Beirut - Part 1


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Middle East » Lebanon » Beirut
March 10th 2019
Published: March 11th 2019
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Saturday March 9, 2019 – I had so much time before my flight left at 4:30pm today that I thought there would be no way to be pre-trip stressed. I was wrong. I did a smidge of cleaning and worked on my packing a bit more. I changed some of the things I was bringing, and agonized over every decision. As always. I don’t know why I’m not an expert packer by now, but there you are.

I said good-bye to the boy and the cats and headed out to the bus a little before 2:30pm. Then a tram. Then another bus to the airport. It felt like I waited ages to check-in, but it was really a maximum of 15 minutes. When I had checked in online, for some reason I could print the ticket for the second flight, but not the first. Even stranger, when I checked in, the woman helping me could see I was checked in for the first flight, but not the second. Weird. Anyway, she printed me some tickets, took my bag, and off I went to security. It was fairly painless, and I found myself sitting around and reading about Lebanon quite quickly. The flight was delayed 15 min, so not too bad. I flew Pegasus Airlines, and when it was time to board, it was nuts with everyone everywhere. I boarded from the back of the place and reached my middle seat without much waiting. Soon afterwards, my row mates showed up and asked if I would switch seats to the aisle so they could sit together. Fine with me – the aisle is so much better. After some time, the cabin crew started serving the meals of people who preordered something, but without a cart, so they just kept carrying things around to people. Later they used the cart and sold food and drinks, but I just ate the cheese sandwiches I brought with me. I read some more about Lebanon, trying to make some decisions for my trip, and then changed to reading an ebook. One finished and I started a new one at some point. I’m just reading random books most of the time now. No idea who the author is or what they’re called after I select them. But still reading.

Eventually we reached Istanbul, where I had to change planes and the time zone was two hours ahead. Luckily I saw that I had to get in line for international transfers and go through security again. This one went faster, as you did not have to take things out of bags. But it did feel much more manic at this airport than Basel. Hard not to be. There were all types of people there. Western looking people. Middle Eastern looking people. Women with their hair covered, women without hair covered. Men walking around in some form of possible monk-wear that looked more terrycloth towel material than anything else. Kids being kids. It was an interesting mix.

The final flight boarded on time but was more manic than the first. People everywhere, and a woman from the airline who had to look at your passport and your ticket and sign off. She was kind of weird, a bit loud, and totally random about whose tickets she would look at when. But I eventually got her to sign off, then handed someone my ticket, then waited in line for a bus to take me to the plane. When I got to my seat, someone was in it. The guy asked if I could switch with him a few rows up. Sure, no problem. But he said 17A, and there was someone there, so I sat in 17C. I asked the flight attendant about it, and she just said if I want to switch seats, I can do it later after we fly. I’m not sure she understood, but it turned out the guy did have the C seat, so it was fine. I rested a bit on this flight, as it left quite late, at 11:15pm, and for me that’s what it felt like, despite it being two hours earlier in my brain. When we landed in Beirut, I had to change my watch again, as we were back an hour time-zone wise. But the crazy part was that so many people got up out of their seats, grabbed their luggage from the overhead bins, and then went to the front of the plane to wait to exit as soon as the plane touched down. There was a message that kept playing – in English – that they should sit down, etc etc, but no one paid any attention. This must be quite common for flights into Beirut. No one seems phased by it. Crazy.

Passport control did not take too long, but I did have to give my electronic fingerprints and a photo. I got some cash in the largest increments possible, unfortunately, and then went out to find a taxi. I had landed after midnight and I just wanted to get settled. The taxi drivers were all about charging me an enormous amount of money, and I bargained it down to the highest price I was told to accept. Then he called the host I was staying with and then said, oh, he lives further than I thought. We can go back to the airport or I can show you how much further. So then he wanted to charge me $30 instead of $20. I told him to take me back to the airport. He was not interested, so we got there, my host Ghaith talked to him from the balcony, I gave him $20, he was annoyed and left angry. Classic airport taxi driver.

It was quite late and I got a very basic tour of the apartment and got set up. It’s actually quite cold inside, and I wish I hadn’t decided against bringing my snuggly warm pajamas. There was also a mosquito that bit my hand while I was reading, but I killed it and did not spot any others. I skipped the shower since I’d had one, which was good considering it takes about 3 hours to warm up before I want to use it. I also learned that the power is out for 3 hours a day, but we just don’t know when, exactly. We’ll see how that goes. I didn’t get to sleep until after 2am, so I won’t be up early tomorrow.

Sunday March 10, 2019 – I didn’t sleep great, but not too badly either. I got up at 9am, ate the two small sandwiches I had leftover from home, did a little planning for the day, and headed out around 10:30am. I ran into Fatima, who I think is Ghaith’s girlfriend, before I left and she answered some of my questions about how to start getting where I was going. I left only slightly better off than before I asked, but she was nice anyway. There is no map in my book that has the apartment on it, so I had to draw one and really try to remember where it is I live so I could walk back to it later. I went slowly and studied what was around me so it would looks familiar later. Spoiler alert – it worked, so that was good.

I started at the corner store, buying a water to bring with me since the tap water here is not drinkable. It cost 500 pounds (30 cents) and I had to pay with a 20,000 pound note. Thanks, ATM. But luckily he was ok with it. It took me about 40 minutes to walk to where I was heading, and I spent the whole day out. I passed a protest at some point and did not venture too close, but saw them off and on throughout my day. I spotted the Al-Amine Mosque, which looks like the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and headed there first. I went inside to look around, and had to borrow a long black robe with a hood to go in. I also had to take off my hiking boots, which I knew but had forgotten how annoying they are to come on and off. But the mosque was beautiful on the inside, and I found a bathroom, so that was positive. Then I went to next door St. George Cathedral, but no pictures are allowed inside. I looked at the Roman ruins that are outside the church and in several other places as well. I tried St. George Greek Orthodox Church, but it was closed at the time. I visited Nejmeh Square, saw the parliament building, looked for another mosque unsuccessfully and eventually ended up in the Souks. Normally, Souks are very traditional covered markets, but this was all glitz and glam, a version of fancy department stores instead of spices. From there I walked north to the water, and walked a bit of the Corniche, a walkway along the sea where people hang out and converge. More walking and I ended up at the Roman baths, which you can also see from outside. I visited Martyr’s Square and Rafiq Hariri Mausoleum and then finally the Al-Omari Mosque I’d tried to find before. The day started a bit chilly but heated up into the 60s so that I could take off my fleece in the sun. A nice day, really.

My plan was to start heading back with dinner at a place recommended to me along the way. I wanted to be home before it got dark, which is sort of early here, around 6pm. I hadn’t eaten lunch, so it was not a problem to eat early. I passed a lot of places that looked good, but was holding out for Café Em Nazih, but just could not find it. So I ended up close-by at a taco place instead. Not what I’d expected, but still good. Tomorrow I’ll try again for local food. Luckily after dinner I found my way to the street I needed easily, and from there remembered pretty well how to get home. That felt good.

No one was home when I arrived, and it was really dark in the hallways, so I had trouble seeing. I tried to get into the wrong apartment, and then I accidentally rang someone else's doorbell. Luckily I got the next door right. I turned on the heater for the shower, as well as the little one in my room to take the chill out. Three + hours later, I could shower with hot water and my room started to not feel so cold. I only noticed when I went to the bathroom to take a shower and it was really cold in there. Afterwards, my room felt positively balmy. The internet is terrible, so that’s not great. Got to sleep around 10:30pm.


Additional photos below
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12th March 2019
Mohammed El-Amine Mosque

Beirut mosques & churches
I have posted some of your pics in our "Cathedrals, grand churches, mosques & places of public worship" thread in the Photography Forum. Check 'em out. Love this one!
13th March 2019
Mohammed El-Amine Mosque

Great Dave!
Will do!

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