Saturday, December 4, 2004

Frankfurt: Financial Capital but Small Town Feel

In spite of my lack of fondness for the Frankfurt Airport, I thoroughly enjoyed the city.  It seemed to have a small town feel...perhaps it was because I am here during Christmas Market season and stayed around the market but regardless, I like this place.  After spending most of yesterday traveling from Cairo to Frankfurt (and tipping my taxi driver way too much...going from Egyptian Pound to Euro definitely worked to his advantage), I spent last night relaxing in my hotel and washing the sand out of my clothes.  


Today I headed into town to enjoy the first day of my first solo trip.  I really excited about this new adventure as all my previous trips have been with friends so I'm looking forward to what the next week will bring.  My cousin told me about the Grayline tour of Frankfurt so that was my first stop to get an overview of the city.  The first thing I learned about being a solo traveler is that if you want to talk with someone (after awhile you get tired of talking to yourself don't ya know) so I struck up a conversation with another solo female.  Turns out she had a 12 hour layover on her way to South Africa.  She works for Chevron in San Francisco and heading down there for work so rather than sitting in the airport for 12 hours she headed into town.  We hit it off and hung out after the tour before she had to head back to the airport.  




December is a great time to be in Germany in spite of very cold weather because it is Christmas Market time.  Every city (really every section in each city) and town has their own Christmas Market.  Today I had some Apfelwein (hot apple wine) and have a feeling it is going to become my drink of choice this week as it is ever so good and warm.  Each Christmas Market has a commemorative cute mug...you pay a little extra for the first drink as a deposit and if you return the mug, you get the deposit back otherwise you just keep it.









Sachsenhausen
This part of Frankfurt has lots of terrific Apfelwein taverns. The perfect drink in the cold Germany winter. 










After Jeannie and I said our good-byes, I headed to the U-bahn (subway) to go back to my hotel.  I was staying about 20 minutes outside of town (gotta love the Marriott Friends & Family discount!) so I quickly learned to navigate the subways.  As in typical German fashion, everything is precisely on schedule and very orderly.  My hotel is attached to a shopping mall so headed over to check out the grocery store...just love strolling through local grocery aisles.  This grocery store was HUGE...3 floors...so I picked up a few snacks for the week and headed back to the hotel.

Friday, December 3, 2004

Adventures in Egypt - Day 14 Cairo

My final morning in Egypt was a leisurely one with "good-byes" to friends before I headed to the airport for a week of solo travel in Germany. After two weeks in Egypt, I became immuned to the sound of horns and cars zipping in and out of traffic. Though I will admit, I still got a kick out of seeing farmers with their carts being pulled by animals braving the action-packed streets of Cairo!

Thursday, December 2, 2004

Adventures in Egypt - Day 13 Alexandria and Cairo

Our last excursion began with a 6:00 a.m. wake up call for day trip to Alexandria.  I was so very glad to be back with our original guide, Amr!  En route to Alexandria, we stopped off at a rest house (similar to an upscale truck stop in the US).  Upon entering the restroom, I was swarmed by a group of Egyptian schoolgirls very eagar to talk to me and show off their English.  They were so very cute and typical of all Egyptians I encountered...very nice and welcoming.
Lighthouse of Alexandria
Roman Theatre



Citadel of Quaitbay

Pompey's Pillar

As always, my favorite part was just seeing how people live and go about their daily activities.
Fishing boats on the Mediterranean Sea



Fisherman on the Mediterranean Sea












 

For lunch, Amr introduced us to Egyptian pizza.  It was quite tasty and very different from American or Italian pizza.  It was similar to a calzone filled wtih beef, cheese and veggies but wrapped in a very thin dough.

One of the things you quickly learn when traveling is to give up the attachment you have to cleanliness in eating establishments.  At least he was wearing a cap and there was a hand sink.



For dinner that night, Lee and I headed to a Lebanese restaurant I read about on a travel site.  The restaurant was on the other side of town so we had to negotiate a good rate with the taxi pimp.  Shortly after our arrival, our waiter came to the table and said I had a phone call!  Imagine my surprise when the person on the other end was Amr...he just wanted to make sure we made it to the restaurant safely...how absolutely wonderful was that!

Dinner was terrific as was the service.  However, nothing compared to the service of our taxi driver as he was waiting outside for us when we walked out of the restaurant!  He said he wanted to make sure we had a ride back to the hotel when we were finished with dinner...and the meter was NOT running!  What a fabulous final evening in Egypt!

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Adventures in Egypt - Day 12 Mount Sinai and Cairo

Our day began very early with a 3:00 a.m. start time at the foot of Mount Sinai so we could be to the top by sunrise.  The climb is a little over 6,000 feet up a very narrow trail shared by walkers and camels with their riders...all along the way, you are watching for camel droppings and rocks while fending off the camel jockeys (their actual names) trying to get you to ride their camel.  I was well equipped with my Brookstone headlight so I didn't have to carry a flashlight...my travel buddies laughed at first but then saw the wisdom in my headlight.  We were fortunate to have full moon for our journey so the path was nicely lit.

Egyptian government law prohibited any guides with the exception of the nomads of the mountain to accompany climbers.  A fabulous idea but in theory a little challenging as our guide did not speak any English which was problematic about three quarters of the way up when I pulled muscle and could not move at anything faster than a snail's pace.


Just before the last leg of the climb is the third tea tent which is where I spent the next 2 hours with new friends...the tent owner and two camel jockeys.  Once again, the generosity of the Egyptian people and the kindness of strangers made my visit even more memorable.  The tent owner would not permit me to pay for my tea and offered me a bench inside the tent so I could rest until my buddies came back down the mountain.  I pulled out a snack from my backpack and offered to the owner and jockeys but the only thing that seemed to truly interest them was the ziploc bag containing my snack.  They were so excited when I offered them a couple ziploc bags...funny the things we take for granted mean a great deal to others. 

At long last, the sun began to rise over Mt. Moses.  The feeling of standing where Moses once stood was indescribable and one I will never forget.






Once the sun began to light the path back down the mountain, those that made the pilgrimage began descending.  Seeing how far we came in the light of day as well as the steep cliffs we maneuvered was pretty unbelievable.

                     


By the time we reached the bottom of the mountain, St. Catherine's Monastery (official name is The Sacred and Imperial Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount of Sinai).  While walking around the monastery, Lee and I ran into Me and Ro (the couple from Belgium on our trek through the White Canyon)...proving that no matter where Southerners may go, they always make friends and see them again along the way!

After touring the monastery, we began the six hour ride back to Cairo.  Pretty cool part of the journey was taking the tunnel through the Suez Canal.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Adventures in Egypt - Day 11 Sharm el Sheikh

Another lazy day and a return trip to Tam Tam for lunch...it was really very good!  We spent our afternoon lounging around the pool at the Ritz Carlton before our spa treatment.  Only in Egypt can you get a 2.5 hour spa treatment for only $95!  We had one more for the road and returned to Tam Tam for dinner (couldn't help ourselves, it was so yummy)!  Back at the hotel, we packed up our things for our 11:00 pm check out so we could take the 3 hour drive to Mount Sinai. 

Monday, November 29, 2004

Adventures in Egypt - Day 10 Sharm el Sheikh/White Canyon

Most of our time in Sharm was unscheduled which was a nice break.  Most of the group opted for snorkeling and horseback riding on the beach but Lee and I decided to go to the White Canyon.   
Our excursion began with a jeep safari into the Sinai Desert en route to the White Canyon.  There were two jeeps in our group and ours was most definitely the party jeep!  Said was our guide, Mohommad was our driver and our fellow travelers were Paul and Bee from the UK and Me and Ro from Belgium. 

The ride through the desert was not for the faint of heart (a common theme in Egypt I discovered) as we were bounced around and became very familiar with each other as we ended up in each other's laps on more than one occasion.  We took one sand dune, landed too hard and ended up stuck in the middle of the Sinai!  It was quite funny to see the wheels moving but not going anywhere.  I tried my best to give it a boost but to no avail!


Moses, the driver from the other Jeep, came to our rescue.



Finally we were dug out of the sand and after a very bumpy ride arrived at the White Canyon!  Now those of you that know me know I am so NOT an outdoorsy mountain climbing kind of girl so imagine my surprise when we arrived at the entrance and were told we'd be climbing down into the canyon!  The brochure so did not lead me to believe we'd be climbing up and down the sides of a canyon...let alone
without any safety gear or a guide without a first aid kit or cell phone!! 

Our three hour hike began by climbing down in to the canyon that just a week before was flooded...again, love it when the guide tells you this after you've descended the side of the canyon!  Said was a great guide and quickly I became very comfortable trusting him as we climb to the top of cliff when we could not see the other side.



 


Said our canyon guide
The only "modern" convenience
on the excursion.


 












Bedouin Graves
Oasis at the end of White Canyon
After a brief visit with a bedouin tribe (and it wasn't one of those cheesy "this is what it's like to be a bedouin" kind of things), we headed to Nuwebia on the Red Sea for lunch and then to Dahab for shopping and coffee (gotta love the think Arab coffee).


View from lunch...the very faint outline
at water's edge is Saudia Arabia


Sunday, November 28, 2004

Adventures in Egypt - Day 9 Sharm el Sheikh

Today was spent by the pool and getting a massage...they definitely do things differently in Egypt!  For dinner, our crew headed to another Hard Rock Cafe but Lee and I ventured over to Tam Tam for some Bedouin style dining.  For dessert we went to the Ritz Carlton where we discovered their very amazing spa and made an appointment for later in the week!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Adventures in Egypt - Day 4 Aswan


After an almost 12 hour train ride, we finally arrived in Aswan.  We were greeted by our new guide (Sharif) and I immediately knew I would be missing Amr for the next few days as this guy did not make a good first impression.

We hopped on our mini-coach and headed to Aswan High Dam.  It's a dam...'bout all you can say about it. 










This is the monument to the Russians for their assistance with funding the dam.








The afternoon was spent at the Temple of Philae and it began with my first boat ride on the Nile.  The captains play a game of bumper boats when approached the dock at the Temple and we actually thought we might end up in the Nile.








When we arrived back in Aswan at the dock,
it was the attack of the Nubian salesmen.
















Finally after a very long 24 hours, we arrived at our hotel. After getting settled in and having some dinner Sharif took us to a local souk where we did some major bargaining and had fresh sugar cane juice...definitely brought a pucker to the lips as it was so very sweet.