Ted and I visited the Parthenon replica in Nashville, TN many years ago; now we’ve seen the real thing atop The Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Due to thunderstorms and lightning, The Acropolis opening was delayed for two hours on the day of our visit.  It’s a popular tourist site, tickets are required to enter, and naturally, everyone with a ticket for the day wants to get in, so when we arrived at our scheduled 9:30 a.m. ticket time, there was a long, backed-up line.  Ticket sales to The Acropolis are capped at 20,000 per day, and I’m sure they were sold out, in spite of the rain.  Even with our skip-the-line group tickets, it still took over an hour just to reach the ticket gate where we could finally head for the top of The Acropolis.  If it takes an hour to “skip the line” to the entrance, how long does it take if you’re in the regular line?  I wonder what it was like before ticket sales were capped at 20,000 visitors per day.

An acropolis is simply the highest hill in a city, but The Acropolis in Athens is capitalized and referred to as “The Acropolis” because it’s such an important site.  Truth time:  The Acropolis is really the second highest hill in Athens, but it was chosen as the site for the Parthenon because there was a spring on the hill—something that was lacking on the highest hill, the real acropolis. 

There are several buildings atop The Acropolis in Athens, the most famous of which is the Parthenon, originally a temple dedicated to Athena, an ancient goddess and the patroness of Athens.  Temples were usually built on the acropolis because it was believed the gods liked to live there, but the top of the highest hill is a good defensive position too, so the Parthenon also served as a fortress, as well as a treasury.  Later, the Parthenon was used as a Christian church, and after that, as a mosque. 

Given the excavations Ted and I have seen in Israel, Egypt, Türkiye, and Greece, I think it’s safe to say there’s a lot of rock in this part of the world.  (There are a lot of earthquakes too, given all the ruins we saw of cities destroyed by earthquakes.)  Walkways are often made with paving rocks, which become very slippery when wet.  To reduce the risk of pedestrians slipping and falling, the paving rocks sometimes have wedged holes in them.

Surprisingly, that really helps, and we were grateful for those holes as we inched our way uphill to the ticket gate in a light drizzle.  Along the way, we had our first view of the Parthenon.  It was definitely a thrill.

After passing through the ticket gate, we began our upward trek to the top of The Acropolis.  The people you see in the photo below are not eagerly surging up the stairs to the top of The Acropolis; they are moving in slow motion.  The way to reach the top of The Acropolis is to:  (1) Climb up a step or two; (2) walk between the guide ropes across the wide staircase (65-75 feet?) to the opposite side of the stairway; (3) repeat this zigzag pattern until you reach the top of the 80 steps and arrive at the grand entrance—the Propylaeum—on the plateau of the rock.  Allow at least one hour to complete the climb at the pace of the hundreds of people ahead of you.

While you are going uphill, the same number of people are doing the same thing between the same guide ropes, but in the opposite direction because they are going down The Acropolis.  It’s kind of like being at Disney World, only far more crowded because two lines are moving in opposite directions within the same space.  It was hard to enjoy the view on the way up or down because we had to watch our feet to avoid stumbling down a stair or bumping into someone else and causing them to stumble.  Do not consider stopping along the way.  You will probably be trampled or pushed aside.

As we were climbing the hill on the pock-marked stones (photo above), we could see the exterior of the ancient Acropolis theater (left photo, below).  From the top of The Acropolis, we could look into the theater (right photo) where we saw a crew preparing the venue for a weekend concert. They really built these ancient theaters to last. In most of the ruins we’ve visited, the theater still stands in recognizable form and is still used for concerts and other events. I guess the theory is, “Why build a new one if the old one still works?”

There are a number of buildings on The Acropolis plateau, several of which are temples.  The photo below shows the Temple of Athena, the patroness of Athens and the goddess of wisdom, handicraft, and war.

At the top of the 80 steps, we were greeted with the pile of rubble pictured below that used to be the Propylaea—a building complex that functioned as the monumental ceremonial gateway to The Acropolis.

From the top of The Acropolis, we had a beautiful 360-degree view of Athens and the Aegean Sea.

Another of the buildings at the top of The Acropolis is pictured below.  It’s the Temple of Erechteion, a mythological king of Athens.  The temple is famous for its detailed design.  If you look closely (or zoom in), you’ll see that the pillars of the left portico of the temple are statues of the caryatids—six maidens representing the women of Caryae who were doomed to hard labor because their city sided with the Persians during their second invasion of Greece in 480 BC.  In this case, their hard labor requires them to support the roof of the portico forever—or until an earthquake knocks it down.

I saved the best for last:  the Parthenon.  This 2,500-year-old structure (completed circa 438 BC) is the most recognizable building of Greece’s golden age. With the cooperation of the Greek city-states, the Parthenon was completed in only nine years. The building was intended to be the chief shrine to Athena. It also served as the treasury for the Delian League, a confederacy of Greek city-states whose purpose was to form a military alliance to protect Greece from the Persians.  Athens, the strongest city-state, pledged its massive navy to protect all members unable to protect themselves.  Raise your hand if you think that sounds similar to NATO. 

A 2,500-year-old building has a lot of history, so let’s jump roughly 2,100 years ahead of its completion to the Morean (Ottoman) War and the 1687 siege of The Acropolis by the Venetians.  The Venetians bombarded the Parthenon with cannon fire, striking the western façade alone with approximately 700 cannonballs.  The Ottomans had been using the Parthenon as an ammunition dump and, not surprisingly, the barrage of cannon fire caused the stored gunpowder to explode, severely damaging the center of the Parthenon, destroying most of its walls, and leaving nothing of its roof.  Over time the building gradually collapsed, and the last pillar fell in 1852.   

In 1975, the Greek government began a large-scale project to restore the Parthenon.  Previous restoration efforts damaged much of the stone, and about 50 percent of the original architectural decoration is lost.  Greek structural archeologists consciously decided not to completely rebuild the Parthenon, but to restore it to an earlier state as much as possible.  Nearly 50 years after it began, the restoration project continues.

The scaffolding required for the Parthenon reconstruction project detracts from its appearance, but the building is huge and very impressive.  You can get an idea of its scale by looking at the people in the photo on the right, below.  The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. was modeled on the Parthenon in Athens, and obviously, so was the replica in Nashville, TN.  😊

Before Ted and I navigated our way down the crowded stairway (looking only at the back of the person ahead of us and at our feet to keep from stumbling) I took this picture of the Philopappos Hill Monument, a Greek mausoleum, dedicated to the aristocratic and well-connected first-born son of a Greek prince.  It’s the pillar at the top of the tree-covered hill.

Following our time at The Acropolis, we had a brief city tour of Athens and passed the Panathenaic Stadium.  The stadium was originally built as a racecourse in the 6th century BC and hosted the Panathenaic Games, held every four years to honor the goddess Athena.  The Panathenaic Games were likely a rival to the Olympic Games, held in Olympia, Greece. 

This site was originally built around 300 BC and has a long history too, so I’ll jump ahead to the late 19th century.  The Greek government sponsored a refurbishment of the stadium prior to the first modern Olympics in 1896.  The opening and closing ceremonies of the 1896 Olympics were held at this site and were viewed by a crowd of about 80,000 spectators.  The stadium was used again for the 2004 Summer Olympics and for the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games.  In my photo below, the stadium looks like an ice rink, but that’s rainwater.  If you need proof, check out the people with umbrellas.

We and most of our travel group (excluding the die-hard shoppers) skipped the free time downtown and the shopping part of the day due to the continuing light showers.  The next day, Ted and I (and many of our shipmates) visited the Plaka District, the oldest section of Athens, located at the base of The Acropolis.  It’s described as “a village within the city, an island for those who don’t have time to visit the Greek Islands.”  Most of the streets of the district are closed to automobile traffic and it’s a very nice neighborhood of homes, shops, and restaurants. 

The weather was sunny and beautiful, and we enjoyed our time much more than we would have in the previous day’s rain.  We even bought a small, zippered case, not because we really needed a zippered case (although we’ll use it), but because we wanted to change our €50 bills for smaller denominations to use for tips.  Mission accomplished!

Dinner onboard featured Greek food tonight.  I had moussaka for the first time.  It’s basically a casserole similar to lasagna but layered with meat and vegetables instead of meat and pasta.  Not surprisingly, “Cautious Ted” selected something more familiar to him for dinner, but when I told him the moussaka was delicious, and when he didn’t see any signs of me dying from eating it, he tried it and agreed that it was very good.

Since the first time Ted and I cruised with Viking, we’ve been impressed with everything: the service; the friendliness of the staff; the maintenance; the atmosphere; the food; the stateroom’s heated bathroom floor and full-size shower, plus lots of storage; the amenities including the spa, a mini-fridge in the room, higher-end restaurants, and room service; the beverages–fruit juice, soft drinks, and coffee all day and all night; beer and wine at meals–all included, and whatever else can impress travelers. On shore, a port city tour is always included; other tours are extra.   Everything on a Viking cruise is about the guests and spoiling them.

Let’s start with maintenance.  There are no trashcans onboard except in the staterooms and the public bathrooms.  Passengers are not expected to clean up after themselves.  Just leave your dirty dishes or napkins, etc. on a table and your used towels at the pool or the hot tub.  A staff member will pick up the items within minutes.

Cleaning the floors and picking up trash is only the beginning of keeping the ship clean.  Going to the atrium one afternoon, we saw a staff member wiping down all the walls inside the elevator.   Windows are washed constantly.  I never saw a window spattered with saltwater spots for more than a short time before it was washed.  As Ted and I relaxed in the Winter Garden with our coffee and hot chocolate one morning, we saw a staff member polishing (not dusting) the grand piano in the room.  As we passed through a lounging area, we saw a housekeeper dusting the black scrollwork decorations you see in the photos below.  He was using a damp cloth and his finger to get into every opening.  It reminded me of the Marines:  he left no dust behind. 

Every room on Viking ships has a veranda and every veranda and its outdoor furniture is cleaned daily and washed at least once weekly—more if needed.  One day, Ted and I were standing on our veranda and noticed a little damage on the railing (left photo below).  We joked that it was time to get a new railing.  We never mentioned it to anyone else, but when we went out on our veranda after returning from our excursion of the day, we had a new railing (right photo).

Another day, as we were leaving on a shore excursion, we noticed a large black smudge on the side of the ship.  It was probably the result of the ship bumping against the black rubber tires along the dock that protect docking ships from damage.  Ted and I looked at the smudge (noticeable because it was about six feet in diameter and the only dark spot on the white ship) and joked again, “Uh-oh!  Better scrub that off.”  When we returned from our shore excursion, crew members were painting over the smudge.  Another day, we saw crew members washing the exterior of the ship.

Crew members are constantly on patrol to keep things nice.  People always feel comfortable moving furniture around to suit the situation.  Maybe they don’t want to face the sun, or they want to form a conversational group or something.  After they leave, however, it’s only minutes before a crew member straightens things up so that it looks nice for the next people who want to spend time in that area.  There is never a feeling of “Why do the passengers always have to move the furniture and make more work for me?”  It’s always more of a “I’m glad you enjoyed yourselves. I’m going to make this nice for the next person.”  Notice how the deck chairs and the dining room chairs are all in alignment.  Used beach towels are replaced with identically folded and properly positioned clean towels, and back rest pillows are properly spaced and placed against the dining room bench seats.  This is true of furniture throughout the ship.  Everything always looks clean and new and ready for guests—and it always looks inviting and comfortable.

One of Ted’s and my favorite things to do onboard is to sit in the ship’s Winter Garden in the morning with a cup of coffee (Ted) and a cup of hot chocolate (me).  Sometimes we shift the chairs around to keep the sun out of our eyes, but they are always re-positioned soon after we leave and our recyclable cups have been disposed of. If we sit in the atrium or anywhere else on the ship to read, chat, or just relax, a passing staff member will offer to bring us a beverage.

One night, as we came to dinner, Ted and I noticed duct tape on the frame of the dining room doorway.  It looked like something might have bumped the edge trim and loosened it.  When we returned for breakfast the next morning, the duct tape was gone and there was no sign of any damage. Yes, I took a picture, but only because Ted and I were joking with each other about how soon the damage would be repaired and I wanted a timeline. We expected the repair within 24 hours, but overnight was even faster.

Staterooms are kept immaculate too.  I would straighten things up a bit (top photo below) when we left our room in the morning, but it didn’t help to try to do more because that meant the stewards had to re-do what I’d done so that things would be arranged in “the Viking way.”  The left photo below shows how the room is straightened for daytime use.  While we are at dinner, the stewards do a turn-down and deliver any official messages (and sometimes gifts) Viking sends us.  After dinner, the stateroom looks like the lower right photo.

Details are important in the bathroom too.  No matter where on the vanity shelf or in the shower we leave the Viking toiletries, when we return to the room, they are always placed in this order in the shower and on the vanity top (see below) with all the labels facing forward.  Details, details.

The entire Viking cruise experience is amazing, but the best part is the crew.  They are always happy, polite, and pleasant (maybe they fake it when they don’t feel great, but it doesn’t show).  They always greet everyone they pass with a “Good morning/afternoon/evening, sir/madame,” and if you look the least bit uncertain, they immediately offer assistance.  One day, as Ted and I were leaving the dining room after dinner to attend a theater event, one of the staff members, as usual, wished us a good evening.  I wished him a good evening in return, saying I knew he’d be working, but I hoped he’d have an easy shift.  He humbly replied, “I am lucky.  I have work.”  Wow!  Such a simple statement, but filled with gratitude and meaning.

The staff members we know the best are always our room stewards because they work on our deck all day every day, so we see them the most.  Here are Ali (left) and Citra (‘chee-tra), our stewards for our 30-day Mediterranean cruise.  At home in the Philippines, Ali lives with her grandmother and uses her salary to help her grandmother financially.  Citra, from Bali, is married and has a young son and daughter.  After a few years with Viking, he will return to Bali permanently.  The four of us became very good friends, and Ali and I hugged each other repeatedly when Ted and I left the ship.  Ali and I both had tears in our eyes, and she told me, “You are my other grandma.”  Citra (a man) was more reserved and shook our hands to say good-bye.  Note:  Citra knows the steward we had for six weeks on our 2019-2020 Australia/New Zealand cruise.  That steward’s name was Alvin, and he introduced himself to us as “My name is Alvin.  I have two brothers named Simon and Theodore.”  (Get it?  Haha!)

Viking ships have lots of clean windows, providing beautiful views as we cruise.  Here’s a sunset we saw over the lagoon at Venice.  Never stop exploring.

Rhodes, Ted’s and my first stop in Greece on the BT, is one of the southeastern Greek Islands near Türkiye (see the map below).  When I looked at the map and saw all those islands in the Aegean Sea–227 of over 700 islands are inhabited–it made perfect sense that Ted and I saw so many ferry lines and boats at the five ports we visited on the shores of the Aegean Sea–Rhodes, Crete, Athens, Olympia, and Corfu.

Rhodes’ historic quarter is Europe’s largest active medieval town, although the island is probably most famous as the site of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  The Colossus was a statue of Helios, the sun god, and stood beside the harbor. It was about 108 feet tall–the tallest statue in the Ancient World. Experts affirm that it was technically impossible for the Colossus’ legs to span the harbor entrance, as it is often shown in drawings. If that were true, the statue would have fallen over. It took 12 years to build the statue, and it was destroyed by an earthquake 54 years later (around 225 BC) when it collapsed at the knees and fell onto the land beside it. The remains lay on the ground for over 800 years and were so impressive that people travelled to see them. It was said that 900 camels were needed to remove the debris from the area.

Rhodes is called the “Island of the Knights” because the Knights of St. John ruled it for two centuries (1310-1522) and made it a model of the medieval European settlement. The Street of the Knights, the main street in the Old City, is paved with colorful cobblestones, and is one of the best-preserved medieval streets in Europe, with shops along both sides of it.

The first significant building we saw on the Street of the Knights was the Church of the Virgin of the Burgh.  (Was there a contest to come up with the longest possible name for the church?)  The church was ruined by World War II bombardments, so only three apses remain.  FYI in case you don’t know, an apse is a semi-circular area with a half-dome ceiling, like some churches have in the front of the sanctuary for the choir.  The church has been partially restored but is no longer in use for worship. The photo below shows the entrance to the church, with the remains of the main building on the left.

The Street of the Knights ends at the largest structure on Rhodes:  the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. (Is everything on the island required to have a long name?) The palace was built on the foundation of the temple of the sun god, Helios, and in medieval times, served as the residence of the governor and as the administrative center of Rhodes. The first photo below shows the Street of the Knights; the two photos below it show the palace.

Here’s a picture of the courtyard of the Palace of the Grand Master, etc. It was grand.

The palace had beautiful inlaid mosaic floors.  I took pictures of two of them.

During our tour of the palace, we saw this statue of Lacoön and His Sons.  Lacoön was a Trojan priest and allegedly had intercourse with his wife in a sacred temple, thus desecrating the building.  To punish him, the gods sent serpents to strangle him and his twin sons, as depicted in the sculpture. Note: You can also see another mosaic tile floor.

Our last tour stop was (as always) the city market. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m not much of a shopper, but Ted and I enjoy walking outside in the sunshine on a beautiful day.  When we’re in an unfamiliar place like Rhodes or anywhere else, there’s always the added anticipation of discovering new sights.

When we returned to our ship, we freshened up, changed our clothes, and headed for a mysterious “private event” to which we’d been invited. We didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be a reception to thank those of us onboard who were staying for 3 and 4 weeks of the cruise from Istanbul to Barcelona.  That was about 40 of the 930 passengers, with only about a half dozen of the 40 (including us) staying for the full 30 days. The event included hors d’oeuvres and champagne, and the entire crew—managers and up—were in dress uniforms to show their appreciation for us. It was nice to spend time getting to know some of the people we’ll be mingling with for the next 4 weeks.

As our cruise progressed and we chatted with various people, it seemed like none of the “long-term” cruisers (including us) knew that the cruise was a combination of four week-long segments, with boarding and disembarkment points at Istanbul, Athens, Venice, Rome, and Barcelona.  On the other hand, the “short-term” (one or two-week) cruisers didn’t know it could be a month-long cruise.  Ted and I wonder if the cruise was advertised in a variety of ways—maybe an ad for four weeks and four other ads for one week each? We boarded the cruise in Istanbul and disembarked in Barcelona, but some passengers left, and others joined us at Athens, Venice, and Rome along the way.

Ephesus is one of the best-preserved ancient cities in the world. At one time, the city included one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—the Temple of Artemis, which was destroyed by arson in 356 BC. Ted and I found it far more interesting than the “purposely minimalistic” ruins of Troy.

Ephesus was the fourth largest metropolis of the ancient world, with a population of about 200,000 at its peak. The city is in a major earthquake zone and was destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt four times. Finally, a massive earthquake, the decline of the harbor, and Arab invasions forced the population of Ephesus to relocate. About 20-30 percent of the ancient city has been excavated, reaching back to the 10th century BC.

We entered the city through the Magnesian Gate at the top of Curetes Street, the main street of Ephesus. The ruins in the photo below used to be shops.

Beyond the shops was a residential area. Jesus’ mother, Mary, lived in a small stone house in Ephesus before she died, and St. John is said to have preached here. St. Paul also lived in Ephesus and wrote his letters to the Ephesians and the Acts of the Apostles here. The buildings shown below are what is left of some Ephesian homes (not Mary’s, St. John’s, or St. Paul’s).

Below you can see Curetes Street. The Aegean Sea used to be at the low end of the street, but silt from the sea has filled in the area. The Aegean Sea is now about three miles from the end of the street. Curetes Street was lined with shops, and the columns formerly supported a roof over the street to protect pedestrians from the sun and the rain.

A large portion of Curetes Street is beautifully paved with marble.

Midway along the main street is the façade of the Library of Celsus, the most recognizable building in the city, built to house 12,000 scrolls.

The photo below shows the ruins of Ephesus’ city hall. It looks like it was a beautiful building.

The carving on the stone shown below indicates a hospital.

Here’s a picture of the Great Theater, which seated 25,000 people. Until recently, it was used as a concert venue and hosted Elton John, Ray Charles, Sting, Diana Ross, and many others. In 2018, however, preservationists feared that the volume of concert music would damage the rock (literally rock music?), so the setting was closed to concerts. Quieter public events are still held there.

The stone shown below is an ancient advertisement for a bordello in Ephesus. The left foot carved into the stone meant the brothel was on the left side of the street. To know if it was worth the walk, you could place your left foot in the footprint. If your foot was smaller than the one on the stone, you would be declared underage and denied entry.

At the lower gate of Curetes Street, we saw this assortment of rocks. It looks like a cemetery to me, but this was the site of a gymnasium, an important part of the culture. Gymnasiums (i.e.. schools) were used as educational centers, as places for training in mental and physical activities, and for teaching young men about art, sports, literature, drama, and speech. You can see the Great Theater in the background. Because this gymnasium was built so close to the theater, it is thought to have been used to train theater actors.

Near the end of our walk through Ephesus, a portion of the street was cleared and a theatrical troupe gathered and walked toward a platform in a procession. There was a presentation that appeared to be a ceremony (we couldn’t hear the voices well enough to understand them—if they were even speaking in English—and then the “important” people climbed the platform and the others paid homage to them. The performance lasted about 15 minutes and was interesting to watch.

We left Ephesus at the lower gate and finished our day with a drive through the beautiful Turkish countryside.

Today, Ted and I visited the ruins of Troy which date back as far as the Bronze Age. The excavated ruins have been kept “purposefully minimalistic,” which made it hard for Ted and me to picture an actual city existing here. Frankly, we found it kind of boring, but it was nice to spend time outside in weather cooler than 100 degrees. Here’s a summary of what we saw on today’s excursion.

Troy is believed to be the site of the war described in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.  The ancient city was strategically located at the southern entrance to the Dardanelles, a narrow strait linking the Black Sea with the Aegean Sea.  There was also a land route from Troy northward to the European shore over the narrowest point of the Dardanelles.  As a result of its location, Troy became an important and powerful trading center between the east and west and, during the Bronze Age, between the north and south. 

The water and wind conditions also worked in Troy’s economic favor.  The winds through the entrance to the Dardanelles are strong and so is the surface current that flows through the Dardanelles.  Flat-bottomed, square-rigged ships had to wait for favorable southerly winds to blow through the strait—conditions that occur for only a brief time in the summer.  While the ships were moored at Troy waiting for a southerly wind, the Trojans charged tolls for mooring as well as for passage through the strait. 

Twentieth century excavations show that as many as nine cities were built on the site of Troy.  Here’s a map of how archeologists believe the cities were laid out over the years from 3000 BC to 300 AD. I think the ruins we saw were the most recent in layers VIII and IX (that’s 8 and 9 in Arabic numerals).

Over time, the Dardenelle Strait narrowed, due to the silt left behind after frequent floods.  If you look closely (or zoom your screen) you can see the blue line of the strait from the right center toward the left of the photo below.  I took this picture from the ancient seaport location of Troy which is now approximately five miles inland.

The photo below shows the ruins of one of Troy’s theaters. For contrast, you can see the rooftop of the modern-day visitor’s center in the upper left.

The area of Troy shown below is believed to have been a site for offering sacrifices to the ancient gods.

Thanks to the “purposefully minimalistic” excavation and my lack of archeological knowledge, I have no idea what is shown in the photo below, so call it what you will.  I call it “ruins.”

The photo below shows part of what is known as Schliemann’s Great Trench.  There are markers on three of the “steps” indicating levels II, III, and IV of the rebuilding of Troy.  (That’s 2, 3, and 4 for those who are Roman numeral challenged.)  The Great Trench is 56 feet deep and 230 feet wide.  Schliemann, one of the first archeologists to excavate Troy, began his work by digging this trench.  In the process, he destroyed everything in the trench; as a result, it serves as an example of how not to excavate a site.  Because it illustrates such a big mistake, it has become a notable point of interest. Go figure!

Here’s another view of Schliemann’s Great Trench in the opposite direction, facing the Dardanelle Strait.

Çanakkale, the city nearest to Troy, is a modern contrast to the ancient ruins. (Note: As a non-archeologist, I have no trouble picturing this as a city.)

Çanakkale’s waterfront is a pleasant place to walk, with lots of boats, refreshment stands, etc.

The waterfront also features—what else?! –a Trojan horse. 

When Ted and I scheduled our 2023 BT for August and September, we knew it would be hot in Egypt.  St. Louis gets hot in the summer with lots of humidity as well, so we figured we could handle the dry heat of Egypt.  Not true!

Our first taste of heat was in Israel, and it was only a little worse than July in St. Louis.  It was obvious, however, that the natives went indoors during the hottest part of the day.  We, on the other hand, had an eight-hour tour on every one of our four days in Jerusalem.  On the bright side, it wasn’t crowded.  The best we could do to stay cool was to stand in the shade as much as possible.  Yes, Jerusalem was pretty hot, but then we went to Cairo and learned what real heat is like.

Although Cairo, Giza, and New Orleans are all at 30o north latitude, New Orleans has greenery and water to cool it, even though the water adds humidity to the air.  Luxor is at 25o north latitude, and Aswan is at 24o north latitude, similar to Miami and Phoenix.  I think we can all agree that, relatively speaking, Miami with its water and greenery is relatively more comfortable in the summer than Phoenix in the Sonoran Desert.

Now, back to Egypt.  The Sahara Desert begins on the western edge of Cairo, within the city limits and not too far west of the Nile River, and Giza is a western suburb (in American terms) of Cairo.  The portion of Giza we visited was all sand and rock—no greenery, lakes, or rivers—and the only shade is beside a small desert building such as a ticket office, a rest room, or a souvenir stand (or under an umbrella, like the dogs in the photo below).  The desert sand and rock have been exposed to sunlight for thousands of years and have been holding on to that absorbed heat for just as long.  As a result, while the sun beats down from above, all that rock and sand radiate stored heat from below.  Talk about a heat island!  Here’s what shade in Luxor looks like in the Valley of the Kings.

Viking was wonderful about supplying us with cool water at all times.  The tour buses had cases of bottled water in the luggage compartment and a refrigerator in the bus interior.  We were free to take as many bottles as we wanted.  Ted and I averaged about one bottle per hour each.  Fact:  None of the 82 people on our Nile River cruise suffered from dehydration.  Frequent rest room stops weren’t necessary—all of us sweated so much, we didn’t need them often.  

Here are the temperature forecasts for Cairo and Aswan while we were there.  We were told that, in Aswan, the temperature can reach 130 degrees in summer, but will drop below 110 degrees in September.  Whoopee!  (We were in Aswan on August 27.)  The numbers below do not include a heat index, nor do I even want to know what it was.  People told us that the temperatures would cool off quickly in September and you can see the truth of that in the Cairo forecast.  I took that screenshot on August 30.  My advice:  plan your trip to Egypt between September and April.  It was a relief to arrive in Türkiye, where the temperatures were only in the upper 80s and where there was water and greenery for cooling. 

Ted’s and my bar for “How hot is it?” has been Komodo (latitude 8o south), where we drank five bottles of water on a four-hour excursion in a wooded area to see the Komodo dragons.  We had to change our bar to Egypt.  If it’s not as hot as Egypt, it’s not that bad.

Türkiye is the only country in the world that is located on two continents:  Europe and Asia.  It is separated by the Bosporus and the Dardanelles Straits.  The city of Istanbul is also located on two continents.  On the map below, you can see that there are two red dots indicating Istanbul—one on each side of the Bosporus Strait.

What a treat to be in Türkiye!  There’s green grass and blue water instead of tan rocks and sand, and the temperatures are only in the upper 80s.  Türkiye is a large country, and we’ve only seen the landscape from the airport to Istanbul (about an hour’s drive), but what we’ve seen is very pretty.  Here’s a view of Istanbul by day and by night, looking from one side of the Bosporus Strait to the other.

Istanbul is apparently a very busy port for both commerce and pleasure.  At one point, as we looked through the Bosporus Strait, Ted and I counted at least 30 vessels in the water within our sight.  It was hard to be accurate, because they were all in motion.

Our first tour stop the next day was the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque.  It’s one of the most majestic Ottoman mosques and is called the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles that decorate the interior walls.  It also has blue domes.

Here are pictures of one of the mosque doorways and the main courtyard with a minaret in the background.  The number of minarets signifies the importance of a mosque:  one minaret indicates that the building is a mosque; two minarets are decorative; four minarets on four sides indicate a large mosque.  The Blue Mosque has six minarets.

The pictures below show the beautiful interior tiled walls.

Shoes are not allowed in mosques, so whenever we visited a mosque, we were given paper booties to put over our shoes. Worshippers must wash their feet before entering the mosque.  The picture below shows a wudu, or ablution area, for that purpose.  The worshipper sits on the brown-topped stool, rests his/her feet on the table against the wall, and then washes them with water from the spigot above the table.  This is part of an Islam ceremony of purity and cleanliness before worship.  It is traditional for Muslim men and women to pray separately either in different parts of a room or in different rooms.

After our time in the Blue Mosque, we walked about three-quarters of a mile to the nearby Topkapi Palace Museum.  Along the way, we walked down the avenue of trees shown below.  Aren’t those trees unusual?  No one I asked (including Google) knew what species of tree they are. The best I got from Google was “photo at Topkapi”; everyone else just said, “I don’t know.”  Given the light bark, maybe they are some kind of poplar.

The Topkapi Palace (below, left) was built in 1465 and originally served as the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire and as the primary residence of its sultans.  It has four main courtyards, hundreds of rooms and chambers, and many smaller buildings within its walls.  The photo on the right shows the Gate of Salutation, which leads to the second courtyard.  In 1923, a government decree transformed the palace into a museum.

The museum is a popular place and was very crowded.  Ted and I only went through two rooms—the armory and the jewels—before we decided to leave the hot, crowded building and walk around the grounds a bit before joining some of our fellow cruise members in a shady courtyard.  Pictures of some of the displays are below.

Our last stop of the day was the Grand Market.  It was definitely grand!  There were four long wings like the one pictured below.  The bazaar featured leather goods and jewelry, although there were a few shops offering other items.

I didn’t personally touch any of the leather goods to determine their quality, but from the appearance of the jewelry displays (below–definitely not Tiffany!), I doubt if it was high-quality leather.  As in Aswan, if we paused to look at the merchandise, a vendor was instantly at our side, coaxing us to come into the store.

The evening entertainment onboard our ship, the Sky, was Turkish folk dancing (left) and whirling dervishes (right).  A dervish is an initiate of the Sufi Muslim religious order who has taken vows of poverty and austerity.  The whirling is part of a Muslim ceremony to glorify God and to seek spiritual perfection.

The dancers were very good, but they weren’t as much fun as the whirling dervish who performed onboard our Nile River cruise ship.  When he finished his performance, he folded his decorated skirt into a bundle the size of a newborn and handed it to a young woman who than carried it around the room so that each of us could look, touch, and/or hold it.   I did all three and it was heavy!!—maybe 15-20 pounds.  Enjoy the video below.  I don’t know why I stopped recording when I did, but I wish I’d continued a little longer.  It has music, so turn on the sound. 

Ted’s and my Nile River cruise ended in Luxor.  From there, we flew to Cairo and spent a night in a hotel with our fellow river cruisers.  It was our last day with this group of people.  We and three other couples exchanged email addresses so that we can stay in touch.  The following day, Viking took us all from the Cairo hotel to the airport to travel to our next destinations—home for most of the group; to Istanbul for Ted and me where we’ll embark on a 30-day Mediterranean cruise from Istanbul to Barcelona.

I was nervous about our arrival in Istanbul because of the lack of English we’d experienced in Israel and in Egypt as well as the absence of a Viking guide to walk us through the local security processes.  Ted and I agreed that most people at the airports go from the plane to the baggage terminal to the exit, so we decided to follow the crowd.  Sure enough, there were very few signs printed in English, but we followed the crowd, as planned.  If we got off-track, there was always someone in a staff uniform who used international gesture language to tell us where to go—one hand up with the palm out for “stop,” then an extended arm with a pointed index finger for “go over there.” 

At the terminal exit, there was a booth with English language signs (at last!) indicating we could boost the local economy by paying them to reserve a hotel, arrange a city tour, rent a car, etc. for us.  There was another English-language sign that said, “Spend as much as you can.  Leave Türkiye green.”  We gave the booth attendant the name of our transport service and he directed us to our transfer company just outside the exit door.  The transport agent also spoke English.  We showed him our printed reservations, we got on the indicated bus, and we arrived at our hotel.  Well, that was easy!  We set our travel bar for “Can we do it?” at “We made it through the Istanbul airport, so we can handle anything.”

For unknown reasons, Viking would not transfer us from a river cruise to an ocean cruise, but our travel agent made reservations for us at the hotel where all the guests for the Viking Mediterranean cruise were staying. That made it easy for us to board our bus for the Viking transfer to the ship the following day.  We knew for sure that we were in Türkiye when we entered the hotel lobby and saw the hookah at the door (right photo).

There was no problem checking in at the hotel, but the staff was adamant about refusing us the Viking group dinner and breakfast.  It took at least three or four different hotel staff members and another two Viking staff members to convince the hotel staff of our Viking group membership meal privileges.  We didn’t get the group dinner, but the restaurant dinner we had on our own that evening was the best meal of our entire trip, so no worries.

After we checked out of our room the next morning and were waiting for our Viking bus to take us to the ship, we walked around the public areas in the hotel lobby to pass the time.  At one point, a nice lady in an upper-level hotel uniform came up to us and said she would like to introduce us to the hotel manager.  We wondered how we rated that, but thought, “Oh, well, . . .” 

Three men in suits approached us and the lady introduced us to the manager.  We shook hands and then one of the other men introduced himself as the head of the accounting department.  Still puzzled at the attention, we smiled and shook his hand too.  We all chatted for a bit and then the third man said, “I apologize.  You aren’t who we thought you were,” and all three men abruptly left.  Huh??? 

The woman downplayed the (near house arrest?) incident by asking if we’d had a pleasant stay, if we’d enjoyed the full breakfast, and if everything about our stay had been good.  Ted and I decided that, in some way, we must have resembled someone who didn’t pay for the hotel charges.  It was weird.

We left the hotel on our assigned bus, boarded our ship, and had lunch, followed by a relaxing afternoon onboard with some time spent unpacking our things for our 30-day stay.

Our Nile River cruise excursion today took us to the Aswan High Dam, one of the top 10 dams in the world.  As we went from place to place in Egypt, it was nice to see lots of beautifully colorful bougainvillea along the road on our routes.

The Aswan High Dam, which formed Lake Nassar, is an engineering feat that protects the fertile land along the Nile River from flooding.  At 300 miles long, Lake Nassar is the second-largest man-made lake in the world.  The photo below shows Lake Nassar behind the Aswan High Dam. We were standing on the dam, so it was impossible to take a picture of it.  The dam is made of granite, not concrete, so it’s technically a 365-foot-high pile of rocks.  Granite from this area was shipped downriver from Aswan to Cairo to build the Great Pyramids of Giza. 

The SUE (Soviet Union-Egypt) Friendship Monument (below) is near the dam.  It represents the friendship between Egypt and Russia and commemorates Russia’s assistance in constructing the Aswan High Dam.  Although the U.S. and some European countries contributed to the cost of the Aswan High Dam, Russia was by far the largest contributor.  The monument’s shape suggests the lotus flower which closes at night and goes beneath the water, then rises again to open the next day.

After visiting the dam, we went into downtown Aswan and stopped at a spice market.  It smelled wonderful! I was surprised that Aswan appeared to be a cleaner, more dynamic, and more prosperous city than Cairo, Egypt’s capital city.

The indoor store must have offered every spice imaginable.  The photo below shows about half of the store.

The main downtown market was the nicest and largest one we’ve seen so far (photo below).  It was similar to an outdoor shopping mall in the U.S., but with Egyptian products and determined vendors.  The market is two miles long, with shops on both sides of the walkway. The lattice top keeps the walkway (relatively) cool, making it pleasant to walk and browse.  Of course, the vendors had to do their thing, so if we even glanced into their shops—and it’s hard to avoid looking—they rushed out to the walkway to offer us their wares.  Unlike the foot vendors we’ve encountered, these shop vendors were less aggressive and did not follow us down the walkway—they needed to tend the goods in their shops.

After our time in the market, we sailed for an hour on the Nile River in a felucca—a wooden, single-sail boat like those in the photo below.  While we were sailing, a half dozen boys 8-10 years old swam out to our boat on paddleboards, put their arms over the sides of the felucca to anchor themselves, and sang to us.

The awning over the boat and the river breeze through the open sides provided us with a lovely ride. Even here, we couldn’t escape the vendors.  The table in the left center of the photo below has a cloth over it covering items that were later revealed for sale.

Our felucca passed the Old Cataract Hotel and Elephant Island, named for its rocks (below).  Aswan is at the first of six cataracts (waterfalls) on the Nile River. The rocks on Elephant Island reminded me of those in Elephant Rocks State Park in Missouri.

The Aswan dam was the southernmost point of our Nile River cruise so, after our felucca cruise, our ship turned back to the north, heading downstream toward Luxor.  On the way to our Edfu stop, we passed the Kom Ombo Temple of Sobek. Say “Kom Ombo” aloud.  Pronounce it the way it looks.  Isn’t it fun?  Doesn’t it sound African? 

We docked in Kom Ombo that night, but did not go on any organized excursions in the city, so I took a picture at the dock where there was—what else?—a market.

Ted and I saw some interesting vehicles on our BT.  Jerusalem has a desert climate, so rainfall is scarce.  As a result, Jerusalem is a very dusty city.  I think vehicle owners see no point in trying to keep their vehicles clean, so they clear the windshield and go.  I’ve never seen as many dirty vehicles as Ted and I saw in Jerusalem on our 2023 BT.  I mean every car and  every truck!   It’s probably like living alongside a gravel road.  You can wash your car, but as soon as you take it on the road, it’s dirty again.  Practicality wins.

While Israeli vehicle styles tended to look like those in most major cities, Cairo and Aswan had a great variety of transportation modes, varying from sedans and large modern buses to three-wheeled mini-cars to donkey-drawn carts to handcarts propelled by human feet.  They all shared the streets with no apparent rules of the road.

The street in front of our Cairo hotel had four lanes of traffic moving in each direction.  There were no painted traffic lane lines, no stop signs or stop lights, and no marked crosswalks.  One couple in our group wanted to cross the street to stand on the banks of the Nile River and said it was like taking your life in your hands to do that.  Hanan told us later that “it’s easier to take a cab and make a u-turn than it is to cross the street.”

The traffic seemed to move smoothly, but with the constant sound of horns—some long, some short—as cars moved forward, smoothly gliding from one lane to another, as if it was a dance.  From our upper-story hotel window, it looked like a video game.  I suspect there was a “horn code” with different horn signals to tell adjacent drivers, “Don’t change lanes because I’m passing you” and “Ok, thanks for letting me know.” 

There was likely to be a horse- or donkey-drawn vehicle or a handcart in the traffic, but it was generally ignored, and the cars just beeped their horns (probably in code) and went around it.  We occasionally saw a vehicle driving against the traffic in an outer lane, but the other drivers went around it as easily as they did the handcarts.  Other times, we saw vehicles parked in the outermost traffic lanes (either side of the road) and drivers of cars simply weaved around those as well.  If you needed to make a left turn, the secret seemed to be to do it with confidence.  If you entered the intersection with confidence, oncoming drivers slowed or stopped to allow you to turn, then proceeded with their weaving and horn-honking.  I asked Hanan what kind of traffic laws were in effect, and she said that, basically, you just drive as you please, but speed limits are very strictly enforced. 

Mini-sized vehicles were everywhere in Egypt.  I saw several at a single intersection in Aswan.  Notice the absence of lane markings and stop lights at the corner.

The carriage in the left photo below is horse-drawn; the cart on the right is donkey-drawn.  Heavy traffic didn’t bother them.  I wish I’d been able to photograph at least one of the manual pushcarts we saw.

Little trucks were plentiful too.  The one on the left is basically an extended three-wheeled motorcycle; the little truck on the right is also three-wheeled but includes a cab.  We saw a lot of these carrying loads higher than the side rails.  As long as the load was balanced, there seemed to be no height limit.  Sometimes, there were people sitting on top of the loads, even if the load was higher than the truck bed.  The truck in the lower (third) photo with the three men setting on the top is underloaded, compared to others we saw.  Maybe they just completed a delivery.

Mini vehicles transporting large numbers of people were also a common sight.  Is there a contest to see how many people fit on a motorcycle?  The motorcycle in the left photo has four people on it.  (The mom is holding the baby.)  We saw no helmets and no visible fear of traffic danger.  If the vehicle was too full, people hung outside of it, like in the right photo below.  During one of our pre-excursion onboard talks, the speaker told a joke about these vehicles.

A policeman stops a motorcycle and asks the driver, “Do you know you have six people on this motorcycle?”  The astonished driver replies, “Six?!  What happened to Ahmed?”

We saw so many station wagons like this one that I asked what they were.  I learned that this is an Egyptian national taxi service.  You can go to the taxi station and buy a ticket to travel to any city in Egypt in these cars.  There were a lot of these on the roads in the early mornings and late afternoons, so I think they might also be used as local taxis for people going to work and coming home afterward.

Thank goodness we always had a professional driver for our excursions, so that we didn’t have to figure out the roadway protocols in Egypt, or ride with five other people on a motorcycle.

Today started very early for some of the people on our Nile River cruise.  I’m not sure how far away the hot air balloon ride was, but the bus leaving for the balloon site departed from our dock at 3:30 a.m.  The balloon ride excursion was weather-dependent, and the go-no-go decision wouldn’t be made until the departure time.  Luckily, the weather was good, so our friends didn’t get up early for nothing. Ted and I have already experienced (1) a hot air balloon ride; (2) the Great Forest Park Balloon Race; and (3) the Albuquerque Balloon Festival, so we slept in until 6:30.  When we got up, we saw hot air balloons across the Nile from us.  Maybe some of our group members were in them.  We couldn’t ride in them like the early birds did, but we could enjoy how beautiful and peaceful they looked.

Today was another major highlight of our visit to Egypt.  We visited the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens near Luxor.  On our way, we passed the excavation sites pictured below, as well as many others.  As Hanan said, “There is something under everything in Egypt.”  As a result, excavations usually yield results.  In fact, the Egyptian government is moving people out of the Valley of the Kings to allow for more excavation.  The picture on the left is the excavation of the Lost Golden City at Aten.  I don’t know what’s being re-discovered in the right photo, but that’s pretty much what the landscape looked like all the way along our route in the Sahara Desert.

When we were at the Step Pyramid and I learned that we were going to go into the tomb, my first thought was “Great!  It will be cooler down there.”  That was so-o-o-o not true!  I was hoping for cave-like temperatures of 55 degrees (I would have settled for 85 degrees), but that was not to be.  The reasons:  (1) There’s a lot of heat in the air; (2) there is probably at least as much heat in the sand and the rocks that hold the desert heat; (3) the tombs have little air circulation inside; and (4) the tombs have been storing heat over the centuries just like the sand and the rocks.  The result:  It’s even hotter underground.  Amazingly, it was a relief to come out of the tombs into the 110-degree heat!

The kings chose this area for their tombs because it was hidden and would therefore prevent robbers from finding the treasures in the tombs.  By this time, the pharaohs had given up on labor-intensive pyramids.  In addition, pyramids were essentially a beacon to grave-robbers, clearly announcing “Come in, come in.  There’s a lot of good stuff in here for you to steal!”  There are more than 60 pyramid-less tombs carved into the rocky hills in the Valley of the Kings.  Our first stop was King Tutankhamun’s tomb (photo below).  The pyramid-shaped pile of sand and rock over the entrance was added after the excavation of the tomb.

Typically, kings added to their tombs over the years of their reigns.  King Tut died when he was 19, having ruled for only nine years, so his tomb is small.  The photo below shows King Tut’s sarcophagus.  The tomb was discovered in 1922 and, after scientifically examining the mummy, the mummy was replaced in 1926 and is still inside the sarcophagus.

Three coffins were discovered inside King Tut’s sarcophagus.  The outer two were made of wood, covered in gold and semiprecious stones.  The third (inner) coffin held the king’s mummified body and was made of solid gold.  The image of a pharaoh is that of a god, and the gods were thought to have skin of gold, bones of silver, and hair of lapis lazuli, so the death mask of Tut that we are familiar with shows him in his divine form in the afterlife.  It is regarded as one of the masterpieces of Egyptian art.  (It was one of the things we could not take pictures of in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.) Below are pictures of some of the hieroglyphs inside King Tut’s tomb.  King Tut’s tomb is less splendid than many of the other tombs.  Its main claim to fame is that it is the only tomb archeologists found intact, with a literal treasure trove of artifacts inside, as well as the undisturbed mummy.

The next tomb we visited was that of Ramses II.  He lived to be around 90 years old and reigned as pharaoh for 66 years, so it’s not surprising that his is one of the largest tombs (26 rooms) in the Valley of the Kings.  All of those rooms were cut into the subterranean rock!

Ramses II was one of the greatest pharaohs of Egypt and ruled during Egypt’s Golden Age.  He is known for his military and cultural accomplishments, his good leadership, and the monuments and temples he built, including the Karnak Temple.  On a personal note, he had over 200 wives and over 100 children.  It makes you wonder when he had time to do any of those other things he is remembered for.

In the photo below, you can see a hallway in Ramses II’s tomb.  The tomb is so large, there are other hallways branching off from this one.

Here are close-ups of some of the beautifully detailed hieroglyphics in Ramses II’s tomb.

We left the Valley of the Kings and moved on to the Valley of the Queens, where over 90 tombs have been discovered so far.  The queens had to be buried separately from the kings, so the Valley of the Queens is on the opposite side of the mountain from the Valley of the Kings.  It was originally intended to serve as the burial grounds for the royal queens of ancient Egypt, but princes, princesses, and other high-ranking nobility are also buried in the Valley of the Queens.  Question:  Does anyone besides me think it’s odd that the men liked women enough to have as many as 200 wives and to father 100+ children, but could not tolerate women enough to be buried beside them after they were dead?

The most beautiful and best-preserved of all the tombs in the Valley of the Queens is that of Nefertari, the first of the Great Royal Wives of Ramses II.  Nefertari always wanted to be a man and wore men’s clothing; as a queen, she wore a king’s crown.  There were other queens in Egypt, but Nefertari was the only female pharaoh, and she very successfully ruled Egypt for 20 years.

Nefertari’s tomb has been described as the “Sistine Chapel of Ancient Egypt.”  All the hieroglyphs we’ve seen in the tombs we’ve visited are in their original state.  The dry climate of Egypt and the fact that the tombs are underground provide ideal conditions for preserving artifacts like these.  Some of my photos of Nefertari’s tomb are below.  It is, beyond a doubt, an extremely beautiful place to visit—more like an art museum than a tomb.

After spending most of the day admiring hieroglyphs underground, we came up for (hot) air and visited the Colossi of Memnon, two massive stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III that have stood in front of the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III to guard it since 1350 BCE.  The temple was originally the largest and most opulent in Ancient Egypt (larger than Karnak, but very little of it is left today, except for the Colossi.  Now, I guess they guard the temple ruins.

Our last stop of the day was at the house of British archeologist and Egyptologist, Howard Carter, the man who led the team that discovered the tomb of King Tut.  The house was not remarkable, so I didn’t take any pictures of it.  The best thing about the Carter House was that it was surprisingly cool inside (relatively speaking), with spacious rooms and a lovely breeze—yes, a real breeze! —on the front porch.

And that concluded our time in the Valleys of the Kings and the Queens.  I mentioned in an earlier post that much of the stone for the Great Pyramids was quarried near Luxor and shipped to Giza.  Obviously, the desert is filled with sandstone and granite, but this area also has a great deal of alabaster, and alabaster factories are plentiful.  One of them is shown in my picture below. 

You need a lot of extra time to deal with security checks at the airports in Israel and Egypt, so today, Ted and I had to wake up at 4:00 a.m. (yawn) for our private charter flight from Cairo to Luxor.  I’ve never been on a charter or a private flight before, and this qualified for both.  It sounds awesome but in reality, it was a well-used ordinary passenger charter plane—there were no lounge chairs, no gold fixtures in the bathrooms, no fully-reclining seats, nor any other luxury amenities.  The private part of the flight was that it was a small jet and, including Viking personnel and 80 cruisers-to-be, we filled the plane.  Even though it was less than a two-hour flight, we were served a full, hot meal for lunch.  I suspect the in-flight meal was included as a time-saver because, when we arrived in Luxor, we put our luggage on one bus and rode on a different one.  Our luggage went to the ship for our Nile River cruise; we passengers immediately embarked on a four-hour tour of the Karnak Temple.

As we drove from the airport to the temple, we crossed the Avenue of the Sphinxes which was buried under sand for centuries.  This avenue includes 1,050 sphinxes in the 2.25 miles it traverses between the Karnak Temple and the Luxor Temple. 

Luxor has been the spiritual capital of Egypt for 15 centuries.  There was a model of the Karnak Temple in the visitor’s center outside the temple complex (photo below).  This temple is the second-largest in the world (the largest is in Cambodia), and was embellished for 1,500 years by 30 pharaohs.  The entire complex includes 26 temples and could fit the equivalent of ten cathedrals within its walls.  It also had a huge sacred lake (the blue rectangle in the photo below).  Most of its construction is not unique, but its size and the number of its features are impressive.

The building in the photo below was near an entrance to the temple.  The columns are described as “megaliths.”  They’re aptly named.

The part of the temple shown below is referred to as the ancient avenue.  If you look at the photo of the model (above), this view looks through the left wing of the temple.

The obelisks shown below are called tekhenu and are usually placed at the entrance to a temple.  The Karnak Temple originally had approximately 20 obelisks. These two are the largest to survive.

The columns in the photo below are in the Great Hypostyle Hall.  They are decorated with religious scenes showing the pharaohs in the company of Egypt’s gods.  There is a progression of scenes on every wall, column, and gateway in this hall.  The hall has 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows.  Most of them are 33 feet high, but 12 of them are 69 feet high and 10 feet in diameter.  They once supported a towering ceiling. 

These ram-headed sphinxes signify the god Amun, lord of Karnak.

This small room was a place for high-ranking personnel (priests and pharaohs) to pray and/or meditate. 

Ramses II was one of the pharaohs who enlarged the Temple of Karnak.  The statues in this hall are Ramses II as Osiris.  Osiris, the god of the dead, was one of the most worshipped and respected gods in the Egyptian religion, and was the first mummy in history; therefore, every mummified body afterward was following in the steps of Osiris.  Ramses II commissioned this hall in which he is portrayed as Osiris’ mummy.  One of the prevailing tenets of the Egyptian religion was the desire to enter the realm of Osiris after death, and these statues symbolize Ramses II’s desire to do that. 

In Egypt, while the sun beats down at 110 degrees, the heat also reflects upward.  The natives we saw didn’t seem to be suffering (i.e., sweating or tiring) as much as our group members were, so acclimatization probably makes a big difference in tolerance for the heat.

Hanan, our guide, was a member of the excavation team at the Karnak temple and is justifiably proud of what the team discovered.  After we’d walked around the temple for the scheduled four hours, Hanan offered additional supplemental information to anyone who was interested and would like to follow her.  She also suggested that some of us might prefer to wait on the bus.  I hope her feelings weren’t hurt when all of us headed for the bus.  In our defense, we’d all been up since 4:00 a.m. for our flight to Luxor. The bus took us to our air-conditioned river ship where we unpacked our things for our eight-day cruise, showered, and enjoyed a delicious onboard dinner with our friends

Whew!  For our BT, Ted and I woke up at 4:00 a.m. on Tuesday, and arrived in Tel Aviv just before noon, local time, on Wednesday.  We spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday taking daily eight-hour tours in Jerusalem and Bethlehem in upper-90s heat.  Sunday was a travel day from Jerusalem to Cairo.  Monday and Tuesday included two more consecutive days of 8-hour tours in Cairo and Giza with temperatures in the low 100s.  On Wednesday, we were awake at 4:00 a.m. to fly from Cairo to Luxor and, upon our midday arrival, headed out in the 108-degree heat for a four-hour tour in Luxor before boarding our ship to begin our Nile River cruise on Thursday.  Can you spell “exhausted”? 

Hanan told our group that “you aren’t on vacation; you’re here to learn.”  I can’t speak for anyone else in the group, but Ted and I were there for a vacation, hoping to learn new things from our travels.  Today featured a tour of a nearby temple, but after ten long days of travel and walking outdoors in the heat, Ted and I chose to take the day off.  Besides, we saw the second largest ancient temple in the world yesterday (Karnak).  We had a wonderfully relaxing and quiet day onboard the ship with a half dozen other people who also chose to skip the temple tour.

Because we took the day off, I have no tour information to share, but here are a few notes about Egypt in general.

  • The restrooms on our Egyptian tours have been—interesting.  Hanan tells us in advance which ones are awful and should be avoided and where a (relatively) nicer alternate is located.  Most of the restrooms don’t have toilet paper, so Hanan told us to always carry some with us.  An attendant sits outside the restroom door, offering a roll of toilet paper for users to take inside and to return when they leave.  You don’t get the roll until you pay the tip—about $1.00.  Instead of giving the attendant a tip, we were told to simply say “Viking” and to make a “V” with our fingers so the attendants would know we were with the Viking cruise group and would give us the roll of toilet paper tip-free.  Before leaving, our three guides paid the attendants a flat fee for the restroom use.  Even so, some of the attendants asked us for more money.  I guess it doesn’t hurt to try, does it?
  • Many places in Egypt still farm and produce goods using the same methods they used 5,000 years ago.  That explains the hand-pushed carts we saw on the busy streets, along with the cars and the buses.
  • A lot of buildings have rebar extending out of the rooftops.  Most buildings had rugs and/or laundry hanging on the railings, indicating that the buildings were inhabited, but I couldn’t figure out a reason for the rebar, so I finally asked Hanan if she knew its purpose.  Well, . . . not surprisingly, no one anywhere, including Egypt, likes to pay taxes and everyone everywhere uses any tax loopholes they can.  Egypt’s tax laws don’t tax buildings that are unfinished.  If rebar extends above the top of the building, the building is technically ready to add another story, thus qualifying the building as incomplete–even if it’s inhabited–and making it tax-free.  It’s not very attractive, but it’s cost-saving for the building owners!

  • As we drove from place to place during our river cruise excursions, we saw banana trees.  Those in my photo below (across the center of the picture) look more like banana bushes than banana trees, but they will grow to be 12-20 feet tall.  I think the fuzzy-looking plants along the wall in front of the banana trees are papyrus. Papyrus likes to grow in the marshy soil along the banks of the Nile River. Yes, papyrus is still used to make specialty writing paper, especially for artists and calligraphers.

  • Vendors were annoying in Egypt.  I understand that they are trying to make a living, but they’re so aggressive!  Their prices are very flexible, and bargaining downward is easy, but very time-consuming.  For example, Ted and I wanted to purchase a mini pyramid as a souvenir of Egypt.  The vendor immediately went into his spiel.  We politely listened, then offered what we thought it would be worth in the U.S. (about half the vendor’s price). The vendor pretty much ignored our offer and, instead, became chatty with us.  “How many women live in your house? How many children?” etc. Our answers were “one” and “zero” at this time. Then he went into his story about how many women and children he supports, and why he needed us to pay more for the pyramid.  (I think the message was that, even though he knew the product wasn’t worth the price, he wanted more money out of sympathy for his plight.) 

We liked the pyramid we’d selected and we wanted to purchase it, but it was nearly a 30-minute process before he came down and we went up to an agreeable price.  I’ve heard people say they love doing that kind of bargaining, but I’m not fond of shopping.  I like to know what I’m after, go where I know I’ll find it, pick it up, pay for it, and go home.  I don’t like bargaining, and I hate buying a car just because of that.  On the bright side, as my Aunt Ruth would say, if stuff like this didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have stories to tell, and I just told a little story.

  • I like the picture below.  It provides a glimpse of what we saw in the small Egyptian cities.  Naturally, there are buildings with exposed rebar on the roofs.

You need a lot of extra time to deal with security checks at the airports in Israel and Egypt, so today, Ted and I had to wake up at 4:00 a.m. (yawn) for our private charter flight from Cairo to Luxor.  I’ve never been on a charter or a private flight before, and our flights from Jerusalem to Cairo and from Cairo to Luxor qualified for both.  We’ll have another private chartered flight from Luxor back to Cairo at the end of our Nile River cruise.

A private chartered flight sounds awesome but, in reality, it was a well-used ordinary passenger plane from a commercial charter company—there were no lounge chairs, no gold fixtures in the bathrooms, no fully-reclining seats, nor any other luxury amenities.  The private part of the flight was that it was a small jet and, including Viking personnel and 80 cruisers-to-be, we filled the plane.  The good part was that, even though the flight took less than two hours, we were served a full, hot meal for lunch.  It seemed like a treat at the time, but I suspect the meal was included as a time-saver because, when we arrived, we put our luggage on one bus and rode in a different one.  Our luggage went to the ship for our Nile River cruise; we passengers embarked on a four-hour tour of the Karnak Temple—one of the Egyptian sites our guide, Hanan, helped to excavate. 

As we drove from the airport to the temple, we crossed the Avenue of the Sphinxes which was buried under sand for centuries.  This avenue includes 1,050 sphinxes in the 2.25 miles it traverses between the Karnak Temple and the Luxor Temple.  Sphinxes originated in Egypt and had three distinct types:  The Androsphinx had a lion’s body with a person’s head; the Criosphinx had a lion’s body with a ram’s head; and the Hieracosphinx had a lion’s body with a falcon’s or a hawk’s head.  Here’s a photo of one part of the Avenue of the Sphinxes.

Luxor has been the spiritual capital of Egypt for 15 centuries.  The visitor’s center outside the temple complex had a model of the Karnak Temple (photo below).  This temple is the second-largest in the world (the largest is in Cambodia) and was embellished for 1,500 years by 30 pharaohs.  The entire complex includes 26 temples and could fit the equivalent of ten cathedrals within its walls.  It also had a huge sacred lake (the blue rectangle in the photo below).  Most of its construction is not unique, but its size and the number of its features are vast.

The building in the photo below was near an entrance to the temple.  The columns are described as “megaliths.”  Well-named.

The part of the temple shown below is referred to as the ancient avenue.  If you look at the photo of the model (above), this view looks through the left wing of the temple.

The obelisks shown below are called tekhenu and are usually placed at the entrance to a temple.  The Karnak Temple originally had approximately 20 obelisks; these two are the largest to survive.

The columns in the photo below were in the Great Hypostyle Hall.  They are decorated with religious scenes showing the pharaohs in the company of Egypt’s gods.  There is a progression of scenes on every wall, column, and gateway in this hall.  The hall has 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows.  Most of them are 33 feet high, but 12 of them are 69 feet high and 10 feet in diameter.  They once supported a towering ceiling.

These criosphinxes (ram-headed) signify the god Amun, lord of Karnak.

This small room was a place for high-ranking personnel (priests and pharaohs) to pray and/or to meditate.  The shaft of light probably has some religious meaning.  There is also a sun god’s shrine in the Karnak Temple complex.  It was built to focus sunlight on the shrine at the winter solstice, but we were there in August, so we didn’t see that.

The statues in this hall are “Ramses II as Osiris.”  Ramses II was one of the pharaohs who enlarged the Temple of Karnak.  He commissioned this hall in which he is portrayed (repeatedly, in case the gods didn’t get the message) as Osiris’ mummy.  Osiris, the god of the dead, was one of the most worshipped and respected gods in the Egyptian religion, and was the first mummy in history; therefore, every mummified body afterward followed in the steps of Osiris.  One of the prevailing tenets of the Egyptian religion was the desire to enter the realm of Osiris after death, and these statues illustrate Ramses II’s desire to do that. 

Ted and I quickly learned that, in the Sahara Desert, the sun has been warming the sand and rocks for millennia, and the sand and rocks have been efficiently storing that heat.  In Egypt, while the sun beats down at 110 degrees, the heat also reflects upward.  The natives we saw didn’t seem to be suffering (i.e., sweating or tiring) as much as we were, so acclimatization probably makes a big difference in tolerance for the heat.

Having been a member of the excavation team at the Karnak temple, Hanan is justifiably proud of what has been discovered at this site.  After we’d walked around the temple for the scheduled four hours in the 108-degree afternoon heat, Hanan offered additional supplemental information to anyone who was interested and would like to follow her.  She also suggested that some of us might prefer to wait on the bus.  I hope her feelings weren’t hurt when all of us headed for the bus.  In our defense, we’d all been up since 4:00 a.m. for our flight to Luxor. The bus took us to our air-conditioned river ship where we unpacked our things for our eight-day cruise, showered, and enjoyed a delicious onboard dinner with our friends.

On our fourth day in Cairo, we visited the Church of the Virgin Mary, aka the “Hanging Church,” in Old Cairo.  This part of Cairo is also called Coptic Cairo because it was a stronghold of Christianity in Egypt before and during the Islamic era.  (Coptic is a generic term for Egyptian Christians.)  The church was probably built around 690-692.

The Hanging Church is not actually suspended.  The nave of the church is built on top of the gates of an old Roman fortress and there is an open passage between the gates and beneath the church.  You can’t see the open passage through the scratched plexiglass in the photo below, but it’s there.

The church is beautifully ornate inside.  The picture on the left below is an icon of the Virgin Mary at the altar; the picture on the right is one of the stained-glass windows in the building.

Here are pictures of two of the church ceilings.

In the first century, women did not have equal stature to men, so they had to remain out of sight of the men.  (On a personal note, 20 centuries later, we’re still waiting for equal stature.)  “Windows,” like the brown box in the left photo below, allowed women to look into the church’s courtyard without being seen by the men.  The picture on the right shows the window box from the inside.  From my photo distance, you can see blue sky and a darker building beneath it, but if you go up to the window to look through the openings, it’s possible to identify things in the courtyard.

As we were driving back to our hotel, we passed this cemetery.  The box-like structures are burial units.  Families of the deceased add “rooms” to the units over time, much like the pharaohs did with their tombs and temples, but in a far more humble manner.  Some of these rooms are currently used by homeless people for shelter.  According to Hanan, homelessness is not a great problem in Egypt because there are laws requiring the wealthy to care for the poor, and because other laws prohibit demolishing any structure that is more than 100 years old.  Homeless people are allowed to live in vacant structures and, in Cairo, there are over 1,200 areas designated for “irregular dwellings” that do not need to meet building codes.  As a result, homeless people may build shacks or other structures in those areas without penalties.  There is, mathematically, more housing than is needed in Egypt, but not all of it includes a safe environment, safe drinking water, or wastewater treatment.  Even though these residents may not be homeless, they do not necessarily have a good quality of life.

Every city and country has monuments to its heroes.  The memorial on the left honors the unknown soldiers who died to defend Egypt; the one on the right commemorates Egypt’s former president, Gamal Bidel Nasser.

We’ll be back in Cairo in nine days to fly to Istanbul but, first, we are going to fly to Luxor tomorrow to begin our eight-day cruise on the Nile River.  Here’s my favorite picture from the last four days.  I think it clearly says “Egypt.”

Our third day in Egypt took us to Giza, directly across the Nile River from Cairo, where we saw pyramids and sphinxes.  Pyramids were built as temples to the gods to glorify life after death, most famously as monuments to house the tombs of the pharaohs.  There are 118 pyramids in Egypt.  In Egyptian culture, a sphinx represents the solar deity and symbolizes royalty and sacred status.  There are thousands of sphinxes in Egypt.  Their purpose is to guard the tombs and to ward off tomb raiders.  Given how many tombs are available for tours, that didn’t work out too well.

It was date season, and we saw lots of ripe dates hanging from the date palm trees all along the route to Giza.  Dates are a popular and important source of food in this part of the world because they dry and store well and, best of all, they’re said to be delicious.  (I don’t like dates.  Just give me some raisins, please.)  Egypt produces more dates than any other country in the world.

The first pyramid we saw today was the Pyramid of Djoser (silent “D”).  When it became visible from our bus windows, there was an audible, excited intake of breath from the group.  This is what we came to Egypt to see!  The Djoser Pyramid is usually referred to as the Step Pyramid, for obvious reasons.  (See the photo below.) 

The Step Pyramid was designed by the first named architect, Imhotep, around the 27th century BCE.  Imhotep used stone in place of mud brick, wood, and reeds.  It was the first pyramid and the first stone building in history.  The burial chamber is at the end of a central shaft about 130 feet below the surface of the ground.  The pyramid was part of a complex described as a “vast city of the dead” with a mile-long wall that was originally 34 feet high.  Imhotep was later worshipped as a god for his remarkable craftsmanship in this complex, and today, this pyramid is the oldest important stone building in Egypt.  The photo below shows where we entered the tomb of the Step Pyramid.  There are wooden crossbars on the ramp to keep people from slipping as they enter and exit the tomb.

After we reached the bottom of the ramp and some stairs, we walked through this tunnel/hallway (left, below) to the central part of the tomb (right, below).

These are some of the paintings and carvings we saw inside the tomb.

The Collonade Entrance to the Djoser Complex was originally lined with 20 pair of columns.  This was the first appearance of stone columns in architecture—also designed by Imhotep.

Ted and I thought Jerusalem was hot, but that was before we came to Egypt.  Don’t tell me about dry heat!  When the temperature is above 100 degrees and the sun is reflecting off the rocks and the sand, I think dry heat might be worse than heat with high humidity.

We had a chance to cool off in our air-conditioned bus as we left the Step Pyramid and drove to a rug-weaving factory.  The factory hires children to do the weaving because these silk rugs have 400 stitches per square inch, and the children have small fingers that fit more easily between the vertical threads. (No one mentioned child labor laws and I wasn’t going to ask with all the security and rifles around.)  The photo on the right below shows some of the beautiful rugs these children weave.  Naturally, they were available for purchase.

After a delicious lunch, we headed for the highlights of the day:  the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx.  The Great Pyramid of Giza is the last surviving Wonder of the Ancient World.  The first sight of them is breathtaking.  Pyramids, as I previously mentioned, are tombs.  These tombs were built for three generations of Egyptian kings:  Khufu, his son Khafre (the statue in the Egyptian Museum with the falcon on his head), and his grandson Menkaure.  Some smaller pyramids at Giza were constructed for these kings’ wives and mothers.

The Great Pyramids of Giza are unbelievably huge and took 27 years to build.  The largest was 481 feet tall (about 45 stories) but has lost 31 feet from its top and now stands at 450 feet tall.  You can see the flat top where the capstone is missing.  There is consensus that the Great Pyramids were built by paid laborers, not by slaves.  Building them required 5.5 million tons of limestone, 8,000 tons of granite, and 500,000 tons of mortar.  The granite likely came from Aswan, 530 miles upstream on the Nile.  If you’re wondering how many stone blocks are in the largest pyramid, the answer is 2.3 million.  (I’m not the one who counted them.)  For scale, zoom the photo below to see people climbing on the pyramid below the large hole on its side.

Here’s a close-up of one of the Great Pyramids.  The surface used to be covered with limestone to make it smooth, like it is near the top.

Near the Great Pyramids, it was possible to buy a ticket to ride a camel.  Several members of our group did that.

Until I saw it, I didn’t realize that the Great Sphinx was within walking distance of the Great Pyramids.  How handy for sightseers!  The Great Sphinx was carved from a single piece of limestone.  It was built by Egyptian farmers who needed to be fed during the spring months of the annual Nile flooding, hundreds of years before the Israelites (slaves) came to Egypt.

Giza and Cairo are across the Nile River from each other, so we could see Cairo from Giza.

Hanan told us the vendors at the Great Pyramids are extremely aggressive.  She advised us to just say “no” and to keep walking.  Ted and I can testify to the vendors’ aggressiveness.  As we were walking away from the Pyramids to get a better picture of them, a man invited us to join him and his camel, Moses.  We said “no,” but then he offered to take our picture with the pyramids.  We kept saying “no” as we turned and began walking away from him.  At one point, he grabbed Ted’s arm and tried to position it so he could take a photo that would look like Ted’s hand was resting on the top of the Great Pyramid.  Things started getting very weird, so we just gave up on taking our picture and walked faster toward where Hanan was waiting.  (The vendors get in trouble if they get within a certain distance of a venue.)  We turned around at one point and saw the vendor bothering someone else.

Our tour group of 22 people flew together from Tel Aviv to Cairo today for our first of four days in that area.  At our hotel, we were joined by 58 more people who were taking the eight-day Nile River cruise with us.

The flight was smooth and on time, but not without problems.  One of the two airports managed to tear the main handle off my suitcase and lost my luggage ID tags as well.  Yes, they stripped the bolt out of the wooden frame of my lifetime-guaranteed suitcase.  I’m not worried about the repair; I can have that done at no cost at a shop that’s about 15 minutes from our house.  The annoying part of this is that we have eight flights on the BT and this was only the third one, so I’m stuck with a suitcase with a missing handle for five more flights.  At least the telescoping handle for rolling the suitcase still works, so once I pick up the suitcase, I can still haul it around.  This isn’t the kind of adventure I was anticipating on the BT, but stuff happens and travel goes on.

We were taken directly from the airport to our hotel in Cairo, and I took this photo of the Nile River and the city from our hotel room.  I couldn’t believe it!  I was in the exotic country of Egypt right across the street from the iconic Nile River—the longest river in the world. 

The furniture in the hotel room clearly said “Egypt.”  Notice that there’s a handy ashtray on the table.  I don’t think any of the 32 countries Ted and I have visited has smoking laws as strict as those in the U.S.  It’s so odd to be in public rooms with smokers and to have ashtrays wherever someone might wish to sit down to smoke.

Note:  The hotel staff was so attentive that, when I sneezed at dinner, a server brought a box of tissues to me in less time than it took me to get one out of my purse!  When we asked staff members for directions to particular places (rest room, dining room, elevator), they not only gave us directions, but also escorted us so they could open the door and/or press the elevator button for us.

After a good night’s sleep and some breakfast, we headed for our tour meeting place and were introduced to our Egyptian guide, Hanan.  Hanan is a dual citizen of Egypt and the U.S.  Her archeology degrees specialize in Egyptology, and she has participated in a variety of archeological excavations in Egypt, including some that we visited.  Her passion for archeology and the depth of her knowledge of Egypt are astounding.

While our group was getting acquainted with Hanan, the other 66 travelers in our enlarged group were divided into two groups and were being introduced to their guides.  Thereafter, we became groups A (us), B, and C for the remainder of our time in Egypt.  It was nice because the groups were small enough to make good friends during the time we spent together in Egypt, plus the additional four days in Israel for group A.  Then we were introduced to our bus driver, whose name was Muhammed Ali, and to our security guard, also named Muhammed–the most common name in Egypt.  I wonder what the odds are that you can walk up to an Egyptian man, say, “Hi there, Muhammed,” and be right.  Again, as in Israel, we were told not to drink the water or to use it to brush our teeth.  Egyptians can drink it because they do so from birth and their bodies have adjusted to it. 

After the group assignments and the introductions, we started our sightseeing in Cairo at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities (aka the Egyptian Museum).  The photo below shows a replica of the Rosetta Stone.  Like many archeological artifacts from Egypt, the original Rosetta Stone is owned by another country.  In this case (and many others), it is in the British Museum.  The Rosetta Stone was the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Below, you can see the sarcophagus of Akhenaten, an ancient pharaoh of Egypt who reigned in the mid-1300s BCE.  He was the husband of Nefertiti and the father of King Tut.

The statues of Rahotep and Nofret (below) are idealized to represent them as eternally youthful.  This is typical of most Egyptian sculptures.  Rahotep was a high official in the government in the mid-2500s BCE and Nofret is described as “known to the king.”  They had six children, so I’m guessing she was probably well-known to the king.

The statue shown below is King Khafre.  He is thought to have commissioned the Great Pyramids of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  The interesting part of this statue is that, when you look at it from behind, you discover that what looks like his headpiece is actually the falcon god Horus, protecting the back of the king’s head.  Horus cannot be seen from the front, indicating that Khafre is not only protected by the gods, but is a god himself.  Talk about having an ego!

The little chair in the glass case in the photo below is King Tutankhamen’s chair.  He became king when he was only 9 years old, and he died at the age of 19.  The most memorable action of his reign was to reverse all the religious changes made by his predecessor and father, Akhenaten (the sarcophagus above).  He is usually referred to as King Tut, and his fame is largely due to the fact that his is the only royal tomb found intact in modern times.  An entire room in this museum is dedicated to artifacts of King Tut (mostly done in gold), but guests are not allowed to take photos in that room.

The Citadel of Salah el Din was built in 1176 A.D. and is still used by the Egyptian military today.  It was the seat of government and the residence of Egypt’s rulers for 700 years.  It dominates the Cairo skyline, and includes the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, known for its gleaming alabaster interiors.

The photo below shows the central courtyard of the mosque.  In the main worship space, there are 365 single-globe lights arranged in rings—one for each day of the year.

Because the Citadel is set at the highest point of the city, its upper wall provides a broad view of Cairo.

Don’t you get tired of airport security?  Tired of metal detectors in public buildings?  Tired of sending your personal items through a scanner before entering a venue?  Ted’s and my 2023 BT showed us real security! 

We flew from St. Louis to Newark, then to Tel Aviv.  The serious (more than normal USA) security began at the Newark airport.  We had already gone through security at STL and had not left the EWR airport concourse, but that wasn’t good enough to go to Israel.  Gate areas usually have chairs and windows, and you sit there to wait for your flight to board.  You can get up and leave to walk around, use the restroom, buy a snack, or whatever.  That’s not so easy if you’re flying to Israel, and it was our first taste of the security we’d be facing in Israel, Palestine, and Egypt on our 2023 BT.

The Tel Aviv gate area was closed off with movable room partitions.  You could look at the tarmac from the concourse windows, but not at the concourse itself.  There were two narrow openings in the partitions.  We had to enter at the one marked “Entrance” (duh!), show our passports and boarding passes, and go through a detailed screening, including a wand scan.  We were only carrying backpacks that had been screened by TSA, but they were x-rayed again, wanded, and—as needed—swabbed for explosives.  Then we had to walk through a metal detector and have a wand scan as well.  Our flight to Tel Aviv was delayed for about 30 minutes because it needed more cleaning than usual.  (A messy crowd before us?)  Before boarding, Ted and I wanted to use the restrooms, which required leaving the partitioned area through the second opening.  At the exit, a very serious-faced security guard verified that we had our passports and our boarding passes on our persons before allowing us leave the area.  When we returned, we had to show our passports and boarding passes again to be re-admitted, and we also had to have another metal detector and wand scan.

A Viking representative met us at the airport in Tel Aviv, walked us through the entry process, and then took us to the bus to go to our hotel in Jerusalem.  I’m not sure what the entry process was about because no one seemed to care about the little blue card we had to purchase and were told to carry at all times in the country.  Personally, I think it was a way to make money from each visitor—something a lot of popular destinations are doing now.

The next morning, we went on our first excursion in Jerusalem.  We were immediately told that none of us should ever sit in the two front seats of the bus.  The seat on the right was for a guide and the seat behind the driver was for the armed security guard.  This was the pattern for every excursion we took in Israel, Palestine, and Egypt.  At every checkpoint (they were everywhere), the security guard got off the bus, talked to the security guards who carried automatic rifles, and waited while the guards used dogs and mirrors to verify that the bus was not carrying explosives. Here’s a picture of one of our bus security guards.  You’re required to remove your shoes when you enter a mosque.  Frankly, I was surprised the guard removed his shoes.  (They’re behind the box-like thing on the left.)  What if he had to chase someone or rush to our defense?

The city of Jerusalem is divided into four Quarters:  Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim.  No one except Muslims is allowed to enter the Muslim Quarter, and that’s enforced by these guards.  Check out the guns. 

Even with their automatic rifles, the Egyptian security guards looked a little less frightening because they wore white uniforms due to the heat.  They looked more like U.S. Navy officers or medics than security guards–except for their rifles.  Still, there were so many checkpoints and so many big guns and so many times we had to show our passports that it was kind of scary. Ted and I literally wore out our RFID passport holders and had to tape them to keep our passports from falling out.  Were we really safe traveling in those places?  Is this how visitors to the U.S. feel about the gun violence in our country?

At the Luxor, Egypt airport, one guy’s suitcase didn’t make it through the rolling scanner.  The guards (with rifles, but thankfully not pointed at him) made him remove every single item from his suitcase right there on the rollers, not on the nearby table.  Then he had to re-pack it, picking his things up off the floor while the long line of people behind him (including us) waited for the scanner to re-start to move their luggage.  Nothing dangerous was found in the man’s suitcase.  Ted was held back for a deep look at his backpack (also in Luxor) and we were both a little nervous, wondering what problem might be found.  Nothing, thank goodness. 

At the Tel Aviv, Cairo, and Luxor airports, security personnel spoke very little English and English signage was nonexistent or limited, so we always had an English-speaking guide to escort us through the security check.  I was thankful for our guide at the Cairo airport as we were leaving for Istanbul.  My right knee is bone-on-bone, so if I’m going to be on my feet for a long time (e.g., airports), I wear an elastic knee sleeve to stabilize my knee joint.  The security woman (separate lines for men and women in those cultures) did not speak English, so our guide explained to me that the woman wanted me to remove my knee sleeve so that she could examine it.  Fortunately, my long pants leg was loose enough to pull it above my knee, allowing me to remove the sleeve without taking off my pants.  Without the guide/translator, I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to know what I was supposed to do because the security woman was very adamant and becoming quite loud when I didn’t understand what she was asking.  Thoughts of detention were running through my head.  Seriously. Putting my purse through a scanner in the U.S. doesn’t seem so bad any more.

Our visit to Israel included an excursion to Bethlehem, which is in Palestine.  Israeli passports are not accepted in Palestine and vice versa so Amir, who is Israeli, had to leave us on the Israeli side of the border.  Then our van drove forward a few blocks and picked up our Palestinian guide on that side of the border.  Amir told us that he has friends who live in Palestine, and they visit each other, even though it’s technically illegal.  He added that there is no way he can do that with a group of tourists because he would be risking, not only his own safety, but ours as well.

The highlight of our time in Bethlehem was seeing the location of what is believed to have been the birthplace of Jesus Christ.  The marker of the location is housed in the Church of the Nativity.  Below is a photo of the sanctuary of that church.  We were standing in line looking at this view.  The church is not air-conditioned; the outdoor temperature was in the upper 90s; the building was crowded; and there was little air circulation.  Lots of drinking water was required while we constantly wiped sweat off our faces.  We were in line for over two hours and were told how lucky we were to be there in August.  During the Christmas and Easter seasons, the line is 6-8 hours long.  Well, it would probably be a little cooler then, but imagine standing in line for six or more hours!

Israel and much of the Mediterranean world has been conquered by a variety of dynasties.  Over time, conquerors plundered the 24-carat gold in the church’s murals and painted the walls black.  Restoration has been in progress for 20 years, and it’s a slow process.  The photo below shows one of the murals that is being restored.

After an hour, we made it from the main sanctuary to a smaller room that was even hotter and even more crowded.  It took another hour to inch our way through that room and to finally see the area that led to the site of Jesus’ birth.  The icon shown below hung outside the door to the birthplace room (for lack of a better term).  It is the only icon in which Mary is shown smiling.  I think she deserves to smile; after all, she’s a new mother holding her baby!

The entrance to the birthplace room is very low, requiring visitors to bend over in humility to enter the sacred place.

During the two hours it took us to get this far, we were told more than once that we would only be allowed time to kneel and to touch the star marking the place where Jesus is believed to have been born.  That was not an exaggeration.  Each visitor had roughly five seconds in front of the 14-point star before being asked to move on.  Hours of waiting for a five-second peek!  The left photo below shows the setting of the birthplace marker with our friend Pom kneeling for his allotted five seconds.  The bearded man was our Palestinian guide. Part of his job was to keep the line moving.  The right photo shows what Pom (and the rest of us) looked at.  The 14-point Star of Bethlehem represents the 14 generations between Adam and Abraham, 14 more from Abraham to David, and 14 more from David to Jesus.  It also represents the 14 Stations of the Cross.

The next day, we toured with Amir in Jerusalem again and transitioned from Jesus’ birth to his crucifixion.  Walking the Via Dolorosa (Sorrowful Way) is an important part of visiting Jerusalem.  We walked the entire length of the 14 Stations of the Cross.  It’s only about 2,000 feet, but it’s all uphill, and progress was very slow because of the crowds and the 14 stops.  Do I need to mention that it was hot?–around 100 degrees again.

Station I is the point at which it is believed Jesus was sentenced to death; Station XIV is the point thought to be where Jesus was crucified and placed in the sepulcher. (Note: The difference between a tomb and a sepulcher is that a tomb is usually underground or in the basement of a building, while a sepulcher is a cave or is carved out of rock.) The picture below shows Station III, marking where Jesus fell for the first time (see the stone carving above the doorway).  Each station was marked in a similar manner.

The photo below is the Ecce Homo arch where, for centuries, scholars believed Jesus was whipped, crowned with thorns, and covered with a purple robe, then mocked by Pilate with the words, “Hail, the King of the Jews.”  Archeologists, however, have found evidence that this arch did not exist until a century after Jesus’ trial and crucifixion; however, there is some evidence that a large plaza formerly existed beneath this area.

Station XIV, the last of the Stations of the Cross, is at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and is named “Jesus is laid in the tomb.”  The church is beautiful.

There is also a large mural in the church, showing (right to left) Jesus being taken down from the cross, being anointed, and being placed in the tomb.  Note:  the arrow indicates Amir, our Israeli guide.

In addition to the time we spent visiting a variety of historical places in Jerusalem, we also had a lot of fun.  Because our group of 22 people spent 8-10 hours together every day doing the same things, we got to know each other very well.  Viking sponsored a group dinner at the hotel that was fun, and another evening, we went to a very nice restaurant with two other couples.  There was also time to walk around the area near the hotel and to sit outside and visit with group members and other people.  The Israel-Hamas war began seven days after Ted and I returned from our BT.  We and other members of our group with whom we are keeping in touch are concerned about Amir and others that we met in Israel, and we hope they are all safe.

Tomorrow, we’ll fly from Tel Aviv to Cairo.  I’m looking forward to cruising on the Nile River and to seeing the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx.  We’ll be in Egypt for 12 days, so there will be many new things to see and to experience.

Note:  As Ted and I walked around Jerusalem on our day-long tours, we noticed a lot of litter and no trash cans.  That makes two things in which the U.S. excels:  (1) we have very little litter in public areas; and (2) smoking has greatly decreased in the U.S., although it is still widespread in much of Europe.  Cheers for us on these two counts.

Five days in Israel were included in the BT as a pre-cruise excursion.  Two of those days included arrival and departure; each of the other three featured an eight-hour tour and some group activities, as well as time on our own.  Twenty people in addition to Ted and me signed up for this excursion, and the 22 of us had fun together during those five days. 

During our time in Jerusalem our group of 22 all had the same tour at the same time with the same guide, Amir.  The first thing Amir told us was that it is unsafe for us to drink or to brush our teeth with the water in Israel.  We were instructed to consume bottled water only. 

Most of our touring time was spent outdoors, and Amir always stopped in places where we could stand or sit in the shade while he talked.  Can you say “hot”?  We can verify that there is a significant temperature difference between full sun and even partial shade, although both were uncomfortably hot in the mid- to upper 90-degree temperatures we experienced.  By mid-afternoon, it felt like everywhere we went was uphill and included long flights of stairs to climb.

In Israel, tour guides are required to have a master’s degree that includes studying the country’s culture, history, people, religions, societal norms, etc.  An additional certification is also required. Our guide’s name was Amir, and he was with us every day.  He was very personable, very knowledgeable, and an excellent storyteller—important skills for good tour guides.  I love history and learning, and I found his stories to be fascinating.  I knew at the time that I’d never be able to remember all the interesting things he told us, and I was right, but I’ll do my best to describe our time in these historic places.

Jerusalem is also known as the City of David.  All Western religions can be found in Jerusalem, and the city is important to each of them in some holy way.  For Jews, Christians, and Muslims, it is the place where God dwells, and all three sects have a major temple in Jerusalem.  The city is divided into four quarters:  Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian.  During our time in Jerusalem, we walked in all four quarters–in the heat, of course.  Amir shared the fact that Muslims have 5 commandments, Christians have 10, and Jews have 613 in the Torah.

Our first stop today was Mt. Scopus, which provided a panoramic view of the Ancient City of Jerusalem. The gold dome in the center of the picture is the Dome of the Rock.  It is set on the sacred Foundation Stone, upon which Jews believe the world was created.  The rock is not visible until visitors are close to it.  A cylindrical shaft of light beams on it through an opening in the upper roof.  Look left and slightly upward to see two gray domes beside each other.  (Zooming in on the photo helps.)  That is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be the place where Jesus Christ was crucified and buried.  It is the ending point of the Via Dolorosa (Sorrowful Way or Way of Suffering), the path of the 14 Stations of the Cross.

You can see that Jerusalem looks uniformly light in color.  That’s because the law requires all buildings in the city to be constructed of Jerusalem stone.  Fortunately, there’s a lot of that stone available.  The hot, dry climate (average annual rainfall of 20 inches) and the rocky land in this area are not conducive to agriculture as we know it.

In front of the Dome of the Rock, there is a row of trees.  Below that, you can see the wall that encloses the Ancient City of Jerusalem.  There are three “cities” of Jerusalem:  (1) the Ancient City enclosed by the wall in my photo; (2) the Old City, which begins on the foreground side of the wall in my photo; and (3) the New (modern) City, which lies beyond the Old City wall.  There are a number of archeological guesses regarding the age of the city of Jerusalem, but the truth is that no one really knows how old it is.  Archeological excavations have revealed that Jerusalem has been destroyed and rebuilt at least 17 times.

Keep moving your eyes downward from the Ancient Wall in the photo above to the black line crossing most of the photo from the right.  That’s a road.  All the light stone in the photo below that road is a cemetery that extends for a great distance.  According to our guide and to the best of my memory, there is a belief that, at the end of days, the savior will come first to Jerusalem (where God dwells), and that the first to be resurrected will be those buried closest to the heart of Jerusalem and above the ground.  That’s why so many tombs are above ground.  It is also important to be buried with your family so that you will be resurrected as a group and will be with your loved ones in the afterlife.  The photo below is a close-up of part of that cemetery.

Our second stop of the day was a visit to an ancient excavated reservoir.  Winter is the rainy season in Jerusalem and water needs to be collected for year-round use.  Water sources include underground springs, some lakes and rivers, and desalinated water from the Mediterranean and Red Seas.  I think this reservoir collected water from an underground spring.  Here’s a question for my readers:  Can you imagine carefully excavating this a bit at a time to avoid damaging anything that might be in the ground?  I definitely don’t have the patience to play in the dirt as an archeologist!

The Church of St. Anne is near (nearly beside) the reservoir.  It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the acoustics are amazing.  The doors are always open, and Amir told us that people often go into the church to sing, just because it sounds so good.

One of our tour stops was the Western Wall on the border of the Jewish and Muslim quarters of the city.  It is the last remaining outer wall of the ancient temple, thought to have been started by King Herod the Great, and it is believed to be built on the Holy of Holies, the most sacred site of the Jewish faith.  It is also the site at which Muhammed is believed to have tied his winged steed on his Night Journey to Jerusalem before ascending to Paradise.  Most of the Wall is reserved for men to pray; a small section is for the women.

A visit to the Shrine of the Book, the part of the Israel Museum that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, was another tour stop.  The left photo below shows the outside of the Shrine; the right photo shows the inside and the scrolls.  Water flows on the roof of the underground building to keep it cool, helping to preserve the documents inside.  The pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls that have been found are mounted on the white (lighted) part of the symbolic scroll sculpture in the center of the room.  The room is designed so that the Dead Sea Scrolls are elevated (see the stairs).  Walking around that center portion of the room, visitors can see many other historic documents.  Photos are prohibited inside the room, so I had to take this one from the doorway.

A hospital seems like an odd place to take tourists, but the Ein Kerem Hadassah Hospital deserves a visit.  It is a university hospital and the sixth-largest hospital in Israel.  The Abell Synagogue on the hospital grounds is unique because it has twelve 11×8-foot windows designed by Marc Chagall.  Each window represents one of the twelve tribes of Israel, based on the 49th Chapter of Genesis and the 33rd chapter of Deuteronomy.  The brilliant colors in the windows are beautiful.

We had lunch at a city restaurant.  Here’s a picture of the neighborhood outside the restaurant.  It’s representative of much of the Ancient City.

The Old City of Jerusalem had seven gates in its wall, each named for the destination city outside the gate.  There are still seven main gates, along with two minor gates that have been opened by archeologists. We visited the Citadel at the Jaffa Gate, pictured below.  Leaving the Old City of Jerusalem on the road through this gate took travelers to the city of Jaffa.

The citadel is the highest point in the city, so it was a logical place to build a fort for protection. The walls of the fort have javelin slots, like the one in the picture below, to defend the city.  Amir told us that, during the 1967 Six-Day War, these slots were used again to direct rifle fire at the city.  Amir lived in Jerusalem during that time and described hearing gunfire from both directions.

Archeologists are excavating inside the fort walls.  The photo below shows some of the excavation, which is still ongoing.  The tall tower in the center is the Tower of David.

The Jerusalem Museum is within the fort.  I have pictures from inside the museum, but many of the displays were digital slide shows and videos that do not lend themselves to meaningful photographs.  The displays were awesome! This is one of the exhibits in the museum.  It’s called the cloverleaf map of the world and shows Jerusalem as the center circle on the map.  The three ovals indicate Europe, Asia, and Africa.  In ancient times, they were thought to be the only continents in the world.  The man in the photo is our guide, Amir, and he is confidently standing on plexiglass above a 30-foot-deep void.

The left photo below shows a screenshot of the slide show depicting the centuries of Jerusalem’s growth.  The pictures changed every few seconds for about 10-15 minutes per cycle, and showed the city’s entire history of battles, buildings, growth, destruction, invasions, etc., in a unique and fascinating way. The photo on the right is a similar display of the development of the calendar.  I’m sure it’s obvious that a still photo of these light displays does not do them justice but, in person, they were excellent—clear, comprehensive, and concise.  One of the posted signs included with the calendar display described a calendar as “a system that illustrates the abstract concept of time.”  Wow!  A calendar seems concrete, so I’ve never thought of it being based on an abstraction.

No city tour would be complete without an opportunity to buy local items and/or souvenirs.  Frankly, I could live without the free time for shopping, but it’s amazing how many people look forward to that part most of all.  Two ladies in our group bought several things every day.  Ted and I are sure that, after 18 days of traveling, they needed at least one extra suitcase for each of them to bring all their purchased items home. 

For me, the markets were an experience more than a retail thrill, and the experience was mostly related to aggressive marketing.  As you approach a venue, the vendors on foot are ready for you, holding items in their hands, walking right up to you, raising their items almost to your face, and shouting “Ten dollah, ten dollah!”  We were told to simply say “no thank you” and to keep walking forward.  On the way out of the venue, we’d pass the vendors again and the price would have changed to “Five dollah, five dollah!”  With a little bargaining, the vendors often settled for one or two dollars. 

Other markets were more—shall I say “formal”?—with actual booths and tables.  I liked them better.  The vendors were less aggressive unless you showed interest in one of their items.  In that case, it was difficult to politely excuse yourself.  Amir gave us a code to help us decide how much to pay for items.  He gives tours every day, and he sees these vendors every day, so he doesn’t want to offend them. According to the code, if we questioned a price and Amir replied, “It’s very good,” that meant it was much too high.  If he replied, “That’s an excellent price,” it meant the price was fair.  One thing all the markets had in common was bright colors.

After an interesting but hot eight hours outdoors, we were all ready to get back to our air-conditioned hotel, get off our feet for a while, and start thinking about dinner.  Today was a good start to Ted’s and my BT.

Ted and I named our August-September 2023 overseas trip the “Big Trip” because it was seven weeks long.  During that time, we visited eleven countries on three continents. Wow! Several years ago, we set a goal to reduce our travel luggage to a backpack and a 35-lb. suitcase (the carry-on weight limit).  Unbelievably, we reached that goal for our longest trip ever.  When we finished packing, we each had a 13-lb. backpack and a 33-lb. carry-on suitcase.  The photo below shows the total luggage we traveled with for seven weeks.

For some reason unknown to me, every time Ted and I fly overseas, our flight leaves in the very early morning to arrive before noon the next day, local time; then we can’t get into our hotel room until after 3:00 p.m.  I wish we could just leave a little later (say, after sunrise) and check into the hotel when we get there so that we could take a much-needed nap.

As usual on the day of departure, our alarm clock went off at 4:00 a.m. for our flight to Newark.  We had a four-hour layover in Newark before leaving for Tel Aviv, where we were scheduled to arrive at 9:55 a.m. local time (yes, before noon) the next day.  Because we were traveling in business class, we had access to the airline lounge—a much nicer place than the concourse to spend four hours.  There are comfortable chairs and couches, a restaurant, a buffet, an open bar, sleeping suites, quiet suites, bathrooms with showers, etc.  Everything in the lounge is free (covered by the ticket price, of course), the seating is comfortable, the room is attractive, and it’s peaceful.  

Security for our flight from Newark to Tel Aviv was very tight.  Thanks to the meticulous security precautions, our flight was uneventful.  Our Viking cruise ambassador met us at the Tel Aviv airport and escorted us to a bus with other Viking guests.  It was an hour-long drive to Jerusalem, where we all checked into the King David Hotel, then took a  walk to stretch our legs while we (as usual) waited for our rooms to be ready.  

We were 6,500 miles from home and ready for new adventures.

This man builds four different shadow figures. There’s a musical accompaniment with a narrative as well, so turn on the sound.

Every year, the Missouri Botanical Garden offers a holiday light display called “Garden Glow.” Ted and I decided we should experience it before the lights were turned off on January 6. It was a calm, crisp January evening and we had a beautiful holiday walk in the park (literally).

Everything seems to eventually become an abbreviation these days, and this event was no exception. At the entrance to the garden, the decorators assumed “Garden” and simply announced the display as “Glow.” All of the light displays were prettier than the pictures. In addition, pretty instrumental music played softly throughout the garden all the while we walked.

From a distance, this looked like a wall of hanging lights. As we came closer, we saw that it was a number of individual large trees with strings of lights hanging from their branches.

This display changed color every few seconds.

The Botanical Garden has a hedge maze all year, and it was decorated with lights for the holidays. Past experience has taught me that I get claustrophobic and panicky in mazes, so I avoid them. In this case, I figured it couldn’t be too bad to walk through it because the building where I stood to take the photo on the right was at the entrance, and I could always see it from within the maze. All I had to do to get out was head toward that building. It worked. Ted and I walked through the maze and I could always see which direction to go to get out. The downside was that there were no visible shortcuts, so it took a long time to navigate the twists and turns to get to the exit. It was fun to be wandering between walls of holiday lights with other people also working their way through the maze.

These tree displays also changed colors every few seconds. No matter which color they were, the lights were beautiful.

A projector decorated this building differently about every 30 seconds. We watched for almost twenty minutes, and didn’t see a repeated projection, so we walked on.

This was my favorite display. The picture looks a little eerie, but the blue lights on the huge tree had a magical quality in person. I almost expected to see Christmas fairies.

It was a beautiful winter night and there were fire bowls and refreshment stands with warm beverages throughout the park. Ted and I were dressed warmly and had a wonderful time. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

‘Twas the month of Christmas, and all through the house there were things to be done. I always enjoy having our house decorated for Christmas and eating cookies and candy that, for unknown reasons, we only make at Christmas time. One of my favorite decorations is this tatted mobile that Ted’s mother made.

Thom and I have a Christmas tradition of giving each other a miniature Lego set each year. Based on the price and the online photo, I selected a Santa sleigh and reindeer set for Thom. I thought it was so cute, I ordered one for myself too. The eight bags of pieces I found when I opened the box was my first clue that this was not a miniature set. I think I should have also checked the number of pieces in the set–390!

This set far out-sized the miniatures Thom and I usually exchange. (See the photo on the right, below.) As a result, I had to display it with something larger to keep it from looking like Will Ferrell beside the other elves in “Elf.”

Kathy and Annette invited us to spend Christmas in Kirksville with them. (That sounds like a Hallmark Christmas movie, doesn’t it?) They had a pretty little Christmas tree in the living room.

On Christmas Day, we all wore our Christmas socks. Ted decided to show a little leg; we women were more modest.

Santa was good to us. Ted was happy with a Dairy Queen gift card and a plastic banana split–a symbol of one of his favorite sundaes.

I was thrilled to discover a soft and cozy fleece shirt in my gift-wrapped box.

Kathy’s cat kitchen towel made us laugh.

Annette said the over-sized “Crazy Cat Lady” mug was the perfect gift for her. The towel cat looks less certain of that.

We all pitched in to put Christmas dinner on the table. Annette (the vegetarian) roasted a perfect turkey. What a shame she didn’t eat any of it–it was delicious! Ted poured the wine, and a pumpkin turtle pie was a perfect finish for the meal.

After a long weekend in Kirksville, Kari invited us to join her family for Christmas in St. Charles (another Hallmark movie). It was a happy gathering with a delicious dinner and more gifts for everyone.

I attended one more holiday gathering with some fellow retirees from the college. We enjoyed lunch together and several hours of good conversation. We didn’t do a gift exchange and we had separate checks for lunch, but the holiday spirit was definitely with us. Left to right are me, Liz, Heather, Paula, Terri, and Paula’s husband, Bill. Kathy, Cindy, Elaine, and Yvonne were unable to join us. Bill didn’t say much. He might have been out-talked by five women.

Christmas 2023 is now in the past. The decorations have been put away and the candy and cookies are (nearly) gone. Here’s a picture of my mini Lego tree from Thom. I’m getting discouraged asking for world peace every year, but hope springs eternal, so my holiday wish is once again for peace on earth and good will toward all in 2024.

Dewey’s is Ted’s and my favorite pizza restaurant, and we go there often because we both like pizza. In December, we received an email from Kyle, one of Dewey’s managers.

The next time we were at Dewey’s, we were presented with a bag bearing a gift tag with our name on it. The manager who gave it to us (not Kyle) thanked us for our patronage and mentioned that we were one of their top five customers in 2023. (We like pizza a lot.) We thanked him for the gift bag, but waited until we were home to open it. Our gift was two Dewey’s glasses and a $50 Dewey’s gift certificate. Even better than pizza is free pizza!

Over the years, when I’ve checked into various places, I’ve discovered that there are other women with the same first and last names as mine. One time, I asked the check-in person how many other people shared my name on her list and she said, “Five.” Just the other day, I asked again and the registrar said, “Eight.” Wow!

When my kids were little, I took Jeff to the pediatrician for something or other, and the nurse needed clarification about which Diane and Jeff we were because there was another mother who shared my name and had a son named Jeff. During a recent (flattering) check-in experience, the check-in lady asked me to re-verify my birthdate. I told her I know there are other women with the same name as mine, but I didn’t know I shared a birthdate with any of them. “Oh, no,” she said, “you don’t. You just didn’t look that old.” 🙂

In all the time I’ve known about these name doppelgangers, I’ve never met one until (drum roll, please) my last haircut appointment. When I checked in, the check-in lady asked if I was with Donna or Michelle (the stylists). I said “Donna.” She replied that her computer showed me scheduled with Michelle. Then she noticed that I was listed with both Donna and Michelle. At that moment, another woman spoke up and said she had an appointment with Michelle, and we all realized that the other woman and I had the same first and last names.

Here I am with my name twin. We were seated in side-by-side chairs while we waited for Donna and Michelle, so we chatted with each other and decided we should have a photo of ourselves. You can see Donna and Michelle in the mirror behind us. Donna is taking the picture.

Today, there was serendipity at the salon.

One of our gallery pictures of our grandson has always hung crooked, no matter what I did to straighten it. One day, I decided to weight the picture with pennies. Unfortunately, between Ted and me, we only had one penny, and that turned out to be insufficient. The picture still hung crooked.

I mentioned this little problem at a family gathering and said I thought I needed another two cents. The conversation moved on, but after a few minutes, Dylan re-entered the room and handed me two cents. Thank you, Dylan!

I added Dylan’s pennies to the back of the picture and it still didn’t hang straight, so I tried a nickel. That didn’t help, so I moved up to a quarter. That helped a little. When I added a second quarter, the picture hung straight.

I don’t think I’ve ever added more than two cents to a picture, but this one was a 53-cent job. The bottom corner of the picture butted up against the door frame. I wonder how far it would have tilted if the door frame didn’t stop it. Well, at least it’s finally straight and this little guy’s picture is no longer cockeyed.

Ted and I had to clear our walls for the painters in Fall 2022. We were both tired of looking at the same old things on the walls, so we decided that we would only re-hang the things we missed looking at. One of the things we missed looking at was a two-piece sculpture. It’s not an easy thing to hang. The two pieces need to be properly aligned; they are heavy and awkward to handle; and the design pieces have sharp corners. An added challenge is that it needs to be hung on eight irregularly arranged hangers.

I decided that a template would probably avoid repeated trial-and-error efforts, so we spread some large, taped-together sheets of paper on the basement floor and properly aligned the sculpture pieces on them. Then we marked where the irregular hangers were so we’d know where to put the nails into the wall. The hangers are welded to the sculpture frame, but the frame does not extend to the edges of the sculpture. That provided another challenge: deciding where to place the template on the wall so that the sculpture would hang where we wanted it to be. We worked with the outside measurements of the sculpture and the template to determine the center, transferred those measurements to the wall, and then taped the template to the wall.

Instead of pounding the nails all the way in on the template markings, I tapped them just hard enough to make a visible dent in the drywall. Then we removed the template and put in four of the eight nails we needed–just enough to hold the sculpture temporarily–before hanging the sculpture to check its placement. It looked good, so we took it down and hammered in the other four nails. Now the sculpture is securely hung and the placement looks good. Nice work, if I do say so myself.

Question: What kind of shoes does an optometrist wear?

Answer: “Seeing eye” shoes. Really. This is what my optometrist was wearing at my appointment.

Back in September, the U.S. Marine Corps literally lost (as in couldn’t find) one of its aircraft in South Carolina. The F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jet went missing after the pilot ejected. The plane flew about 60 miles without its pilot and then crashed into a wooded area. The Marine Corps ordered a two-day stand down while they searched for the jet.

According to CNN, Rep. Nancy Mace of South Caroline wrote on X “How in the hell do you lose an F-35? How is there not a tracking device and we’re asking the public to what, find a jet and turn it in?”

Here’s an idea from Walt Handelsman, a cartoonist.

Thanks to the kitchen update, the basement workshop got an update too. The last time we updated our kitchen, we selected some of the old, to-be-removed cabinets from the kitchen and had them moved to the workshop for neater storage down there.

The cabinets pictured below were original to the house, and are now 44 years old. They show their age and the drawers no longer work very well. Naturally, the upper cabinet is installed (i.e., fastened to the wall). The lower three pieces, however, are just set in place against the wall with the countertop pieces simply resting on the cabinet tops, making those pieces easy to move. Not surprisingly, we never moved them. The PVC pipe drains the washing machine above, so the cabinets were placed separately on each side of it. The dark portions of the cabinet sides are the original color of the cabinets. I hated that dark color when we bought the house, so I stripped the cabinets and stained them lighter. The dark areas were against adjacent cabinets, so those portions didn’t get stripped. You can see the raw edge of the Formica countertop in the center. That countertop wasn’t originally on that cabinet; the workers at the time cut it to fit.

This was the workshop in the basement, so we didn’t need or expect beautiful cabinetry. We were satisfied for many years, but with new cabinets coming to the kitchen, it was the perfect time to replace these worn-out cabinets with something only half their age.

When our kitchen crew, Christian and Craig, removed the upper cabinets in the workshop, they noticed mold and some ceiling tile damage. That must have developed years ago when the washer hose broke and sent a full load of water to the basement floor–gallons of wash water and more gallons of rinse water. I left the washer running while I was away from home, so I wasn’t there to immediately turn off the water. Oops! What a mess that was to clean up! Since the cabinets were installed before the washer hose ruptured, we couldn’t dry the water or remove the ceiling tiles above them, and we couldn’t see the resulting damage. As a result, the water absorbed by the ceiling tiles in that area dried slowly enough to develop mold. It’s a good thing Christian and Craig could repair it now.

I expected the same kind of installation from Christian and Craig as we had last time: attach the upper cabinet to the wall, put the lower ones in place, and cut the countertop(s) to fit. Wow! Was I surprised!

These guys didn’t put the cabinets in the basement; they installed them. They leveled everything and fastened every cabinet to its adjacent wall and to its adjacent cabinet. To hide the drainpipe space needed between the cabinets, the guys cut a spacer from a flat wood panel taken from a to-be-trashed cabinet from the kitchen, and inserted the spacer between the cabinet sections (arrow). None of the removed countertop pieces was long enough for the entire lower surface, so the right portion has a backsplash and the left portion doesn’t. To make a continuous countertop around the drainpipe, Christian cut a half-circle into the back edge of the countertop and joined the two pieces with a nearly invisible seam sealed with clear caulk. The back edge is also caulked along the wall. All of those details make the four lower cabinet pieces look like a single unit. Compare the photo below with the top photo above. Attention to detail makes a big difference!

Speaking of details, . . . The over-the-top thing the guys did in the basement was to cover the exposed end of the upper cabinet with a trim piece (below). It’s not a perfect fit, but, like the spacer and the continuous countertop, I didn’t expect that level of detail in the workshop. Craig cut the piece from one of the old, matching cabinet doors and attached it to make the upper cabinet look nice from the side. Uh, that would be the side that faces the storage room. Doesn’t everyone want to see a beautifully finished workshop cabinet edge from the storage room?! Christian and Craig certainly do!

I expected these repurposed cabinets to look a lot like the previous ones, but in better condition. Instead, I feel like we ought to do something special in this room to justify such nice cabinetry. When I repeatedly complimented Christian and Craig on how beautiful the cabinets looked, they kind of shrugged as if to say, “How else would we have done it?” and Craig said, “Well, I like my workshop nice.” Obviously, it could have been done as simply as the previous crew did with the previous cabinets, but that’s not how these guys roll.

When we emptied all of our living area rooms for painting and carpeting in Fall 2022, we got rid of so many things, that we removed shelving and still have extra shelf space. The same was true when we refilled the “new” basement cabinets–we have extra space in our updated workshop. I wonder how long it will take us to fill all the empty shelf space we now have throughout the house. There’s a saying that the more countertop you have, the more things you set on it. I’ll bet the same is true for closets and shelves.

Our kitchen update project included some changes to bring our kitchen from its circa 2000 look to the 2020s era of design. Most of the changes were optional. One was not.

One evening last spring, while Ted and I were eating dinner, the chandelier we installed when we updated our kitchen 20+ years ago abruptly turned itself off. Everything looked good when we checked the breakers and the light switch connection. We tested the five light bulbs in another lamp and they all worked fine. In August 2022, we had the electrical box for this light moved to center it over the kitchen table. We wondered if there might be a problem with the installation, and felt nervous about using a light that might have wiring problems. I called our electrician, and he assured me that, as long as the switch was turned off, we were not in danger of an electrical fire. We planned to replace the chandelier with a new one during our kitchen update, but now we had a sense of urgency to shop.

We bought a new chandelier and called the electrician to install it. When he removed the damaged light from the ceiling connection, he found the problem. The installer who moved the kitchen table light in 2022 (same company) pinched some wires with a screw when he attached the chandelier to the electrical box, and that eventually broke the wire. You can see the damage indicated by the arrows in the photo below. After installing the new light, the electrician prepared to leave and informed us there was no charge for the service. The company, he said, stands behind its work and we lost a chandelier due to their error. He even offered $100 toward our new light.

While he left his work area to get some other tools, the electrician let the (relatively heavy) new chandelier hang by a wire designed to hold the fixture during the installation process (left). I’d have been nervous about doing that, but it worked just fine. We used a 1980s vintage pole lamp from the basement (in the corner, left photo) for table lighting while we shopped and waited for the new chandelier installation. The right photo shows the new chandelier, properly attached to the ceiling.

In addition to the new chandelier, we made a number of other changes to our kitchen design. There weren’t a lot of home devices to charge in the late 1990s when we last updated our kitchen, so one of our kitchen outlets used to look like the left photo. All of those plugs are inserted into a six-gang tree with 2 USB chargers which, in turn, is plugged into a two-gang outlet. Twenty-some years later, we had a six-gang outlet with built-in chargers installed to accommodate our current needs at that location. Much neater.

Instead of our Bed, Bath & Beyond silverware tray, we now have a two-tiered built-in silverware tray in this drawer.

All of the lower cabinets have drawers instead of shelves. Now it’s much easier to put things away and to get them out because we don’t have to remove the items in the front to extract an item from the back.

We added a drawer to the island so that we can store placements and napkins conveniently near the table.

In our last kitchen update, the island backsplash matched the countertop. This time, we matched it to the backsplash over the cabinets.

Some of our previous cabinets had a matching flat panel on the exposed sides. This time, we added a trim panel to all the exposed sides, even in the corner where we keep the stool.

We replaced our Corian sink with a composite one. The Corian sink was still in great shape, but could not be removed from the surrounding Corian countertops, since they were poured together. Now we have a composite sink attached separately to the countertops.

For this update, we ordered upper cabinets of varied depths to eliminate the straight-line front edge of the upper cabinets. Compare the old kitchen look (left) with the updated look (right).

Here’s a picture of Jimmy’s, Christian’s, Craig’s, Ted’s, and my favorite change: the LED strip lighting over the countertops. It’s gorgeous in the evenings when the random bronze-colored backsplash tiles shine softly in the light.

In addition to setting up temporary kitchen/dining areas in the basement, we had to empty all of the kitchen cabinets before the crew could begin their work.

Just like closets, you can get a lot of stuff in cabinets!

Jimmy, the company owner, sent Christian (left) and Craig (obviously, right) to start working on our kitchen on June 21. The two guys worked daily through July 16. They started by removing our old (20+ years) cabinets. The cabinets were installed from right to left, so needed to be removed in the opposite direction.

The cabinets are gone and the hardwood floor is well-protected. The kitchen looks so spacious!

When we replaced the original kitchen cabinets in our house, we put some of them in the basement to provide closed/covered storage. They are now 44 years old and definitely show their age. In our current kitchen contract, we included removing those original cabinets and replacing them with some of our current (now old) cabinets.

During this project, the guys made their mess in the garage and in the driveway, and cleaned it up every day. In the photo below, the truck is delivering the new cabinets and Christian is cutting one of our current/now old countertops to fit the new/old cabinet arrangement in the basement.

The first cabinet is installed. The wood is birch.

All of the base cabinets are installed. By doing the lower cabinets first, the guys can keep busy working on the upper cabinets while waiting for the countertops to be measured, manufactured, and installed. The island is actually four cabinets. It looks like a cabinet puzzle fitted together in this photo.

Even the interiors of the cabinets are beautifully finished.

Some of the separate cabinets for the island were built with full-length side panels. When two cabinets were placed side-by-side, this created a great place to stub toes while working at the island (left image). Fortunately, Christian had a neat little toe kick saw that could cut a square corner under the cabinet (upper right image) to allow for a continuous toe kick all the way around the island (lower right image).

Christian was at least as picky as I am about details. His level was his constant companion. Are these cabinets level by themselves as well as with each other? . . .

. . . You bet they are!

Under-cabinet lighting for all the upper cabinets was part of our design and required new electrical work. You can see the large hole in the wall and wires extending from the walls where the lights will be connected to the switch.

At this point, we ran into a problem and the guys had to pause their work for ten days while we waited for the countertops and a new cabinet to be made and delivered. Notice that rust-colored stripe of paint in the left center of the above photo. That was formerly covered by our microwave, which was mounted beneath a 24-inch long cabinet. You can also see the outline of the microwave installation template in that photo as well as the handwritten dates for each new microwave oven we installed. The delivered cabinet (short upper one, below) was only 18 inches long. Christian said he called the designer to verify the size because it seemed high to him. She verified an 18-inch long cabinet, so he installed it.

Why was that a problem? If we’d installed the microwave beneath that 18-inch cabinet, the bottom edge of the microwave would be where the top edge of the blue tape is in the photo below. The microwave cooking tray would be three inches above that line and the top edges of the cooking dishes in the microwave would be even higher. Check the blue tape line and my line of sight. I would have been unable to see whatever was in the microwave! Christian and Craig removed the 18-inch cabinet and the contractor ordered a longer one.

The mystery is why the designer planned an 18-inch cabinet for that space and why Jimmy, the boss man, who came to measure the cabinet dimensions in person didn’t catch the error either. As for Ted and me, cabinet length never came up in our design conversations, and we made the assumptions that the experts used standard lengths, and that the length of the two 24-inch long cabinets we’ve had above the microwave over the past 44 years was a standard length.

After the ten-day hiatus, work resumed on July 26 with the installation of the countertops.

After the countertops were installed (still waiting for that over-the-microwave cabinet), Christian got started on the backsplash. You can see it below on the island between the two countertop levels and to the left of the exterior door. The wall above the cabinets on the left is multi-colored because there was another problem.

After Christian and Craig installed the stove, I noticed that its back edge was more than one-quarter inch farther from the wall on the left than on the right. Even to a non-perfectionist, the stove looked like it wasn’t pushed in all the way on the left. I tried pushing it in, but it was tight against the front edge of the lower cabinets and didn’t budge. I told Christian it was going to drive me crazy to have the stove looking crooked every day for the next 20 (?) years and he agreed. He explained that he (as a fellow perfectionist) squared that line of cabinets with the line of cabinets under the window. Doing that revealed that the two walls formed a greater-than-90-degree corner. This didn’t affect the line of the cabinets, because the countertop was measured and fitted after they were installed and it fit tightly against the fronts of the cabinets and against the wall.

To compensate for the crooked wall, Christian painstakingly built up the wall surface (the dark-colored stuff) that would be behind the backsplash. When the backsplash was installed, the back edge of the stove was in parallel with the backsplash. The refrigerator covers the left edge of the backsplash, but if you move the refrigerator and examine that backsplash edge, you’ll see that there’s one-quarter inch of built-up surface material visible behind the standard backsplash trim piece. Christian is my kind of project worker!

In this photo, Craig is installing the garbage disposal and Christian is finishing up the under-cabinet lighting. He admitted it was hard on his back and he was glad to be finished with that task.

The guys worked through August 1 and then went on another hiatus and worked on other jobs. The cabinet for over the microwave had not yet arrived, and Ted and I needed to prepare for our overseas trip. The remaining upper cabinets and some finishing work were completed on October 21 after we returned home.

Most of our interior house update was completed by December 2022. In February 2023, Ted and I got serious about updating the kitchen. We updated the lighting and had the room painted in 2022, but that’s all. We had our first appointment with our kitchen designer on February 21. The planning, selection, and ordering processes took awhile, and we were finally scheduled for the professional workers to arrive on June 21.

Before giving the pros permission to demolish our kitchen, we had to set up an alternate eating and cooking space. Just like 25 years ago, that space was in the basement. We got out my old Wal-Mart craft table and some of the folding chairs we acquired in the early 1970s with grocery store trading stamps, and voilà! we had a dining room.

We also needed a prep/storage area. We set that up in the shop, where we have a table with a power outlet for the microwave. We won’t have the convenience of a stove for awhile, so I cooked and froze some meals in advance. We’re going to count on the microwave and eating out until the kitchen update is functional again. We used the shop table and our wedding gift kitchen table for prepping food and for storing the things we needed while the upstairs kitchen was unavailable. The paint cans under the table are not food-related. They are waiting to be put into “new” cabinets coming from our current kitchen.

Dishwashing was a challenge, but not impossible. Since we didn’t do any big cooking projects, we didn’t have many pots or pans to wash. Our system was to scrape the dirty dishes, then stack them in the bathroom sink. A dishpan on the right worked for washing and one on the left took care of rinsing the dishes. A large cutting board on our 1972 vintage baby high chair served as a place to drain the rinsed dishes before drying them. Then we stacked the clean, dry dishes on our trading stamp card table just outside the bathroom door before taking them back to the shop and putting them in the prep/storage area. (Photographer visible in mirror.)

The crew had to pause our job for ten days while we waited for the delivery of a cabinet. It had already been five weeks since the work started, and my frozen dinner supply was running very low (i.e., gone). Fortunately, the guys were at a point at which they could connect the stove. (Still no sink or water source in the kitchen.) By then, we appreciated the luxury of having a stove and an oven. We had no countertops, so the microwave had to stay in the basement. All but two of the cabinets were installed and off the floor, so there was room for us to collapse our kitchen table and to eat beside our soon-to-be installed dishwasher. We’re moving up in the world–literally up–from the basement.

We laid some of the shelving from the yet-to-be-installed cabinets over the unfinished island to create some surface space. That made it possible for us to set things down somewhere in the room. Some 2x4s and two doors from our old cabinets covered with plastic tablecloths gave us counter space under the window and beside the stove.

Even dishwashing became a little easier. We didn’t have running water or a drain in the kitchen yet, but at least the dirty dishes could be set on the stove, washed and rinsed in our trusty dishpans, and set to dry where the future sink would be installed. Clean, dry dishes could be put on the shelf-covered island. That’s a lot more space than we had for doing dishes in the basement! We could work side-by-side and move our elbows!

All of the above was inconvenient, but not especially difficult. In fact, it worked well enough that we decided we could entertain guests. We didn’t have enough space in the kitchen yet, but we invited Kari’s family to join us for a pizza party in our basement dining room. With paper plates and cups and carry-out pizzas, it was easy and fun.