My Love Affair with Lebanon




You can find people lounging on the beach or sitting for hours smoking a hookah, while others travel an hour away for rigorous hiking in the Qadisha valley. Lebanon is its own yin and yang; there is literally something for everyone here.

If you’ve been living in China for 10 months, and you’re desperately craving fresh air and a meal that doesn’t consist of noodles, where do you go?

If you’re me, you cash in some of your airline miles and hop a plane to Lebanon to stay with an aunt, who happens to be teaching drama in Beirut.

Lebanon had never been at the top of my list of places I wanted to travel, but after spending about eight seconds there, I was instantly in love.

When my mom heard I was traveling to the Middle East, she immediately feared I would be blown up or swept into white slavery. It turns out, I’ve never felt safer or more at ease in the “Paris of the Middle East.”

If you are looking for a fascinating culture, a taste of the past and present, great food, great shopping, and lounging on the Mediterranean, then I’d suggest you book your ticket to Beirut right now.    

Lebanon's Mediterranian coastline

Lebanon's Mediterranian coastline is breathtaking

The aspect I most liked about Beirut was the sense of duality; there was a blend of traditional Eastern and Western cultures. 

The city paid homage to the past as well as the present, and the architecture honors the painful past of the civil war while also representing the survival and optimism for the future. 

You can find people lounging on the beach or sitting for hours smoking a hookah, while others travel an hour away for rigorous hiking in the Qadisha valley.

Lebanon is its own yin and yang; there is literally something for everyone here.   

Natural Wonders and Manmade Marvels

Mosque in Lebanon

Lebanon manages to mix the old with the new perfectly

A week wasn’t nearly long enough for me, but it left enough time to hit the main attractions, wander into a few mosques, stuff my face full of shawarma, and even lounge on the beach.

So the first thing you absolutely must do is take a stroll along the Mediterranean, also known as the Corniche, until you hit the pigeon rocks.

Beirut is home to these gorgeous, natural formations that are just off the coast; there are plenty of restaurants and cafés to sit at while ogling them and loving life.    

Next, I recommend taking a stroll to the downtown area, which has been completely rebuilt in the last couple of decades. Downtown has everything from Roman baths to a fancy clock tower and the new Mohammed Al-Amin mosque. (Remember ladies, your heads must be covered; this isn’t a look I pulled off very well).   

The downtown area has been completely blocked off from traffic, and it sort of has a Parisian/Disneyland ambiance to it.

To be honest, it was a little lacking in charm for me, and I much preferred the older architecture when I was wandering around the city.  

And by wandering, I mean getting lost and taking an hour and a half to find my way back. Oh well, it worked out for the best, and I still say downtown is a must see.   

Shopping

Emily in Lebanon

I love it, I love it, I love it ...

If you’re a shopper like me, then you definitely want to make your way to Hamra Street where you can get anything from Gucci sunglasses to handmade relics.

If you’re wise, you will give yourself a spending limit. I didn’t, and now I owe a street vendor my first born child and a kidney. 

Finally, I completely recommend checking out the American University of Beirut, which will make you resent your own college campus because it couldn’t possibly compete with the beauty and the private beach that belongs strictly to the University. 

How students here learn anything and don’t spend the days marveling at their gorgeous campus, I will never know.   

Out of the City

It’s like walking onto an Indiana Jones set, but without the camera crews or Harrison Ford. The grotto is a gorgeous green and aqua marine color, and it is one hundred percent breathtaking. Don’t miss it.

Ruins in Lebanon

Take a day trip and you're visiting some of the best ruins the Romans left us

Not only is Beirut pretty much amazing, but you are extremely close to several worthwhile day trips. Warning: I’m going to be gushing here in a few moments.

One of the first hotspots outside of Beirut I HIGHLY recommend is the city of Baalbek in the northeast of Lebanon.

It’s famous for its spectacular Phoenician and Roman ruins and has a temple dedicated to the Sun God, and it will blow your mind.   

I spent a semester studying near Rome, and I never once saw ruins that compared to those at Baalbek. And then there’s the added bonus that men are in front of the ruins selling cheap camel rides.

Word to the wise: wear thick pants; camel riding isn’t easy on the crotch and brings new meaning to the phrase “camel toe.”    

Another trip not far from Beirut and you will kick yourself forever if you miss is the Jeita Grotto.

It’s up for one of the new seven natural wonders of the world, and in my book, it’s well worth the trip and admission. The cave is huge.    

The stalagmites and stalactites (I can never remember which is which) are incredible and it’s like walking onto an Indiana Jones set, but without the camera crews or Harrison Ford.   

The grotto is a gorgeous green and aqua marine color, and it is one hundred percent breathtaking. Don’t miss it.   

And, if you’re feeling adventurous and don’t mind spending a while at border patrol, definitely check out Damascus.

I won’t even start talking about it because I’ll never stop – the capital city of Syria definitely warrants its own article.    

Food

Kebab seller in Beirut

Leave your diet at the airport. Leave it!

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the cuisine, because I’m pretty sure I gained about ten pounds the week I spent in Lebanon.

You have to sample everything when you go traveling, right?  

Every meal felt like a feast- they start you off with a mezza, or a platter of amazing appetizers: huge plates full of vegetables, beans, dips, hummus, pita bread, olives, fried dough, grape leaves and all sorts of artery-clogging goodness.   

Next are skewers of lamb, chicken, beef, but you hardly need it, because if you’re like me, you’ve already stuffed your face full of mezzas.

I could probably have survived just on bread and hummus alone, but everything else should definitely be tried, and well worth the added inches to my waistline.   

Whether or not you’ve ever thought about traveling to the Middle East, Lebanon will mesmerize you.

If you want to lie on the beach and smoke a hookah all day, or examine ruins and cultural history, it won’t disappoint.   

Aside from the fact that I risked my life daily to cross the street, I can’t think of a single complaint I had.

Maybe it was just the break I needed from China, or maybe it is that spectacular, but I suggest you experience it for yourself.

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