Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 – Alexandria, Egypt – 87F - Sunny

Wake up call at 4:45 AM.  The buffet only has cold cereal and rolls – and most importantly, hot coffee - that early in the morning .  We are escorting today - “Classic Cairo” – which will take us through Cairo  and to the Pyramids and the Sphinx.  We were asked to be in the Equinox Theater at 6:15 AM to deal with the high number of passengers heading out day.  We are also taking along some snacks in case something doesn’t work out with lunch.

Ellen is on her bus and ready to go.

Giza Tour - Ready to go (Small)

I snuck on to Ellen’s bus so we could get a photo of the two of us.

Giza - H and E (Small)

The trip from Alexandria to Cairo will take about 3.5 hours.  We didn’t get very far when Moshira, our guide, decided that her microphone wasn’t working well.  She said we would transfer to another bus (as it turned out, we moved to a bus that was already switched out).  The mic worked fine on this bus but the restroom was hazmat quality.  We were told that we would switch busses once again once we got to Giza.

The ride was desert almost all the way, with green areas only appearing as we neared the Nile River.  Many of the buildings looked they weren’t finished with upper stories having no roofs or windows and metal rods sticking out of the tops of the walls.  This is on purpose because there is a tax break on properties that are not totally finished.

The River Nile, whose flooding makes life in Egypt possible, is pretty well built up with new buildings.  The Nile also has islands on which are also built new structures.  The Nile was photographed from the bus so they are not the best quality.

Nile River 1 (Small)

The Nile River

Island in the Nile (Small) 

An island in the River Nile

Cairo, located at the entrance to the Nile Delta, is a massive city of 18 million people(our guide said 23 million people).  Our first stop in Cairo is the Egyptian Museum, home of the Royal Mummies and artifacts of King Tutankhamen.  No cameras are allowed in the museum.  We were told that the museum would be closing early today – the result of this was presence of many tour groups and many locals visiting. 

While we did get into the museum (like sheep being herded), it was very difficult to see any of the artifacts due to the crowds.  The washrooms were, in a word, “indescribable'”.  Our group was not able to meet at a designated location because people could get there because of the number of folks already occupying that spot.  Eventually, we gave up on trying to do this is a guided fashion and most everyone went on their own.

I tried to get a look at the Tutankhamen Room but the crowds were just too large and pushy. 

I was able to meet up with Ellen and we did get a chance to look at a few artifacts (especially the walking sticks of King Tutankhamen) before we had to meet our busses.  We found out later that the museum isn’t always this busy.

From the museum, the bus made its way through the crowded streets of Cairo.  Giza, the site of the pyramids, is actually located on one of the banks of the Nile.  There is a little town near the pyramids and the massive structures are visible behind the town.  

The bus pulls into a large parking lot (all sand) already full of many busses.  Also present in the parking lot are a horde of local vendors selling all kinds of stuff (mini-pyramids).  There are camel rides available (caveat emptor) and many of the tourists are taking their chances by hopping on these spitting ships of the desert.

Giza Busses and Vendors (Small)

Bus Parking Area between the Two Pyramids

Giza Camel Ridesi (Small)

Camel Rides

The Pyramids are amazing.  Khufu, The largest pyramid, the Great Pyramid of Giza, is the only Wonder of the Ancient World still standing.  it was built by the Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops in Greek) and stands about 480 ft high.  This pyramid is constructed of about 2 million limestone stones each weighing about five tons each.  Because of their size, you have to get a good distance away from the pyramids to get the whole structure in the picture.

Cheops Pyramid 5 (Small)

The Khufu Pyramid (Cheops)

Adjacent to Khufu is the Khafre Pyramid built by the son of Khufu, Pharaoh Khafre (Chephren in Greek).  This pyramid, also about 480 ft in height, still has some of its plaster outer surface located at the apex of the structure.  It is smaller than Khufu but still impressive.  I was able to get close enough to Khafre to get a good look at the stones used to construct the pyramid.

Sheferin Pyramid 1 (Small)

The Khafre Pyramid (Chephren)

Sheferin Pyramid Rocks (Small)

Stones – Base of Khafre Pyramid

Near both pyramids is a quarry, which was the source of some of the stones for the pyramids.  Others came from quarries several miles away.

Pyramid Quarry (Small)

Quarry – Stones for the Pyramids

I met up with Ellen at the Bus Area (thanks to her bright pink Celebrity Cap). 

E and Sheferin Pyramid (Small)

H and Cheops Pyramid (Small)

The Pyramids and Us

Our next stop was a viewing area which afforded a shot of all three Giza pyramids including the smaller, Menkaure Pyramid (built by the grandson of Khufu).  This pyramid, about 160 feet high, has an unusual slot in the front.  In addition to Menkaure, there are three small pyramids knows as the Pyramids of the Queen (Title 9 please).

Sheferins Second Pyramid 2 (Small)

Menkaure (Mycerinus in Greek) Pyramid and Pyramids of the Queens

Pyramids at Giza and me (Small)

The Pyramids of Giza and Me

A short distance from the Pyramids stands the Sphinx, a statue with the head of a man (Khafre, most experts believe) and the body of a sitting lion.  The Sphinx’s face is damaged because Napoleon’s troops used the Sphinx as target practice.  While the head has lots of detail, the lion’s body looks like an elongated mound (maybe much of the detail has eroded over the centuries).  It is still an impressive work.

Cheops Pyramid from Sphinx (Small)

Khufu from the Sphinx

Sphinx and Sheferin Pyramid 7 (Small)

The Sphinx and Khafre Pyramid in background

From the Pyramids, we head for a late lunch at the Cairo Mena Hotel Oberoi, a luxury hotel some distance from the Giza Plateau.  We were greeted with Pomp and Circumstance by a musical group including an Egyptian bagpipe player.

Cairo Mena Hotel Oberoi flor lunch (Small)

Cairo Hotel Mena Oberoi

Egyptian Bagpipes at the hotel (Small)

Egyptian Bagpipe Player

The Hotel was very elegant and the meal good (including an unidentifiable fish called the Egyptian Neela (guessing at the spelling).

Our final stop was at the Papyrus Institute (another campus).

The ride home took another three hours (arrived a little after 8 PM).  When we do this trip the next time, I will bring something to listen to.

We had the strength to catch the show, the Magical Mayhem of Neal Austin.

A long but educational day.

A sea day tomorrow…just what we need.






Tuesday, October 12, 2010 – Alexandria, Egypt – 84F – Sunny

Distance Traveled From Ashdod: 289 Nautical Miles

Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, was the center of Greek learning and science.  Alexandria was home to the famed Library of Alexandria and the Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Wonders of the Ancient World.  Julius Caesar met Cleopatra in Alexandria.  Today it is a city of 6 million people.

Alexandria Equinox Docked (Small)

Equinox docked in Alexandria, Egypt

Our first day in Alexandria, Egypt and we have a tour scheduled for 11:45 AM today.  Before, that, I have a talk scheduled- “DNA Testing:  Secrets of the Royal Families” – in the Equinox Theater at 9:00 AM.  Clearly not the best time or venue on a late docking port day.  I showed up at the Theater at 8:30 AM.  Long story short, there were a total of 27 people at this talk (Dru was there and he said there were 40 – maybe in the balcony).  The talk for the few attendees went well. 

Our excursion, “Landmarks of Alexandria”, will take us to several historical sites in the city as well as give us a bus level view of the city itself,  Our guide, Angy, said that she, like all tour guides, has a BA and MA in Egyptology; she is personable and easy to understand,  We are soon underway in our air-conditioned bus.

This city, twice as big Chicago, is a combination of buildings in disrepair and traffic.  There are no signal lights or lane markers – it is a Missouri Land Rush of traffic – find the open spot and drive into it.  You also find some very interesting alternative forms of transportation in this tangle of cars.

Alexandria - Different transportation (Small)

Getting around in Alexandria – on a donkey

We pass the statue of Mohammed Ali (Pasha) one of the important Muslim leaders of Alexandrian history.

Alexandria - Muhammed Ali (Small)

Bronze statue of Mohammed Ali

We also pass a synagogue, which, we are told, is now closed.  Egypt is 85% Muslim and 15% Christian (very few Jews).

Alexandria synagogue - closed (Small)

Synagogue (closed) in Alexandria

Another stop along the way is the Pillar of Pompey, which stands 84 ft high) (from 297 AD) and was dedicated to Emperor Diocletian

Alexandria - Pillar of Pompey (Small)

The Pillar of Pompey

We also pass the Roman Amphitheater (no pictures possible from the bus).

Our first stop is the Catacombs of Kom Ash-Shuqqafa (ca. 2nd Century AD), an underground (now but not then) burial complex in the heart of Alexandria.  It also contains the “Hill of Shards”, which consists of broken glasses purposely shattered by the bereaved after finishing a meal as part of the burial process.  Shattering the glass would ensure that death would not follow the mourners from the ceremony.  Cameras were not allowed in the Catacombs so there are no pictures.  It is hot and claustrophobic as we go down and then up the 92 stairs into the catacombs.  There are interesting artifacts on the walls depicting Egyptian mythology.  The trip is short and not that memorable.

The next stop is the Bibliotheque Alexandrina – the Library of Alexandria.  This library is not built on the site of the ancient library.  The new library is very impressive with several buildings making up the campus.  You need a ticket or day pass to use the library. 

Alexandria Library Exterior (Small)

Library of Alexandria - Exterior

Alexandria Library Interior 1 (Small)

Library of Alexandria – Interior

Once inside the library, we were joined by a Library Guide, who took us through a short tour of the facility. I made a tactical error and decided to get some internet time instead.  I did get set up on a computer but g-mail, yahoo mail, and hotmail were blocked.  I did manage to get around the system by going on Facebook and chat for a few minutes.  The next time I get to the Library, I need to spend the time checking out the antiquities section.

From the Library, the bus heads out along the Cornische (like Lakeshore Drive in Chicago).  This give us a view of the Four Seasons Hotel of Alexandria, the largest building in the Middle East (and perhaps the most expensive place to stay).  The hotel has a Starbucks Coffee Shop on the street level – the only one we have seen on our tour.  It’s appropriate since coffee at Starbucks runs about $10.00.

Alexandria Four Seasons Hotel (Small)

Four Seasons Hotel

We next visit the two palaces (now hotels) at the Montaza Gardens.  The first palace – El Salamlek (“The Place for Accommodation for Men”) is the smaller of the two.

El Samanlek Palace (Small)

El Salamlek Palace (Hotel)

The other palace, located on the Mediterranean, is much larger and called Al Haramlek (“The Place for Accommodation for Women”).  This hotel, where Bill Clinton once stayed, was the Summer Palace of the last King of Egypt, King Farouk.

El Haramlek Palace (Small)

Al Haramlek Palace (Hotel)

The Pharos Lighthouse at Alexandria was one of the Wonders of the Ancient World – towering some 400 feet over the Mediterranean.  It was destroyed by an earthquake.  The foundation of this structure was used to built a Citadel, Fort Qait Bey, which dates back to the 15th Century.

H at the Fort Qait Bay(Small)

Fort Qait Bey

The next stop – a brief one – was at the Mosque of Abu Al-Abbas Al-Mursi.  It is the city’'s largest mosque.  According to our guide, while Egypt is almost entirely a Sunni Muslim country, this mosque is dedicated to a Shia cleric – considered even by the Sunnis of Egypt to be a holy man.

The sun was setting behind the Mosque lending this photo an eerie shadowiness.

 Alexandria Abu Al-Abass Al-Mursi Mosque (Small)

Our final “stop”is the Papyrus Institute.  Although it sounds like an academic institution, it is really a papyrus store.  We were given a demo of how papyrus paper is made but the rest of the time was spend shopping.  There are Papyrus Institutes all over Alexandria and Cairo and they are included in all of the excursions.  I found the demonstration interesting.

Papyrus (Small)

A papyrus hanging in the “Institute”

Once back to the ship, we had dinner and then took it easy for the rest of the evening.

We have a really long day tomorrow in Cairo so we are done for the day.

Monday, October 11, 2010 – Ashdod, Israel – 86F - Sunny

Distance Traveled from Haifa: 79 Nautical Miles 

Ashdod is a major historical city being one of the five great Philistine cities 3000 years ago.  Today, Ashdod is one of Israel’s major ports. 

We are on a full day tour today (“Leisurely Jerusalem”) so we have an early wakeup call (4:45 AM).  Not much to eat that early in the morning but we made do – we also had to take along some food in case lunch was late.

Our guide today is Benjamin.  He is ex-IDF and now a public relations officer for the IDF.  His English is very good and he has a good background in the wartime history of Israel.

Our bus is in good shape and soon we are under way.  We pass by a tremendous number of new cars waiting on the dock.  Economic conditions, being what they are, these cars could be here for a while. Not only that, but it seems that most of the cars out on the dock are white (the most popular color according to Benjamin).

Ashdod - Equinox and Imported Cars (Small)

Celebrity Equinox and unsold cars

It is about 90 minutes from Ashdod to Jerusalem but the bus stopped at a rest stop for water and wash rooms.  Originally indicated as free, water was 10 NIS ($2) so I opted to buy a diet Coke Max instead.  There was still a Succah up at the restaurant – it makes more sense to keep one up here in Israel than back home.

 Succah Rest Stop to Jerusalem (Small)

Succah at Rest Stop

On the way to Jerusalem, we heard details about all of the wars Israel has fought in the modern era; there was some detail I had never heard before.  In addition, there were numerous memorials along the highway (parts of armored vehicles [couldn’t get any pictures]) signifying the fighting that went on on this road (the only supply road to Jerusalem) during the 1948 War.

We passed the Yad Vashem Memorial just before reaching Jerusalem.

Yad Vashem (Small)

It is a civil ordinance in Jerusalem that the exterior walls of all structures be constructed of a local limestone called “Jerusalem Stone”.  The picture below shows a building in full compliance.

Jerusalem Stone on all homes (Small)

The bus stopped first in the New City near the Knesset Building.  Although one cannot get on the grounds of the Knesset, there were good photo opportunities at this stop.

Sculpture Near Knesset (Small)

Menorah and Mogen David on median

strip of Street near Knesset

Sculpture Entrrance to Knesset (Small)

Sculpture at the gate of the Knesset

Sculpture David Gulamov Knesset Entrance (1966) (Small) 

Sculpture (David Gulamov – 1966) at

Knesset Fence

Ellen’s tour was at the same place – there she is across the street from the Knesset.

E at the Knesset (Small) The Knesset (Small)

The Israeli Knesset Building

Across the street from the Knesset Building just outside the Wuhl Rose Jerusalem Park is a magnificent Menorah.  The Menorah depicts a number of scenes from the Bible (e.g. Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones).  It is a favorite photo spot so I was lucky to mostly avoid random people in this photograph.

Menorah Wohl Rose Park across from Knesset (Small)

Menorah (Wuhl Rose Park)

Leaving the Knesset complex we headed to the Old City passing several neighborhoods along the way.  One of the places we passed was the area where we stayed when we visited Jerusalem in 1995 – the building below looks a lot like the apartment we rented.  The Prime Minister’s Residence is just a few blocks away from this place.

Neighborhood we stayed in in 1995 (Small) 

Jerusalem neighborhood near the

Netanyahu Residence

In a few minutes, we were at the Old City (on the East Jerusalem Side).  We passed by the Damascus Gate (Islamic Architecture) and then Herod’s Gate (when the Crusaders scaled the city walls in the early 12th century).  The walls and gates of the Old City were constructed in the mid 16th century by Suleiman the Great.

The Old City (Small) 

The Damascus Gate Old City (Small)

The Damascus Gate – Old Jerusalem

 Herods Gate (Small)

Herod’s Gate

The bus made its way through the heavy traffic to the Mount of Olive’s Jewish Cemetery.  People want to be buried here because, when the Messiah comes and makes his way to Jerusalem, they will be the first dead to be resurrected (“location, location, location).  (Note:  Menachem Begin is the only Prime Minister buried in the Mount of Olive’s Cemetery).

The Mount of Olive’s affords a magnificent view of the entire Old City.  Visible on the Temple Mount are the Dome of the Rock site and the Al Aqsa Mosque.  To the left of the walled city is the original Jerusalem established by King David.

Old City from Mt of Olives (Small)

The Old City of Jerusalem from Mount of Olives

Dome of the Rock (Small) 

The Temple Mount – Dome of the Rock

David's  Original City left of Old City (Small)

Site of King David’s Jerusalem

Also visible from the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was arrested by the Romans, and the Church of Mary Magdalene

Church of Mary Magdeline (Small) 

Church and Garden of Gethsemane; Church of Mary Magdalene

The Golden Gate is seen in the center of the city wall.  This Gate, through which the Messiah, will enter the city of Jerusalem, was sealed by the Muslims in the 7th Century.  In addition, there is a Muslim Cemetery directly in front of the gate.  Some say this is to prevent the Messiah from entering the gate since Elijah, who will lead the Messiah (riding a white donkey), cannot cross the cemetery (since he is a Cohain).  I’m sure there is a workaround here.

Golden Gate and Muslim Cemetery (Small) 

Golden Gate and Muslim Cemetery

Camel Ride at Mt of Olives (Small) 

Camel Rides at Mount of Olives – Nothing Sacred?

From the Mount of Olives, the next stop was lunch.  On the way, we passed the Garden and Church of Gethsemane, the tomb of David’s son, Absalom, and a view of the Hebrew University atop Mt. Scopus.  By the way, the name Gethsemane comes from the Hebrew for “Olive Press”. 

Garden of Gethsemene (Small) 

Garden of Gethsemane

Church of Gethsemene (Small) 

Church of Gethsemane (Church of Nations)

Tomb of Absalom (Small) 

Tomb of Absalom (David’s Son)

Hebrew U Mt Scopus (Small) 

Hebrew University – Mount Scopus Campus

Lunch was at the elegant Olive Tree Hotel.  The food was plentiful and kosher.  Included in the offerings was roast beef, the first meat we have had since we left on this trip.  It was delicious (couldn’t eat it fast enough).  Ellen’s bus also came to the Olive Tree so we had a chance to have lunch together.  All the food was good but the stay seemed too short.  Soon we were on our way to the Western Wall.

Lunch Stop Mt Olive Hotel (Small) 

Olive Tree Hotel

Traffic (or police stops) contributed to a long ride to the Western Wall.  Along the way, we passed the Mandelbaum Gate, a kind of “Check Point Charlie” between East and West Jerusalem before the city was reunited.  It is called the Mandelbaum Gate because Simcha Mandelbaum just happened to own the house on the border between East and West Jerusalem.

Mandelbaum Gate (Small) 

Mandelbaum Gate

We finally arrived at the Dung Gate, the entrance to the Western Wall.  Just inside the wall was the archeological park where current digs are in progress.  The guide pointed out that the large stones at the end of the park were from the original wall (I have my doubts since I would expect such valuable stones to be in a museum somewhere).

Ellen’s bus was also at the Wall so we spent a little time together and had our picture taken.  We also put notes into the wall per custom.  I documented that with a photo (below).

Dung Gate (Small)

The Dung Gate – Entrance to the Wall

Archeo Dig near Wall (Small) 

Archeological Park – Near the Wall

Stones from Original Wall (Small) 

Stones from Original (Pile on left)

H and E at the Wall (Small) 

We are at the Wall

The Western Wall (Small) 

The Western Wall

My note in the wall (Small) 

My note in the Wall

After leaving the Old City, we made a shopping stop for a few minutes (didn’t buy anything).  As we started home, we passed a protective pit – The Gehenim Gorge – named so because it was so deep it ventured near hell itself.

We also made a quick side trip to view the city of Bethlehem in the West Bank – the Security Fence was clearly visible.

The gehenim Chasm (Small) 

The Gehenim (“Hell”) Gorge

Bethlehem and the Fence (Small)

Bethlehem and the Security Fence

The 90 minute ride home was relaxing under a gorgeous sunset.

Going home sunset over Israel (Small)

The trip home – Sunset in the Holy Land

After dinner we took in the second production show:   Limelight – A Broadway Dream.  We had seen it many times before but the tunes are still worth attending again (the different singers and dancers make it feel different).

Tired after a long day.  Tomorrow, I have a lecture in the morning and then we are off on an excursion.