Beirut is a city of style, chaos and deeply ingrained history. I was lucky enough to spend a weekend here – it’s an absolutely wonderful city to explore and it’s inhabitants are overwhelmingly friendly. Amidst a constant cacophony of car horns, shopkeepers and cafe owners beckon you inside wanting to chat and feed you their freshest dish or show you the latest output of a local designer. In fact, one of my favourite dresses was bought from a small boutique shop in the city.
The corniche is beautiful to stroll along, day or night – it’s wide, paved walkways are filled with lovestruck teenagers, fishermen and locals drinking the very thick and strong lebanese coffee or watching the brave souls that go for a dip in the Mediterranean. It’s a gentler pace than the generally chaotic nature of the city and a stone’s throw from the world-class American university, with it’s stylish and glamorous students.
Not so far away, the Holiday Inn stands tall, derelict and riddled with bullet holes and graffiti – seen as a strategic military asset when the civil war broke out, it’s a stark reminder of Beirut’s dark and volatile past and has become a symbol of war. Public entry is forbidden and there has been talk of it being put up for auction for a number of years.
There are numerous small underground bars that fill the air with all sorts of live music come nightfall – Beirut is a city that knows how to party. It’s residents are so full of life and vitality, and taking the teleferique (cable car) up and over the hills from Jounieh, you get a glimpse into their lives by getting up close and personal to their apartment windows and balconies which are no more than a few metres away.
The guest house I stayed in, Hayete, was one of the oldest in the city – it was in a beautiful colonial building and consisted of four simple rooms each facing a different compass point. Although crumbling and cracked on the outside, the inside was a curious mix of traditional and intricate eastern style and really modern, clean-lined western design influences. This really summed up Beirut for me as a city of opposites – chaos and calm, vitality and discouragement, prosperity and hardship, modernity and traditionalism, east and west. The city really is whatever you make it to be.
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