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.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Giardini di Augusto

The Farglioni from Gidini di Augusto

TRAVEL THERE: A MOST BEAUTIFUL VIEW

I couldn’t find much back story to Giardini de Augusto.  A rich European industrialist is responsible for its creation and it is the primary attraction in the town of Capri.  History is not all that makes a site worth visiting.  I’m glad I went.  If you get the opportunity, you should, too.

Watch for It on the Left

If you go on your own, you can probably just follow the crowds across the town to get from the Piazza Umberto I.  In the final stretch you will need to be a little more careful.

A Lemonade Stand on Capri

There’s a perfumery on this path and not far from it, this lovely lemonade stand.  Can you believe the size of those lemons?  I was told they are organic and they are the size of a grapefruit.  Once you see these two landmarks, keep a close eye on the left.  A very small entry way and an equally small bule tile sign are all that warn you that you have arrived.  I’m quite sure the small street continues to who knows where, but you want to stop at the garden.

Views to Die For

The three stone in the picture above are the Farglioni or Stacks, as seen from the Augustus Garden.  It really is an outstanding view – one you could spend a day enjoying, but it’s not all that’s there.  It’s nothing grand and expansive like Dallas’ Arboretum & Botanical Garden.  Just a verey well kpt little garden where tourists come to take pictures.

Once again, I wished to be there without the tourists.  Even though I am not a fan of lemons, I was tempted to try Capri’s version of the concoction and perhaps shop in the perfumery.  It was nice to contemplate sipping on a refreshing drink and enjoying the view.

Here’s what I mean.

More Crowds

Back to the Piazza

Paolo had cut us loose in the garden with instructions to be back at the Piazza at a certain time.  We’d lost Deb and Vik somewhere along the way and we couldn’t find them in the garden anywhere, so we had to assume they’d already headed back.  Bill and I took our leisure strolling along with the Bagleys.

We began to appreciate Paolo more and more.  We’d wondered why he’d raced at such a pace across the island, but it soon became clear.  For one thing, this sidewalk had not been nearly as crowded as we made our way to the garden.  For another, the temperature was rising with great speed.  It was downright hot.

The crowds are concentrated at the gardens and in the Piazza.  Between the two points we were able to stroll along in relative peace, even if we were very, very hot.  The town of Capri is lovely.  I wanted to linger, buy a gelato and do some shopping, but my companions just wanted to get back to the Piazza.

The line for the Funicular was still daunting!

At the Piazza the Bagleys peeled off in search of adult beverages and public restrooms.  Bill and I went to the assigned meeting spot and enjoyed the view.  Eventually, everyone was back together.  Paolo showed up with our return tickets for the funicular and told us what time to meet him at the ferry for Sorrento.

Once down at Marina Grande, we split up again.  The Bagley’s were still interested in adult beverages and I believe the girls were shopping.  Bill and I wandered down a side street and got some great pictures.  Below you’ll see a mixture of the photos we took in the Piazza and some from the charming side street.

Next we’ll take the ferry to Sorrento, so come back next week.

 

 

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.

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.

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, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Libraries, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books

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.

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

Rom & the Hantoor Tour

TRAVEL THERE: ALEX OVERTURE VIA HORSE & BUGGY

Stepping out of The Cecil on our way to the famous Library of Alexandria, we met Rom. He was waiting at the curb to offer us the services of his horse and carriage, which they call hantoor in Egypt.  The day was gorgeous – just right for taking a ride in an open buggy.  To my delight Bill was able to make a good deal with him and soon we were gliding around the streets of Alex as the horse’s hooves clip-clopped along.  

First to Fort Qaitby

Since the hotel was situated pretty much in the middle of most everything we wanted to see, we had planned on walking to most of the attractions on my list.  However, there were a few I wasn’t sure we could make it to on foot.  Fort Qaitby was one of them.  Located on a small peninsula near the ancient site of the Pharos Lighthouse, Fort Qaitby was the end of the line for Alex’s Corniche, the beautiful sandy crescent of beach along the Mediterranean.

Since the Fort was 2-3 miles away, it wasn’t that we couldn’t walk there, I was just concerned about taking the time to do so when there were so many other things I wanted to see.  Rom seated us in his buggy and took off for the fort.  This is a big time tourist locale, so there was a shopping opportunity and also a small museum inside the old English fort.  I was tempted to go in, because I love all museums, but with the Library of Alexandria calling for me, I managed to drag myself away.

We’d seen everything I was interested in seeing in just a few minutes, but then we stumbled onto a group of fishermen throwing their lines into the sea from a rocky beach on the other side of the Corniche.  Bill was fascinated.  Alex used to be a place he came on vacation and the coastal activities, like fishing and eating at fish restaurants were one of his favorite memories.  I reined in my urgency to get to the library and relished Bill’s childlike delight in the fishermen, the birds, curious cats and crashing waves.  Here’s a few pictures from our time near the fort.

Too Much of a Good Thing

After the Fort, Rom drove through a whole lot more of the rest of the city than we actually wanted to see.  It started out pretty well.  We were in the downtown area, where we got out and took pictures along the Corniche.  We saw Kom al-Dikka, some Roman ruins I’d wanted to visit, but knew we wouldn’t have much time for.  It was a great overview of the city.

Then we got into some of the residential areas and that wasn’t quite so pretty.  Alex is a city whose time has past.  While there are a few areas where there are new developments and hotels, most of it is old, peeling and falling apart.  There’s plenty of beautiful historic areas to enjoy also.  However, once you get off the main drags, things get a little scary.  The charm is completely worn off and the residents look at you with narrowed eyes, as if to say, “What in the hell are you doing here?”

We finally convinced Rom we’d seen all we needed to see.  He clicked his tongue and slapped the reins, heading towards the Library.  With the exception of the run down residential area, it had been a wonderful morning, but unfortunately, the ghetto was not the only ugly thing we were going to see that day.  When we arrived at the Library, Mr. Nice Guy Rom turned into somebody else.  He hit Bill up for a lot more money than we’d agreed to pay him for the tour.  A small disagreement erupted.  Bill paid the amount he’d agreed to and walked away, leaving a very angry Rom.  Apparently we had not committed too serious of an infraction.  We saw him later in the day and he greeted us like we were his long lost friends.

That’s all for today.  Come back next week and visit the library with us! In the meantime, enjoy some of the sites we saw on our tour.

 

 

Accommodations, Architecture, ART, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

I’ll Take a Pool With My Suite

Ready for Water Sports

TRAVEL THERE: HONEYMOON LUXURY

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

Meet in the Lobby

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

The Baron Hotel

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

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

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