Beirut is a small city, and all of it can be walked in about 2-3 days. Each narrow street winds through the neighborhoods, both up and down hill. They're lined with these adorable, old, stone buildings that are like European-villa-meets-Arabian-arches like.
With some neighborhoods trendier than others, I feel lucky to be staying in Gemmayzeh, a Brooklyn-esque part of town, filled with cool restaurants, bars and shops. A less exciting part of town is the Saifi village, which was first built to be an art village of super cool shops, but most have closed down. All that are left are few, seriously overpriced shops. Right next to Gemmayzeh is Achrafiye, the more soho-esque part, with the higher end boutiques and restaurants.
Most of the pictures I've snapped so far are actually of fabulously designed spaces. Everything here is eye-catching. From the clever shisha designs, to the restaurant and cafe decor, to the boutique clothing and jewelry shops. But there's a catch: Beirut is expensive. Food and taxis are cheap, but just about everything else isn't. If it looks like it may be expensive, yes, yes it is.
One of my favorite things to acquire when I travel, is art. And I stumbled upon this gallery displaying amazing graffiti art in Arabic calligraphy, all in beautiful patterns and colors. Most of the pieces I liked started in the $800 range, and I only looked at the small ones that I could travel with. Very disappointing, because it's been hours later and I'm still thinking about the art. Sad face.
The currency is in both Lebanese Lira and US $. You can withdraw both and pay in both. So the first thing I did today was withdraw some Benjamins. God, it felt good to hold some crisp American green again! But I've switched back to my American brain, where $3 for a 5 minute taxi is cheap. But the equivalent 21 Egyptian pound ride will take me all the way across Cairo. And I keep having to remind myself that honey makes Egyptian pounds, so spending dollars is like eating brownies. Best indulged in moderation. Have to cool it on the dollar spree.
It's going to be one of those trips where it's best that once I'm finished site seeing, I sit and lounge in cafes or at a pool. Shopping is going to do way too much damage.
I'm so impressed with this culture. The Lebanese are known to be the fashionable Arabs, with heavy influences from France and the US present everywhere, attributing to that characteristic. The girls are gorgeous and they wear whatever they want! Short shorts and skirts, tank tops, you name it. Guys are a mix though. Some are well groomed; they just look like arab europeans. Some, not so much. Not a single person has harassed us, and once again, people assume I'm a local.
It's exactly what I was hoping Cairo culture could have evolved into. In Cairo, the best hairdressers and the best restaurants are Lebanese. Anything better representing Arab culture in Egypt is not Egyptian, sadly, it's Lebanese. And being here, I see why. I'm at the source, and there's such an obvious difference between the two cities. People here can relax and be real. People here behave differently. Quality is not just a standard, it's a strife.
Im also impressed by the fact that everywhere I go, I hear mixes of Arabic, French and English. Anyone can travel here.
I feel so inspired and motivated. I see that the Middle East and Arab culture is so beautiful again, and it can retain its identity while incorporating western influences. Why can't Cairo be this cool??