A Weekend in Austin

Joseph and I took a quick trip a few hours south to visit Austin last weekend. I’ve been a few times here and there but never as an “adult.” We had so much fun, and I really didn’t want to leave. I love all the little shops and restaurants that make up the city and appreciated not seeing any large chain stores.

Our first dinner was, of course, at a food truck on South Congress. We both got wraps at The Mighty Cone (Joseph’s a venison “cone dog” and mine breaded avocado). They were fantastic!

Sunday morning we did the ultimate tourist activity–we visited the state capitol.

This was my favorite feature: gigantic Texas Capitol door hinges! So over-the-top and very Texan.

We also visited the LBJ Library & Museum. Last time I was in Austin while I was in high school there was an exhibit about the 1960s, and I stood in front of a video of The Beatles for as long as I could. This time, though, the museum was undergoing a change, so there wasn’t much to see.

My favorite stop in Austin was the Elisabet Ney Museum. This beautiful house and studio is surrounded by wildflowers in the middle of a neighborhood. Inside, you walk on creaky hardwood floors to make your way between Ney’s incredible marble sculptures. It’s free and a very unique experience, so I recommend you make a quick stop if you’re in the city.

One last photo of food–Joseph’s carnitas at Curra’s Grill.

Beautiful Things in Las Vegas

Say what you will about Vegas, but the city does not take the easy way out when it comes to design. It’s like Walt Disney World: absolutely contrived and profit-driven but incredibly detailed. That’s something that I couldn’t help but fall in love with. I love the details. I love that these hotels will display huge fountains and mounds of flowers just because they can. Who in the world decides, “Why don’t we cover our ceiling with 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers? Let’s not make anything easy.”

Sure, their motivations aren’t for aesthetics alone. But I am a frequent complainer (much to the annoyance of my husband) about sky-scrapers. I hate imposing glass walls with nothing to them. I only want the precision of details no one else cares about. This absence was actually a huge adjustment for me when moving back to the US last summer after four years in Italy.

But the level of design in Vegas helped me like the city more than I would have otherwise. Without so many beautiful and intricately-designed things to look at, I think the consumerism would have killed my spirit.

First, Dale Chihuly’s Fiori di Como in the Bellagio lobby. I love this. The glass flowers burst from the ceiling like some kind of beautiful disease (is that too gruesome?).

Just past the lobby is Bellagio’s botanical garden and conservatory, dressed up for fall.

A beautiful glass leave hanging from the conservatory roof. I didn’t even take photos of the beautiful flower displays set up throughout the hotel and behind the check-in desks in the lobby.

My other favorite hotel was Wynn Las Vegas. This hotel is gorgeous and, of course, expensive. I’d recommend anyone on the strip walk around, even if it’s further down the road than the others and is lacking in loud tourist attractions. The light is took dark (in every hotel/casino) to do the photos justice. The Wynn has the most beautiful and unique design–a mix of contemporary cute and classic sophistication. I was dying over the carpet and wallpaper, both of which I neglected to photograph but very badly want for my home office.

This is the Wynn Buffet, where Joseph and I had dinner with my friend Sarah. The meal was delicious, and do I even need to mention this room? It’s straight out of Alice in Wonderland.

Las Vegas: The Strip

Neither Joseph nor I are big on gambling, but of course, we were in Vegas. There’s really not much else to do. We stuck with the slot machines and actually came out ahead, but it still terrifies me!

This machine was set on tormenting me. This happened TWICE. Notice neither row is actually on the line, making me a loser. Ugh.

I ate a crepe for breakfast at the Paris buffet, and then we sat down for a bit of gamblin’

Everything on the strip is so nice and so beautiful! I couldn’t help sneaking a few pictures of bathrooms.

Photo at the Bellagio. More on this later! That is such a beautiful hotel.

I’m really excited I got to meet up with my friend Sarah, who I met online a few years ago and who happens to live in Vegas. Isn’t she beautiful?? We had a great lunch at the Wynn, which offers a lot of Vegan options for her (another seriously beautiful hotel–more on that one later too!)

Just a corner of one of the shopping centers. Seriously beautiful!

New York New York:

Our hotel, the MGM Grand:

As for shows, we very sadly got our dates confused and missed the one we were looking forward to–The Lion King. The tickets were nonrefundable, of course, and they are leaving at the end of the year. :( We did get to catch Cirque du Soleil’s Ka but were extremely disappointed in it. They held it at an absolutely incredible theater with an amazing moving stage, but there was almost no acrobatics. We were looking forward to seeing something like Downtown Disney’s La Nouba, which we really loved. Ka had one ribbon dance (which honestly wasn’t incredibly impressive considering what I saw at La Nouba), a one baton twirling act, and a segment of shadow puppets. Like, shadow puppets you make with your hands on the wall illuminated by light. This was not at all what we were looking for, and I found myself wanted to walk out (which I have never done at any kind of performance).

That kind of put a bitter taste on the night, but it was still overall a great trip. I just should have done more research because it seems other people who didn’t like Ka were also hoping it was more like La Nouba.

Las Vegas: Nature First

Joseph and I just returned from half a week in Las Vegas. It was kind of a strange destination for us considering the places we normally travel, but we needed a relaxing vacation and a break from school and work. Vegas requires very little thinking or planning–it fit the bill perfectly.

Before I flood you with photos from the bright city, I’ll share our first day. We flew in early and spent the morning hiking at Red Rock Canyon before driving for a quick tour of Hoover Dam. It was kind of a last-minute decision, and I’m really glad we spent the early part of the trip this way.

I’m normally not a fan of this dry landscape (I love and miss my Dolomites), but it really was incredibly beautiful in person.

Hoover Dam:

One of the best parts of the day: stopping for lunch at In-N-Out! We got our very first one here in Fort Worth a few months ago, but it had been too crowded for me to try. When we realized the chain was in Nevada, we immediately knew where we wanted to go. It definitely lived up to the hype, but I felt like a dork ordering everything off the “secret menu.”

Egypt: Part 2

I’ll start off with commentary on Beauty of Egypt tours: I very highly recommend them! They were the top of our list when choosing a company after all the raving reviews we found. The 9 days, 8 nights tour was perfect for us. I only had one condition–I needed the two 12-hour night train changed to flights with a night in the hotel. I can’t sleep on trains, planes, buses, or the like, and every day was too busy to not be properly rested. Thankfully, Beauty of Egypt was very accommodating, and the slight (very slight!) price increase was well worth it.

Beauty of Egypt is excellent at communicating, usually replying to our emails within an hour (keep in mind we’re one time zone away–this might be different from somewhere else, though they do have a 24 hour phone line). They customized our tours exactly how we wanted and even upgraded us to completely private tours before we asked to be put in a small group.

There was a bit of a problem in Aswan when we were left without a cruise ship or hotel (mentioned in Egypt: part 1), but Ahmed ferociously called and worked it out for us. We felt like every person we were with worked very hard to ensure the best experience possible, and Beauty of Egypt took on the bill of a cruise ship nicer than we paid for.

A new tour guide picked us up at every city (coming to our hotel or cruise ship every morning), and they were all fantastically professional, engaging, and knowledgeable. No questions went unanswered, and they made ways to take us wherever we wanted.

Edfu Temple

This was Joseph’s favorite tour guide. We all called him “The teacher”–he quizzed us and rewarded us with candies!

He made Joseph run through the motions of what the High Priest would do to prepare the temple for worship.

We found cats all over Egypt! I pet the ones at the tourist spots–most of the other stray cats I found looked very sick. This calico is pregnant!

The above engraving on the 20 L.E. note (about $4 USD)

This isn’t the exact same wall, but it’s close enough! We didn’t have enough time to walk around the huge complex and get to the outer wall where this photo was taken.

Joseph and Franco in a tunnel that goes down to the river. The pharaoh would use this to test the height of the water.

In comparison to these giant walls I don’t look like I’ve grown much!

I love this statue of Horus!

One of my favorite dresses, from Urban Outfitters

That night we began sailing towards Luxor with an incredible view.

Men and boys bathing in the Nile

We tried to sit on the deck of the ship and read, but I was far too distracted by all we were sailing past.

This view was very surreal. The buildings look as if they were built thousands of years ago, don’t they?  Again, they have no roofs as rain holds no threat.

That night our cruise provided entertainment. Honestly, we were a bit disappointed in the belly dancer; she wasn’t very good!

Day 4: Luxor

The Colossi of Memnon, two statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep II that are fairly damaged but still pretty impressive after 3400 years! The one on the right is under restoration right now.

Hatshepsut was the first female pharaoh who was very impressive in her reign. I did a big research paper about her a couple years ago for an Egyptian Architecture class; she was very cunning in her rise to become king, and her leadership was one of the most successful.

After this we visited the Valley of the King and Valley of the Queens. No cameras are allowed, but sometimes it’s nice to not worry about pictures and fully enjoy the experience. The tombs there are absolutely amazing and unlike anything we’d seen that week. The tombs display an artistry in paint that can’t be seen anywhere else in Egypt.

The nearest I can get is this photo of my brother Brian and me in one of the tombs as kids. This does not remotely illustrate the lusciousness of the paints.

Joseph with our day’s tour guide, who was my favorite of the week. He called everyone crazy–“Crazy Egyptians!” “Crazy Americans!”–and ended every sentence with “iggy.” At this cafe Joseph had fresh-squeezed orange juice, while I had the local hibiscus juice.

Next we headed to the East Bank to visit the massive complex of Karnak Temple

I’m not sure if you can tell how many columns there are here, but the Great Hypostyle Hall is just column after column. In total there134, all in great condition (besides the loss of color). You can’t help but marvel at how how much work was devoted to these colossal columns in the 13th century BC.

You can see the little bit of the color left at the top. This complex must have been so impressive before the paint faded!

Me, my brothers, and my mom in 1993

Our tour guide told us he took a photo at this spot and turned it into a postcard that sold 600,000 copies!

Some of the original colors on small columns.

I didn’t have the print of this picture with me and couldn’t remember how I was posed. So I just decided to do something silly instead! I love the way my baby sister (all grown up now, as evidence in these posts: one & two) is looking at me.

Another kitty!

My parents had a book of photos of Egyptian art I loved to thumb through growing up, and this statue was always one of my favorites.

Of the 52 obelisks made in Ancient Egypt, only six actually remain in the country, two of which are in Karnak Temple. For the aforementioned architecture class, Joseph wrote a very passionate essay about this! After a bit of research he became so angry over the destruction of the obelisks (particularly the one in Vatican City–the hieroglyphics were ground down and replaced by Latin biblical inscriptions) that his “research essay” ended up so opinionated his grade was affected. Don’t bring this up with him–it’s still a very sore subject two years later.

We went to an alabaster factory where we ended up buying a little cat sculpture.

I’m not sure of the significance of cats in Ancient Egypt (the only cats I saw were mummified ones)

We paid about $25 USD for this. I’m pretty proud of my bargaining as he originally asked for $70! I hoped to get it down to $20, but he was getting a bit too angry. This one is handmade–you can get the cheaper ones at touristy places for just a couple dollars. Is my obvious love for cats getting to be a bit too much now? I really wanted a camel instead but couldn’t find one I liked enough.

Luxor Temple was our last stop of the day

Founded in 1400 BC, it was turned into a Christian church, and this Roman mural was plastered over one of the old walls.

Damage to antiquities is always baffling (the Roman Colosseum has been used as barracks, workshops, a fortress, and even as a quarry!), even knowing that they weren’t always so important. This hole was made by farmers to tie up their livestock. You can make out a bit of a drawing to the right.

Romina and Franco!

Joseph with the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The four of us had just been reviewing all we’d learned in the trip, and the crown was such an important part of their historical art. The crown can be divided in two–one part works as the crown for Upper Egypt, the other for Lower. When put together it signifies the king in charge of both parts.

The animals left on our bed were increasingly more ornate every day.

I don’t know how I escaped taking photos of food all week. I was really worried about Egyptian food (I don’t like hummus, olives, or anything like that), but it was delicious. This is the only food photo I have, and it’s not much of an indicator–just the sandwiches they fixed up for us after a busy day when we missed lunch.

This was our last night on the cruise. We had dinner with Franco and Romina, then said goodbye as they left for their night train! They spent the next day in Cairo, while we transferred to a hotel and flew to Cairo the next morning.

Day 5: Luxor

We were so tired this was a nice day of rest. I should have done schoolwork but instead read by the pool all day.

View from the balcony in the Pyramisa Isis Hotel. The street was so loud, as Egyptians use a series of honks to communicate. I’m glad I brought ear plugs or else I wouldn’t have gotten any sleep.

Day 6: Cairo

Room service menu in our hotel–just what I was craving!

Waiting for our driver in the hotel lobby

After an early-morning flight we had a tiring and full day in Cairo, starting with a tour of the massive Egyptian Museum. It’s absolutely packed, almost more like a storeroom than a museum. I’m glad Beauty of Egypt put this at the end of the trip–the collection is much different than what we’d seen earlier and is just incredible. Definitely the most interesting museum I’ve ever been to!

With Brian again in 1993

Next we saw a few churches and synagogues in the Cittadel. European cathedrals no longer hold my interest, but I loved these in Egypt, full of wood and alabaster. I’d also never been in a synagogue!
Right: Mosque of Muhammad Ali

The inside of the Mosque of Muhammad Ali was very surprising. There are domes just like those I’ve seen in Europe, but the circle of lights completely distracts from them. It is really beautiful.

A donkey pulling a cart alongside our car. This is one of those times I wish I’d had a video camera; driving Egypt is so unique!

I love the way each apartment is painted its own color on the outside!

There was a man carrying a bucket on his shoulders behind me; I saw a lot of women balancing baskets and jars on their head.  That’s the little jacket I added a crown embroidery to. I’m so glad I did; otherwise I would never wear it!

We bought this papyrus earlier in the week, handmade and hand-painted. I’m not sure how to frame it yet

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