Thursday, August 26, 2004

Lebanon- a perfect holiday destination


Having been to Nice, Limmasol, Athens, Alexandria, I had fairly good idea of what to expect in Beirut being another Mediterranean city. The sunny weather, azure foaming sea, breeze and moderate temperature was guaranteed but beyond that I was not sure what to expect when I arrived from Damascus by road.

I took a Volvo taxi – cost US$65.00 from Damascus to Beirut. As you cross the border, you are immediately greeted by hoards of advertising boards something which is conspicuous by its absence in Syria. As you speed through road flanked by newly constructed villas with signboards of “bar &rest”, one feels tinge of Goa. The red soil is in abundance but coconut trees are missing. The road to Beirut goes through few mountains and one encounters sudden change in climate with dew soaked dark clouds breezing past you making surrounding lush green with temp dipping below 10 degree. But as you are ready to savor the beauty of this hilly resort, the descend starts and you start reaching towards sea level. This is Lebanon, a country full of mountains nestled along the sea coast. If one wants, one can do skiing in the mountain and swimming in Mediterranean same day.

With a population of just 4 million, every inch of space is occupied by residential complex. With property at premium, most residential areas are expensive. I stayed at Marriott—a name signifies opulence in most places but here it was nothing more than crowded apartment away from beach. One can see sea only from balcony. But that’s understandable in any tourist place.

One thing a tourist mustn’t miss is the downtown in Beirut and sure I didn’t. This place completely transformed from ravage of civil war is now houses parliament building, restaurants, cafes, bars and boutique shops under fabulously designed gothic architecture buildings. All lanes studded with stone cobbled street to give Parisian look. The place bathed with golden light to emphasis European aesthetics. There is a square where all lanes converge. The place starts humming with people from 9.00 pm and reaches crescendo past wee hours. When we left the place at midnight, people were hovering to spot the eating place. Nearly everyone was tourist here and many of them from Arab countries. It was unique to see scantily dressed Lebanese woman accompanying Arab woman in abaya. If there is a cross over place between east and west, it is Beirut.

One can see in Beirut abundance of food, wine, weather, music and woman and every Lebanese is proud of that lineage. Practically every person speaks three languages- English, French and Arabic. Muslim and Christian are conspicuous by their dress code but blend well in milieu of this vibrant place. This is one place you can do what you want, wear what you want and yet not being noticed by anyone.

The country is striving hard to stand back which was demolished by 15 years of civil war and now their sight is on regaining that rightful place of “Paris of the East”. They are aware that they have lot to catch up with Dubai who has usurped all the glory of Beirut. But are aware of their possessing unique jewel that Dubai’s wealth can’t match: that is weather. The trip down south – place named Saida made me aware of Muslim influence of Lebanon. The Israel border was hardly 50 km and if I had time, I would have loved to travel to the most volatile place in the region. Hezbollah- Palestine and Israel. I also made a visit to Tripoli – in north. There is nothing much to choose between any cities. All one can see is mountain on one side and sea on other. But mountains don’t have that lush green carpets what Cannes has. No wonder Cannes is a sought after place for world’s rich and famous.

One cannot conclude writing about Beirut without comments about their woman. They are passionate about their looks, figure and it is visible across the age group. I had heard similar raves about Venezuelan women but Lebanon is not all that far behind. It amazed me to see their passion for chiseled body and looks. But was also chided by my Lebanese friend on the ‘artificial element’ to it. It could be so but sure it brings a boon for cosmetologists and beauty care products.

My return was from Beirut airport which is good but not classy. All in all, Beirut is a perfect holiday destination not far from India if you are looking for good sea food, wine, water and skiing. A bit of French and Arabic will help to feel at home.

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