One of many nice things about Beirut is that when a tourist isn't going outside the city for many archaeological trips, the city's downtown is in walking distance to Zaytuni Bay. The downtown is also strategically located to so many other restaurants and attractions in adjacent neighborhoods. Therefore, people who enjoy walking have little difficulty exploring the main areas of museums, shops, galleries, restaurants, bars, and discos within relatively close proximity to one another, and without need of public transportation.
Below is the Beirut skyline looking from Zaytuni Bay on the Mediterranean.
As I mentioned in a previous post, there is a great deal of wealth in Beirut, and it was well represented by the large numbers of yachts anchored in the bay.
The esplanade along Zaytuni Bay had been constructed since the Civil War. I was amazed, as I walked along it, how I would continue to discover additional large food courts providing seating with a mix of high-end restaurants along with restaurants of everyday fare, as well as endless shops. From my perspective, thank God, there were no international fast food places present, except for Starbucks.
In the background, below, is a remnant of a crusader's castle.
Beirut has a very lively and sophisticated restaurant, bar, and disco scene. You won't find a more exciting scene in the Middle East.
On my last Sunday in Beirut, Marc and I first went to Jeita Grotto, which is an underground cave of Stalagmites and Stalactites, some of the largest and most beautiful in the world. Colored lights enhanced the experience, which was quite impressive and a definite for tourists to visit. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in the cave.
This entire Sunday was the most outstanding day of many good days in Beirut. After touring the Jeita Grotto, Marc took me to Byblos, which has a number of excavated archaeological foundations, but what is best preserved are remnants of another crusader castle that was part of a chain that extended across Beirut during crusader occupation of Jerusalem and its environs.
The one day that we had less than an hour of a downpour, we had visited the Harissa Souks. Another open historic market, which was well worth the visit.
Below was one of the very nice restaurants we had gone to, just on the tail end of the storm, while the wind was still blowing.
After Byblos, we made our way to Harissa.
Photos of the Bay of Jounieh in Harissa, which is twenty kilometers from Beirut.
We are in a gondola taking us up the side of the hill and the views are spectacular.
The gondola lets us off partially up the hillside as we continue the trek upward along wide open staircases that meander up the side of the hill in a circular fashion. The planted flowers along the way are beautiful. They reminded me again of how the use of the right kind of flowers in large quantities, which cascade and overhang, could do so much to make my hometown of Cuenca more attractive, and further enhance itself as a destination for tourists. Unlike Beirut, Cuenca is blessed with warm temperatures with every season, which makes it perfect to serve as a wall-to-wall tapestry of flowers throughout the city the year long.
OUR LADY OF LEBANON
As you may have noticed in previous posts about Beirut, the Lebanese Catholic groups have a great devotion to the Virgin Mary.
As we ascended to the top of the hill, we our met with one of the biggest tourist attractions in Beirut with the Church and the Statue of Our Lady of Lebanon (Maronite Catholic) upon its huge towering pedestal.
The church is done in a contemporaneous style of architecture, and the photo below is an interior shot of the church.
Millions of pilgrims come to the site to pay homage to Mary, the mother of Jesus. These pilgrims include many Druzes as well as Muslims, members from both groups who have a special devotion to the mother of Jesus.
This sixteen foot bronze which is French-made is the highest pinnacle on the hilltop.
As we made our way down to the gondola to our return to flatter ground, I knew I was saying goodbye to my last opportunity to enjoy the scenic views of coastal Lebanon.
Marc and I were hungry. He took me to a big restaurant that was not his favorite for the best food in the Beirut area, but would offer a totally different experience. I found the food good, although Marc had been spoiling me with some of the best restaurants in the city. The place was humongous. It easily accommodated at least 500 people in various rooms and open courtyards, and the place was filled at 3:00 or 4:00 p.m on a Sunday afternoon. It was definitely a scene that I would never experience in a restaurant in Cuenca.
People generally sat at long tables, and there were so many large families there. Once the food started to be served, it just kept coming.
These are what almonds look like in their pods.
As usual, I begin to eat well before I think of taking photos.
Below is an avocado smoothie. Into the blender goes yogurt, banana, avocado among other things, and it is then topped off with a variety of fresh fruits. It's a thick, heavy drink, but to die for. It was so good, and is a meal in itself.
This was my last time that I would be eating out in Beirut, and I must say, the food really was exceptional almost everywhere that I ate.
Monday, I would pack up and have a quiet meal with my son at his place in the evening. Say my goodbyes to him and his great dog, Jimmy, who appears to be doing his imitation of a kangaroo.
The next morning, I would fly Air-France to spend the next two weeks in Paris. The planes in the photo below, with the evergreen emblem on their tails, are part of the Air Lebanon commercial fleet. I hated to say goodbye to Beirut, and especially to my son. He truly went out of his way to make it a great trip for me.
The foremost and repeated question that I was asked before my travel and after my return from Beirut was, "Is it safe to travel there? Actually, as long as there is no war taking place involving Israel and Hezbollah, which could suck in all of Beirut; the city and its environs are quite safe to visit. In fact, one could make a case that Beirut is safer to visit and walk around in areas which the vast majority of tourists visit, than visiting Chicago and many other cities in the United States; and there is far less terrorist action in Beirut than currently taking place in London, Paris, and Sweden and Germany.
If you want to experience a Middle Eastern culture with European trappings, extremely rich in history, and with excellent food--both Middle Eastern and European--Beirut is an unforgettable experience. I chose the early month of May for my trip, because it was warm and dry after the spring rains, without yet getting hot and humid, as it does by June.