Friday, May 28, 2010

Vienna, not Virginia :(

So Zurich has looked like this for the past FOUR weeks!!
We really wanted to go somewhere warm and relax and do a little sightseeing for my 4 day weekend (love the Catholic holidays here...Ascension Thursday!!!) Well we looked everywhere within a 3 hour flight and everywhere was going to rain. So, we decided on Vienna, Austria.

Starting the trip off in style! Even though it was only an hour flight we took advantage of cheap business class!  It was only $15 extra.

And had a great breakfast.

We landed in Vienna by 9am Thursday morning and took the public transport to our hotel. The public transportation was much like Zurich's. They had trains and trams that ran on the street. We stayed at the Intercontinental which was right downtown. We found a steal of a deal on Hotwire paying a 3 star price for a 5 star hotel, which made it even better!  I highly recommend going to Hotwire and using the "mystery hotels" and then looking at This website can usually uncover the "mystery" part of it by the location, star level, amenities, and previous users to just tell you which hotel it will be.  Great deals!

After a little nap at the hotel we headed downtown to explore. First stop, St. Stephen's Cathedral.

We were planning on doing the sightseeing bus on Friday, but we walked right into a Vienna Sightseeing Tours bus (which is a hop on hop off bus) as it was about to begin a new tour, so we decided why not do it now and figure out the lay of the land. We bought the 24 hour pass so we could spread out the 3 different hour tours. Well once we hopped on, we didn't hop off. We did the first tour of the central downtown area then got off and walked around a little bit but it was chilly out so we decided to do a second tour out to Shoenbrunn Palace. We forgot to take a picture though.

We were hungry for lunch after the tour so what a better place than McDonalds right?

And then the rain came. And it came hard! So what else to do than find a pub. We just walked into a random place that had a lot of people inside. So Vienna has not put the no smoking law into place. Boy did we smell of smoke when we walked out of there!

Day 2
We got a little bit of a late start on the town because our hotel had a awesome gym. It was in the hotel but outside people had memberships. Since we don't belong to a gym in Zurich, we were excited to exercise in a gym with real machine instead of over our coffee table in the family room. Then we did the last loop of the bus tour to the Belvedere Castle since our 24 hours were almost up.

Then onto what I came to Vienna for.... The Sachertorte. The Sacher hotel is a famous for their chocolate cake called the Sacher Torte. It is only made in Vienna and Salzburg and can only be bought in Austria.


I love the European lifestyle of stopping at least once or twice at a coffee house in the middle of the day!

We saw a bunch of bike racks that said free bike tours so we decided to check it out. Highly recommended! I think a lot of cities have these now. You use a credit card to make a deposit then your first hour of riding is free, then 1 euro an hour after that. How much better can you get? There were a lot of stands all over downtown and you can return the bikes to any stand!

The main driving street in Vienna. The street are beautiful and all lined with big trees!

Then onto the wine district!

That is one big mug of wine!
mmmmmm a great dinner of homemade cheeses!

Biggest sausage I have ever seen.

The weather was not so nice.  It was very windy so we took the public transport to the Belvedere Castle which is a Baroque castle built by Prince Eugene(who ever that is). It has beautiful gardens but we didn't stay out long to enjoy them since it was so cold. We did take the tour of the main house. I was a little disappointed because I thought it was going to be a home tour with the old furniture which I love, but it was more like an art gallery. I think I remember Zann saying "this is lame".

So we took a little stroll around the town instead of more castle touring before stopping for another coffee and chocolate truffle cake!

We enjoyed a nice glass of wine at the hotel then headed our for our last dinner. The hotel concierge recommended Purstner because it had traditional Austrian food with big portions that were reasonable.

Well boy was he right. I think we ate 1/4 of our food. Zann got his favorite wienerschnitzel and I got kaesespaetzle. Kaesespatzle is like my favorite alper macaroni but with spaetzle instead of noodles.

Well looking back on this trip it seems that I wrote mostly about what we ate.  Its true, that's pretty much what this trip was. By the way, our last meal was at TGI Fridays for our American food fix of Nachos.  So hope you enjoyed our food blog :) The weather was not cooperating, so we didn't walk long between stops inside. But overall a great trip!

Dudes on Fire-Sola Race 2010

These Dudes are on FIRE!!
Zann and I participated in the Sola race a couple weeks ago. The race is a 116 km relay race around Zurich. Each team has 14 participants running from 4.6 ks to 16 ks. Someone from my school organized the team with mostly people from work and 4 others including Zann from outside work.
There were over 800 teams participating.
I did the first leg which was only 4.6 ks. I was pretty confident I could run it in a pretty quick time even though we didn't train at all. I started off right in front running which I thought was a good speed but I was getting passed like I was walking. I was so annoyed at the end after seeing so many people pass me. But when I got my time 22 minutes I felt better. That is running about 8 minute and 15 second minute miles which I think is pretty good for me. I guess Swiss people just run at a whole different level.
I was home by 8:30 and took a little rest then we went out for Zann to start his leg around noon. Zann ran 5.6 ks and had a personal best time I think.

We both finished in the 200s out of 800 so we were happy to hear that.
We ended the Sola day with a Dudes on Fire Italian dinner.
We look forward to doing it again next year!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May Day Spring Cleaning

So we had the most productive weekend! We started Friday night by FINALLY going to Aldi which is a grocery store out by where Zann works. Mandy and Nathan also get the best stuff there so we finally checked it out and will be back there alot more to cut back on our grocery bill.
Yesterday was soooo rainy we decided to tackle our Spring cleaning. So here's some pictures of what our apartment looks like now!

Zann put together shelves for our storage unit in the basement. We cleaned it out and moved our winter clothes and other stuff we don't need every day down there.
Lovely new shelved built by Zann.

Then it was onto the closets. I love clean closets. I took all our clothes out and spent over 2 hour ironing and organizing. Don't they look beautiful???

Yes, our one closet does not have hanging space.
Thank goodness for wrinkle free shirts because I take up all the hanging space we have!
And we got a new table for our guest room. Now we just need some more picture frames and a lamp.
New entry hall table. Admire the hand painted ostrich egg I got in Jordan...ha!
We are searching for a mirror to put above it.

And looking for some new pictures to put above out couch. But we have new pillows!!
And a nice clean bed!
New rocking chair and table in the "sitting area"

And it was still pouring rain today so I went to school for a little while to tackle some cleaning there. This cabinet will have to wait till the next free time I have.
But I got this one organized.
And 7 boxes of Bridget's files packed up since she won't be teaching grade 2 next year :(. I am sad I will not be on the same team as her but we will still see each other all the time :)

Off to sleep well tonight knowing we got alot done this weekend!
Next job is to finish the Egypt posts! It will be soon but the blog website was being VERY difficult this weekend! So coming soon!

Istanbul and Cairo

Well first off, what an amazing trip! It all started with the plan of employee flights and a time share to save money. Well neither of those worked out, but we already had the idea in our head... we are going to Egypt. We knew we wanted to see the pyramids, ride a camel, go to the red sea, scuba dive (Mandy and Nathan), and float in the dead sea. To most people that would be a three week vacation or three separate vacations, but for us. We had 8 nights and the logistics to figure out this plan was looking like way to much work. Zann found Memphis Tours on They are rated # 1 for tours in Egypt. I would definitely recommend them to anyone traveling to Egypt. They totally customized our trip for us. They booked the hotel rooms, had our transportation and all tours planned exactly. It was fabulous not having to think about getting around!!

We did have to book our own flight though. So, in order to save $500 a ticket, we had a 6 hour lay over in Istanbul on the way over and then a 3:30am flight out of Amman on the way home. On the way there we decided to make the most of our time and do a short tour of Istanbul (self-guided). We quickly bought a Turkish visa and found our way onto the Istanbul Metro.

Within 30 minutes of leaving the airport, we were standing in front of 2 of the most famous mosques in the world.  Group shot in front of Hagia Sofia

The beautiful ceiling of the Blue Mosque. As a sign of respect, women need to have their heads covered when entering. We got there right as prayer time was going to start. When we were walking around we could hear the calls to prayer being said over the whole city through the loudspeakers on the minarets. It was quite an experience.

The 2 mosques face each other and are about 1000 yards apart. 

 Hagia Sofia built in 360AD

 Blue Mosque

Street shot of Istanbul near the mosques.

We made it back in plenty of time to the airport to grab some pizza for dinner and connect with Sara and Josh (Mandy and Nathan's friends from GA Tech who live in London). They were supposed to be on a earlier flight but had missed their connection due to problems in London so now they were on ours. They had trouble getting their tickets changed so they had to sit and wait at the airport instead of coming downtown with us. We had a smooth flight to Cairo, but Sara and Josh's bags didn't come. This was the last thing they needed after having such a long day with airport problems already. After two hours of waiting someone said they would probably be coming on the next flight. Probably didn't sound too assuring but we went to the hotel anyways.

We finally made it to Egypt!!

Our transportation to the hotel in "a modern air-conditioned vehicle" as stated in our travel itinerary.

Memphis booked us at the Barcelo Hotel. We really liked the hotel. It was located close to the pyramids and not too far from downtown Cairo.

Enjoying a beer in the hotel bar.

We had an early start Thursday morning with a full day planned seeing the pyramids, Egyptian Museum and downtown Cairo. At 8:00 sharp our tour guide Mido and our driver were there to say "Yalla Beina" meaning "Let's go quickly".We heard that phrase about 500 times during the rest of the day so that became the phrase of the trip quickly.

First view of the pyramids.

First on Mido's agenda, was for us to pose like Pharaohs and Queens in front of Cheops pyramid.

First stop was the Giza pyramids of Cheops, Chephren, and Mykerinus. The Cheops Pyramid is the only remaining "7 Wonders of the Ancient World." It is also known as The Great Pyramid of Giza.

We sure look tiny up there. Notice how big each stone is, six of us lined up were as big as one. It was very amazing to think how they were actually built. Nobody really knows, but they think it was on a ramp system...or aliens.

Up on The Great Pyramid in front of the entrance. They only sell 100 tickets to this at 8am, so we had to settle on going inside the next one.

As you can see, the smog in Cairo is terrible!! This is a view into the city on a "nice" day.

You can see the casing that use to be on the outside of the pyramids when they were first built.

Overlook of the 3 pyramids. The one of the left is Cheop's- The Great Pyramid. It is the biggest but just built on lower land.

Yes, there are many tour buses going through the area. Luckily we had our own car for the 6 of us.

King Tut, Funky Tut!

Sphinx with the Great Pyramid in the background

Nathan doing a picture perfect imitation.


The Sphinx pose.  The funniest part of this area was that if you could see behind the person taking the picture, the Sphinx sits there all day staring at a Pizza Hut and KFC.  A funny contrast of the ancient and modern worlds.  I found this picture online showing the restaurants from the perspective of the Sphinx.

We were lucky to have Josh there taking professional pictures with his high tech camera.

On the way from the pyramids to the Egyptian Museum, our guide asked us if we wanted to try a local place or eat at the museum cafeteria.  We luckily chose the local place.  The specialty was chicken shawarma.  It was served on a hoagie with grilled vegetables and was amazing.  The best part, according to Zann, was that it only cost $7 for 6 sandwiches and 6 drinks.  You wouldn't even be able to look at shawarma in Zurich for $7.

This is the entrance to the Papyrus paper factory.  A surprise tour given by our guide.  We are pretty sure that we stopped at all of our guides friends shops on the way to museum, but this one was actually very cool.

Papyrus is a plant found in the Nile river delta, and it served as the first form of paper for the ancient Egyptians.  This guy demonstrated to us how it was made.  It looks like bamboo and was sliced into thin threads, flattened with a roller, soaked in water, and woven together.

2011 Hybrid (very green)

The buildings in Cairo were very strange.  Most of them were only half finished.  It seemed that all builders in Cairo had severe ADD and couldn't finish a building before starting on the next.  The top of the building would have rebar and concrete sticking up.  This was on probably 60% of the buildings.

Classic model

Cairo skyline over the River Nile

The entrance to the Egyptian Museum. Inside are over 100,000 artifacts.  We were definitely lucky to have a guide inside and highly recommend one if you ever visit here.  The layout of the museum seemed very unorganized as if all of the artifacts were just being stored there.  It would've been easy to overlook some of the cooler things.  The best part was the collection of King Tut's treasures.  His tomb is the only one found so far that had not been robbed by Lara Croft.  They also have some mummies inside, but after seeing the mummified animals, we decided that was enough.  Plus you had to pay extra.

Another shot of the pyramids

That night, we went on a Nile Dinner Cruise complete with belly dancers. 
Mr. William is taking a call at dinner for one of his men.
But really, a man walked up to our table with a cell phone and said "I have a call for Mr. William". Seriously we are on the Nile River, how is Zann or now know as "Mr. William" getting a phone call. Just his peeps checking in to make sure "His Party" was enjoying the trip.

On the deck of the boat

Back inside for more belly dancing and serenading

This guy was really good at twirling around in his skirt.  I can't remember the name of this, but it is also a traditional Egyptian dance.

His skirt was also detachable

The 3 belly dancers.  Mandy was being asked for autographs after the show.

Back at the hotel, we couldn't find anyone to serve us drinks. So, after waiting 15 minutes and asking the front desk twice we decided to serve ourselves.  In the morning, we were headed to Sharm el Sheik and an all-inclusive hotel, so all-inclusive just started a little early.
Only later did we think about the fact that the penalty for theft in Egypt is to have your hands cut off...

Nothing like free Grand Marnier.  We were waiting for Josh and Sara's bags still.  It was the 2nd night and we were leaving at 7am to drive to Sharm.  After 2 hours of arguing whether or not cursive should still be taught in school,  the bags had still not arrived.

After realizing that he was risking his hands at the bar, Zann decided to work off his debt as the late night concierge.  The bags finally arrived at 2am

The drive to Sharm was advertised as 6, but with the multiple tea breaks (at every one of our drivers cousins shops) and military checkpoints,we finally made it in 7 1/2 hrs just in time for a couple of hours at the pool.  More to come on Sharm el Sheikh...