Monday, June 6, 2011

lebanon wrap up:

We are so glad we visited Lebanon and extended our stay. We had such a good time and really miss the place. As Lebanon is small, we used Beirut as our base and did a few daytrips. We also did a walking tour around Beirut which was extremely informative about the countries history and the civil war in particular. We really enjoyed the neighbourhoods of Gemmayze , with its boutiques, restaurants and bars and Hamra, a busy and buzzing area near the main University. Beirut has this cool mix of Arabic and french which we really liked. You could see this mix in the architecture, cuisine and even the languages you heard spoken on the street.
We felt so welcome and safe in Lebanon and would recommend visiting especially if you are in the Middle East area. As long as you keep up with the news and know what areas to stay away from you will be safe and have an amazing time.

We travelled around Beirut mainly by walking or sometimes by taxi - which only costs a few dollars. To Baalbek and Tripoli we used local buses and mini vans. This is a very affordable way of travelling around, again just costing a few dollars, and both buses and vans leave frequently.

Hamra area

Like I mentioned in earlier posts, Lebanese food is one of our favourite cuisines so we were in food heaven! We did not have one bad meal in our entire stay. If you’re not familiar with Lebanese food, a popular form of eating is called mezza – kind of like tapas where you get many different smaller dishes to share – however Lebanese style. Some of our favourite dishes were Kibbeh (like a mince version of falafel, stuffed with pine nuts), Muttabal (a smoky eggplant dip), Tabouleh (of course) fried potato in herbs and garlic, and many others I don’t know the proper name for! Some standout meals were at Le Chef (most amazing hummus ever – get the pine nut one), Seza (a really cool Aremian restaurant – the food is similar to Lebanese but with different twists) and of course Tawlet (see our earlier post on this amazing place).  We found a lot of great places to eat by asking locals where their favourite places were. If you haven’t tried Lebanese, definitely give it a go, it is extremely tasty, healthy and also great for Vegetarians as there is a great variety of non-meat dishes.

Le Chef
It’s really hard to find affordable budget accommodation in Beirut, we were forewarned, and at first it was a struggle. However, we found a great hostel-like place called Saifi Urban Gardens. We had a comfortable airy room with free wi-fi, breakfast, plus it being superbly located in Gemmayze. All for $45 a night (many other places were $100+). It also has a really cool café with yummy food and a roof top bar, which is really popular with the locals. Many people we spoke to recommended we go there (not knowing we were actually staying there) so it was quite a good little find. Saifi Urban Gardens also runs a language school teaching Arabic. This would have been great to do if we had more time.

our room

We could have easily spent a lot of money in Beirut! There are some pretty cool boutiques and galleries to explore. Some of our favourite shops were:
Johnny Farah – gorgeous hand made leather goods. We had our eyes on a few pieces, however thought we’d wait until the end of our time in Beirut (a Sunday)  before we made a decision – we didn't realise shops are closed on Sundays, so we were a little heartbroken! Oh well…
Bokja -  you can see our post on our visit to Bokja here.
Orient 499 – a really beautiful shop taking traditional Lebanese pieces and putting them in a modern context. Some really gorgeous textiles.
XXe Siecle – a stunning collection of modernist furniture! We love our modernist furniture, and this shop had some beautiful (and different – not all teak and Scandinavian) pieces.

Like I mentioned before and in other posts, we felt safe at all times whilst in Lebanon. Just make sure you carry your passport at all times, especially if you are travelling around the country, as there are quite a few checkpoints you need to go through. Also the people are extremely helpful, welcoming and friendly. This is probably what has stuck with us the most. We had so many people in the street stop us and welcome us to Lebanon, shaking our hands and being so genuine. We also had so many people help us, like a young guy who walked us to Baalbek when we got out of the mini van, just to make sure we were ok. Another young guy gave us a lift to Seza (we couldn’t find it – turned out it was a but of a locals secret – he couldn’t believe we knew about it!). And these are just a few examples. It was so genuine and there were no strings attached at all.
Just to wrap up, we adore Lebanon for so many reasons. We really hope the country has peace once and for all, and is stable for years to come. Another thing - we want to live in Beirut.


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