Being in Beirut

Posted on: April 30th, 2011 by: Martin J Cowling

Bombed building from civil war

Whats the first thing you think of when you think Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon? Chances are: “war zone”, “Destroyed”, “unsafe”, “terrorist”. A website called Lebanon News: Under the Rug Swept features the Looks Like Beirut Certificate which notes  the times “people compare Beirut to destruction”.

For the world forgets that the Lebanese Civil War ended. It was a horrific war which claimed too many lives and did indeed destroy swathes of Beirut.

But the war stopped over 20 years ago. Today, Beirut is becoming the place to visit. Lonely Planet and the New York Times added the city to their “must visit” lists, I got my chance last month when I attended a conference at the UNESCO centre in Beirut.

Landing in Beirut is jaw dropping. The planes make their approach from the water and the images of sparkling Mediterranean, snow capped mountains and residential towers fill your eyes. The rock formations above and below are known as La Roche (The Rock).

Visually, Beirut is stunning both naturally and architecturally. One of my favourite activities was running along the waterfront known as “The Corniche” (left) Filled with walkers, runners and pushcart vendors, moving through the area was always beautiful. I always had amazing views of snow capped Mount Lebanon and the Mediterranean as I ran. Beirut has a vibrant, crazy mix of new and old buildings, some bombed remnants and archaeological digs of showing the many layers of settlement (see below). Beirut has been settled for 5000 years and controlled  by Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader and Ottoman empires.

Roman Ruins in Beirut

There is a revitalized downtown with office buildings, churches, mosques, souks (markets) and restaurants (left) most of which has been  rebuilt since the war. Infrastructure across the city varies. Some of the poorer suburbs lack footpaths. Traffic signals are distributed unevenly. Driving follows a unique set of unwritten rules. Beirut’s public transit system is very underdeveloped.  Buses ply mysterious routes and taxis hound pitilessly anyone the drivers suspects of being a tourist. See previous blog “Never Never Trust a Beirut Taxi Driver“. I suspect if there had not been a civil war, Beirut might have financed a light rail or metro line across the city with a station at the airport. Petrol was very expensive sitting around $3.00 a litre ($10 a gallon).

I loved the Hamra street area, seen by many as the heart of Beirut connecting downtown Beirut with inner Western suburbs of Beirut. Its very close to the American University of Beirut.  Before the war, Hamra was viewed locally as the “Champs Elysées” of Beirut with tourists and intellectuals making it their home. Today its been renovated and is home to great and reasonably priced high street shops (such as H & M where I stocked up on clothes) and stand alone retailers, coffee shops full of university students, restaurants with locals and tourists, and Lebanese young men driving up and down in their  cars with windows down and music up (they do this in Australia too!). The atmosphere was very vibrant. The food in Beirut was of amazingly high standard with very good service. The food always seemed fresh and flavoursome. There are foods from all over the world but I only ate Lebanese foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner including:

  • Kibbeh (meaning ball in Arabic). Made of  crushed wheat or rice and chopped meat,  it is seen as  Lebanon’s  national dish.
  • Ackawi  a salty white cheese salty or not depending on choice .
  • Fattoush salad ( toasted pita bread with cucumbers, tomatoes, mint and hummus -blended chickpeas dip)
  • Falafel – small deep-fried patties made of highly-spiced ground chick-peas
  • Fried cauliflower
  • Kunafi shoelace pastry dessert stuffed with sweet white cheese and a sickly sweet syrup
  • chicken skewers  marinated in olive oil and lemon

I found people were super friendly (even the taxi drivers after you had negotiated price). Greeting people in Arabic and then switching to English and or French worked well. The exceptions to the friendliness were some of the many security guards and army soldiers one saw. Some were welcoming and some were forbidding. The presence of so much military hardware and personnel while there to protect did, however,  feel oppressive sometimes. Taking photos at times was frustrating because so much photography seems forbidden. You of course cannot take pictures of soldiers  check points, tanks, barriers, guns and military signs. This makes almost any picture downtown tricky because the downtown was full of these things.  One soldier appeared from nowhere and stopped me taking  a photo of a fountain downtown (oops here it is).

While everyone hoped for it, in many of the conversations, Peace still seems very fleeting and fragile. No one felt confident it was ever coming to Lebanon. When people talked openly about the war, they all blamed someone else for it.  In the meantime  Beirut parties hard! Enjoy! I cant wait to come back.

Related Posts

NEVER, NEVER trust a Beirut Taxi Driver

Trip Report: Royal Jordanian


2300 hours

Posted on: April 29th, 2011 by: Martin J Cowling

A recent flight  tipped me over into 2300 hours of flying since I was born. This is equivalent to over 95 days inside a metal tube.  Over 3 months of my life!

More Trivia (some of which can be found at my flightmemory page)

  • 75 airlines (my favourites of course Emirates, Air New Zealand and Qantas)
  • 48 types of plane (the 3 most common being B737, B747 and B767 and the most exotic a Zepplin airship)
  • 180 airports (the 3 most common Melbourne, Sydney and Los Angeles)
  • 36 countries on 5 continents flown to (out of the 47 countries I have visited to- 2 countries I went to by ship, 2 by bus and 7 by train)
  • 43% of my flights have involved an Australian destination,  31% a US destination and 8% a New Zealand stop and 4% a UK stop.
  • I have sat by the window 281 times, on the  Aisle   151 times and in the  Middle  21 times..I cant recall the rest…guessing same proportions. 

Korean A380—launch delayed again

Posted on: April 29th, 2011 by: Martin J Cowling

The Korean Air 380 launch has been delayed from 10 June, 2011 to 17 June, 2011 (perhaps to put in the duty free stores I mentioned yesterday?)
In the meantime, here is an advertisement for the Korean A380…..
I wrote a post on the layout of the Korean A380 and another comparing my Emirates A380 experience with that on Qantas and Singapore.

Korean Air–lets go shopping!

Posted on: April 27th, 2011 by: Martin J Cowling

In 2009, Korean Air foreshadowed it would be installing duty free stores on its ten new A380s. The airline is already the number one airline company in the world for in flight retailing! 
Now they have revealed the store layout. It will be located at the back of the lower deck near the rear stairs. 
The store will replace 13 economy seats. The Korean A380 will have the lowest number of seats on board out of all of the airlines flying it (see my previous Blog post on the Korean A380).

The duty free “store” is made up of five units:
  1. Video wall- video advertising space will be sold to companies
  2. Fragrances
  3. Jewellery
  4. Liquor Unit
  5. Liquor Unit

One cabin crew member will staff the shop and deliver bought goods. First Class passengers will be invited first. Then Business class passengers will be welcomed and only if there is time, economy class passengers will be welcomed. The goods on display are high priced products.
For a video about the units see here

Martin J on the Monorail

Posted on: April 26th, 2011 by: Martin J Cowling

In 2012 the Seattle Monorail will be 50. Opened March 24, 1962 for the Seattle World Fair.  The line runs at a top speed of 72km/h for just over a 1.5kilometres.

The train pictured here is one of the two original Alweg trains built in 1961. The monorail trains and their tracks were given historical landmark status by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board April 16, 2003.

About 2.5 million people pay the $2 fare for the two minute trip. In the late 90s, there was  a plan to put five monorail lines across Seattle. Called the Seattle Monorail Project, it was finally buried in 2008.

By contrast, the Shangahi Maglev Train with a top operational speed of 431 km/h (268 mph),was built between 2001 and 2004. The train takes 7 minutes and 20 seconds to complete a distance of 30 km (18.6 mi)   to Pudong International Airport from a station on the Shanghai Metro. I can’t wait to ride that one in August!

Back to the 80s with Air NZ’s newest safety video

Posted on: April 24th, 2011 by: Martin J Cowling

Same words…very different costumes…in the last Air New Zealand air safety video, the crew were nude- in this one, they go”funky”.  Led by flamboyant American fitness personality Richard Simmons, the briefing introduces all of the usual safety features on a plane (ie no smoking, fasten seatbelts, brace positions, life jacket, luggage etc) as a series of “exercises” to be completed before flying. The instructions are delivered with lots of crazy costumes, boppy music and humourous gags.

The video available for viewing here. What do you think of it? Some thoughts from me:

I noticed a couple of the crew from the previous “nude” video bopping along in this one. Great to see they are still involved. Didnt spot Air NZ CEO this time. Anyone else see him?

My favourite line in the video is when notorious TV broadcaster Paul Henry is told to “stop broadcasting“. Watch and listen to his response. I started laughing!  Then see what happens next and what he does. Kiwis will get this immediately but non NZers may not understand the references.

I also wondered will I get sick of it if I see it multiple times a month.

And what will a macho NZ sheep farmer think of his national airline’s campiness?

Will the crew bop along to the video? I hope so…..I do look forward to my next Air NZ flight to find out!

For the making of the video check out here.

A380 Bang

Posted on: April 22nd, 2011 by: Martin J Cowling

Here’s a great reason to ALWAYS wear a seat belt on a plane even when its stationery on the ground. I cant believe how many seat belts I hear being opened seconds after a plane lands.

Have you seen the video where the Air France A380 jet at  New York’s John F. Kennedy airport hits the tail section of a Bombardier CRJ 700 Regional Jet? The smaller plane spins a quarter turn on the taxiway!

The A380 was operating Air France Flight 7 to Paris and was taxing to take off. It had 495 passengers and 25 crew members on board.

Its left wingtip struck the tail of Comair Flight 6293, which had just landed from Boston and was taxiing to its gate at Kennedy. The Comair  had 62 passengers and four crew members on board.

There were no reports of injuries.

Both planes were inspected Tuesday,  pilots and crew  interviewed and ground radar checked.

The Airbus “super jumbo”, the world’s largest jetliner has a wingspan of almost 80 meters (yards). About a third of a metre of the Air France left wing appears to be damaged. Air France said the damage was only “material”. I hope so.
So who was at fault? The airbus has only been flying to JFK since Nov. 20, 2009. Lufthansa also flies the A380 into JFK since February, 2011. So the airport is still getting used to them. Check out my  review of the Emirates A380 comparing it to the Qantas and Singapore A380s. I have yet to fly the Lufthansa and Air France planes. Hope to do them in the second half of 2011. 
NTSB Photos of Wing Clipping at JFK Airport

My Computer is Back!

Posted on: April 21st, 2011 by: Martin J Cowling

I am at least eight posts behind having not had a computer for ages…upcoming Blog Posts:
1. Being in Beirut
2. The Uglification of Pattaya
3. Amazing Amman
4. Petra Report
5. Way out Wadi Rum
6. Virgin Blues
7. V Australia Business Class…Stacks up?
8. Survive a Plane Crash

Hope to feed these through in the next weeks…watch this Blog!


Posted on: April 18th, 2011 by: Martin J Cowling

Had the longest delay of my life today.
11 hours! (compared to some people’s woes-nothing!)
The delay is out of Brisbane heading to LAX (Flight 007).
The airline is V Australia, the overseas arm of Virgin Blue. They have an “unserviceable” aircraft!
Ironcially, my previous longest delay was with Virgin Blue out of Brisbane- destination: Sydney in 2000. That was an 8 hour delay.
I was so unimpressed with Virgin Blue’s handling of that delay,  that I did not fly them for years! A recent convert back to the Virgin Blue family, this incident has me bemused. ..and a little worried. My connections home are much tighter than going. I have little room for delays! Fingers crossed for May!
V Australia have handled this brilliantly though: meal vouchers, good communications, a hotel for transit passengers (and I got an upgrade! Thanks V)

Basil Fawlty and Mistaken Identity

Posted on: April 14th, 2011 by: Martin J Cowling

In an hilarious episode of Fawlty towers called “The Wedding Party“, Basil Fawlty decides to put an end to amorous dealings in his hotel.  It’s side splitting stuff-on TV- in real life another matter.

At a guesthouse I recently stayed at, the owners were a husband and wife couple. Check in with the wife, went smoothly, my room was in order and I was given good advice on where I could have dinner. Then I met the owner. He decided within minutes of meeting me, that I was after his wife.

He muttered to me: “I am watching you” motioning his hands to his eyes and to me. At this stage, I had no idea what he meant.

Having realised that I had left the Internet password in my room, I asked the wife who had provided it on check in if I could have it again.

The husband at this point demanded that I only speak to him and not his wife. In fact, he ordered me not to talk to his wife again-saying that I needed to be careful. I never spoke to the wife again.

This led to an evening of harassment. Every time “Basil” passed me, he would say “I am watching you” as he walked past me. At one time he called out across the lobby/lounge area: “Australian, I am watching you

As I was working on my laptop, (there was no Internet in the rooms),  he came over to me, leaned over me and said: “you look nice. Good clothes
I thanked him (what else do you do)
He said : “Planning on a date tonight? Or were you planning a date and I stopped it?”

I gave him a withering look and said that I had not even thought of planning a date with anyone. I didn’t speak to him again and went to bed half an hour later.

The next morning I saw neither of the couple as one of their staff was covering the morning.

When John Cleese and Connie Booth  were writing Fawlty towers, they spoke to people about real situations, hoteliers and guests had experienced. My incident would lend itself to an appearance.

As I said, it’s funnier on TV than in real life though.

Anyone else experienced unpleasant or harassment behaviour from a hotel owner?

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