Saturday, 5 July 2008

Peace breaks out in Lebanon.

We're back in Beirut, Lebanon this weekend to attend a wedding. If you want to skip to the photos, they're here. We were in Beirut in January 08 when the political situation was very tense and the feeling of threat and apprehension in the air was almost palpable. In the past six month the political landscape has changed completely as on 25th May, after 18 previous attempts, the Lebanese Parliament elected a President, General Michel Suleiman, and, for the moment anyway, peace has broken out in Lebanon. The airport at Beirut was the first place where the change in atmosphere was noticeably different to January. I remarked to the guy from the hotel who picked us up last night that in January there was 'nobody home' at the airport, he laughed and said that in January 'there was nobody home in all of Lebanon....." In January the airport was deserted with just a few armed soldiers around and our greeter then was extremely keen to get us, and himself no doubt, away from the airport which is seen as a prime target and to our hotel. By contrast, last night Rafic Hariri airport was busy, there was a crowd of people waiting to greet arriving passengers, the coffee shops and souvenir stalls were open, taxis were lined up outside for potential passengers and people are more relaxed. On the way to the hotel from the airport we passed the remains of the huge piles of earth that had been used to block access to the airport in the wave of trouble last month, and while the military is still a visible presence in the city, the tanks and APCs are located only on strategic corners and outside public buildings in January they were everywhere. The soldiers now seem more relaxed where before every soldier we saw was literally on a war footing with his finger on the trigger.

We flew in to Beirut on Middle East Airlines, the Lebanese national airline, which was fine, smooth trip, though an hour late leaving Dubai which meant we arrived in our hotel in Beirut well past 1am. Today we went to the Beirut National Museum an absolute 'must see' with exhibits covering Lebanon's history from the bronze age. We also watched a very interesting video on how the museum encased many of the large statues in concrete to protect them during the civil war in the '90s. From there we went out to the antique area in search of a large decorated platter to hang in our foyer. Found exactly what we, ok I, was after and after another wonderful bit of bargaining by Colin we got it for just over a third of the price originally quoted. Then headed to Monoprix the large shopping mall in Ashrifye to buy music CDs from the Virgin shop there then back to the hotel for a rest before heading out tonight to the wedding at the Sheraton. The wedding officially starts at 7:30pm which means nobody will be there until 9pm - I'm finally getting my head around "Middle East time" - I have the glitzy dress, the clutch purse with fake jewels all over it, the bling, the ultra high heels and the hairdo so I'm prepared :-)

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