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Trip Report Beirut

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From Istanbul I flew to Beirut. Got a hotel recommendation in Hamra, west Beirut from a friend who had been there a few years ago and they picked me up at the airport. Taxi driver spoke French and Arabic. I struggled.

First thing was to get a map, read my guidebook and see what there was to see. I set off intrepidly past the American University of Beirut down to the corniche where I found Beiruti families doing the passagiata. The beach looked messy and I found out later that they all go to ‘Beach Clubs’. Hamra street is the middle of the action and in the evening was obviously the place to be. Had some Lebanese food, one of my favourites and watched the Euro Football on the big screens!

Next day I had organized a Walk Beirut trip online with the very well-informed and personable Ronnie. It was a large group of about 30 who had found out about this, and we had about a 4 hour walk through the centre of the city hearing all about the history, buildings, religions, finances, literature, politics and so on. Totally fascinating. Ronnie is to be recommended. We finished in the city centre at 9pm and from there I and a fellow-walker from Austria found our way back through unlit streets, dodging the traffic and somehow getting there in the end. Great way to meet people.

The next few days I took tours with Nakhal which has been doing this kind of thing for years. First day to Sidon and Tyre (which are really called Saida and Sour) where there are Phonecian and Roman remains and Crusader castles right on the sea, next day to Byblos ditto with a side-trip to a spectacular cave system thrown in, and finally the magnificent Baalbek. I think this is the biggest Roman temple in the world. HUGE. And what was so amazing is that we had it all to ourselves, 4 of us, as the rest of the world tourists are avoiding the middle east. Quite stunning.

These tours turned into family groups as there were so few of us anyway and we all took a different tour every day. Ended up becoming firm friends and having dinner together….and certainly the way to meet like minds in the middle east at present. At one point we were only 10 minutes from the Syrian border, which is still open. Had heard that the Bequaa valley was a bit dodgy but we ran into no problems at all, just sad-looking shop-owners, taxi drivers and tour-guides whose business had dried up. Got wonderful lunches thrown in every day and ended with a visit to one of the wineries and a very generous tasting session!

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