Wednesday, April 2, 2008

April 2nd Home with Lessons Learned and observations

The 9 hour trip back home gives me a chance to reflect over all the memories of the last 32 days. Somewhere over the Atlantic, south of Greenland, I realize the people I have gotten to know are just as important as the sites I have seen. I have also had time to know myself better too.
Here are some general observations. Mobile phones are everywhere; from the rural fields of Southern China to the skyscrapers of Dubai.
What started as an interesting vacation became an adventure and a learning experience.
It's hard to hide the fact that you're a Westerner. When they see what you are the marketing technique gets very aggressive and prices go up 500 percent,
English is the second language of the world and almost everybody knows the words "hello", "Coke" and McDonalds.
Most people like Americans and hate our President.
When you go around the world you never see the same place.
Here are some country specific observations.....
Now everybody is into business and entrepreneur ship.
The environment takes a back seat to commerce;. even air quality.
Shanghai seemed like the fastest growing city I had ever seen until I got to Dubai
It doesn't take a flashy corporate campus to make someone a global competitor
Not much has changed in the last 50 years except for cars. mobiles, and computers
This is the focal point for FABULOUS oil wealth; more opulent and outrageous than I ever dreamed possible.
They are building Dubai into a magnet for finance through exotic projects and buildings, but 50 years after the oil runs out it will be a ghost town
The Nile is everything to this country. Someone there told me, "if there was no Nile, there would be no Egypt.
Tourism and to a lesser extent the Suez may be their biggest resource.
They don't do enough to protect their antiquities for the next generation.
This is a wonderful mix of modernity, friendly people ad old world charm.
Ted Northrup

March 32 Our last day in Rome

This blog is titled March 32nd because I wish this glorious month did not have to come to an end. It's our last day in Rome and we want to make the most of it. There were some trepidations in planning a visit to Rome. We liked Florence but were afraid that Rome might be less friendly and more commercial. One travel writer we read said "If you like Florence, you'll love Rome". Absolutely right.
Our day started with the Spanish Steps. It's said that Rome is made up of 7 hills. The Spanish Steps help you climb down one of them. Our hotel is at the top of that hill so we arrive at the top of the Steps. There's a beautiful view from there.
The Steps and fountain make a great hang-out for younger Romans. It's a beautiful day with very few clouds and lots of folks are soaking up the sunshine.
Our primary objective today is The Vatican. Our walk from the Spanish Steps takes us to the Tiber River.
There are many bridges so we have lots of options. We choose Hadrian's bridge. Imagine crossing a functional bridge (I hope) that's 2000 years old. At the end of the bridge is Hadrian's Castle; also used as a defensive fort for the Pope in times of trouble.
After another mile or so we come to the entrance of the Vatican Museum. Most of the Vatican State is surrounded by a wall. Even though St Peter's and the Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel are next to one another, their entrances are a kilometer apart.
The Sistine Chapel is at the far end of the Vatican Museum. You will walk through over half-a-mile of the most captivating art work you ever saw. Naturally our favorite room along the way is the Map Room. These maps give a whole new meaning to the term "wall map".
This room contains about 24 wall panels of hand-painted maps. Most maps cover a region or island of Italy. They are approximately 18 feet wide and 12 wide. In addition to the great maps, the painting and golf leaf on the ceiling are shockingly impressive.
For that matter, the size of the museum and the Renaissance artwork are larger than any we have ever seen.
After being bombarded by one spectacular room after another, several of which are the size of a wing in most museums, we arrive at the Sistine Chapel. I am not an art expert. All I can say is that this is the most beautiiful painting I have ever seen. The way Michelangelo has captured light and shadows on the robes and muscles of the characters makes them jump right off the ceiling.
Our last stop was St. Peter's. It was too crowded to go in so we just took this picture and left. We only walked 5 miles today but we opted to take the subway back to the hotel.
There we had dinner with our friends Willy and Jill and headed out to the airport hotel.

Ted Northrup

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

March 31 Some Funny Things Happened on the Way to the Forum

From the hotel it

was a short walk to the Trevi Fountain. Just our luck it was being repaired. There was no water in it but lots of tourists. This guy sort of stood out of the crowd.

From there we went to the St Ignasio church. It's famous for its painted ceiling; especially the section that is pained to look like a dome where none actually exists.

Next came the Pantheon; the best preserved example of Roman architecture and the world's first large concrete dome. It's 3 feet thick at its base.,

Then we proceeded to Piazza Navona, a great place to get a gelato and sit and watch mimes and artists.

Next came the Roman Forum and the Coliseum. Today was our lucky day; entrance was free! We think it's because it is the last day of the month.

We walked back to the hotel from the Coliseum via the beautiful gardens of Quirinale, but we weren't allowed in. This seemed a little strange until we learned it was the home of Italy's President.
We are on a diet of 2 gelato's a day so we had to stop for one more. We walked a total of 7 miles today.

We had dinner at a sidewalk cafe and by CHANCE ran into my first-cousin-once-removed, Willy Fisher, his wife Jill and daughter Nevi.

Monday, March 31, 2008

March 30 Goodbye Third World ..Hello Europe

We leave Luxor bright + early to catch our plane to Rome. On the way to the airport we see our last donkey carts.
We arrive in Cairo for an 8 hour layover. You would think there would be something to do. We did not know security there would be tight as a drum. We can't even get into the departure concourse until 3 hours before flight time! Guess where all the shops, restaurants and bathrooms are. Our luggage is x-rayed 3 times before we board. Oh well this has been pretty much a lost day. We get to Rome on time. We knew it was going to be expensive but this is insane. The cab ride to go one mile was $30. Breakfast (if we ate in the hotel) would be $70. We luck out and find a great little restaurant around the corner where prices are within reason. Our hotel is in a beautiful section of Rome just outside the Borghese Park.. This is a picture of the gate to the park at night.
Ted Northrup

Sunday, March 30, 2008

March 29 Carnak Temple + cab ride

On Saturday we explored the Great Temple of Carnak. This was something I thought Johnny Carson invented. Turns out he took it from the Egyptians. This is the first temple we've been to that is large enough to get lost in. One section is larger than a cathedral with 138 columns 75 feet high and 6 feet in diameter. It is blazing hot today and we see one woman being dragged out after succumbing to the heat. The Temple is filled with bus after bus of European tourists

After Carnak, we went to a "Papyrus House" where they sell Egyptian artwork on papyrus. We bought some artwork and got to know the salesman pretty well. He asked us where we were going next and I told him McDonald's. OK. That's not very adventurous, but I wanted a milkshake in the worst way. He said he was going home and invited us to ride in a cab with him and he would drop us off at McDonalds. It turns out there are special cabs for the locals. They are a hybrid between a bus and a cab. They are a mini-van with four rows of seats that run a consistent route. People hop in and out thru the open sliding door and pass the driver a pound. (About a quarter) True to his word he dropped us off right in front of Micky D's and paid for our ride too.

One thing about Egypt is that it is still a cash oriented society. Our hotel wanted to be paid in cash. It took us about half an hour to find a machine that would cough up 1500 pounds. By that time we decided to forego the Felucca ride or the camel ride and just go back to the hotel for dinner.

Friday, March 28, 2008

March 28 - Valley of the Kings

The day starts early with a wake-up call at 5AM. We are planning to take a hot-air balloon at sunrise through the Valley of the Kings. This is the valley where many of the Pharoahs had their tombs. As we pulled up to the field upwind of the valley, we saw dozens of ballons ready for take-off. Some are 6 passenger baskets, others are 12 passenger baskets. Luckily, ours is just six. We are amazed as the pilot lifts off and times our travel just right to float right over a major temple. The sky is filled with antiquity and a couple of dozen balloons. Some comment is made about fear of heights and thinking it was a joke I make the statement "nobody with a fear of heights has any business in a balloon". How does that foot taste Ted? The lady in front of me is gripping the edge of the basket with white knuckles because she's afraid of heights! We make a very graceful landing in the desert a couple of miles downwind. Here's the ground crew helping Patrice out of the basket.

Our next stop is King Tut's tomb. Here's the thing, almost all these tombs are completely bare. the sarcaghagous and riches have all been moved to museums. (like the one we saw in Cairo) Still, the design of the tombs and the well preserved paintings and hieroghyphics are worth seeing. Here is our guide Mohammed.

After going most of the way around the world I think I can say that the Egyptians are better than anyone else in the world at parting Westerners from their money. They have really raised it from a technique to an art form. If you go to any of these sites without a guide you are mobbed by people selling their wares. If you DO have a guide, you are spared the constant barrage, but inevitably end up at "a nice clean place to use the bathroom and get a cool drink". It turns out to be a nice store of a friend of the guide. OK, we are not immune to needing the bathroom so guess who's bringing yet another souvenir home. Here is our host and master salesman, Akmed.

Our last stop today is the tomb of Queen Hatchepsut. (pronounced Hat Cheap Suit) She is one of the few female Pharoahs and Patrice is keen to see how she pulled it off. It's a long story, but it has something to do with marrying her half-brother.

Her tomb has been restored and is really interesting to explore.

March 27 to Luxor

We are thrilled that our second EgyptAir flight is on time and uneventful. We are met at the airport by a driver who's nickname is Shakespeare. He's never read any Shakespeare, but knows the quote, "two beers or not two beers, that is the question". He takes us to a little hotel (El Nakil) that is tucked away in a small village across the Nile from Luxor. It has a funky driveway between some old houses. This what greets us on the driveway.....

But once inside the hotel compound it's actually quite nice. Here's a picture outside our door.

After we get settled we grab the ferry across the Nile to Luxor. We are almost the only Westerners on it.

From the ferry it's an easy walk to the Luxor Temple. This temple was built for Rameses the Great. The columns tower 80 feet high. After exploring the temple we took the ferry back to our hotel
and saw all the feluccas taking tourists for a ride.

We had dinner on the terrace and saw this beautiful sunset.

Ted Northrup