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 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 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.