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Tourism/shopping/info for Beirut, also Damascus/Aleppo

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Hi
Will be spending 8 days in Beirut in November.
Is it safe currently for a woman to visit on her own? I prefer places of beauty: old parts of town, museums, nature etc.
Can you recommend any restaurants ( beautiful location, fashionable, lively, serving vegetarian food too)?
Is there a souk, or flea market to buy authentic junk/antiques/old textiles etc? Other good shops, preferably for old objects?
Would it be easy/safe to get to Damascus &/or Aleppo for the weekend with a friend? Any great addresses there welcome too!
Many thanks
Plumette

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    I spent 4 weeks there this Sept. and as a single woman visiting on my own - No worries on safety - The lebanese people are incredibly genuine and friendly, I felt quite "safe". Just be aware and not sure where you are from, but Canada is a nice benign place to be from. Downtown Beirut has been beautifully restored since the war and is the see and be seen place in the evenings, great to walk around, have a cappacino, bite to eat or a nagilia, whatever. The Bayview Hotel has a cool club at the top and so does the Vigin Mega Store (roof top club). There are lots of very fashionable nights clubs on Rue Monot, Cuba Libre comes to mind, but there are several and they are all in walking distance to each other and lots of fun, get going after 11:30 pm. I would recommend shopping the souks in Byblos for tourist shopping, it is the closest thing to a flea mkt as Leb. gets. And yes, you should have no problem getting to Damascus - I have a friend who hired a taxi to go there, howver I DO NOT like the Lebanese taxi's and actually highly recommend renting a car. Once you get past the idea that everyone drives as they please it is easy to get used to. Cause you can go as slow as you like too. Renting a car there is very inexpensive (compared to the states or euro) and avis.com and hertz are there. There are some nice resturants up the coast a bit in Amchit and Jounieh. Some cute shopping on the beach strip in Jounieh too. Beirut Nat. Museum is a must see and stay for the video presentation. Make sure you make it to Byblos and most definetly Baalbeck!!

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    Two areas with some character are Gemayzeh (just to East of Solidere centre)and Basta. Basta has a street full of proper antique places - but unfortunately as a tourist you will be labelled and will be hard pressed to get anything decent value. Need a down market local to do oyur haggling - but do not allow shop to see you are together. Inglizi Street in Achrafieh where Albergo Hotel also has some very nice buildings. Generally Beirut has done well at destroying its old buildings - much done before the war in a flurry of horrible 60s condo developments. many of those that remain are in poor condition - owners sometimes waiting for them to fall down so high rise can go up, or wonership is disputed (post war). The odd one is done up. A real shame as the older buildings have a lot of style (Sursock Museum), Jumblatt's villa (private home) in Ain Mreisse are two good examples.
    Restaurants - on beach at Ramlet el Baida is one of our favourites - Al Ajami. Not the most buzzing of places though. For excellent value, Kababji - but again not happening, just good family chain restaurant which has modern decor.
    For more happening - Sushi Bar on Monot St, Casablanca on Corniche in Ain Mreisse.
    Downtown restaurants alll have a premium due to location (and to cover rent costs). In November, it is relatively quiet.
    Bars - Centrale, and Sky Bar - above Palm Beach. For total demonstration of Arabic over the top - Crystal on Monot St.
    Lebanese food is full of vegetarian options.
    I certainly would not recommend hiring a car unless you are used to other places where the moronic driver is the norm. Mind you taxis can also be a bit hairy - eg the one where I could see the road through the holes in the floor.
    I recommended on another query Nicholas as a taxi driver - mobile 03 663 528. An OK driver who is fluent in English and honest - and he knows his way around the country and Beirut itself.
    If you choose to get a taxi off the street - ask for "service" French style and tell them location - maybe they will say no. Service gives you shared service at 1000LBP (60c) but not necessarily exact drop off Or say taxi - and pay 5000LBP for direct drop off. Do not ask how much - indicates you do not know what you are doing. And if in city, do not allow a taxi driver to suggest more than 5000. Taxis around centre of town prey on tourists for $10 fares etc. Their cars are just as crap as everyone elses. Just flag a taxi down or wait for someone to toot you as you walk along.
    Best upmarket cabs are Premiere - they go on the metre and are new Volvos.
    Agree with Byblos recommendation - but Basta is much more flea market like.

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