On Tuesday I mostly just walked around Beirut to get a feel for the city (walking through a city always seems the best way to see it). Saw the National Museum, which like the rest of the country is getting itself back together since the war.
The war officially finished 15 years ago, the Israelis withdrew from southern Lebanon 5 years ago, the Syrian military withdrew earlier this year. People still talk a lot about before and after the war. There's still plenty of buildings around Beirut pockmarked by gunfire or with shell holes.
There's plenty more buildings that are ugly, unadorned concrete, thrown up in the least time at the least cost to meet the needs of the people displaced by the war. The central district ("downtown") in Beirut is different, there there's been a lot of money spent to construct a modern city centre, full of boutique shops catering to Emirates tourists. The locals see it as sterile and soulless.
Anyway, the museum, well, it was worth seeing. There was a reasonable selection of well preserved Roman sarcophagi, phoenician statues, neolithic relics and so on. While it's interesting to see these in a local context, obviously there's nothing that Western money and "collecting" hasn't provided in the British Museum or Metropolitan. As interesting as the exhibits was the presentation on how at the beginning of the war, the staff bricked smaller exhibits into a basement or encased many of the larger ones in concrete. Unfortunately there was still a huge degree of looting during the war, the museum was shelled and fought over like most other major buildings. The last exhibit you come across is a collection of ancient bronze and glass, preserved for centuries, fused into an amorphous mass by fire caused by the shelling.
One thing you can't escape in Beirut is photographs of the former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated earlier this year with a massive car bomb. That event triggered what's known as the "Cedar Revolution" in the western media (the local's seem to prefer "Independence 05" or the "Independence Intifada"). There are pictures of Hariri everywhere, huge images hung off buildings, small photos in shop windows. There is shrine to him and the others killed in the bombing, housed in a marquee near the site, it's quite mawkish, but quite moving.
Tuesday evening I had a first taste of the Beirut nightlife, and headed over to the famed Rue Monot, bar and club centre of Beirut. However, it seems that a midweek night, out of season, the famed nightlife wasn't really there. I was possibly a bit early too, arriving by about 9pm to a nearly-empty bar. This was "The Hole in the Wall", which was multiply recommended, although it did seem a bit of a shame to go to an familiar pub on the first night out. Had a couple of pints and then went to find dinner. That was at "Julia's", a French style restaurant, chosen because it looked good and quite busy. I was initially quite disappointed to be sat at the bar after asking for a table for one, however this turned out well as I chatted a fair amount to the barman. By the end of the evening, when I decided to treat myself to a 12yo Macallan, he poured a generous measure then told me it was on the house. The food was pretty good too.
One final image of Beirut that didn't really fit into the narrative, but I quite liked, a damaged statue in Martyrs' Square, with the newly completed Khatam Al Anbiyaa mosque in the background.
...Wednesday and Thursday to follow Soon.