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قلعة شمع الأثرية: عين الصليببين - [more]
By: فاطمة قاسم
Date: Wednesday, May 06, 2015

قلعة شمْع الجنوبية صرح حضاري يقلب في صفحاته صوراً من ماضي فلسطين وحاضر الجنوب اللبناني.

اللبنانيون سيطلون مجدداً على الساحل الفلسطيني من خلال واحدة من أهم القلاع العسكرية والحصون التي كانت تحمي الممالك المسيحية في صور وعكا وطبريا، حتى وادي الأردن وبانياس.

على أعلى تلة في بلدة شمع الجنوبية تتربع بقايا القلعة التاريخية التي تعاقبت عليها الحقبات.

ومضت عشرة قرون على تشييد القلعة التي اكتسبت اسمها من مقام النبي شمعون الصفا المدفون داخل أسوارها.

وتحتل القلعة موقعاً مترامي الاطراف يعزوه مؤرخون لكونها بنيت لتكون عين الصليبيين على كل المناطق.

بسبب موقعها الجغرافي المطل على صور من ناحية وعلى الساحل الفلسطيني من ناحية اخرى اتخذها الاسرائليون مركزا عسكريا لهم لاثنين وعشرين عاما دحروا في العام 2000 وعادوا منتقمين في تموز 2006 فحولوها الى ركام

ويقول مسؤول المواقع الاثرية في الجنوب إن الصواريخ التي قصفت بها القلعة كانت دقيقة قصفت منطقة فيها اقبية وهي حساسة انشائياً فأدى ذلك إلى تدمير القلعة بالكامل.

والانصهار الجغرافي بين لبنان وفلسطين المحتلة ترسم معالمه الحكومة الايطالية بترميمها الموقع.

وفي البلدة الهادئة يتذكر المعمرون أن السكن كان محصوراً بالقلعة ومحيطها.

ويقول رجل معمرمن القرية إن سكانها كانوا ضمن القلعة، ويروي البعض أن بوابة القلعة هو في عكا.

أما رواية بوابة عكا فلم يؤكدها المؤرخون. لكن المؤكد أن الإتصال الاستراتيجي مع الداخل الفلسطيني كانت تضمنه مجموعة أبراج متصلة بالقلعة، ومتشابكة ببعضها البعض.

وبرج في الناقورة ما زال قائماً وأيضاً في الرأس الابيض وفي الاسكندرونة، كلها ضمن شبكة دفاعية واحدة مركزها قلعة شمع.

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متحف جبران خليل جبران المحفور في الصخر - [more]
By: بيسان طراف
Date: Tuesday, May 05, 2015

فوق اعالي جبال بلدة بشري شمال لبنان وعلى كتف وادي قاديشا يقع متحف جبران خليل جبران، واحد من المتاحف القليلة في العالم المحفورة في الصخر.
فوق أعالي جبال بلدة بشري وعلى مسافة مئة وعشرين من بيروت وعلى كتف وادي قاديشا الساحر يقع متحف جبران خليل جبران، وهو واحد من المتاحف القليلة في العالم المحفور في الصخر.

عند دخول الزائر الى المتحف، لا بد وأن يشعر برهبة المكان الذي يحتضن رفات اهم مبدعي لبنان، متحف يعبق برائحة الزمان، كل زاوية منه أو ركن يشي بحكاية عن جبران أو قصة ما
 .في هذه الغرفة رتبّت اغراض جبران التي جلبت من نيويورك .هذه بعض مدوناته وهذه كرسيه مرآته صناديقه ومرسمه.. سريره القصير كقامته ..طاولته وسهر الليالي.أمام مدفن جبران في قلب الصخر والمحفوظ داخل خشب ارز لبنان يصغر الموت امام ابداع الكبار. "النبي"، "الأجنحة المتكسرة"، "الأرواح المتمردة" و"العواصف" "المجنون" و"المواكب"، بعض من ابداعاته والكثير من عبقريته تخطى الزمان والمكان.

على هذه الخشبة حفر جبران،"كلمة أريد أن تكتب على قبري..أنا حيّ مثلك وأنا واقف الآن إلى جانبك، فاغمض عينيك والتفت تراني امامك"!
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جداريات وادي قنوبين.. إرث وطني وروحي مهمل منذ ثلاثة قرون - [more]
By: فاطمة قاسم
Date: Monday, May 04, 2015

في نافذة على لبنان نضيء على الفن الأنطاكي والسرياني والبيزنطي المتثمل في جداريات وادي قنوبين شمال لبنان، فن عمره مئات السنين.
متحاملة على وجع الإهمال الحكومي، ترقد جدرايات وادي قنوبين بعناية إلهية، في أسفل واد لا تطأه إلا أقدام من ينشدون الوجدانية.  
من مجرى نهر قاديشا نتجه إلى دير سيدة قنوبين التي تحتضن واحدة من أهم الجداريات المشرقية التي سيصار ترميمها وإنقاذها لاحقاً.

يشرح جورج عرب المسؤول الإعلامي في رابطة قنوبين "أن الدير يضم أهم جداريات الوادي المقدس الموجودة في مجموعة من المزارات والأديرة القائمة في الوادي" مضيفاً أن "جدارية تتويج العذراء التي تحولت أيقونة هي أهم جدارية مارونية في العالم".

إرث وطني وروحي برمزية مارونية ينشد بث الروح المعمارية فيها من جديد. نداء تداعت البطريركية المارونية لنجدته حيث سيجري اختيار إحدى البعثات الروسية أو البولونية أو الإيطالية لتسلم ملف إعادة الترميم بتكلفة باهظة".
يقول حارس دير سيدة قنوبين "إن السبب في تلف الصور الرطوبة وتسرب المياه إليها" مضيفاً "أن المهندسين والخبراء رفعوا طلباً إلى البطريركية للقيام بترميمها".

لم يجر الاهتمام بجداريات الوادي المقدس القيمة منذ أكثر من ثلاثة قرون. حالياً تنطلق أعمال الترميم لكن ليس على أيد لبنانية بل سيستقدم خبراء أجانب. يجيب جورج عرب "أن الحاجة إلى خبراء أجانب تعود إلى عدم توفر خبرات فنية عالية".  

لن يقطع الإهمال الطريق إلى الحق والحياة. يتذمر جيران الوادي بحسرة فمن غير الجائز أن تهد يد الإهمال ما لم تصل إليه بعد يد التطرف والجهل.


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الدبكة: إرث لبناني مفتوح على التقاليد - [more]
By: بيسان طراف
Date: Sunday, May 03, 2015

نافذة جديدة تضيء فيها الميادين على لبنان، هذا البلد الساحر بطبيعته، والغني بتراثه وثقافته. نافذة نستهلها بالحديث عن الدبكة اللبنانية كتراث شعبي يرتبط بعادات وتقاليد ورثوها منذ القدم.

تعلو "الأوف" وينطلق المجوز (آلة موسيقية) على إيقاع الطبل، فتتشابك الأيادي وتتشكل حلقة الدبكة. تماه في الخطى. كأنهم شخص واحد. في خطواتهم وضربات أقدامهم حكايا عتيقة تغني الحياة والوطن. ويقول متخصص في رقص الدبكة اللبنانية إن لكل أغنية دبكتها الملائمة لها. وتختلف الدبكات بين الشمال والجنوب وجبل لبنان. لكنهم كلهم يتغنون بدبكتهم ويعدونها الأجمل بين شقيقاتها وجميعهم يفتخرون بأصالتها. ويؤكد عمر الصلح، مدير "فرقة هياكل للرقص الفولكلوري"، إن الدبكة متجذرة في الوعي الشعبي وأن الأطفال يولدون كأنهم يعرفون الدبكة قبل أن يتعلموها. وكلما ازداد عدد الشباب والشابات تحلو الدبكة، ويزداد رونقها مع تسارع الخطوات والحركات.


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تنورين صاحبة المعالم والآثار التاريخية والارز المعمر تفتقر الى الانماء واهلها يعتبرونها محرومة ووعود بالانصاف يأملون ترجمتها ميدانيا - [more]
By: ميشالا ساسين
Date: Thursday, April 30, 2015

وطنية -  تفتقد تنورين، كغيرها من البلدات اللبنانية الى المشاريع الانمائية من صرف صحي وطرق. وتعاني مشاكل في القطاع الزراعي وأزمة مياه، ما ينعكس سلبا على دورها السياحي في البلدة، كونها تعد من أهم المصايف في لبنان نظرا لارتفاعها عن سطح البحر ومناظرها الطبيعية الخلابة.

تنورين تضم خمس "ضيع" هي: تنورين التحتا والفوقا - حوب - شاتين - بلعا، ويشكل ارتباطها سلسلة جبال تسحر العين وصخور محفورة كالمنحوتات، ولكن وعلى الرغم من الطبيعة الجميلة تفقد تنورين لمقومات الحياة وتعتبر من المناطق المحرومة بنظر اهلها.

نعمة حرب:حاجة انمائية
وفي هذا السياق، يؤكد نائب رئيس بلدية تنورين المحامي نعمة حرب ،أن البلدة تعاني من نقص انمائي كبير وتحتاج الى الكثير من المشاريع"، مشيرا الى مشكلة النقص في المياه التي تشكل أزمة موجودة في العديد من المناطق الجبلية، وهي مرت بأزمات في السنوات الماضية من شح في الينابيع وإنقطاع للمياه"، وقال:"ان البلدة بحاجة الى سدود ولكن الدراسات أثبتت انها ليست العلاج الوحيد بل الخزانات الترابية او ما يعرف ب"البرك" لان السد يولد مشاكل كبيرة في التربة لوجود "البواليع" التي قد يكون اغلاقها غير مضمون".

سد بلعا
وأكد حرب "ان سد بلعا المنتظر انشاؤه قامت الدولة بتلزيمه ل"شركة معوض" ولكن وزارة البيئة طلبت وقف العمل فيه من اجل القيام ببعض الدراسات عن طبيعة الارض.

الصرف الصحي
وعن الصرف الصحي، قال حرب: انها مشكلة بالغة الاهمية، بالنسبة لاهل تنورين، لانها بحاجة الى تمديدات وبناء محطة. وكانت وزارة الطاقة لزمت شركة لبنانية معروفة بـ "هومن" من اجل القيام بالتمديدات وشركة فرنسية "او تي في" من اجل بناء المحطة حيث حدد موقع انشائها في بلدة بساتين العصي، باختيار من الوزارة، ولكن أهلها عارضوا بشكل قاطع ان تقام المحطة على ارضهم بسبب عدم ثقتهم بالدولة وخوفهم بان تدار المجارير على المحطة ما يؤدي الى تهجير اهل البلدة بسبب الروائح الكريهة والبرغش، وبرأيهم الخاص ان الدولة تعمل على حل مشكلة قرى بنقلها اليهم.

ويضيف حرب: قام الوزير بطرس حرب بجهد كبير من اجل اقناع اهل بساتين العصي بانشاء المحطة ولكنهم رفضوا رغم تأكيده لهم ان الشركة تتعهد عدم ترك اي اثر سلبي وهو يؤكد ان العمل اليوم جار على ايجاد مكان آخر بشكل لا يؤثر على السكان وبعيدا عن المنازل من اجل حل مشكلة الصرف الصحي".

ويشير حرب الى "ان بلدية كفرحلدا - الكفور - دوما وتنورين تعمل من اجل متابعة موضوع انشاء المحطة مع المسؤولين والسياسيين".

حال الطرق
اما عن حال الطرق في تنورين، يؤكد حرب "ان هذا  الموضوع يحتاج الى متابعة من قبل وزارة الاشغال الغائبة منذ سنتين عن المنطقة. فتنورين مشهورة في طرقاتها الزراعية المؤلفة من عشرات الامتار والتي تحتاج الى تأهيل من الدمار الناتج عن تساقط الثلوج والجرف الحاصل لان اموال البلدية لا تكفي للقيام بمشاريع التأهيل، وما زلنا حتى اليوم موعودين بالاموال من اجل تزفيت الطرق الزراعية والداخلية. وقد عملت البلدية على مساعدة الناس للوصول الى البساتين وجرف الثلوج الناتجة عن العواصف".

انجازات اتحاد البلديات
وعن انجازات اتحاد البلديات في ما يتعلق بموضوع الطرق، يقول حرب :"ان الاتحاد قام بتزفيت طريق السيدة وانشاء حواجز من اجل منع الانزلاق بين وادي تنورين ووطى حوب ونأمل ان يكمل بتوسيع وتعبيد بعض الطرق".
"
سياحة طبيعية ودينية
وتشتهر تنورين بآثارها ومعالمها الطبيعية وتعتبر محمية أرز تنورين من اهم المعالم السياحية كونها تشكل امتدادا  لغابات حدث الجبة -البطريركية المارونية - قنات - نيحا - وكفور العربة وتمثل ربع ما تبقى من الارز في لبنان واصبحت مقصودة جدا"، وافتتحت سياحيا سنة 2005 ويزورها نحو 20000 سائح سنويا.

وتمتاز تنورين ايضا بالسياحة الدينية وفيها 50 كنيسة منتشرة في البلدة وصولا الى اللقلوق - حريصا - وشاتين، فبالوع بلعا من أهم المعالم عالميا وهو عبارة عن تجويف صخري يتقاطع بثلاث جسور، اضافة الى المعابد القديمة والمغاور والكهوف. وهذه المعالم أدت الى ارتفاع أسعار العقارات والمطاعم أصبحت تعمل بشكل افضل. كما ان البلدية تعمل على تنظيم المهرجانات والحفلات.

مستشفى تنورين الحكومي
ويشيرحرب الى "ان مستشفى تنورين هو من افضل المستشفيات الحكومية في لبنان وان ادارتها سليمة بعكس ما اشيع عنها وهي تقدم الخدمات بافضل نوعية وبنتائج رائعة حتى انها تضاهي في العديد من الاحيان المستشفيات الخاصة".

الزراعة
اما في الشق الزراعي، فيشكو المزارعون من تراجع الموسم هذا العام في كافة انواع الانتاج، فتنورين المعروفة بتفاحها تدنى محصولها هذه السنة عن الاعوام الخمسة الماضية كذلك الاجاص والكرز والدراق والسبب يعود الى العواصف القوية التي ضربت لبنان وتسببت بضرب المواسم الزراعية في ظل غياب التعويض المادي عن الخسائرالتي لحقت بهم. فمعظم الانتاج كان يصدر الى الخارج ما ادى الى كارثة على الصعيد الاقتصادي للبلدة وللمزارعين.

وفي هذا السياق، طالب حرب الدولة بدعم المزارعين من اجل مساعدتهم على البقاء في ارضهم واعتنائهم فيها ومساعدتهم  بالمواد والاسمدة وتعويضهم عن الخسائر من اجل تصريف الانتاج والحد من هجرتهم وتركهم لاراضيهم.

وختم: ان تنورين لم تأخذ حقها من ميزانية الدولة على كافة المستويات من البنى التحتية ، الزراعة، السياحة ،تأ هيل الطرق وانشاء المراكز المهمة، فابناؤها يريدون حقهم لان تنورين ليست قرية صغيرة انما عدد سكانها يفوق الـ 25000 نسمة  ولديها اكبر بلدية في قضاء البترون مؤلفة من 18 عضوا وخرجت الى العالم رؤساء، وزراء وطاقات ومبدعين.

اذا على الرغم من كل الجهود المبذولة من البلدية وابناء المنطقة والمسؤولين، الا ان تنورين تحتاج الى دعم كبير من الدولة لتتمكن من تنفيذ المشاريع الانمائية الملحة والضرورية التي تحتاج اليها من أجل مستقبل ابنائها وصورتها السياحية والبيئية".

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Salma Hayek classy and classical in Lebanon - [more]
By: -
Date: Tuesday, April 28, 2015

BEIRUT: Salma Hayek opted for a classy and classical look during her stay in Lebanon to promote "The Prophet," a film she co-produced based on a book written more than 100 years ago by renowned Lebanese-American poet and philosopher Gibran Khalil Gibran. Hayek attended the screening of her film in Beirut Souks Cinema City Monday wearing a custom-made couture gown by prominent Lebanese designer Elie Saab. She wore the same outfit, a modified A-Line powder blue dress, to the gala dinner held at Villa Rose in Clemenceau to the benefit of the Children's Cancer Center in Lebanon. She wore Pomellato jewelry.

Earlier Monday, the actress of Lebanese descent attended a meeting with the media wearing a tea-length, off-white with royal blue floral prints dress from the Alexander McQueen collection. Over the weekend, Hayek visited the Khalil Gebran museum in north Lebanon's picturesque town of Bsharri in a floral Yves Saint Laurent top she paired with a pleated skirt.

Hayek is known for her flirty, feminine style, appearing often on the red carpet in figure-hugging gowns that accentuate her voluptuous curves.

In a 2014 editorial published by NewBeauty magazine, the 48-year-old Hayek discussed her secrets to maintaining her beauty, while accepting the inevitability of aging.

Unlike many of her Hollywood peers, Hayek isn't into cosmetic procedures such as plastic surgery or even the most basic treatments. She tells NewBeauty, "I have never gotten something done just because it was a trend or the next 'biggest wonder.' I tend to stay away from aggressive things. I've never even had a peel or microdermabrasion."

In July 2013's InStyle, cover girl Hayek admitted that her primary inspiration for putting together a good outfit is her husband, French businessman Francois-Henri Pinault. "I'm not really a fashionista. I have an eye; I can pull it together, but a lot of the effort I make is for my husband because I want him to be attracted to me," she said.

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HORECA marks resilience of Lebanon's hospitality industry - [more]
By: Susan Wilson
Date: Wednesday, April 22, 2015

BEIRUT: As visitors walk through the crowds at HORECA this year, during the 22nd edition of the hospitality trade show, they wouldn't be able to tell that Lebanon's food industry has been taking a hit of late as result of the crusade of Health Minister Wael Abu Faour.

Given that the industry had already been impacted in recent years by the lack of tourism, Abu Faour's campaign against poor health and safety standards could be seen as another blow to Lebanon's reputation in the region.

Not so, insists Joumana Dammous Salame, who founded Hospitality Services, the driving force behind HORECA, with her father back in 1993.

"Although things are going through a difficult moment in the country they are not as bad as we think they are," she told The Daily Star, gesturing to the packed exhibition halls.

(The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

"As you can see, the show, it's bigger, there [are] more positive vibes, positive energy, positive ambiance, so this is very good.

"We have a beautiful show, 350 participants, with all the sectors covered, competitions everywhere ... It confirms the role the country and Beirut [has] to play in terms of gastronomy, in terms of design, in terms of good food."

HORECA is one of the biggest trade shows in the region and is billed as a meeting place for industry members to gain advice, network, discover new talents and products, and work together to toward growth.

Visitors at the show launched Monday at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure center and running through Thursday have the opportunity to taste and talk to producers of Lebanese brands, along with representatives from across the region and Europe.

HORECA is also hosting a number of competitions and culinary showcases, including the National Extra Virgin Olive Oil Contest, the Bed Making Competition, Lebanese Baristas and Bartenders as well as live cooking shows by chefs both local and international.

(The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

Dammous advises visitors coming to the last two days of HORECA to not miss the award ceremonies, meeting with judges and chefs, visiting the design spaces such as Tawlet by Rana Salam and the Lebanese terrace by BLEU and of course gaining free advice from all the experts available.

Such advice includes regular 10-minute training sessions by G.W.R consulting, who wrote the new health and safety guidelines adopted by the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-Clubs & Pastries – though the team on duty admitted things had been slow so far.

Maya Bakhazi Noun, who last year became one of the first women on the board of the syndicate since its establishment in 1946, is positive about the industry moving forward.

"The syndicate is making a lot of effort on food safety, having free training sessions, free assessments for restaurants, this is one of our targets," she says.

"Despite of everything that is going on in the region we still are seeing people coming here to buy franchises, to get consultancy, to get new ideas. Yes, there is a lot of hesitation, things have slowed down, but some people still believe in the future of this country."

Tawlet parties with Rana Salam design. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

Proof that the industry is still taking off is relative newcomer Cup and Roll, conceived as a healthy take on pastry. The company delivers their savory and sweet creations across Beirut and are due to open their first outlet in Hamra at the end of May.

"We are more focused on online marketing so when we participate in an offline event like this we see a lot of good orders ... it's very exciting, it's really always new people and we're glad that a lot of people are still discovering our concept," says Wassim Haddad, partner in the company.

It's not just Lebanese brands, however, that are seizing the opportunities presented by HORECA, according to Fatmeh Deriss, who was representing Iran's Golrang Industrial Group.

"HORECA is a big event in the Middle East and I think that our place is in HORECA absolutely, this is the first year we shift our concentration from the CIS countries to the GCC countries," she says, explaining GIG's first appearance at the show.

It seems then that Dammous' belief in the hospitality industry's resilience is well-placed.

HORECA is running until April 23 at BIEL in Downtown Beirut.

Chef Frédéric Anton talks success and mankousheh

Chef Frédéric Anton. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

The guest of honor at HORECA this year is France's Frédéric Anton, a three Michelin starred chef, former celebrity judge on France's Master Chef and the head chef at Le Pre Catelan in Paris.

Anton began his career in 1984 at the Capucin Gourmand in Nancy, his place of birth. Career highlights include working for 7 years with chef Joël Robuchon (1988-1996) at Jamin, receiving his first two Michelin stars in 1999, followed in 2000 by the title of Best Craftsman of France, and his third Michelin star at the age of 47 in 2007.

Speaking to The Daily Star at HORECA, Chef Anton, who first visited Lebanon 10 years ago, says the country has always been welcoming.

"My visits to Lebanon have been very good, very nice, because everyone has taken care of me and given me all the help I need. We have had the chance to visit many nice places and taste very good Lebanese food; and we made friends which is priceless."

Lebanese cuisine, in part because of the widespread Lebanese diaspora, can be found the world over, but having the chance to taste "authentic" Lebanese food, with the "colors, and the textures and the history," was an enjoyable experience for the French chef. 

Asked about the trend toward modernizing Middle Eastern cuisine, he agreed this was an important step for Lebanese food, like French cuisine before it. His personal view is that Lebanese food can be quite heavy, and one way to modernize it would be to make the dishes lighter.

Speaking of his own success, Anton said that chefs need to be themselves and be consistent.

"The way to have three stars in France is to have your own personal style of cooking that allows you to express yourself and not be like all the others.

"The most important thing to having Michelin stars is to keep your [quality] consistent."

As for his favorite Lebanese food, Chef Anton will find himself in agreement with many with his choice of mankousheh with zaatar.

The art of making your bed

Bed Making Competition at HORECA (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

While some might have felt vindicated at scientific studies that suggest the unmade bed is healthier – a poorer habitat for dust mites – for those in the hospitality industry, making the bed is more than just a mother's scolding.

"[The bed] should be very appealing, and for a bed to be appealing he [the housekeeper] should make it in a certain way so that when the customer comes in he feels the warmth. 

"Sometimes small details can make this difference; you cannot see it but you will feel it when you enter the room and either you will feel it's very welcoming and asking you to jump in the bed [or not]." 

So says Nicole Abdallah, vice president of Reva, House of Sleep, which is sponsoring the first bed making competition at HORECA. 

"The best hotels [are taking part] and they are trying to see who makes the best bed," she explains, going on to describe the criteria involved in judging the contest. 

"I'll tell you some very picky things, like if they take the quilt and put it half on the floor, half on the bed while putting it on, this is a catastrophe and should not be allowed in a hotel because it will take up all the dust from the floor." 

Other rules of the event seen on the judging sheet by The Daily Star included placing the mattress protector evenly on top of the mattress, using only plain pillows and, of course, no running around.

The 37 contestants taking part will also be judged on their technique, timing – "For the competition it is 7 minutes. It's not the fastest, he should be doing it in 7 minutes perfectly. If he takes more he is definitely a loser, if he does it in that time or less it is the [end] result which will judge him." – overall impression – including humor, manners and self-control – and, last but not least, cleanliness and neatness.

While many of us might dread making the bed in the morning, Abdallah says the secret is to enjoy the task. 

"Love what you are doing, enjoy the process. Everything you do, if you enjoy the process of doing it rather than the result, it becomes excellent because life is the process, the result is [just] minutes of life.

"So if you teach your employees to enjoy doing the bed … when they do it with such a pleasure the end result becomes excellent, it cannot be otherwise."

The event is open to hotels and hospitality students, and already has been drawing a crowd, with cheers heard across the hall during one contestant's particularly impressive flourish of a bed sheet.

The winner of the bed making competitionwill be announced in an event Wednesday from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. at stand M 13.

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De Prague marks 10 years against all odds - [more]
By: Susan Wilson
Date: Wednesday, March 25, 2015


BEIRUT: Two years ago, it seemed like it was over. De Prague, the first bar to open on Hamra's Makdessi Street back in 2005, was scheduled for closure – citing the smoking ban, declining revenues and the security situation as reasons for its demise. Not even a sit-in, followed by a march of employees and regulars to owner Raed Habib's house, were enough to convince him.

But then the unexpected happened and just a day after last call, De Prague was given a stay of execution. Another six months to turn things around was granted by Habib, who told The Daily Star at the time he was surprised by the passion his decision to close had evoked.

Flash forward to 2015 and De Prague has just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, inviting all to come and celebrate at the bar on March 17.

"We thought for the 10th anniversary it's good to talk about it with other people, to let them know that the place has been alive for 10 years," says Rime al-Jabr, hostess at De Prague.

"For two years we have been struggling to keep the place open – we still have people come and ask us," she says, referring to De Prague's near death experience.

"We started off thinking about doing a small event, just inviting people that we know. Then we made it a little bit more ... we [advertised it on Facebook] and we had a really successful night."

Last Tuesday saw the bar packed with customers, new and old. Described by one regular of De Prague as resembling a Saturday night, the anniversary drew in a crowd that the bar is known for – 20-30 year olds from all walks of life, Lebanese and foreigners. There were a few special touches – canapes, photographers and a video played to celebrate the bar.

The anniversary was like a love letter to the staff that fought so hard to keep De Prague afloat these last two years.

"We had old staff send us videos from all over the world – Italy, Paris and Dubai – to be with us during the night," says Pascale Azzi, manager of De Prague.

Full of praise for the staff, who she describes as "like a family," Azzi says the anniversary was a wonderful night that reflected all the hard work that has been put into keeping De Prague strong.

"We started to be more responsible. It was our place and someone was taking it from us. We fought to keep it, and we are still fighting to keep it," Azzi says, attributing the bar's turnaround to a fresh look, atmosphere and the staff's hard work.

De Prague, Azzi says, is a landmark in Hamra. And while fortunes in the area have seen their ups and downs of late, De Prague is weathering the storm.

"I think the main reason that De Prague survived all these years is because we are like family and we don't treat customers like customers," says Vlad Labban, shift manager at De Prague.

"When you come to De Prague, you grab a beer ... and [enjoy] good vibes ... We don't want to [just] make profits."

Speaking about the scare two years ago, Labban says it was a hard year for everyone in the food and beverage business in Hamra. He attributed the turnaround De Prague has witnessed to a lot of hard work.

"We worked on it, the management, the place, the staff ... we worked on the service mainly. In this business there is a main reason that a place can work – the service."

Hamra, once considered lost to the drawing power of Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael, has been witnessing a revival of late, with last year's opening of the Courtyard just up the road from De Prague.

"Hamra has changed now ... the bars are at a superior level. [They] used to be for young people with loud music. It was really annoying for everyone and attracted [the kinds of] people who wanted to have problems," Labban says.

"Now it has changed to places with a better standard, a more [mature] crowd. It has helped Hamra and especially this road [Makdessi] to have better clientele."

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Give the gift of choice this Valentine's Day - [more]
By: Ghinwa Obeid
Date: Friday, February 06, 2015

EIRUT: It's the month of love and those with a special someone are gearing up for Valentine's Day, which falls Feb. 14, a holiday as nerve-wracking as it can be blissful.

To avoid Valentine's-induced bickering, The Daily Star has put together a list of events taking place in and around the capital on the special day. Instead of opting for the cliché of a candle-lit dinner, live music and dinner options might make for a Valentine's to remember.

Singer Fares Karam performs. (The Daily Star/Stringer
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Regency Palace Hotel in Adma will host singers Yara and Fares Karam on Feb. 14. Yara's passionate and lively voice, paired with Fares' upbeat tunes will surely provide a fun night. Entry prices start at $150 to $250 and include an open regular bar and dinner. Make sure to make a reservation by calling 09-854-000.

This year, Le Royal Hotels & Resorts in Dbayeh is also offering various options for couples keen on celebrating the lovers' day.

Le Royal's Pearl Ballroom will be filled with the great romantic tunes of Wael Jassar, Nader al-Atat and Naji al-Ousta on Feb. 14. Enjoy the night with a three-course menu and an open regular bar with prices starting at $175. Those interested can reserve a table by dialing 04-555-219 or 71-012-012.

Singer Wael Jassar. (Wael Jassar Facebook page)
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For $220, couples can enjoy a luxurious four-course menu with an open regular bar at the hotel's Titanic Piano Bar where live music will be played. The festivities will be held Friday and Sunday, for those who cannot make Saturday's main event.

Options for Friday and Saturday include dinner at Le Royal's Le Jardin du Royal with a three-course menu, open regular bar, live music and violin performance for $160 per couple.

Valentine's Day can also be enjoyed with some Lebanese mezzeh, drinks, belly dancing and music with Brigitte Yaghi and Maher Chouman at Diwan Shahrayar for $180.

But those who prefer to relax rather than dance can take advantage of the Royal Spa, which comes with champagne, cake and chocolate-dipped strawberries, as well as a saxophone show by the indoor pool.

Some treatments available include a duo Turkish bath and a 25-minute royal massage for $310 or a ladies 30-minute body scrub, a 55-minute candle massage, a haircut, brushing, manicure and pedicure for $210. Men can enjoy the same deal – minus the pedicures – for $200.

Packages to spend the night at the hotel are also available.

Indigo on the Roof Restaurant. (Photo courtesy of Le Gray Hotel)

Another option to be considered is Le Gray Hotel's Indigo on the Roof in Downtown Beirut. On Feb. 13 and Feb. 14, the restaurant will transform into a delightfully charming venue with a romantic ambiance to get couples in the mood. For $110 per person, couples can enjoy a five-course Valentine's menu and live music. Drinks are not included. If you're looking for a glass of champagne upon arrival and an open deluxe wine bar, add $50 to the tab and call 01-972-000.

Hilton Beirut Habtoor Grand's Le Ciel, Up on the 31st Jazz Bar and Hilton Beirut Metropolitan Palace's Venezia in Sin al-Fil are also offering options for couples looking to celebrate Valentine's Day.

Music and dancing at Up on the 31st will liven up your night. (Photo courtesy of Habtoor)

A four-course set menu dinner with open house wine for $199 per couple at Le Ciel and Up on the 31st Jazz Bar is among them. Those unable to make the Feb. 14 event can attend Feb. 13.

The Venezia will also be treating couples Feb. 13 and Feb. 14 with a four-course set menu dinner with open house wine for $169 per couple. Make sure to reserve by calling 01-496-666.

Valentine's Day can also be spent dancing to the passionate music of Wael Kfoury and Mafi Metlo Show at Phoenicia Beirut in Mina al-Hosn. Prices start at $150 including dinner and open regular bar. Reserve by calling 70-350-888 or 01-357-888

Singer Wael Kfoury. (Arab Idol Facebook page)
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If you prefer to celebrate the day outside the capital, make sure to consider Rest House Tyr Hotel & Resort.

For $60 per person couples can enjoy a delicious menu of appetizers, Lebanese and international mezzeh, special Valentine's Day desserts and a live performance with open soft drinks.

Couples can also take advantage of package deals, including a night in the hotel and breakfast for $220. Call 07-742-000 for reservation.

The magical and timeless Byblos is also an ideal place to celebrate Valentine's Day outside Beirut. Byblos Sur Mer Hotel is offering two options for the occasion.

Byblos Sur Mer. (Photo courtesy of Byblos Sur Mer)

The hotel's Dar L'Azrak restaurant is offering Feb. 13, for $50 per person, a Lebanese menu, open bar and live music. Feb. 14, the restaurant will offer an oriental night with Lebanese cuisine and open bar for $60 per person.

This Valentine's Day the hotel's Cafe Tournesol will also offer a shared menu with local wine and romantic vibes for $40 per person.

Lovers can enjoy a night at the hotel in a sea view room with breakfast starting from $150. Those interested should reserve by calling 09-548-000.

But singles shouldn't feel left out from all the couple's deals.

Outdoor lovers can go on a snowshoeing adventure Feb. 15 in the Cedars reserve in Bsharri for L.L. 60,000 without lunch or L.L. 85,000 with lunch included.

Make sure to reserve on 79-115-001 or on 03-917-190.

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Activists battle for Beirut's heritage - [more]
By: Samar Kadi
Date: Tuesday, February 03, 2015

BEIRUT: Beirut, once a model Levantine Mediterranean city, is quickly losing its traditional character to modernization. Its Ottoman-style mansions with lush interior gardens and triple-arched windows, and its French colonial buildings are increasingly being bulldozed to make room for modern high-rises. Fifteen years of a destructive Civil War, in addition to an Israeli invasion, caused extensive damage to the city, but a postwar development and reconstruction spree turned out to be more detrimental.

For activists campaigning to preserve architectural heritage in a city with a predilection for lucrative real estate deals, it is a constant uphill battle. Karim Tawil, co-owner of Dardashat, a chain of Oriental cafes located in renovated old houses across the capital, has been battling for years to salvage his family home in Hay al-Lija from demolition.

The 80-year-old house stands out as alien in the densely populated quarter. "It is the sole and unique old building left in the midst of a cement jungle," Tawil said. "It is surrounded by new ugly constructions and looks like it is being intentionally suffocated." Developers have been trying relentlessly to force Tawil's family to sell the house, and filed a lawsuit calling for its demolition on the grounds that it stands in the way of a planned and licensed road.

"We have tried as much as we can to safeguard the house but the owners of the buildings in the area are fighting us. They want to have this road built to increase the value to their properties," Tawil said. "I am afraid it is a losing battle. The nature of the whole neighborhood has changed and eventually we will be forced to go with the flow."

Since the early '90s, as soon as the guns fell silent at the end of the 15-year Civil War, the whole of Beirut gradually became a reconstruction site. The postwar construction boom saw rich Lebanese expatriates, Gulf Arab investors, as well as politicians, go on a property development spree. Skyrocketing prices encouraged property owners to sell the lands on which their ancestral homes were sitting to the highest bidders. Within less than two decades, whole neighborhoods of a traditional nature, which were once noted for their typical houses, were replaced by modern high-rises, and glass and concrete structures, altering the face of the city.

Many Beirut residents do not recognize their city anymore. Neighborhoods, where they grew up and lived, are changing at an alarming pace, while many have been driven out of the city because they cannot afford to live in the luxurious high-rises that replaced their old buildings from which they had been evicted.

The figures are troubling. Conservation activists estimate that a mere 250 old mansions are left in Beirut, including several classified as "protected buildings" by the Culture Ministry. When listed, the house can be sold, but not demolished. However, that does not necessarily mean that it is saved, according to Tawil. "When they cannot sell, owners of listed houses leave them to crumble, or sometimes provoke their collapse, and bribe officials to turn a blind eye," he said.

Save Beirut Heritage, one among a dozen NGOs which in recent years have campaigned to preserve what is left of the capital's heritage, is pushing for a new law to protect old buildings. "The existing law is obsolete and dates back to the French Mandate. It is largely made to conserve antiquities, not architectural heritage," Save Beirut Heritage activist Joana Hammour said.

She said a draft law, which is an improvement on the existing one, has been rotting for decades in the drawers of Parliament. "We are lobbying to place it on Parliament's agenda for voting," she said, stressing, however, that the endeavor is likely to be extremely difficult. "Who is in Parliament?" she asked. "They are mostly businessmen, many of whom have big real estate interests, which is, maybe, why the draft law has been rotting in the drawers for so many years."

Hammour argued that a strong preservation law, and a bigger role for the state are key to saving Beirut's heritage. "It is not only in Lebanon. In any other country, people would do whatever they want with their properties, had it not been laws preventing them from doing it," Hammour said. "Paris would not look like it is now if there were no laws. It would probably look more like Beirut. This is how heritage could be preserved and this is how we are going to preserve it."

In addition to single buildings, Save Beirut Heritage will be concentrating its efforts on safeguarding streets and whole areas with traditional character, for instance Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael. Hammour explained that the sense of a historic and traditional environment comes from an area, not from one building. "You cannot have an old mansion buried behind high-rises and pretend to be saving heritage."

The activist underlined the importance of preserving the urban social fabric that comes with preserving traditional neighborhoods and old buildings. "In three- or four-story buildings neighbors would know each other and have more connection to the neighborhood, whereas in high-rises such interaction is not possible, making the place less friendly," she said. "After all, it is very important to be living in a pleasant city, where you would feel at ease and that you belong. It is the collective memory of Beirutis which is also at stake."

Underscoring the potential that Beirut can have as a touristic city by safeguarding its heritage, Hammour asked: "Did you ever inquire why tourists would want to visit Gemmayzeh or Mar Mikhael first? It is not for nightlife and clubs only, but because they are looking for authenticity and tradition. They want to see heritage which is different from what they have in their country."

Save Beirut Heritage boasts a number of achievements since it was created four years ago as a Facebook group mobilizing people who care about preserving architectural heritage. The NGO, based on the work of young volunteers, has succeeded in freezing demolition permits for 150 old buildings. It was also the driving force behind a government decision to prevent demolition of old houses unless demolition orders were signed by the culture minister. Permission was previously green lighted by Beirut municipality.

Nonetheless, conservationists agree that they are in an uneven battle against powerful and well-connected developers. "It is very tough, because we are battling against money, and money most of the time wins," Hammour said. But she stressed that if the state stepped in with a comprehensive preservation law which is properly implemented, the risk would be largely diminished.

"It would probably not stop developers, but it will make things tougher for them. They should be made to fight and suffer for demolishing an old building," she said.

While he has contributed to saving old buildings by converting them into Dardashat cafes, it is unlikely that Tawil will be able to save his family home in Hay al-Lija. "Had it been located in an area with preserved traditional character like Gemmayzeh, I could have turned it into a restaurant, or a motel, or even a museum. But it is impossible to make such use of it in a concrete jungle like Hay al-Lija," Tawil lamented.

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Lebanon's blurred lines - [more]
By: Tanya Dernaika
Date: Monday, February 02, 2015

"Do not talk to strangers." I was haunted by these words growing up where I did. The warning signified unimaginable danger so I lived by that rule and stayed safe. Then I moved back home and realized that in Lebanon the reverse is true – here the danger lies in treating people like strangers.

Setting healthy relationship boundaries with people is not an option – not in a place where absolutely no one's a stranger as far as anyone else is concerned and everyone's got advice they're bursting to share. The biggest culprits of boundary breaking are the very people in charge of boundaries; airport customs officials, aka national champions of cultural identity, good parenting and marriage counseling. At the risk of missing my flight or being refused entry into the country, comments like: "Eh, you travel so much on business, don't you miss your kids?" and "is your husband fine with all these absences?" must be acknowledged with restrained good grace and a smile, each and every time.

I learned the hard way that not talking to strangers in Lebanon is considered rude. Taxi drivers take it to heart if you don't engage in chatty banter during the car ride. You simply can't get away with monosyllabic responses to taxi driver diatribe. Try it and you'll be punished with cranked up radio volume, speeding, cursing, and vengeful huffing and puffing on one cigarette after another, ensuring you arrive at your destination looking like an electrocuted clown and stinking like an ashtray. Bottom line: when you live here, perfecting the art of small talk with people you've never met before will get you places ... and in one piece.

I'd always believed that setting boundaries with people kept relationships from getting blurred, but blurred is exactly how my hair looked the last time I applied that misguided philosophy. That's because people take everything personally in Lebanon. Relationships are always emotional, never transactional – not even the ones involving the exchange of money for services rendered – and especially if that relationship happens to be with one's hairdresser. If you're a woman whose ever been spotted with blow-dried hair from a competing salon, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. The "betrayal" is punished in ways artfully perfected by spurned hairdressers. The lesson? In Lebanon, your hairdresser owns you.

The line between strangers and friends is a fine one, and that can actually work to your advantage. I can't help being punctual (I didn't grow up here) and when I'm kept waiting at restaurants by friends (who did) and the entire bread basket has been consumed from boredom, I chat with friendly waiters. By the time my ex-friends arrive, the waiter is usually sulking protectively on my behalf and takes everyone on a guilt trip – you know, just to make the point, so that I don't have to. After all, that's what new friends are for.

Once you start working here you realize the lines get even more blurred in an office environment. Your co-workers are not just your colleagues, they're your confidants, your meal-time buddies, your news informants, health advisers and support group for whatever personal stuff you happen to be going through. Just don't talk to them about work, or you'll be branded an opportunist.

You can forget about setting boundaries here, but that's not always a bad thing. Blurry lines are conducive to intrusion but they also engender a sense of complicity with others, opening us up to all sorts of funny situations, surprising conversations and new affiliations. Living in the uncertainty in which we do, these strangers who refuse to be strangers will also be the ones who might throw you a rope when you need it most. That's why the only way to feel safe here is to ditch any concept of lines and live dangerously.

Tanya Dernaika is a communications expert, blogger, wife and mother, recently repatriated and enjoying the roller coaster that is life in Beirut.

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Beaufort Castle: From strategic military post to Lebanon's prized landmark - [more]
By: Mohammed Zaatari
Date: Thursday, January 22, 2015

N

ABATIEH, Lebanon: When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, then Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon stood in front of Beaufort Castle and, addressing his soldiers, said the edifice had secured a front for his men.

After the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from south Lebanon in 2000, Speaker Nabih Berri stood in front of the edifice too, to stress how it had become a symbol of resistance in south Lebanon.

Located at the highest point of Arnoun, in Nabatieh, the castle has long played a major strategic role in Lebanese military history. Sitting at an altitude of 700 meters above sea level, the castle oversees Palestine, the Golan Heights, the slopes of Mount Hermon, the southern coastal plain and the Litani River.

After decades and centuries of war and occupation, the castle opened its doors in 2007 to the public. A foundation stone was laid in 2010 after an agreement was signed between the Council for Development and Reconstruction and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development with a budget of $3.5 million, of which Lebanon contributed $1 million. Refurbishment works began in 2011 and are set to conclude sometime this year.

The Beaufort Castle, which means beautiful fortress, has historically served as a strategic military position since 1139.

From the Phoenicians to the Babylonians, Assyrians, Roman and the Crusaders, all have commanded posts there at some point in time.

Arab travelers renamed the structure the Shafiq Arnoun Castle, and locals still refer to it as such.

Ali Badawi, head of the archeological sites in south Lebanon of the Directorate General of Antiques, explained how the refurbishment project was divided into three parts. The first he said required experts to conduct archaeological excavations.

"This was important for two reasons," Badawi said. "The first was to learn more about the castle's history by examining artifacts. Second, because you can't restore something until you've completed excavation."

The second part of the project required repairing the castle.

Badawi said the castle had seen its fair share of shelling over the years, especially by the Israeli army, who used the fortress as a center to launch attacks at one point.

The third step required experts to rehabilitate the castle so that it could welcome tourist, Badawi said.

Ever since the project kicked off in 2011, excavation took two years to complete and was conducted by a team of Lebanese experts, headed by Badawi. They unearthed many artifacts to add to the castle's pristine history. "We discovered new aspects to the castle that weren't apparent previously, especially its lower levels," Badawi said. These, he added, dated back to the 12th and 13th centuries.

"We found a large number of pieces that highlighted daily life inside the castle, such as pottery, glass pots and coins," Badawi said.

"As well we found numerous shells, iron bombs and new rockets that the Israelis used to shell the castle during the 1982 invasion, in addition to many metal arrowheads that go back to the period between the 12th and 15th centuries."

Most artillery was discovered by the castle's west wing, leading experts to believe this side had served as a historical military post and played a strategic role in many battles.

"Another important thing we discovered was the water storage system in the castle," Badawi said, adding that it was unique because of its high altitude and the difficulty in accessing the Litani basin.

The castle's architects created a "developed" water collection system that channeled rain water to the specialized storage units. The experts also found a sewage system to remove wastewater from the Beaufort Castle.

"Through excavation we began to understand how the castle evolved over time," Badawi said.

"We didn't excavate the entire castle; we left part of it for the next generation to discover, maybe with more developed techniques. We also left some of the Israeli rockets in their place to give others an idea of how the castle also played a role in modern history," Badawi said.

RestorationIn parallel to excavation, efforts to restore the castle are still in progress.

The damage inflicted on the castle largely resulted from military operations under Israeli occupation. The Israelis buried a trench around the castle and built military barracks to fortify their forces. Before withdrawing, they blew up the barracks, a move that left the castle in disarray.

Through excavation we began to understand how the castle evolved over time

"The main aim of restoring the castle was to preserve what was left of it," Badawi said. "As well as to rebuild some of what was destroyed."

Badawi stressed that efforts were made to preserve the authenticity of the castle by using similar stones and construction material. He added that most of the restoration work focused on strengthening the castle's walls, rebuilding cellars and fortifying the roof to prevent water leakage.

"Unfortunately, cleaning the castle's trenches of the remains of the Israeli post isn't complete due to the lack of enough funding, so this was postponed for a later stage," he said.

Touristic RehabilitationIn order to give it touristic appeal, a reception center for visitors was created. It runs documentaries about the castle and its history and also offers fliers, books, gifts and souvenirs. Trails were fashioned to make exploration easier for tourists.

Stone and metal staircases as well as handrails were installed. Dangerous areas were sealed off, and boards explaining the history of the castle in three languages were set up.

"We started working on this castle in 2010 with a group of engineers and experts, who were both Lebanese and foreign," said Ali Hayek, the engineer supervising the project.

Randa Berri, the head of the National Association to Preserve South Lebanon's Heritage, denounced the damage inflicted to the Beaufort Castle during the Israeli occupation.

"The measure of success for any sovereign nation rests on how successful it is in preserving its cultural and historic identity," Berri said.

She urged Culture Minister Raymond Areiji to raise awareness on the importance of protecting cultural and archeological landmarks in Lebanon. Berri also stressed the importance of continuing renovation works for major landmarks such as the Beaufort Castle.

"Modernizing Lebanon's archeological map by adding new landmarks allows Lebanese and foreign tourists to get to know them," Berri said.

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GAIA-Heritage brings together Mar Mikhael's residents, artists - [more]
By: Stephanie Nehme
Date: Thursday, January 22, 2015

BEIRUT: Like other neighborhoods in Beirut, Mar Mikhael is changing while its inhabitants continue to enjoy, or sometimes struggle to enjoy, its traditional characteristics.

For a few years now, young artists, craftsmen and designers have been relocating to spaces, including garages, in Mar Mikhael, which has boosted the area's appeal but has also attracted real estate development and nightlife. The result has threatened Mar Mikhael's old and historical abandoned buildings and staircases with demolition.

GAIA-Heritage, which provides consultancy services to manage cultural and natural heritage as well as art production, launched a weeklong event full of cultural and creative activities in Mar Mikhael, as part of the EU-funded MEDNETA Project, to regenerate neighborhoods and reinforce creativity.

"Our main focus is to support the development of the creative economy and raise awareness on the risks and needs of the neighborhood by urging decision-makers to enforce urban regulations," said Georges Zouain, Principal of GAIA-Heritage.

"We want to contribute to reinforcing the ties between all those living and working in Mar Mikhael while providing each with the necessary services and rights to reach a balanced growth."

Different activities, which started on Jan. 16, and will run till Jan. 27 include talks, tours and exhibitions.

Urban Talks and Tours on Jan. 17 and 18 enabled visitors to discover the area, its needs as well as the risks it faces. The neighborhood's lack of public space and its rising rental prices, which are pushing out many young designers and their ateliers to neighboring cheaper quarters of the city, were the main topics addressed.

Two exhibitions are also concurrently taking place. Architecture students from different Lebanese schools are taking part by showing ongoing, past architectural and urban projects that have studied Mar Mikhael and addressed the neighborhood's challenges and opportunities.

Behind the Object is another exhibition that will reveal the different processes of artists, craftsmen and designers in the neighborhood.

In the coming few days, from Jan. 22-24, a series of workshops for artists, craftsmen and designers, entitled Toolbox, will expose creators to new technologies and innovative techniques providing them with business, entrepreneurial and marketing skills to facilitate collaboration and joint work.

"After the first two days of training, creators will spend a day collaborating to make products. Their business plans will be presented to a jury," Zouain added.

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Vogue ranks Mar Mikhael staircase among world's best - [more]
By: The Daily Star
Date: Monday, January 19, 2015

BEIRUT: The colorful steps in the Mar Mikhael neighborhood have been featured among the nine most creative staircases around the world by Vogue magazine.

It was included in "Step Right Up: 9 Amazing Staircases from Around the World," along with others in London, France's Angers, Rio de Janeiro, Arkansas, Sicily, San Francisco and Seoul.

"Staircases are normally considered simple, at times inconvenient, pathways," Vogue wrote.

"A handful of artists, though, have experimented with transforming them into alluring art installations," it added.

"From beautiful flower arrangements populating steps in Sicily to the downright bizarre 'Hairy Staircase' in Arkansas, here is a look at the most wonderful sets from around the world." The stairs in Mar Mikhael, painted with vibrant geometric shapes and patterns, are the brainchild of Dihzahyners (pronounced "Designers"), a group of 12 graphic design students from Lebanese American University.

The collective has in recent years pursued public art initiatives with the mission of making Beirut brighter and more beautiful.

To date, Dihzahyners' beautiful projects are self-funded.

All focus on staircases in the neighborhoods of Saqiet al-Janzir in Raouche, Bliss Street in Hamra, and Mar Mikhael.

The designs on each staircase are unique, with the patterns becoming more complex with each new initiative.

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Fashion on the ski slopes: Get the right gear and go colorful - [more]
By: Ghinwa Obeid
Date: Thursday, January 15, 2015

B

Before you plan your trip there are a number of things that you need to have in order to ensure that you enjoy the day to the maximum.

"You need pants, jackets, goggles and gloves, and then you need to have the skis, the ski boots and the poles," explained Riad Zgheib, a ski coach. All clothes should be waterproof and warm to protect against the cold, harsh weather on the mountains.

Snowboarders need roughly the same clothes, but the equipment is different, especially the footwear.

"The boots for snowboarding are softer; they're closer to hiking shoes," he said. "Ski boots are made of heavier plastic."

This is because skiers run a high risk of breaking their ankle if they fall and their legs get twisted, while snowboarders have both legs bound to one board and face less of a risk of this happening.

Such gear can be found in all winter sports shops around the major ski resorts. It costs from around $40 to rent everything, but retail prices are much higher. As a result, Zgheib recommends those who only ski occasionally as a hobby to rent rather than buy.

Flashy colors are trendy on the slopes. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

For those who want to practice a lot or are at a more advanced level, however, Zgheib advised them to invest in buying the right gear, as "there's difference between the [quality of the] equipment."

One important thing for all of those enjoying the sports is that they should wear a helmet to protect their head if they fall. "Helmets are indispensable," Zgheib stressed.

But it's not just about outerwear when you ski – in fact, to keep warm during those long lift rides, it's all about what you have on underneath.

"The first layer should be the base layer, and Omni-Heat keeps you 20 percent warmer," said Rony Akiki, sales at Sports 4ever, a sports wear shop with four branches in Lebanon, including one in resort town Kfar Debian.

Omni-Heat technology, which reflects the body's warmth back at itself, is only available in Columbia Sportswear products, explained Akiki, which Sports 4ever stock.

If that's not an option, any sort of thermal top will work. "Try to avoid cotton because it isn't breathable," he added.

Thermal leggings or long johns are also advisable to keep legs warm.

The second layer for the top of the body should be a fleece sweater.

"This is made from polyester fabric, it gives you warmth and is breathable at the same time, it doesn't allow sweat to sit there," Akiki explained.

The final layer is a waterproof and breathable jacket that keeps you warm.

Akiki explained that each brand has its own category of sportswear and the difference between them depends on the budget customers have. When asked what colors customers are opting for when they choose snowboard and ski outfits, he said the most popular ones were yellow, white, green, fuchsia, red, orange and electric blue.

"Few people choose calm colors," he said.

Akiki said that young men between 20 and 35 were also choosing bright outfits, while older men preferred to go for something easier on the eye.

Ski and snowboard fashion is all about splashes of color, agreed Hadia Sinno, a fashion expert and stylist – and red and white remain the dominant players this season.

"The must-have colors on the slopes are red or total white, which is something very nice. They can also add accessories."

She explained that if the outfit is a flashy color, opt for more neutral accessories, and vice versa.

Mostly ski people like to be flashy, they want to enjoy it

"Once you have a scarf with a flashy color, you would want to adopt a sober color" for the rest of the outfit, she said.

"They can adopt a total look of [one] color, but it will be nicer to add a touch of another color," Sinno said. For example, with a total white look, she suggested to go for colored sunglasses such as red in order to jazz up the outfit.

But should men follow the same fashion rules? It all depends on their age and whether they're "daring," Sinno explained.

For her, being on the snow is all about enjoying oneself and taking a chance to make edgy fashion statements. "Mostly ski people like to be flashy, they want to enjoy it."

Jumpsuits remain trendy this season she added, for both who want to enjoy the sports or just hang out, and a stylish hat is an absolute must.

Sinno said those who snowboard, who tend to wear much baggier clothes, can get even more creative with their outfits.

"Snowboarding is funkier," she said. "You can wear the lower jacket on the hips sometimes, for example, it depends on what you're looking for."

In terms of après-ski, Sinno advised women to pull out their feather and fur coats – whether fake or real – for maximum warmth and stylishness. "They're not very thin but are specially made for winter the mountains," Sinno explained, adding that this season was big on mixing fur and leather.

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Ski slopes open, anticipate busy season ahead - [more]
By: Mazin Sidahmed
Date: Monday, January 12, 2015

KFAR DEBIAN, Lebanon: The mountain town of Kfar Debian was abuzz over the weekend as ski slopes opened for the first time this season, and local businesses said they looked forward to a productive winter. The slopes were opened thanks to heavy snowfall as a result of "Zina," a storm that overwhelmed Lebanon this past week. Areas located more than 200 meters above sea level were pummeled with snow Friday, reaching up to 1.5 meters at the country's tallest peaks.

The mayor of Kfar Debian, Wassim Samir Mhanna, was full of optimism, saying signs pointed to a strong touristic season ahead.

"In terms of the first day, we can say that it was very good, in terms of the weather and the snow on the ground and roads," the mayor said. "All the indications are great from the perspective of ticket sales and hotel bookings, the start is looking great.

"We can say that all the hotels were booked up and we even have people coming from other Arab countries. I even met people from Venezuela here."

Many are hoping that this year's snowfall will make up for last year's abysmal season, during which the slopes were open for only two days. Despite much anticipation, 2013's storm "Alexa" was mild, with little to no snow all season long.

The lack of tourists took a toll on local businesses, many of which depend on the ski season.

"Everyone around here was affected by the lack of snow last year – the restaurants, the hotels, the shops," he said. "But that year was an exception, it's rare for that to happen. Now you'll have more people coming who will want to make up for last year."

Mhanna said that only small slopes had been opened for the first day Saturday but he expected more snow in the coming days to allow them to open the remaining 14 chairlifts and five teleskis. The season typically lasts for about 100 days, he said.

The picturesque mountains of Kesrouan were covered in snow as far as the eye could see. Up at the Mzaar ski resort in Kfar Debian – not to be confused with its larger neighbor Faraya – skiers bustled around the lodge drinking hot chocolate to warm up after a session on the slopes.

Skiing was briefly interrupted when a deep fog cloaked the mountain and made it difficult for skiers to see. Regardless, most skiers were jubilant leaving the slopes.

"It was really fantastic, the powder was quite nice," said Ramy Haidar, a surgeon and avid skier. "I was quite keen on getting on the slopes the first day too."

"It's a good warm-up for this season," his sister Nadine Haidar, a nutritionist, added.

Many skiers braved roads that were still covered in snow and ice and low temperatures of -15 degrees Celsius.

Kfar Debian's most prominent hotel, the Intercontinental, experienced a notable uptick in bookings over the weekend.

"It's a great weekend, we have seen a great pickup for this weekend and the weekend to come," said Joost Koeman, the general manager of the Intercontinental Hotel.

However, the owner of Edgy Sport, a local ski shop, Edouard Tesh, had cautious optimism for the upcoming season. He said that the poor economic situation in Lebanon and the whole Middle East might slow the flow of skiers. "We will only reach around 60 percent of great years such as 2013 and 2012," he said.

Still, skiing is expected to be the most resilient sector in Lebanon's tourism industry. Locals say that the ski season is not generally impacted by the security situation, unlike touristic sites at Baalbek and Jbeil, as most of the skiers are locals. Also, the mountainous Kfar Debian is known for being a calm area with few security threats.

Owner of the famed restaurant Al-Arzal, a favorite among skiers, Charlie Zgheib said that people would be out no matter what the situation is in the country.

"Skiing has its own situation, independent of the economic situation," Zgheib said. "Avid skiers can't see snow and not go skiing. They just can't, regardless of their economic situation. They'll go in debt if they have to!

"The economic situation is effecting everyone in the country, but they'll still ski."

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Mar Mikhael: an ideal creative hub - [more]
By: Justin Salhani
Date: Friday, January 09, 2015

BEIRUT: A few years back, word started to spread about a new hip part of Beirut. Gemmayzeh and Hamra had become overcrowded and the nation's party people were looking for the next "in" spot. Step forward, Mar Mikhael.

Traditionally an industrial and residential area, Mar Mikhael began attracting major nightlife traffic around 2010, when a series of pubs and restaurants popped up.

But it has evolved way beyond just a nightlife hub; Mar Mikhael has since carved a niche and manifested itself as a creative district, where services like pubs and restaurants are straddled by clothing and furniture stores, arts & crafts workshops, and a plethora of other design and alternative art spots – from feminist cafes to Spanish book stores to hipster jewelry spaces.

But as any Beiruti – whether established or first-time visitor – will know, finding these places on their nameless streets is not easy. Now, they are all in one place: a map.

This map, labeled "Mar Mikhael Creative District," plots out the Alternative Art Form, Crafts, and Design spots in the community. Additionally, churches, mosques, cemeteries, parking lots, police stations, hospitals, the Lebanese Electric building and the Mar Mikhael train station are also depicted, along with green spaces and the various colorful staircases that connect to the upper residential buildings of Geitawi.

The map was designed as part of an initiative spearheaded by Gaia Heritage, with Agenda Culturel, and funded by the EU.

In 2010, Gaia Heritage surveyed Mar Mikhael and was granted funding to study the role of the creative industry in regard to urban regeneration – in historic or forgotten places.

But with many cultural hotspots popping up in and around Beirut, why has Mar Mikhail been chosen as the place for such an initiative?

"Mar Mikhael is one of the last neighborhoods in Beirut still functioning as an area where poor and rich, cultured and uncultured, big and small communities live together," said Georges Zouain, the head of Gaia Heritage.

Gaia is now working on helping young Lebanese artists and creatives develop and improve their abilities in order to ensure Mar Mikhael continues to prosper. They are doing this by bringing them together through a variety of workshops, exhibitions, and round tables run from Jan. 16-24.

"We want to improve the quality of life without destroying the area," Zouain said. "This is the only area in Lebanon where a cluster of creativity is developing in a natural manner without it coming from the top."

A "natural manner" means that much of Mar Mikhael's creative space has grown organically due to ripe conditions, in contrast to areas such as Hamra's Alleyway and Uruguay Street, which saw developers move in and create a party spot aimed at big business.

Zouain says Mar Mikhael can act as an internal example for all of Lebanon, where historically the economy has been driven by more traditional means such as banking, commerce and real estate.

"Lebanon has been overtaken by other Mediterranean countries and Beirut is among the last place where traditional economic [principles] are kept," Zouain said.

He listed Istanbul, Marseille, Barcelona, Genoa and other Mediterranean cities as examples of places where contemporary art plays a leading role in the economy. These cities themselves seem to be following examples of trends set in places like New York City.

In order to reach that level, Zouain suggest areas in Lebanon "need rules and regulations and support by the state."

To get a hold of the map, visit http://medneta.gaiaheritage.com/session02/ or Facebook/MarMikhaelCreativeDistrict.

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Christmas the Armenian way - [more]
By: Justin Salhani
Date: Tuesday, January 06, 2015

BEIRUT: Lebanon hasn't boxed up its Christmas decorations just yet, as the celebrations are just beginning for some. A large percentage of Lebanon's prominent Armenian community celebrates their version of the holy day Tuesday, Jan. 6.

The sixth is Epiphany for most Christians, but Armenians use the day to celebrate a culmination of the season's events.

For them, the sixth is Christmas, celebrating the nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem, but it also symbolizes Epiphany, when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. Unlike the Orthodox and Protestants who follow the historic date of Armenian Christmas, the Armenian Catholics, however, follow the Catholic Church in Rome and celebrate on Dec. 25.

"They go with the [Catholic] pope and with Rome," Zara Sirop Hagop said with a slight chuckle. Hagop is one of the local mukhtars in Beirut's Burj Hammoud neighborhood.

While large sections of the Lebanese-Armenian population have moved out of Burj Hammoud over the years and integrated into other areas, the neighborhood is still strongly connected to the community through the ubiquity of Armenian restaurants, businesses, cultural centers and churches.

Christmas decorations are still hung over main thoroughfares, with white lights dangling in the shape of snowflakes, illuminating the streets and spreading Christmas cheer. Shops are decorated for the holiday, with many storefronts painted with the English words "Merry Christmas."

"Geographically it is known as an Armenian neighborhood," Hagop said. "There are many Armenians but there are also Shiites and Lebanese Christians, as well as many foreigners moving into the area."

The reasons Armenians celebrate on the sixth are historical and traditional. Until the fourth century, the Catholic Church also celebrated Jesus' birthday Jan. 6. But as Christianity spread into Europe, the day was merged with a Roman pagan holiday celebrated Dec. 25.

Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the birth of Christ Dec. 25 and Epiphany Jan. 6. Armenians, however, decided to stick with the traditional, historical and "correct" day for celebrating Christmas, as expressed by one person interviewed by The Daily Star.

Tuesday is a national holiday in Lebanon, meaning shops will be closed across the country, but in Burj Hammoud most establishments – 90 percent according to the local mukhtar – will stay closed Wednesday as well, as Armenian Orthodox and Protestants partake in a two-day celebration.

Taking a break from preparing for the Armenian Orthodox St. Sarkis Church's 4 p.m. Mass Monday, 19-year-old Phillipe Jinian told The Daily Star about some of the customs his community participates in for Christmas. People will gather and sing hymns for the neighborhood Monday evening.

Sitting behind his office desk, Hagop said that the midnight carols bring joy to the community and are paired with music from accordions, guitars and other instruments. Here, they deliver the story of Christmas in a musical manner.

"The people go to each building in the neighborhood and sing the story of Jesus Christ," Hagop said.

The next day, families come together to celebrate the occasion with food and holiday spirit.

"We gather and eat together [on Christmas Day]," Jinian said, adding that it is customary to prepare fish. Other traditional Armenian Christmas dishes include rice, wheat soup and nevik – a dish made of green chard and chickpeas. Lebanese Armenians, however, are likely to include a number of fusion dishes that have culminated from their time living in and integrating into Lebanese society.

A second Mass is often attended by families on Armenian Christmas Day. Unlike most Christians in Lebanon, however, the Armenian community doesn't stop the party after Christmas.

"We celebrate tomorrow but also the day after tomorrow," Hagop said, with a wide smile on his face.

Armenian families take part in a tradition that is unique to their culture on Jan. 7. They visit cemeteries where their loved ones are buried. Here, they pray and take the time to remember and spend time with those who have died.

"In Armenia they go live and spend the whole day there," Hagop said. "They eat in the cemetery."

Hagop said that the celebration in Lebanon is not as extravagant as those in Armenia, where it is an act that the entire nation takes part in.

After the day at the cemetery, a Mass is planned for the various Armenian churches. There are four Armenian Orthodox churches in Burj Hammoud alone and even more outside. Priests from the various houses of worship gather with the community to hold a large Mass at Burj Hammoud's Nursing Home.

Also unique to the Armenians, Christmas gifts are traditionally doled out on New Year's Eve, Dec. 31. In Armenia, Christmas Day is more of a religious holiday therefore the gifts are handed out beforehand.

Chef Raymond Blanc's Galette des Rois

This remarkably simple dessert is only served once a year to mark Epiphany, celebrated on Jan. 6. It is the custom to hide two little figurines or fava beans in the almond cream. The ones who find them will become the King and Queen for the day and of course have all of their wishes realized.

INGREDIENTS

For the puff pastry

- 400 grams puff pastry, all butter, ready rolled

For the almond cream

- 75 grams butter, unsalted, at room temperature

- 75 grams icing sugar

- 75 grams Almond, powder

- 1 egg, free range/organic, whole

- 1 egg yolk, free range/organic

- 1 tablespoon dark rum or cognac

COOKING METHOD

Cutting out the circles of pastry

You will get two sheets of pastry – 35 / 22.5 cm in a pack, so cut a 20 cm for the base from one sheet and a 22 cm circle for the top out of the other sheet; refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour.

Making the almond cream

Preheat the oven to 180°C. In a large bowl, whisk all the ingredients together and mix to a smooth texture; reserve in the fridge.

Making the galette

Spoon the almond cream into the center of the puff pastry reserved for the base. With a palette knife spread the cream into an even circle leaving a 2 cm gap from the edge. Brush the beaten egg yolk mixture around the 2 cm gap and carefully drape the top circle of pastry neatly on top, press gently to expel all the air and using your thumb seal the pastry all around the edge. Chill or deep freeze the galette for 1 hour to firm up the pastry and with a sharp knife, trim the edge of the galette to an even circle so that it rises evenly.

With the back of a knife crimp the outside edge of the pastry all around. Here you can use your artistic flair.

Scoring the galette & egg washing

Brush the galette with beaten egg yolk. With the side of a fork or back of a knife, start from the center of the galette and score a spiral right up to the edge of the pastry. Repeat this to achieve an attractive design (if you feel unsure you could just simply crisscross the top of the galette).

Cooking the Galette

Cook in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. Leave it to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

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The bright side of holiday traffic - [more]
By: Tanya Dernaika
Date: Monday, January 05, 2015

There is nothing more frustrating than sitting in holiday traffic, but now that the congestion has eased up, I've got to admit, I'm sort of missing it.

Admittedly, Beirut's bumper- to-bumper traffic these last few weeks was a nightmare to say the least. It's neither the wasted time advancing at a snail's pace nor the dreadful road manners that I miss, but rather what the traffic represented and signified. I found the traffic heartening because I compared our busy roads to the empty and desolate streets during the same period last year, when the devastating bombings left our city and souls distressed. Congestion meant many Lebanese living abroad felt reassured enough to come home, and they wanted to visit people and places, which is always a good thing.

I love it when people return home from overseas, even if it's just for the holidays. It's usually a win-win for the hosts and the visitors. A tacit agreement exists between guest and host in Lebanon, with each side clear on their specific roles and responsibilities. In my opinion, these roles can be summed as follows:

Role of Guest

To bring gifts, preferably rare and unavailable in Lebanon for maximum "tanmeerability" (my made-up word, meaning "boastability" – also made-up.)

To get our neural pathways revved up again with new perspectives that help us see beyond our narrow horizons.

To express delight, wonder and appreciation for all the things we tend to take for granted, like our amazing food, sunsets and kindness, thus reminding locals that, although life is challenging here, there is also magic if you are willing to believe in it.

Role of Host

To orchestrate family and social gatherings and create a sense of warmth recalling the gatherings of the guests' childhood, the authentic human connections and the sense of place and belonging that those abroad have traded in for security, peace of mind and economic opportunity.

To choreograph their holiday experiences in ways that are more tailored to their nostalgic reminiscence than actual modern day-to-day reality, and that includes the menu. Let's face it, it's not the new black cod recipe you've just learned that they're craving; it's shankleesh and warak ennab they're really pining for.

To play the crucial roles of matchmaker and Cupid to their worldly and well-traveled family and friends, disillusioned by the failed promises of Match.com and willing to re-engage in good old-fashioned personal introductions in search of their better half.

Most of the guests have left now, and the traffic has become more manageable. I said good-bye to family and friends with a heavy heart. Part of me wanted to leave with them, but most of me preferred to stay, so I can be among the first to cross when Lebanon's traffic light finally turns green.

Tanya Dernaika is a communications expert, blogger, wife and mother, recently repatriated and enjoying the roller coaster that is life in Beirut.

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From cedars to ruins: A journey through Lebanon - [more]
By: Susan Wilson
Date: Friday, January 02, 2015

Lebanon is every bit the kaleidoscope country: a mess of contradictions that can leave the outsider dazed and confused.

You can go skiing in the mountains, swim through caves at the coast, try one of Lebanon's local beers or wines, or hike through some of the most beautiful valleys and forests in the world, steeped in history.

For visitors to Lebanon, whether it is their first time in the country or the latest visit of many, there are numerous things to do and see. The Daily Star has put together a list of some of the country's top attractions.

Let's start off with something not on most tourist maps: the Rashid Karami Tripoli International Fair. Designed by the renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, the complex is an eerie tribute to the possibilities cut short by the country's descent into Civil War.

Scheduled for completion in 1976, the fair complex was instead occupied by the Syrian army.

Over the course of the war, it was stripped bare – its marble and light fixtures looted, and its gardens burned to the ground.

Now, despite some attempts to use the space, and several aborted plans for reconstruction, the fair stands as a frozen testament to Tripoli's modernist dream.

The gardens have been restored, but the lakes remain empty. Wandering through the space, Niemeyer's reinforced concrete sculptures loom, some derelict, others used as canvas for graffiti artists. It is a surreal place well-worth seeing.

Next on the list is something inextricably linked with Lebanon: the cedars. Al-Chouf Cedar Nature Reserve is the largest of its kind in Lebanon, stretching from Dahr al-Baidar in the north to Niha Mountain in the south and housing three cedar forests: Maaser Al-Chouf, Barouk and Ain Zahalta.

There is a reason the cedar is Lebanon's emblem: The cedars were an important resource for ancient civilizations.

The Phoenicians built ships, palaces and temples with the wood, while the Egyptians used the resin for mummification.

Oft-quoted on the cedars, the 19th-century French poet and writer, Alphonse de Lamartine, said the trees "know the history of the earth better than history itself."

While Lebanon's mountains used to be blanketed in these ancient forests, deforestation has left the cedar endangered, with the trees cut back to little more than 4 percent of Lebanese territory.

Visiting the cedar reserves is a must for those looking to connect with Lebanon's heritage.

Next on the list, Beaufort Castle is a site with a long, fraught history of warfare. Known in Arabic as Qalat al-Shaqif, the Crusader fort is located in the Nabatieh district in the south.

Built in the 12th century, the castle changed hands many times throughout history.

It was captured by Saladin in 1190 but retaken by the Crusaders 60 years later.

In more modern times, the castle was held from 1976 by the Palestinian Liberation Organization, until the Battle of Beaufort in 1982, when it was taken by Israeli forces after heavy shelling damaged the site. The Israelis withdrew only in 2000.

Overlooking the Litani River, the castle stands on top of a 300-meter cliff, and visitors can quickly sense why it was such a strategic location, with stunning views overlooking the Shebaa Farms and beyond.

Wandering the site, which is undergoing reconstruction, is a tourist's dream. Very few visitors make it this far south, and it's likely your only company will be the occasional construction worker clearing out rubble.

There is plenty to explore, with underground chambers, and for those who are happy to climb, some fantastic views from the top of the castle. For modern historians, there are remains of some Israeli outposts as well.

The Qadisha Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with seemingly endless possibilities to explore.

Basing yourself in the town of Bsharri is a great way to explore the valley. The town itself has many must-see attractions for visitors, such as the museum of one of its most celebrated natives, the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran.

A great hiking destination with some beautifully rugged landscapes, the valley is one of the most significant sites for early Christian monasteries and contains the Horsh Arz el-Rab ("Cedars of God"), another site of the ancient Cedrus libani.

Last but not least, of course, is the Roman ruins of Baalbek. Known to the Romans as Heliopolis, this is one of Lebanon's greatest cultural sites, and another on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

The extensive complex of temples bordering the Bekaa Valley, serves as a prime example of Roman architecture. A highlight is the Temple of Jupiter, constructed during the 1st century, which towers over visitors with its 20-meter stone columns.

Exploring the ruins is a task that can take several hours if visitors want to inspect even a bit of the detail still visible in the carvings.

One of Baalbek's mysteries lies in its construction. Many of the pillars are single blocks of stone, raising questions as to how the rock was transported to the site.

It is also the home of the annual Baalbeck International Festival, with visitors flocking to the site to enjoy a cultural spectacle of music, dance and theater every summer.

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Plenty of options for NYE to remember - [more]
By: Ghinwa Obeid
Date: Thursday, December 18, 2014

The capital on fire

Those looking for a night out on a budget can head to Beirut’s Downtown. Perfect for families with children, the gathering will begin at Nijmeh Square where everyone can enjoy an open fireworks display. The event will continue until 12:30 a.m., so make sure to be there at 11:55 p.m. at the latest.

CONCERTS

Lebanese singer Assi al-Helani will be performing at a party at the Phoenicia Hotel in St. Georges Bay. Partygoers should prepare for a night of dancing as Helani is famous for his upbeat songs. Renowned Iraqi singer Kazem al-Saher will be performing his best known romantic melodies at the same event.

Saher’s performance is considered a comeback for the singer, after the death of his brother Jabbar al-Samouraey, who was also a member in his band.

Ticket prices for the event range between $400 and $1,100 with open drinks and dinner.

Saher will also be performing at Casino Du Liban in Maameltein where he will be joined by Lebanese-Armenian composer and pianist Guy Manoukian and singer Ayman Zbib. Tickets are between $350 and $850, with open drinks and dinner.

Another New Year’s music event will bring together two of Lebanon’s major names in the world of entertainment, Nawal al-Zoghbi and Fares Karam.

Fans can watch Zoghbi and Karam sing it out at Le Royal Hotel in Dbayeh. Tickets range from $300 to $550, including dinner plus open regular bar.

And for tickets between $200-$400, people can also catch up with both singers at Castel Mare Beach Hotel & Resort in Monsef, Jbeil and enjoy dinner with open bar.

Crowne Plaza Hotel in Hamra will also be holding a New Year’s Eve party. Starting at 10 p.m., the event will be hosted by singers Mark Abdel-Nour and Eliane Mahfouz. Belly danger Miramar will also be performing. Make sure to reserve on 01/754-755 with tickets from $120, $160, $200 including open bar and dinner.

RESTAURANTS/PUBS/THEMED PARTIES

The themed party “Les Années Folles” will be held at the Pavillon Royal, in BIEL starting at 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. Guests can party like it’s the 1920s and dress up for the event. Ladies put on your dresses and accessories, men don’t forget your tux. Reserve at 03/326-635.

As always Mix FM and B018 night club are preparing for an extravagant night with a 1920s themed party. Reserve to attend the “Gangsters and Flappers” party at B018 in Karantina on 03/800-018 and get yourself a table, open premium drinks and food for $300 per person. Walk-ins throughout the night must pay $110.

The eclectic restaurant/bar Junkyard in Mar Mikhael will host a barn themed party starting at 9 p.m., which will keep going until the early morning hours.

Le Gray Hotel in Downtown Beirut will also hold various parties for New Year’s Eve at Gordon’s café and the Cherry on the Rooftop Bar.

The café will be open for 24 hours with food throughout. If you’re looking for music and amazing view, enjoy the private party on the rooftop. Those interested for either event should make early bookings by calling 01/971-111.

In addition to the concert at Crowne Plaza Hotel in Hamra, the hotel is also offering two other events.

For families who haven’t made up their minds yet on what to do, consider spending the night at the hotel’s Vivaldi Restaurant with $80 for adults and $45 for children under 10 years old including open buffet and bar. Live performance and beats to make your night a great one can also be enjoyed at the hotel’s Top 21 Lounge & Bar with tickets starting $120. To make reservations for either event call 01-754-755.

Not far away from Crowne Plaza, one can celebrate the night away with some authentic Japanese food at Le Commodore Hotel’s Benihana, which offers an a la carte menu, DJ, champagne at midnight, cotillons and a minimum charge of $60 per person.

The Golden Tulip Serenada Hotel in Hamra will also be hosting a party at ROOJ, with tickets ranging between $100, including an open bar, or $140, including a premium open bar and dinner. Guests arriving after 2 a.m. can pay $60.

Dany’s at Hamra and Badaro are keeping things simple this NYE with an entrance fee of $20 before 1 a.m. including snacks. Entrance is free after that point.

Kahwet Leila’s Hamra and Gemmayzeh branches are offering a night full of music and good Lebanese food. Those who want to spend the night in Hamra can enjoy live performances by Lebanon’s own Sammy Clark for $130, for regular bar or $140, for the premium bar option. Rabih Salameh will be performing at the Gemmayzeh branch with prices ranging between $120-$130.

Others who want a change from the parties and concerts can feast on delicious Armenian food through the night. Gemmayzeh’s Mayrig restaurant is offering a night filled with music, great food and an open premium bar for $140 per person.

If you’re looking for something outside the capital, Taboo pub in Broummana is offering a great evening with a one man show and some music, entrance fee is $50.

Those undaunted by the cold can consider the Winter Wonderland New Year’s Eve Party at Arnaoon village along the Batroun highway. Guests can enjoy music, food while camping indoors for $100-$125.

ACTIVITIES

For those wanting to spend the night at home with family and friends, you can enjoy the day off by heading to Paragliding Tandems, weather permitting. Fly down from Ghosta to Jounieh, for $120. Reservations for the event are required, those interested can call 03-559-992.

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Everything's better under Lebanon's sea - [more]
By: Kareem Shaheen
Date: Sunday, October 19, 2014

BEIRUT: Under the water, you can be a child again. No longer does the constant stream of messages and alerts from social networks or the incessant din of an office space distract you.

Every nook can be explored, every rock upturned; you chase curiously after rainbow-colored fish, the impulse to investigate the world you have suddenly discovered takes hold.

Then a tug on the flipper. It’s Walid Ghotmeh, the scuba diving instructor, and he motions you to slow down and enjoy the show. Relax and keep your eyes open.

The easy swim is held off the coast at the American University of Beirut, about 10 meters out for the beginner divers who are just testing the waters with the “Discover Scuba Diving” program set up by the Calypso Diving Club, based at the Movenpick Hotel in Raouche. The expert divers are farther out at sea, having been dropped off earlier, flawlessly slipping under the calm waters.

Riding out to the diving spot on a clear summer day is cause enough to fall in love with water sports. The din of the boat engine drowns out the conversations around you, and there is nothing but the salty sea breeze. The sun-kissed Mediterranean Sea embraces the sky on the horizon, and Beirut lies a seeming world away, its skyline belying the traffic jams and buzz of life.

The waters off of AUB are surprisingly clean. Visibility is a few meters in all directions, enough to entice you on to the next curiosity.

The Discover Scuba Diving session, about four hours in all, begins with a theoretical introduction to the sport and basic scuba diving gear, including how to breathe underwater or inflate and deflate your diving suit.

Next, the instructors take you on a brief test drive of the equipment at the Movenpick pool. It’s quickly evident why the test run is necessary, because breathing underwater and getting used to the pressure gauge can be counterintuitive to a first-time diver who might panic if a little water gets into the breathing regulator (the water can be expelled with a small push of a button).

It’s easy to tense up and panic, said Mohammad Azzam, another driving instructor.

“That’s why we do it in the pool first,” he said.

Next is a trip out to sea by the AUB wall, where the staggered depths allow both beginner and advanced divers to explore.

Bassam Oud, the club manager at Calypso, said scuba diving was growing in popularity in Lebanon because the sport had become safer as a result of a growing understanding of the science of diving and improvements in the equipment. He added, however, that would-be divers should seek out diving centers with experienced trainers and proper safety procedures.

He said parents were now bringing their children in to learn the sport at an early age.

“We have divers from all ages and genders,” he said, adding that every year the club saw 200 “new faces.”

In addition to Discover Scuba, Calypso offers full courses where divers can get internationally certified to pursue the sport anywhere they travel, as well as rescue and first-aid classes and cave-diving sessions, among others.

The main open-sea diving course includes a series of lectures on diving science, how to use the equipment, how pressure and being underwater affects the body and so on. This is followed by a few sessions at the swimming pool and then five dives in the sea.

Calypso’s program costs $500, including equipment rentals. After that, Oud said, divers can try out specialized experiences such as night diving to decide if they want to pursue more advanced courses and eventually even become certified as a diving instructor.

Many make use of their training on travels to tropical locations. But most stay in touch with the center and continue diving, he said, even becoming instructors sometimes, teaching their close friends or family.

“That link stays,” he said.

Many of those flocking to the center now are university students on summer vacation and professionals looking to de-stress from the office.

Oud said would-be scuba divers should do their homework and research courses before taking them, comparing them to what international dive centers offer. Quality courses ensure that divers are taught proper safety procedures.

“If you don’t follow the standards, you are going to have an accident and either get hurt or lose your life.”

Oud said the regular dives occurred in Beirut, between the Movenpick’s marina and Ain al-Mreisseh. Outside the city, locations span from Batroun to Khalde, where a Vichy French submarine sunk in 1944 – a popular haunt for divers.

The center takes occasional longer trips as far south as Sidon, which has deeper wrecks to explore.

Oud said he did not have a favorite personal diving spot, given that it was his job to dive, but added that each one had a different “fragrance.”

But he sounded in awe of one particular site in Tripoli – a British frigate sunk in 1884 that stands pointing upward underwater, from a depth of 70 meters to a staggering 144 meters.

The site is off-limits to scuba divers now due to a government order to prevent theft and claims by rival dive centers. But Oud calls it the “Everest of scuba diving.”

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Stepping up efforts to save Beirut's walkways - [more]
By: Kate Maddox
Date: Wednesday, June 18, 2014

BEIRUT: Ambling along the narrow streets of Beirut's Mar Mikhael and Geitawi neighborhoods on a balmy morning, master's students from Balamand University's Academie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts lead groups of design enthusiasts on a heritage-esque tour of the areas' famous stairs.

One guide tells stories of the family who built the well-known Vendome Stairs – named after a long-gone theater at their base – and another recounts tales told by residents about a large stone in the middle of a flight north of Roum Hospital. The story goes that a drunken man comes every night to try to move it to the top but to no avail.

From secret steps tucked into the entrances of old buildings to short, wide flights shaded by webs of cables and serving as the only outlets for some apartments, the stairs are a defining feature of the capital's hilly eastern areas.

The guided stroll, led by students Honeine Laeticia, Kallab Cyril, Salamoun Elias and Rouhana Joyce, and their instructor Diala Lteif, was intended to raise awareness of the imminent threat to the steps created by a slew of new developments.

"The main problem is a lack of preservation. None of the buildings along the tour or in that neighborhood are classified as heritage sites by the government," said Lteif, who taught a semester-long course focusing on the stairs as part of ALBA's new global design program.

Letif added that the students had conducted onsite research by interviewing residents in preparation for the tours, which were part of last week's Beirut Design Week and were accompanied by an open workshop to brainstorm ways to protect the neighborhoods' traditional character.

"In the program at ALBA, we look at design as a process to solve a problem ... and the users [of the design] are the main focus," she explained. "Since we are contextually embedded in the city around us, it made sense for us to look at the design problems we face in the city."

Lteif's students hit the streets to talk with residents of Mar Mikhael and Geitawi, many of whom were older and had lived in the area for decades, about the stairs and the lack of heritage protection.

She said what the students discovered as they began to explore the neighborhoods outraged them. Seemingly on every corner, towers were being built, causing real estate developers to seek new outlets for the additional vehicular traffic such apartments bring.

The draft rent law recently passed by Parliament, under which old rents would be raised incrementally and tenants could be evicted with no compensation after nine years, threatens more upheaval, as does the controversial Fouad Boutros Highway project. The proposed road would pass from Ashrafieh to the port, with at least one flight of historic stairs, several traditional buildings and a large public garden being demolished in the process.

Additionally, as the stairs were mostly built as outlets for buildings located on the areas' steep hills, all but one flight in the area are divided into sections that are privately owned by the landlords of the buildings immediately fronting them.

This means that as developers buy up old houses and plots for new construction projects, they also acquire ownership of the stairs in front of them, which serve the greater public of the neighborhoods.

Lteif and her students predicted that most of the stairs would be demolished in 10 years' time.

However, the young designers found that many residents were unwilling to face the reality of the situation, feeling helpless to do anything in the face of the government and the real estate developers with their bottomless "wasta."

On the tour, one of the students spoke about a woman whose apartment, just off one of the large flights of stairs leading up from Armenia Street and surrounded by creeping vines and greenery, was soon to be dwarfed by a mammoth tower currently under construction. When asked if she had considered doing something or moving, the woman replied she couldn't even if she had anywhere else to go; having lived in the building for decade, it was the only home she knew.

Still, Lteif said, the students were able to establish trust with some older residents and discuss ways to fight back against the loss of historic structures. This was key, she said, as central to any design project is to "build empathy for the people you are designing for."

Proposed solutions to the problem of integrating the stairs into the area's design future include more cultural projects and festivals held around them as well as gardens and public areas incorporated along the steps to increase residents' stake in the flights as communal spaces.

Lteif added that she and the class hoped Paint Up, the group responsible for the stairs' colorful paint jobs, would continue bringing life to the steps with their initiatives.

"What we do is participatory design work, we want to reach out to the community. ... I always tell my students, a good designer is an engaged designer."

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Heritage, tech and foreign guests at Beirut Design Week - [more]
By: Beckie Strum
Date: Friday, June 06, 2014

BEIRUT: Beirut Design Week, the city’s most extensive platform to promote and connect the local design industry, will kick off Monday with six days of open houses, workshops and lectures.

This year includes more than 80 events hosted by local design studios and visiting industry professionals, including guest speakers British fashion journalist Hilary Alexander and London-based artist Mona Hatoum. The week will incorporate new technology workshops, a focus on urban design and preservation, and a larger presence of foreign participants than in past years.

“There are many more international designers coming from abroad,” said Maya Karanouh, chair of the MENA Design Research Center, which founded the design week in 2012. This year has drawn some 21 visiting participants, with French product designers, British curators and a whole exhibition dedicated to the Dutch creative industry.

In past years, participants from abroad included lecturers and workshop instructors; this will be the first year foreign designers are exhibited. Beirut Souks will host from June 9 to 14 Dutch Design and Danish Architecture exhibitions.

“This year is pretty interesting because the new Dutch Ambassador [Hester Somsen] really wanted to make a statement, not only from a cultural perspective for the economic benefit. She tried to get the best people, who’ve had the most success to come join,” said Doreen Toutikian, director of the MENA Design Research Center.

Lebanon has one of the highest concentrations of designers per capita in the world, but a miniscule population makes dependence on the local market impossible, Toutikian and Karanouh explained. Beirut Design Week was created for the benefit of Lebanese designers, but having an international presence, they said, is great for cultural exchange. Such international collaboration is essential for local designers who must tap into markets abroad, as well as students who need specialized training.

“Lately many of the graphic designers from Lebanon who focus on typography end up doing their master’s in Holland,” Toutikian said.

Beirut Design Week encompasses the varied fields that fall under that professional umbrella: fashion, product, architecture, graphic, urban planning, plus the artisanal craftsmen essential to production. This year design technology and application development will have a bigger role than in past years.

Visitors from Aalto University in Finland will guide a three-day workshop at Badguer in Burj Hammoud that will harness technology to better connect communities. Representatives from Philips Design will also lead a practical tutorial on using Axure RP, software to design prototype smartphone applications.

“This is the most tech-design workshop we have because people will actually be learning a new software,” Toutikian said.

One of the cultural hits of last year’s design week was a walking tour through Burj Hammoud’s artisanal workshops. Organizers have expanded the focus on preserving cultural heritage with another walking tour of the old stairs from Gemmayzeh into Mar Mikhael. Led by a researcher at ALBA University, the tour will cover the history and purpose of these stairs, most of which date back to the Ottoman era.

“It’s general history about why they exist and what their value is, a lot to do with Lebanese heritage, architecture and urban structures,” Toutikian said.

Although the Tourism Ministry has been supportive of Beirut Design Week since its inaugural year in 2012, this is the first year the event is officially under the ministry’s patronage, Karanouh said.

“We started with 50 participants and it has grown in maturity, it has grown in the public eye. More people every day call us instead of the other way around and want to be added to the participants list. At the end of the day it’s getting recognition on that level that is really important.”

For a detailed list of events, visit Beirut Design Week’s website beirutdesignweek.org.

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