48 Hours in Beirut: Our quick-fire guide to the ‘Paris of the Middle East’

It’s a wonder that the Lebanese capital — with its bullet-ridden buildings and back-street bars — even qualifies as Middle Eastern. (Shutterstock)
Updated 04 April 2018
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48 Hours in Beirut: Our quick-fire guide to the ‘Paris of the Middle East’

  • Home to around just 4 million citizens, the small city has so much to offer
  • A great place to stay is the cozy, boutique Albergo hotel on Monot road
Beirut is known as the “Paris of the Middle East,” and when you get to know it, it’s a wonder that the Lebanese capital — with its bullet-ridden buildings and back-street bars — even qualifies as Middle Eastern in the first place.
Although home to around just 4 million citizens, the small city has so much to offer. Start your day with breakfast in the ‘holes-in-the-wall’ — Al-Sousi Restaurant in Aisha Bakkar (voted world’s best breakfast by CNN in 2014) and Le Professeur in Mar Elias give you the most authentic, hands-on experience of a well-rounded breakfast of hummus, eggs and meat, and the knockout foul medamas. Be sure to have this early in the morning, and not too much. It will stick around your stomach for a while.
After you’re properly ‘foul’-ed up, a long walk along the sea front on the city’s Manara corniche is a great way to work off your breakfast. Start from the iconic picturesque Pigeon rocks and stroll all the way along to the recently re-opened Downtown area, filled with shops and restaurants. There, you can explore the grand and elegant Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque right beside the worn-down Martyrs’ Square statue.
Feeling peckish? Fret not! Right at the heart of Downtown’s Beirut Souks lies the ever-expanding culinary experience of Souk Al-Tayyeb, the Saturdays-only open-air farmers market, offering a wealth of snack (or more) options.
Head to the nearby gritty, narrow Gemmayzeh street for an incredible selection of restaurants, cafés and pubs, or keep walking to the buzzing Mar Mkhael street. Popular hangouts like Radio Beirut, Junkyard and Dirty Laundry Kitchen and Bar are always packed with thirsty Lebanese spilling out onto the streets.
A great place to stay is the cozy, boutique Albergo hotel on Monot road, but prices there can go as high as $225 a night. More budget-friendly options include Mar Mkhael’s Villa Clara hotel, which goes for an average of $160 a night.
Beirut during spring and summer is a treat, allowing you to enjoy its beaches and numerous rooftop lounges. Be sure to swing by the classy Four Season’s rooftop lounge in Downtown for a breathtaking view of the capital’s coast. If you’re on a budget, Coup d’etat offers a more casual setting — and also houses the loud and lively Café Em Nazih on the ground floor.
For the best beach experience, you have to head out of Beirut and head north toward Pierre and Friends in the historical coastal city of Batroun, one of the oldest cities in the world, or south toward Tyre Rest House where white sands and clean water dominate.
For shisha lovers, Beirut is filled with all kinds of places to just play cards beside your bubbling hookah. Al-Falamanki is a favorite restaurant/café that offers good Lebanese food and an assortment of shisha flavors in a lovely seating area in a courtyard hidden by trees and surrounded by three two-story, war-torn buildings.
Student-hub Hamra is a must-see. Situated in the middle of Lebanon’s two top universities, the road is always bustling — its restaurants, pubs and stores packed. Li Beirut and Mezyan are hotspots for Arabic music lovers, while Ales & Tales and Bricks are popular watering holes for students and professors alike.


Shrinking Sea of Galilee has some hoping for a miracle

Updated 12 min 53 sec ago
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Shrinking Sea of Galilee has some hoping for a miracle

  • The Sea of Galilee has been shrinking for years, mainly due to overuse, and environmentalists are raising the alarm
  • Plans are being devised to resuscitate the freshwater body
EIN GEV, Israel: It was not so long ago when swimmers at Ein Gev would lay out their towels in the grass at the edge of the Sea of Galilee.
Today, they put up their parasols 100 meters (yards) further down, on a sandy beach that has appeared due to the shrinking of the iconic body of water.
“Every time we come we feel an ache in our hearts,” said Yael Lichi, 47, who has been visiting the famous lake with her family for 15 years.
“The lake is a symbol in Israel. Whenever there is a drought, it is the first thing we talk about.”
In front of Lichi, wooden boats with Christian pilgrims aboard navigate the calm waters, among groups from across the world that visit.
The Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe Jesus walked on water, has been shrinking for years, mainly due to overuse, and environmentalists are raising the alarm.
Plans are being devised to resuscitate the freshwater body known to Israelis as the Kinneret and to some as Lake Tiberias.
For Israel, the lake is vital, having long been the country’s main source of water. Israeli newspaper Haaretz provides its water level daily on its back page.
Its shrinking has been a source of deep concern. When two islands appeared recently due to falling water levels, it received widespread attention in the Israeli media.
Since 2013 “we are below the low red line” beyond which “salinity rises, fish have difficulty surviving and vegetation is affected,” said Amir Givati, hydrologist at Israel’s water authority.
The level is only around 20 centimeters (less than eight inches) above the record low plumbed in 2001 — except, at that time, 400 million cubic meters (14.1 billion cubic feet) a year were pumped out for irrigation.
“This year, we only pumped 20 million cubic meters, but the lake is in a very bad state,” said Givati.
Added to that is the 50 million cubic meters Israel sends to neighboring Jordan as part of peace agreements.
Its unique characteristics go beyond its religious significance.
It is 200 meters (650 feet) below sea level, located north of the Dead Sea, the River Jordan between them.
Both the Dead Sea and the Jordan have also suffered from overuse.
The Galilee covers some 160 square kilometers (60 square miles), roughly the size of Liechtenstein.
At the water ministry, blame for its condition is placed on five years of drought.
But “climatic factors alone are inadequate to explain the record shrinkage of the Sea of Galilee,” wrote Michael Wine, Alon Rimmer and Jonathan Laronne, researchers at Israel’s Ben Gurion University.
Irrigated agriculture, pumping and diversions are the main culprits, they say in an analysis.
Israel constructed a national aqueduct in the 1950s in the years after the country’s birth, when it was on a quest for nation-building and sought to “make the desert bloom,” as its early pioneers put it.
The aqueduct carried water from the lake toward the rest of the country.
“Lake Tiberias was used as a national reservoir,” said Julie Trottier, a professor who specializes in Israeli-Palestinian water issues.
A man-made canal supplied water to the west toward the Mediterranean coast and into the Negev desert in the south, she said.
That system has not been in place for some 10 years. Now, most homes in the west of the country use desalinated water from the Mediterranean, while farms are irrigated with water that is treated and recycled.
But eastern Israel does not have access to desalinated water, said Orit Skutelsky, of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
Farmers in the region rely on rivers that provide 90 percent of the lake’s input.
Dozens of pumps remove nearly 100 million cubic meters (3.5 billion cubic feet) each year from those sources, whose flow has decreased and is no longer enough to supply the lake, says the researcher.
Several kilometers from the beaches at Ein Gev, at the foot of rocky hills, immense nets cover banana trees whose leaves wilt with the surrounding dry vegetation.
“We call it the valley of bananas,” said Meir Barkan, tourism director for the Ein Gev resort.
“When they began planting trees, there was no water problem and the banana is the only fruit that you harvest year-round.”
But without desalinated or recycled water, the farms are a main player in the “competition for resources between nature, agriculture and tourism,” said Eran Feitelson, geography professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
For Lior Avichai, agronomist at the Zemach Nisyonot research center, the solution is not to “kill agriculture and the local economy,” but to use less water.
Authorities propose providing the region with desalinated water via the aqueduct.
Skutelsky said that to better manage the ecosystem, the water should be sent further upstream and then allowed to flow down naturally.
But “that would be very expensive,” said Skutelsky.
Menahem Lev, 59, has spent 39 years of his life on the lake as a fisherman.
In his open palm, he displays a Saint Peter’s fish just pulled from his nets, barely bigger than his hand.
“The solution can only come from the government — or from the sky,” he said.
He points to the half-abandoned dock which pilgrims’ boats can no longer reach, forcing visitors to disembark on the bank.
“I am really ashamed when tourists see the lake in this state,” Lev said.