Beirut: the original "Paris of the Middle East"

Trip Start Jul 28, 2009
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Trip End Aug 10, 2010


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Flag of Lebanon  ,
Monday, May 17, 2010

We have arrived in Tripoli after what seemed like a long drive.  However, it only took 2 hours in total from Lattakia, including the Syrian and Lebanese Border crossing.  It took less than 10 minutes at the Syria desk and about 15 minutes for us to get our Lebanese visa.  I was a bit disappointed that we had to pay $18 each for our 15 day visa, but I really shouldn’t complain as we have not had to pay for too many visas on this trip.

As we arrived on Sunday, there was not many shops open in the souk .  I thought they were mainly closed on Fridays, but then Lebanon has a 50/50 ratio for Muslims and Christians, so I guess Friday and Sunday are pretty much quiet in the souk.

The first thing that really stood out upon entering Lebanon was the number of soldiers with large rifles and burned out vehicles.  But then again, it was only in 2007 that the Palestinian militants fought against the Lebanese Army in this part of Lebanon.   My first impression was that it was dirty and shabby and endless number of bombed out buildings.  It definitely looked like a place that had been destroyed by war. 

Driving along the beach, there was a lot of shabby looking tents with big flags of Germany, Brazil and Italy.  We had heard that the Lebanese are fanatics about soccer and they definitely showed their support by decorating their homes and balconies and cars with flags.   I can only imagine how crazy this place will be when the World Cup starts.

The third thing that we noticed that was different from Syria and Jordan was that everyone greeted you with the French “Bonjour” rather than Marhaba or As Salaam Alekyum.

We only stayed in Tripoli for one night before heading to Beirut.  It struck me as odd while driving passed huge billboards with underwear advertisement that how can two countries right next to each other be so different?    You certainly would never see any underwear advertisement in Syria.
 
Beirut was the original “Paris of the Middle East“.  There is definitely a lot of rich people here.  The women were dressed to kill and the men drove their fancy BMW, Mercedes, Porches and even Hummers with their cool dark sunglasses.  Many of the women we saw, had clearly had some bad cosmetic surgery as they looked a little too plastic.

I think visiting Beirut on a budget is not as worthwhile because to really enjoy and see this city for what it really is, you have to have some money in your pocket.  It seems that Beirut is about living for the moment and not thinking about tomorrow.   This town has many bitter memories, the locals like to enjoy themselves and not think about the political situation that seems to live on edge.  Talking to some of the locals, most of the fighting is not because of religion but because of politics.  
  
Walking through Gemmayzeh, with its many bars and restaurants, it was strange to see both men and women interacting.   In Syria, you will only see men at the café’s smoking sheesha and drinking tea.  We found an excellent little sushi place which we visited twice.  Nik had been dreaming about sushi for awhile now, so it was certainly a well deserved treat for both of us.

We were also close to Downtown which is heavily guarded by police and soldiers.  I was afraid to take photos as I didn’t want them to confiscate my camera.  Nikolas and I walked past this “tent” area and wondered what it was supposed to be.  I later read that this area is to be avoided which is Hezbollah “tent city”.   I don’t think this was the area because we certainly did not feel threatened.  I think seeing all the soldiers and police with their huge rifles was more disturbing.  Nik really wondered if they were real weapons.  I assured him that the rifles are definitely real.

NIKOLAS VERSION

When we got to Lebanon, we had to cross the border from Syria.  When we got to Tripoli,  it was so different from Syria.   We walked around trying to find our hotel.  When we finally got there it was very nice but it cost a lot of money.  We bargained and only stayed for one night.  It was just like home because they had Burger King, Subway and McDonald's.  There was none of these in Syria.   We went to McDonald's and in the entrance, they had a carpet that was a football field and a bunch of different
flags.  It tasted good with chicken nuggets!  It has been a long time since fast food!
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