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Looking at the locals, living in a restrictive regime where self-expression and the free propagation of ideas is not exactly what you would be inclined to do, I’m wondering how many live for a dream and what is that dream?

Travelling through tens of countries from Bangladesh to Japan and Argentina to Kenya, seeing different cultures, political systems, schemes of thinking, beliefs, religions, behavior models, my personal dream is to get to the people’s core way of being and understanding them.

Judgment can only be stopped by knowing, by documenting, by understanding, by seeing and genuinely trying to put one in the shoes of the other. We live in a globalized world that is more racist and less understanding and tolerant to other beliefs, cultures and religions than ever.

Before judging someone or something try to understand where they’re coming from, how they think and what they have to say.

I wanted this trip for years and it must be 15 years since I’ve been in a group tour, an itinerary organized by somebody else. While this is the most common route in Iran, when I come back, I have to visit Tabriz and maybe Mashad.

Mashad is a holy city in the East of Iran where Imam Reza (or Ali al-Ridha), the 8th Imam of the Twelver Islam, a section of Shia Islam, was buried.

Globalization: A Basic Text

Closing my eyes, I can see where I am on the world map. So far, yet so close. What about my mission, my life? Where am I? We’re so good with practical aspects, yet with the less tangible we still seem to struggle. At least I do and I’m unceasingly searching, searching. Sometimes I feel like a dog scratching the ground in search of something he cannot see or feel, yet his senses tell him it’s there.

It’s second day and I wished I talked less and listened more. Does human interaction scare me? Does it make me look inside? Simply cannot sleep. Does a story that resembles mine make me sad? Does my competence make me too proud? Do I not take rejection, criticism?

Travel, just like love, is meant to change us. My motto is:

If love and travel did not change you, it means you did not love enough or traveled far enough.

Love, another force that makes the world spin.

I’m working on myself without even noticing, washing away pain, learning to deal with my thoughts, at the border between acceptance and understanding. Between these two doors I walk back and forth.

It’s a long way, a long process. It means dedication to myself and meanwhile I’m trying to observe where selfishness ends and giving begins.

Personal Revolution: How to Be Happy, Change Your Life, and Do That Thing You’ve Always Wanted to Do

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    I am as individualist as one can be. After finding myself in a moment where I feel I am not growing anymore, after proving everybody, especially myself, that I can hustle in the cold legal world, I decided there has to be only me, myself and I. So I shall…
    Tags: years, live, life, visit, living, love, change, feel, good, free

16 days. 5 countries. 66058 km. 85 hours and 40 minutes flying time. From Bali to Beirut to Ho Chi Min to Osaka to Kyoto to Perth. Back home in Doha in the desert where … it is raining. Life is so beautiful and full of surprises. Traveling is living, but don’t think it is easy. And yes, this is my job.

The full stories are coming once I’m back from Berlin.

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Tegallalang Rice Terraces, Bali, Indonesia

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Let me tell you about Beirut – my urban soul destination, Lebanon

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Eating fried oysters with peanuts, shrimp by kilo, frog and other local delicacies in Ho Chi Min, Vietnam

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Wearing a beautiful kimono on the lovely traditional streets of Kyoto, not far from Osaka, Japan

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At Caversham Wildlife Park in Perth, Australia, visiting the koala bears (sleeping 20 hours out of 24) and the kangoroos – roo roo kan-go-rooo!

 

 

 

 

 

Read here about my other Lebanese adventures: Beirut Dreams (2015)

February 18th, 1:20AM, Doha, Qatar

Just returned from Asmara, Eritrea where I met such polite, well dressed and beautiful people. Booked for Beirut again a few hours before leaving for Bali. It feels great, just under 2 minutes, I didn’t even check the rates. From Bali directly to Beirut, as part of the world tour I’m doing right now. Let’s see what I attract!

February 21st 2016, Beirut, Lebanon

I’m so lucky to be able to…move. I feel strong and thrilled and at peace with me. Booked this flight to Beirut, just clicked ok-ok-ok. Maximum 2 minutes. And it feels amazing, to be able to travel without thinking of anything, just of what adventures await. Most of the times I just let myself get lost in cities and in conversations with people I don’t know. And it’s great for self-knowledge because you see what you attract, what you need to work on.

I came to some truths last days. I want to work in customer service, directly with people. I will probably go for hotel industry and my dream is to own a chain of hotels. I am so proud of my evolution of the way this path was settling while I didn’t even know.

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Traveling so much – and I’m talking now about my personal off work travels, which mainly happens every month makes me be in their shoes. Having had a restaurant only eating, fancy cafes and pubs afternoon life, traveling in exotic destinations since I was 10, mainly without my parents, having studied abroad, invited to exclusive cocktails and entry list events, having seen so many waiters, event organizers, people who mingle around the clubbing life, so many approached and attitudes, so many situations, reactions and behaviors makes me be unbeatable in delivering a high quality service. And people need to change their attitude and perception towards the people in the service industry.

Landed from Bali, Indonesia at 5:50 AM and by noon I was already in another plane taking me to Beirut, Lebanon, there, where a large piece of my soul feels at home. I don’t know why, but it’s there where I need to be, it was the place where, against all odds, I traveled alone in my first month of working in Qatar, when everyone was telling me I was insane (true) to go alone, without knowing anyone and my mom was asking if the war is still going on…

There’s mornings when I wake up thinking about the blue water by the Corniche, at Raouche, at the mosques there, at the charming streets, steep pathways, at the city bus costing 1000 pounds, at the common taxis, at the scent of the breeze of the sea…

It’s raining as I land, but Beirut is beautiful anyways…

Some colleagues of mine from Rotaract that I’ve met through another Rotaractor pick me up from the airport and take me for a ride around the parts of the city I did not see the first time, in May 2015.

Beirut is a landmark for me, first month of flying and now, after one year since starting my journey.

Beirut is so chic and free, and beautiful. Lebanese say it’s the most beautiful in the world and I tend to believe them although take care if they say they love you.

Oh, by the way…what am I doing in Beirut? Boyfriend? No. Friends? Yes and no. What do I do there? Where do I stay? So many questions I get asked by the people I tell I’m going and by the border control at the airport. Suspect, young girl traveling alone for…tourism. In Lebanon? I smile and say because it’s beautiful and search for my other passport to show the first visa. But can you visit in two days? Yes, I’ll come back. He’s confused and I enjoy it.

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Well, we started with an Almaza beer (product of Lebanon) in the car and with my story in short. Lawyer gone to see the world by becoming cabin crew. Crazy enough to travel alone to Beirut, Cambodia, Athens, Zanzibar, US.

I ask if I can rent a car to visit Byblos and they all burst out laughing. Apparently not.

My Lebanese friends prepared two hotel options, one in Hamra – an area with more shops and alive by day –  and one in Gemmayze – an area with restaurants and bars more alive by night. I choose the second and after checking in we stop at The Bohemian, a very fancy and as the name says, very bohemian and chic place, where each piece of design takes your eyes. The place is just so much fun. We order lychee martini and it comes in a huge antique mug with small antique mugs for each of us and with a lychee on each of them, laying on top of a lot of ice cubes. The upholstery of the high chairs with round chair seat is in oriental colorful print and the floor tiles are colorful, too. A colorful crystals chandelier hangs from the ceiling.

Our next stop is, through the rain that’s pretty serious by now, Jbeil, which is around 40 km away from Beirut.

Jbeil is actually Byblos, the first city of Phoenicia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is considered to be the longest continuously inhabited city in the world, starting 5000 BC.

We walked through the rain in the Old Souk in Byblos and watched the furious waves in the Byblos Harbor by night. It’s raining and raining and raining and the water rushes down on the cubic shaped stones covering the alleys leading down to the harbor. I’m in ballerinas, but we walk in a shop and for $10 I buy the cutest rubber boots in purple.

In the harbor there are some lovely restaurants and we chose Chez Pepe, where I loved to taste authentic Lebanese cuisine and a local red wine in the fishing specific of the restaurant. I loved the boat in the middle of one of the rock walled rooms, the fire place in the other, the natural materials around – only stone, wood, clay, rope, the few oriental motifs, the white table cloths contrasting the blue chairs, the hunting guns displayed and the cozy, chateau like atmosphere under the arch shaped stone walls and ceiling.

My friends keep asking me what I like, but I tell them I like everything. Which is true, especially since I’m in Beirut.

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February 22nd, Beirut, Lebanon

I did after all come back from Bali yesterday and came back to Beirut where I went out until after midnight, so, since I’m in holiday I allowed myself to sleep until past noon.

Before we go out in Beirut together, let me recommend, if you ever arrive in Beirut, to download the Zawarib App, which is a great guide to the city and especially to the hidden trails and treasures that Beirut has plenty.

In the lobby Michael Jackson invites me to start with the man in the mirror.

The air is fresh and I slept well. I dress up colorful and I go out in the windy air of Beirut in a random Monday.

The Lebanese capital is around 20 sq km and the main areas that are worth visiting are: Hamra – around Raouche, Downtown – with Zaitunay Bay and Beirut Souks, Achrafieh (Ashrafiee), Gemmayzeh – Sursock Area and the Port, Mar Mikhael.

Well, I started the day by climbing up and down the St. Nicolas Stairs located just a few houses away from my hotel on Gemmayze Street. On the sides of the stairs, there’s a lot of other street art and love declarations to the city: “Beirut has my heart”, “J’aime Beyrouth”. Totally subscribe to that. Arabic stylized letters in black and yellow ink.

It’s obvious people are not too used to tourists and as far as I heard, there are not many around and even the locals repeatedly asked me why do I want to visit the place.

I’m wearing that kind of outfit composed of all the thick clothes you have to wear because due to the rain, the weather is a little colder than I had foreseen it. It’s not raining anymore and I’m feeling just fine in my high waist jeans tucked in the purple rubber boots, with a green sweater and a cream short leather jacket and without my always present green bag with an elephant hanging from the handle.

As I said, people are looking at me as at a curiosity, but I’m already used to that. I pass by the Bohemian again and by the other pubs and bars, but they’re not opened yet.

I keep walking by men talking in the sidewalk and I get a 2000 pounds coffee from a grocery shop looking like the ones in the 90s in Romania. The lady selling there, in her 40s, looks with such appreciation eyes at me, that it melts my hear and makes my day.

I pass by Oslo selling sweets and ice cream, Radio Beirut, Blow – with its mafia theme and the street smells like spring, Memory Lane.

I pass by Vendome Steps, which are also painted in bright colors, in a sort of geometrical/Berber motifs. By now I am in Mar Mikhael and I’m hungry. But I’ve reached the perfect place to be – Enab (Grape Leaves) Restaurant, Authentic Lebanese with an Edge.

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Oh, the design of Lebanese restaurants/bars/pubs. I don’t know why people have this impression Beirut is a second world place or even worse when it is fu****g amazing place to be. So posh, so beautiful and arranged and areas of the city are much more beautiful and glam than Paris, Rome or London. Actually, you cannot even compare the dirt of the latter with the sun shining when you are in a beautiful terrace in Beirut.

Enab makes no exception, it is such a cool concept and starting with the outside look, to the menu featuring a colorful graphic on the cover and vintage black and white pictures inside, hand painted hand carriage with neatly arranged huge eggplant, potatoes, onions and lemons, the couches in green and white or red and white vertical stripes, the mixed pattern colorful tiles with geometrical and flowery motifs, the purple or flower print armchairs, the small symbols of Lebanon every now and then, chandeliers, the restroom looking like a fairy tale room with hand painted huge flowers on wood wardrobes and princesses on the wall, Cinderella’s mirror and vintage printed pictures secured with clothes hooks to a grill resembling a bird cage.

What makes the best of all houses I’ve seen up and down the streets I walked are the trifore known as the Lebanese windows. Check these pictures out to reevaluate your opinion on Beirut in case you haven’t done it yet.

The Lebanese might have invented the dandy beard trend. Ah, Lebanon! I’ve already planned 5 more trips – and when you’re thinking it’s such a small country.

The waiter wear traditional clothes and the one taking care of me wears even and a traditional moustache. He lends me his Tarboush, the Lebanese traditional hat to take pictures in a private room of the restaurant. I sit in the back side of the restaurant that is actually an immense greenhouse with vegetation both inside and outside. By now everyone is looking or peeping at me.

I order Batata Mahrousseh – mashed potatoes mixed with green onion and olive oil, Eggplant Salad with Pomegranate and Marinated Frogs – pan fried frogs marinated with traditional Lebanese sauce and complete the feast with a Chateau Ksara – Le Vin du Liban rose wine.

The waiter gives me as a present an old bill of 1000 pounds and I receive it happily as I have a collection and this is something you cannot find anymore.

It’s so safe to walk here, I hold my camera and phone out taking pictures of anything I like, especially old Lebanese architecture and street art. And the contrasts between. Old Renaults next to new BMWs.IMG_5886

At Plan Bey, an art gallery nearby I see interesting pieces. Plan BEY | discover our journey through Beirut city, and Beirut city through our journey . On one of those grills that shop owners pull down when they close down there’s a painting of two soldiers with guns and a big peace sign. On a wall: “1st rule of Carousel – Tell everyone about Carousel”. A gas station with graffiti on the walls, Foster&Wiley Casual Dining, I walk without any compass because I don’t need one to be happy. Apparently, I’m on Rue 66. 6 stylized owls painted on a wall next to a parking lot, right next to the highway going to Jounieh. Awesome Beirut. An old Dacia 1310 produced in Romania. Matisse Events on Pasteur Street. I was thinking about some things in life and then I see the window saying: “If you are waiting for a sign. This is it.” Yes, I’m looking for signs, that’s why I travel. I don’t care for fancyness, clothes and brands. All I need is a window seat and a place to stay. A camera and cash.

Beautiful pieces at the L’artisan du Liban. Magasin d’Orient. Bar Nomade. A beautiful sculpture in the middle of the street with three heads and two hand holding. In Place Pasteur a new compound invites to: “Leave compromises behind”.

I jump in a cab ($10 – by the way, you don’t need local money here, anything can be paid in $) and go to Hamra, which is not far away, but the traffic is quite intense, especially in the afternoon. Hop in a taxi, any. The sea is on my right, not too close not too far.

On the side of a flat building there’s a huge street art of a man holding a lamb. Café Hamra. Flashy clothes and lots of fakes, but quality ones. All the bling bling, feather applications, bright colors, huge print and logos, short, tight stuff you can find here.

On the main street of Hamra, near Crown Plaza Hotel, on the corner, there’s a shop called T.O. (search of Leila – her and the other lady treated me so nice, had very good selling skills and were so patient with me) selling evening dresses, abayas and other oriental clothes. I don’t leave the store until I but the most beautiful long butterfly blue dress with Arabic letter embroidered by the neck, on the waist and by the edges of the long sleeves, a velvet long abaya with black applications, also butterfly shape that can be tied on the waist from the inside, so elegant and dramatic and a black, knee long blazer with Berber traditional motifs by the edges and on the back (which already was appraised by everyone in Venice already). It’s exactly what I was searching for a long time and it’s in the direction I’m going to and where I want to be. As a woman, as a person.

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Next stop? A book shop – Librarie Orientale where I forget about myself and my purse and dresses, somewhere between the Lebanese patrimony and Islamic Art sections. I leave with a full Arabic learning guide and some Arabic books for kids and with some lines of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet.             

And now your ship has come, and you must needs go.

Deep is your longing for the land of your memories and the dwelling place of your greater desires; and our love would not bind you nor our needs hold you.

I’m still in Hamra and walk in a fake store (Maxil Mara). It’s decorated so cool and they have the latest Louboutins. I would never buy fake and don’t need the real thing, my values lay somewhere else, but some look so cool, like these over the knee boots or the yellow or green stilettos. Well, one man comes and tells me to follow him and I do, but then I’m thinking what the hell I’m doing. We reach an iron old door and I’m thinking if I should run. But the door opens and what I see behind is just unimaginable: fakes so well done that the look the same as the shop, the limited editions, everything from Vogue. Wow! Still not for me.

I feel secure in Qatar. Security. Which is a different type of feeling safe. I feel stability and purpose.

Beirut Dance Company advertises a show called Things I’m Not and I’m thinking about what I’m not and what I am. Where I am and where I’m heading to. And I’ve created who I am today, piece by piece.

Night time street art. At Laziz I watch the people meeting and I wait for a sign from my friends to make the plan for the night.

I’m meeting my friends who promised to take me to Tabliyit Massaad to try the famous Tablieh Taouk, which is a sort of shaorma cut in slices, served on a wood plate together with hummus, pickles and fries.

More friends and relatives of my friends join the dinner table and one asks me: “Are you aware of the political situation of this country?”. Yes, but I don’t care. What’s meant to be will happen anyway. If tomorrow the war will start and I’m stuck here – hypothesis I thought about – that’s it, it’s meant to be, it’s what I have to live and I’ll accept it. We leave and I stare at Torino Express lights across the street from the restaurant.

Next stop is Junkyard Beirut, another jewel on the nightlife scene of the Lebanese capital. Why junkyard? Because all I made from recycled pieces and materials, but nothing is there by chance. The entrance is through a wagon with a lady in shorts bending down graffiti looking so ghetto. At the entrance, an upside down wood A shaped stair covered in light bulbs. Lebanese subtle elements, graffiti, thousands of bottles on a wall and some other hundreds glued to the ceiling, a confessional – Confessions of a Lifaholic, and a donations box for wine corks, live band and good wine – white this time, but Ixsir, from Basbina area, also in Lebanon, jars with different herbs, paint cans with leftover dried paint glued on the hallway…

Back to The Bohemian for one last drink…

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February 23rd, 4PM

Up on Michel Bustros Street heading to the Sursock Museum located in the Sursock Palace, belonging to the bourgeois Sursock family who was said to have the most spectacular social climb in 19th century. It’s closed today due to a private event, but I’m coming back in summer, so no issue.

Le Hanoi across Soursouk Cafe, so yes, I’m coming – leaving to Vietnam tomorrow.

These streets around here are charming – Sursock Street, Archdiocese Orthodox Street, S. Nicolas Street. Lovely compounds with lots of greenery, the Argentinian Embassy, street art on President Fouad Chehab Boulevard. Lots of Lebanese windows of different shapes. Gilt restaurant with its chairs construction. The Al Amine Mosque reflecting in the Ferrari (Scuderia Lebanon) store windows and the huge face of Rafiq Hariri – assassinated in 2005 next to the now empty St. George Hotel and I’m back Downtown.

Surprise! The area around the Parliament is closed and what I was last year as a lovely peaceful area with luxury stores and restaurants is now almost empty. Heavy blocks encircle all the area and it is surrounded by armed soldiers. Well, these are not something new for Beirut. I try to get in and I’m not hiding my camera, but I’m stopped by security. Crazy as I am, I as why I can’t get in and I wait until I’m let to pass. It’s really as a haunted area. Restaurants closed, having a finger thick layer of dust on the cutlery and cloths still on the table, luxury stores closed. Only a small shop selling coffee and some sweets and food.

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Does this say something about the situation in the country? Of course it does. But at least I have the Najmeh Place (Place de l’Etoile) area all to myself. Just me, the pigeons, the St. Mark Lion on the Generali Building and the clock tower – now Rolex. The prayer of the nearby mosque right next to the Christian churches. Art deco architecture and the meeting point of 7 paths, the Lebanese Parliament, Minister of Finance, Minister of Telecommunications, the Roman Ruins, St. George Greek Orthodox Church and St. Elie Greek Catholic Church.

I find beautiful the Amir Monzer Mosque, a small mosque with jade green cupola, towards the Souks.

I cross the street from the check point (Charlie?) to the Souks and I see they moved the I Love Beirut sign here from the back side, next to the Cinema. I smile because I’m wearing the same dress. Going up street, the architecture get astonishingly beautiful – egallery, Audi Bank.

On the way to Zaitunay Bay I take Park Avenue to admire the art galleries and the high end restaurants – l’Avenue.

The story of my life? I’m in Zaitunay Bay (Olive Tree Bay), the most peaceful port I’ve been to.

“Cause if you like causing trouble up in hotel rooms”

You might not like your job, but do it with love. Fuck! I’m so good at giving advice, when I felt like killing someone every day. But I smile at everyone and the good follows me.

The bistros in the port are simply heaven, so wide, so beautiful, so chic. And I love them most in the morning, while the population is not yet here, at the opening time. The food is good and I respect the tradition of drinking only rose wine. It’s my last morning in Beirut and I’m thinking the first time I was in the city I spent my last morning here.

I’m at Cozmo Café where they have a sushi bar, but I chose to stay outside and look at the huge Lebanese flag close to the Phoenicia Hotel.

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A couple sits somewhere next to me and he’s facing me. She keeps looking at what he’s looking. I know I’m not a sky beauty, but I know I’m intriguing. All alone, independent flare, drinking rose wine and reading Beirut guides, staring at the bright warm February Beirut sun.

Returning to the Souks to look at some old maps of the area and some pictures of how the streets used to look. Back at the design store where it’s written as big as a wall: “Speak a thousand words only eyes can speak” and on another one “Dare to dream with your eyes wide open”. Martyrs’ Monument. In front of it, a tent with a Lebanese flag at the entrance.

Back on Gemmayze Street taking pictures of street art, art galleries, the umbrellas at Oliver’s, the Cuentista, Fairouz

The taxi driver is waiting for me when I return at the hotel and my luggage is already packed. The driver only speaks French and asks me if I’m Japanese. No, I’m not. He plays some Lebanese music and takes one last ride through the city center, gives me a CD with Marwan Khoury, drops me off at departures and I fly to Doha in a plane having an oryx on its tail.

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February 24th, Doha, Qatar

Beirut: It does not matter how beautiful a place is, but how it makes you feel.

If you still haven’t changed your opinion about Beirut, check out what the New York Times editors think about it. Or read this article.

 

 

Read here about my other Lebanese adventures: More Beirut Dreams

I guess my life is a roller coaster. From the hectic traffic of Bangkok to rushing an Indian driver around Doha (when a lady announces me it’s weekend by the phone and the counters are opened until 2:30 PM and not 10 PM, like I thought and I have 50 minutes to do all the online work, find a cab – sometimes in Doha this can take one hour – and get to the other side of the city to pick them up) to get the tickets and permit to travel in my days off from…work traveling. I get in time to the counter, where I don’t appear in the system, I try to reapply at the computers there, but the system fails a few times. The counter closes in 20 minutes, I am tired to the bones, just arrived from Bangkok, haven’t slept fro 27 hours, I am leaving tomorrow to Beirut, but I have no ticket, no approval (from the company), no suitcase and no rest. I let everything in God’s hand and then everything falls into place. The system starts working, I get the permit, the tickets do not need to be picked up because of an option I chose and I leave home in less than 10 minutes. I pack, sleep and wake up fresh and prepared for the amazing trip that was going to follow. I am in my pink dress in the airport watching the vivid activity of the cargo loading, passengers carried in buses, small maintenance cars, refueling cars, engineering trucks, tens of men in fluorescent vests, movable steps. May has been an extraordinary journey and the craziest month of my life. I swam in the hot storm in Tanzania, hugged the lions and went clubbing in Johannesburg, ate Russian food in Red Square in Moscow, discovered the beauty of Phuket, tanned in Doha, explored the crazy streets of Bangkok on a motorbike with my hair and skirt in the wind. I only slept to survive and realized the only constant is change. Especially in aviation. But the month is not over yet. Today I am off from traveling and I am…traveling. To Beirut to see the coast, the cedars and the remains of the greatest empires that ever existed. IMG_5350 On the plane I read the inflight magazine and take notes from an article about Arabic food and spices, write down the following art exhibitions in Doha and make a list of to do things for the following months like applying for US visa and reading traveling journals. I watch a crap new release movie and I write down the only thing worth mentioning: “There’s no nobility in being superior”. The end of May and first two days of June found me in Beirut, a favorite destination I discovered alone. Every morning I woke up seeing the small waves of the Mediterranean splashing in the landmark of Lebanon, the Pigeon Rocks, from my wall size window DSCN6429and hearing the cars hawking (as I got to learn this is a national sport) from my opened balcony, where I have a table and two chairs to watch the sun rise and fall.

Actually, wherever I was in the room the view was spectacular – from the kitchen, getting out of the bathroom, while dressing up or applying make-up. The truth is that the place where you’re staying can change the whole vibe of your vacation.

Many years I chose average hotels thinking I’m only going to sleep there, which is always true for a traveller like me who does not waste time in the hotel. Fair enough, but not for this trip.

Probably Everybody is aware of this because they raised an eyebrow when I’d say I cannot wait for my Beirut trip. Alone! – But what you wanna do there? – Visit the city, sit by the sea, walk and eat local food, see the remains of  the most important empires that ever existed. IMG_5391 They were not to impressed and still did not understand. With no success I told them what a beautiful capital and free city with great clubs, mountains collapsing in the sea, wide seaside walks, mosques and Christian churches mix. That was the image of Beirut I went with, but what I discovered exceeded my expectations by far. Mother didn’t say much about me leaving to Lebanon, a country that brings shivers down your spine when you only pronounce its name (ro: Liban). – Isn’t there war in Lebanon? – No, mum, it’s a nice place. The truth is that I had no freaking clue. Of course, I knew there’s no war, but I hadn’t checked how safe it was, what precautions I should take. I knew it was the most free capital in the area and that was enough for me. Some friends had been there and some lawyer colleagues I had met at The Hague Academy of Private International Law at the International Court of Justice in Hague and I admire were originated here. – But you know, this famous Romanian poet (especially in the communist area, but also until hid recent death, one of my favorite. His poems were mainly transformed in songs that we sing at parties after many glasses of wine. I met him personally in the day my grandfather died) sang people are dying in Beirut. – Mother, both Ceausescu and Paunescu are dead now and the war got over about 20 years ago. What I got to know was that unrest still continued for many years getting at a peak in 2005 when the prime minister Rafiq Hariri was assassinated. IMG_5457 To conclude, Beirut, at least the coast, the hotels area, the downtown and the sightseeing areas are very safe. Very safe! I know I like adventure, but I’m not unconscious and I walked alone until midnight on the streets of Beirut. There are police officers and gendarmes everywhere and you really feel safe. Besides, the people are not suspicious, so there’s nothing to worry about. Yes, I saw a 20 hot blooded young men fight, but that could happen everywhere (I saw the same under the Galata bridge in Istanbul in August and a woman was seriously aggressing a man in front of my hotel in Korea). But let’s start. I am in the airport and this extremely beautiful green eyed officer is questioning me. Purpose of trip, first time, do you have friends. Yes. Yes? Yes! It’s a problem? No… I know I’m suspect, wherever I travelled over the years, I am suspect, I am alone, young, look mature, I am confident, but sometimes act childish. I do whatever I feel and want and that’s suspect. Ok, he takes my passport and disappears. Then he invites me to follow him. I’m in a room with 4 border control officers and another Arab passenger. They are nice and speak English, but I don’t feel at ease. – Do you have a reservation at this hotel? – Of course I do. Here is the information. He calls the hotel, but they say cannot find any reservation. I show the online reservation and the number thereof. He asks about it through the phone. Nothing. He asks about my name. No. – Who made this reservation for you? I had done it before I flew to Bangkok and as I got to realize later. At this moment I knew what was going to happen. I worked on entry visas requirements and applications for quite some time and in depth. For some kind of miracle, the hotel confirmed the reservation and the talk officer started laughing and hung up. The other green eyed officer disappeared somewhere. The tall one said – Hey, tell them you told the officer I have no reservation. What is this? (amply smiled) I told him after how scared the situation made me. He laughed again. I travel a lot. Alone. And I look young and stupid. But I am not and I have a fantastic intuition. So, I trust people, but at the first sign I feel I run. The driver I had talked to before arriving was waiting for me, actually another one he sent who was a nice man, but spoke no English. Thank God for my Arabic lessons. In fact, in Beirut I spoke a lot of Arabic. Idiotic, wrong and not articulate nor conjugated. But the message got through and if I think about the struggle with Korea later that month, I’m quite good at speaking Arabic. As I’m thinking how to continue my story, it comes to my mind that I am crazy, but some things are not to be told. At least not now. A friend asked me what is the secret of having so much fun alone? Well the people who know me are aware of the most important ingredient – I love myself. Then, I plan ahead, I check the maps online, check distances, walk a lot, explore all I can, I’m not cheap on visiting, dining and having a good time, talk to people, ask for their help, listen to their stories. This has almost become a ritual of traveling which I developed more than 10 years ago when I started traveling alone. The airport is not far from the city and the way, like most of the outskirts of capitals is not appealing. What strikes me is the huge curtains that all flats have on the outside to protect them from the sun. They are obviously all different and the overall image is of improvised neighborhoods. But then these are flats not houses. Very contradictory. If something can be said about Beirut is that it is a capital of contrasts. There are chic cafes by abandoned buildings with graffiti – not street art. The driver speaks no English, so I pay attention to the landscape. The air is clean, mountain air which is breathable as opposed to the thick air in the desert, my home. Everybody honks and the traffic is an organized circus. I am in Daura Market, the busiest market in Beirut, a crazy place with all sorts of people. But I don’t know where I am, so I ask to go to downtown and I get in the first bus, where I was shown by a dirty cafe owner speaking English. There are two covered girls with their mother and little sister. They seem to know some English so after a few stops I ask then if this is going to city center. I say stops, because Beirut public transportation is crazy – as the driver smokes and drives slowly, a guy stays in the door hanging by one hand and asking people in shouting his lungs out.

The driver honks like crazy if the people seem not to acknowledge the shouts. So she says I’m in the wrong bus and I get off without paying under a suspended subway. I’m walking by the street and everybody honks. I see another bus heading the opposite direction. This time I use my Arabic and I find out the bus leaves in about 5 minutes. I want to beat myself – not because I am in a totally dangerous possibly situation, I don’t care for that, but because of how frustrated I fell for not speaking Arabic. The driver was cute – and reminded me of the one who is indirectly responsible to me destiny change, someone I met in 2012, in a chili summer by the sea – and was seated in a passenger seat and what I think was a fat controller was smoking seated between the driver seats. As I got to know later, nobody rushes here, everybody smokes, there’s no stress and no problem in deviating from the route of the bus to show me the coast and the best mountain view and take pictures of me with the view by the driver almost stopping the traffic. There are about 20 degrees and it is nice. The style of the city is a terrible mixture in these neighborhoods where I am now. Everything looks like in the 80s and it actually looks like after the war. The flat buildings are old and dirty with huge sun protective curtains. But before that, there was no rush either. It was just me and the driver speaking in my bad Arabic – I doubt his was any academic one. He stopped to have coffee and offered me one, I declined. Then he offered me a cigarette. I declined and he lid one. Then he honked at the coffee shop boy to bring 2 waters and a coffee and change. He came fast. The driver gave me one bottle water and a coffee biscuit he has by the speed changer stick. Then he called the bog again to ask him to write his number in – irony – Arabic numbers, the ones we use and Arabs don’t. Then other people join and he drives with about 20 km per hour staring at me sometimes literally almost crashing in the side of the road. He’s not rushing at all and when passengers complain they’re asked why they don’t take a taxi in the sweet local style. We’re finally at my hotel, I have the money prepared (I don’t know how much it is, but I prepared the biggest bill I saw he is handling with other passengers) and he doesn’t let me go out and we’re alone again. He wants to show me all the coast and I don’t mind. DSCN6427In the most beautiful place, he does not accept my money, I get off and he insists in joining me (man, you’re working! – he didn’t seem to care) and then in taking me back to the hotel which is one hour walk now, but I want to stay so I enter a cafe to make sure he leaves. He was another stranger being kind to me, one that I took the time and patience to communicate with, one that took me exactly to the place I wanted to reach just 1 hour after reaching the country, which, otherwise, I might have only seen second day.

At the hotel, my reservation was not appearing in the system. Again, this extremely nice receptionist found a room for me and upgraded it to a deluxe apartment with sea view with discount, only because I have the job I do, which is yet another advantage next to my never ending chain of benefits at my workplace. Meanwhile all this was settled I was invited in the lounge to have a complementary drink and enjoy the free wifi.

I have some things to arrange urgently and they send me a taxi to follow me around. He drives me past Zeituna Bay, Phoenicia Hotel and further in the city and shows me the important places. The bay is beautiful, but some parts of the city are filled with abandoned buildings with wooden shutters and the flat buildings look miserable. The cedar is everywhere and I imagine there is a big difference between the plentiful and the impoverished. If I had an advice for traveling it would be to give each country a chance and explore it. You might just discover a jewel like Beirut! My first day in Beirut is in a lovely afternoon of the last day of May, which happens to be a weekend day. I change in a quite short simple blue skirt and I go out of the hotel. Alone. Even though it is an Arabic country, people do not look at me too insistent, even though the little girls look at me dreaming – maybe of the freedom that runs through the air in my hair – and men start singing when I walk by. I cross the street from my hotel to get closer to the Pigeon Rocks. There is an opening and I walk on a wild terrain, like a countryside street with some improvised stirs and I start going down to the water which is about 200 m away. There are a lot of people, with children. Some hust watch the water, others brought their cars, parked by the cliffs by the water and listen to music, others are eating, some ride the dody horses and camels in the steep terrain, others try to sell some small crap.

As I get by the water, there are more and more people inviting me to take the boat trip through the rocks. I trust a woman, but she wants the money in advance. Whatever! She tells me it is for the guy and shows me the lofty lighthouse.

The trip costs 20$ and it s worth it.

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The girls shout when I pass i love you and men stumble. I smile at everybody and literally enjoy every breath of mountain and sea air. This place is really contrast all the way. The luxury hotels are 2 minutes walk, but then there’s this.

Here I take my favorite picture of the trip, that picture that for me says 1000 words. Human and sea. Wind, water, sky.

I am filled with excitement as the sun is going down hiding between the waves of the Mediterranean.

The last shades of orange of the sunset I see from the rooftop pool by the sea. DSCN6404After changing in an oriental dress I start walking, what was going to be a 15 km walk down the seaside and back.  IMG_5284 On the wide pedestrian area by the sea the people are walking and evidently feeling great. Some are selling flowers on a thread, which I bought too and wore as a crown.

There are all sorts of people from kids to seniors to coffee boys, teenagers on rollerblades, fanatics and joggers. Others run a bike from Beirut by bike. It is very safe, as I’ve been told. It is clean and the street lamps have movement sensors. Nice restaurants are facing the sea. The music is loud in the cars parked with the windows opened. The men dance and laugh. Some women speak on benches, having that attitude of being worried about something there’s nothing to worry about. Nobody has a sad face. The background noise is completed by the waves hitting the calcareous rocks. Everybody is still honking and sometimes cars drive with the music so loud that everybody pauses their discussions. Older men are wearing suits and well-trimmed mustaches and chic old fashioned back in fashion glasses frames. A bus rides with the lights inside turned on and with music playing and the men dancing sitting down. The girls are pretty, having prominent cheekbones and perfectly dyed eyebrows. The people look free. This is an Arabic country starting with the year 635, but only 60% are Muslim.  You can spot the mountains behind the fog of the clouds. Other men dance from their shoulders and hold hands. The military men are handsome and I don’t know why I feel they all have green eyes and I still see the eyes of the immigration officer. I entered a restaurant that I had spotted since the adventurous ride with the bus. Now it’s already nigh t and the fourth waiter that is called to see the miracle – me, someone speaking English – speaks English and I don’t need to make a fool of myself with my Arabic. I occupy the best view table. By myself two 30 old men play a dice game. The restaurant has fresh fruit and the city inspires me for flavors of orange and strawberry. I get the freshest fresh in the ideal combination. A Carole Samaha song is playing and I eat smooth and real hoummus.

I am thinking about my crazy day in the middle of an outdoors by the street and the sea garden with leaves touching my shoulders almost, about the bus drive, about the ways of Beirut, of the city, about how nothing is accounted. IMG_5541Lady in red is playing now and I remember singing this song with a Lebanese friend and fellow colleague in front of the Library of The Hague Academy of International Law. I’m looking at these flowers and thinking about how I don’t like to receive them in a normal bouquet. For that matter, I don’t think a man ever gave me flowers, maybe just for events. Because I don’t look like the girl that likes flowers. And I don’t. Only if they’re special – flowers in the lounge of a  star hotel wrapped in today’s newspaper, carrots with leaves bought in a market in Vienna where he rented an apartment for us, the flower he drew on his private jet to remember me when we’re not together, flowers in faraway destinations. Otherwise no.

As in all Arabic countries, here coffee is drunk at night. The coffee boys stay in the street and the cars stop to take the cup, they give the small change and continue their way in the lights of the night. I can hear the birds singing.

My connection to this place and the memories from there is so strong that I cannot write well. 1st of June I wake up, wear a colorful dress go to the city centre. now that I got the drill with the bus, I started to like it. A ride with the bus, besides being so cheap to almost being for free, it is so much more interesting than a boring taxi with a polite taxi driver. Again I miss the stop and get off a little further.

By the sea, there’s an ad to a famous car saying adventure – it’s in our DNA. For sure adventure is in mine. IMG_5295 I walk in the posh streets of Beirut’s downtown. Stores are awesome, so fancy and so many. This is a shopping destination that can rival many world capitals. It is not a cheap place and if you pay by card the commission is 30%. Even so, Beirut Souks is amazing. At first, I thought there are more souks, like the one in Doha, with fabrics and Chinese stuff, but apparently it is a place with many outlet stores on more levels with cafes, restaurants, entertainment areas. IMG_5491The architecture is beautiful and the contrast between the columns and the electric stairs that are actually outside linking the fancy stores street to the opened mall area is very pleasant. There are many dresses stores and haute couture stores. The truth is that none does it like Arabs do. This area is friendly and the people are elegant. Everyone smokes and you can drink in public. They offer free wifi and they have polite info desks. There’s even a I love Beirut letters place where everyone takes pictures, right next to a minaret, as you come out from the souks, where I met a big Spanish family to whom I took the best pictures while I spoke to them in their language. I got so excited I forgot to ask them to take a picture of me.

DSCN6448 High end stores employees take the bags to the Maseratis of the customers. There are vertical gardens by diamonds stores and street art. Everything comes with an either sea or mountain view or both. Contrast is everywhere, that’s why, of course I love the city. Beirut is an occidental, fancy, high level, sophisticated destination. IMG_5466In this area of the city roads are wide and very clean and well arranged, with small trees by the pedestrian area, making it look like a small park. I cannot believe how inspired I was to come here. I am at Nejmeh Street and I’m thinking about the famous Law School that was allegedly somewhere under these rocks. Then I remember in a second of my first year of university, the Roman Law course, my fast evolution, the thousands of hours of work and study. How ironic my life is. Now everything seems that it was erased from my path and I have no regrets. I am in Beirut and my job is traveling the world. Yes, I’m a lawyer and I worked quite a lot on quite a few international cases, I studied international law, but there’s nothing more international than this. IMG_5358 The pigeons gather around the tables of the terraces in Najmeh Square. My hair is caressed by the wind and some spiritual mixture in the air.

The people are dressed chic and with taste in this fancy area where the embassies are. Silence and serenity. DSCN6434I walk towards Amin Mosque and I hear the Christian church bells and a few seconds letter the call to prayer from the minaret starts. I enter St. George and I light two candles. One for the death, one for the light of the the way in life. From inside the church I see the mosque of which it is separated by a wall only and a river of blood.  IMG_5397 It is weird to see Christian symbols next to Arabic characters. I encircle the mosque to get inside.

For a second in the black abaya, in the mosque, I forgot where I am.

I am in Lebanon and outside, from the terrace that is the entrance of the mosques you can see the sea.

I sit with my back against one of the four pillars of the mosque which sustain its cupolas.

In the interior there are floral and geometrical motifs or Quran inscriptions, like all the other mosques (representations of Allah and the prophet are not allowed – see the recent and less recent events).  DSCN6442  IMG_5413The cupolas of the mosque are blue as the sea on the outside. In the mosque it is cold and through the arched huge windows I can see the Christian cathedral where I lit two candles…

God does not let you alone, he just tries you.  People are nice to me and confused because I wear a hijab and a short skirt.

Corporations employees smoke outside their sad buildings in their sad black suits with white shirts. I walk on the street and I am handwriting this. They look at me because I write while walking with my left hand. The truth is that they look at me because I am free and it’s quite rare to see someone free walking down the street. I looked for some place to eat, but everywhere it was full of corporations lunch break people, the least thing I wanted to see. So, I walked to two more hours and then saw a restaurant I liked first time I saw it that morning.

This is how I work. I see something and I know. I’m decided that moment. That’s why I take decisions so easily. That’s how I shop, that’s how I chose to move to different countries, that’s how I chose my university. That’s how I’ll get married. I will see and know. The waiters are very nice to me, again. They offer me the best view table again, even though it has 6 seats. DSCN6452I tell them, like all the people I met how much I love Beirut. I’m almost leaving and I talked to a waiter for about 30 minutes sipping my rose wine. I ask for the check, he leaves. I ask for the check again he says it’s on him. I insist, but I end up leaving thanking him. Martyrs’ Monument is revealing in front of me, on blue background – th sea united with the sky. IMG_5460  I walk by art galleries and luxury tailor, expensive decoration and jewelry stores across the military bases patrolled by men with machine guns and what is going to be a Zaha Hadid building to go see the sunset by the pool at 17th floor. IMG_5649 On my way I stop to buy handmade souvenir made of wood from Mr. Abdul’s shop. IMG_5622 …and walk by some restaurants

It is morning and I am in Zeitunay Bay ans watch the boys washing the yachts by a glass of wine an breakfast by the water.

I am looking at the yachts parked from a terrace. There is a wooden platform between the bay and the restaurant/cafes area which runs parallel and encircles the bay.

It is my last morning in Beirut, so I chose this place to gather my thoughts and have breakfast before going back to Doha. A swallow jumps left and right on the grass in front of my table. DSCN6460  IMG_5715 On my left there are the most expensive apartments in the Middle East. One small apartment $30 million. And I thought that The Pearl in Qatar was expensive with $1-2 million per apartment.

However, this is for the wealthy, but one Lebanese told me that during the summer everyone – rich or not so rich – rents a chalet by the sea and has a holiday there. He told me that this is why people are so relaxed.

IMG_5739 When you are in such a beautiful place you realize that all small quarrels of life are so small and meaningless. DSCN6460 So much peace here. Some people are exercising and some have very well toned and tanned bodies. It is almost 10 and it is getting crowded. Some people are so well groomed yet in yachting or beach attire. Same story – everybody is enjoying. In the silence of the morning and the breeze of the sunny wind I’m thinking that I want to be there. Everywhere. To be able to say I had breakfast in Zeitunay Bay, I took a boat through the Pigeon Rocks, I saw the Roman Baths and where the famous Law School was, lit candles in St. George Cathedral and prayed in Amin Mosque, to have shopped in Beirut Souks, caught the sunset on a rooftop pool. To have enjoyed every moment, made friends, tasted the local wine and wonderful hospitality.

We took off over the sea. It is grandiose. Mountains and sea.

I remember the yachts form the port and the serenity there. The silence of mind, the most precious of all. The two covered ladies in black next to the most beautiful black yacht listening to musing while swinging their legs towards the water, seated on the wooden platform by the bay. All I want to see is what I do – the wing of an airplane and the waves of the sea. DSCN6477   IMG_5766 I’m watching The Notebook (I know, I’m pathetic) in Spanish. I’m going back as a better person from a destination that gave me everything. DSCN6309

DSCN6443 DSCN6456 IMG_5388IMG_5745 Arabic music is playing in the Mercedes taking me to the airport, the sea is in the right and pink flowers in my eyes and also on my dress. I for sure belong here. Beirut has been an all-time favorite destination and experience. Even now, after two weeks, after having just come back from Singapore and packing for Cape Town, I still think about it. In Korea I dreamt about it and I advertised it to the people I met since. The lesson is not to label a destination from the first impression and actually, this is a life lesson which applies to places, people and situations.

What I am planning for my next trip in Lebanon? Visiting the rest of the country, the National Museum, the Statue of Virgin Mary in Harissa (the Lady of Lebanon) and Jeita Grotto and go clubbing – I’ve heard Iris, White, Caprice, Cherry are all classy and high level. Gemmayze Street was also recommended to me as a popular street filled with pubs.