I loved staying in the vibrant Hamra district near the Corniche and American University of Beirut (2012). I This was a great place to people watch, and experience the culture of modern Lebanon. Went for a jog adjacent to the Mediterranean, which was wonderful.
This is a VERY western country. Although 60% Muslim (Sunni) and 40% Christian, very few women wear traditional Islamic attire. This is THE party capital and one could call it the “Vegas of the Middle East”. For example, the lingerie billboards made me blush – – this is not a modest culture. This place has it all: you can go skiing and then be on Beirut’s beaches an hour earlier!
The images of the 1980s Civil War, Yasser Arafat, bombed out buildings, armed revolutionaries, poverty stricken terrorists … couldn’t be any further from reality. This place is breathtaking, and even more so considering the war images in my head. A vibrant and modern society that celebrates its diversity, and warmly welcomes Americans. This is a family oriented culture that values relationships, and people were eager to share stories of their family members living in America.
The family-oriented nature of this place stuck with me. I saw a lot of fathers and sons walking and talking. Coffee shops were full of people socializing, even at midnight on a weekday. Beirut’s real estate prices have increased 5x in the last 5 years!
Took a trip to see the famed Cedar forest, two-thousand year old trees located in the northeast of Lebanon. Crossed through a Hesbolah controlled border, without incident. This region is openly supported by Iran’s defacto Shiite military. Khomeni’s picture was on the entry/exit signs with Lebanese guards stationed there. They build roads and schools, plant flowers, provide for families, and generally ingratiate themselves with the locals by buying influence.
Went to Byblos, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world (7,500 years old). The Bekaa Valley, the fertile crescent, was beautiful. At Baalbeck, the largest Roman temple was built, and it was even larger than the one built in Rome. Interestingly, the Romans imported granite all the way from Aswan in Egypt!
I know when I travel to a wonderful place … and Lebanon was fantastic. As my guides drove away, I looked back at them and they too were looking at me … I think they’ll miss me too.
The capital of Lebanon is Beirut. About 6 million people live here and the official language is Arabic. English is also spoken, and many Christians in Lebanon French as an upper-class or business language. This is why travelers will find some signs in English, Arabic, and French. The dominant religion is Islam followed by Christianity. The time zone is 7 hours ahead of EST.
History lovers will enjoy visiting the ancient temples of Baalbek, one of the most elegant and well-preserved Roman archeological sites in the Middle East. Another beautiful place to visit is the Jeita Grotto about 30 minutes from Beirut, where visitors can take a boat ride through the cave or go visit the nearby zoo, making it a great place for children.
To learn more about Lebanese history, visit the National Museum of Beirut to view ancient Greek, Roman, and Iron Age artifacts among other wonders. For restaurants, trinkets, and a vibrant, colorful atmosphere, head to Old Souk in Byblos to and spend an afternoon strolling by all of the shops.