Saturday, March 19, 2016

Beirut - The Nightlife Mecca of the Middle East

Who needs fireworks when you have AK-47s with tracers?

The Middle East isn't usually what comes to mind first when it comes to nightlife. For obvious reasons. But there is usually an exception that proves the rule. It is called Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. I decided to celebrate last New Year's eve here.

Byblos is one of the world's oldest cities. 
It was my second trip to the town, and I knew I would not be disappointed. My girlfriend and two friends, Øystein and Wanja, booked a table at the rooftop restaurant of Le Gray Hotel, boasting a gourmet restaurant overlooking both the coast and the famous Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque. We expected there to be fireworks at midnight, but there was hardly any. This was certainly compensated for, thanks to a number of people fireing their AK-47 machine guns into the air. The Kalashnikov produces a very distinct sound. Add tracer rounds, and it looks like fireworks. Sort of.

We later ended up in Armenia Street, the number one spot for bars. The nightclubs are located in the marina or in Gemmayzeh Street.
I've been to Lebanon twice. I will be back.
Throw in the great mountains, the ever changing landscape, the tempting coastline and the incredible food, and you will wonder why there are so few tourists here. I assume the reputation of the place has something to do with it. Car bombs, suicide bombers, Hezbollah and Israeli aggression aren't usually associated with holiday hot spots, but Lebanon certainly should attract many more. There are world class vineyards here and ancient towns such as Byblos with ruins still standing and a romantic harbour.

Yes, definitely worth a look.
And do not let me forget about the food. They do for sure know their way around the kitchen in this Mediterranean country. You can feel the pride in many of the best restaurants, and the chefs often come into the dining room for a chat with the guests and to check that the waiters (called captains) have done justice to their dishes.The tastes of fresh vegetables and newly slaughtered and marinated birds, lamb tounges and frogs. The olive oil, the herbs, toum (an unbelievable garlic sauce), baba ganoush (roasted eggplant with garlic) and the super fresh and healthy tabbouleh (parsley, mint, onion and lemon). All the small dishes, the mezze, were invented here. And they haven't forgotten their secrets. A good bet is letting the captain decide the menu.

Fishing is a favourite pastime.
“Whatever you recommend, sir! And as many courses as you think I can eat,” we told him, and we were not disappointed. But we left very, very full. The amazing wine certainly contributed too.

The super friendly people and the cool and often full bars just add to the attraction. Their hospitality is legendary, and local bar patrons are always curious about foreign visitors. Many of them are however genuinly surprised.

"Why did you come here?" we were asked, repeatedly. They are very well aware of their country's rough reputation abroad. But I never once felt unsafe, rather the contrary. And neither should you. That you stop to travel is precisely what fear loving terrorists want, and the risk is as low in Beirut as in New York, Paris or London. Despite of a violent past.

First published in Mainichi, Japan. 

Pick your religion.

"Thank Dad 4". At last, an honest boat name.

Almost got me.

A free taste before you buy.