Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Libraries, Museums, Road Trips, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Livorno to Florence

TRAVEL THERE: THEY LOST ME AT LIVORNO

This wasn’t my first cruise, so I am aware of the fact gateway cities can be pretty disappointing.  As a disappointment, Livorno did not disappoint.  The day got better, but never as good as I hoped it would be. 

“90-Minute Drive Through the Beautiful Tuscan Countryside”

Newsflash: the highway we took to Florence didn’t take us through the beautiful Tuscan country side.  It was a highway.  We could have been circling Detroit.

Though the Celebrity site did not tell me specifically to be expecting an ultra-luxury bus, the shore excursion I picked was a Celebrity Discovery Collection Event.  According to Dallas’ Celebrity rep, these tours were worth the extra you paid to be a part of them.  Perhaps he didn’t intend to give me the impression I should expect more in every aspect of the tour, but we had a more luxurious bus in Cancun.  The Celebrity vehicle was adequate as tour buses go, but I wished for my Cancun Passion bus.

Our first stop was not Pitti Palace as advertised.  Instead, it was a convenience store. Apparently, we needed a pre-Florence potty stop, so the alarms started going off in my head.  Things were going downhill fast.

The pay phone is just a little bonus.  They have them all over the place in Europe.  Try finding one state-side.

So, riding along in our adequate bus, we soon figured out our guide was no Paolo.  We’re not sure whether she just left her personality at home that day or she simply didn’t have one at all, but after the charming and erudite Paolo, she was a real disappointment.

“Your first stop takes you to the decadent Palazzo Pitti.” 

Well, I’ve already told you about the first stop and it was no Palazzo.  Our next stop was not a Palazzo either.  We’d obviously arrived at some lovely place in Italy, but it was not the Pitti Palace.  No, we were about to hoof it to the Pitti Palace via the rest of Florence.

Initially, this “stroll” wasn’t so awful.  It was nice to stroll among the picturesque by-ways of Florence and when she wasn’t running off and leaving all of us, our guide did have a few salient facts to share with us.  We stopped by the Uffizi Gallery and even though we didn’t get to enter, it was fun to learn it was once the home and workrooms of the Medicis and charming to see the artists setting up.

After a little more circuitous wandering, we came to the famous Ponte Vecchio across the Arno River.  The guide who had been strolling through the city, as if we had hour to linger over every detail, suddenly picked up the pace, at the point I would have been happy to amble.  She assured us we’d get more time on the bridge later.

Though we knew she was no Paolo, we had not yet learned she was untrustworthy, so we continued to trudge along behind her.  Then suddenly, with no kind of signage or gates to tell us, we were at Pitti Palace.  It was a sort of odd palace.  Right in the middle of things, no gate, no moat, just a multi-story facade, and while it was imposing, it was in no way magnificent.

I’ll leave you here for today.  Once inside, Pitti Palace makes up for it’s rather dreary exterior.  Come back next week and we’ll explore the wonders of Palazzo Pitti together.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Libraries, Museums, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Florence Fascinates

TRAVEL THERE: FLORENCE WAS GREAT. TOO BAD THE SAME THING CAN’T BE SAID FOR THE RENAISSANCE VACATION

There is no one more susceptible to great marketing than someone in marketing.  Our shore excursion to Florence is a perfect example of that.  The photos and the copy sent me on flights of fantasy no walking tour of Florence could have, especially with the below par tour guide we were assigned to that day.

What It Should Have Been

The Celebrity website said, and I quote, “Florence, Italy is the birthplace of The Renaissance, and the site of your most memorable vacation yet. From the 13th to the 15th centuries, a profusion of poets, painters, sculptors, and architects flooded into Florence and produced the era’s most groundbreaking artwork. Departing from the port of Livorno, your excursion in Florence begins with a 90-minute drive through the beautiful Tuscan countryside those legendary artists once traversed. Your first stop takes you to the decadent Palazzo Pitti. Also known as Pitti Palace, this architectural marvel is one of Florence’s signature monuments. The Palatine Gallery lies on the first floor, and contains a broad collection of 16th and 17th century paintings. Its most iconic piece of art is likely the portrait of Maddalena Doni by Raphael in 1506. Next, you’ll visit the Boboli Gardens. While accurate, the Boboli Gardens are more than your standard garden. Boboli is actually one of the greatest open-air museums in Florence. The park boasts sculptures, fountains, centuries-old oak trees and more. As the garden that inspired European royal gardens like Versailles, there are few better examples of “green” architecture in the world. From here, your vacation in Florence takes you to Piazza della Repubblica, the most beautiful town square in the Tuscany region. This brief respite offers the opportunity to wine and dine before continuing onward to the Signoria and Santa Croce Squares.”

What I Imagined

I envisioned a luxurious bus ride through a gorgeous landscape.  I assumed the bus would drop us off in front of the Pitti Palace.  I hoped we’d have hours to wander all the galleries of the palace and then wander some more through one of the most beautiful gardens on earth.  I was sure we’d need to stroll around a little bit to get to all the sites mentioned, but what’s a little walking, right?  Besides I was so laser-focused on the Pitti Palace it was all I could think about.

What I Gave Up

Florence is a city you would needs days and days to see properly.  The list of must-see attractions is daunting.  Take the Uffizi Gallery for instance, one of the most prominent art museums of the world.  Then there’s Michelangelo’s David, housed in another museum you’ve probably never heard of, but a piece of art I’ve wanted to see all my life.  And the Duomo,  famous as one of the most important cathedrals in the world, for the history that was lived there, for the artworks housed there, but most of all for its miraculous dome.

With all this to look forward to I allowed myself to be distracted by some great marketing.  Don’t get me wrong, Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens are magnificent by any standard, but what they were selling me about the shore excursion isn’t what I got.

So, come on back next week and I’ll tell you how it went.

Accommodations, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Bridal Dinner in the Normandie

TRAVEL THERE: THE FUN JUST DOESN’T STOP

It was over.  The Vow Renewal Ceremony I’d been planning for so long was now in the review mirror.  With that behind me I set out to enjoy the rest of our cruise, beginning with dinner in The Normandie.

The Normandie

Dining on the Celebrity Edge was fun.  With four complimentary dining rooms to choose from, rather than the usual one, you had variety, but what you gained in variety, you missed out on personalized service.

The Normandie was touted as the cream of the crop with a French twist.  I can’t think of a single thing that was wrong, besides the anonymity of it all.  We showed up and they had the usual flurry of figuring out our beverage plans.  The menu was divided into the three sections the other menus had.  I don’t remember being wowed by any of the offerings, nor do I have a clue what I actually ate.

Except for dessert.  I do remember dessert! The Aisle to Isle package offered a small cake for the bride and groom, but I had them upsize it to include plenty for everyone.  Like many wedding cakes it was more beautiful than it was delicious.  Fondant makes for pretty cakes, but is there anyone who actually likes to eat it?

The Company

While I might not have a lot to say about the restaurant, the company could not have been better.  I sat there at that table feeling like the luckiest girl in the world.  I feel that way often, but rarely with so many reasons.

We were on an amazing ship, headed to incredible destinations, with the best of friends.  We were celebrating a wonderful 25 year marriage and had pledged to continue to keep the promises we had made so long ago.  I am married to the handsomest man in the world and he loves me, in spite of all my flaws.  And did I mention what great friends I have.

Just as I can’t remember exactly what I ate this evening, I can’t recall exactly what we talked about around the table, but I know it was seasoned with a lot of laughter.  The picture of us all gathered around that table will forever stay in my mind.  The actual photos we took don’t do the evening much justice, but I’m adding them so you can enjoy them.

Turning in for the Night

There’s one more picture to show you before we move on to the next day.  Cruise ship towel animals might not seem like a big deal to you, but among the many cards spread about the room, explaining what things were, what was complimentary and what we’d have to pay for, one card explained why Celebrity no longer entertains their passengers with towel animals.

I’ve written cards and letters like that before.  When we were forcing technology down people’s throats, we used to start all the letters with, “To serve you better…”  Only we didn’t care whether it served anybody better or not.  It was just what we said.  The letters should have said, “Hey, we’ve found yet another way to cut corners, but there’s no way we’re going to pass any savings on to you, so get ready for this new thing we’ve dreamed up.”

Celebrity’s note about the towel animals began with “In order to preserve the planet…”  That’s the new phrase they came up with that everyone seems to buy into.  The towel animals were cute, but it did just sort of become yet one more schitick, and it had lost its luster.  If we had kids, towel animals might be more interesting, but I really didn’t need a new version on my bed every time I returned to the room.

However, with the absence of nightly towel animals and being made aware of Celebrity’s desire to save the planet, we were quite appreciative that they broke their own rules and gave us a couple of swans that evening.

And that’s where I’ll leave you.  We’ll be up early the next morning for Florence, so be sure to come back next week.

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Pushing on to Pompeii

TRAVEL THERE: FINALLY POMPEII

A short bus ride from Sorrento took us to Pompeii and you guessed it, another shopping opportunity.  This time it was cameos and they had my attention, but first I had to visit the restroom.  On the way out, I did peek at a few of the price tags.  I quickly realized the amount represented was one I was unwilling to pay for more jewelry.  I love the stuff, but I have so much of it I go years without wearing some the pieces.  Others in our group did submit to the temptation of the beautiful pieces of handiwork and I’m glad they did.  Obligatory shopping out of the way, it was time to visit the ruins of Pompeii

Paolo is wearing the white hat and blue shirt near the center of the photo.

Best Guide Ever 

So far, besides the heat, crowds and seasickness (none of which Paolo had any control over) we’d had a pretty good day of touring.  I’d figured out that we had a pretty darned good guide.  He had a great personality.  He spoke impeccable English.  He actually cared about his tourists and was proactive about seeing they had a good day.  Obligatory shopping was available, but not shoved down our throats.

So far, there hadn’t been much in the way of historical information to pass on, but what he had shared was at least reliable and polite.  However, it wasn’t until we actually entered the ruins that I figured out just how extraordinary he was.  This guy was a professor teaching Italian history at some Italian university.  He could have had us calling him Dr. Paolo, but he just wasn’t that pretentious.  It was sort of like we were a group of American acquaintances and he was showing us around for the sake of friendship.

As soon as we entered the ruins, it became something completely different.  We were in a place that he loved and was very knowledgeable about.  He shared his information with us like a boy proud of scoring in futbol.  I heartily wished I had a whole day to spend with him at this site, rather than just time for a quick stroll through one section.

How amazing this place is!  You must go.  It’s not like Capri – get there if you’re nearby.  No, this is put-it-on-your-bucket-list good.  Start making definite plans to get there.

I wish there was a way to share just how good Paolo was.  He made the place come alive.  He explained what a building was used for.  If it was a home, he described the sort of person who would live there, what his schedule for the day would be, what he would wear, what he would eat, who lived in his home with him, how to know whether he was important or not, who came to visit at what time and where the owner would go when he left his home.  He talked about the kind of food served in cafes and the bread baked in the bakery ovens.  He pointed out architectural advances and items we use in our buildings today.

I soaked it in like a sponge.  I wish I’d thought of recording him so I could listen to all he said again.  I loved walking around the city and though it had died many centuries ago, it still seemed to vibrate with energy.

I’m rambling now.  I will show you some photos from the ruined city to spark your imagination.  If you join us next week, I’ll get us back to the boat for some Italian food.

ART, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Getting the Little Details Right

Vow Pages at the Ceremony

TRAVEL THERE: THE FINISHING TOUCHES

Have you ever watched a TV show called Four Weddings?  It’s a game show where four brides are pitted against one another to win a fabulous honeymoon.  If you’ve never watched it, don’t bother.  It’s pretty snarky.  I know, because we did watch it for a while.  Most of what I got out of it was the things I absolutely didn’t want to have in my vow renewal ceremony on the Celebrity Edge.

Group Participation

There are many things I didn’t want in my ceremony.  I didn’t want any of those rituals like unity candles, sand ceremonies, jumping over the broom or crushing the wine glass.  I love traditions, but I think it is a little weird to take things out of their context and plop them in willy nilly.  What I did want was a ceremony that focused on our commitment to God in our marriage and our relationship with our friends.

Both of those purposes were served by having our friends participate in the ceremony.  Together, Bill and I chose meaningful Bible verses for our friends to read on the big day: my favorite verse from Psalms, his favorite from Ecclesiastes and the traditional love chapter from 1 Corinthians.  There were many other verses we love, so it would have been easy to find another one, but I had something special up my sleeve for my best friend.

Beautiful Music

When I met my bestie, she was going to SMU for a degree in opera.  What a voice!  One of my great joys in life is going to church with her and hearing her sing all the wonderful old hymns.  I had no intention of letting it go to waste, but I did want what she sang to be something special and unique.  I wanted to somehow pay homage to her beautiful voice, our friendship and the 25 years of marriage Bill and I have have shared.

At our wedding reception, the song for the First Dance was Celiene Dion’s “When I Fall in Love.”  It was a big hit at the time and was probably the First Dance at most of the wedding receptions that year.  I thought revisiting the song would be a nice touch for the vow renewal, but the lyrics just didn’t fit.  Yes, we fell in love all those years ago, but the song for our ceremony should celebrate the fact that we’ve traveled beyond falling in love.  Together we’d endured the storms of life and nurtured a love that truly was forever.

First, I made sure that Deb would, in fact, be willing to sing and that “When I Fall in Love” was a song she would tackle.  Since she’s classically trained, her voice is not geared for some pop music.  Dear friend that she is, she agreed to take on the task, but there were still those lyrics.  Well, I’m not a writer and a published poet for nothing.  I wrote my own lyrics, but I’m no lyricist, so I wasn’t sure whether they would fit or not.  Bless Deb’s heart, she made it work.

The Final Touch

Whether it is a TV show or a live wedding, I hate the part where a groom digs through his pockets for a wrinkled piece of paper or the bride whips notecards out of her dellecotage.I wanted something more substantial, more of a keepsake.  What’s more, I didn’t just want it for the vows.  I wanted it for my bestie, so she’d have the words I’d written in front of her.  I wanted it for the Scripture the other attendants would be reading.

A lady at my church is a calligraphy artist, Lettering by Lydia, and she agreed to pen the pages for me.  When we had that conversation, Deb had not yet confirmed the lyrics would work and Bill and I were still debating the actual words of our vows.  So, along with the deadline Celebrity Cruises had tick, tick, ticking away, now I had Lydia desperately wanting me to give her the words so she could get her work done.  No pressure, right?

When Lydia agreed to pen the lyrics, verses and vows we talked about various types of papers, but In the end I chose 12X12 scrapbooking pages.  The content was penned onto a white lacy page.  Then I adhered the lacy page to dark blue papers to match the dresses of our attendants.  Finally, I decorated the pages with small paper flowers, pearl-ized ornaments and rhinestones.  They were pretty, if I do say so myself!

Just a few more plans and I can start packing!

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Museums, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Florence Turns My Head

Florence

TRAVEL THERE: THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN OF EXCURSIONS

Even the name of the shore excursion sounded exciting – Renaissance Vacation in Tuscany.  I looked carefully, read all the options, but from the very first glance, I was sold.  Here’s what I was sold on.

What I Wanted

Michelangelo’s David – is there really anything else in Florence you have to see?  And the Duomo, of course the Duomo and this baptistery and those doors.  And the Uffizi Gallery.  That’s must.  Florence is a lot like Rome – a ninety minute drive from its port with entirely too many things to see.

And then there was Netflix’s The Medici’s.  It was way oversexed for me to actually say I enjoyed it, but it was filmed in Florence and seeing the Medici episodes  made me want to see every location.

What I Considered

Michelangelo’s David is in one museum.  The Uffizi is another museum.  Conveniently, the doors and the baptistery were both at one church, but the church is not the Duomo.  How was I going to see them all?

The Renaissance Vacation Shore Excursion from Celebrity Cruise Lines didn’t even mention these must-see classics.  It was also one of the most expensive tours offered, but just reading it transported me back to the days of da Vinci and Titian.

What I Booked

The Renaissance Vacation excursion focused on Palazzo Pitti.  I actually didn’t know what a Pitti Palace was until I did a little research.  The name on the palace might be Pitti, but it was all Medici and to boot,it had the Boboli Gardens.  I love gardens and the Boboli is like the garden of all gardens.  Only the Gardens of Versailles had hold a candle of fame to it.

I assure you, I could spend a whole day right there.  The online brochure waxed eloquent about the ride through the Tuscan countryside.  The list of city sights to visit sounded like a list of shooting sites for the Medici’s.  I grieved over (and still grieve over) not seeing Michelangelo’s David, but the Renaissance Vacation was going to be the best excursion of the trip – I just knew it.

And the booking was so easy.  With so many things to see in the area, the usual must-see list with the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the David, was getting all the attention.  Once I booked the excursion I started in-depth research into what we’d be seeing.  I devoured the section of my travel guide devoted to the Medici’s.  I soaked in every episode of the Medici’s and mourned when the second season was over.  I found a special about Italian gardens which focused on the Boboli.  I opened the pages of my copy of 1000 Place to Go Before You Die and marked all the pages which would described the places I would see in Florence.

I was literally giddy – again.  Would this blast from the  past be the highlight of my trip as I anticipate it would.  Well, you’re just going to have to keep coming back to find out, but next week, we’ll talk about Monaco.

ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Fashion, Museums, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

A Frenzy of Fashion

TRAVEL HERE: SO MUCH DIOR, SO LITTLE TIME

Now that we’ve browsed through the entire Dior exhibit together, let’s go back and take a closer look at some of what is called fashion.  I say that because to me, clothes should be designed to wear.  They should look good and make me look good when I wear them.  I can’t say that all the fashions in this exhibit would compliment the wearer.

Fashion and the Decorative Arts

I’ve said it before, the Decorative Arts are my favorite part of any museum.  Paintings and sculpture are nice, but what I love most are practical items made sublime by their decoration.  A Meissen vase can completely captivate me.  My favorite museum ever was the Silver Collection at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.  Such a bland name for such an extraordinary place.

Many dresses in the Dior exhibition are certainly sublime.  Would that my closet had such delights!  Take the black and white number with the coolie-style straw hat above.  Anybody with about an ounce of clothes sense would tell you it’s not in vogue.  Fully pleated wool skirts and jackets with peplums are just not the thing.  I don’t care.  I’d wear that anytime.  Not to a baseball game, of course, but give me an excuse to dress up and I’d put that number on.  And in vogue or not, ooohs and aaahs would follow me wherever I went.  The black taffeta, off-the-shoulder number next to it is pretty wonderful also.

However, I didn’t feel that way about everything I saw.  As time marched on the dresses were less decorative and more arty.  The show is partly chronological, but then it explodes into a kaleidoscope of eras.  Dresses designed to grace the form of post-WWII damselles stand next to fashions better suiting an ancient Egyptian priestess or a Zulu warrior princess.  Some of the outfits didn’t look like they would grace anyone or anything.  When I put on an outfit, I don’t want people to say, “My, that’s an interesting outfit.”  I want them to say, “Wow, you look great!”

To see the most egregious examples of these interesting outfits, you’ll have to go to the exhibition yourself.  The photos I’m using in these posts were taken by Bill during my first visit.  He’s as drawn to gorgeous as I am, so he didn’t waste his focus on interesting, much.  During my second visit I was so busy trying to match the various dresses to their description in the exhibition guide  that I failed to get a single picture.

Dior at the DMA
Designs by Christian Dior Himself

In the chronological part of the show, the focus is on the various directors of the House of Dior.  First, of course was Christian Dior, himself.  The suit on the far right with the big black bow?  I want it so bad I can taste it.  It’s name is Adventure.

I didn’t love everything he did as well as that one piece, but it’s probably safe to say I love everything he designed better than anything anyone else did.  For instance, the black double breasted belted jacket next to MY ensemble is entirely too bulky for my frame.  I’d look like someone’s living room drapes which have decided to take a walk.

Bill only took one more picture in this section of the exhibit, a lovely gala gown from 1950 called Oceanie with an ‘ over the e.  The amaranth red tulle dress is embroidered with sequins and beads, so I have no idea what that has to do with the ocean.

In fact, many of the names assigned to the ensembles had little to do with the ensemble it is assigned to.  Some of the directors labeled everything as a “Look” and assigned it a number. I found that as disappointing as a red dress with a blue name.

There’s more to the exhibit, of course, but let’s put Mr. Saint Laurent off until next week.

 

 

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

Gulf Coast Goodies

TRAVEL THERE: FROM PLANTATIONS TO PO’ BOYS

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

Plantations

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

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

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

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

Biloxi

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

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

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

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

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.

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A Sampling of Alexandrian Museums

TRAVEL THERE: HISTORY, JEWELRY AND MORE

Our second day in Alex began with the usual buffet breakfast and a quick cab ride to the Alexandria National Museum.  (No adventures this time!)

Ancient Artifacts

If you somehow landed in Alex and hadn’t yet figured out that Egypt is a country with very ancient roots, you should visit this museum.  It’s not as extensive as the famed Cairo Museum, but it is arranged in such a way that you can get a quick overview of Egypt’s history organized by deities.  If you’re just somebody like me that geeks out on history, well then you have even more reasons to spend and hour or so here.

Down in the basement is the Pharaonic section when Egyptians worshiped a pantheon of gods led by Ra, the sun god, and Isis, goddess of marriage, fertility, motherhood, magic, medicine and probably a few other things.  The main floor is devoted to the Greek and Roman eras of Egypt, when the Egyptian gods mixed and mingled with other religious traditions.  Many of the artifacts have, in fact, been fished out of the sea right there in Alexandria.  Our favorite floor was the top floor.  There Christianity faced off against Islam in a sort of duel by artifacts.  

Like many things in Egypt, if you visit this museum you’ll be on a constant seesaw.  One moment you are wowed out of your socks by an item you can’t even believe still exists.  Then you won’t be able to see into the next case at all, because the light has burned out.  It’s exhilarating, frustrating and totally unique.  Gorgeous white marble edifices with spectacular polished black granite floors and dust collecting in the corners.  It made me want to shake someone!

At this museum you can take all the pictures you want outside, but you are supposed to pay to take pictures inside.  Bill didn’t think he wanted to part with the coin, but once he got inside he couldn’t help taking a few pictures of the beautiful Christian artifacts.  They didn’t say anything right away, but when he left, they hit him up for the photography fee.  Since we had to pay to take them, I’ll share them with you.

The Royal Jewelry Museum

This trip to Egypt was so marvelous from so many standpoints I would be hard-pressed to pick out my favorite thing.  However, I can easily tell you the Royal Jewelry Museum is a strong contender for the position.  In fact, it is on my short list of favorite museums ever!

We took a taxi from the history museum to this gem of a palace. (Forgive me the pun, I couldn’t resist.)  It was immediately apparent this was something completely different from the previous museum.  Both buildings were magnificent, but the history museum was past its prime and showing its age.  It didn’t look like anyone loved it anymore.  The edifice holding the jewelry museum is pristine.  It’s well-loved and it shows.

The jewelry museum is in a lovely part of the city, obviously still home to the well-to-do.  An impressive rod iron fence guards the one-time palace.  The security procedure into the grounds is more than cursory, but it was very polite.  This is the museum-less-visited, competing with the well-known Bibliotheca and the official history museum, but I would like to see that change.  This is a rare and wonderful experience and if you go to Alexandria you should not miss it!  They were glad to have such obvious American tourists entering their facility.  So glad in fact they gifted me with a beautiful souvenir guidebook.

If this museum did not hold a single piece of jewelry, I would still say it is one of the best attractions I had ever visited.  The palace is just awesome – and I use the word in the traditional sense, not in the way it’s used to describe a hamburger.  I walked from room to room wishing I could live there or at least I would have had the opportunity to visit when Fatma Heidar herself called it home.  She was a several-times-great granddaughter of Mohammed Ali Pasha the Great.  I think she and I could have been great friends.

But there was jewelry, magnificent jewelry, in attractive cases spread throughout the elegant rooms.  The house looked as if they had only removed the furniture the day before.  It was easy to imagine dignitaries in gorgeous caftans and morning suits wandering around.  Among the treasures in the cases were items which once belonged to King Farouk I and his wife, the lovely Queen Farida.  Here’s a shot of my very favorite piece stolen from the gifted souvenir guidebook.  We saw it, but couldn’t get a good shot.

After a morning and early afternoon of touring, we were hungry.  Come back next week and find out what we did about it.