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Lebanon Livin’, Lebanon Lovin’

By Jessica Issa on February 28, 2013 in Other

Photo: Jessica Issa

When you describe a travel destination with terms such “beaches”, “mountains”, “ancient ruins”, “party central”, “fine food” and “amazing people”, Lebanon is probably not the first country that comes to mind.

Words more commonly associated include “bombs”, “chaos”, “violence”, “anarchy”, “third world” and “dangerous”. Yes, Lebanon may occasionally offer the latter, but aren’t a few explosives what make a holiday spark?

In June this year, I travelled around Lebanon for six weeks. Not surprisingly, my friends were more than apprehensive.

“Will you have to carry a gun? Will you be allowed to wear short dresses? Do they have the Internet?” they asked.

Their questions left me to reconsider… not my holiday, but my friendships.

At the time of year I travelled there, every day is a sunny average of 35 degrees. Although Sydney is famous for its beaches, Lebanon’s beach culture offers something ours simply can’t: beach resorts. Queen size beds on the sand, bars on the shore and bungalows for rent opposite the sea, the beach boasts a luxurious lifestyle. Beach parties are huge; daytime dancing in bikinis on bars, fire jugglers, live international entertainment and a drunk swim in the sea are common ways to start your weekend.

Beirut nightlife is completely next level. Rooftop clubs featuring acrobats, aerialists, fireworks, fire twirlers, lasers, and international dancers are par for the course. Anything less leaves the locals disappointed. Completing this extravagant experience is the scenery: sea, mountains and stars. And you can forget dodgy dubstep and techno, club music in Beirut comes straight from Europe’s top DJs.

The next day’s hangover can easily be cured with a Lebanese feast that will satisfy all your senses. Lebanese cuisine is much more than just the falafels and kebabs you may be accustomed to here in Australia. Unbeknownst to many, it is very rich in vegetable, legume and seafood dishes – nutritious and delicious!

In six weeks, I can safely say I never ran out of ways to spend my days. Lebanon is filled with magical ancient cities like Tripoli, Byblos and Baalbek. The old souks (Arab markets) of Tripoli are also a favourite: chaotic, colourful, dusty, crowded narrow paths in between ancient buildings filled with the noise of hundreds of people and the smell of roasted nuts. The gold souk glistens with its window displays, the spice souk is immersing in its exotic aromas, the perfume souk will leave you wondering why you ever paid so much for retail fragrance, and the copper souk will have you mesmerised watching artisans hammer away at metal to create brilliantly beautiful pots and chests.

Hours of walking and shopping will leave you hungry, but never fear, hummus is here (or there, everywhere). In between the enchanting souks are small shops specialising in hummus and beans cooked in an ancient, traditional way, simmered for hours in archaic copper pots. Teamed with warm, fresh Lebanese bread and an appetite, you may never be able to eat packaged hummus again.

Tripoli’s famous Hallabs (sweet shops) offer the best oriental pastries. If you are indecisive like me, I recommend allocating ten minutes of ‘decision-making time’; this will reduce the chances of having a pastry panic attack. Pistachios, walnuts, dates and sweet cheeses are amongst the myriad flavours your pallet will encounter. I recommend tasting as many different delicacies as your body can handle (but I will not be held accountable for the elevated cholesterol levels that may follow).

Another town not to be missed is the aforementioned Byblos. It is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, first occupied in 7000 BC. These days the marvellous ancient cobblestone pavements and sandstone villas are accompanied by boutiques, open-air bars and fine dining. Here, the old and new have magically merged. An ancient port that was once for Egyptian seafarers is now a trendy hot spot with an irreplaceable nightlife and atmosphere.

But the most marvellous of all Lebanese towns would have to be Baalbek. I cannot describe how it feels to stand amidst the Roman temple ruins of Jupiter at 88 meters tall, or to experience the grandeur of the temple of Bacchus. The artistic detail of these columns and structures is exquisitely beautiful. A whole day can easily be spent wandering this site, getting lost amongst its magnificence.

Every place I explored in Lebanon had a story to tell. The young generation mostly speaks English, so it’s very easy to communicate. Whether you’re into café culture, partying, history, shopping, outdoor adventures or art and music, this amazing country has something for you. Everything in Lebanon is within close proximity too, so if you’re nearby, it’s worth the stopover and a week is ample time to see everything. Better still, you won’t need to carry a gun, there are many girls in short dresses and yes, they use Facebook!

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