A Travellerspoint blog

Egypt: Aswan: Cracked Obelisks and Dam Boats

May 4, 2011

sunny 105 °F

If you ever take a train in Egypt remember that they run on what is known as “Egypt Time”. So if they say it gets in at 9am that is anytime from 9:30-11am! The seats were fairly comfy but the train bathrooms looked pretty familiar—just like the ones in India. Our English speaking guide Ashrak met us on the train in Luxor and took the 4 hour ride to Aswan with us. We got into town around 11am and were pretty exhausted, dirty and dying for a shower after the night train. Unfortunately our stateroom in the cruise wouldn’t be ready for a few hours so we decided to go visit a couple of the major sites. We’re not sure if it was the exhaustion or what but we weren’t too impressed with either the Unfinished Obelisk or the High Dam in Aswan. Come to think of it. . . Ashrak our guide wasn’t that great either! Most of the obelisks in Egypt came from this site in Aswan. The ancient Egyptians would use basalt rocks to chip out the basic shape of the obelisk. It would later be moved on the Nile in boats to its final destination where the carving of hieroglyphics would be completed. This obelisk was never completed because it cracked in the center.

The highlight of Aswan was definitely the yummy lunch we had at a local spot. They brought out so much food: hummus, babganoush, sautéed okra, beans, salad, soup, and huge pieces of grilled chicken! The last of Ruby’s contact lenses were in her purse which was stolen so we had to go find some in town. This wasn’t as easy as being in LA or NY but luckily after driving around town we finally found a shop with just 2 lenses in the right prescription. Afterwards we hopped onto our Nile cruise ship Emilio—it was not the one that we were originally promised but it was still really nice and modern. The staff brought lunch up to our room immediately. We basked in the air conditioning after showering and enjoyed a relaxing evening on the cruise.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 13:59 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Giza: Camel Rugs, Camel Rides and Claustrophobia

May 3, 2011

sunny 101 °F

The Nile was central to the lives of the ancient Egyptians and the majority of temples were built to have easy access to this river. As we leave Cairo our tour guide Hana stops to give us our first look at the Nile that cuts straight through the center of Cairo . . . and sadly it is polluted! As we drove towards Giza, Hana kept saying that we should be able to see the pyramids by now but unfortunately the air was so polluted that they were hidden behind a thick cover of smog!? We didn’t expect this at all and told her to take us to Sakkara in the hopes that this area would clear up later. Sakkara is the site of the first step pyramid; it has six steps leading to the 7th level (heaven). Sakkara was built by Djoser around 2667–2648 BC. It is situated the exact position between upper and lower Egypt near Memphis (the original capital of Egypt). Sakkara is in the process of being restored so we had the opportunity to watch some of the local workers mining stones from the area to reinforce and rebuild parts that are falling down. Later, the first actual classically shaped pyramid was built in Dashor. Next we went to a museum in Memphis and saw two HUGE statues of Ramses II as well as a sphinx. This sphinx has the body of a lion for physical strength and the head of the only woman to ever rule Egypt: Queen Hatepshut. She preferred to be portrayed as a man to show her strength and to be thought of as equal to the kings. She even had a false beard in most of her images—it turns out that the false beard was really false. Kings (and this Queen) did not actually have beards. They were added to statues to strengthen the neck region of statues to prevent them from cracking at the neck joint so the statue would be preserved for the afterlife.

We’d seen signs for something called “carpet colleges” and Hana asked us if we would like to visit. This is a school for learning how to hand-knot carpets. Anyhow, long story short—Tony has another carry-on because Ruby had to buy a hand-knotted camel hair rug to remind her of the trip . . . and I think she’s missing our “toddler” a little bit! Only our hardcore blog readers will understand that reference :)

As we pulled up to the parking lot of the pyramids we could not believe just how massive they are. There are actually a total of 9 pyramids at Giza. They were mostly built during the 4th Dynasty (circa 2550 B.C). We stand here in awe of these amazing monuments in disbelief of the fact that they were built using nothing more than basic hand tools and manpower. The Great Pyramid for King Khufu was 488 ft high (now 455ft high with an iron rod to show its original height) and consists of over 2.5-3million stones, some weighing as much as 30-50 tons each! These huge stones were brought over from Aswan and Luxor on boats along the Nile. You can tell which one is the 2nd pyramid (King Khafre’s) by its nice polished limestone top. This used to cover all three of the pyramids, but most was stolen over time to use on other construction in Egypt. We indulged in a camel ride to the three Great Pyramids after an impromptu photo shoot at the lookout point of the pyramids. That was fun, hilarious—and as Aunt Lillian says a “rickety rockety ride” that everyone should do at least once. By the way, the largest pyramid is not the one in the middle (that’s the second with the polished limestone top). The second was situated on a hill which makes it look bigger from some angles. After our camel ride we had the opportunity to go inside Hatep-Heres pyramid; we had seen the contents of her tomb at the Egyptian museum yesterday. Ruby is a bit claustrophobic—if any of you are—we do not recommend attempting to enter any pyramids because you have to crouch down into a narrow opening only to arrive at a dimly lit, unventilated space! Khafe’s son Menkaure’s pyramid is the smallest of the 3 Great Pyramids. We explored the area around the Great Sphinx as well.

Afterwards we went to grab a quick dinner and relax before the light and sound show. The show was amazing and gave us an opportunity to review everything we had learned over the last few days. The photos can’t do it any justice but they actually lit up all the pyramids and put a face on the sphinx. It was a little cheesy but educational at the same time. We definitely recommend doing this. In true Tony and Ruby style . . . we booked a night train for Aswan immediately after this crazy day.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11:41 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Cairo: Ancient Egyptian History 101

May 2, 2011

sunny 98 °F

All the Egyptians we’ve meet have been very friendly and more than happy to help, sometimes. . . for a little “baksheesh” or tip. We got the news today that Osama Bin Laden has been killed while we’re here in a Muslim country. We were definitely a bit nervous about the backlash but so far there has been none. Some people have asked our opinions on the whole thing and we keep our answers pretty vague :) We had a good idea about where to go in Egypt thanks to Tony’s Aunt Pat and Sonia’s help. We just decided to walk around Cairo and talk to a few travel agencies about what we’d like to book. Our third try was Khaled at Othman tours and he put together an 11 day package for the two of us for a total cost of $820 including a Nile cruise, all transport, most meals, and personal tour guides for the ancient sites!?! The only thing it didn’t include was admission fees to the sites and alcohol. You know what they say things about when things seem too good to be true so we’ll all see how it works out :)

We had gotten a personal recommendation for lunch so we headed to Felfela for delicious chicken schwarmas. We were the only non-Egyptians in the place! Ruby was politely reminded by a young girl in a hijab that her t-shirt was riding up in the back when she sat down—that was a first! We thought of our friend Loz and her aversion to rotating meats. . . Egypt may not be the place for her! :)

After getting all of that sorted out we were off to the Egyptian museum in Cairo which is housed in a striking pink colored building with ruins on the outside as well as inside. Tony got us an awesome guide, Assam, who was totally thorough in explaining so much of the history. Sadly they don’t allow cameras inside :( We got to see a replica of the Rosetta Stone; the real one is in England. They say Herodotus the Greek wrote the history of Egypt so some of the names are different from what we remember learning in school. He reminded us about the different periods of history in Egypt: the Old, Middle and New Kingdom separated into dynasties 1-30) as well as the Greco-Roman Period followed by the Islamic period.

For mummification the ancient Egyptians would take out the stomach intestines, liver, kidneys and brain and place them into canopic jars. They would leave the heart in because it would be weighed against a feather in the afterlife to determine if the person had been good or bad in life. If it was a heavy heart the person would be sent to the equivalent of hell. They also had a whole exhibit on mummified animals including cats, a crocodile over 18 feet long and even baboons. . .you don’t think we’d make it without seeing monkeys in this country right?! We saw tons of statues of famous pharaohs; one of our faves was the tiniest statue (9cm) of King Khufu for whom the Great Pyramid in Giza was built. This is the only known image/carving of Khufu since his tomb has yet to be discovered. We also checked out the contents of Hatep-Heres’ (mom of King Khafre of the 2nd pyramid) tomb including tons of funerary furniture for her afterlife. It was so uncomfortable looking you’d have to be dead to enjoy it! We didn’t know it but we would actually go INSIDE her pyramid where these things were found.

The highlight though was the contents of King Tutankhamen’s (Tut’s) tomb! He was the youngest king at the age of 9 and died early and suddenly at the age of 19. His is one of the only tombs that had any valuables remaining inside it because normally thieves would loot the tombs. Luckily, King Tut’s tomb was under another tomb and wasn’t ever discovered by thieves. That is until 1922 when it was accidentally discovered. The museum has a collection of his burial masks, nesting sarcophagi, jewelry, and so much more. Everything was gorgeous and so intricately detailed it’s unbelievable. Ruby wishes she could have some of those pieces made for herself . . . too bad she’d have to wait until death to wear them!

After the long day we headed over to El Gad (another local rec) for some of the BEST falafel and hummus ever. It looks like France is not the only country that eats pigeons—add Egypt to the list! We didn’t try it again though :) Afterwards we loved walking through the Khan el-Khalili market, it was really colorful and the shop owners were friendly. By the way, there are definitely mosquitoes that bite out here . . . and Ruby is tasty to them!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11:31 Archived in Egypt Comments (2)

Egypt: Cairo: Taxi to Tahrir Square

May 1, 2011

sunny 30 °F

Our flight was at 2pm so we just lounged around Sharon’s place until it was time to head to the airport. Sharon is a total sweetie and dropped us off to the tube. We were finally on our way. On the flight Ruby LOVED the movie True Grit. The little girl in the movie is one tough cookie :) We had picked out the Egyptian Night Hotel for $25/night in downtown right across the street from the Egyptian museum. The air was warm and distinctively smelled of spices as we walked out of the airport, Ruby liked it right away. We negotiated the taxi price down from 150 to 90 Egyptian pounds and told him where to go; he said he knew exactly where it was. On the 30 min drive we were struck by how modern Cairo is; not what we were expecting at all. There are freeways with overpasses, huge billboards with ads for American brands, and just about every store we have in the U.S. The driver took us into downtown and tried to drop us off in the middle of Tahrir Square saying this was downtown. Of course we were more than a little nervous because this was the epicenter of the protests against Mubarak a few months back. We refused to get out of the taxi until he took us to our hotel so he had to find someone who spoke better English and that guy hopped in the taxi and directed the driver to our hotel.

At first we were a little sketched out by the appearance of the hotel, it’s in a dark alley and you have to go up to the 5th floor to reception. We also saw this in Mumbai and Thailand so we just decided to check it out. We actually had a suite with a balcony, it was beautiful and clean, no complaints except for the traffic noise since we were in the middle of downtown and Egyptians love to honk! :) The staff was super helpful and even gave us a travel book for Egypt and another for Europe (our next destinations). We hadn’t prebooked anything and figured we would get a good night’s rest and figured it out in the morning.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:25 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

England: London: Sharon to the Rescue with Secret Cinema

April 30, 2011

semi-overcast 68 °F

I don’t know how it happened but even after unloading what looked like 4 bags worth of stuff we’re still carrying 4 bags? At least Tony didn’t have to stand on them this time to get them closed! Jeff and Samantha took us to the airport in Geneva. We are already missing the entire family; this week was so much fun :) We have a few hours in London then off on our flight to Egypt . . . or so we thought. We arrived at Heathrow and leisurely made our way over to terminal 5 only to find out that we had missed our flight to Cairo! Apparently they had changed the time (to four hours earlier) and didn’t notify us! OOPS! The girl at British Airways was trying to charge us 75 British pounds EACH to change our flight and acted like she was doing US a favor. Well, of course Ruby was so exhausted that she nearly paid it but Tony knocked some senses back into her and we went to go speak to another representative. We luckily found someone helpful who booked us some great seats for the flight tomorrow . . . and didn’t charge us either! So now we’re stranded in London on the weekend of the Royal Wedding. .. what to do?

First, we tried to book a hotel near the airport but they were 350 British pounds a night!?! Yikes, so next we called our friend Sharon who is a complete lifesaver! She welcomed us with open arms and tickets to an event called the Secret Cinema :) We hurriedly hopped on the tube and were at her place in less than an hour. We met her fiancé Chris, her sis Laura and Laura’s boyfriend Mike at the house. They were all dolled up 50s style and ready to go. So what did we do? Ruby unzipped her suitcase and threw on a suitable outfit faster than Sharon could put on her shoes and we were off! :) We wish we could have borrowed from our friends Toula and Mike McCarley’s wardrobe! They waiting for us so we were all running late by now and at one point Tony thought he might have to carry Ruby down some stairs because it has been a while since she’s had to run in heels!

On the tube we got some of the secret details. We were all given special ID cards before the event. It’s a really neat event where there’s an undisclosed film to be played but before the film starts the audience gets hints by immersed in the setting of the film through the surroundings, actors, music, and food. Even clued in, the only thing we knew was that it’s a film set in the 50’s. So we hop off the tube and head to a graffiti lined tunnel filled with hundreds of people all dressed up in 50s outfits, with actors dressed in military uniforms yelling in French! They were directing us into a small room shrouded in fog and covered in barbed wire. Upon entering we found a maze of different rooms, Arabic music playing, women fully dressed in white hijabs, schwarmas being served, and guards asking for our identification card. They even had a gendarmerie like the one in France that we visited to report the car break-in. Ruby immediately thought of North Africa, specifically Morocco—probably because we’re hoping to go there soon but she was wrong. Can anyone guess what obscure film it was?? We’re not sure if anyone could have guessed.

We chatted with Mike and Laura who are huge travel addicts like ourselves and after a few drinks and some delicious schwarmas the movie began. It turned out to be a French film about the Algerian revolution against French Colonization. Despite sleeping through half of it, Ruby could clearly see the parallels between the film and what is going on today in Egypt, Libya, and probably a few other countries but we haven’t been watching the news that much. Poor Tony couldn’t read the subtitles because earlier in the trip he broke his eyeglasses!
Afterwards we were all pretty tired and headed back to Sharon’s adorable flat to catch some ZZZZZZs before our flight to Egypt. Before Ruby went to bed though, she read an email from Nancy that made her laugh out loud, the subject heading was “Are you crazy???” and it had all her hilarious comments about our time in the Afar Desert and the Danakil depression. Ruby liked that one so much she decided to post it on the blog under comments. Thanks so much Nancy for the good laugh! We can’t wait to see you in NYC.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:53 Archived in England Comments (5)

France: Grenoble: Eggs up to the Bastille

April 29th 2011

rain 72 °F

We had a terrific morning started with a ride up the “eggs” to the Bastille. It’s basically a gondola to the top of a mountain but everyone just calls it the eggs? The view is beautiful although Ruby is a little afraid of heights at times and was getting a little queasy sitting in a plastic ball hanging from a wire. . . We hiked around enjoying the vistas and exploring some caves in the hills for a few hours until it started to rain and had to turn back. We stopped to pick up some of our fave veggies for dinner, got home and warmed up the grill. Tony and Jeffy both worked together to make some really delicious BBQ chicken —so tender, juicy and flavorful. We had asparagus, zucchini and rosemary potatoes for the sides. We had another great bottle of French wine to top off the evening. Tony and I finished up some errands—especially laundry and prepping for the Egypt trip. We were extremely happy to drop off our “toddler” of things we’ve collected along this trip! Looking at it right in front of us we can see just how much we’ve really accumulated. We hope we’ll have a good sized NYC apartment for all this stuff! :) Jeff and Tony started to watch Anchorman, another bad movie, but we have a long day tomorrow and had to call it a night.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:46 Archived in France Comments (3)

France: Lyon and an African Zoo

April 28, 2011

sunny 80 °F

We’re loading up the kids and going to Lyon which is about 1-2 hours away depending on traffic. There is an amazing park Jeffy has been telling us about so we were excited to visit. We also had to pick up a few boxes that had been shipped from the US. By the way thank you Rob and Elliot at Powell for the boards! On the drive we stopped to enjoy a picnic of cheese and wine for the adults and PB&J for the kids (and some for Tony). We arrived in Lyon and the park was just as beautiful as Jeffy had said. The walkway was lined with flowers and trees with several paths leading to a lake filled with ducks, geese, and even a swan. It was so relaxing; well, until we approached the pond and Jimmy ran up and kicked one of the geese while Sam ran off chasing birds!

After getting the kids back together we walked over to the FREE zoo. It was actually a really nice zoo and even had an African Savannah exhibit with leopards, elephants, and giraffes which made us reminisce on our amazing Africa trip :) The botanical gardens were also very impressive with a huge section of carnivorous plants. Tony and Jeff went to pick up the packages while Kira and Ruby stayed to play in the park. It was really funny to watch the kids playing in the park, chasing birds and wreaking havoc. On the drive back the kids were exhausted and slept the entire way. We picked up some yummy pizzas on the way and had a movie night watching Tangled with the kids. It’s funny to know that as parents, Kira and Jeffy get excited whenever a new animated movie comes out! :)

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:32 Archived in France Comments (0)

France: Grenoble: A Bistro, Wine and Sunshine

April 27, 2011

semi-overcast 74 °F

Jeff had to go into work today so “we” (Ruby) spent most of the morning updating our blog. We finally had a few days without travel so Tony decided to clean the glass out of the van and wash our bags on the lawn. We didn’t realize how dirty the bags were until we saw that the water coming off of them was brown! That Danakil dirt is persistent! We left ‘em in the yard for drying and meet up with Jeff who had a long lunch and got a ride into the downtown and even gave us a phone to call him after work. The walking streets of Grenoble are beautiful with cobblestone and fountains around every corner. Ruby stopped to shop at a few stores including one of her favorites “Mango”. There were so many nice things but lucky for Tony-- nothing she “couldn’t live without”. We stopped for an amazing lunch at an outdoor bistro and some reading. Thanks Vicki for the reading material! :) They had ravioli pasta that was sooo good consisting of cheese, a red, white and even a little pesto sauce. We sat outside in the sunshine sipping wine and eating our amazing food thinking LIFE IS GOOD! Before we knew it Jeff was off work and on his way to pick us up. We wanted to relax so we had a great dinner of beef bourguignon, asparagus and mashed potatoes. . . YUM! Afterwards Jeffy wanted to watch some cheesy comedies with Tony but passed out about 10 minutes! This is just like watching a movie with Ruby! :)

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:16 Archived in France Comments (1)

France:La Corno d’Oh My Gosh & Undercooked Pigeon--FOODIE

April 26, 2011

sunny 73 °F

Most of the early part of today was spent calling credit card companies and taking notes on what was in Ruby’s purse. Not really what we had planned on doing when we got to France :( Jeff had to work today so we decided to go to a park with the kids and then shopping with Kira at the French version of Wal-Mart called Carrefour. We had to buy a few toiletries and all the little things that we lost from Ruby’s purse. The place is really cool because they have scanners that you pick up when you walk in so that you can check prices and tally up your total before you even get to the register.... very efficient! Of course Ruby didn’t try out the scanners but she lucked out because a nice older French couple let her go ahead because she only had a few items!

Time was going by so fast today that before we knew it Jeffy got off work and was on his way home. As Tony’s belated birthday present Jeffy spoiled us both rotten with a trip to la Corno d’ Or. . the nicest restaurant in town! We got all dolled up—the boys in their suits and girls in our dresses. The restaurant sits on a hill overlooking the city and a snow capped mountain range. . WOW! Jeffy got to show off his excellent French skills since no one spoke English! We had the amazing “Discovery” menu which consists of a 10 course meal each paired with a wine and champagne to start. The whole meal took over 4 hours and we relished EVERY second of it. In France they pour your wine depending on your size so you don’t get so tipsy that you can’t appreciate the food. Jeffy was laughing most of the night watching Ruby switch her wine glass with Tony’s (when he wasn’t looking) since she wasn’t getting quite as hefty of a pour! :) EVERYTHING was delicious we especially loved the fish, lobster, and scallop dishes. The dessert was heavenly and actually came in the form of 9 individual bite size portions of everything from fruity sorbets to rich chocolate cakes! :) You can see Ruby stuffing her face in the last pic! YUM!!! However, it wouldn’t be a true French restaurant without some exotic cuisine—this came in the form of an undercooked pigeon dish that was probably cooked to French perfection but not designed for our American palates! :) Jeffy and Kira are the best and we are so glad we had a chance to visit them . . . they were so glad to have a babysitter tonight :)

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 09:00 Archived in France Comments (2)

France: Grenoble: At the Fort We Let Our Guard Down

April 25, 2011

overcast 68 °F

After a cup of tea and a quick shower we started our mission up to visit a monastery and Fort Du Saint Enayrd. The drive was amazing with windy roads heading up mountain passes. Unfortunately there was a recent rock slide so the monastery was inaccessible. Instead we headed for a little park where the kids got to play and we were spoiled with a beautiful picnic, delicious cheeses and wonderful wines. The highlight for Ruby was watching Jimmy hand-pick daffodils around the field and then handed them to her in a bouquet. As he picked them, he would smell them and walked up to Ruby with the most adorable silly yellow-stained noise. Tony’s highlight was “the ticket office” that Jimmy and Sam had opened for admission to the slide—you had to pay a number of sticks or flowers to get a “ticket” (in the form of rocks) to go on the slide. I think Jimmy gave a family discount because it only cost Tony 6 sticks to go on the slide while it cost Ruby 10 sticks?!

Even though the sign said that Fort Du Saint Enayrd was closed we still wanted to go up for the view. We parked on the side of the road and walked for a few minutes to the lookout point. WOW! We could see all of Grenoble down there (including Jeffy’s house) and the gliders up there were so close you could almost touch them! Every time one would fly over Jimmy would say “hi airplane, bye airplane”. Very cute. We walked around for 20 minutes or so before heading back to the minivan . . . only to find a pile of broken glass near the rear passenger window. With a sinking feeling we realized that the minivan had been broken into . . . in France of all places! Fortunately, the only thing stolen was Ruby’s purse—which wasn’t anything more than a hassle to cancel credit cards etc . . . . since our passports were at home. Ruby does miss her iPhone though . . . as you know she’s very attached to that thing and composes a lot of emails to be sent later. Hopefully the thief will email these out to you guys! LOL. The biggest bummer was the broken window . . . since there are no Honda Odysseys in France so the window glass will have to special ordered from the states which could take weeks.

After a quick cleanup the boys taped a piece of shower curtain to the open hole while Ruby made some calls. We did file a police report with Oliver’s help. This is what we told the cop at the gendarmerie: Oliver is the French friend, the car is registered in Germany to an American military officer living in France, and the stolen purse belongs to the Indian girl living in America who is engaged to the brother of the American military officer whose friend is Oliver. You got all that? LOL! This is a valuable lesson when traveling: never let your guard down. . .we made it 21 countries without having a single thing stolen?! We needed to relax so Kira the sweetheart made an AMAZING homemade eggplant parmigiana with marinara (one of Ruby’s favorites) and we all talked over wine until late. PS: Kira we need the recipe!!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 08:07 Archived in France Comments (2)

France: Grenoble: Easter Egg Hunt

April 24, 2011

sunny 72 °F

Just like the little Easter bunny Tony was up bright and early. He was a happy camper having homemade pancakes for breakfast! :) Jimmy and Samantha were up running around, so excited to see us and maybe just a little hyped up on Easter candy. Tony could hardly wait so we passed out the presents we collected for them on this crazy trip and then took a walk around old Meylan so Jeff and Kira could show us their beautiful town. It is so picturesque situated between two mountain ranges and exactly like how you would imagine an old French town to look and feel like . . . watch out for the narrow roads and speeding French people though!

Tony, Jeffy and Jimmy went down to the local store and grabbed some fresh bread, cheese and wine (how French). We finally had some quality internet so Ruby decided to stay at the house with the girls and update the blog. Oliver, one of Jeff’s coworkers, came over with his wife Sabrina and two children Louie and Clemon for an Easter egg hunt in the yard. They were really sweet and even brought us an Easter basket to welcome us to France! Unfortunately, Tony had accidentally melted the fancy French chocolate Easter egg that Jeffy bought all of us when he moved it to see the TV! See, nothing good comes from watching TV!

It was so fun to watch the kids play in the yard and “help” them look for the eggs and candy! We also had to keep an eye on Samantha because she can’t eat milk chocolate and every now and again she would sneak over to the slide and take a bite or two! :) Kira is a great cook! It was so nice to get homemade food again. . . she made us tons of food including the classic cheese ball (Tony’s nickname), fancy fois gras, the perfect Easter ham with delicious sides, and topped it all off with a “structurally unsound” carrot cake. Jeffy needs to send us the recipe for her green bean and casserole and the carrot cake . . . but we’ll have to get the icing recipe from Joan for structural purposes! It was a terrific meal complete with TWO bottles of fancy French wine that we enjoyed thoroughly. Sabrina brought her favorite: La Tourelle de Croizet-Bages Pauillac 2003 that we highly recommend! Afterwards we watched the kids make a big mess of the house for the rest of the evening. By the way, there’s no better gift for Jeffy and Kira than doing their most hated chore: the dishes! :)

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 08:04 Archived in France Comments (0)

England:London: We Need a Swiss Watch to Keep Track of Time!

April 23, 2011

sunny 80 °F

Unfortunately Sharon couldn’t cancel all her plans for us so she had to take off to the lakes district this morning. We all ate breakfast together before she left and then Tony and I walked around town admiring all the greenery and flowers. We were in dire need of a few things including a new pair of shoes for Tony! YAY! He was in desperate need after the volcano melted his. London’s super expensive so we decided it was time for a McDonald’s moment—it was actually some of the worst McD’s we’ve had to date :) We picked up our tube tickets and checked out some cool parks and a cemetery before finding a nice place to do some wine tasting. Ruby was also ogling a gourmet cheese shop and couldn’t wait to get to France! Just around the corner from the wines was the Museum of Natural History which was free to enter and ironically they had an exhibit called “sexual nature” about the unusual mating habits of animals. Looks like “animal viagra” is still sticking with us—we probably have a few photos we could contribute to that exhibit. LOL. We saw some amazing fossils, meteorites and diamonds before we realized that we had lost track of time and basically rushed back to Heathrow to catch our flight to Geneva—luckily the guy at Swiss airlines was too busy training a new employee to charge us extra for all our overweight bags!

At the Geneva airport Tony and I both started contemplating which type of fancy watch to buy—we weren’t sure why that idea popped into our head. .. .until we noticed that ALL the marketing material at the airport was covered in fancy Swiss watch brands! Jeffy (Tony’s younger bro) was there to pick us up with a big smile on his face and his ridiculously large van—it’s a minivan in the US but compared to the Euro cars. . it’s a beast! About 2 hours and 20 Euros in tolls later we arrived at his gorgeous house situated between two mountain ranges in the city of Grenoble. The kids were up and had a chance to jump on us before we all headed to bed.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 15:42 Archived in England Comments (2)

England: London: Kilimanjaro…seen it! A View from Above

April 22, 2011

sunny 83 °F

Do you remember than elusive mountain in Tanzania that we mentioned before? Well, we are currently flying right next to it. . . Kilimanjaro is just out the window to our left. We have the most amazing view of its gorgeous snow topped peak along with its sister Mt. Meru in the background all from our comfy seats on the flight to London . . . much better than a 4 day hike! We’ll probably never climb it but being able to see it from the top is really breathtaking. At the end of this 10 hour flight we have something great to look forward to: catching up with our friend Sharon who we met at the very beginning of our trip at Bella Vista in Ecuador. She’s changed her plans to meet us on this long weekend and even offered to pick us up at Heathrow . . . which is a good thing because our bags are busting at the seams with presents and our backs are aching from all these flights, taxis, bus rides! :)

We arrived at London Heathrow and Sharon was waiting for us like our own personal limo driver :) Somehow we managed to get all of our stuff in her little European car, but it wasn’t easy. A few bags in the boot (American truck), some on the seat, one or two on our laps…we really need to unload these things! On the drive home we talked about our travels and she gives us the big news: Chris just proposed last weekend! She lives in a beautiful old part of town called Putney and after dropping our bags off at her flat we got out exploring. She treated us like royalty the whole time. Speaking of that, the excitement about the royal wedding was almost palpable.

We got to check out Big Ben and the London Eye at sunset before she treated us to dinner and drinks at the beautiful Skylon Restaurant on the river bank. We had an amazing gourmet meal ---one thing we haven’t had in quite a while! We had to laugh at how complex the menu was—half the time none of us knew what we were eating :) It’s ironic that the desert came in the form of a volcano after we just climbed one . . . we loved it! We were all pretty exhausted by the end of the night so Sharon flagged down one of the fancy London black cabs for us--thanks Sharon, you’re the best!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 15:23 Archived in England Comments (0)

Kenya/Tanzania: Tony the Tout Magnet

April 21, 2011

rain 74 °F

We awoke from our dreams of sleeping outside in the desert to a strange sound…an alarm clock! Not the normal donkey or camel sounds we’ve become accustomed to over the last few days. We struggled to get our stuff together and took a cab into the city to catch the Dar Express Bus. This bus is much nicer than the one we rode up to Kenya a few weeks ago and we would recommend it over that 20 seat battered school bus that only takes the back roads! At the border Tony stuck out like a bright light to every person selling something or offering to help (for a tip of course). Ruby walked away for one minute and when she looked back there was a guy walking with Tony telling him he was with the bus company. If you ever make it to Africa know that the people that work for the bus company don’t really care if you make it back on the bus in time. . . so if someone tells you to follow them, it is their way of saying “you look like a tourist that I could get a few bucks from”! Well we made it out with only spending around $1USD. Ruby really couldn’t say anything because at 5:30am at the bus station she forgot the conversion rate of the Kenyan Shilling and gave our cab driver a $20 US tip! :( Well, the rainy season has officially started in Tanzania so most of the drive has been nice and cool. On one of the frenzied pit stops Ruby met a Kenyan girl and they both balked at the state of the bathrooms at these bus stations! She offered Ruby tissues as Ruby offered her hand sanitizer. . . and just like that a new friend was made.

The bus ride was pretty frantic--the driver kept switching into the other lane to pass cars and we hit tons of traffic on the way to Dar. This was probably due to a combination of the upcoming Easter holiday and the rain! Just like Californians, Kenyans and Tanzanians don’t know what to do when it starts to rain!? We finally made it to Dar but we were so exhausted that we could hardly think. Luckily for us Wairimu, a stage actress from Nairobi and Ruby’s new “bathroom friend” was kind enough to have her driver give us a ride to the hotel. We quickly ate some delicious spicy lemon chicken and passed out for our flight the next day! Sorry no photos for today. . . I think we were just too tired.

Posted by Tony.Ruby 15:11 Archived in Kenya Comments (2)

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa: Washing Off the Dust of the Danakil

April 20, 2011

sunny 82 °F

Today we’re up early for our flight back to Addis and then a long journey down to Dar es Salam. This time when we arrived into Addis we knew exactly what to do…walk past the taxi stand and straight over to the minibuses. Mimi was working and Fitsum was out of town so what to do with the day? I know let’s go to Boston Day Spa and treat ourselves to some pampering! Whose idea do you think this was? The Spa was great and after a few treatments we walked out feeling almost normal. Well, almost because I think we’ll be scrubbing sand of our bodies for a long time to come! We negotiated a price and grabbed a cab over to our hotel. We dropped our stuff in the room and immediately grabbed a mini bus over to do some shopping in Mercato. We picked up a wooden rhino we’d seen last week, a few drums made from goat skin and some Ethiopian crosses. Now we are officially maxed out…with every bag stuffed and about to explode!

Mimi arrived at our hotel and after a quick shower we were off to dinner at the Sheraton. When Ruby was in Ethiopia last the two of them would meet Gordon and the flight crew over at the Sheraton for some drinks, pizza, and dancing. It was hard to say goodbye and as Mimi dropped us off at the airport we realized we’d definitely be coming back to see them! The Addis airport is insane and I don’t know if we could think of a more inefficient system than the one they use. There are lines for everything, everyone is impatient and cutting is ok as long as you’re louder than the person behind you! This is definitely not the place to be when you don’t feel well and are mentally and physically exhausted from a crazy weekend! Luckily the flight was pretty smooth and we both got a few hours sleep on our way to Kenya. When we arrived into Nairobi Doc was there to greet us…he’s the best! We drove back to his house telling him all about our crazy adventures and what was next to come. He’s so thoughtful, buying our bus tickets, picking us up at the airport at 1am and even having a cab waiting outside the house at 5:30am! Thank goodness for his help!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 13:02 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (2)

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