My First Saudi Dinner Party...

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I'm lucky to have some very well connected friends here in Saudi.  A couple of weeks ago, my same friend who took me to the Saudi Grad Party invited me to join her for dinner at a local Saudi home.  (one of the girls she teaches at the college asked her over.)
My friend has been to this home before and she had told me that I wouldn't believe my eyes.
Now, I had been sick for about a week and I really didn't want to go, I just wanted to crawl in bed.  (and I almost did just that)  And, boy, would I have kicked myself for missing out on this night.
Her husband picked me up along with another friend of ours and drove us to the house.  This was at 7pm at night.  We pulled up to this building with white walls reaching at least 12ft high surrounding the whole property.  We walked up to a massive gate and waited for someone to let us in.  When the gates opened, my jaw hit the floor.  Let me correct that...my jaw hit the marble floor.  Marble tiles covered the entire courtyard...a courtyard large enough to hold two American football fields.  Now, here's the kicker...we were on the women's side.  Yes, just the women's side.  Through another massive gate I could see another courtyard...full of cars (naturally there would be no cars on the women's side)...that was the entrance to the men's house.
The only photo I got up the nerve to ask to take was when we were outside after dinner (around 11:30pm)...so, I'm sorry for the crappy quality, but I didn't want to push proper etiquette and bust out my massive DSL camera.  Anyway, this is a shot of the women's home.  Remember the only time women and men live together is if they are married or it's with immediate family (brothers, fathers, sons).  Something else, no?  (you can see the men's house tucked behind on the right)
 click on the photo to see it larger

So, we enter the front door and I have to keep my jaw from hitting the floor...again.  I could fit nearly my whole house in the foyer.  There are two massive chandeliers that were at least 4 feet across...each.  To the right (which we didn't get to see) we were told there was a large ballroom.  Straight ahead is a massive stairway that split off left and right at the top.  To the left was a large square room (the small lounge) where we went to sit and visit.  The room was decked out from top to bottom.  Complete with a sparkling chandelier in the middle.  The colors were done in spring green, pinks and gold.  There were 12 throne chairs (you know, with the high side arms) painted with gold trim and three couches (painted the same) large enough to hold at least three people. 
I asked about the house itself and was told. "there are 17 bedrooms and 25 bathrooms.  Each girl has a separate 'room' for their clothes (I'm guessing a closet...but one that is probably bigger than my master bedroom) Each house (men and women) has two dining rooms, two lounges (one large, one huge), and two kitchens."  So, you know, just a modest home.  The girls seemed a bit embarrassed when they mentioned that their friends call the house a palace...well, um, yeah, it is.   
Let me give you a little info on the family...The lady of the house has ten children. (her husband has passed on)  She has three sons and seven daughters.  All the daughters live in the home.  The wife of one of her son's also lives there.  She is the one who invited us.  
There we are in the room with the daughter-in-law (from here on referred to as DIL) and then the lady of the house comes to join us.  Saudi women greet each other by giving a kiss on one side of the cheek and then 5 to 6 pecks on the other cheek.  (yes, they do this every time they see each other...every time.)  
The lady of the house doesn't speak English so DIL was busy translating back and forth.  We were offered a variety of juice to drink.  (tip number one...you don't turn down anything)  After visiting for a bit, one of the daughters joins us.  We all stand...kisses all around...sit and continue chatting.  A little time later, another daughter comes.  Same routine.  (by now I'm already having a hell of a time trying to remember their names)  
Next, they bring out Arabic coffee (coffee made with cardamom...so different and so good) that is served in very small cups (similar to espresso) and dates.  
Another daughter arrives...up we go, kisses, etc.  After about two hours, all the daughters have arrived (along with a close friend and a couple of cousins)  They are having a grand time with me and laughing as I try to recall all their names.  One of the daughters has excelled in college and is trying to get a teaching job.  The oldest is a teacher in a small village that takes her an hour and a half...one way...to get to work each day.  They pick at one of their younger sisters who isn't as good in school and is majoring in, what we would call in the States, "home economics."  Her sisters find that funny.  The DIL has two sons but she just graduated college as well and is hoping to get a job too.  DIL's husband is a lawyer who attended Harvard in the States (and aced his classes).  They lived in Boston for four years and she told us how much she loved living there.    
During all our talking, they have brought out tea to drink as well as chocolates and dates.  It's nearing 10:30pm...about time to eat dinner.
We are ushered into the dining room where we find a table set for sixteen. (there are over 20 women present, but some chose to stay in the lounge)  There are twelve platters of food lined up down the table (enough to feed my family for weeks).  We all sit and then one of the daughters picks up my plate and begins to pile food on top.  She doesn't ask what I like, if I'm allergic to anything...just fills my plate and happily puts in back in front of me.  I'm sitting right next to the lady of the house who gives me a look like, "what are you waiting for?  eat!"  I have no idea if they ordered the food or if they cooked it, but either way it was really good.  I was so full, but kept eating to be polite.  The lady of the house made sure that I tucked in to my dessert as well (I wouldn't need to eat for a week.)
After dinner, everyone went to wash up.  Right near the dining table is an area with a beautiful sink and mirror.  You wash your hands, then on a table nearby they have a variety of scented oils, perfumes, and lotions.  You pick one, and rub it onto your hands and/or arms.  That was a new one for me!
Next, we went back into the lounge and more coffee was brought out.  We sat and talked for a bit and then some of the ladies wanted to go for a walk outside.  We asked to join them and followed the group out the front door where we just started to walk around the courtyard.  They showed us the other buildings that are built into the corners along the wall where they hold parties. (if they aren't using the ballroom in the house)  Large circular rooms perfect for dancing!  (they said that the next visit we would hang out in one of those rooms)  The girls were so excited to show us the different trees, herbs, and flowers they have growing in the yard.  They also have a large pool...but it's empty.  With little kids around, they worry about someone falling in.  So, instead of keeping it full, they just fill it whenever they want to swim and drain it after.  (of course, most of the girls don't know how to swim anyway...so it doesn't get much use)
We sat outside on the outdoor chairs and they showed us youtube videos of typical Arabic dancing and even a video showing the wedding of one of the princesses.  Pretty cool.  I really think they enjoyed sharing their culture with us.  
One thing is for sure, these girls oozed class.  They were beyond polite, always made sure we had drinks or snacks or whatever.  Not to mention, they were all beautiful...each with long black hair...the shortest was to her shoulders, the longest was past her derriere.  The tallest was about an inch shorter than me...so glad I didn't wear heels!  
It was a truly unforgettable experience...I'm so glad I was asked to go..and that I didn't crap out and stay home in bed!  Hoping to be able to go back soon and maybe I'll get up the nerve to ask to take a few shots of the inside of the house (making sure no one is in the pictures of course!)
And there you go...my first Saudi dinner party...what a way to get your expectations up!  lol


Saudi Side Trip: Mada'in Saleh

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Prior to moving to Saudi, I knew of three cities here: Riyadh, Jeddah, and Yanbu (which until I talked to people actually living here... I swore didn't exist.)
Live here for awhile and you find that there are some pretty cool places you can see during a little weekend trip.  So, this was our first (and not last).  One of our friends here put together this great weekend trip to Mada'in Saleh.  Saudi's version of Petra.  I was kinda skeptical at first, I mean what else is there to see here besides sand...right?  Wrong.  (and I don't say that lightly as I'm rarely ever wrong)  ;)
some of the tombs
Little background info:
Mada'in Saleh is a pre-Islamic archaeological site, located within the Al Madinah Region of Saudi Arabia.  A majority of the vestiges date from the Nabatean kingdom (1st century CE).  The site constitutes the kingdom's southernmost and largest settlement after Petra, its capital.   
According to the Islamic text, the Thamudis, who would carve out homes in the mountains, were punished by Allah for their persistent practice of idol worship and for conspiring to kill Saleh (an Arab prophet mentioned in the Qu'ran), the non-believers being struck by an earthquake and lightning blasts. Thus, the site has earned a reputation down to contemporary times as a cursed place— an image which the national government is attempting to overcome as it seeks to develop Mada'in Saleh, officially protected as an archaeological site since 1972, for its tourism potential. (** my note: there are Saudi's that won't come near this place)
In 2008, for its well-preserved remains from late antiquity, especially the 131 rock-cut monumental tombs, with their elaborately ornamented facades, of the Nabatean kingdom, UNESCO proclaimed Mada'in Saleh as a site of patrimony, becoming Saudi Arabia's first World Heritage Site. (Wikipedia)
Elephant Rock

doing a little rock climbing

We had a pretty large group going, some went by bus, others drove their own cars.  We were part of the later group.  It was just easier for us...the kids were comfy in their seats...with seat belts and they could watch their movie and just chill.  
We arrived pretty late, but everyone was in good spirits.  The hotel had a buffet of food all ready to go and we dug in...then headed to our rooms to crash.
The next morning we were heading out to see the rocks and tombs.  We were all pretty disappointed because the sky was an ugly brown color.  Leftover sand particles hanging around in the air...ah well, at least it wasn't wicked hot out.  We drove to where the tombs were and climbed out of our car.  Best part?  I didn't have to wear my abaya here!!!  How sweet is that?  I have no idea why the rules didn't apply here, but I wasn't about to argue!  Everyone wandered around checking out the different tombs.  The tour guide tried to get the group to circle up and listen to what he had to say, but when you've got open areas and little kids, well, yeah...say bye bye to a few grownups.  
The tombs were pretty impressive and we had a lot of fun wandering through the sands and over the rocks.  From there we drove to another location and did a bit of climbing.  The area really reminded me of Arizona (though my husband kept repeating that it looked like Utah)  Either way, it was something I never would have guessed would exist here in Saudi.
From there we headed to see the Hejaz Railway.  The main purpose of the railway was to establish a connection between Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire and the seat of the Islamic Caliphate, and Hejaz in Arabia, the site of the holiest shrines of Islam and the holy city of Mecca, the destination of the Hajj annual pilgrimage. Another important reason was to improve the economic and political integration of the distant Arabian provinces into the Ottoman state, and to facilitate the transportation of military forces.
The railway is remarkable both for having had no debt when completed and for having many miles of track below sea level.  The kids had so much fun playing on and around the trains. 
Everyone was pretty wiped by now, and we headed back to the hotel for lunch.  Another nice buffet spread and we were all stuffed.  
After lunch we headed back out to see an ancient village.  Though, up until 40 years ago people still lived in these mud houses.  I love seeing old towns and homes and I loved this.  We could actually go inside some of the homes and see what they looked like.  The kids really got a kick out of it as well.  (downside...had to keep our abaya's on here)  The guide told us that the people who lived here were very tight knit and even today, the families remain close.
Back to the hotel for dinner and a movie...well, dinner for and bed for those with kiddos.  Those not so attached went and watched "Lawrence of Arabia." (which I still need to see)  Once our own kids were tucked in, we sat out on the little patio outside and chatted for a couple of hours with our good friends...totally amazing you can have a great time sans alcohol!  who knew?  lol     
more rock climbing

ancient village, and inside the homes

The next day we woke, and saw that the haze had pretty much lifted and you could see some blue skies.  After a nice buffet breakfast, we headed off to see Elephant Rock.  I think it looks more like a mammoth, but hey, that's just me.  We were hoping to go to a date farm, but being Friday it wasn't open to the public.  It was also time to head out...it was a great weekend and I'm really glad we went.  It's nice to be able to see more of Saudi (especially knowing that not just anyone can come visit here) and it was great spending time with friends.  Looking forward to the next trip!    
more tombs and the old train station

our hotel, and some local small towns on the drive home


The Egypt adventure continues...then home to Saudi.

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Nothing will beat seeing the pyramids yesterday, but today would be interesting in its own right. 
Forgot to mention in the previous post...last night we sat on the rooftop and watched the light show that they have at the pyramids.  We could hear some of the show, but not all of it...seemed like something that would have been really neat to see and I would recommend people to look into it if they go.  The lights on the pyramids and sphinx were really cool...I had fun sipping my wine and watching from the roof.  :)  The girls watched for a bit and then got bored and went back inside to play...hubby went with them to make sure they didn't try to climb off the balcony or something... (I think he just wanted to watch the news)  ;) 
For today, we hired a tour guide (the owners brother who lives in the same building) to take us to see the museum and a few other sites.  I was skeptical at first about what exactly this guy was going to tell us...then I found out that he had worked at the Natural History Museum in New York for four years...specializing in the Egyptian section.  So, okay, don't judge a book by it's cover and all that.  
We headed to the museum first.  I wasn't sure what to expect...I had heard from others that it was pretty impressive.  We entered the grounds and right there off to the left there is this huge building...that had recently been on fire.  A fire started by the government itself...to burn the contents of what the building held (according to our guide).  I can't believe they would risk anything happening to their museum!!  Pretty surreal.  (see photos below)
We weren't allowed to take any photos inside the museum and I had to check my camera at the door.  It would have taken hours and hours to view everything inside...it really was amazing that they have discovered so many artifacts over the years.  Our guide was really good and showed us the highlights of what the museum held...it wasn't easy...the girls really weren't into it and we had to move along at a much faster pace than the grownups would have liked...ah, but what'er gonna do?  By far the coolest thing was seeing the mummies.  They were just flat out creepy!  Some still had hair!  (yes real hair) and their teeth and finger nails.  It was fascinating.  I was truly shocked by the amount of "stuff" that they found in King Tut's tomb.  If I remember right, our guide told us that they started adding things to his tomb once he was made king...and they must have...because it would have taken forever to pack all that in there!  The most impressive was seeing his golden head piece...absolutely stunning.  It's ironic though because we talk so much about King Tut and yet he did nothing as king...he's only famous because of all the goodies they found in his tomb.  
Pyramids lit up at night, blackened building next to the museum

Little side note about the Egyptian way of life...they scam you for every penny.  We were having to pay for things left and right...the tickets to get in the museum, then once inside, you had to buy more tickets to see the mummies.  At they pyramids they were waiting at every stop with all kinds of stuff to sell you...cans of soda, water, hats, jewelry, trinkets, you name it...it was a good thing we had our guide with us to tell us whether we were getting scammed or not (at least we hope he was!)  They even tried to tell me I couldn't take pictures in the tomb (the guide got furious about this and there was a whole scene) then one of the security guys came in and offered to take photos of our family...afterwards he held out his hand for a tip.  Then he got really pissed when Matt didn't tip him enough.  There were men outside the museum trying to sell us stuff too...one guy told me the wallet he could sell me would "change my life." (honest, he really said that)  Give him one for a unique tag line!
After the museum we were headed to the citadel.  Traffic in Cairo and Giza is awful...I don't think they drive as bad as the men in Saudi, but Matt said that's just because they can't go as fast...seeing as the roads have cars packed like sardines in a tin.  (not to mention the horse pulled carts and men on camels riding around town as well)  In order to get to the citadel we had to drive through Tahrir Square (yes where the riots were and no, it's not a square, but a roundabout).  I was totally worried...but, it was a Thursday, and the square was nearly empty (you can see a photo below...look for the pic with the tent in it) with just a few people still camped out.  But, we were told that the next day, Friday, after the afternoon prayer, the square would fill with people in protest.  Very thankful we were headed home that day!  I still found myself slumping down in my seat until we left the area...creepy.
The citadel was amazing...huge and grand.  There is a mosque on site and we were allowed to enter (see the photo with all the lights hanging from the ceiling) but, I have to admit that by now, at the end of our trip, I was starting to lose interest in all the history...I was starting to feel like my kids.  lol  Matt really enjoyed chatting with the guide and I tried to keep the girls occupied.  
From there we visited an old cemetery, a Jewish temple, a Greek Orthodox church, and a coptic church.  It was all very cool, but I was wiped.  We headed back to the apartment to rest for a bit before dinner.
I was really excited for dinner because we were going to take a cruise on the Nile River!  However; I have a really bad habit of getting overly excited about something before it actually happens.  We prepaid for the tickets and then once on board found that drinks weren't included...not any, not even water.  That didn't start our evening off so well.  :/  The food was okay..buffet style.  They had different dancers come out during the ride...a belly dancer and a couple of guys that would spin in circles constantly for over 20 minutes...pretty impressive, actually.  But, the best part was going upstairs to the deck and looking out over the water.  So, it wasn't the best dinner or boat, but still, I was on the Nile River.  THE Nile River.  Yeah, that was pretty damn cool.  The city looked really pretty lit up at night (if you didn't look too close).  The girls enjoyed themselves and afterwards it was back to the apartment to pack up.  Matt and I sipped some wine and watched TV while the girls slept soundly in bed.
The next morning we loaded up and drove back to the airport.  I couldn't believe our trip was over...and we were headed back to Saudi.  It had been a fabulous 16 days and not one we would soon forget.  We made it back with no problems...had a lovely 4 hour drive home (ick), and then we were back in our house.  Girls were stoked to see all their toys again. :)  
Now...when are we leaving again???  ;)
at the Citadel

around town and Tahrir Square

Citadel, Nile River, cemetery, locals and their rides

the boat on the Nile River


Egypt (the good, the bad, and the ugly)

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It's been a long day...starting with missing our train, delayed flights, etc...but now, here we are...in Cairo.  
I booked us an apartment here months ago...five days ago I get an email from the owner stating that his apartment has ended up being booked for the whole month, BUT he has somewhere else we can stay.  What??  He sends an email with photos of other apartments.  Neither are as nice as what I had chosen...ooohhh...but guess what, the price is less!  :P big deal.  With no other choice, I pick another apartment.
So, fast forward to us now looking for our driver in the Cairo airport.  We find the guy and he gets us into this van that will take us to our apartment....and so the adventure that is Egypt begins.
It's night time...and night can hide many things...but let me tell you, it sure wasn't dark enough to hide the fact that Cairo and Giza are straight nasty.  These two cities comprise almost half the population of the whole of Egypt (and they are right next to each other).  I've mentioned that Saudi is a pretty dirty place (they litter like crazy)...but Cairo and Giza take the gold medal. 
As we drove through the streets, I looked out the windows...there was garbage piled EVERYWHERE!  I mean piles that were 9ft wide and 3ft deep...and it went on for blocks.  Some they were burning...right there on the freeway.  I've never seen anything like it and I was told that there is no trash system whatsoever in Egypt right now...so gross.  There are apartment buildings everywhere, just stacked upon and next to each other...and they all looked like they would topple over during the next high winds.  Many weren't even completed all the way and yet people were living in them...it was so surreal.  I really felt like I was in some bad dream...and for these people, its just everyday life.  
We pull up to the apartment building and we get the kids out....both of who are now sound asleep...and we carry them up to the room.  Okay, now, the apartment is nice...honest...extremely over the top decorated (think lots of gold furniture and fancy lights)...but it's okay.  Then I hear the noise...I imagine it must be what it's like to live in New York...loud.  We put the kids in bed and we talk with the owner...he mentions he has another place...steps from the Great Pyramid.  He says it's much quieter...and that he and his family live in the same building..very safe...(they own the whole thing).  We decide to send Matt to check it out...and of course, he comes back and says..."we're moving."  Uproot the poor sleeping children again (it's nearing midnight) and pile back in the car.  Drive through more icky streets, some just straight dirt roads...and finally arrive.  This is not for the faint of heart folks...if you don't have an adventurous spirit...book yourselves a room at the Four Seasons (which yes they have...but no, it's not in a nice area either...)  
In all honesty, the apartment is fine, simple, but fine.  It's just a one room, one bathroom place...we put the kids in bed and then the owner takes us up to the roof...and there...there they are.  One of the seven wonders of the world and I'm staring right at them.  Okay, so the area is crap, but man, what a view.  We make plans to have the guide come get us around noon to take us to see the pyramids...and then after a bit of wine (which yes, you can get in Egypt...so there's a plus for Egypt over Saudi) we crash.
The next morning I wake and walk out onto the patio...and feel like I've stepped back in time.  Looking down I see camels lined up, horses saddled and ready to go, men working, horse pulled carts go by, boys on donkeys, men racing through the streets on horseback...I just stared.  See, right next to our apartment is a stable (hence the smell, which I don't mind, but I sure know of a few family members of mine who wouldn't be too happy)...one that is used to house the camels and horses that take tourists to see the pyramids.  And everyone was busy getting ready for another day.  I walked back up to the roof to see the pyramids in the daylight...even more amazing than I had thought.  And there, staring right at me, was the Sphinx herself...wow wow wow, was all I could think...I couldn't wait to head out to see them.
At noon, our guide met us downstairs right outside the door...I would ride a horse and Matt and the girls would ride on a camel.  I wasn't sure how the girls would handle being on the camel, but I should have known better...nothing but big fat grins on their faces.  I, of course, was in second heaven...on horseback, where I belong.  We headed off to the gates and the entrance to the pyramids.
Our guide was really good and he took us from the round about way so that we approached the pyramids from afar...nothing but sand between us and the massive stones...it was honestly one of the coolest experiences of my life.  
At one point I let my horse go...and there I was, galloping across the sands of ancient Egypt...I felt like I was in a movie...yep...top 5 best days ever. 
We stopped to take photos and then headed to the middle of the three (the largest being the Great Pyramid).  We walked around, touched the stones, climbed up a bit of the pyramid and had a grand time.   We moved on to the largest one and I just couldn't get over it's sheer size.  We entered one of the tombs...but not much to see...still cool though.  It was a Wednesday afternoon and that must be the magic day because there was hardly anyone around...which means I got killer photos (without a bunch of icky tourists in the pix) and you didn't feel overwhelmed or rushed.  We saw where they dug a large ship from the sands...and then headed off to see the Sphinx.  
She was actually smaller than I expected, but still just as grand.  We took a few more photos and then it was time to switch rides.  As much as I loved being on the horse, I couldn't miss out on riding a camel!  Throughout the day, the girls had been taking turns riding the camel and riding the guides' horse...but Matt's been on the camel the whole time.  I figured..no biggie...but man, when that big boy lurched forward to stand up...I swore I was going head first over the top!  Not to mention that I had Sara up there with me!  She laughed when mommy let out a yelp...then she asked "you okay mommy?"  lol...yep, my 5 year old has a stronger set of nerves than me!  
We rode the animals back to where we started...what a day!
That night we ventured into town (not far mind you) to a restaurant the owner recommended.  It was really very good...obscene amounts of food...then we went back to the apartment.  Not that we wanted to stay cooped up inside, but this is so not the place were you go for an evening stroll...not that we were worried about safety, its just that there isn't a darn thing to see...just dirt and garbage.  
So, it's just some wine and snacks and a movie on tv....not a bad way to spend the evening.  :)


Last day in France...plus train trouble...

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Well, it's our last day in France.  Tomorrow we head off to Egypt.  I'm kinda sad today...knowing that its our last day in the "normal" world (yes, we're going to Egypt next, but that doesn't even come close to normal anymore than Saudi does...wait for the next post...)
I've loved sitting around people watching, eating all the yummy foods, drinking wine...but again, we wouldn't be here in France if we weren't living in Saudi right now.  huge double edged sword.
So, anyway, today was to just a flat out fun day for the kids.  We decided to take them to the zoo..they love animals and so do we.  Coolest part is that the zoo we went to has the only two Panda's in the whole of France.  It was a cloudy, cold, day, but we had fun anyway.  Saw the giraffes, rhinos, tigers, bears (oh my!)... the girls loved watching the monkeys and could have sat there for hours.  My favorite were the gorillas...I could have sat there all day.  They had a brand new baby gorilla...who was hanging out right next to big daddy silver back.  At one point, the silver back scooped up the little baby and...kissed him, right on the head.  Had to be one of the sweetest things I'd ever seen...big scary ass gorilla planting a kiss on a head that he could crush with his hands.
The panda's were awesome and had their own really cool Chinatown section of the zoo.  After half the day at the zoo it was time to head out.  We stopped in Amboise on the way back to have our last dinner.  Found a great little restaurant and I made sure to order in style...baby back ribs...oh yeah.  Back home we packed up and made sure we were ready for the morning...
And so begins the crazy day...
We woke with plenty of time to spare...the train didn't leave until 9am.  No worries...right?  wrong.  We were tearing out of the house at ten after 8...it would take at least 30 min to get to the station...Matt drove quickly....I barked out directions from the iPad...we got to the station at ten till 9....tried to find where to leave the car...and then it happened.  We got stuck.  We went into a parking area...(took a ticket and all)...then realized we were in the wrong spot...tried to exit...and...nothing.  The damn boom wouldn't go up.  No matter what we did, the stupid thing wouldn't budge...then we heard the worst sound...the train leaving the station.  (here's the part where my usually mild mannered hubby lost it....with a slew of swear words and fist pounding)  Once calm resumed, we managed to get out of the stupid parking lot.  Found where to drop off the rental and headed into the station.  Matt got us tickets on the next train (leaving in 2 hours) for a fee of course.  We parked ourselves in the little coffee shop and ordered beer.  Yep, beer at 9 am...and it was well deserved.  The rest of the morning passed easily enough...we got on the next train and made it to the airport.  After standing in a monster line at EgyptAir, we were checked in and went in search for food.  The Paris airport isn't like what I'm used to in the States...with restaurants all over...instead it was little deli counters...got a couple of sandwiches and some wine.  Good enough.  
And of course, good ol' EgyptAir was delayed...again.  But, the next thing I knew, we were in the air and on our way to Cairo...
(trust me, you don't want to miss the next post about Egypt...what an experience that was!!) 


Easter Weekend in France

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I was really excited when I realized where we would be for Easter this year.  Spending the Easter holiday in France would make it something special and one we wouldn't soon forget.  I was lucky enough to have brought egg coloring kits with us from the States.  (and family sent the girls stickers and coloring books too)  We had very good intentions of wanting to attend church in one of the local towns (actually, had we still been in Paris we would have tried to go to Notre Dame), but we chickened out... we just didn't feel comfortable showing up in a small local church.  Instead we did our own Easter just at the chateau. 
The day before we went to the supermarket and while Matt kept the girls busy, I hunted for Easter stuff...you know baskets, candy, goodies.  Well, Easter in France is not Easter in the States.  (at least not where we were)  No monster baskets full of junk (I mean goodies)...very little candies to choose from (tons of chocolate bunnies...but that was about it)...no Easter decorated toys.  I kept staring at the shelves hoping that something would magically appear...then I realized...my daughters have NO idea what is supposed to be in an Easter basket.  (hell, this is only Lily's 3rd Easter!)  I was thinking I had to have this super amazing basket and then thought...they'll be happy to have anything at all.  So, I picked out a couple of little 3 Euro pink baskets, a few chocolate bunnies, some jelly beans and a toy.  That was it.  No Easter grass, no Peeps, no crazy toys...And let me tell you, when they found those baskets the next morning they were beyond stoked.  Chalk that up to parent lesson #244.  
Okay, so next problem...there are no plastic eggs.  What in the world am I going to hide from the Easter Bunny???  (I knew I should have brought some with me)  Sure, I could have hidden the eggs we colored...but, wait, yeah...haven't colored any yet.  So, I grabbed a bag of chocolate eggs and figured whatever we didn't find the next day the woodland creatures would be in for a treat!
Easter morning Matt and I left the girls in bed and went tearing outside like a couple of crazy people...we tossed chocolate eggs around the grass...hid the baskets and ran back into the house.  After breakfast we unleashed the eager egg hunters into the vast grassy backyard...nothing but giggles and squeals as they found their eggs.  It was so much fun.  
After the egg hunt, we packed up and headed to Amboise...we were told they had a fabulous Sunday market.  The place was packed (we didn't think it would be open because of the holiday...just the opposite!).  Venders selling all kinds of things from cheese, wine, smoked meats, to clothes, trinkets, jewelry and pottery.  We wondered around for some time just taking in all the sites and people.  Afterwards, we headed back to the chateau to color eggs and prepare our Easter dinner feast.
For four days (and even that morning at the market) we searched in vain for white eggs...honest...in the entire Loire Valley, we didn't see a single white egg.  I was really worried that the egg color wouldn't work...but, just the opposite, they turned out so pretty.  The girls had so much fun sitting outside decorating the eggs. (and so did mommy) 
Easter dinner was a lovely pork roast (I wanted to make a ham...family tradition...but we couldn't find what we wanted) and steamed artichokes...with Easter eggs and chocolate for dessert.  Maybe it wasn't the grand feast we would have had at my aunt's in Vegas, but it was ours, and it was special.
I was a wonderful Easter and one that I will always treasure. 

The day before Easter (Saturday) we went somewhere I had been looking forward to going all week.  The French National Horse Riding School...home of the Cadre Noir.  By now, most of you know of my intense love of horses.  I really wanted to find somewhere to ride in France, but it didn't work out.  Instead, we were taking our daughters to see their first horse show.                              I was ten times worse than my kids...practically jumping out of the moving car when we arrived.  Sat on the edge of my seat during the whole show, gawking at the beautiful creatures in the arena.  The show consisted of a couple of dressage performances (think ballet for horses), a small circus type act, and some demonstrations of special jumps and tricks the horses are trained to do.  Afterwards, we went to the stables and everyone was taking turns petting the horses.  I literally had to be asked to leave...and no, I wasn't the least bit embarrassed.  We went for lunch and then came back for a private tour.  Then we got to pet the horses again...and again, I was the last to leave.  (see that beautiful black horse in the photo?  Yeah, could have stood there with him all day)  When the girls asked if they could buy stuffed horses...I just replied...of course!  (and I hate stuffed animals...but no way was I turning down anything horsey!  lol)  It was a lot of fun and the whole family enjoyed the day.

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