© 2009 LuFarah lu [at] lufarah dot com
Reviews

I love Circus Freaks

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Brussels and our favorite steak house

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Puccini Bomboni

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Where the Basha did Summers

For our last two days in Egypt, we decided to stay at a different hotel before flying out of Alexandria. We took the train from Cairo to Alex, the Spanish train this time, and made a reservation on Expedia, nearly midnight the night before, to El Salamlek , located inside the Montazah Gardens in Alexandria.

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El Salamlek used to be one of the royal summer retreats.Apparently, it was built by HH Khedive Abbas Helmi II, in 1890 something, as a hunting lodge for his (then) mistress the Countess May Torok von Szendro ( they married at some point). It's an old mini palace, restored but still retaining that creepy decadence of westernized arab aristocracy. We stayed at the Pasha Suite, complete with a black and white portrait photo of a dead child princess by the bed, rococo iron bed and striped wallpaper in various shades of pink. The great thing about this hotel is that it is smack in the middle of Montazah gardens, which i am guessing was the royal family's summer house backyard. Now it is public, thank god for that. Of course, as anything public in Egypt, to get it you must go through a couple of military checkpoints, but i figure it's still better than being blown up by some unhappy terrorist faction. At the reception, when we told the 3 receptionists we had made our reservations through Expedia, they did not know what that was. I was moody and cranky after 3 hours on an early morning train from Cairo, so I sort of just watched Anis deal with them. He actually had to open his laptop and show them the reservation. It was a good thing he saved the page because there's no wi-fi there ( but we didn't expect it to, anyway). We had a tiny balcony but the view was great. Don't have breakfast at El Salamlek. We did and it was gross. Dinner was not bad, we went to the french restaurant which used to be the pasha's den. Apparently, the cutlery and china are the same as from the Basha time. French service is annoying though. Food was good but not exceptional, french fare straight from school of culinary arts txtebook, i could tell. But no complaints there, it just added to the whole decadent experience. Anis explained to me that keeping the Salamlek as it was and having the staff dress as they did in the Basha time was like a big joke on royalty. The last Basha pretty much let Europe trample over Egyptian people, their heritage and culture not to mention all the commercial exploitation. And all that because he dreamt of being french and tres chic. More about the mistress Countess who died as Haile Sellassie's wardrobe consultant, Here
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The Library of My Dreams

Oh the famous Alexandria Library. I love it. I'd live in Alex just to hang out at the library.

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Coach Class Brides

After a smelly flight in Arabia Airlines from Manama to Alex through Doha, where poor Anis suffered approximately 3 hours next to a guy whose talent was to reproduce the original scent of gutter with his armpits, we finally arrived at 11pm. The Alexandria International Airport looks like a roadside bus terminal. Seriously, they could really use a new airport, judging from the number of real estate developments and high risers and super hotels in the area, you'd think they'd have a slightly bigger airport. Not really.The most important travel tip about the Alexandria Airport is, when arriving there, once you are out of the plane, run to passport check. There's only one counter and Egyptians are not really famous for being organized and polite. People will be elbowing each other to get ahead. You either run to be first in line, or chill and wait until everyone does. One thing you can do to pass time is change your money at the exchange counter. Because if you wait to do it after you go through customs, you will have to wait for the exchange guy to come back from the counter before passport check. He works both counters. The duty free shop is cute, like a big dime store in Paraguay. I'm serious. You can buy aluminium pots and pans, counterfeit barbies and little tins of Nivea cream, all in the same place. And I saw some guy get busted for drugs, right in front of me.

I love recreational slumming.

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About 20 days later, when we were coming back to Bahrain, I met these two pretty brides at the Alexandria airport and they kindly let me take their picture together, although it was the first time they met. Both were flying to Kuwait to meet their new husbands. I thought it was cute and bizarre that they would fly so early in the morning and arrive already in their wedding gowns, jewelry and make-up. Unfortunately I don't speak arabic, so I didn't get a chance to talk to them more. But while Anis checked our luggage and got the boarding passes, I watched the brides say goodbye to their families, cry a little, listen to( what i think it was )advice, buy juice and water at the duty free, and sit on opposite sides of the hall and peek at each other from time to time. Some ladies would walk up to them and say mabrook. I did too, and asked if i could take their picture together.
The bride on the right walked with me towards the other, sat and I took their picture. They didn't really talk to each other, though.
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Finally, a mediterranean view

We took the room next to the Umm Khulthum suite at the Sofitel Alexandria Cecil. We meant to take a picture of the plaque on the door but never actually did it. I also read somewhere that E. M. Forster lived in the Cecil for a while.

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I love these old refurbished hotels, specially when they are run by the French. The French do a mean breakfast, with proper pastries and all, and they really train their staff for good service. The Sofitel Cecil is located between the Mediterranean Sea and a fantastic bakery. The room we stayed in was tiny but cozy, but the Sofitel main attractions are the revolving door and the tiny elevator, with cage doors and brass and weights . You can tell it was a five-star in the early 1900's. Now it is a 4 star by Egyptian standards. By my standards, it is a 3 star with honors.

The location is great not only for the bakery meters away, but also because it is walking distance from the Alexandria Library. You can walk along the sea or take a horse carriage, which is CRAZY. I hailed one thinking the guy didn't see me hailing but he did. He crossed in the middle of buses, cars and the usual egyptian chaotic traffic to pick Anis and I up. That was an adventure.
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How public toilets should be

My first impression was...hummm, smells really nice in here. And I had just come into a public restroom inside a shop. You gotta go when you gotta go, and I am always one to dread going - no matter if it's number One or number Two - to a toilette other than my own, in the comfort of my home. Speaking of number One...the super clean, nice smelling toilette, is at a shop called The One - Total Home Experience. Establishments all over the world, please get a hold of The One's restroom maintenance protocol AND USE IT. Your customers will thank you, I promise.
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Indian Food

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I collect Emergency

Next time you fly anywhere, please steal two Emergency instruction cards, those illustrated, often laminated , guides on what to do in case of emergency that come in the pocket of the seat in front of you, usually along with a bag to vomit in. Let me know when you steal them, and i'll send you my mailing address. I collect Emergency Instruction Cards.
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Nino

We meant to go to Nino since it opened in A'Ali Mall, but somehow always ended up at the cafe at THE ONE. But this time we were determined, and after a day of intense shopping for linen napkins and japanese raku bowls, we decided it was time to try it out. The place looks beautiful. I'd easily live there, and as we were seated, Anis and I began the mental conversion of this place into our new home. We re-positioned windows and decided where the master bedroom would be. When the bread basket came, we asked the waiter if it was possible to change the music for something more chill-out. There music playing was way too doosh-doosh clubby for eating. The waiter said "no problem" and we set on to enjoy one of the best selection of breads we had ever tasted. Proper ciabatta, with and without olives, some dense whole grain rolls that tasted like heaven, rye with a crispy crust and perfectly soft dough...the whole basket was yummy, and we don't blame the waiter for not letting us know where the bread came from...I'd keep it a secret too. What we do blame the waiter for was his - or whoever was in charge of dj-ing - poor poor taste in music. After the doosh-doosh, i guess after our request, the music changed for worse, some sort of poppy ballad compilation, which included that yucky " You're beautiful" that we're all tired of listening to on easy fms worldwide...So that's what they think chill out is, but I digress. On to the food. I ordered tagliatelli with chicken, sundried tomatoes and fresh herbs. Anis ordered a steak. Chicken pasta was ok but i can make a better one at home with the same ingredients. Anis' steak was never delivered. While my pasta went cold, we asked several waiters about the steak. Some 15 minutes later, I had finished my pasta and the last waiter we asked came back to tell us that the order for the steak had never been placed. Not cool. We asked for the bill, paid it, and stole the salt and pepper shakers just to spite them.
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