Category Archives: Road Trips

Travel by car

Midnight at the Oasis

TRAVEL THERE: CLIMB ON YOUR QUAD AND DRIVE

Imagine a sheik has invited you to his desert oasis for a banquet.  What would you expect?  What would you wear?  Well, let’s pretend my nephew Ayman is the sheik and I’ll tell you about our night under the stars.

Transportation

For this adventure we had a van, that took us to a place that rented quads to tourists.  Some of the girls wanted their own vehicle but I was content to climb up behind my hubby.  Off we went into the horizon.  In every direction it seemed there were miles and miles of sand, but straight ahead was a mountain and we headed towards it.

As we departed the rental facility, the mountain appeared no further away than the length of a football field, but as we took out across the sand, it seemed to back away from us.  At the same time, it got bigger and bigger and bigger.  The ride was a lot of fun, even if it was a little tame.  We had to line up and follow the leader.  Bill tried to jazz it up a little bit, but was admonished to get back in line and behave.  It was kind of like one of those trail rides where your horse plods along in a rut he’s trodded along for decades. You were imagining galloping along with the wind in your hair and all you got was dirt between your teeth.  On the quad you got wind in the hair alright, but you also got sand in every imaginable crevice.  Still it was fun.

The Oasis

Our destination was no oasis.  I didn’t even see a palm tree – merely a collection of tables in a nook below the mountain.  We were among the first guests to arrive.  We settled around what seemed like an advantageous table and let the evening unfold.  Service was, to say the least, slow.

While I wouldn’t say we were in a hurry, you really don’t want to leave these guys without any entertainment for very long – otherwise they will make it up.  Soon plastic cups and adult beverages came out of the bags some of the ladies had brought along.  As groups wandered in and began to fill the tables around us, our guys started providing some of that entertainment they are famous for coming up with.  Yes, that’s my husband waving the checkered scarf.

Just as night fell, the servers began to pass out platters of food.  It was, in fact, so dark that we had to guess at what we were eating.  While it was not the best food we had in Egypt, it was OK and no one got sick.  Then the entertainment began in earnest.  If you’ve been following this trip on my blog, you won’t be surprised to know there were belly dancers and sword dancers and belly dancers and fire dancers and belly dancers and native music and belly dancers and whirling dervishes.

The best part was the whirlers.  I’d seen quite a few of them by this time and pretty quickly you get down the shared repertoire.  However, these guys didn’t just whirl around on the stage and then go their merry way.  Oh no.  There was a rock ledge right behind the benches we were sitting on and suddenly we had a whirler doing his stuff right next to us.  Yes, it was pretty cool.

When the whirlers were done, the sword dancers came out and shortly thereafter it was time to drive back to the bus.  After our second quad trip, I felt grimy in places I didn’t even know were places.  We crawled onto the bus for the trip back to the hotel, but we couldn’t get into bed until we’d done something about the grime.  Sweet dreams until next week, when we’ll go yachting.

 

 

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The Best Day in Sharm

TRAVEL THERE: IT DOESN’T GET MUCH BETTER THAN THIS

Have you ever been worn out from having fun?  That’s how I felt on my third morning in Sharm.  I don’t consider myself a beach person.  I can’t just climb aboard a chaise lounge and soak in the sun.  It’s great for about 20 minutes and then I’m ready to move on.  I’d had visions of sitting on the beach dying of boredom, but so far there hadn’t been a chance for that to happen.  It wouldn’t happen on this day either.

All Aboard 

Pick up time was 9 AM Egyptian time.  We were going boating, but I had no idea exactly what that might mean.  To my delight, we boarded a yacht.  To my further delight it was a private yacht, so our family had the whole boat to ourselves.  I couldn’t imagine how much it must cost, but on this trip that was all between my nephew Ayman and my husband Bill.  I was just enjoying it all.

The scenery was gorgeous, which was a real treat, but the time with family was even more precious.  I see my husband’s relatives in fits and starts.  We spend a few days together and then go our separate ways.  The kids have to get used to me all over again every time and then about the time they think they like me, the visit is over.  By the time I see them again, they’ve forgotten who I am.  While the situation is not as pronounced with the adults, there is so much to catch up on that we never get very far past superficial conversations about current events in their lives.  This trip gave us enough time to get past all that and have really wonderful conversations about their lives.

Our boat skimmed smoothly through the sea.  I thought we were going to an island and had packed accordingly, but instead our destination was a popular diving/snorkeling site.   I had anticipated putting on my swimsuit and  strolling along the shore of the island – perhaps going even deeper in the water, but there was no way I was going to hop into the water when I couldn’t touch the bottom.  You see, I’m not a great swimmer.  There was a time I passed all the swimming and life-saving tests, but after a summer of teaching at the local pool, I quit spending so much time in the water. Bill’s family all love the water and they don’t understand, but they finally learned I’m not abstaining to get their attention and I’m very happy to observe them having fun.

In the water they went, like the near fishes they are and a good time was had by all.  Their time in the water seemed very short.  There was kicking and screaming, diving and splashing, and then they were done.

We motored away from the swimming spot and soon it was time for lunch and what a lunch – one of the best meals of the whole trip.  The trip back to dock was quieter than the first leg of the trip, but what a sweet time it was.  All of us gravitated to the bow section and sat together on cushions.  No one said much, but there wasn’t much that needed to be said.

Then suddenly everyone was up.  A school of dolphins had adopted us into their family.  It wasn’t just a short sighting, they traveled with us a long time.  Even the crew remarked on the amount of time the dolphins chose to race through the sea beside us.  Then the dock came into sight and we began to gather our things.  We disembarked and went back to the hotel.  But this was Egypt, so even though all of us were worn out from a day on the sea, plans were already being made for the evenings activities.  I’ll leave you with some photos of the return trip, but come back next week and enjoy the next events on our busy visit to Sharm.

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Travel Show Treats

TRAVEL HERE: VACATIONS START HERE

Remember when they tried to tell us travel agents were going to disappear, because everyone was going to shop for their travel online.  Well, go ahead and shop, but when it gets time to buy, call your travel agent.  They haven’t gone anywhere and they still book the greater majority of travel.  Besides that, they are free and that’s my price.  My travel agency is CTC  and my travel agent is Sandra Rubio.  Let me tell you about their recent travel show.

What I Didn’t Know

I’ve traveled a lot in my life, but it would be impossible to know everything about the travel industry, because things change all the time.  The the more you know, quite frankly, the better you will travel.  Most of the things I heard at CTC’s travel expo I already knew, but as always, I picked up little tidbits.  Some things help me get better value for my travel dollar.  Others introduce me to exciting new opportunities.

Here’s some of the new tidbits I can picked up this time:

  • BOOK CRUISES EARLY and the more you care about when, where, what boat and what cabin, the earlier you need to book.  2019 is already filling up and some of the best things in 2020 are already gone.  And the industry is very, very serious about this.
  • Yes, you can get short cruises.  Used to be the norm was 14-21 days, but that doesn’t work for Boomers or Millennials and that’s who’s driving the industry now.  There are lots of short 4-5 day cruises leaving American ports and 8-10 day cruises all over the world.
  • Say good-bye to losing your boarding card.  Royal Caribbean will be giving you a watch programmed with all your essentials.  Another line is working on a piece of jewelry that can be worn in several ways that will hold you essential info – not just your beverage program, but how you like your martinis!  Thank RFID technology.
  • Being single is becoming less of problem.  Remember those Boomers and Millennials who are driving the industry?  Well, most of them are single and even if they are not, some of them prefer traveling alone.  The travel industry has listened!  There’s an emerging market of single bookings available.  Price quoted double occupancy is still the norm, but you’re no longer required to make friends with a stranger or put up with your crazy cousin to afford traveling alone.  You’ll still have to do your homework, for now.  There are limited choices, but watch for this to pick up momentum.  For now, check out Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Cunard.
  • Get a passport!  Changes are coming.  Security and documentation for travel, even domestic travel, is quickly getting more and more demanding.  While for the time being you can still enjoy closed loop cruising or domestic flights without a passport, the clock is ticking.  They’ve got things in the works that will make flight documentation so cumbersome that you’ll want a passport – even if you’re just flying from Dallas to San Antonio for a long weekend.  And by the way, 13 airports in our world now have bio-metric security measures.  Expect it on your travels soon.
  • Thank Millennials for  community spaces in your hotel.  Have you noticed business centers have moved to the front of the hotel?  There was a time when finding the business center to check your email or send a fax (Ha! remember faxes?) meant wandering into the bowels of your hotel and you’d be very alone when you got there.  If you’ve visited a new hotel or a newly renovated one, then you’ve probably noticed bright, comfortable workspaces near the entrance.  These inviting communal spaces, the snack/wine bar and other property amenities are there to lure Millennials.  Since so many of them are self-employed, tele-commuting from home or working in other alternative spaces, they crave getting out of the four walls of their hotel room.  They want places to meet with their clients without taking them back to their room or going to Starbucks.  Their demand is our gain.  Not only is there a more attractive place to check your email, chances are there will be an inviting buzz in the lobby around 5 o’clock, the workout room will not be a grungy place where old gym equipment goes to die and who knows, there might even be grill on the patio!
  • All the new fees are not a product of your imagination – get used to it.  It started with the airlines, but it didn’t stop there.  First, it was baggage fees and box lunches.  Now, there’s fee for having an assigned seat or legroom.   Who knows when they’ll figure out how to charge you a fee for the air you breathe!  But that’s not the worst part.  The hotels, resorts, car rental agencies, tour operators, etc., etc. etc. of the world observed what the airline industry did and now you’ll find they are adding fees to their tab, too.  Tickets represent only 71% of airline revenue and with Spirit Airlines, that goes down to 60% – everything else is fees.  Hotels took in $2.7 Billion (with a B!) during a recent year and the number is just beginning to climb.  Bottom line, that online price is just the beginning.  Another reason to get to know your local travel agent!
  • New ships coming!  Cruising just gets more popular everyday.  Ninety-seven new cruise ships are scheduled to be launched from 2017-2025.  Yes, some of them are huge, like Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class, but smaller ships are wildly popular, too.  Ritz Carlton will be launching 298-passenger yachts. Emerald,a river cruising enterprise, is about to enter the small ocean-going ship market.  Celebrity is about to launch a new ship concept with The Edge.  Viking is churning out longships and small ocean-going ships as fast as it can.

That should be enough to tempt you off your sofa (even with all the fees).  So come on out and choose a vacation.  You’ll be glad you did.  Tell them Jane sent you!

 

 

 

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I’ll Take a Pool With My Suite

Ready for Water Sports

TRAVEL THERE: HONEYMOON LUXURY

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

Meet in the Lobby

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

The Baron Hotel

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

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

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

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A Museum Sort of Afternoon

TRAVEL HERE: BRIGHTENING AN OTHERWISE DREARY SUNDAY

So I was just about done with my local art museum.  Lately, every time we showed up for an exhibition, we’d look at each other and ask, “Really?”  I had already tossed the most recent renewal of membership letter into the trash, but a still small voice asked, “Do you know what special exhibitions are coming?”  I didn’t, but I assumed they’d be more of the same stuff which had been disenchanting us for a couple of years.  I was wrong.  Berte Morisot is coming!  Berthe’s exhibition won’t be here at least a year, but I couldn’t abandon the museum when they were organizing a fairly incredible exhibition.  Besides, some of the smaller productions on exhibit right now seemed of interest.  So, I renewed my membership and decided to go to the museum as soon as we could.

 All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins…or Not

Arriving at the Dallas Museum of Art on a recent dreary Sunday, I dropped by the information desk to confirm the location of the exhibits I wanted to see.  We only had two hours before closing  – plenty of time to view my wish list, but not if we wandered aimlessly.  What I did not plan on viewing was an installation created in 2016 titled All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins.  I mean that’s the same vintage as the cheap wine in the grocery store.  Galleries are where you go to see the latest in art.  I think museums should focus on more proven vintages that have been laid down for awhile.  Obviously, there are plenty with another opinion.  All the general public tickets had been sold for the day and only my membership would get us a timed appointment for that particular afternoon.

Taking the bait I bellied up to the membership desk to claim my free, timed viewing ticket.  We had half an hour until our slot so we strolled up the concourse.  We’d seen Truth: 24 Fames Per Second and didn’t need a repeat showing.  We’d also been to the latest installation in the Keir Collection several times since April.  We stuck our head in the gift shop and dropped by the small Focus Gallery exhibiting Hopi Visions.  Interesting, but not among our favorite genres, so after a few minutes we were back on the concourse.

My husband likes to touch things, so he detoured into the Center for Creative Connections.  Tagged C3, this is the area where kids of all ages can make art rather than just look at it.  We looked over the shoulder of a few budding artists, handled a few touchable objects and then returned to the concourse.  We were still a few minutes away from our designated ticket time, so we checked out the Barrel Vault.  This area is ground zero for Contemporary and Modern Art, so we don’t usually spend much time here – you know my vintage issues.  However, one of the side galleries had just what I was looking for, Edward Steichen:  In Exultation of Flowers.

Photograph from DMA.com

In Exultation of Flowers

Love a good story?  Back in the Twentieth Century an artist started painting a mural commissioned by some wealthy New Yorkers.  These members of Art’s Inner Circle knew all the best people and had their artist friend paint these friends of theirs lolly-gagging among flowers.  What’s not to love?  One wants to imagine them and their friends draped across art deco furnishing sipping cocktails and discussing the pros and cons of the completed murals – especially the one featuring Isadora Duncan in the nude.  But that’s not what happened.  By the time the murals were complete, the art patrons were in a bit of a financial bind and had to sell the apartment the murals had been painted for.  The murals were never installed and it’s been over 100 years since they were displayed together.

Enter the DMA, famous among art people today for their restoration and conservation abilities.  The DMA was commissioned to work their magic on Mr. Steichen’s murals and as part of the deal, the DMA would display the finished project.  Museum Girl loved this exhibit.  In truth, the gallery was a little small for the seven monumental murals, but they were delightful to behold, so all was forgiven.

The Psychedelic Portion of our Afternoon

My watch said it was time to view the pumpkins, so we headed to a nearby gallery.  Joining the line outside the large white box containing the installation, we listened to the instructions announced by a docent.  We’d have to put our stuff into the cubbies provided.  We’d be allowed inside the installation for 45 seconds, during which time we could take pictures, but we could not trade places with one another once the door was closed, because there was a falling hazard.  Hubby was whispering derisive comments into my ear, predicting how much we were going to hate this.

He was wrong and he was the first to admit it.  The charming time keeper engaged Bill in conversation as we waited our turn and she made all the difference.  Bill stepped in, oooh and aaaahed for 45 seconds and then we erupted into the rest of the museum.  Later he admitted it was his favorite item of the day.  I still prefer the murals, but the installation is worth at least 45 seconds of your life.

Other Things

On Level Two we found Paris at the Turn of the Century.  Featuring a few tidbits from the Posters of Paris exhibition of a few years ago, these small beauties are displayed in a tiny darkened gallery and did not evoke the joie de vivre of the full blown exhibit.  On Level Three was Art and Trade Along the Silk Road.  I’d forgotten that we’d seen it before.  It’s lovely, but we weren’t covering new ground.  From there we went on to the Reves Collection which continues to be one of our favorite things at the DMA, no matter how many times we see it.

From the DMA we wandered to East Dallas to try out Smokey Rose.  Great ribs, great atmosphere and we can’t wait until the weather is better to try out the patio, but the brisket and mac-and-cheese were less than amazing.

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Broadway on the Red Sea

TRAVEL THERE: WHAT’S NEXT SHARM?

I’m in Sharm el Sheik, a resort town on the Red Sea, and it’s past my bedtime.  I’m stuffed into the back seat of my niece’s car trying to stifle my yawns.  My husband is in our nephew’s car at some other location.  Our niece and nephew are on the phone discussing what we should do next.  It’s all in Arabic, so even though the whole conversation is on speaker phone, I have no idea what is going on.  Some resolution is made and we zoom across town to our next destination.  It might be late at night during the week, but you wouldn’t know it from the festival atmosphere.  Why all these people prefer to wander around inland,when there is a perfectly good Boardwalk on the Red Sea, just a few blocks away, I will never know.  That was my big question over the next few days as we scurried around trying to entertain ourselves.  Why were all these venues spread out all over town, when it had been so perfect to have everything right there at the beach?

Going to the Mall

Our destination was a mall, but is wasn’t like anything we have in Dallas.  Here in Dallas we are serious about shopping.  There they also shop.

My niece found parking, a constant challenge, as she continued her phone conversations, probably with her sons, who were wandering the city on public transportation.  We piled out of the car and reunited with our spouses.  All of us stomped through a virtually empty shopping center and I wondered where we would end up.  Don’t get me wrong, the place was beautiful with all kinds of lovely stores, but most everything was closed and it looked like a ghost town.

After what seemed like a long trek, across esplanades, around grand staircases and through narrow hallways, we arrived to the middle of everything, a large open-air patio, full of patrons smoking sheesha and enjoying a lively stage show.

My nephew Ayman started working the room and magic started happening – something I saw a lot of over the next few days.  Though it seemed our big group would have to break up into smaller bunches to enjoy the show, it was only an illusion, because we had Ayman.  Like the Red Sea parting, a large space opened in the center of the crowd and chairs began to appear out of nowhere.  In just moments our entire group was seated in the center of the action.

Drinks, food and hookahs were ordered and we sat back to enjoy the show.  The only problems were a few mosquitoes and the fact that I was about to fall asleep, but those were minor irritations.  The stage props suggested the show had a Broadway theme, but don’t let that fool you.  It was all the usual Arab entertainments, belly dancers, whirling dervishes, belly dancers, a magician, belly dancers, swords, belly dancers – well you get the picture.  I’ve included some photos below.

When the show was over we gathered up our belongings and headed back to the hotel.  This day, which had seeped over into the next, was over.  Within a few hours, we’d be climbing into another vehicle for our next entertainment.  Enjoy the images below and come back next week for more Sharm.

 

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Charming Sharm

Off to the Desert

TRAVEL THERE: ADVENTURE PACKED DAYS

In Sharm el Sheik I took off my Museum Girl hat and embraced the Egyptian way to vacation.  As far as I’ve been able to discern, there’s not a single museum in the area.  It’s completely given over to entertainment venues and various sports rentals, from scuba gear to dune-buggies.  I can’t give you any real travel hints, because my nephew Ayman planned and booked everything.  I’d just show up in the lobby at whatever time I was told to be there and climb into whatever vehicle had been provided for our transportation.  

A Tiny Drip of Disappointment

View at the Sharm Marriot

The moment I arrived in Sharm I was ready to hit the Boardwalk and Corniche.  Some of my fondest memories of my previous visit were created there.  Each night we’d stroll along a thriving beach scene.  On one side was the beach and on the other was a line-up of amazing entertainment provided by various hotels.  At one venue you’d see a magician, next would be a belly dancer, then a singer, then a cultural variety show, then a comedian, then haunting music by a band of natives, then – well you get the picture.  And food – oh my goodness!  Each restaurant was bustling and at each one the cuisine tasted better than the one before.  I so wanted to re-live those nights of romance and excitement.

When we arrived at our hotel, the one we’d stayed at previously for old times sake, Bill was ready for a nap.  I unpacked our bags and set up the room for our stay.  Then I visited our balcony and enjoyed the view.  We were right by the pool and beyond the pool was the Red Sea.  Along with his nap, Bill was expecting a call from the family to give us the scoop on the evening’s entertainment.

Trying to make the best of a sad situation and really bad hair!

Finally, Bill woke up and initiated the call himself, because I was about to explode.  We’d be joining the rest of the crowd a little later, but first we’d have dinner on the Boardwalk.  The Arab Spring might have improved Egypt’s political situation, releasing them from the tyrannical Mubarek, but it also destroyed Sharm El Sheik.  What had once been a thriving international hot spot was transformed into a ghost town of empty restaurants with an occasional entertainer playing to an empty room. It broke my heart.  The lesser of the pathetic evils seemed to be an Italian joint, but it was bad service and bad food to go with my bad hair!

Let the Fun Begin

Heart-broken we returned to the hotel and went to the hotel portico at the assigned time.  My niece Mirette and her husband Ayman appeared in two different cars and whisked us away to enjoy the night – ladies in one car, guys in another.  Her intentions were good and she took us to a glamorous beach-side restaurant which proved there was some life in Sharm, even if the Corniche had died a brutal death.  Unfortunately, the wait was hours long and there was really no place to wait, so we climbed back in to the car to execute Plan B.

I can’t go on without telling you one very funny thing.  Public transportation and Uber are the way my grand-nephews negotiate the town of Sharm.  When we arrived with Mirette, there were her sons waiting for us.  When we moved on to Plan B, the boys wanted a lift.  They’d gotten themselves to restaurant, but the nearest public transportation was several blocks away and they didn’t want to wait for Uber.  So, since the car was full, Mirette opens up the trunk and they climbed in.

  I had a moment of jealously for this simpler way of life.  I used to live like that.  Cramming a vanload of people into a car, riding in the back of a pick-up truck, sneaking people into the drive-in in the trunk.  That was back in the days when you could legally drive with a cold one in your beverage holder.  That evening we giggled all the way to the bus stop, enjoying the simple pleasure of riding along with passengers in the trunk. Nowadays, America is so safe and politically correct that a simple moment’s pleasure has to be weighed against jail time.

The night was far from over.  Just about the time this Museum Girl is ready for bed, my nieces and nephews are just starting to enjoy the evening.  So come back next week and see where we headed after this.

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