It's Good to be Back

Posted in Beirut| Culture| Lebanon
On a whim, I visited a friend in Beirut back in 2010. I knew little about the city other than the fact that it often seemed to be linked to war and fighting when it was mentioned in U.S. news reports. But with a little research, I realized things were much safer than they had been in the past and that Beirut was a city full of amazing architecture, restaurants, culture, shopping and nightlife.  My decision was made!

I love the contrast of “old” and “new” that you can find throughout the city

I booked a flight and hoped it would be a good 2 weeks. It was actually an amazing 2 weeks (see my posts here and here from 2010 for my initial impressions of Beirut and the other places I visited in Lebanon). It was one of those trips that leaves you in tears at the airport because you’re just not ready to go or to say good-bye to all the great people you’d met.

I promised myself I’d be back one day, and sure enough, here I am. I’m composing this post from the room I’m renting in an apartment in the Achrafieh neighborhood of Beirut. A large room with some basic furniture and a sunny balcony that I can’t wait to buy a few small plants for. I’m so pleased to be back.

So I’m settling in, revisiting some of the neighborhoods I enjoyed during my last visit, planning out new places I want to see, reconnecting with friends and being reminded of some of the unique aspects of this city.  Here’s a rundown of some of those “unique aspects”:

1. Service vs. Taxi: Know the difference
When you need to get from one place to the next, know what you’re asking for from the start: a Taxi vs. a Service (pronounced “ser-VEESE”). A taxi is just you in the car and will cost around 10,000 Lebanese Pounds (about $7.00). A Service means they can stop along the way and pick up others going to the same area. This is definitely the way to go as it usually only costs 2,000 Lebanese Pounds (less than $2.00).  But if you say taxi but mean service prepare yourself for a good argument with the taxi driver. They rarely forgive your lack of knowledge of the system and you will pay the highest price.

Never a shortage of taxi drivers. Just a shortage of ones that will take you where you want to go [AFP/Ramzi Haidar]

And you can’t be offended if you ask for a taxi driver to take you to a location and they just shake their head and drive off. They have specific places they go and as far as I can tell there’s no way of knowing what where they will go without just asking them.

Oh, and the constant horn honking! I forgot that every taxi driver assumes that anyone they see walking would be much better off in their taxi. Every taxi that passes by will honk their horn just to let you know they are there and you can get in their car. After a while you just have to tune it out.

2. Beirut is an extremely friendly city
I have enjoyed all the cities I have visited so far on my Round the World Trip, but I have to say that Beirut was the first city that I visited where I went out alone and ended the night with a bunch of new contacts and friends.

Normally when I go out to get dinner or a drink by myself, I often end up leaving without having spoken to anyone but the waiter or the bartender.  But the other night in Beirut, I went to dinner by myself and as I was paying the bill, a woman at the next table got my attention and asked if I wanted to join her and her friends for a drink. They were part of a much larger party and I ened up having a great time until the wee hours of the morning. When you’re traveling alone for an extended period of time, interactions like this are really appreciated.

3. Daily Power Outages
Everyday, the government mandates a 3 hour electricity cut for a number of Beirut neighborhoods. The 3 hour span changes each day, so you have to check the schedule and plan accordingly. Those days when the power is off from 6:00 am to 9:00 am, I am definitely showering the night before.

Even without the power cuts, this “A/C” will not be doing much good

4. Smoking is Everywhere
Get used to it. Yesterday I treated myself to a mani-pedi at a nice salon in Beirut. I swear I have never in my life sat in a salon and had the clients on either sides of me both light up a cigarette!   I understand in bars and restaurants, but smoking while getting your nails done??

Of course I don’t mind it as much if its sheesha we’re talking about and not cigarettes…

Some smoke is better than others

5. Fre-glish-ic:
I am still amazed listening to people use three different languages to get through a single sentence. I have been to countries where the locals can speak multiple languages, but not to one where they speak all three at the same time.  I have to say I am a bit jealous with how quickly people can switch between English, French and Arabic without missing a beat.

For now I find these differences and unique quailites fascinating. I’m sure there will come a day over the next two months when I find these differences more annoying than anything else, but in the meantime, I’m loving everything this city has to offer. The plan is to be here for two months, so book your vacation time and come join me!


9 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Anonymous May 11, 2012, 6:22 am

    Hey Nailah, sounds like a great place to be! Makes me want to go there….

    • Nailah May 13, 2012, 8:12 am

      Its been great so far and I have so much to discover about this city, the history, its people. Never a dull moment! Hope you make your way here one day!

  • Anonymous May 11, 2012, 6:46 am

    Ha maybe I will !!


    • Nailah May 13, 2012, 8:13 am

      How much fun would that be?? 🙂

  • Espirro May 11, 2012, 9:16 pm

    Good to know! A friend of my best friend lived in Beirut in the 80s and the way she described it, I knew I’d have to go someday. I still haven’t yet. 2 months? How do you do this Nailah?

    BTW, I left a comment on your Sydney post yesterday. not sure if you saw it!

    • Nailah May 13, 2012, 8:16 am

      She lived here in the ’80’s? I wonder what her experiences were like during the civil war. She must have some stories to tell!

      Well, I saved up a little $$ and quit my job, found some friends to watch my apartment and my cat, so that’s how I have the time on my hands. I’m looking to do something to make a little income while I’m on the road, but in the meantime just enjoying traveling and working on my writing.

    • georgia little pea May 18, 2012, 9:58 pm

      Wonderful! Something I wish I’d done more of myself when I was young. Now I’ll have to wait till I’m 65!

      Yes, we were all worried for her safety and thought she was mad. She was with her hubby, a Frenchman who had some work to do there. But she said it was beautiful and not as bad as it looked to people outside.

  • Jessica Faissal May 14, 2012, 3:16 am

    Nailah ! 🙂 how long are you staying here? I’m going to LA on june 29th, enhjoy your time in Beirut.

    • Nailah May 14, 2012, 4:27 am

      HI Jessica!! How are you? I’m remembering our looooong flight back to LA in 2010! I’ll be here until July 2…we should definitely make plans to meet up.

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