A Week in Beirut

View from Hotel Concorde, Bliss Street, Beirut

Way back in 2003 I did a trip to Beirut, in Lebanon, where I spent a week. Because it was so long ago this blog post won’t be as detailed as my usual ones. I went there to scuba dive and did three dives during the week, it was more difficult than my previous dive trips to Egypt, Turkey and Vietnam where it was normal to do two or three dives a day. I flew to Beirut on Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, where I spent a night, and then onwards with Middle East Airlines. I chose to go via Istanbul because after Beirut I was to be spending a further 3 weeks scuba diving in İçmeler and then Fethiye on Turkey’s Aegean  coast with the European Diving Centre. On arrival I took a taxi to the Hotel Concorde which is situated on Bliss Street not far from the American University of Beirut.

Beirut seafront from the Corniche

Beirut in August is very hot, it was about 40°C (104°F) during the daytime so it was nice to cool off in the sea during the three scuba dives I completed. My diving was with the National Institute for Scuba Diving (NISD) which had a dive centre in the Beirut Marina Solidere and a shop located in the town near the Hotel Concorde.

NISDs dive boat in the Beirut Marina Solidere

For my first days diving in Beirut we did the dive site called Beirut Sea Front (aka A.U.B. Wall) where we completed a 49 minute dive reaching a maximum depth of 32.8m in water temperatures of 27°C. The second day we dived on the “Alice B” wreck, which was used during the Lebanese Civil War to run contraband and arms before sinking in mysterious circumstances. This dive lasted 36 minutes reaching a maximum depth of 37.1m. On my third and final day of diving here we did Shark Point where a Reef Shark had been spotted the previous day. We did not see any sharks but did see the Jesus statue.

Rebuilding after the Civil War

One day after the mornings dive I wandered along the sea front all the way to the “Downtown” area where the posh shops and restaurants are located. In the afternoon heat it took several hours to get there, when I eventually did I went to one of the restaurants for a sandwich and a pot of tea. Getting there I passed an area that had mostly bullet marked wrecked buildings, a reminder of Lebanon’s Civil War. On another day after diving I went to a branch of Hardees fast food restaurant located a short walk from my hotel on Bliss Street where I spent the afternoon writing postcards and chatting to locals. To get there I had to pass a branch of McDonalds that had barriers and armed guards outside!

View over Hamra district, Beirut

Another day when I wasn’t diving I got up very early and took a taxi to the Coca-Cola bus station (named because it was formerly the site of a Coca-Cola factory) and took a bus across the border in to Syria and toured around Damascus for the day,. On my final night in Beirut I took a taxi to “Downtown” to visit the opening night of Narcosis bar that was owned by one of the divers from the NISD.

Having a chat with Walid Noshie, owner of NISD Lebanon

Beirut was a challenging destination with the very high temperatures and the fact that it is built on a hillside. Bliss Street where my hotel was located was much higher than the Corniche (promenade) and it was necessary in a wheelchair to take a rather roundabout route to get from one to the other avoiding steep roads. The first day I was there I went down a very steep road to the Corniche and later in the day when I was returning to Bliss Street the road I chose was so steep that the pavement to the side was stepped like a staircase, I had struggled to make my way about a third up it when a Syrian Army truck (Syria was an army of occupation in Lebanon then) passed by. When it got to the top of the street it reversed back and two soldiers got out and without a word helped me to the top. Despite the difficulties I am pleased I made the effort to visit Beirut.

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