Category: Lebanon

Sep 26 2009

Beirut

Took bus no. 6 (1500 LP) to Beirut and stayed at Hostel Al Shabaa (USD$10). It’s very common to use US dollars here and 1 US dollar = 1500 LP.

Beirut is an interesting city, the city has a population of around 1.5 million people and is a city of contrast. There is a mixture of European and Arab influences. Most Lebanese speaks Arabic, English and French. The proportion of Muslims and Christians are around 50% each. There are now slightly more Muslims because many Palestinian refugees are settling in Beirut. Some places there are churches that are just right beside a mosque and woman in Burqhas and nun walking on the street. By first look, the city is much more modern and wealthier than its Muslim neighbors. There are many luxury cars on the street. It seems like a third of the cars on the street are Mercedes or BMWs and another 30% are some other expensive European cars. I don’t see that many luxury cars even in New York city. I heard most people are just leasing the cars to look good. On the other hand, there are army tanks on the road and many military personnels carrying machine guns at every corner of the street. In some parking garages, cars needed to be scanned by bomb detector before allowed to go in.

Some areas, there are some nice modern buildings standing just beside some war torn old buildings with gun shots hole in it. Beirut has a great nightlife, there are many bars and clubs just like any other western cities. It’s also interesting to see the army everywhere guarding with their machine guns while party goers zoom around with their Porches and Mercedes.

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In Beirut, there are military personnels everywhere. Feels like the country is still at war.

Tanks on the street
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Army vehicle
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Beirut is considered as the Paris of the Middle East because unlike other Middle Eastern cities, Beirut has nice beaches and mountains while most other Middle Eastern cities are built on desert.
Seafront
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National Museum of Beirut
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Moved to Hostel Talal ($10) on day two because they have free WiFi and the hostel has nicer people.
Hostel Talal
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There are more Muslims living in the west side of Beirut and more Christian living in the east side. During the civil war, there is a green line that separated the 2 sides. The south side of Beirut is poorer with many Palestinian refugees living there.

Overall, people here are very friendly and helpful. The city looks more normal compared to other middle eastern countries I visited. In Syria, Jordan and Egypt, 70% of the people on the street are males.

Walked around Hamra (west Beirut) which is a college town and visited the American University of Beirut.
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Acharfiyeh and Gemmazeyeh at the east part are considered the hip area. Solidere is another new area with expensive shops and there are many constructions going on.
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Originally, I thought about going to Cyprus or Turkey after Beirut, but now I think about making a detour for my trip and go up north to Eastern Europe before visiting Turkey and Iran. It’s hard to take time off to travel but since I have already quit my job, I might as well spend another 2-3 weeks visiting Eastern Europe too.

On Sunday, I tried calling and checking online but wasn’t able to buy an air ticket. Went to the airport but wasn’t able to get an air ticket too because everything was close on Sunday. On the way to the airport, there were soldiers at every 20 meters. I took a picture but was stopped by a military officer and he wanted me to delete the photos. Luckily I was able to get back my camera.

On Monday, I spent the morning trying to get an air ticket to Athens. I went to Olympic airline ticket office but the lady doesn’t want to issue me a ticket because she mentioned that I might need a visa and might need to buy return ticket instead. I am sure that I don’t need a visa but she won’t listen. Spoke with the manager and finally went to a travel agency instead. I paid more (USD233 instead of USD 195) to get a refundable ticket just in case I can’t get on the plane because it’s a one way ticket.

Walked around the city then took a minibus to the airport (1000LP) at 9pm. Got to the airport early because the minibus will stop running after 9pm and taxi is more expensive. My flight is at 3.55am so I have a few hours to spare at the airport. The security is tighter to fly with one way ticket especially without another onward flight ticket But I managed to get my boarding pass at the airport counter without any problem.

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Sep 25 2009

Damascus to Beirut

Spent the morning looking for the world biggest restaurant, Damascus Gate. The restaurant is far away from the city and is close to the international airport of Damascus. Since a cab will cost almost $20, I tried to take a bus there. Got to Baka bus station and took an airport shuttle (45SP, $1). The bus dropped me off on the highway and got to the restaurant after 20 minutes walk.

The restaurant
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It’s not that big as I thought, probably they just put more chairs in the restaurant to get the title.
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Got back to the city after taking 2 minibuses and one taxi (45SP too).
Went to Al Sumariyeh bus terminal by a minibus (10SP) at 12pm and took a bus to Beirut, Lebanon. Bus was delayed and finally left at around 2.30pm.

At the border, we were required to pay 500SP for Syria departure tax, however the custom wanted more for his own pocket. Got to Lebanon checkpoint
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and the immigration were so slow. They told me that I will need to pay 25000 Lebanese pound for a visa but I remembered that I read that I don’t need one. They only took payment in Lebanese pound and I had trouble finding people to change the currency. While waiting, the assistant bus driver took out my backpack from the bus and the bus left without me. So far I don’t have good experiences with Syrians.

Hitched a ride from some Saudi guys at the immigration checkpoint to Beirut.
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Got to Beirut and visited the mosque.
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A hip area with any cafes in Gemmayeh
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Spent a night with those guys in Journieh.

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