Lebanon > Beirut
BEIRUT, early December 2008
I find myself aboard a MAS Boeing 777-200, on the way to Beirut on an assignment. Approaching Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport from the north to avoid Israeli airspace, the plane makes a wide arch above Syria and northern Lebanon. It is a smallish country of just 4.2mil people, and 30-90km east-west and only 200km north-south, squeezed between fickle neighbours, Syria and Israel.
We are putting up at the hotel just north of the airport, in a rather posh suburb close to the sea.
Yes, just a few minutes walk away we come to … ahhhh … the Mediterranean Sea, and the famed Beirut Public Beach.
Nearby a small property is packed with a type of Arabian sheep, called the ‘qibas’. Note the thick tails, where fat is deposited. If the camels have humps, then these qibases have the bloated tails. Same purpose they serve, desert survival.
No doubt this is Beirut, with its significant French legacy, thanks to the international mandate giving France the right to rule between the two world wars.
Chaotic downtown old Beirut is interesting especially for observing people and beat-up Merc cabs, and though it looks peaceful, there are signs that the place is still not really at peace with itself yet: armed personnel, bullet holes from the 2006 Israeli invasion, damaged buildings, ‘no-photo’ signs, the odd machine-guns, etc.
Behind me some models show off their costumes. Old Beirut is full of small bric-a-brac shops – a treasure trove for serious collectors and shoppers alike. Many visitors even do a quick day trip here from Damascus, just 100km away across the Syrian border.
But you can’t argue with the food, served with a big plate of pickled appetisers comprising olives, chillis, cucumbers, and other stuff I can’t identify, and the fluffy flat bread.
Well, the main dish of grilled meats or kebabs is simply out of this world. Enough said!
In an outer northern suburb of Beirut, villas are precariously perched on the rocky hills. Little rain here, so little possibility of landslide. Rockfalls, maybe.
A major arterial road leading into northern Beirut is lined with apartment blocks.
A very modern new part of Beirut city. It’s trying to reclaim its ‘Paris of the East’ moniker, especially after the long-winded political turbulence ended with the Doha Agreement of May, 2008.
With 2.1 mil people, Beirut is rated top place to visit in 2009 by New York Times, and one of the top 10 liveliest cities in the world by Lonely Planet. I won’t argue with that!
Sunset along the General de Gaulle Road along the Mediterranean.
General De Gaulle Rd becomes Rafic el Hariri Rd as it skirts the Mediterranean Sea just north of the airport. Breathtaking vista.
> THE END