Archive | September, 2010

On to the Ancient World….EGYPT!

30 Sep

For so many years I dreamed to be gazing at the Great Pyramids on the day that I kissed 29 good-bye.  I can’t believe this dream came true!  As I write all the details about this 2 week adventure, I want to be absolutely sure to include as many travel tips as possible.  While there is quite of bit of info on trips and tours to Egypt online, I found most of it to be basic and somewhat vague.  I hope that my insights will be helpful, informative, and fun at the same time! (Please note: I am planning to do about 1 dozen posts on Egypt alone)

The journey started on a direct red-eye flight from Beijing to Cairo on Egypt Air (a Star Alliance Member).  Currently, there is only one direct flight a week out of Beijing.  It is 10 hours.  With stops it can be over 16 – so be sure to book early on the direct.  I should also add that Egypt Air is a dry airline.  Obviously this is not the end of the world…but let’s be honest, this blonde would have enjoyed a champagne toast to celebrate our departure!

After 10 hours at 30,000 feet, we touched down in the land of the pharaohs.  It was 7AM Cairo time.  Getting through customs was fairly easy.  US Citizens do need a visa; however, it can be purchased upon arrival for about $15.  You can pay in US dollars or visit an ATM and pay in Egyptian Pounds.  For all of the Beijing readers with a Union Pay Chinese Bank Card – there are very few ATM’s that work…if any.  We actually used our cards from the States the entire time.

A car service from the hotel met us at baggage claim, and we arrived at the hotel in about 30 minutes.  I strongly recommend booking a car service.  It was nice not to have to think too much after a such a long flight.  Upon arrival to our hotel, The Four Seasons at the First Residence, we were greeted with warmth and excitement.  Noha, the concierge who organized our stay, was particularly helpful.  In fact, she created an itinerary for us that exceeded all expectations!

After a quick rest in our huge suite overlooking the Nile (birthday upgrade courtesy of the hotel) including showers, a cheese plate, and a bottle of bubbly; we headed out to the most famous souk in Cairo.  Khan El-Khalily bazaar contains every treasure imaginable. Some are lovely and some are completely tragic.  Perhaps the world would be a more beautiful place if everyone owned a life size, gold leaf statue of an awkwardly anatomically correct King Tut – but I seriously doubt it.  Even in the sea of very aggressive salesmen pushing their wares from overstocked booths, Brett and I were able to find a few very special shops with years of history.  There are 2 places in particular that I would love to share.

1:  Zaki F. Boutros Jewellers

TEL: +20 5904153

As you can see in the picture, this shop was filled from top to bottom with sterling silver and gold.  Rest assured that every piece is guaranteed with the Egyptian government stamp – and it does not look like Indian silver.  We found 2 beautiful Mint Julep(esque) cups for about half the price you pay for English silver, and they engraved Egypt 2010 on the bottom for us in about 15 minutes. During our wait they told us the history of the shop and served us hot mint tea (their specialty).

2:  Venus Palace Perfumes

5. Khan El-Khalily, Cairo, Egypt

TEL: +20 932625

Egypt has been producing pure scented oils for thousands of years.  They offer hundreds of different scents and blends, and the fact that they are so proud of their craft makes the buying experience delightful.  The shop owner goes into great depth of the effects of each scent – the home remedies, the cures, and the aphrodisiac qualities.  It was perfect timing for us – as we had just run out of Jo Malone bath oils.  Even more perfect – these were 1/10 of the price!  We selected 3: Attar of Roses (similar to Agent Provocateur…my favorite), Sandal Wood (a lovely fall and winter fragrance), and Ramsis (popular for lighting a certain fire…).

My experience with haggling all over Beijing definitely paid off.  While other tourists (from non-haggling countries) seemed overwhelmed and flustered, I practiced my perfected technique to just “walk away” from the vendor until he chased me down to give me the price I requested.  60% of the time – it works every time.  Just like Brian Fantana’s (Paul Rudd) Sex Panther Cologne in Anchor Man.

The souk, minus the more modern and tacky souvenir shops peppered throughout, was like stepping back in time.  There were a handful of hundred year old coffee shops, sheesha smoking corners packed with men in long robes, and a number of other Egyptian men asking Brett, “How many camels for your woman?”  I would be lying if I said that I didn’t like it – and I would really be lying if I said that I didn’t love it when he simply replied, “All the camels in the desert!”  Just so long as he didn’t mean all the wild camels…of which there are none.

Stay tuned for more…

Zai Jian 20’s…Hello Big Blonde 3-0!

29 Sep

In the 3rd grade we took a family trip to Chicago.  Of course after all of these years, many of my memories blur together; however, one exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Chicago has stayed with me – a traveling treasury of Ancient Egypt.  I knew at that moment that I must someday visit that amazing country.

Turning thirty seemed like just the right time to explore the only country with the last standing wonder of the ancient world.  In fact, I actually found myself counting down the days with excitement and happiness.  And, as we all know, living in a world of botox, chemical peels, and $300 an ounce face creams claiming to make our faces feel like baby bottoms, getting older is typically not welcomed with a giant smile.

Anna, Sara, Morgan, and Brett at Carmen

Before I start to share the details of our voyage to Egypt, I must first thank my precious twenty-something ladies in Beijing for including an “old lady” like me in their September Babies’ Birthday Bash!  Below are some pics from the small group dinner at Carmen for tappas and homemade cupcakes (par moi) before the bigger party at The Beach (an outdoor rooftop bar with a sand covered dance floor).

Look how the cute 20-somethings pose for the camera, while the hungry 30 year old can't wait to dive into the cupcakes...

Realizing that I totally jumped the gun. Oops!! (Sara, Lauren, me, and Sarah)

Here is a recipe (courtesy of The Food Network) for the infamous Magnolia Bakery cupcakes that I used.  I must admit that I still managed to down them at my normal rapid rate even after discovering the amount of sugar in the icing alone!  See for yourself below…you might get a sugar high just reading it.

Magnolia Bakery Cupcake Recipe

Long time – No blonde… I mean blog!

28 Sep

Enjoying time on the water this summer before Beijing got too hot!

Summer has come to an end and it appears that things are moving toward a more normal life. Basically what I am trying to say is that after a couple of busy months…the Blonde is back!  I am ready to talk (okay – write) travel spots, shopping and dining tips, and insight into the wonderful world that is China.

It has been an eventful summer. We have traveled to a few great places, eaten at new restaurants around Beijing, shopped at hidden gem boutiques, and met so many wonderful people along the way.

Although it is a bit backwards (I mean I am blonde and from Kentucky – so backwards is a pretty comfortable spot for me) I am going to blog in a reverse order.  I will start with our most recent adventures.

Please stay tuned!

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