Lebanon

Beirut again: personality transplant or what?

The personality transplant applied as much to me as to the Beirutis probably but last year I hated that city as you’ll discern from reading the entries: Lebanon, my trip & My impressions of Lebanon

Arrival

I hadn’t realised but as planes approach Beirut from the North they fly across the corniche. As soon as I saw Manara district and the lights from the ferris wheel (photo below), it was as if I hadn’t left, a feeling of familiarity, that didn’t please me. The airport routine was as usual, a taxi tout and random soldier tried to persuade me to pay double the price for the ride to Germayyze. Finally I paid the usual price and arrived at Hotel Talal, with minimal fuss.

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It wasn’t too late in the day so I drank some tea with the owner and discovered the kitchen was communal and people could have free tea or coffee any time; or even cook a meal. On my last night I tasted the speciality, a lentil soup to die for. If this seems banal then it probably is but at the Saifi Pension, where I stayed last year there’s a bar, where all the ”snazzy” young Maronites gather, along with European tourists, students and other Beiruti residents. The cafe bar is very expensive.

First days

The first day I went to ‘Dunkin Doughnuts’ for breakfast and encountered a young woman, who worked there last year and surprisingly, in contrast to my previous visit, was welcoming and encouraged my attempts to order in Arabic. From that day, depending on the direction I was heading in I ate there or in a small bakery around the corner from my hotel, which is very cheap, serves lovely savouries and sweets and is run by Syrians; much to my delight.

Last year I encountered all the negatives about Syria, this visit was to be very different, after all there are two million Syrians living in Lebanon and the parliamentary March 8th Accord supports Syria. My 3 bed dorm room was inhabited by a Syrian woman working in Beirut and an American woman of Mexican descent. Fortunately I struck up a friendship with both making life in a dorm more pleasant and entertaining. I had to use my limited Arabic to communicate with Sally, who didn’t speak a word of English.

Beirut geography

I intended to visit other areas but was adamant, that whilst in Beirut I’d discover its geography on foot, permissible in the light of the cool spring weather. When I walked along the corniche to Raouche (Pigeon Rock) I saw a couple of planes coming into land and began at last to get the geography of the capital. My plane had seemed to land in the sea, because the airport is along the coast in the direction of the southern town of Saida. A couple more photos of the rocks coming up.

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The geography of Beirut is deceptive because of its small size and the routes taken by taxi drivers, who are not out to defraud you but if their vehicles are shared, have to pick up passengers en route. Having said that it is easy to distinguish between the four points, when on the coast at least.

The centre of Beirut is a bit more complex, I learned the way to Cola intersection, where there are taxis, buses and vans to the South and to East Lebanon, by walking there from Gemayyze. Its only three kilometres and the weather was cool enough for a stroll and that way you get to know the south a bit too. The huge disadvantage is, that the south Beirut is uphill.

An Armenian market

My other on foot expedition was South East to the Sunday market at Bourj Hammoud, an Armenian area. The market is not so much a souk but reminded me of Petticoat Lane in London and the old Eastville market in Bristol; everything was for sale and enticed shoppers from all areas of Beirut. I bought some interesting key rings of certain politicians and delighted two of my friends, with these gifts. I’m now the proud possessor of two keyrings, one of Doctor Bashar and the other of a cedar, given to me in Bcharre by the the man, who made it.

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The journey back to Ashrafieh was a bit of a problem as I walked along the river corniche, named after the famous Maronite patron Pierre Germayal and arrived at ‘Dunkin Doughnut’ in Furn el Chebbak for a spell  but then headed in the right direction and arrived at St Nicholas steps in Gouraud Street, exactly where I intended so was overjoyed as I didn’t achieve the feat last year.

If I’d continued west I guess I’d have ended up in the centre or in Hamra. Both routes entailed negotiating huge roads, though being Sunday in a majority Christian area they were not too busy. Its worth saying, that neither the market or the area in general are typically part of the tourist trail.

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