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.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Cruising the Nile Like a Queen

TRAVEL THERE: THE PHARAOH’S DINNER CRUISE

Moksen, my nephew Bassem’s new father-in-law, invited us to be his guest on an early Nile Dinner Cruise.  He’d enjoyed our hospitality on a visit to the States and was eager to return the favor.  He returned the favor in spades!

An Early Arrival

Since we’d allowed plenty of time to visit the monastery during our trip from Alex to Cairo, we were early to the cruise.  Izzat entertained us a little by driving us around the elegant neighborhood near the dock of the boat, but that didn’t take very long and we really didn’t have time for anything else.  Hence we arrived at the boat long before anyone else – and what a boat!

I’m telling you Cleopatra would have been thrilled to take a cruise on this boat.  The photos really don’t do it justice, but the boat was covered in gilded pharaonic decorations.  The waiters wore the same garb as Cleo’s servants would have worn.  All that was missing was getting fanned by ostrich plumes and I have a feeling if I’d asked for it, they would have been able to comply with my wishes.

An Excellent Meal

If you remember any of the details about my nephew’s wedding and reception, then you know that no expense was spared.  This dinner cruise was similar – the best of the best. 

While we waited for our party, I checked out the restroom facilities and they were much improved over our roadside stop.  Then we wandered around the boat checking out every elegant detail.

Before long Moksen and his lovely wife Shahira, first on the left side, were coming aboard and the party started.  It was a huge, delicious meal and I was thrilled to be with my family once again.  

Once we’d eaten our fill (and a little bit more) we all wandered outside to enjoy the view from the decks.  Our hosts had invited us to the early cruise – about 2:30 – and this allowed us to see Cairo in all it’s daytime glory.  I’m sure the evening experience is romantic, but I would not have traded our daytime views for anything.

I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to enjoy this amazing trip.  It seems as if every time I travel I say, “This was the trip of a lifetime,” but each time it seems true.  From family tours of historic American sites when I was a child to wandering through the English countryside in my twenties to the Danube Cruise I took in 2016, they are all singular experiences many people never get the opportunity to enjoy.  This trip was no different.  Each day was an absolute wonder.  It has taken over a year to share it with you, but it is finally drawing to a close.  Only one more full day to share and then we’ll have to see what our next adventure will be.

Enjoy and come back tomorrow for our return to the Fairmont.  The second time around was a little more problematic that our original stay!

 

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.