Written by HobWahid on 03 Feb, 2005
Beirut is more than just a historical site; it is an experience, a city like any other on earth. For most of history, Beirut was just a small fishing village on the Lebanese coast, overshadowed by more important ports to the north and the south,…Read More
Beirut is more than just a historical site; it is an experience, a city like any other on earth. For most of history, Beirut was just a small fishing village on the Lebanese coast, overshadowed by more important ports to the north and the south, but during the French mandate period, Beirut became the symbol of an independent Lebanon. With independence in 1946, Beirut flourished and symbolized the hopes and aspirations of the Lebanese people. With a world-class casino, a fashionable downtown, and sunny beaches, Beirut was a world-class city until the civil war that broke out in 1975 left the once named "Paris of the Middle East" in rubble. Nowadays, sadly the word "Beirut" only conjures up images of ruined buildings, bombings, kidnapping, massacres, and war. However, with 14 years having past since the last bullet was fired, the face of Beirut has changed. With the war behind them, the Lebanese have worked hard to return Beirut to its former glory, and it is well on its way. The downtown area, which was completely leveled during the war, has been completely rebuilt. All over the city, buildings full of mortar and bullet holes are being replaced with five-star hotels and world-class restaurants. Today, Beirut is thriving, cosmopolitan, and fashionable. Its fans see it as a bastion of modernism and culture in the stifling atmosphere of the Middle East; its critics see it as a fake, a facade covering deeper social problems. Love it or hate, Beirut is something that has to be experienced.Modern Beirut is divided into three main parts, West Beirut, East Beirut, and downtown.West Beirut was the traditional Muslim side of town during the civil war and the site of some of the more infamous events of the war, such as the Holiday Inn bombing. Although numerous remnants of the war remain, such as the ruined skeleton of the Holiday Inn, West Beirut has reestablished itself as home to great shopping, the beautiful Corniche, and most famously, the American University of Beirut. The heart of West Beirut lies on Hamra Street, where you will find the majority of hotels, as well as a large number of classy shops and cafés. If you head down the hill to the north from Hamra Street, you will end up on the Beirut Corniche, a large walkway that extends along the whole north side of West Beirut. One of the best times to head down to the Corniche is in the morning; when the sun is low, the Corniche is full of exercising Beirutis, and the Mediterranean looks magical. Summer nights along the Cornihce, though, are a typically Lebanese experience. In the summer, Beirutis from all over town flock to the Corniche for evening strolls. Street vendors selling ears of corn and loving couples vie for space as trendy young men eagerly drive by in their brand-new Mercedes. All along the edge of the water you’ll find makeshift argileh cafés, where you can sit and smoke a water pipe while looking out over the sea for just over $1.
Rouché, located on the western end of West Beirut is the home of the most spectacular sight in Beirut, the Pigeon Rocks. The Pigeon Rocks are a set of large rocks protruding out of the sea below the cliffs of Rouché. Any visit to Beirut requires that you spend at least one evening at any of the numerous cafés here watching the sun slowly sink into the horizon of the sea. When accompanied with an argileh, Almaza beer, or some Kefraya wine, it is a magical sight. Then, after watching the sunset, the swank shopping area of Verdun is just a short walk away in case you are in the mood for high fashion.Downtown (or Beirut Central Distict) symbolizes the desire of the people of Beirut to recapture the glory of their city. Located on the edge of the Green Line, the line that separated East and West Beirut, the BCD witnessed most of the destruction of the Civil War. Most of its beautiful Ottoman and French buildings were destroyed, along with many mosques and churches. Today, however, the BCD is the sight of the most ambitious rehabilitation project in Lebanon, and it has been a raging success. The lovely Place d’Étoile, with its clock tower and outdoor cafés, has been beautifully rebuilt and recalls images of numerous towns around Europe. The BCD then spirals out from the Place, with numerous pedestrian walkways full of cafés, ice cream stands, and classy stores. On Friday and Saturday nights, this is the place to be if you don’t want to indulge in the clubs of East Beirut. On weekend nights, the BCD floods with all varieties of Beirutis who come to be seen in their latest fashions and who come to chat and smoke argileh with friends. All in all, it is my favorite part of Beirut and must-see for all visitors. In addition to the shops and cafés, the BCD also has a few of Beirut’s historical sights, such as a set of Roman baths, the majestic Omari Mosque, and the Cardo Maximus. The mosque is worth a visit, but the others aren’t exactly spectacular but do serve as a nice reminder of Beirut’s past.Crossing Martyr’s Square and the Green Line from the BCD, you arrive in East Beirut, the traditionally Christian area of town. Many visitors to Beirut skip by East Beirut because it lacks the beautiful sea views of West Beirut and the history of the BCD, but Beirut still has plenty to offer. It is the more upper-class part of Beirut and therefore has some great shopping, namely at the ABC Center. It is also host to Beirut’s best and most stylish restaurants. Here you will find everything from Lebanese food to sushi bars to Indian, all of them sure to please your taste buds, but not your wallet. East Beirut is also home to one of the hidden gems of Beirut, the Sursock Museum, a privately owned home that serves as a beautiful gallery of contemporary art. The main reason, though, that people flock to East Beirut is for Rue Monot, which boasts the highest concentration of clubs and bars in Beirut. From Thursday night to Sunday night, Rue Monot is full of hip Beirutis strolling the length of the street and lining up outside clubs. On Rue Monot there are clubs for all tastes. Crystal is a pumping nightclub with music as loud as the clothes, Leila Braun is a chill and trendy bar, and there is even an Irish pub. If you enjoy nightlife, Rue Monot is your spot.Also worth mentioning is the National Museum. Located a bit south of the BCD, the National Museum is a beautifully organized museum that showcases artifacts from Lebanon’s diverse history. From Phoneician statue, to Roman mosaics to Ottoman Coins, the museum has an impressive collection, as well as a very interesting video that shows you how badly the museum was destroyed during the war and the lengths they went to preserve the artifacts. For example, they literally built brick walls around the large statues that could not be moved.And that is Beirut. Visit and decide for yourself…
“Skiing? In the Middle East? But isn’t it all desert?”That is usually the response I get when I tell people about my ski weekend in Lebanon. Yes, Lebanon is in the Middle East, but the fact is that it is a mountainous country that boasts…Read More
“Skiing? In the Middle East? But isn’t it all desert?”That is usually the response I get when I tell people about my ski weekend in Lebanon. Yes, Lebanon is in the Middle East, but the fact is that it is a mountainous country that boasts a couple of world-class ski areas that will entertain even the most experienced skiers. Faraya is the gem of the burgeoning Lebanese ski area, with the most lifts and best terrain. While not the equivalent of most areas you will find in the US or Europe, Faraya still has a unique feel that will impress even the most hardened skier.Faraya is just a 1-hour drive from Beirut, making it a perfectly reasonable day trip if you have a car, and it is its location that makes it so spectacular. In late January in Beirut it is perfectly possible to be walking on the coast of the Mediterranean in a T-shirt, but just 1 hour and almost 3,000 meters later, you are on a snow-covered peak that looks like it belongs more in Switzerland than Lebanon.If you are like me, you most likely didn’t come to Lebanon with the specific idea of going for a ski and thus did not bring your own equipment. This is nothing to worry about, however, because the Lebanese realize that most people don’t come to Lebanon to ski and therefore they make the rental of all necessary ski equipment not only possible but extremely easy. Along the road to Faraya you will come across numerous ski shops where you can not only rent skis, boots, and poles, but snow pants, jackets, helmets, goggles, hats, and gloves as well. Surprisingly, the quality of the equipment is quite good. Unsurprisingly, the shops farthest from the mountain may offer the best prices, but you may end up on 5- to 6-year-old skis. My suggestion is that you just rent from the rental shop at the base lodge of Faraya Mountain. It may be the most expensive place around, but their equipment and selection is the best, plus it is the most convenient. Even though their prices may be the highest, they are nothing compared with what you will find in the US or Europe. You can rent a whole ski outfit (skis, boots, poles, gloves, pants, jacket, and goggles) for just $20/day.Once you have obtained all your equipment, an access pass to the four peaks of Faraya will cost you another $20, still making it cheaper than a day out at most resorts in the US or Europe. The mountain itself is one unlike any others I have skied before. Although the mountain itself is almost 3,000 meters tall, snow only falls on the top 800 meters, meaning that the actual vertical ski terrain is not comparable to the US, but what it lacks in height, it makes up for in area with 12 full lifts. There are also no trees on top of the mountain and no real marked runs, which means that you are free to ski where you want, and if you are an advanced skier like I am, you may find yourself doing a bit of hiking off trail to get to the real steep and challenging runs. The snow is not the sort of powder that you will find in Utah or Colorado, rather it is more similar to the kind of finely packed snow you will find in the mountains of Vermont, making the skiing in Lebanon perfect for lovers of technical skiing.It is obvious that the mountain is more tailored to beginners, and beginners or intermediate skiers will find the mountains highly entertaining, but for the advanced skier, there may be some effort involved. Still, though, I consider myself a very advanced skier and I was able to find things that challenged me a bit, I just had to search for them. Because this is Lebanon, the skiing is not nearly as regulated as in the US or Europe - you are basically free to do what you want. Thus, I found some of the best trails on the mountain just by taking a brief hike to various precipices scattered on the mountain that would satisfy my lust for verticality and speed.While the skiing itself overall is not on par with anything I have skied in Europe or the US, there is one thing that will make Faraya stand out over all other mountains in my mind and that is the views. From the top of how many other mountains in the world can you stare down at the Mediterranean Sea? The fact that you can stand there in the biting wind on the highest peak of Faraya, hiding from the cold in your winter jacket and peer down at the Beirut Peninsula jutting out majestically into the Mediterranean, makes Faraya a ski experience unlike any other and a must for a ski bums who happen to pass through Lebanon. Plus, you get to go home and tell all your friends at home how you went skiing in Lebanon and dispel all their beliefs about the Middle East being a barren desert. Close
There is no other way of saying it—Beirut has the most irritating, frustrating, and annoying taxi system of any other city in the world that I have visited, and that includes Cairo. Nowhere else have I seen a taxi system so unfriendly to tourists and…Read More
There is no other way of saying it—Beirut has the most irritating, frustrating, and annoying taxi system of any other city in the world that I have visited, and that includes Cairo. Nowhere else have I seen a taxi system so unfriendly to tourists and so complicated that even locals are constantly frustrated by its inefficiency. That is why I have created this entry: to warn you of the absolute ridiculousness of the system and to give you the benefit of my Beirut knowledge so that you may come armed, and I do mean armed, since I actually have had a Beirut cabbie get violent with me.
On the surface, the system seems rather straightforward. When taking a taxi in Beirut, you have two options: service and taxi.Service Taxis work like service taxis in other parts of the world. You flag down a taxi, tell him where you are going, and ask if he will take you there bi-servees (in Arabic). If he agrees, then you pay him 1,000 LL ($0.75), and he has the right to pick up other passengers going in the relative same direction as you.Regular Taxis work like normal taxis. You pay for the whole car, and the driver takes you to the destination directly.Simple, right? So you would think. There are about a hundred other factors that come into play here that make Beirut taxis veritable nightmares. We’ll start with the regular taxis. If you are in a hurry or are traveling with four or five people, you will want to take a regular taxi. You will have no problem finding a taxi to take you where you want to go, but the problem comes in when it is time to pay. Taxis in Beirut have no meters; thus, you are expected to know what the appropriate fare is, and if you pay too little, you will find out very quickly from the cabbie, who may fly into a violent rage—as has happened to me—and physically try to take money from you. The starting fare for a taxi is 5,000 LL. This will get you most places in the city, provided there is no traffic, but if there is traffic (as there almost always is), then you have to throw in a couple thousand more. But wait—it gets more complicated. The price you pay also depends on the state of your cab. The majority of cabs in Beirut are busted old Mercedes, but there are also nicer cabs. If you flag down one of these nicer cabs, usually a newer American car or Mercedes, then you had better be prepared to pay for it. If you hand them 5,000 LL, you will immediately be met with a whole slew of excuses as to why they need more cash: "But this isn’t an old car; this is new and comfortable!" is the plea you will invariably hear. For this reason, I stick only to the busted old Mercedes. Also, you have to be aware that, unless you speak perfect Lebanese Arabic, cabbies will recognize you as foreign, and when that happens, exploitation is just around the corner. They may try to tell you "10,000" for a five-block trip. If this is the case, you just have to throw the amount you think is right at them and walk away.Because of all the problems surrounding taking regular taxis, I suggest that you take service taxis. They aren’t that much slower, and they are much easier. This still doesn’t mean that they are hassle-free, though. The way to do service taxis is to stand on the side of the road and wave down a taxi. When they pull up, you shout your destination and "bi-servees" at the driver. If he agrees, you get in and pay him 1,000 LL. Sometimes, though, if there is a lot of traffic or if it is late at night, the driver may ask you serveesayn?, meaning that he wants you to pay for two seats, or 2,000 LL. You can either chose to do this or wave the taxi away. The one good thing about Beirut is that there are so many taxis that you rarely have to wait too long, and you can almost always find someone to take you bi-servees.That is not the end of it, though. Some cabbies still might try and pull out a few more tricks. For example, I once hailed a taxi, and he agreed to take me as a service taxi to the museum. When we arrived, I handed him the service fare, and he immediately started yelling. He said that since he didn’t pick up anyone else along the way, I had to pay the full fare. I told him that was ridiculous and that it isn’t my fault that he didn’t pick anyone else up, at which point I started getting out of the car. He then tried to pull me back into the car, but I shrugged him off. As I walked away, he got out of the car and started shouting all sorts of stuff about my mother.Admittedly, that violent aggression only happened once, and I think it is rather rare, but that doesn’t mean that you still might not have other things to contend with, like the time I got a cabbie who didn’t know where he was going. I was going to the Charles Helou bus station, a huge landmark in Beirut that everyone knows—everyone except this cabbie, that is. Thus, I ended up having to give him directions. While giving him directions, I asked him where he was from. He replied "Tyre" (in the south). I then asked him how long he had been in Beirut. "Three days," he replied. The cabbie was actually very nice, and I didn’t mind at all, but if I had been any other tourist who didn’t speak Arabic or know his way around, I could see how it could be quite frustrating.It is sad that the Beirut cab system is so horrid, because it really reflects so poorly on the city. Apart from the cabbies, the Beirutis are great people and extremely helpful to foreigners. In fact, I have seen cases of Beirutis sticking up for foreigners in cabs, making sure they don’t get ripped off. If you are in Beirut, though, taking a cab is unavoidable, and all I can really recommend is that you bring your patience and a sense of humor; otherwise, one bad cab experience could ruin your whole trip.And since I don't have any pics of Beiruti cabs, just enjoy some more pics of Lebanon. Close
Written by stappm on 29 Mar, 2006
Getting TO/AROUND: Don't worry, you CAN drive in Lebanon. Just expect the unexpected, and remain aware of everyone around you. Don't be surprised to find a car driving the wrong way down a oneway street, or someone to come to a complete stop, for no…Read More
Getting TO/AROUND: Don't worry, you CAN drive in Lebanon. Just expect the unexpected, and remain aware of everyone around you. Don't be surprised to find a car driving the wrong way down a oneway street, or someone to come to a complete stop, for no apparent reason, on the highway—perhaps even someone reversing 500m to an exit long since passed. Defense is key.I do recommend renting a car in Lebanon—I personally HATE (and yes hate is a strong word) but I hate Taxi drivers in Lebanon. They are the worst taxis of any city I have ever been to. They are obnoxious and honk at you when you are walking, they NEVER take you directly to where you want to go—usually opting for an out of the way tourist spot in the interim. Twice, two different drivers, wanted marriage before dropping me at my destination... lol... but I am serious. ("I am married" is a very handy phrase for women to learn in Arabic!!!) Most major car renters are there like Hertz and Avis, and car rentals are inexpensive (intermediate $40 a day, INCLUDING insurance!). One odd thing, they do have you pay the insurance deductable upfront (on a credit card $200-$500 depending on the insurance you buy) when you rent the car, like they are expecting an accident. However it is credited back upon return of the car. Also another unusual thing, when dropping the car at the airport, you go directly to departures (as if you were dropping someone off) call the rental car number (I used Avis) and someone ran out and took the car from the curb. It was very nice!!! No aiport rental car parking lots to find, no rental car shuttle buses to find and wait on!Website: www.avis.com
On the surface, Lebanon seems to be a country full of people who have completely forgotten their troubled past, a country that has decided to move towards the future as a united country. On the surface, it is a country that seems to be swimming…Read More
On the surface, Lebanon seems to be a country full of people who have completely forgotten their troubled past, a country that has decided to move towards the future as a united country. On the surface, it is a country that seems to be swimming in wealth and prosperity. Upon arrival in Beirut, you would be forgiven for not even realizing that there was ever a civil war here because the city has recovered so well and the people seem to be living in such harmony. Sadly, this is just all on the surface.If you are not familiar with the region, it might be hard to recognize all the divisions that still exist in the country. If you aren’t familiar with the history of Lebanon, then you might not think anything of it when you see a kita’ib (the old Lebanese forces) poster or an Amal (a Muslim militia) flag because you are unaware of what they stand for, but signs exist all around Lebanon of the bitter distrust that lies in the country among the Christian, Sunni, Shiite, and Druze communities. Most tourists to Lebanon come, take advantage of all its sights and nightlife, and then leave without any real sense of just what it is to be Lebanese these days, which is just sad, because it is a fascinating country that has plenty of opinions - that is why I encourage you to just talk to the Lebanese.The Lebanese are very opinionated people and often won‘t hesitate to share their opinions, and the most interesting thing about Lebanon is that you will hear a whole range of opinions, some of which you may agree with, some you may not. You may be surprised at the brashness of some of the answers you receive, but it is all part of the modern Lebanese identity. It is a country that is still very much divided, but it is a country united in one thing, the fear of another civil war.The Lebanese aren’t reluctant to talk about what they call "the time of the events," and you will most likely hear some incredible stories that will let you see just what these people went through. I remember one man in particular, Antoine. He was a Greek Catholic cab driver who was working at Middle East Airlines when the war broke out. He joined up with the Christian militias and started fighting the Palestinians. A few years into the war, he was thrown out of a three-story window and broke his back. His spine is now a metal rod.Down in Tyre, you can talk to some Shiites who will tell you about how they would go for days without power after the Israelis bombed the power plants. They would then rebuild the plant and a few days later the Israelis would bomb it again.Each person has a different story, and each person has a different view. You will find Christians who will tell you about how the Syrians are ruining their country and then you will find a Muslim who will tell you about how the Syrians were the only force that made it possible for the war to end and that they are the only force who will stop the Christian forces from taking complete control of the country.A cab driver in Beirut, and a Muslim one at that, once went on about how much he loves George Bush because he believes that every country in the world should have democracy and that sometimes it needs to be spread by force. "I wish he would come to Lebanon!" He exclaimed.In the suburbs of Beirut, you can find Armenians who will tell you about how their grandparents had to flee their homes in southern Turkey and come to Lebanon, and then in another suburb on the complete opposite side of town, you can find a Palestinian who still remembers when the Christian militias, with the help of Israel, invaded the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982 and murdered almost every Palestinian in the camp.Lebanon is a country full of numerous sects of people, all of them with their own take and own view on just what Lebanon is and should be. While some of the tales may be grim, you will also see how much each one of these people, whether they be Druze, Christian, or Muslim, love their country and how they just want to see it succeed. To miss out on the opportunity to learn so much about such a fascinating country would be a crime, and since most Lebanese speak English or French as well as Arabic, there is no excuse to miss out. So just go for it and talk to the Lebanese. Close
Written by ramigm75 on 12 Jun, 2006
I headed up to Tripoli, a city some 80km from Beirut. Talal, from the hostel, told me how to get there for LL2000. It was well worth the visit! The place was teaming with life, and a very different cultural experience from Beirut.…Read More
I headed up to Tripoli, a city some 80km from Beirut. Talal, from the hostel, told me how to get there for LL2000. It was well worth the visit! The place was teaming with life, and a very different cultural experience from Beirut.
The old souk was definitely worth visiting, you will be amazed by the range of cloths, spices and food that is sold there. When you are finished with the souk there is a great castle worth seeing nearby.
The bakeries in Lebanon are amazing, from communion bread to exotic Lebanese pizzas. You can find them on every street corner and they are just great! Breakfast, lunch, or dinner. …Read More
The bakeries in Lebanon are amazing, from communion bread to exotic Lebanese pizzas. You can find them on every street corner and they are just great! Breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Close
If you go to Lebanon and don't go to Baalbek, then I think you have just wasted your time. These ruins are some of the most amazing I have ever seen, they really make you realise how incredible our ancestors were! …Read More
If you go to Lebanon and don't go to Baalbek, then I think you have just wasted your time. These ruins are some of the most amazing I have ever seen, they really make you realise how incredible our ancestors were! Close
My friend Rita took me up to Batroun, we hired some bikes for LL1000 per hour and rode around the old town. It was just fantastic, the coast line was spectacular. My food poisoning however made bike riding a bit hard!…Read More
My friend Rita took me up to Batroun, we hired some bikes for LL1000 per hour and rode around the old town. It was just fantastic, the coast line was spectacular. My food poisoning however made bike riding a bit hard! Close
Written by b*kp*k ch*k on 30 Sep, 2002
You can get by pretty well with English alone, but a bit of French or Arabic can definitely be advantageous.
The French, I’m sure, can be had in many places. Here’s some basic Arabic that might come in handy:
Keef alhaal? = How are you?
You can get by pretty well with English alone, but a bit of French or Arabic can definitely be advantageous.
The French, I’m sure, can be had in many places. Here’s some basic Arabic that might come in handy:
Keef alhaal? = How are you?
Hamdallah = By the grace of God (reply to above)
Shukran = Thank you
Kem hada = How much is this
And last but not the least, the single most important word you need as a tourist: 'la’ – which, of course, means ‘no’!