Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Beirut Bonanza


Lebanon was only about Civil Wars, Shawarmas & Bomb Blasts till I came to Kuwait! Since then, it is also about gorgeous females, beautiful locales & other lip-smacking food too!

Thanks to my job I recently got an opportunity to travel to Beirut for 3 days – albeit it was an official hiring trip I was really excited about exploring some parts of the historic city in whatever time I had! It was a wonderful trip & I had a real awesome time – Hiring, Eating and Exploring! This was also going to be the first International Trip for my new Camera which I bought in March – The Sony HX20V to check what it was really capable of…

Wednesday 24th April 2013 ||| KuwaitBeirut


We took a Jazeera Airways flight from Kuwait & reached Beirut at 9 PM & were greeted to an empty Airport! No crowd at all; the Immigration was seamless too…and when we reached the Exit it was a very nice & different feeling – for a change I was the only Indian in the crowd! Yes strange but true…we were a group of 5 people; 2 Lebanese, 1 Serbian & 1 Egyptian! True global diversity…in the past I have travelled to Thailand & Dubai and everywhere there were fellow Indians so it was a very different feeling to be a special one in the crowd with people giving you those looks – “yeh kahan ka hai?” ;)


The city was almost like Delhi with the hustle-bustle & the big-wide roads. The only difference being a large number of tunnels which we don’t find in Delhi…we reached the most famous street of Beirut – Hamra Street where our Hotel was based & it looked all so familiar…cars honking & bumper-to-bumper traffic…the feel was real nice I must say! Even spotted a Bata Showroom to get more familiar with the surroundings…we checked into Hotel Crowne Plaza, freshened up and then decided to hit the street! The 2 Lebanese colleagues decided the Pub for the night – Brick’s which was right on the main road & a Real Madrid match was being shown on the Big screen which meant a lot of noise & crowd! But I was soaking it in; very different from Kuwait where we don’t witness any such scenes soaking with Beer & Loud Music!


And here I witnessed the first oddity of Lebanon; though owing to external factors. While we were sitting at the Pub at a place which was right next to the road a young kid came selling Chewing Gum & tapped my shoulder to sell his stuff & I was like “Wow, this is new”…my Lebanese colleagues told me he was part of the many Syrian Refugees who have come to Lebanon to run away from the raging Civil War; later I saw many such refugees; begging & sleeping on the streets too!

We had a wonderful time at Brick’s; discussing myriad things about Lebanon & the Middle East and also eating some real nice food! And owing to my health restrictions the only “drink” I had that night was chilled water! But I have got used to it now & don’t mind it much! We finally called it a day at 1 AM as we had to wake up early the next day for the main agenda of our trip! Day 1 of the Campus Recruitment Fair at American University of Beirut (AUB). And I was understandably very excited for the day ahead!


Thursday 24th April 2013 ||| Beirut ki Masti – Day 1

Surprisingly I woke up at 6:30 AM even when I slept so late; maybe due to all the excitement! We were supposed to start from our hotel for the AUB Campus at 9 AM, I decided not to waste my time turning & toppling in the bed but to go for a walk through the Hamra Street to the beach and it was definitely a sane decision I made!


Saw the biggest Street Art piece I had ever watched on Hamra Street painted on the side of a very tall building and it was brilliant! More details here: http://www.beirut.com/l/18182

The City was just waking up after a busy night, vegetable vendors were setting their road shops, Grocery Shops were getting their daily deliveries, some people were jogging, some were going to their office and some like me were just idly walking through! I asked for the route towards the beach from a passerby & when I told him I was from India he was so damn excited, he said “this is the first time I am talking to an Indian!” had a brief chat with him and then walked towards the beach. And noticed a street named “Mahatma Gandhi Street”, was definitely a nice feeling to see that board!

Went till the Beachside in some real nice, clear & sunny weather and had a long walk & I rued the fact that I wasn’t wearing proper shoes else would have walked a bit longer enjoying that weather & the sea! Plus had to get back to the Hotel to get ready, have breakfast and leave for the campus so decided to leave…but had a real nice time  for sure…reached the hotel & had a nice & heavy breakfast – the best part about a hotel stay has always been the breakfast for me. The big spread this time was brilliant too & I ate my heart out!


Reached the Campus at 9:30 AM and what a beautiful campus it was! Right next to the Beach, old-colonial style buildings and greenery all over the place! AUB is a very old University (started in 1866) and is ranked as the first American university located outside of the U.S.A & the campus is spread across 61 acres! I was amazed by the beauty of the place & had a nice walkthrough clicking pics & reading about the history of the various buildings! There was a huge Car Bomb attack here in November 1991 & some buildings were damaged too; luckily nobody died!


Had a long walk through the Campus soaking in the history & the greenery of the Campus and taking a lot of pics! Remembered the good old days of my GIM Hostel which was also located at a gorgeous & picturesque location! The best part was the Football Ground view – with the Sea right next to it and snow clad mountains visible at a distance…perfect place to study & unwind I say!


Our company’s stall was quite active throughout the day with lot of students coming to enquire about the available job opportunities and it was real fun to interact with some of them! Right next to us was Google’s stall so you can imagine the footfalls! And we gained a lot due to our lucky location…

And then disaster struck! We got KebabJi pre-packed Packets for lunch and as always I was hungry so gobbled the Shish Taouk-Khabooz-Lamb Kebabs Meal quickly! And within an hour so my stomach started acting weird; had a real bad pain & just couldn’t sit; I am sure some bacteria in the Meat had set in & it screwed my system! I decided to leave for my hotel and take a long nap…woke up at around 7 in the evening with still some pain in my tummy…went to the Pharmacy Shop opposite my Hotel to buy some Food Poisoning medication recommended by Bandita…came back & watched a Hitchcock Movie “The Man Who Knew Too Much” before ordering a customized Dinner…Had Dal Soup, Buns and Curd Rice made for me! Big Thanks to the Crowne Plaza Head Chef who personally talked to me and took this order! He was a Lebanese but know what would best suit a Food Poisoning struck & stuck Indian! Had a nice sleep afterwards and I hoped for a better day ahead!


Friday 25th April 2013 ||| Beirut ki Masti – Day 2

Woke up nice & fresh free of any pain or discomfort thanks to the medicines and the healthy dinner! Got ready and went for the breakfast – this time had a light one! Thankfully!

The day was going to be a busy one as we had to take interviews through the day starting at 10 AM and by the day we finished the day I had taken 22 interviews & was completely drained out but the evening plans kept me going as finally planned to explore some parts of Beirut before flying off to Kuwait the next day! We left AUB after finishing our work at 5 AM, got back to our hotel, freshened up and were ready to rock Beirut at 6 PM!

Started with some Lebanon Souvenir shopping for friends & family; bought a real nice collection of stuff from a small – old school shop run by a very old gentleman who was more than happy to sell his stuff to an Indian! Had a nice conversation with him about India & his interpretations of our country! Wished him goodbye and went towards the Landmark Location of Lebanon!


The Pigeon Rock formation in the Raouché Area of Beirut is almost the National Symbol of Lebanon! The moment I saw them, I was mesmerized and amazed at the sheer beauty of the place! Even amidst the hustle & bustle of this touristy location I was lost for quite some time and my camera never stopped clicking! Wanted to stay here till eternity but then had other places to visit!

And then the second mishap of Beirut…our taxi driver was a Syrian (most probably a War Refugee), we had negotiated a rate of 40,000 Lebanese Pounds (yes you read it correctly; 1 Kuwaiti Dinar is equal to approximately 5500 LP!) but when we reached our destination he demanded 1,00,000 LPs! And we were stuck; he shouting at us & we couldn’t even understand even a word of what he was saying! It was a panicky situation as he got really aggressive…somehow we managed to ward him off; paid the 40,000 amount and ran away from the scene!


After this heated session we reached the Beirut Marina Area to witness the Sunset but unfortunately were 10 minutes late! Still the place looked beautiful in the fading light & the just-switched-on bulbs & lights! We were spoilt for choice for our Dinner Destination; there were so many restaurants here and even an Indian one – Moti Mahal! I wanted to try some seafood so went to Babel Bay Restaurant which was a fine dining resto and looked damn impressive and as Angelika said “very expensive but awesome food”! I said let’s try it out! Luckily we got a table for 2 as all other tables were pre-reserved!

Got down to our table and then the long…very long dinner session started! The moment I saw the menu I knew this was going to be a special meal – the word Octopus said it all! I had to order that one without doubt…had never eaten it & what better place to make a debut than the best Seafood Resto of Lebanon! We also ordered Prawns & Fish…


The meal started with freebies though! Olive & Octopus Ink Breads, Nuts, Olives, Sea Weed Spread & Leaves and some more nuts! And I was like “all of this for free”? Gobbled them up in no time in anticipation of the big one! And then it arrived…Grilled Octopus Legs! Didn’t look weird as I had thought! And the taste was real nice too unlike my expectations! Another Tick in my Food Repertoire!


The Grilled Prawns and the Fish Salad was awesome too plus the Fresh Grilled Fish too which we selected from the counter…we talked like mad through the meal soaking up the atmosphere and the food! We looked weird though…casually dressed in a resto where everybody else looked like attending a Page 3 Event and some of them gave weird looks too! A Blonde European with a Dark Indian – I am sure they had not seen such a combo ever in their life!

And then the BIG Surprise! The attendant came and asked me “Sir, would you like to have some complementary dessert?” and I was like “YES YES YES”. I thought he would come back with 2 small bowls of some Lebanese Dessert but when he came I was bamboozled for ever! The biggest WOW Restaurant experience of my life by far! He served us the following…yes and all FREE! Fresh Fruits, Assortment of Dates, Figs, Pumpkin and Pineapple and a Cheese-Blueberry Spread! I don’t know what toe at and what not to! The Cheese-Blueberry Spread was way too awesome and the strawberries were the best I have ever had! I thought my stomach would explode but fortunately it didn’t!


The Bill was also the fattest one which I have ever paid…some 250 odd USD for the 2 of us! Wasn’t shocking though for the experience we had and didn’t mind paying that even a single bit!

We decided to have a long walk to digest our meal and also to enjoy the beautiful Marina scenes! My new camera was in full action mode! Our Lebanese colleague Hani then came over to meet us; had another nice discussion about Lebanon in general and then he drove us to our hotel to avoid any other Cab-Driver issues!


I noticed a strange & huge hoarding on one of the buildings named “Stop Solidere” and Hani gave me all the details…it is a long battle between St George Hotel and the Solidere Business Group which literally owns the Beirut Seafront…more details here: diaryofahalfandhalf.wordpress.com/tag/stop-solidere/

Reached our hotel at around 12 Midnight and had to finish the lovely day on a high! Had a Watermelon-flavour Italian Gelato which was droolingly delicious and a pefect end to a gloious day well spent in Beirut! Went to my room and had a nice sleep...we had to fly to Kuwait the next morning...

Saturday 26th April 2013 ||| Beirut - Kuwait

Woke up late as my body required some much-needed rest after the Sea Food Attack! Had a light breakfast (and I am serious) and left for the Airport to board our flight back to Kuwait…thankfully everything went on smoothly. I shopped some more Lebanon Memorabilia at the Airport & relaxed at the coffee shop till we boarded…surprisingly there is no Smoking Room/Lounge at the Beirut Airport which for a Middle East country is almost shocking as majority of the males smoke in this region!

The aircraft flew at sharp 12 Noon and then the delightful scenes started to roll! It was so wonderful to see snow clad peaks and sea beach together in the same view! I witnessed this for the first time and the entire team I was looking outside the window! Had a nice nap before I woke up when we were flying above Iraq and saw the famous River Tigris flowing in full might below! Landed in Kuwait at 2:30 & were welcomed to the usual chaos at the airport plus Dust-Heat outside! Just another day in the Kuwait Summer! Have got used to it by now…


This was definitely a wonderful trip; even though it was short but still I had my share of fun, food, excitement and work! Would be definitely visiting Lebanon again till I am here in Kuwait with Bandita to explore more!

We are travelling to Cyprus this weekend and that would be the 3rd new country I would be visiting in 2013! We are damn excited & all set to explore the Mediterranean Weather, Cuisine and the beaches of Cyprus!

Till the time we meet again...

Ride safe and have safe sex...


Che would be back on the road soon...


Hasta la Victoria Siempre...


Jai BoP...





3 comments:

Rajiv Verma said...

Pphhhantaaaasticcc!!

Even though I felt, you have been too lazy to maintain the repo of the new camera but not sharing some more photos ;-), the food photos are way too awesome!! Nice insight into Beirut, wish you had some more time to explore.

Way to go!!

Rajiv Verma said...

Awesome!

Sumana Dey said...

SO much food :) I am hungry....but jokes apart, your passion oozes thru this :)! Good going!