Despite the fact that currently I live in the Arab country, a visit to Lebanon was almost like a journey to another world. This country is in fact quite different from its Arab neighbors. It lacks the desert, religious diversity is not encountered anywhere else, freely available alcohol, and most forested country in the entire Middle East.
How much Lebanon differentiate from the region, so it also links. It is the Middle East in every sense of that word. Mix of cultures, religions, continuous political unrest and war. You say Beirut (the capital city) and you think war, anxiety. Comes to mind glimpses from my childhood in the form of television images of the ongoing conflict somewhere far away, in Asia. Soldiers, explosions, gun shots, ruins of houses, refugee camps.
Beirut, a full-fledget Middle East
It so happened that my first stroll through the Beirut proceeded through so called Green Line separating Muslims (west) fighting against Christians (east). Landscape of a typical street apart of speeding cars and hurrying people, consisted of a barbed wire, barricades, walls of houses with scars from bullets and soldiers screaming on me for trying to take pictures. And when I took one, they called me, deftly took over the camera and deleted permitted shots.
Although traces of lasting 15 years civil war (1975-1990) are still widely visible, Beirut is a dynamically developing city, where ruins are replaced by new investments every few months. The renovated neighborhoods such as downtown, reminds about an already a bit dusty nickname: Paris of the Middle East.
If somebody would have doubts about Paris of Middle East for sure shouldn’t have ones about a party capital of the region. When night falls, Gemmayze and Hamra come to an resound with the sound of music from hundreds of bars and clubs full of people, even during Ramadan, during which I came here.
Size doesn’t matter?
Although Lebanon is only the size of 2% of France, its former protectorate, it has an incredibly lot to offer. Ruins of buildings after the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Turks. During a large part of the year, kilometers of beaches on the Mediterranean shore are filled with tourists. In the winter, the mountains offer really decent conditions for winter sports.
However, in my opinion, the greatest treasure of Lebanon is Jeita Grotto, which is located 30 minutes drive from Beirut. This cave “designed” by geology, time and water just sets in amazement! Several meters stalactites and stalagmites, turquoise lakes and huge space inside. Grotto was a finalist in the New 7 Wonders of the World. Such a miracle, and taking photos there is unfortunately prohibited, so pictures below were not taken by me.
To Baalbek in eastern Lebanon, near the border with Syria I went to admire the well-preserved piece of Roman architecture from the I-II century AD. There I marvel at the 6 largest ever built by the Romans, columns (22 m) and the well-preserved temple of Jupiter. And all this with almost the lack of tourists.
In this part of the country it was worth to come also because of the view of more conservative face of Lebanon. Juvenile couples meeting hidden in the suburbs (dating is prohibited in Islam). Photo on billboards leaders of Hezbollah, as well as street vendors offering souvenirs T-shirts with the logo of the Party of God, for which I politely thanked.
Having lived in Dubai and often having the opportunity to work with the Lebanese, so far I saw them as the Italians of the Arab world. Friendly people, saying hundreds of compliments to women and picking up almost anything that has a pulse and not run on the trees ;)
But after visiting their homeland, I can’t say a single bad word about this nation. On the contrary. It’s an incredibly helpful, hospitable and positive people. First, such a belief I gained by being a guest of Kristel and her family in the town of Ghazir ( a while north of Beirut). Although already hosted two travelers, she didn’t hesitate to accept my request for accommodation through Couch Surfing.
On the first evening I was entertained by delicious Lebanese-style dinner consisting of grilled skewers of beef, pork and chicken, hummus, pita bread and local anise alcohol. And all this on the terrace overlooking on the Mediterranean Sea!
And It was no different with accidentally encountered people. A taxi driver offered fruits, then someone offered to help in finding the place, while inquiring from where I’m from and welcoming at the same time in Lebanon.
Usually I’m a bit embarrassed to take pictures of local people. But here, particularly in Tripoli, in the north of the country, when they saw me with camera, they were asking me to be photographed, and then inviting me to take a photo together :)
Tripoli also surprised me that despite the much greater proportion of Muslims and the ongoing Ramadan, no one had a problem with the fact that I was going down the street sipping fresh orange juice. Impossible in the Gulf countries.
Good luck Lebanon!
This short trip, really exceeded my expectations. Moreover, whenever I went only few tourists, so most of the time I could enjoy being only among the locals which only increased the qualities of this expedition. Although the Middle East for centuries was and is digested by wars, unrest and human misery, it’s just sad to think that so sympathetic people might continue to suffer. May Lebanon brake out of this shameful tradition. Good luck!