ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, TRAVEL

Let Club Med Punta Cana Entertain You

Cirque du Soleil

TRAVEL THERE: ENJOYING THE EVENING PERFORMANCES

If you were looking for it, there was always something to do at Club Med.  As I said earlier, live music entertained the guests in the Cielo Bar before dinner.  After dinner there would be more live music, often from a different band.  And so it would go into the the wee hours of the morning, but we can’t tell you much about that, because we usually turned in after the evening show.

Not Broadway, But Not Bad

Perhaps you read some of my reviews of our recent Royal Caribbean cruise which included scathing remarks about the on board talent, or lack of it.  At Club Med, the performers weren’t pros (with a few exceptions) and they didn’t try to pretend they were, but the entertainment was completely enjoyable.  Most evenings, some time in between the end of dinner and the beginning of the hard core partying, there would be entertainment.  We found it quite fun.

Michael Jackson Tribute

Our first night featured a tribute to Michael Jackson.  A professional performer danced to familiar Jackson tunes and he was accompanied by a cast comprised of Club Med staffers – known as GO’s (Gracious Organizers).  We discovered a large number of the GO’s are interns on a stipend.  Pretty much slave cheap labor, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The pro had the right build to play MJ and had someone doing great make-up.  His wardrobe was very convincing and so was his dancing.  While I can’t say it was just like watching MJ himself, it was high-energy, fun and entertaining.

After the MJ tribute there was something very familiar – an introduction to the staff.  I felt like I was on a cruise – but without the trays of champagne.  The intro went overly long I thought, but the Chef du Village (the guy in charge of Club Med Punta Cana) was embarrassing people who left early, so we sat in our seat until he was through.

Balloon Party

Creactive Demo

Creactive is the name of the Cirque du Soleil (CDS) trapeze training school at Club Med Punta Cana.  There guests can pretend they’ve run away and joined the circus.  Bill wasn’t the least bit interested in taking a high-flying class and I’m a little acrophobic, so we didn’t take advantage of Creactive at all – except for the show they put on one evening.

The show was great.  Performers, alone and in pairs, put themselves through their paces high in the sky.  If you’ve ever been to a CDS show or seen one on TV I don’t have to tell you of the aerial feats of skill and awe they performed.  However, it was also different from the usual performance.

There was no plot or theme and I missed it.  I love the crazy costumes and surreal stories featured in the CDS shows I’ve seen previously.  There was also none of the floor acrobatics, juggling and magic that make a CDS show so fantastic.  As I said, it was a great show and this isn’t meant as criticism, just a warning about what to and not to expect.

After the show, there was a Balloon Party in the Rondele, a circular patio next to the Cielo Bar. Whatever they called a party at Club Med, it contained a lot of singing and swaying.  There’s a song they sang all the time that started out “alle’ alle'” and included hand signals that everyone seemed to know – but us.  It was called the Crazy Dance and they gave Crazy Dance lessons every day, but since I don’t know my right from my left, I stayed away.  This was the Balloon Party, because they dropped balloons on the crowd.  The White Party was white, because they dropped white confetti on you.  The Red Party was red because…well you get the idea.

The Brazil Show

Another evening we were entertained with a show featuring Brazilian music and dance.  As far as I could tell, there were no professional performers for this one, just jiggling GO’s giving it their all in skimpy costumes.  I’m not complaining.  It was a lot of fun.

Then out came the Chef du Village (CDV).  This guy really needs his own TV show.  I don’t think the stage at Club Med is big enough for him.  He had on a knock-out Carnivale costume and performed some “magic” that were actually gags, which poked fun at his victim, but entertained the audience.

From Carnivale, the CDV moved on to world peace.  (See I told you his stage was too small.)  He recognized all the countries represented by staff and then moved on to the audience to see how many other countries were represented.  Then we all sang, “We Are the World.”

No Dominican Show 

We were disappointed on our final day that there was no show.  It was supposed to feature the Dominican culture, which I would have enjoyed.  The show had been on the schedule I took a picture of that first day.  The show was on the schedule I picked up in the lobby.  However, the schedule at the Cielo had been changed somewhere along the way and the Dominican show had disappeared.  The only people to show up were Bill and I and one other group.  There’s being prepared and being over-prepared.  I think I was over-prepared – as if that’s a surprise.

Sometimes after the show we would head over to Cielo to check out the action, but usually we were worn out by so much relaxation, so we’d head to the room.  Come back next week and I will tell you about our accommodations – and as always, thank you CTC Travel.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Drinks at Cielo Every Evening & All Day Long

TRAVEL THERE: ROCKING WITH A TROPICAL RHYTHM

When they raise the traffic gate and welcome you into Club Med Punta Cana, you enter another world.  It took me a few hours to slither out of the daily grind and figure that out, but I did.  I was still in a bit of a rush as I hobbled back to our room and then headed out again for dinner, but by

dessert, I was on island time.

Denim and White Night

Dressing for Dinner

Sandra Rubio, my travel agent at CTC Travel, warned me they had themes each night at Club Med.  It wasn’t a have-to thing, but something to add to the fun.  She’d mentioned a pirate night, but if they have one of those at Punta Cana, it didn’t happen while we were there.  Our first night was White Night.  I wore a mostly white top and some white jeans, but if you are into themes, be warned, don’t take any shortcuts, especially on White Night.  Your fellow members have spent a lot of money on gorgeous white sundresses, white linen suits and all things white.

Saturday was Denim & White, Sunday Red & White, Monday Flowers, Tuesday 45 & Fluorescent – then we went home.  The 45 thing requires an explanation, but it can wait.

Meet You at Cielo

Cielo Bar is a large, circular, open air, (wait for it) palm-frond-roofed bar/cafe/coffee shop/living room sort of place that takes central stage in the entertainment section of Club Med Punta Cana.  We were wandering in and out of it all the time.

During the day they had salsa lessons and various games.  The bar was always open for coffee or drinks.  A serve-yourself soda fountain sat at one end of the U-shaped bar.  A very convenient restroom was around the back.  Though we never quite figured out a schedule, there were often snacks available – pastries in the early hours, chips, salsa and guacamole during the day and at night hors d’oeuvres.  Comfortable sofas and lounge chairs hugged the outer edges.

Red and White Night

Most of our evenings began on the white sofas of Cielo.  A live band would entertain the crowd.  We’d try to make conversation with some of our fellow GM’s (Guest Members), but most of them were French.  We grew to absolutely love the French Connection.  We also discovered we weren’t particularly proud to be associated with the other Americans on the property.

We didn’t usually bother with evening hors d’oeuvres, because the fabulous buffet meals kept our hunger at bay, but we would have a drink.  The first night I tried a rum & coke, which was fine, but I’m really a white wine girl and that became my regular.  Bill would get a beer with a tequila shot chaser.  He really was on vacation.

Many of our French friends would arrive at Cielo in family groups, but unlike the usual situation with American families, the children were not the center of attention and they didn’t sit staring into a tablet or phone.  French children of all ages were expected to sit quietly in their seat, enjoying their hors d’oeuvres and sodas, while the adults chatted with one another.  We were very impressed by this.  Temper tantrums and meltdowns just didn’t happen.  Americans are doing something wrong.

Eventually, we’d leave Cielo and head over to Samana, the dinner buffet.  Dinner officially began at 6:30, but the Cielo experience began at 7, so Cielo is where we began our evenings.  Then we’d wander across to Samana.  I’ll tell you about that next week.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Gulf Coast Goodies

TRAVEL THERE: FROM PLANTATIONS TO PO’ BOYS

When it comes to travel, food is a just part of the fun, but if you’re talking Gulf Coast, it’s a big part of the fun.  On this trip I’ve had crawfish in Evangeline Country, nibbled on beignets and dined at Brennan’s.  Over the next few days, food moved to the forefront.  I had fried this and broiled that.  I had seafood stuffed with crab and shrimp in all kinds of formats.  I had seafood every time it was on the menu and I loved every bite of it, but there’s more to the Gulf Coast than seafood.  Come see what I mean.

Plantations

Just outside of New Orleans is the River Road.  Along it you’ll find one plantation after another.  In this day and age, slavery is a slippery slope.  Anything and everything associated with it is pretty much off limits.  I get it.  Slavery was bad.  What I don’t get is trying to revise history.  It’s like some people want to erase the first century of America’s existence, including anyone and everyone that owned a slave.

Well, America didn’t invent slavery or even participate in the worst of it.  It’s been a part of every society, virtually from the beginning of time and some slaves did a whole lot more that work in the fields or clean house.  If someone wants to erase slavery from the history books, they’re going to have to get a pretty big eraser.  Name a society from the Egyptians to the Mayans to the Celts – well to anyone you want to name.  They all had slaves, along with practicing a myriad of other sins – discrimination against women, child labor, sex trafficking, cruelty to animals – pretty much anything and everything we complain about ourselves today.  It’s really quite myopic to want discard everything American that is in anyway related to slavery and the Civil War.

If you are one of the eradicators, I don’t recommend the River Road to you.  You’ll be for pulling down the plantations and that would be a shame.  To begin with, the architecture is stunning, but it is also surprising.  While some are luxurious, you’ll most likely be surprised at how small the houses of the plantation owners were and many of them were quite plain.  Hopefully, visiting the River Road will get the Gone with the Wind images out of your mind and put you in touch with what it was really like to live out in the country raising cotton and rice.

Like many things on this trip, I can’t actually remember visiting the River Road plantations with my family, but I do remember recalling them when I visited them in later years.  We also saw The Myrtles, a home famous for its ghosts.  However, I’d be lying to you if I pretended I knew which order we saw them in.

Biloxi

Whatever order we saw the plantations in, Biloxi was our final destination.  While we saw a variety of sites, including taking a ride on the Shrimp Tour Train, we were in Biloxi to see Beauvior.  If slavery is off limits, then I guess Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy is beyond the pale.  Rather than apologize, I’ll just direct you to this post  I wrote back in 2012.  The president has changed, but my politics haven’t.

At Biloxi we stayed on the beach, though I can’t remember our accommodations.  I know about the beach, because Mom’s coiffure, which was pouffy in New Orleans, is decidedly flat in Biloxi.  That indicates time spent in the water and we’ve always enjoyed sea water more than pools.  One of the pictures on my scrapbook page is also seashells in the sand.

Were I to go on this trip today, I’m sure I’d have more than my fair share of food pictures, taken with my phone.  As I write I can see piping hot oyster po’ boys.  I can see baskets filled with fried potatoes, hushpuppies and shrimp, still sizzling from the hot grease.  My mouth is watering from the memory, but we used film back then and it was expensive – so we didn’t take all those food pictures we do now.  In fact, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been considered particularly polite and manners were quite important.

Our Gulf Shores vacation was over.  It was time to take Aunt Edie home and get back to Dallas.  Next week I’ll shift gears a little.  Come see where we’re headed.

Accommodations, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Museums, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Nawlins

TRAVEL BUG TALES: THE CHATEAU HOTEL AND THE FRENCH QUARTER

It’s 1974.  I’m about to start my second year of college, Nixon just resigned and we’re in the French Quarter.  Come along and join the fun.

The Chateau Hotel

As I’ve told you before, Holiday Inn tended to be our usual accommodations, but for New Orleans we stayed right in the French Quarter at The Chateau Hotel I’m happy to report that you can stay there today if you want to.  I confess I was thrilled, just by the mere fact that it wasn’t our usual roadside motel.  It was an honest to goodness hotel right in the middle of everything.

I remember entering our room and walking right to the windows to look out at the French Quarter.  It was exhilarating to see something besides a freeway.  Our first night in town we had to grab a quick bite and get back to the hotel in time for my parents to see the infamous news conference featuring Richard Nixon’s resignation.

In addition to being right in the middle of the French Quarter, The Chateau Hotel also had an amazing courtyard where breakfast was served each morning.  Those morning meals are among my favorite memories of the trip.  I am devoted to al fresco dining and for all I know, this is where my passion for it originated.

The French Quarter

Once breakfast was over, Mom had our itinerary all planned out.  We set out on foot to see the sights.  The tour started at Jackson Square to visit St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo.  Beignets at Cafe du Monde were de rigueur, but I’ll be honest with you, I’ve had better.

I can’t remember all the places Mom dragged us to over the next few days, but I can tell you that we ate dinner at Brennan’s, another treat you can still enjoy.  Supposedly, according to tradition, breakfast is the meal you are really supposed to eat at Brennan’s, but for my mom, having dinner there was just the bomb.  Dad had to put on a suit and tie.  Mom and Aunt Edie wore maxi-skirts, all the rage at the time.  There is no pictorial record of what Susan and I wore, but I do remember the meal.

I chose Chicken Madeira as my entree.  I was very impressed with myself, because it had a wine sauce.  Being a Baptist, my mom didn’t cook with wine, so at the time I didn’t realize the alcohol always cooked out.  I thought I was being a bit naughty.  Mom and Dad were afraid I wouldn’t like it and to tell the truth, I wasn’t all that crazy about it, but there was no way I was going to admit it.

For dessert, I had their famous pecan pie.  I’ll confess something else.  I’d take my little sister’s pecan pie over their’s any day of the week, but at the time, she wasn’t baking any pies.  Still, I remember being under-impressed.  Brennan’s hadn’t been a big hit with me.

With my dessert, I had coffee and I’d never had coffee before.  I’d been away at school and could have had coffee with every meal, even though my parents had never offered me any.  I just wasn’t interested.  At Brennan’s the waiter convinced me I couldn’t leave their restaurant without having some of their famous chicory coffee.  So, my first taste of coffee was a baptism by bitterness.  I still don’t drink coffee.

So that was my family vacation to New Orleans.  I’ve been several times since.  My favorite New Orleans cuisine is a toss up between a big ole bowl of BBQ Shrimp or a Muffalatta sandwich from a storefront my friend Michael took me to.  I know I’d rather eat BBQ Shrimp than anything Brennan’s has on the menu.  And speaking of Brennan’s, if you have to choose between Brennan’s and Commander’s Palace, I’d vote for Commander’s Palace.  New Orleans really is a culinary treat, but I wouldn’t have known it from that 1974 visit.

The next page in my scrapbook says I am Biloxi Bound, so I hope you’ll join me next week for a little Gulf Shore fun.

Accommodations, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Libraries, Museums, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Evangeline in Louisiana

TRAVEL BUG TALES: CRAWDADS AND ACADIANS

“This is the forest primeval,” is the beginning phrase of Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline It’s a fictional story of love lost and then found too late.  It’s also about political injustice, because French settlers of Canada, called Acadians, were deported by the British, just for being Catholics.  In the story, Evangeline is among the deportees who were sent to Louisiana – hence Evangeline Parish.  Let’s go visit.

Traveling Evangeline Country

Though I can’t remember all the logistics between Dallas and Evangeline Country, I do remember being sick and tired of riding in the back seat on a sticky August afternoon.  We had Aunt Edie with us, which was fun, but I’m guessing we hit the road around 4 AM.  By late afternoon I’m sure I was second guessing my decision to go on this family vacation.

We piled out of the car at a Mardi Gras museum, but I’m not sure where it was.  They were very proud of the fact that they’d been doing Mardi Gras a lot longer than New Orleans.  The museum was full of beautiful costumes, but the best part was the air conditioning!  There was also a lot of material about Acadian history.  They were very interested in visitors understanding that while outsiders may think the terms Cajun and Creole are interchangeable, Cajuns and Creoles don’t.  Cajuns descended from the Acadians.  Creoles are descended from the French mixing with various other races, especially around New Orleans.  Creoles probably thought Cajuns were hicks, while Cajuns claimed a purer racial lineage, which was much more important back in the 70’s than it is today.

Ça C’est Bon

Regardless of their racial heritage, Cajuns know how to eat.  That evening we ate the local cuisine.  Mom had done her research and we had dinner at what was supposed to be THE place to eat crawfish.  I keep thinking the name of it was Anderson’s, but don’t hold me to that.

Wherever it was, it was a great, big barn-like place.  The menu offered crawfish this, crawfish that and crawfish whatever else.  I was a little squeamish about sucking heads, but the rest of it sounded pretty good to me.  I’m sure I got some sort of combo plate so I could try it more than one way.  I’m also pretty sure that everyone else chose more traditional seafood choices, like fried shrimp and then sampled my entrees.  I’ve always been a little more food adventurous than the rest of my family.

We probably spent the night at a Holiday Inn.  That’s where we usually stayed.  The next day we moved on to New Orleans.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Museums, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

The Big Travel Questions

TRAVEL TALK: HOW LONG CAN WE STAY AND HOW MUCH CAN WE SPEND?

My poor husband!  The minute we get home from a trip, I’m already thinking ahead to the next one.  I’m trying to figure out just how quickly I can get him out of town again, how long he will let us stay and how much money I can get away with spending.  So, learning that I’d just won a five day trip to a Club Med resort from CTC, my favorite travel agency, I really only had one question.  When can we go?

Which Club Med?

Sandra Rubio, my travel agent, had another question for me.  Which Club Med do you want to go to?  While there are Club Meds all over the world, our prize was limited to Club Meds in the North American hemisphere, so that made it a little easier.  Sandra talked through the choices with me and I narrowed it down to two – Sandpiper Bay in Florida and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

Well, really I wanted Punta Cana, because I’d never been to the DR, but my husband was hoping our nieces and nephews might want to come along and for them Florida was more realistic.  That would have been really fun, but when, after a flurry of phone calls and emails we realized it would be just my hubby and me, that not only decided the where, but the when.  If it was going to be a romantic getaway, then it made sense to go for our anniversary.  We had to wait several days for our preferred dates to be approved, but once they were, we were set to go in May.

Let the Research Begin

Once I’ve pegged down a date, a destination and have an idea of the budget, travel planning really begins for me in earnest, but this trip was very, very different.  I am the Museum Girl.  Punta Cana is not exactly a hot bed of museums.  Punta Cana doesn’t even have one museum.  I couldn’t figure out what I was going to do with myself.

I went to the Club Med website.  It had lists and lists of activities, but they were very active activities, like water sports, golfing, archery and tennis.  That’s not exactly my cup of tea – and yes, I know I’m weird.  There were also amazing pictures of beaches and swimming pools.  That’s not exactly my cup of tea, either.  Yes, I know that makes me even weirder, but it began to dawn on me that I’d just signed up for five days of relaxation and I really don’t know how to do that.

And Then There was Airfare

While everything about our five days in Punta Cana were covered, the airfare was up to us.  We really didn’t think that was such a big deal until we tried to book our flight.  The first big surprise was the number of dollar signs.  I mean the Dominican Republic is just right there on the other side of Cuba.  Why did it cost such a fortune to get there?

The next big surprise was the big, huge price gap between Spirit Air and every other airlines in the world.  It was such a substantial amount that we never actually considered one of the other airlines, but we were a little stuck, because we didn’t think we were Spirit Airlines’ target customers.

It took us a little while to wrap our minds around it, but we booked our airfare to Punta Cana on Spirit.  And then the great wait began without a single museum to research.  Friends who were aware of our upcoming trip would ask if we were ready to travel .  I would smile, shrug and say something pleasant like, “Of course,” “Can’t wait,” or “Sure,” but I wasn’t so sure I was ready for five days of uninterrupted relaxation.

Architecture, ART, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Miracle at Mokattum

TRAVEL THERE: HUMBLED BY THEIR HUMILITY

There is a section of Cairo on Mokattum Mountain that is the home of the garbage people.  They are outcasts of polite society.  It’s enough that they are garbage collectors, but they are also Christians, almost 100% of them, and in a predominately Muslim country, that too is a problem.  Yet rarely have I been in a place with as much joy.

Curiosity Got Me There

Sometimes in Egypt it’s hard to discern what is fact and what is just tradition.  Take the Pompey Pillar in Alexandria for instance.  Everybody knows the pillar has nothing at all to do with Pompey, yet his name continues to cling to it.

Mokottum mountain has a lot of traditions attached to it, not just the story of the Coptic pope with the faith of a mustard seed, who got the mountain to move.  The name of the mountain, which means “broken mountain,” is considered proof of …I’m not sure what to call it – event, miracle, legend, tradition.  I’ve also heard a story of a Bible being found floating in the Nile opened to a particular verse which led to  the location of this church – or another church.  The details are fluid.  With so much smoke about Mokattum, I wanted to check out the fire.  

Mokattum Church

The Zabbalene (garbage collector) neighborhood of Cairo is not a garden spot.  It has a very distinctive, unpleasant and fetid odor in the air.  As we rolled through the area the reason became apparent.  Huge piles of garbage sit everywhere, waiting to be sorted through.  Someone opened the garage-like door of a warehouse as we drove by.  Inside were more mounds of garbage, which I presume were more valuable than those which sat in the open air.  At this point in the tour I was still a curious tourist.

We arrived at the entrance of the church and joined a small group being lectured to by someone from the church.  Izzat and Zuzu disappeared for this part.  At first it was the usual tour guide stuff.  This guy started this church this way in this year.  We have this many members. 

The facts buzzed around my head as I followed the guide from one area of the church to another.  I shifted from listening to observing.  This guy was neatly groomed, but it was obvious his outfit came from the piles of garbage.  He could have used a haircut, but you could tell he had a self assurance and self esteem many pampered US teens could benefit from.

I also saw joy.  He loves his church.  He was so excited to share each and every piece of information with us.  He was so proud of the carvings on the wall.  He is in awe of the huge number of people who show up each week to worship.  It’s the largest church in the Middle East.

His joy was not just associated with the church.  His personal testimony is that God loves him, protects him and provides for him.  He is so grateful to be a part of the Body of Christ.

I saw how I must look to him – a privileged tourist.  Imagine how many meals, how much education, how much medical care and other basic needs could be filled with the money Bill and I had spent to be right there at that time.  He had every reason to resent me and my intrusion into his life, but instead he was thrilled we had shown an interest in his community.  He hoped we’d come back and worship with him.  We spoke to him briefly to tell him how much we admired the church and were humbled by his joy.  He spoke to us as an equal, holding his head high and treating us like a fellow brother and sister in Christ.

After the tour, Bill visited the restroom and could not resist taking this picture.  It broke our hearts.  I thought of all our country club mega-churches with our slick-talking celebrity pastors.  I thought of the people who prefer to participate in ministries that will take them on vacation mission trips.  I thought of all the $1-3 donations people thoughtlessly tack onto their grocery bill or pet shop total, and then forget about by the time they get to their car.  I thought of all the money we spend on saving cats and dogs, when these people so desperately need a little saving.  How in the world does that stack up to the needs of those in Mokattum?

Those garbage collectors have it right and I admire them.  I walked away from Mokattum Church a little different than I arrived.  The guide’s love and acceptance of me expanded my own heart a little bit.  I didn’t come home and sell everything that I have, but I’ve got a new understanding of the joy of the Lord and I’m trying to practice it with the same abandon as my brother in Mokattum.

It was on odd place to go for our final tour in Egypt.  Luxury hotels, museum visits, yacht trips and a city of garbage collectors.  Next week, I’ll share our last few hours in Egypt.  I’m writing this particular post on a pretty day in February, knowing it will be posted in August, and that’s a little weird.  Who knows what adventures will follow this blog series!

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL

More Old Cairo

TRAVEL THERE: WRAPPING UP OUR TOUR

So after Abu Sargus, what else can I tell you?

The Rest of Old Cairo

We visited St. George’s.  It’s nice, but confusing.  There’s all these pictures of St. George and the dragon, but St. George is a Roman soldier martyred because he would not give up his faith.  No dragons in the story, so don’t ask me.  It’s also confusing, because it started out as a Roman Catholic Church, but is now is a convent for Greek Orthodox nuns and old George is a Coptic saint.

We visited the very old Jewish Synagogue which they call the New Synagogue, because the current building was built in the 1890’s and this building is one of three known synagogues on this site.  However, according to tradition, there’s been a synagogue here since ancient times.  I mentioned a few weeks ago that it was built on the site where Pharaoh’s daughter discovered Moses in the bullrushes.

Hanging Church Depiction of Moses in the Bullrushes

They say stuff like that all the time in Egypt.  St. Catherine’s Cathedral out in the Sinai has THE Burning Bush.  One of the murals at the Hanging Church depicts the Moses in the bullrushes story.  There’s also a mural of the documented story of when faith actually moved a mountain.  You really need to get to Egypt.

 

One of the sad things I learned was that while there was a large Jewish community in Cairo for centuries, it has virtually disappeared.  The Synagogue is a tourist attraction, not a place of worship.  Imagine a congregation, whose place of worship was originally associated with the story of Moses and which was perhaps the place Joseph worshiped when he was in Egypt, no longer having any Jews to worship in it.

Another important miracle recorded in the murals of the Hanging Church is the moving of Mokattum Mountain.  A Muslim Caliph was ready to do away with Christians altogether when a bishop made a deal with him.  If he could get a mountain to move then the Christians were safe.  According to tradition, the bishop had everyone pray and then they had a mass at the foot of Mokattum Mountain at the edge of Cairo.  Lo and behold the mountain jumped up into the air and the Christians were saved.

In recent years a church has been planted in a cavern out there at Mokattum and Bill and I would travel there before the day was over, but for now, I’ll round out my tour.  On the way into the area I saw a shop selling shawls.  I love shawls and capes.  Bill promised we’d stop back by on the way out, probably thinking I would forget all about it – and who knows, I might have – but Zuzu remembered and now I have this beautiful shawl.

The shawl I saw on the way in was not the one I ended up with.  I saw a pretty shawl that I thought would be great for evening wear and the price was minuscule.  When I went back I saw this gorgeous, heavy, reversible number and asked if all the shawls were the same price.  “Yes,” was his answer.  I know value when I see it.  I immediately abandoned the evening style and held on to this one until Bill paid for it.

Come to find out, the shawl I chose is hand woven goats wool.  A tag identified the Egyptian craftsman who made it.  We probably should have paid $100 for it.  I’d be surprised if Bill paid $10.  He’d bargained so mercilessly that he was embarrassed when we walked out of there.  Once again, not understanding Arabic saved me.  I would have told Bill to pay the man his price and quit bargaining.

Next week we’ll move on to Mokattum Mountain, but first, enjoy these beautiful photos.

ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

We Won the Love & Marriage Game Show

TRAVEL THERE: ONE OF LIFE’S MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENTS

On Tuesday night when we saw the Perfect Couple Game Show, they mentioned they would be having a Newlywed-type Q&A game on the following evening. Bill suggested we should try out for it and I thought he was crazy, especially after I had seen what they put the Perfect Couples through.  They mentioned the game again at the Elton John Tribute show and Bill was even more adamant about participating.  I thought there was no way they’d choose a couple of oldsters like us, so I didn’t worry too much.

Killing Time 

We mentioned Bill’s desire to be in the game show at dinner time and our table mates promised to cheer us on if we did indeed end up as contestants.  We had some time to kill before the show once dinner was over, so we took the opportunity to visit some of the places on board that we hadn’t yet seen. 

One of the biggest disappointments was the Viking Crown Bar.  The Bar was the highest venue on the ship and was reported to have the best views.  The specialty sushi restaurant was up there and  I also saw they had late night disco action up there.  It was a beautiful bar and the view was amazing, but there was virtually no one up there enjoying it.  We can’t say whether the disco party heated the place up or not, because by then we were always in bed.

Reporting for Duty

After a little more strolling, it was time to get to the Masquerade Theater so we’d be considered as one of the contestant couples.  Some of the couples who were interested in this game show had been contestants in the Perfect Couple Game the night before.

The Love & Marriage Game had a twist.  One couple was a pair of newlyweds honeymooning on the boat.  Another couple was chosen because they had been married longer than anyone else in the theater.  There was stiff competition to fill that middle spot.

Bill and I stood in a line up of prospective couples and they had all the couples give one other a big kiss to demonstrate how much in love we still were.  Bill wrapped his arms around me and laid one on me.  To make it more fun I wrapped a leg around him.  The crowd went wild and we were chosen to be the middle couple.

The actual game was exactly like the Newlywed Show.  First they took the guys backstage and asked the women the questions.  When they brought the guys back out, Bill and I got every question right. Then they sent the women backstage and asked the guys the questions, but whereas the ladies’ questions had been pretty tame, they heated it up for the guys questions.  We missed one that time – something about what feature the guys had been attracted to when they first saw us.  I answered, “My butt,” because that’s what Bill has told me for years.  He’d been a little bashful about answering so specifically and had said it was my whole body.

Then they asked a question which was not something I really wanted to talk about on a stage, in a theater full of people, so I’m certainly not going to discuss it in print, but we got it right.  They made a big hoopla about us winning, but when they brought out our gifts, the other couples got the same thing, so there hadn’t been a real prize for revealing our deep dark secrets.  However, we were certainly celebrities on the ship for the rest of the cruise.

Then as we were about to leave the stage, they wanted our room number so they could deliver a DVD of the event to our cabin.  Oh, no!  I realized they had recorded the game and there was no end to the people who might watch it.  Then they said they’d be showing it on the on board information channel.  They did, because I watched- and no I won’t be posting the video!

One day left!  Come back next week and see how we spent our last day at sea.

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

The Hanging Church & Abu Sarga

Courtyard of the Hanging Church

TRAVEL THERE: WONDER OF WONDERS

OK.  Get ready!  This is big.  The Hanging Church is a pretty marvelous place, but wait until you hear about Abu Sargus.

Why Is It Called the Hanging Church?

When you don’t know something, your brain can make up weird stuff.  I figured it was called the Hanging Church because they used to hang people there.  I was wrong.  It’s called the Hanging Church because of the way it hung over the city like a mirage, in the days before sky scrapers.

This church was one of the most pleasant tourist destinations we visited.  The Old City was not crowded and as you can see by the picture, this is a very lovely place.  The walls have pretty murals depicting the most significant events in Cairo’s Christian Community.  More about that later.

Abu Sargus

I have to confess to you that I’m not big on relics.  I’ve seen more bones, scraps of fabric and hair than your average traveler, because I’m always interested in churches and many churches are interested in relics.  Even palaces, like the Hofburg in Vienna, have their relics.  In fact, I probably saw more relics in one place in the Hofburg’s Treasury than I have seen in any church.

I feel the same way about religiously significant locales.  While I would like to go to Israel, I’m convinced that most of their religious sites are not sitting in the right place at all.  In most cases it is the traditional location, not the actual location and knowing there is a difference bugs me.

So, while I had probably read something that told me what I was about to see in the basement of Abu Sagus, known as the Cavern Church, it really hadn’t registered with me.  I just marked it up to, uh huh sure, would you like a piece of the True Cross?  

Hanging Church Mural of the Holy Family traveling to Egypt

Jesus in Egypt

Now we all know the story of the angel appearing to the Wise Men and warning them not to return to Herod after they had seen the Christ Child.  We know how Joseph, Mary and Jesus escaped Bethlehem to avoid the Massacre of the Innocents.  We all know that the Holy Family went to Egypt, but have you ever thought about where in Egypt they went?  OK, me either.  I assumed it was some cave or small town.  That’s what you get for assuming.

So, if you are a Jewish Family looking for a place to wait out a bad political situation, wouldn’t you go find some other Jews to hang out with?  And wouldn’t you look for a community where you could ply your trade?

To this very day, Jewish families tend to gather in the same area, near their synagogue of choice – especially observant Jews and those who practice the Orthodox tradition.  Wouldn’t the Holy Family do the same thing?  And where was there a significant Jewish Community and synagogue in Egypt?  Well, Cairo, of course, and for good measure it was supposed to be built on the spot where Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses.

We went down to the basement and there was the remains of a two room house, but this wasn’t just any house.  This was where the carpenter Joseph lived with his wife Mary and the Christ Child.  OK, so it it the traditional two room house where Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived, but this space is more believable to me than most of these types of locations.

Oral histories are very strong in Egypt.  I can see the Gospel writer Mark arriving in Cairo sharing his testimony.  Someone says, “Jesus of Nazareth?  His dad was my family’s carpenter!  You say He’s the Messiah! Come on, they went to my synagogue.  I can show you the very house they lived in.  He died on a cross and was resurrected?  Well, I’ll be!”

Without the Jerusalem Temple crowd, who did everything they could to wipe out any hint of a Messiah, I can see the Egyptian Jews accepting this information.  Especially since along with the tradition that the family lived in the neighborhood, there are stories of events which demonstrated Jesus was known as someone special, even as a child. Our Muslim guide considers it common knowledge, more than a mere rumor or tradition – just short of a scientifically proven fact.

We don’t get this, because here in American we’ve only been around for a few centuries.  Egyptians talk about ancient Pharaohs like we talk about our 2nd cousin on our mom’s side.  We might not know them personally, but we know about them.  So can I prove Jesus lived in the basement of the Abu Sargus before there was a church there.  No, but it seems reasonable to me.

Come back next week and we’ll see some more of Old Cairo.