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Egypt/Turkey/Paris

Egypt / Istanbul, Turkey with Aunt Carol / Paris, France with Bruce, Elsa and Nana

Saturday January 15th, 2005 – As we pack and get ready for our trip I got the cat carrier out for emergencies in case the woman who takes care of them, needed to take them to a vet for something.  Scarlett heard the jingle of the bolts as I assembled it, I saw her peak her head around the corner then take off to the other room with her tail low.  Whenever they see the luggage come out they know something is about to change with the routine.  Later I found her behind the futon bed in our office and I had to pull her out backwards by her tail.  I couldn’t leave without giving her some belly rubs.

I always feel a slight hesitation when we leave on a trip, the drive from our apartment to the airport is 45 minutes.  You can see the congestion of the city, gradually turn to countryside as the city fades behind.  The recent days have been very hot, typical for this time of year.  The air feels hot as it blasts through the window.

We get a pleasant surprise at check-in, we were flying with “Iberia” airlines and they said they over booked the flight so they put us in business class.  WOO HOO!  I’ve never traveled business class so I was looking forward to that.  We got on the plane and was directed to our spacious seats. When the food service started Ron was saying “This is the way to travel!”  I always had a fear if I ever saw business class I’d never go back to “roach coach” tourist class.  I was feeling this was going to be the case as we had a salad of crab and shrimp, and an incredible merluza fish.  I couldn’t believe how good it was.

Sunday January 16th, 2005 – We arrived at 5 am and our flight from Spain to Cairo didn’t leave until 17:00 that afternoon.  It was about 2 centigrade outside and we had left our coats in our luggage.  With hardly any sleep on the plane and the change of time zones and no warm clothes, we decided to stick it out at the airport until our afternoon flight.  We snoozed and read the day away.

Monday January 17th, 2005 – We arrive at the Cairo airport at 1:00 am and were met by Islam our guide.  We gathered our bags and took a van to our hotel 25 kilometers away.  Drivers in all big cities seem to all be crazy and this seemed to be no exception.  The first thing we noticed upon arriving at the hotel was there was several guards at the car entrance to the hotel, then once in there were concrete barriers that the driver had to navigate through, so there was no straight shot to the front of the building.  As we entered, there were several more guards and an X-ray machine for bags and a metal detector to walk through.  I thought it good they had security but also felt a little ill at ease that such measures are necessary.  Such is how the world is today. 

Dinner was included so even though it was 1:30 am, Ron wanted to have something to eat.  We got in bed at 2:48 am and had a restless sleep, which always happens the first night in a strange place, waking up in the middle of the night wondering “Where am I?”  We woke at 8:00 am for breakfast and our tour of the pyramids.

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View of Cairo and the Nile from our hotel

Our guide today was Hesham, a very personable guy who started telling us about the history of Egypt as we wormed our way through the bustling Monday morning rush hour traffic.  Hesham was telling us of the explosive growth in their population, Cairo and the surrounding area being about 18 million today with a total population of 70 million.  Egypt is a large country but only 5% inhabitable, the rest being desert.  As the city has spread, it has started to creep “around” the pyramids, the government has made the pyramids and surrounding area a historical landmark, but it is still interesting how the city is circling around them.  To me, this was the most profound contrast, it was amazing to spy the pyramids through the modern buildings as we approached.  On arrival at the pyramids I noticed a lot of police and rifles and not as many tourists as I anticipated.  Hesham got out and took us around the pyramids explaining theories on construction and religious significance.

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The largest of the 3 most famous pyramids was constructed in a period of between 26-32 years. Quite amazing!  The pyramids seemed to lose all perspective as you walked up to them looming so far above you.  Hesham was saying as you looked up it looked like an infinite road to paradise and I had to admit I was thinking something very similar as I peered at this road leading into the beautiful blue sky.  Hesham was saying we were very lucky as the day before it was very humid and the air hung thick and dirty over the city.  Today the sky was beautiful and clear.

We drove around and observed the famous sphinx which is situated “in front” of the 3 large Giza pyramids.  As you approach these famous monuments you’ve seen pictures of your entire life, you think “Gee, it looks smaller in person” but that’s only because of the large scale of everything.  As you get nearer you think “Oh my GOD!”  The monuments are all so large.

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Hesham then took us to a papyrus store for a much needed pottie stop and to see how papyrus paper is made.  We were then shown around the gallery to look at the paintings displayed.  A young woman came up to show me around while a gentleman helped Ron (divide and conquer).  The woman started talking about the images representing the Egyptian beliefs and God and the after life.  She explained she studies theology in university.  She kept probing and asking questions on my faith, with me internally groaning, so finally I had to give her my agnostic beliefs.  Being raised catholic and attending catholic grade school I told her I was very disenchanted with organized religions, saying that I think they are created to control people for the monetary gain and power that comes with it.

“But do you believe in an after life and heaven and hell?” she asked.

Persistent person!

Avoiding the question, I told her belief and faith are very personal, how can I tell her what to believe?  How can anyone tell me what to believe?

This seemed to cause her to blink a lot and stutter her continuous questions.

Another question, “Do you believe in right and wrong?”  She wasn’t letting up and I was actually beginning to enjoy her continuous questions.

“I think it’s wrong to kill a person!”, I replied, “So of course I believe in right and wrong, but who am I to tell you what to think or what to believe, the mark of an educated person is to listen to all opinions, ideas, theories and hypothesis and then make up your own mind.”  This seemed to cause much more blinking.

We continued this banter as we walked around the room looking at the painted papyrus art.  There was a nice piece I saw and thought of a good place for it above the bed.  Hesham said he would order us some Turkish coffees but my lady guide insisted it was an Egyptian coffee.  “Yeah, whatever!”  We waved our goodbyes with our purchases tucked under our arms and headed for a very nice lunch. 

Hesham was very interesting as we talked about currency stability, mortgages, banks and credit in Egypt.  Comparing it to Argentines total distrust of financial institutions.

We then headed along a fertile valley to Memphis, the original capital of Egypt.  We visited an outdoor museum of  Rammes II.  Quite amazing but I was glad when Hesham said he wasn’t spending much time explaining a lot of the broken stones as we’ll see much nicer things in the coming days.

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Next stop was an ancient “step” pyramid dating to 2800 B.C.  In the great redwood forests in northern California I was always impressed with the thought that a tree stood in one spot for 100’s of years, here was a pyramid that has been looking at the same sky and horizon for 4,800 years, really blows the mind.

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                                                                                                             This was the gate to the "step" pyramid.

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Traffic was heavy and congested on the way back to the hotel, something that Hesham said is all to common in this ancient city that was established way before the need for highways.  I usually have a very good sense of direction but was noticing that I was having trouble keeping my bearings since we arrived in Cairo, then I noticed a long shadow and I realized that for the last 4 years we’ve been living in Argentina south of the equator and the shadows are all “reversed”, now trying to keep my sense of direction, I realized I wasn’t used to seeing the sun come from the south.  Suddenly my sense of direction popped back into focus.

Tuesday January 18th, 2005 – Another early day with a 3:30 am wakeup call.  Still waiting for my first good night of sleep.  We head to Luxor to pickup our Nile cruise boat.  The flight was only an hour and our new guide took us directly to the cruise boat.  Luckily our room was ready and we were able to take a 3 hour nap before lunch.  The first tour was to “The valley of the kings” on the west bank of the Nile.  Here we visited 3 of 62 discovered tombs.

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This period of pharaohs thought that it was safer to hide your tomb underground then having a pyramid built where it would be obvious where you and your fortune were buried.  They thought this was a great place to hide, although I figured if they’re all in the same place, it’s just as obvious where it’s likely robbers will look.  This is also where king Tut was discovered in 1922, the reason for the incredibly beautiful objects found in his tomb was that it was the only tomb ever found that hadn’t been opened before and looted.  Next we visited “The valley of the queens” and then the “Temple of Siti”. 

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They always talk about the Nile as the giver of life and as you are touring around it’s so obviously apparent, you see lush fertile valleys along the Nile and then 5 minutes later inhospitable desert, with not a blade of grass or dried up bush, NOTHING.  The two valleys of the kings and queens were so dry and arid, picked for that reason, but to see people building mud brick houses out in this wasteland, one wonders where they buy their groceries.  There “appears” to be nothing around them put windowless homes.  It looks like it might have looked, 1,000s of years ago, except for maybe the electric wires running to the homes and as you drive by their open front door you see a television turned on inside.  As we drove back to the hotel, looking at the mud brick homes lining a wide irrigation ditch, men and boys fishing in the water, men riding donkey driven carts, donkeys eating grasses in front of homes, what a stark contrast to how most western people have grown up.

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Back at the boat Ron and I had a few rum and cokes in the bar before heading to a light and sound show at the temple of Karnak, a magnificent temple with 40 meter high gates, inside were 23 meter columns, just unbelievable.  The light show included some stories projected through loudspeakers, with actor’s voices of kings and queens and their lives, kind of silly but to look above and see the stars, enormous columns and stone monuments that are dated 3,200 years ago, you just can’t wrap your mind around it.  The lights threw long seductive mysterious shadows along the hieroglyphics.  We returned to the boat to have a late dinner which was very nice but we missed the belly dancer, the entertainment for the evening.

I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of Ron being sick, kind of like home waking the sound of barfing cats.  Never a good sound to wake up to.

Wednesday January 19th , 2005 – 6:30 am wakeup call.  Still waiting for my first good night’s long sleep!  Ron was feeling pretty bad so he decided to skip the 7:00 am tour to Karnak temple.  This is where we saw the light show and it was interesting to see the difference in the day to the dramatic shadows of the night before.

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Next we stopped at Luxor Temple, a temple that was also incredible with enormous columns, courtyards and temples.

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We returned and I checked on Ron, he seemed OK but didn’t want to have lunch so I had some bananas and yogurt send to the room.  After lunch I went up to the rooftop of the boat watching as we drifted down the Nile, the sides lined with simple mud brick homes and palm trees.  It’s winter but still very nice in the day in the sun, however, the evenings get very cold.  I hope Ron can make dinner this evening. 

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Had a nice time talking with Mohammed, an Egyptian from Cairo also vacationing here.  We passed through a lock in the river, as we waited to go through on the rooftop area, small boats came up along side with vendors selling things.  We laughed as they held up goods to display them, the cruise ship is 4 levels tall and quite high.  How were they going to get the items on board and how were we going to pay them?  It soon became obvious as bags of clothes started sailing over the railing dropping on us like bombs, some even landing in the pool in the center of the rooftop deck.  People were pulling the shirts, scarves and table cloths out of the bags to look at them.  The boat has many nationalities of tourists and exchanges and shouts were in many languages.  It was amazing the amount of languages these boat vendors could communicate in, at least in terms of money.  Shouts of bargains were still being made as the locks opened for us to enter, this seemed to only increase the intensity of the negotiations.  Bags were still being thrown on board and some empty plastic bags filled with money were being tossed overboard.  We entered the lock and still the vendors ran along the sides of the lock as the military security guards shouted at them.

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Following the lock was an older bridge with a drawbridge.  There were 7 boats lined up heading north and 8 boats going south.  I went down to wake up Ron and see how he was doing, they were about to have tea time and I thought it would be good for his stomach.  As he arrived we were just getting our turn through the drawbridge.  Luckily Ron was feeling better and he had some tea and cookies. Ron joined me for dinner so it looked like he was recovering nicely.

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Thursday January 20th, 2005 – 7:00 am wake-up call, breakfast, and then off to see Edfu Temple.  We had arrived by horse drawn buggy which was quite an experience, the driver stopped to take our pictures with our cameras, of course expecting a tip.  He fumbled with Ron’s camera and took a picture of mostly sky, I tipped him a USA dollar as I had no coins, like most places it’s almost impossible to get change from anyone so all I have is big bills.  The other passengers in our horse drawn buggy were Jordanian and could speak with the driver, although they said he spoke a very crude version of Egyptian Arabic, they said, “That is too much” when I told them I gave him a dollar tip.  We had an equally harrowing ride back to the boat and continued on with our trip down the Nile.

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                                                                                                                                 Street Traffic!

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Edfu Temple was most impressive temple so far because it was so intact.  Unfortunately many of the relief’s had been defaced, no one knows who defaced them, but the damage in places was criminal.

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                                                                                                         This Falcon is almost 20 feet tall

This was my first visit to a middle eastern country.  The Egyptian’s way of speaking is very forceful and loud, they shout a lot, you think some fight is about to break out but you look and 2 people are just having a conversation.  I’m now reconsidering my perception of middle eastern demonstrations you see on the television, when you see them all jumping and shouting, I think that’s their version of a peaceful demonstration.  Yelling and shouting seem to be the norm, however, I’m not sure how to differentiate between that and anger.  I’m not saying they are a mean or nasty violent people, when we enter an exhibit and I say “hello” to the attendants, I get smiles and nods of genuine warmth, Egyptians seem to be very friendly towards tourists.

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  Our Boat, more like a square barge but very comfortable!                      Each room had a nice balcony

We had a BBQ lunch on the rooftop patio of the boat for lunch as we sailed to Kom Ombo.  We were able to walk to this temple from the boat, which was a relief after the morning horse buggy ride.  The ruins were not that impressive except that this one included a hospital area, with hieroglyphics showing the different medical instruments.

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As we left the tour the guide said we had 20 minutes to go before sailing to Aswan.  I wanted to buy something small and inexpensive to give to friends.  I found some roughly carved scarabs beetles, the vendor asked “How many?”  I picked out 6 and said, “How much?”  He says 25 each or a discount of 140 for all, only 10 Egyptian pounds difference (140 Egyptian pounds is about $24 USA)  I said, “20 E.P. for all” ($3.40 USA), of course he acted like it was a joke.  He says, “EACH one was 25 E.P. ($4.27).  I said, “The boat is leaving, I must go, 20 for all, they aren’t even well carved!”  This banter kept going and I turned to walk away as I was tired of the bargaining.  After many steps he finally says “OK 20”, I stop, am thinking I should just keep walking, reconsider, and then turn around, “20 for all?”, I say, “Yes, 20”  I get out 20 and go to hand it to him and he says “30”.  I wave the 20 in his face and say “Take it or leave it, the boat is leaving.”  “25” he counters, WAVE WAVE the 20 in front of his face.  “OK, 20”  He dumps them in my hands and we start to walk away, I hear him say to Ron “Your friend bargains well!”  I thought for sure as he passed them from one hand to another that he palmed one, but when I got to the boat I counted them and they were all there.  From $4.27 each down to 57 cents each, I think I finally got my first bargain in Egypt.

We sailed to Aswan, our final destination.  There was a fancy dress party at dinner that night but we were too tired to go to the disco later for the fun and games.

Friday January 21st, 2005 – We visited Philae temple which was relocated to a higher point when the large dam was built in the early 70s.  We had to take a small water ferry out to the island it was on.

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We then visited the high dam which now supplies 60% of all Egypt’s power needs.  Next we stopped at a glass and perfume store, the energetic store owner gave us a quick glass blowing demonstration that was quite fun, then took us upstairs for some tea and a talk on how the perfumes and flower scents were created.  He had us smell 10 scents, then let his sales staff descend on us for orders.  Great marketing, “If they package it right, I’d buy baloney!”  We bought some oils that can be dropped in hot water to use as an inhaler for migraines and sinus problems, I also bought some glass perfume holders for my mom and sister Cindy.

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These ladies wrapped up the gifts
They really wanted their picture taken and then to look at it on the digital camera

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After lunch we went on a Felucca boat ride on the Nile.  These are the boats with pointed sails.  At first we barely moved and was thinking we’d just be sitting there but the captain was able to catch a breeze and we had a nice hour sail.

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This Australian couple take their girls with them on trips all over the world.  I told the daughters they were very lucky to have such great parents.  The parents explained that they want their girls to get a taste of the world and tell their daughters to not even think about marriage until they are at least 25, then if they want to return to Australia and marry the boy next door, fine, but not till they first experience what the world has to offer.  I thought this was a fantastic outlook.  The couple also said it was insurance for when they retire, the girls will have to take care of them after all these great trips.

After dinner that night there was a Nubian show in the bar area.  There were native people of the area.  I got dragged up on stage by a very loud fellow dressed in a grass skirt and shirtless who looked more like an extra in a King Kong movie then a native Nubian, but hey, what do I know what a real Nubian looks like?

Saturday January 22nd, 2005 – Another early wake up call for 4:00 am for our 6:00 am flight to Abu Simbel.  The driver took us to the airport and then put us on a plane for the 260 km half hour flight.  The guide wasn’t very clear, but off we went.  We got to the temple and it was a mad house in front of the gates to purchase admission tickets.  We got our tickets and then did a self tour as we couldn’t find the English speaking guide.

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The seated statues are simply amazing, there were also moved from a lower position and realigned perfectly to the winter and summer solstices.  Since we didn’t have a guide we weren’t sure exactly what was to happen at the solstice but they wanted to be sure to get it just right. There was also a second smaller temple that was still very impressive.

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We caught the flight back before heading to Cairo.

Sunday January 23rd, 2005 – We met up again with Hesham for a city tour that included “The Citadel” an old fortress part of the city on a hilltop.  We could see the pyramids in the distance, again such a strange site to see mixed in with the modern buildings.  Hesham took us inside a mosque where we had to remove our shoes.

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We sat cross legged on the floor where he described some aspects of Muslim religion, prayer, and how religion fits in with their daily lives.  After lunch we headed for the Egyptian museum where Hesham gave us a great tour, culminating in King Tut’s treasures.  As Hesham commented, king Tut died at an early age and his tomb had never been robbed.  Seeing all the incredible things in the small tomb, one has to think if there was this much wealth in a young king’s tomb who didn’t live long, just think what the tombs of the older pharaohs must have been like.

Hashem then took us to a market place area with shops and vendors trying to pull you in to buy things.  Everything from spices, to water pipes, to linens and carpets.  What did this look like 50 years ago?  100?  Somehow I don’t think it looked very different.

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Monday January 24th, 2005 – 1:00 am wake up call, just who made up these flight schedules?  We arrived at Istanbul at 6:00 am.  Chatrin, a friend of aunt Carol’s, met us at the airport.  We arrived and lots of kisses and hugs ensued.  After some polite hellos we headed off for a 3 hour nap.  We rose about 10:30 am and then headed out for a walk.  Aunt Carol lives very close to the Sea of Marmara.  It was a brisk and windy winter day, but very nice along the water’s edge.  The contrast between here and Cairo is amazing.  I knew Istanbul is a modern city, but nowhere in Egypt or Cairo did I see such nice buildings, sidewalks and neighborhoods.  We had a nice lunch and then went to the ferry building to take a ferry ride.  Aunt Carol just said, “We’ll take the next ferry boat, wherever it goes, we’ll do something there!”  The ferry ride was great as aunt Carol pointed out different sites.

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We ended up in the area called “The Old City” and walked across the Galata bridge to “The Golden Horn” area and took a quick 90 second tram up to the Karakoy neighborhood.  This is an area of the city under renovation and revitalization, it was pretty brisk so we stopped in a cute coffee shop for a coffee and dessert to warmup.  Afterwards we walked along some shops and then took a group van home.  The vans are privately operated but have regular “Stops” where you pick them up.  You get in a van with about 7 or 8 others and the van takes off.  “Don’t we tell him where we’re going?” I asked, “No, he won’t remember, you just tell him when you want to get off” she replied.

Tuesday January 25th, 2005 – We enjoyed a nice sleep and then headed off on the ferry back again to “The Old City” and then on to the Istanbul Archeological museum.  The day was grey but not as windy as the day before so it was actually quite nice.  The museum had a nice selection of ancient pottery and Turkish statues from Roman times.

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We had a wonderful lunch above a spice market, we ordered a mixed grill of meats and a lamb shank and shared it all between us.  Ron ordered a baklava for dessert and aunt Carol said, “Bring 3 forks!”  She has lived here for almost 11 years and is quite fluent, enough to puzzle our waiter who didn’t know if she was a tourist who spoke good Turkish or what.  Afterwards we went through the spice market, the vendors were a little aggressive trying to get your attention.  Ron almost paid $45 for 100 grams (a little jar) of saffron.  Aunt Carol found a really wonderfully stitched embroidered pillow for 95 lira, about $73 USA.  It was exquisite.  She said she needed 2 but the budget would only allow for one right now.  It was a little late in the afternoon so we took the ferry back to her side of the city.  Ron wanted to buy his daughters a gift so we stopped by a store and he purchased some bracelets with a “magic eye” symbol, aunt Carol explained it is a common symbol, the eye watches over you and protects you.  Then we stopped at a store for chocolates.  Aunt Carol had put some chocolates next to our bed when we first arrived and they were wonderful.  When Ron walks into a chocolate store it can be very dangerous, he wanted to buy chocolates for friends and family in California but we’re traveling very light so I kind of put my foot down to just essential buys.  So if you don’t get Turkish chocolates from us, you’ll know you’re not on the essential list!  We then walked to a local deli to buy something for a light dinner.  The shop owner started putting things in a tub without even asking Aunt Carol, I guess they know her pretty well here.

Wednesday January 26th, 2005 – Today we visited a modern art museum.  Aunt Carol said it had opened about 8 months before but she had not visited it yet.  Since it was still “new” the admission was free. 

As you entered one artist had painted a door and it’s frame in multiple colors and characters, this was a favorite of everyones.

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I love modern art but must admit I think most of it is crap, however, I loved almost everything in this exhibit.

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                                                                                                            This was actually painted in 1949!

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                  Another painting from 1949!

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I loved the above painting, it was of workers waiting outside an unemployment office, when you looked closely (right picture) each character was perfect and so well drawn and positioned, you had a sense of each figure as unique, you could hear the murmur of the conversations.

We then went for a nice lunch!

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Next was a mosque and a previous shaw’s palace.

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Thursday January 27th, 2005 - We had a day planned with a tour guide to show us around some sites.  The morning was stormy and we met the guide at the ferry station.  As we waited the intercom said that the seas might be a bit strong.  Our guide looked a little queasy, she said she doesn’t like rough water.  The ferry ride did roll quite a bit, but it was only 45 minutes and luckily I don’t get seasick, our guide was very glad to get off the ferry.

She started the tour at the “Hipodrome”, unfortunately it was raining like crazy and it was VERY cold.  We stood in the center of the park in the pouring rain as she explained everything, Ron was freezing.

We then went into a ancient mosque, it was colder in here then outside, the kind of damp cold that goes right into your bones and makes them hurt.

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                                                                                                              A spot to rub for good luck!

We then went into an underground cistern that was used 100s of years ago to supply the city with water.

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                They imported columns from all over                        Madussa's head was the base of this column to make it
            the country, they were many different styles                            the same height as the other columns
                they just had to be the same height   

We then visited a Shaw’s palace.

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                    A headpiece for the Shaw's turban,                                            Our Guide
              that is an emerald the size of a deck of cards

Friday January 28th, 2005 – We leave for Paris, our friend Bruce picked us up at the airport and took us to his apartment.  Unfortunately, with the previous day being so cold and rainy and us standing out in the rain all day, Ron had started to come down with a bad cold.  We decide to stay in for dinner as Ron was really feeling lousy.

Saturday January 29th, 2005 – Ron feels better so we go out to a local open market to get something for lunch, the place was bustling and crowded even though the winter day was freezing and grey.  Luckily it was not raining. 

That evening we spend with Nanna and her children Billie and Sam.  We met Billie when she was 5, that was 5 years ago.  Nanna made us a dinner of quiche and a crème brullee for dessert.

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Billie set the table and folded the napkins into designs. 

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Nanna invited a good friend of hers over to meet with us, we have met Pascal on both of our previous visits and it was great to see him again.

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Sunday January 30th, 2005 –  We went to the Louve with Nanna, for some reason Ron had NOT seen enough Egyptian things so we headed for that section of the Louve.  I admit there were lots of things that were stolen from the Egyptians from earlier times and on display here that we had not seen before.

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Mummified Cats

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After lunch Nanna had to go pick up her son Sam, so we continued on our own.  I wanted to see some Greek and French sculptures, my favorite part of the Louve.

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                    Look at the person on the left
                         This statue is enormous

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                                                                                               This statue is only 18 inches tall.

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                        The spaces are incredible and
                  make you gasp constantly in the beauty

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Unfortunately, I start feeling very ill by the end of our time at the museum, I get into bed as soon as we get back to Bruce’s apartment.

Monday January 31st, 2005 – I spent the entire day in bed with the sweats.  Bruce was feeding us and taking care of us.

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Elsa and Bruce

Note to self!  Never go to Paris in the winter after an exhausting never resting excursion through Egypt and then standing outdoors in the rain and winter in Turkey.

Tuesday February 1st, 2005 –  Thank god my fever broke sometime in the night.  We get up early for our flight home.  Ibera overbooked our flight again and upgraded us to business class again when we switched planes in Madrid.

Wednesday February 2nd, 2005 – We return home from our fantastic trip.  The cats are glad to see us!

Thursday February 3rd, 2005 – My 43rd birthday, still feeling horrible, I don’t get out of bed!