First Couple Days
May 8, 2006
When I first arrived, it was a Sunday afternoon and I chose to wander around Beirut and see what I stumbled into.
The first thing I noticed was the array of hip restaurants that are on my street: a French patisserie, a Japanese restaurant, a
Spanish restaurant and many other great-looking ones.
Then I stumbled across their downtown area. It’s far different from other downtowns. There aren’t huge skyscrapers there—
just beautiful buildings that might be about five stories or so. Every alley is lined with restaurants and cafes with people eating,
drinking and smoking the ‘nargilehs’ (hookahs). And since I was there on a Sunday afternoon, the scene also included tons of
children with their families kicking around balls and playing around. I knew this was going to be an area I was going to come
back to. Though I also knew that, by the look of things, a meal here would set me back a bit. But that would be okay…
I proceeded to walk to the Corniche (similar to the Promenade in Nice) and the first thing I saw was a Hard Rock Café and a
McDonald’s (complete with car service). All along the Corniche, people were fishing, smoking nargilehs while looking out at the
sea, males swimming in the sea, food vendors selling corn, beans and bread that was shaped like purses. I walked a while and
ended up in the Raouche—this is where the ‘Pigeon Rocks’ are. They are massive and in the sea. Directly across the street is a
Starbuck’s where I picked up a Banana Caramel Frapuccino and sat on the second floor looking right onto the sea. I was waiting
to see the sunset.
I went back out and found a place to sit and watched the sun set over the rocks. On a side note…I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t
attracting a bit of attention being a female who is out by myself. This is a very social city, first of all. I’m sure most people don’t
go out by themselves. Secondly, I’m clearly not a ‘local’ female. Many guys have tried to start conversation. I simply ignore all of
it. Never has it felt like my safety was at stake. Just a minor annoyance. (For the record…I’ve had my little silver band I
brought with me planted on my left-hand ring finger ever since I arrived.) When I was walking back along the Corniche en route
to dinner, a nicely dressed man came up and wanted to ask me something. Totally innocent, I thought. Well, then he starts
busting out the lines in very broken English. He was Egyptian and he was too old to even be considered a ‘guy’. He was a ‘man’.
Ughh… So after having him ask me where I’m staying, I told him I was meeting my husband for dinner. He asked my husband’s
name and all I could think of was the name ‘Matthew’. So there we have it…I am now married to ‘Matthew’ while I’m in the
Middle East. I will tell you more about Matthew as I create more details about him. In the meantime, all I know is that he is my
In an effort to ‘follow my instincts’, I realized that I never asked if the area I was staying in was safe at night. Or even which
areas were to be avoided at night. I decided not to chance it and hailed a cab. He charged me about $5 for the ride. It wasn’t
until today when I realized I was taken for a ride…and I’m not just talking about the taxi ride. I was reading my book this
morning that said that taxis within Beirut shouldn’t cost more than 3000 Lebanese Pounds—less than $2. Well, at least I got
home safe and knew this for the next time. (For the record, $5 can buy you a lot here! For example, you can travel to another
country for $5. Literally.)
On my second day in Beirut, I decided a Byblos and Tripoli outing would be a good way to spend the day. I would start in Tripoli
and then make my way down to Byblos and then back to Beirut. This would be in my world where everything goes right…
When I got off the bus in Tripoli, I felt like a fish out of water. Trying to multitask by keeping my shawl over my shoulders (it’s
much more conservative up there) and navigating my map proved to be a bit challenging…but not as challenging as dealing with
the constant slamming of car horns. I walked around a bit. One thought entered my mind. “I want to be back in Beirut.” I
decided to work off of this thought and head back to the bus station and get the heck out of Dodge. Or in this case…the heck out
I was going to stick with my original plan of heading down to Byblos. I found a bus that would go there. What I also found was
that this bus wouldn’t just automatically stop in Byblos. Because I was unaware of bus service etiquette over in these parts of
the world, I didn’t know that I’m supposed to go up to the driver and let him know to stop the bus on the side of the highway
when Byblos was approaching. So I watched Byblos come and I watched Byblos go. I was now going back to Beirut.
The silver lining is that I got a $3 roundtrip tour of the northern Lebanon coast. The waters heading up to Tripoli were as bright
blue and green and turquoise as any of the other fabulous places I have been to in the world.
About an hour and a half later, the bus dropped me off in downtown Beirut. Perfect.
After having a little outing with a Lebanese guy I met on the street (see 'My Impromptu 'Date''), I made my way over to the
Hamra area. I stumbled across the Tourism Office and after totally botching things today, I decided to book a tour to Baalbeck
Next thing I came across was the American University at Beirut. After stepping foot onto the campus, I was ready to go to the
Registrar’s Office to go enroll! This place was gorgeous. I sat on a bench that overlooked the Mediterranean. Yup…the campus
overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.
I made my way back to downtown so I could get a nice dinner…I was okay with the splurge. It looked like a great restaurant;
many people were there and there was a great outdoor eating area along the street. I ordered several different small dishes and
a glass of wine. They also served mixed nuts, olives, warm pitas and pita crackers. I actually even ended up trying a pistachio
nut…and loved it! (Fun stuff to find out these new discoveries.) Then the bill came. Eleven dollars. Incredible.
There is something that the Lebanese are primarily known for…their tasty sweets. For someone with a sweet tooth like mine, it
would be a sin to not sample the various offerings. I stopped into a shop that looked nice and had things that were tempting me.
Since I had just learned of my liking of the pistachio nut while I was at dinner, I decided to try something in which it was
incorporated. I found four little things that I wanted to buy (I didn’t want to overdo it because I know I will be making daily
trips to various shops). They probably aren’t used to people buying so few; because it weighed so little (and because prices are
so cheap out here) they told me not to worry about it and handed me the bag with my goodies. I offered twice more and they
insisted. How ‘sweet’ of them was that??? (Sorry for the pun.)
Tomorrow I’m off on my guided tour to Baalbeck. Luckily I know that because I’m not in charge of finding what I want to see, I
will get to see everything that I have planned.
The mosque appears behind a downtown
The American University of Beirut.
Guys smoking nargilehs on the rocks in