11 Days in Lebanon

Caline and I traveled to Lebanon for her cousin (on her Mom’s side) Agop’s wedding. We spent our time exploring the country, worrying about crazy drivers, learning about Lebanon and trying all sorts of delicious food. If you have an opportunity (and a tour guide/translator), you should definitely go to Lebanon, you will not be disappointed.

All of these photos were shot using a GoPro in timelapse mode. We took over 2,500 images and narrowed it down to the best for this writeup. A lot of the night pictures are blurry, sorry, GoPros don’t include a flash.

Thursday & Friday: Travel to Lebanon

We left Pittsburgh at 3pm on the 17th and arrived at the Abadjian’s home (labeled as Unknown Road on my phone) around 8pm on the 18th. Travel was mostly uneventful, except for my suitcase not arriving with me in Lebanon. We didn’t take any photos while traveling, the only time I regretted that was in the Paris airport with a large group on their pilgrimage to Mecca dressed in all white. Marc (Caline’s cousin) and Oy (Marc’s wife) met up with us in the Paris airport for our flight into Beirut.

Once we were in Lebanon, we went out for a late dinner at a restaurant called Downtown and quickly learned that Lebanon has crazy driving, Zareh (Caline’s father) knows someone everywhere and Lebanon has pizza & sushi at almost all restaurants. Not going to complain about those last two!

Driving in Lebanon; lanes don’t matter, streets aren’t labeled, passing on blind corners is the norm and people are constantly cutting each other off; it’s almost a free for all. Luckily, we had Agop & Zareh to handle the driving for us. Without them we would have definitely gotten lost and potentially in multiple accidents. Lebanese license plates use different background colors to tell them apart; white is a normal car, light green is a rental car, yellow is for diplomats and red is for cars that are for hire like taxis & buses. I thought that was a really neat system to segment transportation usage.

Saturday: Kitten, Sightseeing & Music Hall

On the way out to grab breakfast, we met the kitten that lives in the parking lot. He’s a very dirty grey & white cat that loves people. Caline and I both took to him quickly. Caline named him Tux based on his colors & the upcoming wedding. We brought him treats almost everyday of our visit, cheese & fish mostly, which he loved just as much as getting petted.

Our first outing was to Jeita Grotto, a couple of miles away from the Abadjian’s home. It was absolutely gorgeous! Two caves with some of the world’s largest stalactites & stalagmites. They have concrete paths built for walking the upper cave and boats to take you into the lower cave. There were multiple signs disallowing photography inside and even have lockers and guards at the entrance to take cameras, phones, etc… So no photos from inside here, go check the Wikipedia link above for a couple of pictures.

After Jeita, we went to Our Lady of Lebanon. The view was great, panoramic scenes of the cities and Mediterranean Sea. There were even a handful of paragliders we could see from here. The constant inland wind makes paragliding the perfect activity here. Caline and Marc purchased a couple of items from their gift shop.

With my suitcase lost, we went to the airport to try and find that while picking up Lena (Caline’s mom). Unfortunately it didn’t arrive on Lena’s plane. I was stuck wearing other people’s clothes at least another day. Luckily Caline told me to bring some extra clothes in my carry-on, so I had essentials and just needed to borrow shirts.

We wrapped up our first day at Music Hall, a large open air music venue in Beirut. The show and atmosphere were amazing. We got to see about a dozen very diverse acts, ranging from an African style group, Australian Elvis, a Russian singer, an Opera singer, a couple of guys with huge beards and weird guitars and an 80’s hair cover band. So much fun! We stayed until they turned on the lights and got to see the hecticness of everyone getting into cabs and trying to get their cars from valet. We were up until at least 4am, a feat I can never accomplish at home, thanks jet lag!

Sunday: Winery & Rooftop Club

We had plans for the morning but since we were out so late, ended up sleeping in until noon. When we finally arose, we had to hastily get ready for our lunch adventure, a trip to Chateau Kefraya Winery. They served Lebanese cuisine buffet style along with their wine & Arak. The winery was gorgeous and all of the food & drinks were delicious. We took home a large bottle of Arak from here, so next time you’re visiting us, make sure we break some out for you!

Luckily my suitcase arrived today, so Caline, Zareh and I went to the airport to pick that up. It was very nice having my own clothes after wearing Zareh & Marc’s shirts the last couple days.

To close out the day, Agop booked a table for us at The Roof atop the Four Seasons Hotel. The views of the countryside and city were amazing from the 26th floor. The music and club’s design were also quite enjoyable.

Monday: Zaitunay Bay, Shopping & Byblos by Night

Up first was a quick drive to Zaitunay Bay to walk around and have snacks. It is a very high end marina surrounded by restaurants and filled with yachts. After that, we attempted to do some shopping nearby but since it was the off season, we struck out with most shops being closed. On the way home we stopped by a couple strip malls off the highway and got to browse a bike/snowboard store, a sweets shop, a gun shop and what we thought was a pet store but turned out to be a vet.

In the evening, we went to explore Byblos, a tourist destination and fishing port, for dinner & shopping. I got some great photos of the harbor and inside the city, it was stunning. We had dinner where Agop & Maral (his fiancée) had one of their early dates, while overlooking castle walls. The menu had pictures of all of the food, which was very helpful for me. Shopping didn’t work out as expected because most of them were closed and instead the streets were overflowing with “pub” crowds. Pubs in Lebanon are not like they are the US, expect loud electronic music and bright flashing lights if you go to one.

Tuesday: Beit-ed Dine & Cedars

Agop arrived early to take us to breakfast at his Mom’s house. As always, there was an abundance of food and everything we ate was great! I had an interesting pumpkin dessert, Mrabba etta’ al-yakteen, (it was too sweet for me) along with an excellent Kanafeh sans the recommended syrup addition. After eating we enjoyed the Mediterranean view from her balcony and discussed the politics of land ownership in the area, it was very insightful.

The large breakfast was needed before our drive up to Shouf Biosphere Reserve to see the Cedars of Lebanon. On our way, we stopped at another shopping area and Beit ed-Dine Palace. Both of which were very interesting and worth seeing if you’re in the area.

We arrived at Shouf and were shuffled into a building to watch a video about the reserve. Luckily Maral was friends with some people in the area which allowed us into the park for free. Since we were running short on time, we decided to skip most of the introduction video and zoomed up to the top of the mountain. The cedars were very impressive, I wish we had more time to explore them and maybe do some tours (donkey back tours!).

On the way down the hill, we stopped at Mir Amin Palace for late lunch. We sat outside and had an amazing view of mountains and even the sea! Once again, all of the food was delicious. Seriously, Lebanese food is second to none, I wish we could eat it more often at home. Farm fresh ingredients in unique combinations, you can’t go wrong.

Since Agop had to handle wedding details, he dropped us off down the street from the reception venue to allow us to wander around the area. Before we could see anything, we had to cross a couple of very busy streets where the drivers don’t look out for pedestrians. Luckily we made it without any problems. We walked up the boardwalk and saw many people fishing, running, walking their dogs, riding bikes and even spotted a couple of sea turtles in the water. Despite some minor remnants of war visible, it was a very nice area of town.

To wrap up the day, Sarine (Caline’s cousin on her Dad’s side) and Ari (Sarine’s fiancé) picked us up and took us out for drinks & apps at Lagon Tiki Bar. The bar sits on the water with beautiful views of the bay and surrounding area. I didn’t bring my camera here, so no photos. Someone ninja’d our bill, so we didn’t get to pay for anything, get used to that in Lebanon! We will have our revenge whenever they visit us in the states.

Wednesday: Byblos by Day

We decided to head back to Byblos to get some shopping in and see how it is different during the day. Byblos was much quieter, the pubs were closed and all of the shops were open. Caline bought spices from a grumpy lady and I got a couple of sweet Mike Tyson t-shirts that match my rig & canopy.

Caline and I did a tour of the Byblos Castle while everyone else continued shopping. We opted for a tour guide and were very excited to learn he used to be a Professor in Lebanon! We didn’t have much time but learned a lot about the castle, its surrounding area and even a little Phoenician from our guide. This is another place that I wish we had more time in, so much to learn and discover. Amazing.

After going out every night, Caline and I needed a break so we just hung out at the house with Zareh & Lena watching movies. The Arabic commercials were very odd, but probably not as much so as what we saw in Korea.

Thursday: Lagon & Pre-Wedding Family Dinner

With a big night planned, we opted for an easy lunch at Lagon Ski Club (same place we went 2 nights ago). No one knew exactly where it was and directions were a bit difficult to follow, luckily Google Maps (and Uber too!) works in Lebanon so I was able to guide the group to our destination. Eating here during the day was unique, lots of new things to see and try. We even saw a couple of people we met from our previous visit.

We were invited to a family dinner at Burj El Hamam Broumana in the mountains above Beirut. It was quite the treat, we were welcomed with Arak, Whiskey & Beer. Dinner was a massive selection of meze, followed by multiple meats and finally dessert of cake & fruits. Part of the main course was kibbeh nayyeh, raw lamb and beef, sometimes including spices. All of them were good but the spiced versions outshined the others for me. Zareh also bought Lena a cake with fireworks (an awesome Lebanese custom) on it for their anniversary!

Friday: Bourk Hammoud, C-Bar & Family Dinner

Our first place to visit for the day was Bourj Hammoud, the Armenian area of Beirut. We went into a jewelry shop and everyone had either very nice coffee or a ginger drink. Then we headed over to Zareh’s old embroidery business which took up several stores with fully functional machines! Many of them were running when we were there.  We toured the surrounding areas, visited some shops and picked up a couple of souvenirs.

For lunch we went to C-bar, a small fish restaurant that sits in a private cove on the Mediterranean. Caline had talked about this place many many many times and I was looking forward to eating here over anywhere else. Before eating thought, Caline, Zareh and I couldn’t resist jumping into the sea for a quick swim, the water was warm & clear. We were served 3 types of fish and meze, all of which were great. C-bar is on the shortlist of places we have to go back to whenever we visit Lebanon.

Back at the house, we gave Tux some of our leftovers. He was very excited for the fish & attention. Such a cute little kitten, we would have liked to take him home.

Dinner took us to a very trendy area close to the house with Zareh’s Brother, Gerald, and his family (__MOM___, Sarine (& Ari) & __BROTHER___ ). ___BROTHER___, Ari, and I discussed our various adventures; everything from scuba diving, snowboarding/skiing, skydiving and motorcycles; with each other and how to do them more often. Caline and I opted to try some Lebanese sushi, it was good but not great. Sarine and Ari are getting married in April 2016, so we may have to head back to Lebanon for that! From what they’re saying, the wedding will be unlike anything I have ever experienced.

Saturday: Wedding!

The big day! The ladies all left in the morning for haircuts and makeup, so I had some time to catch up on work. After getting a couple of things done, Marc woke up and we walked around the neighborhood. Our first stop was the local bakery where an adolescent was taken aback by our conversation and couldn’t stop looking at me, it was pretty funny. We also met several street cats and gave them pieces of the food we had on us.

We went to a pre-wedding get together with Agop & his family to take photos and have appetizers.  That was followed by a short drive to the church for the ceremony. They were married in Armenian, so I didn’t understand anything. There were a large amount of priests marrying them, we later learned that Agop & Maral both brought their own to share the responsibilities. Seems like a smart idea.

The reception was at The Phoenicia in Downtown Beirut a couple of miles from the church. Cocktail hour included many drink options in addition to a live violinist and stunning views. Dinner opened with traditional Armenian dancing that they included us in, so fun! After eating we danced more; with each other, with Aunt Annie, with Marc and Oy (Marc’s wife), with Agop & Maral, etc, etc… A great time was had by all. Thank you very much for having us Agop!

Sunday: Downtown Beirut

Our last day in Lebanon took us to Downtown Beirut. We walked around outside shopping areas, a mall and Parliament where we saw ancient Roman Baths. For dinner, we went to La Creperie which had the grandest view of the entire trip. I failed to bring my camera with me to dinner though. I will definitely bring a camera next time I visit here.

Monday: Traveling Home

We had to get up around 5am to catch our flight out of Beirut. There was a child incessantly screaming on our Paris to NY flight and it took close to 24 hours to get back home, ugh. We made it with our bags though, so no major complaints.

Wrapping It Up

Overall, visiting Lebanon was a great idea! I’m very happy that we got to see so much of the country, eat many amazing/unique food options and meet many new people from Caline’s family. Looking forward to going back again.

We missed a couple of key places on this whirlwind trip. Next time we go, we’ll have to be sure to visit Pigeons’ Rock, Natural History Museum, go to B-O18 club, spend a lot of time in the Cedars, learn some cooking techniques, go scuba diving (they have a sunken WWII submarine!), paraglide over the city, do some snowboarding, hit the brewery on the beach, maybe try some wakeboarding, visit Tripoli, etc, etc, etc…. There’s so much to do and try in Lebanon, you won’t be bored, so yalla habibi!

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