Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chipping Away

I've been diligently working away on the photos from Egypt and Jordan. So far I've completed the pix from Egypt. I've yet to start Jordan.

Here a few fun pictures from Egypt.
This is of my new penpal who was hamming it up at Karnak. By having her in the picture you get an idea of the scale of the place.

Here's the statue of the sacred scarab beetle at Karnak. Legend has it if you walk around the beetle clockwise you will be fertile. In this picture the whole group is walking around the beetle counter-clockwise. So I have to wonder what they are wishing for?

Taking pictures of feluccas is easy. Taking interesting pictures of them is harder. I like this one at sunset in Aswan.

The temples and tombs are so big it's hard to take their pictures so I started looking at little details as every square centimeter is covered with carvings. Here are some tiny hieroglyphs that decorate temple facades. I'm was constantly fascinated with the attention to details. The birds have feathers. The insects have gossamer wings. Then you have to remember these are carved into stone.

Here is a panel that decorates the Temple at KomOmbo. The attention to detail on the carvings is amazing: Broad shoulders, tiny tummy, fingers, kneecaps, necklaces. Can you imagine the time it takes to carve all of that into stone?

Aside from her obvious attributes, look at her gossamer skirt. It's fragile looking and delicate.

There are now about 150 photos in my Mac gallery. Go there and click on the names of Egyptian towns and cities like Cairo, Phillae, Luxor, or KomOmbo and take a peak. Jordan will follow soon as we leave on another adventure in 2 weeks and I don't want to have 2 sets of photos waiting for me.
By the way, if you want to enlarge a picture, just double click on it!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Too Many Pictures

Is there such a thing as too many pictures? I received an email last night from one of the intrepid travelers in our group that bewailed "I HAVE TOO MANY PICTURES!" On the last trip I captured about 5000 images. While some of them are good, some are horrible. To that end, I've developed a picture processing model, that seems to be working, but it slow slog.

I've downloaded all of my pictures and placed them into folders according to subject area, so all the Phillae pictures are in one folder, as are all the Dendera photos, etc. These are the "raw" photos. On my desktop I've created another folder called "Keepers." Each day I open only one "raw" folder, and no more. (More than that and I get punchy...and at the rate I'm going, the pictures will be processed in about 15 days.) As I look at the folder of pictures for one location only, I screen each picture and make a decision to move it into the "Keeper" folder or leave it in the "raw" folder. Only the pictures that look "really good" or have potential to look really good go into the "keeper" folder. Generally this process winnows down the number of photos to process from 200 to 30. Now all I have to process are the best photos and not all the photos. Next, I fire up Photoshop and start the enhancement process. Once the "keeper" folder is finished, I winnow again and put online the best of the best. The hardest part is stopping at one folder. I know that after awhile, I lose my edge and my eye, but when I'm on a "roll" it's seems a shame to stop...but I stop anyway.

After going through this process for the past week, I'm pleased with the results. It's not too overwhelming, and it has not beccome tedious yet.

When I take a computer on trips, it's always easier to do this process on a daily basis. To that end, last week I purchased a mini-laptop, that weighs in at 2 pounds and is a fully functional, albeit small, computer. With it, I will be able to download my photos on a daily basis and process them along the way, which is so much better than trying to remember all the details days, weeks or months after the event!

At the end of the "Picture Rainbow" I have created several products to show folks. I have two online galleries, a photo gallery on my iTouch, and a couple of PowerPoint albums of my trips which I print out and show folks IF they are interested. I've discovered most folks are mildly interested in MY vacation, so the PowerPoint albums show the best of the best and are never more than 70 pictures. One album shows highlights of places we've been to on that trip. The other album is an "ABC book" where I've selected photos for each letter of the alphabet. For the last trip, a is for Abu Simbel, b is for Ballooning over the Nile, C is for Cairo, etc. I have one picture of a small grouping of pictures for each letter of the alphabet. This way I have an album of 26 slides the tease folks with my memories of the adventure.

You might ask if this is enough and the answer is YES! Pictures are private pieces of art and adventure that only make sense to the people who had that particular adventure. I get the enjoyment of creatively working with the pictures. I post pictures to my online galleries, to my iTouch, and I get to create the albums. When friends ask to see my pictures I show them the abridged versions of my trips, and they do not have to see all 5000 images that I collected, they get to see the 60 or so that are wonderful.

I have one small regret. I have not found a place on the web where I can download my PowerPoint albums. Does anyone know of such a place? If you do, please let me know of it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Back in the USA

We’ve been home about a week. That means the bags are unpacked, the laundry is done, and we are still fighting the after effects of jet lag. I have no idea how folks like the Secretary of State can take numerous trips and still function at the end of the day.

Mohamed Ali Mosque in Cairo

The trip was wonderful. We saw places we’ve heard about and read about. They really do exist. Along the way I took about 5000 pictures and now I’m trying to figure out what to do with them. I’ve developed a winnowing process. I look at the photos for each location and select the best 40 to 50. I “play” with those pictures using Photoshop Elements and/or Picasa then I choose the 20 best of the best for my album and my online websites. Right now I have some of the pictures online at my Mac Gallery at Soon I’ll put some pictures at my Picasa gallery at

Take a look at some of the great places we saw while we were in Egypt.

Ramses II from Abu Simbel

This statue along with several others as well as their temples were moved piece by piece in order to make room for the Aswan High Dam.

Felucca on the Nile

Fishing on the Nile

People have been sailing feluccas and fishing on the Nile for thousands of years. It works. There's no reason to change.

Cleopatra VII

This is one of only 2 known renditions of Cleopatra. Cleo, on the left, is part of a huge bas relief mural on the "back wall" of the temple at Dendera in Qena, which is about 45 minutes from Luxor.

This beautiful duck is only 4 inches tall. I love the feathery details that have been chiseled into the stone. It is a hieroglyphic character that stands for "bird." Every temple was highly decorated with thousands of glyphs and bas reliefs and paintings because empty space was considered unlucky.

I don't think there are any "modern" farmers in Egypt. Folks who do not live in the cities are farmers, and most farmers have 5 acre plots which seem to grow a sugar cane, dates, tomatoes as well as other fruits and vegetables. This is a typical farmer's home, on an irrigation canal. Oftentimes the homes do not have roofs as it seldom rains.

One of the prettiest Temples was at Philae near the Aswan High Dam. It was built during Egyptian/ Greco/Roman times, making it "newer" than some of the Temples. It was "easy" to get a handle on the Temple of Love at Philae because it was small. Karnak and Luxor and Dendera are HUGE, Philae is just the right size to "understand."
There's more to write about and a ton more pictures to look at and digest. I'll stop for now and get on with living in the present!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Next to Last Leg

We're in Cairo International Airport, Egyptair First Class Lounge! The flight takes off in 100 minutes so we'll enjoy the free wifi while it lasts. As the trip is winding down, the whole group was reflecting on how much we've done and seen in the last 3 weeks. We've done a lot! Highlights include the Pyramids at Giza, the Tombs in the Valley of the Kings, the huge temples of Karnak, Luxor and Abu Simbel, and of course Petra. There's a lot to think about as we fly back to the U.S. of A. It will be good to get home, but neither of us are looking forward to the 34 hour day that we are facing. I'll be adding more pictures once I get home.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dateline Petra

Remember Indiana Jones riding into Petra in his third movie! Well, we’ve made to Petra, but it’s changed since that movie was made! Petra has become a tourist mecca in the intervening years. Our friends who were here 16 years ago said there was one hotel and some horses to rent in order to ride into the Treasury. Now there are 72 major hotels, Starbucks, McDonald’s, KFC, internet cafes, shopping malls, as well as horses, camels, donkeys, carriages to rent, and all of the other trappings of a modern tourist destination. Petra has become a UNESCO World Heritage Center; it’s also one of the 7 Modern Wonders of the World. Who wudda thunk that would happen so soon? Today we will take one of the carriages into the Treasury and then explore on our own.

We have been in Jordan for the past 3 days. During that time we’ve seen a Crusader Castle from the 12th century, a Roman City from the 2nd century, and a myriad of Biblical sights from the 4-9th century BC. Jordan is filled with ancient sights because it has always been a crossroad. At one time it was called TransJordan. It’s now called the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Like Iraq, it had its borders fixed by political means. Winston Churchill and his cronies were dividing the area up after World War I and came up with the boundaries for several “Middle Eastern” countries based on what they thought was the best for the region. (According to our guide, that’s when the term “Middle East” was coined too. I need to check to see if that is correct.) What they forgot to take into account were the natural cultural and religious barriers of the people. So, we have Iraq with 3 opposing groups of people “living” in one country. Then there are the Palestinians and the Israelis. Thankfully, Jordan does not have the internal strife that some of the countries in the area has!

The capital of Jordan is Amman, sometimes referred to as the “white city” because most of the buildings are covered with white limestone. When the sun shines, the city is bright and very white. It’s a clean city too, much cleaner than Cairo, but then it’s also smaller than Cairo with about 2 million people. It is a mixture of East and West, Arabic and English signs, modern and traditional dress, yet we did not see any horse drawn carriages like we did in Egypt. Westerners can feel very comfortable in Amman.

Our first day here we drove to the Dead Sea and we saw some scraps of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some of our group went for a swim in the Dead Sea. It’s so salty they just floated on top of the water. The Dead Sea is the lowest spot on earth, over 1300 below sea level.

After Walking in Ancient Petra
WHOA! What a place! There is far more to Petra than the “Treasury,” which is the building that you see in Indiana Jones III. The complex goes on for 13 miles! It’s huge. The Treasury is well known, but there are also Roman Gates, an amphitheatre carved out of the rock, nicely paved and domed Roman Roads, hundreds of tombs, a monastery, various temples, and more. The basic area reminds me of Zion National Park in southern Utah, but the carved buildings are like nothing I’ve seen before.

Getting to the old city of Petra is not an easy task. You have to go down inside the gorge for about a mile. We opted to take a carriage ride. That’s making it sound far more grand than it was…think about 1 poor horse, dragging a tired cart, downhill, sometimes over cobbles that were laid by the Romans in the 1st century! When we emerged from the gorge, the Treasury was standing right before us. It was breath-taking! We left our “chariot” and started walking another 3 miles on sand or the remnants of the Roman Road past the most amazing structures carved out of the living rock. Some of the rock is stained by “desert varnish” others rocks range from blood red to burnished brown. As we wended our way down the gorges, there are temples and columns and walls as well as the tombs that are buried in the walls.

Not all is perfect in Petra. The modern world has found this ancient location, so you can buy souvenirs and postcards and donkey rides and camel rides from willing Bedouin merchants and their children. Unlike the persistent vendors of Egypt, these did understand NO. We’ve learned that eye-contact is key. Do not look at any of these merchants as that’s a sign that you just might be interested in what they have to sell. One little girl had a good line however—she said she was K-Mart and she had the blue-light special!

At the end of the easy walking there’s a restaurant called The Basin that is owned by the Crowne Plaza hotel (where we are staying). After a nice buffet lunch you can opt to climb around the mountains and explore the tombs and old foot paths more or you can slowly meander your way back to the Treasury area and wait for your chariot to take you back to the visitor’s center. We slowly walked back to the Treasury and soon we were back on carriage #2, heading for the “barn.” It was a great day!

On this trip we’ve been to places we’ve heard about all of our lives but never thought we would get a chance to see. They really do exist. It’s time to get back to the world. The trip has been very good, but we’re tired. It’s time to go home and take a vacation from our “vacation.” We all need a bit of rest, some home cooked meals, and time to relax and digest all that we’ve seen and done this past 3 weeks. We have covered 45-50 centuries of history is a very short time!

Friday, January 2, 2009

3T Tour

We are back in Cairo after spending a week on the Nile. What a week. We've had what I call the "3T Tour" of Egypt...that stands for Tut, Tombs and Temples. We've learned more about Tut and the other pharaohs than you can imagine. We've also seen tombs and temples, each one grander than the next. The colors that have survived 2000-4000 years boggle your mind. The size of the structures is mind-boggling too. How were these magnificent structures made? Does anyone really know?

Yesterday, after an early morning hot air balloon ride over the city of Luxor, we oohed and aahed over the immensity of Karnak. While a ruin, it is still the largest religious building anywhere on Earth. That's some statement! Did I say it was huge! We also saw the much smaller but still grand, Luxor Temple. Did you know those two temples are less than 3 miles apart? And, they are connected by a boulevard lined with sphinxes? I did not know that!

In addition to these temples, we've climbed around Dendara, Kom Ombo, Philae, Abu Simbel, Edfu, and maybe a few more in the past week. We've also seen the tombs at Giza (aka, the Pyramids), as well as those in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. While the Pyramids are big and interesting, I think the temples and the other tombs are far more fascinating.

We have another week "on the road" as we fly to Amman, Jordan tomorrow. I know there is "something" happening in Israel right now, but according to Grand Circle, tourists are safe. So I'm sticking with that story. We have been very safe while traveling in Egypt! While in Jordan, we plan to visit the famous city of Petra. I'll post pictures when I get back to the "world" but in the meantime, here's a Balloon-eye View of Luxor. Luxor is a small city in the country-side, which used to be called Thebes. Note that many of the homes are roof-less--it rarely rains in the desert, so why put one on top of your home! I guess that makes sense?