Trip Start Oct 20, 2008
Trip End Jan 31, 2009

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Where I stayed

Flag of Lebanon  ,
Friday, November 21, 2008

Somehow I made my way to Beirut! I would like to reiterate my thesis: the main airport is representative of the country's level of development. The Rafiq Hariri International Airport supersedes the Queen Alia Airport of Amman. Although it is significantly smaller, it may even be better than the Istanbul Ataturk Airport.

As the plane was ascending, I noticed how well-organized, modern and tall the city looked. At first glance, it felt like a miniature Manhattan.

Learned that only Aeroflot flies from Beirut to Moscow. They have biweekly flights on Tuesdays and Saturdays. However, they don't have an office at the airport. So, the ladies at the Middle East Airlines of Lebanon told me that told me to buy the ticket from the check-in counter.

I hate cab drivers. As I was about to exit the airport, one of them came to me and said taxi. I asked him if he had a taximeter. He said yes. When I opened the passenger door, I noticed that there was none. I asked him where it was. He pointed at a broken taxi label that was sitting inside his car instead of the top, and said "taximeter". As I was planning to get out of the cab, I asked how much. 35,000 Lebanese Pounds, the dude told me. The transportation officials inside the terminal had told me that it would take about half an hour to get to Crowne Plaza, where Diana and the gang were staying. So I calculated... A bit over $20 for a half hour cab ride in a developed capital like Beirut... Said ok. I simply didn't have the strength to carry my backpack to another vehicle and negotiate a new price. As expected, the ride took only 15 minutes. The driver now decided to ask for $35. I gave him 35,000 and left him blabbing inside his run-down car. Later, I learned that I should have paid no more than 10,000. A classic...

Diana was not staying at the hotel, as I had thought, but instead at her friend's place. The volleyball teams of King's Academy was staying at Crowne. Graciously, the group leaders told me that I could stay in one of their rooms with 2 other guys, for free. Dropped off my stuff at the room and ran down for breakfast. This high-end buffet was paradise after almost reaching starvation at the Damascus Airport.

Spent the day walking around Hamra and drinking coffee at random cafes. Had a really good kebab sandwich and ayran (salty yoghurt drink) at Barbar for 4,000 pounds. Barbar is an impressive compound that occupies the entire ground floor of a block. They make everything from Western fastfood to ice-cream.

I could not believe the beauty and the modernity of this city. Slick 20-story buildings standing right by the Mediterranean. The only thing it lacked was a dense history. Although it had been an important Phonecian port in the 3 millenium BC, its relative importance was not carried out through history.

Enormous amounts of French and American funds have been pumped into this country, once again, with the hope of preventing Lebanon from falling into the "Axis of Evil". Numerous French and American brands are present here, all the way from fastfood chains to banks.

Took an hour nap in my room at Crowne Plaza. After a sleepless night at 2 airports, it felt great.

In the evening, went to one of the bars in Gemayzeh for happy hour, which lasts until 9.30pm. I had never seen so many top-notch bars on the same street. After 2 mojitos, headed to Gemayzeh Cafe. This was a French bistro with a Lebanese touch. Had meze, shish taouk, mahallebi (milk-based desert), nargileh and Turkish coffee. 50,000 pounds. The food quality was excellent and the live Arab music added significantly to the atmosphere. This place was the Lebanses version of a meyhane (similar to a tapas bar) at Cicek Pasaji in Istanbul.

When I returned to room 1507 at midnight, lightning struck in the distance. Couple of seconds later, another one and another one and another one... I had never seen lightening occur so frequently. Freaking out, I thought that it was missile fire. Looked into the distance to see if there was any evidence of this. Tried calling Diana, but couldn't reach her. As I was sweating in my bed, finally, it started to rain. The terrifying stories that I had heard about life in Lebanon are to blame for my paranoia.
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