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

Casino Night in Freeport

TRAVEL BUG TALES: PUTTING ON THE RITZ

It’s at least a little ironic I’m going down memory lane at one resort on Mondays and sharing my latest trip to another resort on Wednesdays.  While Club Med Punta Cana is on the other end of the quality scale from Jack Tar’s Grand Bahama Hotel, I’m exactly the same person.  I’m just not much of a relaxer.  I completely failed at relaxing on the beach.  Let’s see how I do at a casino.

Primping for Our Big Night

Gambling was completely new to me.  I grew up Baptist and Baptists don’t gamble.  Well, I’ve heard my mom loved slot machines.  Let’s just say I had never gambled.

When we got back to our rooms after a day in the sun, it was time to get all fixed up for our big night.  That’s why tanning had been such an important activity for the rest of my friends.  Women in evening gowns.  Men in tuxes.  Fortunes won.  Fortunes lost.  Every hair had to be in place.  I’ll admit it was a little frenetic and I tried very hard to plug into the energy source.

As you can see in the photo, my spot by the pool without baby oil, rendered me just about the same shade of brown as the other ladies.  With my uber short hair I had less to worry about while getting ready.  My mom, the slot machine queen, gave me a roll of quarters to play the slots with.  I slipped them into my little evening bag with great anticipation.

Frolicking in Freeport

Then we boarded the bus for Freeport.  How very touristy of us!  The bus dropped us off on the side of the casino, allowing us to stroll to the door and pretend we did this all the time.  Since nothing is scarier than a clump of women desperately looking for a good time, my friends and I headed off to try our fortunes at the tables, but I assure you, we weren’t the least bit interested in winning any money.

My first stop was the slot machines.  I did pretty well to begin with.  I more than doubled my roll of quarters, but almost as quickly I was empty-handed.  I figured out, Baptist or not, gambling was not my thing.  It felt like I had just taken a perfectly good pair of shoes and tossed them in to the traffic.  Next time someone gave me a roll of quarters, I was going to do something better than lose them in a slot machine.

My winning and losing had taken what?  About 15-20 minutes.  Now what was I going to do with myself during the hours I was stuck there at the casino.  While I have no trouble being the life of a party where I know a lot of people, throw me in a room with a bunch of strangers and I want to find someplace to hide.  Instead I looked for places to lounge while trying to pretend I was cool.

Just like at the beach earlier in the day I had the sense that I should be enjoying myself, but I wasn’t.  In my many strolls through the casino between lounging sessions, I’d see my friends, ordering a drink, playing a game or chatting with someone.  Meanwhile, I was just trying to look cool rather than desperate.

Eventually the bus did return and I got to quit working so hard at having fun.  Everyone had stories to tell and I was able to just oooh and aaaah.  When they turned to me for my report, I laughed about how much money I’d had in my possession for such a short period of time.  When they wanted other details, I said I’d spent my time people watching.  It was true.  I’d spent my time watching everyone else have a lot more fun than me and wondered what kind of disease I had that was keeping me from properly enjoying this vacation.

So far, the best part of the trip had been dancing at the local club and reading by the pool hadn’t been so bad.  Up next was a shopping trip.  Now that’s my kind of activity.  Come back next week and see how I do.

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, TRAVEL

Let Club Med Punta Cana Entertain You

Cirque du Soleil

TRAVEL THERE: ENJOYING THE EVENING PERFORMANCES

If you were looking for it, there was always something to do at Club Med.  As I said earlier, live music entertained the guests in the Cielo Bar before dinner.  After dinner there would be more live music, often from a different band.  And so it would go into the the wee hours of the morning, but we can’t tell you much about that, because we usually turned in after the evening show.

Not Broadway, But Not Bad

Perhaps you read some of my reviews of our recent Royal Caribbean cruise which included scathing remarks about the on board talent, or lack of it.  At Club Med, the performers weren’t pros (with a few exceptions) and they didn’t try to pretend they were, but the entertainment was completely enjoyable.  Most evenings, some time in between the end of dinner and the beginning of the hard core partying, there would be entertainment.  We found it quite fun.

Michael Jackson Tribute

Our first night featured a tribute to Michael Jackson.  A professional performer danced to familiar Jackson tunes and he was accompanied by a cast comprised of Club Med staffers – known as GO’s (Gracious Organizers).  We discovered a large number of the GO’s are interns on a stipend.  Pretty much slave cheap labor, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The pro had the right build to play MJ and had someone doing great make-up.  His wardrobe was very convincing and so was his dancing.  While I can’t say it was just like watching MJ himself, it was high-energy, fun and entertaining.

After the MJ tribute there was something very familiar – an introduction to the staff.  I felt like I was on a cruise – but without the trays of champagne.  The intro went overly long I thought, but the Chef du Village (the guy in charge of Club Med Punta Cana) was embarrassing people who left early, so we sat in our seat until he was through.

Balloon Party

Creactive Demo

Creactive is the name of the Cirque du Soleil (CDS) trapeze training school at Club Med Punta Cana.  There guests can pretend they’ve run away and joined the circus.  Bill wasn’t the least bit interested in taking a high-flying class and I’m a little acrophobic, so we didn’t take advantage of Creactive at all – except for the show they put on one evening.

The show was great.  Performers, alone and in pairs, put themselves through their paces high in the sky.  If you’ve ever been to a CDS show or seen one on TV I don’t have to tell you of the aerial feats of skill and awe they performed.  However, it was also different from the usual performance.

There was no plot or theme and I missed it.  I love the crazy costumes and surreal stories featured in the CDS shows I’ve seen previously.  There was also none of the floor acrobatics, juggling and magic that make a CDS show so fantastic.  As I said, it was a great show and this isn’t meant as criticism, just a warning about what to and not to expect.

After the show, there was a Balloon Party in the Rondele, a circular patio next to the Cielo Bar. Whatever they called a party at Club Med, it contained a lot of singing and swaying.  There’s a song they sang all the time that started out “alle’ alle'” and included hand signals that everyone seemed to know – but us.  It was called the Crazy Dance and they gave Crazy Dance lessons every day, but since I don’t know my right from my left, I stayed away.  This was the Balloon Party, because they dropped balloons on the crowd.  The White Party was white, because they dropped white confetti on you.  The Red Party was red because…well you get the idea.

The Brazil Show

Another evening we were entertained with a show featuring Brazilian music and dance.  As far as I could tell, there were no professional performers for this one, just jiggling GO’s giving it their all in skimpy costumes.  I’m not complaining.  It was a lot of fun.

Then out came the Chef du Village (CDV).  This guy really needs his own TV show.  I don’t think the stage at Club Med is big enough for him.  He had on a knock-out Carnivale costume and performed some “magic” that were actually gags, which poked fun at his victim, but entertained the audience.

From Carnivale, the CDV moved on to world peace.  (See I told you his stage was too small.)  He recognized all the countries represented by staff and then moved on to the audience to see how many other countries were represented.  Then we all sang, “We Are the World.”

No Dominican Show 

We were disappointed on our final day that there was no show.  It was supposed to feature the Dominican culture, which I would have enjoyed.  The show had been on the schedule I took a picture of that first day.  The show was on the schedule I picked up in the lobby.  However, the schedule at the Cielo had been changed somewhere along the way and the Dominican show had disappeared.  The only people to show up were Bill and I and one other group.  There’s being prepared and being over-prepared.  I think I was over-prepared – as if that’s a surprise.

Sometimes after the show we would head over to Cielo to check out the action, but usually we were worn out by so much relaxation, so we’d head to the room.  Come back next week and I will tell you about our accommodations – and as always, thank you CTC Travel.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Dinner is Delightful at Club Med Punta Cana

Dessert was Divine

TRAVEL THERE: SAMANA, THE INTERNATIONAL BUFFET

I have no complaints about Club Med Food.  I liked some things better than others, but there was not a thing available that was anything but good.  Meals were delicious all day long, but dinner at Samana was something special.

Bon Jour & Bon Appetite

After our visit to Cielo, we’d stroll across the patios to Samana and climb the stairs.  Just inside the doors we’d be greeted by a delightful lady we came to recognize by sight – even if we doubted she recognized us at all.

We’d tell her there were two of us and she’d find us a table.  You could sit wherever you wanted, but we discovered we needed the hostess.  One night we arrived and she wasn’t standing there, so we wandered around on our own.  A bit later we came back to the door, happy to see her waiting, feeling quite silly for having tried to seat ourselves.

As soon as we had a table, a server would appear and offer us a beverage.   Bill would get red wine and I would get white.  Then we’d disappear off to the many, many buffet table.  We didn’t stick to a particular order for our food.  We’d wander about and pick the things that interested us most.  I think the first night was by far the best, Beef Wellington, escargot, veal and much more.

Confession, I ate more cheese, morning, noon and night, than anyone probably ever should – but it was SO good.  There’s a reason I don’t keep a variety of cheeses in my frig – I would eat them.  Mozzerella, Blue, Gouda, Swiss, Emmantala, Tontine, Farmers, Feta, Brie – along with amazing breads, dried apricots, nuts and more.  I ate enough that it should have been all I ate, but this was vacation, right?

The menu rotated every night. Around the central area,

  • a huge section for appetizers, mostly fresh seafood and shellfish
  • cheese and bread
  • the next section would vary by evening.  The section next to the bread would vary with the evening and then the desserts would begin.
  • An inner circle would offer very international dishes, like tempura, sweetbreads, Mongolian bbq, schwarma, enchildas etc. etc. etc.

The back wall had

  • a salad bar
  • a pasta bar
  • a section for grilled seafood
  • then grilled meats and other entrees, like the Beef Wellington or Halibut Oscar
  • one corner had a pizza oven offering fresh slices – very popular with the kids
  • a section with Dominican foods.

In my youth I went with a group of my college friends to an all-inclusive resort – a Jack Tar Village on Grand Bahama.  Eating was no problem.  You couldn’t eat all the food they offered, but beverages were a whole ‘nother thing.  The beverages were supposed to be included and you could usually manage to get one, but good luck getting refills.  Thankfully, we discovered a rum factory nearby and dosed ourselves quite liberally with coconut rum, but could get little of anything beverage-wise from the staff.  We also discovered the vending machines had beer.  I didn’t have any of that, but I think our group had cleaned out every beer out of every vending machine before the week was over.

There was no stinginess with alcohol at Club Med.  All throughout dinner the waitstaff kept our glasses filled – both the wine and the water.  It wasn’t fine wine, but it was fine – if you know what I mean.  The guest population of the resort was primarily French, if you remember, so I doubt Club Med could get by without the good stuff.  I noticed that most people were drinking rose’, something that surprised me.  I knew it was becoming a thing over here, but apparently the French like it, too.

After dinner there would usually be entertainment, so come back next week and enjoy the shows with us.  I can’t sign off without another thank you to CTC Travel.  Thanks so much, we loved Club Med.

 

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Drinks at Cielo Every Evening & All Day Long

TRAVEL THERE: ROCKING WITH A TROPICAL RHYTHM

When they raise the traffic gate and welcome you into Club Med Punta Cana, you enter another world.  It took me a few hours to slither out of the daily grind and figure that out, but I did.  I was still in a bit of a rush as I hobbled back to our room and then headed out again for dinner, but by

dessert, I was on island time.

Denim and White Night

Dressing for Dinner

Sandra Rubio, my travel agent at CTC Travel, warned me they had themes each night at Club Med.  It wasn’t a have-to thing, but something to add to the fun.  She’d mentioned a pirate night, but if they have one of those at Punta Cana, it didn’t happen while we were there.  Our first night was White Night.  I wore a mostly white top and some white jeans, but if you are into themes, be warned, don’t take any shortcuts, especially on White Night.  Your fellow members have spent a lot of money on gorgeous white sundresses, white linen suits and all things white.

Saturday was Denim & White, Sunday Red & White, Monday Flowers, Tuesday 45 & Fluorescent – then we went home.  The 45 thing requires an explanation, but it can wait.

Meet You at Cielo

Cielo Bar is a large, circular, open air, (wait for it) palm-frond-roofed bar/cafe/coffee shop/living room sort of place that takes central stage in the entertainment section of Club Med Punta Cana.  We were wandering in and out of it all the time.

During the day they had salsa lessons and various games.  The bar was always open for coffee or drinks.  A serve-yourself soda fountain sat at one end of the U-shaped bar.  A very convenient restroom was around the back.  Though we never quite figured out a schedule, there were often snacks available – pastries in the early hours, chips, salsa and guacamole during the day and at night hors d’oeuvres.  Comfortable sofas and lounge chairs hugged the outer edges.

Red and White Night

Most of our evenings began on the white sofas of Cielo.  A live band would entertain the crowd.  We’d try to make conversation with some of our fellow GM’s (Guest Members), but most of them were French.  We grew to absolutely love the French Connection.  We also discovered we weren’t particularly proud to be associated with the other Americans on the property.

We didn’t usually bother with evening hors d’oeuvres, because the fabulous buffet meals kept our hunger at bay, but we would have a drink.  The first night I tried a rum & coke, which was fine, but I’m really a white wine girl and that became my regular.  Bill would get a beer with a tequila shot chaser.  He really was on vacation.

Many of our French friends would arrive at Cielo in family groups, but unlike the usual situation with American families, the children were not the center of attention and they didn’t sit staring into a tablet or phone.  French children of all ages were expected to sit quietly in their seat, enjoying their hors d’oeuvres and sodas, while the adults chatted with one another.  We were very impressed by this.  Temper tantrums and meltdowns just didn’t happen.  Americans are doing something wrong.

Eventually, we’d leave Cielo and head over to Samana, the dinner buffet.  Dinner officially began at 6:30, but the Cielo experience began at 7, so Cielo is where we began our evenings.  Then we’d wander across to Samana.  I’ll tell you about that next week.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Falling for Club Med Punta Cana

The Evening Line-up

TRAVEL THERE: LEARNING HOW TO BE CLUB MED MEMBERS

Though I was pretty put out that the orientation tour had fallen out of my grasp, I had to admit we had landed in paradise. Have I mentioned how grateful I am to CTC Travel? I still can’t believe I won the trip.

Learning Our Way Around

As I marched all over the campus trying to get my bearings we made some important discoveries. The tile around the pool was pretty slick when it got wet. We found Samana, where the evening buffet would be served. We found the Cielo Bar, which was sort of the living room of the property.  We found the auditorium where we would have met the tour and where the evening’s entertainment would be. We also found the gift shops and the area where we could get pool towels.

Perhaps my best find was  the schedules for every day of the week, posted on a wall in Cielo. I took pictures of them, because the Club Med app was not only sssslllllooooowww, it also ate up a lot of battery.  I suddenly didn’t feel so frantic.  I’d gotten the general lay of the land and even if the app wouldn’t serve up the schedule as fast as I wanted, I had a back-up plan.  Later, I would also discover a place in the lobby where they made printed schedules available every morning.  My hysterical anxiety began to abate.

 And Then I Literally FELL for Club Med Punta Cana 

A quick look at my watch said dinner was not far off and I wanted to freshen up a bit beforehand. The rain started falling more seriously and Bill told me to watch myself on the slick tile.

We headed towards our room in the rain. I took off my flip flops, because they seemed to add to the slickness of the tile. As we came to some steps, four at the most, Bill grabbed a hold of me to be sure I didn’t slip. I was being really careful, but suddenly there was no traction and I was down.

I hit so hard that Bill was convinced I must have broken my hip. He kept trying to roll me over to see the damage. I knew I hit an elbow and one of my arms, but my buttocks was well-padded.  No problem there.

Everything else paled in comparison to what was going on with my foot. Since my foot had come out from under me without any traction whatsoever, I couldn’t imagine why it hurt so much, but my big toe and my fourth toe hurt like a cuss word I am not going to say.  After I got home I decided my foot had hit a wall next to steps as I came down, but it had all happened so quickly I couldn’t figure what had happened.

So, rain was pouring down and my foot is killing me, but right that minute all I wanted to do was get to the room. I put on a brave face and limped away as Bill tried to convince me I should instead be figuring out what was broken.  Come back next week and find out what happened.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Gulf Coast Goodies

TRAVEL THERE: FROM PLANTATIONS TO PO’ BOYS

When it comes to travel, food is a just part of the fun, but if you’re talking Gulf Coast, it’s a big part of the fun.  On this trip I’ve had crawfish in Evangeline Country, nibbled on beignets and dined at Brennan’s.  Over the next few days, food moved to the forefront.  I had fried this and broiled that.  I had seafood stuffed with crab and shrimp in all kinds of formats.  I had seafood every time it was on the menu and I loved every bite of it, but there’s more to the Gulf Coast than seafood.  Come see what I mean.

Plantations

Just outside of New Orleans is the River Road.  Along it you’ll find one plantation after another.  In this day and age, slavery is a slippery slope.  Anything and everything associated with it is pretty much off limits.  I get it.  Slavery was bad.  What I don’t get is trying to revise history.  It’s like some people want to erase the first century of America’s existence, including anyone and everyone that owned a slave.

Well, America didn’t invent slavery or even participate in the worst of it.  It’s been a part of every society, virtually from the beginning of time and some slaves did a whole lot more that work in the fields or clean house.  If someone wants to erase slavery from the history books, they’re going to have to get a pretty big eraser.  Name a society from the Egyptians to the Mayans to the Celts – well to anyone you want to name.  They all had slaves, along with practicing a myriad of other sins – discrimination against women, child labor, sex trafficking, cruelty to animals – pretty much anything and everything we complain about ourselves today.  It’s really quite myopic to want discard everything American that is in anyway related to slavery and the Civil War.

If you are one of the eradicators, I don’t recommend the River Road to you.  You’ll be for pulling down the plantations and that would be a shame.  To begin with, the architecture is stunning, but it is also surprising.  While some are luxurious, you’ll most likely be surprised at how small the houses of the plantation owners were and many of them were quite plain.  Hopefully, visiting the River Road will get the Gone with the Wind images out of your mind and put you in touch with what it was really like to live out in the country raising cotton and rice.

Like many things on this trip, I can’t actually remember visiting the River Road plantations with my family, but I do remember recalling them when I visited them in later years.  We also saw The Myrtles, a home famous for its ghosts.  However, I’d be lying to you if I pretended I knew which order we saw them in.

Biloxi

Whatever order we saw the plantations in, Biloxi was our final destination.  While we saw a variety of sites, including taking a ride on the Shrimp Tour Train, we were in Biloxi to see Beauvior.  If slavery is off limits, then I guess Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy is beyond the pale.  Rather than apologize, I’ll just direct you to this post  I wrote back in 2012.  The president has changed, but my politics haven’t.

At Biloxi we stayed on the beach, though I can’t remember our accommodations.  I know about the beach, because Mom’s coiffure, which was pouffy in New Orleans, is decidedly flat in Biloxi.  That indicates time spent in the water and we’ve always enjoyed sea water more than pools.  One of the pictures on my scrapbook page is also seashells in the sand.

Were I to go on this trip today, I’m sure I’d have more than my fair share of food pictures, taken with my phone.  As I write I can see piping hot oyster po’ boys.  I can see baskets filled with fried potatoes, hushpuppies and shrimp, still sizzling from the hot grease.  My mouth is watering from the memory, but we used film back then and it was expensive – so we didn’t take all those food pictures we do now.  In fact, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been considered particularly polite and manners were quite important.

Our Gulf Shores vacation was over.  It was time to take Aunt Edie home and get back to Dallas.  Next week I’ll shift gears a little.  Come see where we’re headed.

Accommodations, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Museums, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Nawlins

TRAVEL BUG TALES: THE CHATEAU HOTEL AND THE FRENCH QUARTER

It’s 1974.  I’m about to start my second year of college, Nixon just resigned and we’re in the French Quarter.  Come along and join the fun.

The Chateau Hotel

As I’ve told you before, Holiday Inn tended to be our usual accommodations, but for New Orleans we stayed right in the French Quarter at The Chateau Hotel I’m happy to report that you can stay there today if you want to.  I confess I was thrilled, just by the mere fact that it wasn’t our usual roadside motel.  It was an honest to goodness hotel right in the middle of everything.

I remember entering our room and walking right to the windows to look out at the French Quarter.  It was exhilarating to see something besides a freeway.  Our first night in town we had to grab a quick bite and get back to the hotel in time for my parents to see the infamous news conference featuring Richard Nixon’s resignation.

In addition to being right in the middle of the French Quarter, The Chateau Hotel also had an amazing courtyard where breakfast was served each morning.  Those morning meals are among my favorite memories of the trip.  I am devoted to al fresco dining and for all I know, this is where my passion for it originated.

The French Quarter

Once breakfast was over, Mom had our itinerary all planned out.  We set out on foot to see the sights.  The tour started at Jackson Square to visit St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo.  Beignets at Cafe du Monde were de rigueur, but I’ll be honest with you, I’ve had better.

I can’t remember all the places Mom dragged us to over the next few days, but I can tell you that we ate dinner at Brennan’s, another treat you can still enjoy.  Supposedly, according to tradition, breakfast is the meal you are really supposed to eat at Brennan’s, but for my mom, having dinner there was just the bomb.  Dad had to put on a suit and tie.  Mom and Aunt Edie wore maxi-skirts, all the rage at the time.  There is no pictorial record of what Susan and I wore, but I do remember the meal.

I chose Chicken Madeira as my entree.  I was very impressed with myself, because it had a wine sauce.  Being a Baptist, my mom didn’t cook with wine, so at the time I didn’t realize the alcohol always cooked out.  I thought I was being a bit naughty.  Mom and Dad were afraid I wouldn’t like it and to tell the truth, I wasn’t all that crazy about it, but there was no way I was going to admit it.

For dessert, I had their famous pecan pie.  I’ll confess something else.  I’d take my little sister’s pecan pie over their’s any day of the week, but at the time, she wasn’t baking any pies.  Still, I remember being under-impressed.  Brennan’s hadn’t been a big hit with me.

With my dessert, I had coffee and I’d never had coffee before.  I’d been away at school and could have had coffee with every meal, even though my parents had never offered me any.  I just wasn’t interested.  At Brennan’s the waiter convinced me I couldn’t leave their restaurant without having some of their famous chicory coffee.  So, my first taste of coffee was a baptism by bitterness.  I still don’t drink coffee.

So that was my family vacation to New Orleans.  I’ve been several times since.  My favorite New Orleans cuisine is a toss up between a big ole bowl of BBQ Shrimp or a Muffalatta sandwich from a storefront my friend Michael took me to.  I know I’d rather eat BBQ Shrimp than anything Brennan’s has on the menu.  And speaking of Brennan’s, if you have to choose between Brennan’s and Commander’s Palace, I’d vote for Commander’s Palace.  New Orleans really is a culinary treat, but I wouldn’t have known it from that 1974 visit.

The next page in my scrapbook says I am Biloxi Bound, so I hope you’ll join me next week for a little Gulf Shore fun.

Accommodations, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Libraries, Museums, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Evangeline in Louisiana

TRAVEL BUG TALES: CRAWDADS AND ACADIANS

“This is the forest primeval,” is the beginning phrase of Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline It’s a fictional story of love lost and then found too late.  It’s also about political injustice, because French settlers of Canada, called Acadians, were deported by the British, just for being Catholics.  In the story, Evangeline is among the deportees who were sent to Louisiana – hence Evangeline Parish.  Let’s go visit.

Traveling Evangeline Country

Though I can’t remember all the logistics between Dallas and Evangeline Country, I do remember being sick and tired of riding in the back seat on a sticky August afternoon.  We had Aunt Edie with us, which was fun, but I’m guessing we hit the road around 4 AM.  By late afternoon I’m sure I was second guessing my decision to go on this family vacation.

We piled out of the car at a Mardi Gras museum, but I’m not sure where it was.  They were very proud of the fact that they’d been doing Mardi Gras a lot longer than New Orleans.  The museum was full of beautiful costumes, but the best part was the air conditioning!  There was also a lot of material about Acadian history.  They were very interested in visitors understanding that while outsiders may think the terms Cajun and Creole are interchangeable, Cajuns and Creoles don’t.  Cajuns descended from the Acadians.  Creoles are descended from the French mixing with various other races, especially around New Orleans.  Creoles probably thought Cajuns were hicks, while Cajuns claimed a purer racial lineage, which was much more important back in the 70’s than it is today.

Ça C’est Bon

Regardless of their racial heritage, Cajuns know how to eat.  That evening we ate the local cuisine.  Mom had done her research and we had dinner at what was supposed to be THE place to eat crawfish.  I keep thinking the name of it was Anderson’s, but don’t hold me to that.

Wherever it was, it was a great, big barn-like place.  The menu offered crawfish this, crawfish that and crawfish whatever else.  I was a little squeamish about sucking heads, but the rest of it sounded pretty good to me.  I’m sure I got some sort of combo plate so I could try it more than one way.  I’m also pretty sure that everyone else chose more traditional seafood choices, like fried shrimp and then sampled my entrees.  I’ve always been a little more food adventurous than the rest of my family.

We probably spent the night at a Holiday Inn.  That’s where we usually stayed.  The next day we moved on to New Orleans.

Architecture, ART, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Miracle at Mokattum

TRAVEL THERE: HUMBLED BY THEIR HUMILITY

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

Curiosity Got Me There

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

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

Mokattum Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!