Wednesday, November 7, 2007
The Mediterranean and Istanbul, Turkey

November 5, 2007
The Mediterranean Sea

We have about Force 5 winds and rough seas as we go from the Mediterranean to the Aegean Sea. We are passing by the island of Lesbos and will soon be headed up the Bosporus Strait. Last night there was a tremendous thunder and lightening storm with grape-sized hail. Intranet was intermittent, but I finally got all my Egypt photos on my website.

November 6, 2007

We arrived this morning to a very cold Istanbul. We are in port on the European-side below the Golden Horn in the Bosporus Strait. Istanbul (Constantinople) is the only city found on two continents, Europe and Asia. We had a diplomatic briefing then received our passports. I led a group on an Ecology Field Trip to the Black Sea. It was a great success, despite the rain and cold. We went along both the Asian and European sides of the Bosporus and learned so much. Then this evening, I joined a group to the Train Station near Topkapi Castle, the former famed for being a station on the Orient Express. We watched the Sufi (whirling) Dervish Ceremony. It is a form of Islamic worship where the participants whirl to clear their heads and are dedicated to their god and good on earth. It was fascinating. The temperature is dropping into the low 40’s. We’re not in Cairo anymore! (It was 95 degrees there 2 days ago!) Tomorrow I am off on a trip to Gallipoli, Troy and Bursa.

Posted by Nancy @ 12:10 PM pst

Monday, November 5, 2007

We arrived in Alexandria and were to disembark at 1000, but did not get off of the boat until noon. I had gathered my 153 folks and we were in 4 buses. I was trip leader for the Cairo/Luxor expedition and Kevin, a professor was a bus leader with Resident Directors Eric and Michelle. Our guide was Ghada, an excellent Egyptologist who introduced us to Alexandria as we drove 3 plus hours to Cairo. Alexandria is a busy city on the Mediterranean. She told us of the three great periods of Egyptian history, the Pharaohnic, with the Pharaohs, divided into 3 section, dynasties 1-6, 7-12, and 13 to the end. Then the Hellenic period of the Greeks and Romans then finally, the modern period with Arabic and Islamic influences. We went to the oldest pyramid in the world, the step pyramid, at Zoser and Sakkara and Mastaba, the outside tombs of these old sites. We went into a tomb with hieroglyphs. No photos were allowed inside and we began to learn. We opted to do Memphis the next day and finally arrived at our hotel for lunch at 5pm. Then we were off to the Giza Light show. I sat in the back with others so I could stand up. When I perceived the silhouette of the Sphinx and then the pyramids in the evening light, I truly swelled inside with excitement. Then there was a very tasteful light show, with lasers making cartouche and hieroglyphs and more. The sphinx was heard to say, “I saw Cleopatra sail down the Nile, I saw Julius Caesar and Napoleon stand at my feet. It was chilling. Then we went on to the Khan El Khalil Bazaar. I tried on some galabea gowns and ended up with a blue shirt and scarf. I walked with Marv and Diane and Anne, an LLL. Diane is a Nurse Practitioner and Marv is a fisherman along for the ride. Neat people. There was a neat mosque and we heard throughout the days everyday we were near one the call to prayer over the loud speaker.

Finally, we returned to the Ramses Hilton Hotel, where I had a comfortable room, and had a late dinner. But we were all up early the next morning.

The wakeup call came at 4:15. We were to see the pyramids at sunrise. I do not know how they did it, but our 4 buses were the only ones there. It was dark and I could just barely make out the large pyramids. It was chilly for many students and I lent my new scarf to a cold Eric. Then it got brighter and the pyramids, the three Great Pyramids of Giza became more defined. The camels and camel drivers began to arrive through the desert for our arranger drive. Sadly, the city of Cairo, which has grown to the edge of the pyramids, has horrible air pollution and that affected the visibility, but I just imagined it as a sirocco sand storm and made it more bearable. The Guides collected 15 USD for all who wanted to ride camels, and most did. Ghada asked me to help her help students up so they were safe and did not fall off, so I helped them up. The, Jennifer, a student and I got on the last camel and off we went. We rode for about 40 minutes, all the way to the pyramids. Our young guide took photos of us and we were just so very awestruck. All of us kept saying, “We’re in Egypt, riding camels to the pyramids.” Wow!

Then we took the bus to Cheops, the largest of the great pyramids. They were so covered with sand after millennia that folks dug down and removed the polished top of this great pyramid, which has never been returned, so we were told. We were allowed to go as high up the stairs to the entrance, but climbing was no longer allowed due to frequent falls and deaths in the past. Some who paid, entered that pyramid which was narrow and had crawl areas. I opted for the second largest pyramid, that of Kefren (Chefren). I paid 25 Egyptian pounds, at 5.5 pounds to one USD, and several students and I went in. No cameras were allowed. It was a steep incline with people coming out, the entrance was the exit. But some were saying it was too hot and claustrophobic for them. Down we went, bent at the waist at a right angle. It was hot, indeed and very stuffy and dusty. Then we stood on a straight away with several side connections closed off, but visible. Then up again, bent over and steep, until we entered the tomb room. There was an open sarcophagus. I looked around, realizing I was in the heart of a 4000 year old Egyptian pyramid and marveled. Wow! Then I reversed my descent and climb. My lower back was sore the rest of the day, but it was worth it. I then walked around the mastabas, the tombs outside the pyramids. It was a mix of granite, pink from the high feldspar content as well as the limestone of the pyramids. There was a wooden boat in a covered area next to Cheops. I was able to see it only from the outside, as the admission was steep for a glance. Then off to the Sphinx.

We received yet another ticket and entered a gated area. I should mention there are Tourist Police and guards and jacketed security folks all around. Their weaponry runs the gamut from Uzis and semiautomatic pistols, to curved knives and automatic rifles. There was a tourist massacre in Luxor nine years ago and they are only just recovering. We move in a convoy with sirens and police, I think to prevent us from becoming a sitting target. We have a suited security guard with us at all times. On entering the Sphinx, our secret service-like guards came with us and several times when I was bargaining with vendors they would walk up to make sure I was okay. The vendor often would slink away or take my offer and leave.

The Sphinx in front of the Pyramid of Kefren was magnificent. It was a clear blue-sky day and hot. We walked through a series of pillars after viewing the front and got close to the profile. It’s huge, carved out of one block of limestone. The best speculation is the head is of Kefren. If a beard was curled, the person was dead at the time of the carving. If the beard was straight, they were still alive. Later we learned with standing statues, that if they stood with their left leg forward, they were alive, if together, dead at carving. The left leg forward was a sign of strength as it is the left side of the body where the heart lies and even today, we were told, the Egyptian Army stands at attention with their left legs forward.

I bought a silly little carving from a man through the gate who seemed desperate for my one dollar. He disappeared as two men on horseback raced across the landscape. There were camels everywhere and donkeys pulling carts and yellow and black taxis and Mercedes… a real mix. Here is where the folks who did not join us for the sunrise joined us.

I helped a student who still had Delhi Belly and another later with King Tut’s Revenge. I looked over the wall and saw a very old red fire engine, so I took a photo for Kent. There were vendors everywhere and they were pretty aggressive. “La, shook run,” is no, thank you. But it often doesn’t work. Phonetically, I greet people with “Salaam alikeum,” and the response is “Alikeum salaam.”

Then to our buses, where we let the students pick their places, sign in and then kept it for the duration so we could keep a count. I had faculty and family and staff and LLL on my bus with students for a total of 38, which is what every other bus had. Then we went to Memphis for a short visit. Memphis was the capital at one time and consists today of only a few ruins. Because the Nile is one of the few major rivers that flow north, upper Egypt is south toward Aswan and lower Egypt is north at the delta. There was an alabaster sphinx on display at the museum and a huge statue of most of Ramses II lying in a covered building.

We then went past the City of the Dead, which is in Cairo and the freeway allowed us a look into the open buildings where people have had their remains placed for a long time. Saladin was from Syria and came to help expel the Crusaders and after his victory became King of all of Egypt and built a Citadel in the 12th century. Then Mohamed Ali built a mosque inside in the 19th century. It is a replica of a mosque in Sophia at Istanbul with alabaster domes. I covered my hair and took off my shoes on entering the mosque.

Then we went to the Nile and had a buffet lunch. A truly awful belly dancer performed followed by a whirling dervish like male dancer. I went on deck and thought of all the people who had traveled on this river. Then we went to the Egyptian Archaeological Museum. It was packed and we had a hard time getting in. I opted to walk independently, but was joined by a student named Karen near the Royal Mummies. I paid an extra 100 Egyptian pounds and inside there were about 15 mummies. Included there was Queen Hatshepsut, along with her liver in a box. They had skin-tight faces and hands, but their fingernails were visible and wisps of hair. Teeth were bright and mostly intact. They were in glass display cases. It was very moving to see real people who were alive 4000 years ago who walked and talked and loved. Wow!

Then, on to King Tut. His room was incredible. There were three total coffins that fit into each other with the inner one and the mummy still in his tomb…the only one to remain so. His gold outer coffins were exquisite and on display, along with necklaces and the gold mask and finger covers and so much more. It was truly incredible. I walked as much of the museum in the allotted time, then back onto the buses. Then back to the hotel and a quick dinner as we had to get up at 2:30 a.m. for our flights to Cairo.

Up early and we gathered at the buses for the drive to the airport. There were many people and they were all crowding into one door. There were two security checkpoints and it took a while. Once through, we were given boarding passes, any boarding pass with another’s name on it. Then, on to buses to Egypt Air. It was a modern airplane and the flight at 5 a.m. was only one hour. Some ate the breakfast from their breakfast boxes and we arrived at the Nile Prince Hotel. The airport was clean and modern and nowhere have we seen an indigent person on the street. Sure, there are poor folks and some begging children, but no one just lies around on the sidewalk like other countries. At the hotel we had breakfast and I tackled the water issue early…that the bottled water at each table was included. Then we drove to the Valley of the Kings. In the past, people lived on the east side of the Nile where the sun rises and they bury folks on the west side where the sun sets. Luxor used to be Thebes, another past capital of Egypt and into this limestone mountain they built tombs. The top of the long cliffs had a pyramid shape that enhanced the location. We arrived and left our video cameras on the bus and our small cameras were banned inside King Tut’s tomb (they were checked in) and no photos in any of the other tombs. Ghada gave us a great talk and after riding the trams into the valley, we heard another specific to King Tut. We were given a ticket to enter Tut’s tomb and one other that allowed us to enter three others. King Tut’s was simple and we entered in groups. Down some steps and past a check area, then down some more, past some side chambers and into a larger room with plain walls, and then to a barrier. There a gold coffin sat in a sarcophagus of granite with King Tut inside. We were told his remains were too fragile for the museum. The walls in his room were colorful but the rest blank and bland. He was only 19 when he died and they are not allowed to continue decorating once he is gone plus 70 days, we were told.

Out again and I used my ticket to see three other tombs. Each was more elaborate than the next. The surrounding landscape was identical to Death Valley in so many ways, just no plants. It was hot in the Egyptian sun and I sipped water. Here in Egypt, there is the practice of baksheesh. You tip for everything, going potty, asking directions, taking a photo, and everyone, including guards, were always calling to you so they can figure out a way to get baksheesh from you. I went to Ramses 3, then 4 then 9. Here the hieroglyphs were abundant, stupendous and colorful. We were told how to read stories on the walls and ceilings. I really liked the elongated woman eating red balls of the sun and giving birth to them later, symbolizing sunset and sunrise.

The next stop was the Temple of Hatshepsut, the only woman who ruled all of Egypt. Apparently she dressed like a man when convenient and ruled strongly. From afar her temple looked like a modern building built into a mountainside. Neat columns and hieroglyphs and then the gauntlet back through the vendor’s bazaar. There was a quick stop at the Collossi of Memnon, two large statues that were in fair shape and then a return to the hotel. I helped a student with a dehydration headache, had lunch and checked into my room. It was not as nice as I anticipated, quite small and a bit dingy, but it was my little abode and I did not have to share. I slept for 30 minutes and was rejuvenated enough to go on a carriage ride. We piled in and I shared mine with Holly, a student. We went through the rural area of Luxor and poorer sections, then past some fields of corn and sugar cane. We stopped to see a water wheel and cobra, and then back through the market. That was intriguing, with lots of spices and no western faces.

That evening we went to the Temple of Luxor. It was lit up and beautiful, with tall statues and one obelisk. The other is in Paris France, and I saw that one when I was there after mom died. Back to the hotel and I worked out some problems for some students, having told the management earlier I was not pleased with my little room with a dirty rug and view of pigeons on girders. Well, the coordinator of the tour company, Achmed, must have told them I was the trip leader. The next thing I know I am being moved by a Bellman from room 509 to room 418, The Presidential Suite. I am talking, Wow! here. It had an open living room and dining area, a dressing room, huge bathroom with Jacuzzi and bidet, and huge master bedroom with a second TV. The main room and bedroom both opened out onto balconies that overlooked the Nile River. I have never had such opulence in a hotel room. Wow! I went to dinner and didn’t tell a soul…I was too afraid to!

Most of the group got up early to go on a balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings. I opted out, it’s exhausting being a trip leader on top of sleep deprivation and with over 20 years in a helicopter, I was okay with missing it. Later, the students raved about the experience. After breakfast we went to Karnak Temple. It is only 3 km from Luxor Temple and in the past they were joined by an Avenue of the Sphinx which is being restored. The temple was the best yet for hieroglyphs and carvings and wall bas relief. My favorite were the over 100 columns of the hypostyle that represented lotus and papyrus and stories galore. After another good talk, we had time to explore, and then back to the buses and hotel. I wrote part of my trip report and lounged on my balcony over the Nile River. Then off to the airport for a chartered flight to Cairo. I was given a business class seat…a first! Then a 3.5 hour drive to Alexandria to Cairo where we had lots of chatting and I taught a group to play, “I’m thinking of someone.” It was a hit. We got in line at the ship as bags were checked for contraband, no hookahs, no stuffed animals (the stuffing has lice eggs that later hatch on board), no alcohol for students and of course, no drugs. Dr. Lara, a music professor here came by and we made arrangements to explore Alexandria together.

Lara and I went to out the next day and walked past the bazaar to the outer gate and hired a taxi for 4 hours for 15 USD. We first went to the catacombs, which I didn’t know about. Then onto Pompey’s Pillar, a mix of Roman on an old Pharohnic spot. We say a dead skink and I took a photo. Then to the Kom El-Dik Roman amphitheater and classrooms where I purchased a book. Then to El-Nabi Danial St where there were book stalls and books of all kinds, new, I think, but dusty from their exposure to the elements. Then on to the Biblioteca Alexandria.

The original Library of Alexandria sat 200 m from this one and when ships came into the harbor, they were required to turn over all of their books. They were copied and the copies returned to the ship and the originals kept in the library. After 2 fires, the library was destroyed with only one fragment of a papyrus page left. This new modern library cost 220 million and is a wonder of technology and information. After dealing with our taxi driver, Lara and I joined the Taylor family, Tom is a history professor, his wife Laurie and children Jack and Alina, for a tour. We bought tickets, checked our bags and entered an incredibly modern world, more modern than any other library in the world, we were told, and it looked like it.

At about 2:00 p.m., I found my way back to the port and walked to the ship through the vendors. I played some gentle soccer with the Frankel children, Jake, Sarah and Elli-belli, their dad, Steve is a professor and Rachel the mom.

I finished paperwork, we weighed anchor just after 11:00 p.m. and are bound for Istanbul, Turkey.

Posted by Nancy @ 02:05 AM pst

Suez Canal

We are pulling into the harbor and there are oil rigs and ships and industry in this place of thousands of years of civilization. What an amazing feeling. Soon I am off to Cairo/Luxor as the Trip Leader of 154 people. It should be fun. I want to try and record a bit of yesterday and the night before.

Two nights ago we had a BBQ on deck. We needed it. Lots of laughing and camaraderie. I had finally graded all of my exams, over 100 for three classes, and my PPW average was 88 and the other two 83. They are working hard. Then there was cultural preport. I learned some Arabic and how to write numbers and talked with my friend Barb who is married to a Palestine-born American, Jawad Bargothi. She had a neat Palestine outfit on. I later joined her and Kathy Soule, the librarian for Halloween. We were the only costumed faculty. I wore my Nehru outfit and had a flexible wooden cobra and snake charmer’s flute. It was fun. Danced a bit then left it to the students.

The next morning I was up on deck as we entered the Suez Canal. There was a large city on the port side and desert to starboard (east), which was the Sinai Peninsula. We passed lots of apartments with dishes on the roof and primitive army camps and lots of desert. The west had quite a bit more civilization, including date palm groves as well as cities. It appeared it was an open sewer and smelled like it at times. We were in a convoy of other ships. Those I could see were large container ships. There is one string going north and two south. The southbound pull over in big lake-like areas in two spots as it is a one-way canal without locks. We saw the largest moveable bridge in the world as well as the large Friendship Bridge which was built with Japanese funds.

Throughout the day we had the Sea Olympics. We, the faculty, LLL, family and staff were the Dead Sea. We had a cheer and a theme song and a great banner, Audrey made. At 0900, Dean Ed Glatfelter pronounced the first ever SAS Sea Olympics in the Suez Canal open.

We won the opening ceremonies, and there were lots of other fun things. Sock wrestling, dodge ball, trivial pursuit, tug-of-war, which I was a part of that we lost, and, of course, ping pong, on the 4 aft deck on a moving deck with some interesting winds. I was set to play double with Dr. Monty Elliot, who is very good. We practiced and realized we would give them a run for their money. But I almost played doubles when Dr. Linda Smith had to go help a student from wrestling who tore a pectoralis major muscle. But she arrived in time and IT specialist, Judy Lunn, who had a great singing voice, was the paparazzi.

I watched the cormorants and Armenian gulls and terns and the landscape as we went through the canal. My goodness, 100 miles that was initially dug by hand. It was incredible. Then I took photos of venues and cheered on folks. At 3:30, Monty and I started ping pong. There were many teams and we did well, with nice saves and returns. We made it to the third round where we were defeated by the eventual first place orange team. But we won our play off game and were Bronze-medal winners in the Sea Olympics. Yeah. Then shower, quickly, as we are not making water in these poor water areas due to pollutants. Then I packed, then to Pre Port. We have a few very early mornings on this trip. After, there was the lip0synch contest. Ruth and Jake did Sonny and Cher, and many of the student seas did some great dancing. All very fun.

So up this morning in a fog, waiting for our briefing from the embassy, and then we will be off. Yahoo Egypt!

Posted by Nancy @ 01:58 AM pst