Fact: Did you know France is the most visited country in Europe?
Venice, Italy, April 30, 2012
Venice is of course, famous throughout the world as the city of canals. It is every bit as romantic, as
exciting, and as unique as expected. Venetian architecture is delightful, and there is a new picture around every corner. There is no automobile traffic
here, in fact no roads. The only transportation is by foot or boat, and there is lots of both, due to the city’s popularity as a tourist destination. A journey
along the canals in a gondola is a magical experience, as many of the gondoliers still serenade the ride with traditional Italian songs in beautiful baritone. But Venice is actually composed of 118 islands, and some of those are extremely interesting in themselves. Murano is where the famous Venetian glass
factories reside, while Burano is a picturesque fishing village, renowned for lace-making. You can see astonishing Carnival masks (made from paper mache, and highly decorated) anywhere in Venice, and though masks can be found in other Carnival cities, none can match the artistry of the Venetian masks. This is our second visit to Venice, but there are so many notable places, buildings, churches, and museums to visit, we have still only scratched the surface.
Koper, Slovenia, April 29, 2012
Koper is very similar in appearance to Dubrovnik in architecture and landscape, a very pretty place. Slovenia has a relatively short coastline, but
the countryside inland is beautiful, quite mountainous, but with beautiful fertile
valleys. Slovenia has a little-known wine industry, produced in these fertile valleys, and now gaining serious international attention. To my amazement, Slovenia is where the Lipizzaner horses originated, a cross between the Andalusian horse from Spain, and the local Karst horses of Slovenia, famous for their skill in dressage and the aerial acrobatics known as “airs above the ground”. We were able to tour the Lipica Stud Farm, where they have been breeding the Lipizzaner (and where the name originated) since 1580.
Slovenia has much to offer the tourist, and is another “must see” of the Dalmation Coast.
Next stop, Venice, Italy, April 30, 2012
Dubrovnik, Croatia, April 28, 2012
Croatia is a strangely-shaped country, with the bulk of it’s territory inland, but with a long finger that extends south along the Dalmation Coast of the Adriatic Sea. Dubrovnik is situated toward the southern end of this finger. It is very picturesque, lovely marble and limestone buildings topped by red tile roofs perched on the hillsides of the city with a definite Italian flavour. Old Town Dubrovnik is a walled city, fortified in the 13th century. Here you will find centuries-old buildings still in use today as residences, shops and restaurants. The residents are very friendly, always ready to chat with tourists. It is said that the Dalmation Coast is the new Riviera, and I find that easy to agree with, given the natural beauty, charm, and pleasant weather of this area.
Next stop Koper, Slovenia, April 29, 2012
Cairo, April 25, 2012
Cairo is a city of 22 million, and the resulting traffic congestion is overwhelming. In fact, we were unable
to visit the museum on our first afternoon here as planned, due to traffic
delays. Cairo has extensive slum areas, but also many clean, attractive areas.
The City of the Dead is a very old cemetery, still used today, that extends for miles in the centre of the city. There are actually about 1100 live people who live right in the cemetery, hired by private families to tend and protect their grave plots! Of course the two most famous attractions of Cairo are the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, featuring the treasures of King Tut, and of course, the most famous of all, the Great Pyramids of Giza, and the Sphinx. The vast array of artifacts from King Tut’s tomb is unbelievable (over 500 pieces), many made of several kilograms of solid gold. I was worried that I would be disappointed by the Great Pyramids, that they would be smaller than I imagined, or in some way not as expected. Not to worry – they are Great in every way. They are immense – it’s not trick photography, and indeed awe inspiring.
Egyptians are very security-conscious right now due to the turmoil in the country over the last year. They do not actually even have a government at the moment. We were
accompanied every step of the way by an armed security guard, and at no time
There are no beggars in Egypt, but the street vendors are the most tenacious I have ever seen. They are determined to make a sale, and descend upon tourists like vultures the moment you step off the bus. If you show the slightest interest, even just a glance,
they will follow relentlessly, and eventually become quite angry if you don’t fall for their tactics. Sometimes it’s just easier to buy something to escape the harassment. Generally, not a pleasant experience.
Next stop Dubrovnik, Croatia, April 28, 2012
Aswan, April 24, 2012
I am not sure which city the term
“the jewel of the Nile” refers to, but it should be Aswan. It is located at the
site of the Cataract of the Nile, an area of extremely rocky riverbed which made navigation impossible. Our hotel in Aswan was a magnificent old structure,
built in 1899, but renovated only a year ago, incredibly opulent, and ridiculously luxurious, this is where the movie, Death on the Nile was filmed. The views from our balcony were stunning.
An ancient Egyptian rock quarry is located in Aswan, where an unfinished obelisk remains today, and demonstrates the method used to mine the rock for the temples and monuments of the Pharoahs. Just before dinner, we were treated to a felucca sail along the Nile, manned by a Nubian crew, and after dinner, the light and sound show at the Temple of Philae.
The next morning, we visited the Aswan High Dam, famous because it contains Lake Nasser, the largest manmade lake in the world. Aswan actually has two dams. The first, just above the Cataract, was finished in 1896, to control the flood waters of the Nile, and
circumvent the dangerous cataract. The building of the High Dam was very controversial, and was completed with the help of the Russians, after an unfavorable analysis by US engineers caused the international community to withdraw support. The High Dam generates large amounts of electricity, and scores of power lines march off into the desert in all directions from the dam. The dam is now within a military base, and is heavily guarded due to continuing threats from neighboring countries. Our guide said it is estimated that if the dam were destroyed, it would take 7 days for the water to reach the Mediterranean, but would virtually obliterate Eqypt, since all of their population lives along the flood plain.
After our dam visit, we flew to Abu Simbel, a short 30 minute flight, where two enormous temples were moved to higher ground to save them from the waters of Lake Nasser, truly an engineering marvel.
Luxor April 23, 2012
The city of Luxor marks the site of the ancient capital of Egypt, Thebes. It is in this area that the Pharoahs built massive and exquisite temples and tombs. In the center of Luxor, on the east bank of the River Nile, the Temple of Luxor rises among the buildings of the modern city. It dates back to 1440 BC, and they are still making discoveries beneath layers of civilization built one on top of another. A 2 km
entrance road to the temple, lined on either side with sphinx statues was recently discovered, and is still being excavated. The Temple of Karnak contains the largest space
of any temple in the world. On the west bank of the Nile, just outside the city of Luxor lies the Valley of the Kings, where more than 60 tombs of kings have been excavated, including that of the famous King Tutankhamen. Here is a fascinating plexiglass model showing the valley, the surrounding hills, and the layout of all the tombs, which are carved many metres into the bedrock below the valley. What strikes most about these temples and tombs is the massive scale of size, and the detail and artistry of the carvings, which just cannot be appreciated from pictures.
Our hotel in Luxor was beautiful, and after a scrumptious dinner, and a welcome comfortable night’s sleep, it was a magical experience to wake to the spectacle of a dozen hot air balloons ascending over the Nile.
Egypt, April 22, 2012
Our overland tour of Egypt started in Safaga, a tiny Red Sea port in the middle of nowhere. It exists only
as a cargo port, and a bedroom community for workers at a popular beach resort some 30 km to the north, but is the gateway to Luxor, Karnak, and the Valley of
the Kings, where some of the most spectacular temples and tombs of Egypt are located. Our guide for this trip was an archeologist, Egyptologist, and a life-long resident of Cairo, the perfect guide for the wonders of Egypt. Our drive from Safaga to Luxor was through desert with no sign of life, not even a blade of grass.
The desert of Egypt is classed as type “C” desert; mainly rock, with only a thin layer of sand, meaning nothing will grow in this forbidding landscape, except for a narrow strip along the Nile River, where all of Eqypt’s population of 80 million is concentrated. There is a sharp line of contrast where the arid desolation of the desert meets the lush green of the Nile Valley. Farming along the Nile for the most part, has not changed since the time of the ancient Egyptians. Small plots of fertile land are cultivated by hand with axe-like hoes, or with water buffalo, planted by hand, and harvested by hand with small scythes. Donkeys are everywhere, the local form of transportation, and are driven by even small children, along roads teeming with people, cars, trucks, and buses, camels, goats, and sheep. Bougainville grows extremely well here, so the landscape is a riot of color against the green and gold of the small fields. This picture shows the Nile River, small fields, and the sharp division between the green of the river valley and the desert.
Aqaba, Jordan, April 21, 2012
The main purpose of visiting Jordan is to see the amazing ancient archeological site of Petra, where grand and intricate facades are carved into the face of red sandstone cliffs. But Jordan is a surprisingly beautiful country. Although mainly desert like all the other Arab countries, this is a beautiful desert, not just flat expanses of sand, but large desert plains punctuated by hills and mountains of stark rock. I was particularly fascinated by the spectacle of light and dark that the sun and clouds create on the vast desert landscape. Jordan is where Lawrence of Arabia mounted the campaign against the Turks during World War I. Wadi Rum, a remote desert valley presents most dramatic desert scenery, with towering stone sentinels and arches rising spectacularly from the desert floor.
The Bedouin desert lifestyle is alive and well here. Our guide was of Bedouin origin, and was proud and passionate to explain the lifestyle to us. While most Bedouins now live in villages in concrete block houses, many still live in the traditional goat-hair tents, and
practice the centuries-old herding techniques of their ancestors. Camels are farmed and used extensively for transportation, and also for meat and milk, as are goats and sheep.
Petra, built by the ancient Arab Nabataean tribe over 2200 years ago, is as expected, breathtaking in size and detail. The approach to the city is through an 80 metre deep, 1200 metre long gorge called the Siq. At the end of this stunning entrance is another stunning
sight, the Treasury, the most beautiful monument in Petra. About 60 years ago, a nomadic tribe from Saudi Arabian, whom the locals call the Bedlins, moved into the caves in Petra. When the Jordan government decided to concentrate on tourism in Petra, they moved them into a government built village, but allowed them to maintain shops within the monument area. We met one of these shopkeepers, who had been born in a cave high in the cliffs, lived in that cave for 20 years, and now has a prosperous shop. Amazing story!
Next stop Safaga, Eqypt, April 22, 2012
Life at Sea
A long time ago, near the beginning of the cruise, I promised to give a glimpse of what life on a cruise ship is like. So, since we are now nearing the end of this fantastic voyage, here it is!
I know you might think days at sea would be boring, but they are not. We have had many of them on this cruise, and are still not tired of them. They are relaxing, if you don’t feel like taking part in the many activities on the ship. I spend them lounging around on the balcony, reading novels, deciding on what excursion to take in the next port, and eating, of course. Oh, and exercising, so I don’t turn into an elephant at midnight.
If you get tired of relaxing, there are bridge games, art lessons, ceramics, trivia games, afternoon movies, bingo, casino, art auctions, shopping, table tennis, golf chipping and putting, shuffleboard, dance lessons, fitness classes, choir practice, photography and computer lessons, a fully-equipped gym, the SPA, a beauty salon; is that enough yet?
But really, the best part is relaxing….