A Tanzanian Road Trip: The Kilimanjaro Region Edition. (Day 1-3)

DSC_0489 copyAfter our grueling journey from Cairo to Kilimanjaro International Airport, which include nearly 4 hours of layover time in the Nairobi Airport, just enough time for a nap and meal, we were in Tanzania, outside of Arusha. We hit the ATM at the airport to get all the cash we could, because despite setting money aside for the car from day 1, we had to pay $250 USD cash to Tanzania’s immigration department for our Visas. NOTE: when we visited Zanzibar in 2016, we were able to pay with card, but since then their payment terms have changed.  With this unexpected issue, we had to visit the airport ATM to get more cash, however it was still not enough for our rental car. When we met up with our car provider, for our rented 4×4 Land Cruiser for this leg of the adventure, we had to strike a deal with him to pay with credit card when we returned the car because even with the ATM withdrawl we did not have enough cash for him and what lie ahead. Thankfully, he was flexible on this issue.

It wasn’t long before Brad was behind the wheel on the opposite side of the car & the opposite side of the road, cruising. We were warned by the owner of our vehicle to not exceed the speed limit because of photo radar (aka a man hiding in the bushes of Tanzania with a radar gun). Well, somehow, despite not speeding, we were pulled over on the side of the road by a Tanzanian officer dressed in all white. He claimed that they had a picture of Brad (it was on the officers cell phone) & that he was exceeding the speed limit. Brad had a choice.. fight it and possibly be taken in and have to fight it in court, or be quiet, pissed, and pay up $15 USD. Well, Brad paid the man… and got his very first speeding ticket… haha. (don’t worry I have a copy)

Anyways, we continued on to Moshi. We stopped in the small town in hope of picking up some snacks, and we did find a small convenience store but the options were very limited, but we were able to get a large pack of water and KitKats.  From there, we continued onto our hotel at Lake Chala. On our way down the incredibly rough dirt road, we had to stop at the Wildlife Management Area office to register. Not just register, but pay a fee. My weaselly and stingy husband (who works in the Congo, mind you), who knew about this ahead of time because of my research, was trying to get out of it. He tried every way he could claiming that hotel covered it, the hotel said it was covered, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, I was just sitting there so aggravated and slightly taken aback at how far Brad was willing to go to try and get out of giving the Tanzanian government any of our Tanzanian shillings …which they didn’t even want. (They wanted US Dollars.) NOTE: Do I blame Brad for wanting to get out of it, absolutely not. African governments can be astoundingly shifty. …but I was exhausted, sweaty, and just wanted to rest. I WANTED TO GO. Finally, Brad had no choice but to surrender more of his hard earned shillings to the man.

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DSC_0372With Brad feeling even more irritated and ready to lose it, we got our paperwork, continued on our way & finally arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. We were the only guests staying there (now I know why). The place was very clean, and the view over Lake Chala was stunning, but this was easily one of the most poorly run hotels we have ever stayed at (we’ll get more into that later). Before showers & dinner, we decided to take the hike down to the lake since we were already covered in travel grime. It was a bit slippery from the recent rain, but it was a beautiful short jungle trek with gorgeous views over the turquoise water below. We spent a short while on the dock overlooking the deep jewel toned waters & watching the locals a little ways down the water’s edge making a fire.

We headed back to our tent which had a deck that overlooked the lush plains below. We stood there for a little while hoping to spot some wildlife, but there was little to see.

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After washing hours of travel grime off of ourselves and changing into clean clothes, we headed over to the “lounge” for dinner. It was basic, not just basic, but dry… It was not the first meal I was hoping for in Tanzania which was a bummer since food in Africa is typically always mind blowingly delicious, and something I always miss. Not only was IMG_1741our meal not great, but the staff was telling us how horrible their boss was which made our meal a little uncomfortable. We were the only ones there for dinner and it began to rain as we ate. We made a game of counting the geckos that had joined us. Itwas their turn to feast.  They shut the area down early, before the daylight was even 100% gone because we were the only guests and the rain. We headed back for a quiet nights sleep. It seemed there was no big game in the area, and not even the baboons kept us up.

The next morning we had our bags packed early, and grabbed our breakfast. Then we headed to the main house to pay for our stay. Well, what we found out when we got there was shocking. They didn’t accept credit cards, only accepted cash. We were trying to find ways around this but there was nothing to be done. They had no way to process a credit card, The internet didn’t even work,  so wiring funds at that moment proved impossible. We weren’t willing to hand over cash because it was going to take up the vast majority of it, and holding onto cash in this country was already proving to be more challenging than anticipated. So, after probably an hour of dealing with their mess which included bad communication from the time of booking, and Brad trying to help get their internet up and running,  we left with an agreement to wire money when we returned to the states.

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Once we were back in the car, we headed back through the Wildlife Management gate, and went on towards our next adventure. We stopped back in Moshi for lunch and cash, and were going out of our way to avoid the police. We found the bank, but getting money there was a hassle. Our car had to be inspected, we had to park a certain way, and getting cash naturally was a challenge.

Needing a break, we stopped at the Coffee Union Cafe for lunch to hold us over until we got to our next hotel. The food was decent, and it was nice to have a quick meal that met our expectations, as well as a break from the Tanzanian roads where it felt like anything goes in terms of being pulled over. NOTE: …I got pulled over while driving so that the could inspect the vehicle, and verify our credentials… crazy

We had to face the roads again at some point, and once we were far from the city and reached our off road point we finally felt like we could breathe again. We were in Maasai territory, and I was in heaven. We were headed to the Maasai Lodge, a 5 star heaven in the middle of nowhere. I have nothing but praise for this hotel. For starters, the drive in was a blast! There was so much to take in… Villagers, rock scapes, livestock… I was in my African heaven. When we got there, we were greeted wit dance and song which was enchanting. They got our bags to our room for us, gave us a run down of the place and showed us to our incredible mud hut.

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It wasn’t long before we were back outside with a couple of other women who were recovering from climbing Kilimanjaro. They were a riot, and in Maasai costume, and we had a great time talking to them while we all learned about Maasai culture and got to learn spear throwing and experience the Maasai dance and song for hunting (it gives me butterflies). We were all like a bunch of little kids with huge smiles on our face as we raced the rains to the main house. We had to outrun the downpour. It was so fun. A little while later was dinner. ..and it was exceptional. We were fed a wonderful 3 course meal of soup, meat and veggies, and dessert. The perfect African meal and completely worthy of the 5 stars the hotel bares.

IMG_8176We were so lucky because the next day they let us check out at 3PM because they didn’t have anyone coming in after us. We made the most of it. We had breakfast, did a walk through the plains with Jeremiah, our Maasai guide, took in the views and rested. Then after lunch we decided to get out of their hair, but I was definitely sad to go. We were suppose to visit Arusha National Park that day, but because of the number of days we had coming up in National Parks, we opted to take it easy. NOTE: A big part of this decision was also the cost. The planned cost between park fees & conservation area fees was in the thousands, and we thought it would be wise to reduce this a bit, since we just wanted to relax anyways. Our drive back was just as exciting, we had to cross the shallow ponds created by the rains, and wait for herds of cattle to move. We met some of the local kids, and chased by others. We watched a storm move through, and embraced it.

IMG_1851When we got back to Arusha, we went straight to our hotel, Mount Meru Game Lodge. So while the rooms and bathrooms were just alright, the location was AMAZING! The outside was like a giant garden. With towering trees that monkeys going from end of the property to the other in a flash, towering cactus, and water buffalo. Yes, buffalo…. They were on the other side of a low wall, but you could get within feet of these giant beauties. There were also several species of birds. It was awesome! This hotel was far more exciting that I anticipated when booking. Despite the constant light rain & the mob of mosquitos, I couldn’t not keep myself inside. I wanted to be with the animals. Naturally, I was speaking to them constantly.

Eventually, though, I had to give into the idea of dinner, so I ordered a nice piece of Chicken Schnitzel with chips (French fries) which was a funny change of African eating. With bellies full, after the long, but restful day, we decided to retire to our room to prepare for day 4.

After a decent night’s sleep at the game lodge in Arusha we packed up our bags, again, and grabbed breakfast. We hung out a little bit longer so that I could get some additional pictures of the resident animals & then we checked out to head to our next stop…. We stopped and loaded up on snacks and water again for our next drive. It was about 3 hours to the Tarangire area, but we were ready. We are road trip champions after all.

…to be continued.

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Egypt: The Luxor Edition.

 

So now that we were free of the boat, permanently back on solid ground in Luxor, and loaded up into our driver’s car, we were off to Karnak Temple, one of the largest temples in Egypt left to visit. While we drove through the city, I notice how thick the air had become with smoke, from all of the burning in the fields (you can see this more in the photos from our hot air balloon ride the day before). Not only was the air heavy, but it smelled of burnt debris.

We stopped along the way so Amir could show us part of the excavation of the avenue of SphinxFACT: The avenue of Sphinx is, at least, a  mile and half long road (roughly 3 km) lined with over 1300 human headed sphinx that connected Luxor and the Karnak Temple.  

When we got to Karnak Temple, we did the usual, waited for Amir to purchase our tickets & then headed in. Amir gave us the rundown of the place, but I was too in awe of the size & beauty of the place to really listen… Again, here we were standing in one of the most beautiful temples I have ever seen (which has been partially restored) amongst the massive pillars that felt a bit like a maze. I wanted so badly, for all the other people to disappear, to be there alone with just my love. No tourist, no locals to haggle us… just for us to exist in this magical spot all on our own. The temple grounds are huge. I mean, acres and acres of grounds to explore… or should I say hectares??

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DSC_0624 (2).jpgFACT: One of the cool things about Karnak, is that it is one of only two temple in Egypt that still have Obelisks standing in their original positions. One of which was recently re-erected. Others had been damaged in natural disasters, others had been removed and taken elsewhere. There are 21 total still in existence, 17 of which are outside of Egypt. Rome has 13 all taken during the Roman period (it’s amazing that they never destroyed them), one in Paris, one in New York, one in London, and one Istanbul. The other two are located in the Heliopolis of Cairo, and one still stands at Luxor Temple.  

We spent a good amount of time at Karnak, at least two hours. I loved being able to just observe, take video and photos. ….but eventually it was time to move on to Luxor Temple.

We made our way back into town, familiar territory from the day before. Our driver dropped us off at at the foot of the Mosque that was built on top of a church that was built on top of part of the temple, and I was excited to visit. haha. When we entered the grounds we were greeted by towering statues just outside the gateway of the temple. It was something. One of the statues was covered, concealing the workers who were reassembling a once crumbled statue.

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DSC_0656 (2)We spent near an hour here at Luxor temple, taking in the splendor, in awe and shock of the frescos that Roman Christians painted over the Egytians’ decorated walls… laughing how Alexander the Great redirected himself into the stories carved on the walls of the Barque Shrine. It was one of the most fascinating temples for these reasons alone. It was hard to imagine, again, how a group of people could come into this place and desecrate its original beauty with their own views. …but that it is the world we live in, and without those historical acts, the temple of Luxor may not be the intriguing place that it has become. As we left, I stopped to photograph what was the start/end of the avenue of Sphinx, leading right up to the grandeur of the temple gates.

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From Luxor temple, our driver and Amir brought us to our hotel, Pavillon Winter Luxor.  We said our final goodbyes and tipped the men who had been our escorts. Upon arrival, we went through security, and proceeded to the front desk, then were directed to our room. We waited for our bags to arrive, and rested for a bit. We needed our body temperatures to cool down. It was quite warm in Luxor, especially for someone in jeans.IMG_1514  Our hunger began to take control. We wanted a break from the city, and decided to take a stroll through the gardens to grab lunch by the pool. It was fantastic. I got a pizza, which by Westerner standards would be deemed fair to good, but I didn’t care… at that point time… it was a GREAT pizza. I enjoyed watching the people come and go from the water. The late afternoon sun lit things in the most glorious way. Looking back it feels like it was just a dream. I enjoyed this little hotel who neighbored it’s bigger historical sister, Winter Palace Luxor.

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DSC_0741 (2).jpgEventually, after enough down time, Brad & I headed back out, but through the Winter Palace Hotel. The man wanted to find some Shisha to smoke & I wanted a treasure to take home. On our way through we were approached by a family of cats… A momma & her shy babies. It was nice to interact with some sweet critters, as I usually am missing mine by the end of day one. We couldnt stay long though since technically Brad & I are both allergic to kitties. So, we hit the streets. We first stopped at a small cafe and sat on the street corner while Brad ordered the pipe. It wasn’t flavored, just plain tobacco, and so he wasn’t enjoying it as much as he hoped. So, we moved on. We found ourselves strolling through the central souk where the vendors tried to coax us into their tiny shops full of miscellaneous finds.

I’m not the type of girl to go in every shop. If I know what I am looking for, I glance in and out of every shop for what I am looking for, and on occasion, I get lucky. This night, I was once again looking for a bluish-green Canopic Jars (I mentioned them in the last post), but it had to have right head. We went into one shop filled with the jars, but there were no bluish green ones. The shop owner ended up running up and down the street looking in the other shops for one for me, but it was the wrong color. While the shop owner was out, Brad did find a tiny perfume jar that was in the color I wanted. It was a beautiful shade of teal, engraved with hieroglyphics, and had a beautiful wooden dropper stick with a beetle carved on the top. Brad didn’t even ask me if I wanted it, he just negotiated for it. For $3 Brad got me a sweet gift that now sits on my bedside table. (…and yes, Brad getting me a gift is a big deal… even if it was only $3. I always buy my own gifts…)

IMG_1558Out of luck, we decided to grab dinner and a proper Shisha. We settle on Chez Omar’s. it was a wonderfully decorated large patio where they played great music, and we were able to sit in peace and enjoy each other. We had a great time making videos of us smoking the fruit flavored tobacco, and we really enjoyed the food too. There was just one problem. Chez Omar… at least, I assume he was Chez Omar. Chez kind of took advantage of us with the bill. Chez kept bringing me fresh fruit juices “on the house”, but they were all on the bill. There were a couple other issues with it too… but at this point, we were so over the nonsense, that we just paid it and left.. We figure that in the grand scheme of things, it was only a few dollars.  …normally, we wouldn’t let this happen because it isn’t good for anyone, but we were fried. Egypt really had worn us down.

After dinner, we were beat.. our lungs were exhausted from all the smoke, but we had so much fun. We decided to call it a night and walked back to our hotel.

The next morning we headed down to enjoy breakfast. The Pavillion Winter hotel had a great breakfast, not the best we had, but far better than what was on our river cruise. Once again, I found myself loading up my plate with pomegranate seeds, and cheeses. I was happy.

IMG_2469-2We headed back to our room & got packed up. This was our last day and Luxor, and I can’t say that I was entirely disappointed. I was ready to escape Egypt, with less than 48 hours to go. …but despite having our bags packed, we still had time to kill. So we did what we always do. We just walked. We wandered the hotel gardens, the hotel, and wandered around Luxor… We felt like we were leaving satisfied.

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IMG_1593 2We spent lunch at a cafe just across from Luxor Temple. We went up to the covered roof top, and ordered some lunch to share. Chicken & Rice, a tahini dip and flat bread. It was, as usual, really good. We spent over an hour just relaxing in the heat. Admiring the view of the Valley of the Kings in the far distance, and watching the locals down below interact. One man was giving horseback rides in the square.

We headed back to the hotel where we wandered into one of the souvenir shops, again. They had Canopic jars – not exactly like what I wanted… but close. Brad did some tough negotiating to get the man’s price down, and finally I had my treasure. I could leave Egypt a happy woman.  ..but we still had a bit.

We wandered even more. We went into an antique store with some truly gorgeous pieces with breathtaking and heart stopping price tags. Then, we found our way into the old bookstore. The oldest bookstore in all of Egypt, I believe. My favorite part of this, was being able to see all the old black and white photographic prints that had been taken by the bookstore’s founder. They were beautiful. There is something about black & white photographs of Egypt that just feel so right. sooooo right. I didn’t buy any, even though I wanted to. I left the shop, as I had found it.

Brad & I headed back to the hotel lobby to collect our bags, and headed out to the main street to grab a cab.. We had to walk a little ways again as a negotiating tactic, but it didn’t seem to be working, so we just took the best deal we could get and headed to the airport.

…to be continued…

Egypt: The Cairo Edition (Part 1).

It is definitely easy for me to say that visiting Egypt was always been a dream of mine since I was a child. How could it not be? Stories of pharaohs in their elaborate temples decorated with colorful murals of different gods and goddess shaped like animals. Golden sarcophaguses shimmering brightly from text book pages. Why on earth would you want to go to Tennessee when you go to Egypt?

Brad & I went back and forth on the idea of Egypt for quite a while. We both really wanted to go, but had reservations due to the more recent life threatening occurrences, shall we say? I did my research. I was visiting the US Department of State travel website reading up on all of the safety advisories and visiting many social media outlets to see how many tourists seemed to be visiting & also, just general online research through travel sites and blogs (like this one!). It seemed that while our Department of State was suggesting strong vigilance, many tourists were saying it was perfectly fine. (Now it’s about level with France.)

I don’t know if I talked Brad into it, or strong armed him…. but one way or the other I got him onboard. …but really, how could he resist walking in the footsteps of so many great historical figures?

It wasn’t long before I had our three week long itinerary mapped out (it included Tanzania), and I was in the air crossing over to Egypt. I had a couple of stops along the way which were Chicago, Illinois & Amman, Jordan. The Chicago airport clearly wasn’t memorable unlike my experience in Amman.

Since we were headed to Tanzania, obviously to safari, I had my Fjallraven Kanken packed so perfectly & full with all of my camera gear. The Amman security was very unsure of why I was packing so much “heat”, we will call it. Apparently, they aren’t fond of excessive camera gear there. They had me basically empty the entire backpack so they could examine everything. They asked me where I was going, what this was, what that was, and why I had it. It was nothing short of the 3rd degree all over my Nikon equipment. Finally, when they asked me my nationality… I answered American, they quit caring. Apparently, Americans aren’t much of threat to Jordan. Who would have thought?

 

IMG_0582-2Finally, after a short flight across the Sinai, I was in Cairo. I made my way through all of the customs checkpoints (oi vey!!!)  and my way outside to find my driver that I had hired prior to arrival. If you still aren’t sure what to expect after reading this, I would suggest doing the same. You can make arrangements here. It was $12.50 from the airport to the Ritz Carlton which was a 30-45 minute drive. TIP: They do have Uber in Cairo, so if you have service or wifi at the airport, you can make arrangements, & it is also, insanely cheap) 

I made prior arrangements for two reasons: I knew I would be exhausted, and I had no clue what to expect, especially as a woman. I had done my research on hiring a car while at the airport, but I knew it would be too overwhelming when I got there. So, that night, my drivers (yes, there were two. lol) took me all through the city to The Ritz Carlton – Nile River. NOTE: This is probably one of the few places in the world where you can crash at the Ritz for under $250 a night. When we arrived at the hotel gate, the car had to go through security. The driver popped the trunk, and the armed guard and his German shepherd made a trip around the car.  Once we were through, the door man helped me out. I was such in a tizzy with 2 doorman helping me & 2 drivers that I overtipped my drivers, $5 US a piece, $10 total (I think). … and then I did the same with the man that delivered the bags to my room. As soon as I was in the calm quiet solitude of my room I could think clearly… I did the math, and damn, was I generous. haha.

Once I was in the room getting cleaned up. I don’t know what came over me, but after a quick shower & change of clothes, I felt so revived. I was hungry, so I decided to head back down stairs to find food. I headed to the main restaurant, and was pleasantly surprised to find it packed at 11 at night. Everywhere I looked, people were smoking shisha (hookah) & enjoying the environment which included some great live music and belly dancing on the patio.

After feasting on hummus, kababs & rice…. I knew it was time to retire. The staff had been incredible… shifting me from point A to point B to get a better view of the entertainment, but sleep was beginning to call. I couldn’t believe it was after midnight when I got back to the room. In no time, I was in bed & passed out.

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IMG_0593The next morning, I was in no rush. I took my time. I slept in, got ready at a leisurely pace, and headed down stairs to wait for Brad. I knew his flight had landed, so it was just a matter of time before he would waltz into the lobby. I grabbed a fresh orange juice (so sour) and a chocolate croissant in the small pastry shop, and posted up in a chair by the front door. I watch the people come and go through the metal detectors. Women in birkas floating across the floor and the men (so many in sweat pants)  doing what they do all throughout the lobby.  I was fascinated, and so ready to see my main squeeze. I really wasn’t sure what was customary. But when Brad arrived, we had a good strong hug, but saved our kisses for the privacy of our room. I didn’t want any dirty looks downstairs.

I had Brad hustle to get ready so that we could find a place for lunch. We talked to man at reception who pointed us in the direction of a couple different places on the island just across the bridge where the Cairo Tower is…. so we walked, we looked. All that we could find seemed to be places that were closed or were private for members only. We were hot, hungry, and I could feel it…. a respiratory infection coming on quick.

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We had no choice. We had to go back to the hotel for lunch or starve. haha. Sooo, we wandered into the lounge for a nice relaxing lunch. It was soups and salads and sandwiches, all was tasty. We were satisfied. …or as satisfied as we could be.

We wanted to wander more, and one of the things we were dying to see was the Egyptian Museum. They have a large collection of Egyptian antiquities that we were desperate to see. Unfortunately when we got to the exterior entrance, the armed guard at the metal detector informed us that they stopped letting people in at 4PM. His english was very broken so it took a bit to translate it. It was only a few minutes past, and we were incredibly disappointed especially since this information was not provided online. So, we decided to walk on.

It wasn’t long before we ran into the man we met earlier on our way to find lunch. Apparently, he owned a shop & a 7-11. He wanted to show us his shop. For whatever reason, I was thinking he meant his 7-11, and I was excited thinking we could get some bottled water for the room. Brad & I had no idea where we were going or what was happening. haha. As it turned out, the man meant his souvenir shop full of papyrus paintings.   As soon as we were all in, he introduced us to the man & woman that were working there…. getting ready to work us.

The man who brought us in picked a painting from the stack and said it was a gift for me, he asked my name & next thing you know they are painting it on there in arabic and hieroglyphics. They offered us hot tea, and began talking to us about our life and why were in Egypt. They start showing us more paintings & and asking us which we like. As we picked, the man painted our name on each and continued to make conversation. For whatever reason, probably because of time changes, sleep deprivation & the true pleasure of this couple’s company, we let this go on for 6 paintings…. (WHAT THE HELL WERE WE THINKING!!!) Brad and I just kept looking at each other through out the entire process unsure of how to get out of this or how to process it, which now we find hilarious. Such travelers as us, should have never ended up in this mess… but it happened.  Eventually, we had to a stop to it, despite the mans continued efforts to keep putting our names on more and more paintings… he would have gone through the entire cabinet stack, if you ask me. We said we wanted no more… we already had too many… sure enough the man was trying to sell us all 6 for like $200 US. We were able to get him down to $120, which was still way too much money if you ask me… When we closed the deal on our paintings & had finished out sweet mint tea, we were saying our goodbyes… Then something interesting happened… They separated us. I went with the wife, and Brad with the husband. They initially began trying to sell us on different items. For instance, the woman was trying to sell me perfume, or so I thought… she let me smell different ones & telling me about a few and why they were special.. ..but I didn’t expect what came next. She had asked me what type of phone case I had, and when I told her that it was for an iPhone 10 (an apple case, mind you)… She asked if she could have it to give to her brother who was in need of a phone case. Naturally, I declined since I actually needed a phone case too.  When we left, I told Brad she wanted my phone case, and as it turned out… the man had wanted Brad’s. Our theory…. They made up stories to get us to give them our phone cases for free, so that they could turn around and sell them for a profit…. We were completely dumbfounded by how the Egyptians operate. It was on another level.

…and I realized after, we should have only paid for five because one was supposed to be a gift. haha!  It was safe to say we realized quickly (on day one), that Egyptians are relentless and tricky. They want your money and they will make it happen if you are not on your game.

We were not on our A- game, and were kicking ourselves all the way to our hotel room. Even in the hotel room we were so frustrated, but we were laughing about it as we unwrapped and unrolled each one. We were duped, we were idiots… we were the epitome of Americans.

IMG_0605With exhausted bodies and bruised travel-egos, we pulled back the covers for a nap…. the nap last for a couple hours & when we woke back up, food wasn’t enough of a reason to go back out. We decided to keep sleeping until the next morning.

When we woke up, we got cleaned up, started to pack and then headed downstairs for breakfast. It was a buffet. The most elaborate and beautiful breakfast buffet I have ever seen. We were in heaven. There was free flowing honey, fish, cheeses, omelettes, croissants, pomegranate, Egyptian cuisine…. we were not without. Bottle water, tea, coffee, assorted juices were all brought to us & we were so happy. …Well, I was trying to be, despite my nasal suffering.

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I was hoping the respiratory infection might have just been a glitch due all the travel and exhaustion, but it was not. It was the worst case scenario. We were in Egypt, a third world country where the smog is so thick (in Cairo) you can only see a few miles ahead of you, and I had a full brewing respiratory infection. I had no way to find medicine. It was just me, that I had to rely on. Thank God, I packed plenty of Kleenex. I  was holding it together as best I could as we finished preparing to head to the airport. We were Aswan bound.

 

Australia: The Sydney Edition.

Day 1:

Barely a week after returning from Charlotte, I had Brad dropped off at the airport on the morning of May 20th & I was wrapping up all my loose ends before I headed out on an evening flight that same day. I was bound for Sydney.

I was going to visit one of my best friends who has been working over there for the last several months. The plan was for me to grab a cab to her place in the suburb of Surry Hills. It is definitely an artistic community, and as I shared with her… at one point I felt like I should be in some form of hipster music video strolling passed stores of refurbished vintage furniture, and old records.  …but back to day one.  When I arrived at my friends home, she wasn’t there. Shit. I wasn’t sure what to do because I didn’t want to leave and then have her arrive, but as I was sifting through my phone for options, I figured out that there was magical wi-fi throughout the city that I was able to sign up for right outside her home for like $10.  I was finally was able to get a hold of her. She was still at work, but on her way to let me in.

When we got inside her small, modest home. I dropped my bags, changed and quickly freshened up so that we could go get some lunch. First, we made our way to the metro, where I loaded up a pass with travel funds & then made our way into the heart of the city, the Circular Quay stop, Sydney Harbournew 1619.jpg

Lunch was in a food court type setting. There was just about every type of food you could imagine. I, as I usually do when travelling, was craving asian food. In particular, dumplings. I had never had them before, but a I could not shake a certain level of curiosity that had been plaguing me for months. Finally, it happened. Inside the Gateway Shopping Centre is Din Tai Fung. Din Tai Fung had magical dumplings. They were an explosion of flavor that have made my desire for dumplings stronger than ever before.

After lunch, we parted ways. I headed further into the city to find a cellular provider who could get me a SIM card for my phone. It ended up being a much cheaper option than paying for international service with my US provider.   Once that task was complete, I headed back to Gateway to Four Frogs Creperie. If you know me by now, you know how much I love a tasty Nutella crepe. Four Frogs were pretty delish. Were they the best, no. …but they held their own.  iphone 217I headed toward the end of the wharf as I snacked on my sweet treat. I took a seat by the water and watched the ferries pull in and out of the harbour. Then, I decided to make my way around to the other side. I followed the waters edge all the way to the Sydney Opera House, and then back into the amazing Botanical Gardens. I followed the water quite a ways until I had the best view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. FACT: For $253 AUD you can climb the Sydney Bridge. I didn’t climb it because walking up the side of a bridge in a line of people in matching jumpsuits, just doesn’t appeal to be for the cost.  It was some of Sydney’s biggest sights all in my first day.   Here’s a little photo collection from that afternoon:

I was doing well at keeping the jet-lag at bay. I took my time wandering back into the city. I had agreed to meet my friend at her office before we commuted back to her place. It was a casual night in for dinner as she cooked up a quick meal for us to enjoy. We exchanged funny conversation before we headed to bed for the night.

Day 2:

The next morning, my friend headed into work early, and I slept in. I took my time getting ready, and didn’t make it into the city to close to 11 AM. I stopped into Gateway to find a quick snack. I decided on Top Juice. I figured a juice would be a good way to settle my system  with all the travel I had been doing, and fill me up enough without ruining my appetite. It was perfect.

iphone 231I wandered around for a little bit before heading to my friend’s office so that we could meet for lunch. She ended up taking me down by King Street Wharf where we settled on a burger joint called Beer Deluxe. Here a beer with your lunch was basically mandatory.  We downed our burgers, fries, and drank our beer before my friend escorted me along the wharf.

 

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My thoughtful host walked me to the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, where I proceeded to spend a decent chunk of my afternoon alone. …well, I wasn’t really alone I was with the animals!

I spent a couple of hours here enjoying the various exhibits. Jellyfish… sharks… a manatee/dugong… rays, fish, etc… My favorite part though, was the penguin exhibit. I definitely spent the most time enjoying the funny little birds as they waddled around and attempted to interact with the visitors. TIP: I had a great time there & would recommend it to anyone in the area, especially if you have kids.  Here are some photos from the excursion:

After that, I began making my way back toward’s my friend’s office, but made it a point to weave through the shopping district first. I was in and out of department stores and wandered through the malls. There were beautiful things to see, but the price points were outrageous, higher than home… So I walked away empty handed.

Once my friend and I were back together, we took the train back into Surry Hills. We grabbed some warmer layers & headed out to dinner. IIMM Thai was the choice. I grabbed the chicken fried rice for a big, but light, and warm meal. It was a great option while we exchange funny banter.  I paid the tab at the counter before we headed down the block for gelato at Gelato Messina. The place was very busy. The line was out the door, and the product was worth it. They had a series of unique flavors. Mine was chocolate based and super delicious… TIP: Stop at Gelato Messina if you are in Sydney, they have a couple different locations, and it’s really worth the stop in!

We headed back home so that we could just unwind at the house. We spent a while talking before we headed to bed.

Day 3:iphone 503The next morning I woke up, got dressed, and we headed down the street to a small cafe called Reuben Hills. I ordered the avocado toast, which is the best avocado toast I have had thus far! Once we finished up, I grabbed an Uber to Bondi Beach.

I spent an entire day alone in the area just wandering along the coast and photographing the sea. I started at Bondi Beach and made my way all the way south to Shark Point right next to Clovelly Beach. I took the Coastal Walk which will take you all the way to Coogee Beach if you are up for it or if you have the time. It’s a very scenic walk which takes you through Waverley Cemetery which sits on the coastline.  (For the record, I grabbed lunch at the restaurant at Hotel Bondi & was able to enjoy an order of chicken parmi & fries, and the quiet patio with an ocean view.  It was so delicious & pleasant!) Here is my collection:

BONDI POOLS
SHOP THIS PRINT
SURFER PARADISE
SHOP THIS PRINT

As my free time was coming to a close, I was able to sit on the beach and watch the sun set over the ocean and watched the surfers catch the last few lit up waves before I had to get back into Surry Hills. I had the house key, and had to get back so we both could get in the house.

When I got back to the house, we took time to relax before we got wrapped up to go back out. We were having dinner with my bestie’s Aussie boyfriend & Jamaican was on the menu. Rosie Campbell’s is where they were taking me, and I will say that I never though Jamaican food would be a thing for me… by the pulled jerk chicken sliders were one of the best things that I have ever eaten.  After some sweet live music & filling myself up on tiny sliders,  we headed back to Gelato Messina so that I could get my second helping of gelato… like every girl needs.  We took a seat and gabbed for a little bit and got to know each other a little better before we went our separate ways for the night.

Day 4:

iphone 663.jpgWe were in agreement on a zoo day, so my friend and I woke up a little bit earlier than usual. I ran out to pick up breakfast from Reuben Hills again before we headed out. We took the train to the ferry and on to Taronga Zoo. It sat just off of the edge of the water, and we took the cable car up to the top. We bought our tickets, and made our entry. We were in our element. We both are major animal lovers and were dying as we watched the platypuses, were entertained by the seals, and fell in love with the meerkats. The zoo is a pretty good size, and has a beautiful collection of animals. Some of which, I had never seen anywhere else. Also, it is very well done, and because of its location in certain areas you can take in beautiful views of Sydney Harbour and the downtown area, and The View restaurant serves delicious lunches.

…I never did get to see the koalas.  But here are some photos:

After a great day with the critters, we took the ferry back to the city, and then took the train back to Surry Hills. We had a short walk back to the house, where we whipped up a quick dinner & just spent time hanging out chatting. It was nice to just relax and enjoy each others’ company without having to worry about going anywhere or paying for anything. It was just a comfortable night in.

Day 5:

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The next morning, I rushed around town in search of the Aussie version of Ibuprofen & picked up our breakfast at Kawa Cafe. It was another adventure today. We took the train to the ferry again & headed to Manly Beach. She was insistent on bringing me here because she thought the beach was better than Bondi, and the town was a little bit quieter, & I would agree. It was a cute area to wander for the day. We popped into Jellyfish for lunch, where I grabbed a pulled pork sandwich that was pretty good! Nowhere near American BBQ level, but it was still good enough to mention. …and the curly fries were BOMB! We wandered slowly, popping in and out of a few shops, and made a stop for gelato just outside the ferry station.

When we got back to the city, we picked up wine & Pellegrino for a girls night out, at Phamish, a Vietnamese Cafe in Darlinghurst. I got the privilege of meeting my friend’s group of ex-pat friends. Here I was, an ex-pat wife at a table with a bunch of women from all around the world and who have lived all over the world. It was a really great experience, but a little overwhelming. These girls were ready to party, go dancing, live their crazy lives to the fullest. Me, I was ready for bed.

Side Note: I don’t like Vietnamese food… 

Day 6:

Our plan… Head south to Kiama to visit the blowhole. The uncertainty was whether or not we would have a third party that morning.  Sure enough, we all met up at Paramount Coffee Project for breakfast, and then very quickly made our way back to the train station. The three of us girls rushed as quickly as possible, reloaded our train cards, boarded and took nearly a two hour train ride south. We were in awe of the idea of seeing a blowhole in real life, but the added possibility of seeing whales had us in pure excitement.

new 5421.jpgWhen we arrived, we all needed a snack and to use a bathroom. We stopped in at a small cafe for drinks and cakes, and began taking in the delightfully warm sun. It was warmer than we anticipated, but nothing short of pleasant.  Along the way to the coastline, we became distracted with a small farmers market full of all sorts of handcrafted items. As we continued on we found a small black sandy bay where we sat on the sand and enjoyed the warmth and the view of others around us. I was obsessed with taking photos once again.  Finally, we were back on track and began an incredibly leisurely walk along the coast line in search of the blowhole.

new 5596We found our way over to what we thought was the blowhole, which was tucked in a little ways. We waited a short time, and it spit out a small spray of water, and we decided it wasn’t good enough. So we extended our wait time, and it paid off (sort of). Finally, we got to see  a decent spray. We all hoped for bigger, but we didn’t want to spend the bulk of our day waiting on a blow hole, so we continued on our way. (Turns out, this wasn’t even the right blowhole.) We passed by the lighthouse, and wandered back along the coast line in towards town. Along the way, we found the most beautiful small bay where the water was crystal clear, and the colors you could see were of the most beautiful shades of blue, yellow and orange. It was a perfect spot. You wanted to dive in to the chilly water just to see what was in it!  TIP: If you want a romantic night away from the city, Kiama is great spot. It’s absolutely stunning. 

Here are some of the photos:

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When we got back into town, along the street, we stopped into a small shop for sandwiches to take on the train with us. The train ride back was far more mellow. We were disappointed about not seeing any whales, but as it turned out… whale season was a couple months away.

When we got back into Sydney, we went our separate ways. My friend  & I arrived back at her house and had a little time to unwind before we went out once again! This time, we were heading to her co-worker’s house for another girls night.

When we got there, it was just a small group of girls gathered around the coffee table that was littered with assorted cheeses, meats, crackers, veggies and more. It was great. We were entertained by the funny cat running all over the place, and his constant attempts to steal the food. We were there for several hours. It was one of my favorite nights. It was one full of laughter and joy, and it was a great way to meet new people.

Day 7:

It was my last day in Sydney, and I was pretty worn down. I was ready to get home. It had been a crazy month & I was ready for some time to myself.  …I had to pull myself together.

We headed to breakfast with the intent to meet up with my friend’s boyfriend again. We all met up at Rogue Cafe. Honestly, I don’t remember what I got… and if it isn’t memorable is it worth sharing??? Probably not…

After breakfast, we ended up spending a good chunk of our day with my friend’s friend again in the botanical gardens. We walked and explored and enjoyed the warm weather with the cool breeze once again before we headed back to the house. I had decided to stay at a hotel that night since I had to be up early and my friend had to be to work early. So, I packed up my bags and left them by the front door while we headed out for the evening. The one thing I was wanting before I left were the dumplings from Din Tai Fung just one more time. So we headed back out on the train to circular quay. We weren’t just going for dumplings, we were going for VIVID, the electric light show that covers the harbour.

We ate our Chinese food, and then headed for crepes. I had to have my nutella crepe again from  Four Frogs Creperie, and it was the perfect night for it. It was chilly and so gently raining that the hot sweet treat was perfect to warm my core. While we waited for my friend’s friend to show up… (yep! she was meeting us again! lol) We wandered into the tourist gift shop, and were amazed at all the funny things that were in there for crazy prices.

Finally, the three of us were reunited, and more crepes were in order… So we waited, and finally, we were free to head off on our adventure with snacks in hand. We began wandering through the lit up buildings, and through the light exhibits. It was fantastic! We wandered from one end of the harbor to the other, taking it all in in enjoyment.

The time did finally come for us to head back home. We said our final goodbyes once again to my friend’s friend, and were off. When we got back to the house, I promptly ordered my Uber to Meriton Suites Mascot Central, my hotel.  We said goodbye to each other knowing it would only be a month or so until we saw each other again; and after that, I was off in a flash.

When I got to the hotel, I checked in & made my way to my room. My room was far better than expected. It wasn’t just a room. It was a full suite. I could finally spread out in this immaculate place.

Day 8:

I was up early, and debated taking an Uber or the train. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with the cold, so an Uber it was… Sadly, the Uber ended up taking quite a bit longer than the train would have because my driver took me to the domestic terminal instead of international, and there was a heap ton of traffic as well. But it wall worked out. I made my flight without any issue, and found my way back home thru LAX.

THE END.