Read here about my other Lebanese adventures: Beirut Dreams (2015)
February 18th, 1:20AM, Doha, Qatar
Just returned from Asmara, Eritrea where I met such polite, well dressed and beautiful people. Booked for Beirut again a few hours before leaving for Bali. It feels great, just under 2 minutes, I didn’t even check the rates. From Bali directly to Beirut, as part of the world tour I’m doing right now. Let’s see what I attract!
February 21st 2016, Beirut, Lebanon
I’m so lucky to be able to…move. I feel strong and thrilled and at peace with me. Booked this flight to Beirut, just clicked ok-ok-ok. Maximum 2 minutes. And it feels amazing, to be able to travel without thinking of anything, just of what adventures await. Most of the times I just let myself get lost in cities and in conversations with people I don’t know. And it’s great for self-knowledge because you see what you attract, what you need to work on.
I came to some truths last days. I want to work in customer service, directly with people. I will probably go for hotel industry and my dream is to own a chain of hotels. I am so proud of my evolution of the way this path was settling while I didn’t even know.
Traveling so much – and I’m talking now about my personal off work travels, which mainly happens every month makes me be in their shoes. Having had a restaurant only eating, fancy cafes and pubs afternoon life, traveling in exotic destinations since I was 10, mainly without my parents, having studied abroad, invited to exclusive cocktails and entry list events, having seen so many waiters, event organizers, people who mingle around the clubbing life, so many approached and attitudes, so many situations, reactions and behaviors makes me be unbeatable in delivering a high quality service. And people need to change their attitude and perception towards the people in the service industry.
Landed from Bali, Indonesia at 5:50 AM and by noon I was already in another plane taking me to Beirut, Lebanon, there, where a large piece of my soul feels at home. I don’t know why, but it’s there where I need to be, it was the place where, against all odds, I traveled alone in my first month of working in Qatar, when everyone was telling me I was insane (true) to go alone, without knowing anyone and my mom was asking if the war is still going on…
There’s mornings when I wake up thinking about the blue water by the Corniche, at Raouche, at the mosques there, at the charming streets, steep pathways, at the city bus costing 1000 pounds, at the common taxis, at the scent of the breeze of the sea…
It’s raining as I land, but Beirut is beautiful anyways…
Some colleagues of mine from Rotaract that I’ve met through another Rotaractor pick me up from the airport and take me for a ride around the parts of the city I did not see the first time, in May 2015.
Beirut is a landmark for me, first month of flying and now, after one year since starting my journey.
Beirut is so chic and free, and beautiful. Lebanese say it’s the most beautiful in the world and I tend to believe them although take care if they say they love you.
Oh, by the way…what am I doing in Beirut? Boyfriend? No. Friends? Yes and no. What do I do there? Where do I stay? So many questions I get asked by the people I tell I’m going and by the border control at the airport. Suspect, young girl traveling alone for…tourism. In Lebanon? I smile and say because it’s beautiful and search for my other passport to show the first visa. But can you visit in two days? Yes, I’ll come back. He’s confused and I enjoy it.
Well, we started with an Almaza beer (product of Lebanon) in the car and with my story in short. Lawyer gone to see the world by becoming cabin crew. Crazy enough to travel alone to Beirut, Cambodia, Athens, Zanzibar, US.
I ask if I can rent a car to visit Byblos and they all burst out laughing. Apparently not.
My Lebanese friends prepared two hotel options, one in Hamra – an area with more shops and alive by day – and one in Gemmayze – an area with restaurants and bars more alive by night. I choose the second and after checking in we stop at The Bohemian, a very fancy and as the name says, very bohemian and chic place, where each piece of design takes your eyes. The place is just so much fun. We order lychee martini and it comes in a huge antique mug with small antique mugs for each of us and with a lychee on each of them, laying on top of a lot of ice cubes. The upholstery of the high chairs with round chair seat is in oriental colorful print and the floor tiles are colorful, too. A colorful crystals chandelier hangs from the ceiling.
Our next stop is, through the rain that’s pretty serious by now, Jbeil, which is around 40 km away from Beirut.
Jbeil is actually Byblos, the first city of Phoenicia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is considered to be the longest continuously inhabited city in the world, starting 5000 BC.
We walked through the rain in the Old Souk in Byblos and watched the furious waves in the Byblos Harbor by night. It’s raining and raining and raining and the water rushes down on the cubic shaped stones covering the alleys leading down to the harbor. I’m in ballerinas, but we walk in a shop and for $10 I buy the cutest rubber boots in purple.
In the harbor there are some lovely restaurants and we chose Chez Pepe, where I loved to taste authentic Lebanese cuisine and a local red wine in the fishing specific of the restaurant. I loved the boat in the middle of one of the rock walled rooms, the fire place in the other, the natural materials around – only stone, wood, clay, rope, the few oriental motifs, the white table cloths contrasting the blue chairs, the hunting guns displayed and the cozy, chateau like atmosphere under the arch shaped stone walls and ceiling.
My friends keep asking me what I like, but I tell them I like everything. Which is true, especially since I’m in Beirut.
February 22nd, Beirut, Lebanon
I did after all come back from Bali yesterday and came back to Beirut where I went out until after midnight, so, since I’m in holiday I allowed myself to sleep until past noon.
Before we go out in Beirut together, let me recommend, if you ever arrive in Beirut, to download the Zawarib App, which is a great guide to the city and especially to the hidden trails and treasures that Beirut has plenty.
In the lobby Michael Jackson invites me to start with the man in the mirror.
The air is fresh and I slept well. I dress up colorful and I go out in the windy air of Beirut in a random Monday.
The Lebanese capital is around 20 sq km and the main areas that are worth visiting are: Hamra – around Raouche, Downtown – with Zaitunay Bay and Beirut Souks, Achrafieh (Ashrafiee), Gemmayzeh – Sursock Area and the Port, Mar Mikhael.
Well, I started the day by climbing up and down the St. Nicolas Stairs located just a few houses away from my hotel on Gemmayze Street. On the sides of the stairs, there’s a lot of other street art and love declarations to the city: “Beirut has my heart”, “J’aime Beyrouth”. Totally subscribe to that. Arabic stylized letters in black and yellow ink.
It’s obvious people are not too used to tourists and as far as I heard, there are not many around and even the locals repeatedly asked me why do I want to visit the place.
I’m wearing that kind of outfit composed of all the thick clothes you have to wear because due to the rain, the weather is a little colder than I had foreseen it. It’s not raining anymore and I’m feeling just fine in my high waist jeans tucked in the purple rubber boots, with a green sweater and a cream short leather jacket and without my always present green bag with an elephant hanging from the handle.
As I said, people are looking at me as at a curiosity, but I’m already used to that. I pass by the Bohemian again and by the other pubs and bars, but they’re not opened yet.
I keep walking by men talking in the sidewalk and I get a 2000 pounds coffee from a grocery shop looking like the ones in the 90s in Romania. The lady selling there, in her 40s, looks with such appreciation eyes at me, that it melts my hear and makes my day.
I pass by Oslo selling sweets and ice cream, Radio Beirut, Blow – with its mafia theme and the street smells like spring, Memory Lane.
I pass by Vendome Steps, which are also painted in bright colors, in a sort of geometrical/Berber motifs. By now I am in Mar Mikhael and I’m hungry. But I’ve reached the perfect place to be – Enab (Grape Leaves) Restaurant, Authentic Lebanese with an Edge.
Oh, the design of Lebanese restaurants/bars/pubs. I don’t know why people have this impression Beirut is a second world place or even worse when it is fu****g amazing place to be. So posh, so beautiful and arranged and areas of the city are much more beautiful and glam than Paris, Rome or London. Actually, you cannot even compare the dirt of the latter with the sun shining when you are in a beautiful terrace in Beirut.
Enab makes no exception, it is such a cool concept and starting with the outside look, to the menu featuring a colorful graphic on the cover and vintage black and white pictures inside, hand painted hand carriage with neatly arranged huge eggplant, potatoes, onions and lemons, the couches in green and white or red and white vertical stripes, the mixed pattern colorful tiles with geometrical and flowery motifs, the purple or flower print armchairs, the small symbols of Lebanon every now and then, chandeliers, the restroom looking like a fairy tale room with hand painted huge flowers on wood wardrobes and princesses on the wall, Cinderella’s mirror and vintage printed pictures secured with clothes hooks to a grill resembling a bird cage.
What makes the best of all houses I’ve seen up and down the streets I walked are the trifore known as the Lebanese windows. Check these pictures out to reevaluate your opinion on Beirut in case you haven’t done it yet.
The Lebanese might have invented the dandy beard trend. Ah, Lebanon! I’ve already planned 5 more trips – and when you’re thinking it’s such a small country.
The waiter wear traditional clothes and the one taking care of me wears even and a traditional moustache. He lends me his Tarboush, the Lebanese traditional hat to take pictures in a private room of the restaurant. I sit in the back side of the restaurant that is actually an immense greenhouse with vegetation both inside and outside. By now everyone is looking or peeping at me.
I order Batata Mahrousseh – mashed potatoes mixed with green onion and olive oil, Eggplant Salad with Pomegranate and Marinated Frogs – pan fried frogs marinated with traditional Lebanese sauce and complete the feast with a Chateau Ksara – Le Vin du Liban rose wine.
The waiter gives me as a present an old bill of 1000 pounds and I receive it happily as I have a collection and this is something you cannot find anymore.
It’s so safe to walk here, I hold my camera and phone out taking pictures of anything I like, especially old Lebanese architecture and street art. And the contrasts between. Old Renaults next to new BMWs.
At Plan Bey, an art gallery nearby I see interesting pieces. Plan BEY | discover our journey through Beirut city, and Beirut city through our journey . On one of those grills that shop owners pull down when they close down there’s a painting of two soldiers with guns and a big peace sign. On a wall: “1st rule of Carousel – Tell everyone about Carousel”. A gas station with graffiti on the walls, Foster&Wiley Casual Dining, I walk without any compass because I don’t need one to be happy. Apparently, I’m on Rue 66. 6 stylized owls painted on a wall next to a parking lot, right next to the highway going to Jounieh. Awesome Beirut. An old Dacia 1310 produced in Romania. Matisse Events on Pasteur Street. I was thinking about some things in life and then I see the window saying: “If you are waiting for a sign. This is it.” Yes, I’m looking for signs, that’s why I travel. I don’t care for fancyness, clothes and brands. All I need is a window seat and a place to stay. A camera and cash.
Beautiful pieces at the L’artisan du Liban. Magasin d’Orient. Bar Nomade. A beautiful sculpture in the middle of the street with three heads and two hand holding. In Place Pasteur a new compound invites to: “Leave compromises behind”.
I jump in a cab ($10 – by the way, you don’t need local money here, anything can be paid in $) and go to Hamra, which is not far away, but the traffic is quite intense, especially in the afternoon. Hop in a taxi, any. The sea is on my right, not too close not too far.
On the side of a flat building there’s a huge street art of a man holding a lamb. Café Hamra. Flashy clothes and lots of fakes, but quality ones. All the bling bling, feather applications, bright colors, huge print and logos, short, tight stuff you can find here.
On the main street of Hamra, near Crown Plaza Hotel, on the corner, there’s a shop called T.O. (search of Leila – her and the other lady treated me so nice, had very good selling skills and were so patient with me) selling evening dresses, abayas and other oriental clothes. I don’t leave the store until I but the most beautiful long butterfly blue dress with Arabic letter embroidered by the neck, on the waist and by the edges of the long sleeves, a velvet long abaya with black applications, also butterfly shape that can be tied on the waist from the inside, so elegant and dramatic and a black, knee long blazer with Berber traditional motifs by the edges and on the back (which already was appraised by everyone in Venice already). It’s exactly what I was searching for a long time and it’s in the direction I’m going to and where I want to be. As a woman, as a person.
Next stop? A book shop – Librarie Orientale where I forget about myself and my purse and dresses, somewhere between the Lebanese patrimony and Islamic Art sections. I leave with a full Arabic learning guide and some Arabic books for kids and with some lines of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet.
“And now your ship has come, and you must needs go.
Deep is your longing for the land of your memories and the dwelling place of your greater desires; and our love would not bind you nor our needs hold you.”
I’m still in Hamra and walk in a fake store (Maxil Mara). It’s decorated so cool and they have the latest Louboutins. I would never buy fake and don’t need the real thing, my values lay somewhere else, but some look so cool, like these over the knee boots or the yellow or green stilettos. Well, one man comes and tells me to follow him and I do, but then I’m thinking what the hell I’m doing. We reach an iron old door and I’m thinking if I should run. But the door opens and what I see behind is just unimaginable: fakes so well done that the look the same as the shop, the limited editions, everything from Vogue. Wow! Still not for me.
I feel secure in Qatar. Security. Which is a different type of feeling safe. I feel stability and purpose.
Beirut Dance Company advertises a show called Things I’m Not and I’m thinking about what I’m not and what I am. Where I am and where I’m heading to. And I’ve created who I am today, piece by piece.
Night time street art. At Laziz I watch the people meeting and I wait for a sign from my friends to make the plan for the night.
I’m meeting my friends who promised to take me to Tabliyit Massaad to try the famous Tablieh Taouk, which is a sort of shaorma cut in slices, served on a wood plate together with hummus, pickles and fries.
More friends and relatives of my friends join the dinner table and one asks me: “Are you aware of the political situation of this country?”. Yes, but I don’t care. What’s meant to be will happen anyway. If tomorrow the war will start and I’m stuck here – hypothesis I thought about – that’s it, it’s meant to be, it’s what I have to live and I’ll accept it. We leave and I stare at Torino Express lights across the street from the restaurant.
Next stop is Junkyard Beirut, another jewel on the nightlife scene of the Lebanese capital. Why junkyard? Because all I made from recycled pieces and materials, but nothing is there by chance. The entrance is through a wagon with a lady in shorts bending down graffiti looking so ghetto. At the entrance, an upside down wood A shaped stair covered in light bulbs. Lebanese subtle elements, graffiti, thousands of bottles on a wall and some other hundreds glued to the ceiling, a confessional – Confessions of a Lifaholic, and a donations box for wine corks, live band and good wine – white this time, but Ixsir, from Basbina area, also in Lebanon, jars with different herbs, paint cans with leftover dried paint glued on the hallway…
Back to The Bohemian for one last drink…
February 23rd, 4PM
Up on Michel Bustros Street heading to the Sursock Museum located in the Sursock Palace, belonging to the bourgeois Sursock family who was said to have the most spectacular social climb in 19th century. It’s closed today due to a private event, but I’m coming back in summer, so no issue.
Le Hanoi across Soursouk Cafe, so yes, I’m coming – leaving to Vietnam tomorrow.
These streets around here are charming – Sursock Street, Archdiocese Orthodox Street, S. Nicolas Street. Lovely compounds with lots of greenery, the Argentinian Embassy, street art on President Fouad Chehab Boulevard. Lots of Lebanese windows of different shapes. Gilt restaurant with its chairs construction. The Al Amine Mosque reflecting in the Ferrari (Scuderia Lebanon) store windows and the huge face of Rafiq Hariri – assassinated in 2005 next to the now empty St. George Hotel and I’m back Downtown.
Surprise! The area around the Parliament is closed and what I was last year as a lovely peaceful area with luxury stores and restaurants is now almost empty. Heavy blocks encircle all the area and it is surrounded by armed soldiers. Well, these are not something new for Beirut. I try to get in and I’m not hiding my camera, but I’m stopped by security. Crazy as I am, I as why I can’t get in and I wait until I’m let to pass. It’s really as a haunted area. Restaurants closed, having a finger thick layer of dust on the cutlery and cloths still on the table, luxury stores closed. Only a small shop selling coffee and some sweets and food.
Does this say something about the situation in the country? Of course it does. But at least I have the Najmeh Place (Place de l’Etoile) area all to myself. Just me, the pigeons, the St. Mark Lion on the Generali Building and the clock tower – now Rolex. The prayer of the nearby mosque right next to the Christian churches. Art deco architecture and the meeting point of 7 paths, the Lebanese Parliament, Minister of Finance, Minister of Telecommunications, the Roman Ruins, St. George Greek Orthodox Church and St. Elie Greek Catholic Church.
I find beautiful the Amir Monzer Mosque, a small mosque with jade green cupola, towards the Souks.
I cross the street from the check point (Charlie?) to the Souks and I see they moved the I Love Beirut sign here from the back side, next to the Cinema. I smile because I’m wearing the same dress. Going up street, the architecture get astonishingly beautiful – egallery, Audi Bank.
On the way to Zaitunay Bay I take Park Avenue to admire the art galleries and the high end restaurants – l’Avenue.
The story of my life? I’m in Zaitunay Bay (Olive Tree Bay), the most peaceful port I’ve been to.
“Cause if you like causing trouble up in hotel rooms”
You might not like your job, but do it with love. Fuck! I’m so good at giving advice, when I felt like killing someone every day. But I smile at everyone and the good follows me.
The bistros in the port are simply heaven, so wide, so beautiful, so chic. And I love them most in the morning, while the population is not yet here, at the opening time. The food is good and I respect the tradition of drinking only rose wine. It’s my last morning in Beirut and I’m thinking the first time I was in the city I spent my last morning here.
I’m at Cozmo Café where they have a sushi bar, but I chose to stay outside and look at the huge Lebanese flag close to the Phoenicia Hotel.
A couple sits somewhere next to me and he’s facing me. She keeps looking at what he’s looking. I know I’m not a sky beauty, but I know I’m intriguing. All alone, independent flare, drinking rose wine and reading Beirut guides, staring at the bright warm February Beirut sun.
Returning to the Souks to look at some old maps of the area and some pictures of how the streets used to look. Back at the design store where it’s written as big as a wall: “Speak a thousand words only eyes can speak” and on another one “Dare to dream with your eyes wide open”. Martyrs’ Monument. In front of it, a tent with a Lebanese flag at the entrance.
Back on Gemmayze Street taking pictures of street art, art galleries, the umbrellas at Oliver’s, the Cuentista, Fairouz…
The taxi driver is waiting for me when I return at the hotel and my luggage is already packed. The driver only speaks French and asks me if I’m Japanese. No, I’m not. He plays some Lebanese music and takes one last ride through the city center, gives me a CD with Marwan Khoury, drops me off at departures and I fly to Doha in a plane having an oryx on its tail.
February 24th, Doha, Qatar
Beirut: It does not matter how beautiful a place is, but how it makes you feel.
If you still haven’t changed your opinion about Beirut, check out what the New York Times editors think about it. Or read this article.