Tag Archives: Restaurant Review

Step Up to Saqqara

TRAVEL THERE: VISITING THE STEP PYRAMID

The Egyptians didn’t wake up one morning and have the perfect formula for pyramid building.  They had hundreds of years of practice before the elegant examples at Giza were built.  (There’s a nick in the Ancient Alien theory!)  At Dashour we saw pyramids of various shapes and sizes.  Their most successful attempts led them to give step pyramids a try and the best example of these Step Pyramids is up the road a bit from Dashour and down the road a bit from Giza at Saqqara. 

Getting There

When we departed Dashour, our military friends didn’t seem quite so intimidating.  They barely glanced at us as we passed by.  Izzat got back on the main road, the one with the dirty canals in the middle, and headed back north.  Zuzu continued to regale us with the history lesson and before long we were at another military installation.  This one was not quite as intimidating, but to a certain extent a little more scary.  The soldiers at Saqqara were a little less serious, but also a lot more careless.  They all carried guns and seemed to be having several different conversations, and in each the guns were being casually waved about as if they were extensions of the gesticulating soldiers’ arms.  I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if someone’s finger slipped a bit.

If you don’t count the threat of wayward bullets, the site seems more tourist-friendly.  In Dashour everything was a street and a parking lot because it was just wide open spaces for as far as you could see.  At Saqqara, there were actual gravel-covered parking lots and roads that looked regularly traveled. 

The Museum

Another tourist- friendly feature was a small museum.  There’s actually a lovely promenade from the parking lot to the museum that looks as if it could accommodate a gift shop, a concession stand and perhaps even a small cafe, but everything was closed down tight and no signs indicated that any of it had ever been anything.  I wondered if there had been more there once or whether they were presently developing it, but Zuzu did not provide that kind of information.  He looked at me as if I’d suddenly begun to speak a language he didn’t understand and shrugged his shoulders.

We grabbed a few pictures and headed inside.  This had to be a recent development, because the interior looked like something you might see in other countries.  It was clean and neat.  The items were advantageously displayed in glass cases and lo and behold, there were placards there to identify the pieces and give a little history.  Pictures were not allowed or I would be glad to show you the lovely facility.  The museum was not large, but I liked it very much.

Wandering the Ruins

Saqqara is a significant archaeological site.  They have found a number of ruins dating to a variety of periods.  Some have been restored.  Some look as if they were once available for viewing, but have been closed up. Some areas are currently under renovation.  Even though the ruins come from different eras they are all very close together.  You can see everything without having to walk very far.

I’d say of the three Pyramid sites, Saqqara was my favorite – not more important than Giza, but more enjoyable.  Each is worth a visit.  If you can convince your guide to do them in chronological order, then kudos to you.  I think that would be an interesting progression, but that guide would not be Zuzu.  He’s going to do Giza first, no matter what.

A Little Entertainment

As if to prove they’d gotten the tourist thing figured out a Saqqara, they actually had a cultural performance!  A toupe of dancers, both male and female, performed energetic renditions of folk dances, brandishing swords, swaying their hips and stomping their feet.  The colors were a little too Hollywood to be traditional, but I appreciated the effort.

The drive back to the Mena house was daunting.  It was five o’clock traffic Egyptian style.  I was appreciating Izzat more and more.  Back at the hotel we did a little exploration, wandering around at will.  We’d been on the official tour and they encouraged us to wander the hotel – so we did.  We also had another fantastic meal, this time at the Khan-il-Khalili restaurant which specialized in Egyptian cuisine.  Back at the room I packed up.  In the morning Izzat would be there fairly early to take us to the airport for the next phase of our adventure.

 

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Dining with Home Chef

Jane Sadek Made Yorkshire Pudding

TRAVEL HERE: THE YORKSHIRE PUDDING MIRACLE

I lost my mom four years ago, but she is so much a part of my life, every day, that you might think she actually lives in my house.  She was my friend, my confidante and the biggest challenge of my life.  In her later years, when preparing holiday feasts had become too difficult for her, one of her favorite things to do in the whole world, was to gather the family for a holiday meal at Lawry’s.  This tradition was not a favorite with my husband, for several reasons.  This is just one of the many situations where I was caught between the two most important people in my life.  Sometimes I sided with Bill, but when it came to Lawry’s, Mom had an edge – Yorkshire Pudding! 

Home Chef Has Yorkshire Pudding?

So, here I am on my tour of meal kit companies and it’s Home Chef’s turn.  One of their choices was Sunday Supper English Roast Steak with Yorkshire Pudding.  I was amazed it was even an option and I doubted it would meet my expectations, but I couldn’t resist it.  Lawry’s isn’t the only place I’ve eaten Yorkshire Pudding, but they certainly did a good job with it.  I confess that as much as I love the dish, I never tried to make it.  I’d looked at recipes and I couldn’t imagine how those instructions could end up being the dish I loved so much.  So here was an excuse to give it a whirl.

Cook Within X 

A little bonus on the Home Chef Recipe Cards is a note to cook a dish within X days of delivery.  I’m food savvy enough to know it’s fish first, then chicken or pork and finally beef, but the little notes on the card remind me – otherwise I would have probably cut right to the Yorkshire Pudding, in spite of what I knew.

Within three days, we were supposed to consume the Parmesan Crusted Salmon, so I made it the first day and was not wowed.  The meal was fine and Bill was content with it, but not me.  I would have enjoyed a little less salad and a little more protein.  Edible, but marginal in my book.  Next up was Seared Chicken with Tzatziki Sauce and Harissa-Roasted Cauliflower and I loved it.  I can’t say it made it to the top of the list, but it was a lot more delicious, in my book, than the salmon. 

Time for Yorkshire Pudding

It was a Saturday night and I recruited Bill to help me with the meal.  He just does steak better than I do, on the stove or on the grill.  Besides, I had my hands full with the Yorkshire Pudding.  I was a little intimidated to see that Home Chef rated this as an “Expert” meal (another little addition to their cards I had not seen elsewhere), but I was determined to conquer it.

Making the Yorkshire Pudding was not as difficult as I thought it might be.  The card warned me of all the possible pitfalls, like not having the pan hot enough or opening the oven door.  I just did what they told me to and voila!  The meal looked so good I pulled out the good china!!

The meal tasted as delicious as it looked.  The beef was sirloin, not Lawry’s prime rib, but otherwise I could have fooled myself into thinking I was back at Thanksgiving dinner with my family.

So, cooking with Home Chef was a lot of fun.  Of the three meals, one was below par in my opinion, one was fine and the third – REMARKABLE!  Next on the list Freshly.  They actually prepare the meal to be micro-waved, so I doubt they will be my final choice, but Bill wanted to give them a try.  Come back next week and see how it went.

 

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The Marvelous Mena House

TRAVEL THERE: AN AMAZING HOTEL

I was predisposed to love the Mena House.  I’d been hearing about it for years and it sounded like my kind of place.  It had historical significance and it was a luxury hotel Bill’s place of birth would make affordable.  Let me tell you about it.

Arriving in Style

 I will admit there is something posh about being delivered to your hotel by a private driver and car.  We pulled up to the security gate to be sniffed by dogs, checked by metal detectors and generally gone over with a fine tooth comb, but our driver handled it all while Bill and I marveled at the Pyramids looming over us.  I thought we’d have a view of them.  I didn’t realize we’d be next door.

The lobby was opulent and we were treated like dignitaries.  Being treated like dignitaries takes a little longer than just being tourists, but it was kind of fun.  We were whisked to our room on a golf cart by a servile employee of the hotel and escorted around our new digs as if they rooms of the old palace, instead of the very comfortable modern room we’d reserved.

A Delicious Meal

Our next stop was lunch.  We wandered across the grounds and found a nice patio restaurant which served food all day long.  The prices were reasonable, the service was attentive and the food was amazing.  The travel gods were shining on us.

A Free Historical Tour

As we lazed about enjoying the view our nephew Steven and his friend John arrived.  They’d fallen for the 8:30 sight-seeing tour I’d rejected.  While they regretted waking up early, they were very happy with their day.  We decided to meet up again soon and see the free historical tour of the hotel I’d seen advertised in the lobby.  The parade of celebrities who have stayed at the Mena House is pretty interesting, but not anything compared to the amount of history that has occurred since it was built in the 1800’s as a lodge for royalty.

The Rest of the Stay

The only problem we had with our stay at the Mena House is that it was too short.  We loved hanging out in our room and enjoying the patio with the great view of the pyramids.  We loved wandering around the hotel and grounds, photographing all the beauty both natural and man-planned.  The service was amazing.  The food was great – whether we were enjoying the free breakfast buffet, having lunch with a view or enjoying a Middle Eastern feast at the Khan il Khalili restaurant (named after the famous Cairo bazaar).

I have a fantasy of returning to Giza some day to see the wonderful museum being built to replace the Cairo Museum and the Mena House would be the perfect place to stay – but I doubt I could ever get Mr. Bill back to Egypt.  The place he has fond memories of growing up in doesn’t exist anymore.

If you’re still hungry for more about the Mena House, watch this video.  If you want to know about visiting the Pyramids, then come back next week.

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Wedding Morning Breakfast at the Fairmont

Quiche at Le Marche

TRAVEL THERE: WHAT I DID ON THE DAY OF THE WEDDING

Waking up in my hotel room, my first thought was, “This is it.  Bassem and Mariam’s wedding day.”  My next thought was a sense of gratefulness that I hadn’t allowed Bill to talk me into a tour on the day of the wedding.  I planned to relax all day.

Back to Le Marche Cafe

When we headed out of the room on our second morning at the Fairmont, there was no question about where we’d have breakfast.   We were going to Le Marche, as much for the delicious food as for our friend, Ahmed. We were momentarily disappointed when Ahmed was not there to greet us, but when we asked for him, the other guy faded into the background and a wide-smiling Ahmed appeared to welcome us back.

We sat down to peruse the menu and enjoyed several chance encounters with family, who passed to and fro in the lobby.  The groom scooted by on an errand, then along came the bride and her mother with a trail of attendants.  The attendants were in charge of the luggage and a rolling rack which was transporting the wedding gown.  Don’t worry the gown was completely covered, so there was no peeking.  Double kisses all around!

Next to arrive were nephew Steven and his friend John.  They decided to join us for breakfast and enjoy the attentions of Ahmed, the new friend of the family.  The meal was delightful.  I ordered a scone and got a second one on the house.  Steven ordered a chocolate croissant and got a Danish to boot.  Bill was delighted by his generous slice of quiche.  John, however, did not have such great fortune with his selection.

John’s Egyptian fantasy meal was a plate of fresh dates and figs.  He arrived a day or two before we did and asked for this delicacy at every opportunity and though he continued his quest throughout the whole trip, I don’t think he found it anywhere.  So much for Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Ahmed was so disappointed to admit he couldn’t provide the plate of dates and figs, but he suggested fruit instead.

John wanted to know how the fruit was presented.  “Is it on a platter or in a bowl?” John asked.  “Whatever you like,” Ahmed assured him.  “Is it a fruit salad?” John asked.  “No,” Ahmed replied, “it is a salad in a bowl.”  That being settled, John decided to see what would appear.

Ahmed roamed back and forth between the kitchen and the table.  Beverages were the first to appear and for awhile it seemed that was about all we were going to get.  Then the orders dribbled out.  First the pastries.  Then a while later, Bill got his quiche.  We were all just about done, when we started making noise about the missing fruit.  Ahmed was contrite in his protestations and assured us the fruit was almost there.

Ahmed, you were a treasure, but the fruit bowl, salad or whatever was a disappointment!  I’m sure any American could have driven to the nearest Kroger, bought some grapes, apples and oranges, returned home to chop them up into a bowl and then delivered them to the family, faster than Ahmed delivered up the same boring bowl from somewhere in the bowels of the Fairmont.  Not even a pineapple slice, no melons, nothing.  Just grocery store fruit!

Going Separate Ways

Bill was still having a difficult time believing I did not want to fill up every moment of the trip with tours and museums, but I was truly new and improved.  When Steven and John suggested he join them for a trip to the Khan-il-Kalili, I had my fingers crossed he’d join them, so I could have some alone time.

The crossed fingers worked.  The guys headed off on their adventure and I created my own spa day.  Come back next week and see how it went.

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Edith’s French Bistro

Edith's French Bistro, Dallas TX, Spot On Images

Beyond Tantlizing

TRAVEL HERE:  BON JOUR EDITH!

I’ve been holding out on you.  In our pre-occupation with kicking off Spot On Images, I haven’t been as faithful as I once was with sharing the delights Bill and I discover as we wander about the Metroplex.  In my defense, we haven’t been quite as adventurous in recent months, because we’ve been focused on kicking off our new venture.  We got a little lazy, returning frequently to old favorites and depending on those ubiquitous chain restaurants.  Recently, we ran into something that was so good I couldn’t keep it to myself.  

My Turn to Choose, As Usual

“Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know.  Where do you want to go?”

Sound familiar?  We say the same thing and more often than not we answer it geographically.  If we’re up north, we’ll go to Watter’s Creek.  If we’re sticking close to home we’ll go to the Rockwall Square.  If we’re in a more central location, like downtown Dallas, Mockingbird Station is a favorite.  Once at one of these areas we wander around a bit until something grabs us.

For this trip we went to Mockingbird Station.  An interesting rotation of restaurants cycles through and we’ve found several favorites there.  Unfortunately many of them have been short-lived flashes in the pan, but we keep trying, because we usually find something good.  It is our sincere hope that this new restaurant will beat the odds.  We love it and we’re sure if you try it, you will too.  So give it a spin and let us know what you think.

This time, when the usual question came up, I chose Edith’s French Bistro.  The name featured three words I love.  “Bistro” suggests an easy-going casual restaurant.  “French” is one of my favorite cuisines.  And Edith?  Well, those who know me well know it was the name of my favorite aunt, certainly a fortuitous omen.  Right on all counts.

Edith's French Bistro, Dallas TX, Spot On Images

Charming Decor

While we were in the mood for an adventure, we weren’t in the mood to break the bank.  Since French restaurants can often come with a high price tag, we tentatively wandered in the door and took a look around.  We immediately noticed the decor wasn’t all that Frenchy.  Tasteful and inviting most certainly, but in a contemporary, fresh sort of way, rather than white tablecloths and intimidating waiters.

Even as we breathed a sigh of relief, the pastry counter caught our eyes and lured us to gaze longingly at the treasures waiting there.  We were greeted by a handsome young fellow who seemed glad to see us.  We’d arrived much too late for lunch and quite early for dinner, so there weren’t many other patrons to distract him.  He told us of drink specials and raved about the food.  It all sounded good, but in truth, we quite liked him and he was the primary reason we stayed.  Well, that and the pastry counter.

Edith's French Bistro, Dallas TX, Spot On Images

Sleek and Modern Space

Tyler sat us in his section and we perused the menu.  Edith’s was hitting all the marks.  Inviting decor, pristine housekeeping, charming waitstaff and a great selection of food.  I liked that the menu wasn’t one of those exhaustive tomes with a million choices and nothing I really wanted.  Instead, there was a two-sided card.  I could have easily pointed at random and ended up with something I would have loved.

Bill opted for the French Dip Sandwich, but I needed some guidance.  As tempting as they sounded, I stayed away from the breakfast options which were available all day and the crepes.  Even though I was excited by the Frenchness of it all, I found myself lost between two not-so-French options.  They had something called a Ghost Burger which sounded heavenly.  Well, maybe heavenly isn’t the exact right word, because Tyler warned me it was spicy, but just thinking about the description makes me hungry all over again.

I landed on the Shrimp Mac & Cheese which Tyler assured me was his favorite dish.  For now, it’s my favorite dish also, but I intend to visit the restaurant frequently and challenge that opinion.  We quizzed Tyler about the restaurant, wanting to know how long it had been there and if there really was an Edith.  I am proud to announce there is an Edith.  She arrives very early every morning to make the magnificent pastries in the refrigerated case.  They not only look remarkable, they taste that way, too.  I know.  I had one of the eclairs and to my delight it was filled with chocolate.  I’m sure it would have been just as delicious filled with vanilla cream, but if you know me you can imagine how the chocolate thrilled me.

When the bill came we were reminded of the friendly prices.  Certainly visit during happy hour (before 7, I believe), because wine by the bottle is half price, but don’t be afraid to go at other times, because the prices are very affordable all the time.  In fact go frequently, because we need to keep this gem around.  As we grilled Tyler about the restaurant and its Edith, we discovered that her husband has a restaurant right across from her, but as much as I’d love to check it out, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to be that close to Edith’s and not eat there.

Come back here on Wednesday, because we’ll be visiting the bride’s home in Cairo on the day before the wedding – one of my favorite events during my entire visit to Egypt!   I wouldn’t want you to miss it.

(BTW – these delicious pictures were taken with a phone.  Imagine what they’d look like if Bill had his “good” camera with him.)

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Baalbak Lebenese Restaurant in the Sonasta Hotel

Marvelous Maggie

TRAVEL THERE: EASTER LUNCH WITH FAMILY

In this particular blog, I’m going to rave about our niece Maggie, but please understand, there is no way we could have had such a great trip if not for all of our wonderful nieces and nephews.  I’ve already told you how glad we were to see Mirette and Ayman at the airport and how our trip was enhanced by Steven and his traveling companion.  The list goes on, but Maggie was my rock.  She guided me through the challenges of gift-buying and what to wear for the wedding and what to pack for everything else.  Her English is perfect, so she’s easy for me to chat with.  She’s also the one who pulled together a perfect Easter Lunch for all the families on the day before the wedding.  Kudos to this sweet, bright, beautiful lady!

Egyptian Customs

I’ll have a lot more to say about this when we actually get to the wedding, but they don’t do marriages exactly like we do.  Rehearsal dinners are not a thing there, for instance, but Maggie wanted an opportunity for all of the family to get together, so from her home in Michigan, she planned a delightful luncheon for the whole group, including a car to deliver us from the Fairmont to the Sonasta Hotel where the luncheon was.

Egyptians don’t do lunch like us either.  My lunch juices start flowing about noon, but Egyptians don’t start thinking about lunch until around 2 and a midnight dinner is nothing too far out of the ordinary, but it’s usually more like nine-ish.  Which brings me to my dining schedule while I was there.

As I’ve mentioned, we usually had a huge buffet for breakfast and according to what we were doing that day, it could be anywhere from very early to nearly 11 AM.  Whatever time breakfast happened, I needed to load up. If we had an early breakfast, chances are I wouldn’t see food again until late afternoon and that afternoon luncheon might or might not be the final meal of the day.

If we had a later breakfast, it really became brunch, and I’d try to avoid a mid-day meal and hold out until that late dinner.  From time to time that meant the application of a little chocolate to my thighs via my mouth, and I tried to keep that to a minimum, but I had plenty of chocolates, thanks to the Ghaly’s beautiful gift.

Most days I was able to keep my intake to two meals, but then something would happen and I found myself eating three feasts in one day, along with some snacks forced on me by an eager hostess.  That I only gained five pounds on this trip really was a miracle.

Lunch at Baalak

Baalak, is a lovely restaurant in the Sonesta Hotel featuring regional specialties – kofta, grilled veggies, stuffed grape leaves, eggplant casserole, macaroni in bechamel, rice, potatoes, grilled chicken – all the good stuff.  However, they only serve dinner.  As I have mentioned, Maggie planned this incredible feast long distance and it was a doozy.

When we arrived I gave the traditional two kiss greeting to everyone and while I wished I could have completed the gifting then and there, this event was to honor the bride and groom, so all I had was their gifts.  The balance of the afternoon was spend around the table enjoying one of the most congenial and delicious afternoons you can imagine.

We are an international family.  We’re spread out throughout Canada, the US and Egypt, but I’ve heard of relatives in Paris and as far away as Australia.  The careers represented range from medical doctor, to teacher, to investor, to stay-at-home-mom, to laundromat entrepreneur, to financier and the list goes on.  The children are beautiful, precocious and indulged.  We are very interesting to ourselves, but probably not to you.

The next day was the wedding, but we’re not there yet! Come back next week for more family fun.

 

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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!

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