A Travellerspoint blog

Spain: Marabella: Wandering the Streets ---FOODIE ALERT

May 19, 2011

overcast 70 °F

We certainly slept in today before heading out around noon. We decided to stay another day here when the owner offered us the room for only 20 Euros a night. . can’t beat that around here! It was chilly outside so the first thing we noticed is that Ruby’s favorite fleece was missing. . when we got to La Pesqueria the waiter from last night had it waiting and joked that Ruby didn’t need the fleece last night after all the wine we had! Afterwards we walked through this tiny town of Marabella until we ended up on the beach and were drawn in by the sign saying 1 Euro montaditos (small tapas) at El Bodegon Cafe. Thus, we ate our brunch beachside, it was FREEZING outside but we could make out the semblance of gorgeous aquamarine water in the distance. Our brunch was basically the classics, olives, manchego cheese, albondigas (meatballs), papas bravas, and Ruby’s favorite: pimientos de pardon all washed down with some sangria and red wine. We basically had to roll ourselves back to our room for a siesta after that. Along the way we stopped to check out an art gallery and do some window shopping. They really love these funky rotund bull sculptures around here! It’s a good thing Ruby didn’t really like them because I think they’re a little out of our price range! :) We stopped by a little bakery for some goodies on the way back to our room. We are running out of everything and at a little boutique Tony picked up a pair of Spanish boxers that may make him look like an exotic dancer LOL. . . this may be because we need to do laundry or because Ruby has a thing for European unmentionables ;-)

This afternoon Tony worked on his resume on the rooftop deck . . . if you’re reading this in Brooklyn, he could really use a job! :) After all this travelling we can’t believe that it’s just one week to the day we’re back to reality. We had been talking about that garlic shrimp at La Pesqueria all day and how delicious it would be for dinner, so we decided to start with that tonight. Unfortunately they only have preset menus and we couldn’t order the one thing we liked :( Instead, we stopped at another restaurant that EVERYONE had been talking about near a little church in the center of the city. We like to judge a restaurant by the smell we get when we walk in and the “vibe”. As we walked in we got no good smells, had a bad vibe, the menu had over 4 languages and everything was overpriced! By the way the number of languages on a menu in Spain = the markup on the prices! We had one round of wine, paid and walked out. We then stopped at a small restaurant called Mas Ke Pintxos that was located on the main road and I think the cook must have known Ruby personally because he used all her fave ingredients. Every dish had lots of veggies, eggplant, bacon, parmesan . . . you know all the yummy stuff! We got a few tapas items that were heavenly; thin slices of eggplant drizzled with honey, sirloin strips with goat cheese and caramelized onions, and another eggplant dish with parmesan cheeses and roasted red peppers. Let’s just say we left there happy. Tony ordered a salmon, roe, and veggie bocadito but I don’t think he enjoyed that one very much.

On the way to the next spot we passed a pretty fountain and some metal sculptures by Dali—Ruby’s favorite was the Elefante Cosmico. It’s hard not to stay out all night in Spain because no one goes out until 11 and we don’t know if you can even eat before 9pm? To top off our night we went back to El Bodegon Café where we ate brunch and savored their gambas a pil-pil which were the best ones we’ve had to date! We eventually made it back to our room and passed out. We’re thinking another bus tomorrow and maybe another country?

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 05:58 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Marabella: In Europe the Customer is Always Wrong

May 18, 2011

rain 68 °F

First thing in the morning we were packed and ready to head to Malaga the hometown of Pablo Picasso. We stopped to eat a bit of lunch and discovered “gambas a pil-pil” when Ruby had to ask “what is pil-pil?” They are shrimp in a semi-spicy garlic chili-oil type mixture. YUM! That along with some chorizo and patatas made a nice snack. We attempted to find a hotel we liked but after having spent time in Granada, Malaga just had too much of an industrial feeling with large cranes at the port. We did try to check out a few skate shops in town but they were all closed for siesta. So. . . . back to the bus station we went and while thinking of our friend Nancy Barboni we hopped on a bus heading down the Costa del Sol to Marabella. We took the comfiest bus EVER on Portillo—it was like flying first class with huge leather seats, lots of legroom and power outlets :) It was ugly outside with no “sol” to be found but we still liked Marabella right away! It’s an adorable little beach town and also the place where celebs like to spend their holidays.

Hostal del Pilar where we stayed was in a terrific location, right in the center of it all. We rested for a bit until dinner time. The owner of our hostel recommended a place just around the corner but we headed out for some tapas first. Tony’s wine was good but Ruby’s glass of wine tasted a little off so she told the waitress (in Spanish of course) that perhaps it was because it was the last glass in the bottle and there were sediments? This is when we learned that in Europe—the customer is always WRONG. The waitress brought back the bottle to show us that she had not poured the sediments into the glass—but it still tasted off anyway! Oh well! After that we headed to La Pesqueria, let’s just say that the ambiance in there is very Spanish :) We ordered a set menu including grilled meats but the star of the show was definitely the gambas al ajillo which came out sizzling! We shared a bottle of rioja and practically fell asleep at the table! On our way to our room we ran into Billy from Galway and Danny from Liverpool. They were a lot of fun. We thought we’d heard some tough accents before—but deciphering what they were saying was not easy. They treated us to a couple of canas de cerveza (beer) and we stayed up until 1 am chatting about everything from how Billy believes it is her destiny to live in the US just as Ruby believes hers is to live in Italy! We fell asleep to the sound of the storm outside with thunderclaps and heavy raindrops falling on the roof.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 05:09 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Granada: Red Wine and Red Castles ---FOODIE ALERT

May 17, 2011

sunny 83 °F

Ruby cursed the hotel receptionist under her breath when he knocked on the door at 5:40am to wake us up in time to get tickets for the Alhambra today. Ruby was so exhausted she tried to make Tony shower with a flashlight. We were out of the room by 6:45am, on the bus at 7am and in line by 7:15am . . and already the line was long. They open at 8am and only sell a few hundred tickets every morning; luckily we squeezed by and got our tickets for the afternoon slot. While waiting in line we met Esmeralda and Rachel, two girls from Denver studying abroad in Barcelona. We all walked down the hill together and since we would all have to be back by 2pm we asked them if they’d like to meet up for lunch at our fave spot :)

Ruby was ready for a nap and went right back to bed while Tony went to the local skatepark down by the river. Sorry guys, I was too tired to go with Tony and be his personal skate photographer so there are no pics :) Meeting up with the girls for lunch may have been a good or bad idea. . we don’t know because afterwards we all left Salinas very happy and very tipsy. The new dish we added to our favorites was the vegetable wok which was kind of like vegetable tempura but more flavorful. The free range chicken croquetas were amazing too. We know this sounds super gross but the mango, goat cheese and crunchy bacon salad was just way to playful to pass up—it ended up being really really good.

As for the Alhambra, it takes its name from the Arabic “al-qala ‘at al-hamra” which means red castle. It was built in the 11th Century and is a palace and fortress as well as the only surviving large medieval Islamic palace complex in the world. There are 23 towers and the Alcazaba is a fort inside the Alhambra which is also a fort. We walked the gardens and wish you could smell the blooming roses throughout the Generalife (perfectly manicured gardens). The Dutch artist M.C. Escher visited the Alhambra early in his career (1922 and 1936) and used the repetitive geometric designs as inspiration for some of his work. We loved going inside the Palace of Carlos V and see the temporary M.C. Escher exhibition called Infinite Universes; the best was a video showing how he made some of his artwork.

The architecture of the Alhambra is insane and we couldn’t get enough of the gorgeous colorful geometric designs and intricate carvings seen inside the Palacios Nazaries. We were very disappointed to see that the fountain of 12 lions has been dismantled and is currently being restored. We did see tons of other fountains throughout the rest of the grounds—in fact there were so many that eventually we stopped shooting photos of them! This would be Spain’s equivalent to being “Buddha’d out” (see Thailand). Granada is Spanish for the word pomegranate and on our way out Ruby spotted a beautiful one carved into a fountain; it is also the symbol for the city of Granada. After about 5 hours of walking around we were ready to head down the hill. We listened to the sound of running water along the channels on the side of the road under lush green trees overhead. We thought we’d try another place for dinner tonight since Rachel had recommended a dish called carne con salsa. We found some of that along with hazelnut gelato just down the road from the hotel and went to bed contented.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 04:35 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Granada: The Maze of the Albayzin ---FOODIE ALERT

May 16, 2011

overcast 76 °F

Ruby woke up early to try and get advanced tickets online to the Alhambra but they’re sold out for a few days so we’ll try to go in person first thing in the morning tomorrow! After that we just chilled for a bit until we motivated enough to head out for a self-guided walking tour around town. We wanted to explore the Albayzin area of town which stretches and twists its way up the hill that faces the Alhambra. We got an awesome workout walking up the steep winding streets! This area was once where the Muslim rulers (7th century BC) lived before they started to develop the Alhambra in the 13th century. We stopped multiple times to admire the many remaining relics of the Islamic period; these can be seen in the gates, houses, ceilings and statues of this area. One of the most distinct is the wooden detailed “mudejar” style ceilings which are of Islamic origin and geometric in pattern which can be found in some of the buildings.

Our favorite part of the walk was the Mirador San Nicolas where a band was playing some covers of the gypsy kings (which always reminds Ruby of Neej) and other flamenco music while people danced in the square. We loved the gorgeous vistas of the Alhambra from here and can’t wait to explore the interior tomorrow. The low point was when we stopped for a snack and ordered patatas bravas with our wine—as Tony said “these patatas bravas are what I would get if I ordered them at a truck stop in Texas” LOL! When we walked down the other side of the hill it was easy to find our place because it’s just next to the huge cathedral in the center of town! When we finally made it back to the hotel, Ruby stopped for a siesta while Tony went to find a skate shop to set up his new board. With his board all set up, he’s ready to find a park.

We could hardly wait for dinner but we didn’t leave until 9pm which is the standard Spanish time to start eating. We strolled over to Salinas Gastrobar (where we ate last night) and ordered our first round of wine. .along with it came a delicious de-constructed hamburger YUM! Ruby was suffering from “the grass may be greener” so Tony sent her off to check out some other tapas spots while we waited for our shitake mushroom salad. She came back cured of her affliction and could now thoroughly enjoy our meal when she realized that all the other places around here served the same classic tapas at unreasonable prices! On round two came our fave “costillas de cero” for free again- YUM! We’d been eyeing the lobster risotto and couldn’t resist. It came out with the lobster tail on top. . Tony promptly took that out of Ruby’s eyesight and placed all the lobster meat on the plate. The lobster meat was super fresh! We were tempted to get dessert at Salinas again but decided to check out the pastry shop around the corner . . . so glad that we did. They had the most amazing chocolate cream puffs . . . we had to buy some extra to go with coffee in the morning :) We love the streetlamps here in this city and were glad for the light they provided on our walk back.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:35 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Granada:Who Eats an Apple Vertically? ---FOODIE ALERT

May 15, 2011

sunny 88 °F

We were ready to leave Madrid and head for the South of Spain. The ALSA bus to Granada cost us 20 Euros each and on the way we met four American girls studying abroad. We chatted all about their experiences in Spain and got some information about Granada since they’re living there. On the 5 hour drive we passed by gorgeous rolling hills spotted with olive trees, colorful fields, and the snow capped Sierra Nevadas. By the way, you know you’ve been spending too much time together when you notice AND comment on something like the way a person eats their apple. Can you believe Ruby eats her apples vertically? The girls helped us get on the correct bus into town and we hopped off in the center of town next to the main cathedral. After only a few blocks of walking around we saw a sign saying Hostel Zacatin above some little boutiques. It was in a great location but just hard enough to find that it would make it in our price range (35Euros/night)! :) We dropped our stuff off and headed out for some well-deserved tapas and vino. On the way we encountered some protestors on the street, nothing to worry about though compared to Egypt this was a mellow parade.

Granada is known for their free tapas when you order drinks--this only applies to the local spots so if you order a round of drinks and don’t get anything, grab your bill and move on! This is exactly what happened when Tony picked out the first spot on Navas. when we told them that we just wanted drinks to start, they moved us inside to make room for the “big spenders”. This certainly made us feel like second class citizens so we had to move on ASAP!

Luckily we were in store for much better. We wandered around adorable narrow alleys with tons of tapas spots until we came to Los Diamantes also on Navas. They’re known for their seafood so we ordered the gambas fritas (fried shrimp) with our wine. They were so flavorful and the large helping of fried scallops that came for free were also delicious. We were trying to make our way over to Calle Elvira when Ruby saw a menu she just could not resist at Salinas Gastrobar—there’s three, we liked the modern looking one. The complexity of the dishes was like nothing we had seen in Spain yet they still had the traditional tapas formula. We LOVED the warm shitake salad with caramelized mushrooms, gorgonzola sauce and garlic crystals. The home-grown wild asparagus with romesco sauce was amazing too. As a bonus our first free “tapita” as our favorite waitress Christina called it was a plate of “costillas de cerdo”, pork ribs in a delicate chive pesto sauce. YUM! We don’t know how they could give away such a great dish for free. The chocolate brownie dessert with a tangerine sorbet on top was amazing too! Our bill was about $20 U.S. with two rounds of drinks and all that food . . . we don’t know how they do it but whatever the case, we’ll be back soon!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 04:42 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Madrid: Another Earthly Delight---FOODIE ALERT

May 14, 2011

all seasons in one day 78 °F

It started out as a gorgeous, sunny day, not a hint of wind, with clear blue skies. We got up late so we headed out to find some tapas for lunch . . . we wandered around the old part of town, we immediately walked into one of those traditional Iberian ham shops and got to tasting! The guy in the shop sliced off slivers of different hams for us to try; Tony loved it so much he wanted to bring back a whole leg. We don’t think it would pass the customs test though! We window shoppped and watching musicians perform on the street until we found a cheap tapas spot. We ordered a few things but it was mostly disappointing except for the “patatas bravas” which were actually french fries. By the way, don’t be fooled into thinking that tinto verano is the same thing as sangria . . . it is a poor substitute consisting of some sort of red wine with soda water.

We knew we’d have to do better later so we continued our meanderings around this beautiful city full of colorful buildings, narrow alleys, and tons of outdoor cafes. Inside Retiro park we checked out the Crystal Palace with black swans gracefully swimming outside. We could feel the clouds gathering overhead but tried to ignore them. We walked around a beautiful rose garden before the downpour started and we had to head for cover. By the way, the only statue of the devil in Madrid looked perfect with the stormy background. We found cover in the 2nd museum of the “Golden Triangle”—El Prado. They have thousands of paintings, everything from Picasso, to Rembrandt and Dali. We had two highlights, the first was Bosch’s painting of the “Garden of Earthly Delights”, we had no idea how large it would be in real life! The second was an exhibit of absolutely ethereal watercolors by Jose Villegas and Jose Tapero depicting scenes from North Africa and Andalucía. We would buy these if we could afford them! Surprisingly, we were not impressed with Goya (who is the big draw at this museum).

By this point we had worked up quite an appetite so we headed back to La Cava Baja. We wanted to feel like Madrilenos so we moved from one small tapas bar to the next in a “tapeo” in the rain. Several rounds of wine later we found an amazing spot called Taberna Tempranillo serving really fresh seafood—we had the squid with caramelized onions and the tuna belly with roasted red peppers—YUM! Will definitely be returning . . . on our next trip to Spain.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:31 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Madrid: Killing the Night!

May 13, 2011

sunny 82 °F

“Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night.”—Ernest Hemingway

Well, we feel as if we have just killed the night as we arrived in Madrid! We both have that groggy and grainy-eyed post-call feeling as the plane lands in Madrid at 4am this morning. We decide to wait the hour for the Metro to start running and take it into town. Our hotel, Centro Norte, is the easiest walk out of the Chanmartin subway stop EVER! Just around the corner we found our shiny, new hotel . . . we didn’t even need to stop for directions!! Unfortunately our room wouldn’t be ready until noon so we did a quick wash-up and dropped off our bags before heading out. After looking at a few local magazines we decided to head over to the center of town to the Puerta del Sol. When we got off the subway we saw that they had a silly statue of an overly muscular bear eating what looked like a large piece of broccoli. . hmmm don’t know what that’s about because there wasn’t a plaque! We were starved and started hunting for breakfast spots—we ended up at a place that served “desayuno Americano”. . . Unfortunately it was nothing like an America breakfast, the eggs tasted like salmon and the bacon was undercooked. . yuck! It’s Friday the 13th so our expectations are not too high.

Madrid is a strikingly busy city with people bustling all around. Quite different from the pace we’d gotten used to in Egypt. . which felt deserted (pardon the pun) most of the time. As we walked around we felt a little out of place; everyone is dressed very professionally . . . and we’re in the same clothes we’ve been dragging through the desert and the tropics! Never have we missed our wardrobes so much! After eating breakfast we walked around enjoying the beautiful architecture and figuring out how we were going to stick to our budget!

Madrid is of course known for its museums and there are a lot of theater, art, and cultural festivals going on right now so we hope to take advantage of some of those. We’d already decided that we were not going to go see a bullfight—animal cruelty (no matter how ingrained in a culture it is) is not something we are interested in. We contemplated taking Morocco off our list because we’ve had a fair amount of Islamic and desert countries but we’ll see. After borrowing a travel book we finally figured out what the bear with broccoli was about: it’s actually a bear with the strawberry tree and is Madrid's coat of arms and city symbol! That’s the equivalent of a foreigner coming to the states and saying “what’s that silly bald bird doing holding a twig in his claw?”

We had brought a few articles from Ruby’s fave travel magazine AFAR and decided to check out the tapas spots they recommended. We ended up walking down an adorable narrow alley lined with apartments with flower-boxes on top and a variety of tapas spots to choose from. This area is near the La Latina subway stop and is on the Calle Cava Baja. We used it as an opportunity to peruse menus and pick out some places for later.

Sticking to our budget did involve some coordination of our schedule so we showed up at 7pm just in time to enter the Sophia de Reina museum for free :) We got to see Picasso’s famous work: the Guernica—we’re glad we had an audio guide to interpret all the complex sections of the painting as well as fill us in on some Spanish History regarding the war! Tony was so not impressed with the works of Joan Miro—-“Head and Spider” painting left Tony thinking he could be a world famous artist too! Ruby loves Salvador Dali and they had several works for her to enjoy. Some of the works were much more surreal than others. There was also a crazy temporary exhibition featuring Yayoi Kusama. This female Japanese artist was a hippy in the 60’s and a lot of her work almost has a hallucinatory quality to it, the artist is also just as obsessed with polka dots as Ruby so you know she enjoyed this exhibit.

By 9pm we were pretty exhausted so we headed directly for the Plaza Mayor in Viejo Madrid. It’s beautifully lit at night with streetlamps and nine large arched exits to choose from. By the end of our time in Madrid I hope we’ll go through each of them. We’ve been talking about tapas and sangria all day and after the long day, we enjoyed it thoroughly. Right away we realized something was missing. . . Christel and Brenda, we wished they could have joined us as we enjoyed some pimientos de padron (one of their favorites). We sat outdoors people watching and even caught some performance artists doing their thing.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:06 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Egypt: Cairo: Go Taxi Go to the Go Bus!

May 12, 2011

sunny 88 °F

We got up today ready to get on a bus unfortunately our tour guide had different plans for us. Our driver was supposed to pick us up at 8am but when he didn’t show by 8:40am we hopped into a taxi to get us to the bus station as fast as possible! As our luck would have it, the bus had left already! The Go Bus employee called the next stop and had the bus wait for us there. The taxi raced us to the next stop and got there minutes before 9am. Taxi drivers in Egypt drive crazy to begin with but when given a sense of urgency (and a little more money) they’ll turn a half hour ride into a ten minute roller coaster!

Our bus ride back to Cairo was great, just six hours with no road blocks or burning tires this time. The cheesy Arabic action movies playing on the TV were a bit of a downer. Also, the guy in front of Ruby decided to recline ALL the way back practically putting his chair on Ruby’s nose . . . so this time it was Ruby complaining about legroom. As a plus, they did serve great guava juice and chocolate cake as a snack. The rest stop on the way back was also exceptionally nice with clean bathrooms. Given all of that, we’d recommend Go Bus over the local company we took on the way to Sharm.

It was a gorgeous day in Cairo and we were welcomed with the classic traffic jams common to the city. We had a few hours before our flight to Spain so Ruby “convinced” our tour company to give us a driver for the day since our driver didn’t show up in Sharm. Instead of taking us to the airport we told him to take us to the Khan el Khalili bazaar which is next to a beautiful mosque for some last minute shopping. Cheap stuff really is cheap in Egypt. Within one day of buying a pair of sunglasses and a watch, the sunglasses were cracked and the watch didn’t keep time! The driver did eventually get us to the airport with a few hours to spare—we caught up on the blog and grabbed some terrible airport food. At the beginning of our trip, Ruby probably would have sent the food back or refused to eat any of it but this trip has had made her a little more tolerant of bad food. I’m sure she’ll be back to her high standards once we’re back in NY.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 09:23 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Sharm el-Sheikh: Seeing Blue in the Red Sea

May 11, 2011

sunny 88 °F

At 8:30am the bus arrived to take us to the jetty. Just before that Ruby had left to go to the pharmacy about a 5 min walk away to buy some ibuprofen. She was surprised to see how aggressive the men could be when Tony wasn’t around. As she walked, they stopped, honked, stared, tried to pick her up, and even her a offered ride for “free”. Geez, who knew? Next time, Tony will be the one going to the pharmacy and let’s see how many honks he gets! :)

We arrived at the jetty and met our divemaster Darren who speaks perfect English with a cockney accent . . . but still very easy to understand. The boat was beautiful and the water was crystal clear. It looked amazing against the dry desert background. After about an hour ride we got to our first dive site: Jackson Reef. Suited up and ready to go we dropped down about 20meters along a wall covered in corals. It was a little tricky for us to get down at first because the Red Sea has more salt content than most of the places we’ve dived in the past. Once we got down, we swam against a strong current that made Ruby feel like she was swimming through molasses. The Red Sea has amazing visibility and we could see all the way to the very bottom about 40meters down. The highlight of this site was being encircled completely by crazy schools of blue colored fusilier wrasses. After resting for a bit our next site was Ras Gillman we got to see a creature we’ve been searching for in other oceans . . . blue spotted stingrays! We actually saw FOUR of them; they can be spotted hanging out underneath corals and rocks. . just a small current causes them to swim away. We also saw a stonefish hanging out on the sand, and a large grouper peeking his head out between some rocks. Towards the end of our dive we had to swim through a bloom of moon jellyfish! Luckily their stingers don’t affect humans because of our thick skin. There’s a reason they’re called jellyfish, when you touch them they feel sort of like a gummy bear! Not exactly what we expected, they had more substance and were firm but still squishy and slimy at the same time! We chatted with a Russian guy from Saint Petersburg named Alex and he was kind enough to offer to email us the dive photos since we couldn’t rent a camera today.

They served a delicious lunch on the boat complete with babaganoush and lots of veggie dishes. We relaxed and did a little reading on our way back to the dock. We would definitely suggest Dolphin Divers and Darren Burt our divemaster to anyone interested in diving near Sharm. For dinner that night we ended up at the first sports bar we’ve ever been to that didn’t serve alcohol. We worked on the blog while suffering through sheesha smoke from all the Egyptians surrounding us. The town felt totally safe which is why on our walk home that night we were surprised to see a few street walkers and what we think was a drug dealer on the corner.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 09:05 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt:Sharm el-Sheikh: Odds Are 10 to 1 on a Good Dive Shop

May 10th, 2011

sunny 92 °F

There are some countries that are just known for breakfast foods; Belgian waffles, French crepes, American biscuits and gravy (Tony), but Egypt is definitely not known for anything having to do with breakfast! After our cold eggs and cheese we decided to take a break to lounge by the pool before meeting the driver that our tour company sent over to help move us to a beach hotel in Naama Bay instead of Hadaba. We arrived at the new beautiful hotel but just as we were about to check in our tour agency called back and told us it would cost an additional $65 for the move! They must have thought we would just pay it now that we had moved? After telling them we weren’t going to be up-sold on a room we hopped back in the car and moved our stuff back to the Sunset Hotel! Since we planned on scuba diving in the next few days we really needed to go back to where all the dive centers were. So we grabbed a minibus (1 Egyptian pound each) going over to the beach. We discovered that a lot of the dive shops in Sharm only use one dive master to every 10 divers, yes TEN divers! That is a bit out of the question for us because if you’re diver number 9 or 10 in line you may not see anything at all—all the cool creatures will get scared away!

We put that task on hold because our bellies were grumbling and went in search for spicy food. We must have been desperate because we stopped for lunch at a place called India House which also served Thai food, Chinese food, and sushi. BTW, it’s never a good idea to go to a place like that because they probably can’t do any of it well! After a little food in our bellies we were ready to find the perfect dive shop . . . we found it right next to the beach at Dolphin Divers. At first we were a little weary because the signs were mainly in Russian with a few in English but after talking to the owner for a while (a big Russian guy with impressive knowledge and confidence) we were convinced that this was the perfect place for us. Originally we had wanted to do Yolanda and Shark Reef in Ras Mohammed but unfortunately those sites are a bit more advanced and most of the other dive companies required at least one or two dives in the local sites first. Dolphin Divers didn’t but unfortunately they didn’t have a boat going that direction for the day we wanted to go. He even mentioned the sharks and gave us a breakdown of the recent attacks—don’t worry no divers have been attacked, just snorkelers. We signed up for two dives in Tiran Bay and filled out all the necessary paperwork. Afterwards we got sized for our equipment and realized it was Happy Hour!

We found a beach bar playing great music called Viva Beach. They had the most fantastic strawberry margaritas and we thoroughly enjoyed drinking on the beach. Tony asked for a local beer and they said “Stella?” and Tony said, “no a local beer”. This cycle repeated a few times before Tony figured out that there is an Egyptian Stella beer. We walked in the clear blue water and were horrified to seen tons of small, clear, white jellyfish. We were worried but it turns out that these ones don’t sting at all!

We ended up back in Old Town and had to walk by the vendors of colorful glass lanterns, hookah pipes and stuffed camels without buying anything because the diving cost more than we thought so no shopping for us! :( We ended up taking the minibus back to the hotel but walked in the wrong direction—it is extremely safe there even walking alone at night but if you ever need a taxi in Sharm, no worries because one will stop every other second to ask if you need a ride! We enjoyed our complimentary dinner at the hotel and tried to watch a movie but every DVD we own had a big scratch on it. They really need to invent a more durable medium for holding movies. We’re diving tomorrow so we had to call it an early night!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 02:18 Archived in Egypt Comments (2)

Egypt:Sharm El-Sheikh:A Burning Desire to Reach the Red Sea

May 9th, 2011

sunny 83 °F

At 730am we woke to a nice toasty fire . . . of burning tires in the middle of the road. The road to Sharm el-Sheikh had been blocked off by protesters. It’s a little unclear but we think they were protesting in order to increase their wages at the oil refinery on the side of the road. Some of the protesters did have guns . . . never have we felt so grateful to be on a local bus with Egyptians who could clue us in on what was going on. Of course, a local bus is also a less-likely target than one full of American tourists. We nervously awaited what would happen since the locals on the bus told us everything would be fine once the military arrived. Once the military arrived about 45 minutes later some drivers tried to pass the protestors only to find that their windows were being broken by kids throwing rocks. After witnessing that our bus driver was very hesitant to go forward. . . so we waited a total of 3 hours until 20 armed soldiers finally moved the protestors and the burning tires off to the side of the road. Just then a few cars started to push their way through. We were next in line and our bus driver hesitated when he saw protestors running back into the middle of the road. We wanted to get out of there so Tony started yelling, just GO, GO, GO! The bus driver hit the gas . . . we did get hit by a rock or two but no windows were broken and we were on our way to the beautiful beach resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. We hope it’s worth it!

Just minutes after passing the protestors the road veered next to the Red Sea with its striking clear blue water against the desert background of Egypt. We finally arrive in Sharm about an hour a half later and needed to go eat ASAP! We checked into the Sunset Hotel which is not on the beach but still really nice. We asked around and got a local recommendation that lead us to Fares seafood restaurant in the Old Market. We enjoyed some delicious fresh prawns and fish while sharing a bottle of Chilean wine. We don’t smoke but afterwards we went to one of the ubiquitous sheesha lounges to catch up on the blog :)

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 16:11 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Luxor: These Buses Are Giving Me a Karnak Headache

May 8, 2011

sunny 106 °F

We had a wakeup call scheduled for 8am but actually awoke to the call to prayer at 6:00am from the mosque across the street! That motivated Ruby to get up so she started working on the blog for a bit before our guide arrived. We learned that the East side of the Nile River represents life and the West side of the Nile represents the afterlife. Since the Egyptians considered the afterlife far more important and long-standing than their temporary time here on earth they built gorgeous temples to last for an eternity on the West side, but their East bank homes didn’t get quite as much attention.

We drove on the dusty pavement passing holes dug up along the road for active excavations until we arrived at the huge temple complex at Karnak. Apparently it was over 63 acres and originally connected to the Luxor temple. It was built during the 30th and last dynasty and is possibly the largest temple in the world. It is also the only “joint” Egyptian temple—dedicated to more than one king. We walked across a paved courtyard to arrive at the imposing “Avenue of Rams” that marks the entrance. When you walk in you can see two huge statues of Ramses II and his favorite wife Nefertare at his feet. In death the arms were crossed across the chest and when alive the statues show Ramses II standing in “military pose” with left leg forward and hands at his sides.

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This is one of the most famous places in Egypt, yet right away we could tell that there were very few tourists. It wasn’t until we had the entire hypostyle hall to ourselves that we realized just how down tourism is in Egypt. This hall has 134 columns built started by King Seti I (1313 BC) and completed by his son Ramses II (1225 BC). The columns were meant to resemble a papyrus marsh. The first 12 columns are open papyrus flowers and the other 122 that were built by Ramses II have closed papyrus tops.

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There are lots of carvings showing how the kings kept slaves to help build their temples. You can see several walls dedicated to the slaves that “helped” build them. By the way, most of them are shown with bound together by their arms and that one of their hands was cut off. Walking inside these stone temples it is cool and dark but in order to have light the Egyptians built holes in the ceiling to allow natural light in or reflected light off of shiny metal such as silver or gold (like on the tops of obelisks in the past).

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After meandering through the hypostyle hall we came across two large obelisks, the first and smaller was for Thoutmosis the father of Queen Hatepshut and the second which is 30m tall was for Queen Hatepshut herself (Ruby’s favorite). There’s rumors that there may be something important buried underneath the obelisks but we’ll never know unless they topple over!

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At the far end of the complex in King Thoutmosis’ temple you can see evidence of the Roman Coptic religion in the form of saints with “halos” as well as some beautiful carvings showing some of the animals (antelope, birds) and plants he brought to Egypt. Royalty used to bathe in the huge green pool with stair entrances on all sides—it doesn’t look like it’s used very much today!

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After this we made the hike back through this huge complex and headed to the Temple at Luxor. This one was discovered under the sand in 1833. Much like Karnak, you are welcomed by a long avenue of statues—this time sphinxes at the entrance of this temple. Front and center Ramses II can be seen in the form of 6 different huge statues and although Abu Simbel remains his most famous structure, he had many more architectural projects. We thought we finally made it to a country without monkeys but we were wrong! At the base of the obelisk you can see 4 baboons dancing and facing the sunlight at the entrance. There was a 2nd obelisk but it was taken in 1836 to the Concord in France.

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As we said, this temple was found under the sand almost 200 years ago but not before a mosque had been built on top of it during the Islamic period! It’s great to see the combination of the old with the new since the Egyptians chose to preserve the mosque and now it sits on top of a portion of the temple at Luxor. We tried to take some funny pictures of the many huge statues of Ramses II inside. He has a set of three that depict him transforming from boy to man. There’s also a really aged statue of King Tut and his wife. In the very back you can see evidence of the Greco-Roman period with murals painted over hieroglyphics depicting scenes of saints. There's also a carved scene of a king collecting "power" from the fertility god Amun-Min, see if you can spot that one :) They even have an “open air museum” with relics such as column tops from other eras including the Greco-Roman period as well as some artist renditions of what hieroglyphics are supposed to look like when fragments are pieced together.

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Afterward, we stopped at a local bar for a cold beer and glass of wine before our long night bus to Sharm. We were in the mood for something a little different so Tony went next door to a McDs—now we can add Egyptian McDs. Our guide dropped us off to the bus stop. We were excited see a shiny new bus in the parking lot…but that one was not ours! We’re booked on the local bus (East Delta Travel) . . . needless to say it was a long night. The seats had minimal padding making them very uncomfortable but we got to get out of them often enough since the bus stopped every 30 min or so for the first 5 hours! Ruby sent Tony out to pick up a midnight snack . . . so what does he get? Disgusting twinkies from Egypt. .it’s hard to believe that they could be even worse than the ones made in the US. To make matters worse, we swear the driver must have been hard-of-hearing because they played Arabic music at a deafening level for most of the night. Just when we thought we could get some rest they decided to start an awful cheesy Arabic action movie. I think Ruby was bordering suicidal at this point so we made some makeshift earplugs and tried our best to pass out around 3am.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 12:22 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Luxor: Valley of the Kings and a Cross Dressing Queen

May 7, 2011

sunny 104 °F

We slept in today and got picked up around 11am to head to the Valley of Kings which came into existence during the Pharonic period. WOW! This is something we were really looking forward to because we’d read all about it back in school. We were really bummed that they didn’t allow cameras at all—and were really strict about it too! Luckily the NY Metropolitan Museum collaborated with Howard Carter when he discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922. That’s why the NY Met has a huge collection of Egyptian artifacts there that we can’t wait to see in person. This valley is really in the middle of nowhere and is super hot out with no natural shade. . . Thutmosis I (1528 to 1510) was the first king to choose this locale for his burial because it is a holy area and to ward off grave robbers. The hills are all limestone which is a softer stone that makes it much easier to carve out tombs. There are 62 tombs in total and we got to go inside 3 of them. Not all are open to the public because they’re not really safe to enter with hazards like breathing ancient dust and tripping over crumbling stones! The last tomb was discovered in 2005 and it’s actually only #62 of the approximately 415 kings that could have built tombs.

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The first tomb we visited was of Ramses IV, it was beautiful with tons of preserved colorful hieroglyphics on the walls. There was even some evidence of Coptic symbols near the entrance. Inside the tomb were extra rooms for the multiple statues of slaves that he had buried with him. You can see a beautiful blue background with yellow stars on the ceiling representing Nut the god of the sky. The colors on the walls came from natural pigments such as gypsum and calcium for white and red iron oxide. The next tomb was of Ramses IX, there was a gorgeous mural showing a trip to the afterlife on boats with Anubis (jackal) to lead the way. The third and final tomb we entered was of Ramses I. This tomb actually had the most colorful paintings on the wall. One of the best preserved is of Ramses I accompanied by Horus (falcon) and Anubis (jackal). All the tombs had surprisingly high ceilings . . . unlike the tombs in the pyramids. However, some were steeply angled downward. It was insane that sometimes we were the ONLY people inside the tombs!! We had them all to ourselves :) We found some pictures to put down below from our Valley of the Kings book :)

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Our guide asked us if we would like to stop and see some alabaster vases being made by hand—Luxor is famous for them. We said yes and before we knew it Tony was digging out a piece of alabaster with a metal tool and we had a new and fragile item to carry with us!large_IMG_7100.jpgIMG_7105.jpg Next was Queen Hatepshut’s temple which is just on the other side of the mountains. She was the ONLY queen to rule Egypt and she was also fond of cross dressing. . just kidding. She often wore men’s clothing and is often portrayed that way in statues. She probably did this to demonstrate her equal strength. She did a great many things for Egypt including bringing new species of trees and fish to the country. Her temple is 3 levels and you can see tons of colorful murals showing what she did for Egypt. A section of the temple is devoted to the fertility goddess Hatur (cow ears on a woman face). On the top level there are 8 large statues of her—all portrayed as a male (false beard and all).

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After all of this we stopped to look at two huge statues in pretty poor condition, these are known as the Colossi of Memnon and are of Pharaoh Amenhotep III.

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That was it in terms of temples for the day and we were starved! We walked past spice merchants and cell phone stores as we walked through modern day Luxor looking for a lunch place. We found a place with delicious mousaka (eggplant and tomato dish) and kebab and savored our meal.

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Every day when walking down street in Egypt we hear “you’re a lucky man!” and today was no exception. Tony was offered over 100 million camels for Ruby—this is the highest bidder yet! Luckily we were having a good day . . . otherwise Tony might have been tempted! Back at our hotel located next to the Luxor Temple we took a nap in the air conditioning until just before sunset. We soon realized that the hotel was next to a mosque and the loud speaker was located about 10 feet from our window (that doesn’t really shut all the way)! After the evening call to prayer we headed to the rooftop deck for some sundowners. We were surprised to see that there’s still excavation going on outside the Luxor temple and right though the middle of town. Most of the original roads have been covered by buildings but work is still underway! We had a long day and took it easy for the rest of the night. Of course we called Joan for Mother’s Day before heading to bed.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 11:25 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Edfu:Birthing Chairs, Surgeries, and a Water Elevator

May 6, 2011

sunny 108 °F

Tony never fails to surprise me . . . on the itinerary today is something called the Esna Lock and I say “what the heck is a lock”? Tony says matter-of-factly that it is like a “water elevator” and I start laughing out loud thinking he’s pulling my leg.... I guess we’ll see how that works out later. After checking out the schedule we hopped off the ship at 8am to walk over to the Kom Ombo Temple. It was a little bit of dodgeball again as we walked through the rows of vendors along the way to the temple, luckily it’s only a 5 minute walk from the boat! To our dismay there was no guide waiting for us so we thought we might have to interpret the hieroglyphics by ourselves!? Luckily we joined a group of English speakers with a guide and knew we would have to have a word with Khaled later. . .

The Kom Ombo Temple is gorgeous and rightfully so since it took 400 years to build. It is perched on top of a hill just West of the Nile and is a part of the Greek Roman period in the history of Egypt. Many of the blocks of stone were connected with wooden dovetail joints made of cedar—some of the cedar still remains today which we think is pretty insane. Ruby was super impressed when she learned that it was sort of an ancient hospital. The high priests of the time were experts in internal anatomy after having done lot of mummifications (they surgically removed the important internal organs). There are carvings of things like birthing chairs (which reminded Ruby of Kira), ancient surgical instruments (which reminded Ruby of Wikki) including sponges, curettes, a scale, forceps, catheters etc . . . . as well as a carving of an ancient prescription. . try carrying that to the pharmacy! It was interesting to find out that the ancient Egyptians also practiced circumcision for hygiene regions—not religious ones.

We learned that the ancient Egyptian calendar was based on the three seasons (flood, agriculture and harvest season), they had 10 days in a week and originally 360 days in a year. There’s a panel showing numbers and we had a chance to learn how to read the numbers (surprisingly Tony’s much better at interpreting hieroglyphics than Ruby is!). Maybe he should move to Egypt! LOL. We both loved the original colorful murals remaining on the ceiling depicting vultures which were symbolic of fresh air and protection from evil . . . thinking about painting those above our doorway in Brooklyn :)

We walked back to the boat and relaxed on the deck in the shade until we made a call to Khaled. He apologized and made sure we’d have a guide at the next temple a few hours up the Nile at Edfu. Ekrami our guide was wonderful and filled us in on all the details. It’s a long story but this temple was dedicated to the falcon god Horus ,son of Isis and Osiris (lord of the underworld). Horus killed his evil uncle Set as revenge for cutting up his dad Osiris into 14 pieces. The town is called Edfu similar to “Edbu” which means revenge. It also comes from the Greek-Roman period of Egyptian history. It is striking and may very well be the best-preserved temple in Egypt because it wasn’t discovered until 1869 hidden under a town and a layer of sand up to the ceilings! The structure is amazing and the interior was shaped like a pyramid with the widest point being the entrance leading to the narrowest part of the temple which was the holiest chamber. When the Christians found it, they defaced the faces and hands of the Egyptian gods but luckily they didn’t bother looking too deep under the sand and there are several layers where the original carvings remain untouched.

You can see lots of decorated columns in this temple—the tops are decorated with papyrus, lotus flowers, a combination of the two, or palm trees. This temple is unique since most temples in Egypt will only have one or the other. Back on the ship we happily went to our air-conditioned cabin to read and relax until we would come across the Esna Lock. As it turns out, a lock is literally what Tony said, a “water elevator” that lowers or raises the boat to the water level of the body of water it is about to enter (in our case, lower). Ruby indulged in an awesome facial and massage on the ship for the equivalent of $8. Afterwards we had yummy mousaka (eggplant and tomato dish) with baklava for dessert. It was our last night on the cruise so the crew celebrated with a Galabiya; everyone (except us) wore traditional Egyptian clothing for the party!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 14:40 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Egypt: Aswan: Ramses the II’s 64th Wife

May 5, 2011

sunny 110 °F

I know this is supposed to be vacation but for some reason we were up well before the crack of dawn again . . . this time it was 2:30am to catch a ride to the Abu Simbel temple off Lake Nasser. When the driver picked us up he asked us for 50 EGP each, everything was pre-paidbut Ruby was too tired to argue at this hour. We didn’t know it but our minibus was actually joining an armed caravan . . . and up until that point we had been wondering where all the tourists were! We needed an armed caravan because we would only 70 km from the Sudanese border . . . so we were off on a long seemingly endless desert road (luckily smooth) for 3 hours. I think after the Danakil our concept of “rough roads” is a little skewed! We both napped and when we arrived Ruby came to her senses and told the driver to give us the 100 EGP back since we had pre-paid. With a little coercion from Tony and a call to Khaled we did get it back!

The early morning start was well worth it—especially when we turned the corner and came upon the two rock temples carved from a sandstone cliff at Abu Simbel which was originally in ancient Nubia. The larger of the two temples was built for Ramses II and the smaller for his favorite wife Nefretari. Ramses II ruled during the 19th Dynasty (1279-1212 BC) in the New Kingdom. He was powerful and ambitious and constructed more monuments and temples than any other pharaoh; that’s probably why he’s one of the most well-known of the pharaohs. He also fathered 100+ children with his harem of wives (some estimate 60+). As we entered the temple, the guide warned Tony that Ramses II was looking for a new wife and Ruby might become his next! In the King’s temple there were tons of carvings inside, many depicting offerings to the gods. Unfortunately we couldn’t take pictures inside either of the temples—but we did sneak a couple from the doorway!

The second temple is smaller and built for Ramses’ II favorite wife Nefratari. However, he was so egomaniacal that four of the six large statues in the front of the temple are of him! Their 12 kids can be seen at their feet. Her temple was devoted to the fertility goddess Hatur who often takes the form of a cow, or woman with small cow ears.The neatest fact about these temples is that they were actually cut out of their original locations and moved painstakingly piece by piece to higher ground from their original sites. They had to be reconstructed elsewhere when the government built a new dam. The craziest part is that the hill was also completely rebuilt! This is an amazing feat and we could hardly tell. . . we hope our IKEA furniture goes back together as nicely when we get to New York! :)

Of course it wouldn’t be a true tourist destination without a gauntlet on vendors on the way out! Like playing dodge ball we zigged and zagged trying not to make eye contact with anyone. It was a successful exit; we made it out with just a 15 Egyptian pound can of Coke ($2.50). We met Vanessa and Kerry, an English couple from London who also recommended wagging our finger while saying “laa shukran” to get the vendors to stop pestering us. They’re both divers and gave us some recommendations for their fave dive sites in Sharm el-Sheikh. Back on the boat we relaxed and watched the sunset over the Nile that night.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 10:09 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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