This year the lunar calendar aligned with the Norwegian heritage in such a way that a series of days-off sandwiched a weekend giving us 5 days off work: a perfect opportunity for a short break. Lebanon had for a long time been on my bucket list with its cedars, hummus, recent tumultuous past and its up&coming artists.
Beirut itself is an interesting mix from the chaotic tiny streets with crazy traffic and a cacophony of car horns to the sterile boulevards of the rebuilt downtown that has an eerie and uncomfortable feel. Downtown Beirut was the center of the battles during the civil war. A construction company of shady ethics bought most of the land for peanuts, relocated the inhabitants and built flashy, luxurious buildings that seem to have popped out from an advertisement brochures in the early 90s. Few people could afford living there so now downtown is rather deserted and impersonal.
This, however, makes the remains of ancient roman baths and other ruins not too far off a pleasant surprise and gives them this aura of treasure find.
Further to the west there is the hipster area with, well, hipster coffee shops, a myriad of restaurants and a handful of art galleries, one of which happened to be showcasing works by Zena Assi.
To the west of downtown there is Hamra, equally lively and full of bars, restaurants and all sorts of eateries. During Ramadan Saturday night it surely gets loud with music playing till 4am!
There are more residential neighborhoods each with its own personality and vibe. Definitely one of the things I miss since moving to a homogeneous town like Oslo.
One day we ended up in Byblos, famous for its UNESCO World Heritage Archeological sites where you can see the stratification of 7000 years of inhabitants and ruins: from Crusaders to Romans back to Phoenicians and even further to Neolithic times.
However what got me most exited was a group of university students which were doing the finishing touches to the Phoenician style ship they had built from 50,000 used plastic bottles for an environmental event. It was due to sail the next day for Beirut.
On our last day we hiked up to the cedar forest. Most people drive up to it but we took the bus to the closest village and then hiked up. We got offered a lift but we were 50m away! But on the way down we did hitchhike our last 3km, mostly as it was getting late and we didn’t know when the last but to Beirut would come. After asking a shop keeper where to stand for the bus he insisted in giving us an ice-cream for free!
The people is definitely one of the things that has made our trip to Lebanon so pleasant. They were very welcoming and curious about what pushed us to visit their country, of which they are very proud of. Many people were always ready to help us as soon as our faces had even a hint of the lost-foreigner expression and we always felt safe. Their creativity is typical of hard working people with a long cultural heritage but had to endure a lot over the centuries but never lost that fundamental joy of living nor of hope. This man here got pretty creative in how to transport his dive cylinder!
Click here to read about our dive.