Saturday, August 29, 2015

EGYPT: A CARRIAGE RIDE THROUGH LUXOR

Earlier in our Egyptian travels we had been given a carriage ride from our boat to Edfu Temple as part of our tour package. We got a second opportunity for a carriage ride in Luxor on our own dime. The plan was to drive around for an hour and a half to give us a closer look at the city, with a short stop to stretch our legs in the market. 

We left our cruise boat, not always docked in the most pristine of places:
And met the men, horses, and vehicles to whom we would entrust our lives for the next two hours:
From a respectable distance, the carriage above looks like Cinderella's coach, but our jalopy wasn't quite that nice. The wooden wheels were padded with strips of uninflated rubber, which cushioned the ride only so much.
Julia waves from another carriage (We liked taking pictures of each other):
Our driver told us his name was Mustafa and the horse's name was Cinderella. (Hmmm, a possible Disney fixation?) That was about the extent of his English, but he was friendly and tried hard to please, stopping once to chat with a friend and buy a street snack of some kind of bean that he insisted we share with him, pulling over later to pick a bouquet for me, and letting me sit in front and "drive" the carriage on the way back (when the horse was on auto pilot).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

BEVERLY HILLS PART II: ARCHITECTURE, CHEESE, AND CHURCH

After our over-the-top chocolate indulgence experience, we decided to walk around Beverly Hills to see what additional damage we could do to our diets get some exercise and walk off a few calories.

Beverly Hills is kind of a surreal place. It was originally a lima bean ranch (I did NOT make that up), but was subdivided into building lots in 1906. It was one of several planned communities in the area that were specifically all-white and non-Jew. We Californians like to think we never had the discrimination issues so prevalent in the South, but BH is evidence that this is false, although lawsuits were settled in 1948 that allowed blacks and Jews to move into the city, years before major Civil Rights legislation. These days, African Americans still only make up 2.2% of the population, but Beverly Hills has the largest Jewish population per capita of any city in the United States. Iranian Jews are especially dominant and make up over 25% of the city's population of 35,000. Some sources say that overall, Beverly Hills is 60% Jewish, and Wikipedia says Beverly Hills High School is "predominantly Jewish."

Anyway, back to how BH became BH.  It helps to have good roots. A group of wealthy investors incorporated the city in 1914. Then it really got rolling when Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford built a home in Beverly Hills in 1921, starting the mass migration of The Beautiful (and rich and famous) People to the area.

Oh, and it doesn't hurt that Beverly Hills is built on top of an active, continuously producing oil field discovered in 1900. Perhaps even more productive than the Beverly Hills Oil Field, however, is one of the most famous shopping streets in the world, Rodeo Drive, and the surrounding shopping area, the Golden Triangle.
The northern terminus of Rodeo Drive where it intersects with Sunset Boulevard.
I was willing to contribute to the local economy, but Bob wanted to press onward.
After bypassing the above entrance to Rodeo Drive, we came upon Jack Colker's 76 Station, a gas station straight out of the Jetsons. This unique futurist style of the 1950s and 1960s, known as "Googie" architecture, originated in Los Angeles and reflected America's obsession with cars, jets, space travel, and the Atomic Age.
The most famous example of Googie architecture is the Theme Building at LAX:
Photo from here
The term comes from "Googie's," the name of an LA coffee shop with this distinct architectural style. "Googie" was the nickname of the owner's wife.

Monday, August 24, 2015

BEVERLY HILLS PART I: CHOCOLATE TOUR

We interrupt the scheduled streams of post about travels in the Middle East with a breaking story that just can't wait. Yesterday Bob and I went on a CHOCOLATE TOUR of Beverly Hills. You read that right: a chocolate tour of Beverly Hills. Yeah, I'm living the sweet life.

Believe it or not, I had to drag Bob along. I'd purchased the discounted tickets last fall through Travel Zoo, and they were set to expire the end of August, so I told him he just had to come. Beverly Hills is a scary place, right? (At least to the pocketbook.) Also, if I took one of my friends, all the others would be jealous. It had to be him.

The tour was organized by BestTours.com.

#1 Sprinkles Cupcakes
We met our tour guide and the other members of our group in front of Sprinkles Cupcakes at 9635 S. Santa Monica Blvd. This store claims to be the first exclusively cupcake bakery in the world. There are lots of cupcake places now (there are even sixteen more Sprinkles shops), but this is the mother ship:
I am not a huge cake person. I generally find most bakery cakes dry and unimaginative. A Sprinkles mini cupcake changed my life forever. Let me tell you about the shock this little dark chocolate triple fudge gem was to my tastebuds. It was moist. It was rich. It was heavy. I was ready to forego the rest of the tour and just eat cupcakes. Wow. It was something worth going back for. If I lived close to a Sprinkles, I would be in serious trouble.
 

On the outside wall of the shop is a little innovation would add to my demise. Usually I am saved by early bakers' hours. If you don't get there by 4:00 PM or so, only the dregs are left in the display case. Not so at Sprinkles. Slide your ATM card, and instead of cash, this baby dispenses fresh cupcakes and cookies 24/7.
Did you notice the word "EAT" buried in the letters "CUPCAKEATM"?
It's centered right over the word "Sprinkles." Very subliminal.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

EGYPT: TEMPLE OF RAMSES III (AKA HABU TEMPLE)

Our next stop was the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III, also known as the Habu Temple. 
Much of my visual preparation for Egypt came from Hollywood, and I thought the Nile would be lined with temples and monuments, somewhat like the castle portion of the Rhine in Germany. But I also had the competing image of the Great Pyramids of Giza, definitely situated in the desert. 

As I've thought more about it, the annual flooding of the Nile would destroy anything built within its reach. It was important to build far from the Nile's vengeful fingers, which meant in the lifeless desert. The change from the verdant Nile Valley to the barren desert is incredibly dramatic. It is literally a line in the sand.
On the far side of that line, there are no palm trees, no wildflowers, no grass--just hard, monochromatic dirt.
At first the temples seem to blend into the endless swath of desert brown, highlighted only by the obviously man-made shapes of walls and pillars. 
Aerial view of the temple. Picture from Wikipedia
Within these particular walls, however, we found surprising amounts of color. First, however, some background information.

The Temple of Ramses III, one of the best-preserved of all the pharaonic temples, was built during the reigns of several kings and queens and finished in the 12th century BC; it was excavated almost 3000 years later between 1859 and 1899. The large footprint of 690,000 square feet was once enclosed by massive mud walls (35 feet thick by 60 feet tall), the remnants of which are still visible. 

We entered through the migdol gate, a kind of  watch tower typical in the Middle East:
The walls are covered with bas reliefs showing Ramses conquering his enemies:

This leonine lady is Sekhmet, the goddess of war and healing whose breath formed the desert:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

EGYPT: VALLEY OF THE KINGS, ALABASTER SHOPPING, AND THE AMENHOTEP III TEMPLE

Archaeology + Egypt = King Tut's Tomb, right? It just wouldn't be right to go to Egypt without visiting King Tut's tomb!

It doesn't take long to travel from Luxor (anciently was known as Thebes) in the verdant Nile Valley to the parched western desert where lies the Valley of Kings, a burial ground for at least sixty-three of Egypt's Most Important People from the 16th to the 11th century BC.

As we drove down the highway, we saw a lot of what appeared to be archaeological activity:
Perhaps one of these is the next King Tut's tomb:
We could see stone stairways, stone walls, and mysterious square doorways that lead to who knows where:

Way up on top of a hill, overlooking this Archaeology Heaven, sits the home of Howard Carter, the British Egyptologist who discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922. He had spent the years between 1907-1914 and 1917-1922 looking for it. It turned out to be the most intact and best-preserved Egyptian tomb ever found. (More about that later.)
Carter's home has recently been turned into a museum, complete with a replica of King Tut's tomb off to one side. Yet another place we'll have to see on our next trip. It's impossible to see everything on a single visit!
One of our biggest disappointments of our visit to Egypt was that no photography was allowed within the Valley of the Kings gates. We couldn't even take pictures of the rocks and tomb entrances. I can understand why cameras are forbidden in the tombs themselves, but I don't get why exterior photos can't be taken. Maybe once people start taking pictures, it's just too hard to control.
Some pictures are available on the internet, but not as many as one would expect. I'll share a few of the ones I found.

Friday, August 14, 2015

EGYPT: NILE CRUISE

When I've fantasized about someday cruising on the Nile River (because I never ever thought it would happen), I have conjured up visions of opulence, decadence, and relaxation. I pictured a dazzling view from our window, exotic locales, luxurious accommodations, luscious cuisine, glamorous shipmates, and fawning wait staff. Reality was not far off from my fantasy, except our shipmates were no more glamorous than I, which means they were very ordinary, run-of-the-mill (and very nice) American tourists.
We boarded our ship, the Nile Smart, in Aswan and sailed (floated? motored?) downriver to Luxor, a distance of about 112 miles as the bird flies, but a little longer on the slithering Nile.

We spent three nights and two days on the cruise, with stops in Philae (reached by bus from Aswan), Kom Ombo, Edfu, Luxor, and Karnak. Another day or two of being pampered on the world's longest waterbed (4,258 miles) wouldn't have hurt my feelings. There are cruises that go all the way to Cairo, but they take 10-12 days and the bulk of the tourist spots are in the Aswan to Luxor area, so ours was the more typical cruise.
Carriages lined up to meet us at the dock
If it were a little more crowded, this could almost be a view of Istanbul
Coca-Cola, the international beverage
Soon we slipped away from the cities and signs of modern civilization:
. . . while still enjoying the all comforts of the internet age in our cabin:

Monday, August 10, 2015

EGYPT: A CARRIAGE RIDE AND EDFU TEMPLE

After a long day that began with a bus ride to Philae Temple, then continued with a cruise down the Nile and a visit to the Kom Ombo Temple and the Crocodile Museum, we still had one more temple to visit. We spent a few more hours cruising down the Nile, and when we docked at Edfu . . . 
. . . we were hustled off the boat to a line of waiting horse-drawn carriages

Michael Wilcox feeding one of the very skinny horses an apple.
Our driver took this picture for us:
Chris and Stan look excited, but I inside I think they were wondering if their driver was up to navigating a horse and cart through the heavy automobile traffic. (Okay, maybe that's what I was thinking):
After all, we were in this together:
 Bob's driving in Los Angeles makes me nervous. I'm not sure about how he would do in Egypt.

Friday, August 7, 2015

EGYPT: KOM OMBO TEMPLE AND THE CROCODILE MUSEUM

After visiting Philae Temple, our next stop was Kom Ombo Temple and the nearby Crocodile Museum, which are located about 30 miles down the Nile from Aswan, which means north of Aswan as the Nile flows south to north, something that was hard for me to get used to.
I never got tired of seeing the Egyptian men in their galabias, but I did get REALLY tired of the videographer who followed us wherever we went.
By the way, there are more ways to spell the name of those long dress-like garments than there are people who wear them. I've seen djellabah, galabiya, gallibaya, jellibiya, and galabiah, among others, and I've heard several different pronunciations.

Back to Kom Ombo, which was built under Ptolemy VI in about 180-145 BC with additions made in the 1st century AD by the Roman emperor Trajan. It is unique in that it is a "double temple," meaning that it honors two different gods, Sobek the crocodile god and Horus the falcon god. Kom Ombo was constructed in a bend in the Nile River favored by crocodiles, but Egyptians believed that if they honored the powerfully fierce crocodile as a god, they would be protected from attacks. However, Sobek and Horus were enemies, and the Egyptians felt the need to placate Horus as well so as not to draw his wrath. Therefore, the temple has two of everything and is perfectly symmetrical along the main axis.

Much of the temple was destroyed or defaced by Copts, who used it as a church, by the weather and waters of the Nile, by earthquakes, and by builders who pilfered its stones for other projects. It was restored in 1893 by the French director of antiquities in Egypt, Jacques de Morgan. This is what it looked like when he began--still pretty amazing for a 2,000-year-old structure:
From Wikipedia
However, it looks a lot better now:




Monday, August 3, 2015

EGYPT: ASWAN AND PHILAE TEMPLE

Before we began our cruise up the Nile, we spent a night and day docked in Aswan, a city in the southern quarter of Egypt known for being one of the hottest, driest, sunniest cities in Egypt. Luckily, we were there in relatively cool March.
We were headed for the Temple of Philae about eight miles from the docks. The first thing we saw as we pulled out onto the main road was a shepherd, his dogs, and a flock of sheep. NOT a sight we are familiar with in larger American cities:
We drove past many things we would love to have taken a look at, such as the Archangel Michael's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral:
Wikipedia provides these two photos of the interior:

We were disappointed that we never got to see inside a Coptic church. The Copts are the largest Christian community and the largest religious minority in the Middle East, comprising about 10% of the total population. This church--or an even larger one in Alexandria--would be high on my list if we ever make a return visit.

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