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?

Day 20 – Beirut

11 Apr

There are frequent power cuts in Lebanon. Twice I’ve been stuck in lifts, but the worst was in the cable car, the Teleferique, which came to a sudden stop and started swinging wildly over the biggest drop, setting my heart racing, leaving me wondering how good Lebanese safety standards are and whether they even have rescue teams…

It was even scarier than Bataara gorge waterfall, where the wet and slippery rocks slope down toward the edge, leaving you in no doubt that one slip would see you plummet into the abyss, and thankful that there are no other people there jostling for position on what tiny footholds there are.

Day 18 – Beirut

9 Apr

Beirut, Lebanon.

I can’t hear the word “Beirut” without also hearing the prefix “war-torn”, but although the building next door to the Intercontinental Phoenicia has suspicious looking damage:

the rest of Beirut that I’ve seen consists of car parks full of Ferraris next to marinas full of expensive power boats surrounded by hundreds of people enjoying the cafes and restaurants or walking along the corniche, which is what they call the seafront around here.

And then we have the Club Lounge at the Phoenicia:

Excellent canapes, superb local wines, impeccable service, and the personal attention of Mariam make this the best place to be in Beirut.

Mustn’t forget the hotel limo that collected me at the airport and was a slightly higher spec than the usual – a Bentley:

Day 17 – Kuwait City

8 Apr

Morning view from the hotel room:

But only if you open the window and poke your camera through the gap, precariously dangling from the 17th floor. Otherwise, the “spectacular sea views” offered by the hotel look like this:

Hotels out here have a hard time keeping the windows clean because of all the sand in the air, and this hotel seems to have simply given up trying.

To get anywhere in Kuwait City you have to keep running for your life across 6 lanes of SUVs doing 60mph: