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!

 

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.

 

 

DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Eating Good in the Alex Neighborhood

TRAVEL THERE: A FEW BITES

Yes, we did finally find The Fish Market Restaurant, but that’s not where we had lunch.  Let me tell you about our midday meal before getting to dinner.

Return to the Food Court

When Bill was finally able to drag me out of The Royal Jewelry Museum it was past lunch time.  Those big buffet breakfasts came in handy, but eventually you have to eat.  Bill recognized the neighborhood as being the one where the Four Seasons Hotel, Mall and Food Court had been and I found it on the map I was carrying.  We were only a few blocks away.  We’d been exploring new things for hours.  Something familiar sounded good.

We had a nice meal and did a little wandering around in the Four Seasons.  Then we headed outside to find a cab, because we were going to take a look at Montazza, one of King Farouk’s palaces.  Bill was quite excited by the prospect of visiting a favorite childhood memory, but it was a very different place than he remembered.

Montazza

Bill’s memories of Montazza were from the time when Nasser was still in power and it was still being maintained in its former glory.  Now the gardens are sparse and obviously not cared for.  I suppose they run the sprinklers to keep the grass growing.  A different class of people also seemed to be in charge.  Going to Montazza was a special occasion back then.  You dressed up and you behaved appropriately.  Now casually dressed people are spread out across the ill-kept grounds and they think nothing of getting up from their McDonald’s picnic and leaving the trash where it lies.

Still, we walked throughout the grounds and took these pictures.  There is a thin veneer of the former glory, but close inspection shows that everything is about to fall apart.  This is was a very sad visit.  Afterwards we took a taxi back to the hotel, but here’s some images so you can imagine along with us how beautiful it once was.

Snack Time

Remember when we’d gone back to Delices for ice cream the night before.  Well, while he was there, Bill bought some baklava.  I thought he’d eat if after the ice cream, but he didn’t.  I thought he’d eat it for breakfast, but he didn’t.  He waited until we got back from our museum adventures and had it as an afternoon snack.  Yep, that’s him on our balcony taking a selfie.

After snack time came nap time.  After some research we finally found out where The Fish Market was and planned to head that way.

Mitzergana

One Arabic word I know is mizergana.  I’m not sure of the spelling, but I know how to use it.  The evening we went to The Fish Market was mizergana.  Things were just broken and off.  Not anybody’s fault necessarily, but the finely-tuned engine that is our marriage wasn’t doing so well.  The plan had been to grab a taxi to the restaurant, but instead we walked.  I dressed for the taxi, so I wasn’t thrilled.

The Fish Market wasn’t quite what we expected.  Yes there were big ice tables full of fresh fish, but from the description of the place we thought that once you picked your fish, then they’d give you a wide variety of ways to cook it.  Basically you either got fried or grilled.  It was good, but not our vision.

Something else I didn’t expect was a mizergana tummy.  About halfway through the meal I began a series of restroom visitations.  I don’t know if it was the brisk walk to the restaurant, too much strange food or just par for the course.  Whatever it was, for the next hour or so I stayed in close proximity to a toilet.

Our visit to Alex was almost over.  I’d used Bill’s nap time to get us packed up for the road.  Come back next week and learn which attractions we saw before leaving town.

 

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.

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

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.

 

 

ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Museums, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

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.

Architecture, ART, Museums, TRAVEL

Step Up to Saqqara

TRAVEL THERE: VISITING THE STEP PYRAMID

The Egyptians didn’t wake up one morning and have the perfect formula for pyramid building.  They had hundreds of years of practice before the elegant examples at Giza were built.  (There’s a nick in the Ancient Alien theory!)  At Dashour we saw pyramids of various shapes and sizes.  Their most successful attempts led them to give step pyramids a try and the best example of these Step Pyramids is up the road a bit from Dashour and down the road a bit from Giza at Saqqara. 

Getting There

When we departed Dashour, our military friends didn’t seem quite so intimidating.  They barely glanced at us as we passed by.  Izzat got back on the main road, the one with the dirty canals in the middle, and headed back north.  Zuzu continued to regale us with the history lesson and before long we were at another military installation.  This one was not quite as intimidating, but to a certain extent a little more scary.  The soldiers at Saqqara were a little less serious, but also a lot more careless.  They all carried guns and seemed to be having several different conversations, and in each the guns were being casually waved about as if they were extensions of the gesticulating soldiers’ arms.  I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if someone’s finger slipped a bit.

If you don’t count the threat of wayward bullets, the site seems more tourist-friendly.  In Dashour everything was a street and a parking lot because it was just wide open spaces for as far as you could see.  At Saqqara, there were actual gravel-covered parking lots and roads that looked regularly traveled. 

The Museum

Another tourist- friendly feature was a small museum.  There’s actually a lovely promenade from the parking lot to the museum that looks as if it could accommodate a gift shop, a concession stand and perhaps even a small cafe, but everything was closed down tight and no signs indicated that any of it had ever been anything.  I wondered if there had been more there once or whether they were presently developing it, but Zuzu did not provide that kind of information.  He looked at me as if I’d suddenly begun to speak a language he didn’t understand and shrugged his shoulders.

We grabbed a few pictures and headed inside.  This had to be a recent development, because the interior looked like something you might see in other countries.  It was clean and neat.  The items were advantageously displayed in glass cases and lo and behold, there were placards there to identify the pieces and give a little history.  Pictures were not allowed or I would be glad to show you the lovely facility.  The museum was not large, but I liked it very much.

Wandering the Ruins

Saqqara is a significant archaeological site.  They have found a number of ruins dating to a variety of periods.  Some have been restored.  Some look as if they were once available for viewing, but have been closed up. Some areas are currently under renovation.  Even though the ruins come from different eras they are all very close together.  You can see everything without having to walk very far.

I’d say of the three Pyramid sites, Saqqara was my favorite – not more important than Giza, but more enjoyable.  Each is worth a visit.  If you can convince your guide to do them in chronological order, then kudos to you.  I think that would be an interesting progression, but that guide would not be Zuzu.  He’s going to do Giza first, no matter what.

A Little Entertainment

As if to prove they’d gotten the tourist thing figured out a Saqqara, they actually had a cultural performance!  A toupe of dancers, both male and female, performed energetic renditions of folk dances, brandishing swords, swaying their hips and stomping their feet.  The colors were a little too Hollywood to be traditional, but I appreciated the effort.

The drive back to the Mena house was daunting.  It was five o’clock traffic Egyptian style.  I was appreciating Izzat more and more.  Back at the hotel we did a little exploration, wandering around at will.  We’d been on the official tour and they encouraged us to wander the hotel – so we did.  We also had another fantastic meal, this time at the Khan-il-Khalili restaurant which specialized in Egyptian cuisine.  Back at the room I packed up.  In the morning Izzat would be there fairly early to take us to the airport for the next phase of our adventure.

 

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

Don’t Miss Dashour

TRAVEL THERE: THE INFANCY OF PYRAMID BUILDING

I’m worried about Egypt.  Tourism is their primary industry, but they aren’t exactly working hard to promote it.  Bill and I shook our heads in disbelief during most of the trip.  It’s almost as if they don’t want tourists.  The first thing I’d like to do is just give everything a good cleaning and add some trashcans.  Egyptians themselves are delightful and there are wonderful things to see, but you have to be serious about wanting to visit and you will encounter obstacles.  Let me explain.

Do You Know the Way to Dashour?

The Bent Pyramid at Dashour

Were Giza, Dashour and Saqqara in the US, they’d be owned by the National Park Service.  All three complexes would be surrounded by federal lands and you’d get a tour map that helped you navigate your way from one site to another.  All along the tour route, you’d see lovely hotels, a wide variety of restaurants and other attractions like miniature golf and water slides.  Each site would have interpretive signs, museums, exhibits and gift shops.  That’s not the way it goes in Egypt.  Where is UNESCO, by the way!

Nothing about the Giza site suggests that just a short drive away are two more fantastic historical sites.  You’re just supposed to know.  There’s not a single sign that points the way.  You head off down the road and wander along the side of a filthy canal.  Along most of the way, both sides of the road has development, but it’s residences, not fast food and hotels.  If you didn’t have a guide, I guarantee you wouldn’t find it.

While there, I discovered that you could ride horses between the sites.  You can google “pyramid horse tours” and find all kinds of vendors, but since I didn’t know about the tours, I didn’t know to research it.  You are now better informed than I was.

We eventually turned off the main road, but I didn’t see anything that said, “This way to Dashour.”  A rutted goat path took us to a military installation.  I don’t know any better way to describe it – white painted buildings, with guys in uniform carrying guns.  This was not the appropriate welcoming committee for your average American tourist.

I do love one thing about Egyptians – their creativity.  Wherever we went were folks who set up shop and went about their business without the accouterments Americans would demand.  

  • If neighbors want to get together and smoke sheesha, why let the absence of a park stop you.  Gather your chairs in the street and pass the hookah.  The cars will figure out a way to get around you.
  • Want to have a souvenir shop?  Then find a piece of pavement and start selling.  You can hang wire between signs to display your wares or use a cardboard crate.
  • Need an office.  Find a table and chair – any table and chair.

The guy in charge at the military installation had followed the examples above – right by the side of the goat path.  Both pieces of furniture looked like they’d been built in the 50’s, but for completely different purposes.  Sitting on the table was the ubiquitous glass for tea.  Who needs anything else?

Nothing!

Worth It for Me

It’s no wonder that our nephew couldn’t understand why we wanted to go to Dashour.  With the exception of a few pyramids in serious disrepair there is nothing there.  I mean nothing!

But those few pyramids were worth the trip for me.  While Zuzu hadn’t found much new ground to cover with me at Giza, he was invaluable at Dashour.

Obviously, the Bent Pyramid is bent, but hearing why and how it got that way, as I stood below it, was fascinating.  We climbed up another crumbling pyramid to see the shaft built down into it, where the pharaoh’s body would have been carried and imagined the day of the funeral.  How did they get him down all those steps?  Another pyramid was tall and skinny, almost like a Christmas tree.  How did these configurations develop into what we saw at the Giza Plateau?

I’d read right before I left for Egypt that they’d just found a new pyramid at Dashour – but where?  And why didn’t they offer to show it to me for $20 more.  I would have gladly coughed up the Jackson.

The whole thing begs for development.  In our heads we laid out the informational signage, chose refreshment stands, picked out costumes for the guides and decided where the museum and shop should be.  The Egyptians need tourists to spend more days in their country and with just a few bare necessities and a little signage, people would flock to see these wonders, but as it stands, Bill and I were the lone tourists.  We would never have found it on our own and even if we would have, I doubt we’re brave enough to confront the military authorities guarding it.  What a shame!

But our Pyramid tour was not over.  On to Saqqara.  Join us next week.