Well we survived the first set of 4 days at sea.. nothing much to report on that, except that the cruise ship doesn't have a no smoking poilcy enforced, so we were struggling with that problem.. until last night! .. after a few days of whining and complaining, they suddenly offered Iain and I an upper cabin wtih balcony and jacuzzi bath tub!.. We had to pay an upgrade fee of 150 euros each for it.. but we're not suffering! The smoke was horrible when we were sleeping.. now we have the door open all night.. and Iain's taking baths daily! (the photo is only half the cabin.. Iain's bed and the couch are to the right) :)..
Obviously a long post.. Egypt deserves it! :)
Our second stop in Egypt was Luxor, connecting with the town of Safaga, a small port town on the Red Sea. We set off in our excursion bus at 7am, and drove 3.5 hours west, through the mountainous desert. Gradually the land became greener, and we knew the Nile was close. I'd expected Luxor to be a large open area with ancient ruins along either side of the Nile, -which in some ways it is, but the modern city has developed around the Nile shores, and ancient ruins are basically stranded in the middle of a thriving centre of activity. I was surprised at how history has been lumped in with modern buildings.
The 2 giant statues of Ramses II are just standing alone in the middle of a field of weeds, beside a parking lot, with a small rope fence around them. So casual.
In the morning we visited the Valley of the Kings, but, alas, they no longer allow ANY cameras at the site, since people have used flashes and are fading the painted images inside the tombs, so now, they have banned all cameras. We were swarmed by masses of boys and youth trying to sell us trinkets and post cards. Our whole bus was overwhelmed with them by the end of the morning. They have had almost no tourism recently due to the political activities in Egypt, so their sale pitches were all the more intense since it's their livelihood. I used the experience as a chance to practice my Arabic, and a boy and I exchanged language lessons for a few minutes, which was a nice 'cultural exchange' for me!
The afternoon segment of the trip was the real highlight though: The Temple of Karnak. This has always been what interested me most about Egypt. The temple is certainly the most impressive, and I was in heaven, as was Iain of course!
We wandered away from the lecturing tour guide and spent some time wandering away from the tourists, to immerse ourselves in Real History. Karnak is full of different eras of massive pillars decorated with an assortment of different painted images and carved hieroglyphics. There are also some massive obelisks, each carved out of one solid block of granite! We wandered all the way through the temple, and had a bit of an adventure with a fake police official (wearing full uniform including a rifle!) but my instincts warned me that he wasn't to be trusted -especially when he suddenly expected us to pay him money because he pointed out a few good photo spots!
Anyway, it was fast and furious, just 2 whirlwind days in Egypt, but we got a taste of the country and can return again when the political situation is under control. The only signs of 'political unrest' we noticed by the way, were masses of banners posted along roads, etc. en route to Luxor.
Now we are in the '4 days at sea' stage of the journey, en route to Oman... And we're about to pass through “pirate country”. We've noticed a few changes on the cruise ship: An armed guard posted on either side of the ship, 24 hours a day-toting binoculars and bullet proof vests- as well as 4 stuffed life-sized figures of 'Costa Captains' posted at the 4 top corners of the ship, as decoys, should any pirates be looking to take a first shot at us!
I suspect it's all for show, so that the cruisers feel safe. We also received a bed time notice the other night about 'going to our muster stations' should any pirates suddenly attempt to attack us...
Anyway, it all adds to the adventure. Over and out, until we reach Oman, home of Sinbad the Sailor and the Queen of Sheba, as well as frankincense forests!
Our first stop in Egypt was Sharm Elsheikh, which was a small touristy town, and we went on an excursion to see Unesco World Heritage site where the desert meets the Red Sea. Our drive took us around the desert for an hour or two, seeing stone landforms, and then a massive split where an earthquake split open the earth in the 1960's. Iain was fascinated and wanted to go diving in the 40 metre deep cavern filled with ocean water! The Red Sea is blue, clear, and beautiful, by the way!
Eventually our tour ended beside the sea, and we swam in the underwater world of one of the best coral reefs on the planet. It was beautiful but I'm afraid I can't show you any photos, since Iain accidentally lost his new camera in the depths of the ocean! (That's his 2nd camera in a major body of water, right Elaine?)
Today we sailed through the Suez Canal. It took a whole day, but not because it's such a long water way. We started into the canal at about 7am. The sides of the canal were flat and uninteresting. Here and there we saw a few buildings, but for the most part, it was a very poor looking area with undecorated buildings.
Then, just after breakfast, the ship stopped. We hear at first that the cargo ship in front of us had got stuck in the sand, so we were all excited at this unexpected 'adventure'. But no, the actual reason for the stop was that the canal is only 1 ship width wide (since it was built before today's massive cargo ships were built). This means that there is only 1 lane of traffic able to pass through the canal at a time. The ships coming from the South got to go first. We sat in the canal, looking out over the desert until 5pm this evening. Finally we were given the thumbs up, and as the sun set over the sand dunes (very lovely!) we sat in the hot tub on the top deck and watched the world slide by again.
Tomorrow, swimming in the Red Sea!
Yesterday we visited the Holy Land. -Quite fitting at Christmas, and a definite bonus, since we were originally scheduled to go to Cairo! Jerusalem is an amazing city. The off-white historical buildings glow with a golden light, and Iain and I both fell in love with it. He even commented last night that he might like to go back there one day, to live.
It certainly is a city of 'living history'. The tiny streets with their heavy stone slabs in the market place are the ones Jesus walked through when he dragged his cross up the hill. The 12 stations of the cross are market on the marketplace walls, as you walk through. The chapels and religious iconography everywhere mark the details of the life of Christ at every turn. Iain said he still didn't believe in Jesus, but he certainly looked intrigued when we entered the tomb where Jesus' body is believed to have been laid to rest (and risen from the dead shortly after).
We visited the Wailing Wall last, which was strangely commercial and full of crowds of public on-lookers and people praying. I had expected it to be silent, or filled with the whisper of prayers, but instead it was a busy town square with visiting Israeli army troops, crowds of laughing children and tourists taking photos.
Jerusalem is certainly impressive, with it's relics and temples at every corner, and it's a strange place poised in preparedness for the 2nd coming of Christ. Even the dead beneath their tombstones are all lined up waiting to be the first to enter the holy city by the golden gate, as the Bible tells will happen.
For me though, the city felt almost too perfect. 2000+ year old buildings, and they were all so clean and well-maintained, with almost no signs of destruction or damage. It was hard to feel a sense of the history of the place. The tourism (certainly not helped by the fact that we were on a 'cattle-herded' excursion, rather than free to discover the place on our own) made it feel more like a museum than a city. Perhaps that's what Jerusalem is though, a living museum of major world religions? And perhaps that's why no one wants to give up their ownership of the place.
The cruise is starting to feel like home now. Our table mates are a nice group of Canadians and Americans, speaking a mixture of French and English. Iain is in his element, being the only teen around. He's getting lots of attention. A friendly gentleman beside him at the table buys very expensive wines each night, and then insists that Iain must expand his knowledge of great wines. I sometimes get offered a taste too, which is very nice of "Steve" the table mate.
We're at a table of 8 people, so there's always lively chatter. Tonight was the Captain's Dinner: Full formal wear, but also state of the art cuisine. We had duck a l'orange, and filet mignon, and for dessert, Milles Feuilles.. All delicious and gobbled down quickly. Iain had two appetizers -Clam and Mussel chowder!
And so, the gentle rocking of the boat becomes 'normal' and we feel more sea sick on flat ground than on the boat. It's amazing how the brain begins to accept movement as 'normal' after a day of it.
Tomorrow, another day at sea, and then Jerusalem! An unexpected surprise, since Cairo isn't safe (in their minds). Iain was a bit disappointed, but we're now excited to be seeing a city with history on every street corner. And what better time to be there than at Christmas! We'll continue on to Luxor and Sharm El Sheik after Israel, so we'll still get to see the best of Egypt.
Ok, that's my time all used up for today. $10/hour internet fee on board!
BLOG: POMPEII DAY.
Well, it has to rain sometimes, and it did this morning. We were booked to go see Pompeii, so we got ready and headed down to deck 2 to get off the ship. This ship is smaller than the others we've travelled on, so it takes some getting used to. I'm going to feel a bit stir crazy on the 4 days at sea segment of the trip, I fear!
Anyway, the bus was fine, and the drive only 20 minutes. We saw a man making cameos carved out of shells, -very lovely and a fine art of bygone days. We took photos, and then got our souvenirs at the street stall outside. They had lovely venetian glass necklaces. We also bought lava stone bracelets to add to our travel bracelet collection!
Pompeii was huge. Nothing like I imagined. There was an amphitheatre, -since the Greeks had founded Pompeii and Naples, and then it had changed hands when the Romans arrived. (Naples means 'New Polis (city) ” in Greek, we learned!
The guided tour thing always makes me feel stir crazy since they stuff all kinds of unimportant minutae in the tour to make it look like they know their stuff, or to take up the full 2 hours with talking. We walked ahead, so that we could really experience Pompeii alone, without the crowd. That way the photos would be more focused, and with fewer people in them!
This tour gave us each our own microphone device so whereever we were, we could hear to tour if we put our earbud in. This gave us the option of listening in when we weren't taking photos.
The top level, -a kind of huge sports field surrounded by pillars- was most amazing. Beside this arena was an overhang, with shelves of items on it. After hundreds of rooms we'd photographed, it was great to find detailed items! Bodies metamorphosed in lava as they boiled alive, and pottery pieces, -in full size and undamaged by the lava!
So the photos are a bit gruesome today, but that childhood dream of seeing Pompeii is now checked off the list!
Tomorrow, 2 days at sea... to relax and get some writing done!
Also, the cruise company has decided to move us away from Cairo, so we're sailing all the way to Israel instead of Alexandria. We'll spend a day there, (Jerusalem at Christmas- very fitting!) and then sail down the Suez Canal and see lower Egypt, just missing the pyramids and the Cairo Museum, but getting to Luxor and The Valley of the Kings later in the week!
All is well. Life is becoming more sane at last! It's wonderful to be fed and looked after 24 hours a day.
Once again, it's 5am and I'm awake. It does make for excellent photography opportunities though, being wide awake before sun up! We're going to head out together this morning to see what new paths and pictures we can find around the town. This afternoon we board our Cruise, and tomorrow we'll visit Pompeii .. a dream of mine since childhood! Today will be busy, and once on the ship (the Costa Allegra, for those who care), blogging will be my main means of communicating with you all, until we arrive in Mauritius on the 26th of December...
Time to head out for another photo morning! Enjoy your day wherever you are!
Of course, as expected, we awoke at 1am, 3am, 4am... By 5am, I gave up trying, and headed out to catch the early morning light! Genoa is a beautiful old port town, with enviable historical buildings, -but a major above-level highway running right through the waterfront area. Despite this division, the old city is still exotic and draws the tourists, although November is the off-season.
My dear old friend from 20+ years ago was able to come down from Milan this afternoon, so we had the most sumptuous dinner together! Lamb, Steak, pasta, Tiramisu. It had all the treats of Italy, and we waddled home satisfied and ready to sleep (Hopefully all night this time!) Tomorrow we head over to Savona to board our cruise ship. Internet there is going to be $10/hour, so blog posts will be less regular, most likely!
For some reason, last night's blog with photos didn't load properly!.. Well, more has happened since then. After a pizza buying experience, where I had to ask which language they preferred before I could begin to order, ("Spanish! Yes, Jose in the back room can speak that, bring him out!") We ate a pizza picnic in our rooms, and then headed out for a walk to see some of the city. It was dark, so I didn't take the camera.. it's a bit too flashy for the back streets of Genova!
We went into a little store to buy our first bracelets.. -we buy bracelets every stop we go when we travel- easy souvenirs to carry!-.. and it happened to be an arabic shop.. Someone else walked in behind us, and the guy at the counter said "Ah a lan wa sa ha lan" and the other man started to reply.. and suddenly the words jumped out of my mouth in reply: 'Al ham du lula, Kaifal hal? Al ham du lula"..
-Which is actually the only paragraph I've learned from my arabic tapes I've been listening to for a few weeks, to prepare for Egypt. .. (It's basically a 'hello, how are you', kind of conversation) It was hilarious to see all their faces go absolutely BLANK white!.. I smiled, and explained in Spanish that I've been studying Arabic for Egypt and it was my first time using it. They laughed then, all 5 guys standing at the cash, but then they stopped talking altogether, in case I knew more than that, and could understand everything they had said about us a few minutes earlier, while we were shopping!.. Of course that's the only phrase I know, so I paid for the bracelets, said "Shukran" and we left.. Iain was embarrassed, but I was laughing all the way home about the fact that I came to Italy and got to use my Arabic phrases on the first night!
Hilary Slater: I write in the morning before I get out of bed. I write in the evening when the world is quiet. I write at Starbucks, where I can escape the household interruptions. But most of all I write in November, when NaNoWriMo inspires me!