Wednesday, 9 January 2008

First day in Beirut

The remains of an apartment block opposite our hotel in Achrafiye, Beirut, Note the shell hole at the front of the top floor wall.

Arrived in Beirut this morning after an early morning flight from Sharjah on Air Arabia which is sort of like Virgin Blue but no alcohol and they broadcast a pre take off prayer for a safe flight. We flew in to Beirut over the ski fields in the mountains behind the city which looked beautiful.

In Beirut there's a lot of damage still evident from both the Civil War and the fighting last year. A huge road bridge we passed on the way from the airport has been reduced to a massive pile of rubble by Israeli bombing and many buildings are pockmarked with bullet holes.. The apartment block across the road from our hotel has shell holes in it and has been burnt out. There's a palpable feeling of tension around the place, armed soldiers on every corner, large anti bomb bollards outside all major buildings and handbag checks at all shopping malls. Unlike Yemen, there is a real impression that "something" could happen at any time.

This afternoon we had a wander around the hotel area, I was amazed by the number of people I heard speaking French, I think I heard more French than Arabic. Don't know if that will be the same in other parts of Lebanon. There are lots of book shops around the area and the majority of books for sale were in French. On the lighter side, the people are almost without exception, immaculately dressed, and all the women have fabulous hair. Even the old lady I saw who was wandering along talking to herself loudly was wearing a snappy combo of red jacket, black pants and high heels. It took me about 15 minutes of being surrounded by all this sartorial fabulousness before I thought "Man, I have got to get my hair done". Which I did, had a great cut too, cost less then Dubai and now I no longer feel like the scruffiest girl in school.

Off tomorrow to Byblos up the coast.

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