Maria’s Beer Balcony in Germany

Yes, it is visiting season in Germany. Here I am with my best childhood friend from the small village of Hambach in northern Bavaria. She also reminded me that it had been her idea to post photos of all the beer balcony visitors on this blog.

We looked up the date of my first post on this topic – it was August 2013. This is post # 35.

With my best childhood friend, Bea, from McAllen, Texas

Maria’s Beer Balcony in Germany

This is beer balcony photo #7. Considering I started this series two weeks ago, and only went back to photos dating from early May of this year, there have been quite a few friends coming to see us.

 The only way to have a friend is to be one.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson-

This time, we have my husband’s brother Rich and his son Eric from Paris sitting on the balcony.

ICE travel brings family closer together in about four and a half hours between Paris and Frankfurt.

Rich & Eric Aug 2013

Eric and Rich from Paris

As usual, these family gatherings are good for the heart and soul (… and stomach, too).

Ordering Gingerbread Hearts from Germany

This afternoon, we will be attending a wedding at the Gherkin in London. Since the bride is German (with Sri Lankan heritage) and spent her childhood in the deutsche Vaterland, the goodie bag will be full of things to reminisce.

There will be an issue of the Teen magazine BRAVO, some cans of beer, her favorite pastries from the local bakery, and this Lebkuchenherz (gingerbread heart) below.

I ordered it from a German company (see link below) and it arrived within 10 days. The total cost was 26 euro and it’s worth it.

Lebkuchenherz

The bride is a hopeless romantic and I’m sure she will enjoy this. They do deliver overseas, so if you are interested to learn more about these customized Lebkuchen hearts, then visit Lebkuchen-Markt.de for more information.

The company offers hearts for all kinds of occasions.

Notes from Luxor, Assiyut, and the Dakhla Oasis in Egypt

Nobuko has been sharing her experience about travels to Cairo, Luxor, and now Assiyut and the Dakhla Oasis. See what she has to say.

Part 1: Getting from Cairo to Luxor

Getting from Cairo to Luxor was a breeze – but at $60 per bed, it is not cheap. The tourist sleeper train, which leaves from Giza station, was very comfortable with small 2-bed cabins that included clean sheets, a pillow and blanket, and a basin. Also included in the price were a pretty hearty dinner and breakfast which was served in your cabin. I shared the cabin with a Samoan woman who is a New Zealand citizen. She was also traveling alone for one year so we had much to talk about. The whole trip took 10 hours.

Part 2: Getting from Luxor to the Dakhla Oasis

Now, the transit from Luxor to the western Dakhla Oasis was an arduous one. It took me 16 hours to arrive there via Assiyut (more about that train route on TripAdvisor). I took a local train at 7:30am (cost less than 20 E pounds) which arrived in Assiyut at 1:30pm after enduring an incredibly dusty path. There was only one car for first class, but there aren’t any noticeable differences between first and second class.

I met a group of four female college students who kept me company by teaching me Arabic. I remember only one word from this lesson, which is magnun = crazy. After they got off, other women filled their seats. But these women made me feel uncomfortable by continious laughing at the sight of me. I think the laughter was not malicious, but I left to move to another seat.

Assiyut is a large city. But the bus station is only a five-minute walk to the left  from the train station. The direct bus to Dakhla did not leave til 6pm, so I decided to take the bus at 3pm to the Khagra Oasis which is located two hours before reaching Dakhla. My plan was to take another bus from Kharga to Dakhla. The ride to Kharga was hot but smooth, arriving at 6:30pm. But the onward bus from there did not leave til 8:30pm – which meant I would not arrive in Dakhla til 11:30!  By this time I was simply exhausted, so when I learned this I was going to look for an accommodation in Kharga.

I do not speak Arabic. There were many instances where I really wished that I had studied some words. But there is always someone who speaks some English and offers me much needed help. A group of college girls got me in a taxi with them, and I was taken to a micro bus headed to Dakhla. During the travel, they fed me and gave me drinks. When we reached Dakhla, one of them gave me a ride to an accommodation in her boyfriend’s car. So I was in bed before 10:30pm.

The travel route I had taken I would not recommend to anyone. But unfortunately, there aren’t many other options unless one has $130 to spend on a five-hour taxi ride from Luxor to Dakhla.

Dakhla itself does not have any sites. 30km away from it, there is Al Qasr, an abandoned medieval fort city made of mud and bricks which served as the capital for the area for a long time. It’s a surreal experience to walk through the maze of small streets in this ghost town. Some multi-storied houses are more than 1200 years old and still standing in good enough condition for us to walk in. The wood of Acacia trees was used for constructions and for city gates for its durability. To make it extra strong and preservable, it was soaked in salt water first. As a testament, none of the acacia trees were crumbling. Amazing!Acacia wood was also used for curving the prayer areas which decorate the doorway of the houses. These prayer boards record the dates when the house was built and the names of the artists who curved the boards.

The whole city was designed to remain cool in the hot desert climate by making narrow streets which created much shaded areas. The narrow and bending streets also served as a defense tactic to prevent invaders from marching into the city with  high velocity and momentum.

Aside from Al Qasr, the Dakhla Oasis was supposed to be famous for its hot springs. However, these are cemented structures with pumps that pour spring water into the pools. And due to the prolonged decline in tourism over the past few years, the pools had moss growing inside and some pumps were not operating. So my dream of getting into natural hot springs were miserably shattered.

The hotel staff were very nice people, but they did not speak English. This was a problem apart from getting breakfast and getting a wi-fi password. I could not get a map or contact information for the tourist office in town because they did not understand what I was asking for. I aimlessly wandered the streets looking for the tourist information office. Someone picked me up and drove me to the tourist police office. Probably they didn’t know what else to do with me. There finally I met the officer Mr. Mahmud, who spoke English. He gave me some tea and a snack, and called the tourist office on my behalf. With directions in my hand, I headed to the tourist office, but got lost within a few minutes.

Mr. Mahmud probably figured that I would get lost, so he came after me and drove me to my destination. There I met Mr. Omar Dahi who agreed to guide me to Al Qasr. But I admit, it was so much fun to ride in police cars! Now I understand why cops are one of the most popular attraction among the elementary school kids on  career day!

Dakhla Oasis, also spelt Dakhleh and translates to the inner oasis, is one of the seven oases of Egypt’s Western Desert. Dakhla Oasis lies in the New Valley Governorate, 350 km from the Nile and between the oases of Farafra and Kharga. (source: Wikipedia)

Notes from Cappadocia

Nobuko, a guest-blogging friend, is reporting from Cappadocia.

An overnight bus operated by Metro bus company took me from Istanbul to Cappadocia; this 10-hour-ride cost about 60 TL (about $35). The cost of things in Turkey was a shock to me coming from India. For a similar ride in India, I had paid 400 Rupees (about $8). But I have to say it is just because buses in Turkey are very nice, and even come with an attendant serving (non-alcoholic) drinks and snacks to passengers. They stop every few hours for restroom breaks / food, and even announce how long the stop is! And they are pretty punctual.

On a different note: I had enjoyed my bus experience in India as well: They have “sleeper” seats which can be closed off by a sliding door or curtain for privacy. It is tiny but you can lay down – though you cannot remain reclined for too long since the roads are bumpy and I nearly hit the ceiling several times. But they do not stop for restroom! One time I contemplated using a plastic bottle, but the bumpiness of the road prevented me from entertaining the idea any further. I begged the driver several times and he finally stopped one hour later to let me go into a bush.

OK, enough about my bathroom on bus stories. Now back to Cappadocia.

It had been my dream to go to Cappadocia ever since I was eight years old. And when I saw it with my own eyes, it was so much more than I imagined. Looking at pictures or even seeing videos does not do justice to the beauty and expansiveness of this place. I met a mother-daughter team from Mexico. We had breakfast at a family-run Cappadocia Cuisine. The mama looked tough at first sight, but she was very hospitable. She gave us coffee on the house. Then I checked into a dorm at the Flintstones Cave Hostel ($14 including a pretty good breakfast).

My friends and I rented a car from the rental car company, OZ Cappadocia, for two days. Driving in Cappadocia was my first time driving outside the U.S.A. Being low season, the roads were pretty much empty, so it was easy to drive. On the first day, we had great fun driving following the Red Tour route. The second day’s Green Tour route would have been difficult without a guide. So we hired a wonderful man named Ahmet. He normally works as part of the ground crew for the Royal Balloon company. He guided us to Pigeon Valley, the underground city of Kaimakli where I nearly had a panic attack (I realized I cannot do darkness or underground), and Ihlara valley.

The day went fine; the sunset was beautiful beyond what words could describe – until we were on the way back home. Ahmet decided to take a short cut which led us to the middle of field without a road in  pitch dark hours. As the ride became increasingly bumpy and we were getting further and further away from any light in sight, I asked him if he had driven that way before, to which he replied, “No, I have not”. Then he said cheerfully, with a big smile, “Remember the prison we passed this morning? We are just behind that prison!” I think he tried to make us feel better by telling us where we were. We asked, “That prison?” Ahmet, still smiling: “Yes, yes, that one! The one that had 12 people escaping this year!” We retorted,  “… OK, so we are not picking up any hitch hikers.”

After 40 minutes of driving through a field and getting nowhere, Ahmet finally decided to turn around and go back  the long way.

On the third day I was alone, since my Mexican friends had left. I rented a bicycle and rode from Goreme to Avanos, which is about 10 km away. Going slower is rewarding for the eyes. On the way back, I stopped at a pide shop and had chai and pide (Turkish pizza). I was the only customer and the owner and his worker were very kind. We showed each other’s pictures on our cameras while they talked to me in Turkish, which I do not understand, and I talked to them in English. They offered me a huge piece of Baklava and another cup of chai. In Turkey, I was offered many meals and even accommodations from various strangers and I accepted them. This kind of experience restores my faith in humanity. I need to acknowledge the priceless value of such encounters, because they prove that we can act out of kindness even when there is no incentive involved.

Cappadocia

This was my last night. After picking up some beer (the Turkish Efes Pilsen is a very good beer, in my opinion), a guy from Oz Cappadocia (the rental car company) and Ahmet took me to a panorama look-out spot at night and made a bonfire! How fun! The next day they came to the bus stop to see me off. Yes, Cappadocia is a wonderful place to visit. For me, it is the people I met that made Cappadocia one of the best places to be in.

And Nobuko plans to return to Turkey by spring 2013.