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  1. Part 2 - Luxor - Nov 24-25, 2012 Our 6:30 am wake up call came -- we dressed and went down to breakfast. The same restaurant that we had enjoyed, on the banks of the Nile, the night before. Or, as I discovered, some of us enjoyed -- somehow DH had missed the fact that we ate dinner on the banks of the Nile River. Even though he thought he was still alert and went on to the sound and light show after dinner he was ... well ... DH. DH protests that it was dark and he could not see the river. He did, however, enjoy his breakfast on the banks of the NIle River. This morning we were to explore the East bank of the Nile. We began with the Temple of Karnak which used to be connected to the Temple of Luxor by a very long avenue lined on both sides with sphinxes. A few of the sphinx remain at the Karnak Temple, more at the Temple of Luxor. We have to admit that we are very impressed by the architecture and grand design carried out by the Egyptian ancestors 4000 years ago. The temple consists of many courtyards filled with hieroglyph covered walls, pillars, obelisks, statues and all manner of monuments to honor the King. The thing is, each mortal King has only a finite lifetime, so the King kept changing -- and each King in turn needed to create something to his memory -- so the sphinxes were moved, a new inner or outer courtyard was created ... yada, yada, yada -- and today walking through the temple is kind of like walking through the layers of an onion, peeling them off one at a time. The final inner layer of the onion is a very inner and holy courtyard that was reserved for only the holiest of holy people -- to worship in the inner temple and to host their celebrations in this very inner courtyard. In summary, quite large and quite impressive. The Luxor Temple was next -- and it has a fairly well preserved row of sphinxes at the entry followed by more of the same. At the time these temples were built there was no Aswan dam and these temples were located amongst the many tributaries of the Nile so it can be imagined that they were surrounded by green fields and plants. We desired to be back to the ship by 3 or 3:30 pm since the all aboard was at 4:30 and we wanted to make sure that we had some extra time just in case .... so it was time for an early lunch and then to leave Luxor. For lunch we were brought to a small, very upscale western style restaurant where we were served a multi-course meal while we listened to recordings of Christmas music and lite jazz -- we sent back, however, two of the courses (the salad and the fruit plate desert -- better safe than sorry). Before leaving town we drove through the local markets where the streets were lined with small shops selling just about everything for the cook. We noticed, however, that the only folks in the markets -- both sales people and shoppers -- were all male. So we asked our guide. Apparently it is the custom that the men do the food shopping. I asked if the men decided what to purchase or if they were given a list each morning. Turns out the men are given a list and it is the men who are trained on how to choose the best produce and food products. Gee, I might enjoy that! Our ride back to Safaga and the ship was much as it was on the way out -- long and barren but nonetheless always interesting driving. At the port the chaos of the arriving freight ferry of the previous morning was all gone ... our ship was now docked to the rear of Oceania's Nautica which in comparison to us, seemed like a behemoth. From the Red Sea,
  2. Safaga to Luxor and Back OR You Can Never Have Enough Singles in Egypt - Part 1 We have just returned from our overnight excursion from the port of Safaga, Egypt to Luxor, Egypt. A wonderful time was had by all. I understand that folks at home have had some concerns due to the recent events in Egypt and the news reports re: Cairo. Please be advised that Safaga is nowhere near Cairo, we were treated well throughout and we were in no way aware of any difficulties at all. We were picked up at the pier by our trusty guide and our driver, as scheduled, and on time. Two years ago our vehicle in Alexandria sported the name "Santa Claus". This trip our trusty car was christened "sinderella". Our ship was docked right next to a passenger and freight ferry that had also just arrived. The area around the dock was an unpaved, sandy surface that was now filled with a huge, disorganized melee of local people dressed in classic local attire as well as horse and donkey carts, diesel trucks and large flat bed push carts piled high with bundles of who knows what wrapped in rugs, fabric and plastic sheet and tied with ropes. Inevitably there were also many people riding with and hanging off the carts. We felt as if we had docked in the middle of a scene from an old movie about a steamship arriving in a classical middle eastern port. And that was the start of our day at 7:15 am. Somehow our expert driver navigated the crowds without hitting anyone or anything, and drove us out of the port area and into town. Safaga is not a large city. In a short time we were past the city limits and well on our way into the three hour drive to Luxor. The roads were very interesting. Most of the way they were two lane blacktop highways that snaked through totally barren and empty desert. Slowly the desert morphed from tall rocky mountains, to smaller rocky rises to an almost flat surface. For half of the way there was nothing else -- not even electric lines or a Bedouin tent. Finally the electric and phone lines were there to keep us company -- as well as the other traffic on the road. Now, it should be stated that our driver was excellent and took very good care of us -- we rode round trip with no incidents at all. But, as observers from the United States we have been able to compile the following information about how to drive in Egypt. On our last trip in 2011 we learned that in the cities, such as Cairo, the traffic lines in the road are merely suggestions. The cars and people go wherever they wish on the road and somehow everyone survives, including pedestrians, and all eventually get where they wish to go. 2) On two lane roads things are a little different. First, each individual driver chooses where on the road they wish to drive. In some places they have actually painted in a center line on the road -- but don't be fooled, the line is only superfluous and has no real meaning. 3) Once having chosen your driving spot it is important to constantly be aware of oncoming traffic as they will also have chosen an arbitrary driving lane -- one cannot be too alert. The trick is to never slow down yet somehow merge right or left to avoid collision. 4) Never drive following another vehicle. It is mandatory to pass, even on hairpin turns, Alert, the driver must stay alert -- and, if possible, on the paved highway. 5) In the small cities and towns don't expect to find traffic lights. Navigation and traffic control are accomplished via several avenues. First, the traffic circles (we never could figure out if there is a rule about who has the right of way) -- Second the "chicken" turn (that is you just turn -- forget about slowing down -- if there is other traffic, just drive in front of them) and third the humongous super-sized speed bumps that appear in the road with no warning or marking at all -- you just have to know where they are to avoid loosing your axle. 6) If you need to communicate with other cars to say things like "I am going to pass you whether you like it or not" or "get out of my arbitrarily chosen lane" you have to know how to speak "car horn" -- I do not know that language yet the other car usually replies. Our best advice is to leave the driving to the Egyptians. We did arrive in Luxor and were quite safe. We could tell we were getting close to the Nile as we approached town when we started to see irrigated green fields on the desert landscape. The town of Luxor itself it was not only green but there were palm trees and flowering bushes. Our first stop was the Valley of the Kings. The site chosen for burial tombs and like Petra it is well hidden between and behind tall mountains. It is believed that there are some 63 tombs there but only a fraction have been uncovered. The price of admission includes three tombs (you choose which three) except that if you wish to see the tombs of Ramses VI and Tutankhamen you have to buy additional tickets. Our guide discouraged us seeing from Tutankhamen's tomb as it is very small, and not special - Interesting note: last Friday they celebrated 90 years since the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb. We did, however, choose to see the other "premium" tomb, that of Ramses VI because the original color paintings are still in very good condition. Among the paintings in that tomb there is a recurrent theme -- the illustration of a Goddess who was punished and is now required to swallow the sun every evening at sunset and give birth to the sun each day at daybreak. Our guide was not allowed to enter the tombs with us as each tomb has one or two local guides who insist on taking you through and explaining things in very poor English -- and when done they ask for money. One of my guides was cheeky enough to tell me that the dollar I gave him was not enough for his few minutes of commentary. Remember that we have already paid an admission price to see the tombs. And, when Ed and I moved through the tombs at different speeds, we each got hit separately for the tips. And while I am on the subject, the dollars were pretty much a necessity to use the washroom. We tried to get Egyptian coins but amazingly ... no one had change! There are also the endless items for sale by the vendors "only one dollar" or "only two dollars". I knew in advance to bring a lot of singles with us -- but to tell the truth by the end of the second day my rest stops were in jeopardy. As we concluded the first day's tours (West Bank of the Nile) we also stopped to see the two huge statues -- the so called Colossi of Memnon and we visited the large Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Whew! The cool desert morning had become the bright, hot, desert afternoon and I had been up and running for ten hours! We checked into our hotel on the Nile and laid down for a well deserved nap. We then went down to have dinner in the hotel. We ate outside by the hotel's pool on the banks of the Nile River. After dinner Ed went to see the Sound and Light show at the Temple of Karnak -- me? I went upstairs and went to sleep. More tomorrow. From the Red Sea, on our way to the Gulf of Aden and Oman
  3. When we arrived in the very crowded port of Safaga in 2012 on the Seabourn Pride we felt like we were in an Indiana Jones movie.
  4. September 2019 aboard Seabourn Today we docked in Kirkwall which is in the Orkney Islands. The Orkney Islands were originally part of Norway as they had been conquered and settled by the Vikings - until about 500 years ago. At that time the King of Norway’s daughter was to marry into Scottish nobility and he did not have the funds for a dowry ... so he put up the Orkney Islands as collateral expecting to be able to pay off the debt eventually. Well, that never happened and even though legally the Orkney’s could be bought back from Scotland by the Norwegians for a recorded sum, they are part of Scotland and will probably always be. We once again had an absolutely stunning day though, as usual here, the winds were very high. Temperatures were in the fifties. The sun was uber bright, virtually blinding. The island is almost totally flat - covered by moors, heather, peat, and wheat fields - no trees. Our guide today was incredible. She was born in Norway but met her archeologist husband at a conference and moved to the Orkney’s when she got married in 2009. She spoke well, clearly enjoyed everything that she was sharing, and did not put us to sleep. Later in the tour at Skara Brae (our last stop) I discovered a book on sale there called “The Orkney Book of Runes” and it was written by her. She has a PhD in Scandinavian language and literature including Runology and Old Norse. We had her autograph her book which we purchased. How lucky we were to have her as our guide since there were at least 8 buses from the ship today on this tour. Our first stop was the Stennish Stones (Ring of Brodgar) - photo sent. And interestingly my cell phone that I used to take the photo labeled the photo “Ring of Brodgar”. In the photo it almost looks like it was dark but it was so bright we could not open our eyes all the way and the photo lighting is how my cell phone camera interpreted it all. After walking around there for a while we reboarded our bus and went on to Skara Brae which has a Stone Age settlement that dates back to 3100 BC. At the current time the settlement is right next to a beach but in 3100 BC it was inland on a lake (not far from the ocean) and over time the peninsula that sheltered the lake eroded away exposing the settlement to the ocean and the winds. In about 1850 after a wild storm the Stone Age village homes appeared in the sand, filled with sand. This allowed them to be preserved much as they were complete with their Stone Age furniture. Only one of the “homes” was tampered with to make a small window in one of the stone walls as the daughter of the landowner on which these homes were discovered wanted to use it as her playhouse. The village consisted of several small homes connected by walkways and it is assumed that the whole settlement (including the walkways) was covered with thatch roof or a roof of animal skins. It is hard to wrap our minds around the fact that this village thrived, for some period of time, long before the pyramids of Giza (approx 2500 BC) or Stonehenge (approx 2100 BC). Wonderful day - tomorrow we are at Dundee - nothing planned.
  5. From our Amsterdam South Pacific cruise in 2015From our Amsterdam South Pacific cruise in 2015 Day 23 - Dravuni, Fiji Dravuni Island is in the Kadavu Island group of Fiji about 40 from the capital of Suva on Viti Levu in Fiji where we were yesterday. Our day was absolutely perfect. Upper seventies, clear skies, sunshine with a nice breeze. And Dravuni, well, it was South Pacific paradise. Dravuni is a small island, about two miles long and part of a group of mountainous islands that are lush with tropical vegetation and each is circumscribed with white sand beaches. The island group is protected from the heavy surf by a large reef that surrounds them. To get here the Captain had to sail through a small, unmarked hole in the reef - apparently a storm knocked out the channel markers a few years ago so to help us navigate a few locals motored out in their small boats to mark the opening in the reef for the Amsterdam. The island itself is home to a small village of about 200. They live in simple homes with tin roofs that are clustered near the beach and surround a traditional open-sided thatched roof community house that is complete with a large bowl for making kava. The Amsterdam passengers tendered over to a small floating dock right on the beach. We were free to walk around, visit the village, hike to the top of the tallest peak, visit the school or enjoy a good swim in tropical waters that were so clear you could see the bottom from the tender for quite a ways as we came in. The small school has its own building complete with desks and the other things one would expect to find in a school. I was struck by the poster on the wall of the international road signs wondering how this would mean anything to a child brought up in a place that only has narrow paths and the only motorized vehicles are boats. Many folks from the ship brought school supplies and/or donated to a fund that the teacher is saving to take the children to visit Suva as most have never been off the island. As Gene, our cruise director said this morning, this is the real South Pacific. The Amsterdam was anchored in the middle of this group of lush green mountainous bumps in the clear blue waters. As we prepared to leave, from my vantage point in the crow's nest, I could see the small boats on their way out to mark the clear channel for the Amsterdam. One of the small boats, with four island men out for the ride, motored quite close to our ship so that they could get photos on an iphone camera - they all waved. What a day on this stunning trip.
  6. I have found on the first few posts in a thread the ads that show up in the right hand margin are overlapping the text of the posts on the thread. Irritating.
  7. Notes from our visit to Fanning Island in October of 2015 on the Amsterdam. Special thanks to those who posted pictures. Good memories. I normally just lurk here. I so enjoy everyone who keeps this thread alive, active and upbeat. Thank you all for all that you do to keep us connected with a world on the water that we can only hope will someday be as incredible as it used to be. So happy to hear from the brave who are already cruising. For us the world has to be a bit safer before we board another ship. prayers for all who need them. Day 15 - Tabuaeran, Fanning Island, Republic of Kiribati Well, we have sailed about one thousand miles south west of Hawaii, into the middle of nowhere, and have arrived at Fanning Island. Fanning Island is a small coral atoll - the island itself is shaped a bit like a kidney bean and consists of a narrow spit of land (area of about 13 square miles) that surrounds a large lagoon in the center (area of 426 square miles), the Crystal Blue Lagoon. The island is one of 32 coral atolls that make up the Republic of Kiribati. It has about 1000 residents and no electricity or indoor plumbing. Rather than a kidney bean which is my impression of the shape of the island, the locals think it looks like a large footprint - thus the name "Tabuaeran" which means heavenly footprint. The majority of the population is in the coconut industry though they also farm seaweed for the Asian market. We were told that Norwegian Cruise Lines initially put this island on their itinerary for their Hawaiian cruises so that they could go round trip to the U.S. mainland. There is a treaty that was designed to protect American shipping that requires that ships that are not U.S. flagged and make round trip cruises to the U.S. must stop at a distant foreign port before returning to the U.S. Thus NCL needed a foreign port and they began stopping at Fanning Island. That was before NCL got one or two of their ships registered in the U.S. They then abandoned Fanning Island as a cruise stop. Today's experience was very different. Many of us on board had purchased school and medical supplies that were collected by the ship and distributed today to the island school. We were asked by the ship not to purchase anything at the island's general store as those supplies are necessary for those who live on the island and they do not receive shipments of goods very often. The island itself is beautiful - lined with coconut palms that are rooted in the grey coral sands and stand near incredibly blue waters. There is a simple wooden dock that is safe but not in the greatest repair that accepts cruise passengers as the tenders come in. As we walked down the dock there was a group of school children who sang for us. There were some chairs set up in the shade for passengers near the dock and a ways down there was a makeshift stage where other island children performed. The pathway into town was paved with coral sands and littered with mud puddles (as they have recently had rain) and it was lined with tables filled with shell jewelry, baskets, wood carvings and very unusual knives with blades edged with shark's teeth. The price for souvenirs was very low so it was easy to make a contribution to their economy. Groups of islanders dressed in grass skirts or other traditional costumes stood along the path posing for photos (and small donations). At one point there was a group of preschool and primary school age children, along with their teacher, holding pictures they had drawn, and singing for us. They were absolutely charming. The islanders live in thatched huts or simple buildings with tin roofs and no walls. The arrival of a cruise ship is a large event. This sure was a very interesting event for us also. One I will remember for a long time. It is exotic ports like this that always makes me appreciate Holland America. There were some swells in the ocean today - the trip out to the island went easily, but on the return we had to head over the waves that so beautifully lap upon their shores, causing splashes that topped the tenders and trickled in at our feet. All part of the experience.
  8. Photos are from our Seabourn Antarctica cruise in January 2019.
  9. @ger_77 our son has a black long haired cat who also greatly appreciates a grooming a couple of times a year. He is unable to prevent knots and tangles on his own so the haircuts free him and he immediately goes into kitten mode after he is groomed - yet, admittedly, he looks a bit comical. Good thoughts and prayers to everyone.
  10. Midnight at the Oasis -- Oh WOW! -- December 6, 2012 OK, Dubai is a great amusement park and an endless mall but we wanted to see more -- so we signed up for a Desert Safari for this afternoon/evening and all I can say is that our experience topped anything that we anticipated. I already sent on some photos because I am truly not sure that I will be able to finish this journal entry before I get too sleepy but I am driven to write before I forget all the details. We took a slow morning today knowing that we had a seven hour adventure planned for later. We enjoyed the most international breakfast buffet at the hotel that we have ever experienced -- stations for American, Continental, Japanese, Arabian, Mongolian, Indian breakfasts and possibly more. They serve everything from sushi, noodle soup and fried rice to salads, deli meats, frozen yogurt .... in a very large and busy breakfast restaurant where the patrons are literally from all over the world -- Arabic robes of all sorts, women in full birkha, Indian families, as well as the western and Asian tourists that we commonly see on our trips. Even breakfast was a bit of a trip today. Our friend from the ship, Lenora, met us at the hotel and we were picked up in a Mercedes mini-van and driven to a spot about an hour out of town, about half way between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Along the way we were treated to the sight of a Camel Race as we passed the race track. You will notice that in the picture we sent the racing camel has a box instead of a jockey mounted on his back. That is what they call a "robo jockey" which is controlled by someone in a car who follows the camel around the track (I believe on the other side of a fence) and signals the robot when he feels it is necessary to use the "robo whip" to get the animal to speed up. As you can also see in the pictures we passed some agricultural fields making use of scarecrows. The area is a Conservation Reserve owned by the Sheik, and it is empty and alone in the desert. At this point we transferred from our minivan to a Land Rovers (circa 1940's or 1950's) where the three of us sat on narrow (but padded) bench seats and held on as our driver took us into the Reserve. It was totally quiet. All we could see was soft, red sand. Before we started our guide tied Arabic scarves on our heads to protect us from the sun. We have photos of that also, but it is possible that we may never share those. There was no road, only a couple of tracks in the sand for the driver to follow. We were fortunate today as it rained heavily recently and the sand was still a bit damp so that it did not blow in our faces -- today it was in the 70's with a nice breeze. As we drove through the reserve we stopped to observe and photograph groups of orecks (I know I spelled that like the vacuum cleaner but I am too tired to look up the spelling of the animal at the moment) and gazelles. After a while we reached a spot in the desert where we stopped and there were two large silk Oriental Carpets set out in the sand with a low makeshift couch set up from couch cushions and large pillows. There was also a hooded falcon and his trainer. We were joined here by the only other group doing this tour today -- two Saudi Arabian gentlemen dressed in their long white robes and headcloths and one woman dressed in full, black birkha. We were then treated to a demonstration of falconry which has a long proud tradition in Arabic culture. We found out that the hood worn by the falcon is also called a birkha. At the end of the demonstration after the bird captured its prey (quite impressive) and ate his meaty treat reward we were allowed to put on the protective sleeve and let the bird rest on our arm. While the demonstration was going on the sun was setting over the desert so that we were also treated to the desert sunset. When the demonstration was over we were slightly delayed in leaving the site as the Saudi men (who had chosen to pay extra to ride in a luxury closed 4x4 vehicle) could not take their eyes off of the classic "antique" vehicle that we were riding in . The collection of these vehicles that are being used to operate this tour are on loan from the Sheik. And we watched while the two Saudi men took turns sitting in and pretending to drive the Land Rover, even turning on the motor and turning on the lights so that they could have their pictures taken. Back in the vehicle, continuing on through the park it slowly got dark. By the time we arrived at our oasis the sun was entirely gone. The six of us were the only guests this evening though this operation is set up to handle 40. Apparently it is a brand new company and the Saudi gentlemen who were with us are investors and were there to see how the operation works. Though they ate separately from us, across the oasis shelter, we all gathered together after the meal and we got to talk. It is clear that they are trying, in this experience, to capture some of the old desert ways that were so prevalent in the '40's and '50's before oil money arrived and changed their world overnight. Of course, our experience was sort of like watching "Happy Days" as it glorified the good things and forgot the hardships. As we walked into the Oasis we were greeted by someone who poured rosewater on our hands to wash them -- and, of course, clean towels to dry. The next part of the greeting was Arabic Coffees and dates. We learned how to signal in the Arabic way that we do not want a refill of coffee. While we waited for the meal preparations to finish we were led outside and offered a brief camel ride. The camels were lined up and tied together, with brightly colored crocheted muzzles on to protect us from spitting and bites. Lenora still got bonked by the head of Ed's camel as she mounted hers. After the camel rides we went to really wash up and discovered a rustic stone building behind the oasis with modern plumbing and running water that drained into carved wooden sinks, scented soaps and fresh terrycloth hand towels. Yes, a sanitized version of the old ways. Returning to the main compound we were shown a demonstration on how the local bread was made as well as the soups -- our first course. We were instructed to take the paper thin crisp bread and dip it into the lentil soup. Between courses the women were offered the chance to have our hands painted with henna tatoos. I chickened out but both Lenora and the Saudi woman took advantage of the opportunity. The artist who painted the henna did a remarkable job. The material applied is thick, like chocolate and required a full thirty minutes to dry so that Lenora spent the time during our next course, the appetizers, holding her left hand up -- you may notice that in the picture I sent. The Saudi woman accidentally smooshed some of her henna and had to have a touch up. The Saudi woman showed only her eyes above her veils and I would love to know how she did her very smokey black eye make up -- she looked gorgeous. Later, she did have to take her veil down to eat and left it down during our after dinner time. I always wondered what they had to do to eat. For appetizers we had two types of "samboosas" -- a fried dumpling very much like Indian Samosas -- one vegetable, one beef. We also had hummus, and a second similar spread made with "oozee" (which is apparently the word for beef -- I do not know how to spell it), tabouleh, tomato and onion salad, and a green salad. In addition to the crisp bread we now also had triangles of a stretchy, soft pita like loaf in our bread basket. Even though I only sampled I was already full at the end of this course. The soup was just too good -- as well as the coffee and dates. After a break between courses there was a demonstration of traditional cooking methods which were used (but in a modern, sanitary way) to cook our meal which consisted of a slow roasted lamb that was tender and delicious, two types of rice pilaf, chicken and more vegetables. Lenora is a vegetarian and her needs were totally accommodated. To the aftermeal! We were led over to an area where low couches had been set up on more silk carpets and offered shisha pipes (water pipes or hookahs) along with our first dessert -- a huge bowl full of these crispy donut hole things that are soaked in date honey. We had them last night, also, with our dinner but these were so much better. More Arabian coffee was served as we sat and those who chose (not me) bubbled away at their shisha pipes, and we spoke some with the Saudi men. The woman did not speak English. Then the dancer appeared -- wearing a billowing royal blue robe decorated with silver embroidery -- she was a young woman with shiny long black hair who danced most provocatively. I cannot even imagine how she got some of her body parts to do what they did so apparently under those robes. It was a treat -- and she was joined while dancing her last song by the two Saudi men -- but we were not allowed to photograph that. Damn, we wonder who those men really were. Our guide was not about to divulge anything other than that they were investors. After our second dessert, bowls of fresh fruit salad, it was finally time to go back to the hotel. Our experience was so private and personal that it really wowed us. We are not sure what we would have thought of it if they had been at capacity, with forty people. From the tired folks who are ready for bed the night before their last day in Dubai
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