What's Going on in Beirut and What You Should See If You Go
Subject to convoluted and complex political machinations even at the best of times, tensions are rising in beleaguered Beirut, with three car bombs detonating in one month's time.
Lebanon's history is intimately linked with neighboring Syria, and so are many of its current problems. Should Geneva II (the current convention on Syria), somehow be able to reach a political agreement, implementation on the ground would be an extraordinary challenge. So don't expect improvements any time soon.
Where you can still go
Despite the bleak outlook, visitors to Beirut can still easily visit just about anywhere a tourist might want to go. Street crime remains low, and obvious foreigners are not met with hostility, but rather hospitality.
Rebuilt after Lebanon's civil war, the downtown is a lovely grid of reconstructed French colonial buildings interspersed with gleaming mosques and churches, a sleek shopping center, and plenty of restaurants and cafés. The Mohammad Al-Amin and Al-Omari Mosques welcome visitors; women should bring a scarf to cover their hair, while abayas, floor-length black robes, are provided at the door.
The neighborhoods of Hamra, Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael hum at nighttime, when crowds spill out the doors of popular restaurants and bars. (A few hotspots to try are Garcia's in Hamra, Dragonfly in Gemmayzeh, and Internazionale in Mar Mikhael.)
The National Museum is worth the cab ride off the beaten path. Small but well-designed, it houses artifacts that date from as early as the Bronze Age, including statues, mosaics, jewelry and blown glass from the Roman, Phoenician and Byzantine eras. Day trips to the Roman ruins of Tyre, the Phoenician ruins at Byblos and Sidon's labyrinthine souk are highly recommended.
Where you should avoid
Most visitors won't have a reason to visit neighborhoods such as Haret Hreik, where two of the last three car bombs exploded, or Tarik el Jdideh, where street protests have been known to ignite. Because of security issues at Baalbek, day trips to the spectacular Roman ruins there should be avoided for now.
Twitter handles to follow:
- @naharnet -- local English-language news service; always among the first to get news out in the case of an emergency
- @NoGarlicNoOnion -- a Lebanon-based blogger who's quick with the latest restaurants, best bakeries for Arabic sweets and more
- #NotAMartyr -- worth a look for its anti-violence campaign
- #USActLebanese -- if you need a bit of humor to lift your spirits after reading the US State Department's dire travel warning, check out for tongue-in-cheek responses on how to blend in. For those whose sense of humor tends toward the macabre, see the I Am Alive app now available on Google -- a single tap sends a tweet to all your followers for times when inconveniences like car bombs and civil unrest tie up the phone lines.
Amy E. Robertson is a freelance travel writer currently based in Beirut. She has traveled in more than 60 countries and lived in six. She blogs about life in Beirut at gardeniasinbeirut.wordpress.com.