This post is part of a series called Lebanon July 2018

Beirut Lebanon.

After Lisbon and Portugal, since we were already in Europe, we thought we would check out a more off-the-beaten -path place; and we ended picking Lebanon. Why Lebanon? Why not? It is in the Levant (a historical term for Lebanon, Palestine (includes Israel), Syria, Jordan); where there is a lot of history of all the 3 major monotheistic religions of the world, has a amazing history, and we like to push the boundaries a little 🙂

So we flew from Lisbon to Beirut via Rome on Alitalia. We landed in Hariri international airport mid-afternoon, cleared immigration and customs with no issues, and our adventures started. Lebanese cellular providers are not part of the cellular data arrangements that TMobile has with many countries, for free data. Knowing this, and having researched before we got there, we headed to the shop at the airport selling local SIM cards. Unfortunately, the shop’s computer was not working to sell/activate the SIM card, so we could not get cellular data, and hence no Uber 🙁

So we had to get a local taxi, which I had read were notorious at the airport for ripping off tourists. We went to the Tourist Police stand, and the policeman hailed us a taxi. I asked the policeman how much it should cost us, and he said it was metered. Got the same answer from the taxi driver. So we got into the taxi and started driving to the hotel. Soon as we left the airport, we noticed that the meter was running wild and running up a big bill. So we told the taxi driver to either stop and fix the meter issue, or take U$20 flat charge, or take us back to the airport to the Tourist Police. The taxi driver at first acted dumb (no English), then put on another meter which was not working, and argued with us (in English) that the fixed fare was $30. Dilshad stuck by her guns, and argued for US$20 or back to the airport. At this point, the driver went silent and kept driving and dropped us off at the hotel, and quietly took US$20. Phew; this could have turned ugly. Not a good start to Lebanon, but we had been warned which is why I wanted to avoid taking a taxi in the first place.

Our hotel was the Crowne Plaza (got a great rate, so no B&B) in Hamra, which is western Beirut, and used to be predominantly Muslim during the sectarian conflict.

View from our hotel of Hamra, Beirut, and the Mediterranean Sea
View from our hotel of Hamra, Beirut, and the Mediterranean Sea

A little bit about Beirut. Beirut was settled more than 5,000 years ago. Its name derives from the Phoenician word be’erot (wells), referring to the underground water table that is still tapped by the local inhabitants for general use. Excavations in the downtown area have unearthed layers of Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader and Ottoman remains. Beirut was controlled by local Druze Muslims throughout the Ottoman period. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, Lebanon and Syria were placed under French rule. Lebanon achieved independence in 1943, and Beirut became the capital city, becoming a major tourist destination and a banking haven, and the Paris of the East.

This era of prosperity ended when the 1975 Lebanese Civil War broke out throughout the country. During the war, Beirut was divided between the Muslim west (Hamra) and the Christian east (Achrafieh). The downtown area between East and West Beirut, home of much of the city’s commercial activity, became a no man’s land known as the Green Line. Many people died, and many fled to other countries, and much of the city was devastated. A particularly destructive period was the 1978 Syrian siege of Achrafiyeh, the main Christian district of Beirut, during the Hundred Days’ War.

Another destructive chapter was the 1982 Lebanon War, during which most of West Beirut was under siege by Israeli troops. Since the end of the war in 1990, the people of Lebanon have been rebuilding Beirut, and by the beginning of 2005, the city had regained its status as a tourist, cultural, intellectual & commercial center in the Middle East. The reconstruction of downtown Beirut had been personally driven by Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. Rafic Hariri was assassinated in 2005, allegedly by Syria. A month later about one million people gathered for an opposition rally in Beirut. This Cedar Revolution was the largest rally in Lebanon’s history, led to the last Syrian troops withdrawing from Beirut in April 2005.

During the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War, Israeli bombardment caused damage in many parts of Beirut, especially the predominantly Hezbollah southern suburbs of Beirut. Israel also implemented a naval and air blockade over Lebanon; & bombed the runways at Beirut International Airport and the major Beirut-Damascus highway.

In early 2008, after the government decided to disband Hezbollah’s control, violent clashes broke out briefly between government allies and opposition forces, before control of the city was handed over to the Lebanese Army. After this a national dialogue conference was held in Doha at the invitation of the Prince of Qatar. The conference led to a new president of Lebanon and established a new national government involving all the political adversaries. Peace and development followed.

Beirut had been destroyed and rebuilt 7 times during multiple major wars and minor skirmishes. Sound scary? 🙂

After settling into the hotel, relaxing & getting our bearings, we got the concierge to show us a cellphone store (it was right opposite the hotel) where we purchased a local SIM card that gave us some combination of talk time and data, for $30. Seems like we can pay in Lebanese Pounds or in US$’s everywhere in Lebanon, according to the cellphone store guy. That is good news and means their currency is very stable.

We them went out to see Hamra by evening on the streets and the corniche

Beirut Typical scene of shops, outdoor eateries and life
Typical scene of shops, outdoor eateries and life
Beirut Seaside dining
Seaside dining on the corniche

We checked out the menu at these seaside places along the corniche, but they were mostly fast food, so instead we went to the Lamb House nearby, for a very nice meal of Kebabs and salad. Cost came to US$17 for both of us, including drinks. Food appears to be very reasonably priced here. We then called it a night.

Next morning, we made an early start and walked towards the American University of Beirut, and stopped at a busy local bakery; where they were making the typical man’oushe breakfast

Beirut Typical man’oushe bakery
Typical man’oushe bakery

Man’oushe is a soft dough pizza type meal, sprinkled with herbal za’atar (a wild thyme-sesame-olive oil blend mix) that is folded in half, and eaten piping hot out of the oven, like a sandwich. It tastes sour/tangy and was delicious. It was at this bakery that a nice Lebanese lady, Violet, befriended us and told us that she and her husband had both been University Professors, and that she had recently retired after the death of her husband. She bought us some pastries from this bakery, and then took us nearby and showed us her apartment building, and invited us to visit her for coffee on her 4th floor apartment anytime. Wow, what a nice friendly welcome from a total stranger.

Beirut Violet is the grey haired lady on the left. Note the wild thyme herbs on the motorcycle, waiting to be turned into za’atar
Violet is the grey haired lady on the left. Note the wild thyme herbs on the scooter, waiting to be turned into za’atar

After thanking Violet, we then walked over to the American University of Beirut, founded by some American clergy in 1866. The university had very nice grounds one block back from the Mediterranean Sea; very valuable land I am sure.

American University of Beirut
American University of Beirut

After walking around the grounds, we took an Uber to the city center to check out various sites and mosques etc; below are some scenes from there, as we walked the City center

Beirut In the city center were ancient Roman runis, with St Georges Maronite Church on the left, the Mohammed Al-Amin mosque on the right and the St George Greek orthodox church in the background.
In the city center were ancient Roman runis, with St Georges Maronite Church on the left, the Mohammed Al-Amin mosque on the right and the St George Greek orthodox church in the background.
Beirut Lebanese Parliament building in Nijmeh Square; not over guarded
Lebanese Parliament building in Nijmeh Square; not over guarded
Beirut The beautiful St Georges Orthodox church, opposite the parliament buildings
The beautiful St Georges Orthodox church, opposite the parliament buildings

We then walked to behind the parliament building where some City Government offices were located, and came across the excavations of an old Roman bath

Beirut Old Roman baths; the small pillars held a raised floor under which the hot water and steam circulated to provide hot water and steam for the baths
Old Roman baths; the small pillars held a raised floor under which the hot water and steam circulated to provide hot water and steam for the baths

We then walked towards a couple of very old mosques

Beirut View of Nijmeh square (clock tower), with St Georges Greek Orthodox church behind and the Parliament buildings on the right
View of Nijmeh square (clock tower), with St Georges Greek Orthodox church behind and the Parliament buildings on the right

The Al-Omari Grand mosque was just being opened for noon prayers, and the caretaker allowed us to go inside and check it out. Interesting history; this location was originally a Roman imperial bath that the Byzantines converted into a small church. The Arabs converted this into the Al-Omari mosque in 635. The Crusaders converted this into the Cathedral of St John in 1115, and the Mamluks converted this back into a mosque in 1291. It was improved and added to over the years. During the Lebanese Civil War, it was badly damaged, and restored in 2004. Lots of history everywhere.

Beirut Al-Omari Grand Mosque, with a lot of history
Al-Omari Grand Mosque, with a lot of history

This was a very nice mosque, and had several pamphlets that talked about how the Quran dictates the rights of women, to dispel western misconceptions. Very progressive.

We then walked over to the Samir Kassir square; which was built in the city center to commemorate his assassination by a car bomb, who, as a journalist, reported on atrocities committed during the wars and was critical of the Syrians. This garden received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2007.

Beirut Samir Kassir square and garden
Samir Kassir square and garden
Traditional and Liberal. Beirut is quite progressive.
Traditional and Liberal. Beirut is quite progressive.

We then walked over to the nearby Mohammed Al-Amin mosque, which is named after the prophet. It is a large mosque built in the Ottoman architecture, and is a prominent landmark of Beirut at Martyrs Square

Beirut Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque, ST Georges Maronite church is behind
Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque, St Georges Maronite church is behind
Beirut Inside the Mohammed Al-Amin mosque, before afternoon prayers
Inside the Mohammed Al-Amin mosque, before afternoon prayers
Beirut This gentleman befriended us outside the mosque
This gentleman befriended us outside the mosque, and read us parts of the Quran

During construction of this mosque, they discovered Roman ruins around it

Beirut Roman ruins discovered, next to the Mohammed Al-Amin mosque, behind a Greek Orthodox church
Roman ruins discovered, next to the Mohammed Al-Amin mosque, behind a Greek Orthodox church

By this time, we were hungry, so we called an Uber, and asked him to take us to a good Falafel restaurant in Hamra. So he drove us to his favorite falafel joint, but it was closed, so he took us to Babar, which is a very famous place in Beirut for fresh juices, falafels and shawarmas.

Beirut All kinds of fresh squeezed juices
All kinds of fresh squeezed juices
Beirut Falafel meals at Babar restaurant
Falafel meals at Babar restaurant

We then walked to our hotel which was close by, to relax before going out in the evening

Beirut Mobile store
Mobile store

That evening, we decided to go check out the Armenian area of Beirut. So we called an Uber and went over to the Bourj Hammoud neighborhood. Ubers were costing us about $3-$6 per ride within the city, so very reasonable.

Bourj Hammoud happened to be east of the downtown area we had been in earlier that day. The area was quite lively, and distinctly Armenian, including street signs. One Armenian lady came over and talked to us and told us a little about the neighborhood and where to go. Very friendly.

Beirut Bourj Hammound Armenian neighborhood; note the street sign in Arabic and Armenian script
Bourj Hammound Armenian neighborhood; note the street sign in Arabic and Armenian script
Beirut Friendly fast food servers who gave me free samples of their food
Friendly fast food servers who gave me free samples of their food

It was now getting dark, so we walked into a gulley to a hole-in-the-wall place that came highly recommended for Armenian food; the Resto Ghazar, which is actually a bakery (Ghazar Bakery) and restaurant. This was a nice small cozy place with a very friendly and helpful manager. He recommended we try typical Armenian dishes like Subeurek (a soft dough pastry with cheese, butter and parsley; Armenian Cheese pie) and Manti (small boats of dough, filled with meat, baked, then poured over with a sauce that the pasta soaks up, and then covered with a yogurt sauce and sprinkled with sumac; yummy. Cost of this meal for 2 of us, with Ayran (buttermilk) was $14; very reasonable.

Beirut Armenian dinner of Subeurek (right) and Manti (left) and potatoes of course :)
Armenian dinner of Subeurek (right) and Manti (left) and potatoes of course 🙂

As I paid for this delicious meal, I realized that I was missing my Amex credit card; which I had used to pay with at Babar restaurant earlier that day. The manager kindly called Babar for us, and they advised that we should check with them the next day.

We got an Uber and went back to the hotel. On the way, we drove through the Gemmayzeh neighborhood, which on Gouraud Stret was very lively with lots of young people handing around in Bars, restaurants and night clubs; apparently the happening place of Beirut. Upon getting to the hotel, we checked to make sure the Amex card was not being compromised (Babar or other strange bills had not shown up yet). Then went to sleep for a good night’s rest.

More Beirut next

This entry was posted in Lebanon July 2018, Middle East

31 thoughts on “Beirut

  • Shahira Kassam September 8, 2018 at 11:39 am Reply

    somewhere I really want to travel to! I will read your blog with great interest

    • Ali Karim September 8, 2018 at 11:47 am Reply

      Please do, and let me know what you think; always looking to improve my blog posts
      Thanks

      • Shahira Kassam September 9, 2018 at 2:33 pm Reply

        So fascinating but you’ve left it on a cliffhanger. Did you get your AMEX card back?

      • Zul Walji September 11, 2018 at 10:50 am Reply

        Once again, an extremely interesting blog on your safarnama. Looking forward to your next.

        • Ali Karim September 12, 2018 at 11:47 am Reply

          THanks Zul, for the feedback and encouragement always

    • Mansoor Ladha September 10, 2018 at 1:12 am Reply

      As always enjoy reading your exotic stories and amazing pictures. Keep up the good work.What is your next destination?

      • Ali Karim September 11, 2018 at 10:27 am Reply

        Thanks Mansoor. Working on the next destination, nothing finalized yet; too many places on our bucket list before we reach the bucket 🙂

  • Alamara Giwani September 8, 2018 at 11:40 am Reply

    loved the blog!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Ali Karim September 8, 2018 at 11:48 am Reply

      Thanks for all the encouragement always 🙂

  • Sabira Begum September 8, 2018 at 11:41 am Reply

    I’m excited to read your blog on Beirut…want to visit!

    • Ali Karim September 8, 2018 at 11:49 am Reply

      Please let me know once you have read the blog; there are several more coming in this series as we visited a lot of different parts of Lebanon

  • Seema Adatia September 8, 2018 at 11:41 am Reply

    What happened to the card? Such a cliff hanger. Haha. I love your blog posts!

    • Ali Karim September 8, 2018 at 11:50 am Reply

      The mystery of the card continues; stay tuned 🙂
      Thanks for the feedback Seema

  • Shaibal Chakrabarty September 8, 2018 at 11:41 am Reply

    forget the blog. i want to follow your footsteps! 🙂 as always beautifully written!

    • Ali Karim September 8, 2018 at 11:50 am Reply

      Thanks Shaibal

  • Aziz Bhimani September 8, 2018 at 10:04 pm Reply

    Hi Ali,

    Brought back memories.

    I visited Beirut in the mid 70s when I was working in Dubai for 5 years and traveled extensively in my young and money making days. I visited Beirut and it was like heaven. I would say it was way advance back then than today’s Dubai. As the destruction started, my heart was sad to see the news of all those beautiful mosques and architecture turned to rubble. So sad.

    I visited some of those mosques that you posted. Glad you got a chance to visit.

    Keep posting and send out emails so I can re live my young memories

    Thank you,

    • Ali Karim September 13, 2018 at 10:07 pm Reply

      Hi Aziz, thanks for the comments; glad you enjoyed the blog. Nice to get your background on Beirut

  • Angela Davies September 9, 2018 at 2:24 pm Reply

    Thanks for sending this on Ali and I’m glad to see you had a good visit to Beirut. We passed through Lebanon in 2011 when we went to Syria. As you did, we very much enjoyed Beirut and on the way from Damascus we travelled through the Beka valley to see Baalbeck which I recommend for a future trip.

    Always happy to see your blogposts,

    Regards,

    Angela Davies

    • Ali Karim September 9, 2018 at 2:28 pm Reply

      Thanks Angela. We will keep your recommendations in mind. We are envious that we could not visit Syria, as that is a place on top of our bucket list.

  • Amir T September 9, 2018 at 2:24 pm Reply

    Ali..I haven’t watched it yet..but you and Dilshad are brave souls to venture in that part of the world. Look forward to watching-reading your Beirut/Lebanon trips.

    I hope my wife (Noor) and I will catch up with you and Dilshad in Dallas one of these days.

    With Best Wishes,
    AmirT

    • Ali Karim September 9, 2018 at 2:30 pm Reply

      Hi Amir, do let me know what you think after reading the blog; I have already implemented the recommendations you had when we met in Lisbon. Let me know what else you think can be improved.
      Lets meet up soon

  • Farida & Zool Chatur September 9, 2018 at 11:30 pm Reply

    Zool and myself really enjoy and love very much reading all your interesting blogs. Very well written.
    May you both always be blessed and May your bucket lists be fulfilled. Amen
    .

    • Ali Karim September 11, 2018 at 10:25 am Reply

      Thanks Farida, for the feedback.

  • Nick Paroo September 10, 2018 at 7:13 am Reply

    Very beautiful Mr Ali. Love your blog. Thanks for sharing

    • Ali Karim September 11, 2018 at 10:28 am Reply

      Thanks Mr. Nick, for the kind words

  • mahamud jinnah September 10, 2018 at 10:08 pm Reply

    Hi Ali
    Lebanon looks awesome. I am glad that you find friends everywhere-even strangers invite you up to their place for coffee and buy you pastries. You and Dilshad are awesome so that is not surprising.

    did you find your amex card?

    Looking forward to the next part.

    • Ali Karim September 13, 2018 at 10:10 pm Reply

      Thanks Mohammed; next part should be coming soon

  • Adatia, Nazneen September 13, 2018 at 10:10 pm Reply

    Hello Ali, thanks for sharing the post, the pictures are beautiful. Is there a law in Lebanon that women cannot go in the country by themselves, you have to have a man with you, like other Muslim countries.

    Thanks

    Naz.

    • Ali Karim September 13, 2018 at 10:13 pm Reply

      Hi Naz, thanks for the feedback.
      Lebanon is liberal, so no issue of women going anywhere on their own

  • Muslim Harji September 15, 2018 at 9:40 am Reply

    Thank You Ali ,
    Always enjoy your blog….Your previous camera had much sharper images….
    Love, Light & Cheers
    Muslim Harji

    • Ali Karim September 15, 2018 at 9:42 am Reply

      Absolutely agree Muslim; the Sony is definitely much better.
      Appreciate your honest feedback; thanks

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