About Me

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I'm a 30 something who loves to travel.  I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels.  I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt.  I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney.  My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My neat orderly world

Right now I'm reading the book One Year Off, a review will come shortly. I was reading the part about Rome and how the hotel keeper was letting them park thier van in front of the hotel for the night. What surprised me was, who is the hotel keeper to say they can park on the street? Where are the police? If you let people park wherever they want and let the hotel keepers manage the parking there will be chaos!

I've been to Rome (Egypt and Russia too) and it seems people park wherever they want. All of a sudden it hit me that maybe the Romans are right and the NYers are the crazy ones. We have "organized" parking, 80 street signs for one block. Everyone's paranoid about where you can park and for how long. Parking is stressful in NYC and expensive if you misread the sign. And then you get the people who live there who decide they don't want "x" vehicle in front of their building and lobby to change the parking rules. You can't win in NYC, it's a horror show. We've made it nearly impossible to have a car in NYC, and in some ways it's a good thing. But, for people who need to park it's a nightmare. But not labor the point of parking in large cities my point is that we do so many things to make things orderly that we make them un-orderly. We have a nice orderly system, but it's got a million holes in it that it's hard to call it a system, the same could be said for taxes and medical insurance and everything else we do to make life orderly. The chaos is astounding!

My experiences traveling have made me so much more aware of the chaos we create by trying to make things simple, and fair. Would the world be a better place if we let the guy who owns the business decide who can park in the spot in front of the business? Maybe or maybe not, but it would be a lot easier to determine where you could park, just ask the guy inside...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Scandi and Russia - Getting to Copenhagen

Here is the start of my travelogue for my Scandi and Russia tour. I will try to sprinkle in some posts about other stuff since this was a 33 day trip.


Day 1: Depart the Europe. This evening I depart from JFK airport at 8:30pm on a
British Airways flight bound for London, England.


I did some last minute packing today (well most of my packing), found out I had too much stuff and had to dump some of it, who needs jeans anyway?

I got to the airport early, and everything ran smoothly, so I ended up sitting around for a while waiting for the flight. On the flight I end up sitting next to a little bit of a strange guy... at one point I hit the button on the screen, and he opened my tray table for me. I still don't get it, but he must of thought I didn't know how to open the tray table. He also seemed to have missed the airplane etiquette lesson, he was leaning onto me to look out the window when we were landing. Otherwise the flight was fine. I watched Casanova and some of Walk the Line, got about 3 hours of sleep and got to eat my dinner and breakfast, which were pretty good.


Day 2: Arrive Copenhagen: After checking into your youth hotel, the remainder of the day is at leisure. Join your Tour Manager and fellow travelers for an important meeting at 6pm followed by an included dinner. (Dinner included)
Hotel: Belaegningen Youth Hostel



The plane landed in London around 8:25am (local time) and then I walked for what felt like forever to my connecting flight to Copenhagen at 9:55am. This flight had no entertainment and the lunch they served wasn't very good, so I only ate the fruit. I managed to doze off for most of this flight, which was good since there wasn't anything else to do and I needed sleep if I was going to make it through the day. When I got off the plane I got my passport stamped (yea!) and was on my way. I followed the directions I had, which were NOT to the hostel. I had to ask a random person on the street how to get where I was supposed to be. Fortunately, English is widely spoken in Copenhagen and I was sent to a bus that would take me to Central Station, naturally it started raining once I realized I was lost. I wanted to sit on my suitcase and cry at my predicament, but realized that wasn't going to get my anywhere. At Central Station I decided I had had enough with finding my way around on mass transit and took a cab. I finally got to the hostel at 3:45 and was the first one to check into my room. The hostel seemed nice enough, with 2 bunk beds, but only 2 showers for the girls in the building, the mornings would be interesting.

After settling in I headed over to the TV room and found a bunch of people from the tour. I introduced myself and was promptly asked how old I was, and was asked if I was from America, it was a little bit of a strange introduction to the group. I grabbed a chair, had a seat and everyone else introduced themselves. At the time I don't think I really retained anyone's names, but I now know I met Chris, Jacqui, Ben, Lis, Jilly, Nancy, Renae, Ted, and a couple of other people. Most people were from Australia, a couple from Canada, one from South Africa and they thought there was another American. I would have preferred more Americans, but you can't have it all.

After a little while I headed back to my room to get myself together for our 6:00 meeting and dinner. At my room I met my roomies, Kellie, Wendy and Stephanie. At the meeting Che introduced himself, Andy (the driver) and Dion (our Super Cook), and took us over to dinner - Tacos. After dinner we had a pre-tour meeting. Che told us that it was different up here (Scandinavia), and the function of the tour manager was more organizational. He also told us that it would get colder, that there was usually hot water, and after we visit the cities we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere, he didn't really paint the nicest picture, but it wasn't anything I wasn't expecting. Then he collected our information and sent us on our way. Some of us hung out for a bit getting to know each other, then I sent a quick email home and was in bed a little after 10.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hofbrauhaus

I've actually been to 3 Hofbrauhauses - Munich, Las Vegas and Pittsburgh. They're all a little different, though I've had very different experiences at each. Munich is my favorite.

How can you not love the Hofbrauhaus in Munich? The place has real live German's in it, what's not to like? But I also like that the place is hundreds of years old and although it attracts lots of tourists, it's still a place that locals go to. I'm sure the Hofbrauhaus people hate this, but I also like the painted ceilings. In the 1930's when the Nazi's were coming and in power they often used the Hofbrauhaus and they painted the ceilings with swastikas. After the war they tried to paint over them, but the red kept bleeding through. They ended up painting designs around them. What I like about this is that it's there if you look, but it's not so apparent that you feel its presence when you're there. The ceiling was recreated at the Las Vegas restaurant, but not at the one in Pittsburgh, which was a disappointment to me. But in Munich, the food was good, the beer was good and the atmosphere fun and energetic.

I've been to the Las Vegas restaurant twice, but I've always gone for lunch with my family. It's not terribly lively there at lunch time, but it's a good place for a big group. The food is good, but I LOVE the pretzels there. I guess I should get my butt there one day for dinner. My brother-in-law who is more of a foody then I am and has been there more recently didn't seem terribly impressed with the food the last time he was there.

Pittsburgh, I've only been there once but enjoyed it. It's a large restaurant and it has a quiet room incase you want the food and not the band. It also has a patio/beirgarten, there was a gravely flooring here so leave the cute heels at home. I thougth the food was good not great, but the band was good. The pretzels were not the same as the ones in Las Vegas or Munich and weren't as good. My biggest disappointment was in the design. From the outside it has the HB look, but inside it doesn't have the contoured ceilings or the designs on them. It felt like they cut a lot of corner and made it more like a "Western" beer hall instead of it's older German sister.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

New security at airports?

After yesterdays terrorist attack I find a couple things interesting. Last night the TSA wait time calculator was down, I doubt that was a coincidence. And now the new security, what type? If it's just more vigilance, ok I'll buy that. But if it's just annoying passengers looking for something that they don't actually know what they are looking for, then you're wasting everyones time.

My guess is that in the next 48 hours there will be some new restriction that will keep you from bringing something on the plane. And this will just add to the issue of paying to check your bags, with more things prohibited it will just add more confusion to security checks and force more people to pay to check luggage. Ahh, the joy of air travel...

Will any of this make us safer? I doubt it, there were a lot of holes that allowed this attack to happen and banning liquids and whatever the next thing is isn't going to prevent someone with a creative mind and free time to come up with a new way to take a plane down.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in Paris

I've always wanted to spend Christmas in Paris. I don't actually know anything about Paris at Christmas time, but I hear it's a nice time to be there.

I walk down the Champs Elysees and look at the decorated windows with light snow falling. Bundled up in a wool winter coat with a hat, scarf and gloves, a light layer of snow on me. I can hear the snow crunch with each step. It's quiet and peaceful as I take in the festive atmosphere.

I go to mass at Notre Dame and light a candle for those less fortunate. I always enjoy when the Choir sings traditional Christmas songs, I enjoy it even more in French.

Ice skating at the Eiffel Tower in the evening with that magical view of Paris, the City of Lights. Christmas music playing in the background. On my way back home my nose leads me to a street cart where I buy chestnuts that have been roasting, just waiting for me.


Until I can get there and live out my image I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Myrlte Beach, South Carolina

I am going to Myrtle Beach in January for my nephew's football game. I'm only going to be there a day and a half, I hope it's enough time to get an idea of what is going on there. From the little bit of research I did online it sounds similar to Pigeon Forge, TN so this will be extra interesting to me.

I'm flying down on Spirit Air, the airline looks ok but the only reason I chose it was because it was the only airline that flew there non-stop. Otherwise I was a little turned off by the budgetness of them and all the fees they charge. But I'll be sending my computer and clothing down with my family who is driving down. Then I will be driving back with them. I can take pretty much any airline for a 2 hour flight, even if I end up in a middle seat because I refuse to pay to pre-book my seat.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why I don't like paying to check luggage at the airport

On This Week in Travel the panel discussed paying to check bags at the airport. I think I've addressed this topic before, but I feel compelled to do it again.

Aside from not wanting to pay additional to check luggage because I don't want to pay the money, I think it's a bad policy for airlines.

1. I wasn't really tricked with your cheaper airfare cost, I add it into what the flight will cost anyway. And I'll pick the airline that isn't going to charge me additional to check my luggage even if it will cost a little more, I think that airline is treating me better as a customer.

2. Now everyone is bring luggage on the plane - it slows down boarding and de-boarding. Makes the plane more crammed with stuff that should have been checked. If I have a large carry-on it's because I have a computer and camera equipment I am not checking them and if I'm forced to because no one else wants to pay the fee to check their underwear (which I can understand) then there will be a nasty letter coming your way and possibly a loss of business from me forever.

3. People become much more crazed over boarding the plane. People were in a rush to board the plane before, now that they have to fight for overhead bin space they're even worse. It makes boarding even slower and more stressful and that atmosphere continues into the flight.

4. What about families? When there is one person traveling $15 or $25 each way doesn't seem so bad, but if you're a family of 4 or more those fees could pay for your hotel room for a night or 2, that makes a big difference.

5. When I go on vacation I like to know that certain things are paid for before I leave and I wont be paying for them when I get back from vacation, airline stuff is one of those things.

Airlines charging fees to check my bags is not going to be a final determinant of who I fly with, but I absolutely take it into consideration. If I think I can manage with a carry-on then it's not as much of a factor. But if I can get a non-stop flight without a check bag fee for a little bit more then I would be paying on another airline including the check bag fee then I will pick the one that isn't charging the fee. I like knowing that I have rewarded an airline for not adding fees (even if they don't know that I'm rewarding them, I know I am). I don't know what the price point is, it may depend on the airline, flight times, destination, or airport options.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Berlin World Cup

When I went to Scandinavia and Russia in May/June of 2006 I didn't realize it, but I ended up in Berlin during World Cup, it was a great time to go and until I can return to Berlin I'll always wonder if the city was great of if the World Cup was great - I suspect a little bit of both.

We got into the city on the day of a Germany game, as the game was ending. I'm not a soccer fan, but WOW, the city was electric! After checking into our Hostel we were taken to the area of the fan mile and I went to a nice dinner with a group of about 10 people. After dinner a bunch of us went to the fan mile. It was an absolute mad house, mostly because a game had just ended and people were starting to leave. But I wanted in, as did a couple other people. Those of us who wanted to go to the fan mile walked single-file against a fence holding on to each other, so we wouldn't get separated. For some it was too much and they turned back. Once we got through the crowd we were rewarded! The outfits people were wearing were crazy, funny hats and wisgs with the German flag colors. Everyone was happy and jovial and drunk.

We ended up dancing, not something I normally do when I'm sober (I hadn't been drinking). At one point the song "Footballs Coming Home" came on. I had never heard the song before, but everyone else had and they were REALLY happy to hear it again. Everyone was dancing and jumping and screaming along with the song, it was a definite step up in the atmosphere. Now whenever I hear that song I remember that night, I even bought the live version because it reminded me of the atmosphere of the night, instead of the studio version. One of the girls I was with commented that I looked so happy that night, and I was, I was really into the environment and having so much fun there. I still don't like soccer, but I'm certainly interested in going to another World Cup or an Olympics or other like sport that will attract international visitors ready to have fun.

One of the funniest things to me that night was that I was wearing a shirt that said "Polska." I'm a proud American but that night everyone thought I was Polish and liked that, so I adopted Poland for the night.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

This Week In Travel - Podcast review

About 17 weeks ago a new Podcast started, This Week In Travel. I think the Podcast is great. It's hosted by Gary Arndt with co-hosts Chris Christensen and Jen Leo and so far I think every episode has had a guest host. It's an interesting group with a variety of travel experiences. Each week they go over the major and not so major stories in travel. The group is entertaining and fun to listen to. They don't take things too seriously either.

I enjoy the podcast because now I feel like I'm up to date on what's going on in travel. I'm also exposed to a lot of different travel writers and their lives and perspectives on travel. It's opening new doors of places to travel to, blogs to visit, and twitterers to follow. But most of all, it's fun and lighthearted while still being educational!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Naughty Paris - A Lady's Guide to the Sexy City

This is a review of Naughty Paris - A Lady's Guide to the Sexy City by Heather Stimmler-Hall

This is not a traditional travel guide, it's a fun guide to Paris written by and for Ladies. I suppose guys might find it interesting too, but it's definitely a girly book. It made me feel sexy, do you need to know more?

It starts with a review of French Culture - men and women and how they relate and interact. They're apparently quite different from Americans. I really never thought about actually meeting a french man if I went to Paris, but after reading this it didn't seem to insane, nor did the cultural differences seem so intimidating. Sprinkled throughout the book is bits and pieces of french culture, the little things that we don't always think about but will make our interactions with the French more pleasant.

The book goes into hotels, and restaurants in the city. I don't know any of these places, but they seem to be a little more out of the box then what you would find in a traditional guide book.

The book also goes into where to shop (for a variety of less and more naughty stuff), shows to see, and clubs to go to. Heather pushes the edges of "normal" places to go including information on libertine clubs, but she does this without being raunchy or offensive.

This is not your traditional guide book, you're not going to find out the best door to go in at the Louvre. But it made me feel sexy. It made me want to go and skip the Louvre.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Egypt: Flying Home and the Epilogue

Day 10 (March 18, 2007): Farewell Egypt - your tour ends after breakfast. (Breakfast included)


At 12:25 Jen, Kelley, Tara and I made our way to the lobby area for our shuttle to the airport. Adam, Tim, Ed, Craig, Jacqui, Sharon and Alan all saw us off. They waved until we couldn’t see them anymore, it was quite sad. I won’t mention any names, but someone in the van tried to make the rest of us cry and was almost successful. But we had a good chat on the way to the airport about the tour and the people. At the airport I made my way through check-in with no problems while the other girls checked in at Lufthansa and got seats together. The 4 of us walked around the airport a bit, shopped a little, paid our last Baksheesh for the bathroom and then at 2:45 I watched them go through security for their flight. I had a little more time before my flight boarded and walked around a bit more till they called my flight at 3:30. On the line for security there were a couple really annoying Canadians – the type that give Canadians a bad name. I just hoped they weren’t sitting near me.

I wasn’t sitting near the annoying Canadians; I had a window seat with a view of Jen, Tara, and Kelley’s plane and an empty seat on the other side of me. I was exhausted at this point and slept at least half the flight to Milan, but managed to wake up for breakfast – Yogurt, fruit and bread with some cheese. But 2 hours of sleep wasn’t going to cut it.

Security in Milan was much better this time then when I was on my way to Egypt, only about a 10 minute wait. When I got on line for the flight back to NY I ended up in front of a big group, and man were they annoying! I had another entertainment box under my feet, but since I knew I was going to sleep on this flight I didn’t bother taking much stuff out of my backpack. Lunch was pretty good, but the snack was weird. My flight got in ontime, although my luggage took forever to come out. There was a customs guy with a dog, I was just hoping my bottle of Sahara sand didn’t smell. But I was fine. Mom and Dad took me out to lunch and then it was time to try and readjust to real life, which I knew wasn’t going to be easy to do – Egypt is the type of place that stays with you.

Epilogue

Before I left for Egypt I started reading a book called Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif on the recommendation of someone from my Office. I continued reading it while I was in Egypt, and finally finished it when I returned home. I wouldn't highly recommend the book as it took a long time to get into the book, but it helped to keep the spirit of Egypt with me. But in reality I didn't need to read a book, Egypt is the type of place that lingers with you. There is just something about Egypt, and many others have told me this, that is distinct from other places and it lingers. I could jump on a plane tomorrow and go back.
I did mention early on that I thought this was a great group, and it absolutely was. I think the smaller group size helped as well as the fact that we were in Egypt and everyone was conscious of watching out for each other. Since the tour a couple of us have gotten together. I met up with Jen and Ed in Philly a few weeks after the tour. We were supposed to meet with Reid and her cousin and spend the day together; however, a rainstorm screwed up the plans and I only saw Ed and Jen. I went to the Morning Show with Mike and Juliet with Reid and her cousin a few days later and got to meet up with Chi for lunch. I've also had a chance to see Kelley a couple times. It's been great to keep in touch and see people from tour, it's always fun to relive the moments from tour, especially one as special as this tour was. I'm still in touch with quite a few people (facebook is a great tool) and even 2 and a half years after the trip we're still in touch.

What surprised me most about the tour was how friendly the Egyptians were, how nice the accommodations were and how much I could love a place that I was having second thoughts about going to right before I went. It didn't hurt that I didn't have to carry my suitcase everywhere, like on my other Contiki tours. Egypt is well set up for tourists (which means there are a lot of tourists), but a person can still get a feel for the culture while staying in their comfort zone. As long as you leave your hotel...

Sherif served not only as Tour Manager and guide, but also as a bridge between the Western World and Egypt. Although he was born and raised in Egypt he has a good understanding of Westerners and gave an appropriate amount of information, enough to get an understanding, but not so much that you couldn't absorb what we were told.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Egypt: Cairo

Day 9 (March 17, 2007): First to Sakkara to see the oldest pyramid in the world, the Step Pyramid. We continue on to the citadel, Alabaster Mosque and Sultan Husan Mosque. Tonight we have a final get-together. (Breakfast and dinner included)


This morning breakfast was at 6:45 with a 7:15 departure for the step pyramid. Our first stop was at the pyramid complex at Saqqara. Here we saw was the tomb of a regular person (Tomb of Mere – Ruka). We couldn’t take photos inside and were with a guide so we really couldn't. Sherif told us that while they are protecting the tomb by not allowing photos they are allowing too much sand inside the tomb, which is slowly erasing the etchings on the walls. I love Egyptians!

After that we went to the Titi Pyramid which was a pyramid shaped mound of sand. Apparently you can tell how well Egypt was doing by the state of the pyramids – the better the pyramid the better the country was doing. Apparently Titi wasn't the most successful pharaoh. Inside the pyramid you walked down a shaft into a room which had two smaller rooms off of it. When we came back outside it was raining. It was a light drizzle for about 5 minutes which apparently qualified the day as rainy for Egyptians.

From there we went over to the step pyramid, which was built during the 3rd dynasty. The design was pretty much an accident, but seems to have worked out for the Egyptians. Walking to the pyramid we went through the first colonnade room, the columns are all attached to the outer wall because they didn’t know if the columns would hold the ceiling. It was interesting to see and to consider that thousands of years ago no one thought columns would hold up a roof, yet it’s such a basic part of building design today, amazing! On the other side of the colonnade room was the step pyramid where we made Sherif take a group picture of us with everyone’s camera. We would have taken a picture of him with our cameras sitting in front of him, but he already had all our cameras. Then as he took the last one we thought he should have been in the picture. But things had gotten a bit ridiculous as it was, so there are no pictures of him with the group, but gosh, everyone has a group picture from that day. During our picture taking session a dog was running around, well he got his head stuck in a plastic bag and started to flip out a bit trying to get out and being disoriented and all. I felt bad for him, but it was hysterical. I was laughing too hard to even take a picture of it.

After the pyramid we walked a little bit more towards the desert to get a better look, we got many offers for camel rides or something equally unwanted, it really never ends does it! Back on the bus we started towards the mosques, luckily Sherif left us alone so we could nap.

Our next stop was the Citadel of Salah al-Din, better known as the Alabaster Mosque. Before we went in we had to take off our shoes and those of us who were dressed to revealingly were given green robes to wear. Inside the mosque Sherif showed us a few things in the Mosque and explained about some of the writings on the ceiling. Outside there was a great view of the city, too bad it was cloudy out. I also noticed a lot of women with burqas and in general more conservatively dressed then we had seen through most of the trip. But then again, we hadn’t seen THAT many women. Most of the workers at the sites were men, and most of the people in the markets were men or tourists so I guess I hadn’t seen much of a cross section of Egyptian women. One place I had noticed women who were working was in hotels. I guess I could make a lot of assymptions about that, but I'll leave you to make your own. Our next stop was another Mosque – The Mosque of Sultan Hasan, where Sherif was going to talk about the Muslim religion.

I should tell you a little about myself: I consider myself a non-practicing Catholic. I think religion is a good thing in peoples lives, but don’t participate myself. I believe in being respectful of all religions for two reasons – one is that others believe it and you should be respectful of other people; and second, because you never know when one is going to be right and I think whatever god I encounter at the other side would be pissed at me if I was disrespectful of their religion. Having said that, I really didn’t know much about the Muslim Religion except that women have to wear Burqas and seem to be oppressed, they pray a lot and radical Muslims don't like the US.

At the Mosque of Sultan Hasan we again took our shoes off and Sherif told us where the good pictures were and had us sit while he explained a bit about the religion. So far during the tour Sherif had been fairly low key about being Muslim and never did anything overtly religious, watching him talk about it you could tell that he certainly was religious. I always enjoy watching someone who is passionate about thier topic. Sherif was passionate about everything, but especially so about Islam. He showed us how they pray and that Muslims pray 5 times a day, but it does not have to correspond with the calls to prayer. They pray for themselves and sins they might commit or thought about committing. Women pray in the back of the Mosque so they don’t distract the men, not as a sign of disrespect or to treat them as second class. Maybe I’m cynical, but while I understood it on a logical level, I didn’t totally get it. Women are forced to cover themselves because men can’t control themselves – I realize there is some sort of respect thing in there to protect women, but it takes away their freedoms too. Sherif took us to a room where the, I think Imam, read/chanted/sang the Arabic writing from the Quran that were on the wall.

Around 1:30 we finally went to lunch. Sherif took us to some place where for 40 LE we got Kebab and a lot of other good food. Apparently my journal entries about lunch are better then they were for the Mosques, opps. The tables were really low and I ate with Tara, Tim and Kelley. After the main course Jen and Tara went shopping, I opted not to go since I was still eating and I wanted dessert. While they were gone someone came around to collect our money for drinks, I paid for mine and Tara’s. After Jen and Tara came back they came around to collect money for lunch, but tried to get money for the drinks again. I explained that the drinks had been paid for, but the guy wasn’t getting it and I had to explain it to him twice, since Tara’s drink was paid for, it was really frustrating. Then Tara and Jen showed me the shirts they had gotten and I fell in love and decided I wanted one too. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time. Sherif finally agreed we could go if we ran. So Tara and I ran down the streets of Cairo to this little shop, which caused a bit of a stir. Nothing like two Western girls running down the street of a Muslim city! But I grabbed my shirt, paid for it and ran back. When we got to the bus no one was there. Apparently Sherif had taken his time getting everyone to the bus so they wouldn’t be stuck waiting for us (and the bus wouldn't get a ticket, but we beat them anyway. We probably should have just run slower, I thought I was going to die by the time we got to the bus.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Egyptian cotton store. I had wanted to get myself a set of sheets for my bed. But I didn’t know what color I was going to be using when I set up my new apt and I didn’t want white (which according to Sherif is the best color to get) and it didn’t seem that cheap so I decided not to get sheets. I got a blouse and a shawl instead. I think on today's drive through Cairo I was realizing it wasn't quite as bad as I previously thought. I wouldn't say it's a clean city or that it's pretty. More like it's dirt covered because it never rains to clean it and the construction is ugly combined with it being very densely populated. But there are few cities that I've thought were terribly clean and pretty.

On the bus ride back to the hotel we passed the unfinished buildings again, I finally decided to ask Sherif about these. He explained that people pretty much up and build them and then people move in, since the buildings aren't finished no one is paying taxes. From there the conversation went something like this:

Sherif: Poor people at home don't do that?

Me: No, you have to get a permit to do work. If you don't get a permit when you build you have to get it when you sell the house.

Sherif: Well here we just pass it down through the family, they don't sell it.

Me: Well then the neighbors might call and report you.

Sherif: That's not very nice.

He's right, but it still happens. I hope the Egyptians never figure out the pure joy of red tape!

We got back to the hotel around 3:00 and had some time to rest before going to the Sound and Light Show. I used the time to do some packing and take a nap. But I didn’t sleep well (I kept thinking about the tour) and then my mother called. I left a folder of info for her but she couldn't figure out when my plane was getting in, but it's always nice to hear from her.

At 6:00 16 of us met in the lobby and Mohammed (one of the Spring Tour reps) took us to the Sound and Light show. We were dropped off near the Hard Rock Café and set off on our own. The main reason I had decided to go to the Sound and Light show was because I wanted to see the pyramids at night and I wanted to take pictures of them at night, I even dragged my tripod all the way to Egypt for this. I had heard the show was cheesy, but it was worse then I imagined. After about 2 minutes of the Sphinx talking, Tara and Jen had to leave because they were laughing and couldn't take it anymore. I think everyone else made it through the show, but it was sooooo cheesy. Then while I was taking my pictures from the back of the arena some woman complained that the flash on my camera was bothering her and asked me to move over (never mind the fact that no one was on the other side of her), I moved over about an inch.

When we came out of the show we heard bagpipes (it was St. Patrick’s Day), they had Egyptian dressed bagpipers outside playing Irish music, cute. Our meeting place was in front of the Hard Rock Café and since Mohammed wasn’t around we were able to go inside, I got myself a pin. I’m not much of a Hard Rock Café person, but at least they had a pin that proved I had been to Egypt, I hadn't found pins anywhere else in the country.

At 8:15 everyone met in the lobby of the hotel for dinner. Sherif was all dressed up for us and looking rather dapper. We had the hotels buffet dinner, which was good but nothing special. After dinner we all went out by the pool to hang out for the night. Everyone took lots of pictures. Rumor has it that Chi took about 4,000 pictures during the whole trip, I felt like I was slacking since I only took 1,200. Slowly as the night went on people started to head to bed, since we missed Reid going to bed a whole group of us went to say goodbye to her. But a bunch of us planned to meet in Philly and NYC a few weeks later so we knew this wasn't the last time we would see each other. A little before midnight Sherif said goodbye to us, I knew I would miss him. He was a great Tour Manager and a link to the Egyptian and Muslim world, as well as a good friend. The tour wouldn't have been the same without him and I don't know if I would have appreciated Egypt as much without him there.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Egypt: Luxor to Cairo

Day 8 (March 16, 2007): This morning we board our flight to Cairo. Upon arrival we head for the fascinating bazaar Khan El Khalili and the opportunity for some last minute bazaar shopping. (Breakfast included)


I had set my alarm for 9:30, but woke up at 9am and wasn’t feeling so great. I took a bunch of drugs and layed down for a bit. At 10am Tara and I went down for breakfast. Breakfast was pretty good and even had fresh made-to-order omelets. Tara and I sat alone (except for the birds that wouldn’t leave us alone) until we eventually moved to share a table with Jason (NY) and Karen. People floated in and out of breakfast, eventually I was just hanging out with Jacqui soaking in the sun. After a bit I went upstairs for a shower and to pack up. Just as I finished getting ready Tara came in, which was handy because then she would be there to put the luggage out while I went to use the internet. I’ll digress for a minute... Egypt is a Muslim Country and the Muslims pray several times a day. Periodically throughout the day there would be a call to prayer – over the loud speakers they would broadcast prayers (I think) throughout the cities. It’s fairly loud and very distinctive. When I was ready to go use the internet the call to prayer was still going on. I thought the call to prayer meant people were actually praying, but it actually means they're supposed to go to whereever they are going to pray so they can pray. Since it hadn’t really affected anything we had done so far I didn’t think much of it.

While I was walking over to the internet, which was just around the block, many men said hello to me and that I was beautiful, I have to admit that that made me feel more uncomfortable then good. When I got to the internet place I asked the guy how much for half an hour, he said it was 10 LE, but he had to close up to pray. I probably made a face turned on my heel and left, I was not happy and was having an ignorant tourist moment. So if you’re that guy – I’m sorry I was rude. Then I had to walk past the same people who said hi, and that I’m beautiful, which is even more fun when I'm grumpy. Back at the hotel I ran into Jacqui and hung out with her for a few minutes before going back to the room.

At 1:15 we all met in the lobby to take the bus to Karnak Temple. The temple is HUGE and so is everything in it. The colonnade room alone could hold Notre Dame Cathedral. There seemed to be a lot of excavation and work being done. The temple was built on top of another temple, which they can’t get to without destroying Karnak temple. In one area they had a pool, which was looking really disgusting, and was used to cleanse by the ancient Egyptians. Sherif said that when the Nile would rise it would clean the water out, but I wasn’t convinced it was a place to cleanse. Across from the pool was a scarab that after the Egyptians came out of the pool they were supposed to run around – for good luck. Adam and Tara skipped the pool but they did run around the scarab.

After Karnak we had a chance for a gourmet lunch – McDonalds. I learned on my last trip that when everyone gets off the bus at McDonalds and you actually want to eat lunch you have to be quick, I was one of the first people on line. For that I got to eat in the McDonalds. I guess the anti-supersize thing didn’t transfer over to Egypt because the fries and soda were huge. But the place did have a nice view of a new courtyard and Karnak Temple. After lunch we went to the airport.

We arrived at the airport around 4:00 for a 5:00 flight, before we got off the bus Sherif told us to take our own luggage and inside it would get scanned by security. When I got my suitcase some guy tried to take it for me (naturally he would have wanted baksheesh for the trouble), I had to pull it away from him to get him to let go. Hey, I don’t mind when people take my luggage but I can handle taking it 20 feet by myself. On our flight to Cairo I sat next to Jason (SLC) and Jen (on the other side of the aisle). The flight was only about an hour.

When we were back in Cairo we had a brand new Spring Tours (the company that manages Contiki tours in Egypt) bus, the plastic was still on the seats, which naturally prompted a plastic fight. Our first stop was the Khan el-Khalili Market, for an hour and a half visit. Sherif told us that he doesn’t take the Trafalgar Tours to the market since they don’t seem to enjoy it, I have to say that I couldn't picture my parents here. The market is one of the oldest, biggest markets in the world, but we stayed in the touristy area of it. While I had done most of my traveling in Egypt with a guy (husband) around, Jen, Tara and I spent most of our time there together without a guy and had no troubles, or at least no more then we had anywhere else when guys were around. But it was insanely crowded here and everyone was calling to you to get you to look at there stuff, some asked why you didn’t want to look at thier stuff, some shoved stuff in your face. After about 2 minutes I thought that I might go insane and become an angry woman, but I made it through the market ok. I even bought some stuff; a singing camel for my nephew was my best purchase. Ed wasn’t so happy with being there either, but in the end he bought a chess set so I guess it worked out ok for him too.

On the bus back I mostly sat with Sherif in the front and got to discuss the US and Cairo with him. Apparently they have some different traffic laws here, you can put extra lights on your car, you have to wear a seatbelt, but they don’t seem to have laws, or simply don't enforce them, regarding emissions. And have I mentioned that the lines on the road are only there because they thought it was a good idea?

We got back to the Oasis hotel around 10pm, it was sad being back, it meant that the end of the tour was near, and I was having too much fun for it to end. Back at the hotel everyone went by the pool for some dinner. I had a burger and poor Tara had the worst/weirdest cheese sandwich (who new you could screw up grilled cheese?). I don’t think the rest of her dinner was any better. Went back to the room at 11:15, it was a long day, and I was exhausted.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Egypt: Luxor 7

Day 7 (March 15, 2007): We visit the Valley of the Kings where King Tutankhamun was burried We continue to the Colossos of Memnon. This afternoon we check in to our hotel before leaving for the magnificent temple of Karnak. Later why not enjoy a camel ride through a local village in Luxor. (Breakfast included)


I was up at 4am so I could make sure I had enough time to shower and do my last minute packing. I had woken up in the middle of the night yelling, "No, No, No" then I woke up and was disoriented and asked, "hello? is anyone there." Tara told me I was fine and I went back to sleep. I had had a dream that I was at a market and someone was trying to all but drag me into a shop and I didn't want to go. I think that expresses how I feel about the markets! At 5:00 we had to have our bags outside our rooms and had to be in the lobby at 5:10. Once everyone was downstairs we were driven to a boat that was to take us to the West Bank of the Nile. Then we were driven to the hot air balloons, we were taking a green one. While on the boat we were given a little information about the ride. We were told there are 3 types of landings. I don’t remember what he called the first one, but it was where you slid into the next town. The second landing was where you kinda bounced a bit until you came to a stop. The third, Egyptian, is where you come to a gentle stop.

The balloon has 5 compartments, the pilot is in the middle one and the other 4 hold 5 people each, though 4 would fit more comfortably. I was with Natasha, Anton, Jason (SLC), and Karen. When we got there the balloon was mostly filled and we boarded while they continued to fill it. Then they unhitched the balloon from the truck (yes, we were being held down by a truck) and the guys working jiggled us a bit and we quietly floated up into the sky. I remember it as being quiet, but any time they turned on the propane it was really loud and hot. The hot was nice since it was chilly out, but it was annoying when it was loud. We got to see the sunrise over the Nile, people’s roofs, farms. It was fun and interesting, a totally different view of the city then you would get any other way. The workers followed us to the other side of the Nile by van since where you land depends on the winds. Our pilot pointed things out from time to time, like Karnak Temple. After 45 minutes we landed (second type of landing) in a sugar cane field (the sugar cane was already cut). When we landed we saw a couple kids running to us, along with the guys who work on the balloons, I would think since they do this pretty much everyday the excitement (for the kids) would wear off, but apparently not. We had to wait inside the basket until they had the balloon down and off. At first I think it was incase we weren’t totally stable, then I think it was because the workers were busy cleaning up the balloon. After we were all out and cleaned up they sang and played us music, not forgetting to collect baksheesh. After that we were driven to the place where we were supposed to meet Sherif and the 5 people who didn’t go on this optional.

At 8:00 we met up with everyone at Colossi of Memnon, took some pictures and then boarded the bus. Sherif told us a little about the excavation there and that every week when he returns they have found new items. This has made me realize that while everyone thinks of Egypt as a “once in a lifetime” vacation, you could come back here in 10 years and there will be new things to see.

Our next stop was Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple which was built for Hatshepsut. As part of seeing the temple we had to take a tram (a new mode of transportation for the trip), which wasn’t totally necessarily as the walk isn’t that long. Unfortunately, Hatshepsut pissed her husband off by kicking him out of Egypt, he returned years later. She disappeared not too long after and her body has still not been found. Her husband attempted to erase her from Egypt by destroying or erasing anything that referenced her. In many spots in this temple there are areas where a figure (Hatshepsut) was erased off the walls. Otherwise the temple was good and seemed to be in good shape, it also seemed like the Egyptians were taking more then the usual steps (they roped off areas of the temple so you couldn’t touch things) to protect this temple.
On the way into the temple Adam got one of the guys in the market to agree to 2 scarves for 20 LE and the guy found Adam and I on the way out. However, the guy wouldn’t give us the scarves we wanted for 20 LE, he would only give us the cheap ones. After about 10 minutes of going back and forth with the guy we just got back on the bus, without scarves, and left for our next stop, the Valley of the Kings.

Along the way Sherif told us how thousands of years ago, during the bad periods of Egypt people would rob the Pyramids, to cut down on that they tried to hide the resting places of the Pharoses so they used tombs in the Valley of the Kings. But they were still robbed. When people found tombs they would build their house on top of the tomb so no one else could get to it and they have been there for thousands of years. In an effort to reclaim the tombs (and other parts of Luxor) Egyptian officials are moving entire villages of people, this year they are moving a village from the Valley of the Kings area. Last year they moved a village from the area of Karnak Temple.

The Valley of the Kings is an absolute highlight of the trip. When we got in Sherif bought us our admission ticket which includes admission to 3 tombs and gave us the option to purchase a separate ticket for King Tut’s tomb. Unfortunately, we were not able to take photos inside the tombs and since there were guards inside, it would have been pretty hard to take them without having to pay someone off. The first tomb we went to was tomb #2, KV2, Ramsses IV. Inside the tomb was exactly what I pictured a tomb being like, it had beautiful pictures and a bunch of rooms for the Pharoses stuff. The second tomb we went to was tomb #11, KV11, Ramses III. This one also had beautiful pictures and lots of rooms. What was unique about this tomb is that Ramses III died while they were building it so at the end there are rooms that were dug out, but were left unfinished.

Along the way we saw KV5 which was built for Ramses II’s children (he had about 100 – they were adopted and from around the world). When they initially found this tomb they only found a small part of it. In 1995 after massive rain (and flooding of the tomb) they found the whole network of rooms inside the tomb, unfortunately the tomb is still being fixed (most of it was collapsed from the floods) so you can’t go inside, but it's supposed to be really big with lots of passage ways and rooms. Our next stop was tomb #34, KV34, Thutmoses III. This tomb was designed to be well hidden to prevent grave robbing, the entrance was high in the mountain, we had to climb a large set of stairs, then climb down in what was intentionally designed to be a dangerous walk (they’ve found the bones of many who died trying to steal from the tomb). Inside it was really hot and smelly (I think one of the guards was to blame) and the pictures (which were covered with plastic) weren’t as detailed. The theory on that was that it was too hot to work for long periods inside so they made the designs simpler then was usual. Inside there were some guards and the one in the burial chamber was “helping” people by shining a flashlight inside the coffin. Naturally he wanted baksheesh and he didn’t give change. I know this because someone from tour got sucked into this and couldn’t get change. At that, he made the guard show everyone else from tour inside the coffin and got mad when the guard tried to ask other people for baksheesh.

It was pretty hot and people were getting really hungry so Sherif took us to a shady spot and spoke to us about King Tut’s tomb (KV62). In 1922 his tomb was found by Carter and is the most complete of the tombs that have been found. King Tut died young and there wasn’t time for a proper tomb to be built, they only had the 70 days it takes to mummify the body to make create the tomb, so they used an already existing tomb, which is one of the reasons it is so small. At the Cairo Museum we were able to see all the stuff that was inside the tomb and all I have to say is that it was probably worse then my storage unit is! Never mind that the body was inside 3 different coffins that were inside 4 or 5 gold boxes. But King Tut’s body is still inside the tomb and has only been out of the tomb twice, once when the tomb was discovered and once in 2005 to do a body scan on him. I can remember learning about King Tut as a child, that he was the boy King, he died and 16 and was probably poisoned. When they did the body scan of him they found out that he in fact died at 19 years old and that he died from gangrene caused by a broken leg. After our little talk we went inside the tomb. While the tomb was significantly smaller then the other tombs we had been in, this tomb was just as decorated and grand inside as the others and it had his mummy inside too. After that we left and finally had some lunch around noon.

We got to our 5 star hotel a little after 1:00 and the hotel was awesome! We had balconies in our room and used a few minutes of my free time to take some pictures of people on there balconies. Then it was time for a much needed nap.

At 4:00 we met in the lobby to take a camel ride. Sherif had told us to try and get smaller bills for our tips, but the money exchange place was closed. I somehow ended up talking to the car for hire guy, who exchanged some money for me. Then after about a minute of conversation he told me he loved me. Luckily Sherif showed up right after that so I could bail out since I was NOT in love after a one minute conversation. Sherif took us to a boat to take us to the other side of the Nile where we were meeting the camels. We had the option of taking a camel, donkey or a horse. Since I had ridden a camel and a horse I opted for a donkey, as did many other people. My donkey’s name was Bob Marley and my guide was Mohammed. Mohammed was 10 years old who showed me the different trees and sites, along with saying to me, “no woman no cry.” Previously Sherif had told us that in Egypt a couple years ago they had tried having woman Police Officers, but after 2 years they abandoned it because the men didn’t respect the woman enough. I thought that was sad and that I should send over some scary ass woman cops to kick some ass. So I asked Mohammed if I tried to arrest him if he would laugh at me and he said, “Yes.” I was shocked and horrified as you might imagine, and acted it, at which point he patronized me by saying he wouldn’t really, but I know he probably would. How sad that woman get so little respect. On the donkey ride we went through a little town, it was funny because many of the locals came out to see us and some of their doors were open so you could see in. While the houses seemed like simple mud brick, most seemed to have satellite dishes, which cracked me up.

After the donkey ride we stopped at a local house for tea and bread. I have to say I didn’t really like the bread even though it was ancient Egyptian bread, but the tea was good. We got a tour of the house. We saw the kitchen with the ancient (literally) oven and modern stove, the TV room, the other kitchen with the sink and fridge and the bathroom. I took a picture of my traveling giraffe on a couch and the grandmother there laughed at me – crazy Americans! Back by the Nile waiting to go back to the hotel we had the option to stop for 3 LE sodas, the local price, as opposed to the 10 LE that we usually had to pay in the tourist places. Apparently the guy tried to charge Anton more, but Anton told him that he was only paying 3 and he won.

Back at the hotel we had a few minutes until Gary (who decided not to go on this camel ride) met us at 6:30 to go to Luxor Temple. We got to take horse and buggies to the temple, my partner for the ride was Jacquie. Our driver offered to take our picture, which we both accepted. The picture he took with Jacquie’s camera was blurry and mine was crooked and then he had the nerve to ask for baksheesh. We told him our guide would tip him. Then some little kid handed me a flower and having a blonde moment I accepted it, then had to give him baksheesh for some dinky little flower I didn’t even want, Owell.

Once we got to the front of the Temple I recognized it immediately from Las Vegas, except something was off. The real Temple only has one Obelisk; the Egyptians gave it to the French in exchange for a broken clock, the French really made out on that deal! That obelisk can be found in Paris. The lighting at the Temple was great, too bad I didn’t have my tripod. The temple had a part in it where the Christians had cut out an area for use in religious ceremonies, we didn’t see anything like this in any of the other temples and it even struck me as a Christian type of design. The other thing that stood out was the god of fertility… At 8:00 we finally left the temple, Sherif had us come during dinner time so that the temple would be less crowded, so everyone was starved when we got back to the hotel for dinner.

Sherif arraigned for us to have table set up at the hotels Italian restaurant for dinner since dinner wasn’t included. I had pizza, which was surprisingly good. Jacquie and I explained a lot about the typical Contiki tours to Jen, who had never done a Contiki before, and we also gossiped a bit about the tour.

After dinner we all went back to our rooms to get ready for a big night out on the town which was to start in Adam and Craigs room. Tim, Ed, Tara, Jacqui, Sherif, Jen, Sharon, Alan, Kelley, Craig and occasionally Jenna and Adam were in Craig and Adams room. Adam and Jenna at one point decided they were going to go collect glasses for drinking and I gave them my key to the room and told them to be careful because Tara’s key was in our room (you had to leave the key in a slot in the room so there would be power in the room to recharge the battery for the camera I had lent to Adam), except they didn’t come back. After a while Tara said we had to go out to the bar so we left a note for Adam about our key and everyone went out. The bar was pretty much across the street – an Irish Pub in Cairo which didn’t seem all that Irish. Everyone danced a bit, but there really weren’t too many people there. Around 11:00 Tara asked if I wanted to go out for Sheesha, I decided to do that, with the intention of going back to the bar. We wandered for a few minutes and ended up at the hotel. First Tara and I got new keys while the guys went to find out about Sheesha, which they had just stopped serving. In the meantime we ran into Adam. When Adam got back to his room he saw the note about the key and thought it said to leave the key in our room, but when he got to our room he was afraid we were asleep so he just slid it under the door. When he got back to his room he realized he was supposed to leave the key in his room so he went back to our room and spent 20 minutes trying to get it back out for us. After all that I couldn’t even tell you if he did get the key back and it didn’t really matter since we had new keys anyway. Ed, Adam, Tara, Craig and I went to a Sheesha place that the guy at the hotel recommended. We hung out there until about 1am when Tara and I went back to our room, the rest of the guys went back to the bar where the rest of the group was. Apparently they didn't stay out much longer, something about Craig being drunk and a transvestite at the bar – I’m sorry I missed it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Egypt: Edfu to Luxor

Day 6 (March 14, 2007): Today starts with a visit to Egypt's best preserved temple dedicated to Horus, the Falcon God. Casting off, we spend the afternoon on board watching Upper Egypt slip by. We arrive in Luxor (the ancient city of Thebes) in time to view the temple of Luxor. (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included)


This morning we were meeting at 6:45 to go to Edfu Temple. Edfu Temple was built for Horus, the falcon god, and is the best preserved temple in Egypt. We were running a few minutes late this morning so we were not the first ones inside, but Sherif rushed us through so we were ahead of some other group and could get a picture of the inside of the temple before there was anyone inside. We were beginning to realize that Sherif made us get up early sometimes so that we could beat the crowds. While it’s nice to sleep late, I would rather be up a little earlier and not have to deal with as many people, by the time we left there were tons of people there.

Inside the temple Sherif showed us how the ceilings were dark and dirty, which we saw in other temples in Egypt. When the Egyptian religion fell the temples were no longer cared for and the poor often lived inside the temples, the smoke from fires is what has damaged the ceilings. The temple had a colonnade room, like every other temple, and an intricate maze of rooms. There is also an area where the priests could go to monitor the rising Nile (so they could predict when the land would be fertilized). The walls were full of hieroglyphics and Sherif read us a story about a town in the North that was fertilized by the Nile.

When we got back to the ship we had breakfast, which was really nice since it was the first real full breakfast we had in a couple days. There was fruit and meats and omelets. After breakfast I took a nap until noon when I woke up and thought we were going through the locks at the damn in Esna. I threw on some clothes and went up on deck, but no one was there and there was no damn in sight. I did however get a text message on my cell phone that my credit card had rejected the charge by my cell phone company which freaked me out and sent me in a bit of a tizzy to get it fixed. I ended up paying 45 LE for 30 minutes on the internet to fix it (in Aswan I paid only 3 LE for 30 minutes) but I thought this would be cheaper then calling the phone company. In the meantime we docked in Esna. Sherif had told us that if the damn wasn't too busy we would dock in Esna, apparently it wasn’t too busy. While I was on the internet and we were docking Sharon came over to tell me something about us going into town, but I was only half listening since I was having issues getting into my cell phone account, eventually I updated my info and signed off with a few minutes to spare and could finally find out what was going on. I felt bad that I had been a bit rude to Sharon, but I just couldn’t deal with more then what I was doing at the time.

Shortly before we got off the boat we noticed Sherif having a “lively discussion” with one of the managers on the ship. We guessed that he was trying to have lunch extended so we could go into town since we were going into town during the normal lunch time. Esna is a much quieter village then the other places we had visited. It is right before a damn so visits there are dictated a lot by how traffic is at the damn. If there is a lot of traffic there may be no time to stop, fortunately it was a quiet day. Yet there were only 2 boats docked here, compared to 10 or more at the major stops. Needless to say it’s not as touristy here. There was a market we walked through, but it wasn’t as intense as the other places we had been. Naturally there was a temple here, but we didn't go in, just took some pictures. You could also get a peek as to what village life on the Nile is really like. There were quite a few kids around; we think they were on there way home from school. Tara found a kid that she wanted a picture with, but apparently he was nervous and didn’t want to take one. Then some other kid wanted to be in a picture, but he didn’t have a backpack so she didn’t want his picture. We ended up with some kids following us around through the village. Most of the houses here were mud brick houses, the roads were all dirt and instead of cars people use donkeys. Sherif told us that people here would have donkeys like we would have cars. There were a couple motorcycles around too. Sherif took us to a building where a man showed us how he makes oil like they did 3,000 years ago. It was interesting and Adam got to help him, though I guess it’s a lot of work because Adam didn't last long. Eventually Tara relented with the kids and ended up taking a whole bunch of pictures with whatever kids wanted and then gave them the much asked for baksheesh. If it wasn’t so obviously important to Tara it would annoy me. I generally believe that by doing that you reinforce the behavior of the children and they will continue to do it to other tourists and eventually they will grow up and become the annoying people in the market, but Tara was just so excited to get these pictures that I really couldn’t let it bother me. Eventually we stopped at a little café for Sheesha and tea. I opted for some cinnamon tea, as I like cinnamon and it’s not as bad on the stomach. The cinnamon tea was actually quite tasty. I tried Sheesha again, and after giving it an honest try, I still wasn’t into, but I was finally "getting it."

After that we went back to the ship, by then it was about 1:30 and time for lunch, then we went out on deck for the afternoon. It seemed every time we went on deck a small group of people would have a table and then people would come and eventually we would end up with like 3 tables and 10 chairs around it as a big group. Meanwhile everyone else on the ship would be sitting in small groups at little tables. This afternoon was no exception. Around 3:00 we went through the old damn canal, which has the canal, but no locks. It was slow going through so some of the locals would be on the side trying to sell towels. They would throw the towel up and then you were supposed to throw down the money if you liked it. It was quite entertaining watching them throw the towels up, some made it and some didn’t. Only one ended up in the water – I hope they were taking that one home to wash it, but somehow I doubt it. We ended up being stopped for a few minutes in the canal. It seems someone had taken a towel and didn’t want to pay for it and we didn’t move until it was thrown back down. The poor guy was flipping out (and then people were laughing at him - I wont even go into the fact that the money he makes off the towel feeds his family...) until they found the towel, which I heard Alan had, though never confirmed.

We went through the normal Esna Canal between 4:00 and 5:00, it was interesting to watch the water quickly go down and then the locks in front of us opening, which accounts for the extremely large number of photos I took of it. But it also felt like it took forever to go through. On the other side of the locks you could see little boats of people swarming the boats waiting to go through, trying to sell them stuff. It was kinda funny since it wasn’t us getting swarmed.

After that we relaxed up on deck, but that didn’t last too long once the sun was setting, it was starting to get pretty cold and people were running out of extra layers to put on. After a while of being cold we went downstairs to the bar until it was time for dinner. Since I had finally caught up on my journal it was time to do some post cards. I got Sherif to write in Arabic on one of my post cards. He told me what it meant, but now it’s a total blur, I guess I should have written myself a note about that, but I remember it was really sweet. At dinner the staff had a little Happy Birthday celebration for Gary. They had him up dancing, made him a cake and then made him a baby out of napkins at the table. And to think that Gary never planned to tell us it was his Birthday! After dinner I went to the store to pick up my cartouche that I had ordered the day before. I bought one for me and one for each of my nephews, and a t-shirt for my father – all with our names on them.

After dinner a belly dancer came to perform, before she started they talked Tara into dressing up, to make the belly dancer jealous. First a guy came to do a dance; I think it was a whirling dervish. Then the belly dancer came, she was ok, I expected it to be a little better, but she got everyone into it by the end. After they left the staff put on music for us to dance too, but their selection was kinda lacking. Dancing Queen seemed to be one of the staffs favorite songs to play after hearing Dancing Queen for the 10th time in two days Kelley and I decided that Dancing Queen should be our Night Song (every Contiki tour, except this one, has a Day Song that is played at the start of the morning) and it should be played before we went out. I never really worked out, but it sounded good. Eventually I asked if they could hook up an ipod, which they could, which sent me running around to get my ipod so we could have some better music, like Walk Like and Egyptain. At 11:30 they shut the music off so most people, myself included, went up to bed. Tomorrow was another early morning for almost everyone since we were going on a the balloon ride optional.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Egypt: Aswan to Edfu

Day 5 (March 13, 2007): This morning why not join our fantastic optional excursion to Abu Simbel - the most complete example of ancient Egyptian architecture. Built by Pharoah Ramses II more then 3,000 years ago, the temples were moved over a period of years to their new site safely above the waters of Lake Nasser. After lunch, we cruise to Kom Ombo to view this unique temple, shared by two gods. Continuing, we reach Edfu, where we spend the night on-board. (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included)


This morning our wake up call was at 4:30, we had to leave at 5:00 for Abu Simbel. Sherif arraigned for box breakfast for us, it consisted of a couple types of bread, some with cheese, a banana, cucumber and a drink. Our flight to Abu Simbel was at 6:30 and was supposed to take a half hour but we didn’t land until 7:20. I had a little trouble with security (as did bunch of other people), they didn't seem to care about the bottles of water I had, but they picked up on the hand sanitizer I had. It took me a minute to figure out the issue and then they didn't understand hand sanitizer. Finally I just said hand cleaner and I was set. On our flight we got drink service, they flew down the aisle giving us juice boxes and then collecting them just as fast – I guess you have to be quick when you only have half an hour. When we got to Abu Simbel we had to take a bus from the plane to the terminal, which was about 20 feet away. Apparently there is a rule that you can’t walk on the tarmac; however, it would be much faster if they let you. They were so strict that you couldn’t even walk to the bus that was waiting behind the bus that was loading.

When we arrived at the entrance we went through metal detectors and Sherif walked us to a shady spot and told us a little about Abu Simbel. There are two temples: one is for Ramses II the other for Nefertari. Ancient Egyptians thought quite highly of there Pharoses, Ramses II even more so. Not only is he considered one of the best Pharoses, he also lived twice as long as the average Egyptian - into his 90’s. I’m sure his portrayal of himself in temples didn’t hurt either. One of his wives, he had many, was Nefertari.

The Small Temple was built to Hathor (a goddess) and Nefertari, the Great Temple was dedicated to Ramses and 3 gods: Amun Ra, Ra Harakhti, and Ptah. The temples were built into a mountain over 20 years. When the Egyptians built the High Damn the temples were at risk of being flooded and the Egyptians approached several countries for assistance in saving the temples. The Swiss and Germans proposed to move the temples by cutting it into smaller pieces and guaranteed the safety of the temple. Between 1961 and 1964 they moved the temple; they even maintained the integrity of the axis of the temple. The temple was designed on an axis so that on February 20 and October 20 the sun would shine into the back of the temple and illuminate 3 of the 4 figures on the back wall (Ramses, Amun Ra, and Ra Harakhti), the 4th figure, Ptah, would not be illuminated because he represented darkness. The other thing of note about this temple is that is was intended to greet “visitors” from the South, the 4 Ramses II in the front were intentionally HUGE to scare away any would be invaders.

First we went inside Nefertari’s temple, which was quite amazing; the engravings in the wall were pretty cool and showed scenes from Egypt. Ramses II’s temple was even more amazing with a lot of little rooms and scenes from wars and showing Ramses II’s victories. Sherif was not allowed to guide us inside, but had told us a few things to look for inside so while some things were just cool pictures, other things had a lot of meaning. We were not allowed to take photos inside, though I managed to sneak a few little videos with my camera.

At 9:40 we met by the exit/entrance and even though I had my little videos I still bought the professional photos they were selling. Our flight was at 10:30 from the airport and we were back at the ship with time to get Tara's ATM card back.

Tara, Ed and I went straight to the bank since we only had an hour until the ship was leaving Aswan. The guy at the bank was giving Tara a bit of a hard time. First he didn’t think he could do it within the hour and made it sound really hard and complicated. Then he started with needing a copy of her passport (she had her passport, but not a photocopy on her). So we had to go across the street to get a photocopy, which was fun since they were doing construction and there was a bit of ditch in the middle of the road. Then when we got back he had her right down her info and sign for it. Then he takes the card out of the ATM machine and realizes he needs to photocopy that. But now he wanted to count a stack (over an inch tall) of money first. Ummm, hello, our boat is leaving soon! So Tara talked him into doing the photocopy first. The whole process should have taken 5 or 10 minutes, but he managed to drag out it, it was like he was punishing us for HIS ATM eating Tara’s card. After that we tried a different ATM but Tara wasn’t able to get money out of that one either. We were back at the ship with plenty of time to spare.

After that we hung out on deck until it was time for lunch at 1:30, which was just enough time for me to get a bit of sunburn on my shoulders. After lunch it was time for a nap! Tara had fallen in love with the beds on the ship, they were comfy and the bedspread was even better. I slept until 3:20 and we had a stop in Kom Ombo at 4:00.

We were the first group inside Kom Ombo Temple, which allowed us to get some really good pictures. By the time we left there were people everywhere. This temple was built for the crocodile. Ancient Egyptians were afraid of the crocodile and people could come to this temple to make sacrifices to the crocodile. The Temple was built in two different stages, the first phase around 180 BC by the Egyptians and the second phase around 30 BC. The later stage has a Greek influence in the Temple. The front façade of the temple is missing; apparently it fell into the Nile. Despite the lack of façade and the fact that the roof is missing in places, I thought it was in pretty good shape, it’s probably in better shape then any of the building we’re building now will be in 2000 years. The last thing that Sherif showed us was a room with mummified crocodiles, they’re just as pretty as mummified people, I took an obligatory picture and left. After that I walked back to the ship with Tim through the market. I noticed a lot of belly dancing outfits that were nicer (and less revealing) then the one I had bought. Other then that I wasn’t too interested in anything I was seeing. Besides, every shop you walked by, the guys (there aren’t any women selling stuff in the markets) were hounding you to buy their stuff. It made it a bit intimidating to even look at there stuff for fear that they would try to suck you into something you didn’t want. They might sell a lot more stuff if they didn’t hound everyone who walked by. I’ve never been a fan of high pressure sales techniques; it only makes me think they are trying to sell me crap before I realize it is crap. Needless to say, I probably didn’t spend nearly as much as I could have in Egypt because of this. It’s a shame; I’m usually a sucker for cheesy souvenirs.

After that I went out on deck and worked on my journal. On my past Contiki trips I would use time on the bus to write in my journal, but we spent so little time on busses that I found I had to make time to write in my journal. Anyway, I worked on my journal until dinner, which happened to be around the time when it got cold outside. It was really nice during the day this time of year, but at night it got fairly cold. While I was downstairs waiting for dinner to start I noticed Tara going to the gift shop. She had tried on the top of her belly dancing outfit and it simply didn’t fit her right and she went to buy a scarf to use in place of it.

After dinner it was time to get ready for the Egyptian Party. I pulled out my belly dancing outfit and went into shock when I realized that most of it was see through. Tara suggested I just wear my bathing suit bottom and bra underneath it, which is a look that I hate, but at this point was my only option and it was all for fun anyway.

Everyone from our group dressed up and even a lot of the Germans (the other tour groups on our ship were older Germans) were dressed up. One thing that Sherif didn’t mention to us was that we basically were the entertainment for the party. There was a lot of dancing with the staff to start. Had I known how the night was going to go, I would have had a drink before coming to the party. It took me a little while to warm up to the party, but once I was forced to do some dancing and the guys played Egyptian soccer I was starting to get into it. Even some of the Germans got up and danced by the end of the night. At 11:30 the music was shut off and we headed up to our room. Apparently the plan was to go up to the pool, I resisted for a minute or two and then finally relented and went up with everyone else, except I didn’t bother with my bathing suit. Jenna, Ed and Reid all went in the pool and as I already knew, it was freezing cold. Tara was sorda pushed in the pool too. I ended up talking to some German guy; I don’t remember what was said, though it wasn't much since he didn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much German. I did try to say to him (with the German my sister taught me when I was like 8 years old), “my name is Crissy,” he laughed at me, so god only knows what I really said. After that Tara was frozen and I was ready to go to sleep so we went back to the room.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Google Update

I haven't totally sorted out my issues with Google, mostly because they don't seem to have any solution. However, I have found an alternative way to go around them and created a reasonable solution for me. Hopefully this will work out the way I want it to...

In the meantime I will continue to post and have a couple things ready for this week and am working on some stuff for the future.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I'm disgusted with Google

Blogger blogs are managed by Google. Google seems to have screwed up my log in. It did it against my wishes and as far as I can tell there is no way to fix it. I find the problem unacceptable and unless it can be fixed I am going to move my blog. I haven't yet chosen a new platform, but am open to suggestions while I do research. In the meantime I will not be posting because I feel as though it would be a waste of time to post here and then move to another site.

Sorry and I hope this is sorted out soon.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Egypt: Aswan

Day 4 (March 12, 2007): Arriving in Aswan mid-morning we view the unfinished obelisk and visit the High Dam. We sail on a felucca to the Botanical Gardens before joining our cruise ship for a sumptuous lunch. (Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner included).


I woke up around 6am and heard Tim talking, I was never able to get back to sleep so I worked on my journal and enjoyed the scenery a bit. At 7:30 we got our wake up knock and then a few minutes later breakfast was served, a variety of unimpressive breads, it was a good morning for snacks. Tara and I managed to get ready in our cabin with both beds open. Overall the overnight train experience wasn’t too bad. The bathroom, while not great, was ok and the rooms were about what I expected. Jacqui has traveled on overnight trains in Turkey and Russia; she rated Egypt as worse then Turkey but better then Russia. After getting ready we hung out in the hallway and watched the little villages go by. Rumor has it that someone drank too much last night and got sick in the bathroom, unfortunately the guy assigned to our car had to clean it, which explains why he wasn't too happy this morning. A lot of the land was lush and green for farming and there were a lot of mud brick houses. Apparently, the mud brick keeps the houses cooler in the summer, so while they may not be pretty they probably make daily life tolerable, especially since many of them looked like they had been built before air conditioners, not that I happened to have noticed any air conditioners in the houses. Anyway, many didn’t seem to have roofs, or if they did they were made of palms or something like that. I guess if it doesn’t rain you require a lot less out of your roof then we do at home.

We pulled into Aswan at 9:45 and were taken to a bus that we would use for a tour of the city. Sherif told us a little about Aswan: since it’s in the South it is used as a winter resort area and it’s an industrial city. I thought it was a nicer city then Cairo and had some pretty landscaping around the city.

On our way to the Aswan High Dam we passed the Aswan Low Dam which was built by the English between 1899 and 1902. I think that was the first time I realized how much the English had colonized around the world and I have the distinct feeling the Egyptians liked it as much as the Americans did – don’t the English know when to take a hint??? The Low Dam didn’t really cut it for the Egyptians so in the 1950’s they started work on the High Dam just a few miles up the road, which was our next stop. Most people on the tour weren’t really excited by this, but I found it interesting enough to be worth the stop. Perhaps it is because I had seen the Hoover Dam a few years ago, and this one was quite different, shorter and more sprawling. On our way out of the Dam complex we stopped at the Soviet-Egyptian friendship monument (the lotus flower tower) and this was, at least for the guys, a highlight of the trip. Inside the monument was packed with teenage girls (Sherif says they are on school trips and many are from little villages where they don’t see tourists) and they just LOVED us. They were all crowding around the guys to take pictures, like they were movie starts. I was hanging back just
watching it all go on when I was “swarmed” by a bunch of girls, they immediately started asking me questions about where I was from?, where I had been?, did I like Egypt? And then they wanted to take pictures with me, it was really sweet, but overwhelming at the same time.

Our next stop was a stone quarry where we saw what was to be the largest obelisk, except that it was broken in 3 pieces and had to be abandoned. It’s really big but it’s hard to picture it as an obelisk since it’s lying down. It was pretty this day, probably the low 90’s, which was stunting my imagination. Near the exit from the quarry there was a market that you had to walk through and it was a little intimidating. The guys were yelling out to everyone to try to get them to buy thier stuff. Fortunately we were walking out at the same time as an older group (who were apparently from Austria) so they took the brunt of the attention. I guess we looked like poor young people The last shop in the market sold books about Egypt that Sherif recommended as the best book about Egypt. At this shop I found a puzzle for my nephew Lucas (who likes puzzles) and a book for my nephew Max so this was a fruitful stop. What I didn't realize was that pretty much every tourist attraction here is setup this way - with the market by the exit (which is sometimes also the entrance) so that you basically can't hide from them. After that we finally got to go to our Nile cruise ship.

Our cruise ship, Nile Sapphire, was a bit like a hotel. The rooms were designed like hotel rooms instead of traditional cruise ship staterooms. There was a lobby, bar, gift shop and restaurant. On the top deck was a pool and lounge chairs. The staff was very excited to have Contiki onboard. After we boarded we had a few minutes to drop our stuff in our rooms and go to eat lunch. Meals are served buffet style and offer a wide variety of food.

After eating lunch I decided to go into Aswan to use the internet. I went with Jason, Chi and Gary. The first place we tried was closed (apparently siesta isn’t only for the Spanish) so we tried some other random place, a few minutes after we got there Adam showed up. The internet was really slow here and we complained so the guy took us to another place. First he tried the first place we had tried, which was still closed, so he took us through some dirt alleys to another place, I was a little nervous on the walk over, but this place was cheaper and the internet worked. After 30 minutes we left and went back to the boat. Back at the boat I went out on deck for a few minutes where Adam and Tim talked me into changing and going for a swim, when I got back upstairs only Tim was around and the water was really cold, actually more like frigid. Adam apparently decided to take a nap. I decided it was time for a shower, I took a really long relaxing shower, one of the best in my life.

At 3:30 we met for our Felucca ride. It was so relaxing, we just sat and talked (Sherif did most of the talking) and sailed along the Nile. Sherif tried to convince us that the Nile is clean here, no one believed him so he had the Captain get a glass and filled it with water from the Nile. I have to admit that it looked clear. But I drew the line when Sherif suggested someone drink it. We all said we would drink it if he did, but then he was claiming his body wasn't used to the water, excuses!!! But the Captain drank the water and seemed fine after. Brave man! Anyway, Aswan looked even nicer from this view. Eventually we stopped at what is best described as a little café by the desert, here we were able to walk up a dune in the Sahara. The walk was a little tougher then it looked, but worth it for the great view of the city. Adam decided it would be fun to go sand surfing, only he didn’t have a board. Instead he found some cardboard and wanted to try that. So about half way up he tried and basically did a header into the sand. After coming down off the dune Sherif bought us drinks and had a baby crocodile and turtle brought to us. Since I’m not much of a fan of animals and have seen crocodiles and turtles I didn’t really jump on the opportunity, though they were really cute.

After that we sailed back to Aswan and were dropped off by our ship and had some free time before dinner. A few people went to use the internet but I went with Tara, Ed and Jason (SLC) to try and get money from the ATM. Tara had previously been unable to get money and wasn’t really sure why, when she wasn’t able to get it again Reid suggested checking her account on the internet. When she did she was locked out, apparently her account was totally locked by her bank. She got the phone number for the bank and bought a phone card. The 4 of us went to a phone booth and after a couple tries figured out how to get the card to work, but she couldn’t get the bank on the phone with the number she had gotten. Then we were trying to figure out the phone numbers on the back of the ATM card, at which point an Egyptian boy came to help us, too bad he was telling us what we already knew and wouldn’t take the hint. I guess 4 Americans in a phone booth on the side of the road for an extended period of time screamed “tourists who don’t know what they are doing.” Eventually we gave up and tried using Ed’s cell phone, but after trying a couple different ways that didn’t work. So then she tried my cell phone (which is $3 a minute) and finally got through to the bank. Apparently there was a fraud alert on her card and they deactivated the card, it might have been nice if the bank had mentioned that when she was at the bank on Friday to tell them she was going to Egypt. After 20 minutes she finally convinced them that she was starving in Egypt and needed money and got them to reactivate her card with a $200 a day limit. It had gotten late and it was almost time for dinner so we went back to the boat.

Back at the ship we had a few minutes before dinner so Tara, Tim and I looked around in the gift shop, the guy dressed the 3 of us up in an attempt to sell us stuff for the Egyptian Party the following night. Tim bought his outfit, but Tara and I had something different in mind.

After dinner Sherif took us to the market and showed us where to go. Then Tara, Ed and I went back to an ATM so she could get money, the ATM ate her card. Yup, sucked it in and wouldn’t give it back! Fortunately there was a guy inside the bank, but he couldn’t give her back the card, he told her to come back the next morning when the bank was open. Very handy since we were leaving for Abu Simbel at 5am and were sailing out of Aswan in the afternoon. Tara took the news like a trooper and we went shopping. Almost immediately Tara saw a belly dancing outfit that she liked and bargained the guy down to 200 LE. However, she didn’t have much cash and wanted to pay with a credit card and ended up having to pay an extra 20 LE to use the credit card. Then when we went back to the shop the top didn’t fit her right (no matter how hard the guy tried to insist that it would fit when she didn’t have clothes underneath), he gave her a different outfit, I thought the bottom was nicer, but the top wasn’t nearly as nice and was actually kinda goofy looking. The market is a little intense with everyone trying to sell you crap from both sides. In one shop I saw something, but when I looked closer it wasn’t really what I wanted. I found something else at another shop that I kinda liked, but then found a second one I liked better. I tried it on and the bartering began. The guy was putting a Cleopatra hat on me and trying to sell me that and wanted 350 LE. I managed to get him down to 200 LE without the Cleopatra hat thingy, but I had heartburn and was in a sweat by the time I left. It was much more stressful then I thought it would be to bargain and I probably wasn’t thinking totally clearly, I was hearing prices in the hundreds and it sounds like so much but 200 LE is only about $35 (350 LE is $61). In hindsight 200 LE was really low and according to bargaining etiquette you’re supposed to find a price that both people are happy with so 250 LE to 300 LE was probably what I should have paid. The American bargain hunter in me is proud the worldly side of me I thinks I went to far. Either way, I was the proud owner of a belly dancing outfit. After buying that the guy kept trying to get me to buy the Cleopatra hat thingy and I just wasn’t having it, he was trying every ploy I had heard they would use. Telling you 5, but meaning $5, not pounds. I was too freaked out by how much I thought I had just spent (and really had no idea how much I had spent) to think clearly and all but ran out of the shop. The guy followed for almost a block trying to sell the dopy thing to me but I just ignored him. Next time I would have to have a better idea of what I should/wanted to be paying before I even started.

Back at the ship we ran into Sherif and told him about Tara's ATM card and we were told by one of the staff members that the ATM's get hungry at night, gee thanks! Sherif said we should go right over when we get back from Abu Simbel. We went up to the top deck of the ship after to see if anyone else from tour had gotten back yet, but it was just the 3 of us, but slowly people started to come up. Jason (SLC) was the first person to come up, a bunch of other people were still out at the market looking for Karen. Karen had told people she was going to go with Jason, except Jason didn't know and never saw her. Shortly after they found Karen safe and sound and a bunch of people hung out on deck. Tara and I went to our room around 11:00 since tomorrow would be an early day.