We are leaving for a long-awaited trip to Lebanon today! (Just a few hours after another kidnapping, this time a Turkish airline crew… and yet, I’m really happy to go and see Lebanon again!)
Before travel, it always seems just about everything I could imagine to happen, will happen. Everything from swimming goggles to passports goes magically missing, the cat has an upset stomach, and I suddenly all my clothes are either too big or too small, or have holes in them. And yes, there’s a travel warning to Lebanon due to the political situation and violence that has erupted in the North and South, but we are planning to stay around Beirut this time. I’m really excited actually — this is the first time we are crossing the Atlantic together in 13 years! We are flying via Paris which is much better than going through our second option, Cairo. In my mind Cairo = lots of hassle = to be avoided if at all possible.
When it comes to packing, Beirut is the one place where it’s easy to feel under-dressed. There’s plenty of bling and high heels in addition to more traditional dress. Hence I am packing with me pretty much every piece of clothing I own as an attempt to seem at least a bit fashionable! A tip for anyone traveling to Lebanon: Don’t overdo the “conservative” (long sleeves, trousers etc) like I did during my first trip, unless it’s winter of course! Depending on the area, the “Middle East = covered up” isn’t
necessarily at all true in Lebanon (although it does vary region to region). For example, in Finland it’s considered good manners to cover the shoulders in church. In Lebanon, I saw so many people in church with strappy tops that the traditional Finnish grandmas would have had a heart attack. One thing that I would advice against however, is wearing things like skulls and crosses on your clothing (they seem to be very fashionable at the moment) — mostly because the cross might be viewed as a religious statement and skulls just have a negative connotation (unlike for example in Mexico). Now this is just my personal observation, and I might be wrong — it’s been a while since I have been there and it really depends on where you go in the country. In Beirut though, generally anything goes.
One thing that I often hear people being told about traveling to Lebanon is to not to discuss about politics. Pretty much every travel website or book advices against it, which is hilarious since the Lebanese LOVE to talk about politics! They talk about politics during breakfast, lunch and dinner and are not afraid to disagree. This is very different to most Northern countries where the political of an individual is viewed as more private. For example, talking about politics in Finland during dinner can be viewed as somewhat rude towards those who do not share one’s views and might not want to share their thoughts. In Lebanon however, people are not afraid of disagreeing at the dinner table. Speaking about politics is not really the cultural faux pas the travel guides warn about — rather they try steer clear from the possibility that eager tourists might not realize that speaking about the ‘wrong politics’ with the ‘wrong group’ might cause some trouble. Generally, in everyday discussion with friends or family, talking about politics is not considered rude.
Another interesting topic is religion. Since Lebanon has such a rich history in housing different religions side by side; sometimes successfully, sometimes not, combined with pre-Roman and Roman history, religion and politics are often (or rather always!) tied together. Here too, it might be difficult from a foreigner’s perspective to understand the depth of religious life in Lebanon and the roots of the long-simmering tension. Despite all these complexities, it all adds up to a very beautiful country and that’s what I’d like to show you: I hope to write about something a little different from what we are used to seeing in the news lately, without forgetting about that darker side of Lebanon either. Lebanon is a mess, but a gorgeous one 🙂
I’m expecting the weather to be around 30 degrees, so we are definitely packing swimming gear as well. Most of the Lebanese beaches are private piers and you have to have membership or pay to get to use them. (We visited a really nice sandy beach in Saida (Sidon) in the South, but due to the political situation at the moment travel south is not considered safe).
I have just a few wishes for this trip, other than seeing family: I hope to get the chance to visit the Beirut Art Centre which opened its doors a few years ago, see the Cedars, and eat lots of manakeesh (my favourite is the basic; a pita bread covered with zaatar and olive oil). In order to get in the mood, here’s some Lebanese music I like by Mashrou’ Leyla: