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      05.10.2011 09:42
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      A piece of heaven on earth

      == Why am I writing this review? == I have written about some tourist attractions in Lebanon previously, however, I must admit that I should've written about Lebanon in general first before writing about the attractions. I'm originally Lebanese but I have rarely lived in Lebanon however that doesn't mean that I will deny my origin. What made me think about writing this are two major things, first I was born abroad and sadly my parents didn't try to educate me about my country so I didn't want to repeat the same mistake with my children. My boys were born and bred in the UK so I felt that they must get to know something about their roots especially since they are hardly eloquent in Arabic. The second and most important reason is that I discovered that many people know nothing about Lebanon or the cedars of Lebanon; they even don't know that this country exists. I have met many people who were interested to know about my country of origin and I was more than happy to talk for hours about it. I have to admit that Lebanon has had its ups and downs and maybe it has become renowned for being a war zone but if you bear with me and read my review you will gradually get the full picture of how beautiful Lebanon actually is. A funny incident happened a few weeks ago, me and the boys had a lot of shopping bags so instead of taking the bus we ordered a taxi. The taxi driver was like all taxi drivers; he started talking. The first thing on his agenda was about the weather and how short the summer holidays in England are, I suppose he was just being friendly. Anyway we told him you should go to Lebanon you get 8 weeks off there, the driver looked puzzled and said "where is that???" I was shocked, how come he hasn't got a clue about Lebanon while he spend the last 10 minutes talking about Turkey? I gave him a brief summary about Lebanon and the weather there and when we reached home he told me `"I will definitely look up LEBAMOM!" He couldn't even pronounce the name right! Some other people that I met thought that Lebanon was in Africa others assumed that it was in the far East, people know very little about this tiny country and my mission now to introduce you to a country that has all kinds of entertainment and amazing weather, I hope I can make you say "I wish I was here" == Before I start here are some quick facts about the country I'm taking about == Lebanon is a very small Mediterranean and Arab country whose area is only 10,452 sq km (4,036 square miles) which is roughly 10% of the size of the UK. Its capital is Beirut and the population is over 4.32 million people but please note that there are millions who live outside the country. The languages spoken there are mainly Arabic, French and English. The main religions are Islam and Christianity, Lebanon is known for having the highest percentage of Christians in the Arab world with nearly 45% or more of the population. Lebanon's economy hugely relies on tourism especially in winter months and of course summer days. Their main currency is the Lebanese pound (Lira) but during the war years they used the US Dollar and they still using it equally with the Lebanese Lira. === Airport === There is one and only main airport in Lebanon named the Rafic Hariri international airport (R-H-I-A) and it was made in 1954 to replace another airport which was called The Bir Hassan airfield. However This was all short lived as after around 14 years a first blow was dealt to the airport by none other than Israel itself. The Israeli's bombed the airport in 1968 destroying around 13 aircraft which caused the airport to become bankrupt and it sent waves of disbelief through the aviation industry of Lebanon. In 1975 the 15 year civil war did nothing to improve the facilities of the airport as all of the airlines left albeit 2. However glamour and parity was restored by the late Rafic Hariri as he revamped and rebuilt the airport in a 15 year plan. It was finally fully completed in 2005. Middle East Airlines aka MEA are the official Lebanese airlines with brilliant hostesses and superb service. It will take about 5 hours direct to get to Lebanon which is not very long compared to some very long flights. If you are on a tight budget take a transit flight. The airport is very close to the capital city and the main hotels. == Lebanon Geographically == Lebanon is a Middle Eastern country bordering Syria and Israel and its coast is on the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon is in both the northern and western hemispheres and is in the south west of Asia. == Main cities == There are 851 cities in Lebanon, quiet a lot for a very small country methinks. The main LARGEST cities are: Beirut, Tripolitania, Sidon(Saida) Zahle, Tyre (soor), Jounieh, Baalbek, Byblos (Jobil) and Nabatieh in south lebanon. Of course are many other important cities which are historic cities which I hope I can review them in the future. == The National flag == The Lebanese flag consists of three main stripes, two red strips placed horizontally on the top and the bottom of the flag while the middle is white with the famous evergreen cedar tree placed in the middle of the flag. The red colour of the flag mainly chosen to resemble the blood of the martyrs that sacrificed themselves to gain their independence from France in 1943, the white stripe in the flag symbolises the peace and the snowy mountains in Lebanon while the green cedar is a symbol of ever green Lebanon. == History == Lebanon was a part of the great Phoenician civilization which also had Syria, Israel and Palestine and that lasted for around 2000 years. Some long way later Lebanon was colonised by one of the greatest empires of all time which was the Ottoman Empire up to the 16th century. We gained independence on the 22nd of November 1943 however French troops did not leave until 1946. A flurry of Palestinians arrived in 1948 after their respective war with Israel and then in 1967 a second batch of Palestinians came along with the late Yasser Arafat and his liberation organisation (Al fideaiye). 1975 embarked the beginning of 15 black years for Lebanon the civil war was on the horizon. The main talking point over the last few years is the bombing of the prime minister Rafic Hariri in 2005 which resulted in the whole government resigning. Ever since then the country has been unstable and had had a 33 day war with Israel in 2006. == The people == The Lebanese people are a mixture of different bloods and descent mainly Phoenician mixed up with Turkish, Roman, French and Arab as a result of several wars and invasions. This is why a big percentage of Lebanese look European with coloured eyes etc. Lebanese people look a lot different than the rest of the Arabs and that's why Lebanese women are the prettiest and I'm not saying that because I'm Lebanese it's a very well-known fact and Salma Hayek and Shakira Mubarak and Miss USA Rima Fakih are just some of the famous ones off of the top of my head. As for the nature of the people, the people are very friendly and very helpful, kind and hospitality is their main character. Lebanon is a very westernised country and so are the people. They are western by the way they dress and think, that's why they always been criticised by other Arab countries. Ok not all of them but I must say the vast majority do so. . == Climates == The weather in Lebanon generally is the Mediterranean weather. It's mostly sunny even in winter, has a hot and dry summer where the temperature is around 27 to 35+. The month of August is the hottest where the temperature is high and sometimes it's very humid. Most fruits are grown in summer so you would enjoy a big selection of exotic and juicy fruits. The spring is just lovely and the temperature is between 18-24 while autumn is windy and has some dusty winds. The winter is cool in places like Beirut and coastal cities but very cold in higher places and mountains. The snow covers a big area of Lebanon especially the mountains which makes a great tourist attraction. == Politics == Before I start I would just like to single out that I WOULD NOT like to disclose any political opinion, in this review I am trying to show you the beauty of Lebanon's nature in addition to their lifestyle, culture etc. However, I shall be able to discuss how the government is formed and what it constitutes of. Its takes the form of the republic and it has 6 administrative branches in addition to the 2 pending ones of Baalbek-Hermel and Aakar. It also follows a constitution formed by the French and later amended by the Lebanese and we have the right to vote. == Civil war == Two of my siblings and I were born during the civil war years but my parents preferred to stay out of the country for the sake of their children (us) we were lucky enough to live abroad so we didn't experience the war besides I was too young to remember anything. However reading about the war and watching documentaries about this bloody civil war makes my heart bleed. Lebanon lost millions, people died or disabled, buildings ruined , the Lebanese economy collapsed and the Lebanese lira went from 3 Liras per Dollar to 5000 per dollar, you can imagine how the life had become. Poverty, diseases, bloodshed were everywhere and Lebanon's name spelled out terror to the world. The war started in 1975 and thankfully ended in 1990. The first time I visited Lebanon was after the war finished in 1991 and I wasn't pleased with what I saw. == Culture == Culture and tradition two things which define a certain country and/or ideology, what makes one country different than the other; Lebanon definitely leads by example. == Entertainment and tourism == === Food and Drink === The Lebanese cuisine is one of the most amazing cuisines not just in the Middle East but in the whole world. What defines Lebanese food the most are the flamboyant colours in our foods. As a part of the Middle Eastern trend we tend to apply olive oil, Use a lot of green, root and leafy vegetables and use various seed extracts the most prominent one being sesame which is made into "Tahini". These 3 trends I mentioned above are constantly used in the starter menu, so if you were to go to a typical Lebanese restaurant, you would find a lot of these things used there. I would advise you to eat" "Baba Ghanouj but a must have are the famous Lebanese dishes "Tabouleh" or "humus bi tehina where we hold the Guinness world record for the biggest Tabouleh and Humus bi Tehina dishes. For Lunch it is the usual especially in southern Lebanon. It is the number one on the agenda of most men (and women) its barbequed meat. If you were to go to the southern parts of Lebanon I would advise you to visit Khayzaran where they provide coal barbequed fish. If you were to move east to Beqaa You would hardly resist the smell of "sephiha." Sephiha is mincemeat with sun dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, onions, a bite of chilli place on thinly rolled dough, which is stone baked. A piece of advice for you, the thinner it is the better so If you were to go visit the roman ruins of Baalbek in Beqaa make sure to eat this or YOU WILL HAVE IT BIG TIME. Traditional Lebanese foods are vine leaves stuffed with rice and minced meat in addition to Molokhia which are similar to spinach yet it has its own unique smell. As for dessert, where shall I start? I wouldn't be exaggerating when I say that there are hundreds of different and extremely delicious sweet dishes, some come hot, chilled or frozen, you will be spoil for choices. The very first dessert you should ask for is definitely Baklawa or Baklava, it is a dessert of filo pastry layered with nuts, with syrup or honey poured over it after baking, it is extremely calorific but who cares? Then there is Maamoul, which are small shortbread pastries filled with dates, walnuts, pistachios or almonds. My personal favourite is halawat el jebn which is a special white cheese for dessert mixed with semolina into dough and rolled very thinly with nuts which is absolutely yummy. The most famous chilled dessert is riz bi haleeb which is rice pudding but a lot different than the usual one. There is also Arabic ice cream which is very creamy and full of nuts and cream and many, many more deserts which I can't mention or remember. As for drinks, there is green tea, zohorat ( a mix of herbs), pomegranates juice, Liquorice drink but I highly recommend drinking my favourite drink "Jallab" which is a very famous drink in the Middle East made from carob, dates, grape molasses and rose water. Finally if you like a bit of alcohol there is Araq, a well-known Lebanese alcoholic drink but be warned it's a very strong drink. == Restaurants and night clubs == Lebanon is full of restaurants, old fashioned ones and posh restaurants where price is not a significant problem. You can pay as little as £5 for a 3 meal course or £500 in other high profile restaurants. American, fast food restaurants and takeaways are available and will deliver your order to your place of residence but I doubt that any tourist will order fast food when Lebanese food is in available! I highly recommend visiting some local restaurants that's sell traditional famous food (foul and falafel) you will definitely be surprised by how good it actually tastes. Beirut is full Night clubs, the never sleeping city is fully awake all night to greet all kinds of tourists who like to have a bit of fun, Jemeyzeh is the right place to go if you like clubbing and night life. There are some very good family restaurants and attractions so it's not all for the single and free ones. If you love sea food, there are some lovely beach based restaurants, so you can go swimming with the family and have you fresh fish and prawn ready for you. == Beaches == How can I talk about Lebanon and not mention the sandy golden beaches? Lebanon is blessed for having the full four seasons and for having lovely long summer days. The lovely golden sandy beaches, the amazing turquoise sea are pleasure to the eye. I have to say that Lebanese beaches are certainly a different experience from the European ones. Most of the beaches are privatised, owned by restaurants and hotel. The private beaches are very well looked after, very clean and tidy, well watched and contain all the necessary facilities. You can relax on the white sand, reading a book, building a sand castle or simply sunbathing but be careful the sun is very hot so don't forget your sunblock. The prices are very reasonable; it can be between £5-15 per person depending on the location and the service of course. If you like free beach they are a few, you can bring your own stuff and relax on the beach or maybe do some fishing. I really like watching the sunset it's a wonderful scene that I love to watch whenever I have the chance. Away from the beaches but still has the view of the sea, there is a lovely place that I would love to recommend for you, it's the Cornish and sakhrait el Roucheh or Pigeons' Rock (Raouché). People meet there, talk, jog, swim, eat, drink coffee, cycle or simply watch the sunset. == Tourism in winter? == Yeah that's right Lebanon is a top tourist attraction in the winter because of the several mountains we have, in addition to the snow which we get at high points like Faraya and the Arz. Many people go to Faraya in order to play winter sports such as skiing, sledding and snowboarding, not to forgetting the excitement of the cable cars. Besides, Lebanese weather in the winter is much better than the summer weather in the UK. == Many places to visit == If you don't like beaches or skiing, there are many other sightseeing attractions to visit. I'm only mentioning some of the places because there are loads to choose from but I'm only selecting the most popular places. Temples of Baalbek, a nice place especially for historians or anyone who is interested in culture and/or tradition in general, Jeita Grotto with its own breath taking underground caves in addition to many national museums such as the national museum of Beirut. Beit Eddine with the most beautiful views where all the houses have red roofing, Hamra street, Beirut Souks and Verdun are three very nice places for shopaholics, Mohammad al Amin mosque, Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George and the must have visit Our Lady of Lebanon or (Virgin Mary statue) for religious sites or people who are interested in religion, Place des Martyrs with a big statue of the Martyrs of the independence and finally the Roman Baths with amazing Roman remains == Our Lady of Lebanon (Virgin Mary statue) == A phenomena going by the name of the "lady of Lebanon" was created by the French in 1907. The statue is bronze coated in white paint. This amazing tourist attraction is found in Harissa 20 km away from Beirut and it is a breathtaking 650 meters above sea level. It consists of 7 sectors all together that were put together on top of the stone base. The statue is very heavy weighing at a massive 15 tons and towering at 8.50 m. This statue is in Harissa village as mentioned above but this village is a part of Jounieh which is blessed with the most beautiful scenes around the world. A major part of the transportation from Harissa to Jounieh and vice versa relies on cable cars. There is also the church which is right below it and both of them were opened in 1908 and since then have become a fundamental element in Lebanese culture among all, the Christians the Druze and the Muslims. It also has a souvenir shop where you can buy models of the statues, postcards and many other things. Even in the United Kingdom there is a school that notices Our lady of Lebanon, which goes by the name of Our Lady of Lebanon Parish - London. I was lucky enough to visit this amazing statue twice in my life, once as a teenager and another time with my kids. The kids loved it when they held the candles and climbed up the spiral staircase and then reached the top seeing the breathtaking scenes of Jounieh. == Hotels == There are 56 hotels in Beirut alone and most of them come at really good prices. A lot of them are 4 stars and upwards some are less but they come at prices of 90$-200$ per night. == Transportation == Transportation is so easy and relatively cheap in Lebanon. You can hire a car for $20 per day which is equivalent to £12 or take a taxi for only $2 which is around a £1 to any destination around Beirut but if you want to go to the mountains or south Lebanon you need to pay between $20-$50 depending on the distance of course and you can always strike a deal with the driver. Public transportation is available too for ridiculous prices too! You only need to pay 500 Lebanese pounds (Lira) to get around Beirut which is less than 10p and for longer distances you only pay 2000 Lira = $1.25 = less than £1. I have to bring to your attention that the airport transportation is slightly more expensive but the airport is very close to hotels and main attractions in the capital city. One thing to add, I have to say the Lebanese traffic is crazy especially the rush hours especially in Beirut and the shopping area and the drivers are crazy drivers who drive fast and use the horn a lot and I mean a lot! == Films == Lebanon was amongst the first Arab countries that entered the film making industry. The first film was produced in 1930. Not a lot of films were produced until quite recently, mainly because of the war years and many other factors such as the lack of funding. The Lebanese Cinemas are always known for being unusually bolder than others, discussing some very private and complicated subjects. The Lebanese cinemas were and still criticised by other Arab countries in fact some of them never allow the film to be shown in their country. If you are interested you can watch the film Caramel and you will get the whole behind the above statement. == Media == Lebanon's media is nothing short of controversial to say the least as it allowed private radio stations which reflects how divided Lebanon has become (at least politically) and it has the most freedom in terms of interview and displaying whatever they want than any other Arab country in addition to the newspapers which also are divided to their respective political groups in addition to the news channels speaking whatever they wish to speak with ultimate bias. == Fashion == Who doesn't know Elie Saab? Lebanese people are known for their love for fashion and are (again) criticised for their "different" taste in fashion. Lebanese fashion is very westernised and up to date. If you go to the Dunes, Verdun or Al Hamra you will never believe your eyes! There are very expensive places though but you will definitely buy something! == Music == The Lebanese music is mainly based on Arabic music however these days it's a lot shorter and has some western tunes. I personally prefer the traditional folk music but I don't mind listening the newer pop generation. == And finally == Lebanon was one of the most visited countries in the 70s, it's the pearl of the Middle East or the Middle East Switzerland, sadly 16 years of war has destroyed it however the Lebanese people were strong enough to rebuild the country again. We still face some political challenges but I know that Lebanese people are stronger than any conflicts simply because they love life; in fact Lebanese people are the life itself! I really hope that you enjoy the review and maybe it will give you an insight about a country that most people know nothing about and if they do they only think WAR! Looking forward to seeing you there :D

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        12.06.2006 13:21
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        just go and try it ull come bak again and again

        i thought ill give you some information about my country in the form of points, i left lebanon for the first time one month ago to work in london(which i love) for a year anyway hear goes 1)Dont talk politics to lebanese, we take our politics very seriously. 2)Dont make fun of any religion, i thnk we have every religion except budda here, so ypur bound to insult someone 3)lebanese love to party and the lebanese night life will put places like ibiza,new york and paris to shame, we party big! usually places dont get crowded till 2am and dont close till about 7am 4)lebanon is amazing for people intrested in christianity, soo many old churches and holy places to visit i cant even name them all, but we have three saints that are recognised by the vatican and each one has his own museum next to the church he's buried in. 5) we have amazing beaches , there are cheap ones, expensive ones, beaches for familys,party beaches with 24hour beach partys and bars everywhere,and untouched natual beaches with no people around, what ever you want we have. 6) FOOD: what ever you do make sure you dont eat at any of the fast food american restaurants while your in lebanon,lebanes food is famous and very tasty and healthy 7)shopping: forget paris and milan ,beirut is the fashion capital of the world , walk through downtown beirut and you'll see what im talking about 8) lebanese people are beuatifull(i wont talk about the men ill leave tht for u to decide) the women look like supermodels,olive skin,brown eyes long long brown hair(lets just say, tht yasmine bleath,salma hayek,shakira,the girl from american pie"nadia", all have either a lebanese father or mother) 9) nearly all young lebanese speak four languages,1)formal arabic 2)lebanese(mixture of turkish, syriac,arabic,french and english)3)french 4) english. what most people dont know is that all so called arab countrys speak different languages that r shaped by their history and culture, people in lebanon and egypt speak totally different languages, and dont get me started on morrocans i cant understand anything thy. but when thy get together thy speak formal arabic which is the old unchanged arabic, think of it like french and spanish,each are different but come from latin, so if arabs were in europe thy would have learnt latin as well so thy can talk to each othr without learning each othrs own languages. e.g in lebanon most people when thy meet u will say,"hello,keefuk ca va?" "hello(english), keefuk(arabic for how r u ) ca va?(french for "are u good"). 10)we prefer not to talk about the war because it brings back bad memories, the way we deal with it is to not talk about it, it may be the wrong way but it works for us. 11)in winter lebanon is famous for its skiing,the once empty mountain slopes, are now full of people, restaurants,clubs and chalets. 12) we use lebanese pounds as well as american dollars here soo its not very confusing , the rule is 1500lebanese liras make 1 dollar. ths never changes no matter how much the dollar goes up or down its a unwritten rule. 13)for the love of god dont drive in lebanon if you are used to people following rules(e.g. giving signals when going left or right)!!its every man for himself here,traffic lights are just decorations,although now thanks to a "gift" from the world bank we are placing cameras on them although no one really cares. 14)lebanese usually greet each other with 3 kisses on the cheek(left right left), but their is also a unwritten rule for ths , usually they only kiss(its not really a kiss thy just touch cheeks and make a kissing sound) if they havent seen each othr for a week or more other wise its just a hand shake 15)if you meet a religous muslim man he might not want to touch you if your a female, hes not being rude its just his religion , but he will put his hand on his chest and smile at you as a sign of respect. 16)dont be nervous when you see soldiers, like here in london you have police who carry small fire arms, in lebanon the army are the police as well,they usually are in full army uniform and carrying a machine gun,thats one of the reasons crime is soo low in lebanon. 17)Lebanese love tourists, and are very kind and generous people, just ask anyone for help and suddenly you will find a whole group of people giving you advice, they will invite you places having only just met you ,they are very proud of lebanon and really enjoy telling you about were to go and what to see. 18)homosexuality is present in lebanon and their are gay bars,you may even run into a few transexuals, but it is not excepted in most places, even in the very open christian area's you are sure to be made fun off if you look or act feminine and life for open homosexuals is very hard here 19)lots of lebanese dont regard themseleves as arabs and believe they are desended from the phoenicians, most of these people are maronite christians who orignated in the lebanese mountains thy believe this because the arabs never entered the high areas of the mountains where the maronites lived so they dont believe they have any relation to them, being a muslim i dont believe this but i can see a huge difference when i look at a maronite christian lebanese and a muslim or orthodox christian or druze lebanese, the maronites look more latin(thnk of a oriental antonio banderas) thn thy do arab(even though the maronites have written some of the most amazing arabic poetry and their command of the language is second to none,just look at khaleel gibran.) they may have a point though, lebanon has been invaded soo many times ;the turks, romans,greeks, arabs no one knows who we really are , but i like the way the maronites don't except being put in a "just another arab" category. 20) if your with a large group at a restaurant or just sitting at home , it is customary to stand up when someone enters the room , people are always surprised when the conversation suddenly stops and everyone gets up. many people including me feel embarresed when everyone has to get up when i enter, so i just tell thm to stay seated and i go around saying hi to all.its actually no big deal but it may happen to you, so its good to know whats happening. 21)small point: if a lebanese hears lebanese music then they automatically dance the "dabke" even if they dont know how, its very funny to see us dance after weve had a few glasses of arak, this is something all lebanese have in common their love of dancing. 22)ARAK the greatest drink ever, its a clear spirit, tht turns totally white when water is added, its very strong , usually the ones sold in shops are around 50% but the true lebanese mountain arak(made by villagers who live in the mountains) is about 70-80% the men usually have a competition after lunch and see who can drink the most shots of it without water and stay sober,you usually need 3 monthes to recover. i remeber drinking 7 shots of my grand dads own brew and i began seeing tornados eveywhere 23)when you meet lebanese guys you will notice that they love to joke, we usually make fun of each other, dont get annoyed or offended ths is how we are! if we like you then we joke with you!if we dont joke or kid around with you thn we hate u. just return the jokes and you will be accepted with open arms(make fun of someones gay hair style or his fake hugo boss shirt)and dont be offended when the jokes get dirty because they will, but they dont mean anything they say , just take it as a compliment , it means you've been accepted. 24) lebanese love to smoke , cigarettes cost around 1$ here and we love them , so dont come here thinking that you can tell a lebanese person about second hand smoke because he/she wont care, we smoke narghila(water pipe)(called argila in lebanonese),pipe,cigars, cigarettes, hash, whatever as long as smoke comes out of our mouth wer happy. 25) check out "centrale" restaurant and "bo18" night club as well as "crystal" nightclub , they are world famous and have been on many " 10 best restaurants in the world" lists. just google thm and read about thm in 2005 they hosted partyers like Angelina Jolie, Cuba gooding jnr, d.j Tiesto,paul van dyke and many more local and international celebrities

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          29.11.2005 10:41
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          An extremely interesting country with a painful history

          The Lebanon may not seem an ideal holiday destination to many, but to some, the idea is rather tempting. Most people are in a sense still frightened, because of the war that tore the country for over 15 years, from 1975 (although some say earlier) until 1990. Who can blame them? The truth is, Lebanon has been rebuilding itself (too much in a way) since 1990, and although there have been episodes of car bombings and explosions in the past 15 years; they have not been much more numerous than many bombings that have shocked London in the past same 15 years. ******************************* At first sight, a country the size of Lebanon might seem insignificant, but size is certainly not an issue here. Inside its 10,452 square kilometres (4,036 square miles), Lebanon is packed with interesting things to see. Historical and archaeological sites abound, the landscape is beautiful (although needs more protection), the food is delicious, night life in Beirut is booming and you are almost certainly guaranteed to have a good time. ******************************* Whenever I say that I am Lebanese, I almost always get the same reaction from people: “Ah, the pearl of the middle east”, “Ah! It used to be such a beautiful country…” “My father went there when he was young and says that…” And I smile away thinking: “Yes my friend, yes… I know, I have heard this before, but the past is now gone, the present is limping and the future is as the future always has been: uncertain” (So live for today!). I have never known the pearl, and only really discovered my country of origin after having departed from it in 1990 and upon my several returns from 1994 onwards. Last year alone, I was there three times. During the war, most archaeological, historical and cultural sites were occupied by one army or another, or one of the countless militias that sprouted in Lebanon like poisonous mushrooms. It is a miracle that they were not completely destroyed, and indeed, for the most part, suffered very little throughout the war. ********************************* “Le Levant” as Lebanon is often referred to in French, shares it southern borders with Israel and its North and Eastern borders with Syria. The whole of the west border is caressed by the Mediterranean Sea. The country is divided into 4 physiographic regions: *The very long but narrow coastal strip along the Mediterranean Sea. *Jabal Lubnan, or “Mont Liban” (Mount Lebanon), extending from North to South, with the highest elevations reaching about 3000 metres (9,800 feet) * The Bekaa Valley (spelled Beqaa or al-Biqa as well), which runs parallel to Mount Lebanon for about 175 km, or 110 miles. * And finally the Anti-Lebanon and Mount Hermon ranges This tiny country has had continual problems with both its neighbours for many years and still does, but this is not the point of this review, nor indeed is the war that has registered Beirut’s name into many people’s brain. These two topics deserve reviews of their own, but I would rather avoid the subject, as apart from being painful, I fear I may not be fair or objective. **************************** Most Lebanese fancy themselves as the ancestors of the Phoenicians, whose culture, sadly, is still not very well accounted for. Only bits and pieces have remained and the constant looting of archaeological findings and artefacts, especially in Southern Lebanon, has been a constant stab in the heart of scholars eager to learn more about this fascinating ancient civilisation. Education is the key, but poverty can be a worse killer than ignorance. We know that the Phoenicians were excellent seafarers who travelled extensively and sold their merchandise to the most prominent other civilisations of the time (and far beyond, if some recent findings are to be believed). They are also known to have invented the first alphabet, but again, this is a topic for a separate review and I cannot pretend my knowledge to be so extensive as to allow me to do that. One day perhaps? I have raised this point as you may meet many Lebanese who will tell you that they do not consider themselves as Arabs. They are Phoenicians. Indeed, their blood is most certainly forever marked by these ancestors of theirs, as is mine probably, but I also know that I personally carry Mongolian, Arab and Indian blood through some previous ancestors. What does that make of me? If I was not Lebanese, I would not dare say that, but I find it offensive and right down stupid to deny half of your ancestors in favour of the other half. Because most people are completely ignorant of the long and frankly enlightening history of the Arab people, they only associate it to recent historical events and to Islam as an ending point. Islam = Muslims = Fanaticals = Terrorism. Non, pas moi! (No, not I!). Sometimes, the longer road is easier to take, as it gives you more time for reflection, and reflection is the essence of enlightenment. Enlightenment, one would hope, encompasses understanding, tolerance and acceptance of all that lives. No civilisation, no people is better than any other. Why the shame? Lebanese Muslims tend to have no problems, on the other hand, with wholeheartedly accepting their Arab ancestors. ************************************ Now is high time I changed the subject and got back on the road this review is meant to lead us to. When you get to Beirut Airport, all seems normal. The airport was “modernised” a few years ago and although not very big, it is clean, with well-kept toilets, and boasts many duty-free stores. The Lebanese are usually very friendly to foreigners, although officials may try to impress you by asking you unnecessary questions upon your entrance and / or exit from the airport, to seem very rigorous in what they do. I never get this, because I know the exact look I must give them to avoid it. Hehehe!! As you leave passport control to pick up your luggage, there is a small chance you will be “gently attacked” by a hoard of luggage carriers eager to carry your luggage for you. You can pay them as much as you like, I like to be generous (although my father says I exaggerate) and I always give them $5. To me, £3 is not much, to them, it is a great help. Lebanon is most definitely an easier place to visit if you have acquaintances there, as there are a few “ways” you have to learn and locals will know how to show you so many hidden corners of this land. But fear not, for even if you don’t, you can grab a taxi outside the airport and most people speak a few words of English or French. I have never stayed in a hotel in Beirut, as my parent still live there, but I have checked on Expedia and prices seem to range from £50 a night to over £200. Most big hotels are to be found there, Holiday Inn, Meridian, Sheraton etc… and depending on the time of year, prices may vary. I know there are smaller hotels, but I frankly don’t know the prices. I believe a Lonely Planet guide book about Lebanon now exists and this may be a good reference. ******************************* The wonderful thing about Lebanon is its small size, which means you can travel the breadth and width of the country in relatively few hours. Most roads are new and easy to travel, but mountain roads will make you dizzy with their twists and turns. Do not even think of driving there and I strongly advise you to wear a blind fold, take some valium or smoke a joint before getting into any car. If you believe in God, make a prayer, light a candle to any saint you wish, and prepare yourself for the ride. Lebanese drive like there is no tomorrow. They respect nothing and no one, they curse at each other 234 times per minute as a rule and the traffic policeman posted in the middle of a junction to “regulate” traffic is usually a sure sign that a traffic jam is inevitable. Unless he happens to be having a conversation with one of the car passengers or a shopkeeper nearby, which is always preferable, as drivers have their own rules and know how to go by them, so long as a law officer does not interfere, and then all is well. Traffic lights have been planted more as a decoration than any sort of useful traffic regulators and my sister and friends, who always stop at red lights, are constantly harassed by other drivers behind them and hailed as … never mind that!! Take a taxi. They are relatively cheap. Buses exist but for the most, don’t go everywhere and you need an oxygen mask and a strong stomach to get on them. Crossing a road is also a hazardous attempt to make. Most Lebanese seem to do it without a care as though life was not that important or they are simply “blasé” by the whole thing. I get the jitters after each road crossing and find myself cursing the entire spectrum of deities, their offspring, my people, the world and anything or anyone else that happens to be in sight. This is part of the charm of Beirut some people tell me… I suppose it is a matter of opinion… ***************************** But now for the good things. If you love beaches, beaches you will find a-plenty. From the north all the way down to the south, a long beach extends and yawns with arms outstretched, beckoning you to jump in. In Beirut proper, most, if not all beaches are privatised. Hotels and resorts are built almost literally ON the beach. There are the “poor people” ones and the “rich people” ones. There is usually an entrance fee that goes from £1 to £5, depending on the place and the season. But if the hotel you book is near a beach, then it will most certainly have its own private stretch. However, if you drive northwards, there are still “natural” beaches that are free to use. There are some in the south as well, but I avoid them as most bathers are men, and women who do bathe, do so with their clothes on. The south is predominantly Muslim and any sight of bare female flesh might trigger an onset of hysteria from the locals. Perhaps not, but why take a risk? I abhor crowded beaches and so my sister and I always drive to Batroon or Jbeil, towards the north, where many beaches are still “unadorned”, natural, nicer, and often have less people. During the high season though (usually July and August), most beaches everywhere are crammed. Beaches in Lebanon are mostly brown sand beaches, some are pebble beaches though. All private beaches have café, drinks and restaurant facilities. The food is good; the food in Lebanon is hardly ever bad, if it is Lebanese food. Sadly, McDonalds, Kentuckys and all the rest have invaded the country, but I am told, they have some “special” local menus, apart from the usual crap. (Sorry, can’t help it!). ****************************** Beaches are nice, and the weather in Lebanon is a blessing, this means you can take a dip from May until October and sometimes even November! I can confirm that there is such a thing as “Four Seasons” and Lebanon is a living proof of that. Winter is rather mild (when I call my mother and it’s -10 degrees in London and stalactites are almost hanging from my eyelashes, she always complains that they are really freezing over there, 12 degrees, can you imagine this?). In the mountains, it is different and temperatures do drop to minus zero. Spring is a blessing and blooms flower everywhere, spreading a scent that reminds you how precious life is (unless you happen to live next to a rubbish dump or the refuse collectors are on strike or “forgot” to remove the litter from your street). Summer melts even your determination away and everyone’s speech takes on a lazy drawl, to match the general posture of the population at that time, which is one of utter lethargic flabbiness. Autumn is mild, charming and cradles agreeable breezes. It is the end of something, which entails the rebirth of many other things. I am not sure why, but it is a season when I feel loaded with hope. ********************************* Much more interesting than the beaches however, are the historical and archaeological sites. I will have to go through them without too much detail, but if any reader wishes to know more, I would be happy to prepare separate reviews on the sites that most seize your interest. ********************************** I must start with Baalbeck. For Baalbek is the City of the Sun, in Greek: Heliopolis ( do not confuse it with Egypt’s Heliopolis) and one of the wonders of the world. Nowadays, it is the agricultural centre of the Bekaa Valley, but it is most famous as the site of extensive Roman ruins; with some of the best preserved Roman temples anywhere in the world, especially the beautiful Temple of Bacchus. What is known of the city dates back to only 332BC, when the Greeks conquered Syria (Lebanon used to be a part of Syria). Every summer, there is an International festival held inside the ruins of Baalbeck, with artists from around the world (Placido Domingo is just one of the many who have honoured the festival with their presence.) If you do go there during the summer, this is not to be missed. Baalbeck is 85km away from Beirut. Also in the Bekaa Valley, are the graceful ruins of Aanjar. Unlike most other ruins in Lebanon, Aanjar is relatively “new”, dating back to the 8th century AD, the Umayyad Period (this is the first hereditary dynasty of Islam). It used to be an important commercial centre at the time, but only flourished for a few decades. Byblos, with its picturesque little port, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is of Phoenician origin and historians date it back to at least 7000 years ago, possibly much more, but as history goes, records are missing or are not very clear on this subject. There is a large and beautiful Roman theatre, by the sea, amongst the other Roman ruins and Byblos’ little market is a pleasure to visit, with its many cafés and restaurants. Byblos (Jbeil) is 37kms north of Beirut. In the south as well (48kms south of Beirut) is the city of Sidon, the largest city in south Lebanon and its financial and commercial centre. Sadly, its history is shrouded in mystery, due to many plundering episodes. There is evidence that it was inhabited as early (or late) as 4000-6000 BC, but history books say that its Phoenician period began in the 10th to 12th century BC, only to create more confusion. The first thing you will notice upon entering the city is the Crusader Sea Castle ( a fortress built by the Crusaders in the 13th century BC), its landmark today. The founding of the city of Tyre dates back to the beginning of the 3rd century BC. Tyre was very famous, amongst other things, for its production of purple dye. It was a commercial city as well. Its vast ruins are remains from Greaco-Roman, Byzantive, Arab and Crusader times. Tyre is the South of the country, a few kilometres north of Sidon. Beit El Dine (House of Faith), 50 km south of Beirut, is a glorious palace that was built in the 19th century by the Emir Bachir II, its construction took 30 years to complete, but the result is superb. Its graceful arcades and colourful mosaics, gardens, fountains and hammams are only part of its charm. During the summer, a Music Festival is also organised there and is in a way the rival of the Baalbeck one. The special lighting that is put in place for the festival alone makes it worth visiting. There are many other historical sites to be found in Lebanon, and I have only mentioned the most “important” ones above, but the list does go on rather extensively. **************************** Other places to visit in Lebanon include The Cedars. The cedar is the emblem of the country and millennia ago, Egypt was but one of the many civilisations who transported the wood from this fragrant and majestic tree to adorn their temples and other edifices as well as constructing their tombs. The Cedars of Bcharreh (121kms north of Beirut), are home to the most senior cedars in Lebanon, some older than 3000 years. The sheer size of their trunks and their branches that stretch out in a motionless dance are humbling. You feel as though they were trying to whisper splinters of history in your ears while attempting to cover up scars. Beautiful forests where you can stroll in peace, even when there are many tourists; there is an overwhelming aura of serenity about the site that blows winds of wisdom in your face. (You lose it quickly upon departure though I am afraid). On the way to Bcharreh, is the Museum of Gibran Khalil Gibran (Author of “The Prophet). It is actually a place where he lived and where his coffin is to be found. The room in which he lived and composed many of his writings is simple but serene, surrounded by nature. The Shouf Cedars Natural Reserve is the Middle East’s largest reserve of its kind and makes up 5% of the entire territory of the country. It is south of Beirut. You can see tiny sprouts of newborn cedars as well as trees as old as 2000 years there. You need very comfortable shoes and you will be climbing up and down a lot, but you will not meet many people in the forests, as they are so extensive, it is easy to get lost. The scent of the trees is slightly bewitching and I found myself looking up their branches to surprise a fairy or two, but although cedar fairies only emerge in a murmur, their chant lingers in your ears and your mind for much longer periods. There are more cedars forests to be found in Lebanon, but these two are the most important sites. ****************************** I do not wish to bore you and I feel that I have already mentioned a lot. The truth is there are so many places to visit in Lebanon that I feel guilty about the many ones I am inevitably going to leave out. But before I depart, allow me to introduce to you Beirut City Centre, “Le Centre Ville”. This area was completely demolished and rebuilt during the 1990s. It is today a beautiful and very well looked after part of town. One long main road with countless side streets full of delightful cafés and restaurants, as well as all kinds of other shops (clothes, souvenirs, furniture..). You will be able to sample the delicious Lebanese cuisine and the Narguileh, but then again you can do this anywhere in Lebanon, and frankly, while the atmosphere in the city centre is special, everything is over priced and tends to be very crowded. But it is beautiful anyhow. ******************************* Nightclubs, bars and discos are to be found around the city centre and in the north towards Jounieh, Kaslik, and in downtown Beirut. There is a lot of choice and not much difference with any of the European bars and discos I know of. There are many markets throughout the country, namely in Tripoli, Sidon, Zahleh, Beirut itself and well… I am sure you do not want the whole list. ******************************** As I have said too many times now, the list of places worth visiting in Lebanon is far too vast to list entirely, but one thing you must do if you go there, is visit lost little locations and villages all around. This is where you will find the best and probably cheapest restaurants and the friendliest, most genuine people. They may not have shiny and glittery outsides or insides, or dressed up waiters and well designed menu cards, but they will have fresh ingredients, literally picked up from the garden 5 minutes after your order is placed ( “I am going to slaughter the lamb, back in a few minutes…” just joking…although not always actually!!). These are usually family run businesses and the owners tend to be very friendly and generous, and frankly this is where I have eaten the most delicious Lebanese specialities, without the fuss, but with the taste! (Apart from my Mother’s cooking of course). They are also much cheaper than some restaurants that I feel simply rip you off. I trust everyone knows that Lebanese food is delicious but once more, I could dedicate a whole review or two just about this. ******************************** My country of origin is a country I have discovered again as though it were not the place I was born in. Too many painful memories have impeded me from feeling what most Lebanese feel for their land (although I know many have suffered so much more than I), a profound and deep-rooted love that makes them cry at the mere mention of the name “Loubnan” (Lebanon). My fellow countrymen may find me unworthy and treacherous in what I say, but it is a genuine sentiment, which I cannot help and do not wish to conceal. Whilst I find my country a tremendously interesting area of the world to visit and I most certainly advise anyone thinking of going there to do so, there are too many things with which I am not at ease. The Lebanese high society gets on my nerves to a point of absolute desperation. Most of them (and by no means all) are shallow to an alarming degree, despite what appears to be an all-embracing and far-reaching in-depth knowledge of many areas of culture. However it is as though their “knowledge” piles up on top of their spirits without a drain for filtering through; a necessity without which, assimilation of culture is improbable and often impossible. They carry their “knowledge” like a flag instead of learning from it, and tend to be more interested in the latest trends and fashions than any meaningful thought-provoking event. This is what alienates me from my own place of origin and I am sad to say that I feel like a total freak when I am there (I have never followed fashion in my life and quite frankly, clothes are what I wear because of the commotion I may cause if I dared to walk out the door in my “natural state”, and because it is cold in England! I do like nice clothes but my life does not revolve around what I am going to wear or what cream I shall use and what restaurant I want to be seen in, theirs often does!). Most of my Lebanese friends feel the same as I do, and this is a situation that is making many youths leave the country. On the other hand, “simple” people are always friendlier and easier to get on with, they do not usually carry their ego in a lorry (but sometimes in a car) and whilst you will find it hard to strike a conversation about any scientific topic with them (music, arts and literature are a science as well!) you can talk about human values and the way the coffee was brewed or the tabbouleh was prepared and that is fine, it is also worth learning and the warmth emanating from them glows into your own light. **************************** Oh! I forgot to mention that you can practice many sports in Lebanon, skiing, climbing, surfing, trekking…. No really… I am sure I have left out so many things, music, arts, more about the people there (no Lola, enough!), but I may write more reviews about specific topics. Do allow me to reiterate once more the fact that Lebanon is a rich and beautiful country, most certainly worth visiting and there are some very interesting people to meet there, but I have warned you of some risks. : ) I am deeply moved by the songs that the famous Fairuz sings with her melancholic yet pristine voice, some of them make me cry, especially those about childhood, but my country is a wound in my heart that yet has not found the proper way to healing, and perhaps I should try to understand more and I am trying to, but there is no point in idealising a country where injustice is still ripe and where, along with the wonders, there are hidden histories that the well off are only too eager to dismiss, whilst the less well off are screaming with a silent scream “Please hear my voice… somebody…” Do visit Lebanon if you have a chance…. :) © Lola Awada 2005

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            19.10.2001 05:42
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            I am a Lebanese American, born in America, and presently going to university in America as well, but I attended both middle school and High School in Beirut, Lebanon. I have a great love for the country, even with all its little inadequacies. I believe it is a great travel destinatation as, unlike you may think, the people are very kind and accepting, and willing to do whatever they can to help you. There is no raging war as some still believe, but there is a beautiful country where (people say) you can swim and ski in the same day - I never tried, with Roman and Byzantine ruins scattered throughout the country and quite well preserved if you consider how long the war lasted, the mediterranean and some of the best food you could ever eat. Beirut, the capital, has a great nightlife with many nightclubs and pubs, and cafes that stay open for much of the night. This past Christmas break, I travelled the 12 hour plane ride back home to Beirut, Lebanon, seeing not only old friends from school and family, but also a lot of the country, famous sites and landmarks. One of the most important of these sites was Downtown Beirut - the area where the "Green Line," the division between Christian East Beirut and Muslim West Beirut of the 1975 civil war, still lurks in the heart of every Lebanese who lived the fifteen years of the war. Downtown was the country's city center prior to the war, and when I first moved to Lebanon around six years ago, this area was the place to go if you wanted to shoot photographs of the devastated buildings left over from the war. Now it is becoming increasingly well known as a place of reconstruction, taken on by a company called Solidere, introduced in 1994 by Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri. According to the Solidere web page, the area stretches to most of the 1.8 square kilometers that make up the center of Beirut, and includes the restoration of approximately 300 buildings. Many of the buildings are modern, but So lidere is also trying to preserve the areas' traditional flair. Walking around in the area during its annual "Souq el Barghout" - a flea market where street sellers and small stores open up shop, side walk cafes are set up on every corner, and musicians come out to perform for the people - the experience is wonderful. I love to see all the people up and about, people who, for so long, got used to being prisoners, in their own homes, to the 6 o'clock curfews and who can finally see the true beauty of their city that was hidden for so long. For those who really experienced the full length and depth of the war, however, stepping into Downtown has a more psychological connotation. While I see in some of the older, bullet hole ridden buildings a closer glimpse of history, a good friend of mine sees primarily painful memories of war. He says that the when he walks down the narrow cobblestone streets he is amazed, where formally he knew only death and bombs, he now sees hope. I was also able to visit, for the first time, the Southernmost tip of Lebanon that was previously under the occupation of our neighbour, Israel, up until 25 May 2000. There is a part of Lebanon, however, the Shebaa Farms, which Lebanon still holds claim to, but which Israel has not returned because of a confusion about the rightful owners of this land. Even though I thought there might be danger in taking this trip, and every time we pulled over for a "photo op" there was a chance that maybe, just maybe, we might be driving over a land mine, I took a deep breath and went ahead. I was right next to the border, so close that I could take a photo of Israel from Lebanese land, that I could listen to the Israeli soldiers and Lebanese men exchanging profanities across tangled barbed wire. There were a few rock throwers, including a child who couldn't have been more than around four or five years old, barely able to hold the rock in his hand, sadly try ing to emulate his older brother. We also saw an ex-detention center where Lebanese were held captive by Israelis and the South Lebanese army which was another example of the sad reality which war brings about. Even though it was empty and the people were all now "free" seeing the prison struck a very sad chord in my heart. Lebanon has its scars, I admit, and the effects of war are not hard to point out. Yet, I guess I have to say that is all part of its character, and if you want to go somewhere that's not just "fun in the sun" (all though Lebanon has PLENTY of that), this is an excellent place for those interested in history, politics, etc.

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              09.09.2001 21:38
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              Lebanon is a great country one can find many wonderful things in it. Its capital is Beirut which has a great climate all over the year. In Beirut one can find many stores great stores, restaurants, and cafes. You can buy many things in cheap prices. Other important places in Lebanon are Tripoli, Tyre, Sidon, and Jbayl. The Lebanese mountains are great places for people to have their vacations in. The air and land are clean. Their are many trees in Lebanon and the most important ones are the cedars. I think Lebanon could have been a very important country if it wasn't for the war that stayed hundreds of years. Lebanese people are known as smart citizens, and this is proved in historical books. There are many Lebanese scientists who helped all the people to reach to this technology. For th eLebanese discovered writing, electricity, and they numbers 1-2-3 were used by the lebanese but then the English took it. So they started using other numbers. So trust me and have atleast a short vacation to Lebnon because its a great country.

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              "Lebanon (Arabic: لبنان Lubnān), officially the Lebanese Republic (Arabic: الجمهورية اللبنانية), is a small, largely mountainous country in the Middle East, located at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the south. The flag of Lebanon features a cedar in green against a white backdrop, bounded by two horizontal red stripes along the top and bottom. Due to its sectarian diversity, Lebanon follows a special political system, known as confessionalism, meant to distribute power as evenly as possible among different sects."