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.

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.
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.