I booked a weekend trip to Beirut before I really knew anything about Lebanon, and before their #YouStink protests started. When the protests hit the news, I started reading a lot more about the city and the country.
Did you know that two breweries (961 and Colonel) comprise the microbrew scene around Beirut? That there’s confusion on if that dude with a large beard is a hipster or a jihadi? That street names aren’t really a thing in Beirut? That Lebanon has a generally pretty free press (until it comes to some religious issues)? That the ALIENS landed at Baalbek? (Or not.) Hey, I didn’t either.
Aside from a few features and articles, it was had to find news and information about Lebanon that wasn’t about trash piled up on the streets of Beirut or protests about trash being piled up on the streets. And then Beirut released a shitty new album, and it was even more difficult to find news about the city.
So, my experience in Lebanon? Amazing. After being in Prague where people are typically cold and reserved (as an extrovert, I am HAVING A HARD TIME OVER HERE), it was extremely pleasant to be somewhere where everyone was open and friendly. On both of my flights (Prague->Frankfurt->Beirut) when they heard that I was going to Beirut, people talked to me about my travel plans, wrote down recommendations for where I should go, and told me that I should have booked a longer trip. My taxi driver from the airport told me about the history of the city (originally it was divided Muslim/Christian). All of the people I met on tours, though not always Lebanese, were friendly (sometimes a bit odd — like the Iraqi guy who I asked to take a photo of me, and he took one from far away, then got closer, then got even closer, and then even closer — and told me very seriously that for Facebook it is important to have close-ups). It was a great time.
I went on an organized tour of Baalbek, Anjar, and Ksara Winery the first day I was there. The second day I went on an awful walking tour (if anyone googles this: do not go on Beirut old city walk), but met some new friends and drank wine at this bar which serves carrot sticks in lemon/salt/water as bar snacks (genius!), this bar which had awesome sounding cocktails, and this bar which was surprisingly hopping for a Sunday night (and kinda sucked, but we tried to figure out which women had plastic surgery, which was a fun game). My last day there I just walked around, ate a huge delicious meal, and got on my flight (after about four security lines, mrrrgh).
Some stray thoughts/observations: Taxis are a huge thing — the streets are relatively empty for walking. I saw more women wearing full niqab in London than in Beirut (where I saw zero) — women’s fashions ranged from shorts to wearing a hijab. There were barriers (walls / barbed wire) erected around the Place de l’Etoile and it was guarded by soldiers (I didn’t take photos because I didn’t really want to take that risk). Street harassment by soldiers/police was ridiculous (they catcalled every woman). The hummus and baba ganoush were the best I’ve ever had. Prices were closer to DC prices for things like lunch and drinks. Use of both U.S. dollars and Lebanese lira is acceptable, and sometimes you’d get both back as someone tried to make change.
I have some photos here. Takeaways from this trip are that U.S. travel warnings are a bit exaggerated (especially considering all of the mass shootings in America, hi guys), and that media depictions of a city aren’t sufficient to actually know how it feels to be there.