My last Christmas was spent in Lebanon -a country, where contradictions coexist side by side. We spent most of the time in Beirut, but we also visited Byblos (Jbeil). It was my first visit to the country, still I had to say that some expectations were formed in my head, mostly by the media. My advice to you is getting rid of stereotypes because only then you will be truly open to discoveries. So, let’s start our journey to Lebanon, shall we?
The flight from Larnaca to Beirut lasted 35 minutes, the shortest flight I have ever taken in my life. Our plane landed at Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport. It was 24/12, heavy rain and our friends warned us that the traffic should be crazy. However, we got lucky, there were no many cars on the streets, and I was trying to get my first impression of the city. While I was staring at some skyscrapers, we were approaching a bridge and after we passed it the whole picture changed. No more skyscrapers, new buildings, flashy lights, expensive malls, we were passing the old town. It was clear from the beginning that Beirut has a lot to “say”.
Within 35 minutes we have reached our hotel, which I would recommend to everyone. The hotel was called “Unit for living” with great location and very friendly staff. It is actually a hotel apartment with a modern design and really comfortable furniture. The hotel is very close to one of the most popular streets of Beirut – Mar Mikhael, full of bars, cafes, and restaurants. From the veranda of our beautiful, fashionable room I was looking at the building, which was almost fully destroyed and abandoned since the war…
Raouche or pigeon rock
Next morning our friend took us for a walk in the residential and commercial neighborhood of Beirut. It was very sunny, no sign of the previous day’s rain. People were jogging, riding bicycles on the seaside sidewalks enjoying their morning. It was Christmas day, which is being widely celebrated by the Christian part of the population in Lebanon. We decided to have a cup of coffee at a cafe with the beautiful view at Raouche rock – a symbol of Beirut. Some say that Raouche to Beirut is like cedar tree to Lebanon.
After getting our daily caffeine doze, we headed to the downtown of Beirut. When we reached the square, I grabbed my camera to capture a beautiful mosque which was built next to the old church. For a second I stared at these two architectural creations and thought of a day when all religions can co-exist peacefully and stay side by side just like this mosque and a church. The square we were at, was called Martyrs’ square, it was named to commemorate martyrs, that were executed under the Ottoman rule. At the same square, we saw a monument with bullet holes, which was built in 1930 in the name of Arab and Lebanese nationalists hanged killed World War I.
We continued our walk across downtown old beautiful streets with sophisticated Christmas decoration and headed to the nearby Mall. Another expectation I had from Lebanon is find everything for really cheap prices. Those times are apparently gone. The prices on clothing were even more expensive than in Cyprus, where I was coming from. Therefore, I decided to observe people rather than look at clothes. People of Lebanon are beautiful: men, women, children, everyone! Another stereotype was broken about Lebanese being brunettes with black hair and black eyes. We saw brunettes with black/brown eyes, blonds with blue/green eyes or vice versa.
Being Armenian, I had to see Bourj Hamoud during my visit to Lebanon. It is an old Armenian quarter of Beirut, so-called “Little Armenia”. Armenian community had been present in Lebanon for centuries. Most of them live and work in Bourj Hamoud. This area of Beirut was completely different from the flashy center. Narrow streets, simple life, almost all people of the neighborhood knew each other. We had to try local food, and it was delicious. Food in Lebanon is simply amazing, and there is hardly anyone who can argue with that.
The next day we took a trip to Harissa. It is a must for anyone who is going to visit Lebanon. Harissa is located in the mountains and we went up there using ropeway. The view from a teleferique was breathtaking, Beirut was at its best surrounded by the Meditteranean. After reaching a top, we finally saw a giant statue of Virgin Mary (Lady of Lebanon) – a pilgrimage site of Lebanon. Lady of Lebanon has her hands stretched over Beirut like a promise to protect it from all dangers. Try to visit the site early in the morning to avoid large crowds.
Beirut is beautiful, but Byblos stole my heart. Being a small town in the mount of Lebanon, it has a lot of history and protected by Unesco. We passed the old market with various Lebanese sweets, souvenirs, handcrafted jewelry, and reached the local harbor. Byblos is a frequent host of different concerts of celebrities that visit Lebanon. There is a castle (12th century) attracting many tourists, but we arrived late and it was closed for visitors. Byblos impressed me as a city with chilled, relaxing atmosphere, full of history and heritage. I am definitely going back one day.
On the way back to Beirut we finally saw IT – traffic! Cars were not moving on the highway. Two lanes became four and everyone was fine with it. Unconsciously I started thinking about families with small children, who might need a bathroom urgently…what can they do in this situation? But this is a reality of Lebanon, so I guess they got used to it. The traffic and slow Internet are the only things that I am not missing in Lebanon.
To be continued…
Our six days in Lebanon were full of visits, food, again food and explorations, and I am going to continue Lebanese story in my next articles. It is a country of beautiful and hospitable people, delicious food, breathtaking nature, churches and mosques, skyscrapers and ruins, expensive malls, nightclubs, and poverty. A country, where contradictions co-exist and it is hard to imagine it without them.