Wednesday feb 27th Tuesday March 5th
This trip keeps throwing obstacles in our way . The Iranian visa application was not going as planned (well as we expected ) so we went to plan B and booked a flight to Beirut ,typically what happens , Noel booked the flights on last minute.com and a few minutes later we received our codes for the Iran visa process via email . Iran will have to wait another time , so if anyone out there needs advice on Iranian visa application etc , we are available for free advice.
Beirut , Paris of the east , finally a warm location . Lebanon has population of 3 million and 18 million overseas due to the 15 year civil war . Remnants of the war is still evident , but they are rebuilding the city as best they can to pre war condition , the new downtown is a Mecca of 5 star brands for shopping ,with the usual high street labels available to those with a platinum credit cards , if one day peace prevails I can see Chinese buying up the waterfront.
The city has a vibe to it , best described as modern ,hip and cool. The women are very beautiful, and must take a lot of time to take care of appearances , my neck is sore from turning my head .You don’t see many burkas in this city .
The locals are very welcoming , while Noel was trying to acquire cash at HSBC , I had an interesting conversation with a 76 year old Lebanese , who has been through some of Lebanon’s difficult chapter. He is a graduate of AUB , his father was a founding member of this American University some of his 7 children are overseas in US and France , however he will not leave .We discussed Politics to everyday issues. He was envious of our schedule , gave me some insights on lebanese women and this was while his 40 year old daughter was listening to our conversation .He spends a few months a year in France and rest in Lebanon .He also explained to me how Internet has changed life here , his friend is an owner of a local newspaper and readership has dropped by over 50% , to 150000 copies a day .
His final piece of advice to me was Viagra is readily available in Beirut what a character .
At least I got more information from HSBC than Noel , who couldn’t get cash from the bank during his visit to his premier Hong Kong bank office ,which took over a half hour with much gesturing but no cash!
Due to the civil war , population is young , nationalities represented from neighboring countries ,there is also a strong presence of United Nations personnel and a distinct French feel everywhere you look, apart from The bullet holed empty building block yet to be demolished . English is well spoken in most Cafes and restaurants etc.
Places we visited included the Jeita Grotto caves , and by far our visit to Chateau Musar was the highlight , will post more on that later .
The Syrian Civil War which is currently ongoing (100km from Syrian border ) has caused justified concern amongst the Lebanese people . Lebanon already have 100, 000s of refugees in border camps . This is frightening and may destabilize the country , and probably the region in whole .
Meeting lebanese people ,they have no qualms discussing hot topics such as politics, religion ,women etc . Beirut has one of the largest universities AUB , the campus occupies 25 hectares in the best location of the city ,worth a visit , they have a library and a museum which allows tourists entry .
This country is definitely a must see, do take wads of cash as everything ( apart from street stall food ) is very expensive . Don’t use lifts , as power surges are regular , don’t take taxis, use service cars (illegal )!but cheap . Wireless Internet is difficult to find , and always charged.
We were lucky to meet a service taxi ,Sam , who we used to get around , a fiat Uno with music blaring , chris de burg ,country and western etc .What a character ,free advice on Lebanon .,while also telling us about his girlfriend who only takes his cash , and he cannot stop her from seeing other guys . ” I treat her well , cash and gifts , but I cannot understand why she sees other people ” .He also warned us what bars /Cafes to keep away from .
Visit Gemmayze for some of the most hip bars and restaurants ,I’ve ever seen , and also Jounieh outside Beirut .
Hamara street is a good location to be based , it also has an array of places to go as it is next to AUB . The selection of cuisine is fantastic ,must try the Manouche and of course Hummus . Great French Cafes as well .
I will return to this city , maybe when one day I get that Iranian visa !