Sunday, September 26, 2010

Turkish ports from the Star Clipper

Posted by Thane
When we arrived back at our ship in Alexandria, Egypt there seemed to be some delay in our sail away. After quite a few hours and much whispering among staff we heard that we would NOT be leaving Egypt today. Usually an itinerary would not be changed for anything so everyone was a bit nervous about staying in this port without knowing why. The next morning we received our "official" announcement from the ship that we were sailing without a flag and that the Egyptian port officials wouldn't let us sail until it was taken care of. The main office for Star Clipper had arranged for us to change registration from Luxemborg to Malta while we were in port for two days in Alexandria. Apparently the inspector from Malta didn't get the message in time. We were without registration and through much discussion the port officials let us stay out at anchor in Egyptian waters until it was taken care of.
Sailing again
Finally after two days awaiting the Maltese inspector and being wooed by the Star Clipper staff with an open bar and free internet access, he showed up by private jet. It was an eight hour inspection, but the authorities let us sail while he completed it.  We never saw him or else I would have posted a pic of him doing whatever it is he does. We did lose three ports in the process - Limmasol, Crete; Antalya, Turkey; and Dalyon River, Turkey.  Those ports were replaced with Marmoris, Turkey and Patmos, Greece.  With the passengers well placated and two extra days at sea, all was well and we were back on our sailing adventure. We managed to entertain ourselves quite well.
Egyptian night


We all dressed up in our best imitation Egyptian clothes.

Tom, our fearless leader

George, our resident Egyptologist,

Beautiful Alina, and

Jennifer, looking just like Elizabeth Taylor.
Melissa and Rolando

From our new stop in Marmoris there was a tour to Dalyon River. We didn't take it because we would be back in a few weeks with more time to spend. This was our first stop in Turkey and we were excited to find out more since we would be spending three months in this country.

The shopping bazaar in Marmaris kind of reminded me of the Galleria in Milan, except Turkey style.  We were invited in for tea many times.
Walking the back streets of Marmoris we had many photo opportunities and met some beautiful Turkish ladies on the way.
Here I am doing my best Carnac impression while Melissa is busy learning HTML in her new found office.

Our next port was Bodrum where we went to the Castle of the Knights of St. John and the Underwater Museum which is actually not underwater but a collection of artifacts that were found in sunken ships.

These are wine Amphoras that stacked easily in the bottom of the ships. The next photo is the view of Bodrum from the top of the Castle.
We stopped for lunch on our way out of Bodrum. 

When we arrived in Kusadasi most passengers went to Ephesus but since we would be back here the next week we rode a dolmus up to Selcuk where our first hotel was booked.  Up to this point we have been on a two week cruise with friends.  In just a few days, we will begin our personal adventure of 6 months touring through Turkey, Italy and Spain. We decided that we wanted to check out the town that we had chosen for our first week. We met the owner of the hotel and he showed us all the rooms and gave us a choice.  We chose a room with a balcony overlooking the Mosque and the Castle for a total of $53/day.
When we arrived back at the ship we had an evening of local folk and belly dancers to entertain us, a great evening.
We finished our two week cruise with our friends by returning to Athens on the ship.  We stayed on the ship with the crew while they did the changeover and filled up all the appropriate tanks. We stayed busy surfing the net and sunbathing on deck.  The next group of passengers arrived and out we went for a two day sail back to Kusadasi.
Next up, our week in Selcuk.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Exploring the Pyramids

Posted by Melissa

Day 2 in Cairo and it is still amazingly HOT! August in Egypt, who would have thought?? We woke to this lovely view of the gardens and the pyramids at Giza from our balcony.

Breakfast in style and then out to explore.
Breakfast room at the Mena House
Our first stop is the The Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khurfu), just down the road from the hotel.
Our group - Thane, me, Jennifer, George, Alina, Kathy, Nancy & Tom
This is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing. I found it so hard to believe that I was standing next to, and even crawling up, this iconic structure. Every little child has seen pics of this pyramid and now I found my adult self lucky enough to be here.
Sweet Hubby and me
Cheops/Khurfu Pyramid
Khafre Pyramid
We also checked out Khufu’s Solar Boat which was found buried next to his pyramid. The thinking is that this boat was intended to convey the Pharaoh's spirit to heaven in the afterlife. Several other boats have been located around other pyramid complexes but this is the best preserved specimen of all Egyptian boats found to date. It was hard to believe that this was about 4500 years old!!

Up next was the obligatory camel ride!!  For me this just meant getting up on the camel long enough to have my pic taken. Yes I am scared of being on a camel! Thane and the rest of our group of eight rode around the desert for a bit.

Just a short ride away we come upon another iconic wonder of the world - The Sphinx.

The ramp in the background of this pic was built for a recent visit of President Obama.  Our guide also told us that this was built so that Obama could walk up to, and touch, the Sphinx - but that the President of Egypt himself has never touched it!
Nancy T
Next up a visit to the Saqqara complex where I  found these cobras on a wall near the Step Pyramid of Djoser .

We went inside the Tomb of King Unas, down to the underground funerary chamber. Unas was Pharaoh of Egypt from 2375-2345 BC, 5th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom.  This particular pyramid doesn't look like much from the outside, more like a mound of stones, but inside we found three rooms which were covered in hieroglyphics. I was awestruck to be standing next to these ancient writings. Pretty amazing stuff built some 4300+ years ago by ancient Egyptians (Thanks George! - my personal Egyptologist)

Both interior photos taken from the internet
My personal wishlist included a stop at an Oasis, and, lucky me, that is exactly where we found ourselves for lunch today! I'm sorry to say that our pics didn't really do it justice, but here are pics of our lunch.
Vegetarian portion of lunch
Mixed grill - we think the small chicken like meat was actually pigeon...
As we left the little outdoor cafe, a couple of musicians were drumming away and Thane caught our lovely leader, Nancy, doing her famous Egyptian Dance. Thank you Nancy and Tom and all of the BN staff for making this trip possible. Love you guys!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Intro to Cairo

Posted by Melissa

Our ship made an overnight stop in Alexandria to allow us time to visit Cairo. A small group of us booked a private tour through Ramses Tours. This was a great option as we had our own private Egyptologist with our little group of eight instead of being on a big bus of 40 people. If any of you are considering a trip to Egypt, I highly recommend Ramses. Their prices are great (much lower than the large group tour through the cruise company) and our guide, Mohamed, had a master's degree in Egyptian studies.

This was our first time in Egypt, and furthermore, our first visit to an Islamic country. We do not usually chose to go on group tours, but I am so glad that we did. The traffic was intense and the sights were as well. First impressions include the overwhelmingly drab appearance of most of the buildings in both Alexandria and Cairo.

I'm sure there are prettier sections of these cities, but what we saw from the main roads was pretty bleak.

As we traveled out of town and through the country side, we were reminded of the area around Indio or Cabezon in southern California as far as vegetation and terrain. Most of the buildings were saw appeared to be unfinished shells, just concrete block with no windows or doors. Buildings that appear to be somewhat finished frequently had an unfinished upper floor. We also saw lots of ramshackle, almost lean to style buildings that appear to have been made of scavenged materials, much like some of the poor sections of Mexico.

We also noted the majority of women wore extremely conservative clothing. We saw lots of stores like this in Alexandria and Cairo. The women in the foreground is wearing a typical hijab.

We also saw lots of little tiny lingerie stores with brightly colored and fancy undergarments.  Looks like some of these ladies are wearing some pretty extravagant items under those drab exteriors.

A couple more pics of what seemed to be typical dress for women in the area.


Our first major stop in Cairo was the The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities.  This museum was NOT air conditioned, had several broken windows and poor lighting.  Again, I'll remind you that we were in 100+ temps (mid August heat wave).  The Egyptians loved to remind us that many of their original treasures are in the The British Museum.  Our guide told us that a new museum is in the works, so maybe England will return some artifacts after that is completed.  After touring this museum, I understand why some items have not been returned.  That said, the collections here are amazing!!!  Included in all that we saw were the items from King Tutankhamen.

All 4 museum pics pulled from the web
We crossed the Nile river on our way to our hotel. The water looked cool and refreshing, but I had been informed by an expert (That's you George) that the water carries dangerous parasites this time of year - so this is the closest I came.

Our visit to Egypt coincided with Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. Both our guide and our driver were fasting. We enjoyed learning as much as we could about the purpose of Ramadan from these lovely, thoughtful people. I felt so bad for them though as the temp was CRAZY hot and they could not drink at all from sunrise to sunset and at the same time they were handing us bottled water and taking us to lunch.

Mohamed took us to the Khan el-Khalili bazaar, one of the world's oldest bazaars. The crowds are a bit intense as are the shop keepers, each trying to entice us into their stores. One even asked Thane "How can I take your money?" It was a bit difficult to window shop because if we stopped to look, then we had to either buy something or explain that we weren't interested in buying. I missed being able to just window shop or even walk through a store easily. The stores were generally very small, specializing in just one type of product. I would liked to have strolled around slowly and looked at more, but it was a bit too high on the intensity meter to take for very long.
Typical street in the bazaar

Another great contrast to the typical clothing of women in the area.  These fabrics and costumes were beautiful!

I like this picture because it shows the minaret of a mosque towering over the market.  We found that mosques were located every few blocks throughout the city and even out in the countryside every few miles - or less!

Another difference between our American culture and that in Egypt is our/their modes of transportation - which ranges from sleek, expensive import cars to donkey carts and hand pulled carts - even baskets on the head all sharing the same roadways.  The motor vehicles had no regard for striping which seemed so dangerous to us, but normal to our driver.  We also noted that it seemed to work very well.
Street at the edge of the bazaar
Snapped from our moving vehicle - a little blurry...
Bread baskets like this were all over, stacked on the street with flies buzzing around them.
Our tour was supposed to include a couple of the nicest Mosques in Cairo, however we found that, although usually open to visitors, they were closed to visitors due to Ramadan. Our guide told us that about 95% of the people in Cairo are devout Muslims, fasting and praying several times a day. During Ramadan the mosques are very crowded so that we were not allowed in. We took this picture from the door of the mosque at the bazaar.

One of the five pillars of Islam is Zakāt. Zakāt is a financial obligation and includes taking care of those who are less fortunate. Mohamed told us that this table is for people in need - they will be provided a meal at the end of the day, when the fast is broken.  This meal is called Iftar. As we walked past, several of these people waved at us to sit down and join them.

We found a small, local restaurant where we enjoyed a typical Egyptian meal of mixed grill (lamb and pigeon cooked over a grill, brought still sizzling to our table), hummus, falafel, babaganoush and flat bread. Mohamed told us not to look when he ate, because he was sooo hungry. He drank 2 canned sodas in just seconds. After that, he didn't actually eat too much because he was full from the soda. He told us that many Muslims stay up quite late during Ramadan so that they can eat and drink (no liquor!) - he planned to eat something later, before going to bed.
Our intrepid group at dinner (low light conditions, best shot I had)
At the end of a long, hot, intense day, we headed to our home for the night, the Mena House in Giza. This hotel was a luxury splurge for us. Their website says "This palatial hotel in the shadow of the Great Pyramids in Cairo has enchanted guests since 1869. Located in forty acres of jasmine scented gardens, Mena House Oberoi has played host to kings and emperors, Heads of State and celebrities." I don't think they were exaggerating. We felt very lucky to be able to stay there. We enjoyed a quick dip in their pool and headed off to bed. Looking forward to visiting the Pyramids and Sphinx tomorrow.
We snuck into this pool after dark for a lovely swim.
Three story chandelier in our hotel
View of the Great Pyramid from our balcony