July 31, 2011

Egypt, Entry 2

The second of several journal entries from my trip to Egypt in 2004

1/5/04. 9:30 AM.

I thought I was tired when I wrote the last entry. I must have been, as I chose to use this book with the top sheet margin on the bottom. Oh Well.

Yesterday was an *eventful* day.

We met our taxi driver at 9 AM and he drove us to his buddies' stable at the pyramids. We told him that we probably wanted to walk, but he said it was far, and, since he was driving, we ended up at the stables.

We decided to go on horseback to see the sphinx, the sphinx tomb, the 3 big pyramids of Giza and the 6 small pyramids of Giza. We talked him down to 140 Egyptian Pounds (EGP), which was a pretty good price, $25 USD for 2 hours with horses, a guide, and entrance to the small pyramid and sphinx's tomb.

The pyramids were larger than I expected. Galloping through the desert was a blast. Our guide Muhammed was adorable and the photo opportunities on the mountain above the pyramids were much better than those we would have gotten on foot.

In short, it was a great way to start our trip.

Unfortunately, we returned to the hotel in time for me to have a good sized allergy attack from the horses and dust. The pollution doesn't help. I thought it was bad yesterday because my nose burnt with every breath. But this morning, from our balcony, I see that yesterday's haze is only 1/3 of today's brown-grey cloud. It was Sunday yesterday and most of the shops and businesses were closed. I suppose that does make a difference.

After a quick rest at the hotel, R and I walked to the metero, rode to the neighborhood where the Egyptian Student Center was, and got him a youth card. I was *extremely* self-conscious of my open v-neck sweater. Only 3 inches of my neck and upper chest showed. But it was enough to garner stares, comments, and help from an international businessman who blocked me from the hissing on the metro. I quickly realized that I hadn't seen any other women who were showing any skin below their neck.

The travel literature did not adequately prepare me for that reality. Thankfully, R had a windbreaker, which, once I donned, completely changed the reaction I was receiving.

From there, we took the metro to our new hotel, made a reservation, and walked for about an hour and a half downtown, across Gezira, through Zamelek, along the Nile and back to our hotel.

The walk was a great way to get a feel for the city. Once, when we were lost, we asked for directions in English and a nice man, roughly our age, pointed us in the correct direction. Over all, the people are respectful and polite.

With R, I feel very safe. Without him, as this morning in the elevator, I am a target, and a Saudi man felt free to touch my back, arm, etc. Disgusting.

Oh well. At least I have a turtleneck for today's outings. I'm sure the grime in the air will be on my face at the end of the day.

Off to the citadel!
Egypt, Day One

The first of several journal entries from my trip to Egypt in 2004

1/4/04. 2 AM. Cairo - overlooking the Nile.

Almost 24 hours after departing, we arrived (really? I didn't recall the trip being that brutal. Good thing I got it out of my system while I was young).

Despite the fear and warnings of many, I found navigating the airport, taxi, and hotel check-in to be *very* painless. Egypt is friendly and wonderful so far. The typical tourist expensive car at the airport was running, but even though neither of us really speaks Arabic, we were able to get a general service taxi to our hotel.

Our driver spoke passable English and again, horrible attempts at the native language get you *very* far. He is coming to pick us up at 9 AM to go see the Pyramids of Giza.

I'm excited to see them and happy with the feel of Cairo. I expected to be more overwhelmed.

No surprise, our $70 USD hotel room is ridiculously nice. Gorgeous dark hardwood floors, marble in the bathroom, modern wallpaper and molding, and best of all, a balcony on the 17th floor overlooking the Nile. Life is good.

I fear I may not be able to sleep, but a shower and a unisom should do the trick.

July 30, 2011


Today, my todo list was simple.

1. A 6 mile run with a friend.
2. Do some decluttering of the house.

How decadent! So much free time!

The run was done and I was showered by 10 AM.

So, I gardened.

I collected our first true summer harvest (July 30th is the latest date I've ever experienced for the first real tomato).

E and I biked to a local outdoor hotel restaurant and enjoyed a very american and reasonably-priced brunch around their pool -- the architecture, the elderly crowd, the menu of omelettes and salads and sandwiches, and of course, the view of the pool and the guests frolicking -- it felt like something out of The Graduate.

After a failed attempt at a nap, I cleaned and put things in three boxes for exit, one for trash, one for donation, and one for return to our former renter.

In the course of doing so, I found my journal from Egypt.

After reading it, I decided I will post the entries before I throw it away. Egypt may be the last trip I took without a computer, where I actually kept a written diary.

How times change.

July 27, 2011

The Down Side of Travel

That aluminum germ tube? Jetting through the air full of recycled coughs, sneezes, etc?

Yeah, Europe gave me one final present.

I've been fighting this cold for 7 days. After 3 days, I had a brief respite when I thought it was gone. But no, it came back that night with a vengeance. It has been much stronger and humbling than any onslaught my body has faced in quite some time.

I've taken to sleeping in the guest room so as not to wake up E.

Prior to this, we've never slept apart if we were both at home. I don't like being away from him in the night. But, I also hated the feeling that I was making both of us suffer with each hack, sniffle, snort, and groan. In an effort to be a polite bed-mate, I was opting not to take advantage of the OTC meds in the middle of the night (which makes noise). Since I've moved to the guest room, I can rustle open the bag of cough drops, and open the pill bottles in the night with impunity.

This morning, I canceled my attendance at a professional event. Last night, I had the realization that even though I'm starting to *feel* better (and likely am no longer contagious), I sound so terrible that it would be a distraction and perceived as extremely rude by those who didn't know how long I'd been fighting the virus.

I can't remember the last time I didn't attend something due to sickness.

Generally, I'm a very healthy trooper. I have allergies, which are mildly annoying, but I almost never get the usual bugs that make the rounds. Historically, I've rarely fallen ill, but when I do, I fall hard, and often with things that no one else seems to catch.

This time fits the pattern. I am the sickest I've been in years. And, miraculously, E appears to have escaped it.

The upside is that I'm so grateful for the wonderful health I typically have and excited to get it back. My goal is remember this thankfulness and celebrate my health going forward.

July 18, 2011


Almost home, but not. Quite. The English Language. But different. Summer. But raining intermittently.

The hip hotels here make me feel like my ordinary self on vacation at home, but for some reason I want to call it "holiday" and there are different toilet flush buttons, odd power outlets, and 0 is the ground floor.

To start our British adventure, we spent a beautifully stereotypical British Night and Day with two of my college roommates.

First, E and I missed our Eurostar train from Paris. This should say something about how laissez-faire Europe had made us. And, in fairness, we didn't really miss it, but we didn't arrive before they closed boarding, so we stared at our train from the platform above for 10 minutes before it departed. They wouldn't let us even try to board. Eventually, they gave us seat assignments on the next train. They did not seem to think the hour between trains should matter. And, since we were on Holiday, they were right.

Note to self, while much has not changed in the decade I've been gone, the Eurostar between France and the UK is much more complex, process-oriented, strict-like-TSA, and takes much more time to manage. If time is of the essence, be sure to arrive with at least an hour to spare for security, customs, etc.

We left the rainy overcast skies of Paris, and after passing through the chunnel were surprised to find London to welcome us with sunshine and an arch covered with Olympic rings that seemed to proclaim the great discovery we quickly made: St. Pancras has free wireless! Ahhh... the sweet sensation of sliding towards home -- the Internet is necessary and ubiquitous here, unlike at Gare du Nord, where we couldn't even pay for access.

After an email to our hosts explaining our delay, we took a quick tube ride to V's house, we walked a Kilometer or so and there we were: Guests in a beautiful Northern London home with dinner reservations for N's birthday at Veeraswamy.

Veeraswamy was easily one of the best meals of the trip, and definitely the finest Indian dining experience of my life. Yummmmm! Thanks to N's friend in LA who sent the recommendation!

Sunday, we slept in, had a big breakfast of toast, coffee, fruit, ham, and cheese. Except the ham was turkey, because our hosts were Jewish. But their kids still called it ham, because they are British and have hefty British accents (despite a German-American-English accented mother and American-English speaking father).

At around 11:30 AM, we finally motivated to move the entire group quickly through one of the breaks in the rain -- we walked through a local park, enjoying a zoo with ring-tailed lemurs, a secret garden, a pergola, a pond, and, in a surprise to all of us, a street fair in Hampstead.

A friend came out to join us for a pint at a good old-fashioned English pub (The Duke of Hamilton), followed by a late lunch at the oh-so-British chain of Pizza Express, then more walking, a Pimm's (although it was overcast and rainy), a relaxing afternoon of catching up and take-out sushi dinner, and a tube ride to our hotel.

Today, we did lunch while enjoying the river views with W (a friend and client) from the restaurant on top of the Tate Modern. We toured W's company's offices in Bankside, did a bit of work, enjoyed the displays of the Tate, took a leisurely walk through St. James Park, Green Park, and Hyde Park (despite the intermittent rain), and treated ourselves to a delicious Moroccan dinner on Edgeware Road.

Tomorrow promises to be more clients, a trip to the science museum, a good-bye dinner with one last college friend (and client), and then it will be time to return to the U.S.

This trip has been one of the best two week periods of my life. I'm the most relaxed I've been in at least 5 years, perhaps longer.

It's as if the return to Europe after a decade of absence was a reset button on my stress levels allowing me to return to a life before law school, before my father died, before my brother was injured, before much of the major stresses in my life. Somehow, my aged self, when put in the face of these slightly foreign cultures that are reminiscent of habits and approaches I freely experienced in my younger days allowed me to let go of my current life and reconsider it in a way I haven't done in quite some time.

I have learned, that at its most basic, I love my life. I love my husband, my family, my friends, and that I've structured my life such that I can travel, because it is extremely important to me.

Here, in these cultures, I've found myself thinking regularly about how important it is that things be done well. Since becoming a lawyer, and likely before, I've always tried to do things both quickly and well, despite the inherent conflict.

Europe seems to understand that conflict, and, if I may be so bold as to generalize, appears to have erred on the side of doing things well. If I lived here full-time, I suspect I would rant like many of my friends have done to us, extolling the virtues of the American end-product-based analysis and service-based economy (when you are a consumer). But, this vacation has allowed me to see and enjoy the benefits of a non-service oriented economy (e.g. a process-based commitment to quality).

Here, my brain feasts on languages I can understand but that are not native, my nose and mouth feast on quality local specialty foods and smells that could make anyone swoon in delight, and my eyes feast on the colors, light, and beauty of Europe's gardens, architecture, and art. How could I not feel blessed? I am happy to say that I took the time to pause, meditate, light a candle and/or say thanks in no less than three of the most beautiful places of worship in the world.

Of course, this rose-colored view of Europe is unfair. Unlike most of my EU friends, I have a big refrigerator and freezer at home. Our gas is cheap and highway tolls are essentially non-existent. When I sit in a restaurant, I don't have to wait 15 minutes wondering if I will be served at all. And, the dollar goes *much* further at home.

But, on balance, this trip was just too much tipped in favor of Europe. In addition to all of the linguistic fun and positive different world-view experiences that gave me things to think about, emotionally, I was able to fit in several visits to friends I hadn't seen in a long time.

And, I was able to share the entire experience with my husband and best friend. At times I wanted to pinch myself with joy. He waited uncountable times while I took just "one more picture." And, even better, he patiently listened and joined me in the verbal rehash of each day as I savored the wonderful remnants of its experiences.

I'm already planning our European return...

July 15, 2011


I had forgotten how much I love this beautiful country.

A TGV to Montpellier and an easy rental car acquisition and we were on our way (through the ridiculously expensive toll roads).

We spent two days with friends in Provence near St. Paul Trois Chateaux -- gorgeous, and more importantly, relaxing in a way that the U.S. never seems to be for me. There was very little to do except sleep, read, listen to crickets, walk, run, enjoy the views of lavender fields, swim in the pool during the hottest part of the day, and, of course, visit a few small local towns (populations 200, 600, and 5,000) with the obligatory breaks to eat and drink extremely well.

My French started to return to me. I dreamt in fitful spells of Spanish, English, and French as my brain traded its usual daily efforts of law and Californian life for linguistic puzzles of fun. The first night in the country, with no light except the stars, E and I slept for 10 hours.

Languidly, when our time was up, we drove north to visit my childhood pen-pal, her husband, her children, and her parents.

I had forgotten how their hospitality was beyond anything I'd ever experienced before in my life. They reminded me. Daily.

They prepared several meals for us based on their memories of what I liked most on my last visit, 10 years ago. My pen-pal and her husband gave up their bed and slept with their children so that we could have their bedroom. I offered to seek out a hotel, but this was not well-received. They were so pleased I had returned after such a long absence and that they could meet my husband. They would have nothing less than us, in their house, as their guests.

The rental car sat unused while they insisted on taking time off work and personally driving us throughout the region -- treating us to walks in beautiful local towns (from middle age castle and tower-filled stone villages through more recent establishments like Beaune, the capital of Burgundy Wines).

L's husband, G (who has passed one of France's more difficult wine-maker exams and has been making small production wines for almost 10 years) spoiled us with his own version of the tour of the largest winery in Burgundy.

E was wonderfully patient with the great conversation and catching up for days (almost entirely in French), and of course, there was so much cheese.

After we said our goodbyes, it was amazing to return to Paris after more than a 10 year absence -- you truly do not *need* French to get around in this city anymore.

This has been, without a doubt, my favorite visit to Paris.

The hotel points splurged on a free luxury hotel in the Place Vendome? Simply brilliant. The service and attention to detail here are amazing. For example, our room came with complimentary hot beverages every day. So each morning, we call for our capuccinos and they are delivered within 10 minutes so that we can enjoy them on our balcony.

Walking everywhere we feel like going without a rush to see it all has been the best part. I tried to count yesterday, and I believe this is my 4th or 5th visit to Paris. At this point, I have a decent sense of where things are in the city, which, combined with the large visible landmarks means we can just walk with a map and seek out the things we wish to see. No need for a guidebook or checklist. The tourist pressures (oh, so difficult!) we felt in Madrid and Barcelona are almost non-existent, which leaves us with plenty of time to just walk, eat, and watch the world go by. The air-swing? The Ferris Wheel? Sure, why not?

And yesterday? Bastille Day? What a pleasure.

I woke to hit the gym while watching the parade on TV. After our cappucinos, we left our balcony window-doors open and listened to the planes as they flew over Place de la Concorde a few blocks away. Then a day in Montparnasse, and a wonderful surprise meet-up with friends of friends who squeezed us into their reservation at the delicious Spring.

After dinner, E and I and our new friends settled on the ground along the Seine to watch the fireworks near the Eiffel Tower.

Today is our last full day in Paris, which is sad. I am, however, certain that I will do my best to make certain it is not 10 years before my next visit to France.

July 8, 2011


The Sagrada Familia is the most visited tourist sight in Spain for a reason.

I felt like I was in the middle of an Escher painting -- the construction that is underway just exacerbated this sensation.

And, yes, the multiple recommendations we received to seek out Commerc 24 were all correct. Jamon, queso, y trufas en un bocadillo? Why have I never heard of this combination before? Simply one of the best things I've ever eaten.


In other news, Catalan is messing with my head. I find that I can read it and understand without too much trouble, but I can't explain why. Some French, some Italian, some acquired Portuguese, Latin, Greek, and, of course, some Spanish.

Because I never really properly learned Spanish, whenever the opportunity arises, I find myself in a state of Spanish language acquisition (I surprised myself and some MadrileƱos by using the vosotros in response to a question in the street -- thanks Argentina!).

Madrid probably helped clean up some of my Argentinian-Italian habits and pushed me into more standard Spanish.

But Catalan? Not so much.

Do you know the excerpts where the first and last letter is correct but the middle is gibberish, and yet somehow, the human brain can read it? That's Catalan to me. I couldn't speak it to save my life, but I could try some spanglifrenchalian, and, unfortunately, when spoken to in Catalan, I do. Often to stares.

Nonetheless, despite the mind-bending nature of the written language here, I managed to have a fabulous time discussing cheese and olive oil with the woman at the cheese stand at the Boqueria -- Mercat de San Josep.

If you are a food nerd, this market is reason enough to come to this lovely city.

Okay, off to seek out some Basque tapas pixtos!

July 5, 2011


Oh, how I love it when cities have mass transit attached to their airports! Yay Madrid Metro!

Despite red-eye-fried-brains, we managed to get directions, pay 4 Euros for tickets, navigate the 1 connection, and voila, we were at Plaza de España within walking distance of our hotel.

On the other hand, the time change to Europe is never pleasant and despite the easy transit, this time was no exception. Thankfully, we'd done a 3 day stop in Atlanta, and we'd had to get up early for the Peachtree, so we only had 6 hours to cover instead of 9.

Even so, it took everything we had to check in and stay out of bed in lieu of the small walk to a nearby plaza, where we managed a deliciously languid half-awake lunch of delicious gazpacho, salad, and 27 month aged jamon iberico while we watched the world walk by as the misters sprayed us. Yup, in case we weren't certain, the hams hanging to cure from every open space in the restaurant ceiling confirmed it -- We were in Spain. Mmmmm.... Jamon.

A 3 hour nap, and then we were out on the town for a nice 6 mile walking loop at a pace that really couldn't be called walking with all of the stops (ice cream; wine, water, and olives; shopping at El Corte Ingles, dinner in Plaza Mayor while watching the sunset, and, of course, circular strolls through every plaza and alley we encountered. We left the hotel at 5:40 PM and finally returned at 10 PM -- hurrah for the contagious relaxation vibe here. At 9 PM, there are hordes of people strolling the very walkable streets, stopping for tapas or a glass of wine or a beer, not to mention the ubiquitous couples laying on the grass, relaxing and cuddling as if tomorrow couldn't possible hold any stress at all for them.

It is official, we are on vacation.