I didn’t really know how Ramadan would be, but from all the rumors I was told it’s kind of like a ghost town. With that in mind, I started to think where could I travel to in under four hours, non stop and a decent price. I used Google flights explore feature to find a few options. They were Oman (already been), Kuwait, a few places in India and Lebanon. I thought Lebanon sounds cool; I’m game.
So I caught a flight out of DOH non stop to Beirut Thursday after work. I took Middle Eastern Airlines. This was my first time and I have to say the service was not that bad. I had a great dinner on board consisting of chicken picatta, mashed potatoes, green beans and carrots. The gin and tonic completely knocked me out after the meal. Before I knew it we were landing.
As a US passport holder I qualify for a tourist visa on arrival. Packing only a backpack made exiting the plane and airport pretty simple. I read that Uber is available but I had no phone service at the airport. In fact, I had no phone service the duration of the trip unless I was on WiFi. Therefore I had to catch a taxi to The Beverly Hotel.
Sidetrack- While I was going through passport control I noticed a very large (75 or so) group of African, Indian and Asian women standing in line for work visas and health screenings. Obviously they have been brought to Lebanon to work in the service industry. The most striking thing, while I’m trying not stare or look them in their eyes, is you could see a longing for home or as if they were physically there, but not mentally. I can’t even imagine being in the position of leaving home to provide for my family and kids. And we already know it’s pennies on the dollar. I pray that all of these women prosper in Beirut.
Another side story:
Taxi Driver (old Lebanese man) – You from Africa?
Me- No Sir.
Him- I love Africa!
Me- I’m headed there this summer.
Him- My two sons are in Gabon.
Me- That’s great!
Him- You want a cigarette?
Me- No thank you.
Him- As he lights cigarette… You’re people are from Africa. (not sure if this is a question or statement)
Me- Yes sir, they are.
Him- Welcome to Beirut!
I safely made it to the Beverly Hotel after bargaining with the taxi driver. He said $35 and I told him that read online that it should only cost me $20. We settled on $25. By the way, on my return to the airport, I was able to catch an Uber for $11. The hotel staff was friendly and checked me in with a welcome drink. It was a strong gin and tonic so I ordered a second and third one.
I had four gin and tonics before I even headed to the room to shower. The attendant suggested Beit Halab for Sohuur. I had hummus and meat with Tabbouleh. This place is amazing! It’s right across from the beach. I cant see it, but I’ll be back at daytime.
The next morning I got up and had a traditional Lebanese breakfast the hotel and then I caught an Uber to Samir Kassim Square. I found this app called Voicemap which allows you to purchase audio walking tours of various cities. At $3.99 I thought I couldn’t go wrong. I was stepping out of my comfort zone from the hop on hop off tour.
I saw some beautiful places such as Martyr’s Square, Mohammad Al- Amin Mosque, which has gorgeous blue domes and they are a replication of those at Mecca. I also saw The Egg which was intended to be the largest mall and theater of the Middle East when it was built. The audio also discusses the dilapidated buildings due to civil unrest. I walked for some time, but found it to be a bit boring. Not sure if I would recommend this tour.
Because I have good internal GPS, I decided to turn around and head back to where the tour began. This area seemed to be bustling with people. The most interesting thing to me is its Ramadan and everything is open. People eating and drinking on the streets. Businesses are open, it’s a Friday and nothing has stopped. People are not dressed conservatively; as I had packed for the weekend. In my next blog I will go into detail about all of my misconceptions and new learning about Lebanon. The country has very interesting past. I came to understand the country is not predominately Muslim. Hence, it being a normal running day.
I stumbled upon this area that had a huge clock tower in the middle and was surrounded by street cafes. It sort of reminded me of Rome or Madrid. I stopped at a cafe to have some assorted pickles and cheese rolls. While seated there and walking around, I noticed a number of people begging for food and money. This is just not something I see in Qatar and you almost forget the needy and homeless population exist. My awareness of the Syrian population residing in Lebanon was also clarified.
After my snack I went on a mission to find the souks and I love Beirut sign. The souks are very upscale. Not your typical, winding paths that you would tend to get lost and completely turned around. But, I somehow found the sign. It’s gorgeous! Bright and bold colors. After that I caught a taxi to the Rauche Rocks. They really are two rocks..that’s all folks. Afterwards my taxi driver took me to the National Museum. On the way I saw a beach and so I inquired. He said the Lebanese do not use it, they go to Tripoli or other surrounding beaches. Only the Syrians use it and it’s dirty. I probably need to do some research on Lebanese – Syrian relations. We went through an area that was crowed with people selling pampers on the street. He explained it was a huge Syrian population in Old Beirut.
I wasn’t impressed with the National Museum or City Center Mall. I caught an Uber back to the hotel. Did I mention it’s hot as hell, but not as hot as Qatar. I’m slowly learning that adventures don’t always require a full schedule. So, I went back to my room and watched four episodes of Jailbirds on Netflix. All I have to say is people incarcerated are part genius and part crazy. I finally decided that it was time to venture out for dinner. Zaitunay Bay is an area with lots of restaurants, coffee shops and shopping. It’s about a 5 minute walk from my hotel and is pretty busy on a Friday night with young and old. I decided to have Italian at Al Forno on the bay. The patio had a nice ambience and cool breeze.
After dinner I walked along the bay and stopped in a few shops. I decided to call it an early night since I had a busy day scheduled for Saturday. I booked a tour for Anjar, Baalbek and Kasara with wine tasting.