(MENAFN - Jordan Times) I had heard so much about Beirut, also called 'Paris of East', hub of education and historic sites, etc., so my family and I decided to visit Lebanon during the weekend.
The first disappointing experience was at Rafik Hariri Airport, which is now congested. The three-tiered security checks before departure are so inconvenient and consume more than an hour for check-in.
The parking space outside the airport is also very cramped.
The Queen Alia International Airport, on the other hand, is not only elegant in architecture, but also very spacious and designed in a futuristic fashion.
The civil war has had its visible effects on Lebanon and its society. There have not been any major infrastructure developments in the recent past.
The most telling effects are on the Lebanese currency, which has depreciated substantially, and the prevalent inflation.
I found prices of common goods extremely high compared to Amman, which is rated as the most expensive city in the Arab world.
The reality may be different; if you know the correct places, the prices of items in Amman can be very reasonable.
The most striking feature of Jordan is its people, who are polite, courteous and well mannered.
The traffic in Lebanon is fast to the extent of being reckless. Lanes are frequently changed and there appears to be no check on over-speeding.
Pakistan's ambassador to Lebanon assigned his driver to take us places for site seeing. When my wife asked him to drive slowly on hilly terrain, repeatedly, he boasted that in a recent competition in Lebanon, he was declared the third fastest driver.
The readers can judge our plight!
Traffic flow in Jordan is more organised and regulated, though traffic jams are also a norm here, especially in summer months when there is an influx of visitors from Gulf countries.
There are many similarities between the Lebanese and Jordanian cuisine, though Amman is comparatively more economic when it comes to the cost of edibles.
Lebanese traditional dishes have been adopted by many Arab countries and have become a regular part of their diet now.
The Baalbek temples and Roman ruins in the foothills northeast of Litani River, 85km north of Beirut, are a treat to watch. Baalbek is an ancient Phoenician city that was inhabited in 9000BC.
The Jeita caves, situated in Nabr Al Kalb Valley, 18km north of Beirut, display nature at its best in beautifully carved lime shapes and a lake with crystal clear water. The caves are a system of two separate but interconnected karstic limestone caves spanning a length of almost 9km, a must go for tourists.
Another interesting place near Beirut is the Museum of Fame, which displays wax and silicon sculptures of famous personalities, mostly Lebanese and Arabs, similar in design to Madam Tussauds Museum in London. They have been skilfully crafted and some even make movements and speak or sing as one approaches them.
Another highly commendable facet of Lebanon, like Jordan, is the harmony between Muslims and Christians and amongst various sects of these religions.
Lebanon's population is almost 54 per cent Muslim and 44 pre cent Christian. No official census has been conducted since 1932, reflecting the political sensitivity over confessional (religious) balance.
I think the Lebanese society has learnt valuable lessons from the civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1991. Other Muslim nations could emulate this harmonious coexistence amongst followers of various faiths.
One of the most disappointing facets during my visit was trying to find a souvenir related to Khalil Gibran, the famous Lebanese author and intellectual.
I visited all the malls and bookshops, but the staff at the shops were not even aware of this great personality who is a popular name amongst and widely read by the educated in Pakistan.
After almost two days of effort, I was finally able to find a small memento of Gibran from an antique shop.
What we missed the most was the pleasant weather of Amman, with the cool and gentle evening breeze even when the days have a high temperature.
The dry climate of Amman makes summers tolerable.
An interesting aspect of the Lebanese weather spectrum is the change of climate within a travel time of half an hour, from the hot and humid planes of Beirut to the cool climate of mountains.
Overall, visiting Lebanon was a pleasant experience, but I missed Jordan all the time.
Jordan, with its undulating valleys, historical and religious sites, Dead Sea, Petra and Wadi Rum, offers an abundance of sites for tourists.
Besides, it is very safe from the security perspective and has recently been declared 2nd safest country in the Arab world.
I shall be shortly saying adieu to Amman, upon completion of my assignment in Jordan, but my family and I will carry along fond memories of Jordan, its hospitable and wonderful people, affection and support we always received in our 'second home' and the friends we made here.
The people of Pakistan and Jordan share strong bonds, similar values, similarity of perceptions on most regional and international issues, and the relations between the two brotherly countries are deep rooted.
May these relations continue to prosper in times to come.
The writer is the ambassador of Pakistan to Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.