Monday, June 30, 2008

Jordan in 5 days

While each country offer lots of stuff to see and do, to my mind Jordan can be effectively covered in 5 days, and, that too not on a very hectic schedule.. Yes, while we did not cover everything that Jordan had to offer, and, perhaps did not do Amman justice, I think I came away quite happy with my trip...

So here's my 5 day itinerary for Jordan.....

Day I
Visit Madaba, Mount Nebo and see the sights in Amman.. Evening go see the local souks and have dinner out at a nice restaurant. Try Trader Vic's at Hotel Regency...the food and the ambience is good!!

Day II
Take a day long tour to Jerash, Ajloun and Umm Qyaas. Be back at the hotel by 6, shower, relax and head out to Kan Zaman, a quaint night spot on the outskirts of town.

Leave early morning for Petra. Spend the day there and head back by 6 o'clock so that you are back in Amman by 9 o'clock...since its a small detour, you can stop and see the dessert castle at Karak. If you still have the energy, go to either City Mall or Mecca Mall, or just relax at your hotel.

Day IV
Leave in the morning for the Dead Sea, spend the morning there, dipping in the sea, enjoying a spa at one of the 4 resorts there. On the way back, stop to see Lot's Cave and Bethany beyond the Jordan. In the evening, go out for diner or to a night spot or roam the many malls that are there.

Day V
If you have the enthusiasm, do a day tour of the dessert castles of Jordan, or if like me, you have had your fill of sightseeing, just roam around Amman, or chill relax at the hotel and catch the flight back home in the evening


Since I had heard so much from all the guides about the Decapolis, decided to look it up in Wikipedia...

The Decapolis was a group of ten cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire in Jordan, Syria, and Palestine. The ten cities were not an official league or political unit, but they were grouped together because of their language, culture, location, and political status. The Decapolis cities were centers of Greek and Roman culture in a region that was otherwise Semitic (Nabatean, Aramean, and Jewish). With the exception of Damascus, the "Region of the Decapolis" was located in modern-day Jordan, one of them located west of the Jordan River in Palestine (modern day Israel). Each city had a certain degree of autonomy and self-rule.

The names of the traditional Ten Cities of the Decapolis come from the Roman historian Pliny the Elder (N.H. 5.16.74). They are:

1. Gerasa (Jerash)

2. Scythopolis (Beth-Shean), the only city on the western side of the Jordan River

3. Hippos (Hippus or Sussita)

4. Gadara (Umm Qays)

5. Pella (East of Irbid)

6. Philadelphia, modern day Amman, the capital of Jordan

7. Dion

8. Canatha (Qanawat)

9. Raphana

10. Damascus, the capital of modern Syria; Damascus was considerably north of the others and so is sometimes thought to have been an "honorary" member.

According to other sources, there may have been as many as eighteen or nineteen Greco-Roman cities counted as part of the Decapolis. For example, Abila is very often cited as belonging to the group.

Umm Qays

Now that we had seen the castle at Ajloun, Badran headed off towards Umm Qays, the northern most popular tourist spot in Jordan. With this, we would have effectively covered most of what was there to see in north Jordan.

Known as Gadara in ancient times, Umm Qays was renowned in its time as a cultural centre. It was the home of several classical poets and philosophers, including Theodorus, founder of a rhetorical school in Rome. Gadara became one of the most important cities of the Decapolis, it had minted its own coins, and depended the pompean calendar

Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Jordan Valley, Umm Qays boasts of impressive colonnaded streets, vaulted terrace and the ruins of two theatres. From the top of the site, sitting in a restaurant, you can actually view the confluence of three countries. Along Lake Tiberias (or the Sea of Galilee), you can see Syria, Palestine and of course you are standing in Jordan.

The ruins are different in that the structures are built with basalt or volcanic rock which is black in colour. This mixed with limestone gives a dark, brooding yet mosaic like look to the buildings which is fascinating. The theatre is still intact and would be a lovely location for a performance under the blue auzure sky....
As you walk down the colonnaded street, you see a lot of what would have been shops and you can see the black basalt stone.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


As you walk through the Hadrian's Arch, the first thing that you notice is an impressive Hippodrome on your left. This was a 15,000 seating capacity hippodrome that was constructed for a city of 30,000. So you can well imagine the size! And you can take a pretty good guess where the city headed for entertainment!

The hippodrome was the arena for charriot races and gladiator fights in the ancient times. In the current day and age, it is the seat for an re-enactment of what what life was like in the Roman era.

The Roman Army and Chariot Experience or RACE, as it is known, will take you back to the Roman times, as a young Roman soldier, belonging to the Legion 6 of the Roman Army walks you through the life, battles, travails and death of Roman legionnaires.

As he narrates, trumpets herald the entry of Legion 6, turned out in their armour, armed with their Gladiatus (sword) peelus (Spear) and (Sheild). The legionnaires walk out into the Hippodrome and proceed to demostrate the tactics of warfare employed by the Roman legions. They demonstrate battle positions, manouvers, usage of weapons and enact a few battles scenes. The narrator gives you a few interesting insights into the lives and battle tactics of the Romans especially when one legion fought another! Since the legions all followed the same tactics, fighting another legion was like fighting yourself, which made it so much more difficult!

The legionnaires are followed by the rogue gladiators or the scum of Rome who were condemned to die in prisions but were trained as gladiators and had to fight in the hippodrome to entertain crowds of cheering Romans (this was a form of entertainment in ancient Rome as you might remember!!) The gladiators rush onto the field, pair off and fight, and it's up to the audience to decide whether the loser lives or dies.

The grand finale is a charriot race which had my 7 year old cheering and yelling for more!

The show is a must and should not be missed especially if you have children. Tickets cost JD 12 per person and its held at 11.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. every day. If you are staying at a hotel in Amman, the hotel will be able to provide you the tickets. If not, then they can be purchased at the site itself.


With hubby safely ensconsed in a meeting, my son and I were free to roam around as we pleased. While hubby is a very knowledgeable history buff, and, loves to see places, he hates sweating and he hates being dragged all over the country side in the heat. He agreed to make only two exceptions to this - Petra and the Dead Sea!

So the first day, decided to cover Jerash, Aijloun and Um Qyyas. Jerash, I was very keen to see, cos this is the location of the well known Jerash festival, when once every year, the stars of the Arab world descend on Jerash, and then follows a week of sound, music and dance..I had seen clips of this and the setting for this seemed so romantic that I was very keen to go see the place.

My desire was also fueled by the knowledge that Jerash was one of the key cities comprising the Greek Decapolis (federation of 10 cities) and is considered to be one of the best preserved out of these 10 in the current day. Plus on the flight into Amman, I had read about a show (RACE) that tried to recreate the Roman era, that was held at the hippodrome at Jerash everyday. I was very keen that my son watch this.

Jerash is a mere one and a half hours away from Amman, and, the drive very pleasant. Our driver, Badran, explained that Jordan was very well known for olive farming, and we would see acres after acres populated by olive trees as we drove, especially to Aijloun. Made a mental note to buy at least one bottle of Jordanian Olive Oil and try it out!

Hadn't bargained for hilly terrain so did not feed my son dramamine, so had to take a couple of pit stops while he threw up. Other than that, the journey was uneventful. As you drive in to the Jerash complex, you can see the hippodrome from far where the show is staged. Entrance tickets to the site are priced at JD 8 per head, though the ticket guy refused to give me a ticket for my son - ebn free!

You walk in through the Hadrian's Arch to enter the site. Hadrian was a Roman emperor, whose visit to Jerash was commemorated by building this arch. Its a beautiful Triumph Arch, currently under repair.

Found myself a guide, who as guides are wont to, when they see a single expat woman, decided to flirt with me. Normally I would have laughed it off, but the scorching heat robbed me of my sense of humour I think, lol! Cursed him under my breath in Hindi, when to my utter shock, he turned around and replied in Hindi. He had spent years in Pakistan studying and knew Urdu and hence understood Hindi. While I was mortified that he understood what I had said, it ensured that he was polite and straight forward for the rest of the tour!!

As you walk into the site, the majestic panorama makes you grasp for breath. They were not kiddng when they say its a really well preserved site. Sand covered the remains of Jerash and preserved it until its rediscovery in 1806. Because they lay buried so long, the ruins at Jerash are among the best preserved from the Roman era.
As you walk throughthe main colonnaded pathway called the Cardo Maximus, you can actually see the grooves made by the charriots as they thundered down the pathway.

There is a beautiful Temple of Zeus, whic dates back to around 100 AD and is still beautifully preserved. You can climb up from the Oval Plaza and view from the temple is really panoramic.

Next to the temple, is the South Theatre. Built during the reign of Emperor Domitian, between 90-92 AD, it seats more than 3000 spectators and serves today as the primary venue for the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts. I beleive the place has remarkable acoustics which allow a speaker at the center of the orchestra floor to be heard by the entire auditorium without raising his/her voice!!

Finally, the Temple of Artemis - Artemis, daughter of Zeus and sister of Apollo, was the patron goddess of Jerash. This Temple was a place of sacrifice dedicated to Artemis and built in 150 AD. Although small, the temple's Corinthian columns soar impressively making the temple look very imposing on the hilltop. 11 of the 12 front columns are still standing.

The Temple is also known as the Temple of Shaking Pilars. The columns rest on a base and when pushed actually sway! Even though they sawy, they've stood upright for centuries. If you place a key in the space between the column and the base and push the columns, you can see the key move!! Thsi is on account of the concave and convex structure of the pillars and the base which enables the movement while keeping the pillars erect.

And finally the Roman Army & Chariot Expereince (RACE). Will write about it in a separate post!

By the way, for those only hung up on Petra (as I haughtily told my husband) Jerash is the second most visited tourist location after Petra in Jordan. Nah, don't visit it for that reason, visit it for the sheer magnificance and the wonderful state of preservation it is in. You can actually imagine what the city must have looked like in its heydays!!

History of Jerash

The town was at one time cal]ed "Antioch on the Chrysorrhoas," the latter, meaning "Golden River," being the somewhat grandiose name of the little stream which still separates the eastern from the western section. But the name "Antioch" is significant, and strongly suggests that it was one of the Seleucid Kings with the name Antiochus who was responsible for raising the little village to the status of great town, probably Antiochus IV in the early second century B.C. Inscriptions found in the ruins, however, show that there were many traditions current as to the founding of the city, some attributing it to Alexander the Great, some to the general Perdiccas in the fourth century B.C. It could also have been accomplished by Ptolemy II (285 - 246 B. C.) when he changed Amman into the Hellenistic city of Philadelphia. It is possible and probable that each and every one of these had a finger in the pie, and that the emergence of Jerash from the chrysalis village of mud huts to the brightly coloured butterfly of an Hellenistic town was due rather to the increasing general prosperity and security than to the efforts of any one ruler.

In the year 63 B.C., Pompey, having overrun the Near East, divided it up into provinces, and Jerash and its lands were attached to the province of Syria.
This was the great turning-point in the history of the town, and was recognised as such in its calendar to the very end of its life as an outpost of Western civilisation, for all its dates are given in the Pompeian era. The Hellenistic cities had enjoyed certain rights of self-government, and these rights were continued under the Pompeian arrangements, Jerash enjoyed these rights, and early in the Roman period of its history it joined the league of free cities known as the Decapalis. From now until the middle of the first century A.D, Jerash seems to have had a quiet and peaceful time.

The pink city of Petra

Often described as the eighth wonder of the ancient world, nothing prepares you for the amazing sight that is Petra...

It is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2000 years ago, turning it into an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.

Petra is sometimes called the ‘Lost City’. In spite of its being such an important city in antiquity, after the 14th century AD, Petra was completely lost to the western world. It was rediscovered in 1812 by the Swiss traveller, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who tricked his way into the fiercely guarded site by pretending to be an Arab from India wishing to make a sacrifice at the tomb of the Prophet Aaron.

Entrance to the city is through the Siq, a narrow gorge, over 1 kilometre in length, which is flanked on either side by soaring, 80 metres high cliffs. While you're walking through the siq, you appreciate why the Nabateans chose to build Petra flanked by high mountains and acccesible only through the siq...the narrow siq renders Petra practically invincible...

As you walk through the siq, you can see small channels running along the walls of the siq. These are waterways that weer used by the Nabateans to collect and transport rain water which was then stored for usage.

It was the ability of the Nabataeans to control the water supply that led to the rise of Petra, in effect creating an artificial oasis. The area had flash floods and archaeological evidence demonstrates the Nabataeans controlled these floods by the use of dams, cisterns and water conduits (see photos above). These innovations stored water for prolonged periods of drought, and enabled the city to prosper.

No matter how many photos you may have seen, nothing prepapres you for the majestic view of the Al-Khazneh (Treasury) as the siq abruptly comes to an end and you come face to face with an imposing structure carved into the sheer pink rock-face, very remniscent of Greco-Roman architecture, dwarfing everything else around it. There is a point where you can see a peek of the Treasury through the siq and the view is stunning due to the juxtapositioning of the dark walls of the siq and the bright pink facade of the Treasury..

For fans of Indiana Jones, the Treasury should be a familiar sight. The Treasury at Petra was used in the final sequence of the film, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade".

It is said that the Nabateans were the first people to offer scholarships to their people. Those who won scholarships were sent to far off lands like Greece and spent years learing the language and crafts and finally returned home to practice the craft at home. To that can be attributed the Greco-Roman influence on the architecture.

As you walk away from the Treasury you come on to the Street of Facades which is lined with tall, impressive tombs, with large facades or false faces on their fronts. This street eventually leads into the heart of the city proper.

Roman-style theatre, which could seat 3,000 people.
There are obelisks, temples, sacrificial altars and colonnaded streets, and high above, overlooking the valley, is the impressive Ad-Deir Monastery – a flight of 800 rock cut steps takes you there. With a 7 year old in tow, I did not have the heart nor the energy to attempt the monastry. There is also a Petra Mueseum within the complex which was unfortunately closed so we could not manage to see that, but by this time my 7 yr old son was begining to wilt under the sun, so I thought it prudent to head back.

Just a piece of advice, no matter what the weather, carry a hat, use suntan lotion liberally, wear very very sensible walking shoes and carry drinking water. Its hot inside and you need to walk and walk and walk!!

While cars are not permitted inside, you can hire camels or donkeys.. A trip to themonastry and back on a camel will cost you around JD 15 while that on a camel will cost you around JD30-40 depending on business that day and your ability to bargain. I would recommend taking an animal if you have a child with you cos the walk can be quite tiring esp in the afternoon sun.

Also the best time to see Petra is mid morning or noon when the sun is at its brightest and brings out the colours in the rocks. Yes, it makes it a rather hot proposition, but its worth the trouble, just to see Petra in its pristine beauty..

The siq itself is almost a 2 km walk, or so it seemed to my tired feet, so you can can hire a horse carriage at the Treasury for JD 20 which will take you right from the end of the siq to the entrance of the Petra complex gate, next to where the cars are parked. I would recommend taking that but please be warned, you will feel like you have been put through the wringer as the carriageman forces the horse to gallop over the uneven cobbled pathway shaking every bone in your body. Hang on to your bag and your specs lest you loose them in the dash to the entrance.

I beleive there is also a "Petra by night" tour where you can walk through and see Petra by the light of a thousand candles. The tour starts at 8 p.m. every night. While my mind baulks at the thought of the damage this could well do to the site, my heart beats faster at the thought of how beautiful it must be to see Petra by candlelight!

Tickets are JD 21 per head for 1 day and JD 26 for a ticket valid for two days. Children below the age of 15 are free of cost.

Faith I could have spent days at Petra, but before I knew it was time to head back to Amman, and, I snuggled into the seat of my car, tired and hot but very content at having finally seen what undoubtedly deserves to be considered a wonder of the world...

As we drive away from Petra, I am reminded of a prize winnning sonnet Petra by John William Burgon referring to pink city of Petra, which he had heard described but had never seen:

It seems no work of Man's creative hand,
by labor wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.

Jordanian flag

The Jordanian flag symbolises the Kingdom's roots in the Great Arab revolt of 1916 - its adapted from the banner of the revolt!!

The black, white and green bands represent the Arab Abbasis, Umyyad and Fatimid dynasties respectively, while the red triangle represents the Hashemite dynasty.

The 7 point Islamic star represents the 7 verses of Surat Al-Fatiha, the firts sura in the Holy Qura'n, and, also stands for the unity of the Arab people. Some believe it also refers to the seven hills on which Amman, the capital, was built.

The Hashemite Kingdon of Jordan

Talking about visas, if I thought getting an appointment for European consulates was difficult, getting the Jordanian visa is an equally exciting adventure.

Firstly, at the embassy, its a free for all, rule of the strongest as the ability to get the counter's attention is entirely a function of your physical prowess and ability to muscle your way to the counter.

Secondly, the guy hands you a form in Arabic while you look helplessly and try and explain that you DO NOT read or write Arabic. Ah, says the man, as light dawns and he disappears again, hopefully to find you a form in English, which after much search and delay he indeed does. As you sigh in relief and fill out the forms, he throws a googly at you and hands another form in Arabic and with a shake of his little fingers indicates no English...some kind soul translates and helps you fill out the form which includes information on your mom-in-law's date of birth, nationality (??) which really fazed me, but finally you hand over the document only to be told 40 days, come back after 40 days!!!

After all this I had given hopes of ever setting foot on the ancient city of Petra, when my husband added to my misery by telling me he was off for a business trip to Jordan. After much cajoling and threatening he managed to get us business visas as well, and, we were off to Jordan.

I must admit I was not overjoyed at the thought of flying Royal Jordanian esp since the last time had flown it was as a penurious young professional to UK where the airline took off after announcing that the plane needed to be changed for a technical was the longest flight of my life!!

Reached Amman in one piece and that too very comfortably. The airline staff may not have been very warm but as you spend time in Jordan, you will realise that Jordanians are not very warm or at least not very demonstrative people. I guess the difference is rendered even more stark since I am surrounded by Egyptians who love life and know how to live it to its full and are forever smiling and welcoming. ..

As you drive into the city from the hotel, you are struck by the contrast that appears before you..The city is full of hills, populated by coniferous vegetation and patches of arid brown..I had always thought that Jordan like Egypt was essentially dessert but was clearly off the mark..

What do I say about Amman? It neat clean, in patches very European, a modern city with beautiful limestone buildings which adds to a sense of light and space in the city..its large, spread over a huge range of hills ad is a pleasing sight albeit a little spartan..

The one thing that I did notice was the reference to "The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan" everywhere.. Discovered that Hashemite refers to people belonging to the "clan of Hashim", a clan within the larger Quraish tribe. It also refers to an Arab dynasty whose original strength stemmed from the network of tribal alliances and blood loyalties in the Hejaz region of Arabia, along the Red Sea.

King Abdullah of Jordan was a Hashemite, and his descendants rule the kingdom, hence the name "Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan"....well that's one mystery solved!!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Spanish visa

For those trying to get visas for Europe from Cairo, you better be planning your holiday somewhere in August or September, cos getting the visa is as herculean a task as deciding where to go and organising the trip. Er, let me correct that, it'll probably be easier to organise the holiday!!

Getting an appointment for the visa itself has a month long or more wait for most of the embassies, so plan in advance.. Since I am applying for Spain, this is the list of documents that the embassy asks for. Hope its of some help!

a/ passport
b/ application form original + 2 copies
c/ 2 photo size 3.5 x 4.5 cm with white background
d/ original and photocopy of current and old passport
e/ Printout of flight tickets
f/ hotel reservation
g/ original bank statement statement for last 6 months and 2 copies
h/ letter from your employer stating the date of hiring and current salary
i/ international health insurance
j/ Visa fees 520 le per head

all docs original and photocopy and in a file in the same sequence...

docs only in English or Spannish

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Indiana Jones, coffee, chips and more!!

Went to see Indiana Jones at Bandar. While its very convinient, there is something about Bandar which is not quite right but I can't put my finger to it. Or maybe it's just my imagination? But who cares? Its there, screens English movies and is my favourite place to go see kiddie movies. Yeah, that's where I head everytime son wants to see a movie.

However, this time it was to see Indiana Jones though we took my son along.

Given that Indiana Jones is directed by Spielberg, coupled with the fact that I have wonderful memories of the earlier three, I had great expectations from this one. I guess at some level I expecetd to re-live my earlier memories through this one, but it was a bit dissapointing. Harrison Ford, much as I still love his sardonic smile, looks every bit of his 65 years and his whip doesn't crack as sharply as it did many years ago. The story is long winded and stretched and at times a little disjointed. I suspect Spielberg wanted the movie to be old fashioned and much in the same style as the earlier movies, and, to that extent he's succeeded.
My enjoyment of the movie was not enhanced by the numerous demands for coffee, soft drinks, chips and popcorn placed on me!. Mommy, why do movie halls in Maadi only stock popcorn and chips and some chocolates? Why not burgers, hamburgers, nachos with cheese, sandwiches etc? Difficult to explain to my 7 year old hungry son "they're like this only!!"

Given these endless "tiffin" breaks, the sense of the movie being disjointed was wonderfully enhanced. Didn't get to see the end either cos my son decided that he definately wanted to check out the interiors of the public restrooms. I am still trying to decide whether the end is worth sitting through the movie again, though if I be honest, it did rekindle some wonderful memories...methinks, maybe, just maybe I might go see it agian, and, this time without interruptions...

I think the person who enjoyed it the most was my son. He now wants to watch the earlier 3 movies - now that's something I'd be happy to do with him!!

Oh for my patch of green!

One of pleasures of living in Maadi has been the greenery all around me. And I love my apartment cos on one side I look out on a vast plot of land, populated by trees.

Mornings were spent on my balcony, sipping a cup of tea, watching the trees gently sway in the wind - who would believe that I was in dessert land?

Unfortunately, my tryst with greenery has ciome to a rather tragic end! The trees have been felled, and a monstrous four building complex is going to take its place...Time to move on?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Jared's Bagels

In line with the great Indian obsession, I must not forget to mention the yummy bagels I picked up at Jared's on Road 9.

A small outlet, which you could probably miss if you did not watch out for it, the small shop offers a large variety of bagels at reasonable rates. I believe this is the only outlet that they have in Cairo. Why am I not surprised? Where else would you find an American favourite but in a predominantly American suburb of Cairo?

The bagels come in 5 variants - plain, salted, sesame, onion and wholewheat. There are gourmet ones which are multigrain and sundried tomatoes. For topings you can choose from honey butter, plain cream cheese, apricot cream cheese etc.. The prices start from LE 8.50 to around 10.50 for a single bagel. Pretty decent, huh?

My favourite is the sun-dried tomato bagel with plain cream cheese. Yummm!

You can also order online a or call and order for home delivery on 23596255. The shop itself is opne from 6.30 a.m to 10.00 p.m.

The Great Indian Obsession

In line with the great Indian obsession wth our own food, I am happy to note that stuff provided by Hassan is very good.

Mom-in-law ordered some mutton from him, and, she was delighted with it - melt-in-your-mouth was the verdict! He even brought mustard oil which is enough to gladden any Bengali heart. Lentils, mango chutney, masalas I can see we are (hopefully) not going to pay excess baggage for food anymore!!!

And for my brethren from up North, his atta is definately better than any that I have tried from different people in Cairo.

Monday, June 2, 2008

La Bodega

Restaurant: LA BODEGA
Address: 157, 26th of July St.
Telephone: 2735 05 43 / 2736 21 88
Hours: 12.00 p.m. to 1.00 a.m.

La is the Spanish word for "the" while Bodega means a store specializing in Hispanic groceries and also a storehouse for wine. Consequently, when I first heard about La Bodega, it conjured up images of mature fruity wines and scrumptious paellas, tapas, migas, gazpachos, chorizos and of course the ubiquitous rice pudding! Unfortunately, as luck would have it, no amount of planning bore fruition and La Bodega remained on my list of "must do" places.

So today when some friends decided to organise a lunch at La Bodega, the temptation of the company and the place were too much to resist. So the afternoon found me battling the Cairo traffic to make it to this Mecca of fine dining despite this Cinderella's deadline being 2.30 p.m. I was determined to make it!

Located in the heart of Zamalek, the restaurant occupies the first floor of the historical Baehler Mansion built on land which was once a part of the Khedive's palace gardens. The mansion also houses a Maison Thomas, Drinkies etc. As I stood looking at this grand old mansion, for a moment I wondered what Baehler would have thought of what's become of his grandiose construction?
But not to detract from my gastronomic adventure, remember to look for the words "Baehler Mansion" cos there is nothing at eye level to indicate the location of La Bodega. Perhaps, befitting the quiet elegance and its pre-imminent place in the culinary world of Cairo, you have to look heavenward to see "La Bodega". As you walk into the building, and climb up the stairs, be warned, there is nothing at the entrance or the stairs that points to the existence of the restaurant. Curiouser and curiouser!

As you walk past the old fashioned elevator cage, a large stone relief by the Egyptian artist Moataz Nasr welcomes you. On your right is the La Bodega "Lounge" while the La Bodega "Bistro & Bar" beckons you on the left. As I walked into the Bistro, I was struck by the ambience of the place - very reminiscent of the belle epoque period of Cairo's history, very Parisian. Long windows with dark polished wooden frames, cosy seating, paintings depicting people making merry and enjoying their food, there is a quiet, understated elegance to La Bodega! I made a mental note to ask the restaurant the name of the artists - the rawness of the paintings somehow appealed to me! If I closed my eyes I could actually picture Cairo of the Twenties, this room filled with women in beautiful gowns and men in their formal attire smoking their pipes and sampling the best in gourmet cuisine. A hello from my friends shook me out of my reverie..

A quick look at the menu disabused me of any notions of Spanish cuisine. The menu is essentially Italian with some delicious salads and main entrees.

My Goat Cheese salad was delicious with just the right hint of pepper and tart in the salad, bread grilled to perfection and perfect goat cheese. A mushroom and spinach salad, and, a grilled vegetable salad were equally appetising.

The mushroom risotto was delicious, though I would actually recommend sharing it with someone cos after sometime the cream and cheese gets too much, though this is of course completely a personal opinion - I can never finish a full plate of anything which has cream sauce. The mushroom ravioli was "mmmm", close to the risotto in flavour but much stronger (bound to be since they were both mushroom and cream sauce based) but DELICIOUS.

Since I am a vegetarian, have no idea what my friend's chicken dish was like but she liked it. Since I arrived late, have no idea what it was, but it appeared to be grilled chicken topped with pesto with zucchini on a bed of mushrooms (which appeared to be missing!)

The service is quiet, efficient and quick and the prices extremely reasonable. I think the most expensive dish was around LE 50-60 from what I can remember as I quickly skimmed down the menu hunting for vegetarian food. And for a change, there is enough and more choice for vegetarians!!

One of my friends commented that it was not only that the food at La Bodega was good, but what was important is that the food is consistently good! I can’t think of a bigger compliment to the chef and the kitchen especially in Cairo.

The clock struck two, and it was time for Cinderella to run before her carriage turned to dust, so I rushed out promising myself that I would be back sometime soon, and, this time, I would savour the food and the place over a long, relaxed meal!!

Reference: Egypt’s belle époque was a period of incredible extravagance during which the Khedive Ismail’s Cairo became the mirror image, both architecturally and socially, of decadent Paris. The glamour and hedonism of the era reached its peak during the magnificent celebrations for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Kings and emperors, artists, writers and Europe’s most sophisticated flocked to the dazzling new Cairo of sumptuous palaces and Parisian gardens, where Verdi’s Aida premiered at the new opera house and glittering parties were held on the banks of the Nile. But the splendour was short-lived. Only a year after the Suez Canal opened, the Second Empire in France collapsed and the Khedive’s excesses plunged Egypt into crippling debt. Ismail was eventually forced to abdicate, leaving Cairo to the British who occupied Egypt in all but name