Lebanon - From "The Beirut" to Beirut


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Middle East » Lebanon » Beirut
February 7th 2016
Published: February 9th 2016
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The lights of BeirutThe lights of BeirutThe lights of Beirut

A city aglow at night
As we walk into the restaurant and give our name to the hostess for a table, we then move on as we always do….to the softly lit bar and grab a stool where Sami brings us a couple of libations. This place is all too familiar to us, with its fake, yet attractive grape vines hanging from the ceiling and all for that part, all around the room. It is our very favorite restaurant in Toledo, Ohio, Dave’s hometown. When we visit family we always try to spend an evening at “The Beirut.” It is one of those restaurants where you always feel at home. It is a restaurant with fantastic food. A standard that you hold all other Lebanese restaurants to…which may be unfair, but it’s our standard, after all. We’ve eaten our way around the country and many nations of the world over the years, comparing foods….seeing if they will measure up to “Our Beirut.” On occasion we’ve been heard to say, “this hummus, these dolmas, or this kibbe is almost as good as “The Beirut”. We literally taunt these other restaurants to try to compare to what is familiar to us. We are self-proclaimed foodies. We love all
Fresh catchFresh catchFresh catch

Now...what would you like for dinner?
varieties of ethnic foods and Lebanese is absolutely one of our favorites.



A few years ago a thought began to germinate that we should have Lebanese food in Lebanon some day. Although that should come as absolutely no surprise to those who know us as we require little or no reason to pick up and go somewhere. The last time we visited our favorite Lebanese haunt, we peppered Sami with many questions about his homeland and the best way to see it. He was most gracious with his time and knowledge. Well—that day has arrived. After a couple mmore phone calls and texts to Sammy, our bartender extraordinaire in Toledo-- we had a list of ideas. So we started this trip to the Middle East…. in where else? Lebanon.



Troubles in Beirut as recent as November gave us pause. We studied the U.S. State department web site and saw that a travel warning was in effect. We came to later realize that this is not an uncommon posting on the U.S. State Department website, as they want to ensure the safety of their citizens. Do we go or don’t we go was the conversation
AlmazaAlmazaAlmaza

A fine Lebanese pilsner.
for a few days. We read blogs from Travel Bloggers who had been there and decided to go. Often times we find the U.S. state department can place a travel warning sooner than other countries and so we often check how the Australians and British are feeling about countries that we travel to.



Actually, when you stop and think about it, The Middle East has seen a rather tumultuous past and most likely will be in turmoil for the foreseeable future. The upshot of all this is that if you are waiting for this region of the world to settle down, you will never go… so off we went! When we began traveling internationally years ago, we feared that being an American made us a target as many people have strong opinions about America and our politics. With this being an election year and hopeful politicians are filling the airwaves with somewhat stupid and ill-informed remarks, we’re probably not gaining additional respect from those in this region. Whatever…overall, we have found that most people understand that we don’t necessarily share views of the talking heads or those in Washington. Everyone in Lebanon has been wonderful and friendly,
Psychedelic WalkwayPsychedelic WalkwayPsychedelic Walkway

From our hotel to the neighboring hotel. Cool as black lights, man!
just like all the other countries we’ve visited. Go figure.



As we flew in to Beirut, the beauty of the city captured our attention from the air. Built on a rolling hillside, dotted with tan limestone buildings and surrounded by the glistening colors of the Mediterranean Sea, it is rather stunning. Once called “The Paris of the Middle East,” as we have read and we are uncertain of this nickname for Beirut. They do dress rather cosmopolitan but that is as far as the connection goes for us. That is not meant negative as Beirut has its own personality and charm but does not really remind us of Paris.



Our first day of exploring had us headed south to the beach side town of Sidon to take a look at the Sidon Sea Castle. We must admit it was not as impressive as we had expected. The short drive from Beirut to Sidon was enjoyable with plenty of banana trees and orange trees along the highway. We chuckled when we would see several acres of bananas located right behind a car dealership along a busy road. Once you climb to the top of the
Brutus at the Rock of RaouchéBrutus at the Rock of RaouchéBrutus at the Rock of Raouché

Yep....he's on the road again!!
castle, the views of Sidon are scenic and the town of Sidon attractive but still we were underwhelmed with this site. On our way out we stopped as a parade of young school children dressed in their school uniforms passed by.



We were surprised as our car got on the entrance ramp to the highway with the image of a woman sitting, holding a baby. She didn’t seem to be selling anything and didn’t seem concerned by traffic zooming past. An odd place to sit, we thought.



From there we went to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tyre. This town is steeped in Phoenician history and offers an inviting harbor. The World Heritage Site is under restoration and we watched a archeologist at work for a while. The views along the sea are lovely. Fortunately for us, we had read a little before going and did additional research after we returned. We arranged over-priced transportation to Sidon and Tyre but didn’t sign up for an organized tour. This proved to be a mistake on our part. We assumed at the World Heritage Site we could get a guide or perhaps more information if
Hookah time!Hookah time!Hookah time!

Most restaurants offered their patrons the chance to smoke from the narguilé (hookah). Men and women alike.
we wanted. That was not the case. So it required a bit of reading after the fact. Nonetheless, it was worth a stop even though on this day we spent too much for our trip to these sites. As with all UNESCO World Heritage sites that we have been to, it is worth the visit, as they never disappoint. We walked and then we sat quietly soaking in the history and sites around us, then talking of what life must have been like when this was built, discussed uses for each room and sat in wonder.



Another stop brought us to the National Museum of Beirut. What it lacks in size is more than made up for in the historical message it displays. Included is a genuinely nice collection of ancient artifacts that tell the story of Lebanese history and the Greek and Egyptian influences on this region. Being from the U.S., we are often amazed at the ages of these antiquities. How can you not be impressed with a beautiful urn that was created some 5000 years ago?



Sadly, we didn’t get to see the Jeitta Grotto, a limestone cave while we were
Archeologist at workArcheologist at workArcheologist at work

Restoring the UNESCO site at Tyre.
here. We knew the weather would be spotty while we were here and our first day was sunny so we didn’t want to be underground. Of course, the very next day we discovered that they had closed it for a week. Guess it was not meant to be.





We took time to stroll the waterfront in downtown Beirut and observe the marvelous job they have done in rebuilding a city (and nation) torn apart by a 15 plus year civil war that ended in the 1990’s. We observed that it is quite a banking center as every time you turn around, there is another branch of some bank. Clearly some of this money is poured into real estate, as there is active construction everywhere.





One of the great highlights of our time here in Beirut was the chance to visit and dine with Osta, who for many years worked at the Beirut Restaurant in Dave’s hometown and Wille, who is one of Sami’s cousins. Osta is a very warm and engaging man who took us to a fine local restaurant where we were able to converse about a great many
Sculpted man of the pastSculpted man of the pastSculpted man of the past

From the Beirut Museum
things about this wonderful land and learn even more of the history. He moved back a decade or so ago, and was a most gracious host. Visits like these are the reasons we travel. We appreciate sitting with the locals and hearing about their country. This was particularly special because they lived in the states for 20 years and in Toledo the majority of that time. Our evening passed quickly with conversation concerning life in Lebanon but also talking about Toledo, Florida and of course American politics.





Lebanon is quite small in size, but we discovered that it is full of history and quite unique in that it is a predominantly Christian nation due to the Roman conquests and subsequent crusades from Europe. It has held on to its Christian identity through many centuries despite conquests and wars on its soil. And then of course…..there is the fine cuisine.


Additional photos below
Photos: 42, Displayed: 28


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Breakfast!Breakfast!
Breakfast!

za’atar (a very aromatic blend of dried herbs, such as thyme, with sumac, sesame and salt) smeared salty cheese on kohbz (flatbread)
Blood orange juiceBlood orange juice
Blood orange juice

OJ at its best!
ZiadZiad
Ziad

Greeted us at breakfast and took great care of us.
Lighthouse at SidonLighthouse at Sidon
Lighthouse at Sidon

Could get lonely out there
The Castle at SidonThe Castle at Sidon
The Castle at Sidon

Steeped in history set on the southern coast.
IhabIhab
Ihab

Concierge at the hotel. Very friendly and helpful.
School children on a field tripSchool children on a field trip
School children on a field trip

Look out, we're on the loose!
Proud fishermanProud fisherman
Proud fisherman

Hard working to put fresh fish on the table of many.
Street vendorStreet vendor
Street vendor

More fresh food.
Dave is out and aboutDave is out and about
Dave is out and about

Look out Lebanon!
Rock of RaouchéRock of Raouché
Rock of Raouché

Just off the coast of Beirut. Quite nice.
Osta and WilledOsta and Willed
Osta and Willed

Treated us to a fine evening of food and conversation!


9th February 2016

Beirut
I was especially interested in this trip and your Beirut blog entry didn't disappoint. Lebanon and Egypt are at the top of my travel "wish list". So sorry my niece's husband (Moe) didn't come through with ideas (they just had a new baby, their first, so their focus was elsewhere) but it sounds like you are well taken care of by your local friends. If I hear from Moe I will send you any info he may have on Egypt. Looking forward to your next post. S
9th February 2016

Sonja, greetings from Lebanon
So glad you continue to follow along and appreciate your comments. No worries about Moe, they are busy and we are doing just fine. We will be here a few more days and then on to Egypt.
9th February 2016

Beirut
Impressive. Very brave travelers!
9th February 2016

Beirut travel warnings
Before we arrived we were a bit worried about the U.S. travel warning but we feel completely safe and the people are wonderful. I hope travelers will start coming back to this country.
9th February 2016

You and Willie Nelson
How wonderful to see you "on the road again." Reading your blogs make me feel as if I am there hearing you tell your stories over a glass of wine. Beirut is a place I had looked into visiting, but had to pass. Thanks for sharing your stories and wonderful food shots. I will see you in one week and cannot wait.
9th February 2016

On the road again,
Soon enough my friend we will be sitting with that bottle of wine and conversing about all that we saw in our day. Travel choices always need to be made and you didn't have enough time to add Lebanon to your trip. Another time.
9th February 2016

1970's
Back when I was in college (roughly the same time period as when dinosaurs roamed the earth) I remember that the American University in Beirut was a popular spot for students to spend their semester abroad. I've not made it there yet, but, like you, I've known some sweet and generous people who have emigrated from there.
9th February 2016

1970's
The war lasted 16 years and many people immigrated to other countries. Things have been calm for the most part for a decade now and many have returned to their homeland. As you say, they are wonderful people. Hopefully, you will visit soon.
9th February 2016

Good Start!
Glad to see you guys are back on the road and off to a good start. Nice that you got to meet with some local people for dinner. Looking forward to following along on your trip!
9th February 2016

A good start
Yes we feel like we have gotten off on the right foot for this trip. It was good for Dave to reconnect with people he knew from Toledo and they have been very gracious with their time. Love hearing about things from the local perspective. Thank you for following our blog and making a comment. Always great having others with us.
9th February 2016

Great looking Olives
If you took the Government warnings seriously you wouldn't step out your front door. Careful research including reading other bloggers give you a better idea on whats happening. Lebanon looks fantastic, great blog and looking forward to your next one. Shelley and Scott
9th February 2016

Never enough olives!
I always love a country that serves olives for breakfast-- well every meal. Indeed you would sit at home on the couch if you listened to all of the travel warnings...but always good to know the situation in any country before going and travel smart. And as Americans it makes us pause from time to time but as you see....here we are. Thank you for following along and making comments. Looking forward to your next blog also.
9th February 2016

Lebanon
Glad you two had a good time! Enjoyed the stories and photos!
9th February 2016

Lebanon
Susan, thanks for following along and commenting. Traveling always opens the mind and heart. So many beautiful places in the world.
9th February 2016

Travels in Beirut
What a fabulous post; loved it. Such beautiful photos which made me want to travel there. One of the friends from my book club is from Lebanon and delights us all with some of the great food offerings she brings to our meetings. Naturally we start with food and drink before the literary discussions begin!!
10th February 2016

Travels in Beirut
Food and drink should begin any book club meeting. I'm glad your friend is influencing you to travel to Beirut. It is a modern city worth visiting. Thank you for your comment. Thank you for reading.
9th February 2016
City on the coast

Beirut
Great to hear you are safe and sound and tucking into Beirut hospitality. Always amazing how quickly some countries pick themselves up and rebuild after years of destruction by war and political unrest. Are there areas of bombed buildings or still evidence of those days in areas you have seen?
10th February 2016
City on the coast

Beirut
Plenty of hospitality. Yes there are signs of decay in parts of the city but they have done a nice job with the rebuilding. They are resilient. It is good what can be done in a few years after a war ends.
9th February 2016

You didn't say whether the food...
at the local restaurant that Osta and Wilmut took you to was better than the Beirut Restaurant in Toledo. Anyway, it sounds like you are enjoying yourselves!
10th February 2016

Ah, we didn't say....
Our Beirut, "The Beirut" in Toledo still wins in our book because of the fond memories but the food here is very much the same. We were glad to find our place cooks authentic foods. We are enjoying ourselves. Thanks for the comment and thanks for following along.
10th February 2016

Brendan stole my 'On the road again' comment :)
It seems like Beirut has treated you well. There is a big Lebanese population in Melbourne and I had a few Lebanese friends in High School, so I feel like I know the food better than any other Middle Eastern country, but like you mentioned - nothing tops eating the food in its home country. I'm drooling at the sight of that glass of blood orange juice!
10th February 2016

On that road again
Sorry Brendan beat you to the on the road again comment but he is fast. Many people left the country during the 16 years of fighting so I'm not surprised many have relocated to your part of the world. We've had great food and the blood orange juice was fantastic. Thanks for commenting and following along.
10th February 2016

Zataar
Here in Dubai ther are of course lots of Lebanese restaurants too... And I love Zataar bread... Even had a ZATAAR croissant the other day. Good to see you greeting around the sites ... Friend of mine was there a couple of years ago and loved it ... Are you visiting the birthplace of Khalil Gibran ...artist writer. Have fun.
10th February 2016

Zataar
Hi Lynne, there are so many good food choices. We started out with our old favorites and have now branched out to trying new foods. None have disappointed. We have not been to Khalil Gibran's birthplace and are unsure if we will go. We have two days left and are still deciding what is next. See you soon.
10th February 2016

so interesting
Glad to see you are getting the most out of each location you visit, as you always do. It looks like a beautiful place. I have a 1001 nights ring that came from a jeweler in Beirut by the name of George Mansour. This was in the late 60's but I wonder if there is still a family business there.
10th February 2016

Beirut is interesting
Your ring sounds fascinating. I can google George but have not seen anything with his name on it. I'll keep my eyes open. Love to see your ring next time I see you. The 60's were a lifetime ago for this country.
10th February 2016

Interesting
What a great read and photos- good onya. Safe travels.
11th February 2016

Interesting
Bernie, thanks for reading and commenting. More to come.
11th February 2016

on the road
Great to read that you are on the road again. So, Switzerland is coming closer. We are waiting for you! And great you bring Brutus with you. Our Fritz will be happy to meet him ;-).
11th February 2016

Brutus and Fritz
Brutus loves to make new friends on the road. We are enjoying ourselves and look forward to seeing you in March.
11th February 2016
Psychedelic Walkway

Cool photo
I liked this photo. Very nice colours. Interesting choice of destination. We have been thinking about going there but never came further than a thought. But in the future we probably will head that way. /Ake
11th February 2016
Psychedelic Walkway

Cool photo
It is an interesting walkway. Beirut has done a nice job rebuilding after the war ended. They appear prosperous with all the new buildings, malls and everyone seems to be shopping. Thank you for reading and commenting. Hopefully, you will add it to your list. A great deal of history in Lebanon....and marvelous foods.
13th February 2016

History
I love a country with good history.
13th February 2016

History
So much history. We enjoyed it.
14th February 2016

Visiting Lebanon
How brave of you to travel to Lebanon in these days. Thank you for sharing your experience there. It is so good to finally read some positive stories from this obviously beautiful country.
14th February 2016

Visiting Lebanon
I will tell you we didn't see anything that would make us fear for our safety. It is a country rebuilding and they welcome people to come visit. Very friendly people.

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