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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was predisposed to love the Mena House. I’d been hearing about it for years and it sounded like my kind of place. It had historical significance and it was a luxury hotel Bill’s place of birth would make affordable. Let me tell you about it.
Arriving in Style
I will admit there is something posh about being delivered to your hotel by a private driver and car. We pulled up to the security gate to be sniffed by dogs, checked by metal detectors and generally gone over with a fine tooth comb, but our driver handled it all while Bill and I marveled at the Pyramids looming over us. I thought we’d have a view of them. I didn’t realize we’d be next door.
The lobby was opulent and we were treated like dignitaries. Being treated like dignitaries takes a little longer than just being tourists, but it was kind of fun. We were whisked to our room on a golf cart by a servile employee of the hotel and escorted around our new digs as if they rooms of the old palace, instead of the very comfortable modern room we’d reserved.
A Delicious Meal
Our next stop was lunch. We wandered across the grounds and found a nice patio restaurant which served food all day long. The prices were reasonable, the service was attentive and the food was amazing. The travel gods were shining on us.
A Free Historical Tour
As we lazed about enjoying the view our nephew Steven and his friend John arrived. They’d fallen for the 8:30 sight-seeing tour I’d rejected. While they regretted waking up early, they were very happy with their day. We decided to meet up again soon and see the free historical tour of the hotel I’d seen advertised in the lobby. The parade of celebrities who have stayed at the Mena House is pretty interesting, but not anything compared to the amount of history that has occurred since it was built in the 1800’s as a lodge for royalty.
The Rest of the Stay
The only problem we had with our stay at the Mena House is that it was too short. We loved hanging out in our room and enjoying the patio with the great view of the pyramids. We loved wandering around the hotel and grounds, photographing all the beauty both natural and man-planned. The service was amazing. The food was great – whether we were enjoying the free breakfast buffet, having lunch with a view or enjoying a Middle Eastern feast at the Khan il Khalili restaurant (named after the famous Cairo bazaar).
I have a fantasy of returning to Giza some day to see the wonderful museum being built to replace the Cairo Museum and the Mena House would be the perfect place to stay – but I doubt I could ever get Mr. Bill back to Egypt. The place he has fond memories of growing up in doesn’t exist anymore.
If you’re still hungry for more about the Mena House, watch this video. If you want to know about visiting the Pyramids, then come back next week.
Memorial Day Weekend is the official beginning of summer and I kicked off my summer with a vengeance. I abandoned my computer and headed into the streets for some fun. Come along with me.
Why Not Start Early!
My little sister, Susan, was having a birthday on the Friday before Memorial Day. There are five years between us and we are very different, so our lives don’t naturally intersect. However, that’s no reason to miss out on an opportunity to celebrate. My mother turned every event into a celebration and while Christmas got top billing, birthdays played an important supporting role throughout the year, with cameo appearances by every other event to which she could attach a gift or meal.
Mom loved the Dallas Arboretum, almost as much as she loved creating celebrations, so it was only natural for Susan and I to make a visit there for her birthday lunch. It was a perfect picture of what draws us together and how different we are. We both wanted to make the visit. We both ordered the salad trio with a glass of Pinot Grigio and we shared a piece of chocolate cake. However, while Susan was happy to sit inside and benefit from the a/c, I was longingly gazing out towards the patio, wishing I was out there. I would have also loved to spend a couple of hours wandering the gardens, but walking in the heat was not high on Susan’s list, especially when she was limping from a recent tumble. So we stopped in at the gift shop and headed towards other adventures.
Susan’s hard to fit, so I dare not buy her any clothes without her being there. To to find her birthday present, I took her to the Galleria and checked out the petite departments at Belk’s and Talbot’s. A new handbag, a pair of shorts and two tops later, she was a happy birthday girl.
My bestie usually has dance lessons on Saturdays, so I have to find other ways to entertain myself. However, her dance teachers (Yes, she has two and a personal trainer. She’s very serious about it.) were out of town, so we were able to plan a play date. Some of her office buddies were going to a Lavender Festival in Gainesville and I was invited along. We were on the road shortly after 8 and made it to the festival by 9:30. Good thing, because there was already a crowd.
Quaint is the word I would use for this festival. While it was the event’s ninth year and wildly popular, it was overly quaint for me. I think I would have loved visiting on a Saturday afternoon sans the festival, but the festival sort of gummed up the works in a higgledy piggledy sort of way.
The event was enriched by antiques, artisans and wine tastings, but the various booths seemed to have been set up without any discernible pattern. Regular readers know I’m a little on the OCD side (OK a lot) but trying to figure out an orderly way to visit all the booths was beyond my keen. There was a lavender garden, but forget pictures of Provence with lavender in bloom. Deb admitted the lavender plant in her yard had a more spectacular look to it than the whole Lavender Ridge garden.
There was a gift shop, but it was so overwhelmed by festival goers you had to wait in line to enter and once in you saw the store by waiting in the line that snaked around between the displays. There was a cafe, also overwhelmed by patrons. The only place we found that wasn’t overwhelmed was a small zoo, but I can’t tell you what animals they had, because there were no signs.
By 10:30 AM we were festivaled out and weren’t quite ready for wine tasting, which was supposed to be the next stop on the tour. We opted for the Half-Off Sale at the Cabi Outlet in Allen. That’s when the higgledy piggledy really kicked in. Deb dropped me off at the potty stop on the way in, so I hadn’t seen the parking lot. Random is the only way I can describe their parking system. They could have doubled their capacity (and this is about to become important) if they’d just been a little more organized in the way they parked cars. As we picked our way through the resulting maze of higgledy piggledy cars, I realized there was a huge petting farm with sheep, goats and chickens that we had missed completely, because it was on the other side of the parking lot from everything else.
I’m telling you, visit this place any time except their festival. We made our way out of the property and headed back to Dallas. Two roads fed into the entrance and there were cars lined up as far as we could see in both directions. I can’t tell you how far back one of the lines went, but we had to drive past the other on our return and it was at least two miles long and more cars were arriving. I’m thinking some of those people sat in line for hours and who knows if they ever made it to the entrance.
Come back next week and have more fun with us girls.
I just got back from Egypt and I want you to visit this amazing country. You’re not going to believe some of the exciting adventures I had while I was there. I hope that as you read my blog in the coming months, you’ll start planning your own trip in your head. As much as I want you to go, I have always been totally honest with you – sharing the good and the bad. So it is only fair that I start this series by warning you that Egypt is not an easy country to visit. You have to overlook a lot to see what is valuable, but there is great value. In the coming weeks I will rave about spectacular hotels and jaw-dropping sites, but I have to start here, with the not-so-pleasant reality of Egypt today.
Then and Now
This was my second trip to Egypt. The first was in 1996 when terrorism was an occasional, rather than a daily, thing and the only terror incident associated with Egypt was an attack on a busload of tourists in 1990. The world has changed a lot since then. Days before I was scheduled to leave for this trip, bombs went off in two different Coptic Churches. It didn’t stop us from going, but it did give us pause. It shouldn’t stop you from going either, but you need to know what you’re getting into.
The imminent threat of violence was the most obvious difference between this trip and the one we enjoyed twenty years ago. Security was a pervasive presence, everywhere we went – whether we were visiting a museum, an airport or a church. Every time we entered our hotel we had to put all our belongings through a scanner and ourselves through a metal detector. I was glad for the security, but saddened by the need for it.
It was the same thing pretty much everywhere we went and you just got tired of it. Take a romantic walk on the beach and come back to the hotel for a thorough search. By the time you prove you have a right to be there and you don’t have any WMD’s, the romance has dissipated. This adds to the stress of travel and distracts from your ability to really relax.
One evening we accompanied a niece and her husband to a hotel where they stayed on their honeymoon. They wanted to take a walk down memory lane. Our taxi went through one inspection at the gate to the property and we were put through a thorough search at the front door. Then as we headed out to the pool to look around, we were stopped because we were not actually guests at the hotel. We had to go to the front desk, explain ourselves, show them our room keys to a sister property in town and give them a passport to hold before we were allowed into the pool area. By the time we actually made it down there, we had more thoughts about the intrusion of security than we did Maggie and Shady’s honeymoon.
The threat of terrorism has devastated the country. Tourism has been at the center of Egypt’s economy for a very long time, but they have nothing to take its place and little with which to woo the tourists who actually show up. Yes, they have some of the most splendid sights in the world, like The Pyramids, Luxor Temple, The Valley of the Kings and such, but the hassle associated with visiting them is challenging.
I thought Egypt was the dirtiest place I had ever visited the last time I went. Well, now it is beyond dirty. It’s down right filthy and much of it has been abandoned. Whole blocks of Cairo and Alexandria’s city centers are just empty graffiti-covered buildings, surrounded by piles of trash. Everywhere we went, unfinished new construction showed signs of being abandoned years ago, when their hope of an Arab Spring turned into a nightmare. Don’t plan on wearing the same clothes over and over. A day of touring will render you and everything you are wearing disgusting. You either need to pack more or plan on a budget for laundry.
And Then There’s the People
Egyptians, as a whole, are wonderful. They are happy people who want to get to know you and they love pleasing you. They want you to love their country the way they do, but right now they are a little embarrassed – as if you caught them between working in the yard and getting a shower. They’ll point you towards the freshly planted flowers, hoping you won’t notice how dirty and sweaty they are.
However, they are also frustrated and tired. At almost every hotel we observed someone having a meltdown in the lobby and it was usually an Egyptian guest. Life is hard. The economy is impossible. Traffic is horrendous. Everything is harder to do than it should be and after a ten minute walk your white shirt just isn’t white anymore. Still, given the chance, most of them will bend over backwards to accommodate you and try to create a smile.
At the same time, we noticed there is also a trend that distances the female population from visitors. There was a greater number of women completely covered from head to toe. During our last visit, most women dressed very conservatively and the majority covered their heads, often with a bright colorful scarf. Many would be sharply dressed, while sporting a more conservative hijab. There were some who wore the more old-fashioned gallabeya and hijab, but only a rare woman was covered and veiled in black.
This time gallabeyas and hijabs were the norm. Young women wore leggings or jeans with a tunic, but the hijabs were everywhere and they were not brightly colored scarves, but solid blocks of neutral colors. However, women covered from head to toe in black were no longer rare and I noticed most of them also wore black gloves. They were moving shadows with just a sliver of their eyes showing – distant, aloof, unapproachable.
In the Cairo Museum we saw a young couple taking a selfie. The woman was completely covered in black. We wondered at the incongruity of hiding yourself and then taking a selfie. The young man’s outfit was standard casual fare, but she was covered in plain black without even a bit of embroidery. A lot of mixed messages there.
So I will tell you the story of our trip. I’ll remind you of the difficulties from time to time, but I’ll leave it to you to remember that everything was dirty, inconvenient and noisy, whether I mention it or not. Come back next week and we’ll hit the road.