Saturday, December 27, 2008

Abu Simbel

Today we saw the 2 temples at Abu Simbel. In case you don't remember what they are, these are the temples that were moved to a higher location in order to be saved from drowning when the Aswan High Dam was filling up. Looking at the temples, one cannot imagine that they were moved as they look like they've been "planted" in the same spot for thousands of years. No matter how they were moved or why, what does matter is their beauty! When I think of Egypt I think of 2 things: the Pyramids and the huge statues at Abu Simbel. WOW comes to mind! It's hard to describe. When I get back to the world, I'll post of few pictures and you can be as amazed as I was.

Yesterday we rode in a felucca, one of the many one-sailed boats that ply the Nile. Our Nubian pilot tacked the Nile so we could see Elephantine Island, the tomb of the Aga Khan, camels on the far shore, and hundreds of Nile Birds. He made a difficult job look like a piece of cake.

I'm still not used to the Bazaars. While I am a good haggler, I don't like being pestered to buy something every time I step onto a public walkway. It's gets a bit disconcerting at times especially when a vendor has no concept of what "no thank you" means. Tonight we have an opportunity to go to the Spice Bazaar, which is supposed to be the "best" spice bazaar anywhere in the Middle East and I'm debating if I want to deal with the very aggressive vendors who haunt all Bazaars.

I don't know where we're going tomorrow and it does not really matter. We will sail away on the River Anuket sometime in the morning and head down river toward Cairo. This is great fun despite the Bazaars!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Under the Veil



We've been to several Islamic countries in the past three months, and I've been very curious about women covering themselves up. In Turkey, I learned that when a womam decided to wear the veil, she gave up her rights to think freely. She was under the control of a man, either father, husband, brother, uncle or son. She also gave up her right to education if the dominant male in her life decided it was not necessary for her to achieve a higher education.

Given that scenario, I started wondering why anyone would want to be under the veil. Such a limited existence without the freedom to do as one pleased. Then, I met a young woman in Cairo last night with a different point of view. She said that Islam is practiced many ways, and in Egypt, wearing the veil is a matter of personal choice. It's not the choice of a dominant male. She said that she decided when she was 17 to wear the veil and her mother was NOT happy with her, even though her mother wears a veil. This young woman has a degree in economics and works for a real estate company in Cairo. She is free to do as she wants. She said, the veil was a decision between her and her God. She also said that she does not follow the Koran completely when it comes to dress. She does cover her neck and shoulders, but she does wear fashionable clothes. She said that she can only agree with "some" of the teachings of the book.

Her sister, on the other hand, said she had no interest in wearing a veil. End of discussion. In case you are wondering, the mother, is wearing the blue/purple top; the older sister is wearing black and white and the younger sister has beautiful long dark hair. Three women, one family, each making a personal decision.

The Pyramids at Giza


Yesterday we saw the 3 great Pyramids at Giza, which is about 10 miles from Cairo. In fact, greater Cairo is slowly creeping closer and closer to the Pyramids, and will overtake them if Egypt does not stop the process.


We've all seen pictures of the Pyramids since we were "knee-high to a grasshopper" -- and the pictures look exactly like they are...what the pictures don't convey is their texture and color. The texture is rough hewn. These are not finished stones like you see in Machu Picchu or stones layered in a design like Chaco. There was a finely finished layer of limestone as a top "coat" on the Pyramids, but over time that has eroded away. What is left is an organized pile of blocks—2.2 to 2.5 million of them, averaging 50,000 lbs each. Of course, some are larger and some are smaller. Only one Pyramid of the 3 has a portion of the finishing "coat" of limestone left--and it's on the very top of the second Pyramid. The engineering feat boggles the mind.

Then there is the color that changes depending on the light...when we first arrived in the morning, they were gray; then when the sun was clouded over by a bit of sand, they changed to tan; then the sun burned thru the sand and they were burnished; then the sand started to blow and you could not see them all. A sandstorm came up just as we were getting into the bus after seeing the Sphinx. The huge Pyramid of Cheops was there...and the next minute it was completely gone! No warning at all...the sand storm gobbled it up!

The highlight of the day was riding a camel. I'm not a horse person, so riding does not “come” second nature to me, but I've wanted to ride a camel since I was 10. At that time, my cousin Stella May sent my family a postcard with her riding a camel in front of the Great Pyramid of Cheops and I said to my mom "I want to do that." Well, Mom and Stella May, I did it! And, it was great fun!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Egyptian Museum


 




Yesterday we had a quick tour of THE Museum. We did not even touch all 107 rooms of the place. We did see the King Tut exhibit (which I had seen in 1978 in Washington, DC). We also so lots of wonderful statuary. I learned that if a statue had a curled beard and is standing with his feet together then the person depicted on the statue is dead. If the person has a straight beard and the feet are in a walking type position, then the person is alive and is probably acting as a guard for the deceased inside.

As for Tut--what do you say about a golden mummy case that weighs in at 120 kilos that is covered with precious and semi-precious gems? It's a bit over the top. He was a very minor king. Based on what was found inside his tomb, one can only imagine what was inside the tombs of some really big kings like one of the Ramses who ruled for 60+ years? We will never know.

Today we are on to Giza and the pyramids. All we have to do is get thru Cairo traffic. Our guide tells us that rush hour starts at 7 AM and stops about midnight!
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

In Cairo

 

 

 

 


As you can see, we have landed in Cairo. I'm going to try to blog while we are here, but there 2 things against me. The website is in Arabic and I cannot understand it and the Egyptian internet is "iffy" at best. Sometimes it just does not work. We'll see how this goes.

I have no way to preview what is here...so I hope there are 4 pictures. One is our first view of Cairo from the plane; second is us at the airport; the third are 3 boys who let me take their pictures...notice the dress; and the fourth is my first view of the mighty Nile River.
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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Airport Lounge: Second Report

Right now I’m sitting in the SwissAir Gold Lounge at JFK while waiting for our EgyptAir flight to Cairo. Apparently, EgyptAir does not have their own lounge but the Swiss are willing to share/rent space. It’s a very modern lounge with comfy chairs and a “quiet room” with “relaxing massage” chairs according to the sign. I will visit that space next. There’s also free wifi, a good collection newspapers, drinks (hard and soft) and food. Keeping track of the time is a huge Rolex clock.

The ride here was far more complicated that I expected. Our hotel shuttle driver unwound the tangle of roads that circle JFK in a mere 20 minutes. It would have taken me hours. After the first few minutes I was completely lost.

As I look out the window, I see a sea of white tarmac and not a lot of traffic (air or ground). I wonder if we are going to depart on time. The outdoor temps are in the 20s which is just a wee bit too cold for this pampered traveler but it is not actively snowing. Cairo will be in the 70s and there’s not a threat of snow.

Even if you do not like big airports, waiting in the SwissAir Lounge makes the JFK experience pleasant. I wonder what the counterpart will look like in Cairo on our flight back? Watch this space.

On another note, completely unrelated, take a look at this snow plow pick up truck that was outside our hotel this morning. It's a 2.5 ton Chevy that is awesome!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Travel Alert

We're heading out again. I know, we returned from the Grand Princess five days ago, but that's the way it goes. Watch this spot for news from Egypt and Jordan. We are really looking forward to sailing the Nile on the Anuket. As I get time and opportunities I'll write more about this latest adventure.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

See more pictures . . .

More pictures of our last adventure are posted at http://picasaweb.google.com/ihsnowphd/GrandPrincess# or click here
We are off to Egypt TOMORROW!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

We're Back from the Grand


Dakar Skyline from the Ship

The cruise on the Grand Princess skirted 4 continents. We touched Europe, Africa, South America and North America, all in 22 days. Cruising does not let you delve into countries and cultures, but to flit in, take a taste of a place, whet your appetite for more, then go away to the next location. On this cruise, our appetites were whetted for more in Rome, Barcelona, Gibraltar, Pisa. However, I did not want to spend more time in Dakar, Senegal.

Dakar Market


Sand Painter

Dakar is the capital city of Senegal and from the port, it looks like an up and coming city.
Busy street

The high rise buildings that make up the cityscape are deceptive as they cover the poverty and unemployment that lies within. The sites and sounds of Dakar were grim and sad. I did not want to stay in Dakar any longer than the planned stop.

Grand Princess and the Port of Fortaleza, Brazil

From Dakar we sailed west to South America. Three days later we were in northern Brazil in their fifth largest city: Fortaleza. After seeing Dakar we were pleased to see a city that works. Not only was their a city scape to see from the shore, it was not hollow. It was filled with people and businesses working together. This relatively new city is thriving. We visited the Mercado Central, a huge six story market where folks were selling everything.

Mercado Central


Christmas Decoration


Jungle and Prison on Devil's Island


Church at Devil's Island


The next two stops were tiny islands: Devil's Island, which is part of French Guiana, and Dominica. Devil's Island is the infamous French penal colony. It was shut down in 1952 and most of it has devolved back into a swampy equatorial jungle. Here we walked the trail to the plateau where we saw remains of the prison and the village. On Dominica we had a gray, warm, rainy day to explore this pristine Caribbean isle. We found two islands that are not dominated by highrise condos and hotels.

Dominica from the ship

We had two more days at sea before landing in Ft. Lauderdale. After disembarking, we flew home where we are now. IF all goes to plan, we'll be here a few more days before we leave for Egypt. We definitely need more than a few days on the ground before starting another adventure, but that's the way it goes. We came home with colds, and if they are not better, we will not go. Watch this space to see what happens.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Grand Princess notes


Life aboard the Grand Princess is simple. We get up, eat, walk, eat, go to lectures and programs, eat, go to shore, eat, go to shows, eat, and go to bed. The food is good; come to think of it, so are the programs.



We have stopped at various places along the way. Each has been more interesting than the last place. I really liked Livorno, which looked a lot like the Napa Valley in northern California. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was incredible. We had to sail past Cannes, due to bad weather, but we were able to stop in Barcelona which is an impressive city. The Gaudi “sculptures” that make up the Sagrada Familia Church were created by someone with a great sense of humor or a warped mind. You have to see them to figure out which.



Our next stop was Gibraltar. The famous Rock of Gibraltar! We saw the World War II tunnels that were used to defend the little isthmus of land from the enemy. Whoever controls Gibraltar controls access to the Med. Britain has controlled that scrap of land since 1704. We also saw the Barbery Apes that inhabit the Rock. Churchill said that England will control the Rock as long as the apes are there. Today there are about 300 of the critters on the island and they know how to work the tourists for goodies.



Casablanca was our next stop. I’m not sure what I expected to see there. It’s a huge city of 6 million. There is a Rick’s CafĂ© but it’s not the Rick’s of movie fame. We saw the third largest mosque, Hassan II Mosque, which is built along the shore. Casablanca is a thriving modern city with traffic that is very different from Rome or Alexandria. Here the traffic flows with the signals and cars stay in their lanes. What a novel idea.



We have been at sea for the last 2 days as we wend our way to Senegal. I wonder what the adventure will be there?

Pisa


There really is a leaning tower of Pisa...but don't expect a giant skyscraper...it's a skyscraper of the 14th century. No matter, it is an amazing sight to see and it's incredibly beautiful.



In addition to the Tower, there are two more buildings...the church and the Baptistry. These two buildings are little wedding cake structures that are beautiful. I was not prepared for this trio of buildings.


By the way, all the buildings lean! It has to do with the underlying soil/sand that just cannot support weight. The buildings have been leaning since they were 3!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Rome Pictures

 

 

 

 
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Just a quick note. These are a few of the places we've seen. Our hotel is across the street from the first picture of Santa Maria Maggiori. The next two pix are of the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica, then the Tiber River. Watch this spot for more pictures and if I have time, some thoughts.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In Rome


We are in Rome! Our hotel is across the street from the third largest church in Rome, and I've never heard of it -- Santa Maria Maggiore.

Earlier today I took some interesting pictures from the window of the plane. We had seats that faced the engines. A different view of the plane. By the way, that picture was taken near Frankfurt.



Tomorrow we'll do some signt seeing. I'm excited to be here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Red Carpet Lounge

Flying nowadays is a drag. With security restrictions and long wait times and crowded planes it's not fun anymore. There is hope however. The special lounges that airlines have set up for Frequent Flyers or folks flying business or first class. On this trip we have used the mighty frequent flyer mile to upgrade to seats in the front of the bus. We have been upgraded to the quieter, plusher, and decidedly less crowded Red Carpet Lounge too. Even though the red carpet is a 3 x5 throw rug it's nice to know there is a quiet place in a busy airport.

If you are flying and don't have access to these "first class lounges" there is one other place of refuge at an airport--the chapel. It is not outfitted with leather chairs, snacks and free wifi but it is quiet.

So the hurry up and wait process begins. We got up at 2:45 AM to catch the 5:35 flight to SFO so we can spend 6 hours waiting for the 14 hour flight to Frankfurt and Rome. We will arrive in Rome at 2:00PM tomorrow. A new adventure begins.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Rome

The next cruise starts in a couple of weeks. We are flying to Rome and boarding the Grand Princess for a 22 day, 4 continent adventure. Today I did another piece of homework for that trip--I ordered a limo to pick us up at the airport and bring us to our hotel.

When that cruise ends, another one starts almost immediately as we're going on a Nile cruise over Christmas. There's lots to do when you are going to be gone for almost 2 months.

Monday, October 27, 2008

From Russia, With Love

Last night "From Russia, With Love" was aired on TV. We should have seen this movie before going to Istanbul.

Much of the movie takes place in 1964 Istanbul. You can see Aya Sofia, The Blue Mosque, The Hippodrome, The Cistern, and the Grand Bazaar. So much is the same, yet there are subtle changes. The cars were all American and HUGE, today they are Japanese and tiny. There is open space between Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque then, today there is a 6 lane roadway, jammed with traffic. Part of the storyline was a tour of Aya Sofia...we had the same tour a month ago! Fashion has changed since 1964, as most of the folks "on the street" were wearing western dress, today there are many folks wearing traditional garb.

SO, if you plan to visit Istanbul, take a look at James Bond's Instanbul in 1964 and also enjoy the movie. Movies can be time capsules. It's fun to compare past to present.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Normal


I never really know what normal is, but life is back to what we call normal at "the ol' rancho." We are more or less over jet lag and ready to think about the next adventure. Right now, the next adventure is staying HOME for a few weeks without thinking about the next port of call, the next flight or the taxi we have to catch.

On another note, I reached a personal milestone for Project Linus. I finished my 100th blanket. It's a red, white and blue "granny square" that is vibrant. It should make a little person feel happy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Istanbul to Athens


When I saw the itinerary for this cruise on the NCL Jade, I thought it was going to be interesting. I had no idea how interesting it would be. We touched 3 continents in 12 days. What Prince Henry The Navigator of Portugal would have said if he could have sailed that far in such a short time.
Istanbul is the only city that spans 2 continents. Crossing the man-made bridge from Europe to Asia is an everyday event. What's the big deal? It's not a big deal there, but now that I'm 11 time zones and several thousands miles away, it is a huge leap. East and West meet in Instanbul. The spice bazaar has been selling goods for hundreds if not thousands of years! The stories that Bazaar could tell.

Our next stop was Izmir which reminded me of it's ancient Roman past. The Agora (or mall) is there attesting to a thriving market economy.

The Greek Islands in the Cyclades: Mykonos and Santorini, were our next 2 stops. Mykonos, which is said to be most beautiful, was bleak to us. Later we discovered that bleakness is what makes it beautiful. It's all in the eyes of the beholder. Santorini, however is beautiful. As in Mykonos, the houses are whitewashed, but it has the look of prosperity that makes it more inviting. It also has a marvelous bay, the result of a huge volcanic eruption in 1632 BC.

Africa was the third continent we touched by making landfall at Alexandria, Egypt. This was our first time to step on Africa, our seventh continent (a milestone event for me). Alexandria. another ancient city, was founded by Alexander The Great about 2000 years ago. It's old, dirty, a human anthill, with lots and lots of people, cars, donkeys, horses, and noise that makes a city a city. I would not want to get lost on the narrow streets that lead to who knows where. Watching our bus driver maneuver his way through the rabbit-warren of streets was a white knuckle experience. It seems that signals and orderly lanes of traffic are mere suggestions to follow or not, as the driver sees fit. As in Lima or Buenos Aires, the traffic flows at a great pace and we did not see any accidents. I have no idea why.

In Egypt, every tourist bus travels caravan-style, one after the another. Each bus has an armed guard too. At random points along the way, the bus is stopped and the driver talks to an "inspector" and soon the guard leaves the bus and joins the conversation; papers are signed; then the guard comes back in the bus and on we go until we arrive at our destination or we are stopped at another inspection point. Since all commerce is done is Arabic, who knows what is said. Based on what was going on outside the bus, not too many people were willing to venture out on their own.

We took a shore excursion to El Alamein, about 65 miles from Alexandria. It is the site of the pivotal battle in World War 2, where Rommel was defeated by Montgomery. The 10 day battle claimed 45,000 lives! It was horrible. It was quiet now, with 3 separate memorial parks for the British, the Germans and the the Italians. I find it hard to look at peaceful battlefield memorials without imagining the sounds and sights of war from the distant past. Looking at the graves of 22 year olds is sad business. It was interesting to look at the men and the women in our group who visited the memorials. The men were talking about the battle and the war. The women were talking about the loss of sons, husbands and brothers. I think every world leader should make a pilgrimage to several battlefield memorials and learn the lessons of the past. Is war the only way to solve our differences?

After the guards and the inspection stations of Egypt, we sailed back into Greece where we visited Crete and Corfu before touching the European mainland. We were no longer in an arid sandy place as overnight, we sailed into greener lands. Unlike the Cyclades, the Ionian islands are verdant. The hillsides are covered with olive trees and grape vines. In Crete we visited the Palace of Knossos and learned about the Labyrinth and the Minotaur and the Minoan culture.

I fell in love with the beautiful island of Corfu! I could spend a couple of weeks exploring Corfu without blinking an eye. Shear beauty. Need I say more.

The trip was winding down. The port before Athens was Katakalon, a tiny place known because it's where the ancient Olympic Games were played. We visited the first Olympic Stadium. We saw where modern Olympic torches are lit and how they are lit by the sun's rays. We saw the remains of the Temple of Zeus, another wonder of the ancient world. Alas, the famous, gold and ivory statue of Zeus, reported to be 13 meters tall, no longer exists, but we did see a re-creation of it. Seeing the birthplace of the Olympics and seeing how the Olympics have evolved, I could not help but wonder what happened? The purpose of the games have changed over the millenia. Whether for good or bad, I cannot tell, but they have changed.

The last stop was Athens. I truly don't know what I expected to see in Athens, but what I did see and experience was awesome. My first glimpse of the Acropolis took my breath away. (The Parthenon is located in the Acropolis, and Acropolis means edge of town as it's a mountain on the edge of town.)As we walked up the marble steps to the Parthenon, I could not help but think of how many Athenians, made the same journey. Then to see the Parthenon...WOW. When I looked to my left I saw the Caryatids! I had seen them in the British Museum, but here they were, right in front of me! (BTW, the Caryatids in Athens are re-creations based on the originals in the British Museum. The Parthenon was bombed in the 1600s by the Venetians, destroying the temple. When Lord Elgin came to Greece as the British Ambassador in 1800, he thought he would scoop up the marble friezes in the Parthenon and place them on his estate back in England. He "claims" he bought them from the Turks who were ruling Greece at the time. Nowadays there is controversy about the "Elgin Marbles" -- should they stay in England where they have been protected by the British Museum for 200 years; or should they be returned to their country.) No matter, it was wonderful to see these magnificent structures.

Like all adventures, they have to come to an end. After 2 days in Athens, we boarded a plane for the forever-flight home. It was only 17 hours long, but that seems like an eternity when you are sitting in a little seat 34,000 feet above Earth. Setting foot in San Francisco was good! Getting the taxi to our hotel was better. Driving home the next day was the best! It's good to be home.