Sunday, November 09, 2008

What we did last summer

We still didn’t write about it yet and looking back, it looks like long ago even though the memories are still fresh in our minds. Way back in March we booked our summer holidays in Egypt and we couldn’t wait to get there. Now we’ve been back for three months and still struggle with the what and how to write about it. Egypt has made a massive impression on the both of us and one thing we know for sure: we would like to go back in two to three years. The country with its amazing culture is overwhelming. If you’re open to it, you can still feel the ancient dynasties of great kings and queens in everyday Egyptian life.

We took the flight from Zürich to Luxor and after 4,5 hours of flight we arrived in the scorching heat of 45° C in Egypt. We planned to have our holidays split up in two parts: a cultural Nile cruise to start off with and a relaxing beach holiday in Sharm El Sheikh to finish our holidays.

At the airport, we were welcomed by our tour guide who led us to a bus that would take us to our ship at the port of Luxor. After embarking and checking in, we met with 11 other travellers from Switzerland and our guide. As we hadn’t booked any pre-arranged excursions, we had a separate talk with our guide Ahmed and ended up taking the full package and some extra excursions. Ahmed warned us up front: ”the life of a tourist is unpleasant and difficult and it’s hard work”.

Meet Ahmed...

Our guide. The best one we ever had, but also the first one!

We soon found out what he meant with that quote. Our first week of holidays would consist of getting up early every day to participate to the excursions and actually this didn’t match our holiday expectation! Looking back I can only say every single trip we made was worth the short nights, the long bus rides and withstanding the scorching heat after sunrise. As a bonus, we had the chance to enjoy the company of our group sipping cocktails on the sundeck after dinner every evening.

Our first trip was on a Friday and took us to the Valley of the Kings. In this valley so far 66 graves of the former Kings of Egypt have been recovered. A visit to the grave of Tutankhamun was not included and could be booked as an extra. As we knew that King Tut wouldn’t be "home" anyway, as he was actually touring Europe and exactly that day in Zürich, we decided to skip that part. This left us with a visit to the graves of Ramses II, Ramses VI and Ramses VII. Ahmed told us the story of how the grave of Tutankhamun was discovered. Actually all a big coincidence as many people have tried to find Tut's grave while he has been right there all the time: directly under the grave of Ramses VI. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in the graves so we can’t show you the beauty of the wall paintings, the hieroglyphs and the old treasures that have been kept there for thousands of years. The only pictures we took of the area before entering the valley you’ll find below.

After the visit to the tombs, we continued our trip to one of the many small places where craftsmen make sculptures of cats, scarabs and statues of the kings. It’s truly amazing to see what those young men produce with old tools and sandpaper. After their demonstration, we were shown around the store where we could buy our first souvenirs. After tough negotiations with the salesman, we found ourselves in the fortunate possession of two cats: a beautiful black cat made of alabaster and a more abstract cat carved out of wonderful onyx.
CS has found her new pet and please, don’t tell Dale. He might get envious even though the both of them leave each other in peace at home…

Time to hop on the bus again!! Darn, those two cats weigh about 20 kilos! How are we gonna bring those animals home?? We had some time to think about that during the ride to the temple of Hatshepsut, meaning the Foremost of Noble Ladies. Yup, that was our the next stop and that still on our first day…and enjoying the air conditioning in the bus before going out in the burning sun again…

The Hatshepsut temple is amazing. The pictures you find here say it all. The temple has been built off-site in a pretty desolated area. The Hatschepsut temple is the place that saldy was attacked by six heavily armed terrorist in 1997. During the attack 62 tourist were killed. It gave me the shivers when we entered the grounds of the temple and I thought back of the attack in 1997. Seeing the temple and being in that desolated corner, it was obvious that in case of an attack there would be no way out. Well, we survived and for that matter, I can only underline that there is a huge presence of military and police at all major tourist attractions. Also the city of Luxor is heavily guarded, which in the beginning of our journey called on some mixed feelings.

On our way back to the ship, we made a last stop at the colossi of Memnon. The impressive statues are 18 meters high and represent Amenhotep III. Of course, we had the chance to take a few shots of those impressive statues.

After we returned to the ship, we drove off to our next stop: Esna! When we arrived in Esna, our guide Ahmed, the best tour guide we have ever had in our lives (and the first!) invited us for a stroll through the town of Esna and an evening tea in a typical Egyptian café. We enjoyed sitting on the terrace in the warm evening glow and Ahmed offered me my first smoke from a water pipe. Thank you Ahmed!

We’ll be back with some more Egyptian stories and pictures. The pictures are breathtaking, the sunsets we saw were a dream and the land itself… absolutely fabulous! In the meantime we have cut down the number of pictures we took from 1500 to 1050 and edited every single one of them. That reminds me!! We still need to burn some DVDs and sent them to the our travel companions.

Like I said, there’ll more later. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures and have a good start of the week. Life is beautiful!

Monday, October 06, 2008

This morning, I woke up and found

... a message in my inbox from my Dad with a link to my facebook.

This is what he sent me.

Thank you, Dad. I love you, too!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

DAM, DAM, DAM: VolenDAM & AmsterDAM

Ah, yes! Life has been very busy in the CS household these past weeks.

It still is. This weekend, we're off to a cousin's reunion in Amterdam... And the partners are invited, too. Lucky me :)

We had hardly came back from our Egypt holiday (OX is still working on the photos, but getting there), that we were picking Ma & Pa up from the Basel airport. They stayed with us for 3 weeks and we had us a great time (and plenty of Ma's home cooking! Yum!)

So, then. Back to our Amsterdam trip with Chris and Bob trip before we move on.

Saturday, July 12:

After having taken Chris and Bob through some Amsterdam-ish nightlife on their first day, we thought it would be a good idea to show them to a more idyllic side of Holland. Our first idea was to take them to a beach like Scheveningen or Zandvoort, but since we weren't sure what the weather would turn out to be, we decided that Volendam would be a good choice.

Volendam is a typical fisherman's village and a popular touristic attraction in The Netherlands. It's known for its fishing boats (tjalk, or Dutch barge) and the traditional clothing; the pointed bonnet probably being the most recognizable accessory.

Before entering the village, however, we saw this beautiful old windmill (this one's for Ginnie ) and we just had to stop to take a few pictures. How idyllic is that?

We parked the car and walked throught the village and along the harbor taking in the beautiful settings. The view on the lake was beautiful, and don't you just love the house fassades? No wonder it's such a touristic attraction!

Anyhow, while our poffertjes (another culinary must - fluffy tiny pancakes typically served with powdered sugar and butter. I had mine topped off with a shot of Amaretto liqueur. Mmmmmmm!) were being prepared, Chris and I went trough the shop looking basically at everything and nothing. It was jammed with hand-crafted goods and other typical not so hand-made souvenirs.

Chris found a really cute hat. But honestly, I'm not sure whether I prefer Bob wearing it - cuz she can wear just about any hat and looks great.

What do you think? I think it suits him pretty darn well, no?

Then we saw one of those old mechanical organs. They're beautifully hand painted and very well kept. Think back! - those of our generation and older, of course. I can remember filling cards with my brother to "feed" the computers to punch holes through them in order to be able to read what was on the card. Kind of the same thing, no? Punched holes through cards will hit the right note. Fascinating. I wonder how far back these prehistorical CDs go.

Anyway, after eating our way through Volendam, we decided to take a drive to Amsterdam and have an aperitif at café on Rembrandtsplein, where Harry also took a picture of "The Night Watch" figures portraying one of Rembrandt's most famous paintings.

After that we had a lovely tapas dinner at the Kelderhof, followed by the obligatory nightcap at "Harry's office", where we took this nice picture of Bob, Pierre (the owner) and Chris.

The next morning, time came where we had to say goodbye. But not without a shot of Amaretto in Chris' coffee!

After breakfast came an unexpected bottle of champagne to celebrate new friendship. And then, the time came to really say good-byes, but were still, looking forward to seeing Dale.

The highway was free of traffic, so we drove fast,

... and faster...

And we made it home safely. Home sweet home.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Next stop: Amsterdam - Day 1

Friday, July 11: We were up bright and early, and off to the suburbs of Amsterdam we drove with our two Canadian friends to Harry and Brenda's. We made the trip in roughly 6 hours. Not bad.

Once there, we unpacked a few things, had a quick welcome drink and took the train to Amsterdam Central Station. And what better way to introduce our guests to Amsterdam's sights than a one hour boat tour through the canals.

Discovering a city sure can make you hungry. If you go to Holland, there are a few musts in the food sector that you should try and one of them is FEBO. Yes, it's fast food, but this place is kinda special. The only things you get directly from the counter are fries and drinks. Hamburgers, frikandel, cheese dumplings and other hot deep fried goodies are always freshly filled up in automatiek machines (vending machines). They make for a solid base if you're planning to go out and have a few beers, so make sure you have plenty of Euro coins ;) Chris and Bob tried a few typical dutch and indonesian specialties, but I think that the kroket was their favourite. Isn't this shot great? OX was trying to feed Chris, but she still hadn't finished chewing down her last bite.

Bob was fascinated by the fact that the public urinals could be planted right in the middle of Leidseplein. Honestly, Amsterdam is the only place I've ever seen them.

Before going for dinner, we spent some time on the Museumplein and took a few pictures of Bob and Chris - as well as a few unkown others - in the big letters spelling "I Amsterdam".

We then took a shortcut through a nearby park where "the big kids" began to play. When I grow up, I wanna be ... Rambo?

............................But, beware................

................The Rambettes are out there. Life in the jungle is tough.
You win some, you loose some.

We finally made it to Café Loetje (pronounced Loot-yuh), the restaurant that Brenda and Harry had picked out for us. While waiting to be seated (no reservations), we had an aperitif at the bar and soon made a new friend. He was so funny.

The food was great and the service very friendly. I strongly recommend the beef. I had the biefstuk Bali and it was excellent! They have a website, but it's only in Dutch, so I thought a link to reviews would also be welcome.

After dinner, we made a quick stop at Harry's "office". Chris originally thought that we were going to a real office and was surprised to end up at Heuvel, a typical cozy Amsterdam café/bar.

Last but not least, we took them through the red light district; a must for every tourist! On the way, we passed this magnificent building called: In de Waag, built in 1488 in which used merchants met and was later to become to be a meeting place for the different guilds. Today, it serves as a restaurant.

All that in one day!

I've got one more post about our travels with Chris and Bob, then we'll get to our vacation in Egypt. I'll be putting up all of the picts from this series up on picasa in my next post.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

We're ba-aaaaack!

Tomorrow is back to work day after a fabulous two weeks in Egypt. We're back home with our four-legged son, Dale, and spent the last two days vacuuming two weeks' worth of cat hair-shedding, doing a bit of wash and having a few drinks last night with TBFs and our neighbours, Andy and Diana.

I'll be putting up the last posts about Christiane and Robert's visit in the coming days and by then, we should have gone through the 1'500+ photos we took in Egypt. Yep, that's right. 1'500+ pictures!

So stay tuned and until then, have a great week!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

From Summer to Winter in 24 hrs!

Sooooo-de-li (That’s Swiss-German for: Soooooo).

After a hearty breakfast of fresh bread, cold-cuts, cheese, jam, butter, yoghurt and fruit (insert a couple of eggs for Orange-X here) early the next day, we made our way to the cable car station that would take us up to the Klein Matterhorn Station at 3’820 meters above sea level(12’533 feet) where we bought our tickets.

Unfortunately, the weather was doing pretty much what it wanted (not what we wanted). At Zermatt’s 1’862 meters, the sun was shining and the temperature was about at 24-26°C (high 70’s°F). However, the skies up in the heights were covering up fast. They said: “-1°C (30.2°F) at the top." … Brrrr! Since Chris had not brought any closed shoes - and in this case, even a pair of sneakers would have not been safe - we had made sure that both had adequate footwear before we left Basel.
Half way up we were told that we had to wait because the winds were too strong. We had already had rain and wet snow, and it was getting worse. So, we went for a hot chocolate and waited. After 20 minutes, the skies cleared up again (how fast it can change) and we could continue our ascent. It was breathtaking to see all the crevasses, the steep, rocky and sometimes icy slopes. You really have to know what you’re doing if you climb up here by foot, even in summer.

However, once we reached our destination, the Klein Matterhorn station, we realised two things: a) the panorama platform was closed for repair and b) we had a freeking snowstorm up there! It was like a Canadian blizzard. Look!

And we wanted to show them the Matterhorn?? HA! FOR.GET.IT! The best the weather would allow us to take was this. We saw only the lower part of the great mountain!

Anyhow, we walked to a provisional kind of “restaurant”. While we were warming up and recuperating from the thin air enjoying a coffee, we noticed that Chris was not doing well… at all. During her first visit back in 2003, the heights had been no problem for her, but in the meantime, she had her thyroid gland taken out because it was hyperactive. And then, Chris’ heart started pounding like crazy (low oxygen, probably) and she panicked – which did not help. So, we had to get her down again and fast! However, the winds had stirred up a storm in the meantime and we had to wait. Luckily, after about only 15 minutes, we could start our descent and at mid-way, she felt better again and the weather had changed to friendlier skies. Look at those views! Isn’t it beautiful up there?

By the time we were back in the village again, Chris was fine and we were back to a sunny, warm 26°C (78°F), so we took a few pictures in Zermatt and had a late lunch. We then made our way to the hotel to pick up our things, took a taxi back down, paid our parking fee in Täsch: a whole CHF 7.00 for 24 hours! Not much by Swiss standards, and drove back to Basel.

Once at home, we threw in a few washes in and were ready for the next adventure: the following day, we were off to Amsterdam.

So, folks. That’s where I leave you until the next entry. We're going on holidays to Egypt this Thursday for 2 weeks (Yippee!!!!!)and I doubt that I'll find much time to catch up, so have an excellent time!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Three Canadians (and one Dutch) invade Zermatt

Let's continue our little adventures with Chris and Bob, shall we?

Our two visitors spent the next 2 days exploring Paris and really enjoyed it. On Wednesday, we took them to "The Boomerang", one of our favourite restaurants just outside Basel. Linda and Rolf, the cook and owners, served us a fantastic piece of Aussie beef which, even by Canadian standards, must be rated with a very high note.

The next day was Zermatt invasion day. Well.... OK. So, we didn't exactly invade Zermatt, but we sure did our share at one of the local bars.

We had quite a bit of traffic on the way, but Robert was fascinated by the snowy peaks as we drove closer and closer to the Alps. He was also surprised to hear that we were going to drive onto a train that would take us from Kandersteg to Goppenstein through the Lötschberg tunnel.

While waiting for the train, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery, took one of my favourite shots of Robert and Christiane and watched a paraglider elegantly surfing the thermals.

The train ride took about fifteen minutes and after another 45 minutes, we parked our car in Täsch where a taxi took us the entrance of Zermatt. From there, an electro-car took us to our hotel. The weather was great, so we decided to unpack and explore the a bit since were too late to take the cable car all the way up anyway. Not to mention that we were thirsty!

As we walked through the village, we soon found a lovely outdoor lounging area where we sat down in the sun and enjoyed a few beers and bruschettas.

Does that look comfy, or what?

I think Chris also enjoyed it.

Oh, but wait. That's not all! We even saw a goat parade. Yep, right through "downtown" Zermatt. Taking them to graze in a pasture up in the Alps, perhaps? BTW, the goat leading the pack almost ran over OX while he took the pictures. So, never try to stop a goat when it wants to go feed, okay? They don't care much for cameras, or cameramen, for that matter.

Once the sun started disappearing behind the mountain and the temperatures became cooler, we decided to move on and found a small pub called the "Hexenbar" (the witches bar). A real cosy place to chill out with dim lights and decorated with witches in form of dolls or then painings all over the pub. And now, guess where it got its name from... Bingo! Anyhow, it was early and still pretty quiet when we got there.... but not for long! The Canadutch RULE!

We ordered a first round of drinks and started taking pictures of Bob and Chris. All of a sudden, the waitress, Cindy, jumped in."Wait! You can't take a picture in here without one of the witches", she said with a smirk.

She ran to a corner of the pub and grabbed a battery operated witch with flashing eyes and handed it over to Christiane for the picture.

She didn't stop at that, though. Seeing that we were having so much fun, Cindy asked us whether she should get us a few requisites from the storage room for our "photo shoot". Of course, we agreed, and within a minute, she came back with sorcerers' hats, broomsticks, and a set of pink'n white bunny ears and a bow tie. And this is what came out of it.
I admit.....
Although we both tried very hard, OX and I didn't actually soar throught the skies with this broomstick, but we sure as hell had a fun time trying. (BTW, this is probably my absolute fave picture of OX and me!)

Bob thought that biting it and adding horns to it would bring him to fly. NOT! Maybe he was just drinking the wrong "magic potion"?

Group photo time, ...but we still can't fly! Oh, well. What the heck! Maybe the bunny ears just didn't fit in?

This is our waitress, Cindy, with the boys.

A few drinks later, Cindy introduced us to Mark, a very funny, literally wee man - about 1.55 m/5' tall - that made us laugh tears. What an entertainer! He was performing right across the street, so we decided to have a simple meal consisting of chicken wings, ribs and such (not typically Swiss, I know), and just enjoy his show. It was worth it and we had a great time there.

After dinner, we decided to go for a short walk through the quiet town and then returned to the Hexenbar for a nightcap. Unfortunately, Cindy had finished her shift and left already, but Ellie, her replacement, made sure that we didn’t lack of anything and so we enjoyed a last drink before returning to our hotel for a good nights' sleep.

So. People. Hear me! If you're ever planning to visit Zermatt one day, make sure to go to the Hexenbar. Don't expect the personnel there to entertain you as soon as you set foot in the bar, but if they see that someone wants to have fun, they will go out of their way to make sure you have an unforgettable evening*. So here's a BIG thank you to Cindy and Ellie for making this evening a very memorable one.

More from Zermatt, coming up soon…

*With us will be even more fun! **Hint?? Hint???**