Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Spending your honeymoon in Egypt

Have you decided? Are you really sure you want to get married?
Well, then the next step is choosing your honeymoon destination!!
I personally believe one of the best option is Egypt. 
Thanks to its geographical position in the northeast of Africa, Egypt is characterized by low annual rainfall and sunshine all year round, with temperatures that rarely fall below 20°C. It is one of the richest countries in terms of history, culture and natural beauty and it is without any doubts one of the most amazing and desired destinations for honeymoons.
A holiday in Egypt can offer something for all tastes: a combination of thousands of interesting temples and monuments with the magic of a sea among the most beautiful on the planet.

And if you are looking for romance, intimacy and relax, the association of an adventurous Nile cruise with a week getting pampered by the wonderful coral reef of the Red Sea may be the perfect choice for your honeymoon.

A cruise on the Nile is a timeless journey through a landscape that is always different and the most convenient and engaging way to explore Egypt, as did Thackeray, Flaubert, Kipling and Agatha Christie, at the time when the fever of Egypt infected the world, inspiring literary memories.

The Egyptian river is not just a river; it is a full horizon of vegetation and desert and its banks are populated by hundreds of people regarding it as an indispensable source of life. Along the Nile you will find the largest concentration in the world of ancient temples and monuments, including the palaces of Luxor and Karnak, the Valley of the Kings and the Abu Simbel temple. You will literally be flowing in a world of colour and silence among centuries of history. 

At sunset, the sunlight slowly plays with colours and shades on the water, until it disappears dissolving like a reddish cloud creating the most paradisiacal scenery and romantic atmosphere for you and your beloved.

And after an exciting week on the Nile, what’s best than some time relaxing by the Red Sea? There are plenty of locations to choose from.

Sharm el Sheikh, located in the extreme south of the Sinai Peninsula, is probably the most popular destination and makes an ideal place for a honeymoon, whether you are looking for relaxation and sunbathing, or you can’t stand still for more than five minutes in the sun. You will find pristine waters and excellent climate throughout the year, entertainment and opportunities for fascinating excursions.

Marsa Alam, situated near the Tropic of Cancer, is full of palm trees and mangroves. The sea is gorgeous here with a magnificent coral reef that is home to many varieties of fishes. The reef is in fact very popular among divers that come here to explore the many unspoilt diving sites, where it’s not difficult to meet dolphins and hammerhead sharks.

Hurghada was a simple fishing village until a few years ago but over time it has become one of the most touristy destinations and it is often offered as a typical location for all-inclusive packages.

El Gouna, it’s the perfect destination for those looking for a luxurious experience. Its name means “lagoon” in Arabic, and it consists of a multitude of islands divided by turquoise waters and modern golf courses.

Taba is a rapidly expanding tourist destination but has a very relaxed feel and it’s close to the most interesting sites of the Sinai.

Pictures used for this post are public domain and found at the following links:

Friday, 10 October 2014

Top 5 reasons to dive in the Red Sea

The Red Sea is an amazing blue stretch of pristine waters famous for its beautiful seabed, the magnificent colors of the reef and the rich fauna that inhabit its waters: a true “underwater paradise”. 
Thanks to its geographical isolation it has developed, over the centuries, a unique marine ecosystem that never ceases to amaze divers.

But what makes it so special and why you should choose it as your diving destination?

I will give you 5 reasons:

The corals.

A dip in the blue waters of the Red Sea will lead you to the discovery of more than 200 different species of corals creating an amazing underwater landscape. Indeed the Red Sea has the largest range of corals in the world. Each part is characterized by a different species and at each dive your eyes will be amazed by coral gardens with an impressive variety of colors and shapes. It’s something that cannot be described with words, it needs to be experienced; an experience you will never forget.

The impressive richness of fauna.

This unique marine environment is home to more than 1250 identified species of fishes of which more than 200 are endemic. The Red Sea is one of the very few places in the world where you can swim with hammerhead, thresher and oceanic whitetip sharks during the same dive (if you are brave enough!). 
Here you can make some of the most exciting encounters of the underwater life: dolphins, whale sharks, turtles, manta rays and dugongs are often present, even if it may take a bit of patience and luck to find them. And, closer to the coast, you will enjoy a chromatic explosion of smaller reef fishes. 

The interesting shipwrecks.

If fishes and corals haven’t convinced you yet, there's much more!
In  fact numerous wrecks are just waiting for you in its depths. Probably the most famous is the Thistlegorm, sunk in 1941 while carrying supplies for the British troops based in Alexandria, Egypt. There you will find Bren Carriers trucks, BSA motorcycles, jeeps and rifles together with large groups of barracudas, tunas and groupers. Another famous wreck is the Dunraven, a Victorian ship that was carrying a cargo of spices from India. Since 1876, the wreck has been lying upside down next to the barrier at 30 meters depth so the keel is now encrusted with corals and abundant marine life, including the extremely rare false pipefishes.

Public domain - Gulf of Eilat

It’s always good time to dive in the Red Sea.

The fame that the Red Sea has earned among divers around the world is mainly due to its physical and climatic conditions: it is one of the warmest and saltiest seas on the planet. The area is characterized by a mild winter from December to March and a hot summer from April to November and the water temperature ranges normally between 30°C and 25°C. Plus, it has been found that, contrary to what normally happens at great depths, where the coldest temperatures are recorded, in the Red Sea, the deep waters retain mild temperatures. This ensures you the chance to have pleasant dives all year round.

Last but not least, there’s plenty of choice among destinations.

Within the Egypt coast on the Red Sea there are plenty of different locations that can offer different experiences. Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh are maybe the most popular and touristy destinations where you will find a great reef but there is plenty of other places for your dives. Marsa Alam, for example, lists some of the most amazing diving spots in the world.   Safaga has breathtaking coral reefs to explore. Makadi Bay is a divers’ paradise and if you are looking for a less touristy destination, a bit off the beaten path, Berenice will welcome you with its remoteness and the unspoilt beauty of its waters.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Finding a flat in Paris

Finding a flat in Paris is not an easy task. You may think choosing your place in such a big and cosmopolitan city should not be that complicated but believe me, it's almost shocking how things are working for the renting business in the ville lumiere!

First of all agencies apply nefarious fees corresponding to a month rent, and this is just for paying them taking you to visit the flat and to write a contract (that will probably be based on a template I guess!). So your first decision should be if you really want to pay those fees or if you prefer to go through privates.

If you decide to go for the cheapest option, there a couple of good websites: pap & leboncoin where you can filter area, max price, number of rooms etc.

Obviously what you will find will depend on your budget, but, be ready for high prices, old houses especially if centrally located, ridiculously small dimensions (10-15m2 are not unusual), upper floors with no lifts.

In any case, when you find anything that you consider interesting and you get in touch with the owner they will ask you to have your dossier ready and this is when things become funny. This dossier must include: your passport, your 3 latest payslips, your work contract stating your annual income, your RIB or bank account details, your last 2 tax declarations. 

Do you think that's it? Nope. Some may also ask latest receipts of your council tax and all of them will ask you for someone to guarantee for you in case you are not able to pay your rent. Doesn't really matter your age or if you have enough savings to pay a year rent, you still need your parents to guarantee for you!!

Once the owner of your chosen place is happy with your dossier you can go for a visit where you will often meet a group of other visitors. If you are interested in the flat your dossier will be compared to those of the other interested visitors and the wealthiest and more solid one will win the chance to pay a one or 2 months deposit before installing themselves in their new home.

I know this may sound scary, but don’t worry too much, the most important thing is knowing what to expect in advance and being prepared. And even if all I have said is simply the truth, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a bit of luck. You may actually be the first one to see the flat, you may like the place a lot and your future landlord or landlady may find you very nice and decide to give it to you straight away.
And the whole process may take no longer than a week….

Bonne courage!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Versailles or not Versailles; that is the question!

We are going to be on the move again very soon, so I am determined to make the most of our time in Paris and to visit as much as possible of what this extraordinary city can offer in terms of art and history.
Clearly Versailles had to be on the list: isn't it one of the most significant touristy destinations in Paris?

So, we bought tickets in advance and the first bad surprise was that at weekends tickets are more expensive (€25 compared to the €18 during the week): I may see the point of trying got push people to visit during the week, but it's a bit of a disadvantage for the people living and working in Paris!
Anyway, it's a important historic site, so spending for a bit more for the entrance is not such a big deal.

We got there 10 minutes before the opening trying to avoid the long queues, but the situation was already  scary. Most groups had already arrived.  No separate entrances for groups and individuals and no staff controlling the queue. But, luckily, the entry procedures were fast enough and we managed to enter the palace in no longer than 20 minutes.

And here is when the dreadful experience really started. Basically there is a huge cordon of disordered crowd getting into the royal apartments in the main palace, making it almost impossible to clearly see the decorations or spend more than 15 seconds per room. You need to move fast or you will have people bumping into you or randomly stopping in the middle to take photos without even looking around.
It would be delightful to walk freely through the Hall of Mirrors if it wasn't for the hundreds of people in there. I know we were a plus 2 to the crowd, so I shouldn't be complaining but I guess a limit number on entries (as it happens for examples in the caves in Dordogne) would be advantageous for visitors in order to fully enjoy the experience.

By the way, despite the crowd, I managed to take a few decent pictures...

...of the Royal Chapel....
...some beautiful chandeliers...
...a view of the Hall of Mirrors (a raised view, to avoid people's heads!)....
...the King's bedroom....
...and the Queen's one.

Good thing is that once visited the palace rooms, then people thins out, a bit lost among the other parts of the site. The big complex has lot to offer, fantastic gardens, two smaller palaces (the Grand and Petit Trianon) with beautiful gardens and the funny Hameau de la Reine, a village created as a sort of leisure park for Marie Antoinette's delight, who apparently liked to play the role of a milkwoman in her spare time!

So rest of the visit was much more relaxed and enjoyable....

So, yes, Versailles is certainly a `must go` if you are visiting Paris (unless you are really claustrophobic), but you'll need to get organized and ready to face crowds of tourists and for an extremely tiring day, but it's totally worth it!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

French driving habits

Italians are well known for their anarchic and crazy driving habits, and anytime anyone tells me about it, I don't even make the effort to deny it because it is simply the truth. Italians (especially in the cities) are wild drivers and too often disrespectful of any driving rules (or common sense). The road is a jungle to us (I'm including myself only for nationality reasons)!

But, even if I find painful to share any charts' supremacy with the Frenchies (see our disputes about football!) I must admit that we are not alone on the top of the bad driving habits chart, as French drivers are not less undisciplined than us.

We've moved to Levallois Perret a few months ago; a wealthy residential area just out of Paris' peripherique. It's very quiet and in general a very nice banlieu to live in, but it took me not longer than a week or two to notice  that drivers are not that polite...

First, they park anywhere and anyhow out of the parking lines: on the pavements, at crossings, on the rump slopes at disabled crossing...

They drive quite fast, even in narrow roads. They gesticulate and swear against you (well...maybe not as much as Italians do...) and (what's most scary) unless there is a traffic light, they rarely stop at pedestrian crossings. And don't even try to tell them something...they'll scream at you!  

I'd like to point out that this is not a judgmental blog, but something I could not help to observe. Also I have to admit that traveling around France I didn't see anything like that, so this is probably a `Paris area` kind of issue.

To support this theory (so that you know that I haven't got any preconceptions towards French driving habits) I would like to say that the pictures included in this post have been taking during a half an hour walk around the neighborhood.

So...faites attention! 

Monday, 8 September 2014

Paris for art lovers: Centre Pompidou

One of the first differences I immediately noticed between London and Paris is that Paris museums are not free, which is quite sad for someone like me that likes quite a lot spending a few hours looking at artworks and learning a bit more about art.

But there's a little trick if you want to feed your passion without going bankrupt: some of the most important sites, such as the Orsay, the Orangerie and the Centre Pompidou are actually free on the first Sunday of the month all year long, while the Louvre offers the same deal but only between October and March.

So September's first Sunday has been dedicated to what it's considered to be the most interesting collection of modern and contemporary art: the National Museum of Modern Art in the Centre Pompidou.

The building, also called the Beaubourg and designed by the Italian architects Renzo Piano and Gianfranco Franchini and the British Richard Rogers, is a whole cultural complex including a center for music and acoustic research, a vast public library and a space for temporary exhibitions.

The museum is located between the 4th and 5th floors. The collections dates from 1905 to today and includes several masterpieces....

....a couple of Picasso's...

...a few Matisse...

...a beautiful Chagall....

...an interesting room with various Futurist pieces...

...the `Young girl in green dress` by Tamara de Lempicka...

....and various other interesting installations....such as this sculpture from Max Ernst...

And various other things...

Centre Pompidou

Including some interactive rooms....

Centre Pompidou

...but my favorite, without any sort of doubts, is one of Giacometti's women.

Overall the museum really offers a beautiful experience and a fantastic view over Paris....

On the same square there is also the Atelier Brancusi, a little space showing the reconstructions of Brancusi' studios and lots of his sculptures, that is open only in the afternoon and it's free entry.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Unusual Paris: Montmartre cemetery

A few weeks ago the sun was shining and the temperatures went up (only for a couple of days unfortunately) so it was the perfect time to have a touristy walk. We chose our destination: Montmartre, probably the most touristy area of Paris. But instead of getting on the usual touristy path, we ended up getting lost in its cemetery.

There is something special about this old cemetery. And it's not the tombs of the various personalities buried here (Zola, Truffaut, Stendhal, Degas...). The beauty of this place is created by the silence, its neglected look, the Gothic tombs and the more simple modern ones.


We walked there for hours under the rays of sun filtering through the big trees. We stopped several times, to read engravings, to see the decorations.

We loved it.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Flea markets of Paris: Porte de Vanves

We had been thinking about visiting a flea market (or marché aux puces) since we moved here in Paris at the beginning of May and finally we made it. I have made a bit of research and quickly found out that the one in Porte de Vanves seems to be the best one at present for finding good deals. 

So we got ready with cash and the right state of mind for bargaining on prices.
We've walked through the more than 300 stalls, full of any kind of goods, most of them antiquities.... 

....some old stuff coming from abandoned garages and lofts....

...and a lot of vinyls...  

It was a lovely morning with a bit of sun and the market was not overcrowded which made the walk very enjoyable. There was some really interesting stuff, especially old prints, decorated vintage glasses and even some ancient bottle openers. 

The place is mainly used by locals although, it is starting to become famous with tourists as well. 
We got there around 11am but I guess that, going there a bit earlier, we could have found even more stuff, but, hey, after all it was Sunday morning! 

By the way, we didn't come back home empty hands.....

A few info and tips: 
- the market is open on all Saturdays and Sundays of the year, no matter of any festivities or rain, from 7am to 2pm, although merchants start to break down everything around 1pm
- the closest tube station is Porte de Vanves on the line no.13
- beware of pickpockets (as usual in these places)
- don't forget to ask for a `reduction, s'il vous plait`!