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

Where Did the Mayans Go?

TRAVEL TALK: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF A CULTURE

Last week I mentioned the Spanish and their influence on Mexico.  I was horrified by the Mayan culture at its apex, but by the time the Spanish arrived, the jungle had reclaimed Chichen Itza.  All that remained was a pile of stones to loot for building materials.  The magnificence of that society had crumbled.

Peeling Back the Jungle

Historians and archaeologists have many speculations on the downfall of the Mayans.  Their glorious city of Chichen Itza was first taken over by the Toltecs and then abandoned for reasons that are still unknown.  How did it happen?  How did such an advanced society merely fade into the jungle?

When you go to Chichen Itza today, you must use your imagination to understand just how astounding it would have been to walk among the monuments in their glory.  The rain and the wind have softened the many carvings on the faces of the buildings and walls.  Mere shadows of pigment hint at the remarkable murals once covering every inch of exposed stone.  How overwhelming it must have been!

Standing in the Plaza

As I stood there trying to imagine the city ripe with the beauty it once displayed and the engineering it had taken to create it, I was distracted by those around me.  Overweight senior citizens from America, sweltering in the sun and wondering why they had ever paid someone to bring them to this overrated steam bath.  Younger and thinner tourists, from around the world, frolicking like they were at a theme park, rather than an archaeological site.  Native Mayans leading tours, some trying to be comedians, while others shared the importance of the site’s history, but all hoping their meager salaries would be supplemented by generous tips from their audience.

And throughout the site, along every pathway, under every tree, were other Mayans.  Their marketplace no longer had a roof, so they huddled, one after another in the shade, to avoid the blasting heat of the sun, selling their wares.  One vendor offered pretty much the same thing as another.  Some focused on wearable souvenirs, while others sold trinkets to decorate your home.  Too many vendors demonstrated a wooden device that made the sound of a jaguar when you blew into it.  We were sick to death of the sound before we left.  More pleasantly, some vendors played melodies on rustic pipes.  Occasionally, you would see a craftsman, carving a beautiful statue with his own hands, while a quick inspection of other souvenirs would reveal a label professing they’d been made by hands in other countries, where the workmen would earn even less than a native craftsman.

How much easier it would have been to join my fellow tourists in their boredom or their freewheeling photography sessions.  I could have spent my time shopping among the tables of the modern day merchants, comparing the prices and workmanship of their offerings.  Why was I mired in gloomy thoughts of horrific bloodletting and an advanced society which was doing almost everything wrong when it came to the good of their citizens?  What was Chichen Izta trying to tell me?

This is not a conundrum I was able to solve in the few hours I walked among its monuments.  Instead I would walk back to the bus with a heavy heart and conflicting thoughts.  My conclusions would have to work themselves out over the coming days.

On to More Amusing Adventures

It was time to board the bus.  A buffet lunch waited for us and then we’d be headed to visit a cenote.  I shook over my pondering and looked forward to a good meal.  The traveler in me made way for the tourist.  Come back next week and we’ll consider lighter subjects.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Just How Civilized Are We?

TRAVEL THERE: MORE IMPRESSIONS OF CHICHEN ITZA

Last week I shared my first impressions of Chichen Itza.  The longer I stayed the darker my thoughts became.  As if in response to the cartwheeling girls in front of the pyramids, I felt the lives of the Mayans deserved to be carefully considered and now, days later, I am still pondering my observations.

Marketplace of the Macabre

As if to emphasize my train of thought, I realized the structure adjacent to the altars was the marketplace.  Beautiful rows of columns raised their heads to the sky, but like the Hypostyle Hall in Karnak, these columns once bore the weight of a heavy roof to protect the items of commerce available in the market.  Like us, Mayan traders traveled to distant lands and brought back beautiful items used for adornment, which were sold next to agricultural products and weapons and cosmetics.  Did the market close during the sacrifices?  I doubt it.  Instead, like a big box store getting ready for Black Friday, they’d hired extra help and filled their shelves with extra merchandise.

After showing us the main plaza and describing the crowds that once filled it during the days of sacrifice, our guide took us to the back of the pyramid where evidence of vandalism was apparent, but the vandalism is not recent.  The Spanish came and disregarded the value of the Mayan ruins by peeling off layers of stone to build their own homes.  The Spanish were not alone in this type of activity.  The beautiful marble which once covered the Egyptian pyramids was used to build later monuments for people who saw little reason to protect the beauty of past engineers.  How is that different from the cartwheeling girls?

Men of Science

At the back of the pyramid, the guide gave us a choice.  We could stay in the plaza to shop and take pictures or visit the observatory.   I was hungry for more, so we followed the guide.  Removed from the plaza, but still in the shadow of the pyramid stood an edifice for tracking the stars.  They performed accurate science in this place, science that measured the routes of the stars and their dance across the sky.  The statistics they calculated have proven to be as accurate as those of our own scientists, with their modern equipment, almost to the second.

The men of science in that day, knew from centuries of observation, the days would get longer, just as surely as they watched them get shorter.  It had always been that way.  Instead of proclaiming proven fact, they used their data to pick the day the sacrifices would be made.  To declare the truth would have reduced their own power, so they ignored what they knew and instead worked hand-in-hand with the politicians, celebrities and leaders to deceive the general public – those standing below the pyramid and those falling lifelessly down the steps.  Does that sound at all familiar to you?  It does to me.

The Pleasure Palace

Just beyond the Observatory, still in sight of the pyramid, is a huge palace, mostly still standing.  You can see intricate lattices of stone decorating the walls of the building, graceful columns in the walled garden and steps winding up to a balcony.  Was the spot chosen for its proximity to the pyramid?  Did they walk to the plaza or watch them from their pleasant garden?  Who were the royals who lived in the shadow of so much death and right next door to a scientific institution that could have used their data to end the grisly performances of religion?

The palace marked the beginning of a residential area.  Their neighbors were priests, other members of royalty, high level political appointees, the families of warriors and of the successful merchants whose businesses filled the market.  Their primitive HOA offered a steam bath and water was delivered daily from the cenote by slaves.  Other slaves brought food from the harvests to feed them.  Their house slaves swept the floors, served their meals, dressed their hair and raised their children.

It was fantastic, this life the powerful had built for themselves.  Certainly, it was also horrific, but did they notice or even care?  What if you had lived in those times, at that place?  Would you have joined the circus that protected your place in society or would you have lived each day in horror, wondering how your lone voice could make a difference against the odds?

If these impressions seem different to you from my usual travelogue, I must agree with you.  They seem different to me, too.  Wherever I travel and whatever I see, I try to put myself in the place of those who lived the life I am observing.  I try to use their experiences to better understand what I observe in my own world. I’ve stood alongside ancient monuments like Stonehenge and the Temple at Karnack.  I’ve visited magnificent cathedrals and breathtaking palaces.  I’ve walked through significant battlegrounds and beautiful gardens.  Never have I been as disturbed by what I saw as I was at Chichen Itza.

I’ve barely touched on the influence of the Spanish in Mexico.  At Chichen Itza all you really see of them is the stones they took away from the pyramid, which is in many ways symbolic of the other things they took away.  What they brought with them was a religion, which would replace the grisly sacrifices of thousands upon thousands with the sacrifice of One, but were they in truth any more benevolent than the murderous priests of Chichen Itza?  Let’s talk about that next week.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

Visiting Chichen Itza

The Famous Pyramid of Chichen Itza

TRAVEL THERE: A VERY LONG DAY

Our visit to Chichen Itza was a very long day and there is no way I can cover all of it in one post, so I’ll start with the logistics of the day and we’ll work from there.

Finally Chichen Itza

Though Chichen Itza has always been at the top of my Yucatan Wish List, I didn’t make it either of the other two times we visited the area.  Both of our previous visits have been via cruise ship to the port of Progresso and Chichen Itza is significantly inland from there, so we chose more accessible Mayan sites.

The first time we visited the ruins at Dzibilchaltan and it was a particularly enjoyable shore excursion, complete with lunch and a rodeo.  The archaeological site was interesting and there was a wonderful museum.  Last time we went to Xcampo.  It was a smaller site, but still interesting.  So, we’re getting pretty knowledgeable about the Mayans, but nothing can prepare you for Chichen ItzaIt is both marvelous and horrid.

Up Early  & Out Late

The first thing the guidebook I bought warned me about Chichen Itza was to avoid excursions from Cancun, because so much time is spent in transit.  Well, I appreciated the advice and understood the reasoning, but this was it.  If I didn’t go this time, chances are I might never again get the opportunity.

As we shopped excursions I saw two versions of the trip over and over.  Either you had to be on a bus by 4 AM or you left between 7 and 8.  The problem I discovered however, was that when you took later tours, you were in Chichen Itza during the hottest part of the afternoon, because all the tours stopped for lunch before going to the site.

Then Sandra Rubio, my travel agent at CTC Travel turned me on to ShoreTrips.com and they had a package called the Chichen Itza Plus.  This version of the trip would pick us up between 7 and 8, but we’d go to the site before lunch.  SOLD!

Since we were among the first to be picked up, we had to be in the lobby at 7:10.  When we got there after a quick visit to the breakfast buffet, they were waiting for us.  It was quite the ordeal to get out of town though.  The bus they picked us up in was bigger than the airport transport vans, but not as big as the full-sized tour buses.  We stopped at several hotels in the smaller bus and then traded to the big bus, but even then we had many more stops to make.

All that driving took a long time, but it was interesting to drive around and see other parts of Cancun.  I’d say it was about nine when we finally headed to Cancun.  They served a small breakfast – pastries, coffee and orange juice.  We were glad we’d hit the resort’s buffet.

The drive to Chichen Itza was about an hour and a half.  They stopped off at a shopping opportunity to use the restroom.  I was focused on sightseeing, not shopping, so they didn’t get to sell me anything.  Another short drive took us to the archaeological site – which I’ll go into in detail later.

After a couple of hours at the site, we went back to the shopping opportunity to have a very nice buffet lunch.  In my opinion, they would have gotten a lot more shopping out of me if they’d have let me use the restroom at Chichen Itza and given me shopping time after lunch.

Then, after lunch we made another short drive to Ik Kil Cenote.  I’ll also tell you more about that in a later blog, but it was a great way to end the day.  Well, the day wasn’t quite over.  We still had to drive back to Cancun, which seemed to take forever in the dark.

As we neared Cancun, the lights inside the bus switched on, a recorded version of “Tequila” was played on the loudspeaker and one of our guides had donned a wild get-up that I supposed was intended to be Mayan.  They served shots of tequila to anyone who wanted one, but right then it didn’t even sound good to me.  I was whupped.

It seemed like midnight when we got to the hotel, but I think it was only about 8:30.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about our time in Chichen Itza.

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.

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.

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.

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

Sightseeing in Cairo

TRAVEL THERE: SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST?

This trip to Egypt was one best thing after another, but our day in Old Cairo was special for many reasons.  Let’s get started!

A Long Wait

During my 1996 visit to Egypt, my niece had plans to take us to the churches in Old Cairo, but those plans were always for bokra  (tomorrow) and bokra never came.  I really didn’t know what I was missing.  I was so focused on getting to the Pyramids and the Cairo Museum the churches weren’t even on my list.

This time things were different.  Old Cairo was on my radar and the research I did told me not to miss it.  It also told me not to let anyone squeeze it into some part of a day, but to keep demanding the outing needed its own day.

First, Bill and Ayman tried to squeeze it into the day of the wedding, but I said no.  Then they suggested I see it on the day we transferred from the Fairmont to the Mena House.  I kept saying no.  Then I was somehow supposed to drive from Alexandria to Cairo, see the churches and get on a plane.  Nope that wasn’t happening either.  I’m only occasionally stubborn, but on those occasions, I’m very stubborn. 

The Cairo Museum

And speaking of stubborn.  Remember Zuzu, our guide to the Pyramids?  Well, he was back for a repeat performance.  And remember how he was determined to take us to Giza before we went to Dashour or Saqqura?  Well, we had the second stanza of that.  We were going to the Cairo Museum before we went to Old Cairo and that was that.

I have been to the Cairo Museum and unlike my first trip to the Pyramids, my visit to the museum trip was very satisfying.  I felt like I had the time on that trip to process everything I saw.  If I lived there, I would go to the museum on a regular basis.  Since I didn’t live there, I wanted to spend my time doing new things.  That didn’t happen.  So here I am out in front of the Cairo Museum with Zuzu listening to whatever it is that he wanted to tell me about the museum.

 

Old Cairo, Finally!

Old Cairo is very, very old.  To impress this fact upon us, Zuzu started with this ancient fortress.  It was known as the Fortress of Babylon in the early AD years and once the Nile flowed through it.  That’s important later on in the story.

The Old City is a warren of churches.  There is St. George’s Church and Covent, The Hanging Church, St. Barbara’s, Abu Sargus Cavern Church and a Synogogue.  It gets a little confusing, because some of the properties have changed hands several times.  Several have been rebuilt several times.  As I researched this part of the trip, I imagined having to walk great distances to see these various sights, but they are actually cheek to jowl – right in the same place.

Next week we’ll go start touring the churches. You won’t want to miss that!

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Yucatan Adventure

TRAVEL HERE: DISCOVER THE YUCATAN & THE MAYAN WORLD

No time for working out or a sit-down breakfasts today.  Our shore excursion met on the pier at 9:15, so we grabbed breakfast in the Windjammer Buffet and disembarked.

Progresso, Mexico

I love cruising and one of my favorite moments is stepping off the boat at a port of call.  Progresso was not new to us.  We’d been there several years ago on a Carnival cruise, but that was before I started blogging.  On that trip we visited the Dzibilchaltun ruins, which I highly recommend.  This time we were taking a tour called “Discover the Yucatan & the Mayan World”.  It was a sort of compromise somewhere in between going all the way to Chichen Itza and spending the day on the beach.

The city of Progresso is developing their port and I’m pretty sure the cute little market at the end of the pier was not there last time.  We didn’t see anything that tempted us to pull out our wallets, but it was a nice commercial enterprise and it gave us something to do while we waited for our tour to be called.

How do you spell relief?

On the Bus

Once everyone on the tour had been accounted for, our guide led us to our bus for the day.  For the most part it was in good condition, but I could tell it had been in service for awhile.  Our guide had a shtick about his name.  He complained that all of us tourists didn’t know how to properly roll the “R” in Carlos, so he’d prefer it if we called him The Big Chihuahua or Uncle Chewy.

Our first stop was Xcampo.  (Well, actually the roadside restroom before you got to Xcampo.)  Xcampo was a temple complex, like Chichen Itza or Dzibilxhaltun, but on a much smaller scale.  The visit was not very long, but long enough to wander around and climb on the pyramids.

And speaking of climbing the pyramids, we learned that the steps of the pyramid were so steep to be sure that no one could turn their back on the god and walk down.  They’d have to crawl down to do honor to the god.  In addition, That’s the reason the door to their huts were so low – to remind people to bow and do honor to the home’s inhabitants.

On to Dzemul

Dzemul was a small town primarily occupied by descendants of the Mayans.  Our first stop in the town was an architecturally correct replica of a Mayan home.  When the bus arrived our hostess was nowhere in sight.  We sat there a few moments as the guide tried to decide what to do about her absense.  Just about the time he decided we’d go to the next stop, up comes this darling little lady on the orange human-powered vehicle you see in the picture gallery.  These were the most popular vehicles in town and came in a wide variety of colors and themes.

As Uncle Chewy explained the details of Mayan home-building, our hostess went out back, stoked up a fire and made us some tortillas.  They were good!

The next stop was the local Catholic church with a long history.  There we were greeted by this beautiful woman in her traditional hand-made dress.  Just so you don’t miss it, that’s cross-stitch and it covers the dress.  Can you imagine how long it took to make it?

We were enchanted by this lady.  She exuded pride and self-confidence.  She and some associates performed some folk dances for us and one performed with a tray of water-filled glasses.  The the tray of dancer in the picture got a little off balance and dribbled water on her as she danced.  She was such a pro that it didn’t even cause her to blink.  She completed the dance without ever touching the tray and behaved as if the water dripping on her was just part of the act.  The dancers on the ship could take lessons from her.

Inside the church we were treated to a little history. Bill was amazed to learn that they used to make church doors so large in order for people on horseback to ride in, without having to get of their horse, in times of emergency.

Cultural orientation completed it was time to go to the beach.  Come back next week and join us there.  In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of Dzemul.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Cruising the Nile Like a Queen

TRAVEL THERE: THE PHARAOH’S DINNER CRUISE

Moksen, my nephew Bassem’s new father-in-law, invited us to be his guest on an early Nile Dinner Cruise.  He’d enjoyed our hospitality on a visit to the States and was eager to return the favor.  He returned the favor in spades!

An Early Arrival

Since we’d allowed plenty of time to visit the monastery during our trip from Alex to Cairo, we were early to the cruise.  Izzat entertained us a little by driving us around the elegant neighborhood near the dock of the boat, but that didn’t take very long and we really didn’t have time for anything else.  Hence we arrived at the boat long before anyone else – and what a boat!

I’m telling you Cleopatra would have been thrilled to take a cruise on this boat.  The photos really don’t do it justice, but the boat was covered in gilded pharaonic decorations.  The waiters wore the same garb as Cleo’s servants would have worn.  All that was missing was getting fanned by ostrich plumes and I have a feeling if I’d asked for it, they would have been able to comply with my wishes.

An Excellent Meal

If you remember any of the details about my nephew’s wedding and reception, then you know that no expense was spared.  This dinner cruise was similar – the best of the best. 

While we waited for our party, I checked out the restroom facilities and they were much improved over our roadside stop.  Then we wandered around the boat checking out every elegant detail.

Before long Moksen and his lovely wife Shahira, first on the left side, were coming aboard and the party started.  It was a huge, delicious meal and I was thrilled to be with my family once again.  

Once we’d eaten our fill (and a little bit more) we all wandered outside to enjoy the view from the decks.  Our hosts had invited us to the early cruise – about 2:30 – and this allowed us to see Cairo in all it’s daytime glory.  I’m sure the evening experience is romantic, but I would not have traded our daytime views for anything.

I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to enjoy this amazing trip.  It seems as if every time I travel I say, “This was the trip of a lifetime,” but each time it seems true.  From family tours of historic American sites when I was a child to wandering through the English countryside in my twenties to the Danube Cruise I took in 2016, they are all singular experiences many people never get the opportunity to enjoy.  This trip was no different.  Each day was an absolute wonder.  It has taken over a year to share it with you, but it is finally drawing to a close.  Only one more full day to share and then we’ll have to see what our next adventure will be.

Enjoy and come back tomorrow for our return to the Fairmont.  The second time around was a little more problematic that our original stay!