September 30, 2004
Then on Mykonos's magnificent beaches. Between yesterday and today we've managed to hit five of 'em, with the highlights being Psaru:
This one was the most conservative of the bunch (the beach that is!)
Psi Amos (I think??):
Paradise, and SUPER Paradise (you get the feeling that the residents/owners of businesses on Paradise beach were a bit miffed when their neighbors decided to call their beach SUPER Paradise):
Unless you're quite liberal-minded, I'd recommend against blowing this one up
Paradise and Super Paradise we're our favorites...both afforded us the opportunity to work off our tan lines ;-). Gotta love Greece!
Post-sun bathing/burning (ouch....) we enjoyed a fab authentic and somewhat splurge of an anniversary dinner at Nikolas restaurant, a quaint little spot facing a wonderful sunset, perfect for wedding reminiscing...
The wine was undoubtedly the best we've had since South Africa
September 28, 2004
Well, we had fair warning that Greece would be a bit pricey but given how shitty the dollar is (thanks Dub-ya!) the transition from relatively reasonable Turkey to Greece was all the more painful. However, the pricy was immediately offset by the liter of Greek wine Janet, John-O, Susanne and I imbibed for a grand total of 3 Euros at our first lovely dinner on Samos...yummmmmm
Our last day with our Kiwi friends was spent on a 10cc (well, maybe more than that but not by much!) moped traveling from Samos town to one of the islands lovely beaches about 4 km away:
Making Hell's Angels look like the boyscouts on wheels
After and afternoon lounging at a picture perfect beach:
If you look closely, you might spy some topless women in the background
we said goodbye to our Wunderbar Kiwi travel partners in crime and ferried from Samos to Ikaria (only because we could not get directly to our destination from Samos...a problem we are quickly becoming accustom to as it's past peak season here in Greece). After my first Pasticha (spelling?) experience -- Greece's version of lasagna -- we turned in early (shock), making our way towards Mykonos in the AM.
September 27, 2004
Today we ferried from Turkey to the island of Samos, Greece a scant 1.5 hours away. After a painless customs trip John-O, Susanne, Janet and I lugged our packs to the nearest travel agent to sort our respective Island hopping adv entures. For J and I, the interary (always subject to change) is:
We also plan on spending a few days in Athens. Opah!
Today our Blue Cruise crew dwindled to four (j, me, and Kiwis John-O and Suzanne). The Quartet journeyed via overnight bus (our third in 1.5 weeks...not ideal for sleep, but a good way to save precious days and precious dollars) from Fethiye 6 hours north to visit the ancient ruins of Ephesus, a remarkably preserved city halfway up Turkey's West Coast.
The city was founded by the Hitities more than 4,000 years ago and had six subsequent incarnations, the most recent and most intact being the Roman version, whose period lasted from 300 BC to 300 AD. While only 25% of ruins have been excavated those that now see the light of day are numerous and impressive:
Avenue of the Politicians
The centerpiece of Ephesus is the two-story library which had a convenient underground passage which connected it to the brothel across the way so that "studious" husbands could read up on anatomy without irking their wives:
I was accompanied to the red light district
The clever Romans also signposted their den of iniquity with a non-so-subtle pictorial that still survives centuries of gawkers:
The left-foot indicates that the house of the rising sun is located on the left, the cross that one should turn at the intersection, the circular hole that coin is required and the beauty on the right is self evident...or as our tour guide quipped, "No Money, No Honey". Ain't that the truth ;-)
The city also featured an amphitheatre with a seating capacity of over 20,000 whose marble-paved street was graced with the footfalls of Marc Antony a couple thousand years prior.
Tragedy or Comedy? Perhaps Tragicomedy
And, what tour would be complete without a potty run, especially given my bladder-challenged wife ;-).
On the throne
Post tour we are heading to Greece via ferry. While our tour through Turkey was a bit of a whirlwind (see below) we thoroughly enjoyed it.
And, keeping w/ tradition, our likes/dislikes are as follows:
Stuff we found endearing about Turkey:
- The food: Between the kebaabs, pida (Turkish pizza), baklava, Turkish coffee, apple tea, lamb casserole, and more we found Turk Cuisine to be more than yummy
- The People: Friendly, genuine and generous
- Istanbul: The charming cobblestone streets and tree-lined boulevards could be any quaint European city, but the slender minnarettes, the hypnotic calls to prayer and the exotic food tell a more Asian story
- The Mediterranean Coast: in a word, lovely
- Cappadoccia: last but certainly not least...should be one of the seven natural wonders of the world if it ain't already
- The Shopping: this one is all Janet!
Stuff falling somewhere on the amusing/annoying/disturbing scale:
- Ubiqitous ashtray: one survey pegs smoking levels of males 18 & older at 80% and females at 60%. I could have sworn it was 100%.
- Rug salesmen: tenacious and predictably annoying. Other vendors where less so, but if I heard one more "G'day Mate!" (many Aussies travel here, it's more or less assumed) I'm not sure I should have been held accountable for my actions
- The Lira: If we thought the exchange rate was ludicrous in Mozambique, Turkey raised the bar to astronomical heights. At the time of writing the exchange rate was $1 to 1,500,000 TL. The largest bill is a 20 million lira note! The novelty ends in January though when TK mercifully drops 6 zeros.
September 26, 2004
After our wonderful Blue Cruise down the coast, we did our best to delay saying goodbye to our fabulous cruise mates by spending a relaxing day in Feyithe. It's a really sweet town, albeit a bit touristy with lots shops selling carpets (shock!), pipes and other Turkish 'treasures.'
Since our day at the Blue Lagoon was a bit cloudy when we were on the boat, we decided to head back there for the afternoon to catch a few more rays. The lagoon is incredibly beautiful and just a bit set back from an equally beautiful beach.
By the time we arrived the beach was packed with like-minded folks, but we managed to squeeze some room for ourselves and our 4 kiwi friends. We topped the night off with a farewell dinner and said goodbye to Mel and Jeremy who are working their way to Istanbul.
Tonight we take another overnight bus (please note my enthusiasm!!!) to Ephesus, the site of some amazing ruins up the coast. Stay tuned for those deets.
September 24, 2004
Well, there is no better way to hit the fabulous beaches of Turkey than to just jump on a boat and sail there. We left from Olympus and slowly made our way west to Fetiyhe.
We spent 4 days and 3 nights sailing the Med - jumping off and snorkeling or noodling when the allure of the blue waters proved overwhleming. Our fifteen cruise mates proved to be a fabulous and fun group consisting of Aussies, Kiwis, Portuguese, Turks and even one more fellow American.
We'll let the pictures doing the talking on this one.....
The Valley of the Butterflies - although we saw more goats than butterflies there :)
The scenery wasn't HALF bad......
Some of our fabulous cruise mates and a few members of the crew
L-R Front Row: me, Jamie (NZ), Mel (NZ), Stacey (US), Caroline (AU)
Back Row: jim, crew member #1 (pathetic I don't know his name), our Boat Captain, Jono (NZ), Geoff (AU), Kate (AU) and Susanne (NZ)
Jim's audition for an Herbal Essences commercial at the waterfall in the Valley of the Butterflies
The sweet town of Kas
A late night nargile as we regained our land legs
September 21, 2004
We spent two nights in what was billed as a "tree house" -- which actually was a house made of and near other trees -- with a backpacker crowd that had a surprising amount of attitude. The town's surroundings was pretty...forested and more dramatic cliffs...but Cappadoccia was a tough act to follow. Plus the beach was more pebble than sand and plagued by bass-thumping sailboats who enabled hordes of daytipping invaders.
Though with scenery like this one can't really complain!
The main purpose to our journey here was the fact that Olympos was the depature city for our 4 day "blue cruise" (think budget and intimate, not big and Carnivalesque) Westward along Turkey's Mediterranean Coast. We left the town for the more peaceful Med in a hurry...
September 19, 2004
Today we set out on foot to the Rose and Red Valleys, about 2 KM (or so we were told!) from our hostel in Goreme, Cappadoccia. Both valleys get there name from the strinkingly colored rocks, which literally look like someone vandalized with pink spray paint (perhaps Janet's favorite hair stylist popped over from Tanzania?), making for some striking scenery (as if this region didn't have enough already).
While the hike wasn't particularly kind on Janet's knees (lots of up & down), even the somewhat beleaguered wife echoed my praise of this place...probably the best day trek we've ever done. Some of the landscape looked like the top of a twice baked potato...with dramatic ridges undulating in both form and color. Soooo coooool:
The hike was billed as a four(ish) hour excursion, but somehow our journey took over six, possibly due to yours truly stopping early and often to enjoy the picturesque landscape:
You kind of expect this one to include one of those cheesy motivational poster sayings like "SERENITY" or something...
Feet aching a bit we retired to a roadside pub for a much-deserved brew with our view, then took an overnight bus to the town of Oympos, around 600 KM south of Cappadoccia on the Med Coast.
September 18, 2004
Janet and I played the role of modern stone age family with a trip through trippy Cappadocia today, first hitting the underground city of Derinkuyu. The city was carved out of the soft volcanic rock over 3,000 years ago, but got progressively more complex (and impressive) during the Roman persecution of the Christians in the area. Around this time the city's capacity was expanded to accommodate over 20,000 people simultaneously in an 8 km by 8 km area that went 8 stories deep (over 180 feet): enough to make Fred and Barney look like cavemen. Unfortunately for those of us over 6 feet tall they also built the hallways of the maze-like corridors Janet-size, requiring a lot of stooping for yours truly:
Yabba Dabba Doooooo
After playing Gollum for a few hours we resurfaced for a hike (really more of a stroll) in lovely Ihlara Valley, which was more gorge (ous) than valley and whose shear cliff walls were dotted with more carved domiciles thousands of years old as well postcard-worthy wildflowers, rock formations and a chill river meandering on through...
Gorging on Turkey
After a quick lunch we Yaprakhisar, easily my favorite site of the many marvels we toured in Cappadocia. Our tour guide claimed that the 1000+ year-old rock formation-turned monastery served as a film location for the first star wars (i.e. not episode 1, the 1977 flick that was actually worth of the star wars legacy, not the crap George is making these days) though some folks say those shots were filmed in Tunisia. Regardless, the rocks themselves, much less the oddly graceful rock-carved structures made the place absolutely other-worldly.
We kept looking for Obi One around each corner...
I did manage to find Princess Leia
The site served as a secret monastery during the time of the Roman persecution of Byzantine Christians...its imposing height made it a difficult target and an aesthetic wonderland for modern-day tourists like ourselves...
Coolness Thy Name Is Cappadoccia
We left Uncle Owen and Aunt Veru behind for a stop at the famed and oft photographed faerie Chimneys, rocks who owe their truly weird shape to being made from two different kinds of rock (the names eludes me but basically one is harder than the other, resulting in two distinct erosion patterns). Even the throngs of jostling tourists did not (greatly) diminish the site of these odd shapes rising from the sky....they certainly lived up to their namesake, though the perverted in our group took a more adult interpretation of the towering structures (not yours truly I assure you!):
Janet and Phallic Symbols
I ended our day by giving in to my inner child (when in Freudian-land, do as Oedipus would do?) and climbed 'round an area that I probably shouldn't have, resulting in our tour bus waiting 30 minutes for us. But we got a cool shot out of the deal in addition to me getting to crawl around like a kid again :-)
In spite of our last stop, an extremely thinly veiled tourist trap in the guise of a lesson on local pottery (followed of course by a quick trip to the showroom where you're coaxed into buying one-of-a-kind replicas of ancient Ottoman pottery) it was a fabulous day.
September 17, 2004
We arrived in Cappodocia after a long but uneventful overnight bus from Istanbul. This place is unlike anything we've ever seen before and I'm not sure that words - or even the pictures - will do it justice.
Cappadocia is a marvelous creation of nature - eroded volcanic rock shaped into 'fairy chimneys' (as the locals like to call them). We are staying in Goreme where for the last few centuries the resourceful inhabitants have created homes, restaurants, churches and graves out of the rock.
We spent the afternoon exploring the "Open Air Museum" which consists of homes, gravesites and Christian churches with frescoes dating back to the 11th Century (although the dwellings existed long before that).
Jesus H. Christ
Modern Cappadocia continues the tradition - the room at our hostel is even carved out from a cave. In the evening the towers, chimneys, steeples - whatever you want to call them - glow a beautiful yellow as their interiors are lit from within. It's simply beautiful.
A Room with a View
Tomorrow we are scheduled for an all day tour including a few of the underground cities and the site where one of the Star Wars films was shot. Those pictures should be amazing! Stay tuned.....
September 16, 2004
Our last evening in Istanbul went out with a bang, not a whimper (why we always do this to ourselves on travel days I'll never know...). After a yummy dinner we were determined to stay up past midnight (we simply aren't the partiers we once were I hate to say) and rounded out the evening back at the "Orient Hostel" for a nightcap (or 10) and a probably less than traditional belly dance.
Said dancer was...how shall I put it...smoking hot. Probably tired of the open-jawed males and females alike she induced a bit of crowd participation by pulling out a couple of inebriated backpackers to join her. Apparently the Aussie bartendress we had recently befriended noticed our amusement at these hip-wiggling drunkards as she pointed to us as the dancer scanned the room for her next victim.
I have to say there are worse places to be stuck than between to swaying gorgeous blonds. Unfortunately the fellow working the camera did not quite understand how the new-fangled contraption worked, so yet again yours truly is missing from the pic, but thankfully he got the most important parts: the hottest woman in Istanbul (below in orange) and second hottest (right):
Headless Jim and the dancing trio
Unforunately the evening's festivities left the two thirty-somethings more than a little worse for wear, making our 12 hour bus ride to Cappadocia just a little bit more painful...
September 15, 2004
We started the morning with a visit to the Aya Sofya (Church of Holy Wisdom). Built in 532 AD by Emperor Justinian, he was hoping to create "the grandest church in the world" and for about 1000 years, it was the largest. It has been burnt down and rebuilt a few times since.
The exterior of Aya Sofya
After the Turkish conquest, the Church was converted into a mosque and all the mosaics were covered. In the 1930's the site was declared a museum so renovation to uncover and restore the mosiacs is underway.
The beautiful gold and blue domes of Sofya
We then took a stroll across the Galata Bridge and into the northern part of the city, the Beyoglu. It is the heart of modern Istanbul and definitely more bustling than the quiet historical part of town in which we are staying. As in the Grand Bazaar, each street has a specific type of commerce, ie: a street filled with lighting shops, a street of plumbing shops, a lane shops carrying children clothes, etc.
Fisherman on the Galata Bridge with their lines in the 'Golden Horn'
September 14, 2004
Today we were joined by Luke, a fellow recovering executive of Kiwi descent, on a day-long excursion via ferry from Istanbul to the mouth of the Black Sea. Along the way we crossed over the continental divide between Europe and Asia many times and passed beneath the world's fourth longest bridge:
Not nearly as aesthetically appealing as the Golden Gate but still pretty cool
The Bosphorus featured some of the most scenic coastline we've laid eyes on and is dotted with remote fishing villages, one of which we disembarked at for a bite of fish and a bit of ice cream. While ordering the meal was an adventure and fraught with much confusion it was nevertheless quite tasty (especially the "fishcakes" -- really crepes with baked fish inside...yum).
We worked off lunch with a hike up to an old fortress perched on a cliff overlooking the mouth of the Black Sea (it looked as scenic as it sounds):
J and Friend Luke
The not so Black Black Sea
After our return trip J and I decided to treat ourselves to a Turkish Bath at the famous 300-year-old Cagaluglu. Franz Liszt, Florence Nightingale, Omar Sharif, Kaiser Wilhelm and even Cameron Diaz (she really does make the list more meaningful, no?) are among the bath's bathers. We opted for the "Sultan Treatment" which promised a feeling of being "reborn" post-bath for a nominal fee of $30 PP. While the death penalty is no longer enforced for men being caught in the ladies section, unfortunately my passage was limited to the guys-only side, as were the attendants working on me. However, when in Turkey...
After changing I was ushered into the "hot room" where the bath took place was certainly atmospheric -- a huge dome and marble floor to ceiling:
My Olympus (the CAMERA, sickos!) stood up admirably in the steam & heat
The temp and humidity was also better than "bearable" -- it was hot but not "oh my god I can barely stand this sauna" hot. After hanging for ~ 30 minutes on the warm, wet marble pedestal (starring at the star-like windows of the dome overhead -- way cool) my attendant came in to give me the roughest massage/pummeling I've had at the hands of a masseuse (not helped by the hard marble floor it was conducted on). He then directed me to one of the many bath sections facing the center of the room and grabbed an instrument that was part oven mitt, part brillo pad and proceeded to scrub me 'til the tears intermingled with sweat. Now you ladies may very well be used to loofahs and exfoliants (as Janet tells me they are called) but yours truly has been assured that this method could be best characterized as "industrial strength."
Of course when my attendant friend asked if the torture--err treatment-- was "good" I replied yes in the most manly tone I could muster. He then filled a marble basin with steaming hot water which he unceremoniously dumped on my exfoliated skin. Next he grabbed a bunch of soap and had me lay back on the marble. Now I certainly would characterize myself as a liberal kinda guy but the washing even made this fellow a bit uncomfortable. But I braved it and gratefully followed to a bench post-scrub. Our friend again dosed me with thankfully cooler water, then proceeded to wash my hair. Actually, washing does not quite capture it...picture a sopping wet dog in a wash basin getting his coat thoroughly scrubbed by an impatient owner. Then, more hot/cold water I was finished.
I have to say that I was glad I experienced it, but it would NOT be on the list of my favorite spa experiences. Janet's was a bit less on the gruff side, but a bit less gentle then she would have preferred. Next time -- if there is one -- I'm sneaking in to the girl's side.
September 13, 2004
Today we checked out Sultanahmet, the heart of Old Istanbul -- about as quaint a place as two travel-weary backpackers could hope to find. First we toured Topkapi Palace, home to the Ottoman Empire's Sultans from 1462 AD until the 18th Century and while this palatial puppy was no where near as old as what we'd seen days before in Egypt (younger by a good 3,400 years or so) it was still mighty cool. The grounds were tree-lined, landscaped wonders that stirred a bit of nostalgia given that we had not walked down tree-lined streets since South Africa.
The Palace -- as one might expect of the home of Sultans for 300 years -- is incredibly opulent in terms of scenery (above), location (on a peninsula overlooking the Sea of Marmara) architecture (below) and accoutrements (the royal treasury features such obnoxiously ostentatious jewelry as an 86 caret diamond ring!).
Topkapi from the outside...
...And from the inside
We rounded out the morning with a tour of the Sultan's Harem. These guys were men after my own heart: 300 or so women at his disposal housed in a special section of the palace reserved for him and his concubines alone (along with a few Eunuch guards).
The Sultan (hoping in vain that "these walls could talk" and concubine #1
After a deliciously long lunch we headed to the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I, AKA the Blue Mosque due to the visual effect of thousands of blue-tinted mosaic ceiling tiles within dome of the main chamber. The Mosque can house more than 5,000 concurrent worshippers (though women, as in all the mosques we've visited, are relegated to the back and second floors). The Blue Mosque is said to be the finest in Turkey and it was certainly impressive, both inside and out:
Who is that Mosqued Woman?
Post Blue Mosque we ventured underground to the 400 year-old Basillica Cistern which still supplies Istanbul with water carried by aqueducts over 20 km. While a big water tank doesn't sound too thrilling, the 300+ ionic columns bathed in a trippy/eerie red light was pretty sweet (though the wet flooring was not so nice, nearly causing 3 separate wipeouts for my eternally flip-flop clad wife):
Under Old Instanbul
As if we hadn't seen enough sights, we decided to head to the largest and oldest covered market on the planet, the Grand Bazaar. I was a little concerned that after a long day of adventuring my shopping-loving wife would be simply overwhelmed by 4,500 shops under one roof. However, we tempted fate (and the wallet) and cruised in. As you can see from the digital evidence below, Janet did, indeed, go off the deep end:
Elated Shopper, aisle no. 1,296
While the GB is certainly a tourist trap, it's still quite cool to get lost among the labyrinthine corridors that house infinite amounts of rug merchants, hookah pipe salesmen, jewelers and the occasional shoe vendor (see previous post!):
Blue Light Special Heaven
Post shopping we managed to stagger to one of the many reasonably priced and ridiculously yummy restaurants in Old Istanbul for some kebabs and Turkish pizza. This country is pretty damn amazing!
September 12, 2004
We had a completely uneventful flight to Istanbul. The drive from the airport to the hostel was right along the water with clear blue skies and lots of grass and trees and people outside picnicking in parks. Remember we just came from the desert so all of this 'nature' was amazing.
We are staying in a super sweet part of town called Sultanahmet. It has lots of trees, cafes with tables outside and cobblestone streets - very charming and neighborhoody ("Is that a word?" asks the former English teacher........). It is also very close to most of the major attractions: the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofia and of course the Grand Bazaar.
To prepare ourselves for the Grand Bazaar, I reread an article Joan has saved for us from the Chicago Tribune. It offered the following negotiating techniques (and I quote):
"Do not show interest in the item. Remain calm. Bored is a good look. Mention a better price elsewhere, if possible....."
Here is the strategy employed by Janet at the discovery of the most fabulous flower-embroidered, knee-high black boots:
Janet: (hands to face, eyes opened widely, completely gushing) "OMIGOD! - these are the most incredible boots EVER. Do you have them in size 36?" (now walking around the store in the boots) "I LOVE these boots - how much are they? I have to have these. They are totally impractical, but I would wear them all the time. They are BEAUTIFUL! They will be fabulous with a black skirt. Although they'd be great with jeans and pants too. Jim don't you just L-O-V-E them?!?!? Aren't they amazing? And oh my...do you see these handbags? How cute are these? Jim - seriously - aren't these boots fabulous?!?!"
Needless to say, the strategy failed me miserably. Or rather I failed the strategy. Luckily I had Jim there to play the 'bad cop' and actually employ some semblence of negotiation.
I promise to get better at this!
Totally worth gushing over, don't you think?
September 11, 2004
Tomorrow we fly from Cairo to Istanbul (not Constantinople) for ~ 3 weeks of exploring that city, the mystical Cappadoccia and stopping off at very cities nestled along "the Med". More to come...
Thus concludes our adventures on the African continent, and most recently Egypt. Speaking of which, by way of recap, a look at our circuitous route 'round the cradle of civilization:
And, the recap of likes/dislikes as follows:
Stuff we found endearing about Egypt:
- Antiquities per sq inch: the sheer amount and accessibility of ancient, ANCIENT history is at once mind-blowing and humbling.
- Red Sea Diving: our fave spot thus far, and we've been to a few stellar dive spots
- The White Desert: I felt like I was on the set of the original (i.e. not the crappy "episode I/II") star wars...our guide didn't get it when I kept calling for "Uncle Owen" and AUnt Veru" (come to think of it, neither did Janet...I'm a geek, I know)
- Sheeshas: cherry flavored tobacco out of a 4 ft, hookah? yum.
- Cairo: sure it's big, crowded and a bit overwhelming but it has the energy of NYC with a fraction of the crime and a helluva lot more history
- The Nile: the bright blue swath bordered by vivid green and the stark desert...pretty cool
- Music: for the most part...we dug the heck out of it
- The food (Janet): she's a sucker for falafel, hummus and the like (I thought it rather bland...if it doesn't cause a rush of endorphins, why bother snaking on it?)
- Cheap, Cheap: Cheapest since SE Asia
- The Arabic alphabet: while it occasionally made getting around challenging, I find the character set fascinating
- Hibiscus juice: red & refreshing
Stuff that fell somewhere on the amusing >> annoying >> disturbing scale:
- "The Hassle": is how Mark Twain described it...relentless touts trying to sell you something...ANYTHING. "Hey, Rambo, where you from? You lucky man! Come into my shop! Free to look!". Man did it get annoying...
- Crossing the street: the only time we felt at risk in Egypt was crossing the street. Our first day a Carien advised us to "close our eyes, walk into the street and pray to Allah" when crossing. There are very few stop lights...you literally need to step out into oncoming traffic or wait til the wee hours to get where you want to be
- Lack of skin: in all seriousness, Janet and I could not come to terms with the veil. We talked with more than a few Egyptians about it but we cannot accept women covering up to "save their beauty for their husbands." It's repressive and even -- one might argue -- vain in a twisted sort of way.
- Hordes of tourists: man I hate tourists....being amongst the throngs of annoying gapers and people ignoring pleas to respect their surroundings was about all I could handle
- Pollution: with so many people crowded into such a small area (highest population density of anywhere in the world) and little environmental controls...
- The "soft sell": not so white lies that crafty touts will use to get you into a shop ("Oh that Internet Cafe does not open until 6 PM, why not step in to this shop for a cool tea and...")
- Baksheesh: most Egyptians -- at least in touristy areas -- expect a tip for just about anything...from letting you take photos where you're not supposed to, to showing you the obvious.
We wrapped up the Egypt portion of our trip with a cruise (a land cruise, that is) through the White and Black Deserts.
Located about 5 hours southwest of Cairo, the Black Desert is aptly named for the iron- and mineral- rich sand and stones which create lovely black hills and mountains.
Jim thinks they look like burnt marshmallows :)
Lying between the Black and White Deserts is 'Crystal Mountain' - a few rolling hills of amazing crystallized stone. The brilliance created thousands of years ago when the desert was part of the Mediteranean Sea. I even found a seashell to prove it - but after staying in one piece for more than 7000 years, it smashed into bits in my pocket (maybe not the best place to put such a relic!!) :(
The Crystal Ship, er um, Mountain
And the icing on the cake - the White Desert. A trippy landscape that befits Alice in Wonderland. The wind has created wonderful works of art with the limestone (the same that was used to build the pyramids), eroding it into funky shapes like mushrooms and rolling snow drifts.
Jim contemplating the possible effects of taking a bite......
Copping some shade under a 'Shroom
Tonight we are honoring the events of September 11 by seeing Farhenheit 9/11 here in Cairo. Should be interesting to see the reaction out here in the Middle East.
Tomorrow we head off to Istanbul to begin the Mediteranean portion of the journey (aka: The Homestretch)!
September 09, 2004
I knew if we kept looking eventually we'd bump into some pyramids around here :) After taking an overnight train from Aswan, we arrived in Giza early this morning. Our first stop was the quieter and less touristy pyramids of Dahshur.
Egypt's first true pyramid was built here by Pharaoh Sneferu (2600 BC!!). The first attempt is still standing and aptly named the 'Bent Pyramid.' When the the builders were about 75m through the project (or halfway to the 150m plans), they realized the angle they were working with was unstable (whoops!) so they switched it about 10 degrees. Thus, producing a sort of 'bent' look to the thing.
Look Mom! It's bent!
You are able to walk inside this pyramid - although I use the word 'walk' loosely. Rather, you are able to crawl through narrow and steep passageways inside this pyramid. It's worth the effort though to see the original ancient scaffolding of cedar beams which were used to offset the internal instability.
Learning from the mistakes of the 'Bent Pyramid' the first 'successful' one, the 'Red Pyramid' stands near. There are a few schools of thought regarding why it is called the Red Pyramid. One holds that it is for the weathered look of the limestone giving it a 'red' appearance; the other says it was named after the red painted graffiti and construction marks scribbled on the masonry during ancient times.
The more famous pyramids at Giza are the oldest tourist attraction on the planet and the sole survivors of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The largest and oldest is the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Completed in 2570 BC (!!), it stood 146 meters high at completion. Not so different than us humans, the pyramid has lost some height as it aged and now stands at about 137 meters. It is a sight to behold - consisting of over 2 million limestone blocks weighing over 2 tonnes a piece!
The small one is really the big one and the big one is really the small one
The second pyramid, the Pyramid of Khafre looks bigger than the Great Pyramid only because it is built on higher ground (clever work from the son of Khufu who knew he couldn't build a pyramid that was actually bigger than his father's). The original limestone casing is still intact on the pyramid's peak which helps you get an idea of what the pyramid looked like in ancient times. According to our guide, all the sides of the pyramid would have been white and smooth, the peak would have been a gold and silver alloy that would magnificently reflect the sun's rays and the lower perimeter would have been painted with scenes from the King's life.
Can you see me in dere?
At the bottom of the causeway of the Pyramid of Khafre lies the Sphinx. Carved right from the natural bedrock, the Sphinx (known as Abu al-Hol in Arabic, or Father of Terror) is believed to have portrayed the Pharoah Khafre's features in the face with, of course, the body of a lion. The nose is missing and there are multiple theories as to why. If you believe Lonely Planet, it was hammered off sometime between the 11th and 15th centuries. Although there was also a 'Egyptian Legend' that Napoleon used the Sphinx for target practice. Our guide believes it is the natural process of erosion that has resulted in the damage.
According to 'experts' the Sphinx days may be numbered. It is apparently suffering from the stone equivalent of cancer and is being eaten away from the inside. Unfortunately, attempts to restore have hurt more than helped :(
September 08, 2004
With a 4AM (!!) departure time (gotta love Africa), we left the boat to bus it to Abu Simbel, a small village 280km south of Aswan and home to the Great Temple of Ramses II and the Temple of Hathor.
The Great Temple of Ramses II is extraordinary. Like all the temples in Egypt it is COLOSSAL! Built in 1274 BC it is dedicated to the gods Ra-Harakhty, Amun and Ptah. And, of course, Ramses II - 4 statues of whom decorate the facade of the temple. The temple was built right on Nile as a show of strength to anyone cruising down the Nile and into Ramses's territory.
See where these people are? That used to be river.....
Unfortunately for the temple, the Nile has a mind of its own and when the river and the desert sands shifted over time, the temple was buried and lost until it was rediscovered by chance in 1813. In the 1970's a UNESCO-sponsored project actually moved the temple, reconstructing it block by block, to a location off the shore to keep it out of the way of the Nile :)
Jim and Ramses II likeness
I swear I had NOTHING to do with that missing head!
Adjacent to the Great Temple of Ramses II is the Temple of Hathor, the only temple in Egypt dedicated to a wife - Queen Nefertari (not to be confused with Nefertiti). It's a smaller version of the Great Temple with 6 statues on the facade - 4 of Ramses II and 2 of Nefertari (typical man). Interestingly, the Queen is pictured the same height as the King instead of coming up to his knees as is typical - or as would be close to accurate when Jim builds me my temple ;)
L->R: Ramses II, Nefertari, Ramses II, Ramses II, Nefertari, Ramses II
We headed straight back to Aswan for our overnight train ride back to Cairo.
September 07, 2004
Today we reached our last "port of call", Egypt's southernmost "big city" (1M) Aswaan, once the center of the Nubian civilization. We started the day visiting a temple (what else would we be doing after all??) a few kms outside of town called the Philae Temple. This puppy was on the wrong side of the old Aswaan Dam and was therefore flooded for nearly 80 years. UNESCO came to the rescue in 1980 though, assisting with the relocation so that Philae could again be viewed above water...
I'm a sucker for a cool row of columns
You can still see that water marks while Philae did its best Atlantis imitation (note the black markings above). Pretty striking to see the temple with the Nile and cliffs in the background:
Afterwards we visited the site of the quarry that supplied millions of tons of rock to all those temples...a spot which also featured an unfinished Oblesik, which would have been the worlds largest (over 120ft in length -- solid granite!) but unfortunately for the ambitious miners there was a flaw in the stone and it was left 3/4 finished for future tourists to gawk at.
We ended the afternoon with a Felucca ride (we had to have at least ONE authentic Nile sailing experience after all). As we sailed round elephantine Island we were serenaded by little kids in tiny little boats hoping for a piaster or pound (or more):
The Felucca goes "MiniMe"
That evening we actually stuck around after dinner for the boats' entertainment...a pretty cool (and authentic) Soufa and bellydance...unlike the previous night's "Egyptian Night" which we avoided like a plague of locusts ;-):
Thankfully I asked if you tipped bellydancers before she came on stage (turns out that custom is only observed at places like "Crazy Horse II")
Upon returning to our cabin my enjoyment of the day was suddenly shattered when I surprised Janet, walking in on her and her newfound lover:
He even had the nerve to wear my shirt and browse my book
September 06, 2004
I wouldn't describe Janet or myself as your typical cruise ship frequenter but there are really only three options when sailing down the Nile: the Felucca -- essentially a sailboat -- a dahabiyyas -- a 6-8 cabin luxury sailing vessel or the big 'ole cruise ship (usually over 50 cabins). The Felucca route, while long on romanticism and adventure comes up a bit short on the practicality side (mosquitoes, searing heat during the day, cramped quarters and fending for yourself for sustenance) and while the dahabiyyas represent (for us) the best of both worlds (luxury & comfort but in an understated, not-over-the-top touristy kind of way) they are waaaay out of our budget. So Wings Nile Cruises proved the winner.
Luckily we are on the "shoulder" of high season here (apparently 120 degree daily temps keep a good chunk of tourists away...woosies!) so our boat was only half full. Also, our little tour group consisted of some pretty righteous peeps -- 4 kiwis (New Zealanders) and 2 Irish lasses now living in Australia.
The boat was classified as a "5 ***** deluxe", though this was more than a bit generous. That being said the food was decent, the cabins were pretty roomy and the roofdeck pool was nice & chilly. To complete the cliche, we bought (and read) Agatha Christie's "Death on the Nile" whilst sailing...the book was OK, but the scenery and historical perspective made it worth the read.
The Nile is the world's longest river and with over 90% of Egypt's 69 million living within swimming distance it truly is the heart, aorta and blood of Egypt. Sitting poolside as we peacefully sailed past palms and the greenery adjacent the river was pretty spectacular:
A River Running Through It
Feluccas (the more romantic cruise) at sunset
Our first stop along the river came at Edfu, ~ 35 km from Luxor. Here we visited the Temple of Horus, the Egyptian god of the sky and son of Isis and Osiris. It was actually constructed during the Ptolemaic (Greek) period...Greek rulers were so taken by Egyptian civilization they adopted and mimicked its art, architecture and religion. Given that this sucker is only 2,000 years old its in remarkable shape, with its roof intact and many of the reliefs in amazing shape:
The etchings behind my head inspired the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian"
Did I mention Horus's Temple is BIG??
After clambering 'round the temple we jumped back into our horse-drawn carriage (procured for a cool 10 Egyptian pounds ($1.40) and returned to the ship. That evening we made our way upriver to Kom-Ombo Temple...not as impressive as Horus's but afforded cool night-time views:
Templing by night
Mohammed, our trusty guide whose sense of humor never failed to errr "amuse us", pointed out one of the most significant wall carvings in ancient Egyptian history:
It's not the size of the Felucca, it's the motion of the...
Apparently Egyptian men were among those who had a bit of a size complex...the artist is showing that the smaller member (below) is more fertile than the larger as evidenced by the longer trail of droplets :-).
September 05, 2004
Today we made our way to the West Bank of Luxor to visit the oft-written about Valley of the Kings. Nesteled a few KM from Luxor in Africa HOT cliffs, the valley is home to the tombs of over 60 of ancient Egypt's monarchs.
Nefretiti in front of Ramses II's tomb
The tombs themselves were a bit anticlimactic -- cool heirogliphs and carvings in deep recesses -- but ultimately just holes in the ground as all but King Tut's was raided long before excavators found them.
From the Valley we headed to the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut -- the only woman to control the throne in over 20 ancient dynasties. It's in amazing shape - its age of over 3,000 years truly difficult to fathom. Carved into sheer limestone cliffs it rises over three levels, the only temple to reach such a height:
After templing we headed back the cruise ship, setting "sail" southbound, against the flow of the Nile for the town of Edfu, making time for a dip in the roofdeck pool to offset the 100+ degree F temps that afternoon.
September 04, 2004
Today we visited Karnack Temple...one of the most important in ancient Egypt. Karnack is a colossus: the complex totals 1.5 km by nearly 1 km and large enough to fit 10 cathedrals within its 3,000+ old walls. Over 80,000 workers labored to finish it and modifications and additions were made over a period of over 1,500 years. One can't help but feel a bit like Indiana Jones weaving through the forest of vast columns:
Hottie in Karnack, suitably awestruck
In spite of its age, the temple is remarkably preserved with some painting on the ornate reliefs retaining their color after thousands of years:
The heirogliph reads "Ramses was here. So states the Egyptian Blog"
Adding to the mystic are two of the three remaining obelisks in all of Egypt (there were over 80 in antiquity), the tallest of which is over 32m (120+ feet):
Is that an obelisk or are you just happy to see me?
After kicking it in Karnack we headed to Luxor temple, much smaller than its nearby cousin but still impressive to these Westerners. Luxor was built circa 1350 BC and looks nothing (thankfully) like its namesake in Las Vegas:
Old (really old) juxtaposed with new (fairly new)
The temple was especially cool at night, light up by tons-o-lights which looked awfully purdy against the ever-blue sky at dusk:
We felt honored to be counted among the THRONGS of fellow tourists
Luxor Temple also features an "avenue of sphinxes" (pronounced "shhphinxes by the wife :-)). It used to stretch all the way to Karnack for a total of 3,500 of them though most of them are buried today.
From Luxor we boarded our Nile Cruiser a 66 cabin 5 star vessel...while the rating was a bit of an exaggeration it sure was a step up from the backpackers of Mozambique and Tanzania ;-).
September 03, 2004
After a week of roughing it on the liveaboard we were ready to trade our sea legs in for the land variety. We minibussed it to Luxor in an armed caravan no less, a precaution still in place from the 1998 terrorist attack on tourists (there has not been an incident since). It was a bit surreal, but more interesting than disoncerting. The landscape was also pretty killer:
Luxor was known as Thebes in ancient Egyptian times and contains many of Egypt's most famous monuments and temples, including the Valley of the Kings and Nefertiti
We started our first day at the Luxor Museum which though significantly smaller than its Cairien counterpart permits photography, so we gotta few good snaps of 3,500+ year old stuff, including the statue of Tuthmosis III, one of the most well-preserved and most masterfully sculpted pieces in all of ancient Egypt:
Akhenaten and poser
- Your favorite 'product' is instant hand sanitizer (what would I do without it?!??!)
- In your purse/day bag you carry a ROLL of toilet paper - not a few sheets stashed in your pocket - a full-on plastic wrapped, cardboard insert ROLL
- You are amazed to see currency from your home country
- A perfect day would be one in which you simply blend into the surroundings - no "You need taxi?" "Special price for you today!" "You speak Arabic?" "Where you from?" "Come inside my store. Look is free." "Where you go?" "You buy book from me, Mr. Longhair? Color pictures!"
- You speak in broken English at all times, even to native speakers (ie: "Today, I go to Internet Cafe"
- You have one item in your pack that acts as towel, blanket, skirt, dress, shirt, head wrap, back support, curtain, pillow, jacket, sweater, tote, etc.
- You are so overwhelmed with your hair getting blow dried that you don't even care that it was just dyed PINK!
*To Be Continued...............
September 02, 2004
I never considered myself the liveaboard type - spending a week trapped on a boat with nothing on the itinerary but eating and diving. But the Red Sea sounded like the place to do it - if anywhere.
Jim and I heard rumors of things like "Hammerhead Season," but after being burned chasing Whale Sharks in both Thailand and Mozambique, we did not have our hopes up. Okay, mine were up but I wouldn't say that out loud.
Well, the whole experience exceeded my expectations. Although the only things on the itin every day were eating and diving - AND the morning wake-up call came at 5:45AM (!!!) - my fears of a rushed frenzy of downing cold cheese sandwiches while simutaneously gearing up for the next dive proved unfounded. The pace of each day was relaxed and care free . And with the soaring temperatures here in Egypt (granted we were more than slightly cooled by the wonderful winds on the water), I found myself anxious to get into the water for every dive.
Our palace, The Golden Dolphin
The underwater scenery did not disappoint. The coral was incredible and colorful and loaded with fish. It was like diving through pieces of art. I never tired of swimming among HUNDREDS of tiny orange "goldfish" that are endemic to the Red Sea. We spotted plenty of turtles (a Janet favorite), more than plenty sharks - and most importantly - a few HAMMERHEADS!!! Unfortunately we weren't treated to schools of them, but we saw a number of individual ones and that was cool enough for me (they are funny looking!). We also hung out with a few Napoleon fish which are also big and pretty funny looking :) Hopefully we'll have some shots from Jim's underwater photography dive to include here soon :-)
We were led by extraordinarily cool and knowledgable diver masters, Cat from Wales and Fefe from Swizterland. Also on our boat were a few Germans and a group of crazy Brits from the Bristol Dive Club - very experienced divers with lots of underwater 'toys' like strobe lights and cameras as big as me :)
The Group Shot
Highlights from the trip (in addition to the Hammies of course) were:
- Jim getting his Advanced Certification (woo hoo, Jim!)
- Me getting 2 credits closer to my Advanced
- Our deepest dive ever - 42 meters. To make the dive even more interesting for us, the descent to the deeper waters was against the strongest current I've ever experienced with the plan being 'stay close to the reef and hang on to a piece of hard coral and just watch the wildlife go by." Not my idea of fun. Also, nitrogen narcosis tends to kick in at some point below 30 meters - a condition best described as feeling drunk and acting stupid underwater. Example: Our friend Jenny from Pemba was telling us about the time she went deep and was waving at the fish throughout her dive. It tends not to be serious and is easily remedied by moving up to shallower waters. But it is always a good idea to keep a closer eye on your dive buddy during these deep dives. At 40+ meters, Jim got a little lightheaded; I got a little 'sick.'
The NEW advanced diver!