Sunday, May 31, 2009


Nothing reminds you that you live in the middle of a desert like dirt. And in this town it’s everywhere and appears literally out of nowhere to attack previously clean surfaces.

People may mock and get rather up in arms about the fact that I have a maid but around here it’s a necessity. In addition to the age-old excuse of “But I’m giving work to a local at good wages who might otherwise be unemployed!”, there is also the incredibly accurate excuse of, “I couldn’t keep this place clean by myself if I tried.” Heck, even my housekeeper brings help in the form of her daughter.

Sadly, only hours after Queen and Princess finish, the dirt and dust make return visits. When it comes to life in Egypt the “five second” rule is the “five millisecond” rule.

What prompted this post, however, is my beloved and formerly white Mac laptop, Mickie. Most people are physically repulsed when they see my Mac and ask why I haven’t tried to clean it. The screen is gross and the keyboard is even grosser. Several keys have turned a sadly permanent shade of brown.

The problem with my (formerly) white computer isn’t a lack of effort on my part to keep it clean - although I’m sure that’s a contributing factor. The problem is the desert oasis I call home.

The other day in the library I was saved from my dirty shame when I saw the Mac of the girl sitting next to me. Not only was it gross and grungy, it may actually have been filthier than my own.

Happiness is someone else’s grimy Macbook.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Things Overheard In a Library

At least once a week, I like to make the insanely long trip into the desert to the Institution where Hubby works. Once there, I spend my mornings in the library writing, I enjoy a bagel for lunch with Hubby, and then head off to the fancy, newly completed gym before its time to head home.

My biggest pet peeve about the Book Palace is its insane level of noise. In all the years I worked at Central, the level of unlibrary-like noise never bothered me. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting old but I spend more time shushing people in this talking-friendly building than I do working.

Which is why its more than a little odd that given my druthers I tend to set-up camp in one of the noisiest areas of the Palace on the main floor. What can I say -- I’m a glutton for punishment.

The following are things I actually heard people say between shushings last week.

In favor of plagiarism: “If we reorder the sections we can totally hand in the same paper. He’ll never figure it out!”

In favor of laziness: “Wikipedia is the best resource for the truth out there. As long as I footnote it, I can just copy and paste the whole assignment!”

In favor of break-ups: “It doesn’t count as cheating if he lives in Zamalek and I’m in Maadi.”

In favor of atlases: “I wish we could have made a trip to Africa before we had to leave.”

In favor of return tickets: “Why don’t more people speak English here? All this f*&@ing Arabic is so annoying!”

In favor of being punched: “That fat chick needs to move so we can sit next to each other.”

In favor of studying: “Do you think I can get my ‘D’ bumped up to an ‘A’ if I offer to sleep with him?”

In favor of better nutrition: “If I pay for McDonald’s today can I copy off you during the test?”

Winner of the Sad But True award: “I’m trying to find a word for my paper. What do you call that place where they keep all the books?”

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Coveting Literacy

There are a lot of posts out there right now about how the current economy is making people less covetous and materialistic. Living overseas away from many of the “things” that make consumerism so rampant, I have found myself purchasing less “stuff” and focusing on what’s important in life – like my family and health.

Maintaining my mental health has always been important to me. Yet I frequently let it fall to the wayside in favour of all those pesky things that arise every day under the auspices of “life.” To battle this descent into reality, I attempt to keep certain rituals in my life sacrosanct. In addition to blogging, the one thing I know is key to my sanity is reading. I have spent a fortune on books in my lifetime and will read virtually anything I can get my hands on.

One of the worst parts of living overseas is my inability to purchase books as soon as they’re released. I usually have to wait until either I go home in the summer, Hubby goes to the UK, or we have generous mules friends come to visit.

All of which brings us to my new obsession – the Kindle. I want one of these so badly, it shames me on many levels. Not the least of which is that I have been so anti-Kindle for so long. I love books. I love how they feel and smell. I love curling up with a good book in bed and have been rather militant in my condescending manner toward e-books. “You can’t curl up with a computer!”

But I want to! I really, really do!

I want to be able to download the latest book the day it comes out rather than waiting six months until I go home. I want to pack a slim, lightweight device rather than four heavy books every time I go away on vacation.

Sadly, Amazon does not want me to have my heart’s desire. In addition to the ridiculous price tag for the device ($359 ) and the books ($9.99 and upwards for new releases), is the simple fact that they refuse to ship the Kindle outside of the United States. Because they hate me.

In the States, people purchase an e-book and it downloads wirelessly directly to their device. People who have Kindles overseas, download the book to their computers, and then upload them to their devices. For this and (I assume) other reasons, Amazon won’t ship overseas.

So now, I have to wait until a willing mule friend visits Cairo and can bring me this necessity for living. I know I shouldn’t want “things” and the Kindle is hardly a life or death purchase but I can’t help it! I want to read on my next vacation without having to pay excess baggage fees. *sigh*

Any other Kindle users out there? Any Kindle haters?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Shameful Lie

Finally, my friends, we arrived at the lie I told. You see, I never worked for all three major newspapers: the Star, the Sun, and the Globe and Mail. This isn’t a big whopper but the stories are fun so I decided to include in our game anyways.

First, I will tell you about how I sort of worked for the Toronto Sun. Or rather, how my brother worked for the Sun and I had to wake up early on Sundays to not get paid to help him. You see, my elder brother, BBA, got a job delivering the Sunday Sun to subscribers in two of the apartment buildings near my house.

The job required him to wake up at around 5:30 a.m., walk to the first building and put the papers together. After that, he had to walk through the floors of both buildings and fit the paper through the mail slots of the appropriate doors. He and I would split up the floors in order to get the job done more quickly. When we were done, we would drag ourselves home to wash the newsprint from our hands.

I’m still not sure how much he got paid for this task but I’m pretty sure that I was paid bupkis for helping. There were even occasional weeks when my mother and I would take over, although for the life of me I can’t think what BBA could have been doing at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning that was more important than making a pittance delivering the Sunshine Girl to her devoted fans.

Many years after that brief foray into the publishing world, I returned home from university for the summer in desperate need of money. The job I had worked at my entire high school career wasn’t available and I was faced with perusing the want ads in the paper. That is how I was hired by the Globe and Mail to do their dirty work.

You see, I was a telemarketer. My even more shameful secret is that I was a damn good telemarketer. I rarely used the scripts we were given and yet always managed to close the sale without ever having to so much as stretch the truth let alone lie – I was the wunderkind of the telemarketing world.

A week after starting, I was given the task of selling this “national” Toronto newspaper to the Ontario-hating Western provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. But even that challenge could not stop my evil talent and I made sale after sale.

I finally realized that I had taken my gift of the gab too far when I was pulled into my manager’s office and offered a promotion as a manager during the early morning hours. It was only my second week on the job.

Despite my need for money, I declined the job and quit the next day. Telemarketing is the lowest form of sales out there and I was the top seller in the room even on my off days. It was time to stop the insanity.

I am somewhat embarrassed to admit it but the Globe and Mail wasn’t even my last telemarketing job. I later took my skills and used them to cold call for charitable foundations, raising money for great organizations I sincerely believed in.

So there you have the truth behind my whopper. I’ve schlepped papers for the Sun, I bartered my soul for the Globe, but I have not yet worked for the Toronto Star. Although if they’re hiring travel writers, I’d be more than happy to change that status!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Truth Number Two: Vogue

After yesterday’s gushy, romantic tale, I thought today would be a good time to amuse you with tales of my amazing modeling career. That’s right, my runway career wasn’t a lie. It was, however many, many years ago and very, very brief.

The scoop about my brief foray into the modeling world happened when I was six. My elementary school was trying to encourage parents to purchase non-mandatory school uniforms for their children. Since no one looks good in red, green, and brown plaid, the pinafores and kilts weren’t exactly flying off the shelves.

In an effort to boost sales, the store that sold these fabulous outfits decided to host a fashion show at the local church. I’m not exactly certain why my incredibly adorable self was selected to walk down the runway, but when the big night finally arrived I was one of many children lining up to receive a brief lesson in how to strut the catwalk like a professional.

This is exactly what I remember being told: Walk to the end of the stage, stop, turn slowly, pose, and smile. Then, look for your mummy or daddy out in the audience, smile, and turn around and walk back. In my defense, what happened next was really the fault of the person who gave me those instructions.

When my turn arrived, I smiled and walked to the center of the stage. I made my way to the end of the catwalk, turned, and smiled. I was on fire and the audience loved me! Then I tried to find my mother in the audience. I looked and I looked but I couldn’t find her anywhere!

I honestly have no idea how long I was out there but eventually MaryKat, a girl in my brother’s class, walked out to come and get me. “But I can’t find my mummy!” I distinctly recall the audience laughing at me in a “that child is so cute but I’m glad she’s not mine” kind of way. My mother finally figured out what was going on and waved her arms so I could see her.

Happy to be able to fulfill my duties properly, I waved back, took MaryKat’s hand and walked backstage knowing that I was the best model in the whole world.

So ends the tale of Typ0’s first and last modeling adventure. Just think -- if my mother had been in the front of the audience that evening I might have been the next Linda Evangelista instead of a world traveling blogger.

Don’t forget to return tomorrow for the even sadder and more shameful tale of how I haven’t worked for all three of Toronto’s major daily newspapers.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

True Romance

On Friday, I asked you all to guess which two of my sneaky statements were true and, more importantly, which one was the lie. Rather than give away the answer today, I thought I would draw this out a wee bit by helping to narrow down the field.

One of the odder bits of truth from Friday’s post was option two: my husband and I met in a computer lab. Of course, that’s only the truth by the narrowest of margins since we were in computer labs in different cities. Heck we were even different countries.

One of the best-kept secrets in the history of Hubby and Typ0 is that we met on the Internet, in an IRC chatroom. We like to tell people that we “met through mutual friends” and that isn’t technically a lie since the people on our IRC channel were online friends whom both we knew.

Here, for those of you who asked is a brief take on the truth of the courtship of Typ0 and Hubby. Back then I was still Typo and Hubby was better known as echobelly. In January of 1995, the Internet was nothing like it is today. I don’t want to whitewash the past but the ‘net was a far more innocent place back then. Meeting people from online wasn’t dangerous like it is today.

Our IRC channel was devoted to music but we were known to get up to all sorts of crazy high jinx. On January 10th of that year the “floofmobile” went crazy and those of us who were online had to “hide.” And that is how it all began. Echobelly sent me a /private message and I responded. Before I knew it, we were exchanging real names and regular emails. Before long, we started “talk”ing (another early days application). By the end of the school year, we had graduated to snail mail and talking on the phone.

This is where I get to admit how lame I am because during this entire time, I thought echobelly and I were simply good friends and that he had a crush on my friend, SGH. So when he invited himself to my parents’ house in Toronto, I didn’t think twice about including SGH in on all the fun.

My parents were oddly astute and cool about the whole thing. Echobelly stayed in our guestroom, which meant that I wouldn’t be rushing off to meet my strange Internet friend at his hotel. We were also incredibly well supervised… for the most part.

When I opened the door on August 25th I saw a tall, lanky guy on the other side and I thought, “He’s taller than I thought.” I’m still not sure what his first thoughts were. (Hubby Edit: I think it was, "She's shorter than I thought.") Within an hour, the amazing camaraderie we had developed online and over the phone had translated itself to real life and we were chatting like long lost friends.

By the end of the evening, I finally figured out that echobelly had a crush on me. Me! I’d had no idea and hadn’t even hoped for such a thing. SGH is hot and that must be who he wanted to crush on. Echobelly finally got it through my thick skull by kissing me on the ugly blue couch in the basement.

He pulled back from the kiss and asked if I was going to hit him. Umm.. No.

And that, my Friends, is the brief story of how the man I now call Hubby and I met. We met in a computer lab. I told him I loved him in a computer lab. And he told me I was his best friend in a computer lab. And that’s the truth.

Check back in tomorrow when I narrow down the list yet again!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Two Truths and a Lie

Jane at Gaston Studio recently blogged about this always amusing game that I learned at camp when I was a kid. Called two truths and a lie, the point of the game is for you to figure out which of the three statements below is a falsehood and which two are true. I immediately knew this would be a fun way to tell some amusing stories.

I tried to make these statements vague enough so that even people who knew me well might not be able to guess the lie. The only person who might be able to decipher my code is my mother. So, sorry Mum, but you’re disqualified. After all, if my mother tells which way she’s voting it might give the whole thing away!

So which one do you think is the lie?
  1. I was once a runway model in Toronto.
  2. My husband and I met in a computer lab.
  3. I have worked in some capacity for all three of Toronto’s major newspapers; the Toronto Sun, Toronto Star, and the Globe and Mail.
The only hint I will give is this: each statement is either true or false by only the thinnest of margins. Now, go vote and I will return on Monday to spill all my secrets!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The New Rental Vehicle

When we travel abroad, Hubby and I usually rent a car or hoof it everywhere. Oslo, being a walking town, was definitely a case of the latter. That’s probably why it is so odd that we became so obsessed with transportation while we were there.

We took the train from the airport into town and a bus back out on Sunday. While we ate lunch on our final day, we enjoyed a mini parade of classic cars driving through town. And on the day we arrived, we caught the tail end of an actual parade complete with a marching band and two mounted policemen keeping up the rear.

Yet with all these planes, trains, and automobiles, my favourite discovery was the rental bicycles. Throughout town, we kept seeing people pick up and drop off bicycles at random bike racks with seeming little care to security. It turns out that these were rental bikes.

After swiping a card, a person is allowed to borrow a bike and return it to any of the designated racks anywhere in town. I don’t know how much the bikes cost to rent but I was fascinated by this brilliant scheme as soon as Hubby told me the details.

It turns out that they have these popular, eco-friendly rental vehicles in many European cities including Vienna where Hubby traveled last month. I don’t understand why more North American cities haven’t taken this up as being both a healthy alternative to driving, and an eco-friendly way of navigating the city.

Before anyone asks, I never got around to renting a bike myself because I didn’t know where to buy a card. More importantly, though, do you have any idea how long it’s been since I rode a bike? I’m not sure I remember how! *eek*

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Generations of Boats

Maybe I’m weird, but as soon as I heard we were headed for Norway, I had only one thing on my mind: Vikings! Perhaps I spent too many hours re-reading “Curse of Viking Grave” as a kid but I find the idea of these ancient conquerors to be incredibly intoxicating. (If we were to be completely honest, it’s possible I also read too many romance novels with brawny Vikings willing to travel to Valhalla and back for the love of one perfectly lovely, if bookish, maid.)

Sadly, there were no actual Vikings waiting to ravish me when we arrived at the Viking Museum, but there were some really cool boats and other assorted relics. I found the carvings particularly interesting as they are very similar to those attributed to the Celts. Cross-cultural identifiers like this always intrigue me.

A Navy brat by birth, Hubby was quite taken with the ships, pointing out all the key details to me as we walked around the large exhibits. “Look at those oar holes! Do you really think they’d mount the rudder there?”

Our next stop was the Kon-Tiki Museum about a half-mile away. I hadn’t been terribly keen to visit this museum since it didn’t hold the promise of sexy Norse gods but quickly found myself as excited as everyone else wandering the exhibits. The first Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947 was mounted by a group of men who wanted to show it was possible to possibly to sail from South America to the Pacific Islands using only materials that would have been available to the local peoples in pre-Columbian times. Their ship was built of natural materials like balsa wood and hemp ropes, and honestly doesn’t look like it would have survived a cross of Lake Ontario let alone the Pacific.

(The boat to the left is not from original voyage. My photos of that boat did not turn out that well. This is from a subsequent expedition. Check out the links above for photos of the first boat. It's really cool!)

Hubby was quite taken with the expedition boats on display and we even stayed to watch part of the Oscar winning documentary made about the voyage. If it wasn’t for my well-documented inability to sail in rough waters without dying, I think Hubby would have had us building a boat and heading out into open water before the sun went down.

Between the art galleries, museums, and natural beauty in Norway, Hubby and I were never at a loss during our time in Oslo for things to do. And I haven’t even told you about my transportation obsession yet!

Monday, May 18, 2009


When Hubby heard the date I was coming home, his first reaction wasn’t to jump with joy. Since I had expected a parade of 76 trombones when I told him about my imminent arrival, I very politely asked him what the problem was and waited to hear that the brass section was late but on their way. Instead, Hubby broke the news that he had several business trips lined up that he couldn’t get out of scheduled very close to my return.

Luckily for me, I married not only a brilliant man but also a generous one. His solution to our abruptly interrupted reunion was to invite me along on his trip to Oslo, Norway. Since the hotel and his ticket were already paid for, one extra little plane ticket wasn’t much compared to marital bliss.

The architecture in Oslo is a fantastic blend of the new and the old. We were there for only a handful of days but I am officially ready to move and become Norwegian. I’ve even picked out the location for my future condo right in the waterfront area Aker Brygge. I was so enamored of the bustling area I even begged Hubby to pick up real estate brochures!

Hubby and I walked from one end of the city to the other, ducking into cafes when it rained and bars when we thought it might. Between bevies, we would people watch and I must admit that Norwegians appear to be incredibly fit as a whole and my rather round self stood out.

The only potential downfall to life in Norway is the price of food. We visited both restaurants and supermarkets and came away with two distinct impressions. First, wow food costs a lot here. And, perhaps more importantly, the quality of that food was amazing! Whether it was fresh veggies in the produce section or a pizza along the Aker Brygge, the quality of the (admittedly pricey) food was phenomenal. Oslo is also home of the $11 pint of beer (for the cheap stuff!).

I realize that I’m acting like a teenager dealing with her first crush but Oslo was a great city and I haven’t even mentioned two of my favourite things. One was kitschy and the other was weird yet cool. Check back in tomorrow for more of me gushing on Oslo and I’ll tell you all about the first of my new Norwegian loves.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Show Me Your World

The fabulous NicoleB is hosting another great photo challenge over on her blog NicoleB Photography. Since I so rudely offered to join but was ultimately unable to participate in her last scavenger hunt, I was keen to sign up this time around.

All you have to do to participate is to post a picture of your country or State. It can be the one you were born or the one you live in, whichever you feel like it. Then show it off!

My first instinct was to post a photo of the CN Tower but that seemed almost too easy. Then it hit me: the pyramids! But not the pyramids that everyone sees in the history books. Rather, my photo is of the pyramids local Cairenes see every day.

Don’t forget to check out everyone’s photos over at Nicole’s place!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Things I Remember

That Saturday, I woke up early despite having gone to bed fairly late the night before. Unsurprisingly, both of my parents were up before me and were busy puttering around downstairs. I put on my dressing gown and joined them to eat leftovers in the kitchen.

I think had a glass of apple juice.

Full of nervous energy, I headed to the washroom to shower and wash my hair. By the time I got out, my hair wrapped in a towel, my friend Care Bear had already arrived.

I think she was more nervous than I was.

By the time I was ready to at least change into the requisite iron maiden, my hair had dried, two more friends had arrived, and I was ready for a nap. I knew the house would be full of people all day and yet I felt oddly serene at the center of the storm that surrounded me.

I think my make-up looked weird.

When the big moment arrived as many people as could fit piled into my tiny bedroom. I took off my dressing gown and put on the beautiful white dress. Care Bear fluffed the skirts while SGH tried to hide her tattoos from my mother’s dismayed gaze.

I think I felt beautiful for the first time ever.

The next countless number of hours were filled with photos in the house, in the garden, on my own, with my parents, with my friends, and even the odd one that didn’t include me. At some point Mr. M stopped by to give me a silver penny to slip into my shoe.

I think my feet were already hurting.

When no one was looking, I snuck into the basement to nibble on more leftovers. Before I knew it, the car had arrived and my father and I had to leave.

I think I felt ready.

Unsurprisingly, my aunts were standing outside smoking when I arrived. We tried to usher them so we could get started. My friends and their counterparts entered in pairs. My parents stood on either side of me and as the doors opened they took my arms and reminded me to smile.

I think I took a big breath.

Music was being played somewhere in front me but I looked only straight ahead. Faces both familiar and new smiled back at me as I walked forward but there was only one face I wanted to see. He looked so incredibly handsome. He looked nervous yet happy, his green eyes sparkling as if we were the only two people in the room.

I knew I loved him.

That was 11 years ago and while there have been occasional moments when I was annoyed with him, and even ones when I was angry with him, I have never doubted the words I said that day.

Happy anniversary, my love.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Not Welcome in Egypt

I left the States just as the Swine Flu story broke around the world. My initial reaction to the media-driven frenzy was to roll my eyes and take bets on when the H1N1 fervor would die down. Between CNN, BBC, and the Internet, I thought I had seen the worst of the hysteria and then Egypt involved itself. The solution to stopping the tide of Swine Flu here, you see, was to slaughter every single pig in the country.

In the immortal words of our good friend Antin (he’s all about the econ), “That there’s crazy talk!”

It makes me wonder what they will do when the normal everyday human flu hits Egypt. *eek*

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More Proof I’m a Horrible Person

I have a confession to make: I suck at math. Typically this isn’t a problem because I’m married to a human calculator. I have a second confession to make: my Arabic isn’t very good despite the fact that I (occasionally) studied and attended classes. My brain was only made to hold so much information at one time, so unless you know the :/delete function that will remove all my Disney knowledge, new languages just aren’t going to stick. My final confession is that I’m not very good at saying I’m wrong. Even when I really, really, really am. Really.

Shortly before I went to Toronto these three factoids rose up to meet me in a rather embarrassing fashion.

Since I was starving and starting to spend my time staring at photos of nachos on the Internet I decided to order myself a nice healthy dinner before Hubby arrived home from his business trip. I placed a carb-friendly order on Otlob, chopped up some bell peppers to enjoy with dinner, and sat down to await the doorbell.

Delivery Kid arrived in record time and I thanked him for his speed. Obviously they knew that they had a hungry girl on their hands. The amount on the bill was slightly different (as usual) from the amount quoted on Otlob, which meant that the tip/change I had calculated wouldn’t work unless I wanted to be ridiculously generous. I handed him my money and requested 30LE change.

Due to my lack of Arabic and his lack of English he didn’t seem to understand how much I wanted in change. I held up my fingers to indicate 30 and then said the words for three and zero in Arabic yet he still seemed remarkably confused. My frustration level had now reached a definite seven and I told him to wait while I got my Arabic notebook out of the dining room and looked up the word for 30 in Arabic.

Poor Delivery Boy looked like he wanted the floor to swallow him whole as he took the bill out of my hands and showed me the total… Implored me to see the total. That’s when I realized why Hubby always pays the delivery guys: 50 minus 30 equals 20 and the bill totaled 21. Most of you are probably laughing at me for not being able to do simple math but what you don’t understand is that I don’t test well! I know pi to 4 decimals points (ish) but I can’t add simple numbers under pressure without a calculator. Incredibly and pathetically sad but true. And it only gets worse from here.

Not willing to admit aloud that I had screwed up, I ran to my purse to grab 5LE and then asked for 25LE in change. At this point I was about to let the kid walk away with a 9LE tip – a rather high amount by Egyptian standards. I’m still not sure what happened next but Delivery Boy started saying something about how that was the correct amount and I thought he was complaining about his tip and then my frustration level rose to a solid ten.

I took back the extra five I had given him and told him in no uncertain terms (although very uncertain Araglish) that his complaining was costing him money. At some point he seemed to realize that the hungry, crazy lady was officially and certifiably insane and he tried to give me the amount I had originally requested. That’s when my bubble burst and the guilt finally rushed to my head.

“No, no. Please, you keep it,” I insisted. We would have continued that way for hours except that I decided to shut the door gently in his face. Evidently, the inability to take a hint is one of Delivery Boy’s failings because he knocked on the door and continued to insist that I take the money. I felt lower than the grossest creepy crawly things that live in desert. “No, really you keep it.” I again shut the door softly and was relieved to hear the elevator door open.

“I am a horrible, horrible person,” I said to my reflection as I made my way into the living room. My well deserved guilty was only increased when my bowab came upstairs to apologize for Delivery Boy and explain the boy didn’t speak English and felt bad. “It’s my fault,” I explained. “I feel bad. I’m sorry. It was my fault!” The anguish on my face finally got through to him because he nodded and went back downstairs.

So there you have my confessions for today. I am a horrible, evil, vile person who can never again order from one of her favourite restaurants. While living without food from this restaurant will be a suitable penance, I still want to find someway to make it up to Delivery Boy who may be forever scarred from his run-in with the evil white woman.

I’m so sorry!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Worth Every Penny

The best part of any holiday is always the journey home. (Hubby edit: it is? Remember the baggage disaster of August 2007?) While coming back to Cairo and seeing Hubby after a long absence was certainly a joyful occasion, the reason I was psyched about my trip home was because I was about to embark on a dream flight. Thanks to the careful hoarding of airmiles, I was able to upgrade to business on my flight from New York to Dubai. Better yet, I was going to fly on the top of the bus on an Airbus A380!

As someone who geekily follows travel news, I was psyched when I saw the A380’s reviews upon its release last year. I immediately told Hubby that I had to fly on this huge plane and that I was not going to do so in “steerage” as he calls economy. Several things stood in the way of this dream not the least of which was that business class tickets are ridiculously expensive.

Thanks to the Emirates airmiles Hubby generously shared with me, I was able to fulfill this dream to fly at the (almost) front of the bus on this 14-hour flight. The first difference with the A380 is that business and first class passengers board from the upstairs lounge. So after enjoying a glass of champagne, mushroom ravioli, and a plate of profita rolls and chocolate covered strawberries, I leisurely boarded on the upper deck of the A380.

At this juncture, I should probably admit that I was being a huge nerd from the moment I stepped foot on the plane. I walked back to my seat with my jaw literally agape at the impressive appointments on this plane. I clicked away on my little pink camera and was caught by one of the amazingly nice flight attendants. “Your first A380?” she asked kindly. I nodded dumbly. “After we’ve taken off, make sure you visit the bar and I’ll make you a Grey Goose Cosmo!”

Before I could fully register the presence of a fully working bar (with numerous plates of canapés, and Godiva chocolates to nibble on) I noticed that my seat had its own mini bar.

After 8 hours of sleep, I can attest that the lie-flat seats were incredibly comfortable. Interestingly, the blankets and pillows provided were a better quality than those normally found in Emirates business class. The food also was a notch up from their normally tasty fare. I have frequently bragged that the food on Emirates is some of the only airline food I will eat but the choices and quality on the A380 exceeded even their usual high quality.

Dinner, which I slept through, started with caviar and included choices ranging from lamb to freshly tossed chicken Caesar salad. The snack options were also different than those found on most Emirates flights and allowed me to try a very tasty, fresh tasting hamburger shortly after I awoke. My breakfast started with a fresh strawberry smoothie and was followed by thick, fluffy, restaurant-quality apple pancakes, accompanied by Vermont maple syrup.

I was lucky that I had sufficient airmiles to allow me to fly on the top floor, so I decided to take a quick visit downstairs to see how I would have been flying were it not for Hubby’s generosity. In comparison to Business Class’s four seats across, Economy packed 10 seats across three rows in a 3-4-3 arrangement.

Sadly, one thing I noticed in both Economy and Business was the dearth of passengers. Downstairs, most people were able to stretch out across several seats when they slept. Upstairs in Business, at least half the seats were empty. Since there are multiple flights a day between JFK and Dubai, I’m not sure if this was a result of people not wanting to take the later flight, or an indicator of a lack of interest for travel between these two cities.

I was never able to visit the very front of the bus and see the famous showers but I can hardly credit that First Class could improve upon the service and comfort of Business on the A380. From lounging in the bar area with my fellow travelers to being urged by the wonderful flight crew to pose behind the bar for photos, I can now say that I am officially impressed. The first time Hubby upgraded me to Business I told him my days of flying Economy were over. Well, Hubby, I have bad news for you because from now on I’m only flying A380 Business!

Monday, May 11, 2009

All the Gang at 42nd Street

To say that I enjoyed my dinner at Babbo would not fully express how amazing the food was that night. I literally still carry the menu, bill, and coaster from Babbo in my purse to this day.

Even before arriving at Babbo, I had decided to order the pasta tasting menu. According to the website, "the entire table" is required to order a tasting menu so I was worried about whether or not I would be allowed to do so since I was dining at the bar. Thankfully, the very kind bartender assured me that my gastronomic dreams could be fulfilled at the bar without any problems. Phew!

Including an amuse bouche and cookies, I was presented with nine courses for $69. While I enjoyed my blood orange mimosa, I was presented with a chickpea bruchetta, which was nice but I felt that if you didn’t really like chickpeas the flavour could easily have become overwhelming.

Next up was Black Tagliatelle with Peas and Parmigiano. I had no idea what peas were supposed to taste like before this meal. Who knew that these amazing little green spheres were so blissfully flavorsome?

“Casunzei” with Poppy Seeds was pockets of pasta filled with beets. This isn’t the first restaurant I’ve been to lately that highlighted beets on its menu but I have to say that Mario proved why he’s the big name chef, and the rest of us are mere poseurs. Even people who don’t like beets would have enjoyed this plate, which was highlighted with nice peppery arugula.

The flavours that assault you while you eat Gargnelli with “Funghi Trifolati” are divine. First you taste the mushrooms. Then the fresh taste of parsley. Then both together. And just when you think you’ve got the flavors under control the mushrooms hit you again. I’m not a huge parsley fan as I find it rather boring and often substitute cilantro instead but this dish has definitely converted me.

Normally when I dine alone, I bring a book and read between courses. This night I was too busy enjoying the food and anticipating what was to come next to have time for reading. Sadly though, the next course was a bit of a let down. Domingo’s Pyramids with “Passato di Pomodoro” was interesting but didn’t wow me the same way that the previous courses had.

A traditional Pappardelle Bolognese was my final pasta course and definitely showed me where I needed to improve my own Bolognese in the future. The use of pancetta in the sauce was brilliant. On the downside, this final pasta course was served too hot and the portion was too large considering this was fifth plate of pasta I had enjoyed.

Now that my dessert courses were starting, the bartender recommended a Moscato as my final beverage for the evening. I’m not typically a big dessert wine girl but this Moscato was beyond lovely and I have looked for a bottle of it to purchase since that evening. This is also the point in the evening when I actually overheard the following statement, “Your relationship with your therapist says a lot about you and how you relate to the people in your life.”

First up after my mains was the “Frittelle di Caprino” with Warm Honey. After one bite I literally said, “Foodgasm!!” On its own, the fried balls of cheese were ok, but the addition of warm honey brought it to a whole new level. I may have even put my finger through the left over bits of honey on my plate when no one was looking.

I wasn’t looking forward to the Toasted Sesame Panna Cotta since I am not a huge fan of panna cotta in general. And I’m still not a huge fan. Sorry, Mario. While this would make a lovely palette cleanser with its rich sesame flavours and clean mouth taste, it simply wasn’t my thing.

The final dessert course was a Chocolate Delizia with Vanilla Zabaione. The incredibly rich chocolate cake was accompanied by a non-traditional zabaione that was simply delightfully decadent and tasty.

When the cookies arrived with my bill, the bartender kindly topped up my Moscato and recommended that I dip the biscotti in the wine. Keep in mind that this was my ninth course over a two and a half hour period of time so the cookies were slightly overkill – tasty but overkill. The previous week, my parents and I ate at George on Queen Street East in Toronto. One of the innovations I liked at this restaurant was that cookies were given to us in prettily decorated cellophane packages so we could take them home. We weren’t pressured into eating the yummy cookies while we were still full and were able to appreciate them at our leisure. I would like to see this done at more top class restaurants in the future.

And that, my friends, was one of the best meals of my life. Sadly I enjoyed it alone, surrounded by strangers but I’m glad I was able to enjoy the memories of that fabulous evening with you, my Friends and Devoted Readers.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Remember me to Herald Square

I have a confession to make: I am a Food Network junkie. I could spend days watching other people cook food with exotic ingredients. I have spent hundreds of dollars on celebrity chef cookbooks, and hours attempting to recreate the amazing dishes I saw on television. My ultimate celebrity chef crush is Jamie Oliver but he doesn’t have a New York City restaurant yet so I was “stuck” with Mario Batali. It really is tough to be me sometimes.

Before I even booked a flight to New York, I started perusing the menus at Mario’s various restaurants. After a great deal of inner debate, and a very generous gift from my foodie parents, my plan was set: lunch at Lupa and dinner at Babbo.

I’m glad I chose Lupa for lunch since the pasta, while tasty, was not the dream meal I had been envisioning. That said, I will never be able to eat Spaghetti Carbonara again now that I’ve had it at Lupa. So often Carbonara is served as a creamy, heavy mass of pasta. This was so light, and well seasoned I could happily eat it every day for lunch and never get tired.

Before I start gushing about Babbo I want to comment on the amazing service at both of these restaurants. I take customer service very seriously and was incredibly impressed by everyone from the hostess and coat check girl to the bartenders and wait staff during both of my dining experiences. They were polite, knowledgeable, and really very personable. Most importantly, I didn’t feel rushed at either restaurant and was left to enjoy my meal at my own leisurely pace.

Now onto the main event! Sadly I was not able to get reservations for Babbo since I wanted a table for one, but was assured that I would be able to order anything I wanted if I sat at the bar. The original draft of this post ran over four pages long which is a little excessive even by my standards. So you’ll have to come back tomorrow to find out about my brilliant meal at Babbo.

Give My Regards Broadway

I am the original Broadway baby. I grew up watching musicals and have been known to break out into song at the least provocation. So you can imagine how excited I was when I first stepped foot on the real Broadway, looked up and down the street, and saw all the theatres where I once foresaw myself treading the boards.

My plans of world domination through drama may have fallen short but that didn’t mean that I was going to miss out on my chance to see a musical on Broadway. That, of course, left me with the dilemma of what to see. After much hemming and hawing, I narrowed it down to Wicked and Guys and Dolls starring Mama Gilmore, Lauren Graham.The deciding factor was finally that I know every single song from G&D by heart and wasn’t as familiar with Wicked.

I booked my ticket while I was still in Toronto and could only hope that my seat 118S would have good site lines. The online theater map of the Gershwin made it look like my seat would be good but I was still anxious since this was my big Broadway splurge. In the end, my seat was almost dead centre and at good distance from the stage.

There is something about live theatre that makes my skin feel electric. After giving my ticket to the guy at the door I stood and stared at the stage with the large dragon sitting atop it and had to physically restrain myself from breaking out into the few lines of song I knew thanks to Kat at Sunshine and Lemonade.

The title of today’s post was going to be “Simply Wicked” because that’s what it was – wicked awesome! I loved the seamless way the traditional story of the Wizard of Oz was woven into the plot and left you thinking, “Oh, now that makes sense! Of course she wanted the shoes back!”

From the music to the sets to the performances themselves, the entire night was magical. I used to attend live theatre quite frequently but must admit that seeing Wicked on Broadway somehow made it even more special. A number of obvious fans were wearing green in honour of the musical’s heroine, and I was able to see several people mouthing along with the players during several songs.

(And now for the cheesy final number…) Wicked absolutely defied my expectations and deserves to be as popular it is. When the lights eventually go dark on this masterpiece, I won’t be the only one mourning the Wicked.