Published: January 17th 2011January 5th 2011
I've dreamed for years to visit Lebanon...and here we are...I'm bringing Mari and Leslie with me to visit Beirut and to ski in Lebanon. This is also the 50th country in Mari little country count...a nice milestone!
No more roman temples for us these 5 days spent in Lebanon. We could have gone to Byblos, or Balbeek, but decided to leave it for next time. Instead, we will explore Beirut for two days and ski in Mza'ar for 3 days.
This entry is only on the fascinating Beirut...fascinating yes, beautiful certainly not. The country has been out of war for less than 20 years, the last big incident happened in 2006 with the bombing of the airport by Israel...not that far away. At every intersection, you still see armored vehicles...some would consider these as tanks, but they have a way smaller shooting power. It is also very difficult to make a difference between the army and the police in term of uniforms. One thing for sure, Leslie has never seen so many automatic machine guns in a single city. It was kind of fun for him as the security forces are very friendly. Leslie was even shocked when a
soldier decided to kiss him on the cheek in a Mulsim area. But here, when you see a gun, or any uniform, no pictures...and trust me, these guys did keep a solid eye on my camera!
The next few days after we left Lebanon, the government collapsed, let's see which messy future may be ahead for the local population.
So what else do you see behind guns...Ferraris...and a lot of them. But I'll come to this later. We based ourselves in Verdun. The area is in West Beirut, mainly Muslim area. But Verdun has been transformed the last few years in another trendy place full of nice restaurants. Beirut was divided in two parts, with the demarcation line being the Green Line during the war which ended in the early 90's. West was mainly Muslim, East mainly Christian. I know my comments may be less than accurate, so feel free to correct me if you feel so.
What amazed us is you still find a huge number of buildings crippled with impact of mortars and shot guns, and next to those, you have brand new buildings. I'm actually not sure there is a proper concerted urbanization beside
the downtown area also call Solidere. So you see guns, brand new buildings...actually out of downtown, still pretty few of them...and a lot of impressively nice amd expensive cars. For info, I'm 37 and have never owned a car...may give you an idea of my philosophy on cars...
Lebanese spend the money they don't have on luxury cars and botox or other cosmetic enhancement. I imagine I'm not going to make many friends making this comment. I used to leave in Shanghai...were a lot of expats only dreams to make you believe they are somebody....here it's different....Lebanese are well-known for going into debts to make you understand they are somebody. Credit card seems to be mainly used to purchase cars, clothes...and a lot of make-up...
With cars, it was a paradise for Leslie...all those cars...in front of all those buildings which would rather need some serious paint work just to look decent.
Be assured that the restaurant scene was as bling-bling as the car. We never made it to the night life...I had enough of the bling-bling by day/evening...and being in love, there is not much need for us to blow the budget around bars into the
late night...but to be honest...I was simply not at ease to leave Leslie alone in our suite while we party the night around. Normally it's not really anymore an issue at his age...but they are way too many guns around to make me feel we could move freely if any event had to happen. So no account of the night life beside the restaurant world.
Renovation and Beirut...it's a success for sure in Downtown, also known as Solidere. During the war, this place was in the middle of the battlefield, today, it is in the process of a serious facelift. Downtown has basically become a huge shopping mall incarnated by Beirut Souks....an area of high-end shopping. For me this place is serious competition to Dubai these days...Louboutin, Elie Saab, name it, if they are not here yet, they are opening soon! This to make me say that do not expect Beirut to be a cheap city, it may not be as expensive as London or Paris, but it is in par with most European cities. The most outrageously expensive things around here are hotel, but we managed to save a good deal at the end.
The thing to
see or to do in Beirut, and make sure you do not miss it, is the renovated National Museum. Ok, I told you no more Roman Temple....this is a collection of the best antiques you find in the country, so I guess we were not over with the past of the region yet...but this museum...wow...even for Leslie.
One more little thing. We didn't visit any vineyard due to the short time we had for Lebanon, but we enjoyed some of the wines, and I can confirm, some of them do worth the trip. Another little advise for the cigar addicts...I didn't know about it....but Beirut Duty free has the best cigar collection I ever saw (ok, we haven't been to La Havana...coming soon too), but wow, what a choice. I always thought Dubai was the place, but actually, Dubai is a branch of the Lebanon cigar provider...good to know!
This is it for Beirut, our next stop is only 80km from here, on the slope of Mza'ar...
There are more photos below