Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Grapevine Vintage Railroad

TRAVEL HERE: FORT WORTH STOCKYARDS FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Desperate for some travel-like experiences in the Covid haze, I planned a series of holiday outings, but I’ll be the first to admit things didn’t go as planned. While there’s many a time the thermometer has hovered in the seventies over the holiday season, that was not the case this holiday. Instead, my poor husband suffered a series of weather-related indignities, just so he wouldn’t have to peel me off the wall. Our excursion on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad was just such an experience.

Covid vs. The Weather

During the pandemic, virtually everything you wanted to do, you needed to have reservations. While that seems like a reasonable request, as I mentioned when I talking about the Dallas Arboretum, it just doesn’t work very well in our lives. Bill needs to be in the mood and the weather needs to be nice. During December, Bill was not in the mood, at all, and the weather was pretty awful.

Bill suffers from SAD, a condition related to those people whose emotions can be effected by the lack of certain light rays from the sun. He has special lights in his office and he takes extra vitamins to combat it, but when the weather is lousy, so is his mood. In December the weather was lousy , but in spite of his mood, Bill tried to enjoy the events I scheduled, unlike the weather.

A Rainy and Cold Excursion

The morning of our Grapevine Vintage Railroad excursion was not a pretty one. It was cold and it was trying to rain. There was mostly just a miserable mist, but on occasion it would gather it’s wits about it and give us some actual rain. We drove to Grapevine in the mist, which turned into a pretty nasty rain, just about the time we needed to make a dash to get on the train.

Damp and wet, we turned our reservations in for some souvenir tickets. I’ve got to hand it to the Grapevine Vintage Railroad, their cars are very authentic and they’d done a marvelous job decorating them for the holidays. However, as we settled into our seats the Covid effect was immediate. Everyone had on their masks and those everyone’s were few and far between.

Part of the fun of something like a train excursion it the energy you get from the people around you only none of the people around us were actually close enough to us to share their energy. I know there was a pandemic going on, but this just felt sad in a way that our other attempts at our Staycation had not.

We tried to jolly one another along as the train made it’s way to Fort Worth. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see. The railway went through industrial areas and neighborhoods, but none of the neighborhoods were very scenic – just one leaning, washed-out privacy fence after another, behind houses desperately in need of maintenance. Preventative maintenance had been ignored about a decade ago. The railway made an attempt to entertain us with a faux train robbery, but with a mostly empty car the failure of it just rattled the windows.

Finally, the Fort Worth Stockyards

As we arrived, others were clamoring to get on, so the initial feel of it was that maybe we were on to something. Then we stepped outside. It was cold, really cold, and while it wasn’t raining or misting, there was enough humidity to make it feel even colder.

We made our way over to the Stock Exchange which was reportedly full of exhibits, museums, food and shops. NOT! And all the reported attractions which were missing from the Stock Exchange must have taken the rest of attractions in the area with them, because nothing was opened with the exception of a few stores and restaurants.

We spent some time in the Stockyards Hotel Lobby and that, at least, was interesting. They did have some historical photos which kept us occupied for awhile. Then we headed on our way along Exchange Avenue. Several of the stores were nothing but junk. Forty million things with Fort Worth Stockyards printed on them and nothing at all that we wanted.

Then, we found out that it was a good thing we didn’t want to be a Cowboy or Cowgirl, because we couldn’t afford it! As we made our way along Exchange Avenue the quality went up and there were no souvenir type slogans printed on things, but the price tags scared us to death. Cowboy boots in multiple thousands, pieces of clothing in the mid to high hundreds. Hats for custom blocking that were astronomical. And the jewelry? Tasteful, but exorbitant.

Getting a Bite at Booger’s

Our watches told us we had a some more time to kill before we could get back on the train and return to Grapevine. We decided to drown our sorrows in some food and drinks. The best option seemed to be Booger Red’s, a restaurant and bar attached to the Stockyards Hotel. We have no complaints, at all, concerning Booger’s. My Margarita was good, as were our quesadillas. The establishment has a Western feel to it and they’ve hung a number of amusing signs around for entertainment.

If you’ve heard of the Fort Worth Stockyards, then you’ve probably heard of Billy Bob’s. On a cold weekday during Covid, nothing was going on there. The other thing you might have heard of was the daily cattle drives. That did happen, but let me tell you, like a lot of small towns in Texas, if you blink you might miss it.

Then we were glad it was time to go. The train ride back was pretty much a repeat of the trip there. We got back to Grapevine and got off the train. We had a close eye on the weather, because the next morning we were supposed to head to Oklahoma and celebrate at a very special Bed and Breakfast Inn. Did we get to do it? Come back next week and find out.

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Carriage Ride Chilly, Not Charmed

TRAVEL HERE: CINDERELLA CARRIAGE RIDE THROUGH HIGHLAND PARK

I thought it would be an enchanted evening. I dreamed of it for decades. I imagined it as an event shared by friends. I imagined it as an romantic evening for two. I saw it as a typical Texas December evening with temperatures in the 60’s. I saw it as a crisp evening wrapped up in blankets and sipping hot cocoa. I probably thought of every possible version, except the Covid tainted evening I ended up with.

Believe Half of What You See and Less of What You Hear

I’m not sure where I first heard that, but it’s true. The people in this picture look like they are having a marvelous time. Well, They are not.

In my Staycation dreams, Bill and I were going to take a ride in a carriage designed for two. I researched the whole thing and eventually was able to discuss it with Bill to get his stamp of approval, but by the time I got that approval and went back to order our vehicle of romance, all that were left were larger carriages.

As I said, I’d been wanting to do this for a long time and who knew if I’d ever get Bill’s OK again. So, I ordered up the carriage, which by the way was a Cinderella Carriage for up to four people and hoped for the best, even though the larger carriage was more money. It wasn’t that much more, but it was more than we had discussed.

I am convinced that the most trouble I get into comes when I am trying to do good. I knew two things, that I’d paid more than I intended for the carriage ride and that my bestie wanted to take this excursion almost as much as I did. Somehow, all that turned into an invitation for Deb to join us and maybe her son would come along. I’m not sure how that was supposed to jive with the romantic carriage ride I sold Bill, but that’s the road I went down.

The On Hold Music

So, I won’t bother you with all the details, but instead of driving down to Highland Park for our carriage ride with Christmas carols playing on the radio, we were instead treated to the horrendous “on hold” music of one of Bill’s investment brokers. The weather was worse than awful for an outside activity, but worse than the weather was Bill’s attitude. To say things didn’t start out on the right foot would be putting it mildly.

We also got there earlier than we needed to, which always irritates Bill, and that was just one more irritation heaped on several others. Bill and I were barely being civil to one another. It’s a good thing Deb loves us both or she’d have been done with us after that evening.

When our carriage was ready, we stepped out into the COLD, damp, misty evening and climbed aboard. Just a few minutes later, we took this shot. Anybody who says a picture doesn’t lie hasn’t seen this one.

The Meat of the Matter

So, the Highland Park Christmas lights are something to behold even on a bad night. The Cinderella Carriage seemed to fit the festive occasion and we all tried to make the best of what had turned into an ordeal, rather than an excursion. Our driver was really a nice guy and the horse was beautiful.

Our horse also had gas. Yes, I understood that horses sometimes defecate and urinate during their services to human beings. Those deposits fall onto the roadway and are soon left behind. When your horse has gas on a damp evening with no breeze, the funk lingers and lingers and lingers. I have no idea what they’d been feeding this horse, but the odor was foul.

I think you get the picture. My dream carriage ride turned into a nightmare. Not exactly a winner. Come back next week and maybe I’ll do better with my train excursion…maybe!

ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

An Afternoon with Nefertari at the Kimball

TRAVEL HERE: QUEEN NEFERTARI VISITS FORT WORTH

Fast Forward to our Staycation. Pre-Covid I planned to spend the Holidays in sunny California enjoying a bargain I scored with Westin. During the year I had planned the trip three different ways, none of which we actually enjoyed. Then I planned a road trip around the Southeast, but rising Covid numbers nixed that, too. So I planned a Staycation. A major event during my Staycation calendar was a visit to the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth to see Queen Nefertari’s Egypt.

Yes, There Was a Pandemic Going On

A few weeks back I told you about the Flesh & Blood Exhibition we visited at the Kimbell earlier in the year. Mask were de rigueur, but otherwise life at the Kimbell was pretty much the same as always. By the time Nefertari arrived, they’d gotten a whole lot more Covid-conscious. In fact, even the audio tour had been recorded anticipating visitors would be spending more time than usual in line, so there was more intro stuff you were supposed to listen to before you entered.

Bill and I arrived for our visit on a weekday afternoon, so there wasn’t much of a line. Hence I spent my first few minutes in the exhibition trying to coordinate what I was seeing with what I was hearing, so I was audibly handicapped in the first room of the exhibit. On a later visit, shown above, I had the chance to listen to the intro bits the way they were designed to be heard.

There were little arrows on the floor to keep you going in the right direction. That didn’t suit me either. I usually listen to the audio tour as I view the art and Bill walks through occasionally reading a label as he enjoys the pieces on exhibition. Then we backtrack, him showing me what he liked and me explaining the backstory on some of the more esoteric pieces.

So, my first visit to the exhibition, I had to acclimate myself to the new rules. Don’t worry I visited several more times and was able to fully enjoy the whole thing completely, in spite of the Covid-inspired challenges.

Exhibit vs. Egypt

I’ve been to Egypt twice, enjoying most of their famous museums, including the Cairo Museum and the Alexandria Library. Those authentic experiences cannot be replaced by a trip to Fort Worth, but there are things the Kimbell does better than the Egyptians.

Perhaps the most obvious difference is the display cases. In Egypt, the case is crammed full, an overabundance of everything from mummies to faience, the lighting is often nonexistent and the cards explaining things create more questions than they answer . Americans carefully place a few items at eye level, with perfect lighting and cards that give you more information than you need, accompanied by more information on plaques on the walls and audio tours.

Now in Egypt, for a very reasonable fee you can hire a guide to tell you everything the cards and audio tours let you know, but the guides come with challenges of their own. Guides have no off button and you don’t get to select which items you prefer to focus on. They will tell you what they want to, in the order they want to and nothing you can do will slow them down, speed them up or get them to change the subject until they decide to.

American exhibits also seem to make more sense. They carefully curate what will be shown and exhibit it logically. I got tickled during my first visit to the Cairo Museum, mostly because of the randomness of it all. There was no timeline, no themes, nothing I could identify except for room after room of amazing things thrown together willy nilly. The funniest part was the frequency with which I ran into display cases chock full of beads and small figurines of servants for the afterlife. They were virtually everywhere, in every room of the museum, often lined up one after the other along the walls with nothing but signs that said “faience.” I know more now, but then it was baffling.

Queen Nefertari’s Egypt

While there absolutely were numerous items related directly to Nefertari, the title of the exhibit was Queen Nefertari’s Egypt and that was the true focus, rather than the queen herself. What was the role of women? How did religion figure into their daily lives? These were the questions answered by this exhibit. However, some of the most fun display cases were devoted to jewelry and cosmetics. A pair of sandals found in her tomb, thought to be hers, were fascinating.

However, a large part of the exhibit was devoted to Deir el-Medina, the village where all the tomb workers lived. I found it very interesting, because I had actually spent some time in the village on my visit to the Valley of the Kings. A picture on the wall of the exhibit was the same as I have in my scrapbook. I love when I have those moments. Watching a travel show and saying, “We’ve been there,” is a blast.

In the exhibit, they expounded on the religious practices of the citizens of Deir el-Medina, but they missed out on what I thought was the most interesting. These workers, who spent most of their lives preparing an eternal resting place for royalty, spent their days off preparing their own tombs. The walls of the royal tombs were focused on the Book of the Dead, formulas and passages to send the kings and queens to live among the gods. For their own tombs, the workers carved and painted beautiful scenes from everyday life – a table burdened down with foods they loved to eat, rather than ritualistic meals to please the gods; natural wildlife scenes, rather than records of the victories they’d won and the slaves they’d captured. I thought the workers had the better idea of what to commemorate.

It was a marvelous exhibit and I am so proud of the Metroplex for hosting Queen Nefertari, but I wish it had been the DMA. Then next week we’ll ride a Cinderella Carriage through Highland Park. Yep, I ticked that one of my bucket list, too.

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

The Road to Alligator Bottoms

TRAVEL HERE: THE ADVENT TEA WE WILL NEVER FORGET

I have been accused of making up some of my adventures purely to entertain you guys. While I am guilty of squeezing every laugh I can out of a situation, I assure you I have lived through each of these adventures, exactly as I have explained them to you. Whether it was the chagrin I felt on the tourist train in Monte Carlo or having a machinegun toting guard deliver me to a wedding in Cairo, it happened. Perhaps the truth of it is that I just look for more fun in a situation than most people do. What other people experience and forget about almost immediately, I enjoy retelling with relish over and over and over.

The Advent Tea

I go to a very Conservative church. The women all home school and some families are so large, they broke the Covid restrictions just by waking up each morning. A great majority of the families live far out in the country. I’ve never exactly understood why God decided that’s where He wanted me to go, but it couldn’t have been clearer it was His choice for me, even if He’d decided to hang a red “You Are Here” arrow over the roof.

What’s even more strange is that they’ve made me a member of the Ladies Ministry Committee. Early in 2020, before Covid was a thing, one really sweet lady said she had a great idea for a November event. We’d each buy a box of tea, adhere a Bible verse to each tea bag and bring the bags to the event. Then we’d share tea bags and each lady would walk away with collection of teas to enjoy during Advent. That sounded like my kind of event, so I was assigned to help organize it.

The hostess had things pretty well under control, but she was a little fuzzy on the receptacles for sharing the teas at the event and on the receptacle each person would take home with their own teas. I suggested my mom’s Christmas China for presenting the teas and decorative tin boxes to take them home. My suggestions were accepted.

What I Thought Would Happen

The location of the event was one of those homes out in the country that’s not exactly on my beaten track. That’s why I was glad I’d need to take a pre-event visit to deliver the china pieces we’d be using, as well as the cute matching tins I’d found at the dollar store. Based on that assumption, I thought I’d invite along my Bestie, who attends the church with me, but rarely gets to participates in Ladies Ministry Events, because her schedule is so demanding.

So, the day before the event I contacted the hostess and asked her when she wanted me to deliver the china. Well, somewhere along the way she’d decided she didn’t want to use the china after all. While she was probably under the impression that she was making life easier for me, she had no idea that after learning Mom’s china would not be making an appearance, I actually sat down and cried.

I also made note of the fact that I wouldn’t be making a trial run to the location, but we have GPS, right. Everything would be fine.

What Actually Happened

So, Bestie did her best to break away from work, but by the time I picked her up, dusk was setting in. We shot up I-30, took the appointed exit and then turned right when the GPS said to. Only in the dark, I took some kind of driveway rather than a street or road and we were soon turning around.

We got on the right road almost by Braille and continued to follow the GPS directions. Left here, right there – no you missed it, turn around as soon as you can, now left, OK, but we’re about to take a quick right…well you get the picture.

Eventually, the GPS was happy with the road we were traveling and we went deeper into the boonies. At one point I looked at the screen and saw we were on Alligator Bottoms Road. I kid you not. She laughed, I laughed, Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight laughed…I’m kidding.

Finally, the GPS said we were only a few minutes away and that’s when I saw the gate across the road with a whole bunch of official looking signs warning me not to go any further. That’s when Dueling Banjos began to play. Maybe not in reality, but it was on both our minds.

I tried to turn around, but in the inky blackness I was afraid I was going to end up in a ditch, so Bestie had to get out and direct. Once I had the car headed towards civilization I zoomed out of there. We tried calling someone, anyone – because it was time for the event to start and I still had the tin boxes, but to no avail. Believe me, if I hadn’t had those boxes, we would have been on our way to someplace with adult beverages, not tea.

The Boring Ending

With no one answering their phones or calling us back, Deb pulled out her phone and gave Waze a shot. Perhaps it would do a better job than my GPS did. After about 27 more twists and turns we arrived at the tea with a couple of other carloads of ladies. We were late, but not horribly so and there were others who were more lost than we were, apparently – though no one else went to Alligator Bottoms.

Instead of Mom’s Christmas China, the various teas were in small baskets, not an improvement to my eyes, Everybody loved their tins. We had a nice devotional and some prayer time. Then we headed back into the night and were back on a main road before you could say Deliverance – The Movie.

And that was our Adventurous Advent Tea. Next time these city girls are staying home!! Come back next week and we’ll go to the Kimbell for a real holiday treat!

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Kicking the Pandemic at The Kimbell

TRAVEL HERE – Flesh & Blood at the Kimbell Museum

I may be a Dallasite, but my heart belongs to the Kimbell Museum in Ft. Worth. I love the Dallas Museum of Art, too, but not in the same way. The DMA tends to cater to a more modern taste than mine. I almost grew up among the items in its permanent collection, so they are dear to my heart and frequently visited, but too often I look at what’s on special exhibition there, shrug my shoulders and head to Ft. Worth. There are notable exceptions in my recent memory, Dior, Tut, and Jean Paul Gaultier, for instance, but during the pandemic the exhibits were definitely not on my must see list.

Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum

They had me at Italian Masterpieces! I got goose bumps at the idea of Capodimonte! That’s the kind of art I’ll drive to Ft. Worth for.

I made a couple of visits. One was with Bill and to say he was under-impressed would be an understatement. I was surprised, because most of it was nudes, he’s a guy…you know the drill. But, he went through the gallery at lightening speed. Usually, after we’ve both seen everything at our own speed, he’s eager to walk back through with me and point out his favorites. He was ready to go. I didn’t get that at all. Look at these gorgeous things!

I adored the painting of the woman and spent a lot of time trying to figure out exactly how the outfit she was wearing worked in real life. The boy lighting the flame was very sweet. All the painting were glorious – but not according to my husband.

Bestie and I Return

Well, once was not enough for me, so I returned with my bestie. The show was supposed to be over in June, but due to the pandemic it stayed a little longer and we went in July. She was as gaga as I was over the gorgeous works of art. We lingered and strolled and lingered some more.

We also had a good laugh. To spice up the experience, they had costumed volunteers strolling the galleries. It was supposed to give you the feeling of being in a gallery when theses masterpieces were new. Somehow the pandemic masks killed it for me.

Sorry the photo is a little tilted and fuzzy, I was doing the best I could, but I was trying to be a little discreet about shooting it with my phone. So what next. Well, there were weddings, neighborhood parties, grocery store contests, restaurant visits and other distractions, but it was all social distanced and masked, so I wasn’t having the time of my life. Finally, there was the Staycation. Come back next week and I will tell you about that.

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Gardens, Photography, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Dallas Arboretum – My Breath of Fresh Air

TRAVEL HERE: An Oasis in the Pandemic

I love the Dallas Arboretum. My family has had a long term love affair with it that continues until today. I claim the credit for the original discovery. A friend invited me onsite to look around when it wasn’t even the Arboretum, yet. My mom takes credit for contributing the most to it, because for many, many years she was a faithful docent in the DeGolyer Estate. As my parents’ health deteriorated, she clung to that volunteer appointment for as long as she could, but finally, she felt she couldn’t abandon my dad for so long for such a selfish reason. I’m still a member, visiting as frequently as I can and dragging anyone who will go with me. During the pandemic it was a true respite from the oppression of the regulations designed to stop the spread of Covid-19.

The Garden is Closed?

I confess, we treat the Arboretum as if it were our very own garden. Most of the visits I make with my husband are part of the Sunday afternoon rambles we take together and we just happen to go there spontaneously. My bestie and I will make a little more effort in planning, but it’s usually more of a decision to go on a certain day, rather than at a certain time on that day. As a member, we never have to stand with the general public. We just flash our credentials at the members’ attendant and stroll into the garden.

For instance, I had visitors in January and thankfully we had nice weather, because I took them with me for a visit. Little did I know it would be my last for a while.

I may go several times in one week and then not go again for several months. It’s OK, it’s my garden. When I go, I love to be there for lunch on the patio, but then again, I may just take a walk down the Paseo and then be on my way. When Dallas shut down for the pandemic, so did the Arboretum and it was a shock to my system. It was like the death of a friend you didn’t talk to all that frequently, but you always knew they were there, until they weren’t.

Unfortunately, the shutdown began when the garden was at its best. Every year in the Spring, they have Blooms, a celebration of color. I try to find a reason to be there frequently, because it literally changes from day to day, and each day it gets more fragrant and beautiful. In 2020, it was closed during Blooms.

Timed Tickets

The next shock to my system was timed tickets. It is my garden after all! How could they tie me to a specific date and time? By then, however, I was learning to adjust to a lot of things that I didn’t like very much, so I went through the motions of planning a variety of specific visits – with my hubby, with my bestie, with whoever I could drag there.

And therein lay the next shock. The garden was virtually empty. The female statue above usually has people all over it, trying to get pictures. Professional photographers with all their gear, people with phones, all people with all kinds of equipment snapping shots around every corner. On a normal visit we complain at least once or twice about the crowds. On these pandemic visits we complained because we were all alone and because our favorite dining spots were closed.

The Visiting Statues

During the days of timed tickets, the Arboretum featured Seward Johnson’s “Celebrating the Familiar” Exhibit. Dotted around the garden were a series of very realistic statues. Were you not looking for them, you might have passed by them, assuming they were just another gardener or visitor, but on closer inspection you would discover a very clever piece of fine art. Here’s a gallery of some of the fun and surprising visitors.

Pumpkins and Partridges

When fall rolls around, it is time for Autumn at the Arboretum and that means it is pumpkin time. I’ve documented those orange-hued days many times over in my blog, here for instance. This fall I visited with a young friend and my cameras battery was low, so I didn’t bother with my phone, since I already had so many photos of the DABS during that season.

Even before the pumpkins are all put away, the staff starts setting up for the Christmas Holidays and they have so much going on, I don’t know where to start. There are Holiday Gazebos full of scenes from the ever popular 12 Days of Christmas and a European Village full of faux shops to visit. Usually, Mom’s DeGolyer Mansion is decorated to the max, but alas, during the pandemic season it was closed. The photo below was taken during a previous holiday when masks were not de rigueur.

So, another year of fun is behind me at the Arboretum. Blooms is in full swing, but I keep forgetting I need a timed ticket to go, so I haven’t been yet. Hopefully, soon!

I hope you enjoyed this whirlwind, year-long visit. Next, we’ll visit the Kimbell, over in Ft. Worth, so don’t miss that.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Forty Pounds?

brown leather duffel bag
Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

TRAVEL THERE: A $120 LESSON FROM SPIRIT AIRLINES

So, on a Monday morning in May, I woke up with the knowledge that I was going to Club Med Punta Cana at the end of the week – the trip we had won from CTC Travel.  I had no idea whatsoever of what I was taking with me.

The Resort Life

I am the Museum Girl, not the Resort Girl.  I know what to take on cruises.  I’m great at packing for a road trip.  However, I didn’t know what to take to a resort, because that hadn’t been my life up to that point.

So I imagined a really casual five-day cruise without any ports of call and no dressing for dinner.  My wardrobe began to form in my head.  Swimsuits, sundresses and shorts.  I scratched my head a little more and tried to dream up every eventuality.  Maybe I’d need jeans?  What about some slacks?  I stood around in my closet gathering up things I might need.  Something to sleep in, lingerie, sandals, sneakers.  The items began to pile up.  In the end I took a lot more than I needed, because I just didn’t know.

The Baggage Thing

So, if you travel at all, you know what Spirit is famous for – no frills, but a fee for everything.  I looked online for all of Spirit’s baggage fees and thought I was pretty clever.  I was sure we’d be able to get by without the additional cost of carry-ons, because I’d managed to fit us into one suitcase for five days for our cruise.  Of course, since we drove to Galveston, the weight didn’t matter, but I was certain I could fit everything into two suitcases – and I did.

We weighed the suitcases with our handy dandy suitcase scale and put the them next to the door.  The alarm would be going off at 3:30 AM the next morning, because our flight was at the ungodly hour of 6 AM.

The Other Baggage Thing

We parked our car at Park & Fly, like we always do, and were delivered to our terminal.  As we stood near the Spirit Airlines acclimating ourselves to their procedures, a very nice lady came up to us and offered to help.  She was happy to see the confirmations proving we had checked in online.  Then she grabbed a bag and set it on their scale.  I didn’t have a worry in the world.  Both bags were under 50 pounds – the magic airline weight limit.  Or at least that had been the magic airline weight limit the last time I had flown on a real airline.

I should have worried.  The weight of our bags brought a frown to our friendly helper’s face, but it was nothing compared to the one on my husband’s face.  We were going to have to pay an additional $30 per bag each way.  $120!!  The weight limit for Spirit Airlines is 40 pounds!

My stomach dropped to somewhere near my shoes.  We’ve had vacations ruined for less than $120 in unexpected fees.  Bill is no fan of traveling and he hates fees – they’re like paying interest, only much more careless. I waited for my dressing down, but it never came.  We’d both been looking at the Spirit website for days.  I’d emailed him a reminder of the permitted size of his personal item.  We’d both weighed the suitcases.  He wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t in trouble.

We finished getting our boarding passes and got in line to begrudgingly pay our first round of $60 baggage fees.  (BTW, CTC was in no way responsible for our frustration at the gate.  They didn’t book our air and I didn’t ask them about luggage fees!)  There was a wait by the gate and then we climbed on board Spirit Airlines.  Come fly with us next week.

DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Dahab to Cairo to Alexandria

TRAVEL THERE: TRANSITIONING TO ALEXANDRIA

So it’s morning in Dahab and I was on my balcony enjoying the glorious weather and view.  Down in the pool the younger set was catching a few more splashes.  It was idyllic, but I was still glad that we’d soon be heading to territories the US State Department was happier for me to be visiting.

The Back of the Bus & Beyond

When the time came to head back, I was once again sent to the back of the bus, but I was over my pout.  Soon we were going through multiple security checks at the Sharm el Sheikh airport and somewhere along the way I lost my prescription sunglasses.  For then on, Bill had to share his shades with me.

The flight was not anywhere as entertaining as the carnival-like ride to Sharm had been.  At the Cairo airport our car and driver was waiting to take us to Alexandria, so we said our good-byes at the airport.  Maggie, Shady and their kids would be flying on to the US before we returned to Cairo, but the bride and groom would be flying back to the US with us.

On to Alex

By the time we made it out of Cairo, evening was setting in.  We needed a potty break and something to eat, so our driver stopped at a Burger King.  The burgers were fine.  The water in the restrooms was turned off and toilet paper was scarce.  That made things quite challenging, but soon we were back on the road.  As soon as we left the gas station we entered the desert and there was nothing to see.  Falling asleep had not been in my plans, but that’s what I did.

It seemed as if we’d just left the Burger King a few minutes before when we came to a stop.  I opened my eyes to chaos – a traffic jam, Egyptian style.  We were on the outskirts of Alex and were hemmed in on every side.  In Egypt, lanes are only a suggestion, so at first glance it seemed we’d be there all night.  Our driver showed no signs of distress.  He edged towards the truck ahead of us and it seemed to me as if he was going to drive under it, but instead we started changing lanes and were soon exiting the highway.

This sounds as if it should have been good news, but suddenly I felt as if I was in the chase scene of a Steven Segal movie.  The landscape around us was all industrial.  The exit turned out to be one of those spaghetti bowls where several roads come together.  We went around and around, over and under, around and around, and then we doubled back a time or two.  Suddenly we came to a road block of stacked hay bales, but like the lanes, our driver treated it as a suggestion rather than a detour.

I confess, I was a little nervous.  After he drove up over the edge of the barricade he did some more around and around, over and under, and some doubling back.  I really liked and trusted him, but we were in a third world country and the US State Department would not have approved the route.

Eventually, we were back on what looked like a normal highway and shortly after that we were in Alex.  Museum Girl was thrilled.  Come back next week for our visit to Alexandria.

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

Wedding Morning Breakfast at the Fairmont

Quiche at Le Marche

TRAVEL THERE: WHAT I DID ON THE DAY OF THE WEDDING

Waking up in my hotel room, my first thought was, “This is it.  Bassem and Mariam’s wedding day.”  My next thought was a sense of gratefulness that I hadn’t allowed Bill to talk me into a tour on the day of the wedding.  I planned to relax all day.

Back to Le Marche Cafe

When we headed out of the room on our second morning at the Fairmont, there was no question about where we’d have breakfast.   We were going to Le Marche, as much for the delicious food as for our friend, Ahmed. We were momentarily disappointed when Ahmed was not there to greet us, but when we asked for him, the other guy faded into the background and a wide-smiling Ahmed appeared to welcome us back.

We sat down to peruse the menu and enjoyed several chance encounters with family, who passed to and fro in the lobby.  The groom scooted by on an errand, then along came the bride and her mother with a trail of attendants.  The attendants were in charge of the luggage and a rolling rack which was transporting the wedding gown.  Don’t worry the gown was completely covered, so there was no peeking.  Double kisses all around!

Next to arrive were nephew Steven and his friend John.  They decided to join us for breakfast and enjoy the attentions of Ahmed, the new friend of the family.  The meal was delightful.  I ordered a scone and got a second one on the house.  Steven ordered a chocolate croissant and got a Danish to boot.  Bill was delighted by his generous slice of quiche.  John, however, did not have such great fortune with his selection.

John’s Egyptian fantasy meal was a plate of fresh dates and figs.  He arrived a day or two before we did and asked for this delicacy at every opportunity and though he continued his quest throughout the whole trip, I don’t think he found it anywhere.  So much for Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Ahmed was so disappointed to admit he couldn’t provide the plate of dates and figs, but he suggested fruit instead.

John wanted to know how the fruit was presented.  “Is it on a platter or in a bowl?” John asked.  “Whatever you like,” Ahmed assured him.  “Is it a fruit salad?” John asked.  “No,” Ahmed replied, “it is a salad in a bowl.”  That being settled, John decided to see what would appear.

Ahmed roamed back and forth between the kitchen and the table.  Beverages were the first to appear and for awhile it seemed that was about all we were going to get.  Then the orders dribbled out.  First the pastries.  Then a while later, Bill got his quiche.  We were all just about done, when we started making noise about the missing fruit.  Ahmed was contrite in his protestations and assured us the fruit was almost there.

Ahmed, you were a treasure, but the fruit bowl, salad or whatever was a disappointment!  I’m sure any American could have driven to the nearest Kroger, bought some grapes, apples and oranges, returned home to chop them up into a bowl and then delivered them to the family, faster than Ahmed delivered up the same boring bowl from somewhere in the bowels of the Fairmont.  Not even a pineapple slice, no melons, nothing.  Just grocery store fruit!

Going Separate Ways

Bill was still having a difficult time believing I did not want to fill up every moment of the trip with tours and museums, but I was truly new and improved.  When Steven and John suggested he join them for a trip to the Khan-il-Kalili, I had my fingers crossed he’d join them, so I could have some alone time.

The crossed fingers worked.  The guys headed off on their adventure and I created my own spa day.  Come back next week and see how it went.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Grateful for the Yawn Factor

Picture from aa.com

TRAVEL THERE: BLISSFULLY BORING FLIGHTS

I’m of the opinion that travel is more interesting if there are problems.  “Everything was perfect,” might make for a great vacation, but you could bore your friends to death with that kind of travelogue.  Lost luggage, crazy GPS instructions and rude hotel clerks make better copy.  Hopefully, I won’t put you to sleep today, but our travel to Egypt was without incident.  That all changed once we got to Cairo, but that’s for later.

I Flew on American and I Liked It

This may not be a newsworthy item for you, but it was for me.  I’ve sort of hated American for a long time.  For years, every travel horror story I lived through began with, “I was on an American flight…”  I carried that anti-American chip on my shoulder for a long time, but in recent years I noticed that other airlines were doing their part to be as awful as I thought American was.

Most recently that was Lufthansa.  I’d always counted them on my favorites list, but then I flew them to Frankfurt.  The plane rattled so much I thought it was made out of Tinker-Toys.  Bill claims the flight wasn’t that bad, but if I hadn’t been sitting next to him, I would think he must have been on another plane.  Bottom line, I could no longer say my worst flights were American.

My other problem with American had to do with Love Field and the Wright Amendment.  As a Dallasite, I love Southwest Airlines and Love Field.  The Wright Amendment tied the hands and feet of both, in favor of DFW, and I didn’t like it.  I also loved Legend Air, which was a Love Field underdog that I maintain was run out of business by American.  I’m always for the underdog.  I go out of my way to avoid Walmart.  I won’t buy anything on Amazon.  I hate most chain restaurants, too.

This American flight snuck up on me.  (Yes, I know snuck isn’t really a word, but I like it better than sneaked.)  I wasn’t the one to make the reservations and I thought we were flying British Airways.  It wasn’t until a few days before the flight, when I was researching baggage allowances, that I realized my British Airways flight was going to be on American.  By then it was too late to do anything about it and I knew Bill was tired of hearing American Airlines Hysteria.  I just lived with the revelation.

A Brand Spanking New 777

So we got to the airport, parked our car, rode the shuttle to the terminal and checked our luggage curbside.  It was easy.  It was a late-night flight, so the airport was pretty boring.  We had a nice chat with a lady in the L’Occitane En Provence store.  In fact, she sensed my concern and we actually prayed together.  Finally it was time to board.

Let me tell you, our plane was so new I think it just rolled off the assembly line.  Nothing rattled.  Everything was pristine.  There were bells and whistles I hadn’t even thought to wish for – and we were in economy.  Even the food was decent.  I watched a couple of movies.  I was even able to sleep!

So, American Airlines, I know you weren’t losing any sleep over my grudge against you, but I want you to know it’s over now.  I can easily say my best flight ever was on American.  Singapore Air still holds my best-food-on-an-airline award, but the shepherd’s pie on American’s return flight was pretty decent.  (BTW Sing Air, I liked your old paint job better.  This new one is boring.)