When we arrived to Beirut, we left our bags at the hotel and set off to explore the city. We started by going to the Blue mosque, since it was walking distance from where we were. Little did we know that prayer time was ending, so we had to wait before being allowed inside. We were definitely the only tourists there. As we sat on the steps in the hot sun, many women and children came to beg us for money, but we couldn’t really understand, and all the young kids knew how to say was hello, English and money please.
I had brought a long sleeve cardigan and a scarf to cover up in order to visit the mosque. As I did so, it felt a little weird to be honest, as this was a first for me. Once I got all my hair tucked in and the security person told us we could go inside, I was told to wear a black hooded robe on top of everything I already had. Not to mention that it was about 30 degrees out! At first, I thought that maybe i hadn’t covered up properly, or according to their standards. I don’t know and I didn’t ask. But I felt even weirder at this point.
So in we went, barefooted on a beautifully designed carpeted floor. The chandeliers than hung from the ceiling were crystal and were gigantic. The paintings on the ceiling and the wooden carvings were all very impressive. We stayed for a while, just walking around in silence taking a few pictures and respectfully walking out as there were still several men praying inside. On the way out, I realized that the black robe I was obliged to put over my clothes was something standard: all women had to be in black in order to go in. This was definitely a unique experience that also triggered some mixed feelings and questions for me.
Then, we started walking to Zeituna Bay for lunch. The hotel manager had recommended us a Lebanese restaurant called Babel. As we walked along the bay, it turned out this was the only place that was full of locals. We ordered a few things to share, and after telling the waiter we had eaten well and that we were full, he told us that desert was on the house. We accepted to not be rude, but did not expect that we would have three big dessert plates. Combined, these were probably bigger than our meal! One big platter of fruit, another of sweet carrots pistachios and sesame, and a third with sweets. We tried a little of everything but there was no way we would finish it. We felt really special receiving this wonderful, gigantic dessert and thanked our waiter. However, we did find out later on that it was custom to offer dessert on the house in restaurants, and that it was not unique to us that day. We still loved it and it didn’t happen every time we went out and it was still special to us ah ah ah.
After lunch, we needed to move to digest all that good! I wanted to go to the Hamra district, because someone had recommended it to me. But thinking that stores would close around 6, we decided to head to the old souk and shop and walk around there. Later on that evening, I found out there was a suicide bomb in the Hamra district earlier that day, so we escaped that one! Instead, we went to sit outside and watch the World Cup while smoking sheesha and headed back to the hotel to meet our friends for a drive and to eat sesame seeds and drink a beer near Pigeon Rocks. These rocks are famous in Beirut and at night they are nicely lit so we were able to see them.
I had heard that nightlife in Beirut was amazing, even the best. Well, on Saturday night we saw this for ourselves. We were lucky to know someone who got us in at Skybar, the number one club of the Middle East! And we can now say that it was really great. The bar is up high, it is open air, with a view on the lights of the city. Around us, there were screens with light effects, and at times, torches of fire would light up, all synchronized with the music of course. There were live DJs who mixed the sounds of various new and old tunes, and people danced no matter where they stood. So I confirm: the nightlife in Beirut is really something!