DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Awkward at the Airport

TRAVEL THERE: WISHING FOR AN X-RAY MACHINE

You can complain all you want to about airport security in America, but I don’t plan to pay you any attention.  That’s because I’ve been through Egyptian security several times now and of all my experiences, this midday experience at the Cairo Airport takes the cake.

Unloading the Car

Bill and I are do-it-yourself-ers by nature, but you have to get over that if you want to board a plane in Cairo.  When you pull up to the terminal you get your going-through-security buddy and he’s not optional.  Our new buddy loaded our stuff onto his cart and led us through the terminal.  A lot of what happened in transit is a bit of a fog, because Bill handled all of it in Arabic.  Yes, I know I should learn the language, but I’m still learning English!

Unable to understand what was being said and done, I just shuffled along behind Bill and hoped I was getting it right.  Here in America you go through security and you are done.  It’s a pain, but it is one pain.  In Cairo, you go through security, you go through security again and before its all over there’s no telling exactly how many more times you will be put through the fun of taking off your shoes, emptying your pockets, having your luggage x-rayed and yourself patted down.  They vary the pattern so it won’t be predictable.

Going through the Process

The first pass went pretty well.  You weren’t allowed to offload your checked luggage at the airline counter before entering security, so it was somewhat of a hassle.  You and all your stuff had to go through the process together.  I can see the value of that from a security standpoint, so while I would have loved to get rid of the big stuff, that didn’t happen until later and I didn’t mind.  I guess that’s one of the reasons you get you going-through-security buddy.

The American in me felt some relief after that first pass.  I assumed we were through, but suddenly we had to go through the whole rigmarole again.  I was a little surprised, but only a little, because I’d already been in Egypt for days and going through some kind of security was an activity we did over and over and over.  At the hotels, they went over you with a fine tooth comb at the gate, then again at the front door and then a various areas through out the property.  You went through security to enter an attraction and for good measure you’d have to go through it again inside.  You went through security to enter churches, museums and if you didn’t actually go through a security gate, you knew you were being watched.

The surprise came after I stepped through the metal detector.  I was used to being patted down afterwards. I was not used to being fondled.  Yep, you read that right.  Just like in the US, women pat down women and men pat down men, but I got a fondler.  I stepped out of the metal detector and a hajib’ed woman signaled for me to assume the Vetruvian Man position.  I did.  She reached out and grabbed my boobs.  I’m not kidding.  It wasn’t a pat down.  It was like she was testing them to see if they were real.  I was so shocked, I was speechless.  I didn’t know if the treatment proved she had been poorly trained or whether she was doing exactly what she was supposed to do!

I wanted to swat her hands away and give her a piece of my mind, but I wanted to be through with the process and on my way to Sharm, too.  I also didn’t want Bill defending my honor.  On a previous trip to Egypt a man in a crowd had pinched my buttocks and I’d spontaneously complained about it.  Bill took off after a guy and I died a million deaths in the few seconds before I could get him to come back.  I didn’t want to draw any attention to us, so I just carried on through the rest of multiple security measures – but no one else grabbed anything I thought they shouldn’t, so I assume the treatment was specific to that one lady.

The flight to Sharm was a hoot.  Come back next week and I’ll share the experience.

 

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.

 

Accommodations, Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

The Marvelous Mena House

TRAVEL THERE: AN AMAZING HOTEL

I was predisposed to love the Mena House.  I’d been hearing about it for years and it sounded like my kind of place.  It had historical significance and it was a luxury hotel Bill’s place of birth would make affordable.  Let me tell you about it.

Arriving in Style

 I will admit there is something posh about being delivered to your hotel by a private driver and car.  We pulled up to the security gate to be sniffed by dogs, checked by metal detectors and generally gone over with a fine tooth comb, but our driver handled it all while Bill and I marveled at the Pyramids looming over us.  I thought we’d have a view of them.  I didn’t realize we’d be next door.

The lobby was opulent and we were treated like dignitaries.  Being treated like dignitaries takes a little longer than just being tourists, but it was kind of fun.  We were whisked to our room on a golf cart by a servile employee of the hotel and escorted around our new digs as if they rooms of the old palace, instead of the very comfortable modern room we’d reserved.

A Delicious Meal

Our next stop was lunch.  We wandered across the grounds and found a nice patio restaurant which served food all day long.  The prices were reasonable, the service was attentive and the food was amazing.  The travel gods were shining on us.

A Free Historical Tour

As we lazed about enjoying the view our nephew Steven and his friend John arrived.  They’d fallen for the 8:30 sight-seeing tour I’d rejected.  While they regretted waking up early, they were very happy with their day.  We decided to meet up again soon and see the free historical tour of the hotel I’d seen advertised in the lobby.  The parade of celebrities who have stayed at the Mena House is pretty interesting, but not anything compared to the amount of history that has occurred since it was built in the 1800’s as a lodge for royalty.

The Rest of the Stay

The only problem we had with our stay at the Mena House is that it was too short.  We loved hanging out in our room and enjoying the patio with the great view of the pyramids.  We loved wandering around the hotel and grounds, photographing all the beauty both natural and man-planned.  The service was amazing.  The food was great – whether we were enjoying the free breakfast buffet, having lunch with a view or enjoying a Middle Eastern feast at the Khan il Khalili restaurant (named after the famous Cairo bazaar).

I have a fantasy of returning to Giza some day to see the wonderful museum being built to replace the Cairo Museum and the Mena House would be the perfect place to stay – but I doubt I could ever get Mr. Bill back to Egypt.  The place he has fond memories of growing up in doesn’t exist anymore.

If you’re still hungry for more about the Mena House, watch this video.  If you want to know about visiting the Pyramids, then come back next week.

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

A Plethora of Pyramids

Saqqara’s Step Pyramid

TRAVEL THERE: DON’T LET GIZA BE YOUR ONLY PYRAMID EXPERIENCE

If you go to Egypt, you’ve got to see the Pyramids, but don’t stay in some Cairo hotel and take a day trip to the Giza Plateau.  Get out of the city and stay at the Mena House.  Someday, hopefully, they’ll finish the new museum that is supposed to replace the antiquated Cairo Museum and doing it this way will make even more sense.  But even if they never finish the museum (a distinct possibility given the tomorrow/bokrah mentality) you don’t want to be just another tourist.  There’s more to the Pyramids than you see at Giza.

Dusk at the Pyramids

A Tourist Trap to Avoid

Before I go into what you should see, let me steer you away from the Light and Sound Show.  I had been warned, but back in 1996, the Luxor Temple Sound and Light Show was one of the highlights of my trip.  The stunning display was interesting and entertaining.  Chances are that in 1996 the Pyramid Sound & Light Show was pretty amazing, too, but it’s not anymore.

There’s a huge outdoor theater which would seat hundreds of people, suggesting the show was once a really popular attraction, but I’d be surprised if there were 50 people at the performance we attended.  What’s more, the parking lot and entry were right next to a spot used as a toilet by the local camel population.  You need to be careful where you step and the smell will bowl you over.

I had threatened to enjoy the performance from my balcony at the Mena House, but wasn’t sure if I could see it from there.  It really doesn’t matter whether I could see it or not.  The balcony would have been a better choice.

The obligatory Sphinx and Pyramid picture

You Will Go to Giza First – and You WILL Like It or ELSE

Egyptians don’t see their country the way we do.  I had great difficulty convincing my nephew that I really did want him to schedule our guide to visit Dashour and Saquara.  Having already seen Giza, I really didn’t want to waste my time there, but skipping it altogether was not to be allowed.  What’s more my excellent guide, Zuzu insisted we had to start the day there.

My nephew and his friend had toured with Zuzu the day before and warned us that he was a little, shall we say, stubborn.  With Steven and John, the main problem was that he was going to give them all the information they paid for whether they wanted it or not.  I didn’t see that being a problem for me.  I challenge any guide to tell me more than I wanted to know about what I’m seeing.  However, Zuzu was a little stubborn in other ways, too.

When we got in the car to begin our day, I explained how I had already been to Giza before and I preferred to start at Dashour.  Zuzu said we would get to Dashour, but we’d start at Giza.  I tried several approaches to convince him I was the customer and he should do it my way, but whatever tack I used, he wasn’t going for it.  I didn’t want to be that Ugly American, so content in the knowledge we would get to all three pyramid locations, I decided to sit back and enjoy the tour.

Solar Boat Shoes

The Solar Boat Museum

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to the Giza Plateau at all, because my previous unorthodox tour had not included the Solar Boat Museum and I wanted to see it.  I just didn’t want to waste time stomping around the Pyramids and the Sphinx, if it meant I’d miss out on Dashour and Saqqara.

Well, we did stomp around the Pyramids and the Sphinx.  And guess what, they looked just like they did last time we were there.  Granted Zuzu provided more background information than I got from Ahab’s guides, but after a lifetime of watching shows about Egyptian archaeology, Zuzu didn’t have much to add that I hadn’t already learned from Zahi Hawass and Giorgio A. Tsoukalos .

The Solar Boat Museum is fascinating, but they make you wear these awful shoe covers and pictures are not allowed.  The boat was buried in the sand somewhere around 2500 BC.  It had been disassembled before burial and the pieces were intact when it was found in 1954.  It was painstakingly reconstructed over a number of years and then in 1985, the Egyptians built the museum to show off the treasure.  Don’t miss it if you visit the Pyramids.

My Giza duties fulfilled, Zuzu let Izzat take us to Dashour.  Come back next week and enjoy that part of our day.  In the meantime, here’s a video of our visit to the Pyramids.

 

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

A Change of Gears

TRAVEL THERE: GOOD-BYE FAIRMONT, HELLO MENA HOUSE

We visited Egypt to attend a wedding and what a wedding it was.  Next we were headed to Giza for some Pyramid sight-seeing, but first we had to check out of the Fairmont and into the Mena House, after catching a few zzzz’s.

A Late Night Delivery

I stayed up very far past my bedtime celebrating the newlyweds, something that happened frequently on this vacation.  When we finally got back to the room, we put away our wedding finery and gratefully fell into bed.  An hour or two later, there was a knock on the door.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, because of the urgency of the banging.  Had a hotel guest confused our room for someone else’s?  Was a wife fleeing an abusive husband?  Had the newlyweds argued and needed a referee?  Or was the party still going on and they’d decided to bring it to us?

Bill got up, went to the door and discovered members of the hotel staff with a cart full of food.  My sister-in-law mentioned sending us some left-overs, but I’d assured her we didn’t need them.  There was no microwave and while we did have a frig, it was full of refreshments the hotel wanted us to buy.  We were also scheduled to be out of the hotel by noon.  No time for a feast.  Still, we’d ended up on the list of rooms to visit and they were going to deliver!  Bill kept saying no thank you and the anonymous visitors kept bringing in trays of food.

Cairo Apartment Buildings

Good Morning?

I’m persnickety about keeping a hotel room neat, but after our late night delivery I woke up at around 8:30 to what looked like a catering disaster.  There were appetizers, main dishes and desserts all over the place.  I wouldn’t have been too happy about that under any circumstances, but in this case, I had to pack before the car came.

I got myself ready and shuffled the food into a corner, but Mr. Bill didn’t budge until 10:30, which at least gave me an opportunity to catch up in my travel journal.  As we’d planned the trip he’d tried to convince me this would be a good day for sight-seeing.  His nephew Ayman, our travel agent, kept giving us itineraries with an 8 AM pick-up time and I kept sending them back.  As I sat watching him sleep off his partying I felt pretty smug.

When he did get up, we found a snack among the desserts, but the rest of the un-refrigerated food seemed like food poisoning looking for a place to happen.  The packing ritual didn’t take very long and by 11:30 we were in the lobby waiting for our car.

Egypt’s roadside answer to Home Depot

The Luxury of Having a Driver

While I love luxury, our travel budget rarely affords us much of it.  We take nice vacations, but we always have the most economical transportation available.  Thankfully, the groom insisted Bill hire a driver to transport us around when we were on our own and Ayman did us the favor of scheduling one guy to be our driver the whole time – even when we traveled to Alexandria.

Izzat was a treasure.  He was very proper in a sort of Egyptian way.  If you’ve been there you know what I mean and if you haven’t, I can’t explain it to you.  He spoke impeccable English.  The car was a Hyundai, so nothing extravagant, but very clean.  So off we went.

Early in the trip Izzat was a little difficult to engage in conversation, but by the time we left Egypt he had warmed up to these two crazy Americans.  He never wanted to be in a picture, however, and some of that might be because of his faith.  Being Christian in Egypt is not illegal, but it’s also something of a disadvantage.

On our trip to the Mena House, Izzat was polite but distant.  We observed the sites on the way out to Giza.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about our new favorite hotel.

DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

What’s a Wedding Without a Belly Dancer?

TRAVEL THERE: THE CELEBRATION’S CROWNING GLORY

If you’ve ever been to an Egyptian wedding and they didn’t have a belly dancer, then you’ve missed out on a wonderful treat.  Bassem and Mariam’s wedding was an over-the-top experience in a lot of ways and true to form, when it came time for their belly dancer to appear, you can be sure she didn’t disappoint.

The Excitement Builds

From the moment the bride and groom made their pyrotechnic appearance in the Fairmont’s Pearl Ballroom,  we were treated to excess after excess.  Generous pourings of fine scotch, a grandiose buffet and amazing desserts were just the beginning.  The dj kept the dance floor filled and a great time was being had everywhere you looked.

Suddenly, everything came to a screeching halt.  The music stopped and the dance floor cleared, but the excitement level went through the roof.  The belly dancer was about to make her appearance.

I Love Belly Dancing

OK, I’ll confess, I love belly dancing.  Whether we’re enjoying a festival like Scarborough Faire, taking in the State Fair of Texas, eating at a Middle Eastern restaurant or attending a travel show, when the throbbing beat of drums announce the appearance of a belly dancer, I make a beeline to the edge of the stage.

While I’ve never taken a belly dancing lesson in my life, I did win a belly dancing contest on my earlier visit to Egypt.  I’d dressed up for Gallebeya Night on our Nile Cruise with no idea I’d be belly dancing before the night was over.

When they began a light-hearted contest and were getting a slow response, I stepped up on stage to dance against a fellow passenger in the spirit of fun.  When the music started, I wiggled around with my hands up in the air, making what I hoped were belly-dancing-looking gestures.  I won the match-up completely unaware that it was just the first round.  Time and again I was asked to dance against other passengers and to my amazement I somehow won every round.

On the last round, an appropriately-garbed and obviously properly-trained dancer shimmed up to challenge me and I tried my best to bow out of the embarrassing match-up, but no one would allow it.  In my clumsy, but joyful attempts, I had become the crowd favorite and even though the real belly dancer danced circles around me, when the crowd was asked to vote with their applause, I was the overwhelming winner.

Over here in States, the dancers are a mixed bag.  More often than not, amateur performers share their pure love of the art form and I revel in their delight.  From women so skinny their ribs are hanging out to voluptuous ladies with rolls of fat freely jiggling, each lady who practices this art is braver and more skilled than me.  Huzzah!  Here’s a sampling of belly dancers we’ve enjoyed.  And yes, that is Bill on stage. He’s always the guy they pick for crowd participation, but I’m the one who won the belly dancing contest.

 The Best Ever Belly Dancer

Though I am a big fan of belly dancing, I have never in my life seen such a beautiful and talented dancer as I did that evening.  While I have seen some attractive women shake their stuff, the crystal blue eyes, gorgeous skin and toned muscles of this wedding dancer put her in a class all by herself.  Her performance included several costume changes.  The first one, a red velvet number encrusted with many gems and spangles was without a doubt the most glamorous and elegant costume I could have imagined, but every time she reappeared, she raised the bar.

During her finale she invited everyone up to dance with her and this time it was me, rather than Bill who danced with the star.  What fun we had.  Enjoy these pictures of us enjoying the show.  Then come back next week as we take off our wedding finery and head out as tourists.

 

DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Here Comes the Bride and Groom

At Long Last!

TRAVEL THERE: LET THE PARTY FINALLY BEGIN

Of course, my nephew and his new wife did finally arrive at their own wedding reception and a party like you will not believe began.  Before I share the excitement, let me explain the delay.

The Big Moment – Delayed

The big moment at most wedding receptions is the entry of the bride and groom, but in Egypt they heighten the anticipation by not allowing anything to happen until the bride and groom appear.  That practice almost caused a riot when the newlywed pair failed to appear after a couple of hours.  The crowd settled down when snacks and some liquor appeared, but there was still an undercurrent of rumor around the ballroom.

Since we were in Egypt, I should have known traffic was the problem.  A few weeks ago I told you about the crush of traffic in the construction-clogged neighborhood of Heliopolis, but in spite of the wedding’s Heliopolis location, that wasn’t what caused the problem.  The guests who attended the ceremony made it back to the hotel in just a few minutes.

I’ve mentioned this was a holiday, the end of a long weekend, so many of the guests were traveling.  The plan had been for them to skip the brief wedding and show up just in time for the entry of the bride and groom into the reception.  Only the traffic was really bad and a large percentage of the people who really needed to be there were stuck on the road into Cairo.

Just about the time I was ready to gather up my broken shoes and head to the room for a good night’s sleep, my husband returned to the table.  I really wanted to chew him out for abandoning me, but I reminded myself that I’d been the one who said I’d just stay at the table.  I may or may not have told him that I was ready to go back to the room, but he let me know that the action was about to heat up.  The missing guests were arriving in droves and the newlyweds were making their way to the ballroom.

Fireworks and Applause

While the rest of us were just anxious to get on with the celebration, my grand niece’s and grand nephew’s anxiety had been about something else.  When the bride and groom appeared, the tiny wedding guests were to display a pair of signs about the last chance to run.  As the excitement level rose in the room, they were hustled near to the stage.  Since the wedding had already happened, the timing for the signs seemed a little off to this American, but this was Egypt and time has a whole different meaning there.

Then suddenly, the newlyweds were there – the beautiful bride and my handsome nephew.  I doubt any group of wedding guests has ever been more glad to see their newlyweds.  It was an astounding appearance!  A lightshow, fireworks – even canned applause.  You would have thought we were at the Olympics, but we were in a ballroom beneath the Heliopolis Fairmont.  The award for bride of the season goes to Mariam!

If More is Better Then this was the BEST!

As soon as Bassem and Mariam showed up the flood gates of hospitality opened.  Before too long a bountiful buffet was presented.  I swear we could have opened up the doors to every one staying at the Fairmont (both the older section and the Towers)  and still had leftovers for weeks.

There were two buffets, one for the main course and another for desserts.  There were also several specialty stations.  Problem was, my stomach had decided those few bites it got with the mezza was all it was going to get, so it had shut down for the night.  What I did manage to eat was great, but I couldn’t do justice to all those beautiful proteins, carbs and fats.

The dessert bar was unbelievable.  It stretched for what seemed like miles and had an amazing array of choices.  Any cruise ship would have been jealous.  In fact, I have to say that the actual offerings were better than any boat I’d been on.  The table wasn’t overcrowded with the decor some cruise ships employ, but the selections were top quality to match their great variety.

Starvation abated, it was time to dance- and dance we did.  The dj was great and pretty much every song was danceable.  Like most weddings, there were more kids and women dancing in groups than there were couples, but the energy was high.  Finally, I was not the only barefooted woman in the room.  My sweet husband obliged me, by taking me out to the floor a number of times, as did several of my nephews, cousins and such.  The groom spent a lot of time on the dance floor, but the bride could usually be seen enjoying her friends up on the white sofa in the lounge.

But the true highlight of any Egyptian party is the belly dancer and you’re going to have to come back next week for that.  I’ll leave you with a picture of me and my guys.

Blessed with Nephews!

 

DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Egyptian Time Dragging By

Mommy, when will the bride and groom come?

TRAVEL THERE: WHERE ARE THE BRIDE AND GROOM?

In case you’re just joining us, let me remind you where we are.  I’ve just attended my first Coptic wedding, an amazing experience.  Now I’m sitting in the Pearl Ballroom of the Heliopolis Fairmont, waiting for the arrival of the bride and groom.  I didn’t join my husband as he went to work the room, because I had a broken shoe and didn’t want to wander around barefoot.  There is no food, no drink and no music, because nothing is supposed to happen until the bride and groom arrive.  Everyone around me is speaking a language I don’t understand.  I haven’t eaten since breakfast and we’re coming up on ten o’clock.  The adventure is wearing thin and my bed is beginning to sound pretty good to me.  The promised buffet and belly dancer aren’t as compelling as they seemed before.

Angry with No One to be Mad at

Don’t you just hate it when you find yourself growing madder with every minute that passes and you don’t even have anyone to blame.   Of course, Bill would be using the time to visit with old friends.  He didn’t tell me to stay at the table because my shoe broke.  I made that decision myself.  And who exactly could I blame for my broken shoe.  I chose them out of my large collection of shoes and I have no idea when or where I’d bought them.  It was no one’s fault but mine that I was the only woman in the room with slicked back hair.  My nieces had tried to get me to have my hair puffed up professionally.  I couldn’t blame anyone else for the fact that I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.  Who besides me decides to diet on a vacation to a wedding?  I couldn’t even blame anyone for the fact that they were all talking to each other in another language.  I’ve been married to Bill for over 20 years.  I’d had plenty of time to learn a little Arabic if I’d wanted to to.

Even without basic language skills I began to realize this wait was a little longer than the usual Egyptian wedding reception.  The blame for the delay was generously passed around.  Some said it was because the wedding was on a holiday and there wasn’t enough staff to take care of everything.  Some blamed the caterer, who was, by the way, out of town directing the whole thing via phone.  Some blamed the couple themselves for not coming down to join their guests and rumors of wild partying in the bridal suite spread out among the tables.  Some blamed the groom and his family.  Others blamed the bride and her family.  We didn’t have anything to eat or drink, but there was plenty of blame to share.

It Gets Better, But Not For Me

Beautiful Family – Bill’s sister and our grandniece

Because of the extreme wait, some changes to tradition were made.  Someone finally delivered a plate of mezza to the table. I wanted to grab it and find a corner to devour it in, but I played it cool. I had a couple of olives and a few bites of something else. Later I regretted my restraint. Everyone must have been as hungry as me, because every crumb disappeared almost immediately.

They also loosened up the liquor, but when the drinks finally did arrive, it was just scotch.  On the night before the wedding the bride juggled guests while the groom juggled scotch.  There was not going to be a bar or champagne. Mind you, they drink very good scotch, but that’s all they drink.  Bottles of the popular beverage enhancer were placed on the table in generous proportions, but I don’t drink scotch – at all. The room got friendlier and the blame for the delay got gentler.

I had to make do with Coke Zero.  It took so much effort to get a can of it, I dared not do more than sip, because I might never see another. I soon felt very much like the designated driver, only it didn’t come with any of the satisfaction serving that the role usually provides. I was just the only person in the room over four feet tall who was not drinking – and I was starving.

I learned from the four foot tall crowd that there was a sweets station.  It was cute, with cupcakes and candy, but no true cure for hunger.  Out of desperation I sampled some of the choices, but too much sugar when I’m hungry only gives me a headache and I hate wasting calories.  So I continued to suffer in silence.

Will the bride and groom ever show up?  Come back next week and find out!

 

DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

A Reception on Egyptian Time

Wedding Centerpiece

TRAVEL THERE: AND THEN WE WAITED

If the wedding was a departure from my norm, the reception was a rocketship to Mars.  I’ll try to explain it, but I doubt I can do it justice.

The Very Long Interlude

The bus ride from the church to the hotel only took moments.  We’d hung out on the church portico for a long time and I was glad to be starting the next phase of the celebrations, but I immediately ran into trouble – or perhaps I should say I tripped into it.  As if my lack of tendrils wasn’t enough of a humiliation, while I was going down the stairs to the ballroom, the sole of my strappy high-heeled sandal decided to part ways with the rest of the shoe.

Halted in my progress, I expressed my desire to change into another pair of shoes, but was dissuaded from it by one of my nephews.  He explained I didn’t want to miss the entry of the bride and groom.  Apparently he thought their arrival was imminent, but as I would learn before the evening was over, he was very wrong.  I was given the assurance that almost immediately the dance floor would fill with women who would also be barefoot.  That seemed reasonable, so I took off the shoes and carried them with me into the Pearl Ballroom.

Wedding Buffet

Let me just say the decor was amazing and beautiful.  In the first few moments I was awestruck and had a hard time processing it all.  Little did I know just how much time I would have to consider every single detail of the room.  And I might mention that I was starving.  I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.  I was saving calories for the huge buffet I heard would be coming.  However, right that minute I was so hungry I was wondering if my broken shoes might make a good meal.  They certainly weren’t serving any other purpose.

Perhaps you’re concerned about me being so hungry in a situation where adult beverages would be served.  Well, let me remind you.  there was to be no bar.  There was no champagne.  There was no signature cocktail.  Scotch is the wedding beverage of choice and for at least the first hour of the wait, there was nothing – because everything is supposed to happen at an Egyptian reception after the bride and groom enter.  Our bride and groom had disappeared and they stayed disappeared for a long time.  And they didn’t even have the excuse of picture taking to cover their absence, because back at the church, folks were by now setting up for yet another wedding after the wedding that followed our wedding.

American wedding traditions scored one on the Egyptians at this point.  Some couples handle it as Bill and I did.  We got our pictures ahead of time.  Bill and I beat everyone to the reception and greeted them as they came in – ushering them into the buffet.  Other couples, wanting post wedding pictures and the big entrance, have a cocktail hour complete with waiters wandering around with trays of treats.  I remember long awkward waits in the past, but between the cocktail hour and folks who get the photos out of the way early, we’ve sort of solved that problem.

The first hour of the wait passed pretty quickly.  Just taking in the set-up of the ballroom was an entertainment.  There were long dining tables and high cocktail tables; a glamorous lounge set up for the bride and groom; and a huge stage filled one end of the ballroom.  When that fascination wore out there were all those Egyptians in their wedding finery to watch.  Just as at an American wedding, there were kids entertaining themselves all around the room.  I was hungry and thirsty, my husband abandoned me in my shoe-less state to greet old friends, but I figured the wait would be over soon.  Come back next week and see how that went.

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

Wedding Day in Cairo Egypt

Wedding Invitation

TRAVEL THERE: A VERY DIFFERENT KIND OF CEREMONY

So far, Bassem and Miriam’s wedding day has been pretty mundane, if you don’t count the machine guns on our bus.  Once the church doors opened, everything changed.  We were at a Coptic Wedding.

Saint Mark Coptic Church

When the huge doors opened, the scent of incense wafted out into the waiting crowd and I was awestruck.  The church was gorgeous, obviously very, very old, but beautiful.  You got the impression God had been hanging out here for a very long time.

It was not a particularly large church, but it was grandly decorated with beautiful paintings and an amazing amount of gold.  There was no formal seating going on.  Everyone just wandered in and took a seat.  There was no his side and her side, just folks wandering into a pew as they entered.  The family was sort of huddled over to one side.  We had some front row seats, but they certainly were not particularly advantageous.

Forget What You Know About Weddings

Throw out preconceptions, because this had nothing in common with your basic American wedding.  The bride and groom were seated in thrones at the front of the church.  The photographers and videographers considered themselves very much part of the ceremony and spread themselves out across the front of the church.  Joining them on the stage were a group of priests in decidedly Coptic garb.

Coptic Officiants at the Wedding

Now I’ve been to weddings where there were more than one officiant.  Sometimes it’s because each family wants to be represented or there are several members of the clergy in the family.  This wedding had an entire crowd of priests.  They’re the guys wearing the black turbans, but these four in the picture are only a sample.

I was made to understand the number of priests reflected the status of the people getting married and no one could remember a wedding where they’d seen more priests.  Most gratifying was the priest who had come all the way from Sharm El Sheik because of my niece, who holds such a special place in their congregation.  Each of the priests participated in one way or another.  Some doing ceremonial duty and others delivering pithy little sermonettes to the bride and groom. (None of which I could understand, of course, because they were in either Coptic or Arabic.)

All the while, the church was a beehive of activity.  Along with all the priests were acolytes and altar boys wandering around doing a variety of tasks, from swinging incense burners to lighting candles.  At one point my nephew Shady went up to read the Bible.  Also any time a priest wasn’t involved in the ceremony, they were kept busy blessing whoever came up to the stage, bowed before them and kissed their hands.

Folks seeking blessings weren’t the only ones who came up to the stage.  As if the photography and videography crew of about six people weren’t enough, no one hesitated to pop right up out of their seat and head up to the front to get a picture – and if the best angle was between the priest and the wedding couple, then so be it.   

Behind their back, their very expensive decorations are already coming down

I was gob-smacked.  I couldn’t believe it.  The bride and groom were almost an after-thought in all the frenetic activity.  Suddenly it was all over. The bride and groom stood.  A few pictures were taken and we all filed out of the church.

Let the Turnover Begin

I was still trying to  process what I had seen, when I realized that as soon as the bride and groom had their back towards the stage, folks started tearing down the decorations so they could get set for the next wedding.

An American church might have 2 or three weddings on a given day, but Coptic churches schedule about an hour per wedding and stack them all day long, from early in the morning until late in the evening – especially on holidays like the day after Easter.  If they get behind, which apparently they always do, then they just hurry you up a little more.

Once we were outside, you could see they had already redecorated the entry to the church and on a corner near the church were the floral remains of several different ceremonies.  Egyptians do have a receiving line, but it’s held on the porch of the church, rather than at the reception. As the wedding party assembled into the obligatory formation, a limo pulled up in front of the church.  I will never forget seeing the bride get out of the limo, go through the security routine we had and then climb up the stairs to the sanctuary.  It was one of those odd scenes that you can’t erase.

Then it was back in the bus and back to the Fairmont.