Under sail somewhere in the Grenadines.
The harbor at Eilat, with a large group of sailboarders and small boats near sunset.
The harbor at Eilat at night, with the lights of the boardwalk in the distance
Heading out for our week in the Red Sea, the drawbridge open up ahead
Red Sea anemone fish.
My goal was to get a few really good shots of these beautiful fish, so I took lots and lots of shots, just to be sure.
A type of box fish, fairly docile resting on the bottom, but I would not want to get a bite from those teeth.
A feather star, which is not really a star fish.
Poor little, and I do mean little clown - I think I blinded him with the flashes
You guessed it, another anemone fish
Hanging at the Laguna Dog Park, happy and proud that he brought the ball back.
Here is Scout, at the dog park, looking off for another dog that he can chase, or be chased by.
Something exciting must be going on in the big dog area next door at the dog park.
Scout chasing a full Jack - hey, give me the ball!!!
That's fluffy, the shedding machine.
Scout at home. With those ears, I think he is part bat.
Well, if you are going to get married, the groom should have a bachelor party, and what atarted at 6 guys ended up as 11 in Las Vegas for my last few days of being single. We decided to go on Sunday/Monday, with cheaper rates, less crowds, an easier drive, and more football for betting. It was a staggered start, with the original 6 headed to Ceasar's Palace, one each in Paris and Harrah's and another two at a guys in-law's. The last man was there on a turn about, in and out for just Sunday.
We met up in the Sports Book and settled in for some football, followed by some basketball, and punctuated by a few forrays to the various tables. BP started off drunk before I even managed to show up, but he made it down for the afternoon games and was fine for dinner.
Eleven of us were to Mon Ami Gabi at Paris, a lovely steak house with a view from the pation across the street to the Bellagio fountains. 11 guys, a couple bottles of wine at $600+ later, a good price in my opinion, we were ready for some more fun, and trouble. BP was the only one in real trouble, pulling off something I have never seen done before. He got drunk twice in one day. We ended up at the IP and they set up a table in the poker room for us and we pushed the chips around for a few hours. By about 2:00, I was ready for bed with golf the next day. I was not the first to turn in, but I am not going to be an idiot a week before my wedding.
Golf the next day was great, at least for the three of us who made it. BP, who was supposed to be the 4th, was a no show, feeling every bit of the drinking he did the previous days. Las Vegas National was the site of Tiger's first PGA win and was featured in Casino. It is a legit course, not an easy muni. We played from the whites, with a buck for closest to the pin on the par 3s and longest drive on the par 5s. The closest had to be on the green, and the longest had to be in the fairway. For me, I shot great, around 115. That tells you how bad I am. But it was a legit 115 (plus a few mulligans). The best was that I won 3 of the par 3s, which made me really, really happy. My driving was straight and long, though it seemed to be off line. Little things blew me up here and there, but I was happy with my round. Jeff broke 100 and Bryan was about 9 over. All three of us won some skins.
After the day out in the great November sunsine, we were back tot he hotel, and back tot he sports book for some Monday Night Football. Then it was dinner at Mesa, Bobby Flay's place in Ceasar's. BP was still a now show, well, he joined us at the very end of dinner to get his mug in the group shots. Again, a great meal, not too expensive, with a lot more variety than the feast of steaks the night before. A final night out to the casinos, over to the Flamingo and Bill's in search of cheap tables, before turning in for the night. Tuesday was a mid mornign return, hitting the road for an uncrowded ride back home.
My thanks to Bryan, Michael, Jeff, Jorge, Taras, Kevin, Joe, Alex, and Hero for joining me out there. And a very speacial thanks for BP, for making the trip so much more memorable.
You have to forgive some lack of detail here, especially in comparison to many of the posts of later trips, since this one was written a few years after the fact, after the posts on Israel and Jordan, after the posts on the Alps. Those were done on the spot, or only slightly after the fact, so the memories were fresher, but these are no less vivid.
I can't recall when I decided to look for the vacation, but I do know that I booked it, or at least the sailing part of it, through RCI as a time share exchange. I needed to go somewhere, and diving was definitely on the agenda. A live aboard would be great, but since I did not have a diving partner, and had not dove in a few years, I wasn't sure I wanted to do a diving live abroad. Plus, RCI doesn't exchange into diving live aboard, and I am sure I had a vacation week I needed to use. I don't recall how I ended up finding the club, but I did estimable upon Tradewinds, a company with a couple of sailing bases in the Caribbean, each with a few 45-50 foot catamarans. Instead of chartering out the boat, they provide a crew and provisions and charter the cabins on the boat, 4 on the size cat I was to take.
The whole idea of the Southeastern Caribbean appealed to me for diving and sailing. These 'Windward' islands have reliable breezes, are generally south of the hurricane track, and offer warm water with a good variety of marine life. I settled on sailing out of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, a small nation of nearby Islands, reachable by connection through the international airport in Barbados.
Of course, before leaving all my friends in the office new of my destination, and I think it was Joe, it would have to be Joe, who first asked me if I was worried about the hurricane. Remember the part about the island being generally south of the hurricane track. The operable word there is generally. The start of my trip was going to coincide with the passing of a hurricane, one that would eventually pick up steam and power and cause a fair bit of damage on Islands further north and west and then Mexico. Lets just say that the NOAA web site was going to be a daily favorite on any computer I was near.
The track was plotted and predicted, though as with all short term prediction, there were windows of probability, for both strength and track. My flights looked good, getting in to Barbados in front of the storm, and staying ahead for the flight to Bequia, but the storm was supposed to pass over while I was on the island for a few days. It was going to go north, but not by a huge margin, and the Grenadines would get some good weather. Well, booked and slightly encouraged by the likely storm track, I decided to go, though I didn't tell my mom about the storm track. The flights were good, LA to Miami, then Miami to Barbados, then a puddle jumper to Bequia, always a day or two ahead of the storm.
I was staying for a few days at the Tradewinds base in a room, and it was OK. Comfortable, furnished in late century Ikea modern. The base is over one of the more popular night spots, and I headed down my first night for a mojito, the first of many (I had hoped) for the trip. The club was a bit noisy for the night, but I was pretty wiped from the whole strip, so I got a good night's sleep. The next day was diving, trying out my Canon 20D dSLR in a housing for the first time. It was just me and the dive master for my morning dive, a decent muck dive in the bay. I spent my surface interval having lunch at what would be my favorite little spot, the Green Bolly, right there on the bay. A second dive for the day and I was back to the base, then out for a decent dinner there in the bay. Pretty much my entire time was spent walking from one side of the bay, where the base and my room was located, to the other side, where the restaurants and dive center were located.
The second full day day on the island was also a dive day, and lunch at the Green Bolly, and a walk back and forth. By night, the storm was tracking closer, still miles north of us, but close enough to give us a good blow and more than a wee bit of rain. The base didn't think that the room I was in was safe enough, just in case, so they moved me over to the other side of the bay to a nice hotel. We did get a nice blow that night, with lots and lots of rain. I still had another day on the Island, but with the rain and wind stirring up the sea, there was no point in going diving. Of course, over these few days I tried to head back to the bar and get my daily mojito, but for some reason the bar had run out that night and did not restock the mint while I was still on the island.
Finally boarding the catamaran that was to be home for the upcoming week, I got to meet the others who were going cruising with me. There was a young couple who ran the boat, the captain and his girlfriend, the first mate and cook; another young couple on week two of their honeymoon; and another couple, young retirees. So there were going to be 7 of us on the boat meant for 12, a nice bonus when at sea. Even thought the yacht was around 50 feet, and I had my own cabin and head, but there is a rule at sea that a boat does get smaller by a few feet per day.
The boat was very nice, not a super luxury yacht, but still nice. The berth was nice and spacious for just me, probably even if I were sharing the cabin, but since I wasn't… The heads were fair, and the boat had a decent interior salon and a big covered cockpit (of sorts) where we ate our meals. Another little area to lounge and a pair of swim steps completed the aft section of the boat. Forward of the cockpit, and the house, were the extensions of the pontoons with the trampolines between them, plus the bow of each pontoon, with the "Titanic" seat. You know, "King of the World Ma!"
So since it has been a while, I can't replicate the itinerary, other than to say that we hit at least 2 or three anchorages a day. Typically we would wake up on the boat, have a little bite to eat, then jump in the pool, you know, that huge, warm, blue-green water filled body called the Caribbean. A couple of those mornings we were picked up by a dive operator to do a single tank dive, but after taking the dip, we would move on to another anchorage, sailing (or more likely motor sailing) to a protected spot for lunch. Then another dip in the pool, back on boat, then happy hour, dinner, post dinner drinks, and sleep. Did I mention that the alcohol was included in the cost of the trip? There was a cooler filled with beer available at all times, wine with lunch and dinner, and a relatively full bar on board, that was help yourself. The crew even accommodated requests as best they could. Like mine… for mojitos.
Ah, a mojito while relaxing on the trapeze, the sky open above, the blue water below, and not a care in the world. I would love to be able to describe how wonderful it was. I would love to, but I can't. Not because it was too serene, and not because I don't recall, but because I could not get a mojito. At every port of call, at the anchorages where the locals would motor up to the boat, take orders for provisioning and return the next morning with fruit and ice, there was not a bunch of mint to be found. For the whole week, I could not have a mojito. As a matter of fact, the second mojito I had on my trip, following the one on the first night, was in the airport in Miami flying back home. I was not even in the Caribbean any more, I was already on US soil, having cleared customs.
But I digress. Missing mint aside, it was a great trip. It was far and away the most relaxing vacation I had ever taken. Every long trip I have taken since high school has been oriented around an activity. Hiking, diving, skiing, sightseeing. It was always go, go, go. Here, we did see a lot, but I took 3 naps a day. And I swam 3 times a day. And I walked on the beach. Every night I fell asleep under the stars on the trapeze until in started to sprinkle then I would head down into my bunk. One night we all slipped in the water on noodles and tied ourselves to the back of the boat so we could float in the current while enjoying our cocktails. I tell you, it was a pretty sweet trip. And there are more than a few shots of my feet posted here.
So, my feet are taking me off again, though this time to a far less exotic and distant local, to the Bay Area. Specifically Alameda, a small hamlet on the water and surrounded by Greater Oakland, a land of yachts and harbors. It is here that my friend of well over 20 years hopes to purchase his next boat, after 30+ year of period on non boat ownership.
Now, there are two parables, both of which I learned from him. The two happiest days of a boat owners life are the day he buys his boat and the day he sells it. And a boat is a hole in the water where you throw your money. Still, being on the water, at the mercy of the wind, and being the master of it, is a wonderful feeling. Nick was the first person to ever take me sailing, renting J-24s decades back, tooling around the open bay that makes up Santa Barbara's sea front. He grew up in Seattle, sailing and playing on motor boats ever since he was a kid, and owning, restoring, and living aboard various sail boats. I have heard more than a few of his stories, and going boat shopping with him I have heard them several times, and could steal them as my own with a fair bit of authority, especially if I were chatting a non-boater.
In addition to my sailing with Nick, which really just wet my appetite, I have crewed a few local evening and day races, tagging along with co-workers who knew boat owner. I was rarely more than rail meat or a deck monkey, but the idea of getting all you can out of the elements always appealed to me. I took a few short sailing classes, 8-10 weeks or so, sailing 20+ foot open boats with a crew ranging from 3 to 4. Of course, with the whole class out in a fleet of matched boats, it was only natural to race. Any two sail boats headed in the same general direction are racing, though sometimes only one of the boat crews realizes it. Now Nick's philosophy has changed a bit, "change course if you have to, but keep the sun in the cockpit," isn't exactly conducive to racing, but he is buying a sports car of a boat, so he may yet have a bit of competitive energy in him.
My longest stints on board, heck, my only overnight sailing trips, consist of a three day sail from Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard to Newport, helping an old boss bring his new boat home, and two week long catamaran cruises. I have always said that I don't want to own a boat, I want a friend who owns a boat, so I have been rooting for Nick to pick up a boat for a while.
This one is French built 45 foot racer/cruiser, a Beneteau 45f5, the f for First, a designation that they out on their high performance fleet. A lot of Beneteaus head into charter service, so the company makes pretty comfortable boats, and the f5 is a marriage of performance and comfort. Sister boats, ones we have looked at, have sailed the TransPac, and finished first or second in their class, racing from Seattle to Hawaii. Not exactly the Southern Ocean, but open water for days on end none the less. However, instead of a stripped down interior, pipe berths and a single head, the f5's interior is styled by Pinafarina, the same Italian design house that does Ferraris. Lovely dark woods, a curved dinned table and seating, three bunks in this version, with two heads, a nice galley, flush decks, a good sized cockpit. This is a seriously pretty boat. As one salesman at West Marine noted to me, 'the Frogs know how to make pretty boats'.
So, day 1 of the trip is the survey, the presage inspection, including a haul out of the boat to check the bottom… cue dramatic music. If you don't own a boat, you may not realize that the bottom is painted, and then repainted every few years. One of those reasons you have to keep tossing money in that hole in the water. So the haul out reveals blisters on the bottom of the boat. Not huge ones, but lots of them, thousands of them, all about the size of lentil, way smaller than a coin. Every one was, lets say, shocked. The boat yard owner looked at them and didn't even to do the repair work. He had done a similar job and ruined one employee, who did nothing but run a sander for weeks on end. He kept calling the tab "stupid money." Finally cornered, he gave an estimate of $30,000, for a repair that was cosmetic only and could only be seen when the boat was out of the water. And yet, the next owner would them either fixed or the boat discounted to cover the value of the job, so there was no way to ignore the cost liability.
Next to the blister job, the rest of the estimate was peanuts. Well, $10,000 worth of peanuts, but it is a 20 year old boat. Plus a full day of shelling those peanuts… um surveying the boat. We emptied out compartments, lifted every hatch, unloaded, counted and then reloaded bag after bag after bag of sails. A full day of work indeed.
Then it was off to the hotel, with a quick stop for some snacks and vodka. Nick booked us in to a little motel on the water in Alameda, and we had a good laugh about the noisy folks on the other end of the adjoining doors until we figured out that we were in the adjoining rooms, except that they adjoined back to back, as opposed to next door as is typical. A wee bit of vodka, then a wee bit more, a check of email, then a hop over the Bay Bridge to dinner in the City.
I had made reservations a week before, looking through Chowhound, Zagat and Yelp for good restaurant that would't be too expensive, of course, that is a relative thing. I settled on Range, a place in the Mission District with great reviews. When I pondered the choice between Range and Boulevard on Chowhound (Boulevard is one of Nick's SF favorites), all the responses pointed me to Range, with better food at a lower tab. Of course, being San Francisco, every trip to a restaurant begins with a search for a parking spot. With none to be had, we pulled into the corner lot, and paid the $20 toke for a spot. LA it is not.
Dinner at Range was… good. I use that term a lot of these high priced dinners, since the tab was $200 with tip for the two of us, including $20 in corkage for the bottle of Stag's Leap Merlot Nick brought with him. I had a really good cocktail, some good ravioli with an odd lemony flavored sauce, and an excellent sirloin roast. Nick got off on the wrong foot when he went with a standard drink he has at home and found out they did not have Rose's Lime Juice (the bartenders are above that, they squeeze it themselves) and did not have Balsamic Vinegar for the bread. Dinner for him was ordinary. The clams looked OK, and the sauce was good with bread, but his steelhead was just ordinary. The only thing that made it to our table that was worthy of a MIchelin Star, which Range was awarded, was the sirloin, and maybe the cocktail. Dessert was a nice soufflé, with tiny bites of ice cream, and they did very nicely bring out a second desert on the house, some fried crepes with prunes and a nice sauce, but I was not paying too close attention to the description, so I can't talk about it in full. And sorry, no photos of this dinner.
We did spend the dinner time trying to figure out the deal, and it came down to this. The owner was going to have to eat the blister job, drop his price by $30k, and Nick would eat the other repair costs.
Saturday was sail day, and the weather which was supposed to be coming in later was a few hours early, with winds a steady 15-20 knots with gusts to 25. A brisk day. We spent the morning reading the boat for the sail and pushed off, with me, the deck ape, ready at the grinders, the broker at the helm and Nick doing the planning and sheet trimming. The boat does sail, and sail fast. we put in the first reef on the main, a little mini reef, and more than once we were stood on ear, canting over maybe 45 degrees, getting a rail in the water. Fast and pretty, in spite of her age. Lets call her a Cougar.
We sailed out of the estuary that divides Alameda from Oakland and into the San Francisco Bay proper, then north under the Bay Bridge and along the shore amost to the corner you would round to head to the Golden Gate. That bridge was pretty in the distance, and Alcatraz was a nice site from this closer perspective. There were lots of boats out, and more than a few groupings looked like class races, all straining for an edge in a good, stiff blow. Having a feel for her, we headed back, powered only by the headsail, and that was more than enough for a leisure sail.
Back in the slip, we put her to bed, covers on everything, and laid out the deal to our broker, who now has the job to tell the owner, the same guy who flew to France 20 years back to see her being built, that his sale price, a good $20k under his original asking price, was going to have to be cut by another $30k. But that is the reality of it, and Nick can't be stupid in overpaying for a boat just because it has a nice interior. So it is in the owner's hand, and a back-up boat is on the agenda for next weekend. So now my feet and headed back home, alined with the rest of me, helped immensely by Southwest Airlines. I know the kids will be happy to see me, and it will be nice to be back home, waiting for the next place my feet should take me.
Typically, flying back home would not merit an entry on its own, but we did have a bit of a journey in addition to the two flights. We started out at the hotel, just about 10 minutes from the airport, having driven in the night previously before from Chamonix. We had an early morning to match our early flight, and we pulled in about 2 hours before the flight time. Well, two hours before the flight time was scheduled. Unfortunately, the departure board let us know that there was going to be a 4 hour delay, and a we could already see the long wait to the counter.
Apparently, the plane heading to Zurich had mechanical difficulties in Atlanta before taking off, so they had to switch planes, delaying them out of the States, and in turn delaying us heading back. Everyone who had a connecting flight had to be rebooked, including us. We slowly made us forward, going through a quick passport check before getting to the counter. I didn't have a problem, but I could watch the screen as Bryan's passport was scanned, and he popped up on the No Fly List with something like a level 3 classification. The pattern in his name seemed to be a partial match to a number of individuals of interest. Oh well, I could always let the office know he was going to be back a few days later after some light detention and interrogation.
He actually was cleared on the spot, unbelievable, and we made the counter. My first bag was heavy, of course, so I started to move weight from my main bag to my ski bag as the agent was looking in to our flights. Then she let me know that I had elite status of the flight. Not too bad for someone who signed up for the frequent flier program right before the trip started. Being a pal, and finding out I had a 3 bad allowance, I offered to check Bryan's extra bag to save him the $50 fee (even with the no fly list thingy - scary) and he popped up with elite status as well. Who are we to question good luck. We were given our new boarding passes, our new connecting flights, a voucher for 30 Swiss Francs to have lunch, and a hand written invite to the Delta Sky Lounge.
We took a quick tour through the Duty Free shops then headed to the lounge (shared with a few other airlines), where the attendant was not sure about our hand written invite. She kept asking for our cards, or at least what it looked like, and I just bold faced it and said I never carried my card (it was true, I did not carry it, I didn't even have it yet), and I didn't even know what color it was (remember, I had never seen it). She let us in and we had a drink or two, a snack or two, and plugged in to the internet to send out emails and poke around, all free. Then we headed off for a nice lunch in the airport, actually tasty, but a full 60 francs (just about $60) for the two of us. We used the last of our loose change to buy some more chocolate and headed to the plane.
The flight was pretty uneventful, 4 movies on the old style overhead screen, 2 meals, drinks, snacks... There was no place to recharge, so Bryan's PC died after 2+ hours and my MacBook survived about 4, including 1 movie.
When we hit Atlanta, the immigration and customs were pretty easy, especially in comparison to Los Angeles. It is always a difficult decision between non-stop out of LAX or clearing customs in LAX, the system there is just that bad. We then had a few hours to wait for the next flight, and I started to think that we might have been bumped to first class. The agent in Zurich did not say anything, but our tickets were for row 1. Sure enough, first class from Atlanta to LA. Sweet. There was no meal, since this was a red eye, and even in coach there were seat back videos, but it was so nice to have a decent sized seat, we didn't have to fight for arm rest space, there was plenty of leg room, and, with row 1, not one in front of us to recline in to our laps. I didn't want to sleep, since I knew it would screw me up for the next few days, but I was so tired, I could not help but catch a few Zs after watching almost all of Men Who Stare a Goats.
So, the trip is done, we are back in Southern California, back at work, and I, for one, am wondering where my feet will take me next.
Our last day in Chamonix was a beautiful sun shining day, still hovering in the low single digits - Celsius that is - but with the sun out and the southern exposure at Brevent-Fegere, it was actually very warm. I went down to two layers, a light sweatshirt, the last of my clean ski layers, and my shell. It was a great spring day, here in early March. The crusty off piste snow had softened up a bit, by afternoon it would be too soft, but the late morning skiing for us was just perfect. We hit a few groomers, then looked at the gullies under the lifts that we dared not try earlier in the week, with the hard, crusty conditions. Watching a few people go in, we ventured down the lift line and over a ridge to get into the gullies.
Knowing I was tired from the week, I was a little more cautious, but I figured "what the heck," it is not like I was going to lose any days of skiing if I got hurt on the last day of the trip, and it was not really any steeper than faces we skied earlier in the week. The snow was heavier though, similar to the Sierra Cement we care used to in Mammoth and Tahoe, heavy and wet from the freeze/melt cycles. Making turns out your edges on the hard pack below while the edges shaved the hard pack, pushing the shaved ice down the hill.
Now, it is not as bad as I make it sound, it really was a nice spring day with spring conditions, a type of day I actually enjoy, but coming at the end of an eight day trip, with totally different conditions the day before, my legs were a little too heavy for this. And the fall I took showed it. I was linking pretty good turns, or at least decent turns, and I don't recall how I fell, but I came out of one ski and then was sliding down the hill, one ski, head first… There were no rocks, but it still isn't the way you want to eat up the vertical. I managed to spin around and get my ski and boot down hill to slow me, only to be flipped again, before I managed to reestablish myself and stop. None the worse for wear, Bryan brought me my ski and we finished the run, and made a few more. I did do the gully again (maybe twice more) later in the day, so I don't feel defeated by the hill, while Bryan popped over to the next two gullies over, narrower and with less coverage. Not runs I needed to try.
We did meet a transplant from Canada, a little spitfire, who took us over a different ridge to another steep face, fun, but with a chattery run out at the bottom, and we checked out some rolling ridges we spotted on our first trip to the hill, softened by the sun so they were skiable, but not approaching the powder conditions which would have made them great.
Lunch on the hill was pizza (pictures in the album) and wine on the patio in the sun, the first day in Cham where we ate lunch outside. The only other warm day for lunch was the first day in Zermatt/Cervina, an that was still a bit chilly, so this was a real treat for our last day in the Alps. We took a few more runs after lunch and then headed back tot he cable car to get down the hill. Funny, but in 8 days of skiing, the last 2 chairs of the trip were the only ones where there was anything approaching a lift line. Skiing laps for a week in the Alps, not a bad way to spend a few days of vacation.
After our day in the Vallee Blanche and our time in the bar, with all that beer, it was time for our posh dinner at the Albert 1er Restaurant, a Michelin 2* establishment just outside of the center of town. We made reservations 2 nights previously, so we were not going to be able to rebook, plus this was our last night in Cham, so it was now or never
We headed off to the hotel, which was indeed nice. A beautiful lobby and bar opened to the restaurant, spacious and comfortable, of course, we were also the first customers for the day. We looked through the menus, with a few prix fixe options, including the 9 course tasting extravaganza. We opted for the 5 course "La Petite Fête Gourmande du Marché" for 76 €, about $100. Neither of us really wanted the escargo, the first of the appetizers, so they offered to switch it out for the foie gras, which was pretty sporting of them. The sommelier, a real sommelier, next came to check on our wine choices. With that kind of knowledge at my fingertips, I was not going to try and blindly pick a wine myself, so we asked him to recommend 2 wines, one for the appetizers and one for the main course.
The meal started off with the amuse bouche, a bit of pumpkin soup with some goat cheese and chives. To me, this was a misstep. since the goat cheese and chives overpowered the delicate soup. I am happy to say that this was the only misstep of the meal. We had a lovely white first, and our first appetizer was the foie gras, topped with a quince jelly, which was one of the best tasting bites I have ever eaten. It was a little sweet from the jelly, but also savory, fatty, and melted in the mouth. Fantastic Bluefin Toro, lightly seared with real wasabi, would be the only thing that comes to mind as a possible rival.
Next came the red mullet with squid ink pasta and a saffron sauce. Good, but not spectacular. For the main course, we had the lamb, nice and tender, very good, but for me, actually not as good as the lamb I had at the Hotel Eden. Next came the cheese course, a 2 layered cart with more choices than I can shake a stick at. I allowed the server to pick out a selection of local cheeses, all good, a mix of soft and hard. After that came the dessert tray, well, trays. A 2 tier job with cakes, and another single tier with ice cream and fruits. We were given the option of selecting what we wanted, no limits beyond our own gluttony. We did limit ourselves to just a few options, a slice of cake or two, and some ice cream - anise for me. Finally we were given a small tray of petit fours and chocolates with the check.
All in all an excellent meal, not the value of the Hotel Eden from 2 nights before, but not a rip off either. Of course, without the amazing foie gras, I would have a different opinion.
Today (well March 12) was bucket list day, the Vallee Blanche, a tour down from the Aguille du Midi in the shadow of Mount Blanc, the highest peak in Europe. We met our guide at the base of the cable car, a crusty old guy, 60 at least, in better shape then any of us. He fitted us with harnesses and avalanche transponders, then we headed up the hill. There was Bryan and me, a pair of British lasses on skis, a solo skier from Idaho who was taking a break from monitoring elections in Africa, and a youngish couple on snow boards, and of course, our guide. We took two cable cars up the mountain, finally topping out a little over 3,800 meters., about 12,000 feet. We took a look off the observation deck, with a view down into the Chamonix Valley 9,000 feet or so below us, off to the peak of Mount Blanc, a little over 15,000 feet, and along the spine of the Alps, a clear view all the way off to the Matterhorn, a little under 40 miles away.
Down from the observation deck, our guide roped us together and gathered our ski poles, leaving us to carry our skis (or boards) across the narrow snow bridge. If we fell, the key was to hold on to our skis. We were roped together, so no one was going to slide down the mountain to our deaths, but losing your ski meant the end of the day, and the end of that piece of equipment. You were not going to get it back in one piece. The walk proved the worth of my Dakine HeliPro backpack, since I was able to lash my skis securely to the backpack and use one hand for the rope and one hand for my camera, while every else was occupied with gear. The snow bridge was very cool, it would have been terrifying without the safety equipment, and we finally unroped on a little shelf below the snow bridge.
Geared up for the mountain, we headed off down the slope, across fantastic snow, past amazing vistas, and down some pretty steep slopes, at least in part. It was a mix of follow the leader along meandering routes down the glacier, and steep descents down otherwise impossible to reach slopes. Everyone pretty much had a slight spill or two, with only one yard sale on the trip (not by me), and no injuries. The weather was amazing, warm enough that every stripped off a layer or two at one rest stop. We did pass one girl with another group who slipped on some rocks on a steep traverse and skidded down slope 20 feet or so, ending her descent with an injury, and helicopter ride back to town. Her guide stayed back with her, and our little group doubled in size as we picked up the rest of his group.
Down from the steeps, we had a section where we paid for the vistas with some flat-flat-flat terrain. All the boarders were prepared with poles, Bryan renting his the night before, and we pushed our way across the flats until the slope picked up enough for gravity to do the job. We took a lunch break on the glacier, visited by a lone black bird and scanning the ridges for mountain goats (one was spotted, maybe a second).
After lunch we pushed off for the final section of the glacier, stopping at a short gondola that took us to a train ride off the mountain. well, it took us to the steps leading to the gondola that would get us to the train headed down the mountain. Those steps were more tiring than any of the skiing we did, and just kept on going and going. They had to keep extending the stairs because the level of the glacier keeps dropping, with the decades ticked off along the wall as the walk got longer and longer.
A train ride down the hill brought us to Chamonix, and a quick walk across a bridge brought 5 of us to the bar. It was a sleepy place, at least for a while, as the Scandinavians kept packing it in tighter and tighter, and we kept drinking pitcher after pitcher. We had at least 6 for the table, and when the band started the place was jammed full to the rafters. I had never been in as crowded a bar as that one there. The band was good, a cover band, and it was odd to be dancing there in my ski boots, but it was apres ski.
We said goodbye to our new friends and I discovered that someone had helped themselves to my ski poles. My favorite graphite ski poles. These poles that had been with me for about a decade, indestructible, light weight, my favorites. Damn. Oh well, I bought a pair of composites and moved on, to our Posh Dinner as a matter of fact.
Day 2 in Chamonix and we did not have to move hotels, pack up and move on, so that in an of itself made for a great day. Breakfast downstairs again at the hotel, then another choice of ski hills, this time choosing the Grands Montets, northern exposure with a snowboard park, the one in the valley.
The weather was better in the morning, sunny for the most part, but still cold. The temperature over the whole trip hovered around 0C/32F, with no real wind except the one day at Zermatt/Cervina. We were expecting a little weather in the afternoon, but the day stayed nice for the most part. The views are great throughout, of course, they are lovely anywhere on the ski hills overlooking the town. The Grands Montets has 2 high lifts, a cable car and a gondola, and with the feeling of being packing in like sardines, we decided to skip the cable car and ride the gondola and some of the lower lifts. This was very indicative of the entire trip, there was not a single lift line more than a few chairs at any time, though the cable car could be a half hour or more standing in a herd. We basically skied laps anywhere we wanted, bombing down a run then sliding on to the lift without ever really stopping, then dropping off the top of the lift to do it again.
We explored most of the mountain. I found one ungroomed run that looked fun. It was not quite as icy as the off piste stuff the day before, and things were good until something happened and I ended up with a good hard crash, losing a ski and sliding down a good chunk of the hill. It was one of those 'hand of god' moments, where things are going well, then - wham - you are on the ground and picking up speed as gravity takes over. I did keep one ski, so I managed to self arrest, and Bryan came up behind me, picking up my discarded ski and congratulating me on the nice yard sale.
Bryan had fun in the park, working from the small jumps to the larger jumps. I even went into the park, taking on the smaller jumps. As I will freely admit, I do not do well in the air, even though you can not get hurt in the air, the landing can be a bit tough. Later in the day, we decided to try filming Bryan in the park, with me skiing behind him and taping him on my camera while he tried (and never pulled) a 360 along with a bunch of other tricks. I felt a little like a stunt photographer - cue Bond theme - having to concentrate on my skiing, moving through and around the obstacles in the park, while at the same time keeping Bryan in frame and matching speed with him.
We ended the day skiing down to the parking lot through the crowds, a long run by any standards. Another solid B+ day, with lots of fun runs, good views, good photos. Now on to town, time to explore a bit and find a guide for the run down from the Aguille du Midi through the Vallee Blanche. We parked and found a parking spot in town and wandered the center a bit and - low and behold - walked into the official guild of guides. We signed up for the trip the next day, 75 Euros each, and, mission accomplished, we went to track down some lunch for the next day, then dinner for that night. We found a nice place that made up some sandwiches, sweet of them to give us the condiments and veggies packaged separately to keep the bread from getting too soggy, then picked up a pizza to split in the room with some of the beers we always seemed to have around us.
We rolled into town a little late and finally found the hotel, a Best Western of all things, one of two in town (the lesser of the two if truth is told). Still, it is a very nice hotel, a 3*, nice room, balcony, and - drum roll - a hot tub, though it was closed by the time we checked in. Finally able to settle down for more than 1 or 2 nights, I unpacked fully, Bryan a little less so. We had a dinner of chips and bread and cheese on the way, so we skipped dinner in town, headed for bed, had a nice breakfast the following morning, collected our lift passes, and decided on a day of skiing at Brevent/Flegere, one of the ski hills in town, the one with southern exposure. We at the northern facing slopes, and clouds were gathering there, while the other side of the valley was clear, so we figured that skiing in the sun was better than being in the mist.
Skiing was great. A lovely spring day, though the snow never really softened up too much. We skied both sides of the resort, with a short cable car connecting two ski areas across a gully. The terrain was great, with a fun little skier-cross (or boarder-cross) type run set up, with wide, banked sweeping turns you can swing around and ride up the banks, other steep faces, some jumps, with lots of hints and even more terrain should things soften up. Bryan finally found some kindred spirits - other snow boarders - since there were not a whole lot of them on the slopes of Switzerland.
The day was a B+ day, tempered so much by the fantastic powder days we had earlier in the week. It really is tough to grade a day absolutely, since each day is colored by what we had in the week leading up to it, or the season heading up to it. Still, minus a foot or two of fresh powder, and absent the softening of snow we get during warmer periods, this was about as good as it gets.
Skiing over, it was time to turn our attention to dinner. I knew I wanted dinner at the Hotel Eden, but we had another 3 nights to figure out, and I didn't have any other ideas. So we poked around a bit, and low and behold we discovered a Michelin 2* restaurant right there in Chamonix. Being there in France, with the option of a 2* dinner, we decided that the experience would not be skipped. Thankfully, they had openings for Friday night, so that takes care of 1 out of the 3 nights left, Wednesday and Thursday. Deciding on the 'posh' dinner - as our British friends later in the week would term ditto - we figured on a good dinner at the Hotel Eden for this night, and a low key dinner the night between.
Hotel Eden is a lovely hotel just off the round-about leading to Brevent/Flegere. By all measures, it should be graded a star higher than it is, but lacking an elevator, they are stick within the structured rating system at that level. The dining room, on the other hand, is not held back by the lack of an elevator. I had dinner there when I skied Chamonix 10 years ago, and it was the best dinner of the trip. Of course, there were other reasons that dinner there stuck with me, but the food was great.
And the food was a bargain as well, at least currently. They offered 2 prix fixe menus, 3 courses, or 3 courses + a cheese course, the first for 19 Euros, the latter for 29. Now even with the exchange rate, this comes out to $30 or $45 for a 3 to 4 course French meal. Seeing lamb as a choice on the higher cost menu, I was drawn there, while Bryan opted for chicken on the less expensive plan. We started with a little amuse bouche, always a nice touch, then I moved on to a sun dried tomato and cheese tart while Bryan had a salad. We split 2 half bottles of French wine, a white to start and a red with the entrees, both from wineries that would probably never be imported but very nice none the less.
The entrees were excellent, I really liked my saddle of lamb - perfectly cooked - and the mustard and horseradish potatoes were magnificent. Keep in mind, there are photos posted of each course. After dinner we selected a variety of cheeses, which made for a nice break, then came dessert. Bryan had a chocolate mouse, while I had a fantastic chocolate cake with a molten chocolate center. For a total bill of about $60 a head, we had a fantastic dinner. I would eat there every night of the trip if the menu changed more often, but with only 2 options for each course, once or twice a week is about the limit, Plus we had another posh dinner ahead of us.
Our second ski day in Zermatt was not quite as nice as the first. Since we were staying in town this night, it was a little less rushed, and we had a really nice breakfast in the hotel that morning, then finished packing everything up, put the bags in the lobby, and hit the slopes. A weather front was moving in from the south, but the Swiss side was still OK, just cold and a bit windy. Still we took a peek into Italy and decided to go for it.
Instead of doing the long rope tows to the top of the glacier to drop over, this time we took the cable car to the top of Klien Matterhorn. The rope tows were bad enough on a good day, they would have been miserable on a cold and windy day. We got to the top and walked through the tunnel in the rock that brings the cable car up near the top of this peak and spits the skiers out the opposite side. The weather still looked a bit sketchy, but not horrible. Well, looks can be deceiving.
We dropped into the Cervina and almost instantly regretted it. The first nice powder field we scoped out the previous day was too crusty to really ski well and enjoy it, and as we dropped down the light was so flat that we could not distinguish anything on the slopes beyond our ski and board tips. It really was skiing by feel. And the feeling was not very good. It was actually a little vertigo inducing, thinking that the run was headed down hill when it was really a little flat, thinking it would flatten out when it started to drop. We made a bee line for the gondola to take us back up to the Swiss side. As great a day as our first day on the mountain was here, this one was equally bad. Bryan had blown out an edge on his board underfoot the day before, and his spare board was down with the car, so when it was icy, he could not carve on the hard pack, which made the long, hard cat trails down the hill especially difficult. We headed back up the lift to get us above the hotel, and then popped in for a little lunch on the hill, the pasta was not as good as Italy, but the carbs were nice. We then headed back to the hotel for a farewell drink, the train ride back down the the previous night's hotel to grab the car, then the drive to Chamonix and our last 4 days of skiing.
Day 2 of skiing was also out of Interlaken, this time Schilthorn above the town of Murren. We had fresh snow overnight, so there was powder on the slopes, no big crowds, and clearing skies. We skied the mid point for a while, hitting some powder, some groomers, and Bryan played a bit in the park. He also scoped out a little wooden shack on the sloes with a snow ramp leading to the roof. Unfortunately, someone else poached it before he was able to hit it after the scoping run, but he made a good run the next time down, and a really good on the run after. Pics are in the album.
For lunch we went up to the rotating restaurant and got some excellent views of the Alps from there. Skiing from the top, Bryan spotted a powder ridge and a few chutes that looked fun. The powder field on top was fantastic, best powder of the day for me, then the roll off the ridge was a lot of fun. I had to save his life by waving him off of a roll off over the rocks, but he found a good route anyway. We hit the route a few more times, then headed down for the day, a good B+ day overall.
Picking up the luggage from the hotel in Interlaken, it was off to Zermatt, or at least a town below Zermatt, or the night. There was a long tunnel on the route, and if we had actually read the turn-by-turn Google Maps directions, we would not have been shocked when we we stopped at a toll booth, then directed on to train cars. Yes, train cars. The train took us through the tunnel for about 30 minutes, in our cars, lined up single file in these covered, open cars.
Train ride over, we drove off the train and continued on to the Matterhorn Golf Hotel, with no golf course in sight and no view of the Matterhorn. No matter, the small room was enough for the night, and the dinner of risotto and hefeweizen was actually pretty good. In the morning we were shuttled to the Tasch train station for the ride to Zermatt, where no cars are allowed except the electric Dihatsu-lookng things that serve as taxis and shuttles. Think of a golf cart on steroids, or an electric tuk-tuk if you have ever been to Thailand. The hotel in Zermatt picked us up, and it was finally a nice room. We changed into our ski boots (well snow board boot for Bryan) and were pointed off away from town for the ski-out part of ski-in/ski-out. After a little downhill and 2 sharp lefts, we were left on a flat cat track back to the gondola, which was OK for me with poles and the ability to skate, but death for Bryan's snow board. We finally made the lift, then took the gondola up, skiing a bit on the Zermatt side of the Swiss/Italian border before deciding to head off the Italy.
Yes, one of the really cool things about Zermatt, other than the view of the Matterhorn, is that there is a ridge line which separates Switzerland and Italy. And if you spend the extra few bucks for the combo ticket, you can ski both sides. So we had breakfast in Switzerland and lunch in Italy, after all the food is better. As is the skiing.
This is my second time in Zermatt, and I love the views, and the town in cool, but the skiing isn't all that great. Lots of flats and narrow trails from one are to another. Italy was better though, and we found a patch of powder, 2 days after the storms, virtually untracked. Oh that was fun, floating through the powder from boot tops to mid thigh deep, cutting trails just a few dozen yards off of the marked run. Really a solid 'A' day, complete with some great photos, nice videos, and an epic crash or two. We had lunch in Italy as well, with excellent pasta and minestrone soup, yum… We worked our way back to the top of the ridge, then back in to Switzerland, then down a long, long, long way back tot eh town. We had to take a final lift up to get the altitude to ski back to the lodge, and we actually made it most of the way back, the final flats was a little tough on the snow board again, but it was close enough to call it ski-in/ski-out.
Day 1 of skiing, and I am actually pretty happy considering. We are staying in Interlaken, skiing in the town above it Grindelwald. The ski town is pretty, with the ski area on both sides of the valley, and the Eiger sitting above and off to the side. For our hotel itself, it is about 20 minutes or so from the ski area, walking distance to the town center, the Hotel Crystal, a proud 3*. Beds are comfortable, the staff is great, breakfast today was good, and may do they have hot water and good water pressure. Maybe you think these are little things, and if so, you have never stayed at a place with poor water pressure or a hot water heater than can't service the whole place. But the best thing, the little luxury which makes the place so nice, is the radiator/heated towel rack in the bathroom. If I had a radiator for heat, I would definitely get one. Plus, after a hard day of skiing, now we have a place to dry our clothes, warm them even for the evening stroll.
The food in town is a little pricey. OK, expensive. We went out for a so-so meal last night, not bad, just no special in any way, with house wine, and it was like $70 for the two of us. And that was at the less expensive end of things. It is easy to find entrees in the $30-40 range. At least the Swiss franc and the dollar are at about a 1:1 exchange rate.
So, skiing. A front moved in last night and by the time we were headed up the hill, the clouds had settled in and it was snowing, at a pretty good clip. In the 7 hours from parking to getting back to the car, it dropped about 6 inches in town, probably more at the upper altitudes of the ski area. The problem was visibility. We could see far enough, but everything, the ski and the sky, was the same shade of white. There were no details, so it was tough to just see where we were headed. We both decided to follow the lift line at one point and did not realize that the ground just dropped away from us with a good lip of a few feet. My skis dropped out from under me, I landed flat on both, pitched forward, came out of both heels and smacked my forehead on the (hard) snow. Thankfully, I was wearing a helmet, but it was still a very rude wake up. My skis were lined up together, like I had nicely stepped out of them. I didn't even have a chance to protect myself, I was down before I realized I was falling. There were a few other moments like that, but nothing as jarring. Instead we skied a mix of soft powder over a very hard base, so at times all I could see was my tips cutting the powder, but my skis, and legs, felt and had to ski the hard pack underneath. As long as we stayed on the marked piste, it was overall pretty good, and it was starting to feel like a pretty good powder day.
We did a few laps on one chair lift below the gondola, the upper lifts were closed for wind, and then decided to ski down and check out the other side of the valley. Well, ski resorts are a bit different here in Europe. A lot less hand holding if you will. We headed down slope, along a marked piste, pretty easy skiing, but as we got lower the trail moved into neighborhoods. Not subdivisions mind you, but houses that have been dotting the hill side for decades, maybe longer. We didn't make it back to our starting point, but rather a little spot up valley. At least the Swiss know how to run a bus system, and we caught the ski bus back towards the town center, then the base area for the other side of the Valley.
One long, windy ride up another gondola brought us to the top of that hill, same white out conditions, a bit more accumulated powder, and lunch. The little chalet was very crowded, but we managed to luck into a spot as a family was getting up, back in the corner, next to the dirty dishes. And next to the radiator, oh those glorious radiators. Lunch was pretty good, I had a tasty carrot soup and some good bread, Bryan had mushrooms and pasta, and we let our gear warm up a bit.
After lunch we skied laps on the chair that ran parallel to the upper gondola, and that was when the day really started to get good. The sun peeked out from time to time, giving the slopes a little definition, and we found some really nice, steep, deep, untracked, or at least not totally trashed powder. Good stuff, boot tops at least, knee deep at times. Ran a few laps there, and then had the run of the day on our last run, down from the top through the steep deep stuff, swinging way right off the top to get the untracked powder, then running all the way to the base lodge, for a long, long run. That is one of the big differences here in Europe, long runs, top to bottom a couple 1,000 meters, thigh burners. Not that they are tough, but just long.
After skiing we stopped at a nice cheese shop and bought a little snack, then took the beers in off the balcony and had a snack in the room, followed by a nap. Jet lag still is working wonders. We finally managed to get moving again, and ventured out into the evening, a light snow falling in town, so it is probably going heavy at the resort level. Stopped at a schwarma spot for dinner of all places, and then we found a Hooters here in town. Yes, the Interlaken branch of the world famous Hooters chain of restaurants. It was actually happening in there, way more crowded than anything else in town, with pretty good prices for the beer. We then peeked into the neighboring casino – yes casino, complete with $5 cover to go in a gamble – before heading back out into the snowy evening to walk back to the hotel. This is our last night here, tomorrow we ski in the area and then head to our next destination, so here is hoping for blue skies and deep powder.
Ah, the joys of airplane travel, this time on Delta to.... The Alps. Well, Zurich, then a car ride to the Alps, specifically Interlaken, Zermatt and Chamonix. Interlaken is the home of the Eiger, made famous by that early Eastwood film no one other than me seems to remember, the Eiger Sanction. Zermatt is the Swiss town at the foot of the Matterhorn, and Chamonix is west a little, in France, in the Shadow of Mont Blanc. I am off with a friend from work, Bryan, who I talked out of another ski trip over the holidays, so I was pretty committed to making this trip with him.
We had to accommodate Bryan's Delta rewards program, which for some unknown reason only let him book a flight out of LAX at 7:50 in the morning. Ugh. Super Shuttle was set up to get us at Bryan's at 5:30, 2:20 minutes, no problem. Except we are the first stop and there are 2 more people to pick up. So the clock ticks by and we get to the airport at 7:00, cutting it a little close. A nice agent took us up to the front of the check-in line, for the $50 each for our second bag. Who travels internationally with only one bag? Next comes the security line, tick, tick, tick... Laptop out, shoes off, belt, beep... Damn, I forgot my phone in my pocket. Better than Bryan leaving his phone in the shuttle van - ooops. Quick pat down, odd, the one I had in Toronto was was nicer, a mini 20 second massage then a quick jog to the gate... last ones on... of course.
The domestic portion of the flight was actually pretty nice. No free booze or food, but seatback videos, so not too bad. We booked adjacent aisle seats for the whole trip, so no fighting over arm rests. I was able to watch “The Great Buck Howard” on the flight, something I've been wanting to see. John Malkovich really is an amazing actor, one who is never afraid to take risks.. Into Atlanta now, no switching terminals there, just gates, so the 2 hour+ layover got a bite and drink at airport, then on to the flight to Zurich. And it is an old plane. 7 across, no seatback videos... oh well, at least it is overnight. And I packed my new MacBook. I was tired of watching my battery die after 1:30 of use on my laptop, not to mention not being able to fit it in my lap on an airline seat.
I used the time to catch up on my Oscar contenders, this time “A Serious Man” by the Coen brothers. Definitely a movie that connects more with the Jewish audience. A film that isn't really about anything, a couple of weeks in the life of a man and his family in the 60's, but still, a glorious film. Very funny, challenging at times, something you need to allow to take you on the journey, no matter that the twists and turns sometimes end up in a dead end. I really do love their body of work. I think I am now caught up, but I may need to double check I have not missed anything. These guys are amazing, just to be able to move to a sparse, tense film like “No Country For Old Men,” then a farce like “Burn After Reading,” and then on the “A Serious Man.” The movie on the plane was “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” but I didn't feel like watching it on a tiny screen half a cabin away.
So 2 hours for the movie, and I still have 2 hours on the battery meter for the MacBook. In spite of everything else, no damn forward delete key, just the backspace, a Fn key where I am used to a control key, a difficult to navigate file structure, this computer does have good computing power and a long battery life.
Well, it is off to Europe, off to the Alps, off to see where my feet, and my skis, are going to take me next.
One last entry into Israel, my last of the trip, 3 entries into Israel, 2 into Jordan, 1 into Egypt, I did get a few stamps in my passport this trip. Now, it usually takes me a few days to come to grips with a change in the calendar, and vacation only makes it worse. So here I am flying from Eilat to Tel Aviv, and I get to go through the interview process, again. except when I am asked what holiday we celebrated last month, I can't think of any Jewish holidays in November. I know that they don't celebrate Thanksgiving, and Yom Kippur was a few months back. I did finally realize that it was now January, and Hanukkah was last month, and I was heading for extra screening.
Well, at least they just checked my luggage. The flight was good, back into Dov and then off to the Grand Beach Hotel, the best bed on the trip since the boat. A real double, maybe a queen, not two singles pressed together.
For my final day, I did get a full day, with my flight at 11:30 at night. I walked all over Jerusalem, and then all over Petra, so what's a 7 mile round trip walk along the beach from the north end of the beach to the Old City of Jafa. Of course, I didn't know what was at the far end, and I must say that Jafa was worth it. I really loved the old city, very Mediterranean, which was convenient, since it was on the Med. It reminded me of Santa Barbara, which is a good thing.
So I spent my last afternoon beach front, enjoying a mojito and watching the sun set over the Old City south of me, then back to the hotel and a search for an internet connection, to no avail, then a cab ride to Ben Gurion International.
Up until now, everything went perfectly. Even my one miss step, heading to the wrong airport when I went to Eilat, I made it there, actually earlier than my original flight would have landed, with a cheaper cab fare. But here, on the plane back home. Well, back to Toronto and then back home; and here my luck ran out. I think I had the only seat on the plane where the seat back video didn't work. At least I slept for most of it. And I had my lap top, of course, coach seats are not built for 17 inch laptops.
So there it ends, a lovely 2 weeks, seeing things I have never seen before, being places I have never been before, and having a pretty good time in the process. Now, where will my feet take me next?
So there is that 4 hour bus ride zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz -oops, I drifted off for a second. Well, this time the driver took a quick detour to the base of Masada, and I am sorry I didn't get the chance to check it out, but it would have cut into the other cities, so there.
Now, I made a ton of plans in advance for this trip, 4 hotels, internal and international flight, the boat, I even had the bus schedule in advance for Eilat/Jerusalem. The only thing I didn't plan was how I was going to get from the border crossing at Eilat/Aqaba to Petra. as luck would have it, the timing of the crossing was nearly empty, except for a young European couple who were planning on a day trip. So we decided to share a ride, too bad the cabbies didn't like the idea. We stick to our guns that we were together, and then piled into a single cab for the 2 hour drive.
They were dropped at the entrance to the park, while I went to the hotel for a quick change then off to the site. Walking in, there is a 15 minute open area then another 15 minutes through the Siq, a slot canyon that towers 50 feet or more and narrows down to a few yards in spots. Nothing to see except the canyon walls (and a few carvings) until you see a peek-a-boo view of the Treasury, the most well known facade in Petra.
The view opens up as you get closer, and the Rose City comes into view, at least the one facade of the Treasury comes in to view, massive and incredibly detailed. Carved out of the face of the sandstone, the towering columns were not put into place, but all that isn't the column has been removed from around them. Of course, there is a nice little spot to have a cup of Arabic coffee and stare at the structure, which I did, more than once this trip. I had a few hours that afternoon, so I did not explore very far, just the next set of facades beyond the Treasury. Then I had that 1/2 hour walk out and a cab back to the hotel before I did the whole thing again for Petra at Night.
Dinner in Waid Musa, the city which supports Petra, was at a modest Jordanian café, where I had the Jordanian version of the schwarma. Think of a simple chicken burrito in a sandwich press, served with fries and hummus. Not what I was expecting, but good none the less.
So - Petra at Night. This was why I went to Jerusalem then Petra in that order. Thursday night - New Year's Eve 2009/2010. Of course, there is the walk again, 15 minutes in the relatively open canyon, followed by 15 minutes through the Siq. The big difference, the entire walk was lit by luminarios, candles set in canvas bags. It was a very beautiful and peaceful way to make the trip, just me and a few 100 of my closest friends - well, strangers.
I didn't know what to expect, was it going to be a light show like the pyramids at Giza or a faux historical show like on the Yucatan. Instead, the Treasury was lit by a sea of luminarios, and the visitors sat in a semi circle around the facade and were treated to a hour long concert of perhaps traditional music. It really was lovely. Too bad the full moon was hidden by the cloud cover, the extra lighting would have made for really spectacular images.
The next day was back to Petra, this time exploring more into the canyon, including the 2 hour walk up 800 steps to the Monastery, the facade at the far end of Petra. The area allowed for wonderful views of the Arabian Desert. There was one little girl - they are everywhere trying to sell postcards, jewelry, rocks... - who kept trying to sell me stuff, and since I wasn't buying wanted to play with my camera. She was having fun, but she kept pushing buttons and I really did not want her to reformat the card in my camera losing all the photos from the day, including that 2 hour hike.
Day 3 at Petra found me exploring the last of the ruins in the main area, though there are still areas that I missed, the Place of High Worship and Aaron's Tomb, but exploring the I never lost the awe of the site over the 3 days. I had a last cup of coffee in front of the Treasury before heading back to the hotel, for the cab ride back to the border. The same cabbie who took me picked me up, at a fair price.
Getting back to the border, I made one last entry into Israel, the third time in the 2 week trip. An flight in Israel from Eilat to Tel Aviv took me to my last night in Israel, thankfully in the most comfortable room I had (with the exception of the boat) over the whole trip.