The journey of a thousand miles begins with...the perfect pair of shoes.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cruise: Israel

After 2 days in the Egyptian sun, we headed northeast and ported in Israel.  We were there for 2 days and took the first day off.  After our busy days, it was nice to just relax.  We hung out by the pool, took naps and ate way more than we probably should have.  Calories don't count on vacation, right?

The next day we got up early and headed off toward Bethlehem.  Gigi was terribly excited.  Our tour guide Phillip was American, but immigrated to Israel about 10 years ago and was absolutely chock a block full of information.  Except for the one question *I* asked.  He said I won the stump the guide award.  My question?  Where was Amrimathea located?  In case you don't know the tomb that Jesus was placed in belonged to Joseph of Arimathea and I was curious as to where Arimathea actually was.  Phillip looked at me, cocked his head to the side and laughed.  He told us he'd never really thought of it, because he'd always considered "of Arimathea" part of his name.  Haha!  Check me out.

We piled on the bus (there were lots of buses on this cruise since I wasn't comfortable going it alone at many of our destinations) and drove about 45-50 minutes or so and arrived in Bethlehem. 

Our first stop was the Church of the Nativity, which is traditionally thought to be the birth place of Jesus.  Notice the teeny tiny little door in the bottom center.  That's how you enter the church.  It's called the door of humility because you literally have to bend down to get in.  We actually had to tilt Han Solo's stroller back a bit to get it through the door.  The door was originally a fairly standard size church door, but the Ottomans made the door small so that mounted horsemen could not ride their horses into the church.  Weird, eh?

This is the interior of the Greek Orthodox part of the church.  You enter through the tiny door and here you are.

This is a section of the original 4th c mosaic floor.  It is only open a little ways and is actually several feet below the current floor.  Somebody (Emperor Constantine, maybe?  I can't remember) had to the floor raised for some reason.

The columns were originally painted with pictures of the apostles.  If you look closely at the bottom of this column, you can see the faint outlines and colors of a few faces.

 These mosaics high up on the wall are some of the only remaining decoration from the original church.

The entrance to the Grotto of the Nativity.  This line to enter was over 2 hours, so we did not get to actually go in.

When you leave the Greek Orthodox section of the church through a regular size door down near the altar, you come into the cloister that is part of the Catholic section of the church.  The interior is pretty Catholic church typical with lots of arches and vaulted ceilings.  It was much brighter than the Greek Orthodox side.

The cloisters outside.

After we left Bethlehem, we headed to a monastery for lunch.  The restaurant is in a cave like part of the building.  It was really lovely.

After lunch we headed to Jerusalem.  On the way we stopped at an overlook for photos.

Looking toward the old city.  The gold dome is the Dome on the Rock.

The Mount of Olives.

Russian Orthodox Church of Maria Magdelene on the Mount of Olives.

Looking into the old city.

Entering the city through the Dung Gate.

Once we come through the Dung Gate, we had to go through another entrance, that for religious purposes apparently, was segregated, men entered to the left of the post and women to the right.  It was...odd.

We happened to be there on a Jewish holy day, though a cannot remember what Philip said it was.  The people were dressed in amazing religious wear and I wondered how they didn't all collapse in the extreme heat.  By the time we arrived, it was 92 and we were miserable.  Many of the men were in full length, heavy black coats, and those from Eastern sects were wearing huge fur hats.

Inside the city. 

The Wailing Wall.  There was also a segregated entrance to get down to the wall, but as it was so packed for the holiday, we opted not to go all the way down.

The kindness and manners of the people we came in contact with were refreshing and kind of overwhelming.  Our group had split up for a bit so people could take some time at the Wailing Wall or just looking around.  I had taken Han Solo out of his stroller because I was afraid he would cook in there and held him in a small patch of shade.  There were about 25 people crowded in the shade and 3 chairs containing men who were probably old enough to be my great-grandfather.  When I walked over with Han Solo in my arms, they all 3 immediately stood and pointed me to a chair.  Being younger by than them by several decades, I smiled and shook my head, indicating that they should resume their seats.  They were having none of it.  There were repeated nods to the chair and finally one of them men gently grabbed my shoulders and pushed me down into the chair.  They all smiled and nodded at me and spoke words I couldn't understand to Han Solo who laughed at all the attention.  A similar incident took place about an hour later in another part of the city.  Apparently women holding children trump old men when it comes to chairs and if you don't sit, they will make you and then make you feel like you've done them a great honor.

We wandered through the city toward the Via Delorosa, Philip rattling off so much knowledge it's a wonder his head didn't explode, and started on the Stations of the Cross.  Some of them are "lost to history."  For those of you who might not be familiar, they are along the traditional route of Christ carrying his cross. NB: Archaeological evidence contradicts several of the traditional spots thought.

The first station, which we were lucky to get to see because of the holiday (This is not my photo, BTW.  It was too crowded to get a good photo.), is the Franciscan Monastery of Flagellation, where Christ was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate.  It is also said that this is where he was given his crown of thorns.  NB: Archaeological evidence points to this actually happening at Herod's Palace, which was to the south or southwest, IIRC.

This is the 3rd station, where Christ fell for the first time.  These are said to be the actual paving stones where he fell.  True or not, they attracted a lot of attention.

The 5th station, where Simon helped Christ carry the cross up the hill of Calvary (or Golgotha).

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains stations the final stations, including the actual crucifixion, death and burial.  This is the entrance to the courtyard.

The church itself.  The church was founded in 326, when Helena (mother of the Emperor Constantine) supposedly found the true cross here.  See the ladder just below the window to the far right?  That ladder has to be there at all times and is called the Immovable Ladder.  There are so many stories about why it is there, but in the end, it kind of all comes down to politics (doesn't everything?).  If you're interested, you can find more info here.  But not yet!

 Inside, the church is really gloomy and looks incredibly neglected, like many of the other sites we saw that day.  I found this incredibly interesting.  These are the holy sites for many, many religions, yet they are, quite literally, falling apart.

An artistic representation of the stations.

When you first walk in you see the stone of anointment.  This is where Christ's body was anointed with oil before burial.

To the right of this is a staircase that leads up to Crucifixion Hill and the Golgotha Altar, which is supposed to be where the actual cross was erected and when Christ died.

Once again, it was too packed to get a good photo, so the one below is not mine.

This is actually my photo and was taken from the gallery where the Golgotha Alter stands.  The altar is to my back  and the anointing stone is below.  Just to the left of the archway is the Aedicule, where the actual tomb is supposed to be.  Unfortunately, like the nativity, the line was way too long to go in and have a look.

After we left the church, we once again wandered through the rabbit warren that make up the old city.  I don't know how anyone finds their way around.  It's just one passageway after another and there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.  The passages were sometimes narrow and sometimes wide, but all held stall after stall of trinkets, clothing, household items and food vendors.  Philip said it was the Wal-Mart of Jerusalem.   :)

When we finally arrived at the bottom of the passages (I can't tell you how many stairs we carried Han Solo's stroller up and down!), we exited the city through the Jaffa Gate (below).  There was a huge festival with bands playing Jewish music (you can't stop yourself from tapping your foot at the rhythm), more food vendors and lots of people.

We left the city and drove back to the ship where we all collapsed from heat and exhaustion.  Next stop:  Turkey!

If you missed the first bit of our trip, here are Egypt: Day One and Egypt Day: Two.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

RTT: Rockin the Casbah

Happy Tuesday! Monday holidays always mess me up. With James Bond being gone, I never really know when one is coming until it sneaks up on me.


*Han Solo and I went to Aldi today and I plugged in my iphone, hit a playlist and then shuffle.  The first song that came on was Caro Emerald's That Man, which is a big old slice of awesome.  If you've never heard it, it's very old school Swingy-Jazzy (I'm  going to trademark that).  Anyhoo, at the end of the song there's a man who promises her a night at the Casbah that they will never forget.  The next song that came on was Rock the Casbah!  I think my smart phone is really smart.

*BTW, Han Solo loves both of those songs.  Whenever Rock the Casbah comes on, he sings along with it.  Well, really he just says "bah," but still.  He also loves Sweet Caroline and does the "bah, bah, baaaaaaah," in tune.  Smart boy.

*Are you now singing Sweet Caroline in your head?

*Oh, and if you've never heard That Man, you can check it out here:

*James Bond and I hold TN driver's licenses which will expire next year.  For our European licenses to be valid, we must hold a valid US license.  You can renew online in TN, but NOT if it's your first renewal (which it will be) and in any case, they send it to the address on file, which we obviously don't live at anymore.  I called the local DMV and explained the situation.  They gave me the main customer service number and said they would be the ones to take care of this issue.  Fantastic.  I called the number and was on hold for 45 minutes.  Yes, you read that right, 45.  A lady picked up, said "Thank you for holding how..." and the battery in my house phone died.  Brilliant. 

*About 17% of humans are left handed.  The same percentage is apparently true for apes and gorillas.  James Bond is left handed.

*I hate the show Doc McStuffins because I can never stop singing the theme song.  Like right now.  Wait, let me think about Sweet Caroline.  Ah, that's better.

*I think I may have mentioned a while back that  showed Indy the movie and then the first episode of Stargate.  He fell in love with it and we have been working through the seasons (we're on 5 now).  In the pilot episode, Cpt Carter makes a comment about how it took them 3 years to MacGyver the system to get it to work.  The camera then pans around to Col. O'Niell, played by Richard Dean Anderson, who also played MacGyver. I chuckled a little and then explained the joke to Indy because he didn't understand why I was laughing.  Well, he then decided he needed to watch MacGyver.  I got the first season and in the first ep, MacGyver disarms a bomb with a paperclip.  Indy was HOOKED.  It is quite possible the most improbable show ever.  I'm always amazed at how the very things he needs always happen to be lying near him.  So, now every night, except Tuesdays, which is when Castle comes on (and nothing, not even a flight to Rome, comes between me and Castle), we watch one episode of Stargate and one episode of MacGyver.  I'm certainly getting my fill of Richard Dean Anderson.  It's a good thing he's good looking.

*For some reason, if I download a pic from the interwebs, my mac saves them as documents!  Anyone know how to change this?  If you do, please let me know!

Okay, I'm done for today.  Han Solo is trying to climb over the sofa do he can escape the living room.  Good heavens.

If you didn't see them yet, I've posted photos from our stop in Egypt.  You can see day one photos here and day two photos here.

Seriously Shawn


Monday, November 12, 2012

Cruise: Egypt, Day Two

Did you enjoy yesterday's bit of Egypt? I hope so. We sure did. And now on to day 2! After we left the sumptuous hotel, we headed down toward Memphis and the Necropolis at Saqqara. It was another ridiculously hot day and once again, the traffic was insane. Our bus driver must have either nerves of steel, or the biggest stress hernia in the world.

We drove for about 30-45 minutes and passed by the Step Pyramid.  Indy almost had a heart attack until I assured him we were actually going there later.  Whew!  We stopped at an open air museum near (or in, I wasn't quite clear on this) Memphis that houses the largest standing statue of Ramses II (the Great) found to date.  The statue is not complete and while it is a standing statue, it's not actually standing.  Ramses was seriously in love with himself.  He had statues made by the dozen and had his face and/or cartouche cut into everything.  Megalomaniacs, what are you going to do? Still, it is seriously impressive.  There is a replica standing (actually standing) in Ramses Square (convenient!) in Cairo, but we didn't get to see it.  Check out how big it is!  That's what she said.

Apparently it was common for pharaohs to have a picture of their heir carved between their legs in standing statues.  I had no idea.  This is Merneptah, who was still quite young at the time this statue was carved.  BTW, Ramses lived to be around 90 and poor Merneptah didn't get the throne until he was in his 60's.  Huh, I guess Prince Charles has something in common with him.

This is the 2nd largest sphinx discovered to date.  It is quite small compared to the Great Sphinx! 

Hey, here's another statue of Ramses II.  The courtyard was quite literally packed with them.

And here's Indy practicing his mad whip skills.  He said it was "authentic" Indiana Jones because he was in Egypt.  Okay.  BTW, did you notice how there are pretty much no other people in these photos?  There were almost no other tourists there.

We piled back on the bus and drove to the Necropolis complex.  Indy was salivating.  On the way we passed many, many palms that were full of red things, the same red things that had been on the breakfast buffet earlier in the day and no one knew what they were.  I asked Hussein and he said they were dates.  I have never seen fresh dates before!  I also didn't know they grew on palms.  I'm not sure where I thought they came from, but then again, I hadn't given it a whole lot of thought.
There is a small museum at the front of the Necropolis that houses antiquities and the mummy of Imhotep, who was the architect of the Step Pyramid.  There was a 10 minute movie about the site before we actually went to it, but Han Solo was tired of sitting and needed to run about.  I decided to take him outside while the others watched the film, and he was so happy.  Look at that happy little face.  Also, notice how there's no one around.

When the film and museum were complete, we got on the bus once again. and traveled further into the complex where we passed several piles of rocks that are actually pyramids.  We even got to go down in one!  This is our tour group headed down to the tomb of Lepsius XXIX (IIRC).  The pyramid itself is northeast of the Step Pyramid and next to the tomb of Mere-Ruka which dates to about 2340 BC (it's in the second photo below).

See this pile of dirt?  Yeah, that's the pyramid.  Sweet!

Indy and I at the entrance.  There were tons of Egyptian men sitting around who offered to "take" us down in the tomb and of course expected a tip in return.  Emmy, who you can just see to the left of me in the white top and beige head scarf, said emphatically to NOT give any of them money.  They were not sanctioned guides, and we had already paid for our entry into the complex.  Four of them followed Indy and I down with two more in front of the group and all kept asking for money.  Emmy shooed them away with some very loud words in Egyptian and much hand gesturing.  It was kind of funny.

 Tomb entrance.

Indy, about 15 feet down the shaft.  We were at about a 45 degree angle.  Gigi had recently had back surgery and opted out of this excursion, and stayed with Han Solo and a few other tour members on the bus.  Wise move.

Once we got down the shaft, we had a long hall to get through.  See how Indy is hunched over?  Yeah, there was no standing straight for anyone until we got to the burial chambers.

 Hieroglyphs on the walls of the burial chambers.

Indy doing some more whip action in the chamber that housed the sarcophagus which you can see in the background.  The mummy and treasures were looted thousands of years ago, but the sarcophagus is still there.

We left the tomb, which was blissfully cool, and emerged into the blazing heat once more and then trooped over to one of the temples.  You were not supposed to take photos inside, but I did a quick snap (so was everyone else).  The paint is still on the walls.

Now, on to the main attraction at Saqqara: the Step Pyramid, built for Zosser (also known as Djoser) around 2600 BC.  Prior to this pyramid, everyone was buried under a mastaba, which is basically, one step.  Imhotep, Zosser's architect, got the idea to stack the mastabas, creating the first pyramid tomb.  It is in very bad shape and is undergoing constant preservation work.  You can see the scaffolding to the right of the pyramid.

We had an entire Asian group on our tour, who said they were from Canada (?) and were the nicest people.  They loved Han Solo and played with him all the time.  Several of the guys asked Indy if they could borrow his hat and whip for photos.  They thought it was hilarious.  Indy graciously handed it over and they got their photos.

This is the grand gallery leading to the pyramid.  It was really, really long, but I couldn't get a good photo of it from the inside.

This is the only remaining section of the original roof.

Indy with a camel dromedary.

I swear this camel  dromedary was smiling at me!

Hey!  Look!  It's Pocket Indy!

Random Egyptian man who said he liked pretty American ladies.  :)

My Indy on a donkey with an Egyptian head scarf.

I thought these stairs were fascinating.   We were up at the top part of the wall that surrounds the temple complex, which was about  3 flights above ground level.  I don't know what these led to, but I wouldn't want to have to go up and down them more than once a day.

This is the back side of the temple.  The Step Pyramid is to the left.

We trudged back to the bus, exhausted yet excited over what we had seen.  The town of Saqqara was, well, filthy, just like the rest of the areas we had been through.  This is a canal from the Nile into Saqqara.  It was so disgusting.  There were dead animals floating in it.  We saw two sheep and a pig just floating.  About 30 feet from them there was a guy fishing and not far from him another guy was swimming!  Ack!  I couldn't get a good picture of the areas that were packed with trash, but trust me, it was there.

Here's something interesting.  In Egypt, if you don't finish your house/building, you don't pay taxes on it.  Guess what?  There are almost no completed houses anywhere!  They either have an unfinished top floor or in the case of apt buildings, a floor in the middle that's incomplete.  Isn't that weird?  BTW, it's a sign of prosperity

Our final sightseeing stop of the day was the Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali, also known as the Alabaster Mosque.  It sits on the highest point in Cairo and the roads going up were treacherous!  The mosques was built by Muhammad Ali in memory of his son Tunsun Pasha, who died in 1816.  It was so beautiful.  I couldn't get any good photos of the interior because we couldn't use flash and there was a prayer service going on.

Indy in the courtyard.  Notice his feet?  We had to wear shoe covers or take your shoes off when visiting.

The city of Cairo from the terrace of the mosque.  It was much bigger than I realized.

We left the mosque and came down the scary roads again to have lunch on a Nile river boat.  On the way to the boat, one of our guides, Hussein, left us.  The bus driver just stopped in the middle of traffic, in the center lane, and Hussein just got off and started walking through the street traffic. WHAT?  He was not the only person we had seen doing this though.  Cars would stop in traffic that was zipping around them and a passenger would open the door and hop out. 

After that is was time for the drive back to Alexandria.  The trip on the way back was just as scary and eventful as the drive out.  People just randomly walk across the highway.  There was a man in a wheelchair sitting on the highway.  Not on the edge of the highway, but right in the middle of it.  And of course there were donkey carts.  It was so weird!  When we got back we drove around the city instead of going through it like we had when we left, and Emmy pointed out where the Lighthouse of Alexandria once stood.  

Egypt was really a learning experience for all of us.  I was shocked by how poor the people were.  I mean, I knew Egypt was not a wealthy country, but I had no idea how bad it was for the average person. It was far more of an education for Indy than I bargained for.  The people were so friendly and kind and honestly happy to see us.  Or rather see our money.  They preferred American dollars and Euro to Egyptian pounds.  Gigi questioned that, but I assumed it was because the Egyptian gov't is so unsteady that if it falls again, and the economy crashes, the value of the EP will plummet but the USD will retain its value.

I have to say, our family was worried to pieces about us going to Egypt.   I kept teIling everyone that we would be fine, but they were still convinced we were going to be kidnapped and sold into slavery or something. When we got back to the ship, Gigi had to text my step-dad and about 10 other people to let them know we had survived.  Sheesh.    

So, that was our Egyptian experience.  I would love to go back and spend a week or so there.  Indy still wants to see the temple at Abu Simbal and I'd love to do the 4 or 5 night Nile River cruise.  Indy said he knows he'll be back one day when he's an archaeologist, and we can come visit him.  :)  

If you missed day one, you can read all about it here:  Egypt, Day One.  Come back in a day or two when I post our next stop, Israel. 


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