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You may be wondering why I'm tagging this with Europe, but it's the name of the band that we had on the Norwegian Jewel -- they rotate between NCL ships, and have been playing on board for many years.

When I first saw them, I said, "this is a real reggae band." Sure, they were playing covers, but that's their gig. However, it was clear that this was their music. I spent time watching them when I could (generally 15-30 minutes a day, though they were often playing during port times).

On the last day, they had a break, and one of the band members came over.

Yes, I was recognized as a real reggae fan. He said it was partly that I seemed to know and like the stuff that was more obscure. I guess a lot of people don't even know Buffalo Soldier, but it is one of Marley's better-known songs. True, a lot of people have heard it, but have no idea of the context of the song.

I did get points for saying one of my favorite reggae artists (from Jamaica) was Sophia George, because she's fairly obscure to most Americans.

I recommended Tim Armstrong and The Aggrolites, which are California Reggae and Ska artists they hadn't heard of.
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I took a picture of this plastic green giraffe (in Heathrow airport) because of several emotions it evoked in me. First, it was cute, and yet it seemed all alone, unnoticed. Because of the number of people around the airport, I had to wait for the shot where there would be no people, just myself, the chairs opposite, and the giraffe.

I thought about picking the giraffe up, but one just can't do that these days in airports. I was struck by an odd paranoia.

As I went on a shopping round, I pondered the instilled paranoia, but when I returned to my seat, the giraffe was gone.

Little Green Giraffe
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When we landed in the UK, we had to fill out a landing card. There was only one possible form. Immigration lines were EU citizens and non-EU citizens. We had a short wait both times, under 5 minutes.

When we landed in Athens, we had to fill out a landing card. There was only one possible form. Immigration lines were EU citizens and non-EU citizens. There was no wait at all.

When we visited Egypt, NCL handled the visa, so our passports were handed to us with the visa stamps already in our passport. The $20 was conveniently billed to our onboard account. No wait.

When we visited Turkey, NCL handled the visa, so our passports also had all the relevant stamps in place. The $20 USD was conveniently billed to our onboard account. When we disembarked for the day in Izmir and Istanbul, we were given a landing card (one possible form) to fill out for when we returned to the ship. No wait.

When we flew back to the US, non-citizens had to fill out one of three possible forms, which were explained in detail. People, even non-English speakers, were expected to understand which of the forms they needed, which really isn't that easy. Of course, citizens didn't have to fill out a form, which was a good thing, because I'm not sure I'd have picked the right one.

There were four immigration lines in the US. US Citizens, New Immigrants, and I can't remember the two others. Our line (for US citizens) took between 5 and 10 minutes.

There was no line for people who didn't already have visas, as there were in other countries.

For anyone traveling to the US: I'm sorry about all the forms. It's embarrassing.
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Arrived at SFO this afternoon and immediately called urgent care after clearing customs. Too many days (seven) of gastrointestinal distress. I need to go back in the morning.

So, uh, we were over our customs limits because I, uh, bought some jewelry. A wee bit. Small stuff.

I had receipts and conversion rates and all that -- and they double-checked everything, found out my conversion rates were generous (but accurate) -- and they didn't charge us a cent in duty, for which I was very thankful. I think Rick was floored.
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We made the trip from Istanbul to London today, and then checked into our hotel. The walk didn't seem nearly as long as it did the first time, probably because I was less travel worn at the time. Still, I'm pretty tired and I think I'm going to take a bath and call it a night.

Our transfer to Istanbul came with an English-speaking guide (a requirement of the company if the driver doesn't speak fluent English). In Istanbul's Ataturk airport (IATA code IST), you clear security when you walk in the door -- with all your luggage. Then you go to the counter, then you go through passport control, then onto the waiting area. Guests can accompany you right up to the point of passport control, and our guide made sure we got to the right counter. He was super nice and had a great memory for detail.

We waited at the gate, then they started letting people through into the cleared area for the gate. Only then was your hand-luggage re-checked. So, basically, everything you had with you went through security and metal detectors twice. It's an interesting system. They didn't seem to care about fluids in carry-on luggage, though.

There was a labor shortage at Heathrow, so our luggage took forever. This meant that my dream of seeing the London Eye will have to wait for another trip: the last flight was at 6:30, and we didn't get out of the terminal until 5:47. I'm staying in the room tonight, but Rick's gone off to explore.
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We're going upstairs to breakfast, then we'll be headed off to the UK for a night.
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Rick and I were sitting in the outdoor coffee shop at the Ayasofya and we saw a black-and-white cat, obviously attention starved, rubbing up against things. As it crossed the courtyard, it ignored us, but it rubbed up against a man's leg.

You know cats -- they ignore the people trying to summon them (as Rick and I were) and go for the least likely victim. The cat finishes its walk across the courtyard and makes a beeline for a couple sitting on a low wall (barely more than curb height, really). The cat rubs vigorously against the side of a veiled Muslim woman who was so startled she jumped about eight feet away, staring suspiciously at the cat.

Poor kitty just wanted love, you know?

We gave kitty some attention, but the poor woman refused to sit back down.
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We slept in until 8 something, then headed upstairs to the rooftop again for breakfast. The rooftop not only has a stunning view, but has quite a bit of greenery. At one end, there's a small, shallow pool. The food selection was a bit odd (but not in a bad way): sausages were chicken or beef, as one might expect. What I initially thought were peaches in a fluorescent yellow fluid turned out to be apricots. It's a failing of mine, I know, but I can't bring myself to think of apricots as a breakfast food. The fruit yogurt was real yogurt, not the differently-textured stuff us Americans are used to. The corn flakes were more closely related to corn pops, as if the corn had been puffed and smashed or something.

None of it was bad, it was just unusual and unexpected. The orange juice and coffee tasted just as one might expect (it wasn't proper Turkish coffee, but we'd rectify that later).

As we ate our breakfast, we watched a huge sea gull come up to the small pond, drink some water, wash himself, and fly off.

After breakfast, we ventured off on foot towards the bazaar (after some confusion about whether we would be visiting Ayasofya first -- or not). I checked out a store Rick had scouted out two days before, but they didn't have what I was looking for. Next door, there was a place with a stunning room-sized carpet -- black background, obviously silk, very fine, and almost entirely black with some silver and gold. Knowing how people whine when they knit something black, I can't imagine how long that rug would have taken, but my initial guess is three women five years (based on information on other rug sizes of similar detail). It had stunning curliques. I tried not to show too much interest.

We went to a place called Coffee World, where I paid in US dollars and got change in Turkish Lira (it's the general policy that Turkish merchants will take anything approaching a major currency). We'd changed some money for the Aya Sofya, but this would just be a buffer for us. I got a large iced mocha, which had chocolate goo inside, and Rick had a genuine Turkish coffee. We sat, enjoyed the cool air inside, and watched the mesmerizing chocolate fountain.

After that, we entered the bazaar, fending off merchants trying to sell us rugs (several), leather jackets (one), and so forth. I found a place about a block into the bazaar that sold what I was looking for, and, after making my purchases, declared I was done with the bazaar. With that, we set off (on foot again) for the Ayasofya.

I've been in older buildings, including Newgrange, but I've never been into an older building that was as complex. This version of the Ayasofya has been standing since 537 -- more than 1500 years. For almost 600 years (I'd mis-remembered dates, so if I sent you a postcard saying a millenium, I sit corrected), it was a mosque, and the original Byzantine-era Christian mosaics were covered up.

When Ataturk made Turkey a secular republic, the Ayasofya was turned into a museum and the mosaics were uncovered, thus making everyone unhappy. It still has the beautiful Islamic calligraphy, and contains several major Islamic relics (including the Mihrab, which points toward Mecca), so it's an interesting contrast of ages and faiths.

We walked around all of Ayasofya, and I was glad that we weren't rushed, so I could sit in places and really take in the look of the place. It's immense. Unfortunately, there's huge scaffolding in it going all the way up to the dome at present, but that's the way life goes. I guess that means I'll just have to come back.
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By Tuesday, Rick was running a fever and really not feeling well. We ate breakfast in Tsar's palace, taking our time, then got off the ship around 9:30. Because we'd waited for the crowd to die down, we were easily able to find our bags. No sooner had we gotten them out to the pick up area than we met our guide (Classic requires that either the driver speak English or be accompanied by someone who does speak English, so this was an instance of the latter case).

We arrived quickly at our hotel, which is a wonderful boutique hotel two blocks (approximately) from the Blue Mosque. Despite having slept all night, we were both tired, so Rick suggested that we sleep all day and eat a hotel dinner that night.

I was just about ready to go to sleep when I went into the bathroom -- and saw the bathtub. Not only is it sufficiently deep and sufficiently wide for me to relax in, it has jets. At that point, I forgot all about sleep (by that point, Rick was already soundly asleep) and had a luxurious bath, soaking in anti-pain bath goo. After that, I went to sleep, being awakened by the call to prayer in the afternoon. The Blue Mosque starts the first call to prayer, which is echoed by other mosques in the area, sort of like a complex round. I counted later: there's five mosques within hearing distance of the hotel, so I probably heard at least three of them. It's one of those things where you wake up and say, "Oh yeah, I'm not at home, am I?"

We slept until 7:30 at night, and went upstairs to the rooftop for dinner, not quite getting that one side was the bar side and one side was the dinner side -- an easy mistake to make, since most of the people who wanted dinner wouldn't even be there until at least 8:30. One side was dominated by the minarets and domes of the blue mosque, where the view over the other three sides covered the remainder of the Sultanahmet district and a view out to the Bosphorus.

By the time the sunset call to prayer happened (around 8:45), we had enjoyed our appetizers, were working on our main course, and enjoying the guitarist, who took a break during the call to prayer. The food was odd, but good, though I forgot to ask for a substitute for the ravioli and couscous (both of which contain wheat).

Later in the evening, Rick's fever finally broke and he started feeling better.
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In the last couple of days, I'd picked up at least one, if not two, separate bugs. I frequently have intestinal distress after wheat consumption, so I didn't think anything of it at first (accidental wheat consumption being a problem when traveling), but after a half day, it was obvious that wasn't the sole cause. I think I got that on Mykonos, but I'm not sure.

Also, Ephesus was cold and rainy, and it seems that both Rick and I picked up a cold there.

So by the time we were pulling into Istanbul, we were no longer feeling our best.

We arrived at the Dardanelles at night or very early morning, so we missed peering at the site of the ancient city of Troy or the Gallipoli peninsula. By the time we arrived up on the Deck 13 Spinnaker Lounge to watch our approach, the ship was well into the Sea of Marmara and headed for the Bosphorus, which separates European Turkey from Asian Turkey and is a gateway to the Black Sea. In part, the captain later explained, the long logistics to get into Istanbul port had to do with the number of ships (we didn't see a lot, but that's because they spread out in the Sea of Marmara and then bunch back up in the Dardanelles and Bosphorus) and the fact that they're currently building an underwater tunnel underneath the Bosphorus, limiting where one can go even further.

We were far away from the Bosphorus when we took aboard the pilot, then cruised slowly into Istanbul, turning the ship completely around for docking.

An hour after arrival into port, we got onto the tour bus that took us to Topkapi Palace. We walked from a spot near the Blue Mosque to the palace, then walked (what seemed to be) all the way across the palace grounds to get to the Harem. I will say: for a gilded cage, it was a stunning gilded cage, with lovely tiles and beautiful surroundings. I wouldn't want to live there, though.

We then went to see the treasury, but I was trying to pace myself, so I went through one (of four) rooms and sat down while Rick went to the portrait gallery. Among the decorative arts not practiced in Turkey, one of those would be painting, so Turks hired painters from other countries to paint their sultans. Our guide, Albert, made the point that the earlier sultans looked more Mongolian, and Rick said that was true, and they got more and more mixed into the classic Turkish blend over time. Rick got back just before we had to proceed on, then we did death march 2.0 back to the Blue Mosque.

The Blue Mosque is the only mosque in Turkey with six minarets, so it's quite easy to navigate by if you're nearby (not all mosques have minarets, but more about that in another post).

The mosque provides plastic bags for your shoes, and, if a woman wishes, a plain cotton head cover (available in various shades of blue). Wearing a veil is not common in Turkey: it's almost the complete inverse of Egypt. This is especially interesting in that Egypt is 85% Muslim (most of the remainder are Christian, though they do have a small Jewish population) where Turkey is 98% Muslim. The distinction is the awareness that there's nothing in the Qu'ran requiring veils, and the fact that Turkey is effectively a militant secular republic.

Due to a misunderstanding (I thought we were coming back to the bus before heading to the mosque, so I traveled lighter than I should have), I didn't bring my head cover (I'm not Muslim, but I try to be reasonably respectful), and I somehow missed the gratis scarves available for use, so I went without, as did most tourist women. I felt badly about it, but I figured everyone had seen me by the time I found out scarves were available, so I wasn't sure there was a point. The mosque is only open to the public between prayers, so we actually had to schedule Topkapi Palace first, then the Blue Mosque, and we were somewhat constrained by prayer times.

After the Blue Mosque, we went to a street that is part of the entrance to the Grand (technically, "Covered") Bazaar, which truly has to be seen to be believed, if only because it has existed for more than 600 years in pretty much its current form.

Feeling a bit intimidated, I decided not to venture into the covered part of the Bazaar on Monday, but to do that on a later day. I was trying to find earrings, but the sort I was looking for (while traditional in Turkey) wasn't available in the higher-rent shops lining the entrance to the bazaar.

We headed back to the ship for our last night aboard, getting to sleep fairly late after putting our bags out in the corridor.
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We docked at Izmir and loaded up onto our tour bus. After seeing the frou-frou stuff that came with us, I knew that this was my favorite tour. We were provided a small bottle of water, an amphora (more about that later), a small evil eye pendant, and an earphone so we could hear over a radio. This made coordinating a group on a large site (as Ephesus is) much easier. We could all move herd-like even if we couldn't see each other.

I wanted to go see Ephesus for the ruins there, and the tour we went on included the house where Mary (as in mother of Jesus) spent her latter days. The only reason Rick and I took that tour in particular (neither of us being Christian) was that it also included a trip to a museum.

Mary's house is on a hill away from Ephesus proper, so that she would not be sullied by the goings on at Ephesus (which, at the time, included extensive worship of Artemis). It is a place of pilgrimage for both Christians and Muslims. It was, apparently, recently visited by Pope Benedict.

Having been injured in Corfu while walking into a church, I decided not to go inside, but rather sit outside at a respectful distance. The day was overcast with a light rain, and it was pleasant to sit outside. Just above Mary's house, the trees had burned back in a fire; one of the tour perks was the planting of ten trees (on our behalf, not by us, thankfully) in the forest to help re-grow the lush landscape surrounding the house.

The amphora we'd been given was to carry holy water from the springs just beyond Mary's house. There are three fountains: the first is supposed to provide something that I've forgotten, the second wealth, and the third health. However, the guide pointed out that they all came from the same spring, so we should not see these conventions as limiting.

After Mary's house, we drove to the large site of Ephesus. By then, the rain was beginning in earnest. The old stone floor we traveled on became wet and treacherous, which meant I spent a lot of time watching where I was walking, and less time looking up at things. I'd have a moment, look up, and see something new and fabulous. The grounds are huge: Ephesus was a city five miles square, though the part we walked was probably only a mile end-to-end. Overall, even though the Delos excursion had more warnings about uneven footing, I think Ephesus was probably the more challenging footing even if it were dry.

I avoided the vendors, which was probably a mistake. After all, a couple of days later, I realized that Ephesians meant people of Ephesus. It turns out that the silversmiths of Ephesus protested Paul's visit lest it interfere with their sale of statues of Artemis.

Pity it didn't occur to me to try to get a silver statue of Artemis when I was there. I wonder if I could have found one? In general, I didn't notice a lot of statues of old deities for sale in Turkey, but I didn't look very hard, either.
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...you're not quite sure what continent you became ill on.

Rick and I disembarked the ship this morning and went to the Eresin Crown Hotel, which is only a couple of blocks from the Blue Mosque.

Updates later.
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When I first met Fernanda, the acupuncturist, she touched my arm and commented that I had a lot of retained fluid. This was true -- I always retain fluid for a couple of days after flights, and under certain other circumstances (including certain kinds of physical exertion).

It's one of the special curses of fibromyalgia for many sufferers.

Today, I wasn't retaining as much as I had been for a few days, but still considerable, especially above the ankles.

Because I was in considerable pain today (girl reasons), I got another acupuncture session, calling for the first available one after I got aboard. Fernanda used a point that happened to be in the area where I was retaining water. When she removed the needle, she was surprised at the amount of water that came out. Five hours later, I still have a bit oozing out. No blood, just water. It's very weird!

It turns out that the problem may be desalinated water related -- the ship's water is imperfectly desalinated, and one woman said that when she switched to bottled water, the fluid retention started going away. I'm trying that tomorrow.

Oh, and I seem to have gotten burned just badly enough (despite SPF 50) that I have some small blistering on the back of one shoulder. Joy.
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Mykonos is an island that many people see a lot of charm in. I, however, tend to see it as an island without trees. Most of the charming windmills aren't working windmills, and thus are less charming than their working counterparts.

We docked, then took a tender out to Delos, one of the main sacred sites of ancient Greece. The seas were quite rough, which means a 40-minute boat ride on choppy seas. More than one person needed some motion sickness patches or pills, and a couple of people were a bit green.

Delos -- supposedly it was such a sacred site that no one could be buried there or die there or be born there. The real answer, however, is a bit more wily: Athens, which exerted a lot of political control over Delos, didn't want anyone to be a citizen of Delos, and these rules were one way of preventing that.

There were a number of temples on Delos, which was the birthplace of Apollo. Though I'd never heard of Greece as having a syncretic tradition, there are temples to Isis and Osiris on Delos.

I walked through half the site, but I was having a bad pain day, so I skipped the larger, flatter part. Rick took photos. After visiting Delos, we took the tender back to the Mykonos port, picked up some postcards, and had a great meal. I had some Mykonos sausage, complete with mystery red meat (probably lamb), and it was very tasty.

I got an extra acupuncture treatment today, and now I'm feeling a lot better.

We're still in port as I write this, and I'm all dressed up for dinner (for a change).

Tomorrow: Izmir.
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Santorini is one of those islands I was always a bit wary about visiting. I don't like roads you can fall off of, and Santorini is basically an island one can fall off of. If you've seen the second (I think) Tomb Raider movie, which starts with a bunch of cliff homes falling during an earthquake -- that's Santorini (though the earthquake was special effects).

The seas were choppy, and this was a tender port, meaning the ship anchors (yes, with real old-fashioned anchors and the concommitant clanking of chains) near the port and then we take smaller boats into the port. It's really odd when you feel hardly any motion of the ship, but have to time your step onto the other port so you don't fall because the waves are that bad. Several people got seasick, but the waves weren't that bad.

From the new port, a road winds up to the top, and you pass all the volcanic layers on the way up. We drove out to the town of Oia, where all the luxury hotels are, and in fact we passed several I used to sell.

The old port had two traditional ways down: donkey and footpath, complete with 600 steps.

Until the 1950s, Santorini survived on a traditional lifestyle: there was no airport; there were no roads other than donkey trails; there were no cars; there was no electricity; and the only route down to the port was a donkey trail. When the earthquake hit in 1956 and destroyed much of what was on Santorini, the rebuilding efforts required more infrastructure, so the roads were built, the new port (with the road up) was built, and, in 1979, the island got its airport. Suddenly, being more connected to the world gave them new opportunities: instead of grapes, pistachios, and so forth being the main industry, the main industry became tourism. To make the old port more useful, they added a cable car route down. We were each given a ride up in a bus (from the new port) and tickets to take the cable car down.

We had a great guide who, like many on the island, lives in a traditional cave house. He was very funny, and explained a lot about the island history (some of which I've summarized). We visited the town of Oia for an hour, then we went to go see the new archeological museum, which covers items found in the excavations at Akrotiki. Jars with paisleys on them (the oldest I know of), many beautiful pieces. Pictures forthcoming.

Avoiding the restaurants recommended, we found a great place that had onions stuffed with ground beef, rice, and pine nuts -- and the onions were fabulous. The cats of Santorini largely ignored us, unlike the cats of Delphi.

When it came time to go back to the ship, I took the cable car down. Rick, however, took the stairs. All 600 of them.
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Today, Iraklion.

It's weird getting back to a language I can puzzle out words in (I don't read Arabic at all, and far fewer of the signs were in English, though some were in French). I'm still really slow with the Greek lower-case letters, but they're less common on signs, thankfully.

We took a tour to Knossos palace -- and that's it. That might not sound like a lot, but the palace is 22,000 square meters, which translates to 236,000 square feet. In other words, several acres. Of course, there were (they think) four floors, some of which have been reconstructed.

The current trend in archaeology isn't reconstruction, so the earlier expedition that reconstructed parts of Knossos has come under criticism. That said, I think they did an interesting job of making it seem realistic, even if it is imperfect. We took a lot of pictures, which will be up on flickr as soon as I get home.

After our tour, we went back to the ship (because we'd forgotten our Euros since we'd not carried them with us the last couple of days) and then took a taxi up to the edge of the pedestrian center of Heraklion. We were trying to get to a square, but I got diverted by the sight of a restaurant (by that time, we were hungry). Instead, we found it was basically a coffee bar -- and that there were three of them clustered together.

Still, we got onto the right street, and found a place called Izmir Kebap, which had wonderful food. We were joined by Carl (friend of a friend of therinth's) and his wife, and then our favorite waitress, Nalan, came by along with her assistant (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten).

I got another acupuncture appointment today. It's probably good I have two days off from acupuncture (I've had it three days in a row) so that the changes can settle in.

Tomorrow, Santorini.
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Written bits that didn't make it into a blog post from June 4-5 (Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt):

Small boats fishing along the Nile delta, dwarfed by the reeds (not papyrus) surrounding the boats.

Papyrus can only be grown with government permission.

Most stuff sold as papyrus is fake and is in fact banana leaf. Papyrus is woven in one direction; banana leaf is laid down in strips and will thus easily come apart.

I saw several intact Tut-period papyrii in the Cairo museum. Very amazing.

An amazing number of boomerangs were recovered from King Tut's tomb and are hanging on the wall. And yes, they were intended to return, just like the Australian ones.

Images of women in Egypt:

Almost no women on the street without some veil, though 98% did not have the really strict veil that covered nose and mouth.

One woman wore a red, black, and white short-sleeved minidress -- over a white long-sleeved blouse and stonewashed jeans. With a veil.

One woman wore camo pants, a thick black studded belt, a grey long-sleeved blouse, and an olive veil. I suspect she was also wearing Doc Martens, though I didn't check her feet. Hot Topic Egypt edition.

A woman standing across from the Library at Alexandria with her two children, in a denim long tunic, embroidered at the sleeves, with an indigo veil. She looked like she had a migraine (she kept holding a hand to one specific spot on one side of her head), so I said a little prayer that she'd find some comfort. A woman came up to her shortly after that and helped her.

And, of course, the woman swimming in the Mediterranean in full abaya.
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Had my third acupuncture session last night. Yesterday, I'd noticed that all my tension in my right shoulder had released, and the acupuncturist (Fernanda) was surpsied that it had happened so quickly. She worked on my lower back, which had really been problematic for the last couple of days, and it really went from sharp shooting pains to almost no pains.

Amazing, really.

I've got three more sessions left (at ruinous cost, of course, but hey, if it helps, it's a real bonus).

Alexandria

Jun. 6th, 2007 12:26 pm
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Alexandria

We didn't do the overnight tour to Cairo for a good reason: that would mean that we wouldn't be able to do a second-day tour to Alexandria, and we definitely wanted to do that. All the shortcomings of Cairo? Alexandria more than made up for them. I only wish we'd been able to do the tours in the reverse order for a good first impression.

Once again, we set off early with a police escort, this time for the Alexandria museum, opened last year. Despite the much smaller quantity of items, it was a museum done right: the walls were dark grey, and each item was explained and highlighted. The place was not only air conditioned, it had working elevators. For this reason, I give it an A+. We got nearly as much time in this museum as we did in the Cairo museum, but its vastly smaller size and better display meant that even I was able to see nearly 2/3 of the museum in the time we had. Had my feet hurt a bit less (and I hadn't had shooting pains up my back), I probably could have seen the whole thing.

I saw the middle and new kingdom part of the ancient Egyptian works, plus most of the Islamic period, including some really beautiful calligraphy and fabric. I took a few pictures, but some of the pieces weren't readily photographable.

After that, we went to the catacombs, re-discovered in 1860 when a donkey stepped in the well. It's a freakin' lot of stairs down (though it is not, rumors to the contrary, 99), but I managed to get not only down, but also back up (I did start back up a tad before everyone else, because I knew I'd be slow). This catacomb dates from the Ptolemaic period, where there was a fusion of religions: some followed the ancient Egyptian religion, some were Christians, and some followed the Greek gods, so the catacombs accommodated all of the above in a happy mélange.

It reminded me very much of a talk Rick and I went to at Pantheacon this year on Greco-Egyptian magic (which was fabulous, btw) and talking about Alexandria in exactly this period with exactly this happy co-existence of several religions. Very cool. I only wish the catacombs themselves weren't so freakin' hot.

When I got up to the top, I saw a woman we'd been sitting with walking back toward the catacombs -- it turns out she'd seen a cat, and gone to fetch milk for it. The staff thought this was a lovely idea, guided her to a store, and when the store wouldn't take credit cards or the money she did have (US Dollars and Euros), the staff paid for the milk and refused reimbursement. Amazing. She then fed the kitty the milk, and I'm told he was very happy.

When we finally went for lunch, the place we went (Santa Lucia, which is a hotel) was fabulous. It was ten times better than the food the day before. We got a free wine, beer, or soda, so I ordered a cola, and voila, I got a Pepsi. I even bought two more to take with me. For that moment in time, they were my favorite place in the whole world. I can't even describe the appetizer we had, except that one was a pastry cheese ball, sort of sweet, with some kind of stronger cheese sauce, much more savory. Fabulous contrast of flavors.

One of the places I didn't really care about was King Faroukh's palace, but I'm glad we made that trip if only for the lecture on the way. Our tour guide talked about some of the problems of women in Egypt, and how women were much more likely to wear veils than forty years ago, and, in part, this was due to fears about being eligible wives. Our tour guide was somewhat disgusted with the practice, because many of the women now donning veils don't even say their prayers five times a day. Our guide said, "symbols mean nothing here." I've always been one who's been more into works than symbols, which is one reason I traditionally haven't worn a lot of religious symbols. So, I get her point.

As we were driving past a public beach, she pointed out that there were almost never women in the water, which was true. This was the Mediterranean, and the women sat, fully clothed and veiled, under umbrellas, watching the men. If women do go out in the water on a public beach, they do it fully clothed, complete with veil. The more "modern women" who prefer bathing suits and/or don't wear veils will go to a private beach rather than be hassled by other women. (Which again reinforced my long-held belief that men alone oppressing women doesn't work without the co-operation of women.)

The palace is a knock-out, but it's off limits. However, the grounds are not, and one can get spectacular photos of the place.

Our final stop was the (modern) library of Alexandria, which is spectacular. They're not entirely sure, but they think they missed the site of the ancient library by 100-200 meters. That's pretty good. They also think they may have found enough of the old lighthouse (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) that they may be able to re-create it on the grounds of the library.

They have a project online to digitize many of the old books, including the survey Napoleon's scientists did in the 1800s. You can see the images (and scan and zoom and so forth) at bibalex.org. Very impressive and highly recommended, especially if you want to see some great illustrations of things not commonly seen.
deirdre: (Default)
I wrote this yesterday, but posted it today because I was too tired to finish.

What an incredibly long day. I think I'm sleeping in tomorrow.

Oh, wait. I have to get up early for the Alexandria tour. Nevermind.

We woke up at 5:30 in the morning, and watched dawn as we approached the port of Alexandria. When we went to breakfast, I thought it odd, given the warnings about people stealing things, that so many people had large bags with them. Then I remembered that there was an overnight tour, and suddenly it all made sense.

Rick and I got on the bus, and the driver explained some things about Cairo to us, both modern and ancient. There's sixteen million people, and one million cars, for example. The government, concerned about overpopulation, has started trying various incentives to reduce population growth. What they found worked the best, and I kid you not: television. The Egyptian government is seriously considering offering televisions to help reduce population growth.

Despite being desert, there were small farms along the way, and lots of people wandering around with animals. There were small buildings I first took for small silos or kilns, but the tour guide clarified: they were dovecotes. I'd heard the word, I'd just never seen one before. They were everywhere. Basically, Egyptians frequently raise pigeons for food, and they use the droppings as fertilizer.

Mosques of all sorts appeared seemingly at random. Some were very small, about the size of a one bedroom cottage. One was at the side of a road near a tollbooth, with nothing else in sight -- obviously for the use of the staff during working hours. Some were large and ornate. Some were ornate. In the cities, some had three-story-tall minarets, but were surrounded by buildings five stories or higher, so they'd be tucked in and hidden until you turned a street.

After the farms, we saw quite a lot of desert, and quite a lot of billboards, including entirely too many for Pepsi (I've been jonesing for a Pepsi for a week now). As we approached Cairo, there was a technical park, which I snapped a photo of. Immediately after we crested that hill, I got my first sight of pyramids. They looked so far away and yet so big. Because of the lay of the land and the twists and turns in the road, they kept blinking in and out of sight for the next few miles -- until we were virtually on top of them.

We first stopped at a plateau overlooking the three largest pyramids. The scale is really not comprehensible, even when you see a person or two on the lower stones of Cheops's pyramid.

Unfortunately, the vendors there are extremely pushy -- and will not take no (or being ignored) for an answer. Rick and I crossed the street to see Cheops's pyramid, and the dude on the camel was still following us. I couldn't even take a picture of Rick in front of Cheops's pyramid without another dude imposing himself into the picture. Thank Goddess for Photoshop. :)

Honestly, the vendors were so pushy, I couldn't imagine spending more than 30 minutes at the pyramid. That's how bad it was. I can't imagine going through that experience again without a cattle prod. Or maybe that's a camel prod. That said, I don't dislike camels. I actually find them somewhat fetching. I took a picture of the tourist policeman's camel when it was resting.

One altercation between the tourist police and the vendors got so heated, there was much screaming in Arabic. I suspect this is a many-times-daily occurrence: the vendors overstep a boundary, the cop yells at them, they promise to be good and back off, then go back to their true natures not that long after.

By the time we got to the Sphinx, which I'd been wanting to see forever, I was hot, tired, and not feeling the least bit patient toward anyone. We had twenty minutes. I didn't get close to the Sphinx, but by that time, that was just fine by me (this is really sad, btw, I've always had a Sphinx thing). At that point, I was ready to go back to the ship.

Fortunately, it was lunch time, and we had lunch at a famous hotel right at the foot of the pyramids: Oberoi Mena House, which was really nice. Even the banquet food was great, and the banquet room was spectacular, just dripping with all the geometric art I loved. Suddenly, I wasn't quite so ready to get back to the ship. The only sad part: I ordered a Pepsi and they brought a Coke. Not that I expected otherwise, but after seeing Pepsi signs all day, I was really jonesing.

Our next stop was the papyrus place, where we got a demo of papyrus making. Nothing terribly surprising, but they did have some fabulous pieces available. Rick and I got two small pieces, then went upstairs to the jewelry store, where I got a custom cartouche. I wanted a simple one, and the simple one happened to be the expensive one. I also got a heart scarab and a small ankh.

The heart scarab is so called because it contained a prayer on the back (from the Book of the Dead) to help one's heart balance on the scale so one could proceed in the afterlife (and not be eaten instead).

After that, we went to the museum, which is large, overstuffed, poorly lit, and lacks air conditioning (except in the King Tut Jewelry rooms) and an elevator. Despite that, it had incredible stuff, and it was really amazing walking by a row of sarcophogi on the way to the bathroom. Everyone there was nice, and there were a few places to sit. As I was sitting, an Egyptian woman sat on the other end of the bench. When her husband wanted to sit down, she got up, misunderstanding him, but then we both said it was okay for her to sit. What I hadn't realized is that there's something of a taboo against a man sitting between two women, so when she got up again, he moved to the other end of the bench and she then sat between us.

The Tut exhibit: it'll be more magnificent elsewhere, but if you're in Cairo, it's worth seeing even though it's not well-presented. I gather, from comments Rick's mother made, that the museum is in better shape than it was when she visited some years ago.

We drove back to the port, and the one place selling soft drinks? No Pepsi.

Miscellaneous bits:

The leading cause of death in Egypt is cirrhosis, not because of drinking, but because of a parasite in the Nile.

More women are wearing veils in Egypt than there were forty years ago.

An image: a donkey-pulled cart carrying a man, his wife, and a stack of perfectly round watermelons making an emergency stop. The wife's veil blows off, billowing in the wind, and she holds on with one hand and re-wraps her face with the other.

Because there is no property tax in Cairo on unfinished buildings, there are many buildings that aren't finished, but people live in them anyway. Amazing rabbit warrens of people.

There were men and women salesmen in several different places we visited, but the cashiers were always women. You went to a sales person; they wrote up the sale, then you took the paperwork to the cashier who handled the money. Interesting system, and I'm not entirely sure why it's set up that way.

I've forgotten to write down a thousand things, but this entry's already over 1200 words, so I'll stop here.

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February 2017

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