Notes from Luxor

Nobuko’s latest travel report is mainly about Luxor/Egypt and its shortcomings.

Yes, you read it right. I said “kuso”(*). Luxor sucked big time. I had planned on being there for  three days, but after being there for five hours, I couldn’t wait to get the hell out! So I left only after 24 hours.

Tourism is down in all of Egypt since the revolution, and the air of desperation is very palpable at the pyramids of Giza and Luxor. What’s sad is that vendors and all people who work in tourism are super aggressive – mostly toward each other. It made me feel awful to see that. And it certainly made my transactions very difficult.

For example, in Luxor, asking for a bottle of water at shops, most places tried to overcharge me. So I continued to look for one that sells it for a reasonable price. Then the previous sellers (some followed me and pestered me along the way) got angry with the shop where I bought the water. If I asked taxi drivers for the price (and repeated the same pattern as above), huge verbal fights broke out.

Whenever this happened,  I just walked away and tried to find mini buses that go my way, but only stated the name of the area I wanted to go to. But even bus drivers who should operate under a fixed fare tried to overcharge by tenfold. I found one honest driver who gave me back 0.5 E pound after I had given him 1 E. Until then, I did not  know the true fare of the mini bus ride.

In Luxor, which consists of the East and West banks, there are numerous sites. If you try to cover them all, you can spend a fortune on entrance fees (most ranging from 25-70 E pounds). On the West bank, the sites are not so close to one another. I saw some people bicycling. This is a feasible way if you have time and don’t mind the heat, because there are no steep hills to climb and it’s much cheaper than a tour.

I took a tour of the West bank. It said half day, but in reality it’s only  four hours. The pick up at the hotel on the East bank and the drive to the West bank = 1hour, go visit four sites such as  the Valley of the Kings, the temple of Hatshepsut, the Mortuary Temple of  Ramesseum, but one of which is actually a souvenir shop = 4 hours total. Then the drive back to the East bank took another hour. In addition, the guide we had gave us very very basic information about the sites at the entrances, and left us to wander around alone inside the sites.

We saw other groups who had their guides accompanying them inside, and  giving detailed explanations about the symbols, history, etc. So it varies widely. I paid 285 E pounds which included the entrance fee. But I think it was only worth a fraction of it. Sorry, I’m being very judgmental here, but this is my objective review.

In comparison, on the East bank, you can visit sites on your own easily. Within the city proper, there are two major sites: the Temple of Luxor and the Karnak Temple. They are much more impressive visually than those on the West bank. A historian may have different opinions, but for a general public who didn’t do their homework (me), these temples are the places to go to take photos and be amused by the size of its structures. I especially enjoyed being at the Karnak Temple. The Luxor Temple is a mere 15 minutes walk from the train station and many accommodations.

The Karnak Temple is about 3km from the Luxor temple. Just walk north along the street along the Nile river. But the heat can be wearing you down and you would have to deal with the beveragevendors / horse & taxi drivers constantly hustling you for business the whole way. I took a mini bus from the train station, though finding one that goes there, was not easy. It took 20 minutes to find one that goes there without a rip-off fare. Coming back from Karnak was easy because all of them go towards the Luxor Temple or to the train station.

There are some bars across the street from the Luxor Temple. I sat there and had beers looking at the Luxor Temple at sunset. I walked back to my hotel around 9pm. Though tourism is almost dead, the town itself seemed alive after dark. Major streets are well lit with many shops open and with a lot of foot traffic. Even smaller and dimmer streets had some shops with locals sitting on stoops, so I felt safe to walk alone.

As for Giza, on the way to the Pyramids, the taxi driver told me to roll up the windows and lock the doors. I saw why… as soon as touts hanging out at the entrance saw me, they chased the taxi, ganged together at the windows, and some even tried to open the door! When they could not get their way, they barricaded the path (! What are they, mobs?) and yelled out all imaginable lies, such as “Taxis are not allowed inside!”or  “You have to take the camel!”, “You need to pay a taxi fee of 100 E pound here!”, “The Pyramids are closed today (the most ridiculous one I heard!!)”. When my driver slowly proceeded forward, several of these guys jumped on the car bonnet and on the top of the trunk. They were determined to get me when I came out of the taxi.

As I got out to buy tickets, they followed me. Some even offered to buy it for me with an added “service charge” of 30 E pounds. They must think I’m so stupid, or they are so stupid to think anyone can be so stupid!  After purchasing the ticket, they demanded that I show them the ticket. I ignored them and walked away.

One of them touched me, so I hissed at him loud and called security. I mean, come on… a group of about 20 Egyptians saw this and took me in. After that, I was off-limit. So I enjoyed taking pictures freely without having any guard asking me for baksheesh for doing what I was entitled to do for free to begin with.

Their behavior is childish, mean, and ridiculous. They are only strangling their own throat by doing this as it encourages a further decline in tourism.

The Pyramids are wonderful to see. Note that going inside costs extra. There is a Light Show at night. Now that I think about it, visiting at night may have been a better option because of the cooler temperature and dramatic effects.

Pyramids are everywhere around Cairo! After Giza, my taxi driver Mr. Ali, took me to Dahshur and Saqqara. Saqqara has many sites including the famous Step Pyramid (now under renovation) whereas Dahshur has two pyramids, the Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid.  But I really enjoyed Dahshur because the two pyramids are far apart from one another, and there is nothing else around them except vast open space! And the whole place had only 11 visitors, including myself. Also, the Red Pyramid has an inside chamber much like the one at the Great Pyramid in Giza which you can go into for no extra cost while the one at crowded Giza will set you back by 100E pounds. Both Dahshur and Saqqaraand were completely free of touts and vendors, and the guards were pretty friendly without asking for baksheesh.

The streets of Cairo, away from the tourist drag, are filled with wonderful encounters with friendly locals! Shop keepers of blanket shops, kitchen wear, and even tire shops, gave me sales pitches, clearly joking, knowing that I’m a tourist and  won’t need their merchandise.

This playfulness almost always turned into conversations – many times people wanting to know my name, my job, whereabouts of my family, my impression of Egypt, and suggestions of which sites to visit near their shops. Some would inform me to make sure to give their names so that I can get a discount on entrance fee, because they know the guards at these sites. Very refreshing interactions because they treated me as a person, not as a walking ATM.

My favorite places were old Cairo (aka Citadel), and the area sandwiched between the famed Khan Al Khalili Bazaar and the Citadel. This was also a bazaar area, but more for the locals. On the other hand, the Khan Al Khalili Bazaar has tons of souvenir shops and is geared towards tourists. The difference in atmosphere is felt instantly when walking from Khan Al Khalili to the local bazaar, the details of which is described above in previous sections. Also, this area is full of wonderful surprises for the lovers of Islamic architecture! There are many mosques that date back to 800-1000 AD.

All you have to do is walk along the narrow street, and  they just pop up right and left without you even trying to find them! A few to be noted are the Al Hakim Mosque, the Bab Zuweila Gate, and the Al Ghuri Complex. Many of these places have guys who will take you to the top of the minaret for baksheesh, and the views are well worth the money. In Citadel, there is an aqueduct which I have not visited. The oldest part was built in 712 AD!

In conclusion, I enjoyed visiting Islamic architecture much much more than the Pharaoh sites.

Having said all this, I really question my role in tourism in so called Third world / developing countries: I have money to spend and want to spend it wisely and ethically. But after thinking it over for a while, I concluded that it is not possible to be politically correct. The disparity of economic status that exists between someone like me and the local people is substantial. So it is human nature to want to justify overcharging the tourists because both we and they know we can afford it.

And I think in some cases, like India which charges 10 times more in entrance fees to foreigners, it is justified. But lying and cheating some trusting people shamelessly is wrong. Instead, they should do what Butan is doing: make it  legal practice to charge loads to foreign tourists from economically privileged countries (I heard it is $200 per day). Some tourists actually derive much enjoyment from the process of haggling and out-witting overcharging or lie-telling vendors. So for them, hustle free situations are like coffee without caffeine. But that’s not for everyone.

Me? I enjoy haggling, but only with vendors who know the limit and have a sense of humor. I don’t like to deal with angry and nasty people. Plenty of those are found in governmental offices in the U.S., some of whom I have no choice but to visit occasionally. And I have spent enough time with them already.

* kuso stands for sh@3 in Japanese.

Behind Egyptian bars

Nobuko – behind Egyptian bars (just kidding!)

Review for Seoul Restaurant in Oberursel

Over the past two years, I have become a regular customer at Seoul Restaurant in Oberursel. Being a creature of habit and dedicated kimchi lover, I usually order the same food: Kimsambok, made of kimchi, slices of pork belly, and chunks of tofu, fried together.

The waitress does not have to hand us the menu anymore. With one look at me, she asks, “Zwei Mal Kimsambok?” and all I have to do is nod.

Their lunch menu consists of various dishes to choose from, among them seafood fried rice, some Korean stews, noodle dishes, etc.

Lunch menu Seoul Restaurant in Oberursel

Lunch is euro 10, which includes tea, side dishes, and dessert (often a cinnamon beverage) and is served between 12:00 – 15:00 from Tuesday to Saturday.

Their lunch menu for Sunday is LA Galbi which is euro 15. We have not tried this yet, but it is safe to assume it comes with tea, the traditional sides dishes and dessert as well.

Here is my favorite food: Kimsambok

Kimsambok

This serving (see photo) is for one person, with the main dish in the foreground. If you order a second lunch special, the number of side dishes remain the same. The second main dish was on its way.

Their regular dinner menu also includes these lunch dishes. If you don’t read Korean, use the regular Speisekarte (menu) and ask the waitress which of the Lunch specials are included (in German, I believe).

In the summer time, you can also use the terrace. Simple furniture, but you have a nice view onto the forest.

Address: Hohemarkstrasse 194 in 61440 Oberursel

Tel: 06171 – 50 82 448

The restaurant is situated right next to the forest, in walking distance to Frankfurt International School, and is easy to reach by U Bahn as well.

Just take the U-3 (direction Hohemark) to its final stop. From there it is a one-minute walk.

Around Oberursel, we have five Korean restaurants, and this one is my favorite one as their food is very good, lunch prices are more than reasonable, and it is in walking distance from my home.

15 Travel Sites in Germany

A while ago, the German ADAC listed 15 recommended travel sites around Germany. The emphasis was on traveling within the country for families in search of a local tropical rainforest, a ride in a Venetian gondola or nights out dancing to Caribbean music.

All this can be had in Germany.

1. Visit “Gondwanaland” (40 exotic animals and 500 kinds of plants) at the Leipzig Zoo.

www.zoo-leipzig.de  -> entrance 17 € for adults

 

  1. Reggae rhythm at Lake Chiemsee

Once a year, the city of Übersee at the Chiemsee becomes the capital of Reggae music. Every year, 30.000 visitors come to enjoy Caribbean nights and days.

 

www.chiemsee-reggae.de -> day ticket 52 €

 

  1. Hollywood at the Rheinau Port

 

There is an open-air movie theater at the Rheinau Port in Cologne. Check the website for the current movies.

www.openairkino.de/koeln -> 7 €

 

  1. The best view over Stuttgart from an ice cream parlor (26 flavors).

 

www.eis-bistro-pinguin.de -> one ice cream scoop for 90 Cent

 

  1. Rock climbing in the Elbsandstein Mountains

The Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland) is famous for its rock climbing terrain, with walls ranging from 10 m to 90 m in height. Recommended starting place, e.g. Rathen.

 

www.elbsandsteingebirge.de

 

  1. The Amazon of the North

 

Turtles, cranes, deer, and more – there is much to see on the shores of the river Wakenitz. Because of its wild nature, it is often referred to as the Amazon Jungle of the North. Best to explore by steam boat from Lübeck.

 

www.wakenitzfahrt.de -> 16 €

 

  1. Lama rides in the Taunus Mountains

You do not have to leave the country to go on a lama tour. In Usingen, the lama tour owner, Tilman Richter, offers accompanied tours throughout the Taunus mountains.

www.lama-llamera.de  -> 70 €

 

  1. Romantic Gondola ride in Bamberg

Hans Riegler is your German version of an Italian gondolier when he takes you in his gondola down the river Regnitz in Bamberg. The gondala is an original one from Venice.

 

www.gondel.info -> 60 € for 30 minutes

 

  1. Camping in dunes of the Baltic Sea

The Regenbogen – Camp in Prerow at the Baltic Sea is the only place in Germany where you can camp right at the beach.

 

www.regenbogen-camp.de -> starting at 5 €

 

  1. The best lake for fishing, swimming, and snorkeling in Germany

About 80 km north of Berlin, the Stechlinsee promises tranquility. Recommended reading: Theodor Fontane’s novel “Der Stechlin”.

No website listed

 

  1. From Munich to Space

You may count the stars! The best time to visit is in August. Consider taking a tour of the Bavarian Volkssternwarte in Munich.

 

www.sternwarte-muenchen.de  -> tour starting at 5 €

 

  1. Amusement Park Phantasialand near Brühl

This park has six different theme park sections (Fantasy, Deep in Africa, Berlin, Mexico, Mystery and China Town)

 

www.phantasialand.de -> starting at 37,50 €

 

  1. Skyscraper Tour in Frankfurt

There is a reason why the banking section in Frankfurt is often dubbed Mainhattan (Main River).

Enjoy  a guided tour, leave your acrophobia behind and visit (among others) the Commerzbank Tower, the tallest building in Europe at 300 meters.

 

www.frankfurt.de

www.frankfurter-stadtevents.de

 

  1. Paddling on Lake Constance

At Lake Constance (in German known as the Bodensee), the Surf School Wasserburg offers courses in the trendy sport activity Stand Up Paddling (SUP).

 

www.surfschule-wasserburg.de -> course starting at 29 €

 

  1. Germany’s highest mountain – The Zugspitze

In good weather, you can see up to 400 mountain peaks in the distance of 250 km. Of course, there is also a Biergarten at the top. There is also a registrar’s office, yes, you can also get married up there!

 

www.zugspitze.de    -> mountain and valley ride 48 €

My personal favorites are 6 and 10. I do love the water, but tend to stay away from heights.

Frankfurt/Main

 

Review for Restaurant Le Crabe Tambour in Biarritz

Yesterday evening, we came upon the Restaurant Le Crabe Tambour by chance. Well, most other restaurants were still closed and this one offered us a place to sit down in the sun, while serving drinks until the cook came in at 19:30.

We had a very efficient and friendly waiter. Not only did he have the time to talk to us and give us some tips, but he proved to be efficient later on as well when the restaurant was really full.

He was very helpful answering our questions about the menu, the wine was good, and the food was served in a timely manner. We had the menu for 25 euro, from which we could choose one each (three selections in each category) for the entrée, main dish, and dessert.

To help ease the wait, we got some tortilla and olives.

tortilla

As we were the first ones to arrive, we had the board menu all to ourselves.

Restaurant Le Crabe Tambour in Biarritz

Then our appetizer came. Our eyes got so big, but the deliciousness of these prawns and sauce made us close our eyes again…

crevettes flambées au whisky

One of the main dishes – white fish and mussels.

For dessert, we sampled all three choices: apple pie with ice cream, Crème Brûlée, and the Coup Colonel. The latter one made us all go Oh, la, la.. after taking a taste of it. It was like a Caipirinha with a bit of sherbet in it. We walked home, by the way.

This was a grand culinary experience in terms of  food quality, service, and ambience. Very recommendable.

Address: 49 Rue d’Espagne in 64 200 Biarritz

Tel: 05 59 23 24 56

Note: The restaurant was named after the famous 1977 film Le Crabe Tambour, where the owner was the cook for the film set.

You can also leave a comment/review about the restaurant here or on Lonely Planet.

Notes from Bhuj, Gujarat and Rajasthan in India

Guest blog from my Japanese friend, Nobuko, who seems forever traveling.

22 June 2012

Still in Bhuj. It is a small town, but people are very nice and smiley.  Shop keepers are friendly, but not aggressive at all. Many times I have to wake them up from snoozing to buy something. Or, they invite me in to have a Chai and chat even if I don’t buy anything from them. How nice.

I went to another small town called Mandvi. Its by the ocean, where ship making is the main craft. An Indian guy named Shahid and his friend I met at the guest house had some things to take care of in Mandvi, and invited me to tag along. They are in the textile business, so I got to see Batik and tie dyed. Before heading back to Bhuj, we stopped at a beach where one can ride a camel or a horse if desired. Shahid insisted, so we rode on a camel. It is so tall when it stands that I was a bit scared.

23 June 2012

I went to get a hair cut. There I met a 20-year-old girl name Boomi. She invited me to her  house for a Chai. I met her parents and grandpa (who spoke very fluent English). The family invited me again for a home-cooked Thaali lunch the next day. Needless to say, I went.  It was like a version of  All You Can Eat at someone’s home. They stuffed me with all sorts of great Indian food. I tried butter milk, which is sour, but helps to sooth the fired tongue. After lunch it was insisted I lie down. It first felt kind of rude to lie down after eating so much of their food, but I did. I think the family was pleased that I ate a lot. If that is the key to making friends in India, I’ve got what it takes – I love food!

24 June 2012

In the evening,  Shahid and I went to see a Bollywood film called Teri Meri Kahaani. The story line was very simple, so I kind of got what was going on.

25 June 2012

I took the train from Bhuj to Abu Road to go to Mount Abu. It was a second class (not fancy) sleeper. The route it took was so hot, that my body did not stop sweating for the whole 12 hours I was on it. I was given an upper berth, which is out of traffic in the corridor, but also the hottest place. After several hours I could bear it no longer, and went to a lower berth by the open windows.

Indian people stare at me pretty intensely, but once I get to within their reach proximity, they are very friendly and strike conversations. Some even offered me food (One of the best Chapatti I have ever eaten). I was used to going to a bathroom on the moving train in Japan, but the idea of doing the same on second class train intimidated me for many reasons – until I finally had to go. Actually it was not bad at all. I think the toilet bowl design is pretty good, so minimal to none, hardly any “splashing” occurs… an important factor when you squat with long pants.

26 June 2012

Just after midnight, I arrived at Abu Road. From there, to ascend to Mount Abu is only 30 minutes, but there was no taxi that would take me with lower than 800R (a night at the hostel is 300 – 400 R, and a meal is 30-80R, so 800 R seems outrageous). A tuk tuk driver was nice and took me to several hotels to find one that won’t charge me an arm and leg. I ended up at Hotel Kanul. This morning, I took a collective taxi and finally arrived at Mount Abu. The town sits at a 2000-meter altitude, so it is very cool – a nice change from the hot weather down below.

Gujarat people are very nice and friendly. People I pass on the street sometimes want to take a picture with me. The only other place this happened to me was in Colombia. I have not received any insulting slurs,  or it could be because I don’t understand the language… And just because I am from another place, people invite me to their house and want to sit and sip Chai with me. Now I am in Rajasthan, I will get to see if people here are different from the Gujarattis. I love India so far!!