Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Our Club Med Home Away From Home

La Nina

TRAVEL THERE: GENEROUS AND GRACIOUS SPACES

Since I’d won our trip to Club Med from CTC Travel, we had no idea what kind of accommodations to expect.  How bad could things be at a five star resort, right?  Still, I’ve usually pored over the available information and carefully selected our rooms to be as economical as possible, while providing what we need.  We made out just fine in what they provided – in fact, better than fine.

The Big Picture

Most of the entertainments and dining facilities are centrally located on the property.  If you go one way from there, you’ll reach the Zen side of the resort.  That’s the more exclusive, adults-only part.  If you go the other way, you’ll find building after building after building of more family-oriented hotel rooms.

Our Accommodations

I can’t speak for the rest of the rooms in any of the other buildings, but I can tell you 662 La Nina is a nice place to stay.  When you enter the door there is a hallway.  On the right is a room with a toilet and next to it is another room with the balance of the bathroom facilities, a huge walk-in shower and a large two-sink vanity.

The view from our front door

On the left side is a huge, and I do mean huge, closet.  Along with plenty of hanging space and hangers, there were two stacks of roomy shelving.  If I would have had my druthers, I would have preferred a dresser with drawers, but that’s just me.  The shelves worked fine.  There was also a shelf all around the top of the closet that was great for hats and such.  There was room for everything and to spare.

The room came with some equipment, a hairdryer, a frig, a coffee maker, an iron and an ironing board.  There’s also free wi-fi, not the fastest in the world, but more than adequate for the usual stuff. The Dominican Republic is on the same power grid as the US, so they had the same kinds of power and plugs as we do.

After you get past the bathroom facilities and closet, the room opened up.  To the right was a nice bed, queen-sized, I think.  It seemed a bit smaller than at home.  To the left was a secondary space with two sofas that could be made into beds.  We didn’t have to guess that this was great for families, a pungent smell told us someone had recently had an accident there.  As soon as we notified housekeeping they took care of it, but they had points taken away for it nonetheless.

The view from our balcony

There was also a nice balcony.  I wasn’t really roomy, but there were two chairs, a table and an ashtry, which we no longer see in America very often.  I spent some quality time out there, but had to be careful to wear socks, because if my ankles were bare, some invisible pest would begin to gnaw on me.

We were very comfortable there.  The rooms are not what I consider luxurious, but they weren’t spartan either.  Nicely, but not opulently furnished – it was a beach resort after all.  We especially appreciated the bonus room.  I’d retreat there in the mornings before Bill woke up and he liked to enjoy his online games there.  We slept well every night without any interruptions.

The Fitbit tells the story

We also walked a million miles or at least it seemed like it!  La Nina was sort of in the middle of the cluster of buildings with rooms.  I’m guessing there is a premium to pay for rooms which were closer to the entertainment section, but there were buildings which would have doubled our steps taken.  I hope they are a bargain.

At the reception area they tell you that you can call whenever you like and a cart will come and transport you back and forth.  On our first day we tested that theory and attempted to grab a ride to our room.  So, had everyone else on the property.  Well, not everyone else, but enough someone elses that we weren’t going to wait – especially when we watched an aggressive group jump on a cart and zoom away, rather than allowing the ladies who had been waiting ahead of us to take it.  In other words, we didn’t plan to fight that battle on a regular basis.  While I did see a lot of carts whipping around the property, it was rare for them to have guests as passengers.  Usually they were toting bags or equipment.

So that’s it for our accommodations.  Come back next week and we’ll go to breakfast.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

First Impressions

TRAVEL BUG TALES: NOT WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR

Like the lyrics of “Both Sides Now,” I find myself fond of illusions.  Yes, I do end up being disappointed from time to time, but what fun I have anticipating things – and sometimes I even get it right.

Welcome to the Bahamas!

I always know in my head how I want things to go and much about this trip was a perfect fit for a young girl’s first international travel – especially on a trip without my family.  Some things weren’t so great. 

Take meals for instance.  I’d never been to an all-inclusive resort, so I didn’t realize I’d be going through a buffet for every meal.  I’m not all that fond of buffets – especially free or all-you-can-eat varieties.  The food was fine at the Grand Bahama Hotel, but standing in line with my tray and dipping up my selections didn’t merge very well with my dreams of elegant tropical meals.

Or take the hotel itself.  The entry area was grand enough.  There was a lovely pool area.  Even the beach was very nice.  However, the cinder block buildings where we stayed were not exactly deluxe accommodations.  The furnishing were serviceable, but not more.  In fact, they weren’t even as chic as what I’d become accustomed to in my parents’ favorite hotel chain – Holiday Inn.  What’s more, we showered with salt water!

Bingo?  Are You Kidding?

We checked-in to our cinder block room and unpacked our luggage.  One of our first assignments was to go to the Adventure Tour desk and pick up vouchers for our various entertainments.  That’s when I realized that the first night’s entertainment was going to be bingo.  BINGO?  Was this some kind of joke?

Other events seemed to be pretty good, a native show, a manager’s cocktail party, a catamaran ride with a beach picnic, etc.  That’s what I came to the Bahamas for.  But bingo?  BINGO? I wasn’t buying it.

I started a rebellion.  First I convinced Debbie and Frances that we were not going to play bingo.  I preferred to stay in my room and take a salt water shower over bingo.  The table next to us at dinner felt the same way and soon we had a large group of people who weren’t going to spend their first night in the Bahamas at any stinking bingo game.

I forget exactly how the logistics went, but it wasn’t too long until we were loading into taxis and limos in front of the hotel.  They drove us through a series of unfamiliar streets.  We paid them for a round trip and told them what time to come back and get us.  You probably know how that went, but we were young and had no idea.  So we were on cloud nine.

The taxis had delivered us to a local bar.  Our group was just about the only patrons and that was sort of disappointing, because we were trying our best to go native.  We ordered up some cuba libres and settled in for a good time. After a while, a band began their first set and soon afterwards the natives arrived.  To our delight they were black.  We were going native!

For the first part of the evening the tourists and the natives kept their distance for the most part, but kids will be kids.  Soon enough, the groups melted into one another and we were all dancing and laughing together.  It really was one of the best evenings of travel I have ever had.

Eventually, it was time to go and our transportation showed up, but they claimed we’d only paid for the first half of the trip and we’d have to come up with X dollars to get back to the hotel.  I forget the price, but it seemed steep and we were just college kids who pooled nickels to get drinks.  Somehow we came up with enough money to pay.

That’s when we discovered we’d only been around the corner from the resort.  All the driving around on the way to the club had been a ruse.  We could have walked to and from the club quicker than we could get to the beach and the resort was on the beach.  We could have been mad, but we decided not to be.  The folks who had played bingo were sitting in the lobby looking miserable and we wanted to be sure they regretted not joining us, so we put on our smiles and wrapped our arms around one another.  We’d only just arrived and we were already having adventures.

Next week we’ll head to the beach, so please come back and join us.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Drinks at Cielo Every Evening & All Day Long

TRAVEL THERE: ROCKING WITH A TROPICAL RHYTHM

When they raise the traffic gate and welcome you into Club Med Punta Cana, you enter another world.  It took me a few hours to slither out of the daily grind and figure that out, but I did.  I was still in a bit of a rush as I hobbled back to our room and then headed out again for dinner, but by

dessert, I was on island time.

Denim and White Night

Dressing for Dinner

Sandra Rubio, my travel agent at CTC Travel, warned me they had themes each night at Club Med.  It wasn’t a have-to thing, but something to add to the fun.  She’d mentioned a pirate night, but if they have one of those at Punta Cana, it didn’t happen while we were there.  Our first night was White Night.  I wore a mostly white top and some white jeans, but if you are into themes, be warned, don’t take any shortcuts, especially on White Night.  Your fellow members have spent a lot of money on gorgeous white sundresses, white linen suits and all things white.

Saturday was Denim & White, Sunday Red & White, Monday Flowers, Tuesday 45 & Fluorescent – then we went home.  The 45 thing requires an explanation, but it can wait.

Meet You at Cielo

Cielo Bar is a large, circular, open air, (wait for it) palm-frond-roofed bar/cafe/coffee shop/living room sort of place that takes central stage in the entertainment section of Club Med Punta Cana.  We were wandering in and out of it all the time.

During the day they had salsa lessons and various games.  The bar was always open for coffee or drinks.  A serve-yourself soda fountain sat at one end of the U-shaped bar.  A very convenient restroom was around the back.  Though we never quite figured out a schedule, there were often snacks available – pastries in the early hours, chips, salsa and guacamole during the day and at night hors d’oeuvres.  Comfortable sofas and lounge chairs hugged the outer edges.

Red and White Night

Most of our evenings began on the white sofas of Cielo.  A live band would entertain the crowd.  We’d try to make conversation with some of our fellow GM’s (Guest Members), but most of them were French.  We grew to absolutely love the French Connection.  We also discovered we weren’t particularly proud to be associated with the other Americans on the property.

We didn’t usually bother with evening hors d’oeuvres, because the fabulous buffet meals kept our hunger at bay, but we would have a drink.  The first night I tried a rum & coke, which was fine, but I’m really a white wine girl and that became my regular.  Bill would get a beer with a tequila shot chaser.  He really was on vacation.

Many of our French friends would arrive at Cielo in family groups, but unlike the usual situation with American families, the children were not the center of attention and they didn’t sit staring into a tablet or phone.  French children of all ages were expected to sit quietly in their seat, enjoying their hors d’oeuvres and sodas, while the adults chatted with one another.  We were very impressed by this.  Temper tantrums and meltdowns just didn’t happen.  Americans are doing something wrong.

Eventually, we’d leave Cielo and head over to Samana, the dinner buffet.  Dinner officially began at 6:30, but the Cielo experience began at 7, so Cielo is where we began our evenings.  Then we’d wander across to Samana.  I’ll tell you about that next week.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Return to the Fairmont

TRAVEL THERE: READY TO GO HOME

This is the scene that welcomed me to the Heliopolis Fairmont over two weeks before.  The lobby hadn’t changed, but we weren’t quite as happy with our rooms.  Yes, that’s plural.  We were in three different rooms before the stay was over.

Hello Mr. Sadek

The Fairmont staff was eager to welcome us back, but before the next few days were over, I bet they were glad to see us go.  “Is there anything we can do to make your stay more pleasant, Mr. Sadek?”  The question was a mistake.  Bill asked for a view of the pool and they gave it to him, but it should have come with a disclaimer.

We were exhausted.  Day after day had been one adventure after another.  We felt as if we’d walked a million miles since we’d last been in Cairo.  The bellman ushered us to our room and along with our luggage.  Bill went to the toilet and I laid on the bed.  I had a bit of a headache, but laying down didn’t seem to help.  A part of me said, “That’s because of the loud music you’re hearing.”

I got up off the bed and looked out the window.  We had a view of the pool alright – a view of the pool and the huge party they were having around it!  elegantly clad Egyptians stood in congenial groups around the pool.  Food and beverage stations were spread throughout the crowd.  And there was music – loud music.  Music so loud that you would have thought that the band was in the room with us.

Bill emerged from the bathroom and I asked him if the noise was bothering him.  In fact it was and a peek out the window confirmed it had only begun.   It was just about sunset and the party was just warming up.

Hello Again Mr. Sadek

Bill confirmed via the phone that the party wasn’t about to wrap up anytime soon.  He may have said a few other things, but since it was in Arabic I can’t tell you what it was.  Maybe this has something to do with why I haven’t learned the language.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  Bill can have an hour long conversation with one of the family members and I get about a 10 second summary.  I also don’t have to know exactly what he says to people when he’s unhappy and Mr. Bill was unhappy.

Bill decided to handle the situation in person and went down to the lobby.  He returned with a bellman who moved us to a room overlooking the other pool.  The noise situation had been unfortunate, but the new room seemed fine.  I didn’t have as much unpacking to do as usual, since we only had one day left, but I set about getting us moved in for this stay.

The next day was one of our favorite touring days and I will tell you about that next week, but first let me tell you about our next night at the Fairmont.

Hello Once Again Mr. Sadek

We had a busy day of sight-seeing and saying farewell to family on our final day in Cairo.  We returned to the room well-fed by Bill’s sister and filthy with the dust of Cairo.  We both took showers and got ready to make it an early night.  We needed to be up around 4 AM.

Bill watched a little TV and I puttered around the room, packing everything except the clothes we would wear, a few toiletries and what we had on our back.  When I finished, Bill switched off the TV and fired up his phone.  Checking Facebook and watching a few videos is a nightly ritual with him.  It was just about 9:45 when I pulled out my book intending to read myself to sleep – which I didn’t anticipate would  take very long.  Just about the time I got comfy, our room was invaded by loud Egyptian music.

A paper tent next to the bed reminded me that it was the evening of the hotel’s Arabian Feast and guess where it was?  At the pool right below our window.  This was not a good thing.

Bill got on the phone again.  This time he was not speaking in Arabic, but I can’t repeat what he said and keep my G rating with WordPress, but basically, he wanted to know what a guest had to do to get some sleep in that hotel.  It’s the first time we’ve ever had to explain what we were going to do in a hotel room.

This time they did not want Mr. Sadek in the lobby.  A committee of management figures and a bellhop reported to the room.  They wanted to move us to a suite, but all those available overlooked the Arabic Feast now going full steam out at the secondary pool.  Bill said he didn’t want a suite.  All he wanted to do was sleep.  So they offered another room, a larger one this time, but that wasn’t good enough for Bill.

He’d just watched me painstakingly set out everything for a quick departure in the morning.  He didn’t want to have to pack up all the incidentals, move them all and then reorganize things once again.  After a bit of negotiating, they offered to let us keep our stuff in this room and just move ourselves over to the other room.

So we all paraded (Bill and I in our pajamas) from a room on one floor to a room on another floor which faced the street.  Bill had been livid, but maintained the presence of mind to bring that beloved bottle of bourbon with him.  Thanks again Shady.

We had a nightcap, which settled us down enough to sleep.  What a way to spend your last night in Egypt.  Next week I’ll recap our final day in the city, but this is one story that all needed to be on one page!

Accommodations, Architecture, ART, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Welcome to The Cecil Hotel

TRAVEL THERE: FADED GLORY ON THE SEA

Ah! Civilization!  Crystal chandeliers, beautiful draperies, crisp linen sheets, thick carpeting.  Welcome to Alexandria’s Cecil Hotel!

So Happy to be There

Izzat pulled up in front of a glorious edifice right next to the Mediterranean Sea and set our bags on the sidewalk.  A bellman appeared and ushered us through a revolving door and the obligatory security equipment.  My mind registered old style elegance in the lobby, but I’d had a long day and was just ready for a decent room.

After the usual front desk rigmarole they pointed us to one of those antique elevators encased in black rod iron.  We rode it to our floor and WOW!  It wasn’t the Fairmont, but to my eyes it was even better.  This was elegance the way it used to be and for my money, I like it that way.  Gorgeous furniture, elaborate urns, ubiquitous crystal chandeliers and a floor that only creaked a little bit.  As we strolled down the thick elegantly patterned  carpet we were impressed with the way the magnificent door to each room was recessed to create a small alcove.

Then we entered our room.  It was small, but so lovely that I didn’t even care.  Of course my first stop was the bathroom and there I found some comic relief.  In the mode of luxury hotels everywhere, the ends of the toilet paper had been folded into a point, but this one was a little off balance.   It was just what I needed.

Moving In

Since we’d be in Alex for several days, I went through the motions of unpacking what we’d need in the way of clothes and toiletries.  As I got us organized for the next few days, Bill was inspecting the room.  He discovered the balcony which overlooked a park and the sea.  He even found the ice bucket and then went on an expedition to locate the ice machine.

In my unpacking, I’d found the bottle of Bourbon my nephew had bestowed upon me and when Bill went for the ice, he also found a can of Coke Zero.  I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a drink quite so much!

The Breakfast Buffet

After a good night’s sleep I was up early and raring to get out to the museum.  The Cecil didn’t have a gym, but we’d be doing a lot of walking, so I wasn’t too worried about it.

Once we were ready to attack the day, we headed downstairs to breakfast.  Yes, it was another buffet, but the space designated for the morning repast was a delight.  Black and white marble floors, large bouquets of fresh lilies, huge windows, antique iron chairs and marble topped tables.  What was there not to like?

I was sick to death of breakfast buffets, but the space was so pleasant that I was able to enjoy the atmosphere.  I was also very excited about the day ahead.  The days of leisure were over and we were going to start in on my long list of museums.  I could not wait! Come back next week and join us on our way to the Library of Alexandria.

 

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Welcome to Dahab Paradise Resort

TRAVEL THERE: A SECOND LOOK AT DAHAB

Okay, this is where I confess that there is actually nothing wrong with the Dahab Paradise Resort.  The real problem was my attitude.  I still say we had no business heading off into a desert the US State Department warned us to avoid, but if we were going to be there anyway, this was a nice place to go.

The Bare Necessities

The Dahab Paradise is a lovely resort, but not in the traditional American five-star sense.  You’re not going to find stationary in your desk drawer or a terry robe in the closet (what closet?).  However, you will find very nice people in a very attractive facility.  The open air lobby looks out on the gorgeous pool.  Beyond the pool is the Red Sea.  Your room will be clean.  Our balcony was a small piece of heaven.  The furnishings are very appropriate for a hotel in the Sinai Desert.  They had a definite Bedouin charm.  In other words, if you’re going to Dahab, stay here.

There’s a very nice open air restaurant not far from the pool.  We had a fine dinner there and the breakfast was spectacular – especially if you are Egyptian or like Egyptian foods.  Personally I love pita, feta and olives for breakfast.  They will even fix up whatever eggs you want, but I’m not very eggy.

Now the bathroom facilities are minimal.  Don’t drink the water and only one of you will be able to be in there at a time.  I couldn’t face the shower and hubby wasn’t crazy about it, but it was functional.

Hanging by the Pool

The Dahab Paradise pool is out of this world.  It looks beautiful and our family had a great time in it.  There are plenty of chaise lounges and umbrellas for those of us who prefer to stay out of the water.  It’s so gorgeous that it’s a little surreal to think, “Here I am in the Sinai Desert and right over there, about 30 miles away is Saudi Arabia.”  The only real problem is the radical Islamist who cause so much trouble are probably even closer.

Once I was over my pout I was thrilled to discover my coloring cards and colored pencils had done their trick.  My grandnephew climbed up into my lap after his dip in the pool and I thought my heart was going to burst.  Even my grandniece, who is a little more stand-offish behaved as though I was on her team.  Of course, we’d be heading back to Cairo the next day and then parting ways until our next chance to get together.

Drinks in the Conversation Pit

After everyone was out of the pool we went back to our rooms to get freshened up, but soon we were back outside for the sunset.  The hotel has a great sunken conversation pit on the grounds with a wonderful firepit.  My nephew Shady moved to the head of the class with a bottle of bourbon.  All these guys are scotch drinkers and I’m not.  So, time after time the rest of the crew would be sharing a nice buzz and I’d be sober as a judge.  This time Shady showed up with a bottle of bourbon and gifted it to me.  Thank you Shady!

Awhile later they let us know dinner was served and we enjoyed a delicious moonlit meal.  That’s one of the picture postcards from the trip seared into my mind, but no one thought to take a picture.  The time in the conversation pit and around the dinner table under the stars were moments words don’t do justice and even a thousand words would not have been able to aptly describe it.   

Next up we’re headed back to Cairo after a quiet morning at Dahab Paradise.  Come back next week to read about that.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Pre-Wedding at the Fairmont

The American Contingency

Travel There: Photos, Metal Detectors and Machine Guns

So it was here, the reason we had come to Egypt.  My nephew Bassem is very dear to both of us and his wedding is just about the only thing that could have convinced Bill to go Egypt.  On the afternoon of the wedding, we left our room at the appointed hour and headed to the lobby for pictures.

Pictures at Four

Family members were told to be in the lobby at four for pictures, but it quickly became obvious that was 4 PM Egyptian time.  The American contingency was dutifully in the lobby by 4:15, but it was a very lonely lobby.  I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the time I spent visiting with the guys, Bill, Steven and John, but in spite of myself, I was wishing I’d had a little more time to solve the electrical emergency.  I had really wanted those tendrils.

All dressed up with somewhere to go.

About 4:45 the Egyptian contingency wandered into the lobby and we were a good-looking bunch.  When everyone was assembled we were marched out onto the lawn to be photographed.  There was a certain amount of frisson, but I blamed it on wedding jitters and a ticking clock.  What I didn’t know was that the bus to take us to the wedding hadn’t arrived yet and there were serious negotiations going on with the hotel about how many guards with machine guns would escort us to the wedding.

Yes, I Said Machine Guns

There was a certain amount of friction throughout the trip about the status of the people in our party.  We were visiting just days after the Palm Sunday bombings, so security was high.  Most of the members of the family were Egyptian, in origin if not in passport, but they considered themselves Egyptian.  Some of the exceptions were pint-sized kids born in the US to Egyptian parents, but they looked just like any kid born to an Egyptian – olive skin, dark curly hair and big brown eyes.  The other exceptions were Steven, John and myself.  We looked like tourists, plain and simple, and American tourists at that.

Even though most of the people in our party considered themselves Egyptian, that’s not how the other Egyptians saw us at all.  To them we were a bunch of foreigners.  The idea of 20 or 30 of theses foreigners traveling by bus from the Fairmont to a Coptic Church created fear and trembling to the hotel’s staff.  They intended to keep their name off the evening news by providing us with protection, and that protection was two guys with machine guns.

On the bus with the groom

To my Egyptians, the armed guards seemed like a red neon arrow pointing to us saying, “Blow this bus up!”  While the photographer tried to get pictures of the whole crew smiling at once, some very tense conversations were going on behind the scenes.  The bus arrived and a compromise was reached.  We’d have one armed guard and his machine gun would stay out of sight unless needed.

The machine gun guy did pretty good.  He looked just like most of the rest of the guys on the bus – dressed in a suit, headed to a wedding.  As we approached the church, he unbuttoned his coat and wrapped his fingers around the gun.  I can assure you that did not make me feel more secure.

Entering the church was just like entering a hotel, museum or other area.  You either put your purse on the table or cleaned out your pockets.  Then you entered the metal detector.  On the other side, someone would rifle through your belongings to be sure that tiny beaded bag didn’t have a weapon in it.  Perhaps they would frisk you for whatever reason they picked out, be it concern or just a random practice.  We stood around on the steps of the church for awhile and then it was showtime.

Come back next week and hear all about it.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

My Ahhhhhh Day

TRAVEL THERE: TAKING IT EASY

After seeing off the guys, my first stop was the laundry.  I was wondering if they’d be able to press my dress and Bill’s suit for the wedding.  Nope, they were closed for the holiday.  That determined a lot of what I’d be doing for the day.

An Hour at the Spa

The spa was on the other side of the pool.  As soon as I exited the building, a nice lady wanted to help me out with my pool arrangements, but I didn’t want a towel, a chair or a cabana.  I was just passing through.

If you’re interested, the spa was quite nice.  I spent my hour on the treadmill,  I actually prefer a recumbent bike to a treadmill, but I wasn’t at home.  There was a nice variety of workout machines and stations, but no bikes, so I made do.  The gym area was neat, attractive and clean, not the cluttered mess of some hotel’s workout rooms and all the equipment worked!  They had bottled water, towels, magazines and other amenities to enjoy.  More than once an attendant checked on me to see I had everything I needed.  High points for the spa.

Those Semi-Wrinkled Clothes

In spite of folding tissue paper in with our wedding clothes, as my mother had taught me to do, when I pulled them out of the suitcase in the wee hours of Saturday night, they looked like a wadded mess.  Late Monday morning all Bill’s suit needed was a little touching up, but my dress was still pretty pathetic looking.  The bodice with all the beads were fine, but that full skirt looked pretty bad and the sheer lace over-blouse was still a mess.  Since attacking it with an iron almost ensured I’d melt some of the sheer chiffon in the skirt, I tried the old traveler’s trick – a steamy bathroom.

I hung the dress and blouse up over the toilet, glad for the commode’s lid, and took a very long hot shower with the shower door open and the bathroom door closed.  By the end of the shower I had a lake on the floor and the room was pretty steamy, but the gown needed more.

I toweled down and put on the fluffy terry robe provided by the hotel.  I made the water from the shower even hotter than I could tolerate on my skin, opened up the hot water tap on the sink all the way and escaped from the bathroom, trying to leave as much steam as I could behind.  I gave it about 15 minutes and then checked on the progress.  The room was all steam, but the dress was still a little wrinkly.  I turned off the water, gave my outfit a good shaking out and then left everything in the steamy bathroom.

As the wrinkles melted, I caught up with my travel journal, spent some time on social media, read a little, did some crossword puzzles and entertained myself with various distractions.  I’d opened the window to the perfect weather outside and was glad the hotel actually had operable windows.  I enjoyed hearing cocks crow throughout the nearby neighborhood and I’m pretty sure I heard a peacock.  Some kind of black birds cackles dominated the sound track for a while, but they moved on.  I’m sure there were traffic noises, but thankfully, faint enough to ignore.  From time to time I’d hear the crash of a metal tray or the sound of something heavy being dropped.  It was pleasant.

A return to the bathroom revealed the steam had all dissipated.  The dress was fine. The over-blouse still needed some help.  The room had a very nice full-sized ironing board with a heavily padded cover which I wished I had at home.  The full-sized iron had markings in both English and Arabic.  I was in business.

The blouse took no time at all, but the suit actually ended up giving me some challenges.  I wished I had put it in the steamy bathroom after all, but now it was too late to start all over.  Just about the time I got it and Bill’s white shirt professional laundry perfect, in walked the man himself.  He was earlier than I anticipated.  Khan-il-Kalilli had been a big disappointment, a dearth of dealers because of the holiday and far too dirty to be enchanting.  They’d found a cafe and enjoyed some down time, too.

Now Bill was ready for a nap and it was time to start on my hair and makeup.  Comeback next week and see what happened next.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Good Morning Cairo

Hookah Anyone?

TRAVEL THERE: MY FAVORITE THING AT THE FAIRMONT HELIOPOLIS

My favorite thing at the Fairmont wasn’t a thing at all.  It was Ahmed, the waiter in the Le Marche Cafe.  Le Marche was my favorite place for breakfast during the whole trip.  Having to face down a buffet every morning actually gets pretty old.  Le Marche was a little a la carte cafe and while the food was good, Ahmed was marvelous!

Breakfast Not Included

Breakfast-included is kind of an Egyptian thing, but since the Fairmont is so Americanized, you could make breakfast-excluded reservations.  And this is a good place to tell you, it is very Americanized.  Except for a few decor items and the over-abundance of Arab-looking staff you could be in a hotel in Middle America for all you could tell from the interior surroundings.

For some folks that’s a recommendation, but not so much for me.  I love my American creature comforts, but I also like them to come in an exotic package if at all possible.  Our next hotel will do just that, but let’s get back to breakfast.

Before we headed downstairs, I dutifully perused one of those huge leather-covered tomes I’d hidden away from us the night before.  With it I got a feel for breakfast possibilities.  Here’s a rundown from the hotel’s website:

Dining choices at Fairmont Heliopolis are truly endless that varies from Lebanese favorites at Al Dabké, genuine Egyptian cuisine at Egyptian Night, authentic Thai delicacies at Lan Tania, modern Chinese specialties at Noble House, authentic Mexican cuisine and fantastic margarita’s at Maria’s, classic Italian cuisine with a modern twist at Leonardo, All-day dining at My Kind of Place, the freshest sushi and sashimi at Saki Sushi Lounge, Indian cuisine at Raj, chill-out outdoor venue at Pizza bar, contemporary international cuisine at Aqua E Luce, French patisserie at Le Marché, fast dining style at Marilyn and pool bar serving light snacks at Blue Lagoon Bar.  

My reading told me we’d end up at Le Marche, but we were having a lazy, late morning, so I wasn’t opposed to browsing the lobby.  We walked past Le Marche and saw My Kind of Place, which had a sign announcing, “Breakfast Performing Here.”  I certainly wasn’t looking for dancing eggs and the sight of a buffet didn’t seem tempting.  Price being one barrier and the number of upcoming breakfast buffets being the next.

Marilyn’s was a Marilyn-Monroe-Themed cafe, but it looked closed right then.  We saw the Thai restaurant, the Mexican Restaurant, the Italian Place and some of the others, all waiting for dinner time.  Continuing through the lobby we happened on Aqua E Luce on the Towers side of the hotel.  They didn’t have a sign telling us breakfast was performing, but there was a buffet, which by the way did seem a little more inviting than the one over in My Kind of Place, if you are ever interested.

We kept on walking and found the Towers Pool.  It had a Pizza Bar and lots of hookah equipment.  Before I left Egypt, I also discovered it was the location for their Egyptian Night, but that story is for another day.  We began to re-trace our steps and found our way to Le Marche, just as I had anticipated, but I hadn’t imagined there would be an Ahmed!

Le Marche – ask for Ahmed!

Le Marche Cafe

Le Marche has a pastry counter filled with delectable treats and we were salivating over them when we were approached by Ahmed.  We confessed to be overwhelmed by our breakfast choices and Bill asked him if there was a menu.  Ahmed and Bill were soon swapping stories in Arabic as I drooled on my own.  Ahmed ushered us to a seat and continued his banter with Bill.

Bill suggested we share one of the croissant sandwiches with turkey and while I really wanted one of those humongous pastries, I acquiesced and asked for the bonus of a Coke Zero.  Bill isn’t much of buying beverages in restaurants, but we had come down without our water bottle, so I got my Coke Zero.  This was treat, not only because it was a splurge to get a restaurant soda, but because most of Egypt has Diet Coke, not Coke Zero and while I’d prefer a Diet Dr Pepper, I prefer Coke Zero to Diet Coke.

Ahmed was polite, solicitous and not at all inappropriate, but he should have just set down at our table.  He and Bill became fast friends in about two minutes.  The two of them chatted throughout the meal.  When we got the croissant sandwich it was delicious and plenty for two.  The conversation was so friendly I was concerned that I might be sitting most of the day.

The Rest of the Hotel

When breakfast was over, we headed out to check out the balance of the hotel.  We found the gift shop, laundry and offices.  Then we found out way out to the primary pool complex, which was extensive.  There were a number of pools, a hookah cafe, indoor squash court and clay tennis courts.  We found a pretty nice playground and gave the fitness center and spa a thorough inspection.  High marks on all counts, including the friendly staff.

We looked at our watches and realized time was flying.  Bill contacted the groom, who was in the salon getting a mani/pedi.  He was about to head over to his bride’s home to transport her to the hotel, but he offered to drop us off at his sister’s place.  That sounded good to me, because I was ready to quit carrying around gifts and start delivering them.

Come back next week for the fun!

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Getting Settled in the Fairmont Heliopolis

The Newer Side of the Fairmont

TRAVEL THERE: ALL I NEED IS A DRAWER!

So by now we’re into the wee hours of the morning, but we’re so wired there’s no hope of sleep, so I start trying to organize the room for our stay.

So How Was It?

To tell the truth, I was a little disappointed.  I expected more from the Fairmont.  Except for the size, it looked good.  Nice carpet and tile.  The furniture and other appointments throughout the room were elegant, but it was a very tight room – like a cabin on a boat.  Holiday Inn Express rooms are more comfortable.

There was barely enough room to walk between the bed and the dresser.  Since Bill and I are thinner than most people, that means it was tight.   A stuffed chair, a desk and an upholstered rolling chair cluttered the rest of the room.  Since we had four pieces of luggage – two full size bags and two carry-ons – what space there was disappeared.

One thing I can brag on was the closet.  It was certainly ample, with a full size iron and ironing board inside.  However, there was virtually no other storage place.  No drawers for your drawers, if you know what I mean.  The dresser was filled with a mini-bar, supplies for the coffee machine and a safe.

Most people would probably think the bathroom was top notch with a bidet and a walk-in shower, but I’m not the walk-in shower type.  I’m a bubble bath type.  So while I could wash my privates with ease, a privilege overlooked at most American hotels, I would have preferred to soak them in a deep tub.

Overcoming Claustrophobia

Once the bellman was gone, I had a moment of, “I can’t stay in this tiny room for three nights!”  I immediately settled myself down and set to making the room manageable.  The first thing I did was banish the overwhelming clutter of reading material the Fairmont had spread across the room.  The leather covered binders and folders were huge and there was a selection of magazines.  There were paper tents to explain my pillow choices, door hangers for room-service breakfasts.  Even the tv remote had a leather cover!  All nice, but perhaps they should modify the size of them to jive with the room.  I’m sure all that stuff looked just right in an expansive suite, but in my small corner of the hotel, they only emphasized the clutter.

The first thing I did was find a corner in which to hide the carry-ons.  They didn’t have any of our stuff in them, only gifts.  I’d need them soon, but not when I woke up.  Next I opened the largest suitcase which the bellman had put on the luggage rack and pulled out the toiletry bags to stow them away in the bathroom.  That portion of the room was more adequately-sized than the rest of the space.  I think one person with a single bag could stay comfortably in the room, but we were a little bigger than it was.

On this trip there was no his-suitcase and my-suitcase.  When they’d lost our luggage before, some of the bags were returned a few days later, but not the ones with my clothes or the gifts.  (This was back in the day when you got two checked bags.)  That’s why the gifts were in the carry-on and we each had half our clothes in both suitcases.  While that proved to be an unnecessary precaution this time around, I sure wish I’d done it last time I was in Egypt.

In the bathroom I found perks I liked.  There were two huge terry robes and two pairs of slippers.  Usually the hotel-provided slippers are uncomfortable-looking contraptions that my feet reject, without even slipping them on.  These were elegant little jobs with the Fairmont logo on them.  I’ve never been clear on whether those slippers are an amenity I’m supposed to take with me or leave behind.  I liked these so well that I brought them home with me and I didn’t even feel guilty, but it helped to find this article.

There were other nice touches.  Sure there was the usual shampoo, conditioner and shower gel, but it didn’t stop there.  Toothpaste, toothbrushes, sewing kit, shower cap, cotton swabs – even a nail file.  I’m proud to report they even had  a razor, which I discovered I needed.  As I write this, I still haven’t found where I misplaced mine when I was fighting the battle of the luggage scale.

One Luggage Rack!

Allowing the wrinkles to hang out of our clothes was my next concern.  That’s when I remembered the carry-ons actually had our evening clothes in them, so I had to retrieve them from the corner and pull out my sequined gown, Bill’s suit and the accouterments.  Yep they were really wrinkled, but we had a couple of days before we’d be wearing them.  I hung them up.

Next I pulled out the clothes I’d need over the next few days, which meant I had to open the other large bag.  Only one luggage rack was provided, so I had to get creative and reorganized the room.  There was a small, but sturdy looking side table for the easy chair in a corner.  I moved the chair to the corner and put my suitcase on the table between the desk and the easy chair.  Finally, I reclaimed some floor space.

Then I pulled out my wardrobe list (something I prepare for every trip, so I don’t have the what-am-I-supposed-to-wear-this-morning moment).  There were a couple of small drawers inside the closet, so I was able to get almost everything I needed for our Cairo stay into the closet and started on making Bill’s life easier.  That’s when the whole drawer for our drawers thing became a challenge.

So, I reorganized the contents of the suitcases.  Turning the suitcase on the luggage rack into Bill’s gave him easy access to what he needed and I moved the balance of my clothes into the other suitcase to be out of the way.  Finally, I could think about sleep – and I did.  Come back next week and see how the next morning went.