Food & Drink: Campicurean

A campfire roast we dubbed The Mona Lisa
A campfire roast we dubbed The Mona Lisa

So it may soon be too cold to pound a tent stake through the topsoil, but I’m always thinking about camping season.

The best thing about it for me; the food.  I’m not talking hot dogs on a stick or popcorn, no.  Our camping trips are a gourmet showdown of the highest order.

Making really, really good food at a campsite (and I’m talking over a FIRE) isn’t hard.  If you can barbecue some dogs or smokies, you can cook a roast, a whole chicken, or chili.  If you’re careful, you can even bake.

When my pals and I head for the hills, we divide up the weekend’s meals; every couple signs up to prepare 2 meals .  We’ve had everything from campfire chili, to scrambled eggs and bacon, German Apple pancake, to a double-stuffed roast beef with all the fixins. Not to mention grilled pineapple on waffles.

It starts with the prep; throw some decent pots and pans into your kit.  We always have a car, and make sure a large cast iron frypan is in the mix.  it works wonders for keeping food from burning over the hot fire. It’s super-easy to fill it full of ground beef, kidney beans and tomatoes and spices, and whip up a delicious, spicy smokey campfire chili with whatever recipe you normally use.

That same pan can do wonders for pancakes, french toast, scrambled eggs. or even a favourite of mine; German Apple Pancake. (Recipe below)

Gourmet dinners can be simple too; beer-can chicken is easy, fast, and guarantees a moist and crispy bird pretty much every time. Just rub the bird with oil and your favourite spice combo, and bake. I also love stuffing whole garlic cloves or lemon wedges under the skin for added flavour and moistness.   (ProTip: bring some heavy duty rubber gloves or sturdy tongs to make moving the chicken around easier). You can also grab one of those new beercan holsters that keeps the bird and the beer from tipping into the inferno.  Handy.

Stews are also the Campicurean’s friend; jambalaya, cajun stew, beef or bison stew, and even paella all lend themselves to the campfire, or even the campstove.

The key to not setting your meal ablaze is to build a big fire first, then allow it to burn down to hot coals; and that means getting the fire going in advance.  Keep it going with small pieces of wood that don’t re-ignite a bonfire.  That helps give you an even heat, with a bit of smoke for flavour.

The other way to go campicurean is in your appetizers.  A small block of cedar, a wheel of brie cheese, some garlic paste, or chopped garlic and a splash of rum make a pretty mean warned cheese & crackers appy.  Just oil the plank, place the cheese on it, paste it over with the garlic, mixed with a wee bit of butter or oil, then leave it to warm through on an edge of the fire.  Warm up a shot of rum in a tine or a cup.  When it’s done, pur the rum over the cheese plank, and light it up, flambee-style.  When the flame goes out, voila!

Another favourite campitizer is rumaki, or bacon wrapped chicken livers. (Shopping list: bacon, chicken livers, sliced water chesnuts, maple syrup)  Buy the livers frozen, so they keep in the cooler. Chop them small, wrap them in bacon with a slice or two of water chesnut.  Cook them on the edge of the campfire grill to about halfway, drizzle with maple syrup, then finish the cooking process.  Dee-lish.  (And for my squeamish friends,  if I didn’t tell you there were livers inside you’d NEVER know it!)

The bottom line is, cooking gourmet meals at your campsite is easy, with just a little planning and creative thought!

Do you have a favourite camping recipe or cooking method?  Please share it on the comments.  I LOVE finding new gourmet ideas.

German Apple Pancake
recipe image
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 20 Minutes
Ready In: 45 Minutes
Servings: 4
“A wonderful country style baked pancake that’s filled with apples and spice.”
4 eggs
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pinch salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup white sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large tart apple – peeled, cored and
1. Try to bring a cast iron pan with a lid.  If not, pack some heavy duty foil.  In a large bowl, blend eggs, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Gradually mix in milk, stirring constantly. Add vanilla, melted butter and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. Let batter stand for 30 minutes or overnight.
2. Make sure the fire is ready, ie hot but not a raging inferno.
3. Melt butter in a 10 inch oven proof skillet, brushing butter up on the sides of the pan. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. Sprinkle mixture over the butter. Line the pan with apple slices. Sprinkle remaining sugar over apples. Place pan over fire until the mixture bubbles, then gently pour the batter mixture over the apples.
4. Cover with tinfoil or a lid and let it “bake” for about 8-15 minutes. Check it.. you’ll notice it should be puffing up. Depending on your fire, it may need another  10 minutes. Slide pancake onto serving platter and cut into wedges. 

Travel Blog: Taking a Chance in Cuba 2010

It started with a baseball cap.  And led to a cozy evening in the home of a Cuban family, sharing beer and watching baseball on a vintage black and white TV, before a soldier appeared at the door, dressed for battle.  But I’m ahead of myself.  The ball cap….

Havana’s Artisan Market is a maze of tarps and two-by-fours, stalls and hawkers.  It prides itself on selling everything a tourist or local could want.  But mostly the tourists.  My husband Roger and I had arrived at the market with one purpose; find a baseball cap with Cuba’s national team logo. We had been to dozens of stalls selling hats, but no luck, and frustrated we had stopped in front of another to converse about what to do.

Memory Card 1-Cuba, Palm Desert, Winter 167The young man behind the table overheard and asked us in Spanish if he could help.  I responded, as I’m fluent in Spanish, explaining what we were looking for.  He didn’t have one, he said, but could get one.  Would we be willing to come back in one hour, and he’d have the hat for $20 US dollars.  We agreed with a handshake.

In an hour he was back, cap in hand, so to speak.  Through me as translator, he asked why we wanted one of these hats so badly.  I told him Roger was crazy about baseball and wanted a local souvenir of the Cuban team.  He was pleased, and introduced himself with a handshake and a smile as Raul.  he told us he had run (literally jogged) across town to the National Stadium, asked a friend to open the concession for him, and purchased a hat that really only the locals are normally interested in.  We were impressed at the lengths he had gone to to get us a simple hat, and thanked him profusely, tucking a few extra bills into his hand.

We then asked him if he could recommend a local place to watch that night’s World Baseball Classic game which Cuba was playing in.  A pub, a bar, a restaurant, a plaza?

“No.  Cubans watch these games at home with their families.  Would you like to join us?”Memory Card 1-Cuba, Palm Desert, Winter 050

“No thanks,” was my immediate reply, but my husband was not so easily dissuaded.

I was immediately uncomfortable with the idea of meeting a local, in a strange foreign country, somewhere after dark, in an unfamiliar place.  Alarm bells went off.

My husband began to pantomime signs; where do you live?  How do we find you?

Raul drew us a map.  “There is no phone, so just knock on the door.  My mother in law will answer.  8pm.”

As we parted ways, my husband and I debated the merits of this invitation.

“We’ll get kidnapped or robbed,” I argued.

“This could be really fun, and a neat way to see the real Cuba,” countered my husband.

Memory Card 1-Cuba, Palm Desert, Winter 176

In the end, a compromise; I copied the map and left it, as well as names, and pertinent details about the market encounter in our room.  Clues, I reasoned, in case we went missing.  I also left our passports and valuables, just in case.

On the way to Raul’s home, we made a stop for beer to bring, as a good Canadian does when watching the game at a buddy’s house.

The cab driver gave us a sideways look when he dropped us off at the address on the map.  A look as if to say, what are YOU tourists doing in THIS part of town?

The address was a massive mansion, all crumbling stone and brickwork, with huge windows, Corinthian columns, heavy wooden doors and gorgeous ironwork.  The massive front door had seen better days and stood cracked and ajar, so we pushed inside.

The door opened onto a beautiful, if dark, courtyard.  A bare bulb hung from an open junction box and a string of Christmas lights circled a window. Above us the house soared two stories.  An old home that had clearly once been a majestic mansion, was now showing its age. Most of the windows overlooking the courtyard were empty of glass with lacy yellowed curtains puffing halfheartedly in what must be the breath of fans on their other side.

Memory Card 1-Cuba, Palm Desert, Winter 144Stuck for what to do next or where to go, we lingered in the courtyard trying not to look like either burglars, or out of place.  Both of which we probably did. Eventually a young boy skipped into view and stopped in front of us.



He pointed to a window on the second floor,  “Raul.”  And skipped off, but not before shouting, “RA-UUUUUL!”

We climbed a wide, curving marble staircase that had seen many feet; the treads were worn in dual grooves.  At the top, a door opened.

“Bienvinidos Canadienses!” Raul greeted us warmly and ushered us inside.

The “apartment” was one large room of this once grand and expansive mansion.  Inside was a counter, bar fridge and hot plate making up the kitchen.  Dry goods were stacked on shelves.  A double bed was on the other side of the room.  Two metal and vinyl chairs hugged a plywood table.  A rickety staircase that was really a glorified ladder vanished into a makeshift loft above.

Inside,  Raul introduced us to his wife Cecelia, and his mother-in-law Beatriz.  No one spoke English so I translated.  They were very warm and welcoming.  The apartment had clearly been tidied  for our arrival. A thin bedspread covered the bed and its two thin pillows. A worn knotted rug lay beside it.  Another knotted rug of different colour and vintage spanned the kitchen.  The apartment was spartan, but a lot of trouble had clearly gone into making it homey.

In Spanish: “We brought you some beer,” I said handing it to Cecelia.  She looked confused, but offered us the two seats.  She  sat on the bed, while Beatriz pulled over a crate. Raul went to the ancient looking TV, and turned it on.  Nothing happened.

“It needs to warm up,” he explained. In the meantime, he began fiddling with the giant rabbit ear antennae clinging to the TV’s top. Eventually a grainy image appeared.

Raul offered us a rum-box; kinda like a juice box, but filled with straight Cuban rum.  That stuff will knock you on your ear. We offered them beer in return, but they shook their heads, refusing several times.  Eventually the reason came clear:  “Beer is much too expensive.  This should be for you, the guests.”

We insisted, explaining that in Canada, bringing beer and sharing it with friends over a game is typical.  Finally the relented, telling us what a treat was to sample something they can’t usually afford on Cuba’s meagre salaries.

At first the talk was about baseball.  Roger spoke English to Raul.  Somehow  Raul understood, and would then reply in Spanish, and Roger would somehow understand him.  It was pretty entertaining watching two men, each speaking in a different language, have a full conversation with little difficulty.  The language of sports, I guess.

Che Guevara is still present in modern-day Cuba.
Che Guevara is still present in modern-day Cuba.

We swapped stories over drinks and the game; what life is like in Canada, and in Cuba. Eventually talk turned to politics, and here Celia lowered her voice substantially.

“We must be careful, ” she said looking out at the paneless window frames, “Everyone listens, and some will report you for saying things against…” and here she stroked an imaginary beard on her chin. “We don’t use his name,” she explained of Fidel Castro.

We got deeper into communism, socialism, politics, and the Castro family, and with the rum loosening tongues we learned that many people were not big on Castro.  Salaries were fixed, and meagre.  “Friends” of the elite Cuban class got better jobs, bigger cheques, more rations.  Teenagers were ‘assigned” a career, based on what a panel thought you “should” do, not what you were good at necessarily, or what you loved.  All was not equal in Cuba.  As the saying goes, some are more equal than others under the Castro regime.

At that moment there was a loud pounding at the door.  Raul and Celia exchanged glances and Raul got up to answer it.

A soldier in full fatigues was there.

My husband and I froze.

First, some calm questions, then a more heated discussion.  Raul was blocking the door, trying to prevent the soldier from seeing inside.  Despite my fluency in Spanish, the conversation was rapid-fire, and loaded with slang and I couldn’t follow what was happening. Eventually an argument ensued until the door was pushed open and the soldier came in, glanced around, and went immediately  up the stairs to the loft.  We could hear him pounding around on the thin boards.

Raul came back, sat down, picked up his beer and resumed his conversation about baseball, as if nothing was wrong. Not sure what to do, (do we make a run for it? Stay put and try not to rock the boat for them OR us?) We stayed.

After about 10 minutes we heard footsteps on the stairs again. Flip-flop-clad feet emerged, attached to basketball shorts and a tank top.  It was the soldier, freshly scrubbed and re-dressed.

“Meet my cousin, Julio, ” said Raul

Introductions were made all around, and Julio shook our hands with warmth, welcoming us to the neighbourhood.

It was then I dared ask, “What was the fight at the door about?”

“Julio wanted to use the shower, but it was not his night.  We fought about it, but I allowed him.”  Julio just grinned and toasted us with a freshly opened box of rum.

“I thought you were here to arrest us!” I couldn’t resist exclaiming.

Julio laughed, and here the talk turned to working for the government.  Hearing Julio talk about how he did his job as a soldier, despite not agreeing with many of the policies of his superiors was very enlightening.

The insight from the entire family gave us a very unique picture of Cuba.  While on the surface, things seem like they roll along just fine, under the surface, there’s discontent, but no one dares try to do anything about it for fear of arrest, reprisal against other family members, or jail.

We talked long into the night, before Julio called a friend with a taxi to take us back to our hotel.

We exchanged addresses and promised to share letters and post cards.

The chance we took that day I would not recommend to anyone.  But for us it turned out great.  Sometimes taking a chance and going with your gut while travelling can leave you with fond memories… and a great story to share.

Memory Card 1-Cuba, Palm Desert, Winter 170

Travel Blog: Madrid Tapas Trail

20130815-123902.jpgThis post is a re-blog from a article, with some additions of our own experience, There’s no author listed, so I can’t give credit to the great writing and easy to follow directions.  All I can say is if you’re heading to Madrid, check this little tapas trail out !  It was a perfect way to experience the spots the locals enjoy. At the bottom, I also added a few of our favourite places, including a paella spot and the best churros place in town.

There are hundreds of Tapas bars in Madrid and many continue the tradition of giving free Tapas.

To keep it simple  Tapas is a small plate of usually tasty food that can be purchased or in many Spanish bars given free with the purchase of an alcoholic drink. It is generally believed this tradition began in the Granada region of Spain which  spread across the country with many bars trying to entice custom by outdoing each other with better and bigger Tapas.

Don’t be put off trying these bars, it doesn’t matter if you don’t speak Spanish, remember eye contact, smile and say hello ‘HOLA’ take your place or seat at the bar order your drink and your halfway there, within a few moments you will normally be presented with a free Tapa the choice is usually determined by the bar, but some occasionally offer a choice, at which you can smile and point.

Listed are six bars below all are within easy walking distance of Puerto del Sol they have put them in a easy to follow route commencing junction Puerto del Sol and Calle Mayor. Also a further two wildcards if you get the time or are nearby them.

Naviego, Calle Mayor, 18.

Starting at the West side of Sol walk up Calle Mayor keeping on the Right side of the pavement and after 50 yards you will come to  Naviego which  is a traditional bar frequented by locals and not lots of tourists. The price of drinks here is very good and the Vino Blanco refreshing, they also sell Cider ( Sidre) which is quite potent. The bar staff were friendly and the Tapas given free were very good and varied between Chorizo and fried Potatoes, Bread with sardines, very large Olives and Prawns, all of which were very tasty.  Only garlic potatoes free some days, so not always top tapas!

Erin’s note on Naviego: The atmosphere was a bit lacking. Think lineoleum, spartan and flourescent-light-bright. But the tapas were very yummy; we really enjoyed a nice salty potato and chorizo tapa with our beer.

Mesón Gregorio III, Calle Bordadores, 5.

Continue walking west along Calle Mayor for approx 100yards and you will see a Bordadores on a the Right hand side, this street is on a slope, just follow it down for approx. 25 yards and you will see Mesón Gregorio III on the Left side of the street next to El Neru another local bar you may wish to visit. Mesón Gregorio III is another local haunt full of the little old Spanish men in their crisply ironed shirts standing at the bar or playing and enthusiastic game of cards. The customers and staff were very friendly and accommodating, the selection of Tapas ranging from small plate of cooked lamb and bread, Potato salad and Croquettes. The cost of drinks again very reasonable and the house wine which they keep in square open topped carafes is very good.

Erin’s Note on Meson Gregorio III:  Small, with a large L-shaped bar on the right side.  Filled with boisterous loud older gentlemen.  I saw one man order what looked to be pink wine from an unlabelled bottle under the bar and asked him what he was drinking.  A rose, as it turns out.  The bartender kindly offered me up the same and it was delicious.  We were served yummy breaded/fried mussels bienville/Rockefeller style.  The filling may have been  a queso manchego roux.  it was super good…. creamy & crispy.  we liked it so much we went back Wednesday, but it was closed.

Meson Gregorio.
Meson Gregorio.
Amazing mussels at Meson Gregorio
Amazing mussels at Meson Gregorio
Wines at the ready.
Wines at the ready.

La Panera, Calle del Arenal, 19.

 After leaving Mesón Gregorio continue down the street  turning left onto Calle Arenal walk approx 50 yards and on the left hand side you will see La Panera, another traditional bar in a modern street. The prices of drinks are reasonable and the staff friendly and a Tapas were produced within seconds of ordering a drink. The Tapas here were tasty and well presented ranging from Sausage and Bread selection and a salad and potatoes.

El Escarpin, Calle de las Hileras, 17.

When you leave La Panera walk back in the direction you came but on the opposite side of the Calle Arenal you will see Calle de las Hileras walk a few yards up this street which is on a slope and you will see El Escarpín on the Left, up a few steps.

This bar is very popular and you will see locals drinking the Cider from bottles which they hold up at shoulder  level and pour into their glass held at hip level in order to get air into the drink, and they don’t spill much well early on the night anyway.

The bar staff were very busy but provided a good service and the Tapas were quite large the first being a plate of cooked local sausage.

Erin’s note on Escarpin:  A very busy, and very cool cider bar.  we watched as the bartender poured out a bottle of sidre by holding it over his head.  he didn’t miss a drop!  The sidre comes flat (which the locals were all drinking, and comes by the large bottle) and sparking, which is on tap.  That’s what we had, as we weren’t sure we could finish a full bottle.  The tapas we had were one of my Spain faves; ensalada Rusia, as well as a tuna and tomato empanada.

Ensaladilla Rusia.. a Spain fave.
Ensaladilla Rusia.. a Spain fave.

Mareas Vivas, Calle de Veneras, 3.

 Once out of El Escarpín walk up the street and Calle de Veneras is to the Left then up to the Right, this is when a little map printed from the Internet comes in useful.

This bar was the busiest and had a few tourists as well as locals probably because of its proximity to Calle Gran Via. Nevertheless well priced drinks and good Tapas.

Erin’s note on Mareas Vivas: It was just ok.  It was a bit hard to find; we had to ask a nearby bar for directions.  it had only locals inside, and the small bar  was filled up, so we grabbed a seat at a small corner table.   Out tapa was seared or baked ham and potatoes in a clay dish,  plus wee sausage in blanket   Tasty, but not blow us away tasty.

Mareas Vivas.
Mareas Vivas.

20130815-124443.jpgRincón de Roque, Calle de San Martín, 3.

 Calle san Martin runs parallel to Calle de la Hillaras and only a short walk through the nearby streets. This bar was not as busy as the others but how busy sometimes depends on the time of your visit, the Spanish go out much later than most. The drinks prices were reasonable with free Tapas provided.

The bars listed above are all within a easy walk of each other and provide a nice introduction into Tapas trails.

Erin’s note on Rincon de Roque : when we arrived, it was practically closing at 11pm. We ordered beer, but no tapas were served with drinks – first time that’s happened in all of Madrid.   Minimal service or interest in us.  Our least favourite of the lot and the only bar I would not recommend or return to.

Two wildcards for those that get a taste;

Matador, Calle de la Cruz, 39.

 This should be on any list, and is the best place to end a tapas trail. This bar is only a short walk from Metro Sevilla and Puerto del Sol, small dark bar that has everything Matador inside with posters etc. truly a locals bar. The prices for drinks here were very good and the Tapas probably the most generous.

Erin’s Note on El matador :  FUN!  Great service from our punk waiter who was only one of 2 staff in the small bar. Tasty  cheese and salami tapa.  We enjoyed more than a few canas of beer here as it was one of the only places open really late.  Liked it so much we bought one of their fun T-shirts.     .  Definite late night joint with  lots of locals at 1am  on a Wednesday.20130815-123808.jpg

El Rincón Abulense, Calle del Caballero de Gracia, 18

A modern bar in a street that runs parallel to Calle Alcalá and Calle Gran Vía, lots of locals the drinks was reasonable and Tapas given were good portions.

Remember there are hundreds of bars in the centre of Madrid so be adventurous and visit some that take your fancy. Remember the best ones are frequented by locals and will usually be busy, just squeeze in smile and you will find a space at the bar.

Previous entries prior to updating with my recommendations. (Erin’s note: we did NOT try these, so I can’t vouch for them)

1. Restaurante José Luis

Calle Serrano, 89. Madrid, 28006

Tel: 915-630-958


2. Restaurante Jose Luis

Rafael Salgado, 11

Tel: 914-575-036

Original Link to the Trip Advisor article.
Some other notes from Erin on bars & restaurants I enjoyed:

La Barraca:   After exhaustive research on best paella in Madrid, I decided this was the place.  (IN truth I had decided Restaurante Amayra was the place, but they were closed for several weeks in August when we visited, so this was my second choice.) It was to be a birthday celebration for 2, so we made a reservation on e-mail and had no difficulty.
On arrival, we were seated quickly and staff was attentive. The food was delicious. I had high expectations for my paella (having lived in Spain twice previously) and this restaurant lived up to its reputation. It was hot fresh, filled with seafood and the rice was the perfect texture, and tasted wonderfully of saffron and spices. It was also nicely served by the waiter, who presented it, ladled out the portions for us and topped up our wine.
I’d say the clientelle was a half and half mix of both Spaniards and tourists; to me that says a lot. We had a yummy flan for dessert that was nicely flavoured and just the right texture and firmness; not too sweet! I highly recommend La Barraca.

 Bar Cock; If you’re looking for a cool place for a cocktail after your paella at La Barraca, head across the street to this lounge.  Friendly staff, cold beer, groovy tunes.  we were served olives and chips with our beers.  Not gourmet, but it was a nice place to chill.  Plus they had free wifi.
Torre del Oro Bar: Located in the Plaza Mayor, but don’t hold that against it! Loaded up with bullfighting photos, trophy heads and memorabilia, this place was fun.  Warning, some of the photos on the wall show very horrifyingly graphic injuries sustained in bullfights.  Not for the squeamish!  The staff were loud, boisterous and chatty and gave us a great education on bullfighting and other spanish topics. The bean salad we were served with our beers was tasty.
Chocolate con Churros at San Gines.
Chocolate con Churros at San Gines.

Chocolateria San  Gines: The internet told me this was THE PLACE for authentic chocolate con churros (Spanish hot chocolate with crispy fried donuts. We got in just before a large group. Seating is limited, so bear that in mind or get yours to go.  The churros were fresh!  We could see a man in the back making them to order.  The chocolate is thick, rich velvety and hot.. more like a melted chocolate bar than the traditional watery hot chocolate we drink in North America. You dip the churros in the chocolate and then drink what’s left.  I found it much too thick and rich to drink down… but it was a great breakfast treat.  Address: Paradizo de San Gines, 5

Most of our meals in Spain were tapas.  Wander into any bar, order up a few small plates from the glass case displays and experiment, and it’s hard to go wrong.  I think we ate just one “full meal” in Madrid; the aforementioned paella, but grazing on tapas whenever the mood struck us was fun and a delicious way to try new things.


Travel Blog: Adventures & Explosions in Egypt and Jordan

Great Pyramid, Egypt
Great Pyramid, Egypt

With the situation in Egypt this week, it’s been reminding me of the trip I took there (and to Jordan) many years ago.  I had a great time, met lovely, friendly people and really immersed myself in the history and culture.  I kept a travel journal in the form of e-mails home.  Here they are for the first time ever.

Amman, Jordan:  Well, I made it. Looks like several of the keys on this arabic keyboard are sticky or just plain useless, so bear with me on the grammatical formalities here.
It was an exceedingly long trip. Made longer by the unscheduled stop in BEIRUT. Turns out a flight got cancelled so they decided to load everyone on my flight and make an extra stop. I got in at 6am local time on Saturday. I had a big nap then decided to venture out. Except when I woke at noon it was raining. Not just raining (in the desert, mind you), but call-in-the-ark raining. Did I mention this is the desert? The streets ran like rivers. Actual rivers. I wondered why the desk clerk at my hotel was laughing when I went out. He knew what was coming.
No one speaks English. Even those that say they speak English. Even many people in hotels. Kinda funny. I was looking for a restaurant and asked for directions in a hotel and the guy couldn’t help me. Couldn’t even find his own hotel on my map, at least not that he could communicate.

I love the people of Jordan & Egypt.
I love the people of Jordan & Egypt.

I managed to buy myself fresh squeezed-in -the-street juice, but have been largely unsuccessful finding a restaurant. Good thing I’m not hungry yet. Though I did pass a bbq chicken place…. Chicken!
I was also going to head over to a much recommended Turkish bath I read about in the guidebook, but since no one can read maps, I can’t read Arabic, and the streets are actually not labelled, this is proving difficult.
I’m actually giggling to myself right now, so amusing is this place…and me in it. It’s a bit of a trip to be so incommunicado. Good to be out of the old comfort zone once in a while.

Next Entry

Petra was amazing. We got up before dawn so we could be the first ones into Petra, and we were. For awhile we were the only people there at all. It was peaceful and quiet and so stunning. We walked down through a giant canyon called the Siq (sick). It’s hundreds of feet high, and used to be prone to flash flooding. But after a flood swept away a whole group of tourists, they dammed it. Dammit is right.

Peering through the siq to the Treasury.  Petra, Jordan
Peering through the siq to the Treasury. Petra, Jordan

The walk is about 20 minutes at a slow pace, and at that time of day the rock is pinky-coral. It’s sandstone so very soft, and in many places it’s pitted and pocked. Caves are everywhere. Many Bedoin used to live here.
Soon we came to the narrowest part of the Siq, and through this small fissure, you can just make out the treasury, the best preserved and most lavish building of Petra’s remains. It’s easily 6-8 stories tall, and cut right from the side of the gorge by the Nabatean people. The detail is amazing; corinthian columns, roman friezes, carved figures of women dancing. It was sooo cool. We sat there just looking at it as bedoin nomads came into the canyon on camel, donkey and horse (sometimes even in pickup trucks!) and began to set up shops. Many of them wear traditional clothing; headscarves, long shirts and pants, but just as many wear western clothing like jeans and t-shirts.
We spent most of the day in Petra, just wandering around, looking into caves that look like thieir insides are smeared with candlewax.

Crazy striped rocks, twisted from years of movement.
Crazy striped rocks, twisted from years of movement.

The rock here is fascinating, it’s a million shades of pink, peach, orange and cocoa. But the patterns are unforgettable; swirled like waves and fingerprints. It’s easy to see how this place can be captivating.

There’s also so much more to Petra than just the famous treasury. Entire streets with elaborate facades scraped from the rock, homes and even an entire 3000 seat theatre. There’s also a lot of Roman ruins here too, as they came in and took the city, then set up shop here. There’s a Byzantene church, temples and tombs all ready to be explored.
Another highlight was climbing one of the mountains here to see the monastery building at the top–a place once reserved only for priests.
It’s several hundred metres up from the gorge floor via a series of stone steps and gravel cuts. With the sun beating down and the wind rustling the few trees here it was quite peaceful.

Monastery, Petra.
Monastery, Petra.

At the top, the building the Nabateans teased from the rock was even larger than the ones before–it’s the only thing here and its presence feels like it’s the biggest thing for miles–it totally overpowers you. I stood on what felt like the top of the world and looked around to see the Jordanian desert, and Israel beyond.

Afloat in the Dead Sea.
Afloat in the Dead Sea.

The day before we swam in the Dead Sea, and that was something! You couldn’t sink if you tried…just bob on toplike flotsam and the water tingles; almost like it might feel if you bathed in ginger ale. But the water is horrible to the taste and burns any tiny cuts or bites. If you’ve just shaved it can be very painful.

RSCN0466The water is super warm but it leaves a kind of oily feel on your skin. I covered myself head to toe with the mud from the bottom, as it’s supposed to be theraputic. It burns a bit, but once it was washed off it felt amazing. My skin was really soft.
Last night was spent camping in the desert of Wadi Rum with Bedoin nomads. Our tent was simple camel hair blankets fashioned into large tents with cots inside. The air was warm even at night and I was more than cozy in my sleeping bag.
We were treated to a bedonin feast for dinner then our drivers and the bedoin took up a drum, tamborine and some kind of guitar and played music for us around a fire. This morning we rode camels through the desert.

Camel ride.  Not very easy to do!
Camel ride. Not very easy to do!

In the morning tomorrow, Friday, we’ll take the hydrofoil across the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea to Dahab, Egypt.

Beautiful Dahab, Egypt
Beautiful Dahab, Egypt

Dahab Egypt. It’s the first city we’ve been to here since crossing this morning. Despite dire warnings about the hours of hassle and bureaucracy, we crossed without incident from Jordan. I have to say Dahab is stunning, though it really sneaks up on you. From the road it’s all dirt and dust and crumbling half-finished buildings. I was unimpressed. But I walked out the back of the hotel and instantly my feet hit sand. The town is spread across a large cresent beach here, and it’s just packed with restaurants, small hotels, stores and dive shops. Though we arrived after dark, the lights were bright and inviting. Our group went right away to a beautiful seafood place so close to the Red Sea, I could almost use the water to rinse my hands. And since we sit on cushions on the floor here, that was very nearly possible.
Though it’s low season here there are still a few tourists. Those who are here are stretched out across pillow-couches, sipping mango juice and lazily smoking the sheesha pipes. This place has quite the hippy feel.
Already Egypt is so much cheaper than Jordan. I can’t wait to shop in Cairo…I have so many things I’d like to bring home. The only thing I bought in Jordan was a Pashmina in Petra because things were so pricey. So I’m looking forward to spending my travellers cheques. Tomorrow we go snorkelling in a famous spot here for divers known as Blue Hole. I guess there’s a Blue Hole in Belize too…so I’ll take notes for later comparison. The following day we rise at 2am for a 2 hour climb of Mt Sinai to watch the sunrise. Not looking forward to the wake up call, but the experience is supposed to be surreal…even for the Athiests.

Mt Sinai at dawn.
Mt Sinai at dawn.
Dawn over Sinai.
Dawn over Sinai.

Aswan, Egypt:  We arrived by gruelling 13 hour overnight train journey. It was reasonably comfortable–the seats were big. I had taken a sleeping pill and prepped for a good 8 hours when something strange woke me up. I preface this all by saying it really was not as bad as it’ll sound.
I had a sleep mask on and my contacts out but I knew something was wrong. I pulled the mask off and the train car was full of smoke. Something acrid was burning my nostrils. I put on my glasses, ready to make a major dash for it, but I look and all the other foreigners in the car are just sitting there, like this was normal. Since they had been largely awake and I was asleep, I figured they knew something I didn’t, so I sat, but stuffed my stuff into my pack. All of a sudden all these rail guys go running through our carriage to the adjoining one. They opened the door and smoke pours in. Crazy. But again, they don’t seem too alarmed. Someone comes back and asks for anyone who’s a doctor or nurse, and one of our group was. She went off…in the meantime the smoke is clearing, and everything seems ok, though by now the train had come to a sudden halt.
Then a guy comes out to tell us something has exploded on the train. I was ready to jump off, but he goes on to say that it was something in the electrical lights overhead. I looked into the car, and I can see scorched light casings. So I figured he wasn’t shitting us for appearances (ie tourists’)sake.
When the panel blew it shattered one of the overhead luggage racks which (duh!) is made of thick glass. That rained down on one Aussie girl, and cut her up pretty bad. An ambulance and the cops show up, she and her boyfriend are taken to the hospital. We sat there for two hours, while they unhooked the blow-up car and took it away. Then it was as if nothing had happened. ‘Sweet tea? Coca-cola?”
I asked about the victim today, I guess she’s ok…many stitches, and the couple has returned to Cairo for improved treatment.

See…told you it wasn’t so bad. Just a bit freaky.

DSCN0931Aswan is ok. It’s right on the Nile so it’s picturesque. A bit small, but it has a nice market, though I can’t tell you how tired I am today of being hassled by shopkeepers. At EVERY shop, “Hello, Allo, bonjour, vegates….” and so on. Then, “are you looking for a scarf/shirt/alabaster/hat/rug” and if there’s no bite there, “Where are you from? Austrailia/America/Canada/Finland?” Until they hit on something. Once they know it’s Canada I get “Canada Dry, Never Dry!” or “Oh Canada!”, or my personal fave. “My wife is Canadian!” Then there is a long conversation about “where is your husband? You want Egyptian husband?” It’s charming at first, then weary, then just plain annoying.

Yesterday was the best. We went to the Giza pyramids in the morning then the Egyptian museum in the afternoon.
The pyramids are amazing. Really amazing. As the bus is driving along through traffic-choked Cairo, all of a sudden between the buildings, a quick glimpse of something… then it’s covered by another highrise. Then another quick peep, until suddenly there they are, filling my field of view. Cairo has grown so much that, literally, one second you’re in the city, the next, pyramidial desert. It’s really surreal, and doesn’t look at all right.

These pyramids are massive. I mean I knew they’d be big, but they’re really imposing. And beautiful. So precisely perfect, all smooth edges and towering lines at a distance. I had to just sit there and marvel for a while. Up close, it’s just the opposite. The wear and tear and punishing desert wind have eroded their beauty, and they look like just a big pile of rocks. I chose to ponder them from further afield.
DSCN0804And the Sphinx. Soo cool. This massive figure at rest in the sand, lion’s body regal in repose, handsome face relaxed as it watches the city creep ever closer. It’s amazing to think that this site has been here for 5000 years.
OK, I’ve typed myself out. I’m gonna go meet the group for dinner. Early tomorrow, we’re going on a 3 hour drive to Abu Simbel, the massive temples and statues that were actually cut from the rock and moved to avoid the rising Nile after they put up the Aswan Dam. Then in the afternoon and tomorrow night, we’ll be on a Felucca boat, cruising the Nile.

Aboard the felucca.
Aboard the felucca.

At least I’ll have plenty of water to put out any fires.


Have a favourite Egypt memory?  Share it in comments!







Food & Drink: Bachelorgood

One of my friends once asked me to marry him.

He wasn’t serious of course, but what prompted his question was the black bean soup I’d made for lunch and reheated in the office microwave.

He had bought lunch from some fish and chip joint, and all the greasy goodness had made him feel quite lethargic.  So rather than get back to work, he decided to corner me with questions about how much money it must be costing me to cook meals EVERY SINGLE DAY.

I explained that I can shop for a week’s worth of food, and three weeks worth of cooking staples for just over a hundred bucks.  That includes things like fruit or cereal for breakfast, leftovers for lunch, and full dinners.  I asked what he spent for a week’s worth of takeout.  He mumbled something in response.

What he did verbalize was a lament about only having the same limited choices when eating out: pizza, fried chicken, burgers, subs…you get the idea.

So I asked him what kind of stuff he LIKED to eat.  Meals he maybe hadn’t had in a while…pick anything.



He told me about a stew his mom used to make.  He really liked tacos.  I lent him a cookbook and he also picked out a pasta dish, a stir fry, and meatloaf.

I challenged him to make those five meals for himself.  And pledged to be there for moral support.

I copied the five recipes for him, and went over how they’re made.  Truth be told they’re all quite simple.  We made a list of all the ingredients he’d need, and  I took him to the grocery store for supplies.

The first night I got a call.  How thick is the stew supposed to be?  I explained that’s up to the chef.  If you like it thick, let it simmer.  If I gets too thick, add a little water.

“Really, I can do that?”

“You’re the chef, you can have it any way you like.”


The leftovers appeared the next day.  And he was proud, showing off his creation to the ladies in the office.  They were proud too.

That night was taco night.  No phone call.

Pasta night sparked a semi-frantic ring.  He forgot to buy mushrooms.

“What else is in the fridge?”

“Uhh… carrots, celery, peppers…”

“Just chop some peppers and throw them in.”

“But the recipe says mushrooms.”

“It’s called improvising.  You could use canned mushrooms too.”


After a week my friend was pretty impressed with himself.  He’d fended for himself for 7 days, hadn’t gone hungry, and had just realized his food options were not limited to the Yellow Pages.

I got him a cookbook for his birthday.  As he’s learning, there are definitely more pages to pick from than he thought.

Travel Blog: Barcelona Secret Walking Tour to Gaudi’s Park Guell

As we were sitting in our Barcelona apartment wondering about the best way to get from Barcelonetta beach to Park Guell, I found a GREAT write up that seemed at first intimidating , but was actually a fun adventure, and a great way to avoid the massive tourist crowds.

The blog is from Orange Monkey Tours, and the detailled instructions (which make much more sense when you get there) made it easy to find a “secret” back way into the park, and also allowed us to avoid the long and tedious uphill climb most tourists have to make to get to Gaudi’s famous urban greenspace. (Blog has been re-printed, The Photos are mine)

“During our walking and bicycle tours I often get the question: what is the best route to Park Güell? As often happens in Barcelona, there are several good answers, it only depends on the type of transport you prefer. Outside rush hour the easiest but also the most expensive way is by taxi. If you have spare time and do not mind standing in a crowded bus, bus 24 is a good option. For example, you can get on at Plaça Catalunya and get off at the side entrance of the park. However, most people go by subway. With line 3 you can go from downtown in less than 10 minutes to the subway stations of Lesseps or Vallcarca, then you either have to walk for more than one kilometer mostly upwards (Lesseps) or walk for 700 meters partly very steep upwards (Vallcarca), although this is partially made easier making use of the outdoor escalators. Recently, a new subway/walking option has been added, which requires the least climbing and therefore is a great outcome for many people. Moreover, you’ll pass by a piece of Barcelona where you can count the number of tourists on a handful, which makes it for those who like something different more fun.

This route to Park Guell from the subway station is about 700 meters. This still fairly secret option came about after the opening in 2010 of a new subway station of line 5 (blue one) called “El Coll La Teixonera”. El Coll is the hill located right next to El Caramel, where Park Guëll was built. La Teixonera is the working class neighbourhood on this hill. From the city centre you can best take the above mentioned (green) subway line 3. You get off at Vall d’Hebron and change to line 5, which starts at the same station. Then you get off at the next stop “El Coll La Teixonera” and you find yourself immediately in the deepest subway station in Barcelona and one of the deepest in Europe, despite being far above sea level. The exits of the subway station are located almost on top of the hill El Coll, while the subway line is 104 meters below ground, so you need to travel considerably by lift. First, follow exit Mare de Deu del Coll, step into the lift and leave direction exit Almato Beat. This will take you first through some science-fiction escalators and then you will see the light in the distance, i.e. the exit of Carrer Beat Almato.

The "Science fiction" escalators, or people-movers.  too cool!
The “Science fiction” escalators, or people-movers. too cool!
The "Science fiction" escalators, or people-movers.  too cool!
The “Science fiction” escalators, or people-movers. too cool!

Further directions shall be given hereafter. Click here to see the route on Google Maps. At the exit you turn around and take the escalator that goes up.

The towering escalator.
The towering escalator.
The "El Coll" neighbourhood.
The “El Coll” neighbourhood.

Now you have almost done all increases without really walking. After the escalator turn right into Carrer Santuari.

Pretty soon you come across a church on your right-hand side, walk past the church and turn right into Carrer Ceuta. You will see three small streets in front of you. Take the middle one, not the one left going down (Carrer Tirso), nor the extension of Carrer Ceuta which goes left upwards. On your right you will soon find some benches with a views of Tibidabo, Barcelona’s highest point. If you walk further you will get to Cami de Can Mora, although it is difficult to discern street signs here. After about a 5 minutes walk the road goes up a lot, turn right here, on the flat part. (If you would like to enjoy a beautiful view of Barcelona, just walk straight up and back again). After about 200 meters and a slight descent you pass through two open metal doors. Congratulations, you are in Park Güell!


Descend zigzagging further downwards along an impressive white house. This is Casa Trias, along with Gaudi’s house (which is by the way not designed by himself) the only house built for its original purpose, namely to build a neighbourhood for the wealthy. Luckily for us, this plan failed and the municipality has created a park. If all goes well, you hear the cacophony of all those below you having fun in the park and with 99% certainty have followed a different route. If you zigzag downwards, you will reach the main entrance as well as exit. Do not forget to take a look at the square with the snake bench, the lizard fountain and other fine buildings such as Gaudi’s house. If you stand outside of the park and follow the crowd to the bus or subway station, remember to watch a moment at the outside wall. Here you will see that Park Güell really is written with a “k” and not as “Parque” (Spanish) or “Parc” (Catalan). This is because the client had found inspiration in England and therefore using this name wanted to give an English twist to this project.”

Original Blog can be found here.

The masses of people near the main gates, visiting the lizard.
The masses of people near the main gates, visiting the lizard.

More throngs near the main gates; as far as many people get!
More throngs near the main gates; as far as many people get!

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