Life has been unfolding at a jet set pace for me recently. I just returned from Egypt late last night, and in a matter of hours, I'll be on another plane headed to Russia (the reason why this blog will probably be dark for the next three weeks).

In the past days, I've had more singular, truly-cool experiences than even the hope of having enough downtime to write about them (ahh, perhaps life should always be thus?) But upon my return, I do anticipate things will slow enough for me to deliver a detailed tale or two about my adventures.

Aren't we fortunate that our species is no longer earth-bound? I for one take the idea of the sky being the limit quite seriously.

Carpet Shopping in Cairo

Last week, Kasey and I hopped on a plane headed to Cairo to visit our friend Bosaina, a current Londoner, who was home in her native Egypt for the summer. What follows is a glimpse at our first afternoon in Cairo. Enjoy!

Our first stop: the bazaar downtown.

Hookah water pipes and pastel boxes of sheesha (flavored tobacco) in strawberry, coconut, and orange.

Our own hookah pipes, topped with hot coals, as we take a break from shopping/bargaining/rebuffing the men asking if we are "Spice Girls" to enjoy the local custom for ourselves.

I think Kasey's puffing on grape, but by the end of the trip we discovered we liked lemon the best.

Also a local afternoon custom: personal pots of hot mint tea.

Beautiful to look at, but also a remarkable union of refreshing and sweet.

El Fishawy is one of the most popular places in Cairo's bazaar for a repast. And if I were more up on my Egyptian literature, I'd remember which Pulitzer winner Bosaina said wrote a book here.

A seriously impressive way of transporting loaves of bread.

The sun hitting a minaret high above the dirt streets.

Kasey and Bosaina head for the car where Yoshi (our driver) is waiting for us outside the labyrinth of stalls after our afternoon of shopping.

Truth In Advertising

As seen at Selfridges on Oxford Street. Doubt the signs had any affect on shoppers and their purchasing decisions, however, I do appreciate the hip department store's frankness (however ironic it may be) in acknowledging just what sort of racket they're in.

Finding Portofino

This gorgeous stretch of the Italian Riviera is where my travel companion MG and I spent the remainder of our time in Italia. What you see above and below is the stunning town of Portofino, a paradise which we semi-lost souls especially appreciated after the unfruitful wandering that preceeded our falling into it.

After our stay in the Apennine mountains, we weren't exactly sure of our next destination - only knew that we wanted to be near the ocean. Ina and Howard, our lovely Ligurian hosts, were a bit dubious of our plan to simply hop on a train heading coastward, and were reluctant to let us go through with it. As we stepped from the train platform into the unknown Howard remarked, "Well, I hope you end up somewhere."

As it turned out, their skepticism was not unmerited. Not only was it the first weekend of tourist season, but large crowds were expected in nearby Sienna for the Palio, a historic horse racing event that generally fills surrounding hotels to capacity. Places were booked to the point that scoffs met our inquiries about last-minute reservations.

I, however, was sure divine intervention was working in our favor when I realized the British food magazine, delicious, which I'd thrown into my carry-on at the last minute, serendipitously contained a feature on the Ligurian coast's epicurean highlights. I could hardly contain my excitement - we could re-enact a mouthwatering magazine spread - it was a foodie's dream come true! So with delicious as our guide, we found ourselves in Sestri Levante at the Grand Hotel Villa Balbi.

We arrived at the regal entrance brimming with anticipation . . .

The front door seemed to confirm that karma was on indeed on our side . . .

Even into the lobby there still held much promise . . .

Really, how could anything go wrong with a griffin guarding the first floor's fireplace?

But if the source of our recommendation wasn't enough of a spoiler (the British and 'discerning taste' aren't exactly synonymous), the name "Balbi" probably should have been. "Hotel Balbi," I suppose, it certainly was, but "Grand Villa" it certainly was not: The elevator's gold accordion doors felt life threatening when they convulsed shut, most of the staff would have been at home in the Twilight Zone, and the room itself looked like it aimed to be opulent in the late sixties - and fell short. Our trusty British food magazine got left atop an unsteady, brass, glass-topped table when we departed that next morning. (FYI - I once had a similar experience trying to recreate a U.S. coast-to-coast local restaurant feature in Bon Appetit - this is officially the last time a food magazine will have any sway over my travel itineraries).

Below is where we spent the late morning and afternoon planning our next move. We'd missed the respectable hour for ordering cappuccino, but the waiter you see was kind enough to conjure up some coffee and breakfast for us despite his obvious displeasure in indulging our request (made known with an exaggerated roll of the eyes).

Some succulent melon.

And a life-saving misto with a left-over smidge of Italian pastry.

Both delicious, bless his heart.

So, after multiple phone calls, and a short train ride along the coast . . .

Voila! A balcony without any brass tables.

Our Portofino . . . as seen from Hotel Splendido. (An equally cheesy name if you ask me, but at least it's not making any overblown promises).

A croissant with a view.


Pick a yacht.

Or a sail boat.

The bay.

MG contemplating the bay.

Pretty much looks like Neverland . . .

Liguria: Almost Under the Tuscan Sun

I recently spent five days in Italy. Two days were dedicated to Northern Italy's mountainous Liguria (northwest of that infamous Tuscan region). The topography was so reminiscent of the Rocky Mountains (where I grew up) that being surrounded by such familiar mountain peaks felt like being home.

We stayed in what was once a strategically located castle compound - tucked up high on a mountainside in what is now a rural commune.

Here's Howard, one of our hosts, leading the way in what is a favorite local pastime: walking the trails.

Seriously, this could be a replica of the canyon behind my house in the Rockies.

Now this I've never seen before: a branch of a prehistoric pine tree perhaps?

On a clear day . . . the view from atop our castle commune.

The best sort of clothes dryer.

Fantastic old rock and a wonderfully weathered blue door - with mountains to match.

Below, a shot of our lovely hosts, Howard and Ina, who were entirely good sports, and patiently waited for us to catch up to them on more than one occasion.

Indulging my request to present the free water for the camera.

Besides a few foreign interlopers like Howard and Ina, the compound residents are mostly the sort of locals like the man above, who were born, raised, and never left - I always find it so comforting to encounter such breathing proof of a simpler life.

As seen inside a creek side tavern of the variety you would never find unless you had extraordinary locals like Howard and Ina as your guide.

Limoncello con and senza crema.

A jar of beautiful local miele!

Whimsical restaurant interior.

The dignified ritual of decanting an illustrious red into a truly magnificent heirloom of a decanter.

No, it does not matter who you are, or what you are willing to pay, this delightful decanter is not for sale. (Much to someone's - and my - dismay).

Oh, what was a torturous moment for this vegetarian: cured swordfish (of all types of pesce, still one of the most ethically questionable . . .) compliments of the chef. I do hate being outrightly rude, especially in front of new aquaintances, especially in a foreign country. It was chewy and tasted like salt.

The romantic stoll afterwards, however, made up for it.