Category Archives: Architecture

The art of buildings and bridges

Egypt Here We Come

TRAVEL THERE: CAIRO, SHARM & ALEX

In less than a month we’ll be winging our way to Egypt for a family wedding.  While it’s primarily a family trip, you can rest assured that Museum Girl will be taking in the sights.  The itinerary is firming up and I thought I’d share a few highlights.

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

As excited as I am about the rest of the trip, the reason we’re going is to participate in Bassem and Mariam’s wedding.  We’re all agog with excitement.  Bill and I will arrive in Cairo late in the evening on a Saturday night and be whisked away to the Fairmont in Heliopolis.  On Sunday afternoon we’ll attend a luncheon for all the families at an “oriental” restaurant.  When I wondered why we were having Chinese food, I learned Egyptians call Middle Eastern food “oriental.”  I learn something new every day.

Monday is the day of the wedding, and it is also a national holiday, so I’m told I will see the residents of Cairo enjoying themselves in parks and other areas of leisure.  I’ll spend the day getting all gussied up for the wedding.  Egyptians know how to party and they expect guests, especially the couple’s families, to get all decked out.  I’ll be wearing a long formal gown bedazzled with crystal beads.  For the church ceremony I’ll wear a sheer over-blouse cinched by a jeweled belt, which will cover the spaghetti-strapped straight bodice of the full-skirted gown. Pictures to follow.

Let the Sightseeing Begin

On the day after the wedding we’ll be transported to the elegant Mena House Hotel, in the shadows of the pyramids.  Some folks tried to convince me to hire a guide for sightseeing for the day, but 8:30 AM was entirely too early to start a day of touring, especially after partying late into the night in the ballroom of the gorgeous Fairmont.

So instead, we’ve arranged to be transported mid-day and ease into the sightseeing.  We’ll enjoy the gardens of the Mena House, walk around with our mouths agape at the splendid architecture of the place, dine around the pool and then watch the Sound & Lightshow at the Pyramids from our room’s balcony. Who knows, there might even be time for a dip in the pool.  Personally, I plan to have at least one picture of me taken in the pool with the Pyramids behind me.

Then we’ll do the Pyramids.  Since we’ve already done the Giza Plateau, I plan to go further afield and check out the Step Pyramid at Saqqara and the Red Pyramid at Dahshour.  I’m also interested in the Meidum Pyramid, but I’ve been told it is too far out – drat.  Instead we’ll go back to Giza and see the Solar Boat Museum, something that’s been added since our last visit.

A Family Reunion Extraordinaire

After our second night at Mena House, we’ll head to the airport and make the short hop to Sharm el Sheikh.  Some of the family lives in the beautiful city by the Red Sea and others will have gone there when we headed to Giza.  We’ll have a family reunion of sorts for about five days along one of the most spectacular beaches in the world.

The diving and snorkeling are supposed to be awesome, but I’m not much of a guppy.  You’ll find me at the  Marriott Naama Bay Resort pool with an exotic cocktail of my choice somewhere near the waterfall.  Yes, the beach is beautiful, but no way am I going to smear sunscreen all over and then sit in the sand all day.  Not this girl’s idea of a good time.  I’ve been promised activities like a star-gazing visit to the desert, some shopping opportunities and other attractions.

In the evening, look for me along the boardwalk.  It’s one of my favorite memories of our last journey to Egypt.  Every evening the tourists come out in all their sunburned glory to stroll along and enjoy the wide variety of entertainment available on every side. On our last visit the Macarena was all the rage.  I  wonder what earworm will bite me this time.

On to Alex!

We’ll fly back to Cairo and then have a driver take us to Alexandria where we’ll be in the center of the action at the Cecil Hotel.  This elegant old dame gives a nod to Alexandria’s heyday with plenty of modern updates.  What’s more, I’m supposed to be within walking distance of many of the sites I want to see – that is if I can ever cross the street.  I remember the traffic being deadly in Cairo and Alexandria is supposed to be more of the same.  Pedestrians don’t have the right of way and stoplights are merely suggestions.  I’ll be right across the street from the beach, but may never actually get to the sand!

My wish list for Alexandria is long and includes a visit to a Coptic monastery on the way back to Cairo.  Once back to Cairo, we’ll visit Old Cairo and seeing the famous churches there, something I never got to during our other visit.  I think we’ll spend our final nights at the Fairmont.  We have to be to the airport bright and early for our return.  Then it’s back to the grindstone!

That’s it so far for Egypt.  Keep dropping by.  I’m not sure what I’ll be up to in the weeks to come, but I promise not to disappear.

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Vulcan Park Tower, Birmingham AL

Birmingham from the Tower

Birmingham from the Tower

TRAVEL THERE: A STEEL CITY LANDMARK

So my boss had just arrived back in the States from someplace else that I can’t tell you about to join us at the thing I can’t tell you about.  At the end of the second day after a meal provided by the thing I can’t tell you about, there was supposed to be a worship and praise service, but the boss needed a change of scenery.  One more large meeting room filled with people and he was a goner, so we escaped.

Hannah Beth Helps Us Play Hooky

Since the meal we’d been provided was lukewarm hot dogs and stale potato chips (no offense intended, but that’s what it was), we wished we’d decided to play hooky about 30 minute previous to our boss’ confession of meeting room fatigue.  A nice dinner would have been a treat. Still, we weren’t going to waste an opportunity for some team building activities outside the meeting room.  So Hannah Beth took us on a tour.

Now I know young folks to things differently than I do, so this is not meant as criticism, but merely an observation.  While Hannah Beth has been to Birmingham several times and has the inside scoop on what to do, she depends on GPS for directions.  Her modus operandi is to take off in the direction which she thinks something is and then use voice commands to tell her phone to find the way.    This means she has one hand fully on the wheel, while she holds both the wheel and the phone in the other – all the while chatting up everyone in the car.

Yep, I’m a Nervous Nellie, so the entire time we were driving in Birmingham, I’m in the backseat praying we actually get to the place we’re headed.  Since I’m here to tell the tale, you know my prayers were answered in the affirmative, but while we were playing hooky from a praise and worship ceremony, I felt a little guilty about praying for protection.  Proves God listens all the time, I guess.

Vulcan Tower on Red Mountain

Vulcan Tower via http://birminghamal.org

Vulcan Tower via http://birminghamal.org

According to the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau:

“Vulcan is the largest cast iron statue in the world and Birmingham’s unofficial city symbol. Standing high atop Red Mountain, the 56-foot-high statue has an observation balcony on its pedestal for a panoramic view of the city. Vulcan is patterned after the mythical Roman god of the forge, a nod to the city’s powerful position in the iron and steel industry in the first part of the 20th century. The statue was created as Birmingham’s exhibit in the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and won the exposition’s grand prize. The museum at Vulcan has interactive exhibits and displays that portray the region’s history and progress. Museum open Monday- Saturday, 10am- 6pm; Sunday, 1pm- 6pm. Observation balcony open Monday- Saturday, 10am- 10pm; Sunday, 1pm- 10pm. Admission.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, but you can learn more on the actual Vulcan Park website.

Our boss covered the entrance fee which was just a dollar or two and we climbed the stairs to the top of the hill.  Someone who will remain nameless desperately needed to visit the rest room.  Even though the sign said the museum was open, it wasn’t and that’s where the restroom was.  In desperation, the drain in an unlocked utility room sufficed as a toilet.  That’s all I’m going to say about it, but as tired as we were, that was just the crowning glory of the day and we got a serious fit of the giggles.

Above It All

Though the tower is lovely and the park is very nice, the real draw to visiting the Vulcan Tower is that you can climb up in it.  So we did, still giggling like fools.  Now yours truly is has a slight case of acrophobia.  OK, so maybe a large case, but as we took the elevator up I was distracted by the giggling.  We walked across a steel grate which was a bridge to the steel grate which was the balcony around the tower.  There was also a fence, but all the ground around us was visible from our vantage point.

At first I just looked out toward the horizon and enjoyed the scenery (see picture from previous post).  Then I looked down.  MISTAKE.  I tried to be cool.  I tried standing away from the rail and looking toward the tower.  Didn’t work.  I started getting lightheaded and broke out in a cold sweat.  It was time to go.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a grocery store, to get some necessities.  That list might have included individual bottles of screw top wine, but if it did, I’m not telling.  As much fun as this adventure was, the best is yet to come, so make you way back here next week.

 

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Cruise Afterglow

dsc_0496

Cruising the Wachau Valley

TRAVEL THERE: VIKING’S DANUBE WALTZ – WHAT A TRIP!

As I sit in my office on an October Saturday afternoon in Heath TX, listening to the fountain that dances in my pond and writing a post you will read in December, I have nothing but kudos for my  April cruise on Viking Cruise Lines.  My travel agent, Sandra Rubio at CTC set up everything perfectly for us and Viking Cruise Lines is amazing – simply amazing!

What I Liked Best

  • 20160421_210026Wonderful new friends!  Deb & Mike Radcliffe and Gwenne & John Penkert were the best cruise buddies you can imagine – and they live in Oregon, which gives me an excuse to return to one of my favorite places.
  • The inadequately named “Silver Collection,” a part of the Imperial Apartment Museum in the Hofburg in Vienna.  Decorative Arts overload! I will never forget it.
  • Pretty much everything I ate and drank on the Viking Tor, but especially the bottomless wine glass at dinner.
  • Budapest – yep, the whole thing.  Can’t wait to go back someday.  And Rick Steve’s is right about the Baths.
  • Lunch in Cesky Krumlov
  • A sunny afternoon stroll in Passau

What I Liked Least

  • 2b-castle-tor-7

    The Faux Castle

    The non-stop Lufthansa flight from DFW to Frankfurt.  Worst flight EVER!!

  • Not having more time in Budapest.
  • Bratislava, Slovakia – didn’t feel good, didn’t get the shore excursion I wanted, the guide was iffy.  Other than that it was a great stop (tee hee.)
  • Being in Vienna in the rain on a Monday, which is when the Lipizzaners don’t perform and some of the museums are closed.  Loved Vienna, but after three visits there, I have yet to see the Lippizzaners and I could have done without the rain.
  • Anything to do with Empress Elizabeth, otherwise known as Sissie.
  • The guide in Passau.

On Our Way Home

Viking got us home as smoothly as they did everything else.  While we were at breakfast, our bags were whisked away.  We boarded a bus and after a pleasant drive were at the Munich airport.

While not awful enough to include in my “least liked” list, German airports didn’t rate very highly with me.  They get high marks for cleanliness, but they were confusing.  We roamed in befuddled circles in Frankfurt and repeated the exercise in Munich.

Security was on high alert, because we got there just as some international dignitaries were strutting through the airport.  I think there had been some sort conference, but the airport was full of people who looked as if they were used to getting preferential treatment and security was tight.

Thankfully, the Delta flight to Chicago was much more pleasant than the Lufthansa non-stop torture chamber.  However, because customs dumped us outside the secured area, we had to go back through the TSA screening and that was a nightmare.  They were so backed-up, we had pity on some people who were about to miss their flight and gave them our spot.  What else were we going to do with our time?  Go shopping?

Finally, Dallas!  As much as I love traveling, I do love getting home.  As if to welcome us home, a full moon hung low in the sky over our pond.  It was the first trip I’d returned from without having my beloved Shih Tzu, Precious, to greet me.  I miss that white ball of fur.

I’ll give you one more look at our overview video and then I hope you’ll come back next week to see what else I’ve been up to.

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A Lovely Afternoon in Passau

5p-oooTRAVEL THERE: GLADLY GUIDELESS IN GERMANY

After lunch Bill and I ventured into Passau on our own.  While we’d been frustrated by our guide’s demeanor during the morning, he had led us through a shopping area and shown us a nice riverside walkway.  Passau is no Vienna and we’d had lunch, so Bill was amenable to hoofing it around on our own.

 

A Marvelous Afternoon

While our morning tour had left a bad taste in our mouth, it had not besmirched the charming little town.  The first item on my agenda was to find some tokens for my friends.  A thorough search of the room did not turn up any of the darling gingerbread ornaments I bought in Cesky Krumlov, so I needed to get busy.  I wanted to get something for my Bible Study girls and then I had a couple of other friends for whom I wanted to buy something more substantial.

Ludwigstrasse

Ludwigstrasse

Passau has a significant pedestrian area with shops called Ludwigstrasse and nearby are a couple multistory of enclosed malls.  My patient husband wandered through all of these with me, hunting down the appropriate souvenirs – only I wasn’t finding much that I thought was appropriate.  Finally, we wandered into a knick-knack store and while most of the items were tacky bibelots   with the words “Passau, Germany” emblazoned on them, I found a shelf populated with charming ceramic cherubs molded into a variety of poses.  I’d found the trinkets I wanted for my Bible Study girls.

5p-ooo-3Strolling Along the River

I was still baffled about what to get for my best friend and my next door neighbor, who is truly the best next door neighbor in the world, but Mr. Bill was ready to roll.  We headed toward the river and were hugely rewarded.

The morning had been chilly in more ways than one.  Yes, our guide had been Mr. Rude, but the weather was overly crisp, also.  I’d layered up with a denim jacket and a wool cape, but had still been uncomfortable.  The afternoon weather was so glorious that we might have been in Dallas on one of its best days.

We discovered it was the first really warm day for Passau that spring and the whole town had turned out to enjoy the river.  Children tossed balls into the air.  Lovers ogled one another on shared blankets.  Giggly girls shared secrets strolling along the river.  Another girl sat on a stairway leading down to the river captivated by a book.  Beer drinking students toasted everyone that walked by.  It was like a movie set!

Once More to the Ludwigstrasse

Armed with a map the rude guide had provided, Bill and I maneuvered around the finger of land pointing to the confluence of the Inn, the Ilz and the Danube.  When we got back to the boat, Bill agreed to hit the Ludwigstrasse with me one more time.  I was in a tizzy.  I had to finish packing and dress for dinner soon, but I just didn’t want to head home without something for my friends.

As I bounced from storefront to storefront appalled at the pricing, Bill came to the rescue.  One of the clothing stores was having a bit of a sidewalk sale and Bill pointed it out.  I doubted anything would be affordable, even marked down, because all the prices I had seen were pretty steep.  Bill helped me figure out the exchange rate and the discount.  Suddenly, I was all smiles.  Not only had we found exactly what I’d love to get for Deb and Sherry, but I wasn’t going to break the bank!

It was a quiet night on board.  The evening happy hour was devoted to disembarking instructions.  Dinner was delicious, but sad.  We’d made wonderful friends and we didn’t know when we’d see them again.  Then there we had to be out early in the morning.  For all practical purposes, the cruise was over.

Come back next week and I’ll get you back to Dallas.  In the meantime, enjoy this video of our final stop.

 

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Pretty Little Passau

5p-ooo-6TRAVEL THERE: THE FINAL SHORE EXCURSION

Waking up in Passau was bittersweet.  During the night we’d passed from Austria into Germany and docked at Passau, but my research had not mined up any nuggets for my “must-see” list, in this town at the confluence of three rivers.  The overwhelming emotion was regret.  I was going to have to leave this cozy boat where they took me from destination to destination, fulfilling my every need and desire along the way. 

The Morning Rush Hour

In Viking River Cruise land, mornings were busy.  We had to get up and get breakfast before the tour started.  There were no lazy days at sea. It might have been nice to intersperse all these activities with some down time, but Mr. Bill is not a two week vacation kind of guy and on an 8 day river cruise you are engaged every single day, all day long.

Passau was no different.  The walking tour began at nine.  After a delicious breakfast we disembarked and found our guide.  We did not get the pick of the litter.

The Walking Torture

So what date do you think this is?

So what date do you think this is?

He was a Frenchman, resettled into Germany and I’ll just say it, he was rude.  He was quite knowledgeable, but so unpleasant.  He was obviously unaware that we were on a walking tour, not taking an oral exam for a PhD.  He’d pepper us with questions and then ridicule our answers.  If we dared ask him a question, he’d belittle us.  I’m not exactly ignorant of history, but the one question I asked him about a date painted on a castle, resulted in my most uncomfortable moment of the cruise.

We  put up with him for a while, but it was finally so unpleasant that we wandered off and found our own way back to the boat.  However, Passau is a lovely little town, in spite of the rude guide, so I’ll show you some of it.

Pretty Little Passau

If you’ve been following me along on this cruise, then you know the operative word for the predominant architectural style along the Danube is Baroque.  We got a taste of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Cesky Krumlov, but pretty much everything else has been Baroque-on-steroids.  Passau was no different.  The architectural highlights are the Prelate’s Palace and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, but the whole town is lovely.  For some reason, the Rathaus has murals painted all over it which are reminiscent of the Middle Ages, but they are merely modern interpretations of that era.  Architecture aside, the three rivers are the real stars of the show.

Enjoy this gallery of shots from our walking torture.  I can’t tell you much more about them, because the only way I was able to avoid killing my guide was to ignore him.  We finally abandoned him and made our own way back to the boat.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about the rest of the day, which was a lot more fun.

 

 

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A Little of Linz

Happy on the Hauptplatz

Happy on the Hauptplatz

TRAVEL THERE: HANGING ON THE HAUPTPLATZ

Once the bus returned us to the boat from our excursion to the Czech Republic, we only had about forty-five minutes before it was time to get ready for dinner.  Having had the chance to rest up on the bus ride, we were raring to visit Linz, so we dropped off our junk in our cabin and hit the gangplank again.

Lovely Afternoon in Linz

In Cesky Krumlov it had been a tad bit chilly, so I’d been all layered up to keep warm.  Linz was a whole different story.  There we regretted our long sleeves.

As with most of our stops, our boat was docked adjacent to exactly what we wanted to see.  We stepped off the boat and into the Hauptplatz, one of the largest main squares in Austria. You can see the plague column behind us in the photo above and the Old Rathaus is nearby.  In fact, I had a map showing this square is the center of sightseeing, but it was late and most things had closed – not to mention that we barely had time to walk down the street a bit and then get back to the boat. So we kept to the main thoroughfare.

received_1074321999293611The architecture along the venerable main street is gorgeous.  Churches butt up against chic boutiques and everything looks as if a modern day Hapsburg is coming for inspection.  The one thing I really wanted to see was the Mariendom. The “new” cathedral can accommodate 20,000 people.  I figured that would be worth seeing.

We didn’t get very far down the street until we ran into our cruise buddies.  They’d hit the streets directly from the bus and were already headed back to the boat.  We wanted to explore a little more.

3l-5Finding a cathedral to accommodate 20,000 isn’t all that hard if you’re anywhere near it, so soon we found a side street that took us right up to the big church.  We were only there for a few minutes, but I have to confess that I thoroughly enjoyed the respite from tourism.

All the other churches we’d been to were definite tourist destinations.  We’d gotten to Mariendom late enough for the tour buses and their occupants to be gone.  A few parishioners were spread among the sea of pews and were obviously praying.  This was a church that was really a church.  It felt like God was there, so I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for the wonderful trip we were enjoying.  Then I couldn’t resist getting the panoramic picture above!

Though we hadn’t really taken much time at all, we had to hurry back to the boat.  Bill still managed to grab a few shots along the way.  I’ll share those with you and then I hope you’ll be back next week, because it was a favorite night of entertainment.  Enjoy Linz!

 

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The Quaint Town of Cesky Krumlov

4ck-townTRAVEL THERE: A TOWN IN A TIME WARP

Cesky Krumlov was lucky.  While it suffered a season of Communism, the Communists never had enough money to modernize the place.  So when they were kicked out in 1989, all Cesky Krumlov needed was a little TLC.  Tourists discovered it in the early 1990’s and the rest is history.

Entering the Time Warp

As I mentioned before, our wonderful guide was a native Krumlovite.  He grew up there and had an abiding love for his lovely little town.  We had disembarked our bus up in the castle gardens and seen a couple of lovely vistas from the castle grounds, but this charming blue, onion-domed church was our first taste of Krumlov proper.

 

City, town or village?

City, town or village?

The pace of our tour slowed down as the guide shared the highlights of his town, including his favorite places to eat and stories about his friends.  I’ve toured with guides that turned this dialog into an “ain’t-I-great” soliloquy, but the charming citizen of Krumlov did not fall into that trap.  His stories were all about the wonders in his favorite town.

By the way, while it is tempting to call it a village, rather than a town, it got a city charter somewhere along the way.  They would probably be insulted because that I was calling it a town instead of a city, but I want you to get the feel of the place, even if my terminology is not technically correct.

On Our Own

We wandered along quaint little streets until we reached the town square, where our guide released us to our own reconnaissance.  Our little group of cruise buddies hotfooted it back to our guide’s favorite restaurant and enjoyed a delightful lunch with generous quaffs of Czech beer.

Then we headed out for shopping.  EEEK!  The prices were astronomical. I strolled into a handbag store and hurried out with my tail between my legs.  While I’m not great at currency conversion, I do know enough to figure out when I’ve wandered into a triple digit zone.  The cheapest handbag I could find was very comfortably in that triple digit zone and while my friends are certainly worth that much, I can’t afford it.

There were dozens of establishments featuring souvenirs – you know the kind, t-shirts and tea towels emblazoned with screen-printed images – but that wasn’t what I was looking for.  Finally, I found a store with darling little gingerbread Christmas ornaments.  I almost bought them out and was thrilled with my find, but unfortunately I lost them somewhere along the way.  I was broken-hearted because they were hand-made and seriously darling.

Had I anticipated the expenditure, I would have bought up some amber jewelry.  Every other store on the winding streets is an amber jeweler and I loved most of their wares.  My bestie loves amber and I desperately wanted to find something for her, but in a town where a small cloth clutch costs about $200, you can imagine what the amber cost.  Still, the prices were not unreasonable, so if you go, budget for the amber and shop until you drop!

Safely back in the pack

Safely back in the pack

Suddenly It Was Time to Go

For the final half hour or so, we abandoned our cruise buddies, because I was still desperately on the hunt for gifts.  All of sudden we looked at our watch and realized we had to leave – right then.  That’s when we figured out we were lost and Cesky Krumlov no longer felt like a quaint village, but more like the city they prided themselves on being.  Our panic only lasted a short while, but that was long enough.  They’d warned us they would leave us if we weren’t on time.

We strolled back through the town, up a path around the castle and there our buses were waiting for us.  The drive back to the boat seemed longer than the trip to the Czech town, because we were hoping enough time would be left to check out Linz before dinner.

We did make it back early enough and I’ll share that with you next week, but for now, enjoy all these pictures from Cesky Krumlov.

 

 

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