Day 21 – Beirut and Abu Dhabi

12 Apr

There are two sides to Beirut. The downtown area has been rebuilt post-war by a private company called Solidere that was given exclusive rights by the government and has bulldozed any remaining history and small business. It reeks of corruption and foreign (Saudi) money and influence. At first you think it’s quite nice as you stroll around the marinas and posh shops, then you realise it’s all new and and it’s all empty.

This photo is the laughably named Beirut Souk. Don’t know about you but to me a Souk is not a modern shopping mall. All of downtown is generic international brands, generic international hotels, generic international restaurants, and an absence of soul or charm or character.

There are also no people. You see more heavily armed security guards than civilians. See how busy the souk is at 11am? Two people.

When I first passed through this plaza, all a fake rebuild, there were 7 armed guards and me.

If you want charm and character and soul you have to go to Hamra or Gemmayzeh, and in case you don’t notice all the people and noise and chaos and real life on these “streets of traditional character” there are even handy signs to point you in the right direction.

The places away from downtown are full of life, it’s just that you have to risk your life a thousand times by crossing the road to get there.

There are signs of the war, here and there.

I left for the airport with what seemed like loads of time to spare but I didn’t know the president was doing something in the city which meant that all the roads were closed, armed soldiers and police where everywhere, and traffic was at a standstill. It seemed that nobody knew this was going to happen. My taxi driver complained “This city is shit. Everyday another problem, and they treat us like shit”.

I made it to the airport just in time for a 3 hour ride in the Etihad 787 business class studio, which was a nice precursor to the 7 hours I’ll get to spend in the Etihad A380 first class apartment in a few days.

Star Wars, champagne, a three course meal, and even a massage on the way.

Arriving in Abu Dhabi at dusk and to a suite on the 51st floor of the Jumeirah Etihad Towers.

A very nice room with a view.

And great quality. Just to illustrate the attention to detail, here’s a photo of something I have never before photographed and probably never will again.

Can you tell what it is?