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26 Mar 2006 - Benghazi to Al Bayda via Ptolemais and Qasr Libya
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Roman water cisterns, Ptolemais Byzantine Palace, Ptolemais View from Qasr Libya 
Today kicked off with an 08:30 flight from the domestic airport to Benghazi. Apparently nothing worth visiting in Benghazi itself, so our coach driver, who had driven the 1000kms overnight, drove us straight to our first port of call - Ptolemais. This is one of the 5 Greek / Roman / Byzantine cities in the eastern part of Libya, known collectively as the Pentapolis. We shall see two more tomorrow - Cyrene and Apollonia.

Not a lot to see at first as the city is hidden by scattered eucalypt trees - reminiscent of the Australian outback - and is not as large or impressive as Leptus Magna. It is for that reason that Leptus is usually left to the end of any tour, to avoid it spoiling the impression of the others, but our schedule dictated the other way around.

What is unusual though are the underground water cisterns (reservoir). Although partly filled with silt they are safe and high enough for visitors to explore.

The Byzantine palace has some fine mosaics, the best of which are in the site's museum. Those still on site are exposed to the elements and the erosion of tourists' feet. It is both a privilege and a worry to be able to walk on such artefacts, but we are catching this country at a time when western standards (and ills) haven't really permeated yet - in 10 years time things may be very different, so now is a good time to come to catch things before they are touristified.

After lunch under a grove of eucalypt trees, it was the museum and then off to Qasr Libya, a Byzantine site on a hill situated up on a plateau some way inland. An escarpment of maybe 1000ft (300m) runs along the coast, the top of which is a good deal greener than the coastal strip.

On the way we had near miss with a lorry coming the other way, which had to swerve onto our side of the road to avoid an idiot pulling out in a van. Good thing our driver was alert depite his marathon journey last night, but apart from heavy breaking there wasn't much he could do apart from run onto the verge, with a risk of us rolling over. The lorry aimed for the verge instead, and remained upright.

At Qasr Libya the main theme is mosaics, the interesting panels of which have been cut out of the original floor and are now housed on the walls and floor of a single room. This makes for easier viewing but of course ruins the appearance of the original!

Then on to Al Bayda to our hotel for two nights. The hotel is comfortable enough, apart from the rock hard pillows, but is clearly a step down from the comparative grandure of the Al Kabir in Tripoli. In fact the water is hot, as opposed to tepid, but still no plug in the basin - good thing I brought one!

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