#1 LEBANON

Normally the top-lists start from the end of the list, but I just couldn’t wait and turn this list around. I just had to start from this one! It wasn’t hard to pick my favourite destination country this far, but it was hard to pick only one destination from the A-M-A-Z-I-N-G Lebanon! So here is Lebanon, in a relatively large nutshell!

It is said that Lebanese wine, mentioned in the Bible, is an ancient allegory to outer and inner beauty in general, which is almoust like from a divine origin and acchievable only, if you reach to God.

977207_10151468013549639_626223825_oWell, however, it’s not hard to imagine where the allegory comes from. The whole of Lebanon is awesome, full of controversies, beautiful landscapes, historical temples and other monuments and it’s small enough to see very thoroughly in a couple of weeks. Lebanon in my eyes was full of mystique and history, not to mention it’s natural wonders.

It’s a land both verdant and drought. Amazingly beautiful and verdant mountains and hills, the only natural cedar tree groves in the world, waterfalls and then on the contrary, dry, desert like wasteland in the south especially.

Beit ed-Dine Palace

I was in Lebanon in May 2013 with my choir, that was invited to visit Lebanon by the Finnish Institute in Middle East. We were touring Lebanon for around 10 days or so. I would say that our visit was full of different and unforgettable experiences, which made the visit so unique in every way!

In addition to our three concerts there, our contacts in the country wanted us to see practically everything you could imagine worth seeing in Lebanon: The cities of Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon, the ancient Temples of Baalbeck and the Ksara Winery in Beqaa Valley,  the magical oriental palace of Beit ed-Dine (from 18th century), the huge complex of limestone caves of Jeita Grotto, Al-Chouf Cedar Reserve, waterfalls, UNIFIL IrishFinn Battalion in the South near Israelian border. We also got to perform infront of the Lebanese ’Cream’ in Beirut. After our concert we attended to a fancy cocktail event with tons of different cocktail treats to taste while discussing (mostly in french) with all these intresting people. Not bad at all!

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View to Israel

We stayed in Beirut, charming capital of Lebanon, in the bohemian district of Hamra. Beirut seemed like an intresting city and definately a place I want to get known better! Beirut is a charming mix of east and west, where you can find French style beach boulevards, pulsating western style bar districts full of young, internationally-oriented people, Haussmann style houses (like in Paris) and churches, but also mosques, souks (bazars), and lively arabic style street life.

Beirut Mosque
Beirut Mosque

This was also an ultimate culinary journey, since the famous Lebanese cuisine has  absolutely deserved its reputation. I couldn’t get enough of the delicious mezzes with fresh vegetables, tabbouleh salad, hummus, baba ghanoush, kebbeh, sambusac, stuffed grape leaves, fresh fish or roasted lamb! And… you don’t really get a change having a huge delicious lebanese lunch next to a beautiful waterfall everyday, do you. We also got to taste the Lebanese wine literally, since the owner of the Ksara Winery, was also one of our visit’s hosts (as an Honorary Council of Finland in Middle East) and invited us to visit his world famous winery.

Cedar groves, though rare and loged near to extinction, are luckily nowadays quite well-protected in their own reservational areas on the Lebanese mountains. They are undoubtedly the most inspirational thing which I have seen on my travels!

When we visited the amazingly beautiful Al-Chouf Cedar Reserve I felt like I had gone back in the time for thousands of years into a time when mankind was still living in more undetected way than today, in a symbiosis with the nature, as a part of it and not tragically trying to controll it in every way possible, like today we do. There in the middle of these centuries old , huge cedar trees, propably knowing that I was in an environment where the cultures have flourished for milleniums, the experience of being part of something historical was more tence than anywhere else before!

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Still, aside of the wonderfull mountain meadows, magical cedar groves with giant trees in Al Chouf almoust as unforgettable travel experience was visiting the historical old town of Sidon or Saïda in southern Lebanon. Here you could sence the old town’s ancient-like athmosphere despite bundles of funny-looking electric wires hanging around! ; ) It was like ancient time meets modern time in a tacky way!

Saïda Crusader Fortress in the Port of Saïda

My visit in Sidon, or Saïda was made special not because visiting the ruins of a medieval crusader fortress in the harbour but because of the people I met in the old town: Little kids, who eagerly seek contact with me and one friend of mine while others from our group were just walking straoght through the old town feeling hungover. Propably the kids somehow saw me as easy to take contact, since I’m used to it working as a teacher, but we also had a common language, French, with some of them at least. We met this young girl called Rhoda, who had already been studying some French at school. Younger kids didn’t speak French but still had loads of stuff to tell me. I wonder what it was!

I also ended up having mint tea with a group of elderly Arab men sitting outside of a teahouse smoking their shishas. I didn’t dare to share shisha with them, even though it was offered, but we had an intresting conversation together while siping our mint teas. One of them had even visited Finland!

Because of its location, the situation in Lebanon has always been versatile and fragile. So it is today too. We were privileged to visit there in a stable phase, even though especially in the south you had to pay more attention and keep your camera out of sight. After passing Sidon, we had to travel in a UN convoy (not one of my every-day experiences either!) to guarantee the safety! Soon after our visit the situation in Tripoli for example got much more dangerous. The  Syrian civil war nextdoor is affecting Lebanon alot. The streets of Beirut were already then, in 2013, full of Syrian refugee as homeless beggers and we could see some refugee camps from the bus windows, when traveling around, too. Can’t even imagine how things are now! Also the neighbour country Syria is full of wonders and incredibly ancient cities. Hopefully the terrible war will be soon over and also the ancient wonders will restain for generations to come!

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