Not long ago, Christina Tkacik spent her days viewing footage from the far-flung exploits of National Geographic explorers as a film librarian for the Society. “At some point, I knew it was time to have some adventures of my own,” she says. “So I did what anyone would do—I moved to Beirut!” Now a freelance writer and videographer, Christina has been changed by the experience of living in Lebanon’s capital city for the past two years.
“Beirut embodies joie de vivre. No matter what, people [here] never lose their sense of humor, and they never stop having fun,” she says. “If you ask someone how they are, they’ll often respond “Hamdillah” (which roughly translates to ‘Thank you, God, everything is good’) even if they’ve just lost their job or spent four hours in traffic. For a Washingtonian like me with a list of complaints a mile long, the local ethos of gratitude and adaptability has been a real inspiration.”
Here are a few of Christina’s favorite things about the city she’s proud to call home.
Beirut Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them to is the Corniche for a walk along the Mediterranean at sunset. The seaside promenade offers some of the best views and people-watching opportunities in the city.
Spring and early fall are the best times to visit my city because it’s not too hot, not too chilly, and not too rainy.
Locals know to skip the Saturday night traffic on Hamra Street and check out the nightlife in the Gemmayze and Mar Mikhaël neighborhoods instead.
Tripoli Souks is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs.
In the past, notable people like artist-poet Khalil Gibran, singer Fairuz, and author Thomas Friedman have called my city home.
My city’s best museum is the National Museum. Curators there went to great lengths to protect the institution’s artifacts during Lebanon’s civil war.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that people don’t use street names. Locals identify a place’s location by the giant store sign nearest to it. “Big Sale” or “Potato King,” for example.
My city really knows how to celebrate weddings because Beirutis want to share their love with the world!
You can tell if someone is from my city if they say “Sorry?” when they mean “Excuse me.”
For a fancy night out, I try one of the city’s excellent French restaurants, like Couqley in Gemmayze.
Just outside my city, you can visit what is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Byblos.
My city is known for being the “Paris of the Middle East,” but it’s really more like New Orleans.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Beirut.com.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I buy a Nutella crepe at one of the many food stands on Bliss Street.
To escape the crowds, I find a quiet spot on the American University of Beirut campus and a cat to hang out with.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
The dish that represents my city best is fattoush, and mint lemonade is my city’s signature drink. Sample them at Abu Naim and t-marbouta on Hamra Square, respectively.
In the fall you should visit Baalbek, the most amazing ancient ruins in all of Lebanon.
In the winter you should go skiing in Faraya in the morning and then go for a walk along the beach in the evening—the Lebanese dream!
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss Luna Park, a beach-themed amusement park in the heart of the city.
The best book about my city is The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber because it captures the attachment Beirutis feel for their city, even if they’re not physically there. The main character considers moving elsewhere, but every time he goes someplace new, he feels as if he’s left half of himself back in Beirut.