Spot Light on Community Why Bother with Voting? People are quick to tell you your vote matters, but then you watch the evening news. Lots of Texans feel their vote doesn’t influence what happens in Washington D.C. 504 more words
TRAVEL THERE: A LITTLE RELAXATION & A FEAST
When my husband first mentioned spending several days at the beach with his family, I was worried. I don’t beach well. About 20 minutes is all I can stand and that’s only if the wind isn’t blowing sand all over me. I had visions of interminable days on end, chained to a chaise lounge, at the mercy of people who love the beach. In reality, by the time I finally got a day to visit the beach, I was ready to enjoy it.
I may not see my grand nieces and nephews very often, but I’m no fool. I bribe them with gifts and always have a little something up my sleeve. This trip that something was my coloring equipment.
A few years ago a friend gave me everything I needed to get hooked on adult coloring. What she didn’t know was that I already loved to color, I just never seemed to have time for it. Now I have a coloring book, coloring cards, coloring pencils and a great eraser that come out whenever I travel. I like to color on the plane, but on this trip I also thought I could tempt the kids to color with me. BINGO!
The Sharm Marriott has a great pool and when the family joined us there, I was already busy coloring. Suddenly, I was the center of attention and they were eager to join me in a little coloring book action. As they shared my pencils, their mom and I had the opportunity to chat. It’s one of my favorite memories of the time in Egypt.
All good things must come to an end though and soon the nieces and nephews were on their way to Mirette’s house. It was a time for sisters and cousins, so Bill and I stayed behind to enjoy the water a little more. As I’d thought about our stay at the Marriott, one of things I’d looked forward to was a Margarita at the submerged pool bar, beneath a waterfall, but the bar didn’t open until late afternoon and I was never in the pool at that time, so I missed it.
Once the kids were gone, Bill wanted to move to the beach. I was perfectly content to hang out at the pool until the bar opened, but it was his vacation too, so out to the sandy, sweaty beach I went. After the allotted twenty minutes were over I begged to be released so I could wash my hair. Reluctantly he agreed to let me go.
Now if you are a beach person, the Marriott was great. Beautiful sand, gorgeous water, comfy lounges, rattan umbrellas, cabana boys delivering drinks – the whole nine yards. I left Bill laying in the sun and retreated to the room.
We were invited to Mirette’s home for dinner. Her mother, Bill’s sister Mona, had been cooking all day. What an absolute delight! Mona is my favorite Egyptian chef. She probably doesn’t realize she could charge me for her amazing macaroni and bechamel or her goulash (a sort of savory baklava) or her kufta or… so let’s not tell her!
She beamed as I dug in for seconds. She’s well aware of the fact that I’m always counting my calories, so asking for seconds was a compliment of the highest order, but I supplemented the obvious with even more verbal exclamations of my complete bliss over her cooking.
Next was a little mid-night shopping trip, but you’ll have to come back next week for that.
TRAVEL THERE: WHERE WILL YOU LAY YOUR HEAD?
How tight is your budget? How particular are you about your personal space? Are you claustrophobic, acrophobic or prone to sea-sickness? These are the kinds of questions you have to ask yourself as you consider what kind of accommodations will best suit your cruise experience.
Keeping It Affordable
Are you all about economy? Check out interior cabins on the lower decks. That’s the most economical part of the ship. Don’t plan on spending much time in your cabin though. It will have the basics, but it will be tight and you might find yourself wishing for a little sunshine. And here’s another tip. If you’re afraid of seasickness, try to get a cabin mid-ship.
For our first cruise, we had an interior cabin and yes it was tight, but we had a great time. Not only was it our first cruise, it was our honeymoon. Tight quarters added to the romance, but it was pretty spartan. The tiny pedestal sink had no counters and no drawers, but I managed to brush my teeth and apply eyeliner as needed.
But that’s me. I’m not the luxuriating in my cabin sort of person. If you are someone who needs to see the sun when you wake up or navigating tight quarters puts you in a bad mood, then don’t save so much money you are miserable every moment you are in your cabin. If you are really looking forward to some private time on the ship, then you should also look elsewhere. In an inside cabin you will barely have room to walk around your bed.
Taking It Outside
If you can’t stand the thought of a windowless week, but still want some economy, look for an exterior cabin. At the very least you will get a porthole. Some some lines have huge picture windows in the exterior cabins. We’ve had these accommodations, too.
A porthole graced our first outside room. To be honest with you, that small spot of sunshine was not the best part of the upgrade. Suddenly we had more space. That’s what made the extra dollars worth it. With a little more space the ship can start throwing in exciting extras like counters, storage and perhaps someplace to sit besides the bed.
Our next outside room was actually on a river cruise and instead of a porthole, one wall of the cabin was a huge picture window. That’s been one of my favorite cruise experiences. It was a treat to open the curtains and watch the banks of the Nile pass by. The space was light-filled, airy and even roomy. That cruise is what turned us on to river cruising and we have become solid fans.
But back to ocean-going ships. These outside rooms can come in a wide variety and what’s there makes all the difference. Usually there are pictures or drawing of the room online, but that’s still only going to give you a hint of what to expect. For instance, on a Carnival cruise, we were in the last room on a hallway and our huge window faced where we had been, rather than where we were going. None of my research told me how much we’d enjoy that window. We loved looking out at the wake of the ship and if my memory serves me right, we could actually open the window a bit for fresh sea air – something that big picture window did not allow.
Interior and exterior cabins are the easiest ways to watch your cruise dollars, but if economy is not your first concern, then have you ever got a world of opportunity to relax in. Come back next week and we’ll take it to the balcony.
Spotlight on Services Googled Lately? Do you remember life without Google? Twenty short years ago we did have search engines, but nothing like Google. And even now, there are other search engines, but for most of us, Googling is a way of life. 480 more words
TRAVEL THERE: SOMETHING YOU WOULDN’T EXPECT
After our amazing day on the Red Sea, it was nap time – only instead of napping, I washed my hair. I had borrowed a towel from the room for our boat trip and the room steward (no maids) penalized me for it. We’d started the stay with an armload of fluffy towels, but when I got back from the day on the yacht, the towel nazi had only left me one bath towel to accompany the one (I guess) he thought I was trying to steal. It was funny how they all spoke such great English until that very moment. Suddenly, we couldn’t communicate at all. It was a small thing, but it left a distinctly bad taste in my mouth.
Out for the Evening
Niece Maggie and her family invited us out for dinner. They wanted to show us the hotel they’d stayed at during their honeymoon. They hadn’t booked an over-the-top suite, like Bassem and Mariam were enjoying at the Baron Resort, but Maggie and Shady wanted us to share their memories. Except for some security rigmarole going in and out of the hotels we really hadn’t had to deal with much in the way of security in Sharm. That changed on this evening.
They let us into the hotel with relative ease, but then we wanted to go take a look at the pools – yes I said pools, as in plural. For some reason this was a problem. Maybe they thought we were going to try to swim. Maybe they thought we were trying to gain access to guestrooms. I don’t know, but they certainly didn’t want us to visit the pool. Bill and I weren’t all that worried about it. A hotel pool is a hotel pool – am I right?
However, it was obvious Maggie and Shady were really disappointed, so Mr. Bill went into action. He strolled over to the desk and gave them a piece of his mind. He told them the honeymoon story. He told them we were Americans (as if that wasn’t obvious). Then he resorted to pressure. He pointed out that we were guests at their sister hotel just down the street. He mentioned Ayman’s name. He told them I was a travel blogger. I’m not sure what changed their mind, but Bill had to turn his room key or something like that over to them while we were poolside.
I will admit the pools were beautiful. Deep navy tile with white trim. We’re still not sure exactly what they were trying to protect when they wanted to prevent our visit. We had some dinner, which was delicious, but then they gave us the run around on paying the tab. We had to go to the front desk to pay and then the tip couldn’t be charged on the card. Weird.
A Real Treat
Next Niece Mirette came to take us to the Sharm Cathedral. An exterior view is above, but it does nothing to prepare you for the gorgeous interior. I could wax eloquent about all the details, but I will let the cathedral speak for itself. As amazing as the visit was from an architectural and religious standpoint, what was most apparent to me was the love the people of the cathedral have for my niece. They opened up late in the evening just so they could show us. Everyone onsite knew my niece. They were obviously and ostentatiously fond of her. I was so proud of her for this. Enjoy the beautiful cathedral, then come back next week for our final day in Sharm.
TRAVEL HERE: FINDING YOUR TRAVEL DREAMS ONLINE
So, last week I shared a few secrets I’d learned about Google and how knowing those things can give you a better experience if you decide to shop online for a cruise. Most of those suggestions were pretty basic, but their primary focus was what to avoid. This week you’ll learn more about what to do.
Where Do You Want to Go?
And don’t say I don’t know! I love to travel and in theory, I would pretty much get on any cruise ship going anywhere. In practice, I’ve only been on one cruise for every decade that I’ve lived. I’m doing everything I can to raise the ratio of cruises to years, but the point is this, don’t hesitate over where to start. Close you eyes and point at a map. Dreaming is free!
If you’re curious about Bali, then start your research there. Before you actually book a cruise, you may be taking a 3 day cruise to nowhere out of Miami, not Bali, but you’re just practicing! The first thing you need to know is what cruise lines go to where you want to visit. As you research Bali, you will start discover things that will help when you start narrowing down your real search.
I hope my next cruise is to the Mediterranean. When I Google “Mediterranean Cruises,” I quickly discover there are at least 12 cruise lines with itineraries in the Mediterranean and that’s just on the first page of results. If I’m just shopping, then why not start clicking. Don’t think of this as work. Think of it as organized day dreaming. Get comfy and maybe get a glass of wine.
When Do You Want to Go?
At this point, your research can take you in several directions, but if you have a specific time for your cruise in mind, then go with that. I want my next cruise to be on my 25th wedding anniversary, which is in May of 2019. If I Google, “Mediterranean Cruises May 2019,” the number of cruise lines goes down significantly and I start seeing sites like Expedia, Cruise Critic and various cruise lines. Start sampling all of these sites. Some will draw you in and you will find you’re still on the site an hour later. Others will just look like a list of prices or you won’t like the font – so just skip these.
One of the tricks of saving money on a cruise is to be flexible about your dates. If I demand to be at a certain place on a certain day for my anniversary cruise, then my choices will at least be limited and I may find no cruise ship will be where I want on the day I want to be there. So keep your mind open about a date. You want to narrow the choices down to a reasonable number, but not be stuck with only one choice.
What Itinerary Best Suits You?
This is very subjective. Many factors play into choosing an itinerary. What cities do you want to see? Do you want to spend some time at sea, enjoying your ship? Would you like to spend a few days at the beginning and/or end of the cruise in a particular city? Do you want to visit cities with museums and historical sites or do you prefer one beach party after another? How many days do you want to cruise?
My husband and I are in this phase of our search for the 2019 cruise. He’s leaning towards the Western Mediterranean with stops in places like Monte Carlo, St. Tropez and Portofino. I’m more interested in the Eastern Mediterranean with beautiful Venice and Croatia, Montenegro and perhaps a bit of Greece. However, we know we want something in the 8-10 day range, so this helps us narrow the search a little more.
By now you should be enjoying the process of shopping for your cruise. If this all sounds like too much work, just call your travel agent. They’ll ask you all the questions and help you find a cruise you will love, but you’ll have to trust them. Doing your own research ensures you’ll love your cruise. Come back next week and we’ll talk about what kind of room you want.
TRAVEL THERE: CLIMB ON YOUR QUAD AND DRIVE
Imagine a sheik has invited you to his desert oasis for a banquet. What would you expect? What would you wear? Well, let’s pretend my nephew Ayman is the sheik and I’ll tell you about our night under the stars.
For this adventure we had a van, that took us to a place that rented quads to tourists. Some of the girls wanted their own vehicle but I was content to climb up behind my hubby. Off we went into the horizon. In every direction it seemed there were miles and miles of sand, but straight ahead was a mountain and we headed towards it.
As we departed the rental facility, the mountain appeared no further away than the length of a football field, but as we took out across the sand, it seemed to back away from us. At the same time, it got bigger and bigger and bigger. The ride was a lot of fun, even if it was a little tame. We had to line up and follow the leader. Bill tried to jazz it up a little bit, but was admonished to get back in line and behave. It was kind of like one of those trail rides where your horse plods along in a rut he’s trodded along for decades. You were imagining galloping along with the wind in your hair and all you got was dirt between your teeth. On the quad you got wind in the hair alright, but you also got sand in every imaginable crevice. Still it was fun.
Our destination was no oasis. I didn’t even see a palm tree – merely a collection of tables in a nook below the mountain. We were among the first guests to arrive. We settled around what seemed like an advantageous table and let the evening unfold. Service was, to say the least, slow.
While I wouldn’t say we were in a hurry, you really don’t want to leave these guys without any entertainment for very long – otherwise they will make it up. Soon plastic cups and adult beverages came out of the bags some of the ladies had brought along. As groups wandered in and began to fill the tables around us, our guys started providing some of that entertainment they are famous for coming up with. Yes, that’s my husband waving the checkered scarf.
Just as night fell, the servers began to pass out platters of food. It was, in fact, so dark that we had to guess at what we were eating. While it was not the best food we had in Egypt, it was OK and no one got sick. Then the entertainment began in earnest. If you’ve been following this trip on my blog, you won’t be surprised to know there were belly dancers and sword dancers and belly dancers and fire dancers and belly dancers and native music and belly dancers and whirling dervishes.
The best part was the whirlers. I’d seen quite a few of them by this time and pretty quickly you get down the shared repertoire. However, these guys didn’t just whirl around on the stage and then go their merry way. Oh no. There was a rock ledge right behind the benches we were sitting on and suddenly we had a whirler doing his stuff right next to us. Yes, it was pretty cool.
When the whirlers were done, the sword dancers came out and shortly thereafter it was time to drive back to the bus. After our second quad trip, I felt grimy in places I didn’t even know were places. We crawled onto the bus for the trip back to the hotel, but we couldn’t get into bed until we’d done something about the grime. Sweet dreams until next week, when we’ll go yachting.