Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jordan in Seven Days

As usual lately, I haven't found much spare time for writing. The trip has required daily planning or research that exhausts most of my mental energy and that, combined with our busy and sometimes physically exhausting sightseeing schedule, is more than enough "work" on any given day! I still keep a daily log to try to record any particularly memorable occurrences and take the time to caption most of my photos (which, by the way, can be viewed by clicking on this post's title).

Trying to sum up our time in Jordan is a bit challenging for me. The country has a young ruler, an environmental program encapsulated by the RSCN, and a modern capital city (Amman). The highways are in decent condition and you can get a cell phone signal in the middle of the desert. There are enough sights from north to south to warrant a week or two of exploration, depending on how much time you want to spend lazing at a resort on the Dead or Red Seas, exploring the ruins of Petra or riding camels with the Bedouins. However, as with any country in the Middle East, traveling is not always as easy as you might hope but the challenges are certainly not insurmountable. And, as with any foray into unfamiliar territory, it helps to do some research in advance so you know better what to expect and how to handle certain situations. Still, you cannot anticipate the traffic jam caused by a town luncheon, highway signs entirely covered with political posters thus making it impossible to determine the speed limit or which way to turn, etc. Thus the most important advice I can give fellow travelers is to abide by the Girl Scout Motto and always "Be Prepared" for anything!

Daily Log
11/14
Border crossing: took 5 min bus ride from Israel Bet She’an terminal; no ATM at Jordan entry gate so had to convert cash from my stash of USD to pay for visa; once across border, no way to get anywhere other than by taxi and then you have to go to nearest town and take small crowded minibuses
Luckily I befriended a guy with a US passport who spoke Arabic and thus negotiated a much lower rate for our shared taxi to Amman
Got caught in traffic jam about 30min south of border due to newly elected official hosting lunch for the whole town
While we were in the Jordan Valley, as far as you could see greenhouses/agriculture, lots of sheep, some goats & cows
Based on recommendation from www.jordanjubilee.com I booked our rental car with Reliable; Mohammed came to pick us up from Abdoun Circle
Getting out of Amman was interesting; luckily I am now quite comfortable driving pretty much anywhere and don’t hesitate to honk my horn and maneuver in & out of traffic just like the locals, while dodging other vehicles, people, animals, etc.
Arrived at Dead Sea after dark so just had dinner at the hotel’s casual restaurant before using wifi for a while then going to bed
11/15
Got up early - 7am to have time to float in the Dead Sea before breakfast; water feels oily, leaves stain on clothes; one drop tastes so salty it makes you gag
Toured Bethany beyond the Jordan; watched documentary on flight from Amman to Cairo which explained the search for the baptism site
Drove to Mount Nebo where Moses is supposed to have first viewed the Holy Land just before his death; windy mountain road, almost hit by out of control car coming down the mountain around a curve too fast and he lost traction on the sand
Drive to Madaba - not far from Mt Nebo but city was chaos; people in the streets everywhere apparently it’s a holiday week; couldn’t find parking anywhere near church with Byzantine mosaics so just went to visitor center to get directions to Kings Highway/Petra
Wadi Mujib was vast and beautiful at sunset
Got turned around in Kerak; no clear signage once you get into town
Drive took much longer than expected: most directional signs were covered by campaign posters; trash (primarily plastic bags) strewn along highway everywhere
Arrived in Petra after dark, around 7pm
Ate dinner at Moda Restaurant: mansaf
11/16
Slept in today but awoken early this morning by call to prayer from nearby mosque; this one seemed to last for hours as I drifted in & out of sleep; it is Eid Al Adha, a Muslim holiday
Ate simple breakfast of cooked-to-order eggs & pita bread with jam in hotel’s “restaurant”
Drove to Petra visitor’s center; parking not well-marked or organized
Paid 55JOD pp for 2 day entry ticket (1 day was 50JOD); entry prices are increasing drastically but with no obvious impact on tourist facilities or site preservation
Took about 45min to walk from visitor’s center to Treasury
Walked around Petra as far as royal tombs then hiked up to High Place of Sacrifice; actually rained off & on all afternoon
Ate dinner at local shawarma place
11/17
Got up at 8am and had breakfast
At Petra entrance by 10am; much fewer tourists so easier to take pictures; hiked all the way up to Al Deir “monastery”
Main complaint about Petra is visitor’s brochure and overall site could have better directional signs; also constantly had to watch where we stepped because of donkey manure
Drank a celebratory “we conquered Petra!” beer in Petra Palace Hotel’s bar, one of the few places in town that sells alcohol
Ate dinner at Moda Restaurant: kabsah
11/18
Info about Wadi Rum taken from a tour company: “…a beautiful desert oasis. For centuries the local Bedouin people pitched their tents here to water their flocks and so Rum has long been a central gathering point. Wadi Rum was the setting for the film "Lawrence of Arabia" which depicted the campaign of the enigmatic British officer T.E. Lawrence when he accompanied the Arab cavalry as it attacked and captured Aqaba from the Turks during the Great Arab Revolt of 1917-18 ACE.”
Obeid met us at visitors center and drove us to the camp
3hr 4WD tour of Lawrence of Arabia sites
Dinner was cooked in a sand pit - roasted chicken & potatoes, rice, cucumber salad, cucumber & tomato salad, pita bread, orange soda or Pepsi
Surprise birthday pound cake for Greg, eaten around the campfire + a free beer from Obeid’s brother
Would have seen more stars in the desert but the moon is getting full and was very bright - didn’t even need a flashlight to walk around at night!
11/19
Left camp immediately after breakfast so were in Aqaba by 9am; luckily hotel let us check in early
Walked down to seashore but it was windy so decided just to wade in the Red Sea, not swim or snorkel
There were many Arab women & girls swimming or wading in full burqas or in more modern clothing still covering entire body
Drove back into town (our hotel is on South Coast, 10km from Saudi border) which was extremely busy as it was Friday and thus their weekend; 6pk cans of Amstel was only 7JOD at Aqaba supermarket when we had to pay 5JOD per beer previously at hotels
Relaxed by the pool all afternoon
Ate fresh grilled whole fish for dinner
Started taking malaria medication (doxycycline)
11/20
Decided to take malaria medication as soon as I woke up (so no food in stomach); was nauseous and throwing up within 30min!
Ate breakfast then started driving north on Desert Highway towards QAIA
Highway signs covered with campaign posters but not as bad as on King’s Highway
Lane markers are suggestions only so have to use lights and/or horn to indicate you’re going to overtake someone so maybe they’ll move over into their lane
No rest stops and few gas stations along Desert Highway from Aqaba to Amman (over 300km)
many of the road signs were ENTIRELY covered by campaign posters; this one was an exception

Friday, November 19, 2010

One week in the Holy Land

Before any more time elapses, I want to post a few of my thoughts about Israel. True, we did not travel throughout the entire country but based ourselves in Jerusalem. We originally intended to spend five nights in the Old City, but I became ill with a debilitating headache about mid-way through our visit and thus we extended our stay to seven nights with the final two in Zion Square in the New City.

As usual, we did not have a set itinerary for this part of our trip other than knowing that we both wanted to visit as many of the holy sights as possible. Old City Jerusalem can be a bit overwhelming to the first time visitor with its maze of alleyways and layers upon layers of history. We decided the best way to orient ourselves was to take a free, three hour walking tour (tips appreciated) with SANDEMANs New Europe Tours, which we did on our first full day in Israel. While the tour only touches on the many sights in the Old City, it does provide a good, albeit condensed, overview of the city’s history. Most importantly, it helped us understand how the city is divided into different sections: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Armenian, etc. so we would know where we wanted to explore further.

After that first free tour with Sandemans, we decided to sign up for a (not free) four hour Bethlehem tour the following day. While Bethlehem is accessible by taxi or public transport, it is much easier to go on a guided tour, not to mention that our guide had connections at the Church of the Nativity which allowed us to bypass the VERY LONG lines to see the birthplace of Jesus. Also, as Bethlehem is technically in Palestinian-controlled territory, there are security checkpoints to negotiate.
Greg at the barrier wall between Israel & Palestine
I should also mention that we seriously considered hiring a private guide in order to get more out of our time in Israel. Based in part on recommendations from “Israel: A Personal Travel Guide,” a free 48 page PDF distributed via email by Douglas E. Duckett, I contacted both Sam Salem & Madeleine Levine. While Madeleine was not available, Sam was more than willing to guide us. However, his daily fee average for the Jerusalem/Bethlehem area is $300.00 (includes using his car) and Bethlehem as half day is $130.00. Galilee and the coastal sites (Caeserea; Akko & Haifa) are around $420.00 on one day basis. If you want to tour for 2 or 3 days up north to include the Golan Heights then the rate is $350.00 a day. Obviously this is quite a bit of money although I’m sure it would have been totally worth every penny. But, considering the length of time we are traveling and all of our other expenses, we ultimately decided to either sightsee on our own when feasible (Yad Vashem, Israel Museum), and use Sandemans for everything else.
Our guide Danny explains some history to us from the Mount of Olives overlooking Old Jerusalem
One place where we picked up some helpful information was the Jaffa Gate Tourism Center. They had good, free maps of Jerusalem as well as one page printouts detailing the location and opening/closing times of all the major sights. I also enjoyed reading the 20 page pamphlet “On the Paths of Christianity” which includes an Old City self-guided walking tour and information about all the Christian sects. We also obtained the necessary information as to how to cross the border into Jordan via public transportation, although they made it sound much easier than it actually turned out to be!
In summary, other than being stricken with the worst headache of my life, I found Jerusalem and the surrounding area to be a mostly enjoyable place to visit. Even in four days of active sightseeing, we barely scraped the surface of all there is to see and understand about the history of the city. Sometimes it was hard to get in the right mindset, religious or otherwise, to appreciate the importance of the area, as there are so many shops, restaurants, hotels, and other tourists “obscuring the view” so to speak. You will definitely be rewarded by early morning or late evening exploration as well as having plenty of patience to sit back and take it all in at a more relaxed pace.
view of Old City Jerusalem & beyond from the rooftop of the Austrian Hospice
Here is a list of some of the key sights we visited:
Mount of Olives: (where the gates of heaven will open up on Judgement Day)
Dome of the Ascension
Pater Noster (Our Father)
Jewish Cemetery
Dominus Flevit
Church of All Nations/Basilica of the Agony/Grotto (Gethsemane)
Tomb of Mary
Muslim Quarter:
Austrian Hospice
Via Dolorosa
Western Wall

Jewish Quarter:
Roof Promenade

Christian Quarter:
Church of the Holy Sepulcher
New City:
Mamilla Mall
Yad Vashem - The Holocaust History Museum, presents the story of the Holocaust from a Jewish perspective; divided into “chapters” telling the story in chronological order from “the Jewish world before the Holocaust” to “Hall of Names” commemorating all those who perished
Israel Museum - houses the most extensive holdings of biblical and Holy Land archaeology in the world; illuminated manuscripts; Shrine of the Book (Dead Sea Scrolls); 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period (66CE)
Machane Yehuda - Jerusalem’s market
Marakiah - Time Out calls it a “bohemian hole-in-the-wall” serving homemade soups; we had sweet potato & lentil with Staropramen draft beer
a busy Friday near closing time at Machane Yehuda market
Reflections on the Holy City (in no particular order):
  • Hearing the sound of church bells for the first time in many weeks 
  • Streets empty after 3pm on Friday; everything closed, buses stop running
  • Smell of freshly baked bread (oval sesame) in the morning
  • Sound & light show at David’s Tower could be heard from our hotel room multiple times per night 
  • New Imperial Hotel - quirky, lots of character, low water pressure, doors that don’t close, didn’t have reservation correctly in system so we had to change rooms for our last night, decent cold breakfast for $5, had to wear earplugs every night as not very soundproof and too much noise in alleyway at night
  • Jerusalem Hostel - first looked at “the nest” a cozy alcove on the roof but you have to cross outside to the other side of the roof to access the shared toilets & showers so stayed in a more expensive Class A room instead; “breakfast” is a relative term here (instant coffee & toast + spreads only)
  • 8 years to build light rail; still not running nor any sign of work being done in the week we were there (another sign of poor infrastructure)
  • Lots of littering, minimal recycling, dirt & dust in general although I did see a street sweeper on Jaffa St early Sunday morning
  • Lots of cats; come out at night to dig thru trash
  • The old city is overrun with touristy shops; got hassled more in the Muslim quarter
  • Everything expensive: food - average entrée 80NIS unless you order sandwich or fast food type meal and then more like 30NIS; accommodation in budget hotels averaged 300NIS per night; public transport reasonable at 6.20NIS per ride although not super efficient
  • Took 3 tours with SANDEMANs New Europe Tours; level of guiding varied; only complaint would be during Bethlehem tour, guide never gave an opportunity nor pointed out restrooms except at first stop; it was a 4+ hour tour! Said we were taking a break but took us to a tourist shop where they served us coffee/tea which we had to drink standing up as there was nowhere to sit
  • Tour groups at Yad Vashem - shouldn’t allow more than 10 people per group as the areas are not that large and the big groups would completely block access to the displays as well as impede forward progress
  • Israel Museum was nice, but as it has been recently renovated, needs more directional signs throughout; also, as we were there on Saturday, none of the cafes were open so there was nowhere to get anything to eat or drink on the entire property
  • Colors/sounds/smells of the market, bugling horn to signal close of business plus they came back to scold shopkeepers who did not appear to be closing fast enough
  • Wanted to take pictures of religious people (monks, nuns, etc.) but felt like I was intruding nor thought it appropriate to bother them to ask permission; so only took a few from a distance
  • Old city walkways are extremely slippery wet or dry as the stones are so worn down from millions upon millions of footsteps; also it is not flat so lots of uneven steps; because the “streets” are so narrow, almost impossible to orient yourself until you come to a more open area and can spot a landmark like one of the church domes or mosque minarets
  • Worst headache of trip so far - no medication not prescription migraine nor narcotics would ease it; stayed in bed all day with ice bags, feverish; gradually got better over following 24hrs but continued to have abnormal pressure behind both eyes
  • Bet Shean border crossing - bus 961 filled with young soldiers carrying machine guns with clips; waited one hour for connecting bus (16) but then it passed by without stopping, no taxis in sight the whole time; finally flagged down a taxi and paid 40NIS for a 5min ride; processed out of Israel (98.50NIS exit fee); paid 5NIS each to ride a bus across the river into Jordan

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pyramids & Palm Trees

“Egypt, or baksheesh for everyone” is what I really wanted to use as the title for this post, and while I think it is a fair assessment of reality, it doesn’t set a nice tone for my blog! As the mini guide book that the Egypt Air flight attendants distributed when we boarded our flight from Istanbul to Cairo states “In Arabic, tipping is called baksheesh and although not obligatory, it is expected in most situations.” I had been warned about this by my friends who had traveled to Egypt and it is mentioned in every guidebook and discussed on every travel website’s forum. But nothing can really prepare you for the daily hassle of determining how much money you should give each person you come into contact with or how to politely but effectively ignore all the random requests for money. From drivers, guides, handlers, attendants, and hangers-on at every tourist sight (including the tourist police!), everyone will ask for your “appreciation” and may even follow or harass you until they receive a satisfactory tip.

In addition to baksheesh, there are numerous businesses targeting the tourism industry: papyrus museums, perfume & incense factories, alabaster or other stone carving facilities, etc. Once you enter one of these places they make it very hard for you to leave. First there are personal introductions, followed by a demonstration of the method of production. Usually you are offered a complimentary beverage (tea or something similar), and there is a grandiose presentation of special “works of art” in their showroom. Then the hard sell begins and every attempt is made to counter any argument you might have about the cost, ability to transport the item, quality, etc. The salesmen will often act personally affronted if you do not purchase something from them or if you try to bargain to a very low price. Note that stops at these places are often included in group tours as many tour companies have contracts which make such visits mandatory.

Also, the Egyptian government basically forces tourists to exit each sight via a bazaar with semi-aggressive salesmen holding up clothing, scarves, statues, postcards, guidebooks, etc. and quoting a ridiculously low price to spark your interest. For example, 1 Egyptian Pound (less the US$0.20) for an embroidered white cotton scarf. However, if you try to give them just 1EGP the offer is quickly retracted or an excuse given as to why that is not the correct price for that particular item. So, in reality, if you really want the scarf you’d end up bargaining and paying something like 15EGP, possibly more. A fair price? Perhaps, but not exactly an enjoyable way of doing business!
the only exit from Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple site
These were some of the reasons I chose to work with a local travel agent to put together an itinerary for the Egypt portion of our RTW trip. I hoped that our personal guides would shield us from as much of the haggling as possible. Based on recommendations from friends & guidebooks, I first contacted (via email) five different companies this past July. Three are based here in Egypt, one is in the UK, and one in the U.S. I provided each of them with the same information: dates & flexibility of our travel plans, a detailed list of the sights I wanted to see, activities I did or did not want to do, some general info about Greg & I and how we are traveling, and a budget range. Based on their responses, I quickly narrowed the list down to two companies, one Egyptian, one British. And after a few more weeks of emails, I ultimately selected the Egyptian travel agent, Ramses Tours, to book our trip. This was primarily because they offered us more excursions, the Nile river cruise on a comfortable ship, and 5 star hotels for a comparable price as the UK agent quoted for a similar itinerary but with fewer excursions, the cruise on a felucca with no facilities and 3-4 star hotels. The other companies either could not provide the services I requested, did not respond in a timely manner, or quoted much higher prices.

We spent a total of $2688 for 9 nights/10 days in Egypt which was $488 more than the base price of $1100 per person for our tour. The additional cost was comprised of approximately $120 for meals & drinks not included in the tour, $200+ in tips, $104 for add-on activities (camel ride & felucca), and the remaining $60 included our Egyptian visas and miscellaneous costs like replacement sunglasses for Greg’s broken ones and restocking toiletries or other supplies.

Our customized itinerary included:
  • Guides & drivers, gas, parking, tolls, all transfers
  • 1 full day tour in Cairo (which was really only a half day tour so we paid extra for a felucca ride to kill some time before being dropped off at the train station)
  • 1 full day tour in Alexandria
  • Admission fees per person (EGP): Pyramids 60, Egyptian Museum 60, High Dam 20, Philae Temple 50, Kom Ombo Temple 30, Edfu Temple 50, Valley of the Kings: Three Tombs 80, Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple (Hatshepsut) 30, Karnak Temple 65, Luxor Temple 50, Montazah 6, Kom El-Shuqafa 35, Roman Theatre 20, Library 10 = total 566EGP = $98USD
  • Horse drawn carriage to/from Edfu temple
  • Motorboat to/from Philae Temple
  • 1 day use of Luxor Little Garden Hotel (not on original itinerary, complimentary add on by Ramses $35*)
  • 2 nights at Mercure Le Sphinx, Cairo w/breakfast (total value of $275*)
  • 1 night at Iberotel Aswan Hotel w/breakfast $200*
  • 1 night at Alexandria Azur Hotel w/breakfast $350*
  • 3 nights on Nile Saray river boat full board $500*
  • 2 nights on sleeper train including dinner & breakfast $240
*Note that I checked the hotel websites for their rates during the dates of our stay to help estimate if our tour represented an overall good value. We had the option to stay in 3-star hotels for $940 or 4-star hotels for $1020 (instead of $1100 for 5-star) but based on what we saw of 3* versus 5* properties, I definitely recommend the upgrade. 3* hotels in Egypt are comparable to backpacker hostels with private rooms and ensuite baths. They are not especially modern and can be a bit shabby, but seemed safe enough. A Four Seasons which is rated 5* in the U.S. would be more like 10* based on what we experienced. Bottom line, the rating system is strictly based on facilities, not on standards!
our room at the 5-star Iberotel Aswan
Not included:
Egypt visa $15pp
Tips - at our discretion…
Optional add-ons per person: inside pyramid $20, 15min camel ride $15 (we paid $25 for 30+min), mummy room at Egyptian Museum $20, felucca ride $20 for 30min (we paid $25 for 45min), sound & light show at pyramids $30, Abu Simbel day trip $90, Luxor hot air balloon $100, full day Sakkara pyramids + Memphis + Old Cairo $60, Cairo-Nile dinner cruise $45-60

Our tour did not start out as smoothly as I would have liked, but eventually we learned that things would fall into place, even if not exactly as we expected. Amongst other things, the person that greeted us at the airport in Cairo and transferred us to our hotel did not give us any information, particularly our final detailed itinerary which I only had as an email from Ramses (not a PDF attachment or anything more formal and excluding details like the name & location of our hotels, the tour start & end times each day, etc.). Also, the representative told us to check out of the hotel and to meet our guide in the lobby the next day at 10:00AM. The next morning our guide was quite upset when he arrived at 8:30AM and spent the next hour looking for us (while we were eating breakfast) as he had been instructed to pick us up at 9:00AM, not 10:00AM. Every day there was some issue related to the tour that was a bit annoying for us (e.g. we finally were given a printed itinerary on day 7 but it was the same as what had been sent via email and still had no details about pick-up & drop-off times, hotels, etc.). I have written a detailed review of the pros & cons of working with Ramses Tours on Trip Advisor for those of you reading this who are considering a trip to Egypt.

I really do not want to dwell on the negatives, as I have mentioned them to some extent in my daily log. Instead it is better to focus on the most enjoyable aspects of our tour of Egypt:
  • Riding camels at the Giza Pyramids
  • Kushari for lunch with our guide Hesham in Cairo
  • Steering a felucca on my own
  • Our suite on the Nile Saray (plus large, modern hotel rooms throughout our tour compared to the budget backpacker accommodations we’re more accustomed to on our RTW trip)
  • Vivid colors, drawings and hieroglyphics in the tombs in the Valley of Kings
  • Our helpful and informative guides who really educated us as to what we were seeing

Some factual information related to the sights we visited:

We traveled 899km from Cairo to Aswan one way or 1798km round trip via train & Nile river cruise. We then traveled 221km from Cairo to Alexandria one way or 442km round trip via private van.

Egypt’s history can be roughly divided into the following periods, and I have included the sights we visited from those times:
  • Old Kingdom c2700-2200BC: Giza Pyramids (Khufu, Khafra, Menkaura or Cheops, Chephern, Mycerinus) & Sphinx (represents strength & wisdom of Egypt)
  • Middle Kingdom c2080-1640BC: ancient city of Thebes/Luxor
  • New Kingdom c1550-1069BC: Temples of Luxor & Karnak, Tutankhamon’s tomb (only famous b/c of treasures), Valley of Kings tombs, Deir el Beheiri (Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple)
  • Ptolemaic & Greek era c305-30BC: temple of Horus at Edfu, Temple of Sobek & Haroeris at Kom Ombo, Temples on Philae Island
  • Roman & Christian Era c30BC-618AD: Roman Theatre in Alexandria
  • Arabic & Islamic Egypt 639-1517AD
Temple of Horus at Edfu
 Here are all of my photos from this leg of our RTW trip:
Egypt - Nile River Cruise

My Daily Log
10/29
Ramses contractor (Mostafa) met us at baggage claim exit; his only purpose was to retrieve us from the airport and check us into our hotel; both him & the driver talked on their cell phones at least half of the 1hr transit time
Interesting ride to hotel: wedding caravan with people piled on top of belongings in trucks and/or sitting on roof of vehicles, honking horns; donkey carts sharing 8 lane highway; camels & horses coming home from the Pyramids (it was almost dusk); people along side of highway waiting for or cramming into minivans
Nice, unexpected suite (3083) at Mercure Le Sphinx
I realized my contact lens solution had leaked during the flight and need to buy new bottle but nearest store (Carrefour) is 30min away according to concierge
Wanted to get some fresh air and look for something cheap to eat but concierge’s directions were not 100% clear and map wasn’t detailed enough; Greg attracted attention of tourist police (or guy dressed like them) who offered to lead us to the dining street but instead took us to a “papyrus museum” where we were practically forced to listen to salesman demonstrate the paper-making process and show us some artwork before the hard sell; drank complimentary hibiscus tea
Have already been asked multiple times where we are from, if we are married, have kids, etc.
After the papyrus hassle, plus it was completely dark, decided to return to hotel for dinner
Ate on rooftop terrace, disappointed pyramids were not well lit but still nice view when we could see them; listened to local musicians while I ate tabbouleh & hummus w/tahini and drank wine; discussed w/Greg how we could make up names & stories to tell touts just for fun

10/30
Buffet breakfast at hotel - busy, mostly Europeans
Went into lobby to use wifi; our guide Hesham found us there and was angry we weren’t ready to leave; we had been told 10am by yesterday’s guide and it was apparently supposed to be 9am…
Went to Giza Pyramids, walked around (not much to see unless you want to pay extra to go inside a pyramid), rode camels for about 30 minutes, returned to pyramids to see the Sphinx
Went to Egyptian Museum for about 2 hours, no cameras allowed inside, no air conditioning!, we didn’t pay extra to see the mummy rooms as there was enough to see otherwise
Had lunch at local kushari restaurant called Tom & Basal (garlic & onion)
Went on felucca ride; eventually driver asked if I wanted to steer the boat; I ended up “driving” it for at least 20 min of the 45min ride -- hard work on your back! -- at the end I even got to steer the boat into the parking spot, supposedly first time tourist has done that according to our guide
Drove to a supermarket so I could buy contact lens solution but they didn’t sell it; had to walk a long block to a mall that had a pharmacy; it was behind the counter so had to ask staff to retrieve it
Got dropped off at Giza train station; very dilapidated; no a/c seating area or safe place to store bags so sat at outdoor café surrounded by cigarette smoke to wait for 2 hours; had to pay 1LE to use toilets that were not exactly clean
Boarded train just after 8pm and had our own sleeper compartment with seats, fold down beds, sink; hot dinner was served within 30min of departure
Stayed up until 10:30pm then went to sleep

10/31
Woke up around 4:45am as others were getting ready to disembark train at Luxor
Ate light breakfast (asst breads); arrived at Aswan around 8:30am
Our guide Mina met us right outside our car’s door
Visited High Dam (you can only go on top of it, must get special permission to tour inside) & Philae Temple (reached by motorboat)
Checked in at hotel but then requested that Mina take us to local place (ie, falafel stand) to get lunch and duty free shop to buy beer & wine
Returned to hotel; ate lunch & drank a beer, showered, took 2hr nap
Lounged by the pool to watch the sun set
Worked online in hotel room, chatted with Mom on Google Talk
Ate dinner in hotel restaurant (nothing else nearby); only option was 140LE buffet or small “snack” menu; I ordered a cheeseburger with fries, it was actually pretty good
Returned to room to drink another beer; went to bed around 11pm

11/1
Got up around 8am; ate buffet breakfast
Power out for 2 hours at hotel but still had internet access so uploaded pics, posted Turkey blog, etc.
Mina picked us up at 1pm for short drive to our river cruise boat; interesting boarding process involved walking thru lobbies of two other boats to reach ours
spent 30min talking to Ramses Tour operators on Mina’s cell phone to sort out issues with our itinerary plus found out that flight to Tel Aviv is on Air Sinai not Egypt Air as we previously thought
Ate buffet lunch and went to our room; soon discovered (after exploring the rest of the boat) that we were in one of two suites! We have king size bed, huge sitting area, armoire, full size dresser, two nightstands, flat screen tv (with 6 channels but only works when we‘re docked), full size couch, etc. PLUS huge private outdoor terrace on the front of the boat
Sat outside on terrace taking pictures until we reached Kom Ombo; met our guide Samuel in the boat’s lobby to walk to temple (approx 1hr tour); Samuel’s favorite word is habibi which means “beloved”
Had to wait for one boat to move and another to park before we could board our boat again
Drank a glass of wine in our room then had dinner with our tablemates: a couple from Winchester, England whose daughter & her family lives & works in Cairo and a girl from Tokyo, Japan; other cruisers are a British tour group and a German tour group plus a few other “independents”
Our boat holds approx 100 passengers
Returned to room for another glass of wine and to do some writing before going to bed
Every place we stop, our boat is boarded by one or two machine gun-toting tourist police

11/2
Awoken at 4:45am by call to prayer from multiple mosques by the boat dock in Edfu
Meet Samuel in lobby at 6:45am
Horse drawn carriage to/from Edfu Temple; 1hr tour
Return to boat; eat breakfast
For a reason not yet explained, our boat doesn’t leave Edfu until 1:45pm but was supposed to leave at 9am
This means that we didn’t reach the Esna lock until 5:45pm and thus it was already dark
River scenes: fishermen “beating” the water, donkeys braying, cows lowing, birds migrating, sunset
Crossing lock was interesting; since we were late, all boats were coming from opposite direction; much shouting and arguing, flashing of spotlights; had great view from our terrace
Ate dinner; drank wine on sundeck with our dining companions
Finally reached Luxor at 10pm; belly dancing & whirling dervish-type performance in lounge
Ramses operator called to confirm our schedule for tomorrow; his every other word is inshallah (god willing)

11/3
Got up at 7:30; ate breakfast
8:45 p/u by Mohammed to tour Valley of Kings (tombs of Ramses IV, XI, III), temple of Hatshepsut, Colossi of Memnon
Returned to boat by 12:30; ate lunch
Didn’t realize until Mohammed made brief mention of it during our tour that the Luxor massacre by Islamist militants on 17NOV1997 was at Hatshepsut’s temple; 62 people were killed including 58 foreign tourists
Took nap (have had constant headache since 11/1)
Mohammed retrieved us again at 3:45pm; toured Karnak & Luxor Temples
Went into old mosque attached to Luxor Temple; man followed us around, tried to get money from us (“donation for the mosque/imam“)
Ramses Tour staff (Ehab) picked us up and brought us back to boat at 7pm
Ate dinner, showered & packed

11/4
Wake up call at 7am (which we didn’t request); another call at 7:30 to “eat breakfast now”
Checked out at 8:30 and walked to main road to await Ehab
Drove into downtown Luxor, toured local market where Ehab bought us some fresh mint, picked up falafel sandwiches from street vendor
Dropped us off at 3* hotel at 10am; drank complimentary hibiscus tea/juice
Rested in our room all afternoon as I continue to have a headache & now also stomach cramps
Ehab picked us up at 6:45pm and took us to train station; helped us board our train which departed at 7:30pm
Ate dinner on the train (included with ticket) and took various meds so I could try to sleep

11/5
Rough night on the train - the jolting was so bad that I actually considered using my luggage strap as a “bed belt” to better secure me in my top bunk
Got up at 4:45am; disembarked in Cairo at 5:30
Slept off & on during 3hr drive to Alexandria; highway was rough at times and had lots of diversions and security checkpoints so driver had to slow down to go over speed bumps and make sharp turns
Arrived in Alexandria by 9:15; waited at coffee shop for Heba, our first female guide!
Spent full day walking around/touring Montazah (king‘s palace gardens/waterfront), Kom El-Shuqafa (catacombs), Roman Theatre, & huge, modern Library with stop for lunch at shopping mall and to buy more Lamisil from a pharmacy
I felt awful all day and could barely stand up straight by the time we checked into the hotel around 5pm
Rested in room until 7pm but when we tried to go to the Lebanese restaurant on hotel property were told it was closed; ate dinner at hotel’s outdoor café with everyone around us smoking shisha; I had to try the local specialty “beef liver Alex” despite not eating anything else all day because of my stomach issues

11/6
Actually slept pretty well and only had to get up once during the night; virus seems to be almost out of my system however Greg now has diarrhea but no other symptoms so his may only be from food
Ate very light buffet breakfast
Relaxed in room until noon p/u for transfer back to Cairo
Scenes on drive from Alex: natural gas refinery, salt fields, soft drinking bottling plants, commercial farms, trucks hauling produce, donkey cart almost caused pile up, ramshackle tea & snack stands in middle of highway; realized that reason for all the diversions is road construction stretching all the way from Alex to Cairo but not obvious as to exactly what the end result will be
One rest stop around halfway point; small zoo (various animals in pens) attached; note that parking lot attendants “wash” (really wipe) your car whether you want them to or not and, of course, then you have to tip!
Arrived in Cairo just after 3pm; took 30+min to check into hotel for no apparent reason; room not nearly as nice as our suite from the first night
Lounged by the pool until sunset drinking Ceralyte (oral rehydration concentrate) YUCK!
Used free wifi in lobby
Ate dinner at hotel’s Italian restaurant - ordered two types of simple pastas and shared as we’re still suffering from digestive problems

11/7
Up at 5:15 for pre-6am p/u for airport; at airport by 6:30
Checked in, cleared immigration, no real seating area in Terminal 1 so left Greg in coffee shop while I went to VIP Lounge
Cleared security at gate around 8am - made us dump all liquids even if purchased in the airport (ie, bottled water, canned soda, etc.)
Bused to our very remote pad around 8:45; they made everyone positive id our checked luggage prior to boarding the plane
Note: The flight is operated by EgyptAir staff, with EgyptAir boarding passes, EgyptAir equipment, catering, etc. but our tickets said Air Sinai. The exterior of the plane was solid white with no airline affiliated markings of any kind. When I had our tour guide call EgyptAir directly in Aswan to reconfirm the flight they said it didn’t exist. Later, I looked it up on their website EgyptAir.com and sure enough, you cannot find Tel Aviv as a destination nor is that route listed in their inflight magazine.
With no explanation ever given, we sat trapped on the plane until almost 11am before finally taxiing out to the runway for takeoff (our scheduled departure time was 9am).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

3 month mark - Celebrating in style

As of today, 01NOV, we have been traveling for 3 full months. We actually left the U.S. on 30JUL but arrived in Sydney, Australia on 01AUG. I am lucky to be able to write this from our suite #307 on the river cruise boat Nile Saray. No, I did not book a suite! But our Egyptian travel agent seems to have good connections as we also had a suite at our hotel in Cairo. And, to my knowledge, we are not paying extra for these upgrades!
a real king size bed, not two twins pushed together!
large living room plus private outdoor terrace on the bow of the boat
The trip continues to go better than expected as we’ve had no major problems or illnesses. Greg’s athlete’s foot has improved but will require continuous monitoring and/or treatment for the duration of the trip. We didn’t have an opportunity to weigh ourselves until recently and discovered that Greg is down to 178lbs (he weighed 194lbs at the start of the trip and 230lbs just over one year ago) and I am down to 135lbs (weighed 143 initially). I’m sure we may have lost a bit of our muscle mass & tone from the regular exercising we were doing in the months prior to the trip, but we continue to walk the equivalent of multiple miles per day and have to carry our 30lb backpacks & 10lb day bags (when fully loaded with our laptops & other gadgets) often enough!

As mentioned in my previous post on Turkey, my mom & step-dad met us in Istanbul and traveled with us for 6 days which we thoroughly enjoyed. I do wish more of our family & friends could meet up with us during our trip!
Diane & Ronnie Campbell (my mom & step-dad) on Wish Hill in Urgup, Turkey
I do have a few gear malfunctions to mention:
  • One of the carrying handles on my REI backpack pulled apart at the seam while we were in Hong Kong. My mom brought heavy duty needles & thread to Turkey and I reattached it. It’s holding up well for now.
  • Greg’s sunglasses (a pair of my expensive Maui Jim’s) keep coming apart at the hinge. Apparently the screw hole is almost stripped so we’ll have to purchase a cheap pair as backups.
  • Our Tevas smell like sweaty feet no matter how thoroughly we scrub them with soap!
  • The battery in my multipurpose compass/whistle/magnifying glass/flashlight/thermometer seems to have died, but the only thing that no longer works is the thermometer.
I swapped a few items for some that I asked my mom to bring:
  • Another pair of Columbia Mumbai Mover pants and a second ExOfficio knee-length skirt in exchange for my REI capris that were too big.
  • I sent my not-sturdy-enough Merrell street shoes & broken PacSafe purse home, along with some paper souvenirs (ticket stubs, maps, etc.) and a couple of small gifts.
  • My mom also brought my large Nokia daypack to use on travel days so it will be easier to fit my computer, camera, snacks, etc. into one carry-on bag, but I still kept my smaller REI daypack for sightseeing days. She also brought hand sanitizer as we only found small, expensive bottles in Hong Kong and needed to refill our reusable GoToob’s.
After leaving Turkey we will be in parts of the world I have never visited before. This was also true for Australia & New Zealand but they are not as “exotic” or as different from the U.S. compared to the Middle East & Africa. Generally everywhere we have traveled so far I have been the de facto tour guide/travel planner because of my prior experience in those countries. This will continue to a certain extent, but Greg & I will be operating from closer to the same level of knowledge and experience going forward. Greg also contributes by providing historical context (a particular subject of interest for him), weather info, and any local or international news that might be relevant to our travels. He reads Wikipedia & other sources before and/or after we visit a particular country, city, sight, etc. to fill in any missing info as we aren’t carrying guidebooks and rarely take guided tours or rent audio guides.
a rare exception to our "we'll figure it out ourselves or just make it up as we go" rule
One less pleasant subject is that I am starting to worry about our trip finances because we have already spent a large sum of money and will be traveling in relatively expensive places for the next month. We paid for our Kenya & Tanzania safari before we left the U.S. so the only expenses during those 12 days will be a few meals, drinks & tips. That leaves approximately 23 days in Israel, Jordan and South Africa before we reach more budget-friendly Southeast Asia and India. We continue to log our expenses daily and have a Google spreadsheet that accounts for our individual expenses as well as our combined expenses. The bottom line is that we have found our mutual comfort zone in terms of what travel conditions we’re willing to endure and sometimes that varies according to the country we‘re in. Also, as we have allotted a set amount of days or weeks to visit certain areas (because we have already purchased most of our onward plane tickets), we can’t “waste” time (but potentially save money) by traveling the more traditional backpacker routes. I have no doubt that we’ll be able to stretch our allocated funds to get us to Europe but how long we can stay there and where we can go afterward will be largely determined by our finances. No matter what happens, I have no regrets about what we have done so far and am confident that I made the right decision to take this trip now as opposed to later in life!

I wouldn't trade this for anything, would you?!?!
Postscript:
08NOV - I wrote the majority of the above post on 01NOV. Of course, I spoke too soon concerning our good health! Within 24hrs of that writing, Greg’s case of athlete’s foot had flared up again and for the first time I noticed signs of the fungus on one of my toes. I also suffered four consecutive days of migraines (always in the same region of my head) which my prescription medication did little to help. That was immediately followed by three days of stomach cramping & diarrhea. Over the past couple of days Greg has also had diarrhea although I suspect his is just food related as he has had no other symptoms of illness. Fun, fun!

Monday, November 1, 2010

A foray into Europe (but not really)

Greg and I arrived in Istanbul on 18OCT. This will be the closest we get to the U.S. until we return to Europe sometime in February or March next year. We were not just geographically close as my mom & step-dad also flew to Istanbul to travel with us for a few days. Since we were traveling together for about half of our time in Turkey, I did not have much spare time for writing but kept a daily log of our activities which I will include at the end of this post. Before I forget, here are the links to my Picasa web albums:
Istanbul
Cappadocia
Kusadasi

My opinion, based on this visit as well as multiple previous visits (on a Windstar cruise in 2002 and on layovers when I was a flight attendant), is that Turkey is highly doable on your own. You will be generally welcomed everywhere; eat delicious food; and be captivated by the sights, sounds & even smells everywhere you go. Note that you will encounter some language barriers; you will get hassled to “buy this” or “eat here“; you will probably have to use a squat toilet at some point and there may not always be toilet paper or paper towels in the public restrooms; and you will be awoken by the call to prayer broadcast from the nearest mosque. But these are not all bad things; they just add to the authenticity of your Turkey experience!
a "fancy" public restroom
A few tips if you’re planning your own trip to Turkey: Check out the Rick Steves Turkey tour itineraries to see where they visit plus how long it takes to get from A to B by private bus. Based on many years of experience using his guidebooks & tour info to plan my Europe trips, if his tour goes there, it’s probably worth it! I also highly recommend the Turkey Travel Planner website for tons of useful, practical information plus discounts & special offers on lodging in particular.

Here are a few of my observations in the form of likes & dislikes during our 11 days in Turkey:

POSITIVE
  • Helpful, friendly staff at hotels although not all spoke English
  • Better roads than expected but be prepared for aggressive driving
  • Pictures don’t capture the mostly wonderful smells (spice bazaar, earthiness of potato farms, grilled meat) and sounds (call to prayer, hot air balloons, silence in caves, storms coming in from the Aegean)
  • Complimentary “Mediterranean” breakfasts (cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, yogurt, breads, etc.) and Turkish food in general
  • Visiting with Mom & Ronnie, of course!


NEGATIVE
  • Aggressive waiters at outdoor restaurants in Istanbul trying to get you to eat/drink there; similar in Kusadasi but less extreme; surprisingly shopkeepers at the bazaars were much less confrontational and, in fact, were less willing to bargain
  • Some areas in Cappadocia are overrun with tourists and not really protected or well managed.
  • There was almost always a line for the women’s toilets. For example, at Goreme Open Air Museum there were 4 women’s toilets (only one Western style) and no toilet paper for about 20 busloads of tourists. At Kayseri airport’s domestic arrivals area there was 1 women’s toilet for a planeload of passengers!
  • “Fleecing” of tourists - $20 visa, high admission costs to see sights (average $15 per person per sight), pay-per-use public toilets
  • Pushy guides at sights trying to sell personal guided tours, guidebooks, etc. Watch out for their intro line, “Where are you from?”
  • Hot air balloons in Goreme -- expensive for what you get ($250 for max one hour ride with 20 other people in basket); too many balloons in air at same time and no obvious safety standards concerning how close balloons should be allowed to buildings & natural features but they are certainly beautiful to see from the safety of a balcony or terrrace
  • Unable to check in more than 2 hrs before domestic flights so spent a lot of time sitting in airports instead of nice lounges
  • Budget airlines are really budget -- you can check up to 20 kg per person for no charge but carry-ons are restricted to 7-8 kg; everything served on plane, including water, is for purchase
whoa, that's a lot of tourists!
My trip log:
10/18
After 9hr flight from Bangkok, arrived AMM; slept & ate breakfast at Crown Lounge (free entry w/Priority Pass) to kill 5 hours
2+hr flight to IST; over 30 min waiting in line to purchase Turkish visa and then to clear immigration
Got bags quickly from carousel and spotted driver with sign then Mom right behind him
1hr drive to Erboy Hotel due to traffic around Sirkeci area
Checked in, drank complimentary glass of Turkish tea, reviewed local map with concierge
Settled into our quad room (1 double bed, 2 singles)
Walk around Sirkeci neighborhood and the spice bazaar
Ate dinner at Ozler Restaurant on sidewalk with cats playing at our feet

10/19
Awake at 6:30 but stayed in bed until everyone else started getting up around 7:15
Ate large free breakfast at hotel
Walked out door @ 10am
Intended to start our sightseeing day at Hagia Sophia but lines were too long so went to Blue Mosque first, then Yerebatan Cistern
Lines were shorter at Hagia Sophia by that time so we only waited about 15min
Drank canned Efes beer outside in park
Walked to Beyazit Mosque then through Grand Bazaar and along waterfront
Sat inside Yeni Mosque for prayer service
Walked across Galata Bridge and back
Ate dinner at outdoor doner restaurant
Bought beer from supermarket to drink in our hotel room

10/20
Slept until 8am, ate breakfast, walked out @ 11am
Topkapi Palace - entry 20TLY but to get into Harem area was another 15TLY so we only did the main areas; sultan’s clothing was very large; Treasury rooms: 86 carat diamond; Islamic artifacts: footprint & beard of Mohammed, staff of Moses, etc. (didn’t realize it was a pilgrimage site until I saw the crowds)
Walked to Suleymaniye district to see old wooden residences, very much deteriorated
Tried to stop for beer at one of the outdoor cafes near the mosque but they are not allowed to serve alcohol
Suleymaniye Mosque is being completely renovated and thus closed but still could enter surrounding tombs of Kanuni & Hurrem Sultan Suleyman
Helped my mom buy spices from Nil Baharat & tasted lots of dried fruits & nuts
had drinks at Hamdi rooftop restaurant
Walked through spice market looking for soaps for Mom but too expensive 4-10TLY each; tasted then bought pistachio pomegranate nougat candy
Ate dinner at our hotel’s restaurant; I had the  “Sultan’s favorite veal stew“, house red wine, comp breads & fava + oil dip -- DELICIOUS!

10/21
Up at 5am; 6:15p/u (1hr ride) to SAW for 8:40 flight
1hr flight; short ride to SunRent office in Kayseri to sign paperwork for our rental car
Finally found place to get lunch to go (chicken doner wraps)
1hr drive to Goreme; checked in at Cave Life Pension and got intro to area by Mustafa
Drove to nearby sights: Pasabagi, hiking in Dervent Valley, Wish View hill in Urgup/Ortahisar, wine tasting at Turastan winery, walk around Uchisar
Dinner: 20TRY set menu at restaurant on busy main road; good food but service was spotty
Laundry was not dry on roof so moved inside in case it rained

10/22
Up with prayer call then with sound of hot air balloons
Nice breakfast: boiled eggs, salami, 2 cheeses, olives, tomatoes, bread & jam, coffee/tea
30min drive to Kaymakli (underground city) - certified guides there were very pushy and said that we wouldn’t get anything out of it on our own but we had already paid 15TRY pp for entrance and cheapest the guides would offer was another 10TRYpp; once we were underground I listened to some of the French tour guides and picked up some info and yes, would have understood more of what we were seeing with a guide but we can always look it up online afterwards for free!
1hr drive to Ilhara Valley mostly past farmland - locals harvesting pumpkin seeds & potatoes by hand
Ate lunch in Belisirma on river
Hiked south along valley floor; climbed up to one church but frescoes mostly destroyed by vandalism; continued south but after walking another 30min we still had not seen signs for another church so we turned around; luckily a young man from the town of Ilhara offered to show us the nearest 3 churches which also meant repeating our trek south another 5min past where we turned around! Frescoes were in better shape overall and churches larger with interesting design but still not protected from vandalism
Returned to restaurant where we had parked as sun was setting; we ended up hiking for 2.5hrs total
Drove to Selime to see cave monastery in fading light
Returned to Goreme via reverse of daytime route; full moon lit the way, mostly large transport trucks on roads, but some farm tractors (many people still working/loading trucks with huge bags of freshly harvested potatoes) & cars; saw mice running across the road
Ate dinner at Cappadocia Kebap Center (local place in town): chicken doner wraps, crispy fries with mayo/ketchup/chili pepper sauce I concocted

10/23
Awoke to sound of prayer call then hot air balloons but when I looked out, many fewer than yesterday; totally overcast, even foggy, so low visibility
After breakfast decided to stay at Cave Life tonight instead of driving to Konya or another nearby town; moved Mom & Ronnie’s bags into our room
Goreme Open Air Museum - many tour groups, had to wait in line to enter small viewing areas for churches; interesting frescoes but again many almost destroyed by vandals; decent explanation signs in 4 languages (Turkish, English, French, German); more fleecing - charged extra 8TRY to enter one church even after we had already paid 15TRY to enter the “museum“!
Drove back into main part of town to browse souvenir shops - Mom was looking for particular gifts; surprisingly shopkeepers did not seem willing to bargain very much; bought pumpkin seeds from old farmer selling from his car in parking lot, also tasted sun-dried apricots wrapped around almonds, local grape juice-derived candy (like nougat), other dried fruits
Ate lunch at Fat Boys - slightly Westernized hangout
Back to hotel to finish packing then load up for drive to Kayseri airport; took about 1.15hr
Half tank of diesel at 3.10/liter cost 80TRY
Stopped at doner shop so Mom & Ronnie could get some food to take with them as it is expensive at the Turkey airports
Heavy security around airport; no other passengers or drop-off vehicles anywhere
Greg & I drove back to Goreme alone L; picked up chicken doner wraps from same place we ate last night but got them to go
Tried to check email (no wifi in our room); had to sit with Mustafa and about 8 other local guys who were watching TV in the small common room

10/24
Prayer call @ 5:45am; got up at 7:30
Talked to students from Georgetown on semester abroad in Istanbul (history & international business majors); power out for about 30min so sat in candlelight
Ate breakfast & used internet
Drove through Urgup: saw men raking pumpkin seeds
Mustafapasa - walked around town, liked the variety of painted doors, cats, donkeys, emptied pumpkins
Cemil - abandoned Christian church from early 1900’s
Returned to Goreme, bought local wine, snacked on pumpkin seeds in room
Walked into town, had dinner at same café (Cappadocia Kebap Center) - good food, reasonable prices

10/25
Didn’t wake up to prayer call today but did hear hot air balloons around 7am
Ate breakfast - love the fresh-made deep-fried cheese bread
Drove to Kayseri; planned to buy durum (chicken wraps) before going to airport but shopkeeper wasn’t serving until 1pm
Dropped off at airport at 10:45; flight not until 3:35
No wifi at airport so edited photos offline
No restaurant in domestic terminal only small snack shop
Finally checked in for our flight at 1:45pm
Walked to international terminal (which wasn’t technically open at that hour) to eat in upstairs restaurant which only served the “meal of the day” - a lamb, potatoes & rice dish, some breads, and chicken wraps
Ate lunch while watching Turkish Air Force planes take off
Returned to domestic terminal; went thru two security screenings then boarded flight by walking on tarmac
1hr flight to Izmir
Had previously arranged taxi service through our hotel; 1hr drive to Kusadasi while sun set - lots of farmland, greenhouses
Easy check in at hotel but very little intro/info offered
Walked around pedestrian area just below our hotel; ate dinner at local restaurant “Yuvam” as recommended by hotel staff
Oddly the restaurant appeared closed but when we stood in front of their door the owner said “Villa Konak?” as if he knew we were coming and promptly moved a table & 2 chairs into the alley; no menu, only option to eat meat, roasted eggplant, white beans, pickled asparagus, rice, bread for 15TRY each; ordered 2 beers but noticed that waiter went to nearby market to buy them (for 3TRY each) then sold them to us for 5TRY each; food was delicious but we did have to contend with cigarette smoke, screeching pull-down doors of closing shops, the usual scrounging felines
Returned to hotel to shower, sleep

10/26
Slept in today (until 8:30) but still woke up to nearby mosque’s morning call for prayer at 5:47; last night we noted that the times for prayers are posted and change slightly every day; seem to correspond to lunar cycles…
Nice leisurely breakfast albeit alone in hotel’s dining room: boiled eggs, fresh yogurt, asst homemade jams, fresh fruit, olives, salami, cheeses, breads, muesli or corn flakes, coffee or tea
Started storming off & on and we wanted to catch up on photo uploads, etc. so sat on terrace for several hours while the rain showers passed
Hotel staff called Egypt Air to confirm our flight to Cairo on the 29th
Eventually went for a walk along the waterfront: fishermen, cats waiting for a catch, other strollers - mostly European/German; got Greg’s hair cut - villa owner’s son walked us to his barber
Stopped in tourist info office to ask about bus to Ephesus but man wasn’t very helpful - didn’t speak much English
No cruise ships in port today so very few people on streets and shopkeepers not too pushy
Bar street was deserted, still closed at 6pm
Came back to hotel and drank our free red wine on terrace
Ate dinner at nearby Turkish pizza shop; pizza & chicken wings in cast iron skillet

10/27
Got up at 7:30 with alarm; ate breakfast while it poured rain
Walked to dolmus stop about 5min from hotel; took dolmus about 30min to Ephesus
Took fixed rate taxi to upper gate; arrived along with first tour buses; no ships in port in Kusadasi but apparently at least one Costa ship was in Izmir - lots of German & French tourists, some Asians
Rented one audio guide for Greg; I navigated with the free map; took us about 3 hrs to walk the whole site at leisure
Lots of cats; I don’t particularly remember any from my first trip in 2002
Took dolmus into Selcuk; walked 20min to St John’s Basilica and toured the site, then to Isabey mosque nearby
Walked into town and had snack (Turkish sandwiches) at local café
Took dolmus back to Kusadasi; checked out local Tansas supermarket as we need to purchase a few supplies tomorrow
Returned to hotel; sat outside on terrace, chatted with mom on Google Talk, drank complimentary Turkish tea with breads, then later beer
Had dinner near hotel at small doner shop: bean & salami soup with bread

10/28
Woke up to pouring rain, ate breakfast, dropped off laundry, bought supplies (deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste) at Tansas supermarket; only sell large bottles of multipurpose solution (for around $20!) and dental floss was around $5 so we’ll wait to buy that in Egypt
Spent majority of day on terrace doing trip research for Israel & Jordan
Entertained by talkative gray cat
Drank beer, had afternoon tea
Picked up laundry (most expensive yet at about $34 for two loads)
Got hair cut by same barber who cut Greg’s hair 2 days ago; always interesting to see how different cultures “interpret” a short hairstyle for women; so far all barbers on trip have been men; drank complimentary apple tea
Ate dinner at outdoor table on main pedestrian street but it was windy & much cooler

10/29
Got up at 4:30 for 5am taxi (1hr drive) to ADB airport
Ate our breakfast sandwiches (cheese & cucumbers) that hotel had prepared for us
45min flight to IST; sat and even napped on benches in departures area from 8am-noon waiting to check in for our 2pm flight
Finally checked in and cleared immigration; spent 1hr in business lounge
Had to go through another security check at gate
2+hr flight to Cairo