Instead of booking a tour of the Giza pyramids (like we did for Luxor's Valley of the Kings and surrounding areas (which we were so glad we did!)), Della and I decided to metro*->bus->mini-bus out and spend the day being goofy. It was much better than the quick one hour "look at this, take a picture of this, here's a camel, let's go" we might have otherwise ended up with. And we got to hang out and just take dumb pictures however it struck our fancy. Yeehaw!
Speaking of photos, it turns out Americans, esp. stylish American women like Della are celebrities. We spent about the first hour getting mobbed by kids (and even their teachers!) wanting their picture with us, shaking our hands, and practicing their 2 or 3 English phrases. Della was the perfect ambassador for America, patiently posing and asking each of them their name in response (which can be hard when there are hoards of them). Sometimes the group of photo-seekers is smaller and we can even sit and attempt to chat for a minute.
And it wasn't just kids. Parents would prod their super shy 4-year old to go pose with the American. Or a group of twenty-somethings asking if Della is an actress and the women kissing* her on the cheek as a goodbye* after photos all around. I was roped into my fair share, but I tried to hang back when I could and watch the craziness.
The celebrity photo status thing hasn't just been at the pyramids. Pretty much every where we have gone in Egypt, it's been pointing then giggling then getting up the courage to gesture "Can I get a picture with you?". So crazy, but in a great, flattering way. When they aren't trying to sell you something*, we've found Egyptians to be so incredibly friendly!
We ended up spending over 4 hours wandering around the grounds of the Pyraminds, munching on snacks literally sitting on the immense steps of Khafre's pyramid, taking dumb photos of ourselves, and posing with locals. Afterwards, we relaxed at a restaurant across the street whose name I won't mention but it rhymes with Schmizza Nut. It did have a fabulous view, though. It was an experience that we could have never gotten from a guided tour and one to be remembered!
|Wednesday December 30 2015||File under: travel, egypt|
|Our last 2 cruise stops have been in the country of Oman, a sultanate situated on the SE tip of the Arabian Peninsula. It was neat to visit an obscure* country that I knew very little about before this trip. While we did little beside goofing around, searching for internet, and what Della has affectionately dubbed 'Death Marches'*, it was nice to get at least a little bit of a feel for the place.
In Salalah, we took a very expensive* cab into town only to find, well, not much. I did find the prevalence of American chain restaurants with the names in Arabic to be rather interesting. At the McDonald's, Della snapped this photo of a bunch of fully covered ladies waiting in the "Ladies Only" line. What a clash of cultures!
In Salalah, we also go to go for a swim in the Arabian Sea. I was excited. At first Della, only dipped her feet in the sand. But in the end, she succumbed to the opportunity.
We found Muscat more amenable with clean streets, helpful signs, and a few neat things to see. The king's palace was nice. And I was able to complete my collection of Omani money* which has been a project of mine in each country we visit.
Who knows, someday I might it back to Oman. I know there is still a lot to see and I know it would be a pleasant time. But for now, I have a little bit more knowledge about a corner of the world I hardly imagined going to, and for me, that's pretty neat.
|Wednesday December 23 2015||File under: travel, cruise|
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|The day we transitted the Suez canal was very hazy. I can't say if it was smog, fog, or some desert version of thick-air that I've never heard of. But luckily, the Canal from edge to edge was easily visible and from the brief glimpses we got, there mostly wasn't much to see beyond besides random outpost and lots of desert.
Luckily, diminished visibilty did little to hamper the impression the canal made on me. It is another one of those places that I've heard about and known the general significance of forever, but to see it really makes it come alive. So all morning, I stood on the foredeck scurrying from one side to the other just taking it in. Occasionally there were fisherman or the lolling guard(?) on shore waving. And once there was a town more than just a conglomeration of concrete apartment buildings. But mostly, it was just a strip of ocean through the desert, made by untold amounts of labor and easing the transit of people and stuff unknown.
Now we're on the other side, in the Red Sea. While geographically not far from our last port, it feels further away, like by passing through the Suez canal we're on the other side of the world. For me, it represents new territory, not only the furthest east I've ever been, but to a whole new culture. And I'm excited.
|Saturday December 19 2015||File under: travel, cruise|
|Here are some photos from our last 3 ports of call. Della is a wizard with the instagram, so most of the shots are hers. (If you want to read what she has to say about the trip, check out here blog here.) We enjoy taking the photos. Hopefully you'll enjoy looking at them. (Captions giving context to each photo should appear when a photo is enlarged.)
|Sunday December 13 2015||File under: travel, Italy|
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|A Nice Day in Nice|
Transatlantic travel can plum tucker a person out, esp. when flying on the world's most budget transatlantic carrier*. So I was expecting our brief overnight layover in Nice, France to be spent recuperating at the hotel and little more. But as happens when adventure is afoot, we found the energy to get out and explore and I'm glad we did.
Nice has a lovely promenade along the Mediterranean on which we stretched our legs. I can tell why the French Riviera is such a thing. Being beckoned by the giant Ferris Wheel, we found our way a square being done up wonderfully for Christmas. The public fountain was turned into a giant snow globe, there were nativities and Christmas trees everywhere, and lots of joyous people about. Seeing folks out and about after the tragedy so reently befell the country was warming.
In the morning, Della got to experience French coffee and a croissant as a nice "welcome to Europe". Then we packed our bags to catch a train to Italy where our cruise ship awaited, ending our short nice stay in Nice. Hopefully someday I will be back with more than an evening to spend and significantly less jet leg.
Roaming Around Rome
About 12 years ago, I spent 2 or 3 nights in Rome. I remember it fondly, both the great monuments and museums, but also meandering around narrow streets and bumbling into public squares with random fountains. Having the opportunity to roam Rome again, albeit more abbreviated, proved to be awesome.
We saw the Colluseum and the Forum. We fought our way through the crowds at Trevi Fountain to toss our coin*. The Pantheon was again the highlight of my visit where we scored these awesome panoramas. St. Peter's Basilica had a line much to long to get into, but we sat in the Square and basked in the Vatican vibe. And between it all, we stumbled on random fountains, roamed back alley squares, and poked our head into little shops, and even found a penny smasher!
Six hours is hardly enough time to see all there is to see in Rome. We didn't even get to all the things I was hoping to see. And in our roaming, we stumbled on another handful of things I'll be excited to check out next time I'm in town*. But there is something about the place which makes anytime spend in Rome good time. And Della and I sure had a good time. We came. We saw. We roamed.
|Monday December 7 2015||File under: travel, Italy|
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|An escape to a warm tropical place in the middle of a northwest winter is really a treat. When it is a fancy vacation paid for by Wheel of Fortune and spent with the one you love, it is ever better! Such was the case on our recent Hawaiian trip. And while there was hiking, exploration, friends, and more, what will really stick is how nice a true relaxing vacation can be.
The hotel they put us up in was quite fancy, the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, where our balcony was right on the ocean (from which we even saw whales!). The hotel had a manta ray viewing deck*, a free trolley to town, and, possibly most exciting, a wonderful pool with waterslide! We took part in the daily speed races (even training in between). I never achieved the glory of a first place finish*, but Della did.
As part of the package, the Sheraton also treated us to an all out luau. Held outside against a beautiful sunset, we were treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet of traditional fare and lovely history and storytelling through dance and music. They even had some demonstrations of traditional activities, like tattooing which Della took full advantage of (process/result).
As luck would have it, we had lots of friends on the Big Island, either as locals or who happened to be visiting at the same time. Almost every day, we got to do some visiting, and, with the help of the locals, some exploring. My friend Becca* took us on an epic hike that included adventurous climbs and culminated in a hunched hike through tunnels carved through mountains. She even made a video to document it! Later, we were led on a hike down a lavatube by another friend. At the bottom, in the pitch darkness, freshwater filled the caves making for a place to do some epic (albeit a bit eerie) snorkeling.
After our week at the Sheraton, we headed over to the other side (courtesy of our "ugly" rental car) for more exploration. We had some serene beach time, saw some fun waterfalls, power-hiked Waipio Valley, and snorkeled in some of the clearest water I've ever been in. We also got to check out Bellyacres* and even attend a juggle club!
With everything from relaxation to adventure, this Hawaiian vacation was a wonderful prize. During the trip, we sang the praises of Wheel of Fortune, often wearing our custom shirts to spread the word (leading to some wonderful conversations*). And that's how I'll end it here, with a big old thanks to Wheel of Fortune for an incredible trip to Hawaii.
|Wednesday March 11 2015||File under: travel, hawaii, wheel|
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|On our recent trip to Hawaii (thank you Wheel of Fortune!), Della and I had enough great food related experiences that I figured it deserved its own post. From new I've-never-even-heard-of-that fruits to delicious all-you-can-eat luau smorgasbord, it was a treat.
The logical place to start is at the farmers market, of which there seem to be lots of on almost any given day of the week. But somewhat to our surprise, of the 3-ish markets we went to, we weren't blown away by the selection. We did manage to score some star fruit and Della found a giant avocado*, but otherwise I guess there wasn't much in season. Luckily for us, however, a friend scoured the markets and put together a local fruits tasting that we enjoyed on the beach as the sun went down. The new fruits included lilikoi, chico sapote, dragon fruit, and a couple others I totally forget the name of. Super yum!
Then, of course, there were the coconuts. I first had a go at my traditional blood, sweat, and tears way of opening one using only my wit, my bare hands, and a conveniently sharp rock (see how-to here). Later I tried a new technique that I had heard about which I shall call smashy-smashy. Besides losing the delicious water inside, the smashy-smashy technique works amazingly and I might never go back*.
Continuing with the theme of culinary adventurousness, I stumbled across a uniquely Hawaiian dish called loco moco. After hearing the description, I couldn't pass it up: a huge pile of rice covered with 2 eggs, spam, and all drenched in gravy. Um, yes. The verdict ended up being meh on account of the gravy tasting like it was from a mix and the rice to everything else ratio being a bit high. But I'm glad I had a go!
Lastly, fittingly, comes dessert. I tried a shave ice with ice cream inside, which was quite nice. And our wonderful host* made us a delicious no-bake mamey sapote pie on macadamia nut/coconut date crust. But just as often as the good stuff, it was gas station ice cream and fast food milk shakes. After all, it's vacation and sometimes you just need some sugar.
Yep, it's fair to say the culinary portion of our trip was a success. Exposure to new eats has not only expanded my palate, it has expanded my waist line as well.
|Monday March 2 2015||File under: travel, hawaii|
Hawaii is fun. Look at all the fun we are having. Fun fun fun!*
|Monday February 23 2015||File under: travel, hawaii|
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|The Caribbean is synonymous with fun in the sun. And fun in the sun is synonymous with great beaches. So while I'm not generally a beach guy, I did make a point while in the DR to check out as many beaches as I could. By beach number 5 or so, I was starting to come around: beach time ain't half bad.
The things I look for in a beach are 1) uncrowdedness 2) ample availability of shade and 3) absence of hustle (vendors insisting you "just look" at their wares, restaurants with pumping beats to supposedly entice you in, etc.) After these things comes the more generally accepted criteria of sand quality, swimability, etc. And while I didn't find my perfect beach by any means, each one I got to check out has its charms.
I found one secluded enough that with a 5 minute walk down the beach, I was totally alone*. Then, while maybe not the best for swimming or laying out, in a little town called Las Galeras, the beach felt very traditional and unexploited. I did a bit of laying out and reading (after all, what's time on the beach without the reading of a mindless novel), but mostly I stayed active.
Among the land of the mega-resorts (a.k.a. Punta Cana), I walked the length of the beach and back (it counts as my exercise for the day and a cultural experience!) seeing how the true vactioners do the beach. In the hippie(-ish) town of Cabarete, I found some folks to juggle with which caught the attention of some of the passers by. A lady from a nearby resort asked if she could film me to post on their facebook page. Of course I obliged (and then went and stole the video for this here blog :-))
A while I missed some of the reportedly best beaches of the country and skipped out on some of the more stereotypical beach activities, I'm pleased with my beach time. You could even say I more than pleased. I was pretty dang happy.
|Thursday December 18 2014||File under: travel, Dominican Republic|
|One of my favorite things to do in the tropics is to find and open a coconut the way nature intended: with no tools. Mano a coco. I don't really like the flavor that much and I don't do it to save money on food. No, I just really really (really) love the concept: something so ubiquitous that you find them on the ground almost everywhere yet so difficult to get to without the right tools. I feel like it is an evolutionary challenge: "Are you clever enough to get the goodness that's inside me?" I take the challenge every chance I get. Here's a handy guide if you ever decide to have a go.|
Step 1: Find a coconut. They won't look like those you see in the stores back home. They've got a big thick husk designed to make you feel inadequate. Try looking on a nice coconut palm lined beach. Plus, hey, you're on a beach!
Step 2: Find a couple of nice sharp rocks and start wailing on the thing. Be sure to try lots of approaches and angles because none of them works very well. And try not to smash your finger.
Step 3: Sweat...a lot. If this were easy, everyone would do it. Plus, there's a good chance you'll burn many more calories opening this stupid thing than what's contained inside, so you can write it off as today's exercise!
Step 4: Swear...a lot. Don't worry, that smashed finger will heal. Consider giving up. Because after all, you don't really like coconut and who is this "evolution" that's throwing the gauntlet anyway?
Step 5: Triumph! You've now gotten the husk off, half the battle. You deserve to take a selfie for instagram.
(Yes that was just half of the process. I never said it was going to be easy.)
Step 6: Now comes the delicate part, getting the nut open without spilling the delicious* water inside. If you had your trusty pocket knife, you'd just poke holes through the eyes on the end. But since we're going au natural, try a little more delicate smashy smashy.
Step 7: Drink and be merry! Totally worth it for that half cup of chunky water.
Step 8: Smashy smashy (again). Less care is needed this time around. Feel free to get out your aggression here. You showed that pesky evolution who's boss.
Step 9: Munch on the meat inside...for about 5 minutes until the novelty wears off or you get slightly sick of it. Chuck the rest into the underbrush. It doesn't keep well. Besides, it was all about the pursuit anyway.
Step 10: Head home for a nap. After all that work, you deserve it. On your way, consider grabbing a coconut ice cream and sit back and appreciate how much [of someone else's] work went into making it.
There you have it, a handy step by step guide to one of the most
|Sunday December 14 2014||File under: travel, Dominican Republic|
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