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Welcome to Lebanon and have a safe journey!



Why Lebanon?

Splendid archaeology, delicious wine and one of the best cuisines in the world, the modern city of Beirut with its’ glitz, the gate to the Middle East: although the reasons to visit Lebanon abound, here are mine:

-Acquire some basic knowledge, an easy introduction to the Middle East (where I had never been before),
-Check if Baalbek is really better than Acropolis (it is),
-Have lunch at Pepe's in Byblos (impossible, see stamina below…).
Among my other personal, secondary pretexts:
-See where the old, European Mercedes and Volvos go to die
-Compare the famous Corniche to my hometown stroll along Poseidon avenue (ours is cleaner, but they have better pumpkin seeds)
-Enrich my stamina with a new, aggressive strain of gastrointestinal bug (total success)


It is hard not to feel sympathy for this blood-stained, shattered country that counts more than 2 million refugees (1/3 of inhabitants almost); a forward-looking nation that counts two among the most difficult neighbours one can have nowadays: Israel and Syria, with their long history of involvement in Lebanese affairs, producing invasions and a constant flux of refugees the last years. For different reasons Lebanon has historically been treated as a middle place, with Israel coming from the south and gassing fleeing Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila in downtown Beirut (1982), and Syrians, in an extremely painful reversal of fortune, immigrating en-masse from the north until today. A country that saw its (former) Prime Minister been blown by a car bomb in Beirut (on Valentine's day) in 2005; a country where the civil war ended only in 1990, that the Israeli forces left only in 2000. A country where the battle against terrorism was in a way born in 1983, after the coordinated suicide-bomb attacks against American and French interests in Beirut (247 and 58 dead respectively).
And yet, in everyday life -in Beirut at least- this seems bygone: everybody seems to mind his or her own business, as poor or glamorous as this business may be. Local shops, groceries, salons de coiffure, a myriad of small, pretty cafés offering quality coffee, combined with flashy Ferraris and Lamborghinis and yachts, and probably the best -the only?- cuisine and culinary capital in the Middle east, especially when combined in a thousand ways with the gastronomical culture of all the people that have sought shelter in this everyman's land. My preferred, unexpected combination: Lebanese/Armenian cuisine. Dishes that will leave you begging for more food, and some well-deserved Maalox…(try Onno or Mayrig for example)

You may be tempted or brought to think from what you see that Lebanon is a Muslim country. It is not. It is a (mainly Maronite) Christian country, inundated by Muslim refugees. The contrast is huge, but this is probably the only country in the area (together with Israel) where you may see bikinis and burkinis at the same beach.

Despite what one may think, Lebanon is a safe country, tourist-wise. Virtually nothing can happen to you as you stroll or travel around. Roadblocks are everywhere (do not even think of taking a photo of soldiers or road blocks, as exotic as it may seem), especially as you reach the South (beyond Tyre) or the North (beyond and inside Tripoli, the scene of a recent terrorist attack), but they hardly stop anyone, usually they just wave you through, although you need to be on the safe side and have your passport with you at all times. The general safety precaution is, feel safe in the country but stay as far as possible from the northern (Syrian) and the southern (Israeli) frontier. Last but not least: don’t freak out, it is contagious.

Although you can basically eat anywhere, water is not potable ANYWHERE (5* hotels included) in Lebanon. You need to buy bottled water (adding to the environmental problem unfortunately), even to brush your teeth: the environmental disaster this country is facing is hard to fathom for a European: the aquifer horizon is extremely polluted, as almost all nature in Lebanon: the sea (almost everywhere except south of Tyre), the air (smog present on a daily basis, unless you visit Mount Lebanon, or the Chouf mountains (necessary to visit the Bekaa valley)). Beware of the heat, drink a lot.

One could say Lebanon could be a case study for a real-life environmental clusterfuck. The combination of inefficient environmental policy, millions of refugees living basically in the wild, and the very low environmental culture is showing its result. People strolling on the Corniche promenade routinely throw their litter in the sea or to the ground. Witnessing this brought back memories from my youth, where we had to learn from scratch that nature is not a rubbish bin, and we need to dispose of detritus: in Lebanon one sees what happens when one doesn’t... People have been massively protesting against the government for not doing anything about rubbish that is basically everywhere: for endless miles along the highway, on riverbeds, in the sea. Unable to dispose of it properly or recycle it, the country ships tons of rubbish to remote islands and prefers to forget about it.

Living hell. Despite Lebanon being a small country, people take hours to reach the congested city. You need to be very careful if you drive, and have a very good GPS as well. Roads shut down routinely without explanation, and you may need to find a detour to your destination. Cars are fine, roads are OK, but road manners are as much as non-existent. I did not drive, and I would never recommend this either. Zingy did all the driving for me and I was very happy and at times very sick to do otherwise. IMPORTANT: on your way back, be at least three hours in advance at the airport. Numerous controls (you will show your passport 5 times and be checked twice before embarking) are time consuming, and you risk missing your flight if you play it European. Due to the Syrian crisis, Beirut’s Rafic Hariri Airport is used by all Syrians that can afford to fly almost-home (before catching a bus to cross the frontier).


Have fun, God be with you (please light a bulb)


The movie

















Love, love me do



Life's a journey



Not until you leave the ambulance...



You may have a Lamborghini but you're behind me!