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Lebanon for an American?

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Hello,

My Swedish husband and I (I'm American in NY) would like to travel to Lebanon for a week in November of 2005. We've visited and enjoyed Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Morocco (four different trips), but are a little anxious about Lebanon due to the murder of the former Prime Minister recently, and, of course, the Iraq war.

Can anyone offer a perspective of how safe it would be for a "mixed" couple(Swedish/American ) to travel independently (hire tour guides on our own) now? We landed in Jordan the day that the latest Palestinean Infitatada began in 2000, and I was exposed to a lot of anti-American vitriol (understandibly, I know), at least until I was able to difuse it with my own political views.

If anyone recommends the safety aspect, I would like to know of a good guide who could recommend travel agencies for day trip to the wonderful sites of Beirut.

Salaam,

Heather Linson and John Lindberg

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    I lived in Beirut for 15 mths until September last year. As westerners, we sometimes got grief with taxis trying to rip us off and as we knew the ropes we told them where to go - but had a couple of them getting aggressive. Also had grocery shops trying to up prices by 3x to 4x when total bill came. But my wife had more issues with this - women seen as more likely to accept it. Lebanese waiters often rip off the Kuwaitis and Saudis in a big way as well - they are actually the favourite target, much more than westerners (eg 2 coffees and a Shisha for only $100 just for the Kuwaiti gentleman, for the Swede etc,). Never heard of American targeting and as Australian, we were sometimes assumed to be American. Lots of middle class Lebanese have US Education so lots of ties.
    Safety wise - would not be too keen living there now - we lived 5 minutes from where Hariri was blown up and 5 minutes the other direction from blowing up of another minister who survived. Bombs that you read about recently are in Christian areas - including 2 or 3 near Monot St which is main night club/bar area. But then having said all this, is London any safer?
    If you do go there, I recommend Nicholas as a taxi driver mobile 03 663 528. He is used by the Australian Embassy whenever they need a driver. He is a good guy, speaks fluent English having lived in Bristol for 15 years. His driving is fine , especially compared to the appalling average, and he will not rip you off at all. When we rang up taxi companies for drivers we got a big variation for day trips. Quite a lot of drivers do not necessarily speak good English at all. We met Nicholas as a normal taxi driver outside a supermarket. His 2 cars are in OK condition without being amazing. If you called him before you arrived he would pick you up at the airport - the other big scam, where unwary tourists pay $20 cab rides for what should be $5. (Airport to downtown is only a 10 minute drive).

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    Lebanon is a very westranized country where actually a lot of locals look like Europeans. So you won't even stand out in the crowds unless you do something outrageous.

    The country has the biggest percentage of Christians of all Arab countries, About 35%. and about 70% of the residents of Beirut, the capital, are Christians.

    Even Lebanese Muslims are very affected by the strong left-leaning Christian presence that most Lebanese Muslims are very liberal.

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    I agree, I spent several weeks there and returned this Sept. As an American , I definetly left my Amer. Flag t-shirt at home and when in doubt.... told people I was from Canada. But in no way did I feel unsafe due to Hariri's assination in Feb, or any bombing since - and many like to talk politics especially when they found out i was pro-peace...etc. Actually I felt FAR UNsafer in Morocco and Jordan this past summer. In fact, I cut my trip in Jordan short and went back to Lebanon early as I didn't feel safe/comfortable as a single female traveler. Lebanon is much more middle-east lite and Muslim lite. The people are very kind and genuine and you see women out and about, working, driving, living... and that always makes me feel safer. I even had a taxi driver return my lost cell phone to my hotel and he wouldn't accept a tip for his kindness. However, I too dislike most of the Taxi drivers there, as they want to take the senic route or to thier brothers, or cousins or aunt's husbands whoevers place before taking you where you want to go. I actually highly recommend renting a car.
    www.nakhal.com for tours....

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