Yalla! – One week in Lebanon – Beirut, Chouf Mountains, Byblos and Tyre

Lebanon

Out of the main stream tourism, Lebanon is the perfect mixture of mediterranean and middle east culture, the very link between Europe and Asia. Sitting on top of more than 5000 years of history, where Phoenicians, romans, and arabs have alternate themselves in dominating the country, leaving traces of their impressive culture through the work of arts presents every where along the country.
A country of beauty, culture and astonishing nature where different cultures, religion and philosophies coexists.
Despite the multiple setbacks and political upheavals, Lebanon remains one the friendliest places in the world. The Lebanese like to savor life, are very friendly and can give you the hospitality only a mediterranean/asian culture can give. They make you feel at your ease from the very first moment. They like to enjoy time with friends and family, eating together and talking of philosophy and religion. Very proud of their country, they love to celebrate it at the first chance during small talks with foreigners. For them Lebanon is the earth of the world, the place where they’ve born, where they want to leave, where they come back after long periods abroad to build their house, in the hills outside of the city, surrounded by the marvelous nature of the mountains facing directly the mediterranean sea.
Lebanese people look alway forward in a positive way. Inshallah (as God wishes) is a word you will be used to hear often.
During our travel through Lebanon we were guests of a wonderful Lebanese family. Beirut, Byblos, Tyre and the Chouf Mountains were our main travel destinations, impressing a memory in our mind that will never go away.
Beirut
This is the city that will never die. Here different cultures and religions coexists in the same place. It is impressive to see a mosque and a christian church close to each other, separated by a narrow street, as happens for the mosque of Mohamed Al-Amin and the Christian Maronite Cathedral of St. George.
Beirut gives you always a big welcome.
Don’t let be intimidated by the armed soldiers perched above tanks on many street corners and Dive into the city recent history walking along the green line, for many years the border line between the muslim and the christian neighborhood of the city. Proceeding through the Rue da Damas you will be impressed by the few buildings still in the condition they were left at the end of the war. A strong contrast towards the brand new skyscrapers, as they are still reminding of the city turbulent past.
Still Alive after years of civil war, the city had a very quick development. The central district with new modern buildings and renovated old houses of the Beirut’s Souk is an example of that. But still the presence of crumbling and bullet-riddled houses and villas dated to the ottoman or french mandate period, waiting to be tore down remembers of the recent past of the city. All this reconstruction has unfortunately caused speculation and corruption. Crumbled houses and fields where bought for less money by big construction companies (see Solidere) taking advantage of the situation setting a much higher price for the renovated buildings not any more affordable by the former citizen classes.
This has stolen a lot of the old flavor of Beirut. If you ask any one, you will be answered in the same way that the central district of Beirut is now neat and nice, with wonderful buildings but unfortunately so expensive and unaffordable that they end up empty for long periods making the city center, once very populated, quite a desolated area.
Beirut must be experienced on the street, walking through its streets, eating shawarma and falafel at one of its typical fast food, having dinner in the area of Mar Mikhael and then strolling through the old and the new city, between almost destroied villas and the brand new sky scrapers (the Marina Towers) a few steps away from the Corniche. Walking towards South you will encounter the famous Pigeon rocks, natural rock arches rising from the sea, a piece of wild nature in the middle of the city.
in the downtown don’t miss the old Roman baths
Eating
Lebanese Food
The lebanese food is a celebration of life, fresh flavorful and with a class of its own. Eating a meal is not only substantiation but a get together experience, enjoying this time with relatives and friends. For the lebanese is always the right chance to celebrate some important moment with a reunion around a fully basted table. The colors of the lebanese cuisine reflects the sunny landscapes and the hospitality of the lebanese people. Lebanese food combines the sophistication of European cuisine with the exotic oriental ingredients. A meal usually starts with a “mezze” a selection of salads, hummos, dattles, stuffed grape leaves, kebbe (meat balls), taboule (parsley and tomato salad), Baba ghannouj (eggplant), Rqeqet Jebne (puff pastry with spinach, Fatti (chikpeas, pine nut mixed with tahin and yogurt), Fool (beans, olive oil, garlic, lemon, vegetables, tomato, mint, parsley) . The main course is usually grilled meat, or chicken or fish served with a vast variety of vegetables, rise and bread. A typical dish of the Chuff mountains is the Mloukhieh,chicken meat cooked with mallow leaves The mezze are appetizers that can make a whole meal.
Desserts are very sweet and include a great variation of sweets such as baklava, Knefeh (mild cheese, flour thick, sugar and honey) a real calorie bomb) , mammoul, debs (home made grape cream, sweet as honey), as well as dried fruits and nuts.
Black coffe is always served at the end of the meal, scented with cardamom.
If it happen to be invited at someone house, you will be offered of coffe, cake or fresh cut season fruits.
Street Food
Shauarma, Falafel and the Manakeesh the lebanese pizza expecially with fresh vegetables, fresh baked at every time of the day in on of the bakery along the streets.
Our favourite place:
Barbar
Rue Spears, Hamra
A popular street food chain in Lebanon, oper around the clock, serves the best mannish, shwarma in the city. Falafel are prepared live in front of you, with the cook frying them in the hot oil pan. Don’t bother about what time in the day you get hungry, after this culinary experience you will only be more than satisfied
Drinking
 Check point Charlie
Uruguay Street,
For the nostalgic and for them that want to find a connection between two cities that lived a separation between their borders, Beirut as Berlin, both of them connected by a somehow similar story.
Great cocktails and atmosphere. Stop there for a drink before starting your crazy night in the Beirut night life.
Chouf Mountains & Mont Liban
Beitedinne
27 km from Beirut is a spectacular attraction. The palace of Beitedinne is the jewel of the Chouf Mountains, built by BasharII is the greatest surviving architectural achievement of the 19th century. Beitedinne is surrounded by many small villages, all of them worth a visit, like Arsoun and Deir El Ahmar. Just walk through their small streets to get a feeling of the typical daily life of Lebanese families. If you are lucky, you can even get invited for a coffe or a mate tea with a piece of cake or fresh fruits, sitting on a sofa, talking and eating around the typical wood stove present in alle the houses in the chuff mountains, while you hear discussion about philosophy, politics, and more relaxing and funny topics. Most of the people would simply forget about the war and avoid to talk about it at all. Instead they prefer to show their overriding optimism that “everything’s going to be alright” and good times are just around the corner.
Byblos
7000 years old city. Its archeological site has ruins and work of arts from neolithic, canaanite, phoenician, hellenistic, roman and crusader times. It’s a blend of the ancient and the prosperous ages overlooking a beautiful day.
It picturesque harbor on the mediterranean sea gives it’s best at sunset, when the sun colors all the building walls and the stone of an intense orange/red color.
A must see is the Memoir du Temps fossils museum a small shop of a paleontologist that discovered hundreds of fish fossils in a field owned by his family. More than a shop is a real family driven archeological museum.
Byblos is one of the preferred venues of Beirut people to have a night out, to enjoy the night life that it offers with numerous bars and clubs along the old streets of the historical center.
During the Christmas time it becomes a feast of lights especially along the archeological area in the city center.
Tyre
about 80 km south of Beirut, suffered heavily during the civil war and the israeli incursions. The feeling you have in this city is very different that the one you can have in Beirut. It seams like belonging to another country not fully out of the tension of the war. ONU troops are still stationed in the city. Poster and flags of Hezbollah are outlying the access roads to the city. Anyway the city is of course worth a visit for Unesco World Heritage Roman remains like the Al-Bass Archeological site that contains the largest and best preserved Roman hippodrome in the world.

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