The dreaded word

I don’t usually fret over packing for a holiday, and this one is still weeks away. But I’ve been troubling over the exact pieces of clothes I’m going to pack for this five-week trip in Europe. Three reasons. It’s not exactly a glamorous European sojourn,  take, for example, the 12k walk along the Cinque Terre coastline, trekking around the Scottish highlands and hiking in Iceland. Then there’s the weather issue, it’s going to be between 10 to low 20’s throughout the trip, and I hate packing for unpredictable fall weather, juggling between t-shirts and warm sweaters. Also, there are going to be occasions to dress up for, like going to a 3-Michelin star restaurant, and, hello Paris, anyone?

So what to do?

It seems to me that the most logical thing to do (and because I’m obsessed about being absolutely organised for any trips) is to start packing now. This means I can take things out, put others in and think about anything I’ll need to buy to perfect this set of clothes.

My goal is to fit all my clothes into this smallish packing cell.  This not only leaves room for me to buy more stuff in Europe 😉 but also helps when I have to lug my baggage across seven countries.

Anyway, off I go to another ‘packing’ session 😉

Perspective

Around 7am, Petra, Jordan.

 

 

Hooray for 2011

My take on Cairo

‘Taxi?’

‘No thanks.’

‘Why not?’

‘We already have one.’

‘Where?’

****

‘It’s 190 pounds.’

‘But it says 120 on your website.’

‘That’s when you book on the web.’

‘190 covers everything. Tip to driver also.’

****

It turned out that 190 Egyptian pounds did not cover everything. Nor did the driver try to cover his curiosity for a couple of Asians. Conversed in very broken English and equally bad Arabic, we finally found the hotel in the absolute chaos that was Cairo’s early morning traffic.

This was Cairo in a nutshell. The hot weather, pollution, horrendous traffic, and people trying to make a few quick bucks off the tourists.

There are no doubts about it, Cairo was not my favourite city. But amidst all this chaos, Cairo extended its welcome in the most fortuitous ways.

getting sick in Cairo

I managed to fall ill the next day we arrived in Cairo. Even after a long sleepless night, I was determined not to miss the pyramids.  I felt great in the first couple of hours touring the pyramids, having a go at riding the camels (which was much higher off the ground than I had imagined) and braving the heat around the complex with little shade. Leaving the pyramids, the food poisoning finally caught up with me and I got horribly sick when we stopped over at a service station for refreshments. So it was at the back of this servo that a young employee noticed this girl chucking her guts out. He immediately went back inside and came out with a thick wad of tissues. I managed to stop throwing up long enough to utter a shokrun.

Totally unexpected, simple but touching gesture.

night time Cairo

After a week in Aswan and Luxor, we came back to Cairo via the most disgusting overnight train known to men. Even Cairo was a welcoming sight. I spent the day doing some papyrus and linen shopping by myself because Ben, surprise surprise, was sick. Our group decided to go out to a posh place for dinner. I was quite fed up with Cairo by the time I reached the restaurant by myself, having had enough of the traffic and the greedy taxi driver.

But I immediately fell in love with this restaurant situated at the tip of Zamalek, next to the Nile, without a single sound of car horn! The white shade sails, white linen covered wicker chairs and tables, groups of Caironese smoking sheesha – it was utter calm and relaxation. I had a great meal (mixed grill) and a lot of freshly squeezed juice.

I had to catch another taxi back to the hotel by myself. Driving through the Cairo cityscape at night, it was a completely different city. Gone were the traffic jams and sight of the bland and dilapidated buildings. The city was alive, in a different way, with young people dressed in dazzling party outfits, and hundreds of neon lights from boats and buildings bouncing off the Nile.

I was once again taken aback by this remarkable city. The taxi driver’s incessant personal questions and radical driving did not even bother me.

Ossiano, Atlantis the Palm

There are no doubts about it, Ossiano was simply stunning.

Ossiano is set in the opulent Atlantis The Palm Hotel in Dubai. It boasts a three Michelin star chef but I think the place itself deserves three Michelin stars! Like many grandiose restaurants, a spiral staircase leads into the dining area. Unlike the other restaurants, an entire wall of Ossiano is devoted to a giant fish tank, with hundreds of fish, reef sharks and rays swimming by as you have your meal.

 

We chose the chef’s special menu of the day – a multi-course and incredibly filling meal. My favourites were the scallop with risotto and the braised beef cheek, and the dessert (an apricot concoction) was probably the best dessert I’ve ever had. Even the petit fours were cleverly done. So thank you Ben for this special treat!

Canapes

 

Appetizer
1st course: perfectly cooked octopus
2nd course: yellow fin tuna with white radish in consomme
3rd course: giant scallop on green risotto
4th course: super tender beef cheeks with artichoke hearts
The pre-dessert: sorbet (can’t remember what flavour)
Dessert: delicious apricot themed-dessert with lots of different textures. It was so big that I couldn’t finish it.
Petit fours: not to be out-done by the dessert, those were some super clever petit fours. There was a chocolate lollipop that had ice water inside it! Amazing.

The hotel itself was also stunning. This is the foyer:

The rest of Melbourne

It was a whirlwind weekend in Melbourne. We went to the Tim Burton exhibition. It kicked-ass! Tim Burton is clearly talented but probably has a wicked and somewhat distorted mind. No wonder some illustrations he did for children’s books never found a publisher, they were seriously twisted. It was very crowded though, and we had to go around twice to be able to see everything. No photos were allowed. Boo!

Entrance to the Tim Burton exhibition

Clear sky in Melbourne. Not for long.

Ben sporting his new transition lenses. Haha

End of Hosier Lane (where Movida is).

I also found a pair of very comfy TOMS shoes on sale and it was in my size.

The lightest and comfiest shoes ever! Perfect for wondering around all day.

The Press Club

It was a rainy Sunday. We headed down to George Calombaris’ restaurant at the edge of the Melbourne CBD. We were early because we had a plane to catch. Pushing open the heavy wooden door, I thought that the restaurant was already full judging by the commotion going on inside. But it was just the staff. Everyone was working with each other to get things ready for the lunch service. It was great teamwork made more fun to watch by the semi-open kitchen. All the things you see on TV are true – there were waitresses checking the alignment of the glasses and getting that last speck of invisible dust off a table. But of course, we only saw minor last-minute checks, all the preps were already done by the time we sat down.

Sunday is Kerasma lunch at The Press Club, meaning that you have a three-course chef’s selection consisting of  various plates of food to share. We were told of the proteins that comprise the lunch, but nothing else until things started to appear on the table. First things first, some fantastic bread with olive oil and volcanic rock salt, which they kept topping up without being asked. Fabulous.

The entree was a combination of an amuse bouche (duck consomme – didn’t take a picture, but you can sort of see it in the first picture to the left), a duck salad with beetroot, a little salad of salmon and kingfish(?) infused with ouzo and some pork meatballs with sliced green apple and pomegranate. The duck salad was really light and went well with the consomme (I love duck, but never had duck consomme before but it was surprisingly tasty). The ouzo-infused fish was a bit bland, but they were good as a starter. The meatball was tasty and the apple provided a refreshing contrast.

Duck salad (right) and sashimi-type salad (left)

Pork meatballs with green apple

For the main, we were first served some grilled swordfish with smashed potato and mushrooms. Simple yet delicious. This was the highlight of my meal. Then they brought us several plates loaded with food. There was chicken with pistachio and some sort of crispy concoction – this was quite nice, tasted like a BBQ chicken (excuse my unsophisticated pallate!). Risoni with lamb (beautifully cooked and delicious) and quinoa (a type of grain) served with Greek yogurt (surprisingly tasty). There were so much food that we had trouble finishing it all.

Swordfish with smashed potatoes and mushrooms.

Doesn't look great together, but they were delicious. Risoni and chicken (top left); swordfish (top right); quinoa (bottom)

I wasn’t too keen on dessert after all this food. The dessert was a panna cotta with raspberry jam and popcorn on the top. There were also some very sour but amazing orange jellies in a raspberry sugar dust.

The meal was very reasonably priced for what you get ($65 per person) and I didn’t even have dinner because I was seriously stuffed.

Panna cotta and orange jelly