Its about 4AM and i'm excited as I see early morning Beirut glide past my window below me as the BA Boeing comes in to land. Although I have never been here before, I instantly recognise and name areas of the city by linking them to events and chronicles as recounted by the journalist Robert Fisk through his many reports and books about this front-line city and its tragic gradual destruction.
Once out of the airport I walk about 1km to the highway and wave down a classic Mercedes taxi and head for the Hamra District of the city which is famous for the nightlife. My friendly cab driver delights in giving me a history of the areas that we pass through, already i'm loving the place! Most of the scars of last years war are hidden from the main highway.
For this brief time I get the impression that all the troubles are already confined to history and forgotten. I check into the Cedarland hotel which is stones throw away from the American University (This is a place that I recommend to visitors). I decide to get some rest before I discover the city.
Its time for lunch and i'm excited of all the culinary delights that I will soon be eating...brilliant!! I'm armed with a list of eateries provided to me by my lebanese friends in Brighton. I'm told to head to Rouche for Mezze and views of the Pigeon Rocks, one of Beirut's premier hang-out spots. The walk takes about 20mins from Hamra and the heat and humidity is stifling. I settle down at the restaurant that overlooks the rocks and offers a great view along the coast south towards the airport.
The place seems quite smart judging by the glitzy clientele that are sitting on the tables around me. A couple of the ladies are obviously in show business, very beautiful in their sexy dresses, sipping tea and eating fattoush (salad). A sharp contrast to myself sweating in my travel clothing, drinking milkshake and ten plates of food in front of me (dont worry Tareq, your mujadara is way better than from this place!... well...marginally!!). The food is great, and I finish barely a third of it before guilt for my greediness sets in. Nevermind it will be fruit for me tommorow! All that food made me tired and I head back to hotel following the sea along the corniche. In previous years people that walked along the corniche would have been confronted by the view of warships dotting the horizon with their canons pointed at the city, but testament to the character of the Lebanese people they still continued to walk along there every evening during the shelling!
I grew up in various countries of the Middle East, including Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Hamra District, Beirut
Through times of war and tension. I have seen how Egypt has transformed itself going through hard times and tension into an open and prosperous developing economy. Yet by far, Lebanon was the country that always intrigued me most in the Arab world. I found it hard to imagine how such a small country could be the scene of so many events attracting the envy and submitting to the will of foreigners. It seems that everybody wanted a piece of Lebanon, and when they were finished they simply discarded the remains, leaving just pieces for the locals to sweep away. I was probably expecting to see scars of the war on the buildings I passed but people try not to dwell on the past and have fixed the place up. Time for a nap.
I decide to try and sample a bit of the night life and so head to the downtown area.
This used to be area where everybody headed to in the evenings but unfortunately it was completely bombed during the war. Now it has been completely rebuilt and people are starting to come back. It is extremely smart with street lined with designer boutiques. Unfortunately, when I get there the streets are dead. The recent troubles are forced people to stay at home once more. The security is intense and I searched at the checkpoint leading in. I am the only person out tonight. Shops and bars are open with theirs owners palying cards and backgammon. I sit down hoping that their kitchen is open. A gorgeous lady in a Cavalli style dress invites to the table play cards with the staff. She told me that her family run the place and that i'm the first foreigner for over a month to sit in her locale.
She brings me fattoush and watermelon juice. No charge!. After about 2hrs I decide to go to bed so I thank the lady for her hospitality and walk the 2-3km back to the hotel. The night is hot and humid and apart from the occasional soldiers and tanks, Beirut seems a place at peace. Tommorow I will explore this intriguing place further!