Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Museums, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

The Big Travel Questions

TRAVEL TALK: HOW LONG CAN WE STAY AND HOW MUCH CAN WE SPEND?

My poor husband!  The minute we get home from a trip, I’m already thinking ahead to the next one.  I’m trying to figure out just how quickly I can get him out of town again, how long he will let us stay and how much money I can get away with spending.  So, learning that I’d just won a five day trip to a Club Med resort from CTC, my favorite travel agency, I really only had one question.  When can we go?

Which Club Med?

Sandra Rubio, my travel agent, had another question for me.  Which Club Med do you want to go to?  While there are Club Meds all over the world, our prize was limited to Club Meds in the North American hemisphere, so that made it a little easier.  Sandra talked through the choices with me and I narrowed it down to two – Sandpiper Bay in Florida and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

Well, really I wanted Punta Cana, because I’d never been to the DR, but my husband was hoping our nieces and nephews might want to come along and for them Florida was more realistic.  That would have been really fun, but when, after a flurry of phone calls and emails we realized it would be just my hubby and me, that not only decided the where, but the when.  If it was going to be a romantic getaway, then it made sense to go for our anniversary.  We had to wait several days for our preferred dates to be approved, but once they were, we were set to go in May.

Let the Research Begin

Once I’ve pegged down a date, a destination and have an idea of the budget, travel planning really begins for me in earnest, but this trip was very, very different.  I am the Museum Girl.  Punta Cana is not exactly a hot bed of museums.  Punta Cana doesn’t even have one museum.  I couldn’t figure out what I was going to do with myself.

I went to the Club Med website.  It had lists and lists of activities, but they were very active activities, like water sports, golfing, archery and tennis.  That’s not exactly my cup of tea – and yes, I know I’m weird.  There were also amazing pictures of beaches and swimming pools.  That’s not exactly my cup of tea, either.  Yes, I know that makes me even weirder, but it began to dawn on me that I’d just signed up for five days of relaxation and I really don’t know how to do that.

And Then There was Airfare

While everything about our five days in Punta Cana were covered, the airfare was up to us.  We really didn’t think that was such a big deal until we tried to book our flight.  The first big surprise was the number of dollar signs.  I mean the Dominican Republic is just right there on the other side of Cuba.  Why did it cost such a fortune to get there?

The next big surprise was the big, huge price gap between Spirit Air and every other airlines in the world.  It was such a substantial amount that we never actually considered one of the other airlines, but we were a little stuck, because we didn’t think we were Spirit Airlines’ target customers.

It took us a little while to wrap our minds around it, but we booked our airfare to Punta Cana on Spirit.  And then the great wait began without a single museum to research.  Friends who were aware of our upcoming trip would ask if we were ready to travel .  I would smile, shrug and say something pleasant like, “Of course,” “Can’t wait,” or “Sure,” but I wasn’t so sure I was ready for five days of uninterrupted relaxation.

DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Thank You CTC!

TRAVEL THERE: FIVE DAYS IN PARADISE

Whew, we’re finally through with Egypt.  I was there for only a few weeks, but I blogged about it for months on end.  We recently also finished up a series on Mondays about our disastrous cruise on Royal Caribbean, so on Mondays I’m back to sharing tips on visiting Dallas, whether you live here or are planning to visit here.  On Wednesdays we are about to travel to the Dominican Republic.

Chasing Dreams

Next year is our 25th wedding anniversary and while I’m not quite ready to share our plans for that just yet, let me tell you what happened when I visited a travel show last January.  I thought all we’d be doing for this year’s vacation time was taking a cheapie cruise for Bill’s birthday and taking a road trip to Michigan to visit family, but I was looking ahead.

My travel sights were firmly set on, on next year’s plans.  My husband had nixxed my idea of having a vow renewal in our backyard and supplanted the backyard ceremony with a much bigger idea.  If folks have destination weddings, why couldn’t we have a destination vow renewal on board a cruise ship in the Mediterranean?

So when my friends at CTC announced their annual travel show, I circled the date on my calendar and called up my bestie, who is my travel show buddy.  I also suggested that hubby might want to join us for some of the seminars so he could be on the same page with me.  Everything was set for a travel-intensive day of cruise shopping!

Great Travel Show

I love travel shows, but my favorite is CTC’s, because Sandra Rubio, my travel agent, is always there.  She knows me.  She gets me.  She knows our budget.  She knows my husband and my bestie.  She knows my wish list and preferences.  Dreaming about travel is fun whether the dream is a road trip to Oklahoma or a safari in Kenya, but making my travel dreams come true means talking to Sandra.

Like most travel shows, CTC has table after table of travel vendors all touting their wares.  Some travel shows also have celebrity guests to address a wide variety of travel topics, but primarily try to convince you to watch their shows, visit their website, read their blog, follow their social sites and/or buy their books and travel accessories.  That’s not what CTC does.

Instead, CTC has travel professionals come in and participate in very information-rich panel discussions.  I love me some Samantha Brown, but she doesn’t get down in the dirt with me and discuss trends in cruise cabins or how an ocean-going cruise differs from a river cruise and how they both stack up to a resort vacation.

A Few Weeks Later

If you are a regular on my site, you may even remember the post I wrote about this year’s show.  We’d already booked Bill’s birthday cruise, so when Sandra left me a message a few weeks later, letting me know she had some good news, I was hoping for a cabin upgrade.  Little did I know the news was way better than that!

As we’d entered the travel show, we’d dutifully signed up for the drawing.  In past years, I’ve won golf caps, totebags and other travel chotskies.  Throughout the day they write the winning ticket numbers on a white board, so as I go back and forth between the seminars and the vendors tables I always take a peek at the board.  This year I hadn’t been very lucky.  No chotskies for me.

As we left the show, one of the travel agency employees encouraged us to check the board and we assured her we’d been doing that all day to no avail.  She handed me a nice Royal Caribbean backpack and I was happy as a clam.  Heck, I was already thrilled with the huge stack of cruise brochures I had scored at the vendor tables.  The backpack was mere lagniappe.

Sandra left her message one busy afternoon and while I was intrigued, I wasn’t intrigued enough to drop what I was doing and call.  She called me again early the next day.  I could tell she was excited about something, but I didn’t suspect a thing. In fact, I had taken her call, but I had about three other things on my desk that really had my attention.

Then she told me I had won a vacation!  And not just any vacation but a five day stay at our choice of Club Meds in the North American hemisphere.  I hope Sandra understands how sorry I am for breaking her eardrum when she gave me the news.  After verifying several times that I wasn’t dreaming, I jumped out of my desk chair and ran down the stairs, squealing the news to Bill.  There went the other eardrum.

Thanks CTC and Sandra Rubio.  I loved you guys anyway, but this trip sure made me happy!  come back next week and I’ll tell you all about it!

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

It’s Time to Go

TRAVEL THERE: HEADING HOME IS ALWAYS GOOD

Just a few hours and Egypt will be in our rear view mirror.

Final Moments

When we left Mokattum Mountain, Izzat dropped us off in Bill’s sister’s neighborhood.  Mona had made one of her feasts for us to enjoy when we dropped by to say farewell.  We had a sweet visit with her and then it was time to go.

Somewhere along the way on that final day, I managed to leave my hat behind.  Perhaps it was in the Uber vehicle we took to get back to the Fairmont.  I sincerely regret that, because it had been a loyal servant on the Danube cruise and on this trip.  I’ve missed having it for several trips since.  I also donated my prescription sunglasses to the country earlier in the trip.

I’ve already shared the frustration of our last night at the Fairmont, so no need to revisit that.  Izzat was there the next morning to take us to the airport.  I felt like I was saying good-bye to an old friend.

At the airport, some of the towel-clad pilgrims we’d seen on our arrival were also departing Egypt.  I’m not sure what the trip was supposed to imbue them with, but love and respect for their wives doesn’t seem to be one of results.  I watched a man and a boy in their white terrycloth outfits stand to the side with their arms folded as their mother/wife pulled huge suitcases, too large for her to handle, from the security table to a cart and then struggle again to get the cart going in the right direction.

I would have sent Bill to help her, but he was already on a mission of his own.  A group of giggling ladies in pilgrim caftans and hajibs needed his help with the elevator.  They’d never been on as escalator or an elevator.  They were terrified of the escalator, but baffled with the controls of the elevator.  I was proud of him for helping them, but wished he could have embarrassed the towel-clad men by assisting the floundering woman.  The pair had looked so smug.

Traveling Companions

Miriam and Bassem were taking the same flight as we did to the States.  Bassem wanted back-up in case Mariam had any trouble in Customs.  We breezed through the London airport with no trouble at all.  At DFW, US Passport Control did bring Mariam in for a short interview, but it was very cursory.  Then they grabbed a rental car, because no one sedan was going to hold all the luggage for four people, especially when one of them was moving here.

And then we were home.  My bestie had kept my cat for me, so we were eager to go claim her.  Mariam and Bassem stayed with us a few days, because Bassem had only bought tickets back to Dallas, not on to LA.  Too soon they’d made arrangements to go home and we were all alone – just us and the cat.

It was quiet and a bit lonely after so many days around our dear family members.  It was a little boring too, after three weeks of activity.  It had been a great trip and like all good trips it had changed me.  I had stronger ties with my nieces and nephews and their children.  I’d overcome my fears and traveled to places the US State Department said I should stay away from.  I’d been in one of the poorest neighborhoods I’d ever visited and discovered that its inhabitants were more joyful and thankful than my affluent neighbors in my golf course community. We will probably never travel to Egypt again, but that’s OK, because now Egypt is in my heart.

Architecture, ART, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Miracle at Mokattum

TRAVEL THERE: HUMBLED BY THEIR HUMILITY

There is a section of Cairo on Mokattum Mountain that is the home of the garbage people.  They are outcasts of polite society.  It’s enough that they are garbage collectors, but they are also Christians, almost 100% of them, and in a predominately Muslim country, that too is a problem.  Yet rarely have I been in a place with as much joy.

Curiosity Got Me There

Sometimes in Egypt it’s hard to discern what is fact and what is just tradition.  Take the Pompey Pillar in Alexandria for instance.  Everybody knows the pillar has nothing at all to do with Pompey, yet his name continues to cling to it.

Mokottum mountain has a lot of traditions attached to it, not just the story of the Coptic pope with the faith of a mustard seed, who got the mountain to move.  The name of the mountain, which means “broken mountain,” is considered proof of …I’m not sure what to call it – event, miracle, legend, tradition.  I’ve also heard a story of a Bible being found floating in the Nile opened to a particular verse which led to  the location of this church – or another church.  The details are fluid.  With so much smoke about Mokattum, I wanted to check out the fire.  

Mokattum Church

The Zabbalene (garbage collector) neighborhood of Cairo is not a garden spot.  It has a very distinctive, unpleasant and fetid odor in the air.  As we rolled through the area the reason became apparent.  Huge piles of garbage sit everywhere, waiting to be sorted through.  Someone opened the garage-like door of a warehouse as we drove by.  Inside were more mounds of garbage, which I presume were more valuable than those which sat in the open air.  At this point in the tour I was still a curious tourist.

We arrived at the entrance of the church and joined a small group being lectured to by someone from the church.  Izzat and Zuzu disappeared for this part.  At first it was the usual tour guide stuff.  This guy started this church this way in this year.  We have this many members. 

The facts buzzed around my head as I followed the guide from one area of the church to another.  I shifted from listening to observing.  This guy was neatly groomed, but it was obvious his outfit came from the piles of garbage.  He could have used a haircut, but you could tell he had a self assurance and self esteem many pampered US teens could benefit from.

I also saw joy.  He loves his church.  He was so excited to share each and every piece of information with us.  He was so proud of the carvings on the wall.  He is in awe of the huge number of people who show up each week to worship.  It’s the largest church in the Middle East.

His joy was not just associated with the church.  His personal testimony is that God loves him, protects him and provides for him.  He is so grateful to be a part of the Body of Christ.

I saw how I must look to him – a privileged tourist.  Imagine how many meals, how much education, how much medical care and other basic needs could be filled with the money Bill and I had spent to be right there at that time.  He had every reason to resent me and my intrusion into his life, but instead he was thrilled we had shown an interest in his community.  He hoped we’d come back and worship with him.  We spoke to him briefly to tell him how much we admired the church and were humbled by his joy.  He spoke to us as an equal, holding his head high and treating us like a fellow brother and sister in Christ.

After the tour, Bill visited the restroom and could not resist taking this picture.  It broke our hearts.  I thought of all our country club mega-churches with our slick-talking celebrity pastors.  I thought of the people who prefer to participate in ministries that will take them on vacation mission trips.  I thought of all the $1-3 donations people thoughtlessly tack onto their grocery bill or pet shop total, and then forget about by the time they get to their car.  I thought of all the money we spend on saving cats and dogs, when these people so desperately need a little saving.  How in the world does that stack up to the needs of those in Mokattum?

Those garbage collectors have it right and I admire them.  I walked away from Mokattum Church a little different than I arrived.  The guide’s love and acceptance of me expanded my own heart a little bit.  I didn’t come home and sell everything that I have, but I’ve got a new understanding of the joy of the Lord and I’m trying to practice it with the same abandon as my brother in Mokattum.

It was on odd place to go for our final tour in Egypt.  Luxury hotels, museum visits, yacht trips and a city of garbage collectors.  Next week, I’ll share our last few hours in Egypt.  I’m writing this particular post on a pretty day in February, knowing it will be posted in August, and that’s a little weird.  Who knows what adventures will follow this blog series!

Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Our Last Day of Cruising

TRAVEL HERE: A DAY AT SEA

For me, travel is usually about going somewhere.  I’m interested in seeing wonderful things and doing things I’ve never done before.  But this cruise was a little different.  It was supposed to be about relaxing and indulgence.  Maybe that’s why I resented the poor food quality.  Our last day really was a day devoted to relaxation and we had a good time.  Join us as we enjoy the ship.

AM Less Than Routine

I started the day in the gym and then returned to the room, so Bill could join me for our sit-down breakfast in the dining room.  That was an event!

The focus of the day was on chocolate, so I ordered the chocolate pancakes, but was delivered plain old buttermilk pancakes.  I’m usually the last person in the world to send something back, but I didn’t want to waste calories on just any pancake.  If I’m being bad, then I wanted to be exactly the bad I have chosen, not the bad someone else chooses for me.  However, that was merely a blip on the screen of the morning event.

As part of the chocolate extravaganza they were calling breakfast, a waitress came by with a tray of chocolate shakes.  That’s not usually a part of my breakfast, but I thought I’d try one.  Before I could take my first sip, there was a huge clatter.  The tray and most of the glasses were on the floor and many of the glasses shattered.  Infinitely worse was that most of the shakes ended up all over the man at the head of the table.

I would like to give big kudos to this guy.  I would have jumped up and screamed.  This man didn’t make a peep.  He merely stood up, wiped away as much as he could and then walked away to change.  WOW!  When he came back, he took his seat and finished his breakfast – also without a peep. More WOW!

His wife was a little more chatty.  While he was away we learned this was the first “real” vacation they had ever taken.  Always before they’d used their vacation to do good works.  She didn’t indicate whether their trips had been humanitarian and/or faith-based, but it doesn’t matter.  How amazing for them to give of themselves in that way!  What’s sad was that this cruise had not allowed them to enjoy themselves the way it should have.  She didn’t complain about the food or the mediocre quality of the entertainment.  She only said they’d had a lot of trouble and only that morning they’d finally been moved to another cabin.  (She didn’t say why and when asked she didn’t want to discuss it, but I’m thinking bedbugs or mold.  What do you think?)

The Balance of the Day

So, after our exciting breakfast, Bill wanted to give the rock-climbing wall a shot.  He’d loved rappelling when we were on Norwegian, but this boat only had the climbing wall.  Still, Bill suited up and gave it a try.  He made it pretty high up the wall, higher than anyone else did while we were there, but didn’t get to the top.  I pointed out that he’d chosen the toughest part of the wall to climb – it actually leaned outwards, but he couldn’t be convinced to give it another try.

Next up was some pool time, but we didn’t want to fight the constant noise and party next to the main pool.  Instead, we found our way to the Solarium pool and did a little relaxing.  I’m not a big swimmer, but I did enjoy some time in the hot tub.  Then I did a little poolside lounging.

At lunch we had the pleasant opportunity to reconnect with the nice lady we’d enjoyed at the first breakfast and this time she was with her husband.  We enjoyed their company so much that we were the very last people left in the dining room.

Then it was time to get our bags repacked.  We’d have to put the big bag out before bedtime.  When that was done, I washed my hair and spent some time relaxing, while Bill battled the stock market.

The final show may have been the worst entertainment of all.  This was a tribute to Broadway, but I’m not sure how much honor it showed to that wonderful institution.  They did the opening prologue to Cabaret, but opened the curtain on songs from Chicago.  I found that disconcerting, but not as bad as using the lyrics from famous Broadway songs with mediocre melodies.  They weren’t even bad arrangements of Broadway tunes, just a totally different song with the famous and familiar words.  It was also the production with the worst prop-dropping and zigzaggedy, uneven lines.  What a disappointment.

I don’t have to tell you that dinner was mediocre or breakfast downright bad.  The disembarkation went pretty smoothly, but we did seem to be in the line with all the troubled documentation.  (Why hadn’t that been caught embarking, rather than at the end of the cruise?)  Soon we were on our way home and were we ever glad to be heading back.  Usually there’s a little regret, but not this time.  We just wanted off that boat and back into our home!

As I write this final blog about this cruise it’s early March.  The previous week I had finished up with the posts about Egypt and they will take you into August, but right this minute I can’t guess what I’ll be writing about for my Monday blogs.  We’ll just have to see what kind of adventures I will get into.

 

 

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.

ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

We Won the Love & Marriage Game Show

TRAVEL THERE: ONE OF LIFE’S MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENTS

On Tuesday night when we saw the Perfect Couple Game Show, they mentioned they would be having a Newlywed-type Q&A game on the following evening. Bill suggested we should try out for it and I thought he was crazy, especially after I had seen what they put the Perfect Couples through.  They mentioned the game again at the Elton John Tribute show and Bill was even more adamant about participating.  I thought there was no way they’d choose a couple of oldsters like us, so I didn’t worry too much.

Killing Time 

We mentioned Bill’s desire to be in the game show at dinner time and our table mates promised to cheer us on if we did indeed end up as contestants.  We had some time to kill before the show once dinner was over, so we took the opportunity to visit some of the places on board that we hadn’t yet seen. 

One of the biggest disappointments was the Viking Crown Bar.  The Bar was the highest venue on the ship and was reported to have the best views.  The specialty sushi restaurant was up there and  I also saw they had late night disco action up there.  It was a beautiful bar and the view was amazing, but there was virtually no one up there enjoying it.  We can’t say whether the disco party heated the place up or not, because by then we were always in bed.

Reporting for Duty

After a little more strolling, it was time to get to the Masquerade Theater so we’d be considered as one of the contestant couples.  Some of the couples who were interested in this game show had been contestants in the Perfect Couple Game the night before.

The Love & Marriage Game had a twist.  One couple was a pair of newlyweds honeymooning on the boat.  Another couple was chosen because they had been married longer than anyone else in the theater.  There was stiff competition to fill that middle spot.

Bill and I stood in a line up of prospective couples and they had all the couples give one other a big kiss to demonstrate how much in love we still were.  Bill wrapped his arms around me and laid one on me.  To make it more fun I wrapped a leg around him.  The crowd went wild and we were chosen to be the middle couple.

The actual game was exactly like the Newlywed Show.  First they took the guys backstage and asked the women the questions.  When they brought the guys back out, Bill and I got every question right. Then they sent the women backstage and asked the guys the questions, but whereas the ladies’ questions had been pretty tame, they heated it up for the guys questions.  We missed one that time – something about what feature the guys had been attracted to when they first saw us.  I answered, “My butt,” because that’s what Bill has told me for years.  He’d been a little bashful about answering so specifically and had said it was my whole body.

Then they asked a question which was not something I really wanted to talk about on a stage, in a theater full of people, so I’m certainly not going to discuss it in print, but we got it right.  They made a big hoopla about us winning, but when they brought out our gifts, the other couples got the same thing, so there hadn’t been a real prize for revealing our deep dark secrets.  However, we were certainly celebrities on the ship for the rest of the cruise.

Then as we were about to leave the stage, they wanted our room number so they could deliver a DVD of the event to our cabin.  Oh, no!  I realized they had recorded the game and there was no end to the people who might watch it.  Then they said they’d be showing it on the on board information channel.  They did, because I watched- and no I won’t be posting the video!

One day left!  Come back next week and see how we spent our last day at sea.

 

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

The Hanging Church & Abu Sarga

Courtyard of the Hanging Church

TRAVEL THERE: WONDER OF WONDERS

OK.  Get ready!  This is big.  The Hanging Church is a pretty marvelous place, but wait until you hear about Abu Sargus.

Why Is It Called the Hanging Church?

When you don’t know something, your brain can make up weird stuff.  I figured it was called the Hanging Church because they used to hang people there.  I was wrong.  It’s called the Hanging Church because of the way it hung over the city like a mirage, in the days before sky scrapers.

This church was one of the most pleasant tourist destinations we visited.  The Old City was not crowded and as you can see by the picture, this is a very lovely place.  The walls have pretty murals depicting the most significant events in Cairo’s Christian Community.  More about that later.

Abu Sargus

I have to confess to you that I’m not big on relics.  I’ve seen more bones, scraps of fabric and hair than your average traveler, because I’m always interested in churches and many churches are interested in relics.  Even palaces, like the Hofburg in Vienna, have their relics.  In fact, I probably saw more relics in one place in the Hofburg’s Treasury than I have seen in any church.

I feel the same way about religiously significant locales.  While I would like to go to Israel, I’m convinced that most of their religious sites are not sitting in the right place at all.  In most cases it is the traditional location, not the actual location and knowing there is a difference bugs me.

So, while I had probably read something that told me what I was about to see in the basement of Abu Sagus, known as the Cavern Church, it really hadn’t registered with me.  I just marked it up to, uh huh sure, would you like a piece of the True Cross?  

Hanging Church Mural of the Holy Family traveling to Egypt

Jesus in Egypt

Now we all know the story of the angel appearing to the Wise Men and warning them not to return to Herod after they had seen the Christ Child.  We know how Joseph, Mary and Jesus escaped Bethlehem to avoid the Massacre of the Innocents.  We all know that the Holy Family went to Egypt, but have you ever thought about where in Egypt they went?  OK, me either.  I assumed it was some cave or small town.  That’s what you get for assuming.

So, if you are a Jewish Family looking for a place to wait out a bad political situation, wouldn’t you go find some other Jews to hang out with?  And wouldn’t you look for a community where you could ply your trade?

To this very day, Jewish families tend to gather in the same area, near their synagogue of choice – especially observant Jews and those who practice the Orthodox tradition.  Wouldn’t the Holy Family do the same thing?  And where was there a significant Jewish Community and synagogue in Egypt?  Well, Cairo, of course, and for good measure it was supposed to be built on the spot where Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses.

We went down to the basement and there was the remains of a two room house, but this wasn’t just any house.  This was where the carpenter Joseph lived with his wife Mary and the Christ Child.  OK, so it it the traditional two room house where Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived, but this space is more believable to me than most of these types of locations.

Oral histories are very strong in Egypt.  I can see the Gospel writer Mark arriving in Cairo sharing his testimony.  Someone says, “Jesus of Nazareth?  His dad was my family’s carpenter!  You say He’s the Messiah! Come on, they went to my synagogue.  I can show you the very house they lived in.  He died on a cross and was resurrected?  Well, I’ll be!”

Without the Jerusalem Temple crowd, who did everything they could to wipe out any hint of a Messiah, I can see the Egyptian Jews accepting this information.  Especially since along with the tradition that the family lived in the neighborhood, there are stories of events which demonstrated Jesus was known as someone special, even as a child. Our Muslim guide considers it common knowledge, more than a mere rumor or tradition – just short of a scientifically proven fact.

We don’t get this, because here in American we’ve only been around for a few centuries.  Egyptians talk about ancient Pharaohs like we talk about our 2nd cousin on our mom’s side.  We might not know them personally, but we know about them.  So can I prove Jesus lived in the basement of the Abu Sargus before there was a church there.  No, but it seems reasonable to me.

Come back next week and we’ll see some more of Old Cairo.

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

Sightseeing in Cairo

TRAVEL THERE: SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST?

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

A Long Wait

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

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

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

The Cairo Museum

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

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

 

Old Cairo, Finally!

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

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

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

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

Yucatan Adventure

TRAVEL HERE: DISCOVER THE YUCATAN & THE MAYAN WORLD

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

Progresso, Mexico

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

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

How do you spell relief?

On the Bus

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

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

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

On to Dzemul

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

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

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

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

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

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