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Ventana - An Enchanting Resort in BIg Sur

Summary: I love Ventana. I highly recommend visiting  and exploring the landscape at Lime Kiln and Andrew Molera State Park which I've blogged about here. Please note this is #notsponsored . Yes, that means we paid our own bill! Lots of details in the following review. including a Post Ranch vs Ventana comparison.  Can you tell there's something exciting beyond this beautiful gate? There's something special about Big Sur, a magic in the light, the presence of the Pacific, the cliffs, beaches, redwood forests and the murmur of the surf. It's one of my favorite places in California. I couldn't think of anywhere else I wanted to be to celebrate turning fifty, because it's a place where there's a sense of nature, space and light and a wide horizon. We've been to Big Sur many times and for a celebration there are two fantastic hotels vying for your attention. The exclusive, modern and very private, cliff top Post Ranch Inn and on the other side of the road the …

Islamic Cairo - An Architectural Wonderland

Cairo is large, chaotic, noisy, polluted and crowded and yet we were charmed. Next time we will spend more time here as there's so much more we'd like to see. The Islamic monuments,  the largest concentration of medieval Islamic buildings in the world, was a great part of the appeal. As you can see below, the skyline is crowded with minarets and domes.

Below you can see the skyline and the citadel from  Al Azhar park. It looks quite romantic through the smog!
There is so much beauty and history in the Islamic monuments we saw and I think the photos speak for themselves.
I loved visiting Al Azhar mosque, directly above and below, which is one of the important centers for Islamic scholarship, there are students from all over the world attending the adjacent university. We saw so many gorgeous sites in the old city, including the famous Khan el-Khalili bazaar, the Sultan Hassan mosque and several of the medieval city gates . But it was the street scenes that were so memorable, the sense and smell of daily life, the fruit sellers, hawker and the call to prayer.
We also went to the Citadel which is a popular site for local visitors. There are a number of significant buildings and museums up here including the Mohammed Ali mosque (the first photo), built in the familiar domed Turkish style. here is the inner courtyard of the Mohammed Ali mosque which is currently under renovation. Below is an image from within the Citadel.
The Citadel is all very monumental  and I didn’t find it nearly as interesting or striking as the much  earlier  Ibn Tulun mosques, below. 
Overall, I think the Ibn Tulun mosque was my favorite building in the city. It doesn’t have the decorative detail, or glamour of the later Al Azhar mosque but there’s power and grandeur in its stark simplicity. 
Dating from from 876 AD, just over two hundred years after the prophet’s death, Ibn Tulum maybe the earliest mosque in Cairo. The minaret is unlike anything we’d ever seen with a staircase winding up the outside, see below. It looks like a lighthouse. It was great to climb up and look out over Cairo from this vantage point. The pyramids are magnificent but these buildings are an extraordinary repository of religious history and tradition too. Next time we will stay for much longer.
We were wowed by these modern canopies (below) outside the Sultan Hassan mosque. They retract at the end of the day.
If you look up there is so much to see, there is beautiful wood and stone work everywhere. The details and decorations are magnificent but they are also under threat and many buildings have been lost or damaged over the last fifty years. 
I can't believe I'm posting the photo below and I'm not even wearing sunglasses as a disguise!  D. takes great pleasure in photographing me in various hijabs in mosques all over the world,  the worst ever was a gargantunan purple number in Malaysia. I WILL NOT be posting that picture in which I looked like a giant aubergine. Hoda went to great trouble to make sure this one didn't look that bad! D. promises I look better in person, Alhamdulilah! 
Tip: If you want to spend time wandering the Islamic quarter stay at Le Riad I cannot emphasis enough how great this location is. it means you are seeing fabulous mosques, madrassahs and historic houses from the moment you get up every morning. Even better, many of them are lit up at night. The area is a fantastical warren of streets that are mostly too narrow for cars. here it’s all about people, mosques, madrassas, goods for sale and a chaotic street scene with neighbors sitting out and shop keepers calling out to those who are passing. We had thought about staying in Zamalak which has a leafy, bourgeois charm, but I was so glad we opted for this part of the city which reminded us both of Damascus which we loved so much on our 2011 visit. There just so much energy and life on the street.
 

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