Travel: Insider's guide to... Beirut
Sunday 28 November 1999
Unlike everything else in the city, Beirut's weather is temperate. Winter is rainy but also pretty sunny - a small umbrella and sunglasses will leave you ready for anything.
What are locals complaining about?
Other locals, mostly. And solid traffic jams from 8am to 8pm every day on the Beirut-Dbayeh freeway linking the eastern and western parts of the country. The high car-to-population ratio and blatant disrespect for traffic laws cause the problem.
Who's the talk of the town?
Big-time millionaire and former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Scandals about embezzlement of government money during his period in office have provided much comic material for TV shows and office coffee-breaks alike.
What's the cool drink to order?
Sambuca shots seem to be popular in clubs. Last year's favourite, Mexican beer, is still popular, but some prefer their beer Lebanese-style, choosing the local Almaza brand, associated by many of its fans with Lebanon itself.
What are people eating?
American fast-food. As in Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Burger King, KFC and TGI Friday's - all recently opened but already almost "native" to young Lebanese.
What's the latest outrageous stuff on TV?
Two parody shows, one called S.L.CHI. (meaning "most bothersome" in Arabic when the initials are spelt out) and the other called Censored in Lebanon, both targeting the unwholesomeness of Lebanese daily reality and politics.
Where won't the locals dream of going?
Any historic or artistic sites. Also thrift shops, such as Akil Brothers, into which locals sneak and pretend they are shopping for the housekeeper if they run into anyone.
Where are locals going that tourists don't know about?
The Basta antique market, adjacent to downtown Beirut, offers, in one compact block, the country's finest selection of antiques. Prices are negotiable, if you're prepared to compliment the shop-owners.
Where are the chic doing their shopping?
A few years back, all roads led to Hamra shopping district, but now newcomers have taken over. Today, Verdun Street is the chic place to shop in western Beirut. As for eastern Beirut, it is Kaslik Street. There's really nothing, given some knowledge and a map, that you can't find in Beirut. Except, of course, price tags that reflect value for money.
What's the trendy place to escape for the weekend?
Right now, with winter coming, the only easy escape is to Faraya ski resort at 1,000m above sea level - but expect to find the whole of Beirut by your side on the slopes, especially college students strictly adhering to class schedules on their snowboards. But if you ask Beirutis themselves where they would like to be next weekend, many will whisper "Cyprus".
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