Sunday, November 28, 2010

From Cairo to Beirut

Riding down to Cairo on a Thursday evening via four wheels is never advisable. You want a train if you are traveling with fewer than four. With that said six of us piled into a van and braced for a long ride. Four hours later of battling traffic and the driver's Best of Bryan Adams CD we made it to our usual hotel, The President in the heart of Zamalek. It was time for a pre-dinner beverage at the Cairo Cellar located in the hotel's basement. A new Indian Restaurant opened over the summer and we decided to give it a shot. Our first clue should have been the lack of an Indian staff but we stayed for the pasty white and bland curry dishes. When the plates were cleared, it was unanimously decided that our meal definitely wasn't Indian. The following statement I'm about to make might come across as a form of prejudice and even hint at discrimination. I'm going to make it a rule that if I'm going to dine at an "ethnic" establishment then the owner, cook, and at least one server should be native to the country they represent. In other words I don't want a non-Cuban making me a plate of Ropa Vieja. When I lived in Alabama, my then wife Janet, her mom, and I were thrift store shopping on the west end and worked up an appetite for Chinese. We passed by a place with an all African-American staff cooking up eggrolls and fried rice. Where on earth have you ever seen non-Chinese operate a Chinese Restaurant?   

After the Indian fare we checked out the Khan al-Khalili for a nighttime shopping adventure. On our way to catch a cab back to the hotel Ana and I debated on which one of these paintings would look best in our apartment. As of yet a decision is still to been made. If we sign a third year contract then I'm pushing for the one on the top left. Sonny thinks it favors me most.

Christine feels that any of the magic and power the Pyramids once had has gone by the way side. Imagine if you didn't have a slew of salesmen leeching on to you trying to hock Chinese made souvenirs. How many times can you say no to a camel ride? Our driver Mohammed said "nothing is ever free" damn straight!

Muslim ladies with a Coors Light cooler, maybe they are keeping their Jimmy Dean sausages cool.

Mohammed drove us back to the Khan as more shops would be open from the previous night. Sonny and Christine scored some goods for friends and family back home. Next destination was City of the Dead (al Qarafa aka "The Cemetery") which is a long grid of enclosed family tombs stretching four miles. The departure from the insanity of Cairo into al Qarafa is quite drastic. Photos don't capture the eeriness the physical presence does, hence I will not be posting any pictures of the few I snapped. We later ended up driving down the narrow paths of Old Cairo.
Friday morning Prayer. Photo by Sonny.

Maybe this is an ironic statement of getting a benign brain tumor from excessive cell phone usage.
Our last supper in Cairo was at Gad. We were served up hearty portions of falafel, fries, hummus, eggplant dishes, and bread. Christine made a couple of falafel sandwiches to take on the road and several days later in Lebanon she was still in possession of them. We stopped off at City Stars Mall en route to the airport. What can you say, it was big and filled with shoppers. Sonny did manage to find the Fulla dolls he was searching for. To learn more about the Muslim-like Barbie chick here .
The above photo is the Razanne doll predating Fulla. "As with the other Muslim dolls, Fulla is kind and generous and loves and respects her friends and family"

The flight to Beirut was pleasant and uncontested. The driver taking us to our hotel was waiting at the gate past customs, that is service. You are pretty much golden entering the country as long as you don't have a stamp from Israel. Our first couple of nights were spent in Gemmayze at the Port View Hotel. Last year when Ana and I arrived the scene was significantly mellower. I get it, you aren't getting laid and you won't anytime soon so you have to be obnoxious and crank your stereo and peel away on your motorcycle. Sonny thought we had landed in some Euro trash neighborhood, I wouldn't have gone that far, it was a weekend night. We stopped off at the Bulldog for a couple pints of Almaza (Lebanese beer). To make matters worse, a girl walked into a bar passing out cans of a new energy drink called "Pussy" I'm sure Sonny's mom wasn't overly impressed. It was time to call it a night.   

There are several ruins sitting between buildings in Nejmeh Square near the Green Line. The Green Line is the road that divides Beirut between the west (Muslim) and east (Christian).  

One afternoon near my school in Alex, there were posters on a mosque depicting The Star of David with the Pepsi and Coca Cola logos. I took a photo of it which soon became a discussion with a couple of the locals hanging about. I asked for the meaning of the poster. One man answered that he didn't like the influence the west had over his country. I can't tell you how much western junk food products packages I see on the streets of Alex and other Muslim countries I've visited. They may hate the west and all but they still love their Micky D's and Twinkies.

Much of the area around Martyrs Square/Green Line area had been destroyed during the Civil War. We wondered how much of the ruins were affected. There are new buildings popping up all over. It is nice to see the city rebuild.

Ottoman Clock Tower still standing after a couple of decades of war.

We made our own walking tour from Gemmayze to Hamra to Piegon Rocks. We saw several reminders of the Civil War with security forces nearby making sure we didn't take any photos. Picture taking is a sensitive matter here.  

Newer building with unusual windows.

A creative solution to bullet holes,  just cover them up with a mural of doves.

In the states we call smoking flavored tobacco from a water pipe hooka, in Egypt it is called sheesha, and in Lebanon they call it nargileh. Well whatever you choose to call it, for $25 you can have it delivered to your home.

Sonny making his first Lebanese friend.

We figured that the import tax on BMWs and Mercedes Benz must be quite low as you see them everywhere.

In Lebanon they feed sheep apples and Egypt they cut their heads off. Happy Big Eid!

Pigeon Rocks on the west side. We enjoyed a lunch of Arabic cuisine overlooking Beiruts main attraction.

Keep out!

Just in case you didn't receive the memo "Falloutboy Roxs"

I'm thinking of a career change.

On the way towards Achrafieh/Ashrafiye through Mar Nicolas. The interesting about Beirut and Lebanon is all  the different ways a neighborhood or town can be spelled. Good luck using a map if you are looking for specifics.

Many of these types of buildings are being fixed or replaced. Ana found an interesting book: Beyroutes-A Guide to Beirut. The books opens with the chapter My City "A guide book is funny in many ways. Funny because you start writing its introduction only when you're about to finish its content." Along with the discussion that Beirut is a land of "small but hard headed refugees" it also includes a guided map to locations where assassinations took place. There is a bonus cut out guide to How to Survive in Dahiya (a Southern Beirut neighborhood). In Dahiya you will find Hizbollah (Party of God) thus making it a favorite target for Israeli missiles.  

Demetrius Cemetery in Achrafieh. It is located across ABC Mall.

Demetrius Cemetery in Achrafieh

Another image of Demetrius Cemetery in Achrafieh. The evening ended with The Greek Film Festival at Metropolis Empire Sofil. The movies were free and open to the public. Little Greek Godfather was first and was on par with watching a movie in Egypt (constant conversations and cell phones ringing). There was an unusual amount of kids in the audience. One kid got a bottle thrown at him for standing up too long, you gotta love instant justice. Between films we stopped at the snack bar and let me emphasize the term bar. I got a glass of wine and Ana got popcorn. Next up was Plato's Academy also staring the same actor from the previous film. We didn't have an opportunity to see the other four films but we figured he might be in those as well. Stay tuned for the drive up north!


  1. You two are a joy! We haven't been to Beirut but, it sure looks and sounds like Egypt. Thanks for all your posting it has reawakened my joy for the expat life. Motivationally inspiring! Tracy and RoxZ

  2. P.S. Good luck on your SD Showing!