Watching Playtime at Midnight
The re-created Downtown area may lack soul and open spaces, but it's one place where even traditional families can let their hair down. Rebuilt in the wake of wartime devastation, the cobbled pedestrianized streets radiate from the four-sided clock tower at the Place de L'Etoile. Here kids race on tricycles and play with illuminated toy planes late into the night. Being Beirut, armed soldiers watch on, an incongruous yet typical scene. Sip a coffee in Al Sa'a Café and absorb the action.
Indulging in a Full Pampering for a Night Out
Beiruti women -- and men -- take their appearances seriously. Follow them to mural-filled Naiman, Rue Chile, Verdun (tel. 01-787-858), one of the city's best salons. Sip Arabic coffee as your feet are dipped in paraffin wax and your nails French polished. Ladies can ask for a shapely chignon (all the rage), and watch the beautician work wonders in the private make-up room. Guys can slip into the sleek barbershop for a traditional wet shave and a thoroughly modern facial.
Learning to Cook, Lebanese Style
Take home a taste of your Beirut trip with a cooking lesson at Tawlet's kitchen workshop (see "Where to Dine"), where the rudiments of preparing Eastern Mediterranean delicacies are taught. That could mean getting your hands stuck in a mixing bowl while preparing the perfect tabouleh or kneading dough to make delicious mamoul (date cookies). The workshops are taught by visiting cooks from local villages. Afterward, dine with the group on the food you've prepared. Bon appétit!
Sunday Gathering on the Corniche
Sunday afternoons along the Corniche, Beirut's waterfront walkway, is a coming together of city folk of all ages. Elderly religious couples bring their own plastic chairs and nargileh waterpipe; young couples bring their babies and stoves to brew up coffee; teenage rollerbladers with ghetto blasters do their best to stay on their feet; girls in skinny jeans eye the boys, trying to look cool. You'll hear conversations in a unique combination of Arabic, French and English, all in one sentence.
Beating the Beirut Traffic
Beiruti drivers adore the sound of their own engines, and screeching around corners makes everyone king of the road. Multi-lane highways with zero-lane discipline can seem a nightmare to cross, but you can reach the other side in one piece -- even with no visible break in traffic. The key: Cross confidently and allow cars to slow and swerve around you. You'll be pleasantly surprised at drivers' cooperation -- and there's nothing more satisfying than holding your hand up to halt traffic as you march across.
Moving to the Rhythm
Everyone in Beirut loves to dance, especially to Arabic rhythms, from the legendary Lebanese chanteuse Fairuz to contemporary Algerian Rai music. Get into the groove at any bar or club by moving your hips and belly to the music. Study the locals' arm and finger movements, belly flick and hip twist, then join in on the dance floor. And don't think that dancing is just for the women - guys here know how to strut their stuff.
Skiing and Swimming in One Day
In tiny Lebanon, it's just a 45-minute drive northeast from Beirut to the closest ski resort at Faraya. In the season between mid-December and April, the resort offers 42 slopes for skiing or snowboarding. Spend the morning on the slopes, and then if you're still feeling sporty, head back down the steep mountain to Beirut for an afternoon swim in warm Mediterranean waters, followed by an après-ski dinner and drinks.
Munching on Maaneesh
For a late-morning snack, there's nothing better than hot street food served from a hole-in-the wall. The place might look grubby, but this is some of the freshest food around. You can't beat a piece of flatbread smothered with zaatar (a strong herb mix of oregano and sesame seeds) and white cheese, toasted on a griddle, folded and served in a paper napkin. Wash it down with a double espresso in a plastic cup, all yours for mere pocket change.
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