As with the start of most my trips this one too began with an airport. I was dropped off at Heathrow and sailed straight through security as I had checked in online. The flight to Beruit was actually two flights, the first to Frankfurt and then a second onto Lebanon. Both passed without incident and I landed in Beruit at 0315, about 9 hours after setting off.
I was towards the back of the plane so was one of the last to get off in Beruit but overtook plenty of people on the walk to passport control. I had all the supporting documents for my visa (proof of residence, flight details out of Lebanon, contact details of Jonny, an extended family friend) but the security guard jus looked though my (rather full) passport for a Israeli stamp and when he found none gave me my visa and sent me on my way, the whole process took no more than 5 minuets.
Knowing that I couldn’t check into my hostel until midday I found a corner of the airport with some empty chairs and tried to sleep. Just after 6 I gave up and got a taxi into Hamra, one of Beruit’s districts, and where I was staying. En route we (the taxi driver and I) stopped for a coffee at the side of the road, something I regretted later when trying to go to sleep.
At my accommodation I was still over 6 hours to early to check in but after explaining that I had just come from the airport, from the UK the man on the desk took pity on me and put me in the only empty room, which had two singles only one of which had been slept in. I then spent the next 3 hours half awake, half asleep in bed.
Prior to flying to Lebanon I had got in touch with my uncle’s godson, Jonny, who works in Beruit and we had agreed to meet in downtown Beruit for a coffee at 11. He recommended a taxi as it was pretty far but I decided to walk the 2 miles across the city instead which was definitely the right choice. Even though the civil war ended in 1990 there is still evidence of it on my buildings especially in more run down areas where the buildings are pockmarked with bullet holes. There is also a large military and armed police presence everywhere in the city, predominantly as a result of resent terrorist activity although there is little threat in the north of the city (where I was) but even so there are concrete barriers everywhere preventing people parking at the side of the roads to stop car bombs and there are plenty of built up an barricaded army posts on junctions.
Jonny is a safety advisor for an NGO and is currently advising on Syria, as you could expect he was friendly, chilled and laid back, sporting an impressive beard. Over brunch and a coffee I was impressed by his resume of previous jobs (most in the Middle East) and also learned that we actually have a friend in common (a very small world). He was also able to tell me about the city and the country in general which was super interesting and also give me recommendations for where to eat and what to see before he flew to Amman (Jordan) for a course.
The afternoon was spent exploring the city. I walked down to the sea front and along the corniche which is a huge long promenade which was full of people running and cycling as well as hundreds of pole fishermen all enjoying the sun, I joined the throng and made my way across the city past beach clubs, with their fancy pools, past young boys jumping off rocks and sea defences to Pigeon Rocks which are Beruit’s famous natural offshore arches. I also went to the American University of Beruit (AUB) which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, it is one of the most expensive universities in the Middle East and looking at the architecture and grounds you can see why it had the reputation it does.
I had a shower back at my hostel and then went back to downtown to see some of the old town at night before heading to one of the restaurants Jonny recommended, for a huge meal of mezze and a couple of local beers. My dinner consisted of: hummus (of course), kibbeh (croquettes of finely ground meat and minced onion encased in cracked wheat), labneh (thick yoghurt seasoned with olive oil and garlic), sambusas (fried cheese pastries), warak arish (stuffed vine leaves) as well as pita bread. An awesome meal which the beer helped wash down nicely.