06/29/2021 Visions of Sugar Plums Dance in our heads

Okay, not quite Sugar Plums, but visions of ice-cream or lemonade is dancing in our heads. I am melting!!!! (Said the Wicked Witch of the West…)  😊 Today was our first full day in Egypt, our first time on the African Continent.  The day started off benignly enough with breakfast, which consisted of an egg or omelet (made to appear as if they were a crepe, but with no sweet filling), cheese slices, some round pieces of meat (bologna?), some jelly and some sort of replica pita, with a bean curd to dip it in.  Still, it was tasty and filling and prepared well with a nice presentation. It was washed down with “orange juice” (Read: Tang) for Dave and Egyptian coffee for Kathy. One cup of coffee and Kathy was already bouncing off the walls. A great energy boost for the day spent touring the sights of Cairo.

Our very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide, Sam, started the day by taking us to Saqqara, an Egyptian village in Giza. It is world known for its vast, ancient burial ground of Egyptian kings and royal which served as the necropolis for the ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. Saqqara contains numerous pyramids, including the world-famous Step pyramid of Djoser, sometimes referred to as the Step Tomb, and a number of mastaba tombs. (Thank you, Wikipedia!) We went into one of the tombs which has the actual hieroglyphics, still amazing to view thousands of years later. Our guide in the small tomb shone a light on the rock walls, which were made of alabaster and limestone. The alabaster section was translucent and was right next to the limestone which was opaque. What ingenuity!! He then turned off the lights and put a flashlight to the wall where a carving of the king could be seen in the shadows as a bas relief.  Did I forget to say it is hot?  The inside of the pyramid was much cooler and Dave mentioned that, if he were king, he would want to die early and spend more time inside!

After our tour of the ancient site, we went to a local Carpet School where a family has been making hand woven carpets for generations.   Carpets made of Egyptian cotton, wool, and silk from China. We felt awed at the swift and talented fingers of the generations working on the carpets, from a young boy to an older male artisan. Most are made with a pattern to see where each stitch knot should go. The elder man created all of his rugs just from his mind. We did buy a beautiful carpet to bring home and put in our entry way, a reminder of our time here in Egypt.

Our next stop was the outdoor museum in Memphis (not the one in TN) where we saw a statue of Ramses II and other carvings and statues from days long ago.  How these ancient Egyptians carved these huge statues out of single blocks of stone is still a wonder.  Next stop was a papyrus school where we learned how the ancient paper was made.  The painstaking methods taken to make the stems of the papyrus plant into paper that lasts for hundreds of years is amazing.  It reminded us of how they made similar products in Samoa. We had an opportunity to purchase a painting on the papyrus but decided to pace ourselves when it came to the purse strings. Next step was a cotton shop where there were some of the most beautiful shirts, gowns, belly dancing outfits, and a tiny corner of men’s shirts and clothes. While Kathy was tempted to buy a beautiful gown, she refrained and managed to curb her spending impulses. A lovely interaction with a shop girl who kept giggling at Dave’s (and Kathy’s) jokes rounded off a wonderful afternoon.

Our last stop was Giza, home of the iconic pyramids and sphynx.  We walked around the pyramids, dodged the people wanting to sell us trinkets or take us on a camel ride, and just marveled in awe at the history and majesty of the pyramids. Amazing how so long ago they were built and how precisely and beautifully.

Phew, we are now home, or at least our home for a couple of more nights. A shower to get the sweat off our bodies, a small catnap, and now time to think about a meal. Our first one since breakfast. (Dave must have missed the travel brochures where they mentioned that the Arabic language has no word for “lunch”.) You know what they say: “Fat boy’s gotta eat!” so the decision was made to have a pizza and “salad” delivered to the hotel. Surprisingly good, the crust was amazing. Kathy’s only huh??????? Who sends ketchup packets with pizza? She finally figured out why, no marinara sauce on the pizza. Just the way Kathy likes it cheese, beef pepperoni, and the crust. It could have used some chili peppers sprinkled on the top.  Now just wishing for an ice-cream, or at least an ice-cold diet Coke.

06/27/2021 “Brick Walls” a Novel by Kathy and Dave

A few quotes of Randy Pausch given during his last lecture fits us to a “T”. The first quote – “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” – is the first part of our trip. We gained quite a bit of “experience” after our Round the World Trip was cancelled which helped us prepare for a multiple-country trip during the COVID-19 global pandemic.  We could not have predicted all the “bumps” in the road and, as Dave said, “This is death by a thousand papercuts.”  It is an accurate portrayal of our “experiences” so far this trip.  The other Pausch quote, “Brick walls are there for a reason.  They are not to keep people out. The brick wall is there to give us a chance to show how much we want something. The brick walls are there to stop people who don’t want it enough.”

The planning began benignly, we decided to use our prepaid tour that we cancelled last year in Egypt. We felt confident as the virus, while still prevalent, was waning in Egypt. We were vaccinated and knew that we would be extra careful. Dave, with his gift for planning, began to get to work on all the details. The first decision was to tack on a couple more destinations that were not originally on our Round the World Trip. A quick “hop” to Greece and Turkey seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Due to the logistics of traveling during the time of COVID, we decided to book with tour companies, something we have not really done. One would think it would make things easier………NOT!!!

First, Greece changed the rules for entry to their country.  They would allow people to enter by plane, but not by cruise ship.  This meant changing our tour, since we were supposed to go to Turkey first, then cruise from there to some Greek islands before touring Athens.   The new Greece to Turkey trip (instead of Turkey to Greece trip) did not jive with the dates for the Egypt tour we had already booked.  So, we had to look at the dates for each trip and try to arrange them both altogether. Phew! Sweet relief as it all came together in time for us to book our flights. Hardly any blood was shed changing around our tours to come together perfectly. Flights were now booked, and we could now plan for what should we take (think hot weather!)

But then, our flight from Egypt to Greece after our tour was cancelled.  Initial panic, but then a quick resolution: we booked a new flight and, while not optimal (a 3 am flight to Greece), it did get us to Greece in time to start that tour. Then- Really???? Just when we had “bandaged” all the “papercuts”, another flight was cancelled and they “kindly” rebooked us for a flight that gave us the privilege of staying 25 hours in the Moroccan Airport – without asking or checking with us. How nice!! This flight was the last leg of the journey from the US to Egypt and was a major glitch.  Dave’s papercuts were now hemorrhaging! We would be stuck in an airport for 25 hours, our COVID test (which cannot be more than 96 hours old from when we enter Egypt) would expire, and we would be late for the tour.

While trying to fix that issue, we were notified by the tour operator in Greece that Egypt does not accept any old COVID test, it must have a QR code or a stamp from the lab on the test. Who the heck does those in Western NY?  Apparently, NO ONE!!  And what is a stamp??? We did find one at the JFK airport that does the test and provides a QR code. It would mean we would have to get to JFK early enough to get the test done, get checked in, and go through Customs. Adapting quickly, we changed our flight again and (hopefully) got a refund for the tickets for the cancelled flights. (That might be a story for another day, as we may have bought 4 tickets?)  We rebooked the flights directly with another airline. (This time we got refundable tickets—see what experience does!) The plan?  Leave Buffalo early, arrive at the JFK airport in enough time to take a really expensive cash only COVID test, get on plane to Frankfurt, and then to Cairo. Best laid plans!!

We did decide to get a COVID test on Friday from a local clinic as they guaranteed same day results and we were concerned about being able to get into the secure area at JFK to take our next test. Sunday came early, like really early, not just early, but really, really early like 03:30 early. The time most 20-somethings are coming home for the evening. Dragging our brother George out of bed at the ungodly time of 04:30 so that he was (supposedly) awake (enough) to take us to the airport was how we started our day.

Next thing we learned; our first flight of our trip got delayed for four hours. There goes our window. An incredibly nice gate agent helped us by allowing us to take our checked luggage on board with us, minus of course shampoo, conditioner, mouth wash, and what seemed like galloons of sunblock. Woo Hoo as that saved us 15 minutes. While waiting at the gate, we were looking at options. NEWS ALERT!!!! Egypt will now allow you in if you are fully vaccinated and you have a QR code for the vaccination. Excelsior NY COVID Pass to the rescue!  Ahhh sweet relief. We figured out a way to print them out (don’t ask how, as airport security may still be looking for Dave – score on for face-concealing masks!) Now we just need to get to JFK and see if they accept it. A mad dash through the JFK Airport (speed records were set) and we managed to get from Terminal 5 to Terminal 1 in a scant 20 minutes (Google maps said it would take 56 minutes, but it doesn’t know us, does it?) We knew our backpack luggage would be helpful some day!  Dave kept looking for the camera people on The Amazing Race.

Racing to the ticket booth we were turned away, but only briefly. We had you going for a moment, didn’t we? They only allow surgical grade masks.  So Dave – ever the emergency preparedness person – pulled out of his “hat”, or in this case, his pack, two N-95 masks. The ticket agent hadn’t heard of the QR code for vaccines, but he said we did need the printed copy to get to Frankfurt.

Checked in, we were finally ready for the long flight to Germany……which, once again, was delayed. We could have canoed quicker to this side of the world. Finally aboard the plane to Cairo, we prayed that Egypt would take our mundane COVID test results from the local lab, one that has no QR code or Stamp!!! After a brief moment of suspense with the agent, YAY!!! We climbed over this brick wall and are now safely ensconced in our hotel room, a room with a view of the Great Pyramids of Giza. Tired, now clean, with teeth brushed we begin our amazing adventure on the African continent. Stay tuned.

A New Beginning?

The sun is hot, the forest animals are restless, and so are we. We are feeling relieved to have been fully vaccinated and have been watching as the local area slowing reawakens. As life begins to resume in our neighborhood, so do our dreams of travel! Not, of course, because we want to flee the hot sun and crowds of unmasked shoppers.  We want to experience the joys of exploring new vistas and learning about new cultures.

So to no one’s surprise, we have a trip planned in just a few short weeks. The plans were not really anything that we had on our radar as a “must go spot.” Research into the areas have opened our eyes to the interesting possibilities to be found in Egypt, Greece, and Turkey. While we always wanted to go to Greece and had planned to visit Egypt last year, Turkey was not something we had really given much thought about.  Yet it is one of the more interesting places we think we will go.  Due to the ongoing global pandemic and the restrictions, conditions, and constant changes that go with it, we will be going with guided tours of these countries on this trip.  This is a first for us!

Stay tuned and we will keep you informed of our plans, the trip, the food on the trip, and how our packing lists changed to accommodate HEAT!!  We have our visas for each country, we have completed our entry form for Greece, and we think we have a plan to get COVID tested before each leg of the trip.  It is a fine balancing act to get the test done within the time frames required by each country (usually 72 hours), while also getting the results back prior to each flight!