The thing with new beginnings is that you can never be quite sure whether taking the risk was worth it until you’re all happy and settled in. I’ve had a lot of new beginnings over the years so I knew that feeling low without any legitimate reason in the first few days, questioning that entire decision and feeling like you’ll never fit in anywhere (pardon me, but drama is in my DNA) is completely normal and will eventually go away. And so it happened during my first few days in Beirut. I’ll spend a month in the city to explore a slice of Middle Eastern culture, gather lots of material, stories, experiences and quite possibly kilos as the food here is simply the best I’ve ever had.

mar_mikhael_stairs_beirut

Day 1: Saying goodbye

I’m waving goodbye to my parents through the windscreen. We’ve just spent two weeks on a family holiday in Italy and got used to being around each other again, so seeing their daughter venturing off on the next adventure in an area they’ve never been to but heard terrible things about can’t have been so great. I took the train to see my best friend in Frankfurt, where we have a two-hour catch up on her balcony, talk about absolutely everything, eat some kebab (my idea), chill out near the Main river, have late night ice cream and I have a deep sense of peace and excitement.

Day 2: Hello Istanbul!

I’m spending the first few hours of that day in my friend’s cafe, organise some last few bits and then shove my backpack towards the airport. First stop: Istanbul. The beautiful city is bathed in the evening sun, with no wifi and five hours to kill. Duh. When the lights of Beirut finally come closer, two hours past the scheduled time, I didn’t really expect my taxi driver to still be waiting (at 4.30am in the morning, c’mon) but there he stood, smiling towards me. He got me to my doorstep within 20 minutes (which is quite an achievement in the dark, considering there are no real addresses in Lebanon and you have to go by landmarks) and refused any tips. Whoa.

beirut_downtown

Day 3: #beirutiloveyou

After five hours of sleep I decided to kick off the exploring. I accidentally landed in Mar Mikhael, the district that’s famous for “hipsters and Western journalists”, well, don’t mind if I do, and found a coffee shop for that first dose of caffeine. The bar tender was amused at my “Just arrived, already loving it!” enthusiasm, offered to teach me Arabic (which generally is more like a lifetime project and barely small-talk material) and absolutely didn’t mind me distracting him from mixing Bloody Mary’s (at 11am). I took a stroll through downtown to get a first feel for the vibe and realised that everyone is more welcoming and chilled out than I could have ever imagined. I’m fast asleep at 6pm.

Day 4: Heat heat heat

Right, so I shouldn’t have gone out during the hottest time of the day yesterday. Today I’m constantly either vomiting or drinking more water, convinced that I’ll never feel better again. Some manic googling doesn’t help either, I hope that I have a heat exhaustion and not a heat stroke. Every second on the street feels like torture so I decide to quit trying, turn the air con on full power and, inspired by the charming 35°C, start planning a trip to Iceland. That is not a joke.

mar_mikhael_beirut

Day 5: Dizziness and falafels

I’m still feeling dizzy in the morning but manage to work through some e-mails, tell people I’m finally here, pick up the keys for my permanent shared flat and do a little photo tour (delicious falafel included) through Ashrafieh in the late afternoon. A sports drink with lots of salt and minerals finally makes the sickness go away. I’m researching hiking trips for the weekend, yoga classes and get into the swing of things. Happy to announce the 24-hour identity crisis to be over.

downtown_cars_beirut

Day 6: Saïda

Today is moving day, luckily my new place is just across the road! One of my flat mates (from England) took me to a farmer’s market straight away where I got a good dose of olives and thyme pastries (I ate five, so that ol’ appetite is back!). I downloaded the Beirut Energy Cut App because well, there’s no energy for three hours daily here and the exact times change every day, browsed in an English-speaking book and mags shop opposite my house and let an artsy Frenchie take me to the port. When we get into the second service car and headed out of Beirut, I turn to her and ask where we’re going. She laughs, did I not tell you? To the port in Saïda (the third-largest city in Lebanon), it’s beautiful and perfectly safe! And so it was. We just went with the flow, made new friends at the town’s market and visited a castle next to the sea and had some amazing seafood afterwards, before embarking on the similarly adventurous journey in a variety of different buses and cars 40km north. We got back at 11pm and the cold shower felt like heaven, and so does the whole country. Happy weekend!

beirut_lifestyle

 

All photos taken by Caroline Schmitt