Travelogue

Bucket-List Trip: Egypt in 12 Days

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been dreaming of going to Egypt. So many antiquities dating back thousands upon thousands of years ago have been kept in nearly pristine condition. Walking amongst these giant statues I marveled at their creation before the ease of cranes, planes and automobiles. The ancient beliefs and sheer ingenuity is still mind boggling even now, after returning and trying to process it all.

Why didn’t I come here sooner? Well, to be honest, it was a destination where I wanted: some help in the planning, a travel buddy and to be mindful of safety. And if I waited for all the stars to align, then I may have missed my chance. With my current home base in Beirut, only an hour and a half flight away, it was time to just say: f it, I’m going. YOLO as the kids say.

Just 10 days out from the departure date, I pulled the trigger. I booked a 12-day trip with Intrepid Travel that had all the highlights I wanted to see. I did not have to worry about much more than booking my flight, packing, arranging for a visa, and praying to the Egyptian gods for a good group of travel mates.

The Intrepid consultant said that the trip had five Aussies traveling on that departure date, all in their 50s and 60s, but not all together. Since I consider myself an old soul, I was optimistic about that scenario. I mean, who doesn’t love an Aussie?

The airport experience was pretty seamless. I purchased my Visa upon arrival with a credit card, then breezed over to grab my luggage. And I tracked down my Uber driver to take me to the hotel (about 160 Egyptian Pounds / 10 USD). Shortly after getting settled at the hotel, I met my roommate Janet and the rest of our Aussie crew (Bill, Helen, Sonja and Mark). We all seemed to jive and jokes immediately started to fly. It only got better as the days went on, and we traveled as a solid unit of friends.

Our trip had a nice pace of sites and leisure time. We traveled in August, so it was incredibly hot. But this heat had an upside. We had the sites practically to ourselves. With the help of our guide, who mapped out when to visit sites, we avoided peak times and the heat as best as possible.

We went by train, plane, van and boat during the trip. This variety in modes of transport added some adventure, and it complemented the itinerary. 

My first of many gobsmacked encounters was the Pyramids of Giza, naturally. Finally standing right in front of the massive tombs, I was speechless. As reluctant as I was to climb deep into one, with its close quarters and steep climb, my new mates convinced me to venture into the great Pyramid of Khafre. And I don’t regret a minute of it. From the first Sphinx to the Museum of Cairo, the layers of history were being peeled back and revealed in front of my very eyes.

After the first day, I had to wonder if the trip had peaked too early. But that was a silly misconception, as we continued on to visit some of the most magnificent splendors of ancient history that I will ever have laid my eyes on.

We took a quick jaunt north to the coastal town of Alexandria, where we first stopped at the catacombs, then had a fresh catch seafood lunch at a local spot. To end the day, we basked in some relaxation by the sea at the Azur Hotel. The following day we went to the Alexandria Library. While not the original, which had been destroyed long ago in a fire, the new building was incredibly impressive. It housed some wonderful exhibits. This was a highlight of the trip that was totally unexpected.

Onward we went, catching a train from Cairo to Aswan. Our guide had us arrive early for a glimpse of the local train experience, and so we could really appreciate our overnight sleeper train. Smart bloke. It was still a decent ride, with a cozy cabin to lay our head for the night. Pulling into Aswan, the first thing that stood out was how the Nile seemed to sparkle, dotted with felucca sails catching in the breeze.

We ferried over to the Philae Island, where we saw the Temple of Isis. It was a sight to behold, as we pulled ashore. Shortly after, we stopped at an Intrepid approved oil shop, called Alfayed, for a complimentary five minute massage with eucalyptus oils and sandalwood. I was easily swayed by the intoxicating scents and decided to buy a gift pack of oils—similar to my perfume, Lolita Lempicka, a clean scent called Isis, a gift for my boyfriend, Ramses II, sandalwood and eucalyptus.

That evening we took a boat over to the local Nubian village for a home cooked meal and local immersion. It was the best meal of the whole trip! After ferrying back to the mainland, we bobbed and weaved through the local bazaar, haggling for goods like alabaster soap dishes, incense and scarabs. It’s always best to haggle with local merchants. They love to start their prices very high, and you don’t want to miss out on the bargaining banter that’s all part of the experience.

Bright and early the next day, we took a short flight to Abul Simbel in the very south of Egypt, bordering Sudan. I never thought that a flight for a two-hour trip in the blazing sun to see temples was something that I’d plan. So I was shocked that it became one of the main highlights of the trip. As I walked around the mounds of dirt and sandstone, I couldn’t believe what stood before me. The two massive rock hewn temples stood at attention, side-by-side. Not only were the outside facades impressive, but the inside had equally incredible designs and statues. The temples were placed just so, in order to align with the sun and illuminate Ramses II twice a year, another incredible and ingenious design by ancient Egyptians. This site was actually saved from submersion during construction of the Aswan Dam. These artifacts were meticulously relocated to higher ground. However, the sun is now off by 12 minutes. I still find that to be pretty ‘dam’ impressive.

As we wrapped up our tour in Aswan, we boarded a cruise for three nights on the ship M/S Opera. It was outfitted with a roof deck lounge space, a pool, and spacious cabins. That evening we sailed into the sunset on a felucca boat cruise. It was so relaxing, and a perfect way to unwind from a busy travel day. The following morning, our floating hotel moved upriver to the Kom Ombo Temple. It was just steps from the boat dock at dusk, so we got to see our first temple at night, giving us a new perspective and a break from the sun.

On our last cruise day, we put in some cruising time to reach Luxor. While the captain diligently moved us along, my travel partner in wine crime, Janet, and I kept ourselves amused above deck, taking turns between sips of wine and dips in the pool. Not too shabby for an end to the cruise before we got back on the mainland.

When we pulled into Luxor, our guide Helmy pointed out the Winter Palace, a Sofitel Hotel, famed for visitors such as: Agatha Christie, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, and many presidents and dignitaries. I knew it had to have a storied hotel bar. I had to check out. In the meantime, our group had a few spectacular sites to visit like the Karnak Temple, an expansive complex with 134 columns, flanked with rows of sphinxes at the grand entrance and a sacred lake. It’s a lot of ground to cover, so we made sure to go early in the morning to dodge the crowds and before the sun turned us into puddles.

Intrepid Travel had been very mindful of our travel footprint, throughout the trip and its activities, and even in reducing our use of plastics. It was especially thoughtful when it came to local animal welfare, and the major burden and undue harm to these animals suffered from tourism. To ‘put their money where their mouth is’, the organization matches any donations to the Intrepid Foundation’s local project ACE (Animal Care in Egypt). We got a chance to see firsthand the good work they’re doing in Luxor at the ACE center that looked after horses, cats, dogs, donkeys and any animals in need. I love animals. So it was particularly important to see this kind of work and dedication, along with programs to teach local kids the importance of looking after the welfare of animals. We did not visit the Temple of Edfu, for instance, due to the poor treatment of animals. The only way to get there is by horse and carriage.

Luxor kept living up to its reputation for incredible sites. We finally got to see the Valley of the Kings, where 63 tombs had been discovered, including the famed Tutankhamun’s tomb. The tomb still has his actual remains. We visited three additionally impressive tombs with intricate details and vibrant colors that lived up to the Gods that they were on earth.

But it was back to reality for us mere earthlings. We had our last night in Luxor, indulging in some local cuisine at our new favorite spot Al-Sahaby Lane. It was four stories up and overlooking the Avenue of the Sphinxes and the grand Luxor Temple all lit up. I couldn’t pass up having a nightcap at the Winter Palace in its Royal Bar with my travel mate Janet. We threw on our shawls and dresses, then had ourselves some proper cocktails.

On our final day, we flew back to Cairo to say farewell to our Egyptian adventure and fellow intrepid travelers. Since we landed late (thanks to Egypt Air), we made our way straight over to the Khan al-Khalili bazaar. We took the longer stroll by way of a street full of mosques, many more than 800 years old, passing some shopkeepers and locals on a surprisingly less foot trafficked street, which is closed to vehicles. We ended up passing a labyrinth of streets full of shiny objects, where I had to restrain myself from shopping. I had already bought some of my prized Egyptian possessions back in Luxor at the local (and Intrepid approved) papyrus shop, Egyptos, soon to be framed and hung on my travel wall.

We closed our 12-day journey with a farewell dinner at a local spot, El Malky. It was smack in the middle of all the activity and people watching, with a wonderful view of the Al Hussein Mosque. It was bittersweet to say goodbye to my travel mates. And I truly hope that I see them again, including our resident Egyptologist and fearless leader (who we liked to call boss) Helmy, no matter how far apart we live on the planet. Till then, ‘be intrepid’, as the company says.


Trip Notes

Safety: 

Egypt still carries some leftover fears from the Arab Spring and revolution. While I can understand that, it is now time for visitors to return to Egypt. Everyone has a travel comfort zone, so it’s all relative and personal at the end of the day. However, the people are here to welcome you with open arms and truly need your tourism dollars. I’d hate to see people suffer more economic downturn, or these precious world wonders fall by the wayside. During our trip, we felt safe. We could tell that safety was a priority to the local tourism police, hotels, sites and operators. The system of keeping tabs on tourists from one destination to the next had been established well before the revolution, as a means to make travelers feel they can focus on enjoying the adventure. We sure did!

Places to Dine: (there were many, but these really stood out)

Cairo: El Malky by the Al Hussein Mosque is great for people watching and getting lost in the bazaar’s labyrinth of colors, scents, vendors and souvenirs.

Luxor: Al-Sahaby Lane has a spectacular view of Luxor and the Avenue of Sphinxes (a dry restaurant, FYI). Try the meat pie, stuffed pigeon, or camel du jour (with delicious juices like lemon mint). And go for a night cap, all dressed up, at the Winter Palace in the Royal Bar.

Alexandria: Try the local seafood places, like Elaa Fish Restaurant, where we picked out our delicacies like prawns, sea bass and other catch of the day to be cooked up, then served. I chose mine to be grilled with lemon. The flavor was to die for.

Try the local koshari dish made of rice, macaroni and lentils mixed together. It is topped with tomato sauce and garlic vinegar (optional), and garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions.

Bathroom 5 + Tipping: 

At many tourist sites or public bathrooms, there will usually be an attendant there and you should have a 5 Egyptian Pound to give to use the facilities. Sometimes when it was not compulsory, I still tipped a 5, since the ladies knew how to run a clean ship and I appreciate that. I was stockpiling 5’s the whole trip and that comes in handy for bathroom breaks and porters helping with your things for example.

Also keep in mind for us, the 5 Egyptian Pound is the equivalent of like 30 cents US so don’t be stingy and tip well wherever you are, nothing less than 5 or that is an insult! 10% or rounding up on checks can be a good guide to follow. Tipping is a way of life, and certainly, we can spare some more along the way.

Camera Pass: 

If you’re planning to bring a camera, you may incur some small camera pass fees at some sites, and/or restrictions to photos from mobile phones only. Be mindful at these sites. Our guide was there to tell us at each site what to expect and when or not to get a pass.

Things/Scams to Avoid: 

Again, since we had a guide, he was able to keep us from falling into some of the usual ‘newby’ tricks. Lots of people might try to ask you for your tickets when they aren’t official tourism staff, or to hand you a 50 cent pound note instead of a 50 Egyptian pound that looks similar. When buying papyrus make sure to hold the paper to the light: Check if it’s banana leaf or actual papyrus which will have many lines criss-crossed, to make sure you’re paying the right price for the artwork.

What to Pack as a Woman: 

While there are many tourists and locals are pretty aware that we have different dress codes, it’s always best to be considerate of the local culture and to avoid unwanted attention. I didn’t encounter any harassment or uncomfortable situations when following those key tips from Intrepid, the guide and fellow travelers on forums. I wore mostly linen pants, three quarter length or longer, maxi dresses, short sleeve shirts, and tank tops only exposing my shoulders with a scarf to wrap over my shoulders (or cover my hair in certain religious temples and churches). Comfortable footwear is a must, since sand and/or uneven ground is present in many sites. I packed my TOMs, a sandal with a clasp, Birkenstocks, and flip flops (mostly used on the river boat). You can wear bikinis and regular swimsuits at resorts, hotel pools and the Nile river cruise.

Visa for Americans: 

You can book in advance online, or get one upon arrival. I read all over the forums that the visa required exact $25 USD change. I was in a bit of a panic when I realized I didn’t. That didn’t actually seem to matter now that they take cards at the bank tellers (to the right before going through passport control). It turned out to be pretty simple.

Hot Tip: 

The trip I took can be found HERE. Ask for Ahmed Helmy as your guide when you’re choosing your dates (I’ve heard others are good too, but I’m biased now).

Travelogue

5 Long-Haul Flight Tips

For many of us, air travel is travel to point A to point B. There is no luxury in it for us Economy Class rough riders, so you must be prepared. Simple things can make a 18 hour haul with a layover or even a cross country red eye smoother:

 

1.Pack your toothbrush and travel sized toothpaste or small bottle of mouthwash to give yourself a little refresh. After many hours and sleep, you’ll wake up feeling like you ate a piece of garbage and thank yourself for packing this in your carry on.

 

2. Pre-download any entertainment or things you want access to on your devices. I wouldn’t count on the in-flight Wi-Fi or complementary options at the airport. If you’re good with carrying books on your trip and pending space in your bag, pack something to read. You never know when your in-flight entertainment (IFE) might be malfunctioning at your seat or the whole cabin. Mine went out on a 16 HOUR FLIGHT, and I’ve had many incidents where it just is messed up at only my seat. Protect your sanity!

 

3. Wear layers. Not only will it help you pack more, then you can adapt to any aircraft temperature with a tank top/t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt and sweater that can double as a blanket. Some crew have the air blasting or sometimes it’s so stuffy, but you don’t know till you’re in flight.

 

4. Always bring your own water. Water bottles are always overpriced in the airport (marked up about 200%), so try to pack a refillable bottle, plus better for the environment. Hydration is key on any flight. It will help you walk off the plane feeling less lethargic.

 

5. Bring comfy socks. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s much more pleasant to have a nice pair of cozy socks that you can slip on once in the air and not have to wear your shoes or sneakers the whole flight. No one wants your bare feet or toenails in their space, so cover up either way.

 

All those items like socks, entertainment devices, and toiletries, set aside in a pocket or top of your carry on, so you aren’t having to rummage through with your personal things on display for all passengers or potentially fall out on them from the overhead bin.

Another best practice: The friendlier you are in the air, the more likely the flight attendants will go out of their way to make you more comfortable. Always be polite and restrained even in tense situations like a tight connection. It only escalates matters and doesn’t get you to where you need to be.

Happy travels and see you in the friendly skies!

Travelogue

The Tale of Two Dutchman

An entrepreneur’s quest to buy a Dutch barge has run aground…again

In 1984, my aunt and uncle took off on an adventure around Europe by way of canal. With no real barge or waterways experience, those two purchased a barge and lived aboard for two years, making their way through the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany before selling it at the end of their trip. My aunt regaled me with the hilarious outtakes on learning the boat locks and finding marinas along the way with their maps or using their broken French conversing with locals. Similarly, I had gone on a Euro trip by car to 16 countries after college graduation. It reminded me so much of our funny outtakes, and the epic trip that I called “drive by tourism.”  

This barge story and lifestyle has resonated so deeply with me that I fantasized of doing the same one day. Flash forward to my 30s when I started scanning websites in earnest for barges for sale, combing over river cruise itineraries and familiarizing myself with the barge hotel offerings, I decided that I wanted to be a barge owner and create memorable guest experiences for others. While living a boat life intrigued me, hosting travelers suited my social butterfly personality and strengths, not to mention, it can be a good business for the long-term and into retirement. 

You may be thinking, what the heck qualifies me to create such a business? 

Well, for the last 12 years, I’ve dedicated my career to promote travel, specializing in public relations and marketing experiences, including working in-house at boutique hotels in New York City. At this juncture in my life as a consultant and having the luxury of location-independence, I dug deeper into this research to take strategic next steps. I hired a boat consultant named Ties from the Netherlands, who I had read up on various forums as a solid advisor and joined the Dutch Barge Association. Researching barge specifications, canal networks and listings, I came upon this charming barge that was outfitted with a full lounge and bar that resonated with the vibe and experience I was hoping to produce. It even had a large above deck entertaining space and hot tub. It immediately stood out from the rest and my mind was abuzz with ways to market and create for visitors. 

That January 2018, I flew to the Netherlands to visit the barge. It was perfect. I scrambled to pull together the money and presented my business idea to banks to no avail. It was hard to get anyone to wrap their minds around an American starting a business venture in Europe, and involving a foreign boat asset to boot, no matter if I had a substantial down payment. 

And with that, the boat was just too expensive for the owner’s timeline, who wanted to move on. It sold to the local township, so I found myself back to the drawing board, reviewing barge listings again. I went to share the news with my barge expert Ties that we had to start over to only receive sad news of his sudden death. Struggling with my own dad’s recent passing a few months ago, I was starting to think that my idea was foolish and out of reach. 

Should I give up? 

Still in need of expert guidance, I reached out to Ties’ son, who was so sweet to point me to another barge consultant, which his father had referred business to Doeve Brokers. We both commiserated over our wonderful dads, and I started to feel re-energized. My dad wouldn’t have wanted me to give up. He was one of my biggest cheerleaders. 

Wild horses can’t be broken, right? 

After a prompt reply from the gentleman from Doeve Brokers, I thought I was back in business and can redirect my energy to an attainable barge purchase. After a call and several emails about boat listings, I could sense the man thought I was not qualified or established some assumptions about me. He was polite but told me to come back to him when I had financing in order.

Not feeling confident with this advisor, I thought I’d give it some time and research on my own before engaging him again. Maybe no one was taking me seriously, because I haven’t taken the barge school course yet or needed to start smaller to build my way up to the 8-10 passenger boutique hotel barge. 

But who is born a barge expert?? You learn! 

Just as I started to feel that way, I found the perfect “small” barge measuring at 15 meters (49 ft) and could accommodate six passengers with three cabins for 59,000 euros. It was a steal. And better yet, I could afford it. My best friend from college and travel buddy Amy had become so helpful and passionate about my endeavor that she wanted to get involved. My retired mom decided, what the heck, she wanted in too to make this dream become a reality. Now, we’d have enough for the sale, renovations and upkeep without having to get investors or ask a bank for a loan. 

The listing just so happened to be on Doeve’s site. I emailed the advisor on May 10th that I wanted to make a cash offer for this particular boat and thought a smaller barge would be ideal to prove my business concept while familiarizing myself with barge life. He agreed and put me in touch with his counterpart in France on May 14th, who was the broker on the listing. She sent me the latest survey as requested from 2012 in French and offered to schedule a time to visit. 

Time to act fast 

While not ideal, I knew I had to act quickly and book a flight to France to see this barge to seal the deal. On May 15th, our meeting time to see the boat was confirmed for Tuesday, June 11th, so I had a month to formulate my plan for the sale and clear my schedule later in July and August. 

The timing wasn’t great going to France during the business week, since I was spearheading a conference for nearly 1,000 travel media and industry professionals later in June in Boston. 

I touched down in Paris on Monday, June 10th, a bit blurry eyed from the red-eye flight from Newark. I was giddy with excitement, since I was on my way to change the course of my life and buy a barge. I hopped in my rental car and started to drive south to Sancerre to spend the night and be up bright and early to meet the owner. And then I receive this cavalier email from the broker: 

“The people who visited Waterman yesterday were so enthusiastic that they want to buy the barge. They have an agreement with the owner. If all goes well, they will sign the contract tonight.

In that case you are too late. I’m sorry for that. These things happen I’m afraid.

If you wish I can show you two other barges I have for sale in Briare. Let’s be in touch once you have arrived in France.” 

I called her immediately in pure disbelief on the side of the highway somewhere in France with tears in my eyes. I had spoken to her that Friday, June 7th repeating that I was flying there to make a cash offer for asking price (or more if needed), which I made clear back on May 14th. Only on June 7th, she had informed me a couple would be looking at it on Saturday. And I kept saying on the phone, Door (the agent) please remind the owner my intent to buy and that I’m not there just to look at it. After the couple saw it on Saturday, I followed up, and she said my meeting will still stand for that Tuesday morning June 11th, which was on Sunday just before I got on my flight. 

Point blank on the side of the highway, I asked her if she ever told the owner of my intent to buy when I had made that known back in May…

She said, “no, that’s not my job.” 

I am not sure how things work in France, but I was confused, what was her job? And I asked who does she work for? Why wouldn’t you tell the owner all the offers that were on the table, especially since I was the first and ready to make an offer? I told her that I want her to call the owner right now to please keep the appointment. I am in FRANCE now and only a few hours’ drive from the barge. She refused and said it was a done deal (even though it wasn’t at the time). I told her I will go back to the owner’s Facebook page, since his contact details are listed to deal with him directly from now on. And I’d be happy to share this story with others as this was highly unprofessional no matter what country, and she started to get quiet. 

What did she do? 

She called the owner and told him to lock the boat and hide, which I found out later. That I was on my way. I’m sure the idea of a solo female traveler trying to buy a barge in cash is terribly scary, but OK. Personally, I just would appreciate some decency after I came all that way. She was trying to make a quick commission by using me to push the couple into making an offer and didn’t want the owner to know the whole story. 

I drove straight there to find no one around, but I did get to see the barge in person on the dock. Completely exhausted and dismayed, I arrived at my hotel. I got online to find the owner’s contact details, which I realize I should have done the week prior given her shady communication. I sent a Hail Mary email in a last-ditch effort while I’m just 30 minutes down the road. He responded right away to say he wasn’t aware of my intentions, and she had never told him that he essentially had an offer as early as May 15th. The couple had changed their minds three times already, which didn’t make him sound confident in the sale. He said he hadn’t signed anything and let’s meet in the morning. 

As the owner showed me the barge on June 12th as scheduled, I finally felt like there was still a chance. Upon leaving, I called my boyfriend and mom with the latest update that I had hope. My boyfriend said he could get over there earlier if needed to help make sure the survey and sale happened, since I had the travel conference shortly after my return. 

Ultimately, the chips were stacked against me and the barge owner decided to just go with the couple. I could tell his perception had been tainted and all sides were pushed into an easy, fast commission. 

That got me thinking to look back at the initial exchange over email between my advisor and the agent in France. It was in Dutch, but I decided to ask my Dutch friend to translate it, since now I was curious if that started it all. 

Turns out my “advisor” said to the agent in so many words:

She has these stories about owning a larger boat, and now she wants a small one. She thinks she has the money. Please send her the most recent survey but don’t bother translating it. 

Wow. After several frivolous days in France and expenses, I took myself back to the US. But first, I had to share that I had translated the message, and their behavior was incredibly unprofessional. The guy immediately called me, I’m sure to say that I misunderstood like some dumb little American girl. The two still say they did nothing wrong. Sure, maybe not legally, but I’m impressed they’re still in business behaving this way. Seemed like they were trying to walk back their behavior, but the damage was done. 

Back to square one and still looking. 

As I reflect on the incident with friends and family, I just cannot fathom what they had to gain from behaving this way other than losing a future sale? Why not discourage me from flying across an ocean? Was it because I was an American, young, a woman? Who knows. But I hope by sharing my story, they don’t do it someone else again.

All that is to say:  

1) don’t go to Doeve Brokers to give you sound advice 

2) don’t let people discourage you

3) rise above and prove everyone wrong 

Cause guess what, this ain’t over till I’m a barge captain and hosting you on a memorable experience! Look out for me on the canals and stay tuned. 

Thanks for reading and caring! ❤️

 

Travelogue

First Timer’s Guide to Beirut & Lebanon

Lebanon is a complicated country, caught in the middle of even more complicated neighbors. Nonetheless, the people have this air of ease and casual style. They don’t shy away from their painful past, but embrace it. I haven’t felt unsafe here once. In fact, I’ve felt really welcomed and people are genuinely proud of their country and want you to see the best parts of it.

Being here has changed my perception, and I hope to debunk some negative narratives and headlines we see in the news.

But first, a few helpful tips and highlights when considering a trip to Lebanon:

Currency: They use Lebanese Pounds interchangeably with US currency. It’s a fixed 1,500 LBP to $1 USD. If you are coming from the US, you can bring currency with you and just make change to have local currency as you go. This way you can avoid additional bank or exchange fees at the airport.

Language: Naturally, the predominately spoken language is Arabic, however, the majority speak English and French in the city and tourist areas. Lots of times, if you are stuck, dust off that high school French and charades doesn’t hurt. You will be fine getting by on English, so don’t stress.

Getting Around Beirut: Taxi or even Uber is widely used – and inexpensive. With Uber, you can regulate how much you pay vs. haggling with a taxi driver, plus enter in the exact location you need to go. Another option is “service” rides. You’ll notice that everyone is constantly honking at you. Not cause you’re a hottie (you may be) but they are offering you a lift. You have to lean down and tell the driver the general area or street you need to get to. They will either accept (group share so others may be in or join) or drive off if it’s not on their way. You can also walk a lot around Beirut in certain areas like Downtown, Hamra, or Mar Mikhael just bear in mind that the rules of the road are usually ignored and be aware.

Getting Around Lebanon: This one is more complicated. There are inexpensive local buses that go to many places, however, as a newbie, you’ll likely want to go the car route. You can hire an individual to tour you around (even Uber goes many places from Beirut) or join a group tour. I would suggest arranging through a trusted group like Living Lebanon or Nikhal – also found on Expedia – if you feel more comfortable confirming there and paying online quickly.

Tip: On Sundays, a majority of the shops and businesses are closed. Restaurants and bars are still open (some may close for mid-day and re-open at 7:30/8 pm, so check the times), but don’t plan on visiting Bourj Hammoud, shopping or certain activities that day because you’ll be disappointed. Just ask ahead any tour operator or hotel. Most won’t operate a tour on a day where the experience will not be good anyway.

Places to See: Beirut can easily serve as your home base throughout your whole stay. The country is not very large (just shy of the size of Connecticut), so you can do many of the highlights in a day. But, I say you should try to spend an overnight somewhere like a coastal town below or even in the mountain area close to the wineries if you have the time.

Highlights include:

  • Bekaa Valley & Mount Lebanon – Wine country & ski resorts when in season (Faraya is truly stunning when it’s blanketed by snow, or conversely, green hillsides in summer stay at Terrebrune Hotel with their infinity pool overlooking Roman ruins)
  • Baalbeck -Beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site to visit and best to couple with a visit to Anjar
  • Byblos – Said to be the oldest, continuously inhabited city dating back 7,000 years
  • Tripoli – Coastal town to the north with a small chain of islands that you can go to in season to enjoy the beach
  • Batroun – An hour north of Beirut, this coastal town has wineries, breweries, and a surfing scene
  • Saida or Sidon – Another ancient coastal town with an old souk and sea castle
  • Tyre – Also referred to as Sour, not only does this have one of Lebanon’s five UNESCO sites, it has a happening beach scene that you would think you were in Greece or south of France
  • Jeita Grotto – The most impressive limestone caves I have ever seen; unfortunately, the policy is no photography, so you have to go see for yourself
  • Hiking & Nature – There’s plenty of hiking places and outdoor activities; check out Baatara Waterfall and ways to book those hiking activities here
  • Free Walking Tour Beirut – Weekly tour that you should sign up to get a nice overview of downtown and history lesson

Accommodations: Best areas to stay and be among the action – Mar Mikhael, Gemmayze, Hamra, Badaro or Downtown Beirut. There are some recognizable hotel brands like Le Gray (Leading Hotels), Radisson Blu, Four Seasons, Kempinski, Ramada and InterContinental. Non-chain options I would suggest are…

  • The Smallville located in Badaro neighborhood and popular street of bars and restaurants
  • Hostel with local entertainment, cafe (free WiFi), bar and even Arabic classes at Saifi Urban Gardens
  • Hamra Urban Gardens with a rooftop pool for those hot summer days (same owner as Saifi)
  • Villa Clara is a nice boutique hotel in the heart of Mar Mikhael – a hip neighborhood to be based
  • Baffa House
  • Guest houses curated by L’HOTE Libanais
  • And of course, Airbnb is here
  • Dar Alma – Tyre boutique hotel with seafront rooms
  • Souk El Tayeb – A few b&b style “homes” around Lebanon that are worth checking out; Beit Douma has to be my favorite so far
  • Spend some time in the Chouf at Nomads Nature & Nurture for a guesthouse stay (must love cats & dogs), Bkerzay (upscale option known for their pottery), Deir al Oumara, Mir Amin Palace or Bouyouti Hotel.

Where to Dine & Drink in Beirut: Many restaurants and businesses are not easy to find because they don’t typically have a website or aren’t listed on Google Maps. For the Westerner that I am, I was initially miffed of where to find all the information and where to go. Zomato is their local Yelp, so download the app or visit the website. It’s a great guide to dining in Lebanon and specifically Beirut. A few favorites of mine so far…

Dining

  • Ferdinand – Great spot for gourmet burgers and cocktails in Hamra
  • Santana’s located in Monot – a chic neighborhood that’s a great stroll
  • Abdel Wahab – Noteworthy Lebanese restaurant in Monot (next to Santana’s) with a great ambiance and décor
  • Al Falamanki – Traditional Lebanese dishes in a green garden setting
  • Baron – Amazing variety of cuisine and the best selection for vegetarians (*very expensive)
  • Enab – Local cuisine on Armenia Street with nice ambiance
  • Villa Badaro – A lovely indoor and outdoor dining space with great dishes
  • Mario E Mario – Delicious Italian with a rooftop terrace in season
  • Ahi Poke Beirut – Delicious, fresh ingredients and build your own bowl
  • Mayrig – Very good spot for mezze dishes to share and sit outside on their terrace
  • Mezyan – Delicious dishes in a space that you won’t notice as the entrance is through what appears to be an office building then through that corridor
  • Liza – Featured on Vogue.com and Condé Nast Traveler
  • Tawlet – Local chefs from around Lebanon prepare their daily lunch buffets; they offer cooking classes so ask in advance and visit the Souk El Tayeb market on Wednesdays and Saturdays at Beirut Souks

Coffee & Drinks

  • Home Sweet Home
  • Kalei Coffee Co.
  • Aaliya’s Books
  • Sip
  • Urbanista
  • Ales & Tales
  • Brick’s
  • Dragonfly
  • The Jerry Experience
  • Attic Bar
  • The Next Whiskey Bar & Tota (next to each other)
  • Brew – Brand new brewery, locally produced beer
  • Kissproof
  • Central Station Boutique Bar
  • Locale – Always has 50% off happy hour prices and indoor/outdoor seating; one of my favorite watering holes
  • Gouraud to Armenia Street – You cannot go wrong with walking up and down this street from the Mosque to Bourj Hammoud area; plenty of bars and nightlife!
  • Grand Factory – A club on top of a warehouse that’s worth a visit to get a taste of the scene (about $30 US to enter with complimentary drink or bottle service if you’re a baller)

I will continue to add to this post when I have more fantastic finds and advice from my own experience and locals that I befriend 💁

Thanks for dropping by and spreading the good word about Lebanon!

 

 

Travelogue

Make Hope Float – Join the Boat & Breakfast Kickstarter Crew!

Operation, charge this barge!

When I was young, I learned that my aunt and uncle cashed in their retirement early to buy a Dutch barge and call the canals of Europe their home for two years until they sold it to move back to the U.S. It seemed more like a fairytale, something unattainable. Ever since, the idea stuck with me. Now in my 30s, the thought continues to surface – imploring me to act, so I decided to start looking at Dutch barges for sale to get a sense of the pricing and logistics. First, it was internet window shopping for some time and drooling over houseboats on Airbnb. I continued going about my business.

Then one day over Thanksgiving weekend November 2017, I came across the dream boat. The recently refurbished 1929 has four cabins (sleeps 8), three bathrooms, spacious lounge area with a full bar, large sun deck space for entertaining, and a Jacuzzi. The boat measures 125 ft x 17 ft. My idea has been to own a Dutch barge, so I could host small groups to have a “Bikes & Barges” experience through the French countryside and guests can enjoy the local wineries. I found the perfect marina in Strasbourg, France to do just that. I have 35 days to make this Kickstarter float – oh yes, all the boat puns coming your way!

Be apart of the Kickstarter crew and learn more about this story:

Public Relations

6 Effective PR Tips to Cut Through the Clutter

Everyone loves getting positive press coverage. That’s why so many companies and experts hire public relations agencies or individuals to help bridge the gap between company and publication. While I don’t think it takes a brain surgeon to do PR, there are ways to do PR better. And here are my six recommendations:
🕒 Recognize that writers or editors are always on deadline or fielding many pitches by keeping it as brief as possible and to the point in the first two sentences. Don’t call. Email only unless otherwise requested by the media contact.
📖Show that you know their publication’s readership or audience and that your story is delivering value to them.
💡 Add a timely news topic or seasonal angle for relevancy or use a statistic that makes it a strong case for you to be included.
📲 Be fast when they need something like a quote or visual asset. The people that move quickly are usually the best resources that the media can rely on to make their deadlines.
👊 Find ways to network in-person or attend events to meet writers. Personal connections and a face to the email helps tremendously. As a person who organizes monthly travel professional meet ups for Travel Massive NYC, I’ve found that it makes my job easier and people read my emails.
💬 Read the outlets you feel are most relevant and look at who is the writer or covers that beat. Set up Google Alerts with relevant keywords and competitors to help find those relevant outlets. Then track down their email and get in touch. Tools and subscriptions that you can use to get media contact details is Cision and MuckRack.
If you have any to add, drop them in the comment section 👇 or get in touch at jessica@tripwhisperer.nyc. I have a consulting hotline if you need at Pick My Brain.
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