After spending a couple of weeks in Dubai it was nice to get back on the road and into the region. Me and a colleague started off with a couple of days in Riyadh. It is always best to travel with other people and Basil who grew up in Riyadh was great to hang out with.
Usually my trips to Saudi result in a busy day full of meetings, a trip to the gym, room service and some TV. Not very exciting. This time I got to experience an authentic evening out.
With Basil’s local knowledge we headed to a Turkish restaurant called Assaraya. Having enjoyed the kofta kebabs in Istanbul the Assaraya did not disappoint. I enjoyed the food immensely and when presented with a bill for 170 Riyals ($46) for five of us it also represented tremendous value.
After eating, we then took the chance to enjoy the lovely cool evening by partaking in some outside coffee drinking on Tahlia Steet. It was kind of fun watching the local guys cruise around, though I am not sure what making their cars bounce backwards and forwards in a weird motion was all about. I am told it is the equivalent of Al Diyafa street in Dubai.
After a couple of busy days in Riyadh I took my first ever flight on MEA airways to Beirut. A special mention must go to MEA, as the plane was brand new with a huge open area when you walk in, nice in flight entertainment and I couldn’t help but order a very large Gin and Tonic on the flight.
It is almost a year to the day since my last (and first) visit to Beirut. Then, there was a large military and police presence throughout the city. This time it was far more relaxed. Sure there was security in place and around various politicians residences but other than that I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
Once again we spent two days running around Beirut in and out of meetings and battling the traffic which at times approached Cairo style craziness. I was lucky to be accompanied by a Basil whose local knowledge of his home town gave me a real insight.
We spent a fantastic afternoon walking around the narrow streets of Lebanon. I enjoyed the style of Verdun Street, the many shops in Hamra and the yummy eatries along Bliss Street next to the American University of Beirut. I had to cave in and tucked into delicious toasted chicken sandwich with pickle and garlic mayo from a place called Marouche (It appears to be a favourite late night stop according to a number of my Lebanese friends) – this was despite munching on Ganeric (unripe plums) on our walk.
Following the food theme I got a chance to sample some traditional Armenian food in a family run restaurant called Al Mayass in Achrafieh. If you want something good, with local and well cooked dishes I can’t recommend it highly enough – especially the resident musician whose rendition of Dalilah was something I will remember for a long time.
The highlight of my trip was a Thursday night visit to Music Hall. It was a real treat and is a one of a kind experience in the middle east. Upon walking you are greeted by a sumptuous red velvet theatre like auditorium:
Booking a table apparently is essential and should you choose you can get something to eat. Every twenty minutes or so there is a live cabaret music act followed by music from a DJ in between. The acts cater to a wide variety of tastes. A couple of crowd pleaser’s were the steel drums and “Don’t Worry ’bout a ting”
And a little later in the evening the whole place went berserk when a couple of chaps came out and performed some very traditional Lebanese songs.
All I could do was join in with my best effort at the local style of dance which involved me simultaneously doing the actions for changing a light bulb with one hand and pretending to stub out a cigarette with my opposite foot. It appeared to have the desired effect.
We partied late into the night and around midnight the place was packed and really started to rock. It was made all the better with some good friends coming along to party with us
Everyone tells me Beirut is a party town and after this trip I can confirm it 100% From the Habibis in Riyadh to the Habitis in Beirut it was a trip to remember.
When asked by my Lebanese friends how did I find my visit to Beirut the answer was simple – Wal3aneh (it’s on fire)