God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Really, Really Good Scallops and Veggies!



As a new recruit to the wonders of scallops, I've been experimenting with recipes. Tonight I repeated a past success and will now share as it was just as wonderful the second time around. Also, the veggie part of it is OUTSTANDING and would be good at any time.  A new favorite here.






Seared Scallops with Summer Vegetables and Beurre Blanc
                     From Cooking Light

1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chopped shallots
3 tbs chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp lemon rind
5/8 tsp kosher salt, divided
1 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow squash
1 orange bell pepper it into 1 inch pieces
1 small red onion
2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 cup grape tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1/2 tsp. black pepper, divided
1 1/2 lbs sea scallops
1/4 cup small basil leaves--optional

  1. Place a jelly-roll pan in oven. Preheat oven to 500° (leave pan in oven during heating.)
  2. Combine wine and shallots, bring to boil. Cook 6  minutes (I found this too long) unitl mixture is reduced to 2 tbs. Strain through sieve into a bowl, discard solids. Return to pan. Gradually add butter, stirring with a whisk until smooth and emulsified. Stir in rind and 1/8 tsp salt. Keep warm.
  3. Cut zucchini and yellow squash in half lengthwise. Cut each half  crosswise into 3 pieces; cut each piece lengthwise into 4 strips. Combine zucchini, squash, pepper, onion and 1 tbs spoon oil i a large bowl, toss to coat. Put veggies into preheated pan. Bake at 599° for 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and garlic, toss. Bake for 4 minutes or until veggies are lightly browned. (I cooked longer.) Remove from oven; add salt and pepper.
  4. While veggies cook, heat large cast iron skillet over high heat. Pat scallops dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add 1tbs. olive oil to pan. Add scallops; cook 1 1/2 minutes each side or until seared and the way you like them. 
  5. Serve scallops with veggies and sauce. Garnish with basil.
Again, let me say, the veggies are so, so good.

Serves 4 

For Ken and I, I just use 5 scallops each and then sort of cut back on veggies to what I think we want. I do the full sauce as then if we want more, we have it. Better too much than too little. The key with the scallops is to have the skillet hot, hot.



Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Temecula--A Hidden Destination

Yes, yes, yes---somehow keeping up with this blog after so many years becomes increasingly difficult--particularly when life is rather routine and ordinary. The thing is...I started this as a type of journal which hopefully will be meaningful to Casey in the years ahead. With that said, my on again off again commitment doesn't quite meet that goal, does it?

Several weeks ago, well months now, Ken and I went away for a few days while Casey was enjoying the fun of house boats on Lake Shasta. (Have to say that it is worth every penny to send him to summer activities far away so that we can have our own fun.)

Anyway, thanks to a Groupon purchase, we had a few discounted nights at The Inn at Churon a winery/BandB in San Diego's own wine belt, Temecula Valley, which is producing some excellent wines. Unfortunately, we were not very pleased with our lodging as it is in a state of approaching being a "has-been" in need of new owners who are willing to invest. This is quite strange as everything in Temecula Valley is relative new making it surprising that anything could be in serious disrepair so soon. Did not like their wine either.

We did stop by some wineries that we had found in the past and discovered new ones tucked into hillsides and resting on hill tops; thus adding to our "wine cellar" which consists of a small cooler and any cool hideaways in the house. How I would like the wonderful basements we had in St. Louis and Syracuse (which actually had a wine cellar but, sad to say, was before we were wine aficionados.)

However, this blog entry is not about wine or the lush Tuscanesque landscape of Temecula Valley.


Instead it is about the discovery of a hidden treasure that we have ignored and misunderstood for years and years. When we lived in Riverside, we would occasionally drive down to San Diego and now that we are in San Diego, we have driven up I15 more times than I can count or remember--on our way to Riverside, Palm Springs, Idlewild, Arrowhead, Big Bear, Apple Valley and other SoCal destinations. Each time we have driven right by the Temecula city turn off--seeing only the businesses spread out along the highway--MacDonalds, tire shops, a mall, maybe a roadside restaurant or two. Certainly nothing beckoned us down the ramp. It seemed like just a small, old, tired place, certainly not a place of charm or interest. As this old town and the new vibrant Temecula Valley are on opposite sides of the freeway, the town is easily ignored.

Our foray into the town only happened because Temecula Valley restaurants are really geared for the weekend crowds that come for wine tasting and a few days get away time. Many are closed during the week, or so it seems. So, we decided to cross the tracks (really the freeway overpass) and see what was available in Temecula proper. And we were enthralled by what we found. A town that lost its history and purpose when the freeway went in, reimagined itself and has become a place of wooden sidewalks, cute shops carrying wares different than the ubiquitous offerings of the mall culture, places to eat (not Michelin quality, for sure), a look into its old time jail, a Lionel Train store that has anything for which you may be searching,  a wonderful new theater and cultural complex and an old hotel for sale in the event you have always wanted to run an inn. It's a fun way to spend a few hours, strolling, exploring, and in my case, finding clothing that is unique that I love wearing.

So, if you have time to kick back, relax and just stroll a bit, take a detour into Temecula town.


While we were meandering, we began talking with Kristine Turner from nearby Marietta Springs. She offers "A Culinary and Wine Lovers Tour" if that sounds interesting. I have no idea whether it is good but she seemed interesting and fun--kristine@kristineturner.biz or 931-239-5973

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

To Cry or To Laugh?

Which shall it be? I guess it depends on what I want out of life this day. Let's see--it is gorgeous here--only a day that a loving God could give us. Flowers are bold and bright......


Fountains are bubbling and the perfect setting for birds to take their baths....


After they feast.....

The harmony of the bird talk and song, awesome and peaceful. What a creation! That is the smile and the laughter.

Then--I must leave this spot of heaven to go buy clothes Casey neglected to mention he needed for the Junior Model United Nations Conference. How could he not have heard that he needed: dress pants, shirt, tie and SHOES--the caps compliment of the teacher when she e-mailed to tell me that he was not dressed appropriately today. His church casual clothes, which by the way look very nice, will not do--tomorrow he must dress properly. I do understand why this is important and I do intend to strangle him when he gets home today; however, what an expense for a one time wear. I guess he will gussy up for promotion next week and the award ceremony he has prior to that..neither of which require such formality.

I wonder where he parks his brain much of the time. I keep looking but can't find it. I keep thinking that the day will come when he packs it with him in the morning along with the backpack slung over the shoulder--often with homework forgotten on his desk. For goodness sake, he starts high school in 3 short months.

I pray that the God who makes the beauty will mature my child quickly and that all will be well. But then, I am remembering this post from 4 years ago Does a 9-Year -Old-Think and I shutter to think it may never happen.

But, today I choose to laugh....


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Time for Gold

In 1962, 50 years away were too far in the future to contemplate; becoming old was inconceivable and youth was eternal. But...somehow, time passes, moves happen, kids come and grow up, careers take curves to places unexpected, trauma and drama fill space and good times overtake all. Most importantly, "old" doesn't happen. Surprise!

Many memories fill the scrape books of the mind. I sometimes wonder if they stay planted when minds begin to skew and faces are no longer familiar. I think they do as they are filed away so carefully, protected with laughter and guarded by time. If I live another 30 years (which I do plan on,) I'll let you all know.

Son Jeff wanted to do something for us to celebrate--an open buffet for friends, a trip for Ken and me somewhere; he was thinking bigger than we wanted or needed. Our wish was to just enjoy "our boys"--Jeff and Casey, and follow a fond memory of the weekend we spent together in San Francisco a few years ago. So, we asked for a night in Los Angles at a lovely hotel and dinner at the Beverly Hills location of the restaurant we enjoyed so much in San Francisco.

So, on Cinco di Mayo we headed north, remember, we are far south. First stop was Venice Beach which totally personifies why people think of California as a land of wackos. It's a crazy place where you will see just about anything along the boardwalk. There's also a beautiful beach, well-kept lawns where graceful taichi is performed, open air massages enjoyed, lovers love, and playgrounds where kids play. It is so California with a ballet of bicycles, skateboards and skates swirling along the paths. It was fun for us just to stroll and absorb.


Lunch at the Venice Ale House
(Isn't son Jeff a handsome lad?)

Next stop was Beverly Hills--the SLS Hotel, of which (for those of you old enough, you know that Churchill would approve of the grammar syntax) I am sure you have never heard. It is new and is the first of four in a new luxury hotel group. The other three will be in South Beach FL, NYC and Las Vegas. 


The SLS has hundreds of permutations--Sparkle Like Sunshine, Susie Loves Sam, Savor Luxury Stays, Sweet Like Sugar, Satan Loves Sinners and on and on. It is fun to see the creativity as every place you look there is an SLS. Many of the rolling wall of slogans have been contributed by guests.

The designers decorating imaginations ran wild--it is as if they went to sleep, dreamed, woke up and went to work each morning fresh with new ideas of fun. Even the interiors of the elevators tickle. 


Wild? Isn't it?

Lamps and chandeliers are crazy. With hundreds of them, I don't think there are two alike. 


This was my favorite--straight out of Great Expectations.


Casey's Favorite


Really Weird

Even the rooms are unique--unlike the stereotypical rooms in any hotel, even those billed as luxury hotels. Basically, they are pretty predictable and the same. Here they are different. Beginning with the almost totally black mirrored walls, including bathroom and shower, the mirrored wall above the sink in the bathroom which slides open as a window into the bedroom, the bed that sits in the middle of the room, the huge tub in Casey and Jeff's bath, the black TV hidden in one black mirrored wall--oh, this is all too hard to describe. Just know that it is different, fun and almost decadent. If you love the atypical, this is a 
place you would enjoy--mark it on your bucket list.

Each floor has a white room with a white pool table--really quite beautiful. It was a perfect way for the "boys" to spend some time having fun; although, the swimming pool area was quite spectacular, too. Casey was learning from a couple of experts--particularly Uncle Jeff who at one point spent a good amount of time at the local pool hall.

At some point while I was thoroughly enjoying this camaraderie, a lovely gift from the general manager arrived in our room--a beautiful flower arrangement, a chilled bottle of chardonnay, an exquisite cake and a very nice note of congratulations, all nicely arranged on a small table awaiting our little celebration. (Don't you love the self-timer function on cameras? Casey's our master, of this trickery.) Although this was pre-dinner, we had to have a toast and a sliver of very sweet, gooey cake.


Dinner was not at the hotel; although, we will go back someday as the The Bazaar restaurant beckons. Our reservations were at Crustacean, the sister restaurant of fond memories in San Francisco. Jeff and I salivate when thinking of their specialty, roasted crab and we were not disappointed. Ken sticks to giant butterflied prawns as he has a thing against having to work for his food. Me? Love digging into crab, lobster, escargot, whatever. Along with the crab, one must have the drunken, garlic noodles which, having tried to imitate several times, I now almost have mastered.


Well, not very good of Ken but the rest of us are OK.

The evening finished with Casey going to the room while Ken, Jeff and I hit The Bazaar for drinks and people watching. I am pretty sure we were in the company of wealthy and powerful and probably a celebrity or two thrown in. Definitely a lot of young people who we surmised were rich kids of rich parents. No one paid any attention to us--wonder why? Were we fooling them all with our humbleness? 

The Baazar is also the location of the gift shop which is as whimsical as everything else at the SLS. Fun to look at but nothing I need or want or can afford. The chairs (or one should say seating) in the lounge are just as eclectic and varied and unique as the lighting. We fortunately were comfortable on a cow pelt (or simulated) couch but some looked pretty uncomfortable.


The Gift Shop

And so closes our 50th anniversary--except for the last treat the next morning when I visited the elegant white and gold Ciel Spa for a luxurious massage--maybe one of the best ever. The boys entertained themselves with more pool while I luxuriated. And then it was time to leave with memories to carry through another fifty or maybe, if we are lucky 30 years. 



Thank you Jeff.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Awesome, Brilliant Yosemite--Wow, God!





The inescapable truth...God Is!

Sometimes I am mightily puzzled by people who deny there is a God--God, The Creator, The Power, The Father. I understand that accepting an all powerful, unseeable, untouchable, unhearable God can be difficult but it seems so much more imponderable to believe that all that is happened by poof, that all was created out of nothing without an architect.









The underlying non-answerable question of a child who says "I don't understand. Didn't there need to be something to create something" must be difficult to answer if God is taken from the equation. All of Stephen Hawking's theories and cerebral exercises become invalid in the face of this child's question. There had to be something to "poof." Didn't there?










Anyway, for me, Yosemite offers unquestionable proof of God and puts the lie to Hawking. It is gorgeous without compare. It can only be a gift from someone who loves man--well, and woman.


So, to go back to the beginning--God can be seen, God can be touched, God can be heard. He is all around if we but look.


And--His crowning glory and achievement!










Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Amman--The Citadel and Jerash

Well, finally--the last installment of Christmas, 2011--Egypt and Jordan--we've been back 3 months which doesn't seem remotely possible. I would make some comment like "time flies" but that belies all sense of originality. So think I will proceed with out excuse or shame.

Our last day we were not going to be beset with boredom as we had more to do--a city tour of Amman, visiting the citadel and finally, to end our time, exploring the amazingly preserved Roman city of Gerasa known today as Jerash. I need to thank my friend Liz for encouraging us to go to Jerash as we had about decided that we would be too exhausted by the end of our trip and, having been to many ancient Roman ruins in many countries, we thought we could bypass this one. Liz, whose pictures in the link above far surpass ours, convinced us otherwise. Thank goodness.

Amman is one of the most ancient cities in the Middle East with archeological finds dating back to the Neolithic period and permanent structures appearing in 3200-2300 B.C. and fortifications beginning in 2200. In Biblical history it was Rabbath Ammon "the great city of the Ammonites." Somewhere around 250 B.C. it was renamed Philadelphia. Eventually through many upheavals, conquering and annexing, it became part of the Roman Empire--as did most of the known world.

To begin: the tour of Amman was not very detailed but interesting. The homes of the super, super (really super) wealthy are as impressive, well more so, as any we see in La Jolla or other rich American enclaves. Of course, we are talking about Middle East wealth which is rather often beyond the pale. In fact, most of these homes were summer or part time residences maintained by the housekeepers, gardeners, cooks, and such. One of the interesting features is that they all are built of white stone--very monochromatic but beautiful.

But, the west has arrived there in the form of huge, high-end malls with the same ubiquitous stores as one finds in malls anywhere. One had opened just days before we arrived and women were leaving with shopping bags sporting logos with which we are all quite familiar--the same as you find in New York, San Diego, Rome, Beijing, the world over. Of course, walking along side the road were the people leading donkeys, women wearing long burkas and trailing behind the men. The juxtaposition of life is eye opening. There is a lot of construction in areas which seem dominated by international businesses. Jordan is solvent and growing.

From the tour we headed to the ancient hill known as the citadel or acropolis which is right in the city of modern Amman.  During Roman rule, there were the typical buildings and grid layout found in Roman cities everywhere. Today there is little left of that history but some pillars and slabs except for a remarkable theater--one of the best preserved in the world. For a fleeting moment, I thought maybe we could take Casey to the opera.)

After the Romans came a Byzantine period with churches and a large cathedral, converted into a Great Mosque at the time of the Arab conquest. By the time of the middle ages, there wasn't much going on there. For me, though, more interesting than the remnants of buildings and known history was the quite small museum which had fascinating finds from neolithic tombs and buried lives. Sometimes when going to museums in the United States we see such things; however, they take on new and different meaning and understanding when they are in the land to which they belong. All of a sudden, people from millennia in the past become real.


And then finally--Jerash--a great way to close out two very exciting, wonderful, memorable weeks. It is hard to imagine all that we did in those few days. 

Gerasa was the site of the Macedonian Greek colony established by Alexander the Great when he conquered the area in 334 B.C. (a little history lesson there.) Eventually it became a strategic point in the large caravan trade and became a true urban center. In the process it morphed into several different names, including Antiochia (Antioch.) Eventually the Romans descended and made it theirs and prosperous. It was transformed into "a planned, architecturally city typical of the Roman East." (Jordan, Past and Present.) Eventually Trajan and Hadrian both left their marks until finally it became an important center for Christianity. Within the Roman ruins that dominate Jerash, there are remnants of Christian churches. 

Casey had a serendipity event in the ruins which added fun for all of us. As the three of us were exploring rooms within walls, we heard Italian. There was an Italian couple who had hired an Italian speaking guide as they entered the ruins. We sort of hung back and listened, encouraging Casey to make himself known which eventually he gathered up the courage to do (believe it or not, Casey is shy.) They were totally astounded, of course, to hear this boy who had been speaking English with his parents, suddenly start speaking to them in perfect Italian. Soon they invited Casey to walk along with them. We assured them that we did not speak the language and were not trying to piggyback on their guide. So, we went our way and they went theirs--with us always within eye sight of where the four of them were.

Casey loved it and so did the Italian man who virtually ignored his wife from then on as he focused on this amazing American lad. They all had nothing but praise for his Italian and were amazed.

Back to Jerash--it truly is worth going to. So many Roman ruins are in piles of stone. Of course, there are piles of stone at Jerash but there are still haunting clues as to what was once there.  The other interesting thing is how modern Jerash surrounds the Roman town and looks down upon it. New and old are one.


So ended our time. Bashar deposited us back at our hotel, tired, happy and overwhelmed by what we had seen and done. That night we needed to pack and prepare for an 11:00 PM pick up as our plane was leaving at 1:00 AM (as in the morning.) We decided to have an early meal at the Mexican restaurant again as we thought we would try to rest and sleep--what a bizarre thought that was. Of course, we didn't.

And so began a long, arduous, never to be repeated trip home. We had been up for 18 hours. Ahead of us were 28 more hours before arriving in San Diego--Amman, to Frankfurt, to Denver to San Diego. By the time we hit our very own bed, it had been 48 hours since getting out of bed in Amman for our last full day of adventure. Amazingly, we were up the next morning and feeling good--no jet lag then or in the days to come. But....I never, ever, ever want to repeat that trip home...then again, it is a small price to pay for adventure and seeing marvels of this world. Yep, would do it again if it were the only way. You?

The End.

Bashar Herzalla--great driver in Jordan  bashar_herzalla@yahoo.com

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Moses, Crusaders and Romans--A Time Capsule

ANCIENT LANDS

Sometimes I am struck by the irony of calling things "old" in the United States. Our old is so not old in terms of recorded civilizations, history and what is known about man. Granted, there may be unknowns, unexplored treasures hidden in places not found, but where that may be is mysterious. We just don't go back very far.

As I write this post, I am awed by Jordan and what we experienced in our short 3 days there--Petra with the Nabataean civilization going back at least to the 1st century BC; the King's Highway an ancient route mentioned in the Biblical book of Numbers and traversed for centuries and centuries by travelers and traders of the ancient worlds; Mt. Nebo where Moses stood while God laid before him the Promised Land which he could not enter; the Crusaders' Fortress of Kerak built in the 12th century but a place that was historical Moab at the time of the exodus (13th or 15th century BC), the ruins of the Roman/Islamic citadel in Amman, the incredibly preserved and complete ancient Roman ruins of Jerash--one of the most comprehensive Roman ruins we have visited in our travels and, finally, Amman itself which was the home of the Old Testament Ammonites captured by David in the 10th century B.C. All of this within less than a day's drive of each other. These places are old!

We left Petra early in the morning as we wanted to take the longer route--the King's Highway--back to Amman. We were enthralled by the landscape as we tried to imprint the past on what we saw. As the picture above shows, this is desolate, desert, dry country. It is part of where Moses and his people wandered for 40 years. Now there are Bedouins eking out what to us appears to be subsistence living. The land seems no more hospitable now than it was when manna fell from the skies and yet, the Bedouins resist government efforts to dislodge them from their heritage. Their history is their DNA.

Our first stop was the crusaders' Kerak fortress, another fascinating first for us. We all know of the crusades, crusaders, atrocities and motivations of those times; however, we had never really seen a Crusador fortress and that is definitely what this was. It was large, complex, built of huge stones, situated on a hill overlooking the countryside, pretty impenetrable by enemy forces. We clamored around it for a while, climbing steep steps and exploring dark, dungy rooms.


Next, at a small village, Bashar, our driver/guide, stopped and bought sandwiches and food for a picnic. Along the road, not too long after this stop, there was a man with a small tent, table and chairs. This was our picnic setting. I will admit we were a little hesitant to eat the sandwiches as they were mostly vegetables with dressing type sauce and the shop from which they came really didn't inspire confidence; however, we knew that it would be terribly culturally impolite to refuse Bashar's offering. The reality was that the sandwiches were good and we remained quite healthy.

I am sure that this is a traditional stop for Bashar as the Bedouin had handcrafted jewelry and other items for sale which, of course, we bought. Where and when else would we have such an opportunity and they clearly would offer us good memories when back in rather mundane San Diego. This is where I took one of my all time favorite Casey pictures--one of those moments when by sheer accident the stars aligned for perfection.


MAN OF THE DESERT

From here we traveled down the King's Highway to the town of Madaba which has a very old Christian church with a famous mosaic floor. This town was the Old Testament Moabite town of Medaba. We spent a few minutes there and then traveled on to Mt.Nebo. 

I had really looked forward to this part of the trip but it was not what I had anticipated. I had in my mind's eye a high, majestic mountain looking over plains far below on all sides. It wasn't as high as I anticipated and with the construction on the churches, the fencing and other obstructions plus people (although not what it might be in better times) there was not the time for reflection nor were there the vistas that I would have liked. Because it was very hazy that day--which I understand is not unusual, we could not see Jerusalem in the distance and could barely make out Jericho which is not too far below. We could look in the direction of Jerusalem and so ended with at least a sense of the topography.


By this time we were tired--it had been a long day and we were ready for the hotel--which was an interesting experience in and of itself. For reasons I do not understand, Ahmed (remember he who planned our trip) decided we needed an end of trip treat and so had us staying at the Hotel Intercontinental--where the ritzy, jet-set, diplomates 1% stay. We didn't see what their rooms would have looked like, I might add, but I am sure ours was not one of them.

When we arrived at the hotel, there were blockades across the portico, requiring all vehicles to stop and have major security scrutiny including running detectors and mirrors under the car--reminiscent of when we crossed Checkpoint Charley in the days of the Berlin Wall. Having passed inspection, Bashar was allowed to park and help us and our luggage into the hotel.

The hotel had 3 restaurants...fancy, more fancy and Mexican. We opted for Mexican in Jordan to compliment our Italian and Indian in Egypt. Much to our surprise it was pretty good--almost like home.

Next and Finally: Roman Ruins and Home.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bedouins, Crusaders and Where Moses Stood

At the far end of Petra, guide/photgrapher Hamad Farajat, just happened to know the owner of the donkeys waiting up on the hillside. For a small sampling of Jordanian dinar, we could ride the donkeys to the top of the hill where we would then transfer to a truck to take us to Hamad's car so that he could drive us to a Bedouin camp--for another sampling of dinar. Why not? When would we have another opportunity like this? Never!


Hamad

So we formed the donkey brigade. (aside: Hamad must have told the donkeys' owner of my horse escapade as he totally picked me up and lifted me on to the unsuspecting donkey--another embarrassing moment.) 



Happy Family Outing--in the Desert--on Donkeys

This really was another fun experience as we lurched up the hill. Below us was Petra in its splendor, surrounding us were desert hills below blue, blue skies, above us was a village built by the government when those living in ancestral caves of Petra were required to leave their cave homes.

I learned that donkey's truly are sure-footed as they step on crumbling limestone and shale. A couple of the paths were pretty uphill steep. A long the way we passed two quite pregnant camels which were the possession of our donkey owner; he had more elsewhere. As it turns out, he really appeared to be pretty wealthy by Jordanian desert standards. When we reached his village, we exchanged his donkeys for a 4 door, well-equiped truck which took us on a wild ride down the hills to Hamad's car. Obviously he had driven these paths before.

The Village above Petra

Hamad then took us on another bumpy, wild, really wild, ride in his car to two Bedouin family encampments. He offered us the opportunity to share a meal with the Bedouins which he assured us would be a memorable, fun experience; however, we who are normally quite intrepid travelers, turned him down. Once at the encampments, we knew we had made the wisest of decisions. It is very unlikely our constitutions could have handled the meal or that I would have been here to write about it.

Hamad

Hamad parked the car a ways from the first family's tent so we walked over the desert rocks to get to it. There we were met by a young boy and two young women whom I think were his sisters. Casey, who loves, loves animals loved the adorable new born goats cavorting around a water pail--and the dogs. This is a short video of our tea time at the tent of our first visit.


Across the ravine we could see a larger family hillside complex with several camels, horses, a whole bunch of goats, some lambs and dogs and a nice white truck. Checking for and getting Hamad's OK, we walked over to meet the family who were very welcoming and seemed to enjoy showing us around. The wife showed us the inside of their tent, particularly how sturdy and weather proof the top of the tent was with heavily compacted matted animal hair--I have no doubt that it was quite rain proof. At one end were many neatly rolled rough but clearly heavy blankets which would be unrolled each night on the floor. This tent was quite large with a good size "living" area which doubled as the sleeping area at night. The far end where I suppose clothes and supplies were kept was blocked from sight by the tall pile of blankets.

Watching the sure-footed goats as they moved from one rock-cropping to another occupied us for a few minutes while the father of the camp had fun introducing Casey to a tethered camel. They immediately established a close friendship as you will see. The little girl taught me how to say thank you--but now I forget it.



Well, didn't get to the crusaders fortress or, more importantly, to Moses' last mountain. But..this is long enough for one read so will continue next time. I know it is taking a very long time to finish up this short 2 week trip. So..stay with me a little while longer.

Thanks for checking in. I appreciate my readers.

Oh, this is us relaxing after the heavy Petra, Bedouin day. The hotel general areas were really lovely.




Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Off to Jordan


One of the first things to learn when moving from Egypt to Jordan is that it is not just a change of countries but continents, too--Africa to Asia. Casey was excited about this as he can now add a 5th continent to his travels. Not bad for a 13 year old.

We left Luxor in late morning for the flight to Cairo where we connected to a flight to Amman, Jordan, arriving somewhere around 6 pm, a little early--nice. Bashar, our driver, soon found us; we stopped at an ATM to get Jordanian dinars--another currency for the collection. In Egypt the dollar was strong--not so in Jordan. The exchange was not in our favor--significantly. But, once you plunge into travel, you surely can't get hung up on exchange rates or you sacrifice enjoyment.

From Amman we had a 3 hour or so drive to our destination, the mysterious rose colored city of Petra. Is there anyone who has not been captivated by the quintessential picture of the ancient, capital city of the Nabataeans?


Petra was a key city along the ancient Silk Road trade route which connected Asia, Africa, the Mediterrean and Europe. The Nabatean people were brilliant, not only creating this magnificent city out of stone but carving an incredible water system through this same stone--parts of this can still be seen today. Considering that this culture was centuries before the Romans remarkable feats of engineering, their accomplishments are super impressive. Often when having the privilege of seeing what previous civilizations have left behind to awe us, it is impossible not to wonder what we are leaving for those who follow us 3 and 4 millenniums away. My hunch is that most of the 20th and 21st century will crumble but that Petra will stand.

We were staying at the Movenpick Hotel which is located right at the walkway leading to the entrance of Petra--a nice place to stay. Bashar met us in the morning and took us to meet Hamad, our guide through the wonders of Petra. Hamad was an excellent, knowledgeable guide plus a professional photographer. He used our cameras to take pictures throughout the day. He knew just where to take them, how to frame, where the light was etc. We ended up with photos we would never have had. For instance:


Love the perspective in this one

Right after the gate, we elected to ride horses down the path leading to the Sig. This seemed like a brilliantly fun thing to do; forgetting that I can't remember the last time I was on a horse--I am quite certain that I was somewhere in the dim and forgotten past. Things went very well and I loved sitting high and admiring the surroundings. What an impressive sight.


The problem came as I was to dismount. As I lifted my leg over the horn on the saddle, somehow my right foot caught in the stirrup and my left leg remained high on the horse--so I dangled momentarily--surely a graceful scene. Eventually I fell on my right buttock with left leg still pointing skyward and right foot still caught--can you picture this?. The guide (horse guide not Hamed, fortunately) tried to catch me at which time he was almost knocked off the cliff. I have no idea how many people witnessed but Ken didn't (thank you, God.) Casey did as did any number of other tourists and guides. Looking at no one, I hobbled up, dusted off and went on my way as if nothing unusual had happened. I suspect, though, that the horse guides still talk about the weird American woman.

Moving on, we walked through the ancient 1200 meter entrance way called As-Sig, which is a deep, winding narrow gorge with 80 meter walls soaring skyward. Along the way are incredible colors, water channels dug by the Nabateans, agricultural terraces and votive niches. It is really awesome. And then, as if what you have now seen hasn't awed enough, you get the first peak of the Treasury--which in reality was the tomb of an important Nabataean king. There is so little history of these people that the mystery of who this person was will remain a mystery throughout time but...he must have been a big man on campus, for sure.


Can you imagine the trade caravans coming through the gorge with camels laden with treasures from east and west and this was what greeted them? Do you think they were any less awed than we?

Once through the Sig there is a wide open piazza type area in front of the Treasury with the expected vendors and guides hawking for business. From there the wide dirt path wanders through the remains of the city that was--caves that were tombs and homes, a Roman theater, temples, magnificent buildings carved into the rock, donkeys, Bedouins, camels, tourists. Amazing, amazing, amazing.



Next: A donkey ride, Visiting a Bedouin camp, and the King's Highway

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Christmas in Luxor

Well, we are coming to the close of the Egypt portion of our grand Christmas adventure. Soon we will be in Jordan. By now we have seen pyramids, tombs, palaces, museums and temples. We have traveled by plane, ship and camel--well, actually, maybe 200 meters by camel, to be honest. We've eaten well, laughed, explored, people watched, drank mint tea, listened to the call to worship uncountable times and just had fun. Oh, yeah--met lots of Mohammeds.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were spent on the banks of the Nile at the Luxor Sherator Resort, which was really quite nice--a great way to relax and enjoy these two days that are special to us. We loved seeing the large Christmas tree in the lobby and other decorations reminding us of our heritage and beliefs. We had wondered about Christmas in a Muslim country. Once when someone wished me "Merry Christmas" I ended up asking, as I caught myself saying Merry Christmas back,: "What should I say to you?"..."Just say Happy New Year." That worked.


We had used Starwood points to stay here and I guess because Ken has residual status after having been top tier many times in his working years, we were upgraded to an incredibly large and lovely suite over looking the Nile with a balcony that stretched around two sides. It made Christmas that much nicer not to be cramped in a regular hotel room cramped with a bed for Casey.


Nice Welcome Gift from Manager

And...the commode was a masterpiece which Casey still talks about. I had heard of these Japanese innovations but hadn't seen let alone used one before. It took a manual to know what to do. Hot air/cool air/warm water/cool water/for him/ for her.... Never did get it all figured out but sure replaces the bidet.


By the time we arrived at the hotel, we were rather beat from the day's activities--see last post--and wanted to do nothing more than kick back, relax, enjoy late lunch and walk the grounds along the Nile--which we did. That night we enjoyed Christmas Eve dinner at La Mamma--one of the hotel's restaurants. It was such a good time with the three of us and we laughed at Casey's arrabiata made appropriately spicy with jalapeƱos.


The hotel had a large Christmas banquet type dinner that night with multiple courses and fancy dress which didn't appeal to us for many reasons, chief among which being who wants to spend an evening with people you don't know, eating more food than you want and dressing up (which we could not have done anyway.) Our way we had the entire Italian restaurant to ourselves, totally enjoying interacting with our waiter and listening to Dean Martin singing That's Amore. Who would have thought in Egypt?

That night, Santa, amazingly, found us so many miles from home, even bringing Casey's stocking and wrapped gifts. Thank goodness for reindeer who can travel so quickly. Casey was surprised in the morning and enjoyed the small gifts and candies that had nestled safely in our suitcases.

That afternoon we hired a boatman to take us across the Nile to deposit Casey to where we had arranged a horseback riding session and then on down the Nile to where Ken and I went to the quite enjoyable Luxor Museum. (This should not be confused with the less well thought of mummy museum in Luxor.) We thoroughly enjoyed this museum as it has some wonderful antiquities and yet is not so large as to overwhelm. Even then we hurried through faster than we would have preferred as we needed to get back to our little boat to return to the other side of the river to retrieve Casey. There was such a fairy tale quality to the day,


That night we opted for dinner in the every day type dining room of the hotel where there was a pretty bad buffet. We should have returned to La Mamma, I think. Maybe Dean would have been singing White Christmas with Bing.

The next day we repacked, after buying a new satchel to carry new treasures, and were whisked off to the Luxor airport for a flight to Cairo and from Cairo to Jordan and mysterious rose- colored Petra, a place I had dreamed of seeing but never thought I would. As you will see, it was wonderful and held a whole new set of adventures for us. Bedouin encampments, more horse rides donkey rides, Roman ruins and Mexican food.


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Valley of the Kings, Queen Hatshepsut and Medinet Habu

Mohamed, our wonderful guide throughout the cruise, picked us up around 8 a.m., loaded our luggage into the van, and off we drove to the Valley of the Kings, final resting place of pharaohs, queens, consorts and lesser nobility.
Mohamed
The Valley of the Kings is barren, dry desert. There is nothing remotely beautiful about it if one is looking for trees, greens, water, color. It is beige, beige, beige. If you look at it as another example of earth's diversity and geological wonders, then you can find beauty--as in all things.


It is a short drive out of Luxor, through dune colored hills and then the parking lot with little shuttle trains that take visitors to the tomb area. The downer is the huge number of men and young boys selling books, postcards and trinkets. It is so obvious that the need for money is great and the opportunity for making anything approaching a livable income is non-existent. In the best of times, it would be hard, in these times of few tourists it is impossible. 

We bought a ticket which allowed access to three tombs of our choosing. There is an extra ticket to go into Tutankhamun's which we did  not get as we had read and were told there really is nothing to see in it. It is not painted and colorful as others are and nothing remains except a large plain sarcophagus. Maybe I wish we had gone but too late now. 

The three we went into were recommended by Mohamed as being the most interesting and colorful. We were astounded by the remaining wall drawings and incredibly bright, vibrant colors. Unfortunately, it is prohibited to take pictures in the tombs so I have none. This link has some good examples but even they don't do justice to the awesome walls. Culture Focus.com. There are long entrance walls covered with many scenes and stories referring both to the life of the entombed pharaoh and the hoped for benefits of the anticipated afterlife. Gods and goddesses in myriad strange forms decorate the rooms, ceilings and walls. The workmanship boggles.


I found this on the web. Isn't it amazing?

There is nothing on the surface of the valley to indicate what lies below making it clear why finding these tombs is such a painstaking process; there are thought to be many not yet discovered.


Typical Entrance into Tomb

From here we went onto the temple of Queen Hatshepsut which is quite impressive, particularly from a distance. Much of it was destroyed by her stepson who followed her and who wasn't very fond of step-mom. He had many of her statues broken and her face defaced where ever he found it. Consequently there are just a couple physical representation of how she may have looked. It is also not clear how she died or where she was buried, not surprising leading to ideas that she may have been murdered by her stepson. Recently her mummy was found in a cache of royal mummies but where it had previously been buried seems to still be unknown.

Queen Hatshepsut, "the woman who would be pharaoh", was truly remarkable, succesfully leading Egypt for somewhere around 23 years. She often wore men's clothing-including the fake beard, successfully fought wars and had an impressive building program. Pretty impressive woman! Would have led a Fortune 500 today.


From here we had three more ancient sites before the end of our Egypt tour and being taken to our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day kickback time. I have to admit that at this point we looked forward to this as we were approaching the point of overload after a week of "seeing and experiencing."  Casey was holding up better than Ken and I--youth does have advantages.

Next stop was Medinet Habu--the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III. The pharaohs may have been buried in obscurity but they sure didn't want to be forgotten so they built beautiful, above ground testimonials to themselves. Medinet Habu is impressive in size and decoration. By now we had seen many places with colors remaining after centuries of exposure to elements; however, here the colors were particularly vibrant. It was also interesting to see the depth in the carving of figures and hieroglyphics--much deeper than any other place. You can see it in the pictures.


Our last two stops were the Tombs of the Nobles which are in a rather isolated area with very little there. We were able to enter two of them but photos were not allowed. One of them was fairly deep underground and had retained full walls of murals and drawings--quite impressive.

The last stop was at the Colossi of Memnon. These huge, gigantic statues originally stood at the entrance to the mortuary temple of Amenophis III which is no longer. The fact that they still stand is amazing. They are called Memnon because for many years (long ago) one of them emitted a strange whistling sound each morning. The Greeks, always prolific at ascribing reasons to anything unexplained, decided that it was the statue of Memnon, a warrior said to have been turned into a statue in Thebes after being killed by Achilles. The sound was his lamenting his mother, the sun, as she rose each morning. As the statue deteriorated, so did the sound. We listened--but nothing.


This was the end of our guided portion of Egypt. From here we were delivered to our hotel in Luxor--the Sheraton Resort--which was lovely. Since it was Christmas Eve, we were pleased to find a large green tree in the lobby, decorated in red and gold. It was a nice touch. We said goodbye to Mohamed and started our private Christmas time. More on that next time.