Sunday, September 11, 2005


On a whim, Shane and I traveled to Beirut this weekend. Our Jordanian friends rave about the Beirut party scene, the beaches and the pretty people, but not much else. But since our friends Dima and Issam were heading there for a wedding, we had a good excuse to check it out for ourselves.

Honestly, Beirut was a lot more modern than we expected. You can see why they call it the Paris of the Middle East. Unlike Amman, it is very lush and green. They say in the winter you can snow ski in the mountains and swim in the Mediterranean all in the course of one day. Besides their driving, things seem very calm there. Despite the recent attacks, I'd say the military presence there is no larger than in Amman.

So while I can't say we managed to check out the famous party scene (I guess we're getting too old) there was actually a lot to do there! We took a boat into a magnificent cave called the Jeita Grotto on top of a mountain. We rode a gondola from the ocean to the tallest mountain overlooking the Beirut coastline. We also visited Byblos, perhaps the longest continuously inhabited city in the world dating back some 7,000 years. And unlike the swarming temples in Egypt, there was nobody there except for us (the city was built by the Phoenicians but actually partly constructed with granite from Aswan, Egypt).

The people we met in Beirut were very friendly. We went out to dinner with our Jordanian friends Dima and Issam and their Lebanese friends Roy and Elias. The Lebanese guys were great. They told off color jokes and crazy stories of partying all night and my favorite story involved them accidentally using a landmine field for a pit stop. As funny as they were, they were also pretty fatalistic about the prospects for an all out war there in the coming months. They were both Christian. They claimed that while 5 years ago 50% of Lebanon was Christian, more recently it had receded to around 15% (although the CIA factbook still puts it at 39%). One thing that is abundantly clear from being in Beirut: religion is really important. There were churches and Christian symbols everywhere. The neighborhoods were all divided up by religion.

To make a long story shorter, there was a lot going on in Lebanon in terms of religion, politics, culture and history. We sure learned a ton in just two days but I felt like I'd need a few more weeks there and/or some serious reading to get a grasp on what made Lebanon seem so different. It just felt like such a rich place and quite a curious melting pot. From the French to the Phoenicians, to the Syrians and the Palestians--it sure has a fascinating history for a place with half the population of Wisconsin.

Here's a few pictures from this weekend:

We took a gondola to the top of a mountain that had a great view of Beirut.

The ancient Phoenician city of Byblos.

Religious symbols were everywhere.

The Jeita Grotto (I admit I pulled this picture off their website but they didn't let you take pictures in the cave darn them!)


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