Monday-Tuesday, August 8-9. Beirut, Lebanon. I arrived in Beirut at 3:30 am in the morning on the only Olympic Airlines flight. I still haven't figured out why they scheduled the flight to arrive at such odd hour. Beirut airport was actually quite busy at this time. I called Pension Al-Nazih (15,000 LL/Single; $10/night) near downtown and, finding space available, taxied over.
The three districts in Beirut of interest to tourists are downtown, the Corniche, and Hamra/Ras Beirut. Most Lebanese, in addition to Arabic, are fluent in English and/or French. Many of the streets have French names. From my pension, I walked west ten minutes to downtown with a center called Place d'Etoile. From Place d'Etoile, six pedestrian only avenues spiral out. Most of the entire downtown has been rebuilt as it was largely destroyed during the civil war. At all the main entry points, Lebanese soldiers with rifles stand guard. It was eerily quiet walking these streets during the day, with very few people. However, at night, the entire area comes alive with the sidewalks teaming with mostly Lebanese and Arabs enjoying dinner or a drink at one of the numerous restaurants, cafes, and bars. Like Greece, people here eat late, usually beginning around 10 pm. Many, including women, are smoking sheesha water pipes. The air is filled with sweet flavored smokes like apple and grape.
The Corniche is Beirut's waterfront promenade. This is where the people of Beirut come out for a stroll. Many bring a small table and chairs to picnic and people watch. While there is no beach, people laze about the rocky reefs below. There are also lots of fishermen casting from the promenade. Unfortunately, the coast line is littered with trash. People simply throw their trash into the sea from the promenade. On my walk to the Corniche, I passed the construction of a new Beirut Hilton and Four Seasons Beirut. I also walked by the waterfront where former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri was assassinated by an explosion in February of this year. He is considered a martyr and a hero to the Lebanese people, leading five governments and the rebuilding of Lebanon since 1992. His photo is prominently displayed on buildings throughout Lebanon. At the moment, his body lies in state in tent next to the Mohammed Al Amin Mosque in Beirut's Central District.
From the Corniche, I walked through Hamra and Ras Beirut, Beirut's commercial district, stopping for a brief tour of the American University Beirut campus. The campus occupies prime real estate in Beirut overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. It's peaceful tree lined campus stood in contrast to the bustling city outside its walls. Students hung around the central courtyard mostly socializing, some using their notebook PCs, others chatting on cell phones. This could have been any US college campus.