Beirut, Lebanon's buzzing capital
Beirut preparing to celebrate the new year in 2002 : an owner of an old Benz has come to the rich Achrafiye neighbourhood to sell party gear.
|Beirut, Lebanon's buzzing capital|
|"Forget about museums
and mosques for a while", said our guidebook ! Beirut is a city to
concentrate on good food and great nightlife. But this was not always the
case. For the two of us the city's name remained synonymous with anarchy.
A city where foreigners would be abducted for several years before being
freed. A city where ambulances would scream through empty streets flooded
by sun. But we did forget about old stones for a while and experienced the
buzz of this city that must be similar to that of Hong Kong. Now you'll
know why we came here to celebrate New Year's Eve !
|New Year's Eve 2002|
|A few pictures to let you
know why we came to Beirut for our New Year's Eve party ! The group
of friends had chosen this particular restaurant (that had only opened
days before) because it belonged to the company they were working for and
they would be allowed to party as they wished to. A few minutes after
midnight, people were dancing on the bar and champagne was used in Formula
1 podium style !
|Beirut, before & after the war|
|Today Beirut is a vibrant
capital and the most westernised city we have been in since our departure
from Hong Kong last April 2001. Trying to put their past behind them and
true to their reputation, "Beirut people do their best to eat well
and enjoy life imbuing the place with a buzz that is absent from almost
every city in the region" (LP). The wish to enjoy life must partly be
explained by the very difficult years of civil war the country has known.
Between 1975 and 1990, religious factions in Lebanon were at each other's
throats. But it was even more vicious than that : with the military interference of the French, American, Syrian and Israelis, supporting one
side and sometimes switching sides during the conflict, the Lebanese had
money and arms to fight someone else's war. As a generation that has
never had to deal with war, we had the naive idea that a civil war was
fought using lighter weapons than a "real" war.
|We have seen movies and real
pictures of real wars but nothing prepared us for the shock of seeing what
kind of physical damage a war can do to buildings.
|Beirut's central district|
|The city's downtown, close to
the harbour was one of the worst hit during the war with many buildings plainly obliterated.
Those too badly damaged have been leveled and the area used for car parks.
It is on one of those newly "made" car parks in the Hamra
neighbourhood (where the Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf spent his youth)
that we parked and slept in Troopie. Since the beginning of the 90s, reconstruction has
started and no expense seems to have been spared. This to such an extent
that the place looks a little artificial, some people even calling it a
leisure park. If it wasn't for a pedestrian walking, the picture below
right could nearly be the picture of an architect's scale model.
Beirut's reconstructed Central District
|Beirut, a city of extremes|
|In Beirut, we have seen new
multi-million dollar apartments right next to badly damaged buildings
squatted by poor people. The latest Mercedes Benz 600 SEL is seen next to
unburstable Benz models of the 60ies and 70ies. Many university students
go to their classes driving their own BMW 5 series or Ford Explorers. In
the streets, 8 year old children still try to sell pencils or chewing gum
instead of going to school. Never before have we seen extreme wealth so
close to poverty as in Beirut.
|Car & camping in Beirut|
|We liked Beirut and its
people so much that we decided to stay longer than planned. We met a
fellow Cruiser 70 series driver Nicolas who took us home for a shower and
took us to his excellent Toyota mechanics. We also finally managed to make
up for lost time and finish our website up to Turkey by making the most of
the comfortable arm chairs at Starbucks Coffee !
Making the most of Beirut's wealth & proximity to the sea : sushi "à volonté" at the Commodore Meridien (left), getting hot water for a shower and going to the movies at the same time (centre)
We are doing well !
|Our travels in Lebanon||Back to Trip page||The Roman temples of Baalbek|