Category Archives: ART

Museums, Gardens and other cultural sites

A Lazy Day Beside the Red Sea

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. 

POOL TIME

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.

BEACH TIME

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.

THE FEAST

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.

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The Cathedral in Sharm el Shiek

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.

 

 

 

 

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Midnight at the Oasis

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.

Transportation

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.

The Oasis

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.

 

 

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I’ll Take a Pool With My Suite

Ready for Water Sports

TRAVEL THERE: HONEYMOON LUXURY

Day Two in Sharm el Sheik was pool day, but we didn’t just wander out to the pool at the Marriott.  It was a nice pool with a waterfall and a swim-up bar, but something even better was waiting for us.  The honeymooners had invited us to their suite at The Baron Resort and it had its own pool.  The suite, not the resort.

Meet in the Lobby

Eleven thirty was the call time for Day Two.  I was up plenty early and hit the gym for an hour on their stationary bike.  Bill joined me for the usual breakfast buffet, which took a little longer than I realized it would.  For once I was not ready at the appointed time and Mr. Bill showed signs of anxiety.  I sent him to the lobby and told him to make sure no one left without me.  HA!  I’ve been spending time around these guys for a long time.  There was no way they were going to be ready to leave at the appointed time.  I mean really!  Did you read about the wedding reception?  I was in the lobby within five minutes of Bill’s frustrated departure from our room – just in time for an hour of waiting for our transportation to show up.  It was a good hour though.  I inspected the boat someone bought for my tiny grand-nephew at the mall the evening before.  I had some lovely time to visit with my older grand-nephews who caught me up with their high-school/college-focused lives.  I also had a great conversation with my niece Maggie.  So, I didn’t sweat the wait.

The Baron Hotel

When our vehicle arrived, we piled in and headed back in the direction of the airport.  Taking a turn, we went down a long drive with desert on both sides and eventually entered an area under development.  I say that loosely.  It looked as if someone had started a luxury condo/townhouse complex at some point and then changed their mind.  As we drove along seeing building after building after building of abandoned construction I thought of the abandoned corniche (boardwalk) and wished better for Egypt and Sharm el Sheik.  We passed so many empty buildings in the almost derelict construction sites that I became concerned we weren’t headed in the right direction, but finally The Baron was in sight.

As soon as we drove up we knew it had been worth the drive.  We followed our newlywed groom up the elevator and through the halls to what seemed like the back of beyond.  He opened the double doors on an amazing suite and then stood back to get our reaction.  There wasn’t one for awhile, because we were stunned!  And so let the fun begin!

It was a marvelous day made a little extra special by the taste of luxury – but the day wasn’t over!  Ayman had scheduled a Bedouin Dinner for our evening activity.  Come back next week and we’ll head out into the desert.

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A Museum Sort of Afternoon

TRAVEL HERE: BRIGHTENING AN OTHERWISE DREARY SUNDAY

So I was just about done with my local art museum.  Lately, every time we showed up for an exhibition, we’d look at each other and ask, “Really?”  I had already tossed the most recent renewal of membership letter into the trash, but a still small voice asked, “Do you know what special exhibitions are coming?”  I didn’t, but I assumed they’d be more of the same stuff which had been disenchanting us for a couple of years.  I was wrong.  Berte Morisot is coming!  Berthe’s exhibition won’t be here at least a year, but I couldn’t abandon the museum when they were organizing a fairly incredible exhibition.  Besides, some of the smaller productions on exhibit right now seemed of interest.  So, I renewed my membership and decided to go to the museum as soon as we could.

 All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins…or Not

Arriving at the Dallas Museum of Art on a recent dreary Sunday, I dropped by the information desk to confirm the location of the exhibits I wanted to see.  We only had two hours before closing  – plenty of time to view my wish list, but not if we wandered aimlessly.  What I did not plan on viewing was an installation created in 2016 titled All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins.  I mean that’s the same vintage as the cheap wine in the grocery store.  Galleries are where you go to see the latest in art.  I think museums should focus on more proven vintages that have been laid down for awhile.  Obviously, there are plenty with another opinion.  All the general public tickets had been sold for the day and only my membership would get us a timed appointment for that particular afternoon.

Taking the bait I bellied up to the membership desk to claim my free, timed viewing ticket.  We had half an hour until our slot so we strolled up the concourse.  We’d seen Truth: 24 Fames Per Second and didn’t need a repeat showing.  We’d also been to the latest installation in the Keir Collection several times since April.  We stuck our head in the gift shop and dropped by the small Focus Gallery exhibiting Hopi Visions.  Interesting, but not among our favorite genres, so after a few minutes we were back on the concourse.

My husband likes to touch things, so he detoured into the Center for Creative Connections.  Tagged C3, this is the area where kids of all ages can make art rather than just look at it.  We looked over the shoulder of a few budding artists, handled a few touchable objects and then returned to the concourse.  We were still a few minutes away from our designated ticket time, so we checked out the Barrel Vault.  This area is ground zero for Contemporary and Modern Art, so we don’t usually spend much time here – you know my vintage issues.  However, one of the side galleries had just what I was looking for, Edward Steichen:  In Exultation of Flowers.

Photograph from DMA.com

In Exultation of Flowers

Love a good story?  Back in the Twentieth Century an artist started painting a mural commissioned by some wealthy New Yorkers.  These members of Art’s Inner Circle knew all the best people and had their artist friend paint these friends of theirs lolly-gagging among flowers.  What’s not to love?  One wants to imagine them and their friends draped across art deco furnishing sipping cocktails and discussing the pros and cons of the completed murals – especially the one featuring Isadora Duncan in the nude.  But that’s not what happened.  By the time the murals were complete, the art patrons were in a bit of a financial bind and had to sell the apartment the murals had been painted for.  The murals were never installed and it’s been over 100 years since they were displayed together.

Enter the DMA, famous among art people today for their restoration and conservation abilities.  The DMA was commissioned to work their magic on Mr. Steichen’s murals and as part of the deal, the DMA would display the finished project.  Museum Girl loved this exhibit.  In truth, the gallery was a little small for the seven monumental murals, but they were delightful to behold, so all was forgiven.

The Psychedelic Portion of our Afternoon

My watch said it was time to view the pumpkins, so we headed to a nearby gallery.  Joining the line outside the large white box containing the installation, we listened to the instructions announced by a docent.  We’d have to put our stuff into the cubbies provided.  We’d be allowed inside the installation for 45 seconds, during which time we could take pictures, but we could not trade places with one another once the door was closed, because there was a falling hazard.  Hubby was whispering derisive comments into my ear, predicting how much we were going to hate this.

He was wrong and he was the first to admit it.  The charming time keeper engaged Bill in conversation as we waited our turn and she made all the difference.  Bill stepped in, oooh and aaaahed for 45 seconds and then we erupted into the rest of the museum.  Later he admitted it was his favorite item of the day.  I still prefer the murals, but the installation is worth at least 45 seconds of your life.

Other Things

On Level Two we found Paris at the Turn of the Century.  Featuring a few tidbits from the Posters of Paris exhibition of a few years ago, these small beauties are displayed in a tiny darkened gallery and did not evoke the joie de vivre of the full blown exhibit.  On Level Three was Art and Trade Along the Silk Road.  I’d forgotten that we’d seen it before.  It’s lovely, but we weren’t covering new ground.  From there we went on to the Reves Collection which continues to be one of our favorite things at the DMA, no matter how many times we see it.

From the DMA we wandered to East Dallas to try out Smokey Rose.  Great ribs, great atmosphere and we can’t wait until the weather is better to try out the patio, but the brisket and mac-and-cheese were less than amazing.

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Broadway on the Red Sea

TRAVEL THERE: WHAT’S NEXT SHARM?

I’m in Sharm el Sheik, a resort town on the Red Sea, and it’s past my bedtime.  I’m stuffed into the back seat of my niece’s car trying to stifle my yawns.  My husband is in our nephew’s car at some other location.  Our niece and nephew are on the phone discussing what we should do next.  It’s all in Arabic, so even though the whole conversation is on speaker phone, I have no idea what is going on.  Some resolution is made and we zoom across town to our next destination.  It might be late at night during the week, but you wouldn’t know it from the festival atmosphere.  Why all these people prefer to wander around inland,when there is a perfectly good Boardwalk on the Red Sea, just a few blocks away, I will never know.  That was my big question over the next few days as we scurried around trying to entertain ourselves.  Why were all these venues spread out all over town, when it had been so perfect to have everything right there at the beach?

Going to the Mall

Our destination was a mall, but is wasn’t like anything we have in Dallas.  Here in Dallas we are serious about shopping.  There they also shop.

My niece found parking, a constant challenge, as she continued her phone conversations, probably with her sons, who were wandering the city on public transportation.  We piled out of the car and reunited with our spouses.  All of us stomped through a virtually empty shopping center and I wondered where we would end up.  Don’t get me wrong, the place was beautiful with all kinds of lovely stores, but most everything was closed and it looked like a ghost town.

After what seemed like a long trek, across esplanades, around grand staircases and through narrow hallways, we arrived to the middle of everything, a large open-air patio, full of patrons smoking sheesha and enjoying a lively stage show.

My nephew Ayman started working the room and magic started happening – something I saw a lot of over the next few days.  Though it seemed our big group would have to break up into smaller bunches to enjoy the show, it was only an illusion, because we had Ayman.  Like the Red Sea parting, a large space opened in the center of the crowd and chairs began to appear out of nowhere.  In just moments our entire group was seated in the center of the action.

Drinks, food and hookahs were ordered and we sat back to enjoy the show.  The only problems were a few mosquitoes and the fact that I was about to fall asleep, but those were minor irritations.  The stage props suggested the show had a Broadway theme, but don’t let that fool you.  It was all the usual Arab entertainments, belly dancers, whirling dervishes, belly dancers, a magician, belly dancers, swords, belly dancers – well you get the picture.  I’ve included some photos below.

When the show was over we gathered up our belongings and headed back to the hotel.  This day, which had seeped over into the next, was over.  Within a few hours, we’d be climbing into another vehicle for our next entertainment.  Enjoy the images below and come back next week for more Sharm.

 

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Step Up to Saqqara

TRAVEL THERE: VISITING THE STEP PYRAMID

The Egyptians didn’t wake up one morning and have the perfect formula for pyramid building.  They had hundreds of years of practice before the elegant examples at Giza were built.  (There’s a nick in the Ancient Alien theory!)  At Dashour we saw pyramids of various shapes and sizes.  Their most successful attempts led them to give step pyramids a try and the best example of these Step Pyramids is up the road a bit from Dashour and down the road a bit from Giza at Saqqara. 

Getting There

When we departed Dashour, our military friends didn’t seem quite so intimidating.  They barely glanced at us as we passed by.  Izzat got back on the main road, the one with the dirty canals in the middle, and headed back north.  Zuzu continued to regale us with the history lesson and before long we were at another military installation.  This one was not quite as intimidating, but to a certain extent a little more scary.  The soldiers at Saqqara were a little less serious, but also a lot more careless.  They all carried guns and seemed to be having several different conversations, and in each the guns were being casually waved about as if they were extensions of the gesticulating soldiers’ arms.  I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if someone’s finger slipped a bit.

If you don’t count the threat of wayward bullets, the site seems more tourist-friendly.  In Dashour everything was a street and a parking lot because it was just wide open spaces for as far as you could see.  At Saqqara, there were actual gravel-covered parking lots and roads that looked regularly traveled. 

The Museum

Another tourist- friendly feature was a small museum.  There’s actually a lovely promenade from the parking lot to the museum that looks as if it could accommodate a gift shop, a concession stand and perhaps even a small cafe, but everything was closed down tight and no signs indicated that any of it had ever been anything.  I wondered if there had been more there once or whether they were presently developing it, but Zuzu did not provide that kind of information.  He looked at me as if I’d suddenly begun to speak a language he didn’t understand and shrugged his shoulders.

We grabbed a few pictures and headed inside.  This had to be a recent development, because the interior looked like something you might see in other countries.  It was clean and neat.  The items were advantageously displayed in glass cases and lo and behold, there were placards there to identify the pieces and give a little history.  Pictures were not allowed or I would be glad to show you the lovely facility.  The museum was not large, but I liked it very much.

Wandering the Ruins

Saqqara is a significant archaeological site.  They have found a number of ruins dating to a variety of periods.  Some have been restored.  Some look as if they were once available for viewing, but have been closed up. Some areas are currently under renovation.  Even though the ruins come from different eras they are all very close together.  You can see everything without having to walk very far.

I’d say of the three Pyramid sites, Saqqara was my favorite – not more important than Giza, but more enjoyable.  Each is worth a visit.  If you can convince your guide to do them in chronological order, then kudos to you.  I think that would be an interesting progression, but that guide would not be Zuzu.  He’s going to do Giza first, no matter what.

A Little Entertainment

As if to prove they’d gotten the tourist thing figured out a Saqqara, they actually had a cultural performance!  A toupe of dancers, both male and female, performed energetic renditions of folk dances, brandishing swords, swaying their hips and stomping their feet.  The colors were a little too Hollywood to be traditional, but I appreciated the effort.

The drive back to the Mena house was daunting.  It was five o’clock traffic Egyptian style.  I was appreciating Izzat more and more.  Back at the hotel we did a little exploration, wandering around at will.  We’d been on the official tour and they encouraged us to wander the hotel – so we did.  We also had another fantastic meal, this time at the Khan-il-Khalili restaurant which specialized in Egyptian cuisine.  Back at the room I packed up.  In the morning Izzat would be there fairly early to take us to the airport for the next phase of our adventure.

 

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