Saturday, 31 January 2009
After weeks of wanting to go to much heard about Camden market, today we finally went :) ... it was not the best day to step outside... the temperature was negative 2 and it felt more like negative 10... you see I am not a big fan of cold~freezing temperatures, so exaggeration on my part is allowed and acceptable :D Anyways my ears and hands were frozen even through my warm gloves and my warm cap... and by the end my face was so cold, I could not feel it, just pain! After reaching home it took two warm cups of soup to thaw me.
But apart from the cold... we had a really fun day!! Camden market has been very famous lately due to Amy Winehouse, the media always finds her drugged and drunk on the streets of Camden. Our reasons for going to Camden were not to see her or to get high, rather we had heard a lot about Camden market from other reliable sober sources, the streets being full of interesting finds to see, buy, eat and experience... sort of a street/flea/antique market. We walked around a lot and enjoyed out day... ate some yumm warm & spicy Jamaican food and poked our noses into loads of stores :) Oh what fun it was, the most exciting bit being, Sunny and I discovering an old comic book store and some old record stores... and we bought each other our favorite childhood comics. Sunny got some Commando comics (war stuff) and I got some Asterix & Obelix :D We both were rather excited after these finds... needless to say on our train ride back home and even after reaching home we have been happily engrossed in our comic books! Oh what fun it is, I actually recall some of the comments and jokes from decades ago, as I am re-reading Asterix & Cleopatra :) Fun fun fun!!!
The other amazing find was a record of a "Jabji Saabh" path... I saw a picture of Guru Gobind Singh Ji on the cover of a record and just stopped, was rather surprised, delightfully so, to find his face on a cover... was not sure if some rock band was using the image for their record or was it the real deal. So after picking up and reading the details we learnt it was actually a record of the path in the 'World Music' section :) I just had to buy it... never had I thought it would exist on a record... Mom and Dad we are going to borrow your record player and try it out on our next trip!
Hope you all are having an equally fun weekend!
Lots of love
Posted by MattuSunny at 15:11
Sunday, 25 January 2009
Saturday, 24 January 2009
Sunday, 18 January 2009
My new winter do... change is coming to America, and history is being made, so I thought why not contribute to it by changing my hair-do! ;-) Well friends, I am looking forward to the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony & Speech this Tuesday!! I still remember the time Bush Junior aka Blunder Bush was sworn in for his first term, we were in the midst of immigrating to the US, and my dear mom sat me through the entire inaugural ceremony & speech. We were moving to a new country and she strongly felt I must watch & learn... I am sure mom you must have changed your mind once the speech started ;-)... after all what would I have learnt from him...
Mom this year I will willingly, proudly & eagerly be watching the entire ceremony!
Posted by MattuSunny at 14:48
Friday, 16 January 2009
Thursday, 15 January 2009
Sunday, 11 January 2009
Friday, 9 January 2009
24th December 2008
Bebeji (aka Rohini, Nohni, CM, Saila, Habibi, Shakira) & Mamu (aka Pravesh, Paro, Makhmood) arrived in the morning... YIPEEEEEEEEEEE!!!! Rohini and I go way back... school days, may be we were meant to be sisters or something... wait a minute we are sisters 'by choice' ;-) Distance or no distance we've always kept in touch, almost on a daily basis, and have been there for each other through everything! Needless to say it's always extra special to spend time together and to vacation together... for years it was just the two of us and our mums (who also happen to be best of friends, so it had been very convenient for the four of us)... but since we got married we had two new members in the equation, our hubby's... of course they didn't have a choice and knew from the beginning that they had to fit into this equation... he he... but jokes apart, luckily for the two of us our husbands get along very well with each other, and we all get along very well. Touch wood! This was our first vacation together, the four of us and we all had a wonderful time, looking forward to many more :o) I must say we both have two very special husbands who have embraced our friendship and have excepted us with warmth and love, thank you boys, we are truly blessed to have you and love you very much :o)
Getting back to the trip... Bebe & Mamu arrive in Cairo... it was too early for me to be up... we had been traveling non stop plus the all day trip to Alexandria, reaching home late, so as expected we were dead tired, and I was still asleep while hubby was in the shower... the door bell rang... rang... rang till I realized I was not dreaming and someone was really at the door, so half asleep Mattu ran to check the door, and there was Ashraf with two of her favorite people + their luggage at the door!! Yipee they are here :o) They both came in and the four of us plonked on the couch right away and started our chit chat session, while we drank our left over half a bottle of bottled water and relished fresh ladoos brought by Bebeji from India (they had just spent two months in India), shortly after we all were feeling rather hungry and cooked some maggie and hard boiled eggs for breakfast! We could not drink the milk, as our fresh one day old milk smelled and tasted so sour like khatti daahi, so we threw it away, later to learn that is how that type of milk smells and tastes... but none of us were going to drink khatta milk ;-) So no morning chai, coffee, milk or cereal for anyone...
After breakfast we all sat down to make our plans for the day and for the next few days... we also called Ashraf to guide and advise us on how to go about making arrangements. He was extremely kind and took us to the closest railway station, which happened to be Giza station to help us book our sleeper train or overnight train to Luxor. Sunny and I had tried to do this ourselves earlier in Alexandria and with no luck had failed due to the language barrier as we had not been able to get our queries answered by the booking agents. So today we had Ashraf on our side, an Egyptian who spoke fluent Arabic, but he was a bit naive about the public mode of transportation and it's workings, so after hopping from one queue to another and standing for a while we learnt that it was too late to book any sort of train ticket as they all were booked till 1st Jan! We had come too far not to go to Luxor... so we all decided to check out the expensive flight alternative and after further discussions and enquiries at the Egyptian Air airline office @ Sheraton we had 4 tickets for Luxor!!!! Departing Cairo on the 26th @ 5 am and returning the next morning on the 27th at 3 am... we already knew it was going to be one hell of a day... Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut Temple, Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, The Nile, Luxor City and of course some surprises... we were excited and a couple of hundred pounds lighter ... yet there were happy smiles all around :-)
After we got our tickets, we were dropped off by Ashraf outside the Egyptian Museum in central Cairo... as we were famished and could not think about wandering in a museum on empty stomachs, we spotted a KFC on the other side of the road and headed towards it, not attempting to cross the main road, Egyptian style this time (i.e. dodging traffic by walking through the traffic with closed eyes) but instead we went underground and used their subway...
It was 4ish pm by the time we got done with lunch, and since the museum closed at 6.30 we decided to do it another day, as we did not want to be rushed through it... later realizing the one and a half to two hours would have been more than enough ;-)
So instead we hailed a cab and headed to Cairo's very famous and old 'Khan al - Khalili' bazaar, which is a couple of hundred years old... and was one of the must visit/shop at places on Bebe & Moi list ;-) We were told it would cost us 40 LE in total to get there, so when our cabby said 10 LE we all jumped in feeling rather proud of ourselves on getting an amazing deal without any bargaining efforts! Later at our destination we understood & realized the cabby meant 10 LE each :p On our way to the market we had some pretty interesting cabbi and Bebeji moments which I would like to disclose later in a dedicated blog entries!
After reaching Khan al - Khalili we all explored the market and it's surroundings, we were in old Cairo, Muslim influenced district and there were plenty of interesting mosques and buildings to admire for their architectural design. We decided just to explore and experience the market and the vibe of the place before Bebe and I indulged in any shopping ;) We walked through old streets with beautiful carvings and buildings, admiring all merchandize being sold around us. Something everyone needs to know before you go shopping in Egypt, if you are really keen on buying something then you should enquire about it or else the shopkeepers will continue to follow & convince you to buy it, or get offended and might argue with you for wasting their time... they can get a bit aggressive! The girls were praised for their eyes, beauty and were even called 'Habibi' and 'Shakira' by many shopkeepers, to which Bebe and I responded with the same greetings... later to learn Habibi meant 'my darling' or 'I love you' and Shakira we are still not sure about as when we asked one of our cabby's he just giggled and refused to tell us ... our best guess was 'sexy'... either way, Bebe and I addressed a lot of strange men the same (unaware of the real meaning) to get a bargain...LOL!
Something we encountered a lot from the locals was, their eagerness and curiosity to know which part of the world everyone was from, and once they learnt we were Indians... they all smiled and said "Oh! You know Amitabh Bachchan"... yeah sure we dine with him all the time :p
This was truly an obsession that got on our nerves by the end of the trip... I truly mean anyone and everyone stopped us and asked, "Where you from?" or "You Indian?"...
The shopkeepers there also have very interesting one liners they love to use on tourists, some of the memorable ones I recall were:
"What can I do my friend to get your money!"... followed by "I am very honest" :D... a bit too honest my friend!
"You Indian!!... no money, no buy"
"These are real mummy bead necklaces... Cleopatra wear these"
It was truly an amazing experience and sure enough we returned to the market a few days later and were greeted by very excited shopkeepers who still remembered us and were very happy to see their Shakiras again... probably trying to think of more new ways to get our money! ;)
The two pictures above were with the shopkeeper who sold us our souvenirs, he would not let us leave till we took pictures with him... LOL... we felt like asking him for a bakshish for taking a picture of him ;)
After shopping a little for souvenirs and enjoying the market, we walked around a few mosques in the neighborhood and found our way back in front of the market area where they had a row of 'alfresco' local restaurants/dhabas, so we decided to have an authentic (or so we thought) Egyptian dinner with the locals... with sheesha smoke blowing in our face, stray cats under the table, little children running up to us, beggars, shoe shiners, and non-stop interruptions by the street hawkers, trying to sell us random nonsense things while we ate. Never had we experienced this even in Indian Dhabas! Egypt walas you are truly enterprising and one of kind!
I am sorry to say this but as candidly stated by a street hawker earlier, Egyptians will try any and every way to get your money... so in the same style, waiters too try their luck to pocket some money off your bill... and keeping in tradition our waiter tried to add a little extra on to our bill, but you see it was our second night there and we were catching on ;) So we asked to see the menu again and added up the bill ourself which came out to 115 LE, and we were being asked to pay 150 LE, when we confronted him, he just giggled and said oh you must have heard me wrong, I said 115 only! This was truly an amazing day, and we were simply loving our trip... so much fun and the day was not over yet... we still had to catch a cab and get back home. The cabby we got that night was by far my favorite, an old chap (who sounded a bit sleepy, a bit drunk and a bit crazy) with a very old run down Fiat... just like the one my dad had in India :) He spoke Arabic and we spoke Hindi/Punjabi/English... yet it did not stop him from being our unofficial tour guide, and he rattled on and on the entire way home about anything & everything we passed, so much so that he stopped the car in the middle of the traffic, on a flyover to the freeway and insisted we took a snap of the market, as it was the best place for a beautiful shot! Once I realized he would not move till I took a picture... I quickly pretended to snap a picture, of course not convincing the chap and Sunny had to actually take quiet a few pictures till he was satisfied and finally moved his cab... this was hilarious... and we laughed our way home to his antics!!
At last we were home... exhausted and what a day we had... we hit the bed and slept soundly like babies, until tomorrow... a new day and a new adventure... we love Egypt!!!!
Posted by MattuSunny at 05:38
Saturday, 3 January 2009
23rd December 2008
First thing first... the most important word everyone needs to learn and add to their vocabulary after reaching Egypt is "la Shukran" meaning... "no thank you"... trust us this would be the most used and valued word during your stay in Egypt ;)
What a day we had in Alexandria! Where do I begin... the rain washed away most of our plans and we could not see everything as planned :( but we still made the most of our day and had a great time! Once we reached Alexandria we got out of the station and dodged all the cabbies running after us, as we wanted to walk and explore the city on our own :) Lesson learnt - do not trust the scale of the map printed in guide books ;) we were not aware how far things were... and to add to it, they don't have many street signs and very few locals speak or understand English or are willing to help you out. We met this fellow foreign tourist during the trip who said..."like any local knows anything here or would help out"... well it's a different case if you are willing to give some bakshish ;)
Standing outside the station wondering where to go next! We started walking in one direction hoping to get somewhere and came across beautiful old buildings which were now ruins as no one lived in them... but I could not help admire and hope someone would take it up to restore them and convert them into apartments for holiday letting or a small boutique hotel... Everything around has a thick coat of dust on it... there is so much dust and smoke in the air (inside & outside) that Sunny and I got husky smokers voices after our first day there... we were so shocked at the amount of dust and pollution in the air, and on everything around that I personally just wanted to take a water pipe and hose everything clean ...
We walked around, got lost and by mistake found the Mediterranean Sea! It was beautiful and we could see quite a few places around we wanted to visit, starting with the famous Cecile hotel, which is now called the Sofitel hotel and during the Second World War it was used by the British secret service, and hosted politicians and writers such as Winston Churchill, Somerset Maugham & Noel Coward... sadly the restoration has not quiet captured its past grandeur...
But first we decided to walk down Al Corniche ~ the drive along the Mediterranean sea leading up to Fort Qaitbey... half way there it started drizzling and soon the drizzle converted into torrential shower... we were just stunned at the amount of rain falling... aren't we supposed to be in desert country... Alexandria is an exception being so close to the sea! So we took shelter close to a building to ride out the rain and that is where we met Ahmed & Baseen, two young Egyptian boys, who tried their best to get their hands on our camera to take our picture... we are too Indian to fall for that trick ;) After a few jokes and some conversation with the boys we caught a cab to Cecile hotel, we thought we might as well get some lunch while it rained... so we hailed a cab and paid him 5 LE (this was again a very high price and needless to say we got ripped off and learned about it later when we enquired at the local tourist office... something to keep in mind, always check to get an idea on rates before you hail cabs and always bargain). After reaching Cecile hotel we got a table at their restaurant and some food, only to be disappointed, it was by far the worst meal we have ever had... it made us sad to see such wonderful historic hotels being mismanaged and run so poorly.
While we were eating the rain stopped, so we quickly forced ourselves to eat a little and headed out to visit the Roman Museum & the Roman Amphitheater... we had lots of fun finding our way to the Amphitheater... no one seemed to have heard about it and kept directing us in different directions, when we finally reached the place, we found the place by mistake... and learnt that the Roman Museum was closed, but instead we could visit the National Historic Museum. At the Roman Amphitheater site dear hubby befriended a stray cat and had a jolly time playing with it :) (highlight of the day :D)
At the Amphitheater we found a young female guide who was kind enough to give us directions to the National Museum... so we ventured out into the busy streets of Alexandria yet again on foot to find a place no one had ever heard off...LOL... luckily this time around it did not take us very long, as we stumbled on the place much quickly... the museum was small yet very interesting and we were impressed by their presentation and display especially when we compared our experience to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (which is Egypt's pride). We even got to experience a dummy Pharaoh burial chamber and see a few real mummies at the National Museum. Once we were out it was getting late and it started to pour down yet again... so we decided to head to the railway station which was close by, to sit down at the cafe inside and plan what to do next!
At the station we learnt that Fort Qaitbey was closed and we would not be able to visit it that day, and since it was still pouring and getting dark we thought it was not a very good idea to just walk around town anymore. Since we had return tickets for the 7.15 train and it was only 5... we had some time to kill. After enquiring with the ticketing office and the tourist information office we learnt we had no choice but to wait for the last and only train back to Cairo at 7.15. So now we were wet, tired, sleepy and hungry... we decided to sit it out in the cafe and go through our guide book and the additional information we got to plan out the next few days! People here smoke so much and everywhere... there were groups of men and women smoking and since it was pouring outside we had no choice but to ignore it and continue sitting in the cafe. My feet were wet, I was cold and I could only think of a hot shower and a warm bed... and yet I know we won't be home till after 11 pm!!!
What a day... I will never forget our visit to Alexandria, getting lost and feeling so lost, yet exploring the city in our own unique way, having a good time and laughing a lot! Sunny and I simply loved it all despite everything that happened during the day. I guess coz we both were together and it was so much fun regardless :) We would like to think... today we walked in the foot steps of Alexander the Great! We only wish we could have explored a bit more had it not rained so much. We simply loved the old building all over town with beautifully carved balconies and stunning inlay/engraved shutters & doors... with restoration written all over them!
Alexandria we came, we saw and were conquered!!
Posted by MattuSunny at 10:28
Friday, 2 January 2009
23rd December 2008
7.45 am - Ramses Station (Cairo): Hubby and I arrived in Cairo this morning at 4 am and disembarked from the airplane on the runway, old school... it's been ages since I disembarked and walked on the runway, reminds me of my childhood trips with mom, when we used to visit Papa on his sailing trips. The new section of the Cairo airport looks very modern and swanky, but we were brought to the other side to a smaller section of the building to exit. Private drivers and escorts sent by hotels and companies were standing inside the security area and some were even present on the runway, with name cards to receive their guests, so if you'd like you could still be whisked away in style from your airplane itself ;) Our driver (we had asked the owner of our apartment to send someone since we would need a reliable person to take us home to drop off our bags so we could make it on time for our train to Alexandria right after) was waiting for us outside customs... The immigration kiosk officers had a very familiar attitude, very Indian... chalta hai types... we were lucky to be out very quickly.
Our cab ride from Cairo International Airport to our apartment in Giza was very interesting... our driver spoke Arabic and we...well we did not, so not much conversation apart form the occasional cab driver points his finger at a monument/historic site & told us about it in Arabic, while we respond with a dumb nod and big smile, without any clue or understanding. All this happened at 4 am when it was pitch dark... the freeways were clear of all traffic and everything looked extremely clean, magical and special :o) On our way to the apartment we also stopped at a local grocery store to pick up some milk, eggs and bread... another very interesting incident so early in our stay ;) ... two non-Arabic speaking people surrounded by Arabic speaking people, we acting out things we want, and they pointing at things we should buy, but did not want. Now I truly understand how our friends and family have felt on their first visit to India...
30 minuted later we were out of the store with 6 eggs, 1 bottle of fresh milk, 1 loaf of bread & 2 large bottles of water... and we spent less than 3 pounds! I turned to hubby and said... we should shop here often, it's so entertaining and cheap ;)
Sunny and I kept looking left & right out of our cab window, like two excited children in a toy store... expecting to spot another monument/historic site and discuss what we understood or knew about it :D At some point our cabby got so bored by the two excited self entertained children riding his cab that he decided to play some arabic music on the radio... and that is when we both almost burst out laughing... we had never expected to hear what we did... it was less of music and more of loud confusing noise... and being Bollywood children we thought we had heard it all... guess not ;)
6ish we reached out apartment and were greeted by Ashraf (the owner) and he showed us around the place... we were very impressed by the size of the place and I must say we did well staying in a flat instead of a hotel. We were advised we should leave for the station around 7 am, as we were taking the train to Alexandria for a day trip... so I thought, great, 45 minutes, we could take a quick shower, get a bite and then head out... we had not even opened our bags when Ashraf rang the bell again and informed us that the driver suggests we leave in the next 5-10 minutes to make it in time, due to morning traffic. So we grabbed our backpacks and headed out the door!
This time around the sun was out (rather quickly & it was quiet bright, I am told some equator phenomenon, as we are so close to it) and we got a better look at Cairo... it reminds me of India, may be a bit more dustier, like there is a lot more sand in the air and on everything around! The roads were busier and full of the hustle and bustle of the city... saw more local men walking around as compared to women. We reached Ramses Station a bit early... 45 minutes to be exact, so I could have taken that shower after all... oh well it will have to be later today when we return. Everyone seems to love staring at you and to know your business... strangers walk up on their own and ask your name, where you are from and what you are doing in Egypt... one just needs to ignore and move on. Since we had some time at our hands, we grabbed some coffee and cheese sandwiches and hopped on our train. Everyone seems to mistake Sunny to be Arabic and start conversing with him in Arabic...I guess the beard effect ;) I thought good sign, at least now we will blend in much easily... now only if I didn't have a camera around my neck all the time & Sunny didn't have the guide book in his hand, we would be more convincing ;)
Riding in the train to Alexandria through the suburbs and the rural areas, we both felt at home... this is exactly like India. Almost like sitting in Shatabdi and traveling from Delhi to Chandigarh! I can smell someone smoking in the first class AC chair compartment, so I guess smoking is allowed inside here... not very pleased about that, none of us are going to be too happy being passive smokers for the next 7 days. I am a bit sleepy and tired now, so will rest my eyes till we reach Alexandria... dear hubby is already fast asleep with the open guide book on his laps... we've had a very long day/trip and are exhausted!
Posted by MattuSunny at 11:59
Thursday, 1 January 2009
22nd December 2008
We are at Heathrow and our trip to Egypt has started with a BANG! All these months leading up to our trip we've kept a close eye on Alitalia, and today on the day of our trip, when we reached the airport we found out... our flight has been cancelled as the company is on STRIKE... yet again!! We got here at 2pm and have been standing in a never ending ticketing line to see if we can get ourselves transfered to another flight... as soon as we reach Cairo, we need to be on a train to Alexandria! Please pray this line moves... as it's been still for almost an hour now. There are a few more people in line for Egypt, rest all are for Rome... Alitalia staff informs us, rather we've all been playing chinese whispers with the information... all flights are booked, we will not be transfered to any other flight today or tomorrow, so I guess our trip is being threatened!!
I am sick of standing and sitting in this still line and I am now looking forward to going home eating and setting my butt on the couch!... Our fellow travelers Bebeji & Mamu (who are heading to Cairo from India) have been informed and even they are praying for something to work out! (fingers crossed)
Finally I heard someone yell, passengers for Egypt please come forward...RUN Sunny RUN!!!!!! There are about 10 of us and they've taken our passports... we are being transferred to Egypt Air... we have hope of getting seats there... we wait a bit more and we get boarding passes... Yipeeeeeeeee!! We are finally heading to Egypt :o) Luckily we get a direct flight as compared to our long halt flight via Rome... and we'll still be in time to make it to our train to Alexandria... phew!... that was a close call... Have always seen people on the news, sitting on the floor and on their trolleys at the airport, especially during holiday season with cancelled flights, airports shut downs due to bad weather... and today we experienced it too.
Finally! Sunny and I are sitting on a plane for Cairo - Egypt Air seats 40A & 40C, the first two emergency seats in our section with lots of leg room... one big YIPEEEE!! from both of us after a long day of standing in line after line wondering if this trip would ever start! After numerous lines at different counters, enquiries, phone calls etc etc... we are finally on our way in an ancient Egypt Air plane to an ancient land! Mummy land here we come :o)
Posted by MattuSunny at 05:16