Advertisements
Archive | Art RSS feed for this section

Royal Russia – Day 3

6 Feb

The majority of our 3rd day in Saint Petersburg was spent strolling through the room after room of the majestic Hermitage.   Of course we only saw a tiny fraction of the treasures that the Hermitage holds (it would take 365 days of touring for nine years to see every item in the collection) but what we did see was remarkable.  In actual fact, the building itself is outstanding even without its contents.

My wonderful husband intently studying one of the exhibits in the Hermitage.  I couldn’t stop myself from intently studying him!

Then…I suppose – he was studying me!

Snapping a photo of the above hallway – one of the more famous ones in the Winter Palace would have been nearly impossible in the summertime.  But again, we were rewarded for braving the cold and had much of the Hermitage to ourselves.  The only downside being that the Museum workers snapped at me for wearing high-heeled boots that made “too loud of a noise” when I walked.  Had others been around…I don’t think they could have singled me out!

Honestly, I don’t know the name or anything about the artist of this statue – but of all the things we saw that day, it was my absolute favorite.  Most likely because it reminded me of my two darling and very best friends – Mary Kay Bowden and Kimmy Willson.  Not that they look anything like the statue!  It just reminded me of our days as little girl ballerinas dancing together.

After hours of art and culture – we decided to treat ourselves to proper cocktails and appetizers at the Lobby Bar in the Grand Europe Hotel just off of the Nevsky Prospect.  Great company, great drinks, and great people watching.  The furs alone made my mouth water.  Sorry PETA.

We ended our night with a divine meal at Mix – the new Alain Ducasse restaurant in the W Hotel.  Once again we filled our bellies to the point of explosion!  Below are two images of our favorite dishes…

Our first courses were our favorites. LEFT: Brett's Chicory Ham and Black Truffle. RIGHT: My Soft Boiled Egg, Tender Lentils, and Toasted French Baguette.

Just as expected, day 3 in Saint Petersburg did not disappoint – but just like the 2 previous days, we were absolutely spent at the end of it.  There is so much history to learn, so much beauty to absorb, and so much food to eat that our brains and bellies needed to rest!

Up Next: Royal Russia – Day 4…Off to the Ballet!

Advertisements

Royal Russia – Day 2

5 Feb

Our second day in Saint Petersburg was completely dedicated to the Royals.  It started with a trip to Pushkin to visit the summer palaces and ended with a fine meal at Tsar.  Pushkin seems a bit like the Hamptons of Saint Pete…sans beach of course.  In addition to numerous Royal Palaces, modern-day Pushkin is full of summer houses belonging to Russia’s upper class.  Our first stop was Catherine’s Palace – nothing if not over-the-top.  Gilded…gilded…everywhere!

Although this palace was originally commissioned by Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great.  It was her daughter Elizabeth, who oversaw the completion of the palace in all its gleaming splendor.  Her specific request to architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli was to build –  “a palace with truly splendid ornaments, fit to be an abode for the ruler of a huge empire”.  And so he did…

In the Grand Ballroom of Catherine's Palace

It turned out that our decision to brave the freezing cold in order to visit Russia in the winter and fulfill our Dr. Zhivago fantasies had other perks…NO other tourists.  We ultimately had all of the Royal Palaces to ourselves.  I don’t think any of these pictures would have been possible in the summertime with wall to wall people.

The main staircase inside The Catherine Palace.  I think I tour guide did a nice job snapping this picture!

Before touring The Pavlovsk Palace, commissioned by Catherine II (i.e. Catherine the Great) for her son Paul, we decided to take a little sleigh ride in the beautiful and freshly fallen white snow!

To be honest…it was almost (okay it was) too cold for this frosty little ride.  But I knew that we could not come back from Russia and tell my Mama Jean (my 80-year-old grandmother who loves snow and all things Russian) that we did not take a “Troika” ride.

After Pavlovsk Palace, we toured The Alexander Palace, built by Catherine the Great for her favorite grandson, Alexander I.  Of course the Palace itself was quite grand, but it was the history of it that intrigued us most.  This palace eventually housed the last Tsar of Russia – Nicolas II, and it felt more like a home than any of the others.  My absolute favorite display case of all is pictured above – Romanov baby clothes.   They really put Baby Gap to shame.

At the end of a full day of trekking through palaces, we decided to treat ourselves to another meal of traditional Russian cuisine at Tsar.  More caviar…more vodka…and their delicious cherry dumplings!

Post dinner dancing at Tsar Restaurant

Stay tuned for Royal Russia – Day 3!

 

A Portrait of China

16 Jan

I recently saw this painting in a restaurant here in Beijing.  Of all the chaos happening in this picture, can you guess which item or action I haven’t seen yet with my own two eyes???

Answer coming soon….

Calling All Wine, Art & Diamond Lovers!

19 Dec

This should cover a lot of you, so I am expecting an extra-large number of readers today.  If you fall into one or all (like me) of those categories, then Delaire Graff Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa is a definite destination spot for you.

Laurence Graff, known to many as the “The King of Diamonds” is one of the few humans in the world that can spot a flawless stone with his bare eyes.  No loop required.  So how does this translate into his estate nestled into the wine country just an hour outside of Cape Town?  The answer is – flawlessly.  He has not missed a single detail of perfection.  From the villas, to the gardens, to the museum quality art collection, to the food, to the wines, and last but not least the impeccable service – we could not have been more impressed.  Though our stay was short, Brett and I took advantage of everything Delaire had to offer.  To be honest, any length of time would have felt too short.

Here is the story of our stay summed up in photos.  The pictures speak much louder than my words.

View of the vineyards from our villa. Taken while sipping on the champagne that was waiting for us in the room upon arrival. I love the way these people think.

Brett flipping through the Graff Diamonds coffee table book in our living room. That incredible view (from the previous picture) is just in front of him. Although, I prefer the view with him in it!

Enjoying the bubbly and the warm clean air. I took on a whole new appreciation for air quality after moving to Beijing. It is the small things in life, you know? Like being able to breathe.

The happy couple right before our wine tasting commenced. You can tell because our teeth and lips are not purple yet! I know you are supposed to spit it out...but who does that on their honeymoon?

Our view during the wine tasting. Just stunning.

In the cellar learning about Delaire's wine making process. Probably should have done the education portion before the tasting...

Touring the cellar... Apparently, I got confused and thought we were taking a dance team picture.

A pristine 2008 red wine barrel at Delaire Graff Estate.

On our way back to the villa to rest and freshen-up before dinner I made a quick stop to kiss the iconic statues of Delaire.

One of many powerful paintings by Lionel Smit

A dip in the pool before dinner. Don't judge - I think I may have counted this as my bath...

Sunset at Delaire Graff Estate. Our view as we walked to dinner.

Dining at the Delaire Graff Restaurant for dinner. We chose Indochine for lunch which was also very tasty. The decor of both spaces is lovely. Be sure to check our Delaire's dining options for even more images of the property. Breathtakingly beautiful.

Sadly, our stay at Delaire had to come to an end. It was certainly too short! But the adventure continues. Here is Brett boarding our tiny "crop duster" to take us to Chitwa Chitwa Private Game Lodge. Let the safari begin!

Stayed tuned for lions, leopards, and ellies galore!

An Upstaged Bride

19 Aug

A Bride and Groom might assume that at their own Circus of Love Celebration – they would be the main attraction…but in our case –  Mr. Sean Platt, caricature artist extraordinaire, stole the show.   And…we couldn’t be happier about it!

Morgan and Brett Hutchinson's Circus of Love Caricature by Sean Platt

Originally, we hired Sean for two hours – but after being told numerous times that our guests were waiting in line for almost an hour for his services, we asked him to stay for the entire six hours.  He had a line out of the barn for the rest of the night!  I am not even sure if the poor guy got up to use the men’s room!  Thankfully, I do know that my Aunt Lorna and my mother were providing him with water.  Well – I assume it was water and not bourbon…although Brett and I were the last to get our caricature drawn, and I look a bit more like Kelly Ripa than Morgan Hutchinson and he looks a little more like John Travolta.  That said – Mr. Platt was wonderful and we highly recommend him!

Now I would like to call on all of you who had your caricature drawn at the party!! Please email them to me at morganbhutch@hotmail.com and I will add them to this post!  I already have a few…  Also, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog so you will receive a notification when I upload a new caricature drawing.

If you live in the Central Ohio area and you are looking for a caricature artist for your next party or event – Mr. Sean Platt is the guy for you! http://www.seanplatt.com/

Mona (Mother of the Bride) and Joe Bolin. Mom - how is he supposed to draw you while you are cackling like a hyena? By the way, Joe - he nailed you!

Mom and Joe. The Finished Product!

Two of our favorite New Yorkers... Michael Zorich and Greg Reed!

Greg....I totally recognize this facial expression! It is so you!

Dione and Greg Schwartz. D...I loved your sparkly toes that night! It's a shame they can't be seen in the drawing! If only you were a circus acrobat...

Craig and Lisa Lomonico. The first two Ohio friends I met of B's. LOVE them!

Christa (my beautiful friend from college...although you really can't tell from this caricature!) and Michael Ketchum.

Please send me more!

Brett’s Birthday Get Away to The City of Lights

22 Jan

La Tour Eiffel! FASHION: Multi-Colored Fox Fur Jacket with Brown Suede Over-the-Knee Boots

I love Paris in the Springtime….I love Paris in the Fall!  Ahh – gay Paris!  Is there any other city so full of romance – delicious wines, the creamiest butter, and steak tartare served to perfection?  I think not.  So – I decided to surprise Brett with a trip to The City of Lights for his birthday celebration.

We left Beijing on a red eye flight on Aeroflot – a Russian Airline that offered a first class fare for almost the exact same price as the coach fare of Air France.  So that was a no-brainer.  Thank you Kayak!  We did have a quick stop in Moscow – which was actually kind of fun, and we arrived in Paris at 7AM.  By the way, I would recommend this airline.  Their fleet of planes might be a little older than other airlines, although the interiors do appear to have been updated, the service was excellent, and the price was right.

On Plane to Paris

I knew we would have plenty of time to freshen up once we arrived at the hotel seeing that Paris doesn’t really wake until almost 10.  Gotta love the 30 hour work week!  We stayed at Hotel Cambon – a sweet little boutique hotel across from the original Chanel store and Coco’s actual apartment.  All the rooms have a different, very modern and eclectic design, and ours even had a balcony overlooking a section of the Tuileries Gardens.  It was lovely.  I had arranged for a chocolate birthday cake and champagne to be in the room upon arrival. Okay…8AM might have been a little early to pop the bubbly – but it was 3PM Beijing time – and that is definitely happy hour in France.  So when you do the math – it was clearly acceptable.

In Front of Brasserie Lipp

Our first day was spent at the Musee Dorsay to visit the Impressionists followed by a late lunch at Brasserie Lipp in Saint-Germain to devour steak tartare and escargot.  The evening was spent at Guy Savoy – a 3 Michelin star restaurant.  We gorged ourselves on a 7-course tasting menu with wine pairings that included Guy’s infamous truffled artichoke soup – quite possibly the best thing I have ever put in my mouth.  I think it is obvious that our clothes fit a little bit tighter after our trip!

The next morning we awoke bright and early to wonder the streets while most Parisians were still warm in their beds.  We hit many of the necessary spots…a kiss on the Lover’s Bridge, a stroll by the Seine, the L’Arc de Triomphe on Champs Elysee. And, when our feet (I should say my feet in 5″ heels) couldn’t take anymore, we stopped by Cafe Marly overlooking the Louvre for a mid-morning snack.  For lunch (yes – the trip was based around eating) we went to Nomiya on top of the Palais de Tokyo modern art museum.

Nomiya at Palais de Tokyo

I had read an article about this place in the NY Times a while back, and it sounded very interesting.  Honestly, it exceeded every one of our expectations, and it was one of our favorite activities during the trip.  The lunch – which you must make reservations for well in advance – hosts 12 guests and no more.

Lover's Bridge

Perched on top of the museum in a tiny glass building, we ate great food at a communal table with interesting guests and a panoramic view of the city.  It was a great time – and as it turned out, the woman sitting across from us had lived in Murray, Kentucky (my off the beaten path tiny hometown) for a couple of years as a child.  What are the odds?

The Louvre. FASHION: Ivory Bunny Fur Jacket with an Eggplant American Apparel Lycra Skirt, matching tights, and Fuchsia Gladiators. Taupe Bottega Veneta Top Handle Tote

The remainder of the trip was spent at many other Parisian classics – The Bar at the Ritz, George V, the Pont Neuf, Hotel Costes, some shopping for the birthday boy in the Marais, window shopping on Faubourg Saint Honoree, Plaza Athenee (for drinks with my cute friend Jenny Leeper, her handsome fiance, and her very sweet mother) and a grand finale stop at La Tour Eiffel.  All in all – a perfect trip.

More Pictures from Paris….

Breakfast at Hotel Costes

Le Pont Neuf

Self Portrait at Plaza Athenee

Xi’an, China

18 Dec

Dont' be fooled - these are not the "real" terra-cotta warriors. Although they may have worn oversized sunglasses.

I think it is fair to say that all of us hope to leave our mark on this earth.  Many do this by raising a family and carrying on their family name.  Artists and authors become immortal through their works.  Some offer endowments to their alma mater in order for a building that bears their name to be built.  Recently, I discovered one person in particular who left 2 incredible legacies behind: one above ground – The Great Wall – and one underground (and therefore less well-known) –  The Terra-cotta Soldiers of Xi’an. Known as the First Emperor in Chinese History  (or to me as one of the most arrogant men to ever walk the earth) Emperor QinShihuang decided to have his “people” craft an estimated 8,000 life-size warriors and horses to be buried along the perimeter wall of his tomb in order to protect his corpse in the afterlife.  A reasonable request, don’t you think?

Because Emperor Qin believed that life under the ground after death was a continuation of life on earth, he constructed (or rather had his people construct – over a 40 year period) a huge mausoleum for himself including 3 palaces and a resting hall with all the necessities of daily life, as if the emperor were still alive.  And although a grass-covered mound stands 76 meters high today (originally 115 meters high during its completion in 221 BC) and about 35 kilometers from the city of Xi’an, it wasn’t until 1974 that local farmers discovered large pottery fragments while digging for wells in search of water.  This discovery led to the revelation of 3 pits housing the emperor’s underground army spanning over 22,000 square meters.  It should be said that the farmer who discovered this amazing national treasure (often referred to as The 8th Wonder of the World) became the first Chinese millionaire!

The Warrior "Hospital" - Where restorations continue daily

After 5 years of government approved excavation, Emperor Qin’s Terra-cotta Museum opened to the public on October 1, 1979.  In the last 20 years, the terra-cotta museum has become the largest on-site museum in China, and it receives over 2 million tourists each year.  Upon entering the first pit of the museum, all of us (my mom included who was visiting us for the first time) became speechless.  Something very difficult for both Brett and Mom to do I might add!  The sheer magnitude of the soldiers is bewildering – but upon closer look, we realized that each soldier carries a different facial expression, its own unique hairstyle and stance.  These outstanding figures were not replicated in bulk, but created with time, care, and unprecedented precision.  Even more remarkable – each figure would have been 3 times its current size before cooking it in the kiln to achieve the finished product.

Restored Warriors in Pit 1

Honestly, I can’t even wrap my mind around it – but I suppose there was a bit more free time before television and Facebook.  It is estimated that over 2 million craftsmen worked to build the emperor’s tomb and the terra-cotta warriors. Sadly,  thousands of them were buried alive at the death of the emperor to keep the tomb a secret.

It is truly something one must see to believe.  I had seen a documentary on them before moving to China – but nothing but your own eyes can truly do them justice.

Small Terra-cotta Figures from Emperor Jingdi's Tomb

Xi’an was actually the original capital of China, and because of this it has a plethora of other historical treasures.  In fact, just a one hour drive from Emperor Qin’s tomb is the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi which houses over 50,000 doll-sized terra-cotta figures in a new “under-ground” museum which opened in 2006.  Known as the Hanyangling museum, this modern space creates a unique perspective with glass floors that allow you to literally walk over the remains.  While the life-size warriors of Emperor Qin’s tomb are mind-boggling because they represent his complete domination over the people, the figures of Jingdi’s tomb embody his way of thinking as an emperor of the people.  The 2 emperors had quite different regimes to say the least.

Laughing at the Large Wild Goose Pagoda

We also visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, built in 652 AD during the Teng Dynasty to hold Buddhist materials collected from India. Although, my mom opted out, Brett and I climbed to the top to check out the views of Xi’an.  Unfortunately for us, the visibility that day pretty much sucked.  If only we had thought it through before climbing the 7 stories of rickety and extremely uneven stairs…

Xi’an is a true treasure of China, and the residents take great pride in their city. I thoroughly enjoyed our time there, and I highly recommend it as a stop during any visit to China.   I am also incredibly thankful that we got to share the experience with my mom.  I mean look how cute she is dressed as a terra-cotta soldier!

Warrior? Or Helena Bonham Carter as The Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland?

The Circus Comes to Cairo…Tents, Belly Dancers & a Lion!

11 Oct

Birthday Dinner by The Great Pyramids! FASHION: Off White Linen One Shoulder Jumpsuit with Detachable Gold Lame and Metallic Green Brocade Skirt. Tailored Made in China.

Our last day in Cairo fell on my actual birthday (which I had clearly been celebrating for over a week already…typical only child, right?). Spoiled by a fantastic boyfriend – I woke up to the sound of room service wheeling in a table with fresh pancakes and cold champagne. While the waiter popped the cork, Brett surprised me with another birthday treat – stunning diamond hoops.  The day was off to a spectacular start! Although I must say that I would have been happy with a bowl of Rice Krispies and a Hallmark Card – so long as Brett was there beside me.  That said – what girl doesn’t like champagne and diamonds!

The plan for the day was pretty simple:  room service, a bit of sightseeing and lunch, some pool time, and dinner in a tent overlooking the pyramids.  In my opinion, it was the equation to the PERFECT 30th birthday!  A good friend of mine recommended a lunch spot in Al-Azhar Park that overlooks the Citidel and offers lovely views of the entire city.  The weather was actually very pleasant that day with a nice breeze, and because it was Friday (the Muslim equivalent to Sunday for Christians) the park was hopping!  Honestly, I was a little concerned when we first got in line to buy our tickets to the park.  I couldn’t believe it – the ticket counters were divided by gender!   Brett and I had to stand in separate lines.  Although the funniest thing about it was that my line moved faster, and I was still able to buy 2 tickets.   So – it really didn’t make all that much sense….

Lunch in Al Azhar Park. FASHION: Silk Chiffon Animal Print Jumpsuit with Metallic Gold Empire Waste Detail. Tailored Made in China.

Inside the gates, the park was filled with people.  It was wonderful to see all the families scattered about sharing picnics and playing games.  We strolled for a bit and weaved our way to the restaurant, located at the highest point of the park to provide the most optimal views of Cairo.  While the park appeared to be full of locals, the restaurant had more of an eclectic crowd of tourists from all over the world.  The menu offered some familiar options (sandwiches, salads, etc.) as well as some popular Egyptian dishes.  After stuffing our bellies and taking in the views, we heading back to the hotel to relax by the pool.

SIDE NOTE: I want to be sure that I am clear about something for anyone visiting Cairo….even though I have not mentioned it – we did NOT skip the Egyptian Museum.  It is a must see!  How can you leave this city without seeing the mummies and the treasures from King Tut’s tomb?  The answer is that you cannot!  Tip: you have to check your camera at a little security building outside of the museum by the ticket office.  We learned this the hard way and waited in line to get inside the museum twice.  Also, we went without a tour guide, but I think you might find a guide helpful.  The museum is in the process of moving to a new location, and it is not all that easy to navigate.

Now….back to the birthday! After the perfect amount of Vitamin D, we headed up to the room to shower and get ready for dinner.  Our fabulous concierge, Noha, organized a tent dinner for us overlooking the pyramids.  She timed the reservation perfectly for sunset.  We feasted over lamb and chicken kofta (kabobs), delicious hummus, and other Egyptian cuisine.  Not to mention…I smoked a hookah pipe for the first time in my life.  The most popular flavor of tobacco used is apple.  Truthfully, this

Smoking a Hookah Pipe

sounded terrible to me (let’s just say there may have been an incident in college involving an apple martini) but it was actually sort of fun and the apple taste wasn’t very strong.

At the end of dinner, Noha came to escort us to a “different” table for dessert.  Little did we know that she (with help of course) had prepared an entire surprise birthday party complete with balloons, confetti, belly dancers, traditional Egyptian performers, and cake!  What a treat! We even got to learn a little belly dancing ourselves….

Surprise Party!

While Brett and I rested from the belly dancing lessons (harder than you might think) in the tent, I noticed a man in the distance holding what appeared to be a rather large dog. Brett agreed that something looked a bit off, and slowly we both realized that not even Cujo had paws that size.  It was not a dog at all – it was a lion.  I knew that it was probably some sort of money making scheme – but I really didn’t care. How many opportunities do you get to hold a baby lion?  Plus – it saved me the expense of a microdermabrasion treatment. Their tongues are no joke.

At the end of this perfect night, I found myself feeling sincerely guilty.  It had been the best day. Thank you, Noha and everyone at the Four Seasons 1st Residence!  To Brett – there are no words…. You seriously outdid yourself!

Next up:  Luxor

“Obama’s Mosque”

8 Oct

Entrance to The Hanging Church

On our 3rd day in Cairo, our wonderful tour guide, Jasmine, took us to a variety of historical religious sites.  Although every place we visited was educational and intriguing -for me, as a Christian, the Hanging Church, St. Sergius Church, and the Coptic Museum were the most moving.

The Hanging Church, given its name due to its suspended nave above the ruins of a Babylon fortress first built by the Persians in the 6th century B.C., houses some of the oldest Christian icons.  The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and its most cherished icon is a painting of Mary and Baby Jesus dated 18 A.D.  In a 5 minute span, we were able to witness an abundance of different races of Christians light candles and pray for forgiveness or for loved ones under this very sacred image.  As a small town girl who grew up in an all caucasian Methodist Church, I was touched and grateful.

After lighting a few candles, we listened to Jasmine tell us about a 24 million Egyptian Pound restoration project spearheaded by their Muslim President Mubarak.  I thought to myself…with all of the anger and fear that many Americans hold in their hearts toward the Islamic religion – why has this very positive news not been mentioned?

Egyptian Ankh

From the Hanging Church we walked to the Coptic Museum.  I highly recommend visiting this spot.  It only takes about an hour to tour and the building itself is quite striking.  I was fascinated by the mix of religions as they gradually transformed – the Egyptian Ankh into the Christian Cross, as well as, Christian scenes incorporating Egyptian Gods.  The museum holds the history of the way religion evolved.  The treasure I was most excited to see was the Nag Hammadi Manuscripts – early copies of Christian writings including the Gospel of Thomas (a gospel not included in the Bible).

Stairs Leading to Where The Holy Family Rested

The final Christian site we visited was the Church of Saint Sergius.  Honestly, this 4th century church itself is not all that spectacular.  Of course it has many precious icons and a beautiful pulpit, but the main attraction is a tiny staircase that leads down to a dark cave where the Holy Family – Mary and Joseph once rested with Baby Jesus after their journey into Egypt.  Realizing that I could be standing on the exact same ground where Jesus was once kept was a truly remarkable experience.  To think of all of the history in between then and now – all of the wars fought in His name…I was moved and so was Brett.  It was a very sweet moment to share with him.

Standing Inside The Sultan Hassan/Obama Mosque. FASHION: Black H&M tank, White Zara Cardigan, and Lavender and Taupe Linen Hoop Skirt. Tailor Made in China.

From St. Sergius Church we took a car to see our first mosque.  This leads me to the title of today’s blog.  As we drove, Jasmine began to tell us about our next stop…”Obama’s Mosque”.  With my manners flying out the window – I abruptly interrupted her to ask, “What…Obama..not our Obama (meaning the USA’s) right?”  “Of course your Obabma”, she responded with a big smile.  It was apparent to me at that moment that Obama’s visit to Egypt in June of 2009 had a very profound influence on many Egyptian Muslims.  So profound that they are willing to refer to one of the major monuments of the Islamic world by a different name.  The true name is The Mosque of Sultan Hassan, commissioned by its namesake in 1356 A.D.  It seemed unbelievable to me that a country so proud of its heritage would so quickly refer to 664 year old sacred structure by a different name.  I began to think that perhaps this story was for our benefit – perhaps it is their way of showing respect and appreciation for President Obama’s visit and for his words of peace and concern for the non-extremist Muslims (which make up the majority of the religion).  But in truth, referring to a mosque by the President of the United States name is probably the last thing that many Americans want to hear.  I recently read a survey taken in late July of this year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that 1 in 5 Americans already believe that President Obama is a Muslim.  It made me wonder what the percentage might be if every American was able to see how President Obama is perceived in a Muslim country?

The Hanging Church

The recent uproar over the mosque at Ground Zero, the burning of Qur’ans in Florida, the protests, and even the Saturday Night Live spoofs suggest that this battle between Muslims and Christians is a tragic and never ending cycle.  But for me, a life long Christian, sitting in the Sultan Hassan/Obama Mosque was a very peaceful experience.  Jasmine and I reflected on the many stories that we had both been taught as children – the story of Abraham and Sarah, of Moses, and even of Jesus.  I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that even with so many similarities: morality, prayer, and love of others – we continue to fight and harbor anger toward one another because of the extremists of both religions.  It is exactly was God would not want us to do.

After leaving the mosque, I reflected on the entire day.  It was wonderful – yet completely mentally exhausting.  I learned so much – about tolerance and compassion – and at the same time my faith was completely rejuvenated.

TRAVEL TIP: While it is not necessary for Western women to cover their heads inside mosques and churches, all women should cover their shoulders and arms.  I would advise against shorts or short skirts.  I took light cotton cardigans and wraps with me everywhere we went and used them when necessary.

The Last Wonder Standing

4 Oct

FASHION: Red Silk Chiffon Gown with Brushed Gold Sequin Trim. Purchased at Alien Street Market in Beijing.

The Great Pyramids of Giza will take your breath away…for many reasons.  The obvious reasons:  they are huge, they are beyond old, and one’s brain cannot even begin to understand the complexity of their construction.  In addition, it is remarkable to see how close they are to the massive city of Cairo.  Movies and pictures have always led me to believe that these enormous structures are located in the middle of nowhere; however, this could not be any less true.  But I suppose the way in which I was least expecting for the pyramids to take my breath away was in the literal sense – but that they did.

Walking by Khufu with Jasmine

Our day of touring began at 7AM.   Our guide for the next 2 days, Jasmine Amin(who is fantastic!) met us at the hotel and we immediately took off towards the pyramids in order to be there for the opening of Khufu (the largest of the 3 and the only one open for public entry on that day).  I highly recommend booking a private tour guide and car.  As I mentioned in a previous post, Noha, the concierge working with us at the Four Seasons First Residence, selected our guide.  We were able to design a tour based on the exact sites we wanted to see, and the hotel provided a picnic basket so that we would not get hungry during the full day of site seeing.

By 8AM we were standing at the base of Khufu.  Jasmine had already purchased our entry tickets, and we began the short climb to the entrance of this great tomb.  We had no idea what was in store.  Khufu was constructed over a 20-year period around 2560 BC as a tomb for its namesake, Pharaoh Khufu, and it remained the tallest man-made structure for over 3800 years!

Being Dressed Like a Local by a Local

Standing on The Great Pyramid of Khufu

As you can see in the picture below, the limestone blocks used  to build it are almost as tall as me.  I strongly suggest arriving early.  Only 300 visitors are allowed inside each day – once at 8AM and once at 1PM.  Of course it is cooler at 8AM, but even more importantly it is less crowded.  In this scenario, I believe that the crowd would overwhelm me more than the heat.  As you enter the hallway to the tomb, the ceiling height drops to about 3.5 feet and you begin to climb up a steep wooden ramp.  It is dark and you start to feel a bit claustrophobic – but any discomfort is overcompensated by the fact that you are climbing inside one of the Great Pyramids.  I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like Indiana Jones (albeit an Indiana Jones wearing a long red dress which I realize looked completely impractical – but in fact was incredibly comfortable and effortless!) When we arrived at the top and entered the room holding the carsophaugus (basically a granite casket) the heat and lack of air during the climb had winded me, but I recovered almost instantly as I stood in amazement.  The room, made of perfectly assembled dark granite stones was unbelievably dark, cool, and quiet.  The voices of the 10 or so tourists inside echoed in the tiny space.  Other than the tall ceilings, the room felt very ordinary.  There were no traces of golden treasures or ancient drawings.  In fact the only treasure ever discovered inside the Khufu Pyramid was a tiny ivory statue of the Pharaoh Khufu (now located at the Egyptian Museum). A flashlight revealed a small cutout (about 6″ wide) that opened to what appeared to be a very long corridor yet to be explored. It excited me to think that perhaps those naughty tomb robbers from centuries ago had been unsuccessful in stealing all of treasures left for Khufu’s afterlife  –  yet to be discovered even today.  After sneaking a quick kiss in the corner, we decided to begin our descent before it became too crowded.  I must admit that the climb down was a little more stressful…there was a 6 month old baby involved (note to self: 6 month olds are terrified of really dark and really hot cave like spaces that once held a dead body) as well as a couple well into their 70’s – possibly even their 80’s (more power to them but I was terrified of a broken hip situation).

We reconnected with Jasmine after exciting the pyramid where we were introduced to the photographer that the hotel found for us to take pictures for a couple of hours as we toured the rest of the area.  I am actually thrilled that we booked this.  The cost was less than $250 USD (including the pictures of which there were over 300) and it took all the stress of asking our guide or other tourists to capture the most amazing photo of all time with our “small enough to fit into any size handbag” digital camera.  (I am including many of the photographers images in this entry.)

In Front of Khufu's Boat

In addition to the 3 great pyramids, this site is home to the Sphinx as well as a Boat Museum which houses an amazingly intact wooden boat of the Pharaoh Khufu.  We toured the museum to learn the story of how the boat was

discovered only decades ago and how it was restored to its current state before taking a fantastic camel ride over to see the Sphinx.

The camels are kissing too!

In front of the Step Pyramid

After a full morning of learning, our brains took a small rest during the 30 minute drive to Saqqara to see the very first Egyptian pyramid – The Step Pyramid built for the Pharaoh Djoser.  While it was fascinating to see the predecessor to the other 138 pyramids found in Egypt, it was a bit heartbreaking to learn that the Egyptian government is funding a project to create an entirely new facade for this structure.  I mean…I am all for restorations and improvements, but when this project is finished, the original and remaining portion of this 4600+ year old masterpiece will be completely hidden.  To me – it is such a loss.

Rubbing the Fertility God's Belly

From Saqqara, we made a quick stop to learn the process of creating papyrus (the first type of paper created by Egyptians) before traveling to see the ruins of Memphis, a former capital city.  Memphis is the home to many amazing statues and remains as part of an open air museum.

Here we are rubbing the belly of the god of fertility.  Mona and Donna – don’t get too excited just yet!

Finger in Fertility God's Belly Button

After a long day of touring, we made one final stop to a jewelry store specializing in Egyptian style gold jewelry.  While this of course helped my energy level to pick up…I got the picnic basket out to help Brett’s!  We had a beautiful Cartouche made in 18K yellow gold with my name in Eyptian on one side and Brett’s on the other.  We felt a bit like junior high kids buying matching identity bracelets…but we didn’t care!  It was fun.

%d bloggers like this: