Beirut: a lesson in shopping

Did I say how much sweets we get on daily basis?! The company I am working for has rented a meeting room at a nearby hotel and refreshments (twice daily) are part of the deal. There are cakes, crèmes, chocolates you name it and lots of it.

Unlike the top selection of sweets, food is still failing to impress me. I have been struggling for decent lunch.

Also it turns out that smoking is permitted inside. And lots of people are taking advantage of it. And we are not talking normal cigarettes – hookahs are everywhere, smoked by men and women alike. Apparently the law introducing a minimum age for smoking hookahs was only recently passed which means that not so long ago even children smoked. Men also smoke cigars and you know how stinky those can be.

Today I finally managed to get to the sandy beach, the only one in Beirut. The rest are beach clubs, meaning a lot of concrete, reclining chairs, palms trees, luxury and beautiful people. Everything but nature.

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I walked up and down the beach, checked out the chicken pen (on a beach?) on my way and headed back to the hotel to meet Bill for dinner.

Chickens, doves and a peacock on the only sandy beach in Beirut

Chickens, doves and a peacock on the only sandy beach in Beirut

We went to Hamra, one of several shopping streets littered with cafes and restaurants. My first task was to find a shoe shop and buy some soft pads for my new shoes. I had paid £2.50 for a pair in London and was expecting a similar price in Beirut. Little did I know that there’s no such thing as fixed prices here. We walked into the first shop we saw, didn’t see what I was looking for and was about to leave when Bill suggested I just ask. Turned out they had them (not officially on sale) which made it easy for the sales girl to charge me $10.

I think I was so embarrassed that I didn’t dare challenge the price. I paid the $10, fiddled with my change a bit (it was a mix of Lebanese pounds with an unnecessary number of zeros and USD) trying to figure out whether I had been swindled a second time, put everything away and quickly left. I immediately pointed out to Bill that I’d paid too much, at which he smiled and said ‘Welcome to Lebanon!’. That was must first shopping lesson.

We then proceeded down the street until we bumped into a pretty outdoor restaurant serving Lebanese food. I wasn’t sure I’d want another disappointing meal but decided to give it one last try. And a good thing we did! Food was lovely – fresh, flavorsome salad, chicken with wheat and a yoghurt sauce. Yum!

That night the conversation was incredible again! I spent most of the time listening to Bill talking about his work and personal life and all I could manage o say was ‘You gotta be kidding me! You are kidding, right?!’. What an extraordinary man.

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