The Eid-Al-Adha holidays this year took place in mid-November which just so happened to fall on my birthday….lucky me!! So I knew I wanted to go somewhere special with someone special, corny I know! After milling through tons of websites and debating our options, Beirut, Lebanon came out as the all star. I work with many Lebanese and from the way they speak about it, it sounded like the place to be and with my dad having been there years ago after the Civil War, I knew I wanted to experience it for myself.
Flights booked and ready to go, with the birthday celebrations starting early, we headed off to the airport a little worse for wear after some early birthday drinks and soon discovered at check-in that the airline just couldn’t find our seats….WTF?? So, after a little while we were bumped up to business class and sent on our way to Beirut, with a mini stop over in Bahrain.
When we arrived at Beirut International Airport, we were immediately attacked by a group of cab drivers, it happens everywhere that I have been to so far so it was to be expected, but this was a little bit more extreme than before. We got out of there as soon as possible and headed to the comfort of our hotel room. After a couple of hours kip, we decided to head downtown and sample the local delights.
Armed with our Lonely Planet, we headed Downtown to Place D’Etoile and had a wander before stopping at Al Balad for some Pine Meat Hummus, hummus drizzled in olive oil, spiced lamb and pine nuts and Moutabal, a smoked aubergine dip and of course some ice cold Almaza, a bright and cheerful Lebanese beer, much like the locals. Then it was on to Karamna, another Lebanese restuarant where we had some chicken chich tawouk, mixed grill and grilled halloumi, finished off with more Almaza. After this belly busting meal, we had to call it a night, get ourselves ready for the following morning.
The next day, we decided not to plan anything but we knew some places that we wanted to check out. So, we set off to the National Museum of Beirut to discover all about the Lebanese history. When we arrived at the museum we were greeted by a fabulous monument. We ran up the steps and went inside to explore. Downstairs, we were greeted with sarcophogi and tombs, statues of all sizes and models of theatres and temples. It was fascinating to see these beautiful pieces of art. When we went upstairs, there was even more to indulge in. Artefacts from the hellenistic period, the iron age, the bronze age. There was fabulous pieces of jewellery that I would have given any limb to wear and swords and sheaths that the boy was only dying to play with.
When we finished up, we watched a short documentary on the museum. It was so interesting to hear about it. The story was based around the renovations of the museum which took place after the Civil War. The war ended in 1991 but it was not until 1995 that they started to reconstruct it. They had to wait for donations from all over. The museum was nearly demolished on the outer walls, you can see all the spots where the bullet holes have been filled up. The employees slowly brought it back to it’s former glory and after 4 years of hard work, it was ready to be seen by the public once more.
We then headed on to the Corniche, an hours walk from the museum. When we got there, we headed down to see the Pigeon Rocks, which are natural rock arches and the only natural feature in Beirut and are a pretty cool one at that.
We sat there taking in the sights and taking a break from the hub bub of the busy streets. It was getting near to sunset so we hopped in to a cafe/restaurant on the Corniche. Ordered some shisha, meat hummus, fattoush and sat back to enjoy the beautiful sunset and the view of the Pigeon Rocks. We didn’t even feel the hours pass by, we must have sat there for 3 hours.
That is the beauty I found about being in Beirut, you could find yourself completely lost in the moment and watch the world pass you by.
Sunset on the Corniche
After our late lunch, we headed for the ferris wheel in Luna Park, a very interesting ride! A wheel in a building, none of your fancy stuff here!
After an early evening walk on the corniche, it was back home to prepare ourselves for dinner, very much an all you can eat holiday!
We headed to Le Relais de L’Entrecote. A fabulously quaint Frensh Bistro on Rue Monot in Achrafiye. Apparently the centre of the night life in Beirut but a it was a little quieter than expected! When we arrived at the restaurant, we were seated and immediately asked ‘How do you like your steak?’ Not even a second to look at a menu and we were quickly informed that it was a set menu only. Salad for starters followed by steak to your preference. Two rare steaks were ordered and they were served up in two separate portions. Just to keep you wanting more. The steak was superbly rare, like I had never had before and served with their special sauce, I inquired as to what exactly was in it but I only got a ‘hmmmm, just some french herbs and parsley’. Not willing to share their secret, I mopped up every last bit of the sauce but still could not figure out what it was!
Our last day in Beirut was spent getting in some last minute sight seeing. Our first port of call was the Place des Martyrs, where thousands of Lebanese took to the streets on the anniversary on the murder of Hariri, resulting in the withdrawal of Syrian troops. The monument itself is quite powerful, it is riddled in bullet holes but yet stands so defiantly.
After, we headed over to Al-Omari Mosque, a random archaeological site and the Mohammed al-Amin mosque, which looks like a sibling of Istanbul’s blue mosque. A fabulous building to see in either daylight or at night time. The blue domes are magical and breath-taking and it is to former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
We wandered down by the Souqs and found an ancient Roman Bath. It was a spectacular piece of work. I was given a run down as to how it worked. Baths, set upon pillars would have been warmed up by steam running through chambers and chimneys below. It was built into the side of a mountain and if I were alive in Roman times, I know where I would have been hanging out.
After our little bout of sight seeing, we headed back to Place d’Etoile for a relaxing lunch at the Massaya; shisha, meat hummus, cheese and zatar saj and fattoush salad. Our staple Lebanese diet. We sat and watched the people strolling by, absorbing the balmy late afternoon and savouring all of the fabulous flavours.
A last minute stroll through Hamra just before sunset to absorb the student life. We only took a wander around just to get a taste of it and took a stroll through Sannayeh Gardens where the locals were all hanging out.
Back to the hotel for a breather. We had booked ourselves into Couqley for a luxurious evening of eating and drinking. After the many dress changes had been done, heels on and the face painted, off we went!
Our cab driver was 15 minutes late for starters. Then we eventually got in the cab, he didn’t believe it was our cab. Then, the driver didn’t know where the restaurant or the street was. After asking the bell boys at the hotel, he had some idea. So, we set off. Half-way there and already 15 minutes late, I was starting to get antsy when the cab driver pulled into a shop at the side of the road. After some tutting on my part, I was swiftly told to chill the beans and out came the driver with a bottle of water and a packet of halls…..for my cough, boy was I eating humble pie! That certainly shut me up for the rest of the journey.
When we arrived at ‘Couqley’ situated in The Alleyway just off Gourard St. we felt like we were walking in to downtown Paris. The restaurant was small and absolutely packed to the rafters. The waiters were attentive but not too eager. We were brought to our seats and presented with two menus. First choice was the bubbly…. a bottle of Moet and Chandon to celebrate the trip and errr my birthday, no better way to turn 24 than by sipping on M&C. Then, we decided on Penne au Pistou with Tuna and Chevre Chaud Salade for starters. Unfortunately I was too greedy to take any pics, so you’ll just have to imagine.
For mains, we went for the Cote de Boeuf, medium this time for two people served with Pommes de Terre Risolee. It was a feast that any glutton would be proud to sink their teeth into. Not even room for desert, just an espresso to re group and gather our thoughts.
Then we clip clopped up Rue Gourard to check out the night life. Behind every closed door was a night club or a chic pub waiting to be discovered. Music pumping everywhere was brimming with people in high spirits and clinking glasses.
We headed back to the hotel to get ready for our early morning flight. With full bellies and empty wallets, we definitely enjoyed the feast of delights that we had in Beirut. From sampling the local cuisine and being immersed in a Mediterranean influenced and French infused lifestyle to wandering through streets flanked in bullet holes or new high rise buildings. Beirut is definitely somewhere I’ll be putting on the map to go again.
It is a city full of life of all ages. Brimming with history. Shining with cheerfulness.