Introduction

Introduction.

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Apr 27

Well, it is day 112!  Tomorrow dry land; Florida; Fort Lauderdale; home!  I can say that I have been around the world and there is no place like home.  I mean it.

The journey has been fantastic and in some ways it is only the beginning.  As I write this I think I just had a revelation!  This has been the beginning of the final third of my life – however long it might be!  I have to make the best of it.  The final third must be the result of the learnings I have garnered over the first two thirds.  This trip has been the transition!

What a transition.

Let me back up a few days.  Our last port was Funchal, Madeira, Portugal…I have already written about that wonderful city.  We had a series of sea days before today and I was wondering how I was going to get through a week at sea without going out of my mind so close to being home.  Well my system figured out a way…..get a bad cold….let’s throw in nausea at the very thought of food….eyes hurt, headache for fun oh, and a fever!  So visit the medical department and find out that you have the ‘crud’ that is rampant in the ‘recirculating cesspool of recycling germs’.  Now what is a person to do when sick with three movie channels, one always showing “Like Water for Chocolate” with its subtitles – doesn’t work with sore eyes and a small TV; another showing “No Reservations” which I can quote now; a third showing “The Tempest” Shakespeare with runny nose, no thank you!

Can you imagine my delight when we crossed some imaginary space continuum and found ESPN, CNN, and TNT….yes dear reader that echo was me with my cold/nasal voice cheering from the promenade deck of the ms Amsterdam!!!!!

Would you believe that despite my near death, okay I might be a little melodramatic here, experience of the past five days, I have been able to pack, get well or at least much better, get all my luggage to the cargo hold and am ready to get off the ship.  All I need now is a dock.

So back to the philosophy of the cruise……it has been the experience of a lifetime.  The places I have been and the people I have met.  They will help to sustain me in the future as you, my friends at home, have sustained me when I felt a little homesick (yes, I did miss you all dreadfully at times!).

I have made some good friends on this trip — like the friends you make at summer camp.  If you don’t extend your hand to them in the future they were good friends while at camp and you will remember them forever.  But if you work to keep the ties they will be good friends for years.  Time will tell if the ties stay or if they slack over time and these folks become good memories.

Enough for waxing philosophical……I just looked down to see what time it is in Maryland….the same time as on the ship:  3:59.  I am nearly home.  It will be good to see everyone and tell you in person that:

THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME!!!!!

But if you ever have a opportunity to take a Grand World Voyage, take it!!!!!

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Apr 20

We just sailed away from the port of Funchal, Madeira, Portugal, our last port of call on the Grand World Voyage.  It is day 105, eight sleeps to Ft. Lauderdale!  I am looking forward to going home as I guess you know if you read my last message.  Today, however, was heavenly.

It is Flower Mart time in Funchal!  The town is named for one of the most fragrant native plants – funcho (fennel) which was growing all over the area when Portuguese mariners arrived in the 16th century. 

The town was a glow with spring flowers and the main square was adorned with a carpet of flowers.  I got all kinds of ideas for gardens should I ever want to really get into garden!  I walked around Madeira Story Centre in the heart of the city and even found the large market.  Walked in and walked out.  It reminded me of Lexington Market with a mob of people and I really have grown allergic to huge crowds pushing and shoving and the crowd was doing just that.  The shops were charming selling leather goods and hand embroidered items.  I met up with Elizabeth and Carol (my Canadian friends) and we had a fine time. 

The port offers a shuttle service to the center of town, as many ports do.  It was comfortable, clean, safe, and reliable.  I took it into the city and then back to the ship.  Elizabeth and I had lunch then I departed for a final excursion with Carol.

The plan was to discover both sides of Madeira – the Cabo Girao which is the highest sea cliff in Europe and then to see Camara de Lobos.  Cabo Girao – first of all the scenery was beautiful.  Madeira is an archipelago with a main and three other islands.  The buildings are mostly white with clay tile roofs and built against the side of the hills.  The farming is done on terraces using virtually all of the available space with dotting plots of cabbages, beans, grapes, bananas, sugar cane, flowers, and just about any other vegetable you can imagine.  It was interesting learning about the Madeira bananas which are miniatures and very sweet.  I probably saw more growing bananas here than anywhere else in the planet!  The view was spectacular but the day was not really clear and pictures would not do it justice!

Then there was the little fishing village of Cabo Girao.  That was a little bit of a disappointment.  The little fishing boats were just that – little wooden boats with outboard motors.  But they were painted bright colors.  There were many fish drying on racks; don’t know what kind or why….wasn’t paying attention.  A hardware store was nearby and sold just about everything….as I said, I was not impressed.

But then we went to Reid’s hotel for a walk through their gardens and to go to High Tea.  Now that was a treat and a fitting end to a wonderful trip!  The gardens were lush and ripe with tropical and non-tropical plants and the view over the harbor was just lovely.  The high tea rivaled that at The Plaza or Brown’s Hotel in London.  Starched linens, Delft ware china, a proprietary blend of tea, rock sugar, hot scones, clotted cream, butter, jams, finger sandwiches, an assortment of sweets and a pianist playing “Misty” while you sit in a veranda room overlooking the gardens and harbor.  What more could you ask for?  I hated to leave but I knew that getting back on the bus was the only way to make my way back home.

I will soon be able to say:  “I have traveled around the entire world and there is no place like home!”

Bye bye for now!

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Apr 19

It is day 104, a sea day. Yesterday was the beautiful port of Cadiz, Spain! What a charming seaside town. Gorgeous little shops and restaurants. The smells were great mostly of fresh breads. Walking around was a joy. I also took an excursion to the countryside to see the estate of the Domecq family….renown for brandy (or is it cognac?). They have horses and bulls which are used in bull fighting in Seville. We saw horses practicing Dressage and Spanish stepping. One stallion was all black and beautiful.

The property was wide and white with low flat buildings with great arches made of stone. The pathways where stone with small pebbles and sand in between the larger stones. The green grass was manicured perfectly and flowers were everywhere! It was lovely to set on a porch with tapas and sherry although I did not like the taste of the dry or sweet sherry at all. Guess I am a really cheap date after all! Seeing county with rolling hills and green was a welcomed change after days of water and horizons.

Speaking of water, rough seas! Wow I love it. I love the pitch and yawl of the sea. Makes me feel like I really am at sea although walking is a bitch! The Captain who is nice because his wife makes him very nice even made an announcement last night to put breakable objects safely away so that they would not get broken with the rougher seas we would encounter beginning at midnight this morning! He has not disappointed. Seems as if there is a storm that has churned up the ocean and we are headed for an island off the coast of Portugal and should be there tomorrow.

The cruise is beginning to wind down now, We have been given papers to fill out about our departure arrangements from the ship. I want to be among the last to get off. After all, I was one of the last to board; makes sense and, with private travel plans, it is only logical to be one of the last to depart. This morning, we got a letter stating that there was not future need for mass passport inspection by government officials so we can go and pick them up at our convenience. The ship is giving us our control again. Sounds like they don’t want us anymore! In truth,

I am looking forward to getting home. I miss birds singing and fresh air in my room when it is cool or warm enough to have the windows open at night….and the night sounds. I have grown weary of carts moving above me from the kitchen overhead. Mistake I will never make again! I have learned a lot and met some many interesting and curious people. Some are really curious about life and learning; others are just plain nutty! One friend has a ‘fragile’ head; another finds that people are bitchy and then proceeds to badmouth about a dozen people back to back; several have told me deep dark secrets….with tears….I guess I have broad shoulders.

I have used some of the quiet time to write. I thought I would spend the time painting but have found myself writing instead. This blog has been quite a catalyst for words then I want to fulfill my dream of being a novelist so writing is a necessity. I think I have finished 8 chapters or so. And there are 7 sea days coming up with packing and trivia are the key activities. Just got back from dinner with Woodlyn and LeReese. Wonderful conversations with good friends!

Bye bye for now.

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Apr 15

Ahhhhhh  Barcelona!  What a fabulous city.  Today despite questionable weather which ranged from brilliant sun to showers I was on a tour of Gaudi’s Barcelona.  What a genius.  We stopped by the Casa Mille (I think that is how you spell it) and then went to Sagrada Familia (Holy Family).  That is the famous Gaudi cathedral.  To say it is ornate is to say McDonalds is a hamburger stand.  What part of “DOH” do you not understand?  The East façade must be the most ornate façade I have ever seen.

It is also the happiest!  It deals with life and the birth of Christ.  It is joyous and just what Christmas should be.  There are turtles, turkey, sheep, wise men, angels, sheep, shepherds, the blessed mother, Joseph and the baby Jesus.  The East façade is all smiles.  The West façade deals with the end of the day and the death of Christ and is very modern.  It tells the Stations of the Cross and the highlight is the crucifixion.  The South façade is finished and very modern recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in every language. 

But the interior….ahhhhh, it took my breath away.  The columns with their 12 sides sweep to the sky and the vaulting is like nothing I have ever seen before.  It is practically iridescent.  The main columns near the center altar are made of red marble and have symbols of the four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) in glass oval windows at the top of the columns.  The altar itself is modern and the first +/- 10 rows of pews are soft colored wood and very modern in design.  There is room for over 8000 in the cathedral. 

Some of the clerestory and side windows are stained glass and very modern again.  They do not seem to tell the stories as in other cathedrals but instead they are vibrant prisms of colors—a pallet of prismatic patterns dancing in the cathedral.  Fabulous!

Gaudi died at age 74 on a Sunday after he went to Mass.  He was crossing the street and was run over by a tram.  For three days he lingered in a charity hospital and the officials there thought he was homeless.  At the time, although his home was a house in Park Guell outside the limits of the city, he lived modestly within the Sagrada Familia.  He is buried in the crypt at the cathedral.  A fitting resting place of a genius who lived solo most of his life.

We also went to Park Guell which was designed as a community of 40 some odd houses around a village square.  Turns out Gaudi built the town square (park) with a place for a covered market below.  The town park is above the entrance to the community and fenced with a curved fence which is made of mosaic of glass, porcelain plates, and bits of all kinds of materials.  The famous gecko-type symbol of Barcelona is in a fountain at the entrance of the Park Guell.

Yesterday, I had a wonderful visit to the island of Corsica.  This French, yes French, colony is best known for being the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte.   The whole family lived there for many years.  Napoleon had 9 brothers and sisters I think although there were 14 pregnancies for Mdme. Bonaparte.  It is a popular island resort for the French and Italians during the summer.  The population of the island skyrockets from about 300,000 to 1,000,000 in season. 

I took an excursion entitled Panoramic Prunelli which was described as following the Prunelli gorge as it winds to Tolla Lake (man-made) to enjoy the mountains and peaceful serenity of the dramatic setting.  Frankly, it was pretty but I was more than a little bored.  We have scenery just as beautiful in western Maryland! We did stop for a little refreshment of fresh sausage and cheese, bread, wine, and prosciutto.  Yummy.

Then I went to dinner in the main dining room.  I was the only person from my table so I jumped and age with Teresa and Martha Rose.  It was a lovely change.  They finished without having coffee so I then jumped to drink my cappuccino with Elizabeth, Roderick, Cheryl, and Bob.  That was a lot of fun.  I wondered who would show or not show up at dinner tonight.  Well it turns out that no one from the usual tables came to the main dining room tonight.  So I ate with Diane who was alone at her table.  Connie was with her two usual table mates.

We will be down to about 700 passengers after we leave Barcelona.  With a crew of 600 that works out to about one staff per passenger.  Talk about people falling over each other to take care of us!  We lost 64 from Barcelona.  It makes sense that a lot of people from Europe are leaving here so that they do not have to fly back from Ft. Lauderdale.

Mostly I am finding people are getting ready to go home.  This is a long cruise and we folks are living in a close environment.  We are getting tired of excursions and getting on and off buses.  Tomorrow, weather permitting; I have a walking tour of Barcelona.  I am planning to go with Teresa and Martha Rose.  It should be fun.  The tour operator gives you an I-pod and ear phones (I am bringing my own) and a map.  You go to the main square – Columbus Square – and then start walking.  It should be a good time.  But the museums are closed on Monday so I will miss the Picasso Museum which has works from his early career.  Shucks!

Bye bye for now.

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Apr 13

More to love in Greece….Olympia and Katakolon!  The HAL Explorer says of Katakolon:

“The picturesque seaside town overlooking the Ionian Sea, is a favorite stopping place for visitors wishing to visit the ancient ruins of Olympia.”

So true.  My excursion was to the original grounds at Olympia where the original Olympic games were held and to the museum.  The Judas trees were in bloom, the grass was green and the weather was cool and crisp, clear and perfect in every way!

Olympia was the original Olympic village with the Temple of Zeus at the center and a dorm for the athletes on one side of the complex and the amphitheater on the other end.  There were spaces for the special guests to view the games and there was the alter of Hera.  In the modern games, sensitive and finely ground lenses are held to the sun to ignite a fuel dosed torch when the sun’s rays are collected and focused precisely.   This flame is then passed throughout Greece and ends up at the coliseum in Athens.  There it is transferred to the host for the summer games and then it travels in relay to the site of the summer games.  This summer that transfer will be to representatives from London.  It will be great to say “I was there” when I see the celebrations and tape of the transfer of the flame.

Here is some back ground on Olympia before telling you about Katakolon itself.  Olympia in the western Peloponnese lies in a beautiful valley of the River Alphoes.  It was the location of the original games where the athletes competed every four years according to tradition.  There always was a cease fire from warring during the period of the games and the athletes competed in javelin, long jump, various races including a long distance one.  The athletes competed in the nude to show off their bodies which were worshiped for their perfect form.  The sculpture of the time glorified the male body also but provided clothing on the female body….until later in time when female form was recognized as beautiful also.

The museum has some wonderful pieces in it.  The Hermes attributed to Praxiteles is there and it a sculpture that any student of classical Greek art has studied, no doubt.  The entire morning was wonderful even if I am beginning to grow a little weary of tour after tour.  Can a brain hold only so many facts?  I am glad that I have made room for information about the Greek art….it was just too lush to dismiss….or maybe I just love Greek art from my days in Art History!  Greece is high on my list of places to visit in depth along with Cambodia and China!

Today is actually Friday the 13th and I am sitting on the ship which is docked in Naples.  It is pouring rain and I do not have a tour today.  Lucky me!  I was here not so long ago and I have no need to go ashore today and get soaked.  I feel bad for those who are visiting here for the first and only time.  Yesterday we were in Messina (Pompeii) and it was also a wet and raw day.  I did not go ashore either….just read and relaxed.   I really enjoyed the break from touring!

Bye bye for now.

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Apr 10

I think I have fallen in love…..with Athens!  It is a beautiful city with a fascinating history and a rich sense of its place in the world.  It just happens to be in a bankrupt country with a faltering economy but where have we heard that song before?

Yesterday my excursion was called “Athens and the Acropolis” and included a panoramic tour of the city from our base in Piraeus (a natural harbor south of Athens).  It started at 8:00 am and it was a breezy, high blue sky day with predictions of showers in the afternoon.  Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and spoke English so precisely! 

We saw stadiums used for soccer and other Olympic events in the 2004 summer Olympics.  Then we rode past The Stadium from which the Olympic flame will be lit and sent to London after traveling from Olympia to Athens later this summer.  The excursion took us to The Temple of Zeus which Hadrian when he favored Athens and built a huge temple dedicated to Zeus.  Other Roman rulers including Nero took Greek treasures to Rome.  The Temple of Zeus was one of the biggest temples in the Roman Empire with 104 Corinthian marble columns.  15 still stand with 13 under what was originally part of a roof structure.  Very near the Temple of Zeus is The Arch of Hadrian which proclaims on the western side “This is the city of Theseus” and on the eastern side “This is the city of Hadrian.”  Hadrian really liked this city that is nestled between 7 hills (just like Rome…..) coincidence? I think not! 

In the distance on the hill – the Acropolis—a rocky hill some 156 m above sea level dominating the center of town and seen from many perspectives.  At different times it was a fortress, a temple, a church, a storage bunker for weapons and explosives (which caused major damage when the explosives went boom one day) and now a historic monument.  The major problem with the Acropolis is that it is accessible only from the West and only by foot by climbing up the steps and ramps and it is a little bit of a hike.  But once accomplished, you get the best view of the entire city of Athens it takes your breath away….literally.  Unfortunately, it is also under renovation and has been that way for about, oh, 40 years and will be that way for probably the next, oh,  40  years or so.  Unless you are a wiz at Photo Shop your pictures will have scaffolding in them with the sounds of workmen sanding and grinding away.  The crowds were pretty large for a routine Monday (Easter Monday to us but the week before Easter to the Greek Orthodox who will celebrate Easter next Sunday.) 

The Parthenon is the major building on the Acropolis but it is not the only building up there.  My personal favorite building is the porch of the Erechtheion where you will the Caryatides the six maidens who are sculptures serving as columns holding up the roof of the porch.  In real life it is smaller than my imagination had imagined but they were neat none the less.  I think I took 25 pictures of them.  The artists were great they knew that the weight of the roof would be too great if they carved normal necks so each maiden has long braided hair which cascades down their back providing extra mass to their neck to provide needed support.  The Caryatides are in the Acropolis Museum (which I saw today) but replicas are on the Erechtheion and look just beautiful in my book.

The guides yesterday and today were sharp in their descriptions of the political discussions between London and Athens in fighting over the so called Elgin marbles.  Back in the early 1800’s Lord Elgin was an archeologist long before it was really fashionable to do so.  The Parthenon was just this building with sculptures around the top of the columns  under what was the roof I will call pedimental sculptures.   Technically, the pediment is the triangular space on the East and West ends of the Parthenon.  There were very elaborate carvings about the Goddess Athena.  Along the sides of the Parthenon, above the columns, there was a space for more carvings which he thought would look pretty in his house in Scotland.  So he figured out a way to remove them from the space that I call pediments (although that may not be the precise term) and boxed them up and off they went to Scotland.  Too bad that the boat sank; he nearly went bankrupt fishing the marbles out of the water; and he had to sell them to The British Museum.  So now the marbles are in London and Athens wants them back  and wants to put them in the pedimental sculpture display in the Acropolis Museum.  This makes perfect sense in my head, I hope it makes sense as you are reading about it. 

Anyway the carvings are magnificent and I have seen the marbles in The British Museum, so that part of my life is complete now (hehehehe).  Today I went to the Acropolis Museum and its size is exactly that of the Parthenon and the remaining marbles and substitutes of the ones in London (clay fakes to take up space waiting for the real things) are where they would be if they had not be removed or fallen off of The Parthenon.  Same for the sculptures featuring Athena on the true Pediments on the East and West of it.  This Museum is only 3 years old and features glass floors so that you can see antiquities uncovered while building the museum itself.  There are precautions to be sure that ultraviolet rays of sunlight do not filter into the museum’s artifacts.  It is a great museum which requires much more than the 2 hours we had in our short visit this morning.

Then we had a visit to the Museum of Archeology this morning.  This museum goes through the entire history of Greece for the past 16 centuries in 2 hours…..yep impossible to do it justice.  But I saw a real Vaphio cup if that is how you spell it.  I studied this in Greek Art back at the University of Maryland in 1968 so it was a long time ago.  I saw black and red figure vases and urns of all shapes and sizes.  We saw bronzes and marble sculptures with the plain look which was so different from what the pieces were like in antiquity.  The eyes would have been jewels and the marbles would have been painted with bright paint very much like the Egyptian tomb paintings.  (There was great influence of Egyptian art in some of the work we saw today because the Greeks were such sailors and probably traded with Egypt.)

All in all a wonderful two days of visiting museums and historic monuments in a beautiful city and we have another stop in Olympia tomorrow.

Bye bye for now.

 

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Today is Easter Sunday. The ship is decorated to the hilt….whatever a hilt is. They have prepared a luncheon buffet and opened it at 11 so that people could take pictures and breathe on the food. Serving began at 12, noon and the line at 12:37 is out the door and about 45 minutes of waiting I am sure. And the food has been sitting out for at least two hours with hoards of people breathing and sneezing and wheezing on it. No thank you. I will go to the Lido for a freshly made hamburger. As I keep saying this ship is a seething caldron of recycling germs and the season is particularly vicious right now with bronchitis. Thank goodness that I have been through it already and maybe I will not get it on the second round.

So what else is there to do on Easter Sunday in a nursing home….er Cruise ship at sea. An Easter parade with Easter bonnets. I have mine already. I took a wide brimmed sun hat, which I found out was made of reinforced paper products (wondered why it packed so nicely and was only $10 from Kohl’s) and decorated it within an inch of its life. I stitched pink and green ribbons to the crown of the hat and made a large bow of the ribbons for the back of the hat. There are long strips of ribbons flowing down the back of the hat. Around the brim, I attached Gerbera Daisies. It looks quite nice if I do say so myself. I will wear a white pants suit with a purple jacket. Should be quite an Easter look.

Meanwhile I want to talk about my dinner last night. It was a formal night and everyone at the table had talked and we agreed that we would forego dinner in the main dining room because we are just plain tired of getting dressed up so much. (I have to do it again on Wednesday….dinner with the very nice Captain because he is married to Karen who has the job of making him a nice man!) Anyway about 6 pm I went up to the Lido looking nice but not formal and meet LeReese. She is a very interesting woman from the Denver area. I first met her about Sydney because I know we went to the Opera house together on the bus to see the opera, Turandot. Anyway, she has done a lot of metaphysical work and we were able to talk about life in general for about 2 ½ hours and it was wonderful. She has the ability to ask piercing questions and answers thoughtfully to questions when asked. Such discussions are so refreshing when many conversations on a cruise ship center around where one traveled, when and what was purchased and where. Some of those conversations get really boring especially after 3 months!

Turns out a lot of people are on this cruise and other long cruises for the experience of traveling to exotic places but a lot more. One woman, Connie, was a mail carrier in southern Michigan about 7 miles from Toledo. She had never been on a cruise before much less a cruise of 112 days and never cruised alone. Her husband of 44 years died in June of last year and she is here to ‘clear her head.’ Other women I have met are here after the deaths of husband, son, sister or a combination thereof. Ben, my table mate, is here overcoming the death of his wife and here to make major decisions about his life from age 72 on.

There is a lot of time to think and try to work things out when on such a voyage. It is about the visiting places but also about holding a mirror up to yourself and reflecting. That is what has been keeping me busy during the trip when I am not writing, painting, playing trivia, eating, walking, no walking is more than just walking….it is a great time to think, and going on excursions. And there is plenty of bus time to think, reflect and think some more on bus rides. Anyone who doesn’t use this trip for thinking is deluding themselves and missing the opportunity of a lifetime to take the time to really reflect and be with your thoughts. Seems we never take the time to do this at home as we buzz from one event to another; jump from project to project; move from meeting to meeting; rush from cooking to laundry…..you get the picture. The personal experience of this trip is such a journey sorta like life itself. The fun is not the destination as much as the getting there. It reminds me of a plaque I had in my kitchen “Happy is not a destination it is a way of being.”

Bye bye for now.

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Apr 5

I need to decompress today after a full day yesterday.  I could be caravanning across the desert on the back of a camel for a few minutes in the blazing sun without shade then ‘enjoy’ a tea that is waiting for me in the desert!  Sorry, I am in desperate need of decompression after yesterday.  It was two temples beyond a full day and one tree short of shade.

When we got off of the ship, we apparently lost all color for hours.  The landscape was brown/grey….hills, sand, pebble, and an occasional tree which was covered with dust trying to breath.  If it were for the fact that I was feeling for the soldiers in the mid-east living a nightmare I would have felt sorry for myself.  Gradually the sun set or rather it dropped out of the sky, I am sure it was exhausted from hanging around all day also! 

Then there was driving on a two lane Desert Road in convoy.  Yeah, 3 buses of passengers driving on a 2 lane road trying to keep together.  Turns out using headlights is optional except when you see that a bus is in your lane of traffic and then you use your high beams.  The usual tip for a driver is $3 per day.  When I kissed the ground after arriving back at the ship safely, I gave Mahmoud a $20 because he ‘earned’ it!  These drivers are crazy.  I think most Egyptian drivers stop racing camel or donkey and buy a Mercedes and just go wild.  Do they even have driver’s licenses here?  I wonder!  Can you imagine a bus passing a car on a two lane highway, going around a curve, with a full white line, and then meeting a lightless car in the opposite direction?  It happened more times then I care to admit.  I said two rosaries while traveling from the ship to Luxor and I knew we still had a return trip.  I tried to sleep but how can you sleep before your probably demise?  In any event Mahmoud made it safely and I wanted to kiss the ground, but it was all sandy dirt and I just wanted a drink of ice water so…..bottom line….I am decompressing today.  The camel in the desert will just have to wait until my next life.  I am glad I rode a camel in Central Australia where it was only warm (90degrees) and I had lots of pictures taken and I had a cold Diet Coke when it was over, not a cup of tea!

Onward to the Wow, oh wow moments of yesterday and there were many!  First we stayed at another prestigious hotel, the Sonesta St. George.  Holland America can really pick out first class accommodations for our overland excursions.  This was again a fine property with a marble entrance and a jasmine juice cocktail when we entered….I didn’t like the taste but the sentiment was great.  We got to our rooms….air conditioning….and the most modern bathroom.  I was afraid to take a show, you needed a PhD in engineering to figure out how to use the tub and shower.  You might think I am kidding but I am not.  It had ultraviolet lighting, 10 jet sprays, a rain-shower shower head, and controls for all of the functions.  The enclosure was oval and absolutely space age. 

Then there was the toilet.  Now I normally don’t describe toilets in my blogs, but this one was too complex for me to figure out how to flush it.  I had to look for the manual override.  It had a heated seat and combined the functions of bidet with a wash and dry function in addition to the more traditional toilet functions.  There was a computer keyboard with pictures of a person’s bottom with a wash and dry function pictured!  I am not kidding….these things are serious.  Then there was another sign that had a picture of a roll of toilet paper not going into the toilet.  Did that mean not to dump the used paper in the toilet or not dump a whole role of toilet paper into the toilet?  If it meant, do not drop the used paper it seemed contradictory to have a space age toilet but having to put used paper into the trash can.  I left my bathroom, empty but confused.  But apparently I had a toilet malfunction because other guests just stood up and the sucker flushed automatically.  Mine was temperamental and I had to figure it out manually.

Imagine all of this blog devoted to everything but Egypt so far.  But that is life.  So here is more before going to the temples.  We went down to dinner on the patio of the swimming pool with a buffet fit for a king or queen or sultan.  Whatever you wanted from salad to barbequed chicken and grilled sea bass, delicious lamb, vegetables, breads, soup, and an array of desserts.  It was positively chilly out there so what you hear about it chilling off in the evenings in the desert is true.  It was delightful.  Only problem it was also 10:00 and our wakeup call was for 6:30.

So we were awakened early and the sun was already up and beginning to blaze.  We boarded the bus for our journey to the Valley of the Kings.  I was spending time with Carol Johnson, my friend from Canada who had just realized that we would not be seeing any pyramids or real big sphinx on this trip because they are in the Cairo and Aswan areas.  The first stop was the tomb of one of the Ramses.  The tombs are elaborate death chambers created long before the king died.  In fact the longer the King lived the more elaborate the tomb.  The artisans would first find an appropriate place for the tomb, dig out the tomb using elementary tools, then smooth the surface of the walls.  Then there would be a layer of plaster applied.  Then painters would come in and paint the stories of the king’s conquests over his enemies.  Then there would be written chapters about the King’s life in general.  There were icons all over the walls and ceiling of the entrance to the tomb and the various rooms in the tomb.  These rooms were for offerings to keep the King safely into the next life.  Now for those of you who really know Egyptian history, I have probably made a mess of things but I think my story is close.

When I walked into the first tomb all I could say was “Wow, Wow, Wow” it was fantastic to see the colorful paintings and the depth of the carving which would be over the painting if the King lived long enough.  We were taken to the tombs of Ramses III, VI, and IX.  I do not remember the exact order but the three tombs were outstanding.  You could go into the tomb of King Tut but it cost additional money and there was very little decoration because he was only king for 10 years….he ascended the throne at age 9 and died at age 19.  What surprised me is that the tombs were so very close together.  I learned that the Valley of the Kings houses about 33 tombs although not all have been fully excavated and the archeologist believe there may be other tombs still undiscovered in the area.

From the Valley of the Kings we stopped by the tomb of Queen Hatchepsut.  This was a photo stop only.  She was a ruthless person; she dressed and acted like to man to be the top dog.  Her step son didn’t like her much when he became king and destroyed most everything related to her.  Don’t know how her temple survived.  I will research that later when I have more cost effective computer time.

Then we went to the Habu Temple.  My first temple.  These  places are tremendous and to think that they are 3000 years old give or take a few hundred years.  The Egyptians built the temples from the inside out so that the most sacred part was built first… makes sense….They were painted with the same types of icons as in the temples and with columns and sphinx…the head of ram and the body of lion…some significance but I don’t remember much….more research as some point in time.  I had a scary experience here. 

An Egyptian man in one of those grey dresses that they all wear (can be grey, black, tan, white, or beige) pointed to me and I followed him for some dumb reason.  He showed me some parts of the temple that were not open to the public.  I could just imagine the headlines “Stupid passenger of Amsterdam found strangled in Egyptian Temple!!!”  I finally found me way out and he wanted a tip.  I pulled out $2 and he was insulted so I found $10 he was still insulted but I was able to get away from him.  Really got spooked from the notion that I was so stupid.  Did get some good pictures though.  Love me Nikon!!!!

One of the more interesting points about life in Egypt since the revolution is the shortage of gasoline.  The cars, motorcycles and any other kind of vehicle including tractor were lined up for up to half a mile at the gas stations waiting for hours for shipments of gas to arrive.  Reminded me of the gas shortages we experienced in the ‘70s.  I have pictures of the people, mostly men, standing around the pumps and I was really glad to have the safety of a large bus.

Back to the tour.   We next stopped at the Colossi of Memnon…..Big statues two of them.  Photo op!

Then to the biggest temple in the world…..Karnak…..yes Johnny Carson fans, there really is a Karnak and it is one huge temple.  It took over an hour and a half to walk from one end to the other and back again and that is without fighting the hawkers.  Oh other images you must know about Egypt….hawkers from age 7 to 70, people with stuff from books to post cards, shawls, to soapstone animals, fake papyrus to stuffed animals in your face.  The guide says walk by and ignore them….don’t even say ‘no’ because to the hawker ‘no’ means ‘maybe there is a sale in my future.’  The other item not mentioned in guide books is flies….must be the national bird of Egypt.  Flies all over.  I really could have used the fly screen from Australia!

Then it was time for lunch back at the Sonesta St. George and check out.  The buffet was fabulous with salad, veal, chicken, fish, rice and desserts that were yummy.  After lunch we visited Luxor temple which was another example of Egypt at its finest.  And boy was it hot.  So hot the Nikon was hot to the touch.  I found myself worried about heat and the camera.  So I scurried back to the bus….I little temple overload, with the sun, the heat, the flies, the monochromatic architecture, the hawkers, and the big lunch.  It was time for a nap but it was also time to drive back to the ship and as I said in the beginning of this blog, “How do you sleep when you are facing your demise?”

So because you are reading this, I got back safely, got some sleep, and got some decompression this morning.

Bye bye for now.

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Apr 4

Today is day 89 of the cruise and I am going to spend the night in Egypt!  Originally I had planned to have a 17 hour day tomorrow by going on a day long tour including an evening light show at Luxor.  But things changed…..because of potential pirates. 

I have not mentioned much about the pirates but there was concern about them in the Gulf of Adan.  The captain (the very nice captain because he has a very nice wife whose job it is to make him a nice man, remember?) has kept us informed all along the way.  He even charted a course which would get us into Safaga about 18 hours earlier than originally planned.  But that is not all.  The ship added extra security personnel who stood watch most of the day and all of the night with night vision binoculars.  They added razor wire on the outside side of 3rd floor railing.  In addition, we had high power water hoses positioned on the promenade deck ready to pounce on would be pirates.  We even had a drill where all passengers were told to evacuate their cabins and sit in the corridors to stay away from windows….possibilities of injuries from rifle fire.  Now that it is all over and we are in the Red Sea the precautions seem cosmetic but I am glad that we did not have to test them at all.  Oh, I did mention something about this before because I said that the captain thought there was little real danger because our freeboard was so high….distance from water level to deck (lower promenade deck… third floor).

Anyway HAL added an overnight to Luxor so that the long day can be reduced to a reasonable 10 hour day although I will miss the light show which I have heard was not very good anyway.  What is on the tour you are thinking?  First we drive for 3.5 hours from Safaga to Luxor.  Tomorrow morning we meet at go first to the Valley of the Kings.  I understand that you always have the option of two tombs to explore there.  But you are never guaranteed which tombs you will be visiting.  Then we will drive to the Temple of Hatchepsut for a photo shoot.  Then we proceed to the Habu temple and then the Colossi of Memnon.  We return to Luxor’s east bank and visit Karnak temple.  We then go back to our hotel for lunch (by this time it is 2:30 and we will be tired, hot, and hungry).  After lunch we go to Luxor temple for an hour before driving 3.5 hours back to the ship at Safaga.

Then the next day, Friday, April 6th, I will be going on a camel caravan ride in the Sinai Desert.  Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?  Then it is Easter weekend with a traditional Easter parade of bonnets at 7:30 Easter night.  I already have my hat made and ready.  I took one of my sun hats and put a huge pink and green bow with ribbons down my back then used Gerbera Daisies around the brim also.  It looks quite nice if I say so myself!

So it is now time for a manicure.  Bye bye for now.

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