Welcome Back

What should have been a four-week leave for me at least turned into eight. My Love (ML) had to come back at the end of the leave period but I stayed on. We had booked a holiday with family and due to a change in our leave date ML couldn’t attend the holiday, it was all very complicated due to early completion of one contract and moving forward the start date of the next. Suffice to stay it was easier for me to stay and go on holiday and ML to return to Egypt.

So I’m back and it really does feel as if I haven’t been away, everything looks the same although we have moved to a suite of rooms which is glorious, we have a lounge/dining room, bedroom, bathroom and additional wc and the extra space is glorious. We have also gained a huge balcony which overlooks the pool and the beach.

I have set up at the inevitable small round table in front of the patio doors to the balcony from the bedroom. The view is sumptuous, if I look up from my screen I can see the sun glinting of the tiny waves as they run in towards the shoreline. Below this is a forest of white wooden umbrellas shading white sunbeds. Bright blue and white beach towels are scattered on the sunbeds decorating them with as they flutter in the breeze.

There are flashes of reds and pinks from the Bougainvillea that arch out from the buildings on the left of the view and the fronds of palm trees arch graciously in front of the pillar. At the bottom of the view I can see a table tennis table, two foosball tables and an air hockey table all standing forlornly unused as the children are all in the lagoon pool.

If I look to my right I can see a section of the lagoon through the palm fronds and the decorative metalwork of the balcony. The occasional high-pitched scream reaches me if I am inside with the doors closed, but if I am out on the balcony I am met by all sorts of sounds.

The gentle splash of water as it tumbles over the waterfall, laughter, screaming, shouting, tears, music, the scrape of the plastic sunbeds as they are dragged to a more advantageous position to either gain better access to the sun or to huddle under the shade of the huge canvas umbrellas that encircles the lagoon like a bead necklace.

I have the door closed at the moment as it is much too hot and I am craving the relief of the a/c as it sends a stream of cold air onto the back of my neck. As we move into late September and beyond the temperature will begin to drop and we won’t have to be so reliant on the a/c. I may even be able to transplant myself out onto the balcony to work. I think there may be too many distractions though.

I’ll describe just a little of what I can see and you will understand just what I mean by distractions. There is a little boy on his daddy’s back being brave as they go into the deeper water but by the look of the death grip he has on his daddy’s neck I think it will be a while before he finally let’s go.

A whole array of blow up toys fill the lagoon including little seats for babies that have a blow-up canopy to protect them from the sun, I can see a ring with a blow-up parasol for a slightly older child, a huge variety of rings all neon and bright colours. There are even a couple of small boats beached at the side of the pool.

Movement at the foosball table has just caught my eye and two men are having a very competitive game with much spinning of handles and sharp arm movements.

Very competitive, I’m not sure if there are any rules but I think they may have been long forgotten.

Oh dear, one of them has just thrown his arms out in disgust at his performance.

This is getting serious, they have changed sides – is there an advantage to a particular side of a foosball table?

It has reached the ‘wiping the sweat from the brow’ stage ……. I think I ought to leave them in peace.

Hopefully you are beginning to get the idea of just how much I can observe from my new room, it is in fact a people watcher’s paradise. I shall have to be strict with myself and try to concentrate on the job in hand.

I have already lived in this hotel for four months and the staff were always friendly and said Good Morning etc. when they saw me but I just assumed that they were doing their job and their bit for their company’s customer service.

Good customer service = Happy Guest = Positive Reviews = More or Returning Guests

I’m not being cynical but pragmatic, hotels are in business to make money but I must admit my pragmatic little heart had a little jolt when I returned.

From the moment I walked back through the door from my extended holiday I have been welcomed again and again. The manager (more of his welcome later), the security guys at the door, the people on reception, the guys in the bar, the porter who took my luggage up to the room and the waiters in the restaurant all popped over at different times and welcomed me back. I actually felt like they meant it and I’ve been walking around with a big smile on my face.

There are one or two people staying here who have been looking at me trying to work out if I am anyone special as yet another person welcomes me back. What they don’t know is that I am this hotel’s Eloise, who lived in a “room on the tippy-top floor” of the Plaza Hotel in New York City with her Nanny, her pug dog Weenie, and her turtle Skipperdee.

Unlike Eloise  in the  books  written by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight, I have an ML not  a Nanny, and I’m not sure what the hotel would think of a dog and a turtle but I do have a blue starfish who I haven’t named yet. I don’t think I am anywhere near as adventurous as Eloise and I certainly don’t get in as much trouble as she does.

I have come to the conclusion that wishing people good morning/afternoon/evening. Being polite, not too messy unlike ML (that is he is messy not impolite) means that I am a good guest and not too labour intensive.

The manager’s welcome was a small display of miniature red roses, a huge fruit bowl, a small plate of delicious patisseries and a flock of towel peacocks/swans/spitting cobras inhabiting the room we really couldn’t decide which.

All in all I’m glad to be back, but as usual it was hard to say goodbye to everyone at home.


If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

Advertisements

Who Knew the Eye of a Needle Could be so Much Trouble?

When you are living overseas especially when you are in a hotel there is only so much room in your suitcase and that is mainly filled by clothes and shoes. Of course, I make life difficult for myself as I also need to pack two cameras, lenses and battery chargers, portable hard disk, laptop and iPad. All of which are necessary for me to be sane and productive during my stay. I am in the middle of nowhere on a hotel complex.

If you have ever stayed in a hotel depending on which one it is there are always a collection of extras in the bathroom and usually in a desk drawer. These can be a simple as a bottle of shampoo and conditioner to a basket of luxury bathroom products. I have even stayed in hotels that have a pillow menu, a dental kit and there are even a hotels in the US and Europe that will loan you a goldfish for the length of your stay.

In amongst all of these complimentary items is usually a sewing kit, usually located at the back of the drawer with the single sheet of writing paper and envelope or in amongst the hotel information. ML lost a button off of the collar off one of his polo shirt so I said I would sew it back on.

Simple task you would think.

The sewing kit contained one lonesome needle so I promptly stuck it into my top so that I wouldn’t lose it and tried to unravel the black cotton from the other colours. It was and All the ends were twisted together and tightly wrapped around the cardboard. I set about the fiddly task of separating out the one I wanted. The black cotton was not smooth as I expected but fluffy and that didn’t bode well for threading it.

Ha. That was to turn out to be the least of my worries.

I wet the end of the cotton – does everyone do that? My grandmother and mother both did this so I suppose that is where I get it from, anyway my eyesight like most people my age needs a little assistance but I usually don’t have much problem in getting the cotton through the eye of the needle.

I tried.

I tried again.

I tried a third time.

I cut off the end of the piece of cotton and tried again.

Even Suzy, Perla and Mary the mice in Cinderella who try to make her a dress for the ball would have had trouble threading this needle.

Then I looked at the needle more closely only to find that the cotton was thicker than the minute eye of the needle.

I could have sat there until the end of time, that cotton was not going through that eye – ever. Thwarted I packed everything away and when we went home on leave sewed it back on. When we came back after our leave I brought back some ready threaded needles.

***

Although the food is very nice it does get to the point when you crave something new, unusual or different. We have no fast food restaurants close by, the closest is about ninety minutes away and even if we did get someone to pick it up we have no access to a microwave to reheat whatever had been bought.

One of the Health & Safety guys is from India and although the hotel produces their version of Indian food it isn’t quite what he wants. It was decided that the next time someone went up to Cairo for a meeting they were to go to a particular Indian restaurant buy a selection and take it back to the work site where they do have access to a microwave.

Unbeknownst to me ML had hatched a plan to bring me a small taster. We are not allowed to bring any food or drink into the hotel and all of our bags go through a security system similar to what they have in airports.

ML appeared one evening a big grin on his face and started emptying the contents of his work bag until he brought out a carrier bag tied tightly at the top. He ripped this open to reveal a foil wrapped parcel. The room suddenly began to smell spicy and I was intrigued as to what he had.

Almost reverently he opened the foil to reveal a small cardboard container filled to the brim with small spicy samosas. The foil had help retain the heat and the plastic bag had trapped the aromas from escaping.

I didn’t ask how he got them through the security but I can tell you that they tasted wonderful, and I was going to only eat a couple – honestly. But then ML said that what we didn’t eat would have to be thrown away and therefore I made a bit of a piggy of myself but I really did enjoy them.

Just an aside – I didn’t think through eating more than a couple of spicy samosas in one go and the effect that they may have on me.

LOL. Despite the side effects I would do it all again – soon.

***

The lovely girl’s that work on the reception to the dining room have to wear tights and a surprisingly large number of them wear white ones that have a glossy sheen to them.

Now I know I wore white tights as a child with Sunday dresses, and I vaguely remember wearing them in the early 1980s along with piecrust collars of a very young Diana, Princess of Wales. But unless as an adult you have legs like Twiggy they really are a big no-no.

Maybe it is part of their uniform – if so poor girls because most of them have untwiggy like legs and their legs end up looking remarkably like uncooked bratwurst sausages.

I’ve just read that last bit back and it really does make me sound horribly but I don’t mean to be, when you are sat in a dining room full of people on your own eating breakfast your mind wanders and over the period of umpteen weeks that I have done this you can’t help what pops into your head.

Although I am surrounded by people I am for a large proportion of my time alone and therefore I have had to become self-sufficient. I get huge enjoyment from my photography and writing but both are singular pursuits. This does not mean to say that I am lonely but that I embrace my aloneness if that makes sense. I am not unhappy but would sometimes like more interaction with other people’s.

Living in a hotel is strange in that other than the staff and even in some respects them the people that surround me are all transient. Only occasionally do I get a return from a smile from anyone other than the staff and as a majority of the guests are Egyptian I don’t hear English spoken very often. I know the fault is mine as I am in their country but some people, me included have real difficulty learning a new language. It just isn’t part of my skill set much as I wish it was.

There has even been a study by the International School of Advanced Studies in Italy; researchers found ‘…if we watch someone smiling, we tend to smile as well in order to appreciate what that person is feeling.’ Unfortunately, I have found that ‘Smile and the whole world smiles with you’ doesn’t always work.

Going of at a tangent slightly I was curious as to where this quote originally came from. It is often misattributed to Stanley Gordon West on the internet and the full quote is shown as;

‘Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.’

But with more research I found that the quote is the first two lines of the poem ‘Solitude’ by an American author Ella Wheeler Wilcox and is included in her book Poems of Passion published in 1883. The book is available to download as part of Project Gutenberg. I have included a link to the poem if you would like to read it and to the book if you would like to read more of her work.

A few days ago would be classed as a red-letter day in that a man started up a conversation with me in the line for breakfast asking if I was enjoying my stay. We had a lovely chat that made me smile afterwards when I thought about it; when I bumped into him later on in the day with his wife and son we picked up the conversation where we had left off. He lives and works in Cairo and was a very interesting person who was brimming with information about where and what to visit if we got the opportunity.

So not the most coherent of blogs but more little snippets of some of the things that happen in my days of hotel living, but also a brief insight into just how powerful a smile is to someone or even just a couple of minutes of conversation. Neither cost the giver much but to the person on the receiving end it could make all the difference in the world.


If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

Bling at Breakfast

This morning I was convinced that I saw somebody wearing a tiara to breakfast.

Not a sentence I thought I would ever write but it just goes to show you that nothing is improbable in this life. On closer inspection, the shiny metal I could see was extravagant decoration on a pair of dark sunglasses pushed up onto the top of a lady’s head. The frames and lenses blended into her dark hair and leaving just the metal decoration glinting in the sunlight.

Now someone wearing a tiara to breakfast is not so far-fetched when you consider what I have seen so far.

First a little bit of background information, I have never been on a beach holiday – now I sound like I have been deprived of an exciting experience. Suffice to say I grew up at the seaside and only as an adult moved away, what I meant was I have never paid to go overseas to lay on a beach. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • I can’t stay still, therefore laying on a sunbed is the most boring thing on earth as far as I am concerned.
  • I don’t like to stay in direct sun for too long, so I would be huddled under an umbrella or sheltering behind the brim of a huge hat.
  • I would like to have soft skin not corrugated cardboard when I am older. (Just realised that to some I am old, so I will clarify and say much older than I am now)
  • If I go somewhere new I want to see the architecture, museums, people, culture etc.

I could go on but you get the gist, I am probably your worst nightmare as a holiday companion because I don’t want to sit still but do things.

So, I am not sure if it is the norm to wear bling at breakfast at a holiday resort; listed below are just some of the things I have seen so far at breakfast:

  • Silver sequinned sleeves on a top
  • Black shiny leather shorts and purple patented DMs (not sure if this counts as bling)
  • Silver sequinned kaftan
  • Baseball hat covered in brightly coloured metallic beads
  • Subtle black sequins picking out a pattern on the back of a woman’s long robe
  • Giant gold sequined sun on bright orange tshirt
  • Cross body bag covered in sequined patterns
  • Silver sparkling fringe across the front of a top
  • White fishnet t shirt with glittery sparkly writing
  • Black and white photograph printed on a t shirt outlined in silver metallic beads
  • Sequin covered sandals
  • Glitter covered sandals (this was a little girl so I don’t think this counts)

Also staying at the hotel during the last week has been a group of Coptic priests with their families. They wear black robes but one of them was wearing a huge mother of pearl Coptic cross hanging from a chain of large beads, another had embroidered crosses in multi colours on four points on his hat and above each pocket on his robe, and another had a huge wooden cross painted in bright colours that bounced of his tummy as he moved.

I should point out at this point that I am not being disrespectful of the priests just in awe of their everyday bling.

The bling wearers sparkle and shimmer as they move around the buffet in the morning, rather like the flashes of silver from the sides of a salmon as they swim their way upstream. It’s all very pretty and I must admit that I quite fancy a bit of bling myself.

I once had a gorgeous coral pink tshirt that had a couple of lines of sequins around the neck that I loved, though if I remember correctly I removed the sequins that were also on the edge of the sleeves and the along the bottom hem.

It would seem I like my bling on the subtle side. Is there such a thing?

As you can imagine it would have been nigh on impossible to photograph the clothes or the Coptic priests even discreetly so you will have to use your imagination.

I wrote the above a couple of days ago and have just come back to it because this morning at breakfast a little girl came in wearing the most fantastic outfit. I think it was her birthday but I’m not sure, but the outfit consisted of white leggings scattered with silver sequins like sparkling ice crystals. This was topped by a pink and white net tutu and a pink tshirt with more silver sequins. On her head was a silver tiara edged in fluffy pink feathers or fur I’m not sure which.

She had the biggest smile for everyone and she couldn’t stop twirling around every now and again or fluffing out her tutu. Just for a minute, I was quite envious of her being able to wear her outfit, if only we could all just wear and look how we are most happy without the rest of the world passing judgement on us.

Personally, I would like to dress like a pirate for a few days or wear colours that clash violently or waft around in a tea dress trailing filmy silk scarves behind me. I wish hats fitted me better, they seem to perch precariously, ready to topple at the slightest movement or gust of wind. I could have hours of fun just sat in front of a mirror trying on more and more outrageous hats.

There used to be a woman in England called Gertrude Shilling whose son David was/is a milliner, he used to create the most outrageous hats which she often wore to Royal Ascot. The more elaborate the happier she seemed to be and was always surrounded by photographers. I’m not sure how she managed to hold her head up with some of them and she always carried them of with élan and chutzpah.

The more I think about it the more ideas I come up with to dress differently. Of course the reality is that I will wear what disguises my lumps and bumps and helps me blend into the background.

I’m very happy in my skin (although I wish there was a bit less of it) and have found my happy place in the world which I class as a major achievement in itself. I observe, write and photograph the world that I am lucky to be part of capturing butterfly moments before they disappear.

And it just goes to show you that I am really a fortune teller and my crystal ball enables me to foresee the future, as today somebody wore a tiara to breakfast.

Ohh now there’s an outfit I hadn’t consider, lots of colours and multiple scarves, a sparkly headdress, lashings of eye makeup, long sharp nails and lots of bling on my fingers, wrists and neck…………

 

Gertrude Shilling © Peter Kemp/AP and Royal Ascot                                                                             Fortune Teller © unknown

If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

Fanous & Khayamiya – Ramadan Decorations

On the way back from the restaurant last night I saw a glow coming from the outside seating area at the side of the hotel, I’ve never seen anyone sat in that area so was curious as to what was causing it. Nose pressed against the glass door (not sure why we didn’t go outside and look at it) we could see some highly decorated material had been draped around and from the columns making it look very festive.

Against one of the pillars was a small table spread with the same material as the pillars. There was a large metal lantern decorated with punched out shapes and glass panels. The light shone through coloured glass panels and looked very decorative.

I promised myself that in the morning I would look to see if I could find if there was any significance to it’s sudden appearance. We are just coming to the end of the first week of Ramadan so I think it maybe has some relevance to this. Before I get around to it I receive on Facebook an article from a gulf newspaper about the lanterns which are called Fanoos/Fanous (plural: fawanees). I had to try and find out a bit more about them.

There are lots of different stories about the Egyptian use of lanterns and its connection to Ramadan. Some historians say that during Ramadan over a thousand years ago during the Fatimid period, the people of Cairo took to the streets carrying lanterns to welcome the new Fatimid ruler Al Mu’ath Al Deen Allah.

There is a story of Caliph al-Hakim allowing woman to leave their home during Ramadan if they were accompanied by small boys with lanterns, another Caliph stated that all alleyways and the fronts of shops and homes should be lit by lanterns.

Children would carry lanterns and sing ‘Wahawi ya wahawi’ while asking for coins and sweets; children are also said to carried lamps an accompanied the Caliph Al Hakim Bi-Amr Illah when he checked the moon for the start of Ramadan. Whatever their origin they are now an iconic symbol of Ramadan in Egypt and are seen everywhere.

My Love and I went down again last night as there are more lanterns lit to take some photographs and we found that the outside freezer unit which has always been empty now had five different types of ice cream for sale.

Well it would have been rude not to have tried it wouldn’t it?

The choice was vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, mango and blackberry, we both chose mango and berry fruits and it was gorgeous but I ended up giving myself brain freeze.

I dispute that this was caused by eating said ice cream too quickly, I savoured every bite as the appearance of the ice cream may be a one-off event.

I pressed my tongue to the roof of my mouth to alleviate the symptoms and it soon went away.

The other decoration that has appeared is set up in the middle of the reception end of the lobby of the hotel. On the large table where normally large displays of flowers are placed is a tableau at least that is what I would call it.

The table is covered in brightly covering hangings similar to those out in the seating area, in the centre of the table is a small round tent with a conical roof. It is cream coloured but edged in brightly coloured material.

Set around the tent are a number of tambourines called Riq’s, each with brightly coloured tassels attached. These are joined by stringed instruments called Oud which are a short-necked type of lute and interspersing the musical instruments are a number of small pierced metal lamps with coloured glass panels.

There are two figures that are part of the tableau a seated figure by the entrance to the tent and a standing figure holding a stick and a container of water. The entrance of the tent is graced by two camels with enormous drawn on eyes with long lashes. Inside the tent hangs a small lamp.

It’s nice to look at and very eye catching, I’m not sure if it is normal thing to put out a display like this at Ramadan or not.

While clicking around on the internet I found a picture of a tent similar to the one in the hotel, I followed the links and found out that the decorative element is called Khayamiya. When I looked at the hangings in the outside seating area they were similar to those used in the tableau just a different range of colours.

The material in the hangings and on the tent, is printed but originally these types of hangings would be made using a form of applique and is now considered an art form. Khayamiya before the 1990s when the printed material appeared was always handmade by the tentmakers of Cairo. Originally the appliques would be used as decoration and an extra layer of shelter within tents.

They resemble thin quilts in their construction with a heavy backing material, then a layer of background colour is added and final topped with the applique. Usually however big the piece of Khayamiya only one tentmaker would work on it. They use a thimble, needle, thread and scissors and only use sewing machines to join pieces together to form the panel.

The individual panels were used to the create an enormous ‘street tent’ known as suradeq, huge walls of colour were created and the enclosed spaces used for rituals and celebrations. If you would like to read more about the history there is an academic article that has free access.

Since the 1980s the demand for the traditional skills were in demand less often as tents and the suradeqs are only now used mainly for ceremonial purposes and with the introduction of the printed material the livelihood of the tentmakers was at risk, they have made the panels since the early 16th century.

But these resourceful men adapted and now make items for the local, national and international market. For sale from Cairo in the Street of Tentmakers you can buy quilts, wall hangings, cushions, bed runners, bags and table clothes to name just a few of the items available.

I have found a video of a Master tentmaker making a hand stitched applique, it is fascinating to watch how quickly and neatly he works.

The skills of the tentmakers are becoming known on a wider stage as their work is now being included in national exhibitions of quilts around the world and when possible a tentmaker who can speak English attends to demonstrate the art and talk about the pattern development.

I think that on our next visit to Cairo a visit to the tentmakers must be high on the list of things to see.


If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

Trouble with Smelly Fish & Cold Eggs

The people within the hotel are constantly changing and I think most people only seem to stay a few nights before wither moving on to somewhere else in Egypt or back to Cairo. It gets very busy at the weekends but quietens off as the week progresses.

Last weekend the hotel was near to bursting at the seams and the gossip is that there isn’t a room to spare. Not only are there the normal weekend crowds but Monday was Sham El Nessim. If you have never heard of it I am not surprised because unless you are of Egyptian origin or living in Egypt it will probably be a mystery to you.

For those that know me from previous blogs when I come across something new I have to spend a bit of time researching it. I could say that I love improving my knowledge – which I do but, I really hate not knowing so the simplest and easiest way to remedy this is to search online.

You don’t need me to tell you the pitfalls of relying on the internet for researching a subject but it is all I have to hand so I will try to include relevant and hopefully reliable and sourced information if I can.

Sham El Nessim marks the beginning of spring, it is also a national not a religious holiday therefore everyone celebrates it. It is always held on the same day as Easter Monday. It seems to be celebrated by going on picnics if you live in the city or coming to the seaside and being with families.

The name is probably derived from the Egyptian word Shemu or Shomu which translates to the ‘Season of the Harvest’ or ‘Low Water’, it was the third and final season of the Ancient Egyptian calendar.

You will see countless references to ‘Plutarch’s annals, [where]the ancient Egyptians used to offer salted fish, lettuce and onions to their deities on this day. I can find no evidence in Plutarch’s writing to substantiate this statement but you may know better.

In modern Egypt people do celebrate the day with picnics in parks, the zoo, the seaside and these can include hard-boiled eggs, lettuce, onions and salted fish, e.g. herrings but the brave and some say foolhardy eat fesikh.

The recipe for making it is very simple: the mullet, also called borai fish, is dried in the sun and then placed in large wooden vats filled with the right ratio of salty water for 45 days Apparently, the end result is a very ordinary looking fish on the outside but on the inside, is a grey gooey centre that has an all encompassing unpleasant smell.

Every year the Egyptian Government issue a health warning to not eat fesikh as it can cause nausea, paralysis or in a worse case scenario’s death. In 1991 eighteen people died from eating fesikh but in more recent years although people have been hospitalised there have been no deaths recorded since 2010 when two people died.

I wondered if the hotel would have anything special to eat but other than the hard-boiled egg shells being coloured and it being exceptionally difficult to get a table at breakfast the day was like any other.

Not surprising the coloured eggs were all I got this year, just before I left England the first Easter eggs were beginning to grace the shelves of the supermarkets but there was definitely no room in the case to bring some with us and I am sure if I had managed it somehow, they would have melted long before I had the opportunity to eat it.

Eggs cause me more hassle staying in the hotel than anything else, I am trying to eat healthily while I am staying here and try to turn away from the plates of pastries, breads and desserts as well as the food cooked in oil.

I have tried all sorts of combinations of what is on offer and have decided that eggs are probably my best bet. Each morning there are halves of French toast available, not so good as they have been cooked in oil but also, they have not been cooked long enough for me. I like my French toast to be brown ensuring that the eggs are well cooked. What is on offer bends and is pale yellow.

There is a chef that cook’s omelettes each morning, resplendent in his chef’s whites and his towering toque blanche he is surrounded by small bowls of chopped onions, peppers, various meats, cheese etc and he will make you a two egg omelette with whatever filling you want. Not much wrong with that I hear you saying – true but he does add a large spoonful of oil to the pan. I have tried asking him not to but the language barrier defeats us. Also, there is always a huge queue of people waiting for him to cook their omelette first.

Most days there are hard-boiled eggs, lovely you may think except that they are kept warm. Am I alone in wanted my eggs to be cold so that I can chop them up add a little bit of very runny humus to then pile it into a flatbread pocket with some grated carrot and cucumber. I tried getting a couple of eggs and shelling them in the hope they would cool down. All this achieved was burnt fingers and lukewarm hard-boiled eggs which are vile.

But recently a container of scrambled eggs has started appearing – hurrah I hear you say, well yes, it is wonderful but I think it depends on who is cooking them as to their appearance. Initially they were cooked but swimming in a water substance. Then there become very creamy but sloppy, occasionally they are excellent – this morning they looked good and I piled them onto my dry toast and headed back to our table.

They were freezing cold!!!

Obviously, their container didn’t have any hot water in the base or whatever keeps the water hot had stopped working. I had to leave my plate it was vile, and I hate wasting food but I just couldn’t manage to swallow it.

My quest for a healthy breakfast continues.

PS           Something I read and I’m not sure how true it is but it would be wonderful if it was. There is a saying that the one hundred pleats/folds in a toque blanche represent one hundred ways to cook an egg.

I’d just be grateful for one.


If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

Garden of Delights

When My Love (ML) and I first arrived at the hotel one of the first things I did on the day ML started back to work was to explore the grounds of the hotel. I walked all the twisty turny paths through the gardens finding the shady spots and where the benches were – not that this helped as the benches have a habit of regularly shifting. I’m not sure of whether this is one of the tasks of the gardeners or whether rather like the stone tortoises in Vietnam they have a life of their own after dark.

Anyway, back to the benches, I have visions of them scuttling around the garden like giant beetles in the dead of night looking for the perfect spot to spend the next day.

    Now those of you that are new to my ramblings will be wondering at this moment where this is going, the answer to that is not anywhere. I have what can only be described as an overactive imagination and just because an object is inanimate it doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Also, I am inclined to wander off the plot occasionally and take a side trip – bear with me I will get back to the point eventually when my butterfly mind returns from whence it started.

     The gardens were at this point mainly just green leaves in a multitude of shades and variegation – listen to me coming over all Monty Donnish with my gardening terms. I know nothing about gardening but I love to look and enjoy beautiful gardens.

There are a team of gardeners here that are constantly weeding, pruning, cutting and replanting and it looks beautiful. They are constantly doing something even it is only raking up the fallen flowers from the Jacaranda or Flame trees. As the weeks have gone on different plants, shrubs and trees have come into flower and I have tried to get photographs that show the beauty of them.

Sometimes very fortuitously, the other day I spent a couple of hours wandering and taking photographs, there are so many big beautiful splashes of colour and I also saw a butterfly, a ladybird and a bee or wasp of some sort with stripy eyes.

     The hotel and the surrounding area is twice a day at dawn and dusk sprayed against mosquitoes. A golf buggy with sprayers drives around the complex spraying a white mist, it is very fine because it soon floats up around us on the third floor. I’m not sure whether the chemical just kills off mosquitoes or all insects. Considering the number of beautiful flowers, I would expect there to be masses of butterflies but I’ve only seen the one.

    Two days after I had my morning of photographing I went for a wander and all of the shrubs had been clipped to a uniform height, no stray flower spikes had escaped. The greenery is nice but I miss the flowers. Give it a couple of weeks and they will be back – I hope.

 There was lots of excitement at the end of last week, I was working on the computer and there seemed to be more noise filtering in through the open patio doors. In the end curiosity got the better of me and thank goodness I did. The beautiful palm trees that are scattered throughout the gardens were having a trim.

  From my floor, I have clear uninterrupted views of the crowns of some of these trees. The men pruning the palms were not the normal gardeners as they were not in the usual green overalls but were in normal clothing but not wearing any shoes.

           I came in grabbed my camera, put on a long lens and sat back trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. I didn’t want to be a distraction to the men wielding very sharp axes while balancing on the trunks with only a rope and their feet to hold them in place.

       As I sat quietly through the next couple of hours I got to see a couple of masters of their craft working. I was able to get some amazing shots of them climbing the trunk of the palm with amazing agility, wield an axe, remove palm fronds and date seeds.

           I always wondered why the trunks of the palm trees in the house opposite my window had tags all the way down its trunk and the ones in the hotel don’t. It turns out if you don’t prune the dead leaves you don’t gets a nice smooth trunk. As the men chopped and neatened the palms the hotel gardeners were collecting all the fallen palm fronds and fruit stalks and taking them away. I think some of the palm fronds were laid out to dry down near the Shisha restaurant which is used on the roof so I am guessing that they will be used to replace what is already there.

  There were two men that climbed up the highest trees but that they had with them two much younger men/boys who worked on the small palms. I think they must be apprentices or maybe sons who are learning the trade. Not sure it is a job I could do although I wish I was brave enough but I think that although I don’t mind heights I sometimes get a bit wobbly when I look down. Wobbling and sharp axes don’t seem a great recipe for keeping all your fingers and toes intact and with the added danger of being up a tree and you can begin to understand my hesitation.

Suffice to say it was fascinating to watch.

I have tried to find the names of the plants, shrubs and trees and in some cases I have been successful and in others not so. I hope you will forgive me any mistakes and if you would let me know I will correct it asap.

The names are in the title of the photographs and the tags.

 

If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

Baron Empain Palace

                                    “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”                                         Winston Churchill

Although Winston Churchill wasn’t describing the palace his quote is a very apt description of the strange building that I saw very briefly on my way to the Egyptian Museum . When I got the opportunity on the way back to stop and have a look I was absolutely fascinated. l say a closer look, the closest you can get to it is from outside the grounds. The tall decorated pillars of the gateway hold the iron gates firmly in place and closed but there is enough space to shove a camera through the bars to get a photograph.

All around as far as I could see were barbed wire fences, everything is shut up tight but perched on a plateau was a terracotta coloured building that was covered in decoration.

I had to find out more and what a tale I uncovered. ‘Baron Empain Palace, ‘Le Palais Hindou’, ‘The Hindu Palace’, ‘Qasr el Baron’ are just some of the names I found that the building has been known by.

The palace was the brainchild of Édouard Louis Joseph Empain, later to be made a Baron Empain by the King Albert I (1907). He was a Belgian millionaire and industrialist who in 1906 purchased a block of land 8 km north of the centre of Cairo that neither the French or British wanted and was therefore going cheaply. At the time, Cairo was undergoing a real estate boom and in some areas land cost as much as in Paris or London.

Empain wanted to build a city in the desert and within a few years of buying the land there were 29 km of streets and avenues, 168 buildings, including two hotels, followed a year later by a race course and Luna Park amusements area. Within ten years Heliopolis as the area was named had a population of 7,000.

He decided to build his own villa in Heliopolis, he chose his plot and had a plateau constructed on which the building would be placed so he could look over Heliopolis from his lofty perch. He chose a French architect Alexandre Marcel who studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Marcel’s previous work included the Jagatjit Palace in Indian and the pavilions of Cambodia and Spain as well as the ‘Panorama du Tour du Monde’ at the Exposition Universelle of 1900. The Panorama consisted of a journey through various buildings that included a Cambodian temple, a Japanese gateway, a Chinese Tower and a balconied building that was of Indian influence. Many of the motifs from these buildings found their way several years later onto the Empain’s villa.

The building of the palace took four years from 1907 – 11 to complete and was built using the Hennebique system of reinforced concrete; one of the first major creative uses of such material in Egypt. The ‘Palace’ is actually a fairly conventional villa of two floors above ground and two subterranean floors. The structure is made to look larger by placing it on elevated plateau above a series of terraces, almost mimicking the step pyramid a Giza. The addition of the 30 m tower and the impressive number of decorative features adds to the buildings presence.

The villa’s interior was designed by the French interior designer Georges-Louis Claude who was also responsible for the decoration of parts of the Heliopolis Palace Hotel. The interior walls were covered with frescos and huge mirrors situated in decorative wooden frames, the coffered ceilings were gilded as were the doors. Art Deco tiles and fittings were used in the bathrooms and Belgian glass was used in the multi-paned soaring windows.

There were decorative pillars and cornices, marble fireplaces, decorative balustrades, gold finished door knobs and highly decorative parquet flooring on which the furniture from Belgium was set. The open roof terrace was a cornucopia of balustrades, seating, covered walkways and pillars; every surface is covered with sculpted decorative cladding. These include representations of Ganesh, elephants, snakes, dragons, grotesque faces and all manner of mythical beasts.

The Palace was occupied by three Baron Empain’s, before being sold to Middle Eastern business men in the 1950s, whom it is said tried repeatedly to change its use into a hotel or casino but the government would not issue the permits for this to happen. The Egyptian government bought it in 2005 and it was opened to the public for a short time (I’ve read that it was only two months), but has since retreated behind barbed wire fences.

In the period between the Empain family owning the palace and the Egyptian government buying it the palace and its contents were looted, furniture and fittings were stolen sometimes ripped from the walls (large mirrors), the frescos and masonry have been damaged and covered in spray painted graffiti. The beautiful decorations sculpted and painted by Indonesian craftsmen is damaged and in some places destroyed.

The gardens died and the Greek, Roman and Far Eastern statuary that was scattered throughout became the victim of mindless destruction. When the government bought the palace, they did reinstate the gardens and the palace is once again surrounded by green terraces.

You can hire the grounds in which to hold weddings celebrations. It can be hired from the government for a fee of 50,000 to 60,000 Egyptian pounds (£2,125 – £2,500), ($2,700 to $3,300) for every 300 guests. If you are interested there is a video on YouTube of a wedding celebration.

There is another video that shows some more detail, if you start it at the 4.40 mark you will a group of architectural students who were allowed access to the building. More details of the internal damage and of the external decoration can be seen. There is one final video of a VIP tour, the quality of the video is very poor but every now and again it clears and more decorative details are highlighted,

Any building that is left empty soon becomes the repository of urban myths, legends and tales to curdle the blood. What I write from here on in is some of the stories I have found and I am sure there are very many more floating about.

If you put Baron Empain Palace into any search engine it will tell you basic information and it will then say either the Baron’s wife/sister/sister-in-law Helena fell down the spiral staircase to her death and his daughter Merriam/Miriam/Mariam who suffered long-term psychological problems was found dead in one of the basement chambers/well of the lift a few years later. I can find no sourced information online about either death.

I have looked at Baron Empain’s family tree, his sisters were called Marie Louise, Florence, Anne-Marie, Irma and Louise and his brother’s wife was Ghislaine. The only marriage I can find listed for him was to Jeanne Becker in 1921. His sons were born in 1902 and 1908 and changed their name from Becker to Empain when their parents married. Without further information, I can only surmise that he had a long-term affair with Jeanne and married her after the death of wife number one (Helena) and his daughter. There is a book about the family but it is in French, only available in paperback so unless someone can help me I am stumped.

The palace has become the repository of all sorts of tales; of blood running down mirrors (obviously before they were looted), sounds of large objects being dragged across the floors, chanting, satanic rites and orgies taking place. Ghosts are supposed to walk the halls and strange emanations of smoke have been seen appearing and disappearing. A chamber in the basement is supposed to have run with blood when the first baron died. The garden lights up for no reason and then the light dies away and windows open and close on their own.

I’m sure that any building left uninhabited will soon be used for nefarious reasons; drug taking, hiding contraband, drinking etc. The building and grounds aralso inhabited by bats and stray dogs, add into that the unusual carvings on the outside and you have a real recipe for making of tales of horror.

Having seen the outside and read so much about it I would really like to see the inside but I think the chances of that happening are very remote. There have been a number of studies to look at the deterioration of the concrete and of opening the palace as part of a wider regeneration of Heliopolis. But many projects are on hold as there is not enough money being generated by tourists to fund the project and The Empain Palace appears to be one of these unfortunately.

The little I have been able to find out has proved fascinating and I am sure there are many other tales of life at the Empain Palace yet to come to life.

Unfortunately most of the photographs for the palace are copyrighted as so few people have seen the interior, but there is a Pinterest page where the copyright holders have posted them and also a Flickr page as well.


If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.