Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Malta - 2/4/2009

Our dear friend "Noneck" told us that Malta was his favorite spot in the Med and we can certainly see why. We would definitely love to go back and just chill out for a week or so. There is just something about the place. It's a little bit of Italy, North Africa, Spain, the UK and a great deal more. Yet at the end of the day it has its own unique style. It's full of history, beautiful, graceful, clean and fresh. We loved it!
The Grand Harbor is probably one of the most beautiful natural ports on earth. Valetta, the present capital of Malta, was built from scratch upon the order of the Grand Master of the Knights of St John shortly after the Knights narrowly defeated the Turks during the Great Siege of 1565. It is situated so as to command the entrance to the harbor.
The Knights came from Europe's richest noble families.
They spoke eight different languages, and they all had their own altars within St. John's Co-Cathedral. The eight points of the Maltese cross are symbolic of these eight groups of Knights.
Caravaggio's masterpiece, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, is there, as well as one of the finest collections of tapestries in the world.

Mdina, the former capital, is now called the "Quiet City." Very few people live inside the walls, but it is definitely worth a visit.
Our last sunset aboard the Jade was one of the best, and as you can see we had exhausted our wine supply by then, being left with only a "vintage" bottle of Lancers finest rose to share. Here's to our next adventure! Cheers!!

Alexandria - 2/2/2009

Alexandria has about 3.5 million people as compared to the 35 million or so who live in the Cairo/Giza sprawl. It is split into two sections, the west being much older and poorer. Despite being one tenth the size, it is ten times nicer, at least on the eastern side of town. We saw everything from abject poverty to profound opulence here. The catacombs are smaller than the ones in Vienna, but much more ornate. The National Museum was very nearly of the same quality as the one in Cairo, save the Tut exhibit. It was better organized and lit, with extensive artifacts from all periods of Egyptian history. We visited the site of Alexander's Lighthouse, which along with the Pyramids, was among the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. The coast is absolutely beautiful, again especially to the east. You can dive on the remains of Cleopatra's palace in gin clear water, see King Farouck's two mansions, visit one of the cooler and most modern libraries in the region, stay in a world class Four Seasons hotel or just sit on the beach. Two blocks away you can also see people begging in front of a mosque who have never done anything in their entire lives but sit in front of a mosque and beg.

Cairo - 2/1/2009

Today's agenda for Pamela and Tommy included the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, and the King Tut exhibit at the Museum of Cairo.

The bus ride was quite amazing, but we do not wish to do it over again .. ever! Roman drivers are aggressive, but these people are crazy. There are no apparent laws, lights, lanes or anything else one might associate with organized driving here. Accordingly, they need no cops and have none. After three hours of honking, weaving, screaming, unmistakeably vulgar gesturing and nearly killing 50 or so pedestrians ... we finally arrived in Giza.

Pamela could at last relax her sphincter before we saw the Sphinx.

The Pyramids of Giza can be clearly seen from outer space, which is very easy to believe once you stand at the bottom of one.

The Tut exhibit is far more extensive than the mask and the sarcophagus and obviously a must see.

A few impressions: The Pyramids, Sphinx and Tut exhibit are all breathtaking. So too is camel dung, the breath of a camel and the breath of a camel driver. Abject filth, poverty and a general sense of hopelessness are pervasive. One can't help but wonder what King Tut, who ruled the known world at nine years of age over 3,300 years ago, would think.

Glenn and Robbie decided on a two-day "nuclear full metal jacket" Cairo visit.

Glenn absolutely had to ride a camel as he had bragged to his friends back home that he would and agreed to send a picture of confirmation. Robbie finally decided to join him, but found the experience terrifying.

The drivers kept saying "lean back" as Robbie was imagining being thrown to the ground. When she got off, the camel spit at her!

We visited the spectacular Alabaster Mosque of Mohamed Ali in the Citadel, the fortress where it's located. It is called the Alabaster because of the extensive use of stone. Mohamed Ali erected it as a monument to himself. The mosque proper is to the east and the courtyard is to the west. The architecture is like that of Istanbul, not Egyptian.

We went to the Giza Plateau to attend the English version of the "Son et Lumiere". We were seated right in front of the Sphinx under a star -studded sky. The Sound and Light performance brought the history of the ancient Egyptian to life as the Pyramids were illuminated.

To end the night, we sailed on a Nile River Cruise, enjoying music and belly dancing as we passed Cairo's waterfront landmarks.

A market on the road to Saqqara.

We visited the ancient cemetery of Saqqara to see the Step Pyramid of King Zoser, the oldest structure in the world built of stone. King Zoser was the first sovereign of the Third Dynasty. We went inside the Mastabas[tombs] built nearby which contain many rooms. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside, but it was amazing to see the wall paintings in such beautiful, colorful condition. They depicted every day life in Egypt, professions, hunting, fishing,and animals.

We drove south from Cairo to Memphis, Egypt's first capital. We visited the ruins of the Temple of Ptah, the fallen colossal statue of King Ramses the 2nd and the Alabaster Sphinx of King Amenophis the 2nd.