Annie at the Sphinx

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Massachusetts to Italy

Linda at a cafe in the Vienna airport

May 15-16, 2009 Westport, Massachusetts to Savona, Italy
Linda and I both had dreamed of visiting the pyramids. We started our journey in Westport, Massachusetts, where Linda lives. She arranged for a town car to take us to Logan Airport in Boston to begin the odyssey. We were able to check our luggage through to Italy. We traveled first to Washington D. C., then overnight on to Vienna. During that flight I met an Egyptian man who warned me about camel rides. He said that a price may be agreed upon before you mount, but unscrupulous camel drivers will extort more money to get off the camel.
We had a layover in Vienna and had a snack at a café before boarding the plane to Paris and finally to Genoa. Our plane was 45 minutes early but we had previously arranged for a taxi from the hotel in Savona, about 40 miles away. When no one came, I finally emailed the hotel on my Blackberry. I got an email back that we were waiting on the wrong level of the airport. We finally found our female taxi driver and she took us through many, many tunnels to reach Savona and the Hotel Riviera.
When we got into the room Linda was fascinated by the retractable wooden slats that were for security, privacy, and shading out the sunlight. She unrolled up the canopy on the balcony, from which we could see the Mediterranean. We noticed the bidet, which I found useful the next morning to shave my legs. We were too tired to venture out and had a very pedestrian meal at the hotel.


The hills of Savona

Alleyway markets

May 17 Savona
The next morning we had a continental breakfast at the hotel, including a machine that made lattes and cappuccinos. We walked along the street that fronted the sea but the view was blocked by bath houses that had restaurants, changing rooms, and beach chairs. We took a walk along the sea wall, enjoying the views of the sea, the birds, and the local architecture.
We walked in the narrow alleys that were filled with shops: food, home décor, apparel, lots of children’s wear, toys, and beach gear. I felt it was my traveler’s duty to taste the cookies, hearts with chocolate icing. We took our books to a café and read and people watched. There were a lot of babies!
We took a taxi to the ship. We had to wait a few hours before boarding. The Costa terminal was quite comfortable and we had Panini sandwiches as we waited. Of course the nesters unpacked immediately after boarding. We had a very unorganized “muster” on the deck. A French man flirted outrageously with Linda even though his wife was right there. We heard very little English being spoken. This was our first clue that English speakers were a definite minority of the passengers. Much later we found out that of 1800 passengers, 150 spoke English.
At dinner we met our table mates. The seating is by language. Werner and Joanne are from Michigan. They’ve been married 40 years! Werner is a tall, good-looking American businessman (automotive paints) with strong opinions. He’s been going on cruises since he was 16. He prefers the days at sea. Joanne is a slender, pretty woman who was a fifth grade teacher and homemaker and shares my love of reading. They have two adult Korean children. Angelo and Butch are friends from Texas. Angelo is perhaps 70, bald, a semi-retired priest who lives at a retreat and Butch is a deacon ( a priest who’s married.) His wife had to cancel her trip at the last minute as they have new foster kids, twin twelve-year old boys. I had a great salmon steak, but Linda’s veal was almost inedible. Luckily the appetizers were great.
That night we went to the entertainment. It was an illusionist who said everything in five languages: French, Italian, English, Spanish, and German. The show was satisfactory but not impressive. After the show, the ship’s activities director, Daniela, spoke to us. Her screaming voice after each show drove Linda up the wall.


Pompeii's maritime gate

Casts of volcano victims

Mt. Vesuvius in the background

Pompeii ruins

Steps to cross the urine-filled streets

Fountain in the House of the Small Fountain

Faun statue for which the house was named

Mosaics at Faun House

Pompeii landscapes

May 18 Naples (Pompeii)
The next day we docked at Naples and went on a tour of Pompeii. Enzo, our guide, was a proud fourth generation guide. He thought Americans were too loud. First we went to a cameo factory. It was a bust. No one bought a thing. We rode a while before arriving in Pompeii. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A. D. covering Pompeii in 59 feet of ash. Perhaps 20,000 people were killed. Pliny the Younger was an eyewitness to the eruption and its devastation as he saw it across the bay. He wrote about it 25 years later. His uncle, Pliny the Elder, was killed trying to rescue people from the eruption. Pompeii remained covered until it was rediscovered in 1748. There was no serious effort to unearth it. That may have been due to the culture clash. Pompeii was a resort renowned for its pleasures of the flesh. Notables who saw the erotic art ordered it buried again.
We first went to the marine gate. The sea was right outside the city gates before the eruption. We went to the Forum where justice was meted out and where they also sold grain. The columns were not marble but made to look like they were.
Stones were placed in the streets so people could cross without having to step in the steam of urine. The stones were strategically placed so wagon wheels could go on either side. We saw a bar that had two holes for vats, one for wine and one for beer. People pulled up to the bar, ordered their drinks, quickly drank them, and went on down the road.
They had aqueducts that delivered water to the city and its fountains. These were greatly improved after 69 A.D. when Pompeii became part of the Roman Empire.
Grain was sold by volume. The grain was put in a bowl that had an opening at the bottom. The buyer placed a sack underneath to catch the grain when the trap door was opened. The carrying vessels were cone shaped so they could be put in board with holes for them to be carried by horses or carts without spilling.
There were storehouses of pottery and other relics found during excavation as well as plaster casts of people and dogs. When the archeologists came to an air pocket, they filled it with plaster. This is how they captured the shape of the people who were incinerated with hands over their mouths and eyes.
The houses of prostitution were indicated by a sign. We saw a public laundry. Men were paid for their urine, which was used as a soap and disinfectant. The urine was them sold at a 300% profit.
The house of the small fountain had amazing murals and mosaics as well as a sleeping dog. Enzo said these are dogs that have been abandoned. But what do they eat? No one lives in Pompeii and there are no food vendors.
The house of the faun (the product of a man and a goat) had a small statue that gave it its name. The home was very large and had its own laundry so they could use their own urine as soap. There was a mosaic mural of Alexander the Great fighting the Persians.
The amphitheatre was in very good shape, and the arches of the entrances were striking.
After the tour we tasted lemon cello. Yuk! Linda and I bought erotic mural postcards since Enzo did not want to take us to the brothels where the murals advertised each prostitute’s specialty.
We had a nice dinner and went to a show of flamenco dancing.

Days at sea, lecture on Egypt

May 19-20 Days at Sea
Linda and I dutifully went to the fitness center to work out both days. The first day we went to tea at the buffet but there were no cucumber sandwiches and scones, only sad sandwiches and bad pastry. I did like the meringue cookies. The next day we went to the “classic tea” in the Argo lounge. They had many long leaf teas available and made the tea bags to order. Delicious. The cookies and cakes were a bit better but the sandwiches the same yukky ones. There was a violin and piano duet that played delightfully.
We noticed a natty petite French fellow at dinner one night when he was wearing a pinkish red outfit. The next evening he wore a polo shirt with rainbows. He was hereafter referred to as “Rainbow.” The nightly entertainment was “Traditional and Modern Rhythm & Styles with singer Ian Fraser” and “Luc. . . in a Bubble Showcase,” The former was okay with lots of costumes but the stagehands overdid it with the smoke machine and the colored lights. The bubble guy would have been good for 10 minutes at a children’s party.
We also attended a lecture on Egypt given by the resident pundit, Matteo Martinelli. His English was difficult to understand. This is the gist of it:
Egypt was divided into three areas: Upper Egypt, the farmable land south of Cairo, the Delta which was Lower Egypt; and the desert between Cairo and Aswan. The Libyan Desert is west of the Nile, the Arabic Desert is east of the Nile, and the Sinai Peninsula was the Ancient or Asian Desert.
Kemet was the name of the ancient Egyptian civilization. The lecturer kept saying, “Egypt is a gift of the Nile.” The Nile was the reason for people being there. Steps measured the height of the Nile. The higher the water, the higher the taxes since the yield of the crops would be greater. 5500-3300 B.C. was the pre-dynastic period. The dead were buried in the fetal position in their homes. In 3300 B.C. Egypt was unified. Narmer ruled 3185-3125 B.C. The tablet of Narmer shows artwork in which he wore the white crown of Upper Egypt, the red crown of Lower Egypt, and put them together as one crown.
One symbol of the kings was the buffalo, which killed many people, thus representing cruel and oppressive power. Other symbols were the lion and the falcon. Dynasties followed without violence. If there was no male heir, a relative would marry the king’s daughter. The viziers were the prime ministers to the kings. They had many scribes and derived their power from being able to raise and document taxes. In the pictures of ancient Egypt, you can tell gender by skin color. Men were red and women were pale.
The first pyramid, the largest brick building, was built by Djoser in Saqqara necropolis, northwest of Memphis. It was a step pyramid of decreasing squares, 203 feet high and built in the 27th century B.C. designed by his vizier Imhotop. Imhotep was considered a superman: a prime minister, a doctor, a poet, an architect and builder, and a priest. He was a commoner who was regarded as the god of healing and building.
There was further experimentation with building pyramids. Huni, who ruled 2637-2613, built many small granite step pyramids. He made a 57 degree tilt. Some of them collapsed so they learned by trial and error.
Cheops Khufu, who ruled from 2589-2566, built the great pyramid at Giza. Until the Eifel tower was built, the pyramid remained the tallest man-made structure in the world. Large pyramids were built for kings, with smaller ones for queens. There are 90 different kinds of pyramids.
The sphinx was carved out of rock and the face was modeled after the pharaoh Khafra who had it built during his rule (who ruled 2520-2494 B.C.) It has the body of a lion and the head of a man. It is 65 feet high, 20 feet wide, and 241 feet long.
The lecture prepared us for our tour of Egypt. We’re very excited about Egypt but saw in the International News that is published onboard that is was 106 degrees yesterday in Cairo. I finished my book, Everything under the Sun, a book set in 1923. It’s about a Spanish woman who lives in France who has to go to China to settle her husband’s business affairs. It had lots of adventure, great characters, and was set in Shanghai and Xi’an, places I’ve been.

Egypt Day 1

Pigeeon tower

The Citadel, built to keep out the Crusaders

Muhammed Ali Mosque

Courtyard of the muhammed Ali Mosque

Interior images of Muhammed Ali Mosque

Cairo had lots of air pollution

Vew of Cairo from the boat down the Nile

Belly dancer on the boat down the Nile

The Marriott was impresive

May 21 Egypt
We were ready for our early (7:15 am) departure for our overland tour of Egypt. We got our passports back with the Egyptian visas that read “quick trip.” Angelo and Butch were on our tour. We met Hanan our guide and our bus driver. However she did not introduce us to our security man who accompanied us on the bus, guarded us at all stops, and had a gun. I called him the “nameless, faceless security guy.” The tour was in both English and German, which makes it hard on the guide as well as affording us less information. Our tour buses had army escorts at all times. There was a tremendous military presence in Egypt.
As we rode to Cairo, about three hours away, Hanan started taking orders for the souvenir from Egypt, the cartouche. It is a long oval that has a person’s name written in hieroglyphics. She also gave us an orientation to Egyptian society. She pointed out the tall pigeon towers. Pigeon is considered a dining delicacy. She commented on the number of women (almost all) who were wearing the veil. (She did not.) She said 35 years ago it was unusual for women to wear the veil. In the last year it has become ubiquitous. The women in the countryside wear black, maroon, and dark colored flowing apparel. I think it’s to show solidarity with other Middle East Muslims. It is not demanded by the Quran. She reiterated what the lecturer had said, that Egypt was divided into two kingdoms. The Lower Kingdom is south of Giza and the Upper Kingdom is north of Giza. The Nile is the only river to flow north. Modern Egypt is made up of four groups: farmers, urban people, Bedouins (nomads,) and Nubians. Eighty-five percent of the population is Muslim and fifteen percent is Christian. The biggest problem is overpopulation. Egypt grows by one million people every eleven months. It is mostly the farmers who have many children, seven to eight.
Education is compulsory for ages six through fifteen. This has put the age of marriage of girls from twelve to fifteen. They teach English starting at fourth grade at government schools and first grade at private schools. Every town has three things: a mosque, a school, and a government hospital or clinic. We passed MANY unfinished buildings. The owners don’t have to pay taxes on these homes as long as they aren’t finished. During Sadat’s rule, many Egyptians worked in Saudi Arabia. They saved their money and moved back to Egypt, but they couldn’t afford to buy a regular home so they bought land from farmers. They add stories as children get married and move in with their families.
The history from 3000-332 B.C was dominated by 30 dynasties of rulers. During this time the afterlife was much more important than this life. After death, people went below, paid for their sins, and were then reborn. This is why there is so much gold in the tombs. Buildings for this life were not well made, not like the tombs, so they have not lasted to the current age. Statues of royalty were made from very hard stones and had formal poses. Statues made of commoners had casual poses and were fashioned from limestone and sandstone. The scarab is a symbol of life and luck. It comes out at sunrise and forms eggs.
Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 32 A.D. After that the Romans ruled until 700 A.D. when the Arabs took over. The Ottoman Turks took control in 1517. Napoleon invaded in 1798 and ruled until 1803.
Our first stop in Cairo was the Citadel. The first part of the fortress, the rounded turret that‘s called the “Dome of the Wind,” was built in 810 by Hatim Ibn Hartama. It was further fortifies by Salah ad-Din from 1176-1183 to keep out the Crusaders. They were defeated before it was needed. Next to the Citadel with the green dome was the An-Nasir Mohammed Mosque finished in 1355. The Muhammad Ali Mosque was built in 1850. This was not named after our prize fighter. It is in honor of the Turkish official who created a dynasty that ruled Egypt from 1805 to 1952. The last king was King Farouk. Every mosque has a minaret, a washing well, a mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca,) and a raised minbar (a pulpit on the side of the mihrab.)
There are five tenets of Islam:
• Shahada, profession of faith “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.”
• Salat, praying five times a day
• Sawm, fasting during the month of Ramadan
• Zakat, Giving two and a half percent of your assets to the poor
• Hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca
Women are allowed in the mosque during weekdays, but they have to make room for the men on Fridays, the holy day of the Islamic week.
We proceeded to the Nile where we boarded a boat for a lunch cruise. We had a police boat escort. The food was terrific, especially the culmi, a dessert of pastry dough, raisins, cream, and vanilla. There was Egyptian music and dancing, both by men with poles and a female belly dancer. We went up and down the Nile, seeing the city of Cairo from the windows.
It was on to the impressive Egyptian Museum. There was a small, heavily guarded entrance through a fence. We saw Ramses’ statue, mummy cases, sarcophagi, canopic jars (that held the vital organs of the mummies,) lots of jewelry, golden litters and chairs, and the King Tut exhibit. We saw the boxes within boxes that held his mummy. Some of the boxes were gold leaf on wood and others were solid gold. We saw his gold face mask and his chest ornaments.
By this time we were tired and glad to check into the very luxurious, they assured us five-star, Marriott. We rested a bit before a late dinner that was delicious with more culmi.
The traffic was horrendous to get to the laser show at the pyramids. The Egyptians eat at eleven at night and stay up until three or four in the morning. It was shocking that the pyramids are not isolated, but a few hundred yards from apartments, restaurants, and stores. The laser show at 10:30 p.m. was in French so we received headphones to listen to it in English. Lights colored the pyramids green and purple and put a real face on the Sphinx. The show told the story of how the pyramids were made. It was just amazing to see the pyramids at night.

Egypt day 2

Steppe Pyramid

Vendors at the Steppe Pyramid

Gigantic statue of Ramses at Memphis

The pyramids are in the middle of the city of Giza

Riding camels in front of the pyramids

Detail of the pyramid of Cheops


Pyramid of Cheops

May 22 Egypt
After a sumptuous breakfast we went to Saqqara. First we visited the Mastaba of Mereruka, a burial tomb of a vizier who was also the Head of Justice, the Superintendent of the City, and brother-in-law of Teti the king of Egypt from 2323-2291 B.C.. It was built at the beginning of the sixth dynasty (2400 B.C.) and discovered in 1893 by a French mission led by Jacques de Morgan. Mastaba, which means bench or shelf in Arabic, was a tomb for the nobility. It was rectangular with the walls leaning slightly inward. This mastaba is the largest in the area, has 29 rooms, and probably was just like Mereruka’s palace. It is divided into three parts: for the owner, his wife, and his two sons. The hieroglyphics are very easy to read. The walls of the tomb have are painted with scenes of everyday life at the time: the professions, hunting, fishing, wine-making, offerings to the dead, and animals of the Nile. The rooms were quite small but the paintings were in extraordinary shape and amazing!
Next we went to the step pyramid of Djoser. The entrance to the pyramid has a courtyard of twenty columns over 19 feet high, each ribbed to appear like wood, and joined to the side wall.
The step pyramid is the largest building in the funereal center of Saqqara and the oldest structure in the world built entirely of stone. Djoser ruled for eighteen years during the third dynasty, around 2635-2510 B.C. It was built like a mastaba, but square, with layers added of descending size. It was originally 203 feet high with a base measuring 358 by 410 feet. The pharaoh’s burial chamber is in the center, 92 feet deep.
Our next stop was Memphis, the capital of Ancient Egypt. We saw the gigantic statue of Ramses. He is lying down now because an earthquake broke off his leg. We also saw a sphinx carved out of alabaster.
Finally we went to see the pyramids. Linda and I chose to take a camel ride rather than go into the pyramid as everything in there has been taken to museums. Hanan was not happy that we wanted camel rides, but she arranged them for six Euros. She would pay the drivers after we all finished our rides. When I got on Mickey, my camel, he was sitting down on the sand. As he stood up, I rocked very far backwards, and held onto the saddle handle with a death grip. You sit very high up on a camel, much higher than a horse. There is no possibility of getting down until the camel driver gets the camel to sit again. It was quite a thrill to ride a camel within one hundred feet of the pyramids! All went well for me and Linda. She even got a proposal from her camel driver. One of the women in our group said the driver wouldn’t let her down and wanted more money. She said she and her husband, on the ground, had to yell to get the driver to listen to them and not pay again.
The first and biggest pyramid was built by Cheops. It was completed in 2560 B.C. It took ten years to dig the track (canal) from the Nile to the site so that the huge thirty-foot stone blocks could be transported to the site. It took an additional twenty years to build the pyramid. Some texts say that slave labor was used. Our guide held the opposing view, that it was seen as holy work. The farmers worked on it during the three months that the Nile flooded and they couldn’t cultivate crops. It was 8 plethras (480.97 feet or fifty stories) on each side and the same height. Due to erosion it now stands 455 feet high. Up close the stones are not smooth but jagged. I actually touched the stones on the first layers of the pyramids! The pyramids are AWESOME!
The other two pyramids, Chephren and Micerinus, are slightly smaller. It was amazing to see the city skyline as a backdrop to the pyramids.
As we were snapping photos of the pyramids, an Egyptian guard (or perhaps army guy) offered to take pictures so that he looked like we were much larger than the pyramids and holding them. His name was Mustafa Mohammed. We had a nice conversation with him, really the only Egyptian who was willing to talk to us. He had two wives and seven children. He asked for no money, the only one who took pictures for free.
Next we went to see the Sphinx and the smaller pyramids for the wives of the pharaohs. We walked behind the wall and came upon many aggressive vendors. Linda bought an ashtray and a scarab from one who then offered to take our pictures “kissing” the Sphinx. After he took the pictures I gave him four Euros (about $6.00.) He followed us, shouting for more. He wanted ten more Euros! We eluded him and got back to the bus without further incidents.
We were exhausted by this time, but we were off to the papyrus factory and the jewelry store to pick up our cartouches and tee shirts with embroidered cartouches. Linda resisted the allure of the painted papyrus. I bought one with a scarab, the symbol of luck that was also going to be on my cartouche. I chose that rather than the rounded cross that symbolized long life and the lotus bud that stood for love. At the jewelry store, all the gold was 18 carat and sold by weight. I selected chains for my daughters-in-law’s cartouches as well as my own. I don’t know if Nick is going to wear the shirt as the embroidered cartouche is large.
The ride to the ship, which was now in Port Said, was uneventful except that we had an army escort. Upon entering the ship we had to give up our passports again. Why? We were too tired to attend the night’s entertainment, an illusionist.

Limossol, Cyprus

Limossol Castle

Limassol Orthodox Cathedral

Cafe in Limossol

May 23 Limossol, Cyprus
This city of 177,000 people is the largest on the island. We couldn’t get our passports back. I guess we don’t need them here. Neither Linda nor I were impressed with Cyprus. She thought that must be a port to take on fuel or food or some other mundane reason. We took the shuttle bus into town and were not tempted by the shops. We saw Limossol Castle, built in 100 A.D. by the Byzantines.
We also saw the Limassol Orthodox Cathedral. It was built on a holy site and renovated by a monk in 1700. Another church was built on the site and looked like a castle. The Turks took offense of this Christian Castle and mob wanted to tear it down. The monk bribed wealthy Turks to calm down the mob. The wealthy Turks suggested that the monk throw coins in the courtyard. It worked. The mob concentrated on finding money rather than razing the cathedral.
We stopped and had a snack at a pleasant café. Joanne joined us and told us about their tours of Egypt.
We were back on the ship for lunch. We were seated with a German couple. Only the woman, Helga, spoke English. We had quite a nice conversation about how her sons work outside of Germany, one of them in Houston, because they can’t get good jobs within the country. The brain drain is a real problem there.
Linda sunned on the top deck and then went on a tour of the ship’s kitchen. I started a new book, The Quilter’s Homecoming, book ten in the Elm Creek Quilt series. I’ve read a few of them. We went to an Italian lesson with Shannon, the English-speaking hostess on the boat and Barbara, an Italian member of the crew. It was fun and informative.
We had a delightful dinner with our tablemates. Luis, our waiter, played a joke on Joanne, making believe he was spilling soup on her. We again skipped the entertainment that night, an illusionist and an acrobat.