Lebanon Travel Guide
Travel Tips / Five Cities Begging for Your Attention / Beirut Travel / Lebanon Travel / Chanize Thorpe / → All Tags
Call us champions of the underdog, but we’ve got an overall affinity for places that are often overlooked in the travel world. Some have had rough pasts or are a tad slow on the tourist track, but they just want a little love. Here’s the lowdown on five cities eager for the chance to win you over.
City 5 of 5: Beirut, Lebanon.
Why Go to Beirut: Let’s address the pink elephant in the room—there are those who associate the “B” in Beirut for “bomb” of the bursting-in-air variety. And there’s no point in denying the undercurrent of uncertainty along with the the Hezbollah presence in this Middle East city. Still, the country continues to actively court intrepid travelers (though not so much those who’ve previously visited Israel). That said, in order to appreciate Lebanon’s capital, adopt a we malo attitude (that's Arabic for "so what?"). Apparently that’s how locals keep on keeping on.
Everyone wants to be on the edge of a comeback these days. The city of Beirut isn't releasing a new single or belatedly confiding in Diane Sawyer, but that hasn't stopped the Guardian from proclaiming that Lebanon's capital is "back... and it's beautiful." We'd feel guilty reading this objectifying headline in a different context, but we guess it's okay to do to a city.
Writer Carole Cadwalladr has a bit of history with the old lady, having written a guidebook to the country with her friend back in 1995. Now she declares it "the Elizabeth Taylor of the Mediterranean... if you replaced the words 'alcohol' with 'Israel' and 'a string of unsuitable marriages' with '15 years of civil war.'" That's a comeback? Oh wait, and it has two new hotels and the seal of approval of the New York Times, which is where the metaphor begins to fall apart.
Thanksgiving Alternatives / Marathons / Sports / Running Travel / Thanksgiving-Alternatives-Map / → All Tags
Oh, bowling and swimming weren't sporty enough for you? The country of Lebanon doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving, which is just as well because you're not going to want to eat a classic turkey-and-potatoes dinner before the Beirut International Marathon on November 30. Well, the potatoes, maybe, but not the turkey.
The fifth annual run devotes its proceeds to cancer research and tracks along the city's Mediterranean coastline to the mellifluous tones of Miss Lebanon 2007. With average temperatures this time a year a balmy 66 degrees, runners won't feel the need to shed multiple layers of clothing along the 42 km route--which is good, 'cause you'll need to save that money you would have spent on Under Armour for the $1,100 round-trip plane ticket. (Know about a deal? Let us know!)
We hope you've already been training, though, because the deadline to run in this race is Saturday. (Underprepared? Consider the 5K "Mini Marathon" or 10K "Fun Run." Not that marathons aren't fun... right?)
Maybe this grotto doesn't come filled with women whose breasts double as flotation devices (a la the Playboy Mansion hideaway), but Lebanon's Jeita Grotto gives us something to worship other than impossible standards of beauty. Visitors who paddle through the water, under the soaring ceilings and beside the intricate rock formations of the limestone cave say they can feel God's presence. For centuries, humans have tried to recreate this kind of natural grandeur by building gothic cathedrals.
The site is located about 11 miles from Beirut, in the valley of Dog River, or Keserwan. It's a full-fledged tourist site, complete with an old-fashioned train, a petting zoo, an overpriced snack shack, and a theater continuously showing a 20-minute documentary about the formation of stalactites.
Despite the cheesiness outside, the caves maintain their beauty. The grotto consists of two sections. The Lower Gallery is submerged in water and accessible only by boat. It was discovered in 1836 and opened to the public in 1958. Visitors take cable cars up the mountain to the entrance to the Upper Gallery. Inside the cave is a crystallized structure resembling a castle. The whole place sounds very Middle-earth. We half expect Frodo and Gandalf to guide the tours.
Last night we finally caught up with the Beirut episode of Anthony Bourdain's show on the Travel Channel, No Reservations. For those of you who may have missed the drama surrounding the show, Bourdain was taping in the city when Israeli air strikes began last month; the episode documents the tiny sliver of Beiruti life he was able to experience before that happened, as well as the crew's experience trying to get out of Beirut.
We were very impressed with the way that the show was put together. Bourdain's interviews with Ramsay Short, the editor of Time Out Beirut, and his guide the night when the air strikes began were quite telling. While everyone was the first to say that Beirutis like to party through danger, they both resigned about what was to come.
Much of the show documents what it was like trying to escape, which was interesting, and could easily have come off as whiny and self-serving. Luckily, Bourdain makes it clear he knew how easy he had it.
Ultimately, we were most impressed with the closing thoughts of the show. Bourdain talks about getting the opportunity to travel, and how that experience food and travel seemed to foster a kind of cross-cultural understanding, but now he's now so sure. "Are we all crushed under the same wheel?" he asks. While that's a heady sentiment for a travel show, he's making a good point. In a situation such as the one he was in, it's clear that all the hummus and kibbeh in the world cannot escape the weight of history.
· Tony Bourdain Beirut Update [Jaunted]
Anthony Bourdain (of Kitchen Confidential and No Reservations) has a fabulous essay in Salon today. Bourdain was filming in Beirut for his show on the Travel Channel when the bombing began, and was trapped in the city for quite a long time.
We love Tony Bourdain, so we're happy to see that he managed to escape unscathed. Because he got to spend the tiniest bit of time in Beirut before it was set back years and years when the bombing began, Bourdain is the owner of a last-chopper-out-of-Saigon snapshot of the city:
It's not about what happened to me that remains an unfinished show, a not fully fleshed out story, or even a particularly interesting one. It feels shameful even writing this. It's the story I didn't get to tell. The Beirut I saw for two short days. The possibilities. The hope. Now only a dream.American tourists are often the last to explore an emerging destinations, so these harrowing experiences are rare for them. We like to joke that formerly war-torn countries are the new hotness, but ones that are currently so remain tragic.
· Watching Beirut Die [Salon]
· Time Out Beirut Out of Time [Jaunted]
What happens when tourism and politics are out of alignment? Beirut is what happens. Sure, it was one of Travel and Leisure's top ten cities to visit this year in the most recent issue of the magazine, but that's already outdated, thanks to the bombing that's taken place. An article in this week's New York talks with Ramsay Short, the editor of the months-old Time Out Beirut.
Understandably, he's quite sad about the recent turn of events, although he felt that Americans saw the city in the same way they did in the 80s. Mostly, though, there's a real sense of what has already been lost, no matter how Beirut may recover:
"Time Out is a magazine about arts and culture," Ramsay Short says. "But everything has been canceled and half my staff have left the country." Last year, he published A Hedonist's Guide to Beirut. "Maybe sales will go up," he says. "It'll almost be a collector's item of what was this high point, what now seems like a dream."Maybe P.J. O'Rourke's article touring Lebanon during the civil war in the 80s will become the most useful guidebook to the region yet again. Let's hope not.
· Life in Beirut Before Wartime [NYM]
· A Ramble Through the Rankings [Jaunted]
· Beirut [Time Out]