Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Alex to Cairo with Detours

Farewell to the incongruities of Alex. McDonald’s Delivery Bikes at the Montazza

TRAVEL THERE: ROADSIDE DETRACTIONS

Our time in Egypt is coming to an end.  We are on our way back to Cairo from Alexandria.  We had a couple of detours, but made it in time to get on the boat for a family celebration.  Come along for the ride.

Alex to Cairo

After our visit to the archaeological sites in Carmous, we’d planned to take in another important historical contribution to Egypt’s culture.  The early introduction of Christianity to Egypt had an interesting by-product.  Egyptians eagerly embraced monotheism and added their own particular brand of devotion – monasticism.   Egyptian monastic aesthetes  led the the way in creating places for men and women to withdraw from the world and serve Jesus Christ.

That was the plan, but then there were the Good Friday massacres.  In response to these horrific bombings, the Roman Catholic pope was going to make a visit to Egypt – unprecedented in modern times.   This was good news for Christianity in Egypt, but it had some side effects.  One of them was the closing of the monasteries to outside visitors in the days leading up to the visit.

In true Egyptian fashion, we had to arrive at the gate of the monastery to find out they were closed, but it was a nice detour.  We got off the main road to travel through some rural areas and small towns on the way to the monastery.  It was the Muslim holy day and it was great to see all the white clad men in their caftans and turbans walking to their place of worship.  I rode along thinking about the juxtaposition of these two forms of worship.  Then we got to the gate and discovered what had seemed like such a tranquil setting was actually hiding the age old conflict between Christian and Muslim.

Our Potty Stop

So, we’d enjoyed the restroom facilities near Pompey’s Pillar.  I assumed I’d be able to visit the restroom again at the monastery, but we were turned away at the gate.  Religious differences aside, I needed a toilet.  Besides the obvious issue, I had another problem.  Women are supposed to wear long sleeves at the monastery and if they are wearing a skirt, it should be long and there should be no bare legs or feet.  In other words I was about to burn up.

Izzat didn’t seem real happy about finding a restroom for us to visit, but as always he assured us he would take care of our needs.  Did you ever see the movie Deliverance?  Well there was no river with wooded shores when we stopped at a roadside convenience store, but I could have sworn I heard the soundtrack playing – just not on the banjo.

I made short work of my wardrobe adjustments and potty stop.  Then I high-tailed it back to the car.  I think Bill and Izzat got some snacks, but I wasn’t going to waste any time.  Izzat was a perfect driver, but he was awful at finding restrooms.  I don’t think that was from a lack of trying, but a scarcity of facilities.  We’d had difficulty with this at both ends of the trip to Alexandria.

Cairo is up next and you’ll love The Pharaoh Cruise.  See you next week

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Ancient Alexandria

TRAVEL THERE: KOM ASH SHUQQAFA, POMPEY’S PILLAR & THE SERAPEUM

We’d chosen The Cecil Hotel, because it was right on the Mediterranean and right in the middle of most of the things we wanted to see, but from my first  bits of research I knew I’d have to get to the neighborhood of Carmous somehow, because it was Ground Zero for the Greeks and Romans in Ancient Alexandria.  We scheduled Izzat, our driver to take us there on the way back to Cairo.

Kom Ash Shuqqafa

As I’ve complained about before, researching Egyptian attractions is an exercise in frustration.  You get fifteen dozen sites listing various things to see and do, but they all say the same things about them and what they say doesn’t give you much of a hint about what you are actually going to see.  The information about Kom Ash Shuqqafa let me know I really needed to see it, but I figured that out more from intuition than actual data. 

Part of the problem is that you have a hard time trying to guess what to Google.  Arabic words must be spelled phonetically and you have to guess which spelling has the most information.  Google is very good about reading your mind – until it comes to spelling, then it goes wacky.  Once I’d been to Kom Ash Shuqqagfa, I came home and found this excellent article on Lonely Planet which does a better job than I could describing it, but nothing this clear was available when I was doing my research.

Kom Ash Suqqafa is a catacomb – as in people are buried there, but that information doesn’t prepare you for what you will see.  Above ground there’s not much.  In the picture above you see some stone burial vaults, but that doesn’t begin to prepare you for the visual feast you’ll see under ground.  Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in the catacombs so I can’t show you all the wonders.  The best I can do is tell you to imagine an elaborately carved dining hall and surround it with beautiful private mausoleums.  

The entrance to the catacombs is on the backside of a small mound.  The disarray and neglect of the surrounding ground could discourage you from entering, but press on.  Unfortunately, this is not a site for the physically handicapped.  Entry is via a spiral staircase – period.  The dead used to arrive by ropes, but no special effort has been made to be accommodating to anyone.  The staircase is a bit of a challenge, so be sure to wear study shoes.  Once down there, you’ll also need to watch your footing.

We thoroughly enjoyed this site.  It was a wonder of Egyptian ingenuity.  If you want to go, it’s really off the beaten path and you’ll need to make a special effort, but I encourage anyone headed to Alex to include this site.

Pompey’s Pillar & the Serapeum

This site was also under publicized, but totally worth it.  Once you’re there, it’s a little more tourist friendly than the Catacombs.  Pompey’s Pillar and the Serapeum are what’s left of an extensive Greek and Roman architectural dig.  Sometime ago they built a walkway around the site and added signage to tell you what you are seeing.

Pompey’s Pillar was not actually built by Pompey, but the misnaming stuck. It was built to honor the Roman Emperor Diocletian, but only the historians among us actually care.  The Serapeum was the name of a Greek temple of which only a single sphinx remains. 

The attraction was a perfect way to end our visit to Alex.  A very modern Egyptian neighborhood surrounds the ancient Greek and Roman site.  For awhile, these outsiders ruled Egypt, but time defeated them and now the Egyptians have won back their territory.  The site is on a hill and from there the view is great.

Enjoy these photos and join me next week for our trip back to 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.

ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Libraries, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL

The Museums of the Library of Alexandria

TRAVEL THERE: MORE EXHIBITS THAN YOU CAN SHAKE A STICK AT

When we finally found the museums at the Library of Alexandria, we were stunned by everything there was to see.  Come along with us.

Arabian Artists

Confession:  I know little to nothing about Arab Art.  I like what I see, but I can’t name any favorite artist or tell you the life story of any of them.  In sixteen and a half years of formal schooling in the US and a degree in Humanities, that’s a pretty sad situation.  The Dallas Museum of Art’s Keir Collection is beginning to open a few doors for me on this subject, but I really do understand the blind spot in my knowledge.

This means that I had no idea of what I was looking at down in the guts of Alexandria’s famous library, but I can tell you it was beautiful.  In gallery after gallery I found plenty to enjoy.

There were sculptures and works on paper.  There were paintings, from the very modern to the very old, with a great representation of what is known as folk art, but some of it didn’t look very folksy to me.  It looked spectacular.

There was a whole gallery devoted to astronomy and scientific instruments, but they were so pretty you couldn’t believe they’d been designed for practical use.  I stood before their cases in awe of the men and perhaps women who had crafted the gorgeous items.

Perhaps my favorite section was the many examples of every day items which transcended the idea of crafts, like the lovely caftans and pottery in the picture above.  I moved from case to case wondering about the craftsmen who had envisioned these lovely pieces and envying those who had worn them, poured water from them or carried them from place to place.

There are several different galleries with a variety of Arabic names I wouldn’t even try to spell or pronounce, but I didn’t worry about the divisions.  You can’t make up for lifetime of neglected information in a few hours.  I promised myself I’d learn more about these talented artists and artisians, but on that day, I just resolved to enjoy what I was seeing.

The Sadat Museum

My ultimate destination in the Library was the Sadat museum.  This is the area with a personal touch to my favorite Egyptian, my husband.  Bill’s Uncle Raouf had been a translator for Nassar, president while Bill was growing up, but Sadat had been actively involved in Nassar’s  administration.  All of the personal items included in the exhibits of the Sadat Museum were familiar to Bill.

Bill was already hungry when we got to the Library.  He’d endured the hour of wandering around lost among the stacks.  Then he patiently stood by while I gawked at all the beautiful items in the art galleries.  The exhibits in the Sadat Museum were so interesting to him, that hunger stood still.

He lingered at each case, pointing out items similar to those in his own home.  He read headlines to me. He’d say, “We had a radio just like that.”  The suits Sadat wore were the same style Bill’s dad and uncles wore.  The newspapers documenting important events in Sadat’s life were the same newspapers Bill’s family shared around the breakfast table.  He looked for familiar faces in the photos.

I’d had a hard time finding the museums of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, but when we finally walked among these treasures, it was well worth the effort.  It would have been worth the effort if there had been no Sadat Museum, but because there was, I had a special peek into my husband’s history.  It’s something he doesn’t talk about very often, and I loved every moment of it.

If Bill was hungry when we got to the museum, imagine how hungry he was after all the time we spent there.  I collected my belongings from the area where they’d been collected and checked.  Now it was time to eat.  Join us next week as my hungry husband looks for the fish market.  In the meantime enjoy these few photos from the museums.  Unfortunately, no photos were allowed in the Sadat Museum, but there are other lovely things to see.

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

Don’t Bother Asking the Librarian

The Library of Alexandria

TRAVEL THERE: LOST AT THE BIBLIOTHECA ALEXANDRINA

So Rom the Rogue Hantoor Driver dropped us off at the Library of Alexandria.  We knew we were there, because the unique curved roof is unmistakable.  What we didn’t know was how to get inside.

A Little Signage Please

We thought we were standing in front of the Library.  Huge plate glass windows allowed us to look in, but nothing told us we needed to go around to the other side.  We did eventually find our way to the front, but that was even more confusing.

The world was lined up at a building over to the side of the Library, but nothing suggested the crowd was headed into the library itself.  Remember, I may not read or understand Arabic, but Bill does and we stood there at the curb reading every sign we could see and watching the people to figure out what they were doing.

Through trial and error (and an exasperated guard) we found out we had to join the crowd and check pretty much everything on our persons, except the clothes on our back at the place with the crowd.  Then we got the secret sauce to entering the library.  Once inside there are all kinds of signs directing you to the various stacks of books over many floors, but nothing seemed to direct us to the free museums we were there to enjoy.  Now they have great signage to the museum that has a pricey entry fee, but I wanted the free stuff.  

We even asked people for directions and they’d point vaguely in a direction which wouldn’t help at all or they’d give us very detailed directions to something that wasn’t what I wanted to see.  We were literally about to give up and walk out when I decided to see if there was any wi-fi.  Rest assured there was no signage to suggest they did, I just thought it made sense for them to have it.

VOILA!  There was wi-fi, but the first thing it told me was the exhibit I had been asking about for the last hour was closed for restoration.  It also sent me down a staircase I’d been down several times before and directed me to what seemed like a dead end.  We’d been there at least four other times.  We decided to give the dead end a try and suddenly we were in free exhibit heaven.

How to Get There

So, if you ever go to Alexandria, here’s what you do.  First, find the front of the building.  It will be on the opposite side from the part facing the beach.  Go get in the huge line at the building next to the Library.  At the counter,  hand them everything not actually connected to you and pay them whatever they want.  Move quickly during this process so you can follow the person who was in line in front of you or you won’t find the entrance.

Once in the foyer, look for a stairwell on the right side.  Go down to the next floor.  Right in front of you will be the museum you can pay to go into, but turn to your left instead.  Go to the end of the hall and turn to the right, even though it looks like you are entering a warren of offices.  If you walk down the hall past the offices, you will suddenly find yourself in a treasure trove of exhibits.  

The pictures above are all of the library proper, which you enter through many doors all along the back of the foyer.  I do recommend you take some time wandering around.  We happened upon several interesting exhibits that way, which weren’t even listed in the cornucopia of materials I’d been studying for weeks before the trip.  It’s also the only way to seem the amazing architecture of the place.  But if you want to see the free museums, follow the instructions above.

I’m all out of words today, but come back next week and I’ll share some of the marvelous things we found down in the guts of the library.

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, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Your Personal Travel Advisor

TRAVEL TALK: I’VE GIVEN MYSELF A PROMOTION

Yes, I know it’s Tuesday and I don’t usually post on Tuesdays, but Monday is devoted to a recent cruise, on Wednesdays I’m still covering Egypt and on Friday’s I share my Spot On Images post.  So what’s a girl who just attended a travel show supposed to do?  I decided if I squeaked this in here you wouldn’t mind too much.  Anyway, I’ve promoted myself from Random Travel Blogger to Personal Travel Adviser and I thought I’d tell you why.

The Travel Pros

I have a lot of respect for pros in the travel industry, but at a recent Travel & Adventure Show in Dallas, I learned I didn’t have quite enough respect for myself.  I’m not Samantha Brown.  I’m not even Josh Garcia. However, I might be more valuable to you than both of those travel pros.  While travel pros can give you some great information, they do not necessarily give you the best advice.  Let me give you an example.

Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter & CBS News Travel Editor

“Call the hotel directly and ask to speak to the MOD.” (That’s Manager On Duty for the rest of us.)  This is the advice Peter Greenberg gave to us.  He assured us this was the best way to score cheap hotel rates.

During the Q&A, the first guy to the mic challenged this advice.  He told of a call he’d made to a Las Vegas resort and the result had been just short of being laughed off the phone.  The MOD wasn’t going to be rude to a potential guest, but he wasn’t going to upgrade him to the presidential suite or comp a couple of days either.  Peter Greenberg, Emmy Award-Winning Investigative Reporter & CBS News Travel Editor has reason to expect that sort of treatment, but you and me and the guy at the mic?  Not so much.  Mr. Greenbers response?  Mumbling into the microphone about starting a conversation and moving to the next question.

Can a call to the MOD make a difference?  Absolutely.  Bill called the MOD at Egypt’s Mena House and negotiated an outstanding rate, but he had a reason to call.  Since he had an expired Egyptian passport, there was a chance he’d qualify for the resident rate.  Some hotels will, some won’t.  My charming husband called up and pumped the guy for information about the hotel, things he genuinely wanted to know, but he didn’t start with ‘give me a discount’.  Along the way he explained how much his travel-blogging wife wanted to stay there and lamented the good old days when his expired passport used to get him a reduced rate.  Before the call had ended, Bill had booked two nights at $75 a night.

So Mr. Greenberg was right about the advice, but he’d failed to share the conversation part and that had caused the guy at the mic to endure some unnecessary embarrassment.  I’ll give Mr. Greenberg a break.  He only has so much time to share his information and convince you to become a fan. I don’t have to squeeze everything I have to tell you into 30-45 minutes.  I dribble it out in 750-1000 word bites, but I’ve got nothing but time, so I can thoroughly explain exactly what I mean when I give you my opinion.

Back to the MOD thing – there could be any number of reasons to give him/her a call and see what happens.  If you’re a really patient person with a lot of time on your hands, then I recommend it heartily, but most of us just don’t have the time, the patience or the personality to charm the MOD.  I’ve tried it a couple of times and discovered the rate they offered didn’t even beat Expedia.  And that’s why I can give you better travel advice than the guy at the travel show.  I still face all the same challenges you do.

I’m More Like You Than I Am Them

One of the reasons you need to be a little suspect of travel pros is that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a tourist.  They had to give up being a tourist to become a pro, but sometimes when they are giving advice to tourists, they forget about the pure joy of travel.  They behave as if you get points for avoiding an expense.  Unnecessary expenses, sure, like taking a cab for a 10 minute taxi ride from the airport, instead of paying $79 to the resort for shared transfers.  You bet I’m taking the cab, but what’s their beef with balconies?

The new trend among travel pros is balcony bashing.  They whisper about interior cabins as if it wasn’t clear to anyone, even novices, that inside cabins are less expensive.  That’s not exactly a travel secret.  Can’t afford a balcony?  OK, but don’t let that keep you home.  By the same token, if a balcony sounds good and you can afford it, get it. Travel is not some kind of financial acuity exam.  In fact, the easiest way to ruin a vacation is to grieve over every penny you spend.  Have a budget, stay in it and then enjoy the heck out of yourself.

So, here I am, your personal travel adviser.  You either know me personally or you’ve come to trust what I say because you’ve been reading my blog for awhile.  You should at least know you can trust me more than an anonymous review on a travel site and since this latest travel show I attended, I know you can trust me more than the pros.

I plan to take my new position very seriously, so let me know how I can help you with your travel quandaries.

Accommodations, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

The Not So Cheap Cheapie Cruise

A Chilly Sail Away

TRAVEL HERE: EXTERIOR CABINS FROM $259

So Bill’s birthday was on the horizon and it was a significant number.  At dinner on a Sunday evening we discussed what to do about it and a short cheapie cruise out of Galveston seemed like just the thing.  We’d taken a Carnival Cruise out of Galveston a few years ago and had a great time.  We expected a repeat performance, with upgrades, but that’s not how it turned out.

A Quick Google

With very little ado I found a four day cruise on Royal Caribbean.  An exterior cabin was supposed to be $259.  That sounded good to Bill.  I’d warned him that Royal Caribbean had a la carte pricing and $259 was the starting point, not the final total.  He wanted a little time to think about it.  A little time turned into a day and Tuesday morning I contacted my travel agent, Sandra Rubio of CTC,Inc.

We had a little back and forth, because initially she couldn’t find the deal.  Part of the problem was that we’d waited a couple of days.  The golden rule of travel bargains is grab it as soon as you find it, but Mr. Bill isn’t made that way.  He always sleeps on decisions.  In most cases that’s a good thing and it has saved our gravy more times than I can count, but it did put a dent in our $259 (per person based on double occupancy) exterior cabin.

By Tuesday, interior cabins began at $280 and it was only $67 more for one with an ocean view, so we made the leap for an exterior cabin.  We got it for $313 each, plus taxes ($123.62).  So far so good.  We were under $750 and we were on Royal Caribbean, a line we’d sailed before and loved.

Let the Nickel and Diming Begin!

Something all cruise lines do these days is offer online sites for personal cruise planning.  Once you’ve booked they will send you a link and you can start personalizing your cruise.  Everything from bed arrangements to special events can be arranged through your portal.  It’s great for booking shore excursions, specialty dining, beverage packages and entertainment.  You can also begin to understand what you can expect once you are on board.

Not everything on the portal will cost money, but a lot of it does.  My first concern is always shore excursions.  I compare what the independent shore excursion companies offer compared to what the boat offers.  If you book independently, be sure you are using a legitimate shore excursion company that guarantees you will be back on board in time for your cruise.  Read the fine print and check out comments.

According to what you are looking for you don’t even have to book a shore excursion.  The spa and other services on board are usually heavily discounted when the boat is in harbor.  Sometimes everything you want is within walking distance of the boat.  Shop around and do your research.

What I Did

I was dying to go to Chichen Itza, one of the top archaeological sites in the world, but this wasn’t my cruise.  Bill opted for Discover the Yucatan and Mayan Culture, which was offered by Royal Caribbean.   Our only port of call was Progresso, which is a bit of a backwater in the cruising industry, so independent providers didn’t really offer much.  With a 30% discount for booking before we boarded, the shore excursions were $63 a piece.  I also purchased a beverage plan, because I can’t live without caffeine and I don’t drink coffee.  Again the pre-boarding booking saved me 30% and I had a $25 on board credit from my travel agent (see why you use a travel agent) I got a $40 package for $15.  That brought our total up to $990.74 which is almost twice the advertised $259 person price would be.   

What a bargain cruising can actually be.  If you consider transportation, food, accommodations and entertainment, you can barely stay home for $123.75 per person per day – much less travel.  So we may whine about the price a little bit, but cruising really is a big bang for your traveling buck.   

So far so good.  How did this trip almost turn into a traveling disaster?  Come back next week and we’ll talk about it.

 

ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL

My Sharm-ing Shopping Opportunity

TRAVEL THERE: A MIDNIGHT TRIP TO THE LOCAL SOUK

Bokra is a word you hear frequently in Egypt.  It means tomorrow, but just like the Spanish word for tomorrow, manana, it also means ‘maybe tomorrow or maybe never.’  Since I’d been in Sharm I’d been promised a trip to the souk to do a little shopping and this was to be our last night in town.  As the clock ticked towards midnight, my anxiety grew, but I should have realized there was no need for worry.

THE SHOPPING

Mirette made good on her promise. It was well after 10 PM, but this was Egypt, so everything was still going strong. Maggie came along, because she still had some shopping to do, too.  The sisters headed off in one direction and I headed in another with Bill. Now that my mom is gone, souvenir buying is not as urgent, but I do like to pick up something for my bestie.

We wandered the shops but I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted. I like pharaonic jewelry, but it’s no longer fashionable in Egypt. Most of the jewelry looked like pieces I could buy anywhere, lovely, but they didn’t seem representative to me. Then there would be the pharaonic section, with huge scarabs or an elaborately decorated eye, but that wasn’t what I was looking for either.  I wanted something that would be worn frequently with pride, but I also wanted it to have an Egyptian flavor.

At one of the few shops which was closed, I found a lovely piece in the window that was just what I wanted.  The shop was locked up tighter than a drum.  Some shops were sitting wide open with no one inside, but if you entered a nearby vendor would come to help you.  I looked around helplessly and complained about the shop being closed a little louder than I normally would, but I was hoping someone would hear me, and then come over to offer their services.

Mirette showed up just about then to see how we were doing and I pointed out the necklace.  Darling Mirette disappeared for a moment or two and before I knew it, there was the shop’s proprietor, opening his shop and apologizing for his absence.  I’m not sure what it took to get the man back to the shop.  Perhaps Mirette was a friend or the shopkeeper understood her husband Ayman’s influence.  Whatever it was, we were very grateful, because nothing else in the bazaar was anywhere as lovely as the necklace in the window.

Come to find out the beautiful hand-made piece was beyond reasonable. I’d picked out the necklace for my bestie, but wished for one for myself. However, the proprietor was also the craftsman and he had only made one. I can understand why, because the necklace consisted of many tiny talismans and intricate beadwork, which is why I couldn’t believe the price. It was truly a unique piece. I satisfied myself with a lovely lapis lazuli lotus pendant. Bill pointed out that I could have taken the elaborate necklace for myself and given Deb the lotus, but then that wouldn’t have been quite fair now, would it.

Maggie too, had found just what we needed and we headed back to Mirette’s house.  The young ones had been put to bed long ago by their grandparents and a group of neighbors had joined the family, sharing sheesha and laughing at one another’s stories.  Soon the shoppers were gathered around, relighting the hookah pipes and telling their own stories – in Arabic.

I hate being the party pooper, but it was far beyond my bed time and all the chatter in an unfamiliar language only made it worse.  We were traveling in the morning.  I had my bags ready, but I needed to sleep.  Mirette carried us back to the hotel and another day in Egypt ended.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

The Cathedral in Sharm el Shiek

TRAVEL THERE: SOMETHING YOU WOULDN’T EXPECT

After our amazing day on the Red Sea, it was nap time – only instead of napping, I washed my hair.  I had borrowed a towel from the room for our boat trip and the room steward (no maids) penalized me for it.  We’d started the stay with an armload of fluffy towels, but when I got back from the day on the yacht, the towel nazi had only left me one bath towel to accompany the one (I guess) he thought I was trying to steal.  It was funny how they all spoke such great English until that very moment.  Suddenly, we couldn’t communicate at all.  It was a small thing, but it left a distinctly bad taste in my mouth. 

Out for the Evening

Niece Maggie and her family invited us out for dinner.  They wanted to show us the hotel they’d stayed at during their honeymoon.  They hadn’t booked an over-the-top suite, like Bassem and Mariam were enjoying at the Baron Resort, but Maggie and Shady wanted us to share their memories.  Except for some security rigmarole going in and out of the hotels we really hadn’t had to deal with much in the way of security in Sharm.  That changed on this evening.

They let us into the hotel with relative ease, but then we wanted to go take a look at the pools – yes I said pools, as in plural.  For some reason this was a problem.  Maybe they thought we were going to try to swim.  Maybe they thought we were trying to gain access to guestrooms.  I don’t know, but they certainly didn’t want us to visit the pool.  Bill and I weren’t all that worried about it.  A hotel pool is a hotel pool – am I right?

However, it was obvious Maggie and Shady were really disappointed, so Mr. Bill went into action.  He strolled over to the desk and gave them a piece of his mind.  He told them the honeymoon story.  He told them we were Americans (as if that wasn’t obvious).  Then he resorted to pressure.  He pointed out that we were guests at their sister hotel just down the street.  He mentioned Ayman’s name.  He told them I was a travel blogger.  I’m not sure what changed their mind, but Bill had to turn his room key or something like that over to them while we were poolside.

I will admit the pools were beautiful.  Deep navy tile with white trim.  We’re still not sure exactly what they were trying to protect when they wanted to prevent our visit.  We had some dinner, which was delicious, but then they gave us the run around on paying the tab.  We had to go to the front desk to pay and then the tip couldn’t be charged on the card.  Weird.

A Real Treat

Next Niece Mirette came to take us to the Sharm Cathedral.  An exterior view is above, but it does nothing to prepare you for the gorgeous interior.  I could wax eloquent about all the details, but I will let the cathedral speak for itself.  As amazing as the visit was from an architectural and religious standpoint, what was most apparent to me was the love the people of the cathedral have for my niece.  They opened up late in the evening just so they could show us.  Everyone onsite knew my niece.  They were obviously and ostentatiously fond of her.  I was so proud of her for this.  Enjoy the beautiful cathedral, then come back next week for our final day in Sharm.