Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Off to Dinner

Not Pear Chocolate Crisp

TRAVEL HERE: NICE TO MEET YOU!

Even though the Embarkation Buffet on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas was a disaster, it was still early in the cruise, so  I gave them a pass.  I blamed us for being so last minute and hoped better meals were ahead.  I was also interested in who we’d end up with for table mates.

Matches Made in Heaven

When it comes to our table assignments, so far we’ve been pretty lucky and thankfully, for this cruise, our luck held.  I’m not much on names, but Couple #1 was a youth pastor and his stay-at-home wife.  Couple #2 was a pair of coffee shop/truck entrepreneurs.  Couple #1 was on their first cruise to celebrate an anniversary.  Couple #2 seemed to be frequent cruisers.  He liked to gamble.

I happen to enjoy formal dining arrangements, a holdover from traditional cruising.  One of the big reasons is because I don’t like training a new waitperson for each meal, but I also like the opportunity to get to meet new people, even if though no one may become my new best friend.

We’ve been through a variety of seating arrangements, from formal, timed meals with assigned seating, to Norwegian’s Freestyle.  My least favorite was Freestyle.  We were traveling with friends, so we really didn’t miss the chance to meet people, but having a new waitperson every night was not so much fun.

Not Exactly Heavenly Food

I was looking forward to our first meal, because first nights at sea are traditionally lobster night.  Not on this cruise.  You could get lobster, but it was over there on the part of the menu where you had to pay a surcharge.  I like lobster, but not enough to pay extra for it.  Instead I had escargot for an appetizer, lamb shanks for my entree and a pear concoction for dessert.  It was a decent meal. 

The escargot was off the charts.  Not even the hint of a complaint in that department.  The entree was OK.  I would have preferred lobster, but nothing wrong with what I had.  Dessert was a disaster. If you ordered a Pear Chocolate Crisp, what would you think you were getting?  Well, probably not what I got – a row of mousse-y squirts with puree’ed pear in the middle of each squirt and a hardened chocolate decoration stuck in the center of the plate.

They really liked mousse-y, pudding-y desserts on this cruise.  Like the Chocolate Sensation they always had in the buffet.  It was kind of a chocolate fluff with a chocolate crumb crust.  If you saw my face while I typed that, you’d know how bad it was.  The Pear Chocolate Crisp was in the same category.  With their penchant for mousse and pudding you might think their Creme Brulee would have been good.  Well, it wasn’t.  It was better than the Pear Chocolate Crisp, but so runny that I would have been embarrassed to call it Creme Brulee.

Instead of beating you up day after day with how bad the meals were, I’ll do some summarizing here.  The Lobster Bisque was awful.  No cream was used in the making of that soup!  Campbell’s cream of tomato soup is thicker and at least as tasty, if not more flavorful.  Two guys at our table would order steaks cooked exactly alike, but only one of the steaks would come out with grill marks on it.  How did they even do that?  The carrot cake was so dry that you could have choked on it.  Each meal was an exercise in how not to cook!  What a disappointment!

As bad as what we were eating was, one of the ladies at our table required  a gluten-free menu and she was having a very hard time.  This was no fad thing.  Gluten made her sick and caused her hair to fall out.  She was not the kind to make a big deal out of it, the way I see some people do.  She was very gracious and appreciative of the efforts expended to accommodate her, but I noticed she would look hopefully at every dish delivered, give it a taste and then quietly push it away.

It was time for bed, at least for me.  Come back next week for the next chapter of our adventure.

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

Eating Good in the Alex Neighborhood

TRAVEL THERE: A FEW BITES

Yes, we did finally find The Fish Market Restaurant, but that’s not where we had lunch.  Let me tell you about our midday meal before getting to dinner.

Return to the Food Court

When Bill was finally able to drag me out of The Royal Jewelry Museum it was past lunch time.  Those big buffet breakfasts came in handy, but eventually you have to eat.  Bill recognized the neighborhood as being the one where the Four Seasons Hotel, Mall and Food Court had been and I found it on the map I was carrying.  We were only a few blocks away.  We’d been exploring new things for hours.  Something familiar sounded good.

We had a nice meal and did a little wandering around in the Four Seasons.  Then we headed outside to find a cab, because we were going to take a look at Montazza, one of King Farouk’s palaces.  Bill was quite excited by the prospect of visiting a favorite childhood memory, but it was a very different place than he remembered.

Montazza

Bill’s memories of Montazza were from the time when Nasser was still in power and it was still being maintained in its former glory.  Now the gardens are sparse and obviously not cared for.  I suppose they run the sprinklers to keep the grass growing.  A different class of people also seemed to be in charge.  Going to Montazza was a special occasion back then.  You dressed up and you behaved appropriately.  Now casually dressed people are spread out across the ill-kept grounds and they think nothing of getting up from their McDonald’s picnic and leaving the trash where it lies.

Still, we walked throughout the grounds and took these pictures.  There is a thin veneer of the former glory, but close inspection shows that everything is about to fall apart.  This is was a very sad visit.  Afterwards we took a taxi back to the hotel, but here’s some images so you can imagine along with us how beautiful it once was.

Snack Time

Remember when we’d gone back to Delices for ice cream the night before.  Well, while he was there, Bill bought some baklava.  I thought he’d eat if after the ice cream, but he didn’t.  I thought he’d eat it for breakfast, but he didn’t.  He waited until we got back from our museum adventures and had it as an afternoon snack.  Yep, that’s him on our balcony taking a selfie.

After snack time came nap time.  After some research we finally found out where The Fish Market was and planned to head that way.

Mitzergana

One Arabic word I know is mizergana.  I’m not sure of the spelling, but I know how to use it.  The evening we went to The Fish Market was mizergana.  Things were just broken and off.  Not anybody’s fault necessarily, but the finely-tuned engine that is our marriage wasn’t doing so well.  The plan had been to grab a taxi to the restaurant, but instead we walked.  I dressed for the taxi, so I wasn’t thrilled.

The Fish Market wasn’t quite what we expected.  Yes there were big ice tables full of fresh fish, but from the description of the place we thought that once you picked your fish, then they’d give you a wide variety of ways to cook it.  Basically you either got fried or grilled.  It was good, but not our vision.

Something else I didn’t expect was a mizergana tummy.  About halfway through the meal I began a series of restroom visitations.  I don’t know if it was the brisk walk to the restaurant, too much strange food or just par for the course.  Whatever it was, for the next hour or so I stayed in close proximity to a toilet.

Our visit to Alex was almost over.  I’d used Bill’s nap time to get us packed up for the road.  Come back next week and learn which attractions we saw before leaving town.

 

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

A Sweet Alexandrian Tradition

TRAVEL THERE: DELICES PASTISSERIE

After our five mile stroll from the Four Seasons to The Cecil, Mr. Bill was ready to get to our room and take a nap.  He suggested we forego whatever surprise I had in store, but I urged him to hang with me just a few minutes more.

Delighting Alex since 1922

Our balcony at The Cecil gave us a jaw dropping view of the Mediterranean Sea, but it also overlooked a lovely little park that filled the block next to the hotel.  In one of my visits to the balcony I’d spied people sitting along the sidewalk on the south side of the park, chatting over coffee and pastries.  Delices didn’t mean anything to me, but since they’d been around since 1922, I thought they must be doing something right.

With the front door to the hotel just steps away, I led Bill to my discovery and was he ever happy.  The pastry store fronts two different streets and inside is case after case after case of amazing looking pastries.  Bill’s desire for his nap disappeared completely as he wandered from case to case trying to decide which treat he would indulge in.  After narrowing it down to a few favorites, Bill gave me the final choice for something to share.  I chose the the chocolate treat above, of course.

Naptime

We took our treasure back to the hotel to enjoy and then Bill promptly went down for a nap.  I don’t do naps very well, so I used the time the way I usually did – updating my travel journal, catching up on social media (when there is wi-fi), doing a few crossword puzzles and reading.

It had been a long day for Mr. Bill.  Museums always tire him and the Bibliotheca Alexandrine had been a humdinger.  We’d had our stressful moments with the rogue hantoor driver and that wild taxi ride.  Then we’d walked five miles.  Quite a day!  Even though I don’t usually manage to take a nap, this time I eventually dozed off to sleep.

Late Night Stroll

When we woke up, we both wanted a little something to eat, but not a full meal.  Bill wanted ice cream and I reminded him Delices had ice cream.  We were out of that room in a flash!

I had on a snakeskin printed lounging set I’d gotten from my Aunt Edie.  It’s perfectly acceptable for wearing out in public, even though that’s not something I usually do.  I’ll wear it down to breakfast or perhaps put it on when I know we’re going to spend most of the day in the car on a long drive, but it’s not my go-to outfit for a stroll around a big city like Alexandria – especially when a peek outside tells me there are more people out and about than there had been during the day.  I  suggested I change clothes, but Bill insisted that all we were going to do was pop over to the pastry store.  I slid into a pair of canvas espadrilles and threw a windbreaker over my outfit.

Yes, we went right over to Delices.  Both of us got some ice cream.  Even though that’s not my usual snack, an ice cream cone sounded fun for our late night adventure. However, we did not immediately head back to the room.

Bill led me off down a side street full of action.  All the stores were open and the sidewalks were lined with pop-up vendors.  You could buy anything from toilet paper to an engagement ring along the street.  Crowds of natives wove between the stalls and the stores, laughing, talking and occasionally making a purchase.

I’d had a moment’s hesitation when Bill veered into the side street.  It was late.  I wasn’t dressed right.  I didn’t know if it was safe.  I could have made all kinds of excuses to scurry back to the hotel, but I’m glad we didn’t.  We got a look at the real Alex without any tourists (besides ourselves) in sight.

Water is a constant challenge in Egypt.  There’s the need to stay hydrated in the desert sun and heat, but you can’t drink anything out of the tap.  To meet this challenge every other store sells bottled water and on every block there’s a rickety wooden stand staffed by a burka-ed grandmother.  We opted for the grandmother every time that we could.  On our way back to the hotel we visited the grandmother we’d chosen to be our vendor in Alex.  We also bought a Coke Zero from her so we could enjoy a little of my nephew’s bourbon.

A sweet ending to an exciting day.  I’ll leave you with one final photo.  More museums are in store for next week.  Come back and visit me then.

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Personalizing Your Cruise’s Foodie Experience

Just one of many desserts

TRAVEL HERE: MORE OPTIONS THAN YOU CAN SHAKE A STICK AT

Last week I shared what we chose to add on to our cheapie cruise, which in the end almost doubled the cheap price that had convinced us to book the cruise, but even at twice the price, cruising is a travel bargain.  We only booked the bare minimum.  Here’s a sampling of what you can get.

Dining Aboard a Cruise Ship

Food is one of the big components of a cruise.  All cruises have three meals a day and all the grazing you can stand available in some format.  The bigger the ship, the more choices you will have.

Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas has the Windjammer Buffet available at most hours.  If you wanted to, you could spend your days in there, eat as much as you wanted.  The Aquarius Dining Room has formal seating and you order from a menu.  It’s not open for as many hours as the buffet, but you can get three meals a day there.  There was also a small short order cafe open pretty much all the time, called the Park Cafe off the Solarium.  Eating at these venues will not cost you a dime.  You can order whatever you want (Well, almost whatever you want.  We’ll cover this later!) and as much of it as you want, without engaging your pocketbook.

Quite frankly, the formal dining room experience is one of my favorite parts of any cruise.  I’m just not a buffet girl.  I like to be waited on and I like my food best when it is served in fine china on linen table cloths.  In addition, the dining room is where you make your cruise buddies on most ships.  You come in from a busy day and share experiences with a group of people you may never see again in your life, but for a week they are the best friends you’ve got.  So far, we’ve always been lucky in our table mates.

Specialty Dining

Early in my cruising career, the choices listed above were all the choices you had on board.  It was just the way it was. Then cruise lines discovered the formal dining room was the very thing which kept some people off a cruise ship.  These potential passengers didn’t want to be forced to make a choice between a casual buffet and dressing for dinner.  They wanted other options.  The cruise lines also found out these potential passengers would be willing to pay extra for said options.  Specialty dining was born.

We did not opt for specialty dining on this cruise.  We had an eye on the budget and the cruise was only four nights.  When a cruise is longer, having some variety in your evenings is a plus.  Besides the specialty dining was a sushi place, a steakhouse and an Italian restaurant – nothing very exciting.  On Norwegian there had been a charcuterie, French food and a restaurant with a Cirque de Soleil type show.  It made sense to do some exploring and we were traveling with our own cruise buddies.

At first, Bill thought he wanted specialty dining on this cruise, but like me, he wasn’t thrilled by any of the options.  We figured steak and some sort of pasta would be on the menu every night in the formal dining room and while we eat sushi from time to time, it’s not one of our favorites.  Besides, this was supposed to be a cheapie cruise.  Why pay for something that is adequately provided for free?

I did do a thorough evaluation of the offerings and the pricing was interesting.  You could enjoy one of the specialty restaurants on one evening for $35-$45 per person.  The more specialty dining you did, the more the price went down per meal, but of course, the total price tag went up.  If you got the premiere specialty dining package you could go to the specialty restaurants for lunch and dinner everyday and the meals came out to almost nothing.  The price included deluxe beverage packages with all the soda and alcoholic beverages you wanted, as well as discounted bottles of wine.  I was very tempted to push for that package, but then I realized I’d be adding hundreds of dollars to our costs for something that was provided free in the dining room.

The whole issue of beverages took the decision making to a whole new level.  Let’s talk about that next week.

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.

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Midnight at the Oasis

TRAVEL THERE: CLIMB ON YOUR QUAD AND DRIVE

Imagine a sheik has invited you to his desert oasis for a banquet.  What would you expect?  What would you wear?  Well, let’s pretend my nephew Ayman is the sheik and I’ll tell you about our night under the stars.

Transportation

For this adventure we had a van, that took us to a place that rented quads to tourists.  Some of the girls wanted their own vehicle but I was content to climb up behind my hubby.  Off we went into the horizon.  In every direction it seemed there were miles and miles of sand, but straight ahead was a mountain and we headed towards it.

As we departed the rental facility, the mountain appeared no further away than the length of a football field, but as we took out across the sand, it seemed to back away from us.  At the same time, it got bigger and bigger and bigger.  The ride was a lot of fun, even if it was a little tame.  We had to line up and follow the leader.  Bill tried to jazz it up a little bit, but was admonished to get back in line and behave.  It was kind of like one of those trail rides where your horse plods along in a rut he’s trodded along for decades. You were imagining galloping along with the wind in your hair and all you got was dirt between your teeth.  On the quad you got wind in the hair alright, but you also got sand in every imaginable crevice.  Still it was fun.

The Oasis

Our destination was no oasis.  I didn’t even see a palm tree – merely a collection of tables in a nook below the mountain.  We were among the first guests to arrive.  We settled around what seemed like an advantageous table and let the evening unfold.  Service was, to say the least, slow.

While I wouldn’t say we were in a hurry, you really don’t want to leave these guys without any entertainment for very long – otherwise they will make it up.  Soon plastic cups and adult beverages came out of the bags some of the ladies had brought along.  As groups wandered in and began to fill the tables around us, our guys started providing some of that entertainment they are famous for coming up with.  Yes, that’s my husband waving the checkered scarf.

Just as night fell, the servers began to pass out platters of food.  It was, in fact, so dark that we had to guess at what we were eating.  While it was not the best food we had in Egypt, it was OK and no one got sick.  Then the entertainment began in earnest.  If you’ve been following this trip on my blog, you won’t be surprised to know there were belly dancers and sword dancers and belly dancers and fire dancers and belly dancers and native music and belly dancers and whirling dervishes.

The best part was the whirlers.  I’d seen quite a few of them by this time and pretty quickly you get down the shared repertoire.  However, these guys didn’t just whirl around on the stage and then go their merry way.  Oh no.  There was a rock ledge right behind the benches we were sitting on and suddenly we had a whirler doing his stuff right next to us.  Yes, it was pretty cool.

When the whirlers were done, the sword dancers came out and shortly thereafter it was time to drive back to the bus.  After our second quad trip, I felt grimy in places I didn’t even know were places.  We crawled onto the bus for the trip back to the hotel, but we couldn’t get into bed until we’d done something about the grime.  Sweet dreams until next week, when we’ll go yachting.

 

 

ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Museums, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

A Museum Sort of Afternoon

TRAVEL HERE: BRIGHTENING AN OTHERWISE DREARY SUNDAY

So I was just about done with my local art museum.  Lately, every time we showed up for an exhibition, we’d look at each other and ask, “Really?”  I had already tossed the most recent renewal of membership letter into the trash, but a still small voice asked, “Do you know what special exhibitions are coming?”  I didn’t, but I assumed they’d be more of the same stuff which had been disenchanting us for a couple of years.  I was wrong.  Berte Morisot is coming!  Berthe’s exhibition won’t be here at least a year, but I couldn’t abandon the museum when they were organizing a fairly incredible exhibition.  Besides, some of the smaller productions on exhibit right now seemed of interest.  So, I renewed my membership and decided to go to the museum as soon as we could.

 All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins…or Not

Arriving at the Dallas Museum of Art on a recent dreary Sunday, I dropped by the information desk to confirm the location of the exhibits I wanted to see.  We only had two hours before closing  – plenty of time to view my wish list, but not if we wandered aimlessly.  What I did not plan on viewing was an installation created in 2016 titled All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins.  I mean that’s the same vintage as the cheap wine in the grocery store.  Galleries are where you go to see the latest in art.  I think museums should focus on more proven vintages that have been laid down for awhile.  Obviously, there are plenty with another opinion.  All the general public tickets had been sold for the day and only my membership would get us a timed appointment for that particular afternoon.

Taking the bait I bellied up to the membership desk to claim my free, timed viewing ticket.  We had half an hour until our slot so we strolled up the concourse.  We’d seen Truth: 24 Fames Per Second and didn’t need a repeat showing.  We’d also been to the latest installation in the Keir Collection several times since April.  We stuck our head in the gift shop and dropped by the small Focus Gallery exhibiting Hopi Visions.  Interesting, but not among our favorite genres, so after a few minutes we were back on the concourse.

My husband likes to touch things, so he detoured into the Center for Creative Connections.  Tagged C3, this is the area where kids of all ages can make art rather than just look at it.  We looked over the shoulder of a few budding artists, handled a few touchable objects and then returned to the concourse.  We were still a few minutes away from our designated ticket time, so we checked out the Barrel Vault.  This area is ground zero for Contemporary and Modern Art, so we don’t usually spend much time here – you know my vintage issues.  However, one of the side galleries had just what I was looking for, Edward Steichen:  In Exultation of Flowers.

Photograph from DMA.com

In Exultation of Flowers

Love a good story?  Back in the Twentieth Century an artist started painting a mural commissioned by some wealthy New Yorkers.  These members of Art’s Inner Circle knew all the best people and had their artist friend paint these friends of theirs lolly-gagging among flowers.  What’s not to love?  One wants to imagine them and their friends draped across art deco furnishing sipping cocktails and discussing the pros and cons of the completed murals – especially the one featuring Isadora Duncan in the nude.  But that’s not what happened.  By the time the murals were complete, the art patrons were in a bit of a financial bind and had to sell the apartment the murals had been painted for.  The murals were never installed and it’s been over 100 years since they were displayed together.

Enter the DMA, famous among art people today for their restoration and conservation abilities.  The DMA was commissioned to work their magic on Mr. Steichen’s murals and as part of the deal, the DMA would display the finished project.  Museum Girl loved this exhibit.  In truth, the gallery was a little small for the seven monumental murals, but they were delightful to behold, so all was forgiven.

The Psychedelic Portion of our Afternoon

My watch said it was time to view the pumpkins, so we headed to a nearby gallery.  Joining the line outside the large white box containing the installation, we listened to the instructions announced by a docent.  We’d have to put our stuff into the cubbies provided.  We’d be allowed inside the installation for 45 seconds, during which time we could take pictures, but we could not trade places with one another once the door was closed, because there was a falling hazard.  Hubby was whispering derisive comments into my ear, predicting how much we were going to hate this.

He was wrong and he was the first to admit it.  The charming time keeper engaged Bill in conversation as we waited our turn and she made all the difference.  Bill stepped in, oooh and aaaahed for 45 seconds and then we erupted into the rest of the museum.  Later he admitted it was his favorite item of the day.  I still prefer the murals, but the installation is worth at least 45 seconds of your life.

Other Things

On Level Two we found Paris at the Turn of the Century.  Featuring a few tidbits from the Posters of Paris exhibition of a few years ago, these small beauties are displayed in a tiny darkened gallery and did not evoke the joie de vivre of the full blown exhibit.  On Level Three was Art and Trade Along the Silk Road.  I’d forgotten that we’d seen it before.  It’s lovely, but we weren’t covering new ground.  From there we went on to the Reves Collection which continues to be one of our favorite things at the DMA, no matter how many times we see it.

From the DMA we wandered to East Dallas to try out Smokey Rose.  Great ribs, great atmosphere and we can’t wait until the weather is better to try out the patio, but the brisket and mac-and-cheese were less than amazing.

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

Charming Sharm

Off to the Desert

TRAVEL THERE: ADVENTURE PACKED DAYS

In Sharm el Sheik I took off my Museum Girl hat and embraced the Egyptian way to vacation.  As far as I’ve been able to discern, there’s not a single museum in the area.  It’s completely given over to entertainment venues and various sports rentals, from scuba gear to dune-buggies.  I can’t give you any real travel hints, because my nephew Ayman planned and booked everything.  I’d just show up in the lobby at whatever time I was told to be there and climb into whatever vehicle had been provided for our transportation.  

A Tiny Drip of Disappointment

View at the Sharm Marriot

The moment I arrived in Sharm I was ready to hit the Boardwalk and Corniche.  Some of my fondest memories of my previous visit were created there.  Each night we’d stroll along a thriving beach scene.  On one side was the beach and on the other was a line-up of amazing entertainment provided by various hotels.  At one venue you’d see a magician, next would be a belly dancer, then a singer, then a cultural variety show, then a comedian, then haunting music by a band of natives, then – well you get the picture.  And food – oh my goodness!  Each restaurant was bustling and at each one the cuisine tasted better than the one before.  I so wanted to re-live those nights of romance and excitement.

When we arrived at our hotel, the one we’d stayed at previously for old times sake, Bill was ready for a nap.  I unpacked our bags and set up the room for our stay.  Then I visited our balcony and enjoyed the view.  We were right by the pool and beyond the pool was the Red Sea.  Along with his nap, Bill was expecting a call from the family to give us the scoop on the evening’s entertainment.

Trying to make the best of a sad situation and really bad hair!

Finally, Bill woke up and initiated the call himself, because I was about to explode.  We’d be joining the rest of the crowd a little later, but first we’d have dinner on the Boardwalk.  The Arab Spring might have improved Egypt’s political situation, releasing them from the tyrannical Mubarek, but it also destroyed Sharm El Sheik.  What had once been a thriving international hot spot was transformed into a ghost town of empty restaurants with an occasional entertainer playing to an empty room. It broke my heart.  The lesser of the pathetic evils seemed to be an Italian joint, but it was bad service and bad food to go with my bad hair!

Let the Fun Begin

Heart-broken we returned to the hotel and went to the hotel portico at the assigned time.  My niece Mirette and her husband Ayman appeared in two different cars and whisked us away to enjoy the night – ladies in one car, guys in another.  Her intentions were good and she took us to a glamorous beach-side restaurant which proved there was some life in Sharm, even if the Corniche had died a brutal death.  Unfortunately, the wait was hours long and there was really no place to wait, so we climbed back in to the car to execute Plan B.

I can’t go on without telling you one very funny thing.  Public transportation and Uber are the way my grand-nephews negotiate the town of Sharm.  When we arrived with Mirette, there were her sons waiting for us.  When we moved on to Plan B, the boys wanted a lift.  They’d gotten themselves to restaurant, but the nearest public transportation was several blocks away and they didn’t want to wait for Uber.  So, since the car was full, Mirette opens up the trunk and they climbed in.

  I had a moment of jealously for this simpler way of life.  I used to live like that.  Cramming a vanload of people into a car, riding in the back of a pick-up truck, sneaking people into the drive-in in the trunk.  That was back in the days when you could legally drive with a cold one in your beverage holder.  That evening we giggled all the way to the bus stop, enjoying the simple pleasure of riding along with passengers in the trunk. Nowadays, America is so safe and politically correct that a simple moment’s pleasure has to be weighed against jail time.

The night was far from over.  Just about the time this Museum Girl is ready for bed, my nieces and nephews are just starting to enjoy the evening.  So come back next week and see where we headed after this.

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

Observed at the Breakfast Buffet

The Mena House
Waiting for Izzat

TRAVEL THERE: MORNING AT THE MENA HOUSE

After the wedding, four of us went to the Mena House, while everyone else went to Sharm el Shiek, a beach town on the Red Sea.    Our nephew and his friend had headed to Sharm as I repacked our luggage the night before and Izzat would be picking us up to take us to the airport.  I regretted leaving the Mena House.  There was so much more of it I wanted to enjoy.  I wanted to laze around the gorgeous pool, enjoy my patio and continue to eat marvelous meals.  We had one more meal to enjoy at their remarkable buffet.

Breakfast at the Mena House

I won’t bore you with the details of yet another breakfast buffet.  I actually got tired of them while I was there.  Morning after morning each hotel had a massive spread of food and I had to walk the not-so-fine line between satisfying my hunger and becoming a practicing gourmand.  I will share an odd situation I observed, however.  On our first morning at the Mena House, Bill remarked on a woman who had piled a plate high with carbs.  He assumed she was gathering her own breakfast and in his opinion she needed to modify her diet.  On the second morning, she was back and I watched her, because I doubted anyone could actually eat the mound of pastries she had gathered up.

Come to find out, she wasn’t serving herself at all.  She gathered up several plates heaping with food on a table and had a bus boy deliver it to her room for her on a large tray.  Of course, I’m wondering all kinds of things, like why doesn’t her family just come down and get their own food, but most of all I felt sorry for her.  I even speculated that her husband was one of the towel wearing pilgrims I’d seen at the airport and wondered if his pilgrim status kept him from making the trip to the buffet.  Whatever the reason, she didn’t have the demeanor of someone who was enjoying their role.  She seemed huddled and secretive.  Her posture suggested she expected to be berated for her performance.  I realize I was imposing my own western ideas on her, but it was not the fact that she was performing this task for her family that bothered me, it was how burdensome the job seemed to be.

I’ve filled a tray at a breakfast buffet for Bill before and taken it back to the room.  It wasn’t a mound of pastries, but I certainly didn’t mind doing it.  I even enjoyed it, smiling as I thought of ways to make the meal more attractive.  When we’re at a buffet together we take turns serving each other.  Each of us will fill our own plate and then if we head back for beverage refills or to get a missed condiment, we always check to see if the other needs something.  Sometimes when we go back for the refill we’ll spot an item that we think the other must have missed and carry it back for their enjoyment.

My silent observation at the Mena caused me to watch for similar situations in the other places we traveled.  I did not see an exact replication of the circumstances with the huddled woman, but I did see echoes of it.  In Sharm I would see tables full of men loudly enjoying their breakfasts.  On the table were large stacks of pastries like the one prepared by the woman in Giza.  Meanwhile the women scurried around preparing individual plates for the men and for the children. Over several mornings I watched one woman and I don’t think she ever got the chance to eat.

I’m all about different strokes for different folks, but one thing really bugged me and it was those huge mounds of pastries.  Each plate seemed to have about 20 pastries carefully stacked on it and there were several plates scattered on the tables.  When the families would leave the table it seemed as if all 20 pastries were still there.  I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to those mounds of pastries.  American hygiene would demand they be thrown away, but I saw so much poverty and want through out the country that I couldn’t help but wish these gorgeous tidbits were in some way passed on to people who needed them.  I couldn’t help but think that they might be taken to the kitchen for recycling on the buffet – so I pretty much stayed away from the pastries.

The red one is mine and the silver one is Bills. Farewell Mena House!

Farewell Mena House

From the buffet we made our way to the lobby and settled our bill.  Our luggage was already waiting for us.  Before long, Izzat pulled under the portico and our next adventure began – and once again it was at the airport!  Come back next week and laugh with me about Egyptian security measures.

Architecture, ART, Museums, TRAVEL

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.