Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hiking near Lugano, Switzerland

I couldn't believe we had spent an entire year here and never actually been to Ticino - the "Italian" Canton of Switzerland!  Well, we had seen it on the train - but clearly that doesn't count - right?  So it took me a few days, but I convinced Nathan that we should do a hike here for our last weekend in Switzerland! 

I found a hike on (one of my favorite sites!) from Monte San Salvatore to Morcote and then ending with a boat trip back to Lugano.  Boat trip?  Um hello - you know I'm in!  The train ride was a little far for a one day trip - 3 hours there and back but we had a lot of stuff to do on Sunday (including pack) so we sucked it up and even convinced Sarah and Zann to come with us!

This 4 hour hike was said to have some of the best scenic views in Switzerland and it didn't disappoint!  From the very start it was beautiful!

The summit of the Monte San Salvatore

Same location but to the South

I thought we would have better views of the water during the middle part of the hike, but the trail went through the forest a lot - we even hiked through the Lugano Botanical Gardens - it was still a little early in the season but I know it will be beautiful in a few weeks when everything is in bloom!

Nathan chillin' in the botanical gardens:)

The end of the hike was so amazing - I really thought we were in Italy!

And then - the boat ride back to Lugano!

It really felt like we were in Italy - but cleaner and the public transportation ran on time - ha!:)

(ok.- beer the generic beer of Switzerland - ahhhhh!)

The whole time we have been here I have been trying to get a good picture of Nathan and I with the Swiss Flag and Sarah finally got it for us!  I like to call this the money shot!:)  Thanks Sarah!

We walked around the quaint little town of Lugano then had a great Italian dinner at Tango near the water- and topped it off with some gelato, of course!  Great final weekend in Switzerland!

Here's a link to the rest of the pictures it you want to see them!


All the boxes were picked up today - half to be shipped back to the States, half going to Finland.  This was a slightly different experience than the one we had a year ago when our stuff was shipped here. 

First of all we had to pack our own boxes.  Which I was actually fine with, but I was a little worried about making them too heavy since they gave us such big boxes - .288 square meters (big) - but Nathan was all "Don't worry about it - they'll send two big guys, they'll have a dolly - it will be fine.  They wouldn't give us this size box if they didn't want us to fill it up!"  Okay - I grasped that logic, so we filled, and filled, and FILLED the boxes - using only 7 of the 10 they gave us.

Jump forward to this morning.  Nathan leaves for work at 7:45 a.m. Door bell rings at 8 a.m. sharp.  Mover guy comes in - um yeah - as in mover, no plural, ONE guy!  He asks where the boxes are and I point them out.  He doesn't speak very good English (and I speak no German), but I tried anyway to ask him where the OTHER guy was.  He pointed down stairs.  Oh thank God - I thought I was going to have to help! 

Then the guy proceeds to try to push the (very heavy) boxes out the front door into the elevator.  Of course this is almost impossible, because of their size and weight (I kind of wait for the other guy to show up but when he doesn't), so I help.  Then he tries to stack one box on top of the other inside the elevator.  Which is almost impossible, because of the size and weight, so I help.  Then he can't fit in the elevator with the boxes to get them to the bottom floor (you can't just call the elevator from the bottom - not sure why) so I get in the elevator with the boxes.  Then I'm expecting a guy down there, but of course there is no one, and he can't get the boxes out of the elevator by himself, because of the SIZE and WEIGHT, so I HELP!

A picture of the size of the boxes so you know I'm not exaggerating!

Does anyone see a problem here?  A moving company sends one freaking dude to pick up boxes that they gave us, so they know how big they are!  Too big for one person to carry! 

I think I threw my back out.  I'm suing.  Oh wait - I can't.  I'm in Switzerland.  Damn!

Either way boxes are gone - we're almost outta here - only 2 more days!:)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Floating in the Dead Sea is the life!

Monday April 5th - Wednesday April 7th
Staying at the Jordan Valley Marriott at the Dead Sea was the perfect ending to our trip.  We needed some pampering after our hard travels:)!

The Marriott - now that's what I'm talking about!

Our home for the next two days!

Floating in the Dead Sea was one of the things I was most looking forward to on our trip!  I had lots of questions.  I mean - are we really going to float?  Like really float?  How salty is this water anyway?  How smooth will the Dead Sea mud make my skin?  If the mud really works, could I just start digging and take some back in the zip lock that I brought with me just in case?  Serious questions that needed to be answered!

So - yes - you float.  It was kind of weird though, because I remember treading water even though I saw other people floating and then finally decided to just "trust the process" and voila - I was floating - very cool!  The water is 30% salt - 8 times as salty as the ocean.  And if you want to know - yes it burns like hell if you get it in your eye (thanks for "toeing" me in Zann - I am forever indebted to you as I thought I was officially blind after the "wave incident" - maybe trying to swim to Israel was a bad idea after all).  I also got the water in my mouth - yuck.  My mouth felt so dry and I ended up spitting for the next 3 hours trying to get the salt out of my mouth - it was way worse than the salt water concoction my mom used to make us gargle when we were kids and had a sore throat!:)  Also, the salt doesn't ruin your bathing suit but the mud does - just a word to the wise! And finally, the mud does make your skin as smooth as a baby's butt, but I decided to just buy some from the gift store instead of going with the zip lock!

 It was a bit of a process lathering on the mud, drying, and then floating - but we managed:)

First we float!

Not a care in the world!

Now the much do we need?

you're gonna need more than that...


You've got to let it dry for the best results!

Now back in the water to wash it off - I think our skin already felt smoother at this point! And what is Zann doing in the background - hilarious!:)

This part of the vacation was the pampering I needed:)  Frozen drinks at the lowest point on earth.  Laying around reading magazines by the pool with an amazing view.  Watching the sunset from the balcony.  Aaaaah - I heart the Marriott and the Dead Sea!  We also loved the food which was very "greek" - more hummus, olives, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, and olive oil on everything - yumm!  I think at one point I said "I want to be Jordanian":)!

The view from our lounge chairs - this is the life!

Drinks at the "lowest place on Earth"!

Now that's low!

Our last night in paradise - drinks, dinner, the sunset and 31(our new favorite card game)!  Well, my new favorite game since I was the winner!  And I WANT my francs people!:)

Around 2 pm on Wednesday April 5th, a driver came to pick us up and take us to Amman to tour the city and then catch our 3 am flight home!  We hadn't planned to tour Amman, but had heard there was some pretty cool architecture and ruins left from the Romans, so the boys looked up some stuff to do and booked it.  We love our men:)! 

First stop - we saw where Jesus was baptised - well actually just the parking lot.:)  I wanted to say thanks to our driver who teased us with the parking lot saying sorry you didn't pay to go on this part of the tour - nice!  Then he pointed out Mount Nebo - the place where Moses viewed the promised land - we didn't book that part either.:(  But in our defense we only had a few hours and we didn't know how far away these sites were (apparently not that far) - I guess we'll just have to do that next year when we come back to the Dead Sea! :)

First stop in Amman was the Roman Theater built somewhere around 169 - 177 A.D. (but I read several conflicting dates - some a bit earlier some a bit later).  With my minimal knowledge of Middle Eastern history (well history in general for that matter), I was amazed to see all the Roman ruins, but apparently the Romans ruled this area from around 30 B.C. to 614 A.D. and designed it to look like other Roman cities with columns, amphitheaters, roman bath houses, and streets - much of which you can still see the ruins of today. 

The Roman Theater

I found this statement about Amman " Amman is arguably one of the first human settlements in history.  Thus, to visit Amman is to learn about the origin of human society."  Very interesting statement that was backed up when we visited the First National Archaeological Museum at the Citadel in Amman, because it housed artificats from numerous civilizations dating back over 7000 years ago! Who knew?!
The entrance to the Citadel

View of Amman and the Roman Theater from the Citadel

The Dead Sea Scrolls are housed at the First National Archaeological Museum

I can't wait for this vacation to end because I'm sick of taking pictures!:)

Nathan and the Temple of Hercules (which is larger than any temple in Rome itself)

We finished our day with a little shopping at a Bazaar then an amazing Jordanian Dinner that we were all stuffed from and that cost less than $10 total (for all 4 of us)- you know Nathan loved that!:)  Finally on to the airport as our trip was over:( 

Our last meal:(  This was a cheese dessert that I can't for the life of me remember the name of - but it was really good!

No better way to end a vacation than spending the night at the airport!  Gotta protect our souvenirs - especially "the egg" - right Zann?

We had such an amazing time and loved every minute of it!  One of the best trips we have ever been on! 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Petra - The Lost City of Stone

Monday April 5th
Okay, so I have to admit, before we started planning our trip to Egypt in December I had never even heard of Petra.  I have to thank our friend, Diana, for telling us about this "New Seven Wonder of the World" and for making us go!  You may have seen it in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Transformers, or Mortal Combat - no?  Well maybe these pictures will jog your memory - and if you are ever in this neck of the woods - we HIGHLY recommend going to Petra - it was unbelievable what the Nabataeans built all the way back in the 6th century B.C.

But let's back up - I have to mention our second trip across the desert from Sharm to Taba -  Egypt's border with Israel that we had to cross to get to Jordan.  The ride had basically the same scenery as our last car ride, but I did get to learn some Arabic - thanks to our tour guide, Diaa!  I can now write my name - well kinda:)

After arriving at Taba, our original directions were to "walk through Israel to Jordan" where we we would have a car waiting for us.  We were all very confused about this because when you look at a map it seems a lot further than walking distance - which it was.  Thank goodness we received better information from Diaa once we got there - we just needed to walk a short distance then hop in a cab to the Jordan border - much better!  However, we were told it would take about 25 minutes - not so much - but it wasn't that bad either -  it took us about 1 hour and 45 minutes to cross Israel and both border controls.

Welcome to Israel

They let us in - Yes!   Now hopefully they will let us out:)
Group shot on the Israel side of the Taba Border which is right on the Red Sea.

Phew - that "walk across the desert" was hard work, but we made it!
Once we started driving in Jordan, I was thrown off by the landscape.  I was expecting the same terrain as Egypt - desert - but it was actually pretty green.  Our driver told us that was because there were natural springs running under the land and that it actually snowed in that part of Jordan sometimes - huh - I never would have guessed that!

View of the Jordanian landscape from the car -okay so it's not rolling green grass and oak trees or anything but more g reen than I thought - way more than Egypt where we saw no green!

It took us about 2 hours to get from the border to Petra where we met our tour guide, Aly.  Aly was THE MAN!  I swear he was the Mayor of Petra because everybody knew him - even the little bedouin children called him by name when we walked past them!  If you use Memphis Tours definitely request Aly!

We started the tour by riding horses to the beginning of the Siq "the shaft" - the narrow passage that leads to Petra.  I thought the Siq was beautiful in and of itself, but Aly kept saying "wait, this is nothing" and boy was he right.  When we reached the end of the Siq the very first thing you see is the Al Khazneh "The Treasury" - unbelievable - carved right into the side of the sandstone cliffs!  I thought I took pretty good pictures, but once I got home I realized they just don't do it justice, so - if you have the chance - GO SEE IT - it's amazing what they accomplished so long ago!:)

Horse ride down to the Siq - ha ha suckers to all the people walking!:)

The beginning of our walk through the Siq

Aly showing us some of the Pagan God carvings by the Nabataeans.

End of the Siq right before it opens up into the City - this was the first glimpse of the awesomeness we were about to see:)!

Al Khazneh "The Treasury" - if you look closely you can see the two "dots" on both sides of the structure- those are the ends of the ladder that they used to build it - we were told they started at the top and worked their way down - hence all the "dots" - amazing!

The caves where were the people lived - a lot of the time amongst the dead - whom they cremated and then kept in the middle of their "house"

The Urn Tomb is behind us to the right - the first of the Royal Tombs

After Petra, we headed about 3 hours north to the Dead Sea for a couple relaxing days at the Marriott - now that's the kind of hotel I'm talking about!

p.s. - Here's a link to the rest of our pictures of Petra if you want to see them.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt

Friday April 2nd
After everyone agreed to getting up at 6 am (on vacation!) to travel by a "modern air-conditioned vehicle"  across the desert, we finally made it to Sharm el Sheikh (hereby referred to as Sharm) about 7 1/2 hours later.  Although it was a lot of the same thing - desert - it was still cool to see the Egyptian terrain and coast.  It was only supposed to be a 6 hour trip, but with "tea" breaks (disguised as bathroom breaks by our drivers) and the fact that every time we crossed into a new area/city we had to go through a checkpoint,  it took an additional 1 1/2 hours.  The checkpoints were interesting -  we would pull up to them, then our driver would give the Egyptian police guy a piece of paper, then in turn the police man would give him something back, and then we would be waved on by the man carrying the machine guy and on our way to the next checkpoint.

We couldn't quite figure out what the whole process was for (and our drivers didn't speak English), so we couldn't ask them what was going on.  Our tour guide in Sharm, Diaa, explained it to me later though.  He said that when traveling in Egypt you have to ask the Egyptian government for permission to go from point A to point B the day before you plan on traveling.  Then they give you a piece of paper that says you have permission to travel this area, where you are headed, and the nationalities of the people in the car.  This is what they were handing out the window.  I'm not 100% sure what the police man handed us back and I don't want to speculate here - especially since we didn't always get something back - very strange. 

One of the most interesting things was that each checkpoint had several men with machine guns (one would be standing behind an armored 4 foot shield), a guy holding a string that was attached to a device to pop tires (think the checkout area of a rental car place) that he could pull across the street at any time, and a supervisor that was usually doing nothing but drinking tea (they LOVE their tea!).  I'm guessing that Egypt has a low unemployment rate because the government employees everybody! (These check points kind of reminded me of the DOT - one person works - five other stand around to see what he is doing - not that the U.S. has a low unemployement rate) :)!  Sorry for the long description, but we never got a good picture of this process - I was scared to take a picture of the men with the guns! 

Now onto the good part - Sharm!

We arrived at our all-inclusive hotel, the Kiroseiz Three Corners Resort, around 2 - just in time to layout in the sun and start taking advantage of the "free" drinks!  The Kiroseiz was okay - I would give it about a 3 star (but I am judging on American standards, so maybe that isn't fair?)  My confidence about the cleanliness of the room was shaken a bit when I noticed that they refilled the shampoo and conditioner bottles (I think they were several years old) and there were splattered mosquito guts on the walls, but fortunately the sheets and towels were clean so I could deal with the other things.  The bartenders had to be "worn down" as the boys put it before we started getting good service, the pool was nice, the 2 beaches were pretty (you had to take a bus to them as the hotel wasn't directly on the beach), and the buffet food was extensive and what I expected for an all inclusive.  They did have a couple al a carte restaurants - we ate at the Indian one and it was amazing!!  All in all - good value for our money and I can't really complain.

Here at last!

(This picture was actually taken the day we left at 5:30 am which is why no one is here - it was actually really busy!)

The first night we ate at the Indian Restaurant, Bukhara -(I know Indian food in Egypt - but it was some of the best I have ever had)!  We received a lot of attention from the wait staff because there weren't a lot of people eating in this restaurant (you had to pay here so most people chose the "free" buffet).  This proved to be a lot of fun when they showed me how to cook naan (indian bread) by sticking MY hand into a 350 degree celsius (662 degrees F) traditional indian "oven".  I didn't burn myself (thank goodness) and my naan was exceptional if I have to say so myself:)! 

Dinner is served!

How do you make that delicious bread? Oh you stick your hand in this really hot oven?  Sure, I'll try.

After a bit of psyching myself up - I did it!  It doesn't seem like that big of a deal from the pics, but that mother was HOT!

Enjoying my culinary skills with the staff!:)

We ended the night at the Casino - I mean I am traveling with Nathan - hello!:)  The casino took all our money except for Nathan's - go figure! 

Saturday April 3rd
On Saturday morning, Josh, Nathan and I headed out to dive Shark and Yoland Reef in the Red Sea - 1 of the Top 10 places to dive in the World!  We used Colona Divers - who I highly recommend.  They were a smaller dive outfit - which I like because I'm not a big fan of overcrowded dive/snorkeling boats!

Josh recently bought a waterproof casing for his point and shoot and here are some of the pics he took underwater (of course Nathan now wants the same casing:)):

The port where we were checked for bombs, herded like cattle, then let on our boat.

Josh took this picture of me - I thought it was pretty cool shot!

very cool tiger fish

Not sure what this thing was, but it was running into us (it hit me on the back of the head a couple times) then it was using us as a shield to hide from and then attack smaller fish!

Underwater Group Shot - gotta have one of those!

Moray eel - ewww

After we got back, we all headed to dinner at the restaurant at the Coral Beach - not one of my favorites and I don't recommend it - stick to the buffet at the main resort!  We ventured down to the water after dinner and got on the floating dock, which we were then summed off of with bright fog lights and horns - good times!:)  But we liked what we saw, and decided to come back to this beach on Sunday. 

Sunday April 4th - Easter Sunday
It was a little strange to wake up in a Muslim country on Easter Sunday and them have Easter decorations all over the place - but I guess you have to play to your audience - right?  We enjoyed a nice Easter breakfast and headed off to the Coral Beach.

The Coral Beach was even prettier during the day.  We quickly figured out why it was called this when we ventured back down to the end of the floating dock and saw all the coral and marine life right there!  At the very end of the dock it made a straight drop off right into the very deep sea (which is why they were blowing the horn at us to get off it at night I guess!).

We were laying out - right on the sea!  And there is the infamous dock - don't fall off!

A little later in the day we rented a boat and snorkeling gear and headed to some pretty amazing reefs.  I love vacation!:)
"Jimmy" rented us the boat.  Thanks Jimmy!

"never thought i'd be on a boat" - I can hear T-pain now!:)

You go Yosh - drive that boat!  But seriously - can you do a better job than that other guy - I'm soaked!

Then finally onto one of my favorite parts of the trip - the Bedouin Dinner and Camel ride.  We all LOVED this part of the trip - and I highly (highly!) recommend doing this!  We loved our guide, Diaa, and we got a government appointed body guard (yes a body guard) so we felt like celebrities - I mean we already had Josh as our paparazzi!

Right when we got to the Bedouin camp we got on our camels.  Here are a bunch of our pictures because I love them so much!

Waiting for our camels...

aaaah - there they are!

We made it up without falling off - yessssssssssss!

Then Sara almost got eaten by my camel - priceless shot!:)

Okay - I think we are all ready - yalla beina!

I love this picture- thank you Paparazzi Yosh!

This was our scenery - not too shabby!

AEKDB - whatever that means:)

This was our tour guide Diaa - ask for him if you got to Sharm with Memphis Tours!

In the middle of the ride we saw this guy "playing" with two cobras -unbelievable!  We all said we wanted to see a snake charmer and this was close enough!

Then we saw this yahoo plaing with the cobras.

Are you kidding me?  Don't look away!

Oh you were just waiting for the perfect time to lean over, grab them, and...

PICK THEM UP!  Oh okay - carry on then!  Cheers!

Finally getting off the camel is the tricky part - they said LEAN back - you've got to make sure not to fall off!

I really hope I don't look stupid doing this:)

Phew - made it!

Then we hiked up to the top of this dirt "mountain" to watch the sunset in the desert!  Again wow.  Breathtaking!

Then they served us a traditional Bedouin dinner including their amazing tea - I've got to get my hands on some of that - soooooooo good!

This time we all got to help make naan - even Flat Stanley!

Finally, we headed to another area of the camp where we watched more belly dancing and whirling deverishes and smoked hookah (they call it shisha) - a water pipe filled with flavored tobacco - I swear it was just tobacco - swear!  We had a lot of fun with this - you would think we had never seen one of these "contraptions" before:)!

It's hookah time!

What do I do with this thing?

Here - I'll show you

Puff, Puff, GIVE - dude!

Will I still be able to run for office if this picture hits the internet?

Just kicked back smokin' some hookah - true, true

This was one of my favorite parts of the trip - just chillin' in the desert!  Great end to our time in Sharm!

We did end up going to the Na'ama Bay and the "Old Market" on the way home to try and buy some souvenirs.  It was just like a market in a poor country - dirty with lots of people trying to convince you to come into their shop - "great deal just for you".  We didn't stay very long though because Monday brought another car trip to Jordan!

But that's a story for another day!:)

Bye, bye Sharm - we'll miss you!

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