Monday 31 December 2007

last post of 2007

just time to get in one more post before the end of the year...

i see that i only managed 45 blog entries this year (including this one), compared to 72 for 2006. i suppose i could make a new year's resolution to blog more in 2008, but one of the things i enjoy about my blog is that it is completely self-paced. no pressure. i am just as happy with this year's 45 blogs as last year's 72.

so i hope you will continue to stop by and visit. i will try to keep things interesting. who knows what excitement lies ahead in 2008? i, for one, can't wait to find out!

happy new year!
xo, b

Tuesday 25 December 2007

merry merry happy happy!


happy holidays from mr. and mrs. d!

it's rainy in london - more a "wet" xmas than a "white" one - and once again, santa failed to bring me a pony, but otherwise, it has been a great day filled with lovely surprises.

hope you're having a good day, too!

Thursday 13 December 2007

getting ever closer...

you may be interested to know that i passed my life in the u.k. test yesterday. the study guide was definitely key since all the questions and answers were taken directly from it. i spent about two weeks studying, quizzing myself with flash cards, and taking free online practice tests. overkill? yes, but i really wanted to pass the first time around.

being the nerd that i am, i actually read the whole book, although the test only covered chapters 2-6. it is still a mystery to me why chapter 7 is not included: knowing the law. you would think this would be the most important thing for immigrants to have ingrained in their memories!

after all that prep, and over half an hour of admin to get the test underway, i finished all 24 questions in 3 minutes. i made myself go back and review them, so that added another 3 minutes to my time. mercifully, the test centres do not make you wait for everyone else to finish. i got my pass certificate and left almost immediately.

they do not tell you your score, but i was confident about my answers to 23 out of 24 questions, and when i checked the last one in the book afterwards, i had answered that one correctly, too. hoorah!

next steps:

i have applied for a new u.s. passport in my married name - the last official document needing to be changed. i am waiting for it to come back.

in late march/early april, i can apply for indefinite leave to remain (permanent residency).

the final step is applying for british citizenship in 2009 (as long as they do not change the requirements between now and then.)

i have had an up-and-down time with immigration, but looking at it from this perspective, it is not all that bad. at least i have more options and less hassle than many people trying to live and work in this country. (knock on wood, fingers crossed, and hopefully not 'famous last words', she whispered superstititously!) even paddington bear is not immune to immigration laws!

Sunday 9 December 2007

kitchen time

i have been spending some quality time in the kitchen lately. shortly after our trip, tempted by the promise of familiar north african flavors (and quick prep time), i made moroccan chicken pot pie, sans olives. this is one recipe that will be repeated!


this week, i switched gears into holiday mode, and that is how the table found itself covered in gingerbread men.



the eagle-eyed among you may notice that i had some fun designing gingerbread men for an all-male, predominantly gay, dinner party. the two in the front row left have clearly been clubbing in their studded belts and collars. YMCA...! the second from the right began life wearing a scarf, boots and mittens (yes, that's obviously what they are) but things went wrong when i tried to add a white snowsuit. the result? daffyd thomas, the only gay in the village. fortunately, among 7 hungry men, none of the little cookies went unwanted...

Sunday 25 November 2007

from petra to the pyramids

S and I just came back from a two-week tour of Jordan and Egypt. It was so incredible and we did so much that I am not quite sure how to distill it into small enough chunks to keep you interested... but here goes!

We flew to Amman and arrived late in the evening. We had an early morning departure from our hotel, so aside from a death-defying sprint across the street to buy some bottled water, we didn't see much of the Jordanian capital. We later discovered that the speeding cars in Amman were positively calm compared to the polluted morass of Cairo, but at the beginning of our trip, playing human frogger felt quite exotic and dangerous. I was also reminded of the oft-quoted fractured English sign commanding drivers to "tootle [horns] with vigor."

From Amman, we drove to the impressive Roman ruins in Jerash.



Complete with ... bagpipes?!

Driving on, we stopped for a late-afternoon dip in the Dead Sea. It's true: it's virtually impossible not to float in the Dead Sea. I tried to roll over onto my stomach at one point and my legs shot up above my head. Much easier to lie back and bob on the surface, avoiding getting the water on your face or in your hair. The one thing they don't tell you is how oily the water feels. Very odd but pleasant. And on the other side of the Dead Sea, you can see Israel.



The following morning, we toured Kerak Castle...


...on our way to the highlight of the trip, Petra. Before the trip, I didn't know much about Petra beyond photos of its famous Treasury, and what little I can remember from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.


I had no idea how expansive Petra is - it is hard to conceive of the scale of the place until you're in it. First, you walk about 2km through a gorge known as the Siq.



For those who prefer not to walk, there are various options including camels and horse-drawn carriages.

And suddenly, the Treasury reveals itself.


The Treasury is absolutely beautiful, and it is hard to imagine how they carved it so carefully out of the rock. S and I had a hard enough time weatherproofing our windows over the summer, and that was using a proper ladder only 15 feet up. The Treasury stands 40m high!


Walking on from the Treasury, we began to discover the rest of Petra. Behind us in the distance, you can see the entrance to the Monastery climb, which we did the next day.

In the evening, we retraced our steps through the Siq to the Treasury by twilight. This time there were no camels, no horses, no talking even. The path was lit by hundreds of luminarias, and it felt like you could see every star in the universe. We sat in front of the Treasury, staving off the cold with Bedouin sage tea, watching the candles play inside the paper bags, and listening to traditional Bedouin music. It was my favorite part of the trip.


The following morning, we walked through the Siq, past the Treasury, once more on our way to the Monastery. Inside the Siq, it was quite chillly but out in the exposed sunlight it was deliciously warm. Our climb took us further into the mountains, up a fairly steep donkey path.



We stopped for tea at the top of the mountain. Of all the possible animals that could roam feral around Jordan and Egypt, I was glad that the most ferocious creatures we encountered were kittens.

From Petra, we drove out into Wadi Rum and the desert.




After bumping through the desert in land rovers, the camels were a welcome relief!


While we were marveling about traveling through the desert by camel, the young guides couldn't switch off - this one was texting on his mobile. Incredible that he even had a signal!

At the end of our ride, the guide offered to buy me for 10 camels. S said he wouldn't let me go for less than 20...

Our evening in the desert was calm and peaceful.

We slept in a Bedouin tent and swapped stories over the camp fire. The only thing missing was the s'mores.


From the desert to the sea... We drove to the resort town of Aqaba, for a mellow farewell to Jordan.



We took the ferry from Aqaba to Nuweiba, entering Egypt for the first time, and drove to Dahab. I snorkeled while S explored the town. The coral reef was beautiful, but I was grateful for the wetsuit - the water was surprisingly cold.





This cheeky kitty snatched the last bit of our pizza lunch, and then proceeded to lick the plate clean.

After a few relaxing days on the Red Sea, we headed inland to St Catherine's (equally spelled St Katherine's), at the base of Mt. Sinai, where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments. We had a 1 AM wake up call and began climbing an hour later. The path was a gradual 7km to the top; with an additional 750 steps to the peak. Between S's patient encouragement and my iPod, I made it to the top and we joined the group to watch the sunrise.




After a quick look around St Catherine's Monastery, we had our longest drive: nearly eight hours across the Suez, into African Egypt, and finally to Cairo. In the morning, we visited the Pyramids in Giza. They truly are amazing. It was a bit sad that they are so overrun with tourists and vendors, but the pyramids do not appear to be suffering - testament to the fact that they were built to last.





Dinner was in Khan el-Khalili Market, right smack dab in the middle of the hustle and bustle. By the way, the food was great. In Jordan, we ate all the fresh veg and enjoyed mezze, pita and mixed grills. In Egypt, we avoided uncooked veggies, but still had lovely grilled meat and bread.



We took a side trip to Alexandria. Unfortunately we ended up driving about 3.5 hours each way only to spend about 3 hours in the town.

We zoomed around the Roman amphitheater...

and saw the catacombs.

I would have liked to roam around the market, but as it was, we saw it from the bus. Note that the vendors have to move their wares off the tram tracks to allow streetcars to pass!


Last, we wandered around Fort Qaitbey. The weather had been rainy in Alexandria and the Mediterranean Sea was wild, especially compared to the Dead Sea and Red Sea.


Back to Cairo for our final day. We did a whirlwind tour of Coptic and Islamic Cairo, visiting a church, synagogue and mosque in rapid succession.

The Hanging Church

Ben Ezra Synagogue

Muhammad Ali Mosque


The trip was over far too fast, but we have over 1,000 photos between us and tons of memories... We also have at least one reason to go back: we didn't see the Valley of the Kings. Next time!