It’s the holiday season 2014

Hey all,

Breaking up the vacation posts with a little holiday cheer.

We didn’t want to get a tree for the 2 weeks we were in the city between vacation and going to Philly to spend Christmas with family, BUT we wanted a little holiday spirit.

The final product…lots of hanging holiday packages, as in we wrapped our hanging frames with discounted paper.

 I went back and added bows to a few.

We also walked around and checked out trees in Madison square garden:

Rockefeller Center:

And the gossip girl tree:

As well as the windows.  Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman had the best windows.

Then it was on to Philadelphia to see Dicken’s Christmas Village and Light Show in Macy’s, the Christmas tree at City Hall, and then to Comcast’s for their show which concluded with a sing along. I think this world would be a better place if there were more sing alongs.

After dinner we went to see the new Annie which was much better than I ever expected.  I loved the soundtrack!! I need to download the songs. Jamie Foxx was awesome.

Finally at midnight we finished decorating the Christmas tree and passed out ;).

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Nicole

On to Southern Africa

Continuing to work backwards we spent a week in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe which included a step into Zambia, and an overnight in Botswana at Chobe National Park, and a boat ride down the Chobe River which put us into Namibian waters.

Scenes from our lodge:

Of the 3 part vacation, this was by far the most expensive! It’s completely a tourist trap and as such everything was way overpriced. That said it was well worth our time and I cannot wait until I can go back!

Only negatives of town, the local boys that try to hustle and get you to buy their crafts and Zim dollars. The country no longer uses the Zim dollar, which went into hyperinflation. The country now relies on the US dollar. See here for more details.

Day 1: Arrived in Victoria Falls, relaxed at our rustic lodge, fell in love with the warthogs that nearly game to our back “door” and their cute little piglets, and went into town to pick up a few groceries and eat at Namtuk, a local Thai restaurant that was amazing and well priced. We actually went back on our last day.

Day 2: Game drive where we saw baboons, baby baboons, impala, and Cape Buffalo. After breakfast of an egg sandwich and coffee we went on an intense canoe ride along the Zambezi River. On the ride we saw several crocs, BUT, they never got my adrenaline pumping as they are well fed on fish and just sat there as we approached.The hippos on the other hand are quite territorial and we had to keep our eye out and stay far away. The first time our tour guides spotted a pod of hippos we were told to quickly paddle to and stay on the right bank.

Ryan’s Dad had not yet mastered canoe paddling, like how to make left versus right turns (and instead moved closer to the hippos), and on top of that ended up getting motion sick. As a result the tour guide made an A line to their canoe, had them grab on, and pulled them to safety. At that point we redistributed in the canoes so his dad was with Ryan and his mom with me. From there we saw several more hippos but never came close to danger.

We were then given lunch, returned to the lodge, and relaxed until dinner at the watering hole.

While we originally saw nothing at the watering hole I soon spotted a herd of elephants  walking out of the trees. Very cool!

That’s a lot of photos so I’ll leave it there for now, talk soon!

Egypt post 2

The day leaving Cairo was awful!! First, Ryan and I realized 2 paintings from South Africa were missing and likely thrown away by the cleaning staff as they were wrapped in cardboard…still really upset about the loss, but I suppose a now have yet another reason to return to Southern Africa.   Though, we will NOT be returning to Egypt anytime soon. The traffic is ridiculous and everyone drives like maniacs. On the way to the airport, like the exit road from the main highway to departure gates, we saw a car flipped completely over. It was a rather nice car, similar to the Mercedes that we were picked up in so I’m sure it was someone on their way to the airport for travel, another devastating site.

Once at the airport we tried to go through security. In Cairo you go through security for the first time immediately upon entrance. We did this on our return from our excursion during the 10-hour layover with no problem. However, after loading all of our bags and going through we were told we needed to print off an itinerary to prove our destination. After some confusion we gather our belongings and found the Egyptian Air desk to print our itinerary (not the same thing as a ticket which was collected after this initial check). With the itinerary in hand we went through security again and I was pulled to the side so that my small carry on would be manually checked-they also wrote down my passport number.

Once in line for our boarding ticket we were questioned about our travels and the items in our luggage. After getting our boarding pass and checking our bags Ryan and I were again selected to have our checked luggage examined. My nicely packed bag was unpacked and I had to explain every item like oatmeal packets and teabags and chocolates. Then we were forced to separate the wines packed by Ryan to include some in my bag-he had the bottles in a properly fitter box. I tried to arrange things so that bottles wouldn’t break! I don’t know what I would have done if they did break because the remaining works of art I purchased would have also be ruined!!!

After grabbing a quick bite to eat we went through the final round of security that is required at your gate. Here carry-ons were again checked in a metal detector, I had to once more prove that my laptop was real and working, and THEN after going through a metal detector EVERYONE was then patted down. Here is where I had my breaking point. I was pulled into a separate room by a woman and then patted down, she then felt my chest, around my breast, and still felt the need to pull down my 2 tank tops which fully exposed my breast. I left feeling completely violated mostly because I find it hard to believe that the Muslim women on the fight with their thick dresses, coats that were not removed, and head attire could not have been as thoroughly examined as I who was wearing 2 tank tops, leggingss, and a button up sweater that was open, in the same time frame!

I realize security is tight for recent political unrest, and I understood the need to have cars checked by dog, and to go through metal detector each time we entered our hotel, but to fully expose my chest was way too much. Between the pollution, selfishness, and do for yourself attitude of many we encountered, I have no interest in returning to this part of the world anytime soon.

On with the show!

Alexandria>>>Cairo. I realized I forgot to talk about the travel in Cairo during our Saturday tour. As an Islamic nation, Egyptians operate on a Sunday-Thursday work week with Friday and Saturday off. Both experiences in Egypt up until our travels to Alexandria were on Saturday, a day off. Even so we felt like we had experienced quite a bit of traffic. Apart from traffic the levels of pollution in Egypt are unreal. Emissions from old cars for one, and a disrespect for the environment and the river Nile which floods the land with nutrients by littering and using the river as a sewer system. I even saw a group of kids push a bag of trash into a canal of the river!

Morning fog/smog/dust-

I know there is always the debate that the Western world had their opportunity to grow during the industrial revolution when our pollution was not managed. However, more than a century later we know better and have created numerous means and measures to improve our environment with new legislation passed earlier this year to cut further cut carbon pollution from power plants. If we are able to lend or donate millions of dollars to aid in healthcare of other countries then we should be able to subsidize programs to educate and minimize pollution in these same countries, which will ultimately, also improve health!

Okay, once more back to Alexandria. As I was saying we had not faced traffic until our journey to Alexandria. On top of commuting on a workday, there was also a lot of fog that resulted in a road closure and a subsequent bottleneck as everyone tried to maneuver onto and off the one road that was open. This made that much more difficult by the fact that Egyptians do not necessarily follow rules of the road. Most highways don’t have lanes and people drive as if they have no clue what a lane would look like and often drift from one lane to another even with lanes are present. As a result of the fog and traffic it took 5 hours from the time we left until we picked up our tour guide in Alexandria.

Side note #3 we went with Ramses tours, which provided transport from Cairo and a tour guide we met in Alexandria plus admission for sites of interest. Given the fog I’m not sure we were able to enter all sites including the catacombs.

We did visit the site of lighthouse one of the seven wonders of ancient world.  This at sunset!

Abo Elabbas Mosque the prettiest mosque in Egypt

Palaces of Farouk, last king in history of Egypt, and Park of Montazha

Another photo with an interested Egyptian.

The Library of Alexandria, the largest in the world and probably one of the best kept buildings in all of Egypt.

And the oldest church in Egypt.

Apart from the sites we also dined incredibly well at a local/small/traditional fish shop. Oh my gosh! So much food!! And all was absolutely delicious. Moreover, we had all for only $30 for all four of us (including tour guide), which included tip!! Photos to come

After only 3 hours and more traffic we were back home and I was ready to crash!

More to come.

Egypt the first travel post of many

I spent my last full morning in Cairo working out in the gym, (we’re stayed at the Meridien Pyramids Hotel and Spa), getting a back massage/detox scrub treatment, a little swimming, and sitting in the sauna. The spa treatments were so well priced, actually the hotel and food in general was rather inexpensive given the decreased tourism due to the political unrest of the last 3 years. After 2 weeks of travel, early rises, and a pretty packed sightseeing schedule it was nice to do my own thing.

I saw and did so much over the last 2 weeks that I will never be able to fully express in words. That said, I guess I’ll start in Egypt since it’s still fresh in my mind.

We originally ventured into Cairo on our 10-hour layover from New York to Johannesburg. There was pretty much no preparation for this portion of the journey. We knew we would leave the airport and head to central Cairo to maybe visit the Egyptian Museum and the Citadel, but were unclear on what to do with our bags since they weren’t going straight to Johannesburg (the flights were on 2 separate tickets) and the airport did not have luggage storage.

As we stood by customs debating our predicament a man approached us asking if we were looking for a tour during our layover. Not going to lie, this was pretty creepy!! Unlike most other countries I’ve visited, in Cairo there are individuals to meet you for airport transfers (or apparently tours) as soon as you get off the plane. Not at baggage claim or once you leave the airport, but as soon as you get off the plane. For this reason, and because we had yet to have an opportunity to test out the climate of Cairo, we were apprehensive of the gentlemen who approached us despite his badge that was suppose to solidify his official status. He also gave us his card for “Ginger Tours” which did have an internet presence, but no reviews of the company could be found.

All the same he offered a reasonable offer of $72 for a day of travel (for the 3 of us plus our luggage) to the sites of our interest. The fact that we had a driver who would wait for us, and a place to safely store our bags, we decided to give the tour group a chance. I did also text my mom our location and the name of the company in case anything happened. In the end, it worked out very nicely. Our driver took us to the sites we were interested during our short time in Cairo and exchanged our US dollars to Egyptian pounds for the going rate without charge. We didn’t have to worry about what to do with our bags or finding a metered cab from site to site. I plan to also write a review of Ginger Tours on Trip Advisor to validate the company.

Citadel

One of the many group of kids who wanted to either take pictures with us or have us take their pictures.

View of the city from the citadel

More Egyptians fascinated with english speakers.

The Egyptian museum

Me looking tired and in need of a shower but I still have 21 hours of travel before landing in Cape Town.

We next stepped back into Cairo on the final leg of our journey. Again we arrived first thing in the morning after an evening flight from Johannesburg. Once we arrived to our hotel we spoke to the concierge about tours to see the pyramids, Memphis museum, and Saqqara. Once more there wasn’t a whole lot of research done for this leg of the trip and we could have probably found a better deal but for peace of mind and the benefit of having a tour guide we went with the tours offered by the hotel. We were right across the street from the great pyramids of Giza and could have probably walked-about a 10 minute walk to the entrance. However, crossing streets in Cairo is seriously a game of chicken. On our way to the hotel from the airport we came across some traffic that resulted from a man crossing the highway (everyone does it) who was hit by a car. He was laying there rather lifeless. The image still-hunts my mind.

Between the traffic and the need for a vehicle or camel between pyramids (for time purposes and being able to see the other sites walking would not have been an option), and a vehicle to get to Saqqara which was quite a distance, I think going with the suggested tour was the best option.

The great pyramid itself was an incredible experience. Each stone (and there are 2.1 million in the largest of the 9 pyramids in Giza) was much larger than I ever imagined. And just sitting on the lower level and taking it all in was a humbling experience. I could feel the history, and the power, strength, ingenuity, and patience (the largest pyramid in Giza took 30 years to construct) of man.

Posting iphone pictures for the pyramids for now, I didn’t have my camera but will edit and add additional photos once I get some from Ryan.

View from hotel

And up close and personal

After seeing the pyramids and the sphinx we were taken to a nearby shop to see how papyrus is made and of course be slightly pressured into buying paints made on papyrus. It was interesting to see how the paper was made but I could have done without this portion of the tour, as it was mostly to get us to buy. To their benefit Ray did end up buying a small painting for his parents-will add photos here.

Next up was a typical Egyptian meal of grilled meat (I kept to the chicken), bread, and baba ganoush.

And then we off to Saqqara to see the first pyramid of the world, built as an alternative to the mastabas and galleries of prior kings. From this site we could also see pyramids to the east and west in the areas of Abusir and Dahshur, I believe. On less foggy days you can apparently also see the pyramids of Giza.

Sites in various levels of disrepair

Our final stop of the day was to Memphis and to the large statue of King Ramesses the second.

Once back to the hotel I was ready to pass out but kept myself up until 9pm so I could get a full night of sleep before our 7am pick up to Alexandria. Which I will put in another post as this one is quite long!!!

Blue Apron vs Plated

Hey all!

I’m finally taking a minute to sit down and now I don’t want to get up :(. I still need to pack and get in a workout, but it’s also nice to sit and say hi to all of you!

One of the post I’ve wanted to write for a while compares the convenience cooking services of Blue Apron and Plated.

Both services provide ingredients and step by step picture instructions for unique and delicious meals. Menus include seasonal items and both companies provide a brief description about the prepared meal and its origins.  Both also allow for choices in dietary preferences.

However, Plated allows you to choose the meals that will be delivered on a given week while Blue Apron only allows you to skip a delivery if you do not want the meals that are on your menu for a given week.  For me that meant skipping more than a month since many meals featured tomatoes (for new readers, I’m highly allergic to tomatoes). I wrote Blue Apron to ask about allergies and was informed my only option was to skip a week.

Ryan also noted that the quality of meat provided by plated was much better than that from Blue Apron.  He felt that the steak, for example, provided by Blue Apron had more fat and gristle.

Plated meal:

Blue Apron meal:

Blue Apron does provide the cheaper option of meals, at only $10/person which includes shipping. And despite both providing the opportunity for me to cook original meals at home and save time by answering the question what’s for dinner and gathering my ingredients,  I much prefer Plated.  The quality of ingredients and moreover, the option to choose!

Alright, time to pack.

Nicole

Wine Making Class II-The pressing

When I last spoke of our winemaking endeavors at Make Wine With Us, we had crushed the grapes to make a must. Ryan had a chance to crush some grapes himself last week.

But for the most part this past week’s class was about pressing the must.  We first had to prep our barrel by washing with hot water, soda ash (like baking soda), and finally with citric acid. The barrels used for the class have already been used a couple of times, which means our grapes will not have an oaky smell or taste.  However, the barrels still give the grapes a chance to breath in a way they cannot in steel tanks.

We are using american oak and a range of sizes. Which was new to me, I didn’t realize there were specialized barrels for making a Bordeaux style compared to a Burgundy for example.

source

Ryan helping to clean barrel. I was the photographer this week.

Next it was time to press the grapes!

The first step, transferring the liquid-using a wire basket and hose.

And then the grape skin must.

It was messy fun!

More liquid from the grapes even before the pressing began!

The packed grape skins after hours of pressing.

We also had the chance to taste at each stage of the process.  The liquid straight from the tube, once put into the press, and the liquid that emerged once the pressing began.  The initial had the highest alcohol concentration, about 6%. Each subsequent taste has less alcohol but more sugar-the yeast still have lots of work to do!

And that’s it! We’ll have chances to come throughout the year to taste and see the progress of the wines.

OHNY 2014

Hey all,

This post is a little late, but late is better than never.

Last weekend was Open House New York, an annual event that:

 “promotes a greater appreciation of the city’s built environment;                                 broadens public awareness by exposing diverse audiences to distinctive                       examples of architecture, engineering and design; educates and                                 inspires discussion of issues of excellence in design, planning and                               preservation; and showcases outstanding new work as well as                                     structures of historic merit.”

-OHNY website

We had planned to visit a few sites but work got in the way. We did however, make it to Brooklyn Army Terminal (BAT), which is not usually open to the public, and it was a great tour, learned so much!!

BAT was designed by Cass Gilbert, same guy as the Woolworth building, you can see the similarities in the buildings here.

Can you see the old radiator here? I believe this is the part of BAT they plan to renovate and make available as industrial space in the next few years.

And the view from the pier that brought in so many items through Brooklyn Army Terminal, looking rather ominous in the overcast sky.

-Nicole

Workouts for the week

Sunday-Rest after a very long hike on Saturday

Monday-40 min barre and cardio

Tuesday-Hiit

Wednesday-Spin, haven’t done that in forever!

Thursday-Barre and cardio

Friday-Hiit and cardio

Saturday-off/walk/clean

I’ve had some rather low intensity weeks and with a hike at Table Mountain planned for South Africa I realized I need to make sure my endurance is up.

Ryan’s Birthday Weekend

We celebrated Ryan’s 28th birthday this weekend by going for a hike and enjoying the fall foliage.

We left the city Friday night with a few friends.  On the way to Bear Mountain we stopped by Ambulance Brew House, a dining gem off of the palisades highway.

We ordered a few flights to take a few different items.  My favorite was easily the headless horseman pumpkin.

To eat I had the artichoke and red pepper wrap, Ryan a mixture of tacos.

And the boys, took a few photos to get them both facing me :).

Saturday we went for quite the hike. Not incredibly challenging but rather long. The scenery was amazing and since we weren’t in a rush to return home we took our time and didn’t necessarily stick to a particular trail-not that we let ourselves get lost. By 3pm we made sure we were on our way home.

First, best sight of the day, a turkey in a tree!  I didn’t know they could fly!!

FYI most photos here were by Ryan, check him and his work over at time in moments.

Oddest site of the day, this sign!

The above sign should have been posted about 1 mile before because we heard the guns and had to speculate where they were coming from…I was thinking West Point at first, but realized we were too far away.

Most surprising part of the hike-coming across the remains of Doodletown. The signs were mysterious and far from informative. We had no idea what this Doodletown was or what happened to it, one day there was a community and then by the 1950s it was abandoned. A google search filled in the blanks, but while on the trail we came up with creative ways that described the town’s demise.

After we got back I cooked up a birthday dinner of lemon garlic chicken, purple cauliflower made two ways, and roasted peppers.

Birthday cake was a brownie funfetti cake.  Decadent but so good! Recipe found here.

Waking up in Bear Mountain.

Relaxing Sunday morning before heading to last birthday weekend activity.

Wine making class! Class 1-destemming the grapes.

Pushing down the grapes in the must (freshly pressed juice with skins and seeds still in tub).  Back next week.

Hope you had a great weekend,

Nicole

Fitbit or Jawbone Up

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I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to test out and wear both the fitbit and jawbone up.  The former via Ryan who received the activity/sleep monitor from his job as part of a get moving challenge.  I received the jawbone up about a year ago (so not the most recent version) through a mentor to test for a research study I was developing. Below I will outline the pros and cons of both.

Fitbit 

Pros:

-It comes in several colors and the tracking device can be moved to different bands.  Tory Burch even designs for fitbit providing bracelets and necklaces.  They’re pretty darn cute, but I don’t know how practical they would be in the gym.

-The app updates via bluetooth so the device doesn’t need to be hooked up to a computer or phone

-The device buzzes when you reach daily step goal

-The device can monitor sleep quality/quantity (although this is on a very basic level and based on movement)

Cons:

-Still rather bulky for me and apart from Tory Burch options, not that fashionable

-I’m not a fan of the tapping means to switch the device from active monitoring to sleep. For example I was clapping earlier today and it switched into sleep mode. The device is sensitive to the wrong things!

-I feel like it’s not as sensitive as other devices I have used in the past, that said I have not run an official experiment to test this hypothesis

As for the Jawbone, I blogged about this device about  a year ago.

Pros (apart from the ones mentioned in the link above):

-I love the button option to switch from sleep to active mode

-Cheaper than the fitbit

-Bluetooth option available but it’s more $$

Cons:

-Not interchangeable, the color you get is the color you have

But that’s it! I much prefer the jawbone.

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