Sunday, November 25, 2018

Beirut, Lebanon November 3

It was our first time flying Royal Jordanian, and it was fine. Customer service was a tad brusque but that was just a foretaste of Middle Eastern service styles. We had a long 10 hour leg from Bangkok to Amman, Jordan and arrived about 4:30am local time. With 4.5 hours to fill-in before the final leg to Beirut we headed to the Royal Jordanian lounge where we ate and made ourselves comfortable. It was all good until I went downstairs for a wander around the terminal. On returning the desk attendant told me we weren’t eligible to be in the lounge because our next leg was codeshare on MEA not Jordanian. At least we fill in a few hours in comfort before being sent to the public seating.

In Beirut we talked to a taxi-driver from a official company who sent his friend from town to pick us up. That all worked well and $25 and 15 minutes later we were delivered to the Ramada Downtown. Checked in we went for a wander down to the nearby Marina and had a late lunch/early dinner at the Za’atar w Zeit restaurant – a local chain with tasty food.

Feeling OK still we went for a walk around the waterfront and then to a Spinneys supermarket for a few supplies. No meal needed in the evening, and into bed at a early time. Sunset is around 16:45pm and being dark it feels much later.

Sunday was breakfast at…Starbucks. Normally we avoid Starbucks as much as possible, but it was convenient, ½ the price of the hotel breakfast and the coffee was actually very good. Caffeinated, and feeling normal after a good nights sleep we set off to explore. Our destination was the National Museum but we got distracted by the area around parliament and the Nejmeh Square and the recently restored clock tower. Being Sunday morning there were very few people about and we were outnumbered by soldiers 2:1, but they were pleasant enough, some even exchanging greetings with us. We visited St Georges Cathedral built 1767, the Old Beirut archaeological site and had a great view across to the modern Mohamed al amin Mosque.

Back on track we made it to the National Museum to find it was FREE today. Nice! And the museum itself was very, very well done. It was originally opened in 1942 and houses the archaeology collection of Lebanon. During the 1975 civil war the installations were heavily protected which resulted in most of the artefacts being preserved even though the museum was on the frontline dividing East and West Beirut during the conflict. It was only reopened in 1999, and the basement reopened to the public in late 2016
“The director of antiquities then, Maurice Chehab, decided very quickly to remove the small objects from the showcases and hide them inside boxes in the basement of the museum,” says the museum’s curator, Anne-Marie Maïla Afeiche.

“He put them on shelves and then he walled them off, so if you didn’t have the plan you couldn’t even tell that behind the wall the whole collection was protected … The bigger objects like the sarcophagi he couldn’t move, of course, so he decided to protect them by building a cement case around each and every one.”

Closed for two decades and occupied by snipers and militiamen, the museum building was a wreck, with bullet holes peppering the facade and holes in the walls and roof caused by shelling. The basement was flooded with 50 centimetres of water and the humidity had badly damaged some of the wooden and terracotta objects.

But, miraculously, almost everything survived the carnage. The ground floor and first floor of the three-storey building reopened in 1999, but the basement remained closed. This month, Lebanese prime minister Tammam Salam, minister of culture, Raymond Araiji, and Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni, presided over its reopening.
The restoration project was funded by a €1.2 million (Dh4.7m) grant from the Italian government and supported by Italian conservators.

From a report in the The National newspaper, Dubai
Apparently there are 1300 of the 100,000 available objects on display. But the installations and interesting displays in wide open spaces give the space a very good feeling.
Culturally enriched, we walked back down the hill to the popular Armenian restaurant, Mayrig . At 12:30 we were the first to arrive for lunch, the place steadily filled up. And the food was delicious! $53 for both of us.
mayrig day
Having covered a lot of kilometres during the day we had some quiet time before heading out in the early evening to Leila on the Zaitunay Marina for a light meal.

Monday 5th November we returned to the area around parliament to look at a few more ancient monuments. Monday brought traffic gridlock and provided an interesting contrast to our quiet Sunday introduction. From the Al Omari Mosque to the Roman Baths ruins and returning to the Blue Mosque where Andrew went in for a look. Andrew being dressed appropriately, and me not wanting to put on robes.
We then walked down to the American University of Beirut campus but decided to have lunch at Socrates before entering the grounds. Andrew was happy to learn the day’s special was Lamb and we both had a tasty Lamb stew, and some Kibbeh.

The AUB campus is huge with views over the sea and large population of cats. According to the University website after the war a lot of cats were abandoned there and now the University has an actual corporate operating policy on cats. We wanted to see the Historical Museum there. We found it interesting with good items and informative displays. And they had a very nice necklace in the museum shop Smile
A distinctive feature in Beirut are the large numbers of taxis roaming that toot and stop at the prospect of getting a potential customer. Some cars are smart, and other end of the spectrum, are wrecks. But they all sound their horn incessantly, hoping you want to ride with them. In the beginning we acknowledged each taxi, “no, no we don’t want a ride”, our friendly smile and wave said. By the end, we either didn’t even notice them or we consciously just ignored them

Andrew was very excited to see a Maclaren showroom on the walk back to the hotel. He noted 5 models on display and acknowledged they were too low to the ground for it to be a practical car for him (as if he was ever going to get one!) We were staying in a part of town where luxury cars were the norm. After seeing so many Porsche, Lamborghini and Ferraris one becomes a little blasé.

The Lebanese produced Red wines, were very nice and it was good to try a few varieties.

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