Many of you know that I’m Lebanese and that I try to go back to Lebanon at least once a year. Last year, I posted two blogs about my visits: one about my March 2016 trip and one about the Feast of the Assumption, which falls on August 15th. You all enjoyed my posts so much that the former post appeared in the Aramco Expats online edition and the other one resulted in my getting more emails than any other post!
Given that it’s August 15th today, the day of the Feast of the Assumption, I thought I’d show you, in pictures, how much the Virgin Mary is celebrated in Lebanon. It’s a national holiday there, and everyone named Mary is celebrated! I drove my dad crazy when we would go for walks as I stopped to photograph every shrine we passed. Making it a challenge to find unique and hidden shrines added to the fun.
In these photos, you’ll find shrines dedicated not only to the Virgin Mary, but to other saints that are important to Lebanese Christians. These include Saint Sharbel (also spelled Charbel), Saint Elias, and Saint Thecla. You can read more about the saints specific to Lebanon here.
This post is meant to give you a glimpse of what it’s like to walk and drive around the small Christian mountain village of Broummana, 20 minutes east of Beirut, in the Mount Lebanon Governorate. You will hear church bells ringing all day on Sunday and on other days of the week. Going to church is a daily activity for many. Outings to visit churches or larger shrines are common all year round. It would be an understatement to say that people in this small village are religious because they are very religious! Many activities revolve around the local churches. Check out this huge church square overlooking the beautiful mountains of Mount Lebanon:
Today is August 15th, The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It sounds like quite the esoteric topic for a post, but I wanted to share this day with you in the form of pictures and anecdotes because it’s a big deal in my family!
In Lebanon today, it is a statutory holiday and it is highly celebrated. You go to church, you visit and spend time with everyone named Mary, and you even give them presents. And, because my name is Mary, today is my day!
When my grandmother was alive, this day was her day, too – basically like a birthday celebration. August 15th was bigger for her than any other day of the year because her name was Marie and she was very religious. We would go over to her house and exchange gifts and have lunch with the extended family.
It seems that summer vacation has taken over my blog because I haven’t posted in about six weeks! So, it’s no surprise that this post is about our recent trip to Vancouver and Maui.
Because I plan any family trips we take, I get to ultimately decide (with some input from my husband and kids, of course) what we do. This puts quite a bit of pressure on me, but it’s always worth it and my family tells me that they see more than most people do in any given city! Admittedly, I tend to cram a lot into each day.
One of the things that works for us is to sightsee first and then end up on a beach somewhere where we can just relax. I’m sure many people do this. It just makes sense to get the walking and touring out of the way, knowing that the reward is some serious downtime.
In mid-June this year, we went to Vancouver and Maui. It wasn’t the original plan, but an itinerary change beyond our control allowed us to sneak in a few days in Vancouver before hitting the beach. Here’s what we did.
To get to Maui from Toronto, there are no direct flights, so you have to stop somewhere along the way. My husband and I had been to Vancouver many years ago and the stop in Vancouver was the perfect opportunity to visit again and take the kids to see the west coast of Canada. Continue reading →
Last week, I was lucky enough to spend a few more days in New York City. But, this time, I had a completely different experience for three reasons: it was my second visit in less than a year, I had time to spend on my own, and I didn’t overschedule myself.
This got me thinking about how nice it is to visit a big city for the second, third, or fourth time. So, what made this subsequent visit to New York City more meaningful?
For one, I was familiar with the pace and energy of the city and knew how to plan and what to expect. I knew it would take time to get around so I factored that in and didn’t rush myself. For those of you who know me well, I tend to run on the late side. You would have been surprised at how on time I was this week! I also anticipated the crowds and brought my patience. Finally, I walked on Park Ave more when I was in a hurry to avoid the crowds on Fifth Ave.
Two weeks ago I was in Lebanon celebrating my dad’s birthday and spending time with my family. It had been almost 4 years since my last visit. A lot has changed but the most interesting difference for me was the ability to document my trip on Instagram!
First, a few personal comments on #MyLebanon:
Lebanon has never been my home for longer than a few weeks on vacation, but it is where my parents and family are from. It is my home and native country. A country of about 4 million people in an area of 10,452 sq kms, Lebanon’s history has included Romans, Phoenicians, Ottomans, and a Civil War. The most important features of Lebanon for me are the 3 languages most Lebanese speak (almost every spoken sentence includes Arabic, English, and French words), Beirut’s once-nickname as the Paris of the Middle East, the many religious sects, and the undeniable joie de vivre of the Lebanese.
Lebanese people like to live, period.
For me, Lebanon is a beautiful country where mountains jut up from the Mediterranean Sea much like some of the California coast. The sea and mountain views are stunning. Most mornings, people can be seen sitting in their pajamas on their balconies, sipping coffee and enjoying the views. It’s what they live for.
My Lebanon is a Christian village called Broummana in Mount Lebanon, about 20 mins east of Beirut. Village living is peaceful, traditional, family-oriented. Aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors drop by. Falling asleep to frogs croaking and foxes howling and waking up to roosters crowing is inevitable. Cicadas sing all summer long and can be annoyingly loud. Churches, tolling bells, and religious ‘nooks’ (blog post soon on this) set up with Virgin Mary statues as well as other local saints can be found outside many homes.
Memories of summers spent in Lebanon swirl in my head almost all year long. I absolutely love visiting my home country. I leave with my batteries recharged from all the family love. And, my suitcases are full of roasted nuts, baklava, pistachio nougat, and many other Lebanese sweets. Oh, and did I mention shoes? Lebanese-made shoes are still my favorite, made with love, style, and genuine leather.
I hope you enjoy this blog post which highlights my Instagram photos. I’d love to hear your views on what you thought of Lebanon before and after these posts!
On my first day in Broummana, I went for a walk with my dad. It was the clearest day of my trip. This is an infinity pool looking south and west onto a range of mountains. You can see the mountain villages sprinkled across the valley:
This house is a modern home that is built to look like it’s an old house. Note the arches and the yellow stones used as well as the wooden shutters. It has a red tiled roof that you’ll have to take my word on:
One day my aunt and uncle took us to the Shouf mountains and the home of two palaces dating to the early 19th Century. The first is Beiteddine, the home of Emir Bechir and the second is the Mir Amin Palace, now a hotel. I love the tiled carpet at the bottom of the pool. The Shouf region is the prettiest, most peaceful place I have visited outside of Broummana:
Zaytouna Bay is a ‘waterfront promenade’ in Beirut near the Beirut Souks shopping area. The Beirut Marina is there as are restaurants such as Paul and Pinkberry. We went for a ride out on the Mediterranean from Zaytouna to Jounieh Bay. The weather was unseasonably warm for this time of year. No complaints here!
On the day I went to Beirut Souks, there was a demonstration going on so I couldn’t see what I wanted to see. The pink flowering trees against the yellow stoned buildings were so beautiful. As I had never seen spring in Lebanon, I was quite happy with this compromise!
There are Roman and Byzantine ruins in several parts of Lebanon. One site is in Beit Meri, the village next to Broummana. We went at dusk. Here I am with my brother on a mosaic tiled carpet.
Mount Lebanon has blankets of pine tree forests. Cicadas hide here as do goat herds, frogs, and foxes. When you look closely, you can see that these pine trees look a bit like broccoli!
Driving around Broummana, you can see both mountain and sea views. I must say that I’m partial to the sea views because I like the peaceful mountain living while being able to see the excitement of city living a few kilometers away in Beirut:
My last photo was taken on the flight out of Beirut. You can see how big Beirut is and get a feel for what the summers are like in the beach clubs like the Movenpick Hotel Beirut in this photo:
So, that’s my trip in photos as seen on my Instagram feed.
Call us contrarians, but we love to vacation when no one else does – well, practically no one! The truth is, when you visit popular tourist destinations or beaches, chances are you won’t be alone. And that is a good thing because you want some activity around you. But you want to feel like you are relaxing, so going in the off-season makes perfect sense to us. Continue reading →