Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Barcelona to Abu Dhabi: Friday in Wadi Rum

It thrilled our hearts to see the Jordanian flag on the pilot boat leading us into Aqaba. We later learned that Abu Dhabi has plans to take over port management in Aqaba. We wonder how that works?

We lost an hour in transit, so when we docked in Aqaba at 7 a.m. our body time was 6 a.m. We ate a quick breakfast, grabbed our gear (headed for the desert) and met up the Nautica Lounge to get our assignment. We caught up with shipboard friends Ed and Alan, who were headed to Petra, and with Glennys and Blaise. We were on a larger bus, and 43 people, none of whom we knew well. We drove about an hour to the new visitor center.

Arriving at the visitor center, we were pointed to the restrooms and were told to form groups of five or six to ride in the back of the trucks. The trucks and drivers were waiting; we just headed for a truck with several others and it turned out to be a good choice, pure luck, as the guide, Majd, was riding in this truck with the son of the village chief. Majd also turned out to be the tour leader.

We were with a Czech couple now living in Toronto, and a guy from Buffalo, and it was a good group. We had to climb into the truck over the back gate. Actually, this cracked me up, bumping along in the back of the truck, wind in our faces. Once again, it is a relatively cool day, even chill in the shadows, so I am thankful for the bargain kufiyah I picked up in Luxor.

We bumped out through the mountains to a site where camels waited, and there were some petroglyphs on the wall.

Majd said they used to be higher, but an earthquake changed the topography.

I am guessing some of these petroglyphs are more contemporary. Some may be older.

We loaded up and bumped along to another site for taking photos, a short distance away. It was amazing to me to see all the semi-permanent camping set-ups in the wadi. Hard to imagine Lawrence of Arabia and his group of marauders here among the campers.

Then we drove to a majlis-style tent and drank coffee or tea with little cookies. It was a large air-conditioned in-the-style-of-a-Bedouin-tent, with tables and chairs, and there was an outdoor sitting area, where we could imagine at night they might hold campfires.

The bus was waiting to take us back to Aqaba. Alas, no more fresh air in the back of the truck, which I thought was really fun.

People wanted to stop for souvenirs, so Majd called a friend who opened his shop for those who wanted to shop. That reminded me of the old Jordan. It was Friday, the Muslim holy day when people normally have a large mid-day meal with family, but for his friend, he opened the shop. Next to the shop were some less modern structures, probably to contain domestic animals, or maybe camels 🙂

Jordan is a beautiful country, with amazing sights. It’s a pity to have only a short time here, but a short time is better than no time. On the whole, our time actually in Wadi Rum was about an hour, the rest at the tent.

For me, it was just sad. I have such wonderful, vivid memories of how wild and free and beautiful Wadi Rum can be. We used to be able to walk in the long slot canyons.

Now, there is trash all over the Wadi, plastic bags, plastic bottles, a pile of old broken toilets, old tires – detritus of civilization. I can understand why the Jordanians would limit access.

Here I am, a tourist. I remember the days when tourists were rare. We who lived there had to wait for the relatively cool weather in November, and for the full moon, to make the trip. We rode on camels into the Wadi, with a feast of kebabs and salads and bread, and young bedouin men jumping through the fire at night, just for fun. We slept on the sand, still warm from the day’s sunlight. I’m glad we have such a lovely memory; these things are just not possible now.

Forty years ago, November in Wadi Rum: AdventureMan of Arabia 🙂

Heading out into the desert.

What fun, to revisit these wonderful adventures!

Enough nostalgia. We are back at the boat; Aqaba has little going on today, Friday, and most of the action seems to go right by our balcony – it’s a great day for boating.

We unbundled ourselves, then went for lunch at Waves. We split a Surf and Turf (steak and lobster) sandwich, and I had some salad, And AdventureMan had a strawberry shake.

After lunch, while AdventureMan went to the steam room, (the spa is being cleaned out and maintained) I did a load of laundry to make sure I have enough clothes to get me through the rest of the trip. Actually, I kind of like doing laundry; it is not hard, and it is sort of meditative.

For dinner, Ashok brought us an appetizer, and then dinner – two onion soups, smoked salmon, a mezze plate and we split a creme brûlée. We eat in our nightclothes and sit on our balcony as we pull out of Aqaba and floated south past the border with Saudi Arabia. A lovely, quiet, private evening.

Once again, a day of surprises. The happy part was that it was cool, not hot, and I was happy to have my new kufiya with me. We were glad to be with another good group in the back of the truck; we had some good conversations. The downside for us was that Wadi Rum has become a place for tourists, and we, who once roamed Wadi Rum on camelback, are now tourists, not people who live there and absorb and learn from the culture. We are nostalgic for our old lives . . . and pragmatically, we are no longer the people who lived those lives.

But the surprises aren’t over! As we leave Aqaba, we are shortly off the coast of Saudi Arabia, where we also once lived, and Saudi Arabia has these huge electric signs to greet cruisers.

I believe the first one is the Muslim shahada, profession of faith that there is no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet. It is HUGE:

I have no idea what this one says, but maybe it is a blessing for those on boats?

All in all, a great day.

February 5, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Biography, Cultural, ExPat Life, Jordan, Public Art, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Barcelona to Abu Dhabi: Ballons Rising over the Nile and The Valley of the Kings

We were awake before the alarm went off, well-rested, and happy. And when we went to the window, a wonderful sight, balloons rising over the Nile!

We head downstairs for a quick breakfast to discover the breakfast area is chaos, there are bags everywhere with “Cosmos” on them. Merv tells us Cosmos is the agency that handles all these Egypt tours and once a year takes all the employees to a hotel for a meeting to show appreciation for all their hard work. She told us she had been given a room like ours to honor her long service, but – she couldn’t work the shower, and asked for a room on a lower level. We all laughed at our problems with the shower technology.

We are all on the bus before the deadline – what a great group. We head across the Nile to the Valley of the Kings, the group heads to three tombs, AdventureMan heads to the tomb of Seti and I settle into an oasis-like coffee shop where all the guides hang out. I drink coffee and listen to all the stories and gossip. They all know one another.

AdventureMan finds me, and we decide we don’t see any more things we like at the shops. We are not big shoppers, but we need to bring back some small things for people we know.

We leave the Valley and hit several more tomb areas – Queen Hatshepsut’s temple, Medina Habu (temple of Ramses III) which is an anomaly in the Valley as most of it is all about death, but this palace was for the living. A group was setting up for a party, or rock star performance, or something with gold chairs and all kinds of sound systems and fireworks in preparation. 

We get to clean up a little before loading back into the bus at 1:24 – this is significant – for the two-and-a-half-hour ride back to Sfaga and the Nautica.

We actually arrived back at about six. It took us a long time to get through all the little villages along the Nile, and my camera battery had run out early in the morning. I watched, I slept, I tried to take some photos with my iPhone, and it got later and later. When we finally got to the mountain road, it was nearly sunset. We stopped for a restroom break, where I paid for three people because no one else had small change and they were charging for the usage. I bought a mochaccino; it tasted great and I really needed it. 

Back on the road, slowly, slowly we lost our light and the time got later and later. Finally, we entered Safaga, and within fifteen more minutes, we had gone through Egyptian security and Nautica security, turned in our passports, and headed to our room. 

Our favorite table at The Terrace restaurant in the corner is free, so we eat outside, eager to get back to the room, catch up with ourselves, and get our daypacks ready for our docking tomorrow in Aqaba. We are on our way to Wadi Rum, a place with many exhilarating memories from a past life in Jordan.

February 4, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Building, Cultural, Road Trips, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Barcelona to Abu Dhabi: A Day in Luxor and Karnak

Have you noticed a theme developing on this trip? I am finding that some of the things I had most delighted in planning and anticipating have turned out to be not that great, while parts that I had maybe dreaded, or not cared so much for, have turned out way better than expected.

On our ship, which is beautiful, and noted for its cuisine and social life, I love our quiet, beautiful stateroom, with its spaciousness, serene colors, and large balcony. It is a happy place for me.

I had concerns about this hotel. I do my research. It looked very pedestrian, to me.

I was so wrong. Once again, we had a room that knocked our socks off. Again, spacious, and beautiful, with a nice balcony and a gorgeous view of the Nile. It had a state-of-the-art bathroom, so modern that it took AdventureMan half an hour to figure out the controls for the shower – and I never did figure it out. You could use the controls on the outside of the shower, or inside the shower, or use the remote control. Eventually, I just gave up and sponge bathed.

We are back on the bus very shortly to go to Luxor, and then to Karnak. This is AdventureMan’s happy place. He is really into all things Egyptian. Luxor and Karnak have expanded amazingly since our last visit, and he is grinning with happiness.

Near the entrance, we run into a happy group, they are visiting from Qatar, where we used to live.

You can still see traces of the original pigments on figures higher up on the pillers.

I break away to find a restroom; AdventureMan accompanies me and finds a new friend. He dazzled the attendant with old Egyptian coins we had saved – what – forty years? The attendant was so amazed, he gave me extra toilet paper 🙂

As we were leaving Luxor, I looked for a replacement keffiyeh for the one I lost and ended up with one I really hadn’t wanted. When you don’t really want something, amazing things can happen. He threw it at me, and I got it for $3 instead of 100 Egyptian pounds. I am glad now, it is navy and black, a very fine keffiyeh, and it keeps me warm.

At Karnak, I left the group and wandered out to the main drag where I could see the Nile and the horse-drawn carriages. The horses look healthier than they used to look, so many years ago.

We planned to skip the Sound and Light show to hit a handicraft shop we had wanted to visit only to discover it no longer exists. We get to our room around five and sack out briefly. We are exhausted. We have a quiet dinner. Later, AdventureMan heads down to the old Winter Palace to find some good Egyptian souvenirs for the kids with whom he volunteers.

This has been a great time to be here. There are no crowds of people thronging the old ruins. The weather is lovely.

The bed is huge, with really good linens and good reading lights. We slept well.

February 4, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Barcelona to Abu Dhabi: Safaga to Luxor

We docked in an industrial port in Sfaga, no getting off and wandering around. We have breakfast in our room, beautiful, quick and easy. We have to wait a while until the Egyptians have examined and stamped our passports.

All departing passengers gather in the Nautica Lounge – we are number 20, one of the last to go. We go through exit procedures (facial scan, Egyptian inspection) and discover we are on a small bus, a group of only eight people, for the next two days. We don’t know any of them, but we feel very fortunate to be with a very small group. We are happily surprised. We had thought we might be on a large bus with coughing and sneezing people and need to mask.

This is a very popular location. There are all kinds of trips going out, to various locations for various amounts of time. The buses are all lined up, and the immigration center we all have to go through is on the far left. 

Another happy surprise is that the weather is cool on the ship, and cool in the morning, cool enough to need a scarf. (This night, for dinner, I will need a sweater over my dress.) This is a happy surprise. I really hate being too hot.

We are on a two day trip, today and tomorrow with an overnight in Luxor.

Almost immediately, Merv, our guide, has us introduce ourselves. We are traveling with Steve and Becky from Austin, Dave and Patricia, from Toronto, and Tom and Deb from Vancouver. We have a long drive, through the stark mountain area of Egypt (!) and then along the luscious, fertile valley of the Nile, where I take almost all my photos. Steve and AdventureMan discover they have lived just miles from one another. All our fellow passengers are well-traveled. Becky has some mobility issues, but does a great job and never complains. 

When you think of Egypt, do you think of mountains? I never did. This first stretch we cover is full of desert and stark mountains, and I envision Moses, shepherding for his father-in-law and his encounter with the great I Am, in a bush that burned and was not consumed. I could imagine long treks with the sheep to find enough to eat, and long days to think about things.

My Arab friends always laughed when I would tell them their countries reminded me of growing up in Alaska, but there are wide open stretches that go on forever and harsh climates. In Alaska, you dress for the cold and stay inside through the worst of it; in the Middle East, you dress for the heat and stay inside for the worst of it, and you spend as much time as you can outdoors when temperatures are mild as you can. I am a big fan of dark skies and myriad stars, both Alaska and deserts provide food for my soul.

We make a stop at a rest stop along the way. We were supposed to travel in a caravan, with security, for our protection, but we were last to leave and our smaller bus did not have onboard facilities. It was really nice being able to get out and walk around, but it cost us in terms of convenience later on. Because we had lost our convoy, the police kept stopping us and questioning our credentials. They found us a curiosity. Finally, at one point, a police van led us several miles and vouched for our right of passage. It was an interesting experience. Our tour guide was relentlessly aggressive with the police, and rather than offending them, they were respectful to her.

Our tour guide was a formidable woman, one of the senior tour guides in Egypt. Her assignment with us was her second to last career assignment; she is retiring. What I loved about having her as a guide was that she was so knowledgeable. She filled us in on politics, social issues, and current events, as we drove a couple hours through the rural areas en route to Luxor.

My geographical knowledge of Egypt was slight. Now I feel really stupid. I had kind of thought the Red Sea and the Nile were somehow related, but the Nile is inland from the Red Sea. The micro-climates inland are lush and fertile.

You might see the donkey, but the reason I took this photo is that in our times living in Middle Eastern countries, we often saw rugs drying at service stations, especially those with car washes. The car washes get them nice and clean and have room to hang them so that they can dry. This is a nice, non-humid day, perfect for having carpets cleaned.

One of the things we learned is that Egypt has become more conservative with so many Egyptian men working as guest laborers in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Egyptian women were at one time freer and better educated and had more civil rights than now. Husbands and fathers returning from stricter countries enforced stricter standards on their daughters, wives, and family members. Interesting, hmmm?

Here is our friendly police escort below:

This is one of my favorite photos – these gourds, which are some kind of pumpkin or squash, are in season, and there are piles of them everywhere! I remember in Tunisia when pumpkins came into season, they were huge! In the market, you bought them by the slice, huge, thick, meaty pumpkins, one of the essential ingredients in couscous.

I remember in Qatar when the Queen found laundry hanging on balconies inelegant and banned it; had a law passed which forbid it. And yet – where were the apartment dwellers to dry their laundry? Laundry continued on the balconies, and I never heard of anyone arrested for it.

Look at this wall, made of recycled broken pots and clay.

There is a line behind the waiting man of little tuk-tuk taxis, many with curtains, with one driver in front and passengers in the back.

We go directly to the hotel once we get to Luxor, check-in, go to our rooms and clean up, then have lunch, which is an international buffet. That means mostly western food. Eating western food in the heart of Egypt was a surprising disappointment to me. I totally get it. Luxor is a huge destination, and Egypt needs the tourist currency. Hotels have to please a large number of people. We were yearning for a good felafel.

The truth is, I did not have high hopes for this part of my cruise. The last time we were in Egypt, we were staying with friends, in Cairo, and we had great adventures. We have actually been to Luxor and Karnak before, and I discovered that I did not like going down into tombs; to me, they are very musty and give me a claustrophobic feeling. I stay above ground and take photos.

I had no idea we would have such a great tour guide; she is a blessing, so full of information and opinions. I don’t always have to agree with her to like her. I respect her! I also had no idea we would be spending so much time traveling through villages where people live their normal lives, and I love it. I’m finding in general the tourist experience is restrictive; we are at the mercy of other people’s schedules, other people’s timing, and where other people find it expedient to take us.

This group is different. The people with whom we are traveling in this small group are all very respectful of being on time and not going missing – in fact, if anyone is guilty of going missing, it is me. I tend to wander off. I make it a point to keep Merv informed about where I will be and to always be on time for departures. She gives me latitude. She allows me to wander – here there and everywhere. 🙂

And, as random as life is, I am so thankful not to be too hot. I am having a great time. I got to go through the Suez Canal! I am going back to Wadi Rum! I am going to sail past Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, and Eritrea, and Djibouti, and Yemen en route to Oman! I am a happy woman!

February 4, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Biography, Bureaucracy, Civility, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, ExPat Life, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Living Conditions, Photos, Political Issues, Random Musings, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , | Leave a comment

What’s The Point? The Suez Canal

I am starting this entry at the end. Those of you who have been reading Here, There and Everywhere all these years know that I am an unabashed Geography nerd. I love maps. I love navigating, and I am pretty good at it. The opportunity to go through the Suez Canal was irresistible.

Now I’m going back to leaving Haifa.

We had another day at sea en route to the entry to the Canal. Once again, at night we are both sneezing and congested.

The next morning, I feel great once I am upright again, cannot understand why I am so stuffed up at night. 

It is warm out on the water, considerably warmer than before. I am wearing a sleeveless dress with just a scarf against the breezes. Breakfast at the Terrace Restaurant out on the deck; I had a hard-boiled egg and bland sausages. There is nothing to see. Water water everywhere.

We came back to our room, changed and went up to the spa for almost an hour. Caught up on e-mail, caught up on some reading, watching the progress as he get closer to Port Said, the entry to the canal experience. 

I’ve stopped going to the lectures. I did not find them useful. I had loaded my Kindle (it’s on my computer) so I have lots of books.

I don’t know how it works for you, but I had thought I would have a lot of time to read in retirement, and I don’t. I still have a lot of my daily routine obligations, you know, like keeping the house picked up and the laundry done and groceries shopped for and put away, those kinds of things. It’s not like AdventureMan is just lying around eating bonbons, he is also busy. He has taken all those dreadful business phone-calls off my (military wife) plate, and I am pathetically grateful. He also handles most of the house maintenance and all of the yard dealings, he gets the cars serviced, he volunteers at a local elementary school, he is a true partner. so believe me, I am not complaining. I am telling you this so you will understand how much I love having time to read, and not having to think about life-maintenance details.

Just before my husband left to attend his lecture on Tutankhamun, the captain of the ship made an announcement that we will be getting to Port Said a little earlier than expected due to an ill passenger who will be taken off the ship for medical care. Oh yikes. One of my worst nightmares would be to be hospitalized in Egypt. Port authorities will come aboard for some vague reason, he just wanted to let us all know. Very interesting. I went up on deck and saw them lowering the platform where small boats might tie up, I am guessing to offload the passenger, but then nothing happened. Or it happened at a time I wasn’t watching for it to happen, maybe during dinner.

The Captain also said we will be entering a queue of ships and will enter the Suez Canal around 3:45 a.m.  It will take us about ten hours to transit the canal. 

It was a beautiful evening, but oh, the industrial smog that hung over Port Said created a firey sunset.

We are surrounded by cargo ships, so many ships I worry we might run into one another, all crowded together.

I had set my alarm for 3:47 am. but I didn’t even need it, I was so eager, I woke up at 3:30 am. Out on the balcony, I discovered we were moving, and the pilot boat came up and dropped off the Canal Pilot as I was watching.

Port Said oil refineries. We’re starting through the Canal.

I felt great, but I needed coffee. I dressed, went up to Horizons to get coffee, and there was coffee! There were not many people who thought this was worth getting out of bed for, but I didn’t want to miss a minute. I found a couple other early birds and we went up to the top deck.

There was a small group, and one man had a program, Vessel Finder, that showed exactly where we were as we entered and passed through the canal.

We spent hours watching as we made progress, one container ship in front of us about 300 meters, and one behind.

The sun came up and we could see flocks of birds, and see soldiers policing the eastern bank, the land that borders Israel.

Finally, around seven, I went down and joined up with my husband. We went to breakfast, then to the spa, and got two of the lounge chairs. We soaked, then we enjoyed a great view of both sides of the canal for another hour or so.

This little village was full of these structures; I think they are dove cotes, or maybe for pigeons.

This was a ferry taking people from one side of the canal to the other. The entire length of the canal, we only saw one bridge, but we did see military-style floating bridge equipment they could use in an emergency to get to the other side.

The boats ahead of us. These Egyptians did a really smart thing, building this canal, and they built it in record time. Now, there is so much traffic through the canal that they had to build a second parallel channel, and even so, the ships go south all at the same time, and then they go north all the same time. They are willing to pay a lot of money to go through the canal because it beats having to go all the way around Africa to get their goods and products from Europe to India or the Middle East. I read they only allow passenger ships in the winter months.

It was a long crossing. There are parts that are very bleak, and it’s almost like watching a loop, like the same scenery passing and passing . . . I love the novelty of this itinerary, and I also have to admit that ten hours is a lot like watching paint dry.

Nearing the Southern end of the canal we start seeing more small boat traffic.

And dredging equipment, a never-ending task.

It was interesting to me that there was no lecture or video information on our room screens on the enormous accomplishment of building the Suez Canal. There was no commentary from the Captain. Most of the passengers were gathered around the pool, or sequestered in their cabins. I thought it was a missed opportunity; we all could have learned so much.

As we exit, we see fish traps like we used to see in Kuwait

Around 3, we exited at Suez City and sped toward Sfaga, halting only to pick up the passengers who had been evacuated for medical care to Cairo. Imagine! They missed the crossing, but won’t have to miss any of the rest of the trip!

We sat on the balcony, watching cargo container ships and trying to calculate the load, counting, estimating, thousands and thousands of containers stacked on all kinds of boats, in all kinds of configurations. 

The sun sets as we leave the Suez Canal and chug down the Red Sea towards Safaga, where we will dock to go to Luxor, Karnak, and the Valley of the Kings.

February 3, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Beauty, Geography / Maps, Photos, sunrise series, Sunsets, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Barcelona to Abu Dhabi and a Day in Haifa We Didn’t Expect

We had scheduled a full-day trip to the Golan Heights today, sort of a sentimental journey for our curiosity. We often visited a site in Jordan, Umm Qais, overlooking the Golan Heights from the east. We thought it would be fun to see it from the west side.

After our trip to Acre, we decided the last thing we wanted to do was to spend a full day on a bus with largely unmasked people who were coughing and sneezing, and it was not a location that mattered a lot to us, so we canceled.

We felt really good about our decision. I slept well and I got up early and had the laundry room all to myself, got a load started, then went up to the Horizons Lounge to have some hot coffee and watch the other passengers depart.

I put the clothes in the dryer and went back to the cabin where AdventureMan is awake and ready for breakfast. He is coughing and sneezing a little now, too, and we both drink pots of mint tea at breakfast. 

I grab the rest of the laundry as it finishes drying, we quickly fold and put away and head for our happy place on board, the spa. Most of the passengers seem not to be early risers, so when we go, before we start our day’s activities, we have it all to ourselves. My old turquoise swimsuit balloons when the jets of air hit, but no one is there to see and I will toss the suit when we start packing for our return and will never miss it. I hang on to old swimsuits just for this purpose, to get rid of them and not have to worry about transporting a damp suit. This time, hmmmm, I actually wish I had brought a newer suit that’s not saggy! I tell myself it’s OK, no one else is around this early in the morning, but – I live in fear.

After our spa time, we take our time getting ready to catch the shuttle for Haifa. The crew emergency drill begins, and we head for debarkation and wait for the shuttle. I meet a couple from near Bruges, Belgium. He is 59, and had a stroke. He has all his facilities; hears and understands but cannot communicate except by facial and hand expressions. His wife tends to him in his wheelchair and is taking him into town for the day. We have a great conversation; I am reading a book from a series right now about Bruges during the commercial explosion of the late 1400s as Bruges and the Netherlands led the way in international trading. 

The Shuttle drops us off in front of a hotel just by the main street through the Colony.

We explore the old German Colony of Haifa, and look for the Arab Market, which we discover is not open on Sundays because most of the Arabs are Christian. I do find pistachios, for which I have been searching, in one Arab quick shop which is open. They take Euros, and the nuts are very inexpensive.

Look at these wonderful old trees!

This large cathedral is St. Elias, in the center of the Arab Quarter, where everything is closed because it is Sunday.

We find a restaurant, the Gardens, for lunch and have a delicious lunch with freshly baked bread and cheese, lemon mint iced drinks, and a baked eggplant dish with tahini, finishing with Arabic coffee. We were definitely in our happy place.

The bread is still too hot to touch, full of a salty cheese, fresh out of the oven. We can hardly wait.

As we sat there, a photographer was preparing foods and photographing them for the tablet menus they are using to show their very international clientele what the dishes look like. A hungry cat and her adolescent offspring wandered the restaurant looking for handouts, and avoiding dangerous feet. 

My eye is caught by the patterned fabric they are using on the table 😊.

After lunch, we caught the shuttle back to the ship, went through the facial recognition process, and put our goods through the inspection machine, very TSA like, to get back on board. We also had to turn our passports back in as they will need them to get our Egyptian visas for the upcoming Suez transit and visit to Sfaga and Luxor.

As we boarded the bus, we talked with a New Hampshire couple who had been visiting with old friends overnight and had so much to tell us about their very different way of life but similar challenges, with children fighting old expectations and grandchildren underfoot. She also shared a cracker made with all kinds of seeds that was delicious. I’d love the recipe.

We got back at ship around 2:30. 

We took a snooze. That’s what cruises are all about, sleeping, eating, (for some, a lot of drinking) and a little bit of touring. Many passengers took long day tours to Jerusalem or Masada or the Dead Sea and are not back yet, so we made a last-minute decision to go to tea at 4:00 while there isn’t such a crowd. Great decision. Very low attendance, most tours were not back, and our friends Ed and Alan were there. We chatted with them, had some tea, listened to a string quartet, and spotted a submarine monitoring the harbor. Yes, really.

I can’t believe what I think I am seeing:

We stroll along the walking deck. I had thought this would be a place full of runners, but runners are few, and most of us are walking at various paces. We go back to our cabin and read. Time to read is such a wonderful luxury.

We love ordering dinner in our cabin. Ashok brought the fois en croute with a reduced port sauce AdventureMan loves so much, and a French Onion soup. I had Thai soup and some chicken. It was quiet and so private – and so wonderful. Another luxury – privacy!

We split a Creme Brulee for dessert. Ashok wants us each to have one, but I have diabetes, and AdventureMan helps me stay on track by splitting desserts with me.

We hear groups of our passengers returning, and we watch another cruise ship depart:

It’s Sunday. On some cruise ships, they have religious services, but not on the Oceania Nautica. At one point, AdventureMan asked me about this man named Bill, who has a group that meets every single night in a part of the restaurant. I explain to him about Friends of Bill W and the meeting for recovering alcoholics, and how glad I am to see that like-minded people can meet and strengthen one another on a ship where every day the cruise director tells us to “Grab a drink and make a friend.” I wish there were an Episcopalian group.

I feel great during the day, but when I lie down at night I get all stuffy and it sticks in my throat. I wonder if it is the cleaning supplies they use? I am constantly waking up, and have fevered dreams, although I have no fever. Finally, around three in the morning, I applied a hot towel to my sinuses and moved to sleep on the little couch, so I would be more upright. It was the right thing to do – I slept until seven thirty in the morning.

January 26, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Eating Out, Entertainment, Food, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Stranger in a Strange Land, sunrise series, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Barcelona to Abu Dhabi: A Stop in Haifa

First, a little orientation. On the map above, in the upper left corner, you will see Acre, and just south of Acre you will see Haifa. At the bottom central, you will see Jerusalem / Bethlehem / Hebron and a short distance to the east of Jerusalem you will see Amman, Jordan, where we lived for two years several years ago.

Early, early in the morning, we make port in Haifa. It isn’t picturesque, the port, and we are instructed that every person on board has to make a face-to-face immigration visit even if they are planning to stay aboard.

Those of us on trips have to do it en route to our tour bus. It is bureaucratic and annoying. The lines are long. There are two other larger tour boats in town, an Azamara and a Costa (full of Italians) so there are a LOT of people processing, and there is also a lot of noise.

The lines more quickly, and we find our bus, which is fairly full, and . . . there is more coughing and sneezing. Some of us are masked. My forehead and upper cheeks feel a little tight, like some little allergen is bothering me.

The trip is to Acre, an old Crusader stronghold with a fascinating history, but we don’t get a lot of the history, but we do get a lot of the guide’s perspective on Israelis and Arabs and threats to Israel, and generalities about the medieval times.

He takes us first to a large souvenir shop with two meager restrooms, and lets us spend a long time there before even beginning our trip.

We spent our time wandering around – nearby – and taking photos. It was a waste of our time, and there was so much we could have seen.

He won’t tell us where we will meet, does not want us wandering off, and because we don’t know when and where we have to meet, we have to stay with the group, my least favorite thing. He may have known a lot about Acre and the Fort, but he failed to convey the significance of what we were seeing, and he failed to place events in their context. “This is the Knight’s Hall” he would say, and let us look at a barren room with a slide show.

We found a map to help us out – except that it was in Hebrew

When we left the fort, the guide led us to the Arab market, we had about an hour. We could hear the call to prayer. Everything was about to come to a halt and we were starving. AdventureMan found a really good – really busy – falafel stand. It took us about half an hour just to get the meal, but it was so worth it – lots of vegetables, pickled eggplants, onion, etc, and the falafel were fresh out of the pot for each sandwich. That, and being able to watch all the regular customers as they ordered take-out for their families, was a lot of fun, and the best part of this trip to Acre. 

I have visited Acre before. It is an old city, with a long history, back and forth. It was a sleepy old seaport, then a Crusader Citadel, then the site of a lengthy battle, which the Moslems won. A few Crusaders escaped alive through a secret hidden tunnel. I was so looking forward to visiting this site. I feel short-changed. If I had it to do over again, I would skip the Oceania tour and take the local ferry to Acre (Acre is a very short distance from Haifa) and we could wander at will (it is not a large location) and take the ferry back and see the things we want to see at our own pace.

When we got back on the bus, it was a hassle getting out of the lot, one couple was missing, and a lot more people were coughing. I couldn’t wait to get back to our quiet room on board. I also had allergies, or sinus, an almost-sore throat and I was just tired.

We considered ordering dinner in our room but decided it would be quicker to just run up to the Terrace buffet and grab something quick. We both had the asparagus salmon soup (not a lot of salmon) and I had a variety of vegetables – a pickled rolled up eggplant called involtini, a little mousse of sweet red pepper, some olives. 

We ate outside – we have a table we like a lot to the far right, shaded from the breeze. It was actually warmer eating outside than inside. I drank a lot of mint tea with lemon and honey for my throat and head. Moustafa, our Turkish waiter, told us about farming practices near Ephesus, where he is from, about yoghurt, and fat content, and wanted to know about the varying kinds of cattle in the US. We didn’t know a lot, he was asking really good questions. We love those kinds of conversations.

By the time we got back to the room, all I wanted to do was go to bed.

I slept poorly, my sinuses swollen, not able to breathe well, feeling like a cold was coming on, until some point I got up and went to the couch where I could sleep in a more vertical position. It worked. I could breathe again, and when I woke up, I was feeling pretty good.

January 26, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Geography / Maps, Health Issues, Hot drinks, Middle East, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

At Sea: We Need to Talk About Ashok

Those of you who know AdventureMan and I personally know that we are relentlessly self-reliant. With all our years of moving and living in a variety of countries, we have needed to be, but in truth, we are wired that way. You will laugh when I say I am uncomfortable even introducing this topic.

Our beautiful room comes with a butler.

It has been an awkward dance, but Ashok, our butler, is a pro at assessing people and working with their preferences. We don’t need a lot of service, and he has found ways to make himself useful to us anyway. Discovering I like Ginger Beer, he scoured the bars, alerted his contacts, and made sure our little refrigerator was well stocked with AdventureMan’s Coca Cola, and my Ginger Beer. He was always polite and pleasant.

The night we had decided to have dinner on the balcony after our day in Taormina and had saved parts of our sandwiches from lunch, we also found a generous tray of hors d’oeuvres waiting for us when we arrived late back to the ship. We had to admit, it was really nice, he had intuited well what we might like.

When we got tired of dressing for dinner and asked to have dinner in our room (part of the perks), he served us with elegance and grace, and made it so much fun that we indulged every few nights.

When AdventureMan wanted his laundry done professionally, Ashok made sure it came back very quickly.

In spite of our self-reliance, Ashok learned how to make himself invaluable to us. And, in truth, we really liked him, and loved our discussions with him. We were impressed with his resourcefulness, and his delight in making things happen. He seemed to delight in delighting us.

We are at sea for two days, en route from Messina to Haifa, Israel.

I was wide awake by five, so I got up quietly and dressed, grabbed my computer, found a cup of coffee at Barista’s, and headed up to Horizon’s, the forward observation lounge to check e-mails. Over 300 e-mails, horrors! I spent a while just deleting, then responding to the few requiring attention – requests from Air France for rating how I liked my flights, and a couple e-mails from friends. Most of the time, in this large lounge, it was just me and one or two others. I did get a nice photo of the sun coming up; it looks a lot like the day before.

When I headed back to our cabin, AdventureMan was just getting up, so we went together to breakfast where I am so delighted to find marinated herring and smoked salmon, two of my favorite things in the world. (It’s my Swedish blood talking.) AdventureMan finds herring abhorrent, and so does the Indonesian lady dishing it up; when I say a bright cheery “thank you!” her response was meant to be a smile, but it was a little twisted by disgust. I also had my virtuous oatmeal, with virtuous fresh blueberries – so much temptation, but my blood sugar is well within normal and I want to keep it there.

After breakfast I introduced AdventureMan to a new thrill – the spa pool at the front of the ship. It is just below the Horizons Lounge, and we had noticed that if you enter the pool by the stairs, you are visible to the people in the lounge. It doesn’t bother AdventureMan, but I figured out how to enter from the side, so as to remain unseen. The spa is very warm to hot, and can be made to bubble, so we had a wonderful twenty minutes in the hot tub in the fresh air, then we headed back to our room.

This early morning trip to the spa, having it all to ourselves, became another guilty pleasure. So lovely, so indulgent.

This quiet sea day, I napped a lot. I meant to read. I meant to update this journal. I napped. I don’t even feel guilty, it felt so good. 

Our cabin as all shades of grayish green, sea colors. The walls look almost gray, but there are streaks of green in the wall paper. The upholstered headboard is a very pale shade of sea-green. The furniture and pillows a little bit darker shade of green, and the two pashmina throws to keep us warm are almost an exact match to the furniture. It’s all very soothing.

There is a little “couch,” really more of a love-seat, where I can fall asleep very easily.

Space is smartly allocated so that there is plenty of closet space, with doors that open so you can see everything, and enough hangers. (Enough hangers! I didn’t have to ask for more!) There are enough drawers to stow things in neatly. The bathroom has two upper-side cupboards, and two lower cupboards with shelves, too. There is more cupboard space in the bathroom than we need; we can keep everything in cupboards, out of sight. (This is a first.)

The ship is very silent. We don’t hear the motors, or the anchors dropping or lifting. We feel little sways and jerks now and then. At one point the weather changed briefly, we had rain. At night the ship swayed enough to cause some to have problems with balance, but it wasn’t much. We can feel the boat rock side to side, just a little, now and then. It is like being a baby again, held against your Mama as she walks about, feeling safe and secure. I napped a lot.

Dinner this night at sea was an Italian Market special, and we ate once again in the casual restaurant but dressed up a little. As it was a little cold and windy, we ate inside instead of at our usual table on the back terrace. It was one of my favorite meals – grilled Italian vegetables (mostly eggplant and peppers) and a big bowl of an Italian kind of Bouillabaisse, a fish stew, and it was wonderful. 

In the restaurant, I could overhear a conversation I longed to join, two tables away, about Amor Towles and A Gentleman in Moscow. I tried to see who the people were, an assortment of six, but I am not sure I would recognize them again. Another woman, seated nearby, was very blonde with a bright red pashmina wrapped around her shoulders – I’ve always envied that drama, and know it isn’t really my style.

Even though I napped a lot during the day, I slept well this night for the first time since Barcelona.

We slept fairly well through the night, awakening around five but getting back to sleep again for another day at sea. Nice breakfast on the Terrace (my virtuous oatmeal, this time with fresh raspberries), followed by another early visit to the spa, where at that early hour, we have it all to ourselves. We were out in time to get ready for the Veteran’s Day/ Remembrance Day Ceremony at 9:15 in the Nautica Lounge. It was simple, short and sweet.

We were back at the Nautica Lounge just a short while later for another enrichment lecture on the Knights Hospitaler and Knights Templar, which helps put everything in context for our upcoming trip to Acre while we stop in Haifa. 

We nap and read through the quiet afternoon as we pass south of Crete and Greece, never seeing a speck of land. Tonight is dinner at Toscana, the ship’s specialty Italian restaurant; we have dinner reservations at seven. We know a waiter who works there, Buti, and he has been waiting for us to come see him. 

The problem, for us, is that by late afternoon we are already closing down. We’ve always been this way, but when we were younger, we really didn’t know it. We dress, I wear the one little black dress I have brought for special evenings, with a red scarf, my own toast to a little drama. When we get to Toscana, there is a line, the restaurant isn’t open yet so we go into the library. Shortly, the Jewish Shabbat began, and we left to give them privacy, got in the line, and very shortly got in and asked to be seated in Buti’s section.

Buti treated us like gold. We felt so special. When I ordered, he insisted I add a small dish of pasta, angel hair aglio oglio, and when he brought it, it was perfect. He also brought a small bowl of sambol oelek sauce, which I know from Kuwait and Qatar, spicy hot peppers in a little vinegar, absolutely divine. I also had Veal Marsala, and AdventureMan had a Caprese Salad and Linguini Cioppiono. Altogether, it was a lovely meal. All around us people were laughing and talking, a single man at the next table was reading Saul Bellow, and as nice as it all was, it was slowly elegant and we got restless. We skipped dessert, which is a really good thing, because my blood sugar was 123 the next day, which gave me a good wake-up call. 

I loved the sambol oelek, and I loved the angel hair pasta. It’s hard for me to be gracious after five at night. When we got home, we were exhausted. Everyone is so kind, wanting to make us feel so special, and I just feel tired and happy to be back in my room getting ready for bed.

January 25, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Civility, Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, Education, Geography / Maps, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Taormina! and the BamBar!

As we were waiting – and waiting – and waiting to actually take this tour, the three long years of COVID, we spent time doing research on various aspects of the itinerary. One of our very favorite resources was Gary Bembridge’s Tips for Travellers, and his amazing cruise ship videos.

Gary Bembridge and his partner really like Oceania for it’s passenger service and care, and for the dining options they offer, and he says that for people who are destination serious, the line that has the best tours and onboard lecturers for content and information is hands down, Viking.

My Mother had a great sense of humor; she once said “have you ever noticed that people with good taste seem to have tastes that agree with your own?” I’ve never forgotten that. As I recommend Gary Bembridge and his videos, it is my OPINION that his opinions are really great, but it is probably because I agree with most of what he says.

He says it is important (I am paraphrasing here) to know who you are and to know what you like and know what is important to you as you choose a cruise line. Do you want entertainment? Do you like casinos? Do you want to take your children?

He compares ship packages – tours, drinks, ship credits and helps you find what is right for you. He advises on choice of cabins, cabin locations, and cabins for people inclined to sea sickness. If you have never cruised, or if you have had a disappointing cruise but are willing to try again, Gary Bembridge and his videos can help you make choices that will be a great choice for YOU.

We also watched a lot of YouTube videos about Taormina (and Barcelona, that’s how we narrowed down our choices for our short time there.)

We are the bane of a tour director’s life, AdventureMan and I. We prefer to wander off on our own. I like to take photos not crowded with people. I have some attention deficits; I can only listen for so long, and I can only absorb so much.

So we signed up for a tour called Taormina on your Own, and it turned out to be very right for us.

It was getting close to 1:55 and we headed for our bus. Our friends Alan and Ed came on board, too; we had met them in Barcelona and they sat behind us and we got to know each other a little better. They said mostly they had been eating and catching up on sleep. 

Before we got out of Messina, we got stuck in the middle of a very cultural moment; school got out and parents, drivers, and taxis were all very aggressively picking up students from their schools. There was no regard for lanes, and there were cars coming straight at us in our lane! There were students stepping in front of the bus, knowing we would stop! It was chaos, and it happened every single day in Messina.

Here is a policeman, doing nothing.

Our guide, Julia, gave us all sorts of great information on Messina and Toaramina as we drove the twisty roads en route to Taormina.

The day was already fading as we arrived at a giant parking lot and Julia explained how to get into town and where we would meet to return to the ship. She said we would meet at 5:30, but we were supposed to be back on board at 5:30. She said, oh no, that the ship wasn’t leaving until seven, so we had plenty of time. OK.

AdventureMan and I headed out, and it was familiar territory from all the YouTube videos we had watched. We found there were not too many tourists, and the light was beautiful.

We had learned, from YouTube, of a Taormina legend dating back to early times where a princess had a lover who was unfaithful. She cut off his head and used it as a planter for her basil, which thrived. If you know the legend, you see the planters commemorating this legend everywhere,

Pomegranates! And a pomegranate juice maker! I wish I could stop, but we are headed for the BamBar, and their famous Granitas.

We quickly found the Twin Set where we headed right and strolled down to the Bam Bar. There was one empty table waiting for us.

We ordered granita; chocolate for me, pistachio and brioche for AdventureMan, and hot tea for me. The chocolate was divine, thick and intense, probably full of calories, but how often are we in Taormina?

We continued down the main road and went outside to look at the old Roman Ruins.

On the way back, we headed to see the Greek Theatre, but the gates closed just as we arrived.

It wasn’t a great loss to us; we’d seen it so often on YouTube we felt like we’d been there, and we had other panoramic opportunities to view Toaramina.

These musicians were very good. I can imagine they made good money from tips from appreciative tourists.

Back in Pensacola, pre-trip, a not un-typical conversation:

AdventureMan, hollaring from his office “Hey, there’s an airport up on the hill. We could hike up!”

Me: (thinking why would I want to hike up a hill to the airport? Looking at the map – I can see that it is not an airport. It is an old fort.) “It’s NOT an airport!” I holler back.

AdventureMan, coming into my office with a very confused look on his face: “What do you think I just said?”

Me: “That we could hike up to the airport on the top of the hill.”

AdventureMan, laughing so hard he can barely stand up: “Arab Fort! Arab Fort! Not Airport, Arab Fort!”

We still laugh about that one. We had a great view of the Arab Fort from the BamBar.

We also got to see Mount Etna spewing lava in the distance.

It was another gorgeous day on our trip. We met up with our group, getting to know some of our fellow passengers a little better, then headed to the bus.

As we departed, the moon came up, giant and blood-red in the distance, truly glorious. Arriving back in Messina, at almost 6:40, there was a long line to get back onto the ship, but they had facial recognition programs that identified us and allowed us to process quickly. 

We got to our room, changed our clothes, and took our dinner and a bottle of wine out to our balcony.

We were eating and chatting and watching the passengers straggle back, and at some point, the ship silently pulled away from the dock and it was so gently done we didn’t even notice until we were about ten meters away. We still have a full moon!

What a lovely way to make a departure. The temperature was so warm that we were perfectly comfortable out on the balcony watching as we departed Sicily, faced toward Italy until we lost the view and we retreated back into our cabin.

January 20, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Chocolate, Cultural, Food, Italy, Travel | , , , | 2 Comments

At Sea On U.S. Election Day

It is wonderful to be at sea in the turmoil of this year’s election. No one is talking about it onboard. What a relief.

We are told there are passengers from 39 nations on board, and crew from more nations. The entire day, we hear not a word about the American election.

The demographic is very much our age group. If anything, we are younger than most. Hard to say, but we see some very old but still adventuresome travelers, which gives us hope for our own future travels.

We were wide awake before seven. I got up and went to get some coffee. We can have it delivered to the room, but on these relaxed days at sea, we don’t like to commit to a time and it is just as easy to go get my own cup at the dedicated coffee bar. Actually, coffee is available in many places on the ship, and the smell of coffee early in the morning wafts everywhere.

We had decided to try The Grand Dining Room for breakfast, wanting to be less formal in a very formal environment.

The waiters are all white-jacketed and very pleasant. The menu is lovely – the tastiest item was smoked salmon with cream and capers and white onion, a great way to start the day. AdventureMan shared with me. The fruit platters were large enough for two; I cut most of mine into small pieces to stir into my virtuous oatmeal. Don’t you think smoked salmon is virtuous too? I think I prefer virtuous tasty smoked salmon to virtuous oatmeal. 

I am not complaining. I eat oatmeal every day at home. As a diabetic, it is great for keeping my blood sugar levels down. The Nautica had really nice oatmeal. And oatmeal just pales in comparison to all the lovely choices available for breakfast, all the beautiful pastries, croissants, breakfast breads, all the lovely foods with a lot of fats and sugars. Yes, even on a cruise, I pay attention. I will try not to whine again.

After breakfast, I grabbed some of my hotter weather clothes to iron – the compression bags puts some serious wrinkles into linen clothing.

The laundry room is much smaller than it appears on the ship map, but the iron was hot and efficient, and there were other passengers doing small loads of washing and drying. It is handy that it is all free. There is a laundry on board, and although we have laundry service I prefer doing my own laundry. We have a line in the shower where we can hang items we have hand laundered in the sink, and we found little detergent slips on Amazon that are very compact and efficient for hand laundry.

Then we walked the walking track, windy, invigorating; we have a lovely sunny day, warm enough but sometimes the wind was so strong it blew me into AdventureMan. I am happy we packed some of our cool-weather gear; when we are at sea, it can be windy and chilly. We checked out the gym, where AdventureMan found mats available for stretching as I look eagerly at the outside spa overlooking the bow of the ship. Heaven!

Back in the room, AdventureMan naps as we wait for the eleven o-clock enrichment lecture on the Origins of the First Crusade, in preparation for our time in Sicily and Israel. I am excited we will be going to Acre, the old Crusader stronghold, the day we arrive there.

 The lecture was well attended, probably four hundred or so passengers.

And then off we went to lunch at The Terrace restaurant.

We have found a table we love; sheltered by a small wall but still with a good view out over the aft of the ship. The Terrace is the ship’s buffet restaurant, except that it is not like a buffet where you dish up your own portions. There are very pleasant wait-staff every few feet who put food on your plate. You can say “a very small portion, please” or “could I have a little more of that?” and they will give you exactly what you wish. Don’t you love having choices?

It all feels so indulgent.

After lunch, I read while AdventureMan attended an afternoon lecture on How Man Learned to Navigate by the Stars, which he said turns out to be very complicated. Here is the truth, I will admit it, I needed a nap. I am not yet fully adapted to the time change. The little couch is a perfect size for me, and there is a soft sea-green throw I can cover up with and I am out like a light.

Dinner this night is at the Polo Grill, and, sadly, while these reservations are greatly coveted, by dinner time I don’t care. I don’t much want to dress up; I wish they would just deliver the dinner to the room, but this is part of the Oceania experience and so we dress and go up for dinner. The code is “country-club casual.” There are many interpretations of what that might mean. Here is ours.

I had a shrimp cocktail, tomato salad, and lobster, AdventureMan had the Lobster Bisque, Fois Gras en Croute, and the lobster, and we split a Creme Brûlée. The Creme Brûlée was very good.

It is a lovely kind of evening, and we enjoyed ourselves because we do this so rarely. The night is sweet and warm, the moon is full, and we can’t resist a lap or two around the walking track before we go to sleep.

January 20, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Bureaucracy, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Diet / Weight Loss, Eating Out, Food, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , | Leave a comment