From Jordan we boarded a flight bound for Lebanon. We had made the mistake of thinking that since Syria was having political issues that no one would be in Lebanon – the countries border one another and are usually seen together during a trip – however, we were wrong.
What had happened was everyone was fleeing Syria and going to Lebanon. While in Jordan we called over 10 hotels trying to find a room and all of them said they were booked solid for the whole month of May, or, they were over $100 a night.
After some Googling and looking all over the internet, we found a little hotel called Hotel Valery, in our price range, just beside downtown Beirut and available!! We booked it for the whole time we were there. After parting ways with Toni and Bernie in Amman, Jordan, they decided to postpone their trip to Morocco by a week and come to Lebanon also!
They met up with us 2 days after we got there. We decided that since Lebanon is such a small country (approximately 140kms in length, 75kms wide and a population of 4 million people) we would base ourselves in the very modern, interesting and diverse city of Beirut and day trip to surrounding cities from there.
The room we booked in Beirut was interesting to say the least. The walls, table tops, front doors of the armoire, window and door to the room were covered with a dark brown fabric! It was glued to everything. The fabric on the ceiling matched the fabric they gave us for bed sheets – blue. So, a blue and brown fabric covered room it was!
It was hilarious, we couldn’t even find the light switch (it was covered over with fabric) it was interior decorating gone horribly wrong. Our 5 star view was of a grassy area with bits of junk on it – old tires, wood, metal, etc. Just as we were falling asleep we both smelled something awful, we looked around to see what it could be, smelled like putrid sewage meets sweaty socks.
Finally Nick found the source…there was an open drain pipe under our bed and the smell coming from it was sooo gross! He covered it up with plastic, put a pillow over it and we went to sleep. This room was definitely one for the books. The next day we told the manager that we need a new room and we ended up with a room with 4 beds, t.v., a couch and a table with chairs….umm, where was that room the night before?!
Our days in Beirut were filled with walking. We went everywhere! We walked along the ocean side promenade for a couple of kms. What a lively place it was. Loads of people were running, biking, roller blading, walking, old men had set up plastic chairs and tables and were playing backgammon and dominoes, some were pole fishing and others were just sitting on the benches having ice cream and enjoying the sights.
We found a Starbucks along the way and decided to blow the budget and have 2 venti, non-fat, extra hot, caramel macchiatos. Oh how we’ve missed you. That was a delight. We went to the downtown area and it was like stepping into a fairytale, completely different from other areas of Beirut. It was rich, classy and very posh.
Nice cafes were everywhere, it was spotless, the buildings were brand new, children were playing everywhere while their Indian/Thai/Filipino nannies watched them, men and women in nice clothing sat around chatting. It was amazing to see. In the center square area (near to Gucci, Hermes, Prada, Tiffany) there was the massive, beautiful Mohammed Al-Amin mosque. With its blue domes and golden colour it looked magnificent at sunset.
Other evenings were spent walking up to the American University of Beirut area where all of the students hangout. There were many restaurants and a fun vibe in that part of town. The University teaches all classes in English and we noticed a lot of American students walking around. The campus is massive, covering over 28 hectare, it even has its own beach club!
One afternoon we walked to see the famous Holiday Inn which was used as a prime sniper position during the civil war from 1975 – 1991, between the Christians (including the Israelis) and the Muslims (including the Syrians and Palestinians). The hotel is still standing but is completely riddled with bullet holes and is guarded by military forces.
Lebanon (and Beirut in particular) has a long, horrible history of violence. The civil war saw the city divided into 2 sections, one side for the Muslims and one side for the Christians. Each religion killing one another whenever they had an opportunity. Combine that with shelling from Israeli fighter planes, suicide bombings and hostage takings and the city was ruined. Apart from the downtown area (which has been completely rebuilt) there are numerous buildings in Beirut with bullet holes in them. Unfortunately, the memory of the civil war is everywhere you look.
The country is a melting pot of cultures and religions. There are over 400,000 Palestinian refugees, approximately 60% of the population is Muslim with the other 40% being made up of Christians, Catholics, Jews, Druze, Hindus, Buddhists and Mormons. There are 18 official religions in Lebanon! The history of Lebanon is so complex and confusing that I can’t describe it all. Fighting has been going on since the 1950s and “ended” as recently as 2008.
Lebanon is such a small country with such a brutal history. Even so, the people are so hospitable, friendly, positive and hopeful for a better future. We had nothing but great experiences and loved every minute we spent in this diverse country. After 2 days in Beirut we decided to rent a car with Toni and Bernie and explore the rest of the country. Road trip time!