Friday, 25 January 2008

Jordanian Rocks and Egyptian Balloons

Wow, what a great holiday. At the risk of making you all crazy with jealousy, I've never seen so many beautiful things in such a short space of time.

Despite an initial hiccup (my poor sister-in-law brought her old passport by accident, so she had a joyous trip to Heathrow, then to Aqaba, where she had a three hour taxi journey to reach our hotel - we'd spent most of this time chilling out in the hotel bar!), Jordan was amazing.

Petra is an ancient city carved from the rock of the mountains by the Nabuteans (you know, those guys from Amidala's home planet). The most famous building is known as the Treasury, because it was rumoured the stone urns held pieces of gold (they didn't).

It's a 6KM walk to the foot of the mountains, at the top of which is a monastery, also carved from the rock. We bravely elected to climb the 800 steps up the mountain, although my Dad cheated and took a donkey. The views were stunning, though the fact we couldn't walk for the next five days was an unfortunate side effect.

The next day's trip was a jeep excursion through the desert of Wadi Rum, where Lawrence of Arabia liked to hang out. It was effing FREEZING on the back of that jeep - one member of the group decided she was coming down with hypothermia, the drama queen. I nearly threw up my humous and tabbouleh lunch in my Dad's lap what with all the bumping around. We explored a cool crevice in the rock where the Bedouin used to hang out when it all got a bit windy outside (most meals in Jordan are bean-based), but I don't think any of us were as excited as the tour guide trainee, who leapt about on the rock face gabbling away on his mobile phone with very little thought for health and safety. Finally we sat on the top of a rock formation and watched the sun set over the desert.

After a seriously long coach trip we were in Egypt, enjoying a whistlestop tour of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (had a weird deja vu moment when I spotted a piece known as the "cow bed" that was incredibly familiar to me from one of my favourite childhood books on famous mysteries from around the world), lunch on a boat on the Nile (which is oddly similar to being on a boat on the Thames to be honest - kept expecting to see the London Eye), then to the pyramids and the Sphinx.

On our last morning we woke up at 4.30am to make it to the west bank of the Nile for a hot air balloon ride as the sun rose. The occasional blasts of flame made each balloon glow for a moment in the darkness, like huge, fat fireflies.

Our last day was spent in Luxor, visiting the Temples of Luxor, Karnak and Hatshepsut. The former we had the luck of seeing at dusk; it's so much more atmospheric at night, when the beautiful stone statues turn gold in the spotlights.

And now I'm back, with just fab memories of amazing sights and good times with my lovely family, and a huge inbox of poxy emails to get through!

Writing news next time, promise. xxx

Monday, 7 January 2008

Who would win in a fight: giant snails or crocodiles?

Happy New Year!

Yes, hard to believe, but Christmas is already over, we're back at work, the skies are grey, it's getting dark at 4pm, and there's months to go before the next bank holiday. Urgh.

Things to be happy about:
1) Looks like we've got a pretty good chance of a Democrat in the White House next election (to paraphrase Chris Rock, Dubya did such a bad job that there's no way a white guy can get elected).
2) Big Brother is back (yes, I admit it, I'm a fan), and it actually makes a difference watching ten very talented young men and women (those circus act kids are incredible) rather than a bunch of celebrity-hungry wannabes.
3) That's it.

Actually, I do have something to look forward to - a family trip to Egypt in a week or so. It's going to be magic: pyramids, a boat along the Nile, a visit to Petra. I've been told I need to beware the giant snails, but my Dad reckons the crocodiles have got a taste for tourist flesh, and given the choice between outrunning a croc and a snail, I prefer my odds with the snail.

Couple of book recommendations:
- Deeper, by Jeff Long; a sequel to The Descent, which is one of the best books I've read, about the discovery of a literal, subterranean Hell. It bears no relation to the film of the same name. The Descent has one of the creepiest, scariest opening chapters ever, but then becomes a great novel about humanity's limits.
- The Ruins, by Scott Smith, about some holidaying college grads in Mexico who go on a day trip to some ruins they've heard about, and end up in deep shit. It's a potboiler, but then I love potboilers. Very hard to put down, and the characters ring true throughout. Apparently they're making it into a film, but since they've apparently changed at least two characters' fates, you wonder why they don't just write summat from scratch. Speaking of which, I saw I Am Legend over Xmas, and then read the book. Apart from the central concept (lone bloke, lots of nasty creatures), the only thing they have in common is that the lone bloke is called Robert Neville. Needless to say, the book's ending is much more effective than the film's. Cute dog though.

And speaking of cute dogs, I'll sign off with a pic of my brother's dog, who is sulking because we made him wear antlers and a velvety fur collar.