggest that you consider a trip to the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. There is much pirouetting, pointing of toes and lepping about in mesmerising magical movement.

The Bolshoi Theatre (operating since 1776) is perhaps the most famous ballet and opera theatre in the world. The original buildings (there were two) were burnt down in 1805 and in 1812; the latter occasion being the result of a French invasion of Moscow headed by a vertically challenged Frenchman, suffering a severe bout of ‘small man syndrome’; one Napoleone di Buonaparte. In any event, the ballet & opera-loving Ruskies were not to be bested, and the present building reopened again in 1824 under the name of the Bolshoi Petrovsky Theatre. To this day, French nationals are forbidden from buying tickets for performances. Joke!!!

Anyway lads, MB was lucky enough to have a ‘Moscow break’ in recent days and to catch a ballet at the Bolshoi called ‘Lady of the Camellias’ last Saturday evening, based on a book by French writer Alexandre Dumas Jnr. It’s about a courtesan (prostitute) called Marguerite Gautier, who was available for the pleasure of court noblemen. If she was holding a red camellia flower in her hand it meant that she was already taken for the night and one needn’t waste one’s time asking. But if she held a white one, it meant that she was still available. A tragic love story unfolds when a local young lad called Armand Duval falls in love with her, to the great displeasure of his father. MB will just leave it at that, knowing that many HX followers are already booking flights and tickets online as they read.

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The performance on Saturday evening included world-famous Bolshoi Prima Ballerina Svetlana Zakharova in the lead female role, considered one of greatest ballerinas of all time. She is some lepper.

Photography is not permitted during a performance, and for the first time in his life, MB complied with such a rule. Taking photos was allowed, however, when the cast took their bow at the end, when those like MB (who know their ballet) shouted “bravo, bravo”!

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Foto Friday – Irish Scene


The Foto Friday selection this week is an MB shot from his trip home of a few weeks back. And it doesn’t come more Irish than this.

Two guys do a spot of fishing from a boat on Lough Derg lake, to the backdrop of a stone-built Round Tower, and an emerald green hill.

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Reflecting


Reflecting.

If ever you wish to turn water to wine, or you require the secret alchemist recipe to turn mercury to gold, or you wish to turn a simple semicircle to a full circle – just ask MB. He will have the answer.

This incredible semicircle to full circle reflection-shot is taken from MB’s photo cave – one of his Amsterdam trip with daughter MB2 shots in November 2016.

Wicked shot MB. Thanks lads!

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Green – Follow-up post


Green.

MB was chuffed with the reaction to yesterday’s ‘green’ photo challenge post. So he has decided to give followers some extra ‘green’. Thanks, MB, you’re a lege. Don’t mention guys.

The time is 5.30am. The date is 08 August 2013.

MB could no longer lie on the sheet-of-plywood that constituted a ‘bed’ in the sleeping carriage of the British-rule era train en route to Haputale. Bleary-eyed from lack of sleep in the preceding 24 hours, hungry as hell, and with serious back ache from the previously referred 1/2″ thick plywood ‘bed’, MB arose to face the day.

The rickety train continued to chu chu its way through the high hill country of central Sri Lanka, winding around acute bends, climbing inexorably towards destination Haputale.

The darkness had now lifted, enabling MB to take in the views from the train corridor outside his badly misnamed ‘sleeping carriage’. MB could immediately see that he had entered God’s country, with stunning vistas around every corner. He grabbed his Canon 7D and framed his shots. Click, click, click………..

Some shots from the moving train:

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Weekly Photo Challenge – It’s Easy Being Green


Green.

On 08 August 2013, very early morning, MB found himself disembarking an old train at the train station of a small town called Haputale in central Sri Lanka. He had taken a bone-shaking ten-hour journey from Colombo on the islands west coast, travelled inland about as far as one can travel in, in Sri Lanka, before one starts to travel out.

So there was MB, smack bang in the middle of high Sri Lankan hill country, with no advance booking for accommodation, no contacts and no clue how he would solve his immediate and pressing needs of food and sleep. MB wasn’t even sure if this small Sri Lankan town had accommodation or cafés or even a spare bed for a wandering Irishman. But fate would take its course and MB would just see what hand of cards fate would deal him.

MB has previously written about his Haputale adventure so he won’t repeat the story.  But if anyone’s interested, click here for the low-down.

As things turn out, Haputale wasn’t half bad, as long as one wasn’t expecting 5-star standards. And if life throws you lemons, MB was thinking, make lemonade! He found ‘lemonade’ in abundance in the people and place in the coming days, and achieved his primary goal of sitting in the famous ‘Lipton’s Seat’ atop one of the highest points in the original Lipton’s Tea Plantation, where the legendary Sir Thomas Lipton had sat to relax of an evening to contemplate life and the universe, some hundred years previously.

Oh ya. And there was lots of green!

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Camel Racing in Qatar


Take your average camel race………….. Read More

Foto Friday – Camels


MB went to watch camel racing today. More photos will follow, but here’s one for the moment, for MB’s Foto Friday.

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Weekly Photo Challenge – The Road Taken


The Road Taken.

But if you lived in Amsterdam, it would be ‘The canal taken’ – Mais oui???

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