And we landed, tired
When we arrived at the passport control we filled in the simple form, answered a couple of questions, got stamped and were on our way. At this point we were both beyond exhausted and desperately needed sleep. Rob called the hostel we were booked at to see if we could check in then. We were told to be there in one hour. We found an ATM and got cash and headed for a taxi. Rob negotiated a fare and we were on our way. As we drove in the driver pointed and said that is downtown, vital information to have as we realized soon.
The driver turned a couple of corners and stopped in front of a building. We felt uncomfortable in the neighborhood, but we were tired. We were in the hood! We walked up a dirty and scary staircase and found a sign for the hostel with key in a door.
Mohammed al-Amin Mosque in Downtown (Solidere)
We entered and felt like we had walked into a college dorm. How's that for secure. There were three men sleeping on in the front room, one of them on the floor. None of then moved a muscle.....like this was normal or they were deal??? An old man in his pajamas came out and greeted us. He told Rob to come back in 2 -3 hours. Rob wanted a better look at the place and walked back to the other part. Overall it was not very clean and didn't seem secure.Really, a crack den couldn't have looked much worse. He was a little disturbed and we left. As we were leaving the PJ man indicated we could leave our bags just inside the front door. I had not been smoking on the crack pipe so there was no way that was happening. We took our bags and headed downstairs. While we walked to Solidere (downtown), Rob tried to call every low cost and mid-range hotel in the Lonely Planet book.
Camp for the soliders guarding the city
They were all full or had suites left for many hundreds of dollars a night. This was so unlike me and I hated this experience.
In desperation we continued towards the downtown area to see if we could find a hotel, anywhere other then where we were. It was early morning but, the sun was beating down and the humidity was high. It was HOT and I was sweating like a pig. We reached the newly built Downtown also known as Beirut Central District or Solidere. At every street that entered the area there were soldiers with machine guns. We saw a hotel in the area but weren't sure how to get to it. Rob finally went up to one of the soldiers and asked. They had us open our suitcases (more for show) and then let us in.
People enjoying the coast at night
Given that this was Beruit, it was comforting that they were so vigilant. We went to the hotel and they had a room at a much higher price than we felt we could afford or planned to spend. We struggled and decided to try and find another option. We tried calling a couple of the higher priced option in the Lonely Planet book. They quoted us rate of up to $800 a night. The same phrase was used over and over, "This is high season you know". Rob was sick of hearing those words. We walked back towards the hostel Pension al-Nizar where were supposed to stay thinking there might be other options. We spoke to the manager of the Tal-Pension and he again told us no rooms.
We had both gone beyond tired and just wanted a bed. We decided wondering around aimlessly would not work so we headed back to the hotel Etoile Suites because they could meet out immediate needs and we could worry about the rest later.
Me on the promanade by the shore
A nice young woman showed us the room to make sure it was acceptable, which at this point was not a question for us. It was beautiful however and should be for 5*. Unfortunately, it was not ready to occupy. We would have to wait another hour. We happily took the room, left our bags, and went out to find a snack. There was a Starbucks just down the street. We have juice and muffins. They were having an issue with their generator (which we would learn is the rule not the exception in Beirut) so we couldn't use the bathroom. We continued to walk around the area to stay awake. We were so tired!! We looked over a couple of menus and found some nice options and heavy French influence, not surprising. Along the way we passed a shop where we they were scooping gobbles of melted cheese with spices on top into a piece of split bread with honey squired on top.
Micky D's in Arabic
It looked very good as we stared at it. A man inside motioned us in and we took him up on it. We decided to share one. It was alright, but I really didn't care for the flavor. It was totally flavorless. We headed back to the hotel for sleep. The room still wasn't ready so we had to wait in the hotel restaurant. I went out onto the hotel's restaurant terrace which has an amazing view of Solidere and to the Mediteranean Sea. The sky was clear and the view was more than I expected for .....Beirut.? I was doing alright staying awake, but Rob kept falling asleep sitting up as I read to him about tour options.
The room was finally ready and we got some much needed sleep. The bed was sooooo comfy and the pillows just right and the airconditioning was working.
Rob, man of the night in Beruit
All good conditions for sleep. We only intended to sleep for about four hours, but ended up with six because the alarm didn't go off. We managed to get up, shower and head out. But, before leaving we snapped a quick few shots of our window's view. It was the magnificent blue domed mosque front and center. We had also determined that in the space behind the hotel were the military barracks for the troups guarding Solidere. Well.....just after I tell Rob that someone is watchin him take that picture, someone from the barracks below yells at him to stop. We quickly shut the window and left. It was a clear sunny day. Solidere was teaming with life. As we exited the downtown area, we were asked by a man if we needed a taxi, which occurs constantly. We agreed and set out for Hamra, the main district for shops, restaurants, and students hanging out and at the far end of where we wanted to go that night.
Beruit city lights at night
We reached Hamra Street and argued with the driver about price. I negotiated him down to a reasonable price, I thought. Whatever.....get it agreed upon up front and pay them as soon as you are on your way....atleast in Beirut.
We were out and walking and trying to get our bearings. On the way we saw a Golden Tulip hotel. We decided to check it out for availability. It was too expensive, but they did give us directions to an Internet café despite Rob being a little grumpy and rude to them.
As we headed to the Internet café we passed an Italian restaurant and decided to try it as we were both hungry. It was a good thing since we were both beginning to reach out limits. We had a nice leisurely meal. There really wasn't much talking, just refueling, atleast it felt that way.
Mohammed al-Amin Mosque at night
Our bellies full we were off to the Internet café to search for hotel options. Along the way we stopped at a couple of hotels to check. We did find a hotel to start on July 21st. We booked it and headed to the café to check email and Skype our parents. While I checked email, Rob looked at the book and map. He decided we would walk along the promenade which is Beirut's Mediteranean coast, so off we went.
On the way we stopped at a store to get water and found out very recognizable American brands with Arabic writing on them. I was green with envy of their product availability. I for a moment thought that maybe I lived in a third world country. Lebanon has Charmain toilet tissue and The Netherlands does not. What is up with that? We made it down to the coast line and the rock beaches.
Details of Mohammed al-Amin Mosque
We walked along the drag and enjoyed the beauty of the city night lights and the people watching. There were groups and families out just relaxing and enjoying. People brought out chairs and hookahs to sit, smoke, and see and be seen. As we got closer to the main area the crowd got heavier. In one place some guys on roller blades had a ramp set-up and were doing jumps. One of them actually jumped a row of six people in front of the ramp. Rob got it on video. I had mentioned earlier it would be cool to get a Hard Rock Café Beirut t-shirt if it was cool, like Malta's. Then it was right in front of us. When we went inside a really friendly young woman helped us and told me she would not sell me a large t-shirt if it was for me. They had a great shirt that turned to be the best I would see on the trip.
Fireworks in the night
We continued on our walk back to the hotel. Once we got back it was about 22:00, but we were hungry again. We dropped our stuff in the room and went to the café (Arabica) next to the hotel. It was packed, but we got a table. There was live music and a lively crowd. I had a rich and creamy tropical smoothie, which was one of the best I have ever had in my life. Rob had fresh apple just that was definitely fresh. We shared stuffed grape leaves which were smaller and tangier than the Greek version. I also had boureg, a triangular pastry with cheese or spinach filling the have been fried. It is like and eastern version of burek. Rob also had fried calamari. Everything was very tasty. For desert, I indulged in a chocolate soufflé, which was excellent.
Our hunger satisfied we headed for bed again.
Bursts of colors
As Rob was now too tired to sleep, I have him a sleep aid. Rob started to work on the blog until the pill kicked in and then he was OUT. Outside we heard the music from a club where there was quite a party going. It sounded like quite a party and from a distance looked like THE place to be. We were sound asleep when the sounds of the night were shattered by explosions. I heard some and thought alright I'm dreaming, there were more so I had to get up, after all it was Beirut. When I looked out the windows there were explosions of color as fireworks went off over the Amir Munzer Mosque. I like to think they were heralding our arrival. That's what I'm saying, anyway. Rob was so drugged he couldn’t get out of bed. The rest of the night was uneventful and we slept hard.
Explosions to wake up to