|Those are bulletholes in the wall|
Sometimes this is the best kind of holiday, and I can easily say that Beirut lived up to that. Because we had no idea what to expect, we weren't disappointed on any front.
What we learnt is that Beirut is a city of Bs. Bombed out buildings, bullet holes in the bricks, broken down houses, boarded up shutters - the remnants of the civil war are still there, and while they're not as fresh as they were originally, somehow the devastation seems even more profound when it's viewed in context with the apartment buildings nearby that sell for $5 million each. To expats.
On the face of it though, Beirut is actually a very modern city, and to me it seemed quite European rather than Middle Eastern at all. It's green and gardened, there are sections that look like Paris - buildings with little French doors and juliet balconies, painted with yellow distemper , lacy curtains blowing in the breeze - and there are as many global brand names in the malls as you'd expect in your home town.
Not only that, but Beiruti women are astonishing. Beirut is the city of Bs, and they fit into that like a key in a lock - they are bejewelled, bedangled, bedazzling, busty, brazen and bootylicious. Everything in Beirut revolves around your appearance. There is no subtlety involved. Loans for cosmetic surgery and boob jobs are as common as car loans in Beirut (and if the two-hour traffic jam coming back from Byblos was anything to go by, EVERYONE in Beirut has a car).
|A nice juxtapostion of cordoned off street, heavily armed military policeman, and Hello Kitty balloon. Aw.|
But we had a wonderful time. We checked into our gorgeous little room at the Hayete; a tiny four-room guesthouse in Achrafiye, one of the central suburbs of Beirut. We went straight to Leila's in the ABC Mall to spend the $50 we'd planned to shell out on our visas - visas that turned out to be free - on a feast instead, where we practically died and went to heaven on the flavours of their hommos, fattoush, baba ghanoush and minted lemonade. We had an incredible dessert which consisted of two scoops of musk icecream wrapped in pashmak (persian fairy floss) and sprinkled with pistachios, mmmm.
|I don't normally photograph my food, but this dessert was so good I'd have dipped it in bronze if I could|
|The destroyed cinema on the Green Line, and mosque behind|
|Holiday Inn, with ironic sign|
We walked through the Place d'Etoile, which has been completely rebuilt and is virtually soulless as a consequence, though it is heavily guarded by military police with large automatic rifles and machine guns.
We accidentally found, and visited the memorial to Rafiq Hariri, the ex-Prime Minister, and his bodyguards, who were killed by a car bomb near the Grand Mosque in 2005.
Then we wandered home via a film at the mall, and fell into our enormous king-size bed, exhausted. We couldn't get a twin room anywhere in the city you see, because we were so late with the booking, and the White Witch had warned me that she kicks during the night, so I was a little concerned ....
.....but it turns out she doesn't.