A week in Lebanon
I didn’t really know what to expect in Lebanon. The small country doesn’t exactly present the best face if you’re mostly exposed to Western media. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say Western media doesn’t show Lebanon’s best face. But my visit, which I had been attempting for three years, was nothing but pleasant. I was able to see a few dear friends, explore the Lebanon countryside, and indulge in some of the best cuisine in the world (in my humble opinion). Despite the U.S. Department of State’s advisory against travel to the small country, not once did I feel unsafe or threatened. In short, it was a trip I will look back on fondly in a country I will certainly visit again.
Of course, I was lucky. I am fortunate enough to have friends in Lebanon. Friends who were able to tell me where to go and where not to go. Friends who embody everything you may have heard about Middle Eastern hospitality to the fullest extent. With the help of these amazing individuals, I was able to see nearly everything I wanted to and many things I would have never known about otherwise. These are some of the highlights, in no particular order, of a truly amazing trip:
Aside from the people, this was the biggest highlight of my trip. Lebanese food is, of course, famous worldwide. But as many people can attest, eating an Americanized version of someone else’s cuisine will never match up to the authentic product. The dishes were everything I expected and more. Keeping my vegetarian diet was easy, a refreshing feeling when traveling, and every day bought a new culinary experience. Some of my favorites were the potato dish I had my second evening at a place in Gemmayzeh, the falafel I had for lunch in the Hamra district, and the homemade Wara2 3inab (Grape Leaves) I had in Saida.
One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world (since ~5000 BC) and really just a beautiful place, Byblos was exactly my kind of city. We walked through the old city, a series of streets flanked by merchants, restaurants and coffee shops, and down into the old harbor where we sat and drank coffee (in my case beer) and watched the sunset over the ancient stonework. It was one of those places you couldn’t help feeling at peace. If I were to live in Lebanon, I would probably want to live in Jbeil. At least that’s what I thought until we went to the mountains later in the week. But I’ll get to that shortly.
Saida was different from most places I’ve been but I enjoyed seeing how the southern city contrasted from the northern parts we visited. We walked inside the sea castle in the early evening and then through the old city. The only bad part about Saida was that my time there was so brief. It’s definitely a place I will have to return to soon.
Before leaving for Lebanon my research had only extended as far as the big cities and well-known natural features. Therefore I wasn’t sure what I was in for when my friends told me we were going to visit Jezzine, Baaqline and Beit Eddine, places I had never heard of and could barely pronounce. However this day turned out to be one my absolute favorite. We had lunch on top of a cliff with a postcard-worthy view before visiting a mountain palace which looked old but was finished in the 19th century. To end the day we drove to the Al Shouf nature reserve where we saw the cedar trees, the national emblem of Lebanon. All together, these areas appealed to me the most of all and when I go back to Lebanon I hope to spend more time there.
No pictures this time but I have to give a shout out to the three or four nights I was able to explore the nighttime scene. I first went out in Hamra, a neighborhood flanked by two college campuses and filled with bars. Another night I went to Mar Mikhael and met many internationals living in Lebanon. Everywhere we went I found the people to be friendly and the atmosphere lively.