Lebanon is a country where the heritage of many civilizations is piled up in a jumble. A veritable treasure chest, Lebanon is a journey through time and humanity
Lebanon is not big in size (10400 km²) but there is a question of diversity. The impression that dominates is that of a large international meeting in a conference room that is too small. On a territory less extended than Paris and suburbs meets the East and the West of today, the Greek, Ottoman, Egyptian, European vestiges of yesterday. Add to this an incredible mix of religions, an architectural heritage damaged by wars that is constantly being rebuilt: frankly, Lebanon is not easy to love from outside but is a change of scenery.
Sabah el kher Liban ! Esmi Christine, ana men fransa, saeid limuqabalatik ! Hello Lebanon!
Lebanon is surprising, disappointing, exciting, deafening and endearing, prepare for the shock, it will shake you up!
A travel to Lebanon, it’s not at all a done deal
As soon as you get there, you take a slap. The country is incredibly built and it doesn’t stop. Buildings everywhere, neighborhoods, villages, housing estates, and cranes, cranes, cranes. There must be a nest somewhere. Beirut is a permanent construction site. Beirut is polluted to death, deafening, the traffic is crazy… the city is full as an egg. Isn’t the picture flattering? Yes, it’s true but Lebanon is not a beach-coconut destination, this country is explored from the inside and it’s not easy travel but worth, much more than an all-inclusive week in Punta Cana.
First slap: pollution in Beirut is suffocating
Second disappointment: Beirut can not be really visited on foot
Already because it is a large city, but above all because walking there is anything but pleasant. The sidewalks are chaotic: high, low, crooked, bumpy, crowded with cars or simply non-existent. The traffic is enormous, aggressive, it is better to take taxis. There is indeed the “downtown”, a tiny pedestrian area, cute, restored with Saudi dollars, but almost deserted and I quickly went around it. There is also a souk in Beirut, but it’s the opposite of the souks you might expect. It’s more of a brand new shopping area for rich tourists. In fact the whole area is unaffordable. The Saturday market is really charming but the products sold are very expensive.
Third disappointment: Lebanon is expensive!
You have to understand that life is not easy for Lebanese people. Purchasing power is at half mast, young people can’t afford to be independent and stay for a long time at the family home because they can’t afford to rent anything.
Real estate prices are delirious. It’s no wonder, then, that hostels that are popular with the frequent traveller are rare. Alas, low-cost hostel rhymes with “it’s ugly but it’s cheap“.
Apart from the street food, Lebanese gastronomy is also expensive
Even the worldwide acclaimed gastronomy will blow the budget. Street food is good, cheap, but quite repetitive. It’s like a locomotive: sandwich-falafel-sandwich-falafel-sandwich-sandwich-falafel-shichtawuuuuuuuuuk!
I wanted to discover Lebanese agape, the way the family kitchen is cooked, the real, the original. It quickly becomes clear that you have to open your wallet in Beirut, and the result can be very disappointing. The bill in a typical restaurant for Lebanese people, not for tourists in a working-class district, is salty. $15 for a Lebanese chicken leg, humus and rice charged extra and a $2.50 tea spoils the appetite to learn more about the local gastronomy.
The prettiest part of Beirut, the misnamed downtown, is empty. It’s a scary sight. Only 1% of Lebanese can afford to live there or even have a coffee there. The French-chic terraces are as empty as the streets.
The coastal towns are overpriced and, frankly, dirty, disgusting, yuck. The Lebanese also pout, they are not satisfied with it at all and if they have the chance, they go on holiday to their neighbours (Jordan, Egypt), where they prefer to sunbathe and drink cocktails.
Fortunately I was persistent: in Lebanon I am, in Lebanon I stay!
It’s another lesson to discover certain countries, it’s worth taking the necessary time. Lebanon is one of them
If you understand the customs, if you know the prices and few good places, Lebanon will be a interresting place to travel and discover.
The Lebanese are great, surprisingly friendly and benevolent
As the daily sport jumps from microbus to shaky minibus, driven by an exclusively Arabic speaking driver, it is often left to chance. That’s when one becomes aware of the immense friendliness of the Lebanese. Sometimes they refuse to let you get off at the stop of your choice because “it’s late, it’s dark, it’s very far from your hostel, I’ll drop you off somewhere else where you can find a good taxi“. And since it is Lebanon, everyone gets in, other travellers, passing pedestrians, from car to car in the flowing traffic, it is an apostrophe “I have a French woman there who goes to Geitawi! Do you drive there?“. Yeah.
They greet you, send you a “Welcome” and even an “I love you”, not because they want your favors, but because they are happy to see you and they don’t know anything else to tell you.
The best thing you can do in Lebanon is to stay a little in a popular neighborhood, go through it every day and meet the inhabitants, the shopkeepers, the families. It then becomes almost impossible not to be invited for tea, a mezze, a little chat when you return home.
Lebanon is a rich, friendly and complex country
Lebanon is not a travel “fall in love at the first sight“, but is it dangerous?
No, Lebanon is not dangerous, but only if you don’t do anything stupid. There are areas where access is very restricted, and that is not for nothing, because these areas are not safe. It is therefore better to strictly respect the warnings and to avoid these areas. Apart from these areas of tension, Lebanon is not a cut-throat country.
A little lesson in Lebanese history is necessary
The history of Lebanon is complicated. In order to understand a little bit of it, it is advisable to first inform yourself about the history of the country. It is also not advisable to discuss sensitive issues such as Israel, religion in general, past and present conflicts.
Discover the treasures of Lebanon
The country has much to offer: snow-capped mountains for skiing, green valleys, beautiful roads and breathtaking Greek ruins. From the souks of Tripoli to the cafés of Saida through the Qadisha Valley and a visit to the cedar covered mountains, the traveller will be busy for some time. Lebanon also has exciting museums, buildings that tell stories, and hospitable villages.
What language is spoken in Lebanon?
The official language here is Arabic. More than 90% of the population speaks Arabic. But it is very common to hear the Lebanese speaking French very well, even perfectly, almost without accent. You have to hear it to believe it, every time, I asked if they were French!
Shukran, ila el likaa, ‘arak qrybaan
Next travel: Let's discover Jordan!
Jordan is a very beautiful country. The tourist will reap great photos, but the traveler will bring back unforgettable emotions.