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In the summer of 1996 I had the opportunity of visiting Lebanon for the first time. I was traveling with family (in-laws) and upon arriving at Beirut International Airport, we were waived past customs and all the long lines, including baggage claim. It seems as if my wife's (fiancee at the time) uncle, a retired general in the Lebanese army, had something to do with this. The vacation was truly an experience of dispelling stereotypes about the Middle East, specifically Lebanon. The people I met, relatives and friends made, were all very warm and hospitable.
The meals were lavish, at times overwhelmingly abundant in variety and quantity, and the personal attention by the restaurants' staffs, impeccable. Many of the tourist attractions were breathtaking and pristine, due to the lack of foreign tourism.
For me, however, the most memorable experience was walking into a local grocery store and finding a glass-enclosed walk-in humidor the size of two telephone booths, stocked with boxes of Cuban cigars. As I slid the glass door behind me upon entering, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Beautifully stacked boxes of Bolivar, Cohiba, El Rey Del Mundo, Upmann, Montecristo, Partagas and Romeo y Julieta surrounded me. As I gazed upon the prices on each box and did the monetary conversions necessary to buy some cigars, a feeling of dismay overcame me. I realized that any one of those boxed cigars could cost me much more than a few dollars. I chose one box of Montecristo No.3s, which I generously shared with my future uncle-in-law, the general, during the remainder of my vacation. And though I no longer have any of the Montecristos, the memory of that summer day in the Cuban-stocked glass humidor lingers like a plume of smoke.
Harry N. Bobotis
Anderson, South Carolina
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I just returned from a glorious 10-day vacation in France with my amazing wife, Rebecca. Upon arrival (and thanks to your recommendation) we made a stop at Boutique 22 to stock up on some Havanas. The selection was incredible,to say the least. (Bolivar, Punch, Hoyo de Monterrey, El Rey Del Mundo, Sancho Panza, La Gloria Cubana, Montecristo, Cuaba, etc.) The best part is that there wasn't a cigar in the entire humidor that cost over $11. My wife nearly had to drag me out of the place. I normally smoke El Credito Monarchs for under $2 per stick, but this was one of those occasions where I simply pleaded temporary insanity and broke the proverbial bank. Each night I enjoyed a different Cuban cigar and a glass of Port in the hotel lounges in Paris, the Loire, the Dordogne and Bordeaux. The exchange rate is currently a spectacular eight francs to the dollar. (It's normally around 5 to 1, so the extra 60 percent on your money goes a long way). Most of the meals we ate would have made Henry VIII blush, and they cost around $75 (including tax, tip and wine!)
Last, the French people could not have been any more pleasant or accommodating. The whole "French are rude" idea is antiquated and just plain not true.Like your mother always told you, if you say "si vou plait" and "merci" a lot, you'll do OK in life. I'mconvinced that no matter what country you're in, if you make an attempt at being polite, you will get treated with courtesy and respect. My wife and I can't wait for our next trip back to France. The best food, wine and cigars in the world--who could ask for anything more?