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

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. 


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cruise: Egypt, Day One

I know I said I was going to post more frequently, but I got derailed by an ear infection (Han Solo) and a cold (me), plus, I'm lazy.   But now we're all better, except that I'm still lazy, so let's go to Egypt, shall we?  Yes, let's.  Warning: Photo HEAVY.

After 2 full days at sea, just relaxing, we arrived at the port of Alexandria, early in the morning.  Since we were ported for 2 days, we did an overnight excursion, and got to stay at a swanky five star hotel in Giza (more on that later).  The morning was HOT and we were grateful to get on the air conditioned bus!  I will tell you that this was a mere 2 weeks after the protesting at the American Embassy in Egypt (in response to that idiotic film), and RC wasn't sure we'd be porting at all.  We were watching carefully every day on the RC website, because they canceled Egypt on the cruise that ran the week before us.  Indy was practically holding his breath.  Fortunately, it was deemed safe, and to Alexandria we went.

Alexandria was...dirty.  It honestly looked like it had been bombed in many places.  I was more than a bit perplexed, but one of our super awesome tour guides, Emmy, said that the area around the docks was not the best, and that we would see much more beautiful areas later as we got into Giza and Cairo.  Um, we have a different definition of beautiful, let me tell you.  Some of these first photos are blurry because we were on a moving bus, but they'll give you a sense of the area.  It was early morning, so none of the shops were open, and as a consequence, they all looked boarded up.

Does McDonald's deliver in Egypt???  I forgot to ask the tour guides.

 Traffic!  Oh, heavens, the traffic.  It was completely insane.  This is shortly after we got on their version of the highway (I don't know what they would call it, so we'll stick to highway).  There weren't just cars and trucks on the road.  There were donkey carts, dromedaries (not camels, but more on that later), bicycles and other dubiously wheeled "vehicles," along with the occasional random pedestrian, who decided to cross the highway.


Hey look!  A truck load of people driving at least 50mph.  That cannot be safe!  At one point there was a semi loaded with bricks that reached a little higher than the middle of our bus windows and there were about 10-15 people laying across the bricks while the truck trundled down the road.  Sadly, I did not get a photo of that.

Aww, there are my babies!  As you can see, Indy is geared up and ready to excavate. 

I took this just as we came around the corner and the Pyramids of Giza came into view.  As soon as I snapped this, his bolted straight up and was practically salivating, he was so excited.  I have to say, it was a bit awe inspiring to see them looming off in the distance.

Gigi, Indy, me and Han Solo ON A PYRAMID! 

After we climbed the pyramid (IIRC, it's the one to the far left in the photo below), we drove around to the other side.  While we generally only see 3 pyramids and the Sphinx in photos and whatnot, there are actually the 3 larger pyramids (the largest one built for Khufu, also known as Cheops, around 2650BC), and 6 smaller ones, for a total of 9.  There may be more tombs in the area that were just under a mastaba (a flat, raised slab), or whose pyramid simply crumbled.

Look at my little Indiana Jones!

Is this not an amazing photo?  I have always wanted to see the pyramids, but to be honest, I never thought it would happen.  It was completely surreal.

And now on to the exciting ride!  We all rode dromedaries!  Nope, not camels.  Camels have 2 humps, dromedaries only have one.  Dromedaries are a kind of camel, but people in the Middle East and North Africa call one up camels and two hump dromedaries.  And now you know.  Han Solo emphatically did NOT like it at first.  He cried and cried, but once we were up and moving, he decided it wasn't so bad, and eventually started laughing and waving to people as we passed.  Indy was a bit...petrified, as you can probably tell from the death grip he has on the pommel.  After a while though, he relaxed.  A little.  Gigi offered to ride with him, but he said he needed to ride his own.  I think he might have regretted it.  :)  He and I had actually been on a camel dromedary when we were in Tunisia, but that more just a get on, get up, snap some photos, walk around the dock for 5 minutes, hop off, kind of thing.  This was a real ride. 

There's Gigi!  In her whole entire life, I'm pretty sure my mom never thought she'd be on a camel  dromedary.

We rode for about 30 minutes across the Giza plateau, we piled on the bus and drove to the Sphinx.  Indy was practically jumping up and down on the bus waiting to get off.    The Sphinx is believed to have been built by Khafra, the son of Khufu, in honor of his father around 2500BC.  It was originally painted red!  I did not know!

It was a long, freakishly hot walk from the bus to the point the photo below was taken, and we still had  a good way to go before we actually got to the Sphinx.  Gigi was not up for the walk down, so she opted to take Han Solo back to the air conditioned bus, while Indy and I soldiered on to get a better look.

This is as close as you can get.  Indy was terribly upset that he couldn't touch it. :)

After the Sphinx we went shopping here.  Indy got a cartouche with his (real) name on it in hieroglyphs.  They made it while we waited.  It was really cool to watch.  He loves it and wears it everywhere. 

 We had lunch at a very posh hotel and then drove to Cairo to the Egyptian museum.  To get there, we had to circle the famous Tahrir Square.  There were no demonstrations or revolts, just green space with a monument in the middle, lots of garbage, and a traffic circle that would make Brits cringe.  Indy was not really interested in this though.  He had one thing on his mind: King Tut!  Unfortunately, we were not allowed cameras in the museum, so you'll just have to use your imagination.  I'll tell you though, whatever you're imagining, it was ten times better.  :)  The King Tut exhibit was of course the big draw and it was mind boggling.  IIRC, not even 1/4 of what was found was on display, and what they had on display filled almost the entire top floor of the museum.  The big thing Indy wanted to see was King Tut's mask.  I was looking forward to that too.  Emmy told us that there had been a theory that Tut had been murdered by a blow to the back of the head, as his skull is caved in and missing a chunk.  This is not so.  In his excitement and hurry to get to the mummy, Howard Carter, was not as careful as he should have been when removing the gold mask, and a chunk of Tut's skull came off with the mask.  It is still there today.  Emmy told us to look for it and it's there, clear as day, stuck to the inside back of the mask.  Eww.  As an aside, for any Downton Abbey fans, the Highclere Castle where the show is filmed is owned by the Earl of Carnarvon.  The sponsor of the Tut excavation was the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, great-grandfather to the current Earl.
When we were done at the museum (really, we could have stayed forever), everyone but us went on a Nile River dinner cruise.  We would have loved to do the cruise, but my sweet little Han Solo was just about done.  He was so good all day and rarely got upset (except over the camel dromedary), but it was a long, hot day and I knew he wouldn't make it through a dinner cruise that lasted until midnight.  Since we were the only ones not going, the tour company called a cab to get us to the hotel back in Giza, which is about 15-20 minutes from Cairo.  One of the tour guides, Hussein (completely AWESOME) offered to ride back with us, to make sure we got checked in okay.  I'm so glad he did.  It was quite possibly the most fun and exhilarating, yet terrifying cab ride of my life (and I've been in a cab in Naples)!  Here's the thing, they drive wherever they want.  And I mean that in all seriousness.  There doesn't seem to be any traffic rules.  Or at least not any that are adhered to.  At one point, I asked Hussein if people just didn't use the lane lines, because there were 3 lanes painted on the road, but 6 lanes of traffic (yes, 6 in the space of 3 lanes).  He and the cab driver, who had mad driving skills, laughed and told us the lane lines were really there for decoration.  Okay.  Our cab driver went up on curbs, and what passes for sidewalks (with people on them) to get around cars, trucks, carts, camels dromedaries and other random things on the road.  We came within inches several times of the sides of other cars, sped around incredibly tight curves and hit things I'm probably better off not knowing about.  We were in the back of the car laughing so hard we were crying at the sheer absurdity of it.  He we hadn't been laughing, we probably would have been screaming.  At one point, we made a particularly fast hairpin turn and Indy looked at me and said "Mom, I think I might have just peed a little."  Of course this set me and Gigi off into more hysterical giggles.  Gigi said it's a good thing she wasn't wearing a blood pressure monitor because she was sure it was through the roof.  My dad would never have survived the ride.  He'd have done a tuck and roll out the door 3 minutes in.   By the time we got to the hotel I swear I lost a good 10 years of my life and gained many gray hairs.  It was totally awesome.  The tour company paid for the cab, but I tipped the driver generously because any man who could make it through that deserved it.
And then there was the hotel.  Ah, the hotel.  Here's the thing about Egypt; it's dirty and loud.  No, I take that back, it's not dirty.  It's freaking filthy.  I've never seen anything like it.  I don't know if they don't have trash collection or what, but everyone just throws their rubbish on the street.  Even in the wealthiest part of Cairo, where all the Embassies are, there was just rubbish everywhere.  And poverty.  Most of them are genuinely poor.  I guess I have never given much thought to Egypt outside its monuments, and it was truly eye opening to actually be there.  Now, I have read in books that romanticize the grand era of Egyptian archaeology and in them they always feature some grand hotel that is an oasis from the outside world.  Let me tell you, those books were not lying.  The hotel we ate lunch at earlier in the day was gated and absolutely gorgeous inside.  It was nothing compared to the hotel where we actually.
The Mena House Hotel has a long and famous history.  It was named after Menes (also called Narmar, or Memphis), who united the upper and lower kingdoms of Egypt and became the first pharaoh.  Mena House sits at the base of the Great Pyramids, so the view was spectacular and has hosted many, many famous people, including Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle, Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon, Charlie Chaplin and Agatha Christie (and a whole bunch more).  It was also the place where, in 1977, Egypt and Israel fist sat down to find a peace settlement.  The Mena House meeting led to the Camp David Agreement. 
Upon arrival, we once again had to go through a set of gates and suddenly, we were in a different Egypt.  This Egypt was calm and quiet and manicured to perfection.  We were quite literally surrounded by luxury.  The staff practically jumped the moment we got out of the cab.  They even had golf carts to drive us down to our rooms.  We were given 2 connecting rooms that were lovely with hardwood flooring and dark cherry furniture, and had a garden view (sadly, no pyramid view, but still, couldn't complain) and were stocked with every amenity you could think of, including slippers and plush bath robes.  The beds were so comfortable it was almost sinful.

This is the hotel lobby.

Indy and Gigi shared this room.

Han Solo and I got this one.  Gigi was originally supposed to stay in here on her own, but the crib fit better in this room (because it only had a king size instead of 2 queen), so I was more than happy to take it off her hands.  :)

The view from our balcony.

The main courtyard.

The view from the entrance.  Not too bad, eh?  This is now the wallpaper on my computer.

The main entry.

A walking path near the entrance.

I love how this photo turned out.  The shadow caught my attention and it was time to go, so I did a quick snap, not expecting to get something so lovely.

The chandelier hanging in the portico.  It was gorgeous when it was lit up at night.

After a ridiculously priced, yet delicious meal, a great night's sleep, and a hearty breakfast, we were ready to conquer Egypt again (Why not?  Everyone else has: Persia, Assyria, Hyksos, Romans).  Day 2 led us to the 2nd largest sphinx excavated to date and Step Pyramid at Saqqara, where we actually got to go into a tomb!  Come back for that!

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