Beirut - Sightseeing, dancing and a great night out

Bonjour! That's what you say here for a greeting. And "Yalla, bye" when you leave.
It's one of the great advantages of visiting Beirut: most people speak French and/or English as these languages are taught in school to all children. In addition, some of the younger generation were born outside of the country during the civil war and have come here later.
You will hear many people throw in some words of both languages into their conversations even while talking Arabic.
In most shops French is the preferred language after Arabic. Fortunately I speak both English and French, so communication is easy for me in Lebanon.

So for part two of my big Beirut adventure (part one is HERE), let's look at some more buildings...

When you are alone in a foreign city it's nice to have some place that you can always go to as a save haven. In Beirut this is the Virgin Megastore in the center of town. It's located in a building that used to be the opera house and it's a major landmark.

I loved hanging out on the roof terrace - and using their Internet terminals. The Internet café close to my hotel was a lot cheaper but had a very slow connection and was in a dark little alley, so I preferred to spend the 2 US$ per hour and get a nice atmosphere with my surfing experience.
You won't see many people in my daytime pictues - it's at night that the streets of the city center come to life. The entire area around the Place de l'Etoile is reserved for pedestrians who want to go out to a restaurant, do some shopping and join the General "see and be seen".
Stylish boutiques, some of them aren't even open before 8 PM!
As seen during my daytime walks: lovely Arabic design on a door.
The Romans were here!
And they built their clever floor heating system.
For some reason I thought I had to film Beirut rather than take photographs. Actually, a lot of pictures you can see in this blog are video stills!
Anyway, I thought I might just as well cut everything together since I already have the material:


I also wanted to see more dancers!
My second expedition brought me up a small valley north of Beirut to one of the best known restaurants, the Nahr El Founoun. Its entry was styled like a village place and had various little shops.
In a boutique right by the door they sold used costumes of the restaurant’s dancers for about $ 100 – 250 (the only time that I saw costumes in a shop). But nothing that I would have wanted.
One of the walls in the restaurant was made out of glass - I guess they opened it in the Summer, as well as the ceiling. Behind the glass there were some ancient arches in the valley wall that were illuminated as kind of a background decoration.
A standard in the restaurants seems to be to have an oud player and percussionist before the big show starts.

Even though I was there alone I was served 12 plates and bowls of mezze. They really filled the table and I would not know where they would have placed more persons! It was impossible to eat it all – especially since I was served a plate with 3 kinds of meats later on. Single guests are clearly not the norm here! Most of the other guests were large groups of families or men.
The entertainment program was quite impressing. First they had a band playing alone, then with a singer.

After midnight Baheia performed, a young, pretty dancer that lacked a bit of expression, especially in the beginning.
She was followed by a singer who did mostly Dabke songs which inspired the guests for a little dance or two. And yes, that's a big screen in the background - it's a large restaurant and this way, all the guests can see the action.
One of the highlights was the dancer Suha Al Malak. Not too young but attractive and blessed with an ample cleavage. She did a long, really good show during which she not only used veil and cane but also stood on a darabukka to do some very long shimmies.

I loved their bathroom sign, by the way!

Another possibility to spend the nights in Beirut are the various clubs, mainly on Monot street. But since I was very busy with dance lessons during the day I couldn’t bring myself to visiting one. I needed some sleep after all!

On one of the afternoons I met up with star dancer Amani to interview her about her life and the Lebanese dance scene in General. It was quite interesting to get the Information form her source and I wrote a article about it that was published in a German dance magazine. I also put it on my Website in German.

But back to dancing myself!
I found Rimah through an Arthur Murray franchised dance school. Very glitzy place in a shopping area – which resulted in a high price... Apparently he trains dancers for television. Unfortunately Rimah speaks ONLY Arabic. I think I could have learned a lot more from him if communication had been easier.

I also continued my daily dance lessons with Helena Cremona and added a long drum solo to the program. I think I have never learned so much choreography in such short time. I even had to practice in my hotel room in the mornings to be able to keep up!
Since I was already interviewing everybody, I also had to do it with Helena of course. This article is available in German on my website as well.
All in all this trip was a big success and I was so in love with Beirut that I went back in October of the same year, bringing my friend Katharina with me!
It also resulted in an instructional DVD for Lebanese style dance that I produced myself.