Beirut, Lebanon. Soldiers were openly patrolling the streets like sentinels. Both military and police vehicles were out either blocking roadways, or diverting traffic. We were on foot, so navigating through the windy streets and traffic was easier, but slow. Within byzantine alleyways, pock marked by bullet holes and artillery shrapnel, shouts and loud rabble from a large crowd could be heard from afar. As we got closer to our meeting point, we could see smoke rising amongst crumbling buildings, some cratered by bomb explosions. The winds wafted the smell of the fire and smoke all around as we got closer to the scene, and soon we could faintly feel the heat of it all, and the smell of burning wood (charcoal?)… and roasting lamb. The loud rabble of hundreds of people began to fill the air, accompanied with the mingling sounds of thumps and hum of EDM music.
The next thing we knew, we were surrounded by a mob of children running , some with cotton candies in their hands others snow-cones, young men and women drinking, eating and dancing, older people shopping at pop up tents and food stalls all laughing, hugging, some even dancing. Within all the commotion, we heard people yelling out our name. We turn around, and there they were, our friends calling out to us from their home balcony. “Ahlan! Bienvenue a Mar Mikhael!” *
That pretty much summed up our whole trip to Beirut, with a street festival at Mar Mikhael (a very hip and trendy neighborhood) as the climax. It was November 22, 2016 Lebanese Independence Day, and what a way to celebrate it, being in Lebanon, amongst its vibrant and life-loving people. Beirut was one travel destination on our vacation. We’ve heard so much about the city through our Lebanese friends in Canada and were lucky enough to also have friends that still lived in Beirut.
The city is a wonderful place to visit due to the stark contrast between its landscape and culture. For one, the old war wounds of the city are still very visible in the city, yet the people have shown their zeal for life and adversity by building from and around the old rubble. The city itself transforms by the minute as you walk through. One minute you’re walking through bullet holes and blown up buildings, and the next minute it becomes very cosmopolitan, with modern souks (shopping malls) and department stores from Gap to Louis Vuitton. Older buildings are being restored in many creative ways: old garages have turned into small bars, and abandoned rail stations have been converted to restaurants, and any available space like old parking lots or alleyways have turned into either a market or pop up shops, and old apartment buildings have been renovated into very trendy and modern AirBnB units.
The people were all very friendly, open, and fashionably trendy. We were greeted with friendly hellos, vibrant conversations, everywhere we went. And laughs; everyone was always smiling and laughing, and we always had the opportunity to laugh and smile with them, whether it be strolling down the streets of Rue Hamra, bar hopping in Mar Mikhael, or having coffee in and around the Beirut Souks.
More travel adventure stories on our blog here.
*In Lebanon, especially Beirut, most people speak both French and Arabic