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Impressions of Lebanon

You Think That Serbs Are Kind? That Means You Have Not Been To Lebanon

Most likely, as the majority of my friends, you are suffering from prejudice when Lebanon and Beirut are mentioned. I hope that after this text that will no longer be so.

Source: Friday, 24.02.2017. | 11:33 a.m.

http://www.mojeputovanje.net/mislili-ste-da-su-srbi-ljubazni-znaci-da-niste-bili-u-libanu/

My colleagues were making fun of me, that I should open my own tourist agency specialized for tours of “the bullet-proof tourism.”

Maybe one day, but Lebanon is not among such destinations. Quite the contrary, Lebanon is cosmopolitan, spry, full of contrasts with beautiful hospitable people.

Visas are required for Lebanon, you can get them at the Embassy in our country (if you apply in this manner, then it is paid for) or in Beirut at the airport, you fill in the form and then it is free of charge.

I called the Embassy prior to my departure to get informed and a kind, genteel and pleasant lady explained everything to me.

We are landing around four in the morning, the airport is located near the city, so you can easily transfer. The first thing I noticed at this hour was that everything worked. At four a.m. Everything.

After some sleep, I finally moved and toured the city. Lebanon is a good destination throughout the year, the average temperature in February is 18 degrees.

Taking into consideration that a negative temperature sent us off, these 18 degrees welcoming us felt like summer. In the morning and evening you need some light jacket, while during the day we were wearing even sleavless shirts (I am a specific case, it’s always warm for me). Therefore, we went first to the beach.

The Corniche, a seaside promenade, is a popular place where locals and visitors gather and enjoy the magnificant view at the sea. Crowded with cafés, restaurants and bars, the Corniche is considered globally one of the best and longest waterfront esplanades.

On one side is the new modern port which is none short of the currently most developed and beautiful ports in the world. Zaitunay Bay is the newly built district with luxurious hotels, restaurants, yachting clubs. This is currently the most modern part of the city. While we were walking the miles-long sidewalk, next to us on one side were tall palm trees and new wonderful upscale buildings which could without a problem parry Miami, as well as old gorgeous churches and mosques and narrow back-alleys.

Expensive cars are driven in the streets, which could lead to the conclusion that the inhabitants are well off, at least the privileged ones. There is no middle class in Beirut.

The lower class drives old “Mercedes” cars and, which is very interesting, they are surprised that you are walking: anyone passing by will honk and ask you whether you want a lift.

The taxi is not costly, they don’t use taximeters, tariffs for each part of the city are known. As there is no public transportation, you can always raise your hand and any driver will stop and offer you a ride. Price of this ride is slightly more than one dollar. The official currency is the Lebanese pound, but you can pay everything in dollars, they make no difference. At the other side of the promenade, in the part of town called Raouché, is an attraction – Pigeon Rock. This is the place where you will find the most beautiful natural phenomenon, the landmark of Beirut.

Three neighbourhoods are the most famous in the city: Hamra, the old district where you can find numerous souvenire shops and restaurants; Downtown, the new part of the city with malls, luxurious fashion shops, salons of luxurious cars.

 

The third neighbourhood is the campus of the American University in Beirut (AUB). Wonderful environment, all buildings are old, but very well preserved and maintained, and the entire campus is sourrounded by parks.

The University was founded in 1866 and is today one of the best universities in the Middle East. We walked throughout the entire complex and I can tell you – students here are predisposed to enjoyment.

Beirut Central District is the most important part of the city. The Government and Parliament are here and their buildings are truly impressive.

Beirut is a beautiful, modern city, but if you come across two-meter high concrete blocks, wire fenced, with armed, fully military equipped soldiers and police officers, then you will know that you came across some governmental institution.

Beirut differs from other cities also in pavements. They are really high to prevent parking at liberty. However, even this measure was not enough, so they introduced concrete blocks along curbs. This does not look nice at all. Particularly not in parts of the city where everything is modern and expensive, they just ruin the entire impression.

In the heart of the city you will see buildings from different epochs and mainly all of them are well preserved.

The history of Beirut dates more than 5,000 years back and keeps the heritage of Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs, which are spread throughout the city.

On the Martyrs Square, across the monument, is the Mohamad Al-Amin mosque. Besides it is the Orthodox Greek church of St. George. Around them – archeological findings from the Roman era. Not far from there Roman baths were found.

I believe in the platitude that citizens make the city. And citizens of Beirut and Lebanon are beautiful, kind, genteel and cordial people. The way they treat chance travelers is the way they treat one another.

Regardless of their denomination (at this moment approximately 40% of the population are Christians, once they made a much higher percentage of the population), they all stick together and fight united to build and preserve their country. Religious divisions are not noticeable.

If the city does not charm you at first site, which I doubt, then the food will make you fall head over heels. Interesting enough, the local population does not eat fish and seafood a lot.

Meals are mainly based on beef, in various forms, and salads. Waraq enab (stuffed grape leaves), Taboulleh (salad made of parsley, onion, tomatoes and lemon), Fattoush (lettuce, tomatoes and pieces of pita bread) are just a small part of the delicious food you can taste. Prices in restaurants are similar or slightly higher than ours. Prices of food from fast food restaurants are the same as ours.

We got our first meal in Beirut and the first wine we ordered for free. They simply had no reason to give us a free meal, but well, they liked us. Unfortunately, there are not many tourists here.

Further, on one occasion in the taxi, when we wanted to pay for our ride, the cab driver had no change to give us, so he drove us for free. Treats are always given with the words, “Welcome to Lebanon,” and yes, we really felt that way.

Wherever we had coffee, in the most luxurious café, restaurant or at the market, the price goes from five to 10 dollars. Prices of coffee are extremely high. You will pay the same for an entire meal and for one coffee.

As I mentioned before, Beirut lives 24/7. Life goes fast at night as well as it does throughout the day. Everything is open, everything works, bars are full in the city, most of them have live music. Sounds of their music are unrecognizable for us, of course. I am not fond of that kind of music, but while listening to this music while we were there, I have to say that it is not so bad. They sing it from the heart.

Lebanon is located between Israel and Syria, on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It is not possible to enter from Israel, and because of the current situation in Syria, it is not smart to enter by land from there either. When you get close to parts of the country bordering these two, you can expect checkup points.

Lebanon is one of the rare countries in the world where you can spend the morning at the beach sunbathing, and go skiing in the afternoon.

It takes around four hours by car to get from one to the other end of Lebanon. On that journey you will find centuries old history, culture and natural beauties. Twenty years after the civil war the Lebanese are working hard to rebuild their country and tourist offers.

Skiing at the top of the magnificent Mount Lebanon, 225 km of beaches along the Mediterranean Sea, one of the oldest civilisations in the world, are just some of the reasons why you should visit this unreal country.

We went north to the ancient Phoenician city of Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic), the oldest city in the world which gave its name to the Byble. It is approximately 40 km away from the capital. Along the entire road near the coast you will find tourist towns. They are almost connected and you cannot notice when one ends and the other starts.

Byblos is a mixture of traditional and modern. There are remains of the ancient city, a Crusader castle and church, and the area of the old market. It is known also as the place where the Latin alphabet was invented. You may research a lot in this historical city. At the entrance you will come across ancient remains left behind by the Pheonicians,  and if you walk through the central part, you will come to the port which stands here for thousands of years.

If you climb to the top of the castle which is in this port, you will have a view of the entire city. Here is the restaurant “At Pepe’s.” It is decorated with photos and represents something like a museum of a period in time. In every restaurant, shop, at every step in this city, you will be welcomed by smiling, pleasant and incredibly kind local residents. It is not hard to fall in love with this ancient port town.

Our journey takes us further to Tripoli. Some 50 km away from Byblos it is the second largest city both by size and population in Lebanon.
Tripoli is a real Arab town, but it did not impress me much. Upon return to Beirut, we spent an entire hour pleasantly conversing with the van driver who had concrete answers to all of our questions and dilemmas.

He was sorry that we did not experience Tripoli the way we should have, he said that we had to know someone in the city who would have shown and presented Tripoli to us in the way it deserves.

Tripoli is the only city with two rivers flowing through it and has some excellent vacation spots. But that remains to be seen another time.

The next morning, over coffee, we were planning our trip to the South. We were not sure that we will have enough time to manage and tour both cities (Tyre and Sidon) which we included in our itinerary for that day, so we asked the café owner for advise.

Small digression: besides Arabic, everyone speaks French, and they understand English, but don’t speak it fluently.

In any case, the kind café owner begins explaining to us what and how we should do, but the lady at the table next to us interrupts him. She is from Tyre, on business here in Beirut and wants to know how and when we plan to go to Tyre.

We explained to her that we wish to have our coffee and then go down to the bus stop (there are two and are not what we imagine: these are, so to speak, gas stations/squares from which mini vans driving poorer people depart. The ticket costs a dollar or two regardless of the destination. There is only one official bus company, but digging out the timetable for it can be considered pure luck).

The lady presented a beatific plan: she has something to do and in half an hour will be heading back to Tyre, if we wish, she will be honoured to take us with her.

Great, once again the kindness of the local population proved by concrete example. Of course, we asked her how much this will cost us, and once again we received the answer that it was her wish and duty to take us and that we will pay her back if we enjoy her country and that, which it has to offer us. Tyre is 80 km away from Beirut.

Besides Tyre, she took us to Sidon (Arabic: Saida). When you enter the town first what you come accross is the football stadium which is on the peninsula and splashed by the sea on three sides.

City beaches are completely empty, as this is an explicitly Muslim area, therefore no alcohol is served either. When you arrive in the city, first you will see the Sidon castle next to the sea, dating back to the Crusader times, built in 1228.

After touring the castle you can visit the Soap Museum where you will learn about the development and technique of soap production in this region. Both Sidon and Tyre, to which we then went, are known from the Bible.

Lebanon is the only country of the Middle East without a desert. The cedar tree is on the flag, too, and the story goes that when you go through the Middle East and see the colour green, you will know that you are in Lebanon.

The name Lebanon derives from the Aramaic word Laban, which means white, as a reference to Mount Lebanon which is always covered with snow.

Grotte de Qana is a cave 10 km southeast off Tyre and 12 km away from the border with Israel. Jesus spent some time contemplating in this cave before he presented his first miracle. The legend says that it was here where he turned water into wine.

There are stones around the cave into which his students have carved all these stories…

 

Finally we arrive in Tyre (Arabic: Sour). Along the way we come across banana plantations for which this city is known. The town itself survived a long and turbulent history which conferred upon it numerous historical and cultural monuments. We wandered through exotic souks and peeked into the soul of this city. Tyre was  an important city for the Phoenicians during times of old Rome and today there are many antique monuments here. Promenade by the sea, sun is going down, evening comes slowly, it is time to return to Beirut.
Many of these cities are among the oldest inhabited settlements in the world.

In Beirut, it remains for us to see the National Museum. Considered as the epicenter of culture in Lebanon it is also the place where you can get acquainted with a myriad of Phoenician artifacts. If this museum was somewhere in Europe, the queue would be miles long and ticket prices would be abnormally high. In this way, an entry ticket costs three dollars and besides us, there were only couple of people desiring to see everything, to tour and explore.

What are our impressions of this journey!?

We discovered and scratched only the surface of Lebanon, went to a couple of inspiring towns, grabbed our heads every time we were participating in the traffic (they drive like mad men), met wonderful people, asserted that it was more secure and safer in Beirut than anywhere else in Europe and realized how absurd the prejudice which people have about this country are.

Beirut is now a modern city, crowded with cranes and somewhat that is the final impression which I carry with me.

In a couple of years Beirut will not be the same, because the speed at which it is built is surreal. A reason more to visit it.

Text and images: Ivana Kovačević

Taken from: www.mojeputovanje.net