Beirut - Paris of the Middle East

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Apr 4th, 2004, 10:28 AM
  #1
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Beirut - Paris of the Middle East

hello all

just saw a movie last night which has gotten me thinking. I know this is an old old phrase. does anyone remember/had any one visited Beirut when it could rightly claim this title?

and for anyone who has visited recently - how is it now? I admit to knowing very little about the current affairs in that particular country. (apart from what we see on the news daily and to my knowledge very little of that seems to touch on Lebanon).

thanks
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Apr 5th, 2004, 02:46 AM
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I have lived there since last July but was also there 6 times from end of 94, so seen a lot of the rebuilding.
My experience is that the Lebanese tend to fall into 2 camps - those that think the place is the best place in the world on all counts (usually these are either people who have not travelled anywhere or those that are well off, put on their rose coloured spectacles and ignore the downsides), and those that are completely depressed by the place, due to increasing corruption and lack of opportunities - Lebanon has a chronic brain drain. Often these people are returning from years abroad and view their return as a mistake. They also see the politicians doing their best by continual pathetic bickering to allow Dubai to keep its ever growing prominence as the place in the Middle East to set up a business.(e.g 500kb broadband costs only $250 per month plus a few hundred in connection fees!)
From a tourist point of view you do not really see too much corruption directly - some passport control look at everyone suspiciously but never seen any problem and police do not harrass at all - traffic police are just clueless and are commonly blatantly ignored. It is there when setting up businesses, when immigrating etc.
Downtown has been done up really well but it is a small area. The area is full of up market restaurants and nearby Monot St is full of trendy bars. By London costs, such trendy places are relatively cheap, compared to average salaries for Lebanon, they are horrendously expensive - try 3 to 4 x comparative costs for European cities. Wealthy tourists forget this, including many diaspora Lebanese who seem to ignore the crappy areas and forget most people are struggling with the middle class largely immigrating or having wealth destroyed if they cannot get out. Food is pretty good, although my view is that some of the best places in 94 and 95 are gone or standards have slipped and price gone up. Service ranges from the best in the world - typically from older people, to complete crap - a call back means perhaps next year.
Topography of Beirut is great with nearby mountains and sea, and at night it looks very nice. At day, pollution can hide a lot of the views, especially in summer and sometimes the sea can be a rather dodgy colour - the sewage pipe has not been built out far enough. When Lebanese talk about beaches in Beirut - they usually mean a swimming pool complex and no one I know swims in the sea near Beirut.
Overall it is an interesting place. It is a mess still in many places - walking around can still be awful with footpaths completely blocked by cars and pot holes everywhere. A huge number of buildings are still falling and signs of war are apparent everywhere.As a small country I would say 5 days is enough as a tourist.
I know many people that knew the city when it had this rep and certainly they do not view it in the same way. In those days it was really cosmopolitan and cities like London were much tattier places. Now it is less so with relatively few non-Arab tourists and businesses.
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Apr 5th, 2004, 05:54 AM
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thank you Travelnick. a thoughtful reply, and depressing to contemplate. have you ever been to Buenos Aires?

I have the ME on my trip list, but not til the current hostilities die down some! too many other things to see first.

thanks again.
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Apr 13th, 2004, 09:23 AM
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Sorry never been to BA. Economy wise, Argentina has been in the dumps for many years - bit similar to Lebanon that way!
Personally I would not get too bothered by tension in Middle East for tourism purposes with exception of certain countries. I have never felt any concerns over past few mths in Lebanon. Syria is probably one of the safest countries in the world. Egypt even during the Iraq war when I was there last was pretty unintimidating. Sometimes the leering of guys on the Corniche in Beirut to my wife can be a bit of a pain - but not necessarily much diff with lots of European countries and some of the comments I have heard from building sites in Oz make the leering pretty tame.
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Jul 31st, 2004, 04:21 AM
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I just read another quote, that Lebanon itself is the "Switzerland of the Middle East". such a shame...
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