Tag Archives: Movies

The Egyptian Sahara

18 Oct

Al Tarfa Desert Lodge & Spa

Aware of the fact that Brett and I would want some down time in-between site seeing, I sought out a few opportunities beyond Cairo, Luxor, and Alexandria.  Frankly, I knew us well enough to know that eventually the masses of tourists would wear on us, and we would need a remote space to decompress.  It wasn’t until my intense research on traveling to Egypt began that I discovered where exactly this remote place would be…

During a basic Google search for “unique Egyptian resorts”, I came

Our Villa

across The Al Tarfa Desert Sanctuary – Egypt’s first eco-luxury lodge.  Images of the lodge instantly captivated me.  And when I showed them to Brett – he was equally excited.  Al Tarfa offered romance, history, natural beauty, and adventure in a truly exceptional setting.  I immediately booked us the Dar Hamza Sahara Suite (1 of 2 suites with a small private plunge pool) for 3 nights.

The Never Ending Road to Al Tarfa

Like many hidden treasures, Al Tarfa, located in the Egyptian Sahara – specifically the Dakhla Oasis, is not the easiest place to get to.  There is a local airport (but with our G5 in the shop that option was out) – so the next best thing was to take a car from Luxor.  Somehow in my blonde brain, I had convinced myself (and Brett) that the road trip would be about 3-3 1/2 hours.   In reality it was 6 1/2 – 7 hours.  Oops!  Good thing our driver was kind enough to stop at a convenience store for potato chips and diet cokes before leaving Luxor because I assure you that there were no Quik Trips or 7-Elevens in between.

One of the Many Checkpoint Guards

We began the journey around 7AM so we slept for he first couple of hours.  We woke up to the nothingness that is the Egyptian desert.  Miles of sand and road for as far as the eye can see.  The only stops we made were at the security checkpoints every 60 or so kilometers where we said hello in English to prove our nationality. Needless to say – it was very secure.  Honestly, I don’t think it has anything to do with security.  I think it has to do with safety.  It is so hot that if someone’s car broke down, somewhere within the 60-kilometer range, for more than an hour without water or air conditioning they would be in serious trouble.  I began to wonder about our decision to leave the land of civilization…

Pool at Al Tarfa

Just as I was losing steam, we began to see green (i.e. nearing the oasis).  Our driver assured us that we would be poolside in less than an hour.  He also offered us his sandwich (seeing that we had survived the 7 hour trip on chips alone), which I thought was incredibly sweet.  Obviously, we didn’t take his food – he still had to drive all the way back to Luxor after dropping us off!

Our Favorite Lunch Sport at Al Tarfa

We arrived at the Al Tarfa Lodge Lobby Villa around 2PM where we were greeted with cold towels and a freshly squeezed lime cocktail of sorts.  Awww – I knew instantly that the long trip had been worth it.  While the bellhops took the bags to our villa, we bee-lined it to the restaurant for a real meal – and what a meal it was.  Al Tarfa is an all-inclusive resort (well everything but Moet & Chandon – which they tell you up front) and the food they serve is unlike any “all-inclusive food” I have ever eaten.  It is fantastic!  I think Brett and I gained a collective 8 pounds (no need to be specific on how the 8 pounds was divided).  The cuisine, prepared by locals, is primarily Egyptian Saharan fare.  In addition to dining at the main restaurant, the resort sets-up different and exclusive spots (in incredibly charming and romantic ways I might add) throughout the property for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We never ate a meal in the same place, and every meal melted in our mouths.

Old Village of Qasr

After that first lunch – the trip blurs a little bit.  I have found that this happens when I am truly relaxed.  What I do know is that our experience here was full of once in a lifetime memories.  In addition to food and drinks, the “all-inclusive” package includes private daily excursions.  With the owner of the resort, Wael, as our wonderful guide, we toured the old Islamic City of Qasr during our first excursion.  The mud brick homes built continuously seem to go on forever.  We strolled through the open areas and listened as he explained the way of life for the people who built this fascinating string of homes.  As an interior design major – I was amazed at the genius of their window placement to provide the most beautiful yet practical light.  Even 21st Century contractors can’t get that right!  At one point we turned a corner to find a table and 3 chairs with 3 glasses of chilled sparkling water.  Of course, Wael had arranged this – but it felt magical.  The 3 of us sat and chatted for a while about all things Saharan.

Amazing Natural Light at Qasr

He also shared with us that other than Robert de Niro and his family, we are the only other Americans who have stayed at Al Tarfa.  So…I guess this means that we are in the “circle of trust”.

Our Waiter at the Dunes

The remainder of our stay included many more delicious meals by candlelight, sun filled days by the pool, a small glimpse of death on a horseback ride involving 2 male horses and 1 filly in heat, and the most authentic Sex and the City moment I have ever had.  On our last night, we took a jeep excursion to the Dakhla Dune Park for sunset.  With absolutely no guidelines, our driver sped through the hills of sand just like “The Lawrence of Samantha’s L*@#A” in Abu Dhabi.  After 15 minutes of cruising along, we topped one of the giant dunes to find a Saharan waiter standing under a large yellow and white striped umbrella equipped with 2 chairs and a fully stocked bar. Although we were not greeted with giant bags of designer clothes (like in the movie) – to me – it was perfect!  The word that comes to mind is dreamy.  That is what it was. Plain and simple.  As the sun fell and the moon rose, we talked and toasted with our bare feet in the sand.  And then, as we realized that the “things” flying above us were not birds, but were in fact giant bats – we jumped in the jeep and headed back for dinner.  Even with the bloodsuckers swooping around, it was one of

Check Out the Reflection in Brett's Sunglasses

the best moments ever!

Sunset at the Dunes. FASHION: Silk Crepe Accordion Pleat One Shoulder Dress. Tailored Made in China.

TRAVEL TIPS:  It is still very hot there in September.  The peak season starts in December when the temperature drops.  If you can’t handle the heat – wait to go until then.  Also, if you make it a couple’s trip or go with a bigger group, you can charter a plane (from Cairo or Luxor) for a reasonable price.  The resort can arrange this for you.  Keep in mind that while this is a true luxury resort, it is also somewhat of an adventure.  If you want crisp white linens and caviar – then this might not be the place for you.  If you want a one of a kind experience in a desert chic environment – then this is it!  For more information visit:  http://www.altarfalodge.com/

Up Next: Sharm el Sheikh

Thank Goodness for My L Visa

19 Jul

Photo booths are all the rage in Seoul. We couldn't resist!

The beauty of living in Beijing on an L visa (a type of visa to visit friends and family) is that I am forced to exit every 60 days.  It might sound like a frustration but the truth is…it creates an amazing guilt free excuse to travel and experience all that Asia has to offer.  Our most recent get away was a long weekend to Seoul, Korea.  What a fantastic and modern city!

Lucky for us a recently opened Banyan Tree Resort was running an extremely discounted introductory rate.  The room itself was enough to make for a great escape, and the Banyan Tree never disappoints with their cabana clad pools.  And while it was hard to pull away from the sunshine, the city of Seoul has so much more to offer.

First – let’s talk fashion.  (I will get to the more intellectual details later!)  I loved it.  It is fresh, inventive, over the top, and saturated with accessories – just my cup of tea!  The innovation is not limited to the clothes; the retail displays and marketing methods in Myeongong (a great shopping street) create fabulous eye candy as well.  In fact, we were so inspired (okay – maybe that “we” should be an “I”) that Sex and the City 2 seemed like the only fitting follow-up.  So…off to the movies we went.  It was cute to see that Korean girls dress to impress for SATC just like American girls.  It was also cute to see Brett dish about which outfits he liked best.

Second – let’s talk food.  Gorilla in the Kitchen, a restaurant owned by a Korean celebrity, was our favorite meal. We selected the seven-course tasting menu, which offered a variety of traditional Korean dishes with a modern twist.  Every bite was better than the one before.

Please don't ask me to pronounce the name of this!

Third – let’s talk our favorite local attraction.  The Cheonggyecheon Stream, recently uncovered in 2003 after being buried under a highway for 30 years, is part of a vast urban renewal project in Seoul.  We strolled the banks for hours listening to local musicians and watching various street performers.  The greatest entertainment; however, was the light show.

Every few hours, a giant fountain emerges on one end of the stream and a light show projector beams through the spray creating a 3D show of crazy colors and holograms.  The finale…a hot pink Rockette-esque kick line.  Remarkable!

In front of the waterfall on one end of the stream

Finally – let’s talk hostess bar.  What we thought to be a cute underground hotspot turned out to be a true gentlemen’s club.  I confirmed this fact when I visited the lady’s room.  The men’s room, which I passed on my way, appeared to be a luxurious lounge. Honestly, I got excited.  I have a secret love for cool bathrooms with attendants.  Well…to say that my experience was different is an understatement.  First – I had to climb 3 flights of stairs in a dark and dingy stairwell.  Then – I traveled down a never-ending hallway, and when I finally made my way to the toilets, after stumbling through the janitor’s closet, I found a group of young girls in shirts posing as dresses counting their earnings from the night.  Despite feeling a bit out-of-place (mainly because my dress actually covered my bum) we enjoyed our drinks and had a great time people watching!

Example of one of the photo booths. They were everywhere!

We had a blast in Seoul.  I highly recommend it, and I hope that we return in the near future!

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