We arrive in Beirut at the Rafik Harriri International airport and immediately see the vestiges of the recent election. Giant posters adorn every building. Massive photos of General Aoun, the younger Harriri and other political figures are plastered on sides of buildings. Rafik’s son won in what was widely considered a peaceful election. Lucky for us, if it hadn’t been peaceful, we may have been headed to Barbados instead.
We’re lodging at the Hotel Albergo in the heart of the Achrafieh neighborhood. The Albergo is one of the Relais & Chateux hotels and like many of its sister properties, this one is located in a grand old ancient home. Each room is different. Ours has a multi-tiered oriental looking beaded chandelier and a muted Persian carpet on the tiled floor. I love the olive oil soaps in the bathroom, each a different shape, crescent, heart and octagonal. I think we’ll find this place a restful reprieve from our daily outings.
Our first night out we dined at Al Balad, David’s favorite restaurant in Downtown Beirut. Take notice — for those of you who think we are in a war-torn, dangerous city, think again. We could have been in any European city wandering from the Albergo to our cafe. We passed by Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, trendy clothing shops featuring European designers. Families were out strolling with their children, carrying balloons. Scantily clad women in ridiculous high heels stroll along with women in headdress.
David constantly reminds us we face two great dangers in Beirut. The first danger: Walking across the street. Driving and walking appear to be tackle sports. The second danger: Overeating. Both were true our first night on the town. Not only did I nearly get gunned down by an errant taxi, but we embraced one of what I suspect is the first of many amazing multi-course meals.
David’s Beirut “brother” Gaby and his wife Joanna joined us for dinner. So did Nick Noe, our organizer and his adorable Canadian girlfriend. Our new best friend in Beirut is our translator Rawan. She is only 23 years old but wise beyond her years with an impish smile and a comedic spirit.