Tag Archives: Travel

Tombs and Robbers

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.

Cairo Airport

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!

An Old Geezer in Giza

Pyramids are strange things. Incredible testaments to a civilization that was hell bent on avoiding hell and pretty much had a philosophy that carefully encapsulated the afterlife. The golf clubs, the bikes, the workout equipment, and a few pets. All going into the pyramid. Unlike the later tombs found in and around Luxor, pyramids were huge, unbridled displays of ego and power. And of course, vulnerable to Tomb raiders! The great Pyramid of Giza began in 2560 BC. You can go inside and march all the way to the top. It’s a pretty claustrophobic tunnel and I would recommend only to those that feel fit enough, but…it’s amazing. Really, what is amazing is that its 4700 years old! There are the usual shops around the pyramid and the Sphinx, and camel rides and horseback rides are everywhere. I recommend. Try them all. These extraordinary monuments, nearly 5000 years old, in a dessert under the scorching sun are what the Egypt trip is all about. Just have fun and imagine.

Cairo

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.

Egypt

The last time I was in Egypt was with the kids. It’s a bucket list thing. Pyramids, Mummies, and the Sphinx. I recall vividly those moments and the photos still are up on our wall. Incredible Luxor, the sound and light show in Carnac and the tomb visits. Plus, the Camel ride and the Nile cruise.

So, here we were, heading to Sharm el Sheikh on the Red Sea. Our long-awaited Overseas conference (2 Covid years) and two weeks before COP27, the biggest and most serious Climate change conference in the world. More than 35,000 delegates will attend and more than 100 heads of state including Joe Biden. And we were there.

So, what is Sharm really like?  It’s a resort. Primarily. First developed by the Israelis after they occupied it from 1967 to 1982, until an accord was reached and Sharm was returned to the Egyptians. An amazing destination and has the most beautiful climate and the most beautiful coral reefs imaginable. We got to spend just a few days there.

The town is super safe and even though it boasts no ancient buildings, it has a stunning mosque in the center of the town square. A few camels scattered here and there for tourist rides, some great fish restaurants (no alcohol) and the typical bazaar shops found all over Egypt. Time to bargain and search for something not made in China! And every merchant promises the real deal!

Sharm, above all is famous for its snorkeling and scuba. With over 1,000 species of fish and 150 species of coral, the Red Sea is gleaming with a kaleidoscope of color. No sharks, guaranteed….. and plenty of other things to do. The place is still in the throes of building development. They have highways that are built for Los Angeles and resorts popping up alongside Museums and Casinos and yet…..they still have not figured out the long and arduous visit to St. Catherine’s Monastery (10 commandments) and they should as it’s one of the most important places to see. They are talking of flights to Luxor and flights to the monastery. All in time this will make Sharm, a complete destination. From a conference point of view, it has everything. Now these guys who are meeting should start talking seriously about climate change and solar and battery storage. They almost certainly could power the entire country with the solar resources from the Sahara and Sinai desert.

Funny, it used to be all about oil. When the sun was staring in their face!

Chopsticks

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.


Fish and Chips

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! 

Tiramisu

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!

METEORA

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. 

INVALIDES

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! 

Acropolis

Last person in….  Arrived late into Athens. There was a transportation strike so traffic was unbearable. I got to the hotel late, but it was still light and I strolled through the Plaka and decided that as I was here for one night only, I would fast walk to the Acropolis. It was a good climb through the streets of the Plaka and I could see the imposing hill outside of the Acropolis on my left as I kept walking. I eventually arrived by the entrance and then the guy broke the news, We are closed! I pleaded. I just wanted to see the top. I wouldn’t take long. Eventually he caved. If you can buy a ticket, I will let you in. OK. So, I went down to the ticket office just behind the entrance. The ticket office woman was unhelpful. We are closed. Its 6:30. Sorry!

Then I had the brainwave. I NEED A TICKET FOR TOMORROW I SAID. Tomorrow. Oh, fine. She gave me the ticket and I popped back to my guy at the gate. Handed him the tomorrows entrance ticket, he looked at me, smiled and waved me through. The last person in! The Acropolis looked stunning that night. I was lucky to have had a “travel moment.” I watched the soldiers take the flag down during the nightly ritual and climbed back down. Last in. Last out. What a trip!

Crete

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.

Stanford’s Bookstore London

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.

God Bless the Queen

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.

Car Rental

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.