The bus from Damascus to Beirut was scheduled to take 3 hours. Our driver was a sweaty looking, caffeine addicted, chain smoking Syrian gentleman with bags under his eyes that Samsonite would have been proud of . With one arm over the back seat and one arm on the wheel he looked a picture of content while driving at break neck speed along the winding bullet ridden valleys on each side of the borders between Syria and Lebanon.
In the back the rest of us were all pressing on imaginary breaks at the turn of each bend thinking that we were going to see a much closer view of the sloping valleys then we really wanted to .
The military presence is visible not unlike the border of Northern Ireland in the early 90’s. Sand bags and large pre fabricated concrete boulders are placed along the side of the road so that they can block off the exits at a moments notice.
We pass towns that are rebuilding themselves ever so slowly and buildings that have long lost their original splendor to the ravages of war. As we come into Beirut we pull up along side a very new looking military tank strategically placed to respond to hostility
The wealth of the city is evident initially when we see the foreign waste collectors, you may wonder why I say this but if the locals are not doing the dirty work then they obviously don’t have to. Lebanon has about 4 million people living here and this figure has remained the same for years. The young and highly educated usually emigrate to see pastures new some returning with overseas ideas ready to inject this already vibrant city.
Lebanon is a hotpot of Middle Eastern influence and very chic. The food options are plentiful and there is never far to walk to get what you want. Shopping is diverse and apart from all the French, Spanish and Italian high street brands there are some really beautiful boutiques with some hefty price tags to match.
We scoured the Internet and hotel rooms are expensive. We were just about to book in to the Casa D’Or Hotel when we come across Maison de Hamra which is an apartotel, rooms here are $75.00 per night compared to €125.00 at the Casa D’Or and are perfect for us. No breakfast served but location is right on Rue De Hamra with a great Lebanese smoothie maker down the road serving the freshest and most fresh delicious chocolate croissants I have ever had for $1.00 and a juice for $1.75 …..what more could you need !