You must go to Egypt. It’s amazing. Since travel opened, I have been thinking pf this place for a while. Luxor, the Nile, the Pyramids, the museum, and the marketplace. All the memories of a long time ago came flooding back…Nile humor…I remember I bought a mummy and a pyramid when I went to the market, Crossed the Nile several times, didn’t see a crocodile or a Hippo and honestly was in awe at the history of the place. Its insane. The Romans were in love with the Egyptians. Adopted burial practices from them and leave is with clear art from the period of occupation that we have no access to anywhere else in the world. The Romans were so influenced and enamored by Egyptian history and ways that Caius Cestus even had a pyramid specifically made for him that suits developed by the Roman walls. Completed in 12 BC it took just two months to complete. Modest compared to the huge Pyramids of Giza, but no less impressive in this lesser-known spot near the Protestant cemetery.
Egyptian stone pyramids are the oldest. But Mexico and indeed Brazil has its share of ancient sites. The stairways to heaven.
It’s a bit like Cairo. When you get to arrive in the main arrival terminal and need to transfer across to the domestic terminal, it’s a little chaotic. Not entirely clear and yet somehow it all works. I found myself standing in the queue with other passengers and a wedding couple. She was resplendent in her beautiful dress and the heavy train she needed to pick up as she was heading onto the plane. I even had an assist as she absolutely needed help handling the bags. And there we were, in a coach with a newly married bride and groom and I was the only one that looked surprised. Welcome to Egypt!
Crazy traffic, crazy, markets winding through narrow old lanes, and buildings getting pulled down to clear out the slums and move half of the city to a new Capital. The NAC. New Cairo. Th project in Cairo has started. A city of 25 million people. Half of them to be moved to this new place not far from Giza. The Egyptian Museum is moving out there too in what will be the most ambitious project in Museum history. It will be the largest museum of antiquities in the world. With views across the dessert to the Pyramids and the Sphinx. But the Cairo I recalled is still there. Still with the Kan al Khaleli bazaar and the mosque outside the narrow streets. The beautiful old building of the Egyptian museum feeling more like a house that is being packed up. Mummies and boxes side by side and difficult to see what is what. There is of course the main attraction. King Tut. No photos in there but the incredible golden display is still as breathtaking as ever. And it has been around the world a few times. Poor guy! The museum sits close by to Tahrir square. Lots of shops and restaurants and if you look one way you might think you were in a modern European city but look the other way and you see it differently. Bikes and carts and people walking through the middle of the street. They say that not even 10 per cent of cars are insured in Egypt. They all look like they have had some issues. Crossing the road is a sheer act of wonder and maybe madness. My Italian training could not even prepare for the crossing. Cars simply drive around you and somehow you feel that it’s a miracle when you arrive on solid ground once more. That is Cairo. The markets, the sounds the traffic and the chaos. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
It’s a technique I have come to admire. Spending some time in both China and Japan, I find myself eating slower and enjoying the food more. So, what is the deal with chopsticks. They date back 7000 years. Originated in China and the English word derives from Kuaizi meaning quick and bamboo. My dad always used the expression chop chop which meant get a move on! Ironic as they define literally to slow down. Confucius forbade knives on the table and chopsticks were perfect as a compliment to precutting. Knives in the kitchen. Not in the hands of the customers. After all they might have found other ways to show their dislike of the dish.
I travel a lot. Always Friday night. It’s strange because when I was a kid, every Friday we had dinner from the fish and chip shop down the road. The sign outside read Frying Tonight! It was a weekly thing. Wrapped in newspaper, greasy and delicious with lots of salt and malt vinegar. The tradition of fish and chips stretches back to the 19th century. Origins are cloudy but it looks secure that it was both a Lancashire dish and an East London staple. Sephardic Jews brought the dish to London, and poverty and the sea brought the dish to the north. Oldham they say! Chips were cheap. Hence the saying. Cheap as chips! And deep fried was tasty and transformed boring potatoes into golden delicious hot salty delicacies. Cheap fish was used. Haddock or Rock Salmon. Nothing to do with Salmon.
During the second world war, food shortage was challenging, and everything was rationed. Except fish and chips. And so, it became a staple of the diet in Britain. Nobody really loved fish, but coat with batter and deep fry it with chips thrown in and cut the grease with vinegar and then pour salt over the lot. Now you’re talking! Is it any wonder that the Brits got a bad rap on food. Nowadays, its trendy. In cool and chic restaurants fish and chips with mushy peas is a staple! Considered still to be the consummate dish of the British Isles. Voted each year the most famous institution in England after the monarchy! Long may it reign!
There is believe it or not, a World Cup Tiramisu tournament in Treviso each year. Now in its 6th year it has two categories. Original and creative. So, I guess gold medals for two which seems fair. They say Treviso is the birthplace of the dish. Invented by Alba Campeol in the early 1960’s from her restaurant Le Beccherie. Inspired by a breakfast recipe of egg yolks and sugar (zabaglione) with espresso it was a sort of energizer to start the day. It literally means “pick me up from down” and I often wonder why people prefer to have it as a dessert that is guaranteed to keep you up all night. It’s probably because it’s so simply delicious and in restaurants it’s easy to prepare and store. So…Best Tiramisu. Better with with alcohol but not mandatory! Egg yolks and sugar folded into whites with marscapone. Savoiardi or lady fingers then soaked with espresso and rum and decorated with grated chocolate.
It’s one of two desserts I always choose. The other is crème Brûlée. But I would say it prefer the Italian to the French!
I have been to many places in Greece. The Peloponnesus , many of the beautiful islands and of course Athens. We had stayed on Corfu for a few days. As is the case in so many Greek islands, the influence of the Venetians is everywhere. But we had a ferry to catch and I had never been to Meteora. We drove from Igounamitza. To the hill town of Metzgo. We arrived in Meteora at sunset. It was a beautiful crisp September evening. I couldn’t believe the apparition in the distance. Huge mountains arising from the plains below. Lights on the top. Monasteries. We stayed at a great hotel, ate at a fabulous restaurant with a train whizzing by everything 15 minutes about 10 yards from the table. We woke up to a great day and drove to the principal mountain and climbed for an hour. Reveled in the history, in awe of how they built these monasteries up here, how they maintained this tradition for so long. We continued to Thessaloniki at the end of the day. Tomorrow sightseeing of this second largest city in Greece. Another day in magical Greece.
I have never been to the museum at the Invalides. I missed it on my travels. Never took the time. A mistake. It was hot yesterday in Paris and I headed off to Napoleon’s tomb but was meeting up with someone at the museum. And then a travel moment. In the heat of the day, in the main courtyard, it became clear that there were dignitaries arriving. A band had assembled. The inner courtyard had been closed. And we raced up to the next level to catch the parade. And what a parade. A presentation of medals. The band played the Marseillaise. And then it was done. I walked back to Napoleons tomb. It was air conditioned so i stayed a while longer. What an indulgent guy. Big place for after life. Pyramid stuff. Beautiful tourist place. Another incredible Paris sight. So many of them. Never tires. Travel Changes lives!
So here is the thing about Greek Islands. They are fabulous. Turquoise waters, fun in the evenings, dining around a horseshoe harbor, dancing to the beat of traditional music, grilled fish and octopus and Greek salad, Wow, But when you are traveling, there needs often to be something else. Something beyond the hedonism and sun worshipping. That is why Crete is such an interesting place.
It is the most southern island in the Greek islands and runs parallel to Cyprus and its Italian neighbor Sicily. So, the weather stays warm deep into October. It’s a big Island with vast differences in terrain and full of mountains and gorges and spectacular scenery as you drive around the edges. The interior is high and dramatic and quite green. Mt. Ida is 8,000 feet and full of snow in the winter. You can ski it, but there is no ski infrastructure. For purists only.
The Samaria Gorge is the largest gorge in Europe, 18 kilometers long and more gorges less imposing close by. There are Venetian harbors and Chania and Rethymnon are sensational seaports. The most beautiful beaches in all of Greece are found on the island. And then there is this ancient city of Knossos near Heraklion that sort of blows you away. 4,000 years old. A Minoan civilization operating around the same time as the Pharaohs in Egypt. This is the bronze age. And a reliably restored and ancient collection of temples and stairways and vases juxtaposed alongside the dreadful new town. But here it is. We arrived late. One hour before closing. No crowds. A few guides hanging around looking for tourists to take them around. And we almost had the place to ourselves. The most ancient city in our western civilization. Minoans. Here we have some semblance of their story before a series of calamities befell them and the Myceneans took over, until they too, were wiped out by an earthquake. The palace is preserved and restored and we owe much to Arthur Evans the English Archaeologist whose statue stands in the grounds of the palace. If you have the time and can avoid the crowds , this is a special visit amidst the intense natural spectacle called Crete.
Its tucked away in a modern enclave off Mercer Street in Covent Garden. It once was headquartered on Long Acre but moved just before Covid to its new quarters. It is without a doubt, the most amazing travel bookstore in the world. Opened by Edward Stanford in 1853, it was primarily a mapmaker’s shop. It opened at the height of colonial exploration and cartography was in great demand. It has the largest collection of maps, globes and maritime charts in the world. It is an amazing place. Adapted to modern times, it survived the onslaught of internet commerce, became a truly international shopping place for all its wares and I have to say, if I had to spend 2 hours in a bookstore every day, this would be the place I would stay.
As a traveler, surrounded by globes, maps, books and guides and knowledgeable people who work there. It’s my favorite place to hang out. Nearest tube is Covent Garden. And one thing is for sure. Guidebooks remain more useful in print than online. They work perfectly. And if you only need a piece of a thick guidebook and can’t carry the whole book with you, tear out the bits you need, peacefully…and save them as a segment for someone else.
How struck we all were by the display of pageantry and pomp at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. Everyone said the same thing. The British do this stuff the best. Precision and color on a sad day. Castles and Palaces and people who look similar, slowly trotting behind the funeral car. People queuing for up to 22 hours to walk past the coffin in Westminster Abbey. Constant coverage on the BBC. Commentators provided background in whispered tones. And then we all were glued. Whether you were a monarchist or a republican. It didn’t matter on that extraordinary day. A peek into royalty, even though the family were a little smudged by drama and scandal, it made it even more fascinating. And then to see a transfer of succession, live on TV. Something we have never witnessed before. The drama of the walk along the Mall from Westminster to Buck House, the procession along the Long walk in Windsor and the absolute precision of every moment. Since 1066, more or less, an uninterrupted monarchy living in a castle and a few stately homes and functioning in what is now a symbolic way, but vital for the people of the UK. Theatre and Royalty. And the most popular icon in the world. The Queen. Now gone. Long live the King.
Just a snippet of important info if you are renting a car anywhere in Europe. Learn stick shift. The price differentials are staggering. On a recent trip to Crete, the price per day of a regular rental car was 30 Euros. For a stick shift. For automatic. $200.
Bottom line. If you don’t know how, learn or take insurance for full coverage and learn on the fly. After all, when riding stick, once the car takes speed, you are basically in automatic mode and when you come to a traffic light, you can always knock the car into neutral! Just a thought. It will save you 700 Euros a week.
Maybe I am in the minority. The beach thing. I love what Italians call the stabilimenti. The organized beach structures that are scattered along the Italian coastline. Complete with chairs, changing cabins, showers and umbrellas. Originating in Tuscany in the early 19th century, they were conceived as a health retreat that protected privacy and became a fad along the coast lines. Rimini, Lido Venezia, all would be scooped up by the summer stabilimenti. Once the bikini was invented in 1946 and Italy shook off its fascist past, they became almost iconic as part of the furniture of the Italian coast line.
Spiaggia libera or stabilimento? Nowadays the price per month of an umbrella and two beds on a beach in Italy is around $1000. And you own them temporarily.
You are allocated a spot, and no matter what, if you have paid, that spot is yours until the lease runs out! Recently a bill in parliament was debated concerning the seizure of prime spots in the stabilimento. The early towel placers seizing prime location and disappearing until later in the day. Talk of a stabilimeto policing was discussed. Now, in a world where we have a good share of complications in general, it seems absolutely wonderful to imagine that this is being discussed in Italy while the country is perilously close to a return to Mussolini politics! Although in the end, it doesn’t matter. Its Italy. Nothing will really change. Except the government. 20 different prime ministers over 75 years! Ah. Italia!
“Ever since I was a young boy, I played the silver ball…” The Who
I love Brighton. I went to university there. I used to go on day trips when I was young, and even walked to Brighton with a few of my mates when I guess we had nothing better to do. 50 miles. Through the night. Stopped at every pub until they closed on us. Ah. The folies of youth. So, here I was on the London Brighton train for a college reunion of sorts. The train journey from Victoria takes 1 hour. Memories of youth as we sped across the English countryside enroute to the sea. I took a cab to the Hotel du Vin. Recommended as it’s in the “Lanes” and central to everything you need. We took the train out to Falmer, wandered around the university campus, rekindled memories of what I could barely remember and then headed back to the fun of Brighton proper.
Brighton became famous in the late 18 century as a vacation spot for the Prince regent, later George IV. Architect John Nash built the famous Brighton Pavilion in in the early 19th century just for him…decadent to say the least. Towards the end of the 19th century, the two famous Victorian piers were erected. Although the west Pier was “wiped out” in a storm. It has a metal skeletal frame and is preserved out in the sea for a potential future project. The Palace Pier, with its iconic fun, fair, roller coaster and slide still remains. I think the Santa Monica pier is modeled on it.
Brighton is famous for its labyrinthian lanes with shops and restaurants inside the tiny world of narrow alleyways that spill onto the seafront. Brighton is often called London by the sea. It has the buzz of a cool neighborhood in London, but with the super advantage of a sea front and a mix of traditional and modern scattered by the boat houses along the lower front. Sushi and jellied eels! Beyond Brighton, much to see. Lewes and Rottingdean stand out. I love the buzz of the place. If I lived in England, I think I would consider living in Brighton. But that’s another story. Another day!
It’s the light. The summer sun hanging above the incredible array of places and monuments that are iconic. Paris is a masterpiece. Standing at the Carousel and looking down through the arches to la Defense, you capture the beauty of this place. The Tuileries in their dusty measured landscape detail, the surprises at the Luxembourg gardens as every day Paris gets on with its leisure life of tennis and running and Petanque. In between sitting in the chairs that are scattered around for people with less sporty aspirations. And in the summer when the light remains until after11 pm it is simply magical. I have been coming here for many years. Every time it remains intoxicating. A perfectly laid out city. Not jumbled but precision layout thanks to monsieur Haussmann. And then the sights. One on top of the other. The Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Invalids, the Louvre the Musee d’Orsay and of course the Eiffel Tower. Glittering like a sparkler every hour. From the top of Montmartre, the city is a show unto itself. It’s good for the soul.