We need hours and hours to explore the hidden gems of our beloved city Beirut. I hope to see more of these videos.
Throughout our #CTWLiveFrom tour across the Middle East we’ve been keen to show you the unknown sides of the cities we’ve visited through the eyes of those who live there and know them best. Bahi Ghubril was our ideal candidate in the Lebanese capital Beirut. He’s the publisher of the city’s first street atlas, Zawarib, and has been exploring the hidden gems of the city for years.
Jalal is a Lebanese student who’s attempting to cycle about 3000km through eight countries in a period of two months. He started his journey from Regensburg in Germany a couple of weeks ago and has entered the fifth country Romania as of yesterday. He will be taking a ferry from Turkey to Tripoli in Lebanon due to the situation in Syria.
That’s a pretty fun ride! I hope he gets home safely. You can follow updates on his Facebook page [Here].
Another Lebanese called Gloria Nasr ran from Paris to Lebanon last year.
I think hotels are a great way to get away from the monotony and routine of everyday life. The getaway helps you relax, meet new people and get to know new areas that you wouldn’t necessarily get the chance to visit. On several occasions over the past years, I’ve spent weekends at some of Lebanon’s nicest hotels such as Phoenicia, Four Seasons, Le Gray, Mzaar Intercontinental, Mir Amin Palace, Monte Cassino and others.
Over the coming months and as part of a “Discover Lebanon” segment I am working on, I will be posting detailed reviews of the rooms, service, facilities and the experience as a whole. In addition, I want to provide a glimpse into the surrounding regions, must see attractions, etc.
So make sure you look out for my reviews!
Picture Via LayoverGuide
Foreign NGO workers should indeed apply for a different type of VISA if they are not coming here as tourists, but things should be made easy for them as they are here on a humanitarian mission and are helping us out at the end of the day.
Read the full article on the Economist [Here].
New rules now require foreigners engaged in humanitarian work to obtain visas before entering the country rather than alter them once there as used to be the case. Agencies have been instructed to inform the security agency of all foreigners working in their offices, including staff, volunteers, interns, and people visiting Lebanon for training or meetings. Officials have begun visiting NGO offices asking them to comply with the new regulations—or risk their staff being deported.
NGOs say that they want to obey the law, but that the process of obtaining a visa is unpredictable and cumbersome. It costs thousands of dollars, requires much paperwork, and takes months. Smaller organisations say the burden is too much. “If they want me to pay, I don’t mind. Just give me the documents,” says Kris, a founder of a non-profit hostel in Beirut who was recently deported. Kris submitted his residency and work permit applications in December but six months later he was told to leave Lebanon and escorted by security officers to the gate for his flight. [Economist]
I am almost done with my immigration papers for Canada yet I’ve never considered cheating or going there just for few days then lying about my stay. If the Canadian government is welcoming us and offering us new opportunities, it’s not an excuse to steal their money and lie to them to get the citizenship.
Apparently the Canadian authorities identified more than 3,000 citizens and 5,000 permanent residents under suspicion in ongoing large-scale fraud investigations, and I am pretty sure there are a lot of Lebanese families among them.
Ottawa has stripped a Lebanese family of their Canadian citizenships — and handed them a $63,000 bill — after they were caught blatantly lying about living in Canada, part of a government crackdown on bogus citizens that could extend to thousands of cases. The family — a father, mother and their two daughters — signed citizenship forms claiming they lived in Canada for almost all of the previous four years when they really lived in the United Arab Emirates, a fact even posted online in the daughters’ public résumés on LinkedIn.
The bold nature of the fabrications — that successfully won them citizenship in 2008 and 2009 — and their attempts to fight Ottawa’s decision brought rebuke from both the government and the Federal Court of Canada: not only have their citizenships been revoked, but they have been ordered to pay all of the government’s $63,442 in legal bills.
It is a punishment historically associated with only the most egregious cases, usually accused Nazi war criminals who hid their involvement in atrocities when fleeing to Canada after the Second World War. This case is only the beginning. The RCMP has targeted about 11,000 people from more than 100 countries suspected of fraud by misrepresenting their residency in Canada. [Link]
Has anyone been to La Maison de la Foret? It looks really nice and the prices are quite reasonable. There are cottages, tents and a nice restaurant but it’s definitly not just 1 hour drive from Beirut! You easily need an hour and a half to get to Bkassine but it’s a very good road.
Filled with the culture of the South, La Maison de la Forêt is the coming together of outdoor activities, rustic accommodations, camping sites, family getaways, childhood memories, the warm smell of morning coffee, donkeys rides and trails, the unexpected enchantment with the silence of nature, and all the bright skies and chilly starry nights in between.
All the houses are made of wood, all the greetings are made of the warmth of the community and all the products are made of the goodness of the southern soil. The many passageways and the main activities on site are welcoming, safe and secure for any physical disability.
Only one hour away from the capital city, Beirut, La Maison de la Forêt is the sweetest escape away from the urban hustle and bustle. [LaMaisonDeLaForet]
I am writing this post for two reasons:
- Since I’ve been to Ayia Napa twice in the last few weeks, a lot of people have been asking for recommended hotels, night clubs and restaurants there as well as things one can do, so I thought I mention all of them in one post.
- I am preparing a comparative post between the Jounieh bay and Ayia Napa and how we’re wasting so much potential and doing it all wrong in Lebanon.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve spent two weekends in Ayia Napa twice this summer, once with my wife in mid-June and another time with a group of guys for a bachelor in early July. The first weekend was a pure romantic and touristic one and I had a lot of fun, while the second weekend was wild, crazy and a different kind of fun.
Here’s a small review of both experiences with my recommendations for places to go and things to do if you’re visiting Ayia Napa soon as it looks like half the Lebanese population is going there or has already been to Ayia Napa this summer. Before I begin though, here’s a small map that shows you where the city center is (Blue circle) and how far it is from Limanaki beach (Green circle) where I spent my first weekend and the popular Nissi beach (Red Circle). Most of the bars and night clubs in Ayia Napa are located around the main square near the town hall which is where I was staying the second time.
Weekend 1: Stay at the Grecian Sands Hotel
I spent my first weekend at the Grecian Sands hotel, which is a four star hotel located right on one of the longest and most beautiful sandy beaches of Cyprus. The hotel is one of the best in Ayia Napa, the rooms are very spacious, there’s a nice pool and a direct access to the beach. There’s one thing that annoyed me though is that it was very hard to find a long chair by the pool or next to the beach as people would just put their towels there and reserve it for the whole day even if they aren’t there.
I spent the first day mostly on the beach and walked in the afternoon to the center of Ayia Napa to check out the restaurants and shops there. Even though it was 15-20 minutes walk, I highly recommend you get hats and put sunscreen because it’s very hot and the sun is very strong. There are restaurants and supermarkets left and right wherever you go, and most of the places I’ve tried were quite good. I went to the Bed Rock cafe, Four Seasons restaurant, Erofili, Eurobakers, Golden Arrow, Los Bandidos and Kings Sword.
In addition to the restaurants, there are small shops that sell fresh cocktails, yogurt and Sharwama (pork, lamb and chicken) which are quite good and worth a try. If you like pork, go for the Pork Shawarma Pitas at Georgie’s Handy food.
Since Nissi beach was very far from my hotel and it was too hot to walk there, I thought of renting a buggy for one day and going out of the town for some sightseeing. The one I got below cost me 80 euros for 1 day and I had to pay an extra 20 euros for the gas. There are cheaper alternatives like a scooter or a quad that would cost you as little as 20 or 30 euros per day. The buggy was quite easy and fun to drive, except for the reverse gear which was annoying. Note that they take your passport and need a copy of your driving license or just the number on it.
I drove to Cape Greco which is at the at the southern end of Famagusta Bay, and went as far as Potamos, which is a small village that has two fresh seafood restaurants. The food took forever to come but it was some of the best fish I’ve ever had so it’s definitely worth a try. You could park your buggy basically anywhere and since a lot of tourists there rent them, you won’t feel weird driving around cars even on the highway. Keep in mind that they drive on the left side in Cyprus just like the UK.
As far as the beaches are concerned, all of them are beautiful and crystal clear. Of course everyone mentions Nissi beach when they go to Ayia Nappa because that’s where all the young people go, but there are a lot of other beautiful beaches there, specially the Limanaki which is larger and as beautiful as Nissi. I spent hours walking on these beaches and never got bored of them.
Experience2: Stay At Green Bungalows
We were a group of 12 guys on a bachelor weekend the second time and we thought it would better to stay close to the street with all the pubs and nights so we rented 4 rooms at the Green Bungalows Hotel Apartments. To be honest, the place is not very clean and the room service is mediocre, but we ended up spending 110 euros for 3 days which is a great price. The best thing about this place is how chilled people are there, and its proximity to all the pubs and nightclubs and the town center. We didn’t need to rent buggies or quads as everything (except for Nissi beach) was within a walking distance.
I’ve always heard that Ayia Napa has some of the best night life in Europe and how it’s varied and offers something for everybody but I didn’t find it that spectacular. The reason is that the majority of people we bumped into were teenagers and I felt like I was walking down Monot Street. Of course after few drinks and a couple of laughing gas balloons, nothing really matters but it was quite surprising to see all these groups of kids everywhere around me.
The best place to kick off the night is at Senior Frog’s, as the place is always packed, there’s entertainment and it’s quite a fun ambiance. Afterwards, there’s Castle Club, Bedrock Inn and Soho which are worth a try and River Reggae is one of the best after party night clubs in Ayia Napa. Drinks are not that expensive by the way and few night clubs like Castle Club have entrance fees (10$ If I am not mistaken).
The Fantasy boat party is a fun experience that I recommend you give a try, even though it’s a bit overrated in my opinion. There are small kiosks on the street that sell you tickets to the Fantasy boat party and give you tons of useless coupons with it (just throw them away). The ticket per person varies between 45 and 55 euros and it’s basically a 5 hour boat party where you get to drink, dance, play drinking games, jump off the boat at two specific locations and the girls get a male strip show.
The guy who sells you the tickets assures you that there are as many girls as there are guys but that wasn’t the case at all.
Speaking of strip clubs, you will bump into this small Jeep that offers you free rides to Ayia Napa’s most popular strip club Toga Toga. We honestly didn’t have time to go there as we were always partying till the early morning so I wouldn’t know anything about it.
All in all, Ayia Napa beaches are amazing and are the reason why I would visit it again. Moreover, it’s a very close destination (30 minutes flight) and quite affordable when it comes to hotels and restaurants. If you are going alone, try to take the bus from the airport as the taxi costs around 50 euros. There’s a bus from the airport to Larnaka city center and from there to Ayia Napa and you can find further explanations on this [link].
In case you’ve missed Part1 of my trip to Jordan, you can check it out [here]. I’ve shared in it my experience at the dead sea, at the Baptism site (Al Maghtass) and Ma’In resort. The second part of our trip was the most interesting one as I got to experience Petra by day and by night, spend a whole afternoon in the desert, watch the sunset at Wadi Rum before heading to Aqaba.
Our first stop after Ma’In was at Madaba where Mount Nebo is. This is where Moses as mentioned in the Bible was granted a view of the Promised land that he would never enter. The view is breathtaking from the top next to The Brazen Serpent and if the weather is clear, you could spot Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque. There’s also a nice little museum that is worth passing by.
Mosaics Shop and Lunch In The City
There’s a cool shop right before Mount Nebo that makes and sells mosaics. It’s a huge place where we got to see how mosaics are done (the traditional and modern way) and we had some time to shop for some souvenirs as well. Afterwards, we headed to the city to eat at an old authentic restaurant. Most of the restaurants in Jordan we visited were clean and served good food. However, the dishes were not that different from what we have in Lebanon except for the Mansaf and the Zarb (which I will talk about later on in this post).
Petra By Night
Picture by TravelingMyself
The trip from Madaba to Petra was a very long and tiring one. It’s a 4 hours trip on a desert road and there aren’t any interesting landscapes to look at along the way. Once we got to Petra and after dinner, we headed to visit Al Khazneh in Wadi Musa. It was around 9pm when we started walking down a valley surrounded by mountains with nothing by candles on the sandy and rocky road to show us the way. I’ve never tried anything like that in my life and it was quite exciting to be honest. Once we got to the Khazneh, the atmosphere was both magical and mystical as hundreds of people were listening to two artists playing medieval flute music while the Khazneh was lit up by candles all around it.
I was really blown away by this experience and I would go to Jordan just to experience it again. The only inconvenience is that it is impossible to take decent pictures (unless you wish to carry your SLR all the way down) as it’s too dark. You can find below a couple of shots I managed to take after several tries with my Lumia 1020.
Taybet Zaman and Petra By Day
We were staying at Taybet Zaman during our Petra visit, which is an old abandoned village that was transformed into a really cool resort. As you can see from the pictures, the place is really nice and set in a very peaceful surrounding. Breakfast wasn’t that great though.
After experiencing Petra by night, we headed again in the morning to walk down Wadi Musa (Petra) and see the Khazneh temple that was used by the way in one of Indiana Jones’ movies (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). The day experience is very different from the night one as you get to see what’s around you and you can go on a horse ride instead of walking. Personally speaking, I preferred the night experience as the horses are quite annoying and there are a lot of smells and horse poop on the way.
We took the short walk to Khazneh only as it was really hot. However, if you happen to visit Petra, go as early as possible or in the afternoon and try visit all the sites there. Keep a large bottle of water with you though as the walk is long and there aren’t many shops on the way.
Wadi Rum and the Desert Experience
After Petra, we headed straight to the Captain’s camp in Wadi Rum in the middle of the desert. It was my first time in the desert and I loved everything about this experience. The camp was really cool and clean, the people were very friendly and the food we had at night was superb, specially the main dish which was the Zarb.
I was expecting to go on a safari trip there but instead we just went on a jeep tour and explored Wadi Rum. We then parked at a strategic point to watch the sunset which was quite spectacular! Our driver showed us as well an old deserted camp where one of the scenes from Lawrence of Arabia was shot.
Once we got back to the camp, the Zarb dish was almost done and the buffet was almost ready. In case you haven’t heard of the Zarb before, it’s basically a bedouin barbecue where meat, chicken and vegetables are all put in a large underground oven, then buried properly and cooked for few hours. The chicken is put on top, then below it the vegetables and finally the rice. As weird as it may seem, the outcome was surprisingly delicious. While dinner was being served, some of us smoked Arguileh while watching traditional music and dancers perform.
I was very tempted to spend the night at the camp as they had small rooms you could sleep in, but we had to leave to Aqaba. This being said, I highly recommend you give Wadi Rum a try and go to one of the bedouin camps set there. It’s quite the experience and you won’t regret it!
Aqaba: Radisson Blu In Tala Bay & Snorkeling
Our last stop was in Aqaba, which is a city located on the Red Sea and is one of the major tourist attractions in Jordan. Aqaba is well known for its rich marine life, its beach resorts and luxury hotels as well as for being a destination for all sorts of water sports. We were staying at the Radisson Blu in Tala Bay which is a beautiful resort but a bit far from the city center.
Even though the resort was amazing, it was way too hot to even walk outside or walk on the sand. I looked a bit online and May is definitely not a good time to be visiting Aqaba so maybe it was a bad idea to spend the last two days there. Nevertheless, I enjoyed walking around the resort a lot and even paid the spa a visit.
Should You Visit Jordan?
There are so many things to see and do in Jordan that I wish the trip lasted a bit longer. From the dead sea to Ma’In, then Petra and Wadi Rum, everything was great and all of us were having a lot of fun. The long distances were a bit tiring specially that we were in a small van, and the schedule was a bit squeezed mainly due to the Pope’s visit but otherwise it was a wonderful trip. However, I think we should have skipped Aqaba and enjoyed the desert a bit longer. In all cases, I am definitely visiting Jordan once again as I didn’t have time to explore Amman and I want to stay a whole weekend in the desert.
On a last note, I highly recommend that you pay Jordan a visit if you haven’t been there yet as there are a lot of exciting stuff to do and wonderful sites to visit.
As mentioned previously, I was in Jordan for a week back in May along with a couple of bloggers and media people courtesy of the Jordan Tourism Board. Before talking about the trip, I have to say I am quite impressed by the initiatives taken by Jordan to promote tourism in their country and through the JTB as opposed to what the Tourism Ministry does in Lebanon.
Moving on to the trip itself, and given that it was 1 week long, I thought I divide it into 2 parts:
- The first post covering the first 3 days of the trip that includes a short stop and dinner in Amman, the Pope event at Amman stadium, the dead sea and baptism site visits and the stay at the mountain resort Ma’In Hot Springs Evason in Ma’In.
- The second post covering the visit to Madaba (Mount Nebo), the desert experience in Wadi Rum, Petra by day and by night experience and last but not least our final stop in Aqaba.
We took an early morning flight from Beirut to Amman (there are 7 flights every day) and got to Amman in less than 2 hours. It was my first time on a Royal Jordanian plane and the trip was quite smooth and the staff were very friendly. Upon arriving to the newly renovated Queen Alia International Airport, a bus and a tourist guide were waiting there to help us out and pick us up. The first hotel we stayed in was the Regency Palace hotel as it was very close to where the Pope’s mass is taking place and to the Jordanian cultural center where all the press conferences were being held.
Regency Palace Hotel
Night out in Amman and a selfie with Pope Francis
To be honest, the Regency Palace hotel was by far the worst hotel we stayed in during our trip to Amman as the rooms were dirty, the food was average and the hotel was right on a busy highway. After resting for a couple of hours, we headed out to the city center and had dinner at a beautiful authentic restaurant called Sufra. The restaurant is an old renovated house with a beautiful interior and a splendid terrace. The food was also quite good as we got to try few Jordanian dishes which were quite interesting (specially the Kafta wou Batata with T7eené instead of tomatoes).
The second day was quite a busy one as we had to be ready by 10am for the Pope’s visit and we spent the whole day between the Jordanian cultural center and the Amman stadium. The security measures taken were quite drastic as there were 2 or 3 police officers every 20 meters and a lot of security checks. Nevertheless, everything went as planned and I got to see Pope Francis which I admire and respect a lot. I even took a selfie with him!
The Dead Sea Experience: At the lowest point on Earth
Our next stop after Amman was at the Movenpick Hotels & Resorts which is located on the dead sea. As opposed to Regency Hotel, this was one of the most beautiful resorts I’ve ever been too. The resort was splendid, the rooms were amazing, the food was great and the facilities were everything one could ask for. As far as the dead sea experience is concerned, I went for a swim and it was quite a weird feeling as you float the whole time. I stayed for around 20 minutes as this is the recommended time then put some of that “magic” mud on my body. Note that it is not recommended to swim if you have a cut, nor is it advised to dunk your face in the water as your eyes will hurt real bad; you just have to lay back and navigate with your hands as if you’re in a tube.
At the lowest point on Earth
The whole dead sea experience took less than an hour and we spent the rest of the day sunbathing and walking around the resort. I even found some private Jacuzzi entrance and managed to get in after one of the hotel employees gave me the pass code. It was one of the best Jacuzzis I’ve stayed in as well. If you ever want to visit the dead sea, there are a lot of cool resorts along the coast just like the Movenpick.
After leaving the Movenpick and before heading to Ma’In, we passed by the Baptism Site for a short visit. The Baptism Site of Jesus Christ, also known as Al-Maghtas, is one of the most important religious destinations specially for Christians. Despite its symbolism, there’s nothing much to see there except for the few churches and the main site next to the river.
What was quite amazing there is that we were standing right on the Jordan River and the people on the other side of the river were in Israel. Even though we were separated by few meters only and no barriers, no one dares to cross the river from both sides.
Evason Ma’In Hot Springs
After our short stop at the Baptism site, we drove for like an hour to get to Ma’In, a region situated in the mountains and hosting a beautiful resort next to Ma’In’s famous waterfalls. The resort is called Evason Ma’In Hot Springs (I have no idea how we pronounce Evason) and consists of a hotel and a spa, the Six Senses Spa, set underneath one of the three waterfalls found there.
The hotel itself is really nice and ideal for a weekend escape, the rooms were tidy and clean but there wasn’t much lighting at night for some reason. The biggest waterfall found there is not accessible to the public, but there are two other waterfalls that you can go to. One of them is located inside the Six Senses spa and you have to pay to go there while the other one located right outside the resort is free. There’s also a pool 200 meters away from the hotel but I didn’t like it much to be honest, as I would have preferred some infinity pool inside the resort with a couple of Jacuzzis to relax specially that they have a breathtaking view.
The healing waterfalls
View from the hotel
As far as the waterfalls are concerned, it’s quite a unique experience and it feels quite weird to be standing underneath them. They call them the “healing waterfalls” because they apparently relax the muscles and make you feel better. All in all, I highly recommend this resort if you are heading to Jordan for a week and looking for a weekend escape. You don’t need more than a couple of days at Evason Ma’In Hot Springs.
This pretty much covers the first part of my trip which I enjoyed quite a lot, but the best is yet to come to stay tuned for the second post where I will be talking about Petra and the desert experience mainly which were mind blowing!