S1.2, TS1 Parisian Catacombs

Hi my travelistas!  On today’s travelsode of Travel Unplugged, we are going 60 feet under street level to explore Les Catacombes (the ossuary where the bones of 6 million Parisians are housed).  Located at 1 avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy in the 14th Arrondissement.  They only allow 200 visitors at a time.  Due to the length of the tour (up to 1 hour) and the fact that you walk down 130 steps (and up 80 steps), it’s not recommended for those with limited mobility.

The Catacombs are so freaking awesome!  The bones are stacked up 5 feet high in very cool arrangement of femurs, tibias and skulls.  I kept waiting for Sammy Terry to pop out and say, “Bonjour Madamoiselle, I’ve been waiting for you!”  Then I’d have screamed, died on site and had my bones mixed in with the others.

As I say in the video, what I can’t get with is that the bones are mixed up all willy nilly.  You know they didn’t try to figure out who is Celine and who is Francois.  And it would be my luck that if I was one of the dead, my bones would be mixed up with my arch nemesis (we’ll name her Becky since it starts with a “b”) and my ex (who we will call Leroix so it sounds French).  You know who ain’t trying to have their femur mixed with Becky’s tibia and Leroix’s skull?  Me.  I have gone to Glory and need time to rest.  And I know they ain’t walking the golden streets of heaven…because if they are, then I’d need to go speak with Peter about their quality control process and review their paperwork to ensure that error is corrected and they are given tickets to go down South 🙂  Ha!

If you visit Paris, be sure to check out The Catacombs in all of its macabre splendor!

Hours:
Daily from 10am to 8pm (last admission at 7pm), except Mondays and some holidays.

More information & to Purchase Tickets:

http://www.catacombes.paris.fr/

Travel Unplugged – Season 1.2 “The Remix” Trailer

Hi everybody!!  It’s a new year with new goals and plenty of chances to make bad decisions!  Ha! I want to welcome you to view the Travel Unplugged – Season 1.2 “The Remix” trailer.  I had such big dreams and big plans last year for this travel show…but life happened and it kinda fell off the radar with my move to Paris.

So, I figured a reboot was in order and I’d relaunch the Travel Unplugged.  Instead of doing Season 2 (since I only did 3 videos for season 1), I figured I’d do like most rappers/rapstresses and remix the first season.  I even have a 17 week Winter Season Schedule.  Now, the schedule is tentative as I may move some of the videos around depending on how lazy I am my mood.

This season, I will be publishing every Wednesday and will cover one of the following areas:  Destinations; Expat Experience; A Day in the Life of a Parisienne and Paris Highlights.  Check me out!

 

Tentative Winter Schedule

TU 1.2 schedule

ASCOLI PICENO…THE ITALIAN SOUL

After a somewhat longer hiatus than I planned, I am back!!!  First post of 2014 is a guest article written by Stefano Tulli from Ascoli on the Road!  After reading about this amazing Italian city, I can’t wait to visit this summer to experience it first hand.  Enjoy!

1Ascoli Piceno is an amazing and still unknown destination in the very center of Italy…What? Haven’t you ever heard of it?? Follow us and we are sure you’ll get in love with our hometown..

Ok, I don’t know anything about Ascoli..why should I consider it as an option to my trip to Italy??

First of all.. Ascoli Piceno is the perfect essence of everything you are expecting from a trip to Italy.. Ascoli Piceno is a very ancient Italian city, older than Rome! Every corner of this town is art, history and culture..

2Are you looking for Italian history? Ascoli Piceno is divided into 6 districts, each one having a historical beauty.. Roman bridges, arches, amphitheatres, the typical Cardo and Decumano organization of the city map..

Moreover..reach Ascoli Piceno in July and August.. you will witness a great medieval experience, with an ancient joust called QUINTANA (different from Siena). The whole town celebrates the local medieval history with a series of historical events aimed at commemorating Saint Emidio, the local saint..

3Are you looking for Italian art and architecture? Ascoli Piceno is called the travertine city..the 2 main squares are simply breathtaking. The Cathedral, the museums, the ancient houses, the old streets… Ascoli is a great city for art lovers and it’s also demonstrated by the development of a great architecture and design university which hosts many overseas and Erasmus students every year!

Do you want to taste great Italian food and wines?? Well…the most famous local product are the “Stuffed Ascolana olives” and we are sure you have heard of this great fried olive once in your life. Not yet? Trust us and trust every tourist who has tasted them..unforgettable! Probably you will also want to drink something. Apart from the great local wines, you will also taste the incredible local liqueur..the Anisetta Meletti , which has a very delicate and special aroma coming from the quality of the Aniseed, carefully cultivated in certain areas around Ascoli Piceno..

4

Are you looking for a relaxing experience, far away from tons of tourists that visit the most famous places? Well..Ascoli Piceno IS your destination.. Food, art,, history, culture, lifestyle..Hundreds of Americans, russians and northern Europeans had the chance to visit Ascoli and most of them never came back to their hometown..falling in love with our romantic, beautiful and elegant Ascoli Piceno

5“Ok.. Ascoli Piceno could be an option..but how do I get there??”

Easier than you think.. Less than 3 hours from Rome and 1 from Ancona or Pescara Airports, Ascoli can easily be reached by train with the Milan – Lecce/ Bari train: stopping in the city of San Benedetto del Tronto, you can arrive in Ascoli Piceno in less than 20 minutes..

“Well, seems like I can have a trip over Ascoli Piceno..what else should I know and when is the best period?”

Again, the answer is easier than you think. Do you love summer time? Ascoli Piceno is 15 minutes from the Adriatic Sea..Do you love winter? Great mountains are only 30 minutes away from downtown. Are you an autumn lover? Wow.. excursions, walks and pictures during this period are amazing in our city. Do you want to reach Ascoli in spring? Ok, just listen to our final words..there’s nothing better than having a walk in a historical Italian city, taking great pictures and relax in an amazing square drinking your favourite cocktail waiting for the colours of the sunset illuminating the historical buildings of Ascoli Piceno..

Hope you will now be convinced…We are waiting for you!

Guest post written by Stefano Tulli — Ascoli On the Road

www.picenontheroad.com

ascoliontheroad@gmail.com

Buddhist Bootcamp

20131015-205704.jpgI’ve been saying that I’m going to start incorporating the principles of Buddhism into my life as soon as I can finish the “How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life” by the Dalai Lama.  But, excuses get in the way.  Work gets in the way.  Everything gets in the way except me making the time.

So, I decided to ease into it.  You know, start with going to yoga and ending with me finishing the book during my sojourn to Bali. That was such an awesome idea in theory. In practice?  Well, we’ll see.  I’ve got the book pulled up on my Kindle waiting for my attention.  Somehow, it got shuffled behind some trashy romance novels that some unknown person I downloaded.

Anyway, I started off with yoga.  Lord help me.  It looks so easy in the magazines.  I bought cute yoga attire from Athleta then signed up for a 75 minute Hot Yoga class.  Easy peasy.  I intended to walk out so zen & relaxed.

The class started and I was like, “this is cool!”  I’m stretching and the positions aren’t that difficult although I’m about as limber as an iron rail.  But no matter.  ZEN!  That’s what I’m here to achieve.  Then, I notice how quiet it is.  In spin class, I can’t think of anything else except trying not to die on the bike because they have me doing some sort of dance routine complete with jazz hands to 2 Chainz.  But here, it is so tranquil that my mind starts to wander and now I’m thinking about everything but yoga.  That’s when irritation sets in because you can’t zone out when the positions get harder.

Yoga Instructor (YI): (in a sing-song breathy voice) Slowly move into downward facing dog.

Me:  (moves into position) This ain’t bad. *tinkling music and YI painting us a scene with words* [then I start thinking about the stank email I got from John at work and my blood pressure starts to rise.]

YI:  Now move into a plank for 27 minutes

Me:  WTF?  27 minutes?  Ugh! [mentally drafting a response to John’s email that will go something like, “Sir, I suggest you use the backspace key next time you think of sending some crazy email to me because I ain’t the one.  Don’t try me, try Jesus.”  Hmmm, maybe I need to re-word that a little as it might come across hostile??  THESE PLANKS HURT!!!  JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL!]

YI:  Doesn’t that feel wonderful?  Like puppies resting on your tummy?  Breathe in deeply.  Think of yourself as the breaths, not the breather. You are one with the universe.  A flower opening up to the welcome the sun.

Me:  Ma’am?  I can’t do that.  This is too much imagery.  My core fell out of my body 10 minutes ago.  I’m about to do the crying baby position, k?

YI:  Now…transition out of the plank and cartwheel into the Terrible Twos Tantrum position (or whatever it is…honestly, I had stopped listening after my muscles locked up and were like, “please know your limitations.”).

Me:  OMG, is this a tumbling class?  WTH?  *falls out*

YI:  Namaste

Me:  Call 911

See?  This is why I can’t have nice things and be thin and calm.  WHY IS YOGA SO HARD???  This was supposed to be my introduction into Keeping it Calm — Buddha-Style.  At this rate, I ain’t going to make it.

So now…I’m back to reading the book and trying yoga again.  Maybe it will be easier on the beach in Bali?  Maybe this time, I can use imagery for good thoughts instead of mentally written curse-out emails?  I don’t even know.  What I do know is that I really want to learn to let foolishness roll off me like waves of cool water.  I read inspirational quotes by the Dalai Lama and think, “He is so wise. I need a better coping mechanism besides chocolate and alcohol.”

Do any of you follow Buddhist principles?  Any suggestions for a newbie?

Super Seoul Sunday

Statue of King Sejong the Great of Joseon

Statue of King Sejong the Great of Joseon

I had the pleasure of spending 24 hours in the beautiful city of Seoul, South Korea during a stop-over on my way to Bali for a business meeting and some R&R. Seoul far exceeded my expectations!

First, let me talk about Korean Airlines.

*sigh*

So, I purchased my ticket to Bali thru Korean Airlines trying to save my company a few dollars. They were a SkyTeam partner so I booked thinking this trip would finally get me to the coveted Diamond Medallion Promised Land. Wrong. Delta decided to change their SkyMiles Program and create 4 “tiers” for their airline partners. Prior to Sept. 1, 2013; Korean Airlines offered not only SkyMiles but 150% MQMs! I was psyched! Then, I started scrolling down thru the changes and guess who is in the dreaded “Tier 4 Barely SkyTeam Partner”? Korean Airlines. It’s like Delta wants to break up with them but doesn’t have the heart to do it so they are on a “break”. I’m so devastated that I can’t even write another Damn You, Delta letter.

I just assumed it was Delta’s fault. Like they felt they were now too good for simple Korean Airlines. Someone told them they were too pretty to be hanging with the nerds. Then, I flew KE for the first time on Friday and was like, “oh…sorry, Delta.” See, I now understand. KE just isn’t in the same league as Delta, KLM and AirFrance. Where was my amenities bag in Business Class? Why do I have to go to the bathroom to get a toothbrush? Why are you offering me headphones from a 1985 Walkman? Where are the noise-cancelling headphones? Where is the dessert trolley? Did you really just offer me a small Haagen-Dazs ice cream cup that I can buy for $2.99 at Kroger? I paid $8,000 for this? I need to see an itemized receipt. No, sirs and ma’ams. That ain’t the business. That ain’t SkyTeam Tier 1. That’s SkyTeam PIP (Performance Improvement Plan).

Um...what?

Um…what?  This is Business Class trappings?

I will give this to Korean Airlines…there was a lot of room seat-wise and their service is top notch and beats Delta hands down every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Moving on to the city of Seoul. I really didn’t know what to expect and figured a day layover would give me just enough time to decide if this is someplace I’d like to come back for a longer visit. This city is awesome! The people were so friendly, the service was excellent every place we went and downtown was so interesting.

View from the Conrad Seoul of the sun rising over the Han River

View from the Conrad Seoul of the sun rising over the Han River

We stayed at the Conrad Seoul (which I will review in my next post). It was a fabulous hotel! The only negative is that you were required to pay for internet. I feel that should be included in all stays because, seriously? This place ain’t cheap. Y’all can afford to make internet “free”. So, Mr. Conrad Hilton…to quote Amistad, “give us free!” With a 13 hour time difference and arriving to the hotel at 7pm, the first night was a wrap. But, we were up by 4am which gave us time to get situated and out for the day. Seoul’s subway system is so clean and easy to navigate! It made getting from the hotel to downtown simple and stress free.

Seoul's subway

Seoul’s subway

Our first stop was Gwanghwamu Gate where the 2013 Seoul Arirang Festival is taking place.  There are several musical performances that we walk past…

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We head over to the Gyeongbokgung Palace which is the first royal palace built in the Joseon dynasty.  “First constructed in 1395, later burned and abandoned for almost three centuries, and then reconstructed in 1867, it was the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty.[1] The name means “Palace” [Gung] “Greatly Blessed by Heaven” [Gyeongbok].  In the early 20th century, much of the palace was destroyed by Imperial Japan. Since then, the walled palace complex has been gradually restored back to its original form. As of 2009, roughly 40% of the original number of palace buildings still stand or have been reconstructed.” (source Wikipedia).

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Changing of the guard at the palace.

This palace is a series of buildings and walkways.  It reminds me of the palaces I’ve seen in Morocco and Istanbul as it has courtyards and a very open/airy feel.

Final stop was the National Folk Museum of Korea which houses an impressive collection of artifacts and tells the history of the people of Korea.  Very fascinating…and free!

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As we are walking around, I start to notice a theme with the couples. I’m guesstimating that 87% of them wore matching outfits. If their shirts didn’t match, they at least wore matching shoes.

Forget roses and rings...matching outfits show people y'all are MFEO (Made For Each Other).

Forget roses and rings…matching outfits show people y’all are MFEO (Made For Each Other).

Y’all weren’t ready for the collage, were you? This right here? This is commitment. Who needs a ring when you have a madras button-down and matching leggings? This also makes it easier to figure out where you stand in a relationship. If Kim Jong hasn’t gifted you with a “Jungle” t-shirt & a pair of bright yellow Nike’s that match what he is wearing? Y’all don’t go together. He is not your boo thang. Please understand this. Know the couple code. If you were trying to figure it out, then here you go. You’re welcome.

All in all, Seoul was such a great time & the food is PHENOMENAL! I can’t wait to come back and spend a good amount of time exploring monuments & temples and participating in a tea ceremony.

Have you been to Seoul? If so, what things do you suggest a first time visitor do?

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Amazing Amsterdam…Sex, Drugs & Queen’s Day

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Okay, y’all…I absolutely LOVE Amsterdam! Super big thanks to Renee for flying over from London to hang out with me. This had to be one of my all-time favorite trips! The weekend was off the charts.

I’m not sure why (maybe it’s the movies & reputation of drugs & sex), but I expected Amsterdam to be kinda drab & seedy. In reality, it is a beautiful city with gorgeous buildings, lots of serene canals and lovely people.

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I was amazed at how friendly the Dutch are! Even the guy who told me that black people were greedy O_o [more on that later]. The only slight negative (which is completely my fault) is that I wish I had learned some of the Dutch language because we had people coming up telling us stuff in Dutch and had to tell them we were American and didn’t know the language. If they didn’t know English, they’d just smile and wander off. Thankfully, we came across some folks who could translate the funny/entertaining handmade signs for us.

So much happened so I am going to break this blog post into parts in an effort to remember most of it.

Hotel
Our hotel was fab-u-lous. So funky & chic. We stayed at the Inntel Hotel in Zaandam which is only 2 metro stops from center Amsterdam (Centraal Station) and located right next to the metro!
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Queen’s Day
It just so happens that we are there over Queen’s Day Weekend. Koninginnedag or Queen’s Day is a national holiday in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Celebrated on 30 April (or on the 29th if the 30th is a Sunday), Koninginnedag is the official birthday of Beatrix, Queen of the Netherlands. Queen Beatrix’s actual birthday is 31 January; 30 April was the birthday of her mother and predecessor, Juliana. The holiday remains as an April observance in honor of Juliana and in hopes of better weather than would occur in January.

The holiday was first observed on 31 August 1885 as Prinsessedag or Princess’s Day, and was held on the fifth birthday of Princess Wilhelmina, the heiress to the Dutch throne. With the princess’s 1890 accession, the holiday acquired its present name, Koninginnedag. When held on 31 August, the holiday was the final day of school summer vacation, and rapidly became popular among children.

With the accession of Queen Juliana in 1948, the holiday was moved to her birthday. When her daughter, Beatrix, took the throne in 1980, she retained the celebration on 30 April, but altered her mother’s custom of holding a parade near a royal palace, instead choosing to visit different Dutch towns each year and join in the festivities. Koninginnedag is known for the nationwide vrijmarket (flea market), when many Dutch sell secondhand items, and as an opportunity for “orange madness” or oranjegekte, when the normally-staid Dutch let down their hair, often temporarily dyed orange for the occasion (source, Wikipedia).

However, this year marked the last “Queen’s Day” for a while as Queen Beatrix abdicated the throne for her son, King Willem-Alexander to take over.  This is the first new king in over 100 years.  Going forward, it will now be known as “King’s Day”.

Saturday, 30 April

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Renee and I met a couple of American ex-pats, Samantha & Tabatha (who currently live in London), as we were leaving the hotel. We ended up sitting next to them on the train to Centraal Station and got along famously…so much so, we decided to hang out for the day!
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The energy of this city is unbelievable! All you saw were people covered in orange (from orange wigs & “crowns” to having their faces painted orange…it was fabulous)! I was told that there were over 1 million people in the city on Saturday! And, it felt like it. The streets & canals were packed. It really was like an upscale European Freaknik (especially when we were in the Red Light District).

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As we leave the station, we come across our first street performer who happens to be a Dutch hip hop artist named Pharo. He was actually pretty good! Kinda puts you in the mindset of DMX (especially when he started barking).
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We wanted to get a cd but he wasn’t selling any…which would never have happen in the US. They always have their street team out with folks selling their cds, t-shirts, posters, etc.

Next, we see a couple waving from a window pretending to be William & Kate.
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Then, we head over to the pancake house to get something to eat. OMG, seriously? Who didn’t know about this? Me! Apparently, they are known for their many-flavored pancakes and pancake houses are everywhere!
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It was even more delicious than the picture looks. Mmmmm! Mine was basically a chocolate sundae on a pancake. Renee & Tabatha had the banana split pancake. The pancakes are prepared in so many different varieties (from sweet to savory). I’ve never seen anything like it. I want one just remembering it. I mean, ice cream, whip cream, powdered sugar, and chocolate sauce on a pancake? Who needs Mrs. Buttersworth? You may require an insulin shot but then you are good to go!

After eating our pancakes, we start walking again. Because this is basically a big street party, all the streets in the city are closed so you don’t have to worry about traffic.

We ran into some guys selling €0.50 lap dances. Yes, 50 cents.
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This was hilarious. You can see what you get for your money. Poor guy was doing all the work. He gave 1 guy a lap dance by taking a running start and jumping on to his lap. These folks are crazy. LOL

We then walk across a canal bridge and look at all the folks partying on the water. Clearly, that is where we needed to be!
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The pictures can’t quite capture how massive an event this is but let me tell you…you WANT to do this next year. I promise you. We definitely need to rent a boat the next time. The funny thing was that even though the city was packed and people were high on alcohol and other substances, it was so civilized. Nobody was out of control and everybody was your best friend. I’ve never seen anything like it. I smiled the entire day! And, that isn’t the pancakes talking 🙂

After all the walking & partying, it was time to take a break for champagne & strawberries! We gotta keep our strength up to enjoy the party.
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The Dutch are some talented folks as well. After getting our afternoon champagne, we come across another set of street performers.  The kids have their hustles too. Queen’s Day is actually very kid-friendly.

Then we went to Vondel Park (which is a beautiful public park in Amsterdam). There were kids performing everyplace (from the violin to guitar to acrobatics & breakdancing). You can tell they have spent a lot of time practicing and more than likely perform throughout the year.

There was a kid playing the drums who was awesome. Like a little Travis Barker. He even had his hype men (who would pop out in some Michael Jackson dance spins then collect money). Then little boy in white strolls around the drum set and kicks that leg Michael Jackson-style? What? I cannot.  And, he is only giving you a taster. He can’t expend all his energy since it’s an all-day performance.  He’s gotta save something for the late afternoon blowout extravaganza.  #toomuch

We then came across 2 little girls with sleeping bags on the sidewalks and a sign that read “Getting Rich to Sleep” (as translated to me by a Dutch guy). Basically, they had a jar out and you could pay to see them sleep (which was a little weird).

While at Vondel Park, we come across a couple of guys trying to sell everything but their mama. They started by telling us that we could buy a teddy bear for 50 cents but hugs were free. We declined but they were entertaining. Next thing I know, they have us doing shots of Tequila and chanting “PUT IT IN THE BAG!” I don’t even know how that happened or what the “bag” was…but clearly you needed to put something in it. Ha!

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They also had this cool idea where kids can play inside these huge clear balls and tumble around on the water.
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As we are walking, we see a vendor selling this:
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Yes, those are rabbit ears with glasses and a penis as a nose. One of y’all almost got that as a souvenir.

Also, every block has Port-a-Potties and something for the guys –
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I can’t tell you why these captured my attention like they did. I can’t imagine whipping my stuff out in front of folks just to take a leak. I wanted to get closer to figure out exactly how they were using it (bow chicka bow wow).

As we head back to the train station, we come across a carnival (which seems like a smaller version of your typical county fair).
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We also went into some stores where you can pick up your “products” and other souvenirs (i.e. t-shirts and everything that is sex or drug related).

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We then head over to the Red Light District (which I will cover in more detail later). The party is still going strong over here. We go into a sex shop which has more stuff than I’ve ever seen. There had to be at least 20 types of vibrators! And then I came across a “Doggie-Style Harness”. I wish I had taken a picture of it. I mean, it’s a piece of fabric (which lays across the woman’s mid-section, and 2 handles for the man to grip while he’s doing his thing. Seriously? If you need a harness to have sex doggy-style, then your ass is lazy and don’t need it to be having sex in the first place.

After spending most of the day walking around, we buy some french fries (which they serve with mayo) and head for the train station.

We head back to the hotel to shower and change for dinner. By this time, my feet are KILLING me, but I was determined to party it up.

We have dinner in Zaandam at a Japanese restaurant (which is the only place still serving food at 10pm). After dinner, Renee & I head bid good-night to our new friends, Samantha & Tabatha (who had a tour early on Sunday).

Then, Renee & I head to…

The Red Light District

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It’s actually only a few blocks. I don’t know why I expected it to be the size of a mini city. So many observations.

First, there are actual “red lights”…basically red light bulbs that act as a “porch light” to the doors/windows the girls use to advertise themselves. You walk along these streets and come up on buildings that have doors that have huge glass fronts where the girls stand to advertise themselves to the potential buyers. Most of these little rooms had some sort of black light so the white lingerie the women were wearing was glowing.

If you are interested, it starts by sign language where the guys will ask how much, the girl holds up the amount of fingers to denote the cost (maybe 50 euro) and they negotiate that way. Next thing you know, they approach the door, the girl lets them in, and she shuts the curtains. Let me tell you this…there were a lot of closed curtains, y’all!

As we walked past some, the girls were actually in there cleaning (with mops, etc) and re-making the bed. I’d look at the guys congregating around these windows and give them the “you so nasty” look while I kept it moving. One woman (who was large & in charge) was playing aggressive with some small guy (she was double his size) and as she told him, “you know you want it”, he responded with “I’ll be back”…and walked approximately 7 steps before turning around. He was with his boys so I guess he needed a group consensus (or money) before he could walk over and complete the transaction.

Most of the girls look Eastern European. I’ve read stories about girls being sold into prostitution when they thought they were going to be coming to the west to find better job opportunities.  What I found interesting is that the prostitutes have a union and benefits!  There is even a prostitute museum.  I would’ve gone in and looked around had it not been closed.

In between where the girls advertise themselves, you will find plenty of sex/erotic shops, sex clubs (where you can watch for 25 Euro or participate for 35 Euro) and coffee shops.

Coffee shops…they sell more than coffee.

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From what I understand, most of the coffee shops sell weed (in pure form, mixed with tobacco or in cupcakes) but not liquor. So, you can get high while drinking a cup of tea. There was one spot that we found that did sell liquor in addition to other substances. If you don’t get down with the stickiest of the icky, then they do have non-drug items on the menu.

One thing I did find strange was how narrow the stairs are. I mean, if you are high, won’t you just fall down those suckers?
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We also passed a Condomerie which sells an array of condoms. I didn’t understand having a condom in the shape of Shrek but hey, what do I know? You couldn’t take pictures so you’ll have to go to the website and then use your imagination on how the window display was set up. Because one thing I can tell you about Amsterdam is this…some of those displays can make you blush.

Sometime during the night, I came up with the phrase, “Sit down, Suzy Brown.” Which I think is GENIUS. Go ahead, start using it. After seeing as much as we could of the Amsterdam nightlife, we finally arrive back to our hotel at 4am. MG_0340.jpg

Sunday, 1 May
Amsterdam is very different today. Things look to be back to normal and the crowds aren’t nearly as big. After checking out of the hotel, we store our bags and head back to the center of town for pancakes (again) and some sightseeing.
For some reason, we ended up back in the Red Light District (which looks totally different during the day time). The RDL is close to the train station so we walk thru there on our way to see the Anne Frank House.

Here are just a few things we see during our walk:
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This may be my new mode of transportation if gas prices don’t go down
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Beautiful canals
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Anne Frank House
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We packed as much as we could into 48 hours and had an absolute ball!  Amsterdam is a riot and you will love it as long as you are open-minded and non-judgmental…which we should all practice on a daily basis.

Exploring Athens

I spent a wonderful 8 days in Athens for work. I have to admit that I wasn’t all that excited to come back after having spent a day here last year while on my Mediterranean cruise. However, it’s much different hanging out over a series of days versus being caught up in the cruise crowd for a day being shuttled from site to site. The best part of the trip was that my favorite travel companion joined me…my Mommy! She actually did tours to other cities while I slaved away in the office. Hopefully, she will have her blog post to me soon (hint, hint).

Hotel
I stayed at The Athens Gate hotel which is in central Athens with a fabulous view of the Temple of Zeus & the Acropolis. You can read my hotel review here.  The area around the hotel is so neat.

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View of the Acropolis during breakfast.

If you ever visit Athens, I highly recommend this hotel. Do the pre-booking (which includes breakfast) for a great rate. What is better than eating breakfast while looking at the Acropolis from their rooftop restaurant?

There is some sort of “Happy Trolley” that will drive you around the historic section as well. It’s usually pretty packed and runs late.
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Food
Greek food…I’ll be honest and say that to me, it was “okay”. I prefer something with a bit more flavor. Not to say that the food was bad, but it wasn’t like Italy. It is serviceable…meaning that it will fill you up. It was hit or miss depending on where you ate. Most of the time, I felt it was a little bland. But I will say that the Greek salad was pretty good and the moussaka (which my Mom loves), gyros & souvlaki were good depending on the restaurant. They give you A LOT of food and you will get the stink-eye if you don’t clean your plate. It’s like they take it personal if you don’t eat everything on your plate. Clearly, the concept of portion control is lost here and they could care less if you are on Weight Watchers. Which I kinda love.

Moussaka – sautéed eggplant & tomatoes with minced meat (like hamburger) topped with white sauce & cheese) then baked. The version I like best had potatoes.
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Souvlaki – think kabobs. It’s basically grilled meat & veggies on a skewer. I had chicken & pork. They will sometimes serve it with a pita and rice depending on the restaurant.
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One day, I just wanted something familiar so I ordered a hamburger and fries. This is what I got…
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I didn’t expect 5 breakfast buddies. LOL. But, it was actually pretty tasty. I was only able to eat 1 ½ patties but it’s nice that you know you aren’t going to starve when you leave.

While the food was okay, the experience is phenomenal. We ate outside at various cafés that had outstanding views of the Acropolis every night. That more than made up for the food. I never got tired of staring at the Acropolis. It’s just magnificent!

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Choosing a restaurant to eat at is an experience in and of itself. There are waiters/hype men that stand in front of EACH restaurant and try to persuade you to come in and eat. It reminds you of when you are touring and vendors worry you to death trying to sell you their souvenirs. One night, a colleague & I decided to try out a rooftop restaurant in this cool hilltop section of The Plaka. There were at least 9 restaurants in this little section. We choose one, go thru the kitchen to get to the back stairs and climb up to the roof. The view was awesome.

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So, we look at the menu, decide on our selections and our waiter comes over. He has a “Godfather” vibe to him. We order and he proceeds to tell us what he is going to serve us instead. Um, why do they give menus if it’s “waiter’s choice”? So, for appetizers, he brings us out some sort of cheese spread (nope) and fried cheese (nope again). That’s right, fried cheese. Sigh. Now, I just wanted salad and moussaka. That’s all. The Greek Godfather gets irritated that we aren’t wolfing down the fried cheese & cheese spread. He’s all, “you no like?” Well, I ain’t trying to have a horse head in my bed in the morning so I say, “oh, it’s delicious. I’m just trying to save room for my moussaka.” He gives me the stink-eye and goes to say something to the bus boy. I’m pretty sure he tells him to go find Barbaro. Anyway, after begging the busboy to take the appetizers away, we finally get our main meals. Sigh. It was okay. I had high hopes. The Greek Godfather comes by and asks why I haven’t finished my meal (I half expected to hear him tell me about the starving kids in Africa). I tried as best as I could to eat the entire meal. My colleague is laughing and telling me that I’m getting punked. Whatever. I’m scared. By this time, the Greek Godfather is treating me like I came to his daughter’s wedding with no gift and asking for a favor. I’m like, please don’t have me sleeping with the fishes over this moussaka. He was done with us at this point. Clearly we didn’t worship at the fountain of the Greek God of Food. The night wasn’t lost though because the view was spectacular. We ended up going to Café Plaka for dessert and coffee afterwards.

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Animal Kingdom
If you are scared of dogs, then you don’t need to visit Greece. Seriously. They are everywhere. I’m a dog lover (as some of y’all know about my booters, Mr. Riley). Greece is overrun by dogs & cats. You know that movie, “All Dogs Go to Heaven”? Well, I think they really go to Greece because those dogs live the life! Most of the dogs are strays. Now, strays in the U.S. have an emaciated & wolfish look to them because they try to survive on the streets by foraging for food. Not the strays in Greece. Oh no, those jokers are well fed to the point where they may want to start counting Weight Watcher’s points. The government takes care of them by providing food & water in designated areas around each city. Some dogs have collars and some don’t. The ones that have collars are the ones that have been seen by a vet and have had their shots.  I absolutely LOVE that!  The fact that these animals are so well cared for says a lot about Greece to me.  Yeah, they may have financial issues, but they also have a big heart 🙂

My first night in Athens, my colleague & I were walking around trying to find a particular restaurant. We see some dogs (lab mixes mostly). At first, 2 of them decide to escort us on our walk which is cool because I’m missing Riley so I’m happy to have dogs to coo over. Then, we come up on a pack of dogs in another section. Clearly, this is their “set” and they let the 2 dogs with me know that. It’s all growling and barking. I’m like, “the hell?” I can’t get caught up in dog gang wars. So, we try to slowly slide out of the conflict and as we turn the corner, we hear some loud barking coming from the sky. Why is there a dog on the roof barking at us like, “get the hell on!”? Seriously?

Over the 8 days, I was able to note that the dogs pretty much kept to their own areas of the city. They are also extremely smart. One dog was walking next to me on a busy street (Syngou). Then, I guess he decides he needs to cross the street because he walks to the stoplight where the cross walk is. At this point, I stop because I need to know if this dog is going to rush out in front of traffic. Um, why does he wait for the cross walk sign to turn green, looks both ways, then crosses?

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I was outdone. That wasn’t the only dog that did it either. I guess they need to be well-trained to survive in a big city but still, it was amazing. So, to recap…the dogs & cats have food and water, can come and go as they please and don’t have to listen to an owner. Riley would give me the deuces in a hot second if he were to ever hear about this place.

The Fabulous Sites
Athens has a lot of ruins…which I love. I enjoy walking on ground that someone has walked on thousands of years ago!

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We checked out the New Acropolis Museum which has relics (about 4,000 statues & artifacts) from the buildings on the Acropolis (i.e. Parthenon & Temple of Athena Nike). It gives you a pretty substantial history of how the Acropolis came to be, what it was like during its heyday, and why it was almost destroyed. Now, it doesn’t have “a lot” of stuff like you expect in a museum. But, I found it interesting.

Next stop was Hadrian’s Arch which was built by the Roman emperor, Hadrian. It’s the symbolic entrance to Athens. Basically, it was his way of letting the Athenians know who they were beholden to. The inscription facing the Acropolis side reads “THIS IS ATHENS, THE ANCIENT CITY OF THESEUS.” On the other side, it states “THIS IS THE CITY OF HADRIAN, NOT OF THESEUS”. That joker was gangsta.
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He also built Hadrian’s Library.
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You know, I just realized he is the Tyler Perry of ancient Greece. I mean, his name is on everything. I’m pretty sure that if I did the research, I’d find that all the plays put on during that time were most likely titled, “Hadrian presents Hadrian’s Meet the Aristotles” with Athena being Madea.

Hadrian’s Arch is right in front of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Hadrian finished the construction that began in the 6th century B.C. and continued on and off for 700 years. Kind of like road construction projects in Atlanta 🙂 Anyway, the Olympieion (aka Kolonnes or Columns) were 360×143 feet and considered one of the largest temples in the ancient world. There were once statues of Zeus and Hadrian but those are gone now.
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Then, we walked to Syntagma Square which is the focal point of Athens political & civic life. This is where you find major banks, travel agencies, fine hotels and where the protesters congregate almost every weekday over some issue. It’s right across the street from the Parliament building.

Syntagma Square & surrounding area
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Parliament
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As you are walking, you come up on some random excavation & relics — 398.jpg

Then there is the famous Central Market. Y’all ain’t ready for this. You need a strong stomach. Basically, they sell everything from the rooter to the tooter in here. I like the fact that they try to be funny with their displays even though this almost made me become a vegetarian.

The 3 Little Pigs
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Liner & instestines, etc from cows
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I don’t think smoking killed this one
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Next stop is Ancient Agora. This was the commercial and civic center in historic Athens. It’s a jumble of ancient building relics as these buildings were used for a wide range of political, educational, philosophical, theatrical and athletic purposes. It’s a great place to wander though. Once you enter, you will be on the main road entitled “Panathenaic Way”
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I read that Agora was usually filled with merchants, legislators and philosophers (in fact, Socrates & Plato were regulars). But, it’s pointed out that very few women hung out here because they did not regularly go into public places. In 399 B.C., Socrates, accused of “introducing strange gods and corrupting youth” was sentenced to death. He drank his up of hemlock in a prison at the southeast corner of the Agora (I can’t even tell you where that is) where excavators later found small clay cups, just the right size for his fatal drink. It’s a pretty neat place and actually very peaceful (even if folks were executed here).
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We then head up to Monastiraki (which is a neighborhood that fringes the Agora and Roman Forum). Basically has a log of flea markets and restaurants. In Monastiraki Square where there are some guys in Celtics jerseys doing some sort of hip hop/breakdance production. It’s like “Electric Bougaloo – Athens”. I’ll upload the video once the site it back up.
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Getting around
The taxis are kind of expensive but I do appreciate a flat fee of 35 euro from the airport to central Athens. I primarily used the Metro. Which is cheap and clean. Now, they don’t have turnstiles but you are supposed to validate your ticket at the ticket machine. In Italy, they have people on each train that come by and verify that your ticket is validated or you get fined (you may remember the wonderful story of my ride from Genoa to Florence with the crazy guy that didn’t validate and had to pay 50 euro…classic). Anyway, they don’t have that here. It’s the honor system. The Metro is usually pretty crowded but folks are nice, there is no drama and the trains run pretty regularly.

Overall, I really did love Athens. I would definitely go back again as there is so much to see and not enough time to see it. The people are friendly and my local contact even brought my colleague & I to his house (which is fab) and fed us fresh strawberries & gelato while we sat in his backyard under the pergola looking at the Aegean Sea.
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The shopping is great and the men are gorgeous!  Seriously? Why was that not in the guidebook? How can I get one of them??? With each trip, I feel like I’m becoming more well-rounded and able to view the culture from a more global point of view, instead of a U.S.-centric view. Hopefully, I will be able to run the Athens marathon one day as I’d love to run the original marathon route (as long as there aren’t many hills, then I’d be satisfied with just driving it). I guarantee that if you make the trip to Athens, you won’t be disappointed. May is the perfect time to go as the weather is mild, it’s right before high season & it isn’t crowded. Check it out!

Wicked Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey…the Dubbs Abbs.  I don’t know why I keep trying to give places nicknames…that’s not working is it?  I know you read “Dubbs Abbs” and thought, “WTF is she talking about?”  I’m sleepy, y’all.  Don’t judge me 🙂

Westminster Abbey is so cool!  Kings (i.e. Henry VIII with his crazy self) & Queens are crowned & buried there.  The most interesting thing for me was finding out that Queen Elizabeth I is buried ON TOP of her sister, Queen Mary (or, as she was known, “Bloody Mary”…which actually makes me a bit thirsty for a cool beverage). For those of you who aren’t up on your Tudor history, Mary was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and Elizabeth I is the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

So, Liz’s mama stole her daddy (Henry) from his 1st wife (Catherine) but later found out he was crazy when he had her decapitated for allegedly being a traitor and having an incestuous relationship with her brother. Which I mean, with the royals marrying 1st cousins and such back then, that is sort of like the pot calling the kettle black. It also explains the whole “Deliverance” vibe some of them had…you just don’t mix the blood lines like that.

Anyway, Mary was a strict Roman Catholic like her mama. Her father had changed the official religion of England from Catholicism to Protestant in an effort to divorce Catherine when the Pope refused to grant him an annulment so he could marry his new boo, Anne Boleyn. Of course, if Lil Annie knew that Henry would turn his craziness on her and get all Betty Broderick (the quintessential Lifetime movie for love gone crazy), I’m sure she would’ve reserved her charms for someone else. But, power is a heady drug that distorts your common sense. All she could see is the finery and being able to tell her haters to kiss her ass once she was Queen of England. I can relate…in fact, I’m looking for Harry now 🙂

So, as I was saying before I digressed, Mary changed the official religion of England from Protestant back to Catholicism and rounded up people who refused to convert and had them burned alive at the stake. I’m pretty sure that Jesus wasn’t co-signing that. I mean, she prayed all day every day so you think she would know better. I imagine something like this happened during her prayer sessions:

Crazy Mary: Lord, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
Jesus: Uh, Mary? My will ain’t being done right now. What are you thinking burning folks on a stake? Don’t you remember that I died on that sucker? You think this is how I want folks to come to me?
CM: But, Jesus, I can’t let these people continue in the religion of that heinous Anne Boleyn and her trollop daughter, Lizzie.
JC: Get a grip. You have to move on from that. Are you taking your meds?

I think Mary had a touch of the crazy like her daddy and after being locked away from her mama for years due to her father’s out of control libido, it couldn’t have been too much of a surprise. Mary continued the tradition & locked here sister, Elizabeth (Liz 1), in the Tower of London for a while because she thought Liz was in on a plot to kill her. Which…she probably was. That’s just how they rolled back then. After Mary died at the age of 42 from cancer, Elizabeth inherited the throne (after a lot of drama).  Being locked away in the Tower and being labeled a traitor did nothing to get Mary in Liz’s good graces. Which is why she now and for all eternity will reside beneath Liz in the Abbey. I’m sure Liz was like, “How you like me now?”

The Tudor history is fascinating. I would recommend reading a series of books by Phillipa Gregory to gain a thorough overview (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Virgin Queen, etc). Being royalty back in the day was a death sentence!

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The Chaotic Culture of Cairo

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Cairo…Lord help me…I wasn’t ready. Cairo is a HUGE city of over 25 million people.  It is chaotic, has the worse environmental, health and safety issues I’ve ever seen…and in spite of all that, it is magnificent.  In order to enjoy Cairo, you have to look past the current state of modern Cairo and imagine what it was like thousands of years ago.

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We start out today by taking a bus for 3 hours from Alexandria to Cairo. On the way, the tour guide gives us a history lesson (which conflicts with the history lesson from the Alexandria/Luxor tour and makes me consult my guidebook because you know how I am about details). Anyway, she does give us this tidbit as we pass this cone-shaped construction…

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It’s a pigeon coop and apparently, pigeons are considered a delicacy in Egypt. They construct these coops to trap the pigeons then kill them and eat them. I’m sure they taste just like chicken. My first thought was of Petey…the pigeon who took a dump on my coat in Florence. He better watch his back if he ever vacations in Egypt because Ahkbar will be like, ‘guess who’s coming to dinner?’

So, we get to Cairo and it’s instant chaos. Imagine 25 million people trying to get around the city. I’m going to break this post into the “good”, “bad” and “just plain sad”.

THE GOOD

Egyptian Museum
This museum alone is enough to bring me back to Cairo. It holds most of the treasure from King Tut’s tomb and words cannot describe how magnificent the treasure is. It is hard to imagine that there was that type of skilled artistry that many years ago. I expected crude drawings but this was delicate & masterful. The marble jars that held his organs were the most beautiful things I’ve seen. And, his bed? OMG. There was also a papyrus chair that looks like you can sit in it now. It’s just amazing how this stuff lasted for so long. And, how much they had! I mean, they had big patio umbrellas, boomerangs, huge beds, chaise lounges…you name it. They were living large back in the day! We were not allowed to take any pictures or even bring your camera off the bus so I apologize for not being able to show you these works of art. King Tut’s treasure does travel to other museums from time to time so I highly suggest you check it out if it comes to a city near you. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

Pyramids of Giza & the Sphinx
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Seeing the pyramids and sphinx up close was amazing. Now, I will be honest with you…you are going to have to block out a lot of foolishness and really FOCUS ON THE MOMENT. Because the hustlers are out in full force. You thought the hustlers in Luxor were bad? That was the B team. These are the professionals.

The pyramids aren’t in the desert…they are right there on the edge of town. Look to the left and there is a KFC/Pizza Hut. But, once you look right and go up the hill, it’s all pyramids. It took over 2 million stones to make the Great Pyramid.

The Giza Plateau which houses the pyramids is older than the Valley of the Kings. While Thebes and Alexandria were capitals of Egypt during pharaonic rule, Memphis may have been the original capital. The Great Pyramid was built around 5000 years ago and became the necropolis (royal burial ground) for Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. It took less than 100 years to build all 3 pyramids.
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There were also smaller Queens’ Pyramids which were constructed for the wives and important relatives of the pharaohs.
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Then there is the Sphinx which is the guardian of the Giza Plateau. It’s known to the Arabs as ‘Abu al-Hol’ or the “father of terror”.
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THE BAD

The Hustlers.

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You could barely enjoy yourself because of how commercial it has become outside the major sites. You know it’s bad when they have to prepare you and give you “talking points” before you leave the bus. The professional hustlers are in cahoots with the cops. They play this game where they will trick you into paying them more money and if you refuse, they loud talk you and the police will come over and make you pay the hustler or face jail. Ridiculous. It’s just a very aggressive peddle market and if you aren’t prepared, it will overwhelm you. So, if you ever go over there, be on the lookout for 2 hustles.

1. The Camel Ride. The hustler will start by telling you it’s $100 to ride a camel for 5 minutes. Then, you negotiate down to $5. You have to be very specific and tell them that the $5 is for the ENTIRE THING. Because, they will charge you $5 to get on the camel…then $100 to get you off. That’s right. You could be held hostage on a camel. The fair price for a 15 minute camel ride is $10. Now, since the camels stank to high heaven, I decided I’d just get my picture taken next to one. This required every negotiation tactic I possessed. See, hustlers sense weakness. You have to go in confident and not show any doubt or insecurity with them or they will loud talk you. So, I just went in with the “I’m from the ATL…I ride MARTA, you can’t hustle me” attitude. I asked Muhammed how much it would cost to take a picture with the camel and his response? “Whatever you want to pay.” Naw, playa. I’mma need you to agree to a fixed price. So, I responded with, “will you accept $2?” He was like, “whatever you want to pay. It can be free. I’m not worried about the money.” Buddy, I’m from the ATL. You can’t hustle me. I already got caught up in the sphinx booty hustle in Luxor. I’m hustled out. So, I said to him, “you specifically agree to $2 because that is what I’m paying you.” He nodded and tried to distract me. Uh uh. Buddy…I’m from the A.T.L. Home of Grand Hustle Records. Please. So, I take the pic and you can see from the smile on his face that he thinks he’s about to pull a major hustle.
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After I take the picture and start to pull out the money, Muhammed was like, “most people pay me $7 or $10”. I was like, “well, you agreed to $2”. He then proceeded to give me a look like he was about to start loud-talking me…I then looked him dead in the eye, gave him the $2 and walked away.  I’ve watched Star Wars a hundred times…I know how to pull off a Jedi mind trick.  Don’t hate the playa, hate the game. Ha!

2. “Free” gifts. After I leave Muhammed, this kid comes up with something that he says is a gift. It’s supposedly free. I already knew about that hustle too. See, I go on the Rick Steves website and see what the current hustles are in each country & city I visit. There was nothing about the sphinx booty so I got caught slipping but I was determined not to make that mistake twice. So, when the hustlers try to give you something (even a “free” gift), you cannot accept it because it magically becomes worth a certain amount of money. So, Lil Buddha comes up and is like, “my father wants me to give you this. It’s good luck and will protect you.” I was like, “no thanks” because I already bought the evil eye in Turkey. I also got Jesus and I don’t need nobody else. After telling him no, he suddenly doesn’t understand English and keeps following me around and trying to lay this gift on my shoulder then arm. I was ducking my shoulder so much I felt like I was doing the wobble. So, after about the 10th time of me saying “no”, he then tells me the gift is from his mother. I was like, “the answer is still no. I don’t want it. Back up off me little boy.” Shoot.

The Just Plain Sad

Environmental, Health & Safety
Sigh. The most shocking thing for me to see was how dirty the city of Cairo is. I cannot remember seeing a trashcan and trust me, I was looking. The canals and streets are littered with trash.

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When someone asked the bus driver to throw a can of soda and potato chip bag away since they couldn’t find a wastebasket on the bus, he threw it on the sidewalk outside the bus! I was like, ‘the hell?’ Seriously? Even the Nile River was dirty! Looking at how squalid the living conditions are and how dirty and unsanitary things are really makes you not want to eat or drink ANYTHING. I’m sure quite a few people are walking around with scavies.

Why won’t the government establish an environmental protection agency to clean this mess up? That could create thousands of jobs that are sorely needed. It would increase the life span and reduce health issues. It’s ridiculous when I can look into a river and see dead fish…or see fumes rising from piles of trash in the center of the city. I can’t get over people littering like that either. Take some pride in your city! I’ve just never seen such squalor & dirtiness on this grand of a scale. If folks are gonna hustle something, hustle some Clorox.

I was reading the Egyptian Mail newspaper which is written in English and has lots of great articles. I’m hoping they have an online edition because if you want to really understand what is going on in Egypt, this newspaper breaks it down and is totally entertaining.  Recently, there was an article of a 6-year-old boy who died because he fell out of a window at school. Where are your safety procedures? Why were kids playing around an open window on the 5th floor?

Poverty
I think this had to be the most depressing thing for me. The city is so poor. With 50% of people out of work, they struggle to survive. Of course, I did see men out smoking “hookah” and just hanging out since they didn’t have a job. Don’t they need to be on monster.com or something? I know the hookah stuff aint free so save your Egyptian pounds for food. As you can see from the pics below, it’s hard to imagine living this way.

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There is a strong history of governmental corruption in Egypt and you can see by the disparity in living conditions. You can see how most folks in the city live above. Now look at the palatial estate below.

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Egyptian officials sold a lot of land at a HEAVILY discounted rate to rich folks who aren’t using the land to help the poor but to build high-end luxury homes. You know, if certain governmental officials would stop selling Egyptian antiquities to folks in other countries for cheap and accepting kickbacks, they could earn enough money to clean the city up. Which brings me to my next point…

The kids.
There are tons of kids out hustling. They are like 5-12 years old!
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They don’t go to school because they earn so much from hustling tourists! Apparently, they end up having drug problems when they get older because they don’t know how to handle having that much money. Also, they pay off the government so they will look the other way and allow them to be truant.

Color Complex
Like just about any country on this earth, there is a color complex in Egypt. The lighter you are, the more beautiful you are by society standards. While we have a product line in the US called, “Dark n Lovely”, they have one called “Fair n Lovely”.

The Funny
So, now I’m going to get to a couple of funny things that happened. Apparently, if you are a black American, you are automatically an Obama. Everywhere we went, we heard, “Obama Family!” I’m not sure if my brother is Malia or Sasha. 

On the way back to Alexandria, we were involved in a bus accident. The bus sideswiped a car on the highway (they drive so crazy here) and instead of pulling over and exchanging insurance information and calling the police, the bus driver speeds up and runs away from the scene of the accident. So, we are now fugitives from the law. Lord help me.

Overall, going to Egypt was a great experience. I would suggest you add it to your list of places to visit…even if it is just to see the Egyptian Museum. Once you get past the hustlers and the filth of the city, you can really see why Cairo has so much to offer.

 

The Queen, Scones & Crazy Folks…It’s London, baby!

I freaking love this city!  It’s one of my favorite places to visit.  We go together and it is my boo thang…in fact, we are MFEO (Made For Each Other).  The energy, the diversity and the FABULOUS SCONES AT HIGH TEA!  Oh, I am all kinds of off my low-carb diet. I don’t care that I’m gonna be looking like a brown version of Honey Boo Boo’s mama by the time I get back to Atlanta.  They are just too good to deny myself!  You know that scene in the movie Precious where Precious runs off with a bucket of fried chicken?  Imagine me with a bucket of scones, clotted cream and red currant jelly…with a side of breakfast tea.  Yeah, it just got real, y’all.  Scones real.  Not biscuit real.

Friday
Where do I begin?  We arrive mid-day at Heathrow and take the train to Paddington Station. Travel tip I learned in 2008 — you can withdraw GBP (British pounds) from the ATMs at the train stations (look for the signs) without being charged a fee (of course, check with your own bank as they may apply a fee for foreign transactions). The ATMs usually have pretty good exchange rates.  After getting some cash, we decide to get a taxi from the rail station to the hotel…and that is when it starts.

For some reason, crazy finds me wherever I go. Which meant that out of the line of taxi drivers available, we had to get Nutters the Taxi Driver. Oh God.  He doesn’t look crazy at first…but it was only a matter of minutes before his “foolishment” made an appearance.  So, we ask the Taxi Driver from Nutbush City London if he can take us to the Waldorf Astoria – Syon Park (a slice of heaven, y’all!).  He agrees and tells us to hurry up and get in the taxi.  Wait…What?  Hurry up and get in?  Where they do that at???  So, we struggle to get our stuff into the taxi because he ain’t going to get out and help us with the bags.  That must be extra.  Whatever.

We finally get everything in the taxi, and he drives up the street then says he doesn’t know where Syon Park is. Wait a doggone minute.  What? You don’t know where it is? WTH? Now I know for a fact that taxi drivers in London must pass a test to know where everything is located in London to get their taxi driver license. And, it’s a park. And, you have GPS…seriously. Stop. Don’t play with me, Nutters. You may be from Nutbush London but I’ve watched What’s Love Got to do With It enough times to do a pretty good Ike Turner imitation.  I gave him the directions, he said he still didn’t know so I called the hotel and told him what the receptionist told me…then he held his hand out for my phone…because clearly I can’t be trusted to relay a message.  Lord help me. I can’t let him steal my joy. So, he talks to the receptionist who tells him the EXACT SAME THING I JUST TOLD HIM. Seriously?

He finally starts driving, then starts READING some papers that are in his lap! Drifting off to the side.  Um, sir? Why are you multitasking?  Don’t you watch those commercials about distracted driving?  I ain’t tryna end up a statistic. Before we could say anything, a bicyclist came up to the side of the car and asked the cabbie to roll down his window. Nutters thinks that the cyclist is going to ask for directions because buddy has said “‘Scuse me mate, can I ask you a question?” Nutter: “Sure thing”; Cyclist: “WTF, mate?  Learn how to drive!  Blah, blah, cussingcakes”.   Nutters’ smile dropped off his face with a quickness.  Then, he starts cursing at the cyclist telling him to “Bug off, you bah-stahd!”  Uh oh…ish just got real.

That ruined Nutters entire day. He talked about that for the 40 minutes we were in the cab.

Nutters: Can you believe that toe rag?
Us: No, that was uncalled for. (but thinking the cyclist was spot on)
Nutters: He was spoiling for a fight, he was! I didn’t do anything wrong. That bloke had no respect! He’s getting me ire up, that toe rag!
Us: Um, sir?  What is a toe rag?
Nutters: It’s a foul term which means the rag that people clean their feet with.
Us: Ew

We start trying to talk about something else. But, once there is a millisecond of silence, it starts again.

Nutters: That bah-stahd was spoiling for a fight, he was. I would’ve given him one but I can’t lose me license over this.
Us: Well, don’t let him ruin your day.
Nutters: It’s already ruined! Didn’t you hear him? He wanted to fight! I’d have fought him too. I wanted to spit on him…it’s what he deserved, the bugger! But, I can’t lose me license.
Us: Good God

You already know that I’ve been using “s/he was spoiling for a fight but I can’t lose my license behind this” all freaking week. So, since Nutters is on a roll, now he is mad at us for some reason. Telling us that we went out of our way and should’ve taken a taxi from the airport.

Nutters: You just wasted a couple of hours, ladies.
Us: That’s okay, it’s beautiful and we can see the sights on the way.
Nutters: You aren’t going to see anything on this drive so set your expectations now.

A few minutes later, a police motorcade drives by and we are forced to pull off to the side of the road. Now Nutters is all hyped and is like, “OH! SOMEONE FAMOUS IS COMING! SOMEONE FAMOUS IS COMING!” Next thing you know, we see a green Jaguar with the Queen of England sitting in the back! I will admit, I was starstruck. I mean, it’s the Queen! I want her job (well, her title). So cool. Anyway, you know I had to say to Nutters, “See? If we took a taxi from the airport, we wouldn’t have seen the Queen!” But, Nutters was determined to be Darryl Downer even though he was starstruck too. He proceeds to pull out about 200 autographs he’s gotten over the years. Then says that if he sees someone famous, he’ll stop the car and go ask them for an autograph regardless of if he has a fare or not. Wow.

So, we finally get to the Waldorf Astoria (after he has to pull over to get gas…and charges us for the time it takes to do it and also misses the BIG SIGN that says WALDORF ASTORIA – SYON PARK). And, guess who we see as we pull in? Ralph Lauren is driving past us in his roadster!

Okay, the Waldorf is FAB-U-LOUS! Seriously, y’all. It was one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in.

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We have a spot of tea after we check in. Afterwards, we shower and change to go out to dinner in London. As we are waiting in the lobby to speak with the concierge, we meet this guy from Saudi Arabia who starts chatting us up. Apparently, there is a car show going on at the place next door. We saw a ton of high-end cars when we pulled up. I mean, those suckers were no less than $100K each. He offered to give us his pass so we could go in and look around but we passed. He was really nice though!

We end up in Piccadilly Circus looking for a recommended restaurant which we couldn’t find until the next day. So, we decide to eat at a steakhouse called “Aberdeen” which was okay…but not a place I’d try again.

Saturday

Wimbledon

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We get up super early (6am) to meet up and try to get tickets to Wimbledon. After walking to the train station, getting breakfast and catching a bus to Wimbledon (they had special bus service running every 30 minutes from Victoria Station in downtown London), we finally arrive at 11am. And are promptly told (as we are looking at the mass of people) that the wait time in line is 7 hours…we can’t get in to see a match until 6pm. So, we passed on watching a match (I’m not that into tennis anyway…I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about). We ended up walking around, taking pictures and chatting with people to find out what time you need to get there to avoid a long wait in line for tickets (answer…camp out the night before, or get there no later than 7am the day of).

After taking the bus back to London, we take the Tube to Leicester Square and buy tickets to We Will Rock You which is a musical based upon songs by Queen. If you go to the Half Tkts kiosk in Leicester Square, you can buy tickets for plays and musicals at a discounted price. I had originally wanted to see Wicked but it wasn’t on sale. After buying our tickets, we went to the National Portrait Gallery.

Okay, you definitely should check out the National Portrait Gallery. First, it’s free. Second, it’s interesting. It is filled with portraits of people from different eras. I love to read history and am obsessed with the Plantagenets (House of Lancaster & Yorks) which spawned The Tudors. The War of the Roses and the drama of Henry VIII was too salacious for words!

I’ve given a pretty substantial recap of Liz, her sister Bloody Mary and her daddy Henry 8 with his 6 wives in a previous blog post. The War of the Roses was fascinating as well and preceded Henry 8 (the war actually ended with his daddy, Henry 7). The House of Plantagenet ruled from the 12th century and was actually founded by a Frenchman, Geoffrey V of Anjou. The war broke out because 2 of the branches (the Lancasters and the Yorks) couldn’t get along. This was basically a series of dynastic civil wars for the throne of England between the heirs of those two houses. The “war of the roses” name comes from the fact that the houses had a symbol of a red rose (Lancaster) or white rose (York). Mental instability, perceived weaknesses in ruling and coveting power kept them fighting for 30 years (1455-1485). If you ever visit the Tower of London, you will hear the story about the 2 young sons of the last York king, Richard III, who (after Richard had died), were sent to the tower by their uncle (Richard’s brother) under the guise of keeping them safe. However, it’s believed they were murdered because their bodies were never found (they were around 13 and 8 or something like that…I can’t remember the exact ages). Anyway, the war ended when Henry 7 defeated the uncle and married Richard III’s daughter to unite the houses. Then, spawned crazy Henry 8.

I always like to see pictures of what these folks looked like. I’ve seen plenty of pictures of Queen Elizabeth I and her daddy, Henry 8, but it’s cool to see original paintings. Here’s what I can tell you. Beauty is subjective. A lot of adjectives like “beautiful”, “renowned beauty” etc were used. No. Let’s just stop. She can’t behead you now. The people you are talking about are dead. Let’s just keep it real because we all have eyes. They were okay…and some. Well, let’s just say that I’d have cursed the artist out like the bicyclist did Nutters if he painted me with a light mustache and cross-eyes. Stop. I did find my absolute favorite painting. It’s of the Earl of Southampton who was a playboy extraordinaire. You didn’t even need to read his bio to know. His picture said it all. All the other pictures of men had short cropped hair. Southampton had long flowing locks to the middle of his back, a swagga to him, and a look that said, “you know you want me…don’t deny it. I want myself.” He was so debonair that while Liz 1 was beheading folks who even looked like they thought she had bad breath, this joker just got some jail time for participating in organizing her overthrow. Then he was pardoned! That’s right. Earl Rapunzel got out and was like, “take that, take that…can’t stop, won’t stop…baaaaad boooooyyyy!” Check him out: Earl of Southampton

After we leave the National Portrait Gallery, we have about 30 minutes before high tea so we walk down to Trafalgar Square where they are holding some sort of Jesus rally.

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This something that apparently is going on around the city. Which is actually really cool! They had bands and were giving inspirational messages. It was packed!

We then head to the National Gallery Café for high tea. Words cannot describe how freaking AWESOME it was. I’ve had high tea in London at various places before but it’s never been this good. If you go to London, definitely check it out. Delicious!

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The scones were like eating slices of heaven if heaven tasted like buttery biscuits with clotted cream and red currant jam. Sigh. I had to buy the cookbook so I can recreate them when I get home. Sooooo good! I mean, I just cannot stop thinking about them. The tea was great too. Besides the scone, there were finger sandwiches (cucumber, salmon and tuna), and sweets (tarts and pound/sponge cupcake…or as they call them here “fairy cakes”).

After we had pulled ourselves away from high tea, we walk up to the British Museum and pass another outdoor concert (this was a rap concert focused on Jesus).

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By the time we arrived at the British Museum, it was closed so we head to Starbucks for another refreshment (it’s warm y’all), then over to the theater for the musical…which was awesome. I didn’t really have any expectations. It was inexpensive and when it started, Pam and I were like, “the hell is this? I’m taking a nap.” Then, all of a sudden, they changed scenes and it got awesome! This musical is hilarious! The concept is that it’s set in like 2050 and all musical instruments have been banned and we are being programmed by computers. But, there are rebel people out there that can’t fight the music and want to bring it back. It’s really good and I suggest you check it out (www.wewillrockyou.co.uk).

After the musical, we head back to the hotel around 1am.

Sunday
We wake up and head out late morning to go to the British Museum and enjoy high tea again. We decide to do high tea at the British Museum to save time.

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Hm, I might have been drinking when I took this picture because it looks kinda off.

The British Museum
Is AWESOME! OMG, seriously? This place is incredible! Seeing the Rosetta Stone up close was amazing! Being able to see the relics up close from the Parthenon and Egypt was surreal. Having seen the places where they originally existed added a whole other level of excitement. You definitely need to check it out. Plus, it’s FREE! You can’t beat that! Just so amazing. I couldn’t even get thru the entire museum so I plan to go back and visit it again.

Egypt Exhibit
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The Rosetta Stone
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Greece (from the Acropolis)
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Easter Island
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After we left the British Museum, we walk around trying to decide where to eat and ended up at a decent Indian restaurant. Then, we went to hang out at the park by the London Eye since we had time to kill before our train left. Okay, why did a reporter & cameraman from ITV show up and start interviewing people on the weather? This is news because it was sunny and an unusually hot (91 degrees!). However, we notice that they interview the people next to us on the bench (who were white) and then went on to interview only white people. The reporter was Indian! Really? What took the cake was when they went to interview an interracial couple and asked the black guy to get up and stand outside of the camera shot so they could interview only his white girlfriend. I wanted to jump in front of the camera as they were talking and say “BROWN PEOPLE LIKE SUN AND HEAT TOO!” but I thought better of it. It was weird because London is such a diverse city. More diverse than most cities I’ve visited which is one of the reasons I love it so much. I just chalk this up to a 1 off experience and maybe they only interview people of color on Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays?

Overall, you can never get enough or get bored in London. This is my 4th time and I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of seeing the city. I just love so much about it. It’s easy to get around, very diverse, lots of activities, scones & high tea, cultural events…you name it, London’s got it. Until next time,…you stay classy, London (for all my Anchorman lovers).