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Saturday, November 26, 2011

[Angie Travels] - Egypt (Cairo to Mt Sinai)

        Continuing on from our adventures in Cairo. It's an early wake up call and we say good bye to the Nile River and the city of Cairo and head south east into the desert headed for Mount Sinai. We were warned that it was going to be a long trip - around 6 hours. It was a very very long bus ride, looking out at nothing but desert sands. Thank goodness for pit stops.

        It's time for a toilet break, and snacks, and one of the guides from the other bus gives a presentation on the Suez Canal, which we'll be going under in order to cross the Gulf of Suez to get to Mount Sinai. There seemed to be a queue at the bar for freshly brewed Egyptian coffee so Ryan decides to join it. It's a very thick coffee and gets quite sludgy towards the bottom but the aroma was quite magical and the taste was not like what we're used to at home, almost chocolatey to me.

        Before we continue our journey, we're each given a papyrus painting depicting the journey of Israel's exodus from ancient Egypt, which we are following on this pilgrimage. 

Our next stop is Ayun Musa, also known as Moses' SpringExodus 15:22-26.

        And wherever we go, there are bedouins selling trinkets and souvineers. While waiting around, our tour organisers pull out some portable speakers and pump up some music, roving entertainment in the middle of the desert!

        Our stomachs are telling us that it's lunchtime - all 100 or so of them. On the way to our lunch stop our guides  have to take our orders on the bus and phone ahead with them just so that the restaurant can get ready for our arrival. I think we filled the place to capacity.

        Plates start flying out onto the tables, we have sides of pickled vegetables, and a plate of beige sauce which tasted like tahini to me but never got a chance to confirm it.

        Soft fluffy pita bread comes out in little wooden baskets and we're also given a bowl of potatoes cooked in a tomato based sauce.

        We also get given some rice and the meat options we had were either grilled chicken (photo didn't come out right) or lamb koftas which is what I opted for. Apart from those amazing falafel sandwiches we had in Cairo, this was another fantastic meal to be had in Egypt.

        We eventually cross under the Suez Canal at the Gulf of Suez and are in the Sinai Peninsula. We stop by the Feiran oasis which is said to be the site of Rafadim - battlefield between the Hebrews and the Amellecti (Exodus 17). Atop a near by hill, there are also the ruins of an ancient church. 

        Some bedouin children approach us with bags of hand made jewellery and crafts. Lots of photo opportunities with the sweet kids.

        We're running a little behind schedule but we finally make it to our final pit stop, St Catherine's Monastary which is based at the foot of Mount Sinai. They say that this is also the site of the original burning bush (Exodus 3:1-13). We spend quite a bit of time here as this site also has a world renowned collection of ancient manuscripts and valuable icons. By the time we leave it's already dark. We get to our accommodation for the night, have a quick dinner and then get ready for bed, it's only a couple of hours before we have to get up again.

        We've barely slept a wink before we are awoken by our alarm clocks ringing and loud knocks on our doors at midnight. We get back on the bus for a short ride back to the base of Mount Sinai and then it's a short walk up hill in darkness to the camel station.
        We're told to line up single file as the bedouin camel owners allocate us our camels. We can't use our torches or take photos with the flash as the camel's eyes are very sensitive. This was my first time ever riding a camel and I admit that I was not all that keen on the idea. But the only other option was to walk up the mountain, which was 2285 metres high. We were a big group which meant that there were at least 80-90 camels going up the mountain that night.

        I can still remember struggling to get onto my camel's back. I was wearing jeans and also because I am short I found it difficult to get my leg over the hump and the wooden peg that was strapped onto it's back. There was no harness, no footrest, all I had were the pegs on the saddle at the back and to the front of me to hold on to.
        The moment that the camel stood up, I squealed.  It was an awkward few jerks, I had no warning that my camel was getting up so I had to quickly grab on to the wooden peg to stop myself from falling. As the camel has such long legs it took quite a few goes before it was standing on our four legs. I had to lean back and try to balance myself so that I wouldn't fall off.

        The journey up the mountain is definitely something I will never forget. Travelling in pitch darkness, with nothing but the million stars in the sky guiding our way. It was just a magical moment, whether you are religious or not, there was definably a spiritual presence in this place. It was just amazing.
       The camels were quite well behaved most of the time, following a path that they have most probably walked all their lives though there were some moments when I was sure my camel would just fall off the edge of the path into the valley below. I'm glad that I couldn't see my surroundings because if I did, I don't think I would have made it to the top.

        There was one incident where I thought my life was about to end with me falling off my camel. Our small group of camels came to a bit of a road block caused by another group of camels which had stopped in the middle of the track. It was a chaotic moment where I was holding onto my wooden peg for dear life as my camel went off track and up and over a large boulder on the side of the path in confusion.
        I was glad when my guide pulled the camel back onto the path but I could feel my heart beating a million times over for quite some time after that.


        We finally reach the last camel station at the top of the mountain. The actual peak is another 750 steps further up. A small handful of us decided to stay behind due to various reasons. After squatting down all those steps to the bottom of the pyramid my thighs were absolutely too sore to be climbing any stairs. I still had to walk all the way down the mountain later on. Ryan went on ahead and conquered the 750 steps.
        We sat for a moment in complete darkness, just watching the sky slowly change colour, listening to the sound of silence all around us. Cardinal George Pell lead some prayers and then we sung a couple of songs. 
         There was a group of African pilgrims who had also made the trek to Mount Sinai. Some of them went to the top and some of them joined our group at the camel station with prayers and song. It was amazing how religion can bring people together no matter where in the world they come from.

        Top photo is of a small chapel at the top of Mount Sinai which Ryan took. Bottom photo is one that I shot while we were waiting for the sunrise. 

        The moment we were all waiting for, a glimpse of the first light of day. It was quite tranquil, the silence all around us as we watched the sun grow.

An unforgettable moment with an unforgettable sunrise.

        Not the best photo of me but the only one I have of me on Mount Sinai. It was too dark to take one when I was on the camel.

        As the sun gets higher we prepare for the long walk down to the bottom. It's amazing to keep looking up at this huge mountain and to think that we had just climbed up to the top of it.

        When everyone finally reaches the bottom we make our way back to our accomodation for some well earned breakfast. Along the way we stop by the  Plain of El Raha (Plain of Rest) where the Chapel of the Golden Calf was built to commemorate the false idol made by Aaron while Moses was on Mount Sinai.

        After breakfast we collect our bags, leave our little Mount Sinai hotel and hop back on the coach for a long ride up to the Egyptian/Israeli border city of  Taba where we stay the night at a luxurious resort by the Red Sea. The next day we will be entering into the Holy Land of Israel.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Belgian Waffles - It's a Waffle Party!

        Do you LOVE waffles? Crisp on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. Heck I think that's how I like a lot of my food, it's about the contrasting textures!
        I was actually never a huge fan of waffles to start with and only ever liked the Vietnamese pandan waffles but I will make an exceptian for the Belgian ones.

        At work, we have a rewards program where we are rewarded with points for our good work and also for service recognition/anniversary with the company. You can trade in your points at any time in exchange for something from the catalogue which ranges from things like movie vouchers, homewares, electronics, even overseas trips. 
        I had accumulated enough points to claim a compact digital camera with super zoom however it wasn't quite what I was after so I donated my camera to Grandpa who had lost his during the Queensland floods. I had enough points left over to claim a Sunbeam Belgian waffle maker, which I had been eyeing off for a while now.

        One cold rainy Friday evening Ryan was called into work, so earlier that day I sent out a message to some friends for an impromptu waffle party at my place, what better way to christen my waffle machine? With some eager reponses I went about researching online for a recipe for Belgian waffles and found this recipe. I remember I had to make a few changes to it but never wrote down exactly what those changes were. 
        The batter that I ended up with resulted in some pretty tasty waffles. It's a yeast based waffle batter which meant that I had to sit my mixing bowl next to a heater to help it rise on this particular cold night. It was well worth it though.

        My fellow wafflers came and we fired up the waffle machine to start making some hot waffles. I had plenty of chocolate at home to make a sauce and also had some strawberries in the fridge. I requested my guests to bring some additional toppings of choice, and a tub of vanilla ice cream too.

        The chocolate sauce is simply some milk chocolate melts and milk, melted over a double boiler and stired until combined.

        So our toppings of choice are 'maple' syrup (shame it wasn't the real deal), strawberries and a mix of crushed walnuts and cashew nuts. Chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream not shown in this pic.

        Golden goodness. I actually doubled the batch and we were eating waffles a few days in a row, such indulgence.

        DIY waffle assembling. All on with the toppings for most of us. It's more fun that way, and everyone gets to pick and choose what they want to go with their waffles. Great for those picky eaters. I've got to say I was actually a little skeptical about the crushed walnuts and cashews but they went so well with the chocolate and strawberries and vanilla ice cream. We didn't have any bananas that evening but the next day I was able to have a waffle with some ripe sugar bananas from the garden - it was delicious.

        What could possibly be better than this? Definately beats heading out to Max Brenner to queue up on a cold and wet Friday night! And we had much more fun at home making our own waffles.