The Best City I almost Never Came To

September 5, 2011

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When my 24 hours of travel began, the Detroit Metro was buzzing with people of all body types from all over the world. The people watching had never been better, families were reuniting and splitting apart, ending journeys and just beginning them. On my flight to Paris I noticed that the crowd had become significantly less diverse, so it was interesting to sit next to this American who was teaching English in Armenia. The flight flew by, no pun intended, and I snapped myself out of my half-sleep and focused on where I had to go. Myself and the mob of passengers jumped on a bus toward the next terminal. From the corner of my eye I saw my new American friend peel off and out of sight. Then it was up an escalator and down a hallway as most of the French travelers parted from the crowd. A few more turns and by the time I reached my gate it was only myself in a sea of Arabs. There we sat waiting for our plane to arrive. No one really spoke to each other but the occasional glances I noticed said it all, which was mainly, “are you sure you are at the right terminal?”

The next few hours felt like days as my anticipation built up. A heavy French accent came over the speaker and announced we were beginning out descent toward Rifik Hariri Airport. I squinted through the porthole but saw only the black of the night. Then all at once, the plane emerged from the bottom of a cloud and there, right under my feet were all the shinning lights of Beirut. As the landing gear met the runway an unstoppable smile came over my face. I still can’t believe I’m finally here.

After baggage claim I spotted a man with a sign that read “Scott Preston.” The two of us did our best to communicate as we sped through the Arab traffic. I am now convinced that all the drivers in the Middle East have traded their brakes for hawk eyes.

When I arrived at the “dorm” I had no idea what to expect. To my delight, the room I was issued looked just like one of the nice hotels I remember from Egypt. Those rooms had been oases after long days of exploration and I instantly felt at home. Equipped with a kitchen and full bath with laundry machines, Internet, and most importantly AC, this was luxury. Crazy ecstatic, I went and met my neighbors and we hung out with the doorman. He was very welcoming and when he offered a motorcycle ride I couldn’t resist.

Beirut is immaculate compared to my previous experience of the Mid East. Although the country has taken on a nauseating debt, it looks really wealthily. We passed women whose dress seemed as fashionable as any Americans I’ve ever seen. My neighbors and I spent day 2 walking the Corniche, which runs parallel to the sea. As the sun went down the girls became more and more chic in preparation for a night out. Even the ladies sporting long sleeves and hijabs seemed to wear their clothing skintight. Some bleached their hair blonde enough that they could pass for French.

We spent the last light of the day at a cliff side restaurant on the Mediterranean. After ordering a shisha we talked andwatched jet skiers make rounds through the famous Pigeon Rock. For a second it looked like it was time to call it a night, but then I got a second wind and we ended up at a bar. The music played laud so that the lounge resembled the living room of a college party. It was dimly lit, packed with people, and the mixed drinks came loaded with even more alcohol than in the states.

Yesterday morning I awoke to a doorbell I didn’t know I had. My neighbors, Layla (walking Encyclopedia), and Alexandria (worlds best tour guide), and I had planned a long day in Byblos. Byblos is an ancient Phoenician city on the coast, although today it could be mistaken for any city in Europe. We began our self-tour with a lunch of fresh fish, caught that morning, and French fries dipped in humus. Afterward, we wasted no time making a beeline to an ancient Crusader Castle. Free from agendas or chaperones, we took our time exploring the site while the sun sank toward the horizon.

During the afterglow we met Alex’s friend, Cynthia, in downtown Beirut. So many travelers, couples and entire families enjoy the nightlife I never feel vulnerable. The four of us wandered around, past the looming Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque and into Place Etoile (Plaza eh-twol). I have wanted to see this area for a very, very long time. With its upscale vibe, classy restaurants, and iconic clock tower, it was everything I had thought it would be and more. To my friends of last summer’s Alexandria trip, I wish you could see Place Etoile for yourself. The Modernity is really impressive.

We finally sat for late night shisha, but it was well worth the wait. I have had quite a lot of hookah, but this was the best, and by far. Mint flavor burned in the juices of a fresh orange. The only thing smoother was the wine (thanks Cynthia).

It is now clear to me that Egypt had been a great sort of prerequisite for Lebanon. It afforded me the opportunity to make all the cultural mistakes and learn from them, but it has also taught me to be grateful for the infrastructure here. It is unthinkable that a place, seemingly with everything to offer, could have such destructive currents under the surface. However unsuspecting, some of the social and political realities here are undeniable. Since my stay began just a few days ago I have seen both a UN convoy and unlucky buildings, which have been bombed into pieces. In any case more plans are in the making and it is soooo good to be in Beirut.

Pigeon Rock Above

Lebanon is also sometimes referred to as the “Switzerland of the Middle East” for its rolling hills

My loving Welcome Note

Its really interesting how liberal sexuality is here

Saw this in a bar and had to take a pic

Mint Lemonade Slush thats popular here

This is Arak, a Lebanese staple alcoholic drink with a smooth but strong licorice flavor

Byblos by the sea sie

Delicious!

From inside the Castle

Well

Looking out on the city from the Castle

Ancient Theatre

Beautiful Byblos Courtyard

Car decked out for a wedding, a wedding convoy is something I always wanted to photograph in Egypt

The whole party drives around laying on their horns

Grand Mosque on Martyr’s Square. The neighboring  Church is building their tower the same height as the Minaret so that it can be seen from a distance, but careful not to build higher so as to avoid rocking the boat. 

Not sure what the above picture is really….

Clock tower at Place Etoile. Piled high with sandbags and pocketed with bullet holes, at one point this area was a symbol of everything wrong with Beirut. Today its an icon of the potential here and the Lebanese ability to rebound.

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5 Comments on “The Best City I almost Never Came To”

  1. Heather Marcus Says:

    Love, love, LOVE your pictures!

    Reply

  2. phil Says:

    like your writing

    Reply

  3. Boles Says:

    Roaming the Mediterranean with two women huh? Scotty. What kind of semester are you on exactly.

    Love the photographs, love the reflections. Live that dream.

    Reply

  4. Djor Says:

    Great Pictures 🙂 Love all of them found them through tripadvisor. Went there in Aug 2011. Great place… Hope to go back!

    Reply

  5. Vashti Says:

    Great blog and pics! Very inspiring! I hope to live there for a few months in the near future to work on my Arabic.

    Reply

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