You might have been told about it, heard about it and seen pictures that might or might not truly represent it. Beirut is one travel location not to miss.
With the sun finally lighting up our sky, who would be able to resist the urge to stroll along the beautiful streets of our dear capital, Beirut? For those who do not know what the next big travel location is, here is a sneak peek at one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen/lived in.
Speaking of Beirut reminds me of a story that makes me feel proud of what we have achieved so far. This anecdote dates back to almost a decade ago and narrates the adventure of an Italian visual merchandiser who was sent to Lebanon to work in a luxury department store. Upon his arrival in Beirut, Sandro thought it was a joke. Well, his expectations were grim and involved women veiled in black, hooded figures, long bushy beards, decrepit roads and abandoned buildings, so who could blame him? Actually the prospect of going to the Middle East seemed a bit too exotic for his taste. However, his view was about to change for the better, for when he first looked out of the cab window he thought he was still in Europe and had boarded the wrong plane. The taxi driver – according to Sandro he was really funny and spoke fair English – pranked him, making up stories and letting his talkative and mischievous Lebanese nature prevail. All in all, Sandro was told that he was somewhere in Eastern Europe. When our Italian friend reached his destination he found himself among beautifully decorated shops, women in dresses of all shapes and colors, wearing gorgeous make up, flaunting hair and curves as beautiful as that of Hollywood stars. He was in Beirut, fashion capital of the Middle East.
Having being destroyed over seven times (or so, locals will tell you) by earthquakes and a couple of pernicious wars (“couple” being an understatement in our case), Beirut, city of the phoenix, has never failed to rise again from its ashes. As you park opposite the huge opera house that was turned into the renowned Virgin Megastore, you notice a massive pit right in the middle of the road, surrounded with ramps. The surprise lies in the layers and layers of arcades that have drowned in the dirt; the remnants of old cities pile up and support the current modern-looking metropolitan area. Columns, arcades, baths and houses give you an insight into the importance of the city that was and still is depicted as the gate to the Middle East.
Let us continue and stroll past the splendid mosque with its blue dome and the gigantic cathedral, past Le Gray Hotel and its posh restaurant, past the winding paved alleyways and paths, past Nejmeh Square (Nejmeh means "star"), so called thanks to its star-like architecture surrounding a massive Rolex clock, with its genuine Lebanese restaurants (which feature exotic nargiles and juicy and tender grilled meat, seasoned with Lebanese spices and served with Hummus), to the souks that welcome you with wide open spaces paved with basalt, vitrines shimmering with their LED lights and stylish outfits, displaying international brands such as Hugo Boss, True Religion, Hermes and so on. The walk among the boutiques feels more like a runway show, what a delight! Three luxurious restaurants that have overtaken the covered square at the end of the passage, offer you the best of international and local dishes. Just imagine having Casper and Gambini’s irresistible steak or salmon with a platter of grilled vegetables on the side … heavenly! Or what about having sushi at The Met, or a fresh cup of coffee at City Café?
The souks do not only satisfy your hunger but also your curiosity and desire for knowledge, with Librairie Antoine’s three-story bookshop that comprises books from all over the world, photographs, guides and my personal favourite: an arsenal of Moleskine notebooks coupled with their pens and pencils.
When you continue your promenade into the open spaces, you come across the large “I Love Beirut” sculpture that decorates the square opposite the new CinemaCity with its outdoor titanic screen showing movie ads and fun animations. The pop-corn there is just out of this world and the new Food Circle food court is home to some of the best local and international restaurants such as Zaatar W Zeit, Roadster, Pinkberry and Kababji. It's worth mentioning the arched ceiling over the lobby on the cinema's first floor, with its massive screen displaying beautiful scenes and characters from movies (call me nerdy, but that ceiling reminds me of Hogwarts' Great Hall’s enchanted ceiling... yes I am a big fan!).
As I try to give you an honest picture of where I live and where I have come to discover the beauty of writing, my thoughts enthral me while waiting to be verbalised. The people, the sky, the music, the chatter, the children and the trees all speak to you as you pass by. You are enchanted and tempted to venture here and there, as strangers really smile at you, while people enjoying Starbucks' new branch right opposite the movie theatre seem to come straight from a beautiful movie scene. I enjoy everyday the good feeling Beirut gives me.
But I shall not blabber any longer. Yet, one peculiar corner got my curiosity: I never succeed in resisting the lure of those ruins that have been preserved right below the modern-looking buildings. Suspended paths have been hung over the old houses and streets so as to allow pedestrians to uncover the distant past of our nation.
My words fail to capture the pristine image that comprises the beauty of those boutiques, the vibe, colors, exquisite smells, tastes and allure that Beirut seems to have retained over the years. After being trodden on and wiped out, Beirut is back, better than ever, more beautiful than ever. #LiveLoveBeirut