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Tag Archives: Hotels

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!

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Paris in the Springtime….Part I

3 Jun

There is a reason that a song was written for this time of year in Paris…because springtime in Paris is absolute perfection!  And while one doesn’t need an excuse to visit the city in all of its blooming glory, what better reason to go than a Parisian Wedding of a fellow Kentuckian childhood friend?!

Like any trip to Paris – ours was filled with delicious cuisine, tasty wines, outdoor cafes, rich culture, high-end window shopping, and a highly contagious “c’est la vie” attitude.  I think I can best describe the trip through our photos…they speak much louder than my words!

First though, on a quick practical note – I would like to share with any Beijingers traveling to Paris that we flew on the direct flight from PEK to CDG on Air France which left around 11AM getting us to Paris by 2:30PM.  This was actually really convenient timing – it allowed us to check it, take a quick catnap, and freshen up before hitting the town that night.  On our last visit we took a redeye on Aeroflot and connected through Moscow.  This trip was much easier and we were more adapt to “Parisian time” (i.e. waiting until 10-11AM to really get the day started!).

For the first 2 nights in Paris, we stayed in a lovely Relais & Chateaux hotel in the 8th Arrondissement near the L’Arc de Triomphe.  Lucky for us – we were able to communicate with our taxi driver very easily…because he spoke English?  NO!  Because he was Chinese/French and he spoke Mandarin!  www.hoteldanielparis.com

   

Hotel Daniel in Paris

Living Room at Hotel Daniel - So Cozy!

On our first night, we started at Hotel Amour in the 9th Arr. for a romantic dinner for two in their outdoor courtyard.  The hotel is a bit edgy with a fashionable crowd, and the food was tasty.  Not Guy Savoy tasty – but not Guy Savoy prices either.  It was a very reasonable dinner (great prices on wine) and the setting was lively and Parisian chic.  I recommend a reservation – specifically for one of the hidden tables in the back, tucked among beautiful hedges in a glow of candlelight.  TIP: It is a bit difficult to find a direct contact online.  I suggest emailing your concierge to make the booking for you.

Outside the Amour Hotel. Not our best photo – but the crowd was a bit too cool for tourists! Clearly – this is a self-portrait.

Bird's Eye View of Amour Hotel's Outdoor Restaurant Seating

After dinner we grabbed a taxi to the recently renovated Royal Monceau Hotel (a Raffles Hotel) for a few drinks at Le Bar Long.  It was here where we found our second wind…a second wind to the level of a couple of 21 year olds and we would pay for this later!  Specifically, we would pay for this the next morning!  Maybe we can still go out like 21 year olds – but we can certainly not recover like them!

From The Royal Monceau we headed to Le Baron (in the 8th Arr.  Opens around 1AM).  Proud of ourselves for getting “in” ahead of a line full of 18-22 year old extremely put together Parisians, we danced the night away and left around 4:30 AM with sore feet, hungry bellies, and an inevitable headache on the way. But…what a fun way to get there!

Needless to say, we slept in on Friday and room service seemed the only option for our first meal of the day – around 11!  Afterwards, we threw on some clothes and hit the streets with the intent of buying a wedding gift for the happy couple.  Unfortunately, after unsuccessful visits to the bridal registries at Galleries Lafayette and Printemps, we realized that Jennifer and Jean Marc were actually registered at Bon Marche.  With too little time to get there, we scurried back to the hotel to get ready for the rehearsal dinner and shop for the betrothed online at  www.mariage.lebonmarche.fr. Finally…success!  And let’s be honest, a bit of window shopping in two of the most famous department stores in Paris was not so bad…

Unsuccessful Shopping Excursion. I apparently decided to dress like a human traffic cone.

I love that he is still this jolly after two failed attempts at bridal registries. What a good husband!

Our very kind cab driver made a quick stop by the L'Arc de Triomphe for a photo op on the way to the rehearsal dinner. Who says the French are snobs? I think they are quite lovely!

 

Outside the Buttes Chaumont Park in the 19th Arrondissement. The dinner was inside this beautiful park at Le Pavillon du Lac. It was a fantastic evening full of great conversation with old and new friends alike! FASHION: Vintage 1980's Silk Carolina Herrera Jumpsuit & Red Bottega Veneta Clutch

Paris in the Springtime…Part Deux COMING SOON!

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

Up – Up – and Away!

15 Oct

Just After Take-Off

The plan for our second day in Luxor was to visit the Valley of the Kings and Queens.  You can’t really come to Egypt without seeing King Tut’s tomb, right?  But before we got up close and personal with the “boy king’s” burial digs, we decided to get a bird’s eye view via balloon.

Neither of us had ever been on a hot air balloon ride so we decided that there was no better way than to try a sunrise ride over the Nile.  It was spectacular!  You truly feel like you are floating.  Gliding through the sky in that tiny basket, I hadn’t a care in the world.

Firing Up the Balloon

Surprisingly though, my favorite part was not at the highest part of the journey (which was obviously beautiful) – but at the end during our landing.  The area surrounding the Nile in Luxor is almost all farm land – primarily sugar cane. Because the balloon pilot has to be very careful to not land in a spot that could hurt or destroy any crop, we cruised over the fields gently grazing the tops of the sugar cane for about 10 minutes.  It was so incredibly peaceful.  When we did finally land we were greeted by a “balloon team” with a truck to take the balloon, and a van to take us back to the “drop-off” spot.  But of course, we squeezed in some time for a little singing and dancing first!

Dancing with the Balloon Clean-Up Crew. FASHION: DVF Silk Chiffon Wrap Dress

TRAVEL TIP:  Currently, Luxor is the only city in Egypt that offers hot air balloon rides.  Our hotel recommended Viking Air and so would I.  The trip begins around 7AM and the 45 minutes or so ride takes you over the Nile, the Temple of Hatshepsut (the only female to rule Egypt as a Pharaoh), and the Valley of the Kings and Queens.

Brett on the Throne at Habu Temple

Our tour guide met us at the balloon drop-off spot, and we began our day of sightseeing from there. Sites for that day included: The Valley of the Kings & King Tut’s Tomb, Valley of the Queens, Habu Temple, Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple, and the Tombs of Nobles.  Once again – our brains almost exploded with the amount of information we tried to retain.

I am going to touch on the highlights and the most surprising details.  Certainly, I assumed that King Tut Ankh Amun’s Tomb would be the most memorable part of the day – and while it fascinated me that it had been discovered completely in tact just 88 years ago, a few of the underrated sites interested me the most.  The Habu Temple (or the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III) was far less crowded than many of the other tourist spots.  Perhaps I enjoyed it more because we were able to get up close and personal with the well preserved and brightly colored hieroglyphics, perhaps it was the sheer amount of carvings and stories (75,350 square feet of decoration) but more than likely it was the opportunity to take a photo of Brett pretending to pee in the “toilet” of the Royal Palace Remains on the southeastern side of the temple.

Brett Pretending to Pee in the Royal W.C.

Okay – it probably wasn’t the best representation of American Tourists…but what do you expect from a small town boy from Ohio and a small town girl from Kentucky? Sometimes your roots just take the wheel.

I also really enjoyed the Tombs of the Nobles.  Honestly, we almost scrapped going to see these because of the heat and the fact that we could hear the pool calling our names.  But I am so glad that we didn’t. Of course the tombs are much smaller than those of the royals, but the captivating drawings on the walls depict the everyday lives of real Egyptians or at least the details that the Pharaohs approved. Nobles had to get the “okay” from the ruler at the time.  Talk about the original “Big Brother”.

The last fun fact that I would like to share involves a great love story of Ancient Egypt between Ramses II and his first wife, Queen Nefertari.  Known as the favorite and most beautiful of his 8 wives, her tomb (created by Ramses II) is the most spectacular tomb in the Valley of the Queens.

Trying to Survive the Heat at Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple

Unfortunately, the tomb has been closed to the public since 2003.  But like everything in Egypt…it has a price. Apparently, with the right connections and the right amount of Egyptian Pounds (of which we had neither) you can gain entrance to this sacred tomb.  Another option is to take a trip to Abu Simbel in Southern Egypt to see the temple that Ramses II built in her honor.  There you will find a statue of her – equal in size to the statue of Ramses II (typically queens only came up to the knees of their king). Nefertari made quite a mark in Egyptian history by becoming the only queen to be named a living goddess.  However, this story does have a bit of a disturbing side – because Ramses II lived into his 90’s, Nefertari died many years before him.  It is said that after her death, he married their daughter because she looked so much like his cherished queen.  But let’s be honest, it is also likely that Queen Nefertari was Ramses II sister or half sister. Apparently, that is just the way these Pharaohs liked to roll.

TRAVEL TIP:  I felt that 2 nights in Luxor allowed us an appropriate amount of time to see all of the sites.  I also think that the Sofitel at the Winter Palace is by far the best hotel option.  Be sure to book a room in the original part of the palace.  They are the nicest and the most unique rooms.  Also, the french restaurant, 1886, located in the hotel is delicious (please note that coat and tie are required for men).

http://www.concierge.com/travelguide/luxor/hotels/2842

Gliding Over The Valley of the Kings

Up next:  Al Tarfa Desert Oasis

Luxor or Bust

13 Oct

View from Winter Palace Hotel

After 4 adventurous days in Cairo we hopped on a quick flight (1 hour) and landed in Luxor before lunch time.  Many tourists opt for the cruise down the Nile from Cairo to Luxor – but after seeing the size (very big and crowded) of many of the “cruise boats”, I definitely think that we made the right decision.

Original Color at Karnak Temple

The hospitality in Cairo was outstanding, and Luxor proved to be no different.  In fact, as we were checking in for our flight in Cairo, the gentleman behind us asked if we were the Hutchinson party. Coincidentally (and lucky for us) he turned out to be the general manager of our hotel, The Sofitel Winter Palace, returning to Luxor after visiting his family in New York.  We chatted with him for just a bit, and then before we knew it, he was on the phone with the hotel upgrading our room, confirming our airport pick-up, and discussing our agenda with the concierge.  That is what I call seamless service!

Karnak Temple

After a the short flight and a stop at baggage claim, we were in route to the hotel.  It took about 2 seconds to see the drastic difference between Cairo and Luxor.  Of the 80 or so million Egyptians, 18 million of them live in Cairo. Because of this, many of the other cities (including Luxor) are relatively small and offer much more in natural beauty.

We chose the Winter Palace (now operated by Sofitel) not only because of its fantastic location on the Nile, but also because of its history.  Built in 1886 as King Farouk’s winter palace, the interiors are regal and over the top.  Not to mention…it is the hotel in which Princess Di stayed during her time in Luxor.  A blonde can pretend, right?

Brett Gazing at a Karnak Column

Following a quick lunch by the pool, we met our tour guide in the lobby to set out for the Karnak and Luxor Temples.  As a “wanna be” Egyptologist, I had previously downloaded everything Apple TV had to offer on Ancient Egypt – including shows dedicated to these specific temples.  The History Channel series provided the most comprehensive information; however, nothing prepares you for the grandeur of the temples’ remains.

The Temple of Karnak is the largest temple complex built by man. It is comprised of many different structures commissioned by a number of Pharaohs spanning over almost 2000 years.  But if  I am totally honest, the more stories our tour guide shared with us, the more I felt like I was walking through the inspiration for the very first Soap Opera.  The hieroglyphic covered walls, granite obelisks, and massive columns tell tales more dramatic and complicated than any scandal of All My Children’s Erica Kane.  Seriously though – it is an architectural work of art and the colors that have remained after thousands of years blew this blonde’s mind.

Avenue of Sphinxes

From Karnak we took a short ride to the Luxor Temple.  As we drove our guide discussed the excavations currently underway to expose and restore the Avenue of the Sphinxes,  a path that once connected these two very famous structures.

TIP: If your plan to visit Luxor is not set in stone – it might be worth waiting until this extraordinary restoration is complete.

The Luxor Temple, just steps aways from the Nile, is majestic – but even more remarkable is the religious history  inside.  An Islamic mosque stands on top of the pharaonic temple and Roman paintings

Roman Christian Paintings in the Luxor Temple

with Christian themes are painted in an inner chamber.  Another fun fact about the temple – the missing obelisk (once part of pair added by Ramsis II) now stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. So to be fair…I am taking Brett to Paris for his birthday next month to see it!

Dancing on the Felucca

With brains about to explode with new knowledge, we walked back to the hotel (just a  couple blocks from the

More Dancing.... FASHION: Zara Orange Cotton Cardigan with Chartreuse Silk and Silver Sequined Shift Dress by MM Couture

Luxor Temple) picked up a basket of wine, and headed to the river for a felucca ride.  This ride confirmed the seemingly obvious differences between the banks of the Nile in Cairo vs. Luxor. Cairo offers massive hotels and big business while Luxor offers water buffalo, sugar cane fields, and gorgeous sunsets.  We dined, we drank, and we danced.

How Cute Are These Water Buffalo?

Next Up:  Valley of the Kings & Queens

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

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.

Destination: Dalian, China

20 Jul

Before moving to China I had never heard of Dalian – a city due east of Beijing on a peninsula.  I assume that most Americans are not familiar with Dalian either, which is funny because it has over 6 million people (over 2 times the size of Chicago – the 3rd largest city in the US).  Brett and I have been spending quite a lot of time in Dalian due to his work, and I imagine there will be many more trips in the future.  So – I think the best way to document the city is through photos and captions.  This way I will be able to update the stories and experiences of this city by the sea often and easily.

The beaches in Dalian are actually quite bare. While there is definitely no shortage of humans, luxury resorts have no presence at all. In my opinion, someone is missing out on a great opportunity here. Will someone please get on this? I would love to have a cheap beach option that is only a 1 hour flight away from Beijing!

Of course most places by the sea offer tasty and fresh seafood but Dalian takes this to a new level. Almost all of the restaurants allow you to visit tanks within the dining space to select your main course while it is still living. Sometimes your dish is still living when it is served! This is Brett kissing our sashimi. The fun part....it kissed him back!

Hand picked lobster. I waited to eat him until after he was properly prepared!

Back wall of restaurant - lined entirely with tanks, buckets, and baskets with everything from sea sausage (don't ask and don't eat) to king crab.

We typically stay at the Kempinski Hotel during our trips to Dalian, which is right across from Labor Park. The park is sort of a hybrid between an amusement park and a pedestrian area. There are beautiful gardens with areas to relax mixed in with a handful of rollercoasters and games. We took the gondola ride to get a better view of the city. Unfortunately it started to rain shortly after our trip began....but on a positive note - we did get a lovely view of the inside of a cloud!

The Gondola at Labor Park

This little girl is literally fishing for gold fish. I think this explains why they are so thin. Clearly...this is going to be my new diet plan.

Enjoying local ale at the Paulaner Brauhaus & Restaurant. This place has a great live band every night. And...like everywhere else in the world - they are googoo for GAGA!

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