Trip to Rock Lake Etc

.Sat. Aug. 17 – Algonquin Trip

We left just after 7:30.  We got to Jordan and had to pull over and tighten the canoe straps.  When Win pulled the back one, the canoe handle broke!  We put the third strap right around the canoe and it was fine.  We got to

Huntsville before we stopped. Went into Timmies and got to Rock Lake about 12:30 ish.  It absolutely poured rain the whole way from home to Algonquin.  But when we got to Rock Lake it stopped.  We set up Wins tents and took mine to our site.  Her site was #11, a nice site.  We had burgers for supper, they cooked hotdogs on the fire. Laura arrived about 9:30 pm.  We went to bed early.

Sun. Aug. 18 -Loons!we were up about 8, had breakfast and then the 4 oldies went on a canoe ride.  We saw a loon feeding her 2 youngsters. It was so cool.  We saw some black ducks, a heron, purple pickerel weed was all in bloom and the white waterlillies.  At breakfast in the campsite, we saw red eyed vireos, cape bay vireo, black and white vireos, a fly catcher, cedar waxwings, and a hummingbird.  Win and Laura and kids went on a hike to Booths rock and then went to the beach after lunch.  We rested.

Mon. Aug 19 – Beaver Pond Trail

We went to the Visitor Centre and showed the naturalist my photos of the loons, video and warblers.  Then we all went on the Beaver Pond Trail (2km).  We got back to the campsite about 2 had lunch and read our books. Win and their group went to the beach.  After supper we had a sing song by the fire.

I finished King and Maxwell – Baldacci

Started Kingdom of Blind by Louise Penny, fin Aug 22

Started My Secret Sister, Helen Edwards and Jenny lee smith

Tues. Aug 20 –Bev , Cindy and I got up early and left at 7 to go to Mew Lake, birding.  We stopped off at Lake of two rivers to take photos of the morning mist on the water.  We hiked down the old RR Trail to the old abandoned airfield and took a path through the scrub brush crossing it.  We saw a Sharp Shinned Hawk on a dead tree branch eating it’s prey.  We got some good pictures.  At the other side, We took the path to the left toward the forest.  The morning dew was still on the grass and leaves sparkling in the sun.  I spotted 2 pileated woodpeckers flying and we hurried closer to where they landed.  I captured a good photo of the one sitting in the top of a dead tree.  We carried on into the forest hoping to see a Gray Jay but didn’t. We returned to the car and drove around the Mew Lake campground to see what the sites looked like.  They were nice but you could hear the road a lot.  We stopped at the washrooms and saw a White Throated Sparrow.  We returned to our campsite and had breakfast and then as Win and her group were going canoeing, Min, J and I decided to go too in our canoe.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  We canoed to Whitefish Lake and back.  We had some lunch and then J and I went for a swim with Win and her group.

Wed. Aug 21 – Lazy Day

The four oldsters sat around the campsite all day reading and knitting and talking.  Win and her group went to the visitor centre, had lunch in a cafe, went on the spruce bog hike and then went to the portage store for icecream.  We had a singsong around the fire again.

Thurs. Aug 22 –it is cooler today.  Laura and Ruby have to go home today.  We slept in until 8 or 9 even though we went to bed at 9.  We went to the Portage Store and J bought 2 tea shirts and I bought a travel mug for #2 Son.  Then we went on a short spruce bog trail and then to the art gallery.  We went back to the campsite and had an early supper and then J wanted me to knit her a jacket for her new travel mug. We had a singsong around the fire even though Min found out her next door neighbor died unexpectedly and she didn’t feel like it.

Fri. Aug. 23 – Trip Home

We packed up and left about 11:15.  We stopped in Gravenhurst for lunch at a family restaurant.  We took the etr 407 all the way from the 400 to Burlington.  We got the girls back to A at 5:20, just in the nick of time.

Sat. Aug 24 – Rampage

I lost it on Madison because she didn’t pick the blackberries like I asked her to while I was away.  I told her she was t going anywhere until she picked them. Then I see her leaving with B.  I lost it.  The good news is I was so angry I went on a rampage, did all the dishes ,2 loads of wash, dried all the camping stuff and it’s all put away lol

Hubby worked on the workshop roof.  I lifted plywood up to him.  We were so exhausted we bought subs for supper.

South Africa -March 2019

Thursday, March 7/19– Janet flew down to Toronto from Ottawa a day early.  Craig Travel preferred she do that to make sure she was there for our flight tomorrow. Ottawa weather has been very bad this year. She stayed overnight at the Airport Hilton.  It is only a minute or two from the airport.  Quite large room with a king sized bed.  Only downfall were the very expensive prices in the restaurant at the hotel. The person on the plane beside her turned out to be Mrs. Woolaver from Grimsby.  She had just returned from Capetown two weeks ago where she was visiting her daughter who is a professor there.  She showed Janet photos of some places we will be going to.  Her husband is the Anglican priest in Grimsby who I have met before.

Friday, March 8 to March 9

I was up at 6:30, had breakfast.  Janet had ham and eggs for breakfast at the Hilton Airport Hotel.  The Airbus was supposed to pick me up at 8:20 but came at 8:50.  The Air Canada flight to Washington was delayed because one of the lavatories had to be fixed. Apparently it was frozen.  We were supposed to leave at 2:10 and we finally departed about 4 pm.  We flew low over Oakville and then Burlington and the Niagara peninsula.  It was neat to see the escarpment covered with snow.  Lake Ontario was blue but Lake Erie was all white, still frozen.

When we arrived in Washington it was snowing.  We got off the Toronto flight had to walk quickly to make our South Africa Airways flight but were kept waiting on the tarmac for a slot to have the pI lane de-iced.  We were supposed to leave Washington at 5:40 but finally took off about 7:30 pm.  Once up we were given supper. I had the chicken, Janet had meatballs and pasta.  I watched the movie, A Star is Born but it was hard to hear because at times, the noice of the plane was unusually loud.  We stopped in Dakar, Senegal about 2:30 am our time to let some passengers off and to refuel and change the crew.  They thanked us and ended their speech with “God Bless”.  Very nice and they serve really good tea!  We saw the sunrise and very dry dessert below.  There is now a 7 hour time difference.

We then flew another 7 hours to Johannesburg.  I had to go to the bathroom so badly, found a washroom but then had to run to catch up.  We had to get our luggage and check in and then run like we were on The Amazing Race to get the connection to Cape Town.  We made it and flew another 2.5 hours landing in Cape Town about 5pm Cdn time March 9th – 27 hours from when we were supposed to leave Toronto!  A bus drove us to The Presidents Hotel where we checked in and went to bed.

Sunday, March 10 – Cape Town

We had breakfast in the hotel and were ready to leave by 8 a.m. because there is a huge International Bike Marathon with approximately 40,000 bikers in it so a lot of the streets will be closed to today.  We boarded the bus and drove around the city because Table Mountain was closed.  There was a large white cloud sitting on top of it like a tablecloth.  It was also very windy so the optional boat ride to Robbens Island was cancelled.

Cape Town was built because Dutch and English ships sailing east for spices needed to stop and refresh their stores of fruits and vegetables so the sailors did t get scurvy.  Sailors could see Table Mountain from 250 kms away.  The mountain is 1589 m high and very flat on top.  The population of Cape Town is 4 – 4.5. million.  In 2003 Cape Town was voted the best city in the world.  But now the unemployment rate is 27%, and up to 42% in some areas and for the young it is 67%.  There are 13 million illegals living in South Africa.  We drove by a several very poor sections of shanty towns where every third shack is inhabited by illegals.  There are some Govt housing projects but the people have to be taught how to clean and look after the house as many have never lived in one before.  They have 360 days of sun but solar power is very expensive.

Businesses are pulling out because of the crime, there are beggars on the streets.  They blame ex president Jacob Zuma for the corruption and bad decisions.  He had 4 wives and many girlfriends and 22 children.  South African Airways has been bailed out of bankruptcy 5 times. Many other big businesses like the transport, and electric are also going bankrupt, partly because of the BEP Black Economic Power. McDonald’s is solely BEP.  We passed the hospital where Dr. Christian Bernard performed the first heart transplant.

The bus dropped us off at the waterfront where we were free to wander around and shop.  Then we all met at 1 pm at the Quay Four restaurant.  The choice was fish curry or steak (Janet had) or feta cranberry tart which is what I had. Even though we had ordered ahead, it took a long time for the meal to come, but we were told this is how things are in SA, very relaxed!  After lunch Table mountain was still closed so we drove to the Kiershbosch Botanical Gardens.  Our guide showed us around pointing out native species of plants and flowers.  It started to drizzle rain. Janet had forgotten her jacket and we both forgot our umbrellas.  The bus took us back to the hotel where it got very windy and rainy.  We went to our room for a bit and then down to the restaurant for supper.  Two ladies from Collingwood joined us.

We heard one of the cyclists was killed on the bike ride yesterday.  Also a Ethiopian Boeing jet crashed on its way to Kenya, 157 dead and 18 were Canadians.

Monday, March 11 – Cape Town & Penguins

We had to be up early to catch the bus at 7:30 so we could try and fit everything in that we didn’t do yesterday.  Table Mountain was foggy again so we drove north to Bantry Bay.  Beautiful houses overlooking the sea where celebrities like Paul McCartney, Oprah, Charlize Theron and Steffie Graffe reside.  Michael Jackson wanted to build on the coast but they turned him down.  Cape Town is 70% gay.  We carried on to Hout Bay which means wood.  There is a section of shantys that were being evicted but one of the rich sections caught on fire.  The people from the shantytown helped out out the fire so they were allowed to stay.  We drove along .chapmans Road, one of the worlds most scenic drives.  There are 3500 bird species.  No one is allowed to buy the scenic parts.  Oprah tried to buy the Sentinel rock but the people protested so loudly they couldn’t have the auction so it was squashed.  Ryan’s Daufhter was filmed on the beach here.  There are 45 lighthouses, some still manned.  The white homes with gray roofs are the old Dutch architecture.  The blacks say the nations, sport of SA is soccer but the whites say it is rugby.  Ballroom dancing is second.  We continued on to Simons Town which was a naval base.  Quirky, creative, hippie types, book lovers live here.

We stopped at Boulders Beach where there is a penguin colony.  SA penguins bray like a donkey.  For a little bird they can be very loud!  We walked down a path in the wind and the rain to see them.  Penguins mate for life after a 3 week courtship.  Some were sitting on eggs and some had babies.  Janet went a little too close to one and it bit her leg!  There were also many black gannets sitting on the rocks.  The wind was blowing our umbrellas inside out.  On the way back through the flooded path I had a heart palpitation but it went away. We drove to Simons Town and lunch was on our own.  We found a cafe and I had pizza while Janet had lasagna.

There are 3 capes, the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point and Cape McLear.  We drove to Cape Point first and rode the funicular to the top where we hiked around the stairs overlooking the cliffs. I climbed up to the lighthouse at the top.  We rode the funicular back down to the bottom.  There were some gray baboons sitting on the sign.  We also saw groups of baboons along the side of the road.  We drove on to the Cape of Good Hope.  Sir Francis Drake made this famous.  On the way we were thrilled to see 11 elands on the side of a hill. Beverly the guide had never seen this before! We also glimpsed a caracel, a red predator cat with long ears and a bald headed ibis.  The Cape of Good Hope is called the fairest I. The world and is very green.  The nature reserve is 7715 hectares with 40 kms of coastline.  Cape Hope is where the 2 oceans, the Atlantic and Indian meet.  It is the most southerly tip of the continent.  Cape Point is where the 2 currents meet.  We passed 2 old stone crosses erected by the Portuguese.

We returned to Cape Town for a short city tour.  We saw the steps where  over 100,000 people came to see Nelson Mandela give his first public speech after he was finally released from prison.  We stopped at St. George’s Anglican Church which was the see of Bishop Tutu who now lives in Toronto.  We admired the only black Madonna in SA.  We then rushed through the archway made up of 14 wood arches representing the 14 black tribes and is a tribute to Desmond Tutu.  We passed the House of Parliament where our guide regaled is with stories of meeting Bishop Tutu and being a guide for the Queen and becoming friendly with her footman.  We then hurried on to the museum and got there just as it was closing but they let us in and she gave us a quick history of ancient cave drawings etc.

We returned to the hotel to freshen up and then went out to dinner at The Africa Cafe.  It was decorated with African Art and the waitresses were dressed up and their faces painted.  They came around and painted all the ladies faces too.  We were served bowls of typical foods from different parts of Africa along with some good African wine.  We went right to sleep when our heads hit the pillows.

Tuesday, March 12 – Stellenbosch

We had breakfast and were on the road by 8.  It was rainy and foggy, so couldn’t go up Table Mountain.  We drove passed shantytowns where 13 out of every 100 people have HIV.  If you die of HIV it does not state it on the death certificate because there is still a stigma.  There are 17 million on social services grants.  There are 14 black tribes and Zulu is the largest.  There are 11 official languages.  On the drive to Stellenbosch winery we saw antelopes, mountain zebra and guinea fowls.

Stellenbosch is a large winery on over 2000 hectares of land.  Besides grapes they also raise free range chickens and Angus Beef.  The grapes are picked by hand.  We were given a tour of the red cellars where over 2 million bottles of wine are produced.  We saw the oak barrels and also the wine library where so many bottles are housed for the owners each year so they can check on how the wine if progressing.  We then went in the large house for a wine tasting.  We tasted 5 different wine starting with white, rose and then red.  Next we drove to Roca for lunch.  Janet and I both had the sirloin steak.  It was very good.  We then drove 4.5 hours through the mountains to Mimosa Lodge, Montagu.  We didn’t have supper as we were still full from lunch.  It is a quaint hotel with rickety stairs and not many lights and plugs that didn’t work.

Wednesday, March 13 – oudtshoorn

We left the Mimosa Lodge at 9 am today.  It used to be the Town brothel.  About 9 passengers were feeling sick this morning so Jim, the tour guides husband had gone to the store and bought Imodium and pepto Bismal for anyone who wanted it.  We drove about 20 minutes when one of the ladies, Nancy Cleveland became very ill, she got up to go to the bathroom on the bus and couldn’t make it and fainted in the aisle right beside Janet.  We yelled for the bus driver to stop.  He pulled over and they got her water etc.  Some of the others were really feeling sick so the tour guide decided to go back to Montegu because there was a doctor there.  We drove back and everyone who was feeling sick got off.  The bus took the rest of us back into town where we walked around.  We went to the pharmacy and got some hand sanitizer and used their restroom.

After about an hour everyone was back on the bus. The doctor had given them a shot and told them not to eat anything for 24 hours.  He told them to drink some coke.  We carried on through the Karoo or semi desert.  World reknowned lamb is produced here.  There are 18,000 farmers that farm 14 million sheep.  In the black Culture a man has to pay for his wife, regular payment is 11 cows.  The more children a man has, the richer he is.  His children are his pension, they will look after him in old age.  The women do all the cooking, putting cow dung on the floor to dry hard, thatching the roofs, looking after the kids, washing.  The men only look after the livestock and protect their family.  This is why they sometimes have 3 or 4 wives because the women have so much work to do.  Ronnie has 1 wife and 4 children.

We drove to the next little town where we had a break and Janet and I purchased some Rooibis Tea which is supposed to be very good for stomach troubles and different things.  We drove on another 1.5 hours until we reached the VonKraas Winery.  Here we sat outside in the shade of a grapevine arbor and tasted 4 different kinds of port wine.  Port wine has brandy alcohol added to it to make it stronger.  We were each given a platter with bread, cheese, curry chutney, figs, olives, grapes, ham and ginger jelly.  It was delicious!

After lunch we carried on another 1.5 hours to the Queens Hotel in Oudtshoorn.  We got our rooms and then went down to the pool about 5 pm.  The air was warm but the water was a bit cold but not bad, quite a few of us went in swimming.  Then we walked down to the Pic and Pay store to buy our supper.

Thursday, March 14- Ostriches

Janet was up most of the night with diarrhea and a nauseous stomach. I went and got Karen the tour guide who said there were others going to the hospital at 8:30.  So Janet decided to go too.  I had a cup of tea and a piece of toast in the lounge and then we boarded the bus to go to the Congo Caves.  We walked around the caves with a guide, but each chamber got smaller and smaller. The 4th and last chamber was very crowded and hot and I was feeling claustrophobic when suddenly Sheryl fainted!  The cave guide cut the tour short and we walked all the way back out.  I was hot and breathing heavy by the time I got to the bus.  Once I cooled down, I was alright.

We returned to the hospital to pick up the sick people, except for Margie and Karen as they are keeping Margie overnight again. They had run blood tests on her, given some of the IV drips, shots, pills etc.  Janet was feeling a bit better but was really tired.

We drove to the Ostrich Farm where we walked around and learned about them.  They are the largest flightless bird in the world.  They are curious and like shiny objects and they eat stones and things to help with their digestion.  At one time 1 kilo of ostrich feathers cost more than an ounce of gold.  Their eggs can hold 230 kilos. The meat has no chorestoral, only the eggs do.  One ostrich egg equals 24 chicken eggs!  They are vegetarians and don’t drink much water as they are desert birds.   They live to be 60-70 years old.  There are 180 ostrich farms in SA.  The leather made from their skins never wears out and is made into purses, wallets, belts.  It is smooth if you run your hand one way and rough the other, also the flaps can be lifted – not with plastic.  We had lunch at the ostrich farm, carrots, white corn which was like homily, salad, buns, and an ostrich steak.  Unfortunately so many weren’t feeling well so a lot of the food went to waste. Even Beverley the guide was t feeling well.

We drove a couple of hours up the coast of the Indian Ocean to the Protea Knishna Hotel.  Janet didn’t want any supper so I went down to the bar and found some of the others and had a chicken salad like they were having.  Then back to bed. Have pains in my stomach and feel tired.

Friday, March 15 – Rest Day.

We were supposed to rest this morning and then go to the food kitchen, and the crèche (kindergarten)where some kids would entertain us and then have supper in a local family home.  The feeding scheme is in a large garage where they cook food to hand out once a day at 2 pm.  The kids line up and receive their bag of food and take it home to share.  It is supported by Canadians but since we are all sick, we can’t do this as we don’t want to make them sick because they don’t have access to a doctor or medication or anything so we are just resting at the hotel today. It is on a lagoon with sail boats and has a nice heated pool.

Janet was feeling much better today but I was not feeling good.  I had bad cramps and couldn’t eat.  I had tea and toast for breakfast.  We sat around the heated pool and read until noon. I went up to put my swimsuit on and hydro went off.  SA is very short on hydro, they predict they will have none by April 2020.  Most hotels have generators for when the hydro goes off for a few hours.  When I came back down 5 of the group plus Bev were going to the doctor so I said I would go too.  We walked to this nice clean clinic where a lady doctor fit us in between regular patients.  She pushed on my lower stomach and it hurt.  She gave me 5 prescriptions, an antibiotic,  a probiotic, an anti cramp one, a hydrator and another hydrator.  When we were all done we walked to the pharmacy and stood in line for a long time to get them filled.  The cost was 500 ZAR ($34 US)for the doctor and 468 rand ($43 Cdn) for the drugs I was not feeling good, just wanted to go lie down but then we had to walk all the way back to the hotel.

I found Janet in our room and we ate our banana and dry toast we had pilfered from lunch and then went back to the pool, swam and read until supper time.  We walked around the waterfront and found a restaurant and ordered a seniors portion of chicken fingers and fries.  Then we went back to the room and I went to sleep.  I woke up at 10:20 pm and thought it was morning!

Saturday, March 16 – Bus and Airplane

We woke up at 5 and packed up and had breakfast.  Janet was not feeling well again, had diarrhea, thinks she ate too much yesterday.  She just had tea for breakfast.  I had one egg and one piece of toast, yogurt and tea.  We drove along the coast through a nature reserve with mauve mountains in the distance past some gorges, and over a bridge that has the highest bungee jump in the world.  Further on we stopped at a gorge and walked across the bridge, around and under and back the other side.

We had a short tour of Port Elizabeth because we were a little early.  It is the third windiest city in SA and the population in 4 million, mostly Afrikaaners.  It has a large automotive industry, making BMWs, (66% of Mercedes Benz are made here) and Volkswagen’s.  The British brought 520000 of their own horses here when settling it but 300 k of them died because they couldn’t eat the hay that was here, too dry.  We drove past railway lines that are all in disrepair, and left to rust.

We continued on to the airport to find our flight has been delayed 50 minutes ( the story of this trip!).  We arrived in Durban about 3 pm and drove to our Protea Marriott hotel in ————.  We walked down the street to the Beach and waded in the Indian Ocean!  There were lots of families with kids swimming and playing in the water, some were fishing off the rocks.  The waves were quite rough, the water was not warm but not cold.  We stayed until the sun set and then walked back up to the hotel and changed for a buffet supper.

Sunday, March 17 – Durban

We left at 7:30 after breakfast for a city tour of Durban.  A lot of the city is built on top of where sugar cane plantations used to be.  It is very humid in the summer months.  It is a wealthy city, 7 th best place to live and is the busiest port on the African continent.  There are 450 km of shark nets along the beaches.  The nets are knitted by the blind and are checked daily for trapped sharks.  If found alive, they are freed but if dead they are taken to sell as food mostly to Asians.  South Africa has 6% of the land mass of Africa but supplies 38% of the food.  It feeds Zimbabwe.

It is a very English part of the country, discovered by Vasco de Gama on Christmas Day so was called Natal.  It is now called Kwazulunatal.  The British arrived in 1823.  The Zulu boundary was 100 kms north of Durban and they tolerated the British because they traded with them.  The Zulu are anti ANC, nobody tells the Zulu what to do!

We drovenorth of Durban on the King Shaka Highway through fields and fields of sugar cane.  There are 3 silos in Durban port that contain 600,000 kilos of sugar and 1500 kilos are shipped out daily to Canada, England etc.

The Zulu Chief owns 6 million hectares of sugar cane plantation in trust now and makes a fortune renting the land to his own people to farm.  King Shaka was born frail, illegitimate and because of this was bullied when a kid.  He grew to be 6 ft 6  inches tall.  He took over, and united the Zulu nation, stopped all circumsism.  He got rid of the leather thongs the men wore as shoes to harden their feet.  He controlled his warriors, he was disciplined, ruthless and his own people were afraid of him but they also revered him. He was killed by his half brother when he was 41.  A good book to read about Mandela is “Goodbye Bafana” by Gregory.  Wedrive on to Ghost Mountain Spa.  We are all on the ground floor in a compound with 2 swimming pools.  We had a delicious supper of lamb, chicken, curry, rice, salad, dessert.

Monday, March 18 – Safari and Zululand

The alarm went off as usual at 5:37am.  We sprayed ourselves with Deet, had breakfast and at 7, boarded 4 land rovers (9-10 people each)for our safari into Makuzi Nature Reserve.  Our guide was a Zulu named Patrick who spoke very good English and was very knowledgeable.  We saw monkeys, impalas, wildebeest, zebras, Nyla’s (brown with stripes), Kudo, and giraffes but we missed the elephants.  We went to a blind at a watering hole where there were turtles in the water and all the animals came to drink but not the elephants.  The birds we saw were: Franklins, 2 blue starlings, red back shrike, black and white swallows, grey bird in the thorns, a yellow bird with red,  and we heard the other one see pics.  We also saw a giant carrion flower that is pretty but stinks like death.

We returned at noon, not and sweaty, had lunch and then I went for a quick swim in the pool.  It was very refreshing and then got changed to go on the Zulu culture tour.  Janet opted out and decided to relax by the pool instead.  At 2:30 we headed out in the land rovers again.  We drove for about 45 minutes up and around the mountains on a winding dirt road.  It was cooler up there.  We finally arrived at a little village of Zulu and were shown into one family’s area where we met Justice who told us all about his culture.  The round huts are the spirit huts where the eldest zulu goes to pray to his ancestors.  The door is low so that you have to bend down and so are. bowing to the ancestors opposite the door.

The other square huts are rooms of the house but instead of having them all under one roof like we do, they have them separated because in ancient times if someone was attacking they wouldn’t know where the man was with the spear.  The huts were made of grass and mud with cow dung floors but now are made with cement, stones, and tin.  There is a corral for the cows, chickens running around everywhere and a fenced in garden of vegetables.  The kids go to school some had flip flops, some bare foot.  The women are supposed to do all the cooking etc.  The men go out to work in the sugar cane or Joburg and come home when they can.  There is a bus for public transport.  They bury their dead right there on their property, digging a deep hole, covering and then piling stones on top.

We returned to the hotel again hot and sweaty.   I found Janet by the pool, had a shower and went to dinner which was a bbq, very good.  After dinner some Zulu dancers performed for us.  It started to rain so returned to our room.

Tuesday, March 19 – Swaziland

Swasiland is the smallest country in Africa, completely surrounded by South Africa and uses all SA airports etc.  It is 17000 square kms.  Just before the border crossing we saw a warthog and her babies at the side of the road.  We had to walk across the border, showing our passports.  The Swazis are very friendly people.  Nobody really knows he population but it is estimated at 1 million.  39% of the pop are HIV positive.  It has its own currency but takes ZAR too. They don’t plant grass or flowers around their houses, just dirt as they are superstitious and they have to sweep away the evil spirits.  They got their independence from Britain in 1968 and are part of the Commonwealth.  The walls of the houses have stones in them and staggered thatch rooves.  The King came to power when he was 18, was educated in England but has become spoiled and a spendthrift.  He has many wives.  One king had 100 wives.  The crown had red feathers from the Kury? Bird.

We stopped at a market and did some shopping. I bought a necklace, earrings and a scarf.  We carried on to the _______? Valley where we had lentil soup, chicken and rice for lunch.  We then had time to look in a jewellery shop where Janet bought a ring and bracelet made with giraffe hair and giraffes on them.  We carried on to Piggs Peak Hotel and casino up in the mountains.  We had a buffet dinner paid for by Craig travel to make up for not going up Table Mountain.

Wednesday , March 20 – Kruger

We left at 7:30 driving through the mountains of Swaziland to the border.  We are now in search of the Big Five: Lion, Rhino, Leopard, Elephant and Cape Buffalo.  They are the big 5 because they are the most dangerous to man.  It was 34 degrees.  The first inhabitants of Kruger were the Bushmen.  The oldest rocks in the world are here.  In 1838 the Dutch came from the Cape to get away from the British rule.  In the 1900s the big game hunters came.  Paul Kruger realized what was happening and decided to make a park where everything would be protected, everything is close to nature.  Kruger is 19000 square kms (2 kms bigger than Swaziland) and is in the low svelte therefore there is a risk of malaria.  On the way through the park we saw:

Kudu – brown with white stripes

Crown Plover 762

Brown snake eagle 763

Lilac breasted Rolla 765

Red billed Ox Peckers – picks the ticks off other animals 766

Hummer Corp – brown birds with heron

Dung Beetle – iPhone- eats dung

Big 5 #1 – Buffalo! 777

Blackbird fork tailed Durango

White back Vulture

Cape Vulture

Battler eagle – stealth bomber was designed after them by a SA

African Crown Eagle

Big 5 #2 – Elephants!

We got our rooms at the Protea Marriott Kruger and went for a swim.  We had supper at the hotel outside with lights and a fire.  There was way too much food! Bev showed us the Southern Cross in the clear night sky.

Thursday, March 21. – Big Five

Our wake up call was at 4:30 am.  We were each given a box breakfast and boarded 4 land rovers.  Our SA guides name was Andrew.  Not far inside the park there were several hyenas next to the road and I go some good shots of them.  We drove on and the Jeep’s ahead of us spotted a leopard.  We caught him just as he turned around to leave and went behind some trees.  We carried on to where a pair of lions had been seen up on a rock.  We could only see the female.  The guides watch the road for signs of the animals like paw tracks in the sand and fresh dung.  We saw some more buffalo at the side of the road and a rhino down in a creek amongst the trees.  He was really big.  Further on we found some elephants in the trees.  So we saw the Big Five!  All before breakfast! We stopped to eat our box breakfasts at the store where we had stopped yesterday and then carried on until 11:45 when we stopped for lunch at a picnic area.  The guides had brought cold chicken, meatballs, potato salad, buns and bananas for us.  Half the group decided to keep going, including us, and half decided to return to the hotel.  We went another couple of hours and saw the Black and white birds standing in the water are Blacksmith lampweeds.  And we saw a brown snake eagle.  We also saw some giraffes and more elephants.  Back at the hotel we went for a swim and then dinner outside again.  The hydro went off again during dinner but only for a couple of minutes until the generator kicked in.

Friday, March 22 – Blyde River

We left at 8 am heading towards the Dragonsburg Mountains, 1400 kms above sea level, up into the high svelte and we don’t need Deet up here.  Yeah!  We entered the Blyde River Canyon Nature reserve and got out for a short hike to the Gods Window lookout.  We continued on to another lookout where again we had a short hike to look out over the mountains and canyon.  There were vendors here selling wood carvings, bowls, jewellery dyed cloth etc.  We continued on to Nature’s Potholes.  Again we walked along a path to a deep gorge with bridges overlooking huge potholes carved out by the swirling meeting of 2 rivers.  Janet bought her bowl and morrocas here.  We drove back to ________? To a pancake house and Bev the tour guide paid for our lunch.  Janet ordered an apple raisin cinnamon crepe with icecream and syrup and I ordered the cherry liquer crepe with icecream and syrup and we split them.  They were very good,  We wandered around the shops, including the one demonstrating silk worm weaving until it was time to go.

In 1898 the Transvaal republic was established by the Boers and Paul Kruger became President.  He hated Rhodes and the English.  Kruger minted the Kruger rand made of gold and is still legal tender.  He hid millions of these gold coins and people are still looking for them.

We got to the Fortis hotel Malaga up in the mountains so it was a bit cooler up here.  We changed and had cocktails (wine) provided by Craig travel and then dinner in the hotel.  There was no internet in the rooms.  We just got into bed when the hydro went off.  It was off from about 9 until 11, it was off again during the night and when we woke up in the morning it was off again.  We had to use the flashlights to dress and pack our bag.  We went down to breakfast and the generator was on in the lobby and dining area.  It came back on about 7am .

Saturday March 23 – Pretoria

We left at 8 heading through the mountains for Pretoria.  This is the Boer War area.  The British tried to take the Transvaal away from Paul Kruger because of all the gold discovered there but the British uniforms were bright red and the Boers were into guerilla warfare so they won the first war.  The British came back with khaki uniforms but they still had white helmets so the Boers just aimed just below the white and had lots of bullseyes.  Thus war lasted 4 years.  8000 Canadians came to help the British and the Canadians graves are still well looked after.  Lord Kitchener put the Boer women and children in concentration camps and burned the farm crops.  The English were called rednecks because the back of their necks got burnt between their hat and shirt collars.  Cosmos seeds were brought over in the horse fodder brought from South America and is now a noxious weed.

In 1910 the four provinces of Transvaal, Free State, Natal and Cape came together to become South Africa.  In 1994 they had a free vote, one person, one vote.  They decided they needed a new flag for the Olympic As they were being let back in.  It has Y representing 2 people becoming one, red for the bloodshed, green for agriculture, yellow for the minerals, blue for the sky and white for peace.  They also concocted a new anthem from 2 different songs and 4 different languages.  ( See the movies Invictus.  And the 16th Man. ) also check out music and video, The .African Dream.

We. Arrived on through the mais triangle where 16 million tons of corn are produced.  We stopped for. Washroom break and were surprised to see rhinos and Blesbok, Black Sable Antelopes and gemsbok on the surrounding farm.

We arrived in Pretoria which is known as the Jacaranda city.  They are planted in double rows and have beautiful purple blooms.  We stopped at the Houses of Parliament where Mandela was in augurated and also where his body lay in state for 3 days when he died.  Hundreds of thousands came to the inauguration and also to the funeral.  There is a huge statue of him with open arms, embracing his rainbow nation.

We stopped for lunch at a fancy restaurant. Janet had Cajun chicken, I had sole.  Janet and Juan Pedro Amarula milkshake, I had salted caramel, fruit marscapone cheese crepes.  We were also able to access the internet and discovered Tania had her baby, a boy,Arthur  Watson 9lbs 8 oz!!

Next we drove to the Foretrekker ( or as we would call them pioneers) Museum.  We learned how they fought the Zulus and refused to go back as the women said they would rather go over the mountains barefoot rather than go back to British rule.  We headed on to Johannesburg to the Fire and Ice Melrose Hotel.  Beautiful hotel, everything seems to be working .  We just had a few snacks for supper as we were full from lunch.

Sunday, March 24 – Johannesburg

We left at 9 and drove through Johannesburg where the big money is.  It was established because of the gold rush which was the biggest the world has ever seen and it is still going 136 years later.  To get a green pea size nugget of gold they have to mine a ton of rock.  They use sulphuric acid to remove the gold. The yellow hills around Joburg are the slurry leftover from the mining.  We drove to the Apartheid museum.  We were each given a card, white or non white and had to go in the entrance accordingly.  Janet and I were both non white, and walked through a caged aisle with photos of old registration cards and ended up in front of the panel of 4 judges who would decide your fate.  Then we walked up a ramp with mirrored pictures of different people symbolizing the road they have come up.  Inside Beverley our guide told us the history as we looked at the photos and movies.  It was so interesting and our guide Beverley who had lived through the apartheid years relayed many stories to us, was fascinating and so knowledgeable and had us in tears at some points.  It was a moving experience.

We carried on and had a tour of Soweto which stands for the south west township.  During the apartheid years the blacks had to live here and the whites in Johannesburg.  It was established in 1904 because the people were brought there from the gold mines to live.  Now it is divided into 54 townships with 9 African languages and a population of 4 million.  It has 30% unemployment rate, 300 churches and 1 mosque.  The biggest hospital in the Southern Hemisphere.  It is 5 km big and has 7000 staff.  It is the third biggest hospital in the world (China has the biggest and Serbia the second).  Soweto was electrified in 1983.  The 2 towers we passed are the cooling towers for the hydro.  They bungee jump between them.  Some people in Soweto got TV in 1976.  We had a traditional African lunch in Soweto including lamb, squash, potatoes, pap, and chukaluka.  A singer sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight and a couple of dancers did a traditional dance.  They had the cocoons of the emperor moth filled with stones around their ankles.

We drove back to the hotel.  Some of the group went to see the diamond and tanzanite store but we opted for the pool.  We stayed until it started to rain, changed and went for dinner in the hotel.  We had a chicken burger and fries with an Amarula milk shake. Yum!

Monday March 25 – Botswana

We left the hotel at 7:30 driving through the busy city traffic to the airport.  Our Airlink flight actually left almost on time at 11:45. .  We said our goodbyes to Beverley who stood and watched that we all got through security okay.   She said she will always remember us because of the poop parade!  Karen thanked her and said she has new respect for her since learning she shoots a gun and keeps a pistol in her bra!  I was in dire straits to go to the bathroom after going through security so I ran back but couldn’t find the women’s only the men’s!  I almost went in but thought I better not, so I asked someone and they pointed it out.  I raced back to where Janet was thinking I had got lost.

We arrived in Botswana about 1:30.  Janet and I were pulled aside because we each had a banana in our bag!  We had to sign a form saying we knew they took it from us.  It is much hotter here, 34C.  They loaded our bags onto a little trailer and we all boarded land rovers to take us to the Chobe Game Lodge.  We bumped along sandy rutted, pot hole ridden, washed out roads.  Upon arrival we were given our rooms and then had tea on the terrace viewing platform where I took a picture of a White Browed Robin.  About 4 pm we boarded some boats to go for a leisurely cruise to see some wildlife.  The river is the border between Botswana and Namibia.  We saw an African Data (cormorant), Pied Kingfisher, African Fish Eagles, Guinea Fowls, White Tailed Swallows, Greater Egret, whistling or white faced ducks, Egyptian geese, and a Speckled Egret and a Goliath Heron.  We saw many hippos submerged in the water and a herd of elephants including a baby on the beach and watched the sun set over the savanna.  There are 45,000 elephants in Chobe Park.  We returned to the lodge and had a buffet supper under large lit up umbrellas on the lawn.

Tuesday, March 26 – Chobe

We got up at 4:45 and boarded the land rovers for a morning game drive.

This was the main one and I had put in another CF card in my camera, taken a few pictures and then it said it was full! Ugh panic!  I deleted a couple I had taken in case we saw a lion because I thought I had left the other card in the room, but I had it.  So I switched them, and started deleting crappy pictures to make more room.  It didn’t matter because we didn’t see any cats.  We saw lots of birds including the national bird of Botswana, the Kori Bustard.  We saw many other birds including the Grey Hornbill, Red billed Hornbill, pink backed Pelicans, and a Grey Growl.  At 8:30 we returned for breakfast but Janet wasn’t feeling good so she decided not to go on the boat cruise at 11.  I went though and we saw many more birds like the Pied Kingfisher, the Reed Cormorant, etc.

At 1 pm we returned for lunch. I had told Mary Anne and Don about my camera card troubles and Don had an extra 2 GB one he gave me.  And thank goodness because at 3 pm we went on another game drive and we saw a leopard just lying in the grass at the side of the road!! awesome!  It just lay there while we took hundreds of photos!  Further on the guide saw a lot of vultures up in a couple of trees and said that was a sign that a cat was nearby because the vultures wait for the scraps after a lion or leopard kills something.  As we drove closer, we could smell dead meat and then someone spotted a lion in the distance and then we saw the dead buffalo with 2 cubs feeding on it and the mother lion lying in the grass next to it panting.  She looked very hot and tired.  The kill was fresh today so she was probably exhausted and guarding it while the cubs ate.  We were so close it was amazing!  We drove over to another tree where there were 4 more lions lying in the grassy shade.  We took lots of pictures then moved so others could get in closer.

We saw some Maribou storks, a Senegal Coucal and a _______ tail Shrike.  As it was getting late, we headed back to the lodge but Margy had to go to the washroom.  The guide was going to let her out at one spot but it was blocked with a herd of about 600 Buffalo.  We carried on and found a quiet spot and she squatted in front of the vehicle.  A while down the road we came upon a poisonous Puff Adder snake in the road!  We got back to the lodge at 7 in time for dinner set up down at the jetty on formal dining tables lit with lanterns and lights in the trees under the night sky.  A great day!

Wednesday, March 27 – Zimbabwe

We were up at 5:15 and out on a river cruise at 6.  We saw the sun rise over the river and savanna.  The guide kept stopping to look at a troop of baboons etc and Julie finally told her, no, we want to go straight to see the hippos in the hopes of seeing them up on the shore before it gets too hot.  So she drove into the channel on the Namibia side and found a pod of hippos just coming up out of the water.  There big ones and babies, all eating grass for breakfast.  It was great but none of them opened their mouths.  We slowly returned to the lodge for breakfast, viewing some crocodiles with Water Thick Knees behind them on the way.  I ordered what I thought was French toast with bananas but when it came it was like a fried banana loaf with bacon and marscapone on top.  Janet ordered one scrambled egg and got three.

We left in land rovers at 10 am heading for the Zimbabwe border.  The roads are so bad it feels like riding a bucking bronco at times.  The sand is part of the Kalahari desert, 84% of Botswana is Kalahari desert.  There were about 30 transport trucks waiting to cross the river but they had to go on a ferry one at a time, so they could have to wait for days.  We were told to get out at the border and line up to get our exit stamp on our passport, then back on the Land Rover to the Zimbabwe security where we had to get out and line up to pay $75 US for a visa.   We walked across the border and climbed onto a bus with our new tour guide Michael.  Cars were lined up to get gas in queues a mile long to pay $3.27 a litre as it is in very short supply here.  Zimbabwe has 85% unemployment rate, there is much corruption mainly stemming from the Mugabe era.  It was 38C and they have been having a drought.  We drove through the Zambezi National park to Victoria Falls which has a population of 40,000.  We are staying at the Victoria Falls Hotel, a beautiful old hotel built by the British in 1904 originally to house the workers building the Cape to Cairo railway.  We had lunch on the terrace with views of the gardens and the spray of the falls in the distance.

We were assigned rooms and told to meet at the bus at 2:30 for a walking tour of the falls.  We drove a few minutes to the entrance of the park to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO site.  “Victoria Falls is one of the wonders of the world, stretching 1.7 kilometres wide and shared by the countries of Zambiaand Zimbabwe. The falls are formed as the full width of the Zambezi Riverplummets into a 108 metre high cleft. During the wet season, the spray from the falls can be seen nearly 50 kilometres away, hence the local name Mosi-oa-Tunya (the ‘Smoke that Thunders’).”  We walked along a path for about 3 kilometres with misty rain soaking our clothes as we viewed the magnificent falls with a rainbow over it.  Part of the path doesn’t have a fence or wall and the wet cobblestone path is very slippery.

We returned to the hotel and decided we had enough time to go for a swim in the beautiful deep pool.  As Janet was walking along a garden path a warthog who was eating grass on the lawn happened to chew through an electric wire going to a light, the poor thing squealed and the light exploded shattering the glass and scaring Janet!  We got ready for dinner which was  a buffet outside under the stars in the Jungle Junction and it included creamed cauliflower and cheese!  (To eat in the main dining room, men had to have dinner jackets and ties and women dresses…la de da).

Thursday, March 28 – Return Home

Since we opted not to go on the helicopter ride over Victoria Falls, we could sleep in this morning! We had breakfastand our bags were to be out at 9:30, leaving at 10:40 for the airport to fly back to Johannesburg, 1.5 hrs, 3 hour wait, then Joburg to Dakar, Senegal, 8.5 hrs, Senegal to Washington 8.5 hrs, 3 hour wait, Wash. to Toronto 1.5 hrs.  Arrived in Toronto 6:15 pm SA time Mar 29.  But our luggage was left in Washington! Ugh!

Trials and Tribulations – Good Grief!

Our SA Trip was great but was plagued with delays, mishaps, bad weather and illness.  One lady in the group hurt her back a couple of days before leaving so had to walk with a cane.  Then at the airport just before leaving another lady in the group had some sort of attack and the authorities wouldn’t let her on the plane without being okayed by a doctor so she and her daughter didn’t make the flight, they arrived a day late.  Our Air Canada flight was delayed 2 hours by a frozen toilet, we arrived in Washington just in time to board our connection but were delayed 2 hours waiting for the wings to be de-iced. We stopped in Dakar, Senegal for refuelling, got off the plane in Johannesburg and had to run like we were in The Amazing Race to catch the connection to Cape Town.

Our Canadian tour guide didn’t get her luggage for 3 days after arriving in SA and the first day a man in the group fell and hurt his arm.  In Cape Town it  was so windy and foggy that both the cable car to Table Mountain and the trip to Robbens Island were closed, and when we went to see the penguins on the beach it was pouring rain and so windy our umbrellas were turning inside out while trying to take photos and keep cameras dry.  One of the penguins bit Janet on the leg.  There was also a bicycle rally with 40,000 entrants so many of the roads were closed around Cape Town.  Everywhere our bus tried to go we were blocked!

Then one by one 30 out of 36 of us came down with some kind of gastrointestinal virus, one lady was taken to hospital and given IV drip and blood tests, we all saw doctors in different towns, had pills, shots in the butt, shared prescriptions and were popping Imodium like crazy!  No one was eating much except tea, toast and bananas.  There was a scramble every morning to get a banana before they were all gone.  The conversation at breakfast was, how is your poop this morning? LOL.   We got to know our fellow travellers quite well!  lol.  One lady fainted on the bus as we were driving, one lady fainted in the 4th chamber of the Congo Caves and the SA tour guide fainted in the bathroom of her hotel.  One man pooped his pants in the bus, another in one of the hotel dining rooms, one lady soiled her bed and woke the guide at 1:30 in the morning to go to hospital.  We had cramps, nausea, diarrhea.  The poor bus driver had to clean the bus toilet out which would be out of water to flush because of so much use everyday and he would sterilize the bus every night.  When we did feel better and eat, the problems come back again!   The SA guide said she had never seen anything like it and she had been giving tours for a long time!  She called it The Poop Parade. LOL.  We don’t think it was food or water we drank because everyone caught it at different times.  The blood tests came back not showing anything.  We were supposed to visit a school and a soup kitchen near Kniessen but had to cancel because we couldn’t chance giving the people there our germs as they would have no access to medical care.  Gradually we all got over it.

One of the ladies lost her purse with all her money and credit cards in it. Also a cyclone hit Mozambique and Zimbabwe while we were in SA.  At Chobe we were on a morning game drive, the main one and I had put in a spare CF card in my camera, taken a few pictures and then it said it was full! Ugh panic!  I deleted a couple I had taken in case we saw a lion because I thought I had left the other card in the room, but I found it in my purse.  I switched the cards and frantically started deleting crappy pictures to make more room on the card. Later one of the men gave me an old card he had extra.  To top it off, we are home but our luggage is still In Washington! LOL! Hopefully it arrives tomorrow.  Other than that it was an awesome trip!!  I took over 2000 photos so it will be a while before I post them.

I should have mentioned that Craig Travel (Can) and Why Not Travel (SA) were wonderful, finding doctors and hospitals and trying to take care of us!  Just super!  And our fellow travellers, in true Canadian style remained positive, upbeat, gracious and uncomplaining throughout, a great group of people!

European River Cruise

Wednesday May 30/18 – Janet drove to Niagara from Ottawa, a trip that normally takes 5.5 hours.  She left at 9:30 and sent me an email about 11 saying she was making good time.  But then about 11:30, she sent another email saying there had been an accident between 2 transport trucks, they were on fire and one person was killed.  All the traffic was stopped, and she and 50 millions ther people were sent on a 3 hour detour!  This meant she reached Toronto right at rush hour and was slowed there too.  

I asked to get off work early at 4 and went to visit Mom.  She was quite alert and could hear so i took her for a walk until it was time to go in for her supper at 5:15.  I went home and Ken and I finally had supper about 6 because Janet still wasnt there yet!!  I was getting worried about her.  She finally arrived at 7:15, after driving 9 hours and 45 minutes!  She was exhausted.  Wendy came over and had supper and dyed my hair..

Thursday, May 31, 2018 – I finished packing and then Janet and I went for a pedicure at 10 and then went to Walmart for a couple of things.  The Niagara Airbus was supposed to pick us up at 3:55 pm but had called to say they were coming later at 4:30.  They finally showed up at 4:55, an hour later than planned.  They drove to Prudhommes where we switched buses.  We were supposed to be at the airport by 6 but didnt arrive until 6:30.  We boarded the plane but because of the rain, it was delayed until 10 pm, an hour late.  We were given a meal bout 11 pm and were woken up several times by the pilot announcing that there was turbulence and to put our seatbelts on.  

Friday, June 1, 2018 – Amsterdam- We arrived in Amsterdam about 11:15 am their time (6 hours ahead of our time).  Our luggage took a long time to appear but it did and we then found the Avalon representative.  There were 36 of us on the flight that are going on the river cruise.  By the time we got to the boat, the “Expression” it was 1 pm.  We were told to go down to the restaurant for some lunch and then our rooms were ready, a couple of hours ahead of time!  We had a rest and then went to see the cruise director about the next day and went for a walk to see how far it is to the tram station.  There a million people on bicycles! And they have their own lanes but dont stop for pedestrians!  You have to be very careful!  

We returned the to ship, had a shower and changed for dinner.  We had a safety talk etc in the lounge and then supper in the restaurant at 7 pm.  I had Alfredo pasta, Janet had chicken and we both had Dutch apple pie with brandy raisins for dessert.  

Sunday June 3/18 – Cologne, Germany

We were able to sleep in a bit today.  After a buffet breakfast, we went up on the sky deck and laid in the sun on lounge chairs, reading and watching the scenery.  After lunch we docked in Cologne, West Germany with a population of just over 1 million.  We went on an hour and a half walking tour.  Our guide lead us under the Train Bridge which has over 1200 trains a day pass over it.  The railings have been covered with padlocks put there by couples as a symbol of their eternal love.  The locks now weigh over 22 tons! And engineers have told the city they should take them off the bridge but they haven’t.

In Roman times, Cologne was on the border between the civilized Romans and the barbaric Germanic people to the north.  Cologne has the largest Jewish community north of the Alps.  Ninety percent of the city was destroyed during WWII, however, the huge Gothic style cathedral was spared, mainly because the Allies used the cathedral as a point of orientation to bomb the rest of the city and because there were no military personnel housed in it.  Also, the foundation pilings of the cathedral go 40 feet into the ground.  The construction of the cathedral started in 1248 and was not finished until 1880, 600 years later.  This giant gothic cathedral is one of the largest in the world, a medieval church finished in the 19th century and a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It has a 5 aisled basilica, 2 spires, 12 tombs, a shrine believed to hold the bones of the Magi, a black limestone slab altar believed to be the largest in any Christian church, and the largest existing cycle of stained glass windows in Europe as well as many other masterpieces.  It is very costly to maintain, approximately 20,000 Euro per day, 7 million Euro per year.

After our guided tour, we wandered through the cathedral, walked to the train bridge, through the park with many German families enjoying the nice weather and then strolled through a flea market and ended up back at the ship.  For supper I had the sea bass with rice, Janet had pork, sausage and mashed potatoes.  A swing band came on board for our entertainment in the lounge.

Monday, June 4/18 ~ Rudesheim

After breakfast we sat upstairs on lounge chairs on the sky deck.  It was a beautiful sunny day as we cruised through the Rhine Valley on the Rhine River, Germany with green hills and quaint villages, castles sitting atop high cliffs, steep sloping vineyards and steepled churches on either side.  The Rhine River starts in Switzerland and ends in the Northern Sea.  This stretch of 60 miles between Koblenz and the Main River is called the Romantic Rhine and is designated a UNESCO world heritage site. The 80 castles were all built in the Middle Ages, the 12th or 13th centuries.  The villages are quaint but isolated, residents have to commute to Koblenz or Frankfurt.  Also there are lots of noisy trains passing all the time but they are essential for industry.  The river is pretty clean and people swim and fish in it.

After lunch we docked in the small town of Rudesheim where we boarded a little choo choo train which took us to the centre of the old village.  Some of the passengers went on a cable car and the rest went in the Siegfried Mechanical Museum.  It houses a fascinating private collection of automatic mechanical musical instruments.  A guide took us into different rooms of the old Bromserhof house with frescos from the 13th century and played several of these unusual instruments, showing how they work and where they were played.  Afterwards we strolled around the cobblestones streets looking at the shops, ending at a restaurant for a demonstration and tasting of a special Rudesheim Brandy Chocolate coffee made in special cups with whipped cream.  We wandered through the town and a park back to the ship.  We discovered that the sky deck will be closed for a least the next 2 days, maybe longer, as it wont fit under the bridges on the Main River unless they take down the upper deck.  We sat with 2 retired ladies from British Columbia, Darlene and Carol who were very nice.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018 ~ Miltonberg

We had a pleasant cruise on the Main River, Bavaria this morning.  Most of the sky deck was closed due to not being able to fit underneath bridges when it is open, so we went to the back deck on the third floor where the smokers go but it was very hot and the fumes from the motor were bad.  We moved to the front deck on the 2nd floor past the lounge.  This was much nicer with more comfortable chairs.  We stayed there until lunch time.  A man played a zither for about an hour in the lounge.

After lunch we all went on a walking tour of the historic town of Miltonberg, population 10,000.  Our guide’s name was Heidi and she was very good.  Gutenberg invented the printing press using carved letters here in 1450.  Mainz has 20 of the 50 Gutenberg Bibles that are left in the world.  Some of the half timbered houses are 4500 years old!  The oldest hotel in Europe is here on the Main Street.  There are signs on the outside walls saying when they were built.  During our free time we walked up the stone stairs, through an archway and along a cobblestone pathway to castle where there were scenic views of the town and river below.  We kept going and found our way back down a steep cobblestone path back to the Main Street and square.  We walked back, boarded the ship and at 4 pm we had tea and cake on the front deck.  We stayed there dozing and reading and watching the scenery until it was time to get ready for supper.  We sat with a New Zealand couple, Jimmy and Elizabeth who are late 70s, early 80s and have only been married for 7 months.  We both had the watercress soup and the pork with pistachio icecream for dessert.

Wednesday, June 6/18 – Wurzburg

After breakfast we boarded a bus that took us to into the centre of Wurzberg, known for its baroque and rococo architecture.  We were taken on a tour of The Residenz, a palace with a large fresco on the ceiling over the large staircase depicting the 4 continents, ornate rooms with gilded trim and mirrors.  It was destroyed in WWII in 1945 but the ceiling over the staircase painted by Venetian artist Tiepolo was saved.  The rest has been painstakingly restored.  We had a look at the chapel and then toured the large garden with sculpted yews, statues, fountains and a rose garden in full bloom.

Next we walked to the centre of town where we were free to wander.  Janet and I walked to the bridge over the river with statues and good views of the castle (different from the palace).  On our way back we entered the large cathedral and sat for a while in the cool looking at the organ and interesting stained glass and statues.  The bus took us back in time for lunch.  We had turkey and gravy, some noodles dishes, salad and icecream.      

We sat outside on the deck reading and drifting off to sleep until 3 pm when Brum gave a talk about the optional tours available on the rest of the trip.  This ended just in time for tea.  We returned to the skydeck until supper.  I had ravioli and Janet had beef tenderloin.

Thursday, Jun 7, 2018 ~ Bamberg

After breakfast we boarded a bus to take us to the Romanesque town of Bamberg situated on 7 hills where the Main River meets the Regnitz.  It is more than 1000 years old and has a population of 77,000.  Bamberg has the highest density of breweries in all of Germany and produces 60 different beers, including the world famous Smoked Beer that has a bacon flavour.  There are 65 churches in Bamberg and 14000 students live here.  It is a UNESCO world heritage site because so many of the buildings are originals from the 13th to 19th century.  Not even 5% of the buildings were destroyed in the WW!!.  Many of the original half timbered houses from the 13th century have baroque facades covering the originals.  The oldest brewery in Germany is situated here.  We walked along the river and up the hill to the huge cathedral and residence, admired the rose gardens and then walked down to the Main Street where the half timbered Town Hall was built in the middle of the river.  The town hall has frescos on the sides.  It was very hot so after having a look inside the cathedral, we walked back along the river

To wait for the bus to return to the ship.

After lunch we sat outside in the front of the ship and read and slept.  At 3 pm we had a tour of the galley which is very small and 11 people work in it.  It was suffocatingly hot!  We went back outside until tea time and then got ready for supper.

Friday, Jun 8, 2018 ~ Nuremberg

After breakfast we boarded a bus for a half hour drive to the city of Nuremberg in northern Bavaria with a population of half a million.  As well as the Nuremberg Trials, it is famous for ginger bread cookies and finger size sausages.  Our first stop was outside the courthouse where the International Military Tribunal tried 24 of the most important Nazi leaders of the Third Reich in 1945/46.  The top right window is Court room  600 where they took place.  The prisoners were held in cells underneath, one prisoner per one cell, one guard each.  12 were sentenced to hang, 7 to long term prison sentences and 3 were acquitted.  Hermann Goring was sentenced to death but committed suicide the night before.  No one really knows how he did it.

Next we visited the Zeppelin Field, where Nazi Party rallies were held between 1933 to 1938.  Hitler would stand before 200,000 SS and SA and Nazi youth to demonstrate the unity of the country in a propagandistic way with 3 large swastika flags hanging behind him.  The field is now a memorial but is used for rock concerts and car races sometimes.

We then drove to the Documentation Centre which is a museum that houses the exhibition “Fascination and Terror” concerned with “the causes, connections, and consequences of Nazi Germany”.    We listened to audioguides and saw original film footage as well as photo boards.  At the end we saw the unfinished Congress Hall designed to hold 50,000 people and the Holocaust railroad exhibit showing “tickets” with names of the victims and each ticket represents 100 victims.

We returned to the ship, had lunch and were allowed up on the sky deck because at 3 pm, we passed the Continental Divide.  A large cement structure that marks the highest point of navigable water in the world that can be reached by a ship.  It is the point where water to the north drains down to the North Sea and on the other side, water drains south into the Black Sea.  Once past this, the locks start going down hill now.  They are very deep locks here too.  We had cannelloni, mustard soup, and icecream for supper.

Sat. June 9 – Regensburg

At 8:30 a bus took us to Kelheim where we boarded a boat to take us through the narrowest part of the Danube River.  This part of the Danube Gorge is a UNESCO site and the boats are only allowed to go 6 km an hour.  We passed the Liberation Centre up on a hill built in 1863 with 18 statues of goddesses around the top representing the18 Germanic tribes.  We passed a pale green Franciscan church and limestone cliffs.  Once through the gorge, we came upon the Weltenburger Monastery founded by monks in 620 a.d.  The Abby was constructed in the baroque style in 1750.  Originally there were 26 monks but now there are 5 plus an Abbott.  Inside there is a statue of St. George on a horse slaying a dragon on top of the main altar.  The organ is from 1729 and is in active service.  The large fresco in the “dome” ceiling is actually flat.  The monks have the oldest monastery brewery but only make one kind of beer now, a dark lager which is what we were given along with a large salty pretzel in the beer garden outside the church but still within the walls of the monastery.

We then drove back to the boat, had a quick lunch and then went on a walking tour of Regensburg, the 4th largest city in Germany built in 179 a.d. This was a very large city in medieval times and is a UNESCO site as it has the largest cluster of medieval buildings left.  It is also called the city of towers as prominent, wealthy citizens would build a family tower on their homes.  We saw the large gothic cathedral and the old town hall etc.  When the tour finished we walked over to see a cuckoo clock demonstration in a store.   Cuckoo clocks originated in the Black Forest.  As we were leaving we realized it was now pouring rain, thundering and lightening and Janet had left her umbrella on the boat and I had left my rain jacket there also.  Any other time, we would have them!  We waited and waited for it to die down.  Finally we decided to make a run for it.

The oldest sausage kitchen in all of Germany is in Regensburg and we had a voucher for a free sausage and beer each but we decided to forget it and raced back to the ship.  We were pretty wet by the time we got back.  We had a shower and then went to the lounge for a beer tasting.  We tried 4 different types of beer, Bright Lager, Premium. Pilsner, Dark Lager and Wheat Beer.  Janet liked # 1 best, I liked #2 best.

Sunday, June 10, 2018 ~ Salzburg and Mondsee

The ship arrived in the town of Passau in Austria this morning.  It is situated on the crux of 3 rivers and is about 1 hour from the Czech border.  The big forest between Austria, Bavaria and Czechoslovakia was No Mans Land until 1989 when the Iron curtain fell.  You can now enter it but there are no houses or anything.  Austria was occupied in WWII and split into 4 pieces until 1956.  Austria’s population is 8.5 million.  The German autobahn’s don’t have any speed limits because fast cars like BMWs (Bavarian Motor Works) and Porches are produced here and they want you to be able to drive them at high speeds.

We took an optional excursion to Salzburg which means fortress of salt.  Salzburg was one of the wealthiest cities in the country in the 16th century.  It is the birthplace of Mozart and parts of The Sound of Music were filmed here.  We walked through the Mirabel Gardens.  The scene where the children are singing around the fountain was shot here.  Then we walked over the bridge to the old town, saw where Mozart lived and continued through to St. Peter’s Basilica etc.  We were then given free time so Janet and I entered the Italian basilica and sat and listened to the service with beautiful organ and choir music but didnt stay too long as it was in Austrian.  Next we saw the Franciscan cloistered garden and then went in St. Peter,s Basilica which was dark and quiet.  Next to this was St. Peter’s Cemetery with the large gates that were in the Sound of Music film when they were hiding from the Nazis.  The cemetery has many wrought iron markers instead of stones, some fairly new.  We wandered around looking for somewhere to get a drink and ended up at McDonald’s for an Ice Cappacino and a cookie for lunch.  We walked back early to the meeting place to wait for the rest of the group.

Another half hour drive and we arrived at the town of Mondsee where the church that the VonTrapps were married in, in the movie is (not where they were really married).  This is a minor basilica, one of 24 in the world.  There are only 6 major basilicas and they are all in Rome and Assisi.  On Sundays, it is customary for. Austrians to go to church, and then to to for beer afterwards.  in the afternoon, they sit and drink coffee and eat cake.  After looking around here, we walked back to the lake and sat in the shade.  Lake Mondsee is a beautiful turquoise lake with the Alps in the background.  The water is so clean you can drink it.  We would have liked to have stayed here longer but it was time to go back to the bus and drive back to the boat which is now docked at Linz.  I had the salmon for supper and Janet had pasta.

Monday, June 11 – Melk Abbey and Durnstein

We were able to sleep in a bit longer today because our first tour to the Melk Abbey was not until 9:30. Melk is a UNESCO site and there are also 900 students going to school there. There are 7 courtyards and a garden with fountains.  The large mural in the hallway is of St. Benedict who is the patron saint of Europe. It was a 50 minute tour and we could not take photos inside.  There are 5 libraries, and we saw 2 of them. The town of Melk has 5600 people. We could have walked back to the ship but it was our hottest day so far, over 30 degrees, so we took the short bus ride back. We both were so hot in the Abbey we thought we would pass out.

After lunch, we sailed through the Wachau valley which is famous for growing apricots and saffron. The apricots are smaller but much sweeter. We went to sit outside,  as it started to pour rain. But it only lasted half an hour, then the sun returned just in time for the tour to Durnstein.

Janet decided to stay onboard on the sky deck.  I went on the one hour walking tour of Durnstein.  The church tower was blue, and I went in some of the shops and put my feet in the Danube. I joined Janet on the sky deck until supper.

Janet had the roast beef dinner, I ordered sole but it was not cooked properly and was too salty, and was all skin, so asked for roast beef too. We had apricot dumplings for dessert.

Tuesday, June 12 – Vienna

Today we were driven into the cultural city of Vienna as the Danube doesn’t go close to the centre any more, the ships are docked about 20 minutes away.  It has a population of about 1.9 million.  It is a very green city with many parks and the Vienna Woods surround it.  It has been ranked the #1 city many times.  We passed the Music Hall, the Art Nouveau Museum, and the State Opera House built in 1869 and has 1700 seats.  We passed the statue of Johann Strauss who was really the first “rock star” as he was very popular, handsome and women fainted at some of his concerts.  He composed The Danube Waltz.  We started the walking tour at the Hapsburg Residence where we saw a couple of Lippizaner horses in training in the private garden.  We passed the square with the parliament buildings, the statue of somebody famous and a statue commemorating something.  We looked in the Spanish Riding School stables where we could see a few of the Lippizaner horses.  The tour ended at the main square in front of St. Stephens Cathedral and we were given free time.

We went into the cathedral which was very big and dark.  We walked down the Main Street looking in shops like the Gustav Klimt exhibition shop.  We had a special ice cream iced coffee.  I bought a Klimt change purse. The bus took us back to the ship  where we had a Griled lunch on the sky deck.  We read in the sun for a while until it clouded over. We had tea at 4 pm in the lounge.  Supper is at 6 tonight as we are going to a Royal Waltz music concert tonight.

Wednesday, June 13~ Bratislava, Slovakia

This morning we went on a walking tour of Bratislava’ a small town but the largest in Slovakia.  They used to be part Czechoslovakia but were separated only 25 years ago.  Most here are Roman Catholic.  We visited the large cathedral of St. Martins with a statue of St. Martin.  The main square has 4 styles of architecture, baroque, gothic, renaissance and art nouveau.  The most photographed statue in the city is the one of the man coming out of the manhole in the sidewalk.  We also saw a statue of Hans Christian Anderson who visited the city and when asked to write a fairy tale about Bratislava replied “No!  Your city is already like a fairy tale!”  We did some shopping and then returned to the ship to have a grilled lunch on the sky deck and my hamburger was raw in the middle again.  We met 2 Canadians from BC who work for Inglobus.  We sat on the sky deck and read all afternoon.  The supper was the farewell gala special chefs supper.  We had beef tenderloin.

Thursday Jun 14 ~ Budapest, Hungary

We had breakfast early so we could take pictures of our arrival in Budapest (pronounced, Buda-pescht by the Europeans).  It was pouring rain this morning but we stood out under the front of the ship and took pictures of the many bridges crossing the river, the Neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament buildings and other landmarks.  There are 11 bridges and 2 tunnels connecting t(e two sides of the city.  Some went on a walking tour of the city but we were glad we had opted for the bus tour as it just poured rain all morning.  It was impossible to take photos from the bus.

Budapest is one of the largest cities in Europe with a population of 2.5 million.  The people originally migrated here from Asia not Europe.  It was originally 2 cities, Buda and Pest until it was joined by bridges crossing the Danube.  Most of the buildings are fairly new.  Andrassy Avenue connects the city centre to Hero’s Square and is all part of the UNESCO site.  We passed thermal hot springs, the largest natural medicinal spa bath in

Europe.  The temperature is 74C.  We drove into the Jewish part of the city, past the largest synagogue which can seat 3000 people.  The Gestapo took it over during the war and used it as a headquarters.  In the 1950s it was taken over by the communists and the KGB who tortured many people.  We saw the Weeping Willow sculpture memorial created by actor Tony Curtis who was a Hungarian Jew. Gradually in the 1990s the communism started to change to privatization.  Under communism there was zero unemployment and many were paid for doing no work but with privatization many lost their jobs.  This is about the time there was an influx of Hungarian gypsies into Canada trying to make money illegally.

We stopped at Matthias Church and got out of the bus and walked.  It is a new classic Roman Catholic minor basilica built in 1905.  The raven on the top was the heraldic animal of King Matthias.  We walked around the Fisherman’s bastion which provided panoramic views of the city.  We browsed in some little shops with many Russian dolls and embroidered tops and tablecloths.

We returned to the ship, had lunch which included Hungarian goulash, booked our seats for our flight home and then packed and napped until tea time.  Although we missed tea as they had changed it to 3 pm.  For supper, we sat with our new friends Carol and Darlene, sisters from BC.  I had Hungarian noodles for dinner but they were very salty, Janet had chicken.  After supper we boarded the bus for a night time tour of lights.  We drove to the top of a hill and were able to walk along and take pictures of the city lights below.  Then we drove back to the Danube and walked along the opposite shore to the Parliament buildings and took more photos.  We then drove back along the shore of the Danube to our ship.

Friday, June 15- Trip Home

We got up about 7 and had our last buffet breakfast.  We missed saying goodbye to Carol and Darlene as they had received a call that their car was coming early.  They sent us a message.  The bus left the ship just after 10 and our Air CAnada flight was to leave at 1 pm but was 50 minutes late taking off.

Review of 10th Trip

It was a good trip and we would recommend Avalon however, it just wasn’t adventurous enough for us at this point in our lives, maybe when we are older?

We estimate that about half the passengers on the ship were sick with a cold.  Everybody had terrible coughs, some even had bronchitis, some had to ask to get a doctor on board, and or get medication from pharmacies.  Janet got a bad cough but took drugs right away.  The crew of the ship didn’t seem to notice, they didn’t make people use the hand sanitizers before meals or when boarding the ship like other cruises we have been on.

We also didn’t realize that the sky deck would be out of bounds for 4 or 5 days as the ship is too high to fit under a lot of the bridges.  The skydeck was nice to sit on and get some sun but the lounge chairs up there were very uncomfortable.  The main lounge was also usually very cold.  We both thought the food was good, there were a lot of choices.  The staff were friendly and we loved the cruise director, Bram.  He was very nice, funny and interesting.

Bon Echo 2017

Sat. Aug 19 – We were up early and left at 5:22 am!  We had #2 Son’s trailer on #1 Son’s van but the trailer hitch was very low.  We stopped along the QEW and called Hubby but there was nothing he could do so we carried on, going slowly.  We had the canoe on the roof of the van as well.

We arrived at Bon Echo about 11 am. and Win’s friend, the Am. Hotdog and his 3 kids arrived a few minutes later. Min and Cin and Jan were already here.  We set up the tents before it started to drizzle.  we had grilled cheese for lunch, and then went for a walk to the lake.  Win and her kids and the Am Hotdog and his kids are in their own campsite down the road from us older ladies. 🙂

Sunday Aug 20 – It was a nice day so Win, Hotdog and kids went out in the canoe and kayaks.  The 4 oldsters went to the main beach in the afternoon.  Min and I went for a swim.  There are nice big old pine trees everywhere.  We looked around the visitor centre.  Win and the Hotdog found a nice rock to swim off of.  The kids call it the “Mermaid Rock”.  About 3 pm we returned to the campsite as the beach was busy and noisy.

Monday Aug 21 – We got up early and rented a canoe and a kayak and all went out on Mazinaw Lake to look at the pictographs on the face of the rock cliffs. We canoed through the Narrows.  Hotdog, Win and kids went on to Mermaid Rock.  We had our lunch on the beach where we park the canoes as Min had forgotten her knapsack in the car.  Then we joined the others on Mermaid Rock.  We went in swimming but the Hotdog had jumped in and hurt his foot on the rocks.  it was quite swollen and painful. After a while we returned to the parking lot.  Win decided to take the Hotdog to the emergency in Nappanee, 2 hours away.  Nowhere closer had an xray machine.  I said I would watch the kids.   Us oldsters set up their tarp for them as it is supposed to rain tomorrow and cleaned up their campsite a bit. Jan and I fried some hamburgers and hotdogs for their supper and we had some too.  Then they played cards and games.  I lit the fire.  They wanted Smores but we didn’t want to do them.  They kept asking and asking to do them so we gave them marshmellows to roast.  Min and Cin came and we tried to have a sing song around the campfire but the boys were loud and rowdy.  At 9 we gave up and put them to bed.  I crawled into Win’s sleeping bag.  The Hotdog and Win got back about midnight.  He has an air cast on and his foot is broken.  He can’t drive.  I went back to my own tent where Jan was still awake reading.  A man was snoring very loudly across the road.

Tues. Aug 22 – At 7 am, we heard thunder so got up and went to the washroom.  We went back to bed and read until 10.  Min made pancakes for us for breakfast.  Win made pancakes for their lot too.  It rained off and on.  we sat and read and knitted.  It rained most of the day.

Wed. Aug 23 – It was cooler today.  we rose late.  The 4 of us went on the 1.7 km Tall Pines Trail.  Win too the kids on the Shield Trail while the Hotdog sat and read his book.  We saw a doe very close eating leaves.  Win and the kids saw 4 snakes and lots of frogs.  Two of the snakes were very large brown ones.  We went and got ice and had an ice-cream cone, then took a drive down to Joe Perry Lake and the farther campground.  We wouldn’t want to stay there, it is way too far from everything.  Jan and I made omelets and fried potatoes and tomatoes for supper.  Afterwards we went down to their campfire to try another sing song.  It was better tonight.

Thurs. Aug 24 – We rose about 10 again.  We went into the park store and then went on the Cliff Top trail, taking the little ferry over (cost $5.65).  There are 200 steps up to the top viewing platforms.  It is 1.5 km and took us about an hour.  We took the ferry back about 3 pm.  We had some snacks and read until suppertime.

Friday, Aug 25 – We got up early and dismantled the campsites.  Poor Win had to do most of it herself as the Hotdog couldn’t do much with a broken foot.  Win and I had to load the canoe on our car and both kayaks on the Hotdogs car.  It was very difficult to get the kayaks up there as there is nothing to hold on to!  We finally got all packed up and said goodbye to everybody.  I drove the Hotdog’s car with him, Kim and Eric, 2 kayaks and 3 bikes on the back.  Win drove our car with Ethan and her 2 girls and the canoe and trailer.  We drove together, stopping in Oshawa for supper at a Wimpy’s.  After supper we were ready to go but I got a heart palpitation.  Ugh!  We waited around awhile and it finally stopped so we carried on.  The traffic wasn’t too bad going through Toronto.  We got home about 10 pm and they all stayed overnight at our house, sleeping in the basement, the living room, Jan’s bedroom etc.

Sat Aug 26 – Hubby and I made them all eggs for breakfast, some fried, some scrambled.  We emptied the vehicles, Win had # 1 Son’s van cleaned and then she drove them back home over the border.


Egypt Trip 2017

Sunday, April 23/2017 – Toronto  – Janet arrived yesterday afternoon.   It was a beautiful sunny day today.  We made coleslaw, chicken and French fries for supper.  I brought mom to our house and we sat in the driveway in the sun.  Win and the girls came and they blew bubbles, skipped and had a tea party.  Win dyed my hair. Hubby took mom home.  We had supper and then Janet and I drove to Toronto as I had booked one night at the Toronto Plaza hotel so we could park and fly.  The map from map quest was wrong and we went the wrong way on Wilson Ave, far out of our way.  We finally found it but it was seedy, scuzzy looking.  As soon as we got our room, we checked for bed bugs.  Then the TV wouldn’t work and I missed my Sunday night shows, and when Janet went to have a shower, there were no towels.  I hope her car is okay parked here for 2 weeks!

Monday, April 24 – Toronto to Cairo – We were up at 5, haggled with the hotel clerk as they had charged us too much and boarded the shuttle by 6. We purchased an Egg Mcmuffin as we didn’t expect to be served breakfast on the plane.  We boarded the Air Canada jet at 8:45 and were served breakfast of pancakes, fruit and yogurt and a bun.  When we reached London Heathrow airport we had to run to catch our connecting Egyptair flight to Cairo.  I had to wait at security first because I set off the alarm and they had to scan me, then my knapsack was flagged and I had to wait to have it checked ( l had a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer half full that set it off). And then it was a 15 minute walk to the gate.  We made it to the gate just in time to use the washroom quick before boarding the plane!

The flight to Cairo was 5 hours and we tried to sleep but it was very hot and there were 3 of us crammed in to 3 seats and most other people had 3 seats to one person so they could lie down! What the heck?  We were given beef and rice for supper and then a chicken sandwich before we landed.  There were also 2 babies on board who cried most of the flight!  We landed in Cairo at 4:15 AM.  Most planes in Egypt fly at night or early in the morning because the pavement gets so hot it burns the wheels.

Tuesday, April 25 – CAIRO

The Insight guide was there to meet us and we easily purchased our visa at the bank for $25 US. Most banks here are open 24/7!  It was a 12 minute ride to the hotel as it was 4 am and there was no traffic.  The driver said it could take up to one and half hours in day-time  traffic!  Check in was supposed to be at 3 pm this afternoon, however, at 6:30 am insight persuaded them to give us our room.  We met our tour guide, Mohammed Yousef.  He asked if we wanted to take the tour to Alexandria but as we had just arrived, and that is where the recent bombing of Coptic Christian churches had been, we declined. We unpacked and went to sleep for a few hours and then about 1pm we went to the bank and exchanged some US dollars for Egyptian pounds, $50US = 900 EGP.

The Omar Khayyam Hotel, Cairo was built in 1869 to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. This opulent Cairo palace, built in the neo-classical  style is set on 6 acres abutting the banks of the Nile River with manicured terraced gardens and fountains.  Unfortunately the pool area is under reconstruction.  Omar Khayyam was a Persian born in 1048, a mathematician, scholar, astronomer, philosopher and poet.  He was considered to be one of the most influential thinkers of the Middle Ages.   The hotel was purchased by the Marriott chain in 1970.

We walked around the hotel grounds and then ventured out onto the streets of Cairo. They were very busy with daytime traffic, taxis honking.  A man helped us cross the street. The people seem friendly and nice.  We have been told a few times that they don’t see many Canadians in Egypt as our Govt has a travel ban.  We strolled along the banks of the Nile in the sun.  It was 75F/ 24C but with a nice wind blowing, not as hot as we had expected.  We passed some men fishing, there were boats for hire and many taxis offering a lift.  Many of the apartment buildings are rundown with no glass in the windows, just gaping black holes. At 3:30 an Islamic chant blared over the loudspeakers on the streets.  We tried to buy a Gatorade from a gas station but the cashier told us it was $22US so we declined it.  Back at the hotel we figured it was $3.75Cdn.  We sat on the balcony in the cool breeze and ate buns, pretzels and cookies leftover from the plane.  About 6:30 we went down to a restaurant in the hotel and had chicken for supper and I had an Egyptian Stella’s beer.  It was very good.

Wednesday, April 26/17 – Cairo

Our wake-up call was at 6. We had a delicious buffet breakfast in the hotel.  The strawberries, fruit and juices were fresh, too many pastries to choose from, except for the scrambled eggs which were a soupy bowl of dark yellow slop and there was no bacon.  We met the rest of the group in the lobby at 8 am.  There are only 6 of us plus the tour guide, two Malaysian ladies, June and Ng, a lady from Chicago, Julie and a lady from Arizona, Barbara and us.  We paid for our excursions and boarded a van to drive through the crazy traffic of Cairo to the fortress and mosque of Mohammed Ali where we had to take off our shoes to enter and have our knees and shoulders covered.  354 lamps, one for each day of their year hang from the ceiling.   The large domes were for acoustics as it echoes so the worshippers could hear the Iman speaking from the pulpit.  There were some great views of the city from up here.  You can just see the pyramids through the mist if you concentrate.

We drove to the Egyptian museum and had to pay 50 EGP to take photos. We saw a life size statue of Rameses, a black statue of king, queen and a woman.  Our guide seems very knowledgeable and explained many things.  A moustache denotes a prince, a beard denotes a king and arms crossed means a god.  You can see their ears in front of headdress so he can hear everything in the never-world.  The right hand holds something, showing his muscles for power, the left hand out flat shows kindness and their left foot is always ahead of the right one.  There were 3 kingdoms, the old, the middle of the new.  We saw framed hieroglyphics on papyrus paper, King Tuts treasures from his tomb, he had 4 gold caskets or boxes that fit inside each other like a Russian doll, and then 3 sarcophagus inside each other all made of gold, last one is pure gold, 110 grams.  The jackal, ears up, was guarding the tomb.    Two soldiers were guarding the tomb also.  He didn’t have his tomb ready because he was made king when he was 14 and died when he was 18.  So they only had 70 days to get one ready and it normally takes 10 years so his family used someone else’s but it was finished.  There were lots of students there studying for tourism or fine arts.  We drove to a restaurant and had lunch. I got a heart palpitation in the middle of the meal.  We were served babaganouche, garlic mayo, and bread, then chicken, rice and veggies, we had strawberry juice and oranges.

We Went back to the hotel for a rest before meeting at 5:30 to go to the light show at the pyramids. We drove an hour through heavy, crazy traffic to get to the other side of the Nile into Giza.  The cars drive 3-4 abreast, no visible lanes, no stop lights or stop signs, everyone just merges in front of everyone else.  We drove past some very poor, dirty streets, with garbage filling the medians, horses scrounging in the garbage for food, camels tied up here and there, and in parts, men sitting in chairs under street lights in the median, playing cards, talking and smoking their big hookah pipes.  The men smoke tobacco in the hookah pipes, sometimes flavoured with apricots or apples.  We were excited as we neared the pyramids.  There was a large seating area but not many filled seats.  We sat on the right side in front of the Sphinx.  There was a cool wind so we wore jackets and jeans.  Loud voices told the story of the pyramids while coloured lights shone on them.  The pyramids didn’t seem quite as we big as we had imagined

 Thursday, April 27/17 – Cairo to Luxor

We put our bags out at 7, went down for our buffet breakfast, then drove through heavy traffic, six lanes abreast to get to the airport. We passed many signs advertising that the Pope was visiting the next 2 days.  He refused to stay at a hotel so is staying at the embassy very near our hotel, but of course, we won’t be there, we will be sailing down the Nile.  We boarded an Egyptair for about an hour long flight to Luxor.  Here it is very hot 37C!  We went aboard our cruise boat, the Medea which carries about 120 passengers but there are only about 36 of us on this trip because tourism in Egypt has declined so much.  We had a buffet lunch of beef, rice, mac and cheese, soups, salads etc. and rice pudding for dessert.

After lunch the 6 of us boarded a large bus that took us to the immense Karnak temple. There are huge courtyards, halls and columns and a large sacred lake with each king or pharaoh adding to and changing the existing buildings making it a sprawling complex.  Our guide Mohammed told us some of the history.  The temple was buried under sand for a thousand years until excavation began in the 19th century.  Our guide taught us some of the hieroglyphics on the walls.   If the bird or bee is facing to the right, then you read left to right and visa versa.  They can also be read vertically.  One section contains the ruins of a temple dedicated to the god Amun’s consort, Nut(pronounced Noot).  Amun, Nut and son Khonsu were worshipped as gods by the Thebans.  Once a year during flood season they celebrated the king’s rebirth with the Festival of Opet.  Images of these 3 were carried in barques down the Nile to the Luxor temple where the king would visit his harem.  It was very interesting but very hot in the sun.  We boarded the bus and drove to a place that makes papyrus paper.  A local showed us how the papyrus was peeled, cut, soaked in water and pressed together to get the sugar and water out and sealed together.  There were many beautiful painted papyrus sheets for sale.

Next we drove to the Luxor temple, smaller than .Karnak but still impressive. It was 5:30 so a little cooler as the sun was going down.  We saw the Avenue of Sphinxes which had 36 sphinx on one side and 33 on the other leading up to the 2 towers on either side of the main entrance gate.  We saw the tallest obelisk of Queen Hatshepsut who became king even though they didn’t let women become kings but she made a deal with the priests.  She became queen but they had to call her king.  She married her 8 year old step son and reigned for 21 years.  When she suddenly disappeared, her step son, Ptolemy became king.   The obelisk is 82 feet high and carved from one single piece of pink granite and weighs about 300 tons.  On the other side of the temple where a museum will be built are a huge collection of carved broken stones that are slowly being pieced back together.

We drove back to the boat, changed and went down to supper for 7:30.  We had pizza appetizers, curried chicken, rice, veggies, and lemon pie.

Friday, April. 28/17 – Dandara Temple Luxor

We were up at 5:30, had breakfast and boarded the bus by 7 am. We had a 2 hour drive to Dandara.  The area we passed through is fertile farm land even though they only receive a few drops of rain a year, it is watered by the Nile flood plain.  They harvest two crops per year of sugar cane, alfalfa, wheat, corn, beans, onions, garlic and some fruits.  Most farmers don’t own the land, they just work it.  The sugar cane is cut by hand and so is the wheat and tied in sheaths.  Some farms in northern Egypt have more modern equipment but in the south there are few tractors, most use donkeys, horses and manual labour.  Along the way, we passed many men in their hijab or galabeas sporting rifles to ” guard the tourists “.  At the many police check points, the driver had to show our itineraries for the whole trip, our nationalities and professions.  We saw many men riding donkeys or just sitting by the side of the road, people working in the fields and farmhouses made of mud brick or clay.  We saw many white egrets in the trees and along the canals.  Fridays, the traffic is not busy as it is a day of worship.  The Iman gives a sermon from 11 am to 1 pm and then the families gather together to socialize or go shopping.  There is no school for the kids on Fridays.  Boys have to serve between 1 to 3 years in the Egyptian military after finishing school.

Dandara temple is the best preserved temple in Egypt. It was buried under sand until the French discovered it in 1844.  In 1889 it was opened for visitors.  It was built by the Egyptians but in the Greek and Roman style as seen by the capitals on the columns.  The Egyptian style capitals are in the forms of lotus (for the south) and papyrus (for the north).  The main temple is a shrine to Horus and his wife Nut (pronounced Noot).  There are 11 smaller shrines surrounding the main one for other gods like Isis, Osiris, Ceth etc.  Horus is represented with the head of a falcon and the body of a human.  Nut is represented with a head in one corner with an orange moon in front of her and 2 long arms going one way and 2 very long legs going the other way around the oblong and a small yellow moon at the vagina area.  Most of the ceilings are still intact in this temple and covered with vibrant colourful hieroglyphics, including the zodiac signs.  When the Christians came in 300 a.d. they had lived in the temple and the smoke from their fires covered the hieroglyphics with black soot.  They also desecrated some of the hieroglyphics because they were considered to be pagan symbols.  We descended some stone steps through a small opening into the secret crypt where the priests kept the temple treasures safe.    The long very narrow passageway was also covered with hieroglyphics.  We then ascended up a stone spiral staircase to the roof of the temple where a shrine was also used as a clock using shadows to tell the time.  We could see views of a gateway and brick walls where the priests would have lived outside the temple.  On the back wall of the temple is the only picture of Cleopatra in all of Egypt, along with Caesar and their son Caesaran, Horus and Isis.

The bus returned to the ship the same way we had come, although a police car escorted us out for quite a few miles. We had lunch and then went up to the top deck to sit in the sun, swim and read.  At 4:30 we were given tea up on the same deck.  About 6 pm the boat sailed through the Edfu lock just as it was starting to get dark.  We dressed up for supper at 7:30.  We had the steak, potatoes and veg and a terrific dessert brownie with ice-cream in a chocolate cup.

Saturday, April 29,2017 – EDFU/ Kom Ombo

Our wake-up call was 6:30 am. The boat was already docked at Edfu.  We disembarked after breakfast and rode two to a horse and buggy through the town of Edfu to the temple.  The horses are small and thin.  We had a nice driver who didn’t pester us for money or with the plights of his family.  At the temple there were all kinds of vendors accosting us but we just said “la shakroun”, no thank you.  This is the second most well preserved temple after Dandara.  Again it was to the god Horus, with the falcon head and still has the shrine boat in the middle sanctuary.  We stood in the inner sanctum where it was very quiet.  On the walls were a line of numbers from 3 million down to one, a scene of the gods killing all the crocodiles and hippopotamus in the Nile, and scenes of the king receiving blessings to build the temple with bricks and how big etc. from the god Horus.  Barb and Julie shopped from the vendor’s, the rest of us waited for them back at the entrance and then rode in the carriages back to the ship. It was only 10 am so we had some free time before lunch at 1.  It is best to go to the temples early in the morning before it gets too hot.  We had vegetable cannelloni, mixed grill, and a decadent chocolate marquise for dessert.

We cooled off in the pool. There was a strong wind blowing, but very hot.  It felt like stepping into an oven when we went up the stairs to the top deck.  It grew even stronger and sometimes it was so hot it felt like a fire in your face.  Over in the desert past the Nile flood plain we could see a sand blizzard.  At 4 we had tea and the boat docked at Kom Ombo Temple.  There were vendors selling their wares all along the dock.  We walked up to the temple which is unique because it is divided into 2 parts, one for Horus and one for Sobek and his consort Hathor.  Images of Sobek have the head of a crocodile.  This temple isn’t very well preserved but there are 2 interesting features, one is the calendar with all the days of each month for the whole year (360) and the other is the inscriptions of medical instruments like a scroll for prescriptions, flasks, a basin to wash, stethoscope, scalpels etc. representing Imhotep.  There is also a deep well or Nilometre where the priests measured how much water the people used and taxed them accordingly.  We walked back to the boat and it departed at 6:15.  We got ready for our Egyptian supper night.  Some people are wearing galabeos.   We had tandoori chicken, okra, Oriental potatoes, nice bread and baklava, fresh dates and many sweets for dessert.  After dinner there was music and dancing in the lounge.

Sunday, April 30/17 – ASWAN

Our wake-up call was at 5:30, breakfast and then we boarded the bus by 6:45am. The population of Aswan is 550,000.  It is a much cleaner and greener city than Cairo.  The main employment here is tourism and then agriculture.  The West Bank is occupied by the Nubians who have their own language but it isn’t written down so there is a chance it will become extinct.  We drove to the site of the unfinished obelisk.  This was a very important find for archeologists as it shows where and how the obelisks were made.  They were cut here in the granite quarry from the 27th century BC until Roman times and then floated down the Nile to Karnak and Luxor on big barges.  The unfinished one was left because it cracked and they had to be made from one piece of granite.  Once cut, then they were polished with another kind of stone and then carved.  The unfinished obelisk weighs about 21000 tons.  They reflect art, engineering and science.  On our way out, one of the guards told us to follow him.  He took us down a path, down into a crevice in the rock.  We wondered where he was taking us and was it wise to follow him but we did.  At the bottom we could see where an obelisk had been started by gouging out the rock underneath it.

Next we drove to the Aswan High Dam. The Egyptians tried to build a dam in 3000 BC and then again a sandstone dam in 21st century BC but they didn’t work.  They wanted to be able to store water over winter when the Nile was low.  From 1805 to 1849 Mohammed Ali built many reservoirs and canals and wanted to build a dam but didn’t have enough money.  In 1882 Egypt was occupied by the British and they decided to build a dam, by 1888 they had the plans and it was finished in 1902.  It was made of sandstone and granite and built on bedrock.  There were 180 holes to control the water.  It was 27 metres high and 2021 metres long.  King Farouk enlarged it and used it for hydro electric power.  President Nasser came to power in 1948 and lead a revolution against King Farouk.  In 1956 he nationalized the Suez Canal.  The Suez Canal was built to shorten the route to the Far East from Europe.  It was opened in 1869 and built by 180,000 Egyptian workmen.  Nasser got a loan from the French for the canal so had no money for the Aswan dam.  It was finally started in 1959 and completed in 1969.  Many Nile temples needed to be saved by UNESCO before the dam created Lake Nasser, including the one at Philae.  Nasser died in 1969 before it was completed.  Anwar Sadat followed as President.  He was assassinated in 1981 and Bubarek followed as president.   The new dam was 3600 m. Long, 111 metres high, 40 metres wide and 530 metres at the base.  Lake Nasser is one of the biggest artificial lakes in the world.  Part of the lake goes into Sudan which may cause problems in the future.  Next we saw a monument to celebrate the friendship between the Egyptians and the Russians at that time, shaped like a flower with 5 petals, 1 for the friendship and 4 for the advantages of the dam.  Crocodiles and Hippos can’t get past the dam.  They inhabit the Nile south of the dam.

Next we drove to a dock and boarded a motor boat to an island where the Temple of Philae had been moved to before the new dam was built. It was dedicated to the Triad gods Isis, Osiris and their son Horus and Hathor who looked after Horus.   Hathor was married to the evil god Seth who tried to kill Osiris but he was the god of resurrection.  The crosses on the walls and the altar were carved by the Christians when they took it over.

Following the boat ride back to the dock, we drove to an aromatherapy place where they press flowers and plants to make pure essences with no alcohol in them. There were many kinds used for perfumes or medicinal ones like Bergamot for eczema, peppermint which when one drop was put in a jar of water, smelled like Vicks Vapour Rub.  Janet bought some Lily of the Valley to use as a deodorizer for her bathroom.

After that, we drove down to the dock and boarded a Felluca for a sail down the Nile. They only have sails, no motor.  It was a nice peaceful ride that took us back to our boat where we were just in time for lunch, after which we sat by the pool and swam and read until 5 pm when we dressed up and headed out again for High Tea at the Cataract hotel where Agatha Christie stayed and wrote Death on the Nile.  It was originally a beautiful old palace for King Farouk turned into a hotel.  Beautiful gardens and terraces over-look the river.  We sat outside on the terrace in wicker chairs and enjoyed a delightful tea of 3 tiered plates of fancy cucumber sandwiches and little cakes and fruit and tea while watching the sun set over the Nile.  We had a little tour of the hotel and then returned to the boat with a bit of time before supper.

At lunch Barb had thought the waiter said something about lamb moussaka. He hadn’t but then he thought Barb and Janet wanted Moussaka.  They tried to tell him many times that they didn’t want it.  Then when he was describing the dish, I thought he said carrots and asparagus.  When dinner came, they each got an extra plate of moussaka! And no carrots or asparagus!  Also the soup was cream of mushroom so Janet had asked to just have some veggie soup heated up from lunch but no the chef made her and Barb their own brand new veggie soup!  Also when Barb asked what a dessert was at lunch time and asked if it was ice-cream, they had brought her a dish of ice-cream.   We giggled about all these misunderstandings for a long time.

After supper there was a Whirling Dervish and a Belly Dancer show in the lounge but the belly dancer wasn’t good at all.

Monday May 1 – ABU SIMBEL

Wake up call was at 6:30. We drove to the airport and boarded a plane for a 40 minute flight to Abu Simbel.  The other temples were all built but this one was carved into the side of a mountain.  It was covered with sand until 1812.   Abu Simbel was a small town belonging to the Nubians who were faithful allies of the Egyptians.  Nep was the land of gold, Nubian land but under the control of Egypt.  Abu Simbel temples were built during the time of Rameses II, 1279 to 1212 BC.  Rameses II had 60 wives and 192 children, his favourite wife was Nefertari who the smaller temple is dedicated to.  He died when he was 91.

In 1959 when Nasser started to build the Aswan dam, he said it would take 10 years for Lake Nasser to form, so UNESCO had 10 years to save the temples. They considered putting them under a dome under the water, making a concrete base and enclosing them but in the end they decided to cut them into big blocks and reassemble them in a new location.  They were reinforced with steel bars, cut into blocks, numbered and stored, then reconstructed on a concrete base in the side of an artificial mountain.  The cost was 12 million pounds.

The main temple is dedicated to 4 main gods, Ra, Petra, Amin and Rameses II. These are the 4 large statues at the entrance.  The sunlight only shone on Rameses twice a year, Oct 21 and Feb 21 but after they moved the temple it changed to Oct 22 and Feb 22.  We walked back through the vendors to the bus and then to the airport.  We arrived back at the boat about 2:30, had our lunch and then swam and sat around the pool until supper at 7:30.  2 more tours have joined the boat, one is a Chinese one of about 8 people and the other is a Con Tiki of about 30 college students.  There was another belly dancer show but we didn’t go to it.


About 8:30 we walked along the pier and boarded a motor boat. We floated down the Nile and a very knowledgeable local guide pointed out flowers, trees and birds to us.  Some of the rocks and reeds in the middle used to be under water before the dam was built.  Now they house many birds and nests.  We saw a Hoopoe, moor hens, terns, ducks, kingfishers and plovers.  We saw the start of the Sahara desert.

We docked the boat at the edge of a Nubian village with brightly coloured painted walls and domed roofs, a little like Greece. We “walked the plank” to get off the boat and entered a typical Nubian house where 4 husbands and wives and nine children live.  The boys when they marry will go to live with their new wives families and the girls new husbands will move in with them.  They had a baby crocodile that we could hold for a picture.  It had its mouth tied shut, but when Janet was holding it, it squirmed and got loose on the ground!  It started running every which way and we were all screaming and trying to get away from it.  The guide caught it and continued with the pictures.  We were shown the clean tiled kitchen with a gas stove and running water and a bedroom adorned with soccer items (soccer is very big in Egypt), low beds and a TV.  We climbed some stone steps up to the rooftop to take photos.   Some of the roofs are made of palm leaves.  We went back down to the main room and were given cold hibiscus juice or mint tea.  3 of the children who were not in school came out to see us and fortunately, Barb had some crackers in her purse to give them.  We looked around the beaded jewellery and scarves made by the women and I purchased an orange scarf with gold flecks for $5/100 EGP.  On the way back, we passed the Cataract hotel and Mohammed pointed out the second floor balcony where Agatha Christie stayed.

We rode back to the cruise boat and discussed the next few days with Mohammed and read until lunch time. The boat sailed at 1:30 towards Kom Ombo where we stopped and as we had already seen the temple, Mohammed took us to a place to have a drink where a little Egyptian band was playing.  They tied a turban around our heads and let us play their Rababa instrument.   I ordered lemonade with mint and Janet had Guava juice.  Mohammed got a hookah pipe with apple flavour and we all tried it.  It was nice and cool sitting under the bamboo umbrellas.  We returned to the   Boat by 6 and it set sail again heading for Luxor.  Dinner was an Egyptian night again for the newcomers on the ship.

Wednesday May 3 – LUXOR

We enjoyed a leisurely morning. We met Mohammed in the lounge and were given free drinks to celebrate that this was the 4th Insight trip for 4 of us.  Then he explained and answered questions about modern day Egyptian life, marriage, divorce, and inheritance etc.  After lunch we sat by the pool and read and then had an early supper so we could go to the Sound and Light show at the Karnak Temple.    The waiter asked us if we wanted corn soup or green bean soup.  We took corn thinking we were getting corn chowder but when it came it was consume with 1 kernel of corn in each bowl!  Again, this made us giggle.  We had to hurry through supper to get to the show so they said we could have our tea and dessert in our room afterwards.  The show was much better than the one at Giza.  We walked through the tall columns in the dark with just a few spot lights on and voices over loud speakers telling the story of the temple.  The guide then took us on a tour of Luxor by night, through the shopping district which was very busy, passed men playing dominoes on little tables on the sidewalks, many women in burkhas with bags of groceries and kids playing in the street.

We had just gone to bed at 10 pm when there was a knock on the door and it was 2 waiters bringing us tea and dessert that we had missed at supper time. Janet answered the door in her pyjamas.  We ate our dessert which was a type of blanch mange with pineapple and mango sauce and I had a cup of tea.

Thursday May 4 – LUXOR

My wake-up call was a 3:45 AM. I had a cup of tea as it was still warm from the night before and then went down to the lobby.  It was full of younger kids from the Con Tiki tour.  Barb, Julie, Trudy (an Australian lady from Trafalgar tours) and I picked up a bag breakfast and boarded a bus and then a boat and then another bus to the hot air balloon site.  There were many balloons getting fired up.  Our balloon had 32 people in it.  The basket is divided like a tic tac toe with the pilot in the middle section controlling the helium gas and the other 8 sections had 4 people standing in each one.  The man told me to get in first by inserting my feet in the footholds in the basket and climbing over into it.  I did this and just got turned around when the man lifted Barb up and she came flying at me over into the basket.  Julie and Trudy were also in our section.  The balloon was made in England.  The pilot has over 3000 hours flying experience.  The balloon goes up to a maximum height of 1500 feet in the air.  The pilot doesn’t use any instruments.  They send up a small test balloon first and watch which direction and speed it goes at different altitudes.  They can control which way it turns and going up and down but not where it will land exactly.  The ground crew gave us a push off and suddenly we were floating up, slowly, smoothly, floating up, up, up.  It was so calm and peaceful and quiet.  We floated up there looking at views of the Valley of the Kings, the temple of Hatshepsut, farmer’s fields of wheat and corn and the sunrise over the Nile river.  After about 30 mi Utes, we gradually came down, landing in a field of wheat.  If they ruin a farmers crop, they pay for it.  The ground crew drove up in a truck and grabbed ropes dangling from the balloon and guided it to an open field.  The pilot turned the gas off and let the air out of the balloon so it slowly collapsed and we could get out.  We boarded our buses and were driven to where Janet and the others were waiting in a big bus for us.

We drove to the Valley of the Kings. Here we were not allowed to take any cameras into the tombs at all.  There have been 62 tombs discovered here so far.  Our ticket let us into 3 of them, Rameses IV, Rameses 9 and Merephetut?  We walked through a hole in the side of the mountain and down a sloping stairway into the tomb.  The tunnel was quite wide with walls covered with amazing bright red, yellow and blue hieroglyphics and pictures.  There were small rooms off the main one where food and items for the afterlife would have been kept and at the end is where the sarcophagus would have been.  You have to pay extra to see the tomb of King Tut and Mohammed suggested that it wasn’t as nice as the three we saw, just more famous because it’s treasures were still intact.  Howard Carter searched the desert for 4 years and in 1922, one of his horses accidentally found the tomb when its foot fell into a hole.  After visiting 3 of the tombs, we returned to the bus and drove to the temple of Hatshepsut.  This was half cut and half built into the side of a mountain.  There were 3 levels and there would have been an avenue of sphinxes in front.  At the foot of the stairs to this temple is where a few years ago, 5 tourists were shot and killed by terrorists.  Since then the Egyptians have put guns and video cameras in hidden in holes and caves in the mountainside.

Next we stopped and photographed to 2 large statues dedicated to ? And then we drove to an alabaster factory and shop.  Manually carved alabaster vases when held under a light are opalescent and take about 5 days to make.  They are also much lighter than the machine made vases.   Janet bought an onyx pyramid and a vase.

We drove further and met a young man who is the grandson of a bakery owner. His mother is English and his father Egyptian.  He showed us around his grandparent’s house, a living room with a TV, bedrooms, kitchen and pigeon house.  We sat outside and had tea and pieces of bread.  He showed us how they make about 25 loaves of bread in the one clay oven.  They start about 3 am when it is cool and it takes about 5 hours to make them.  His grandfather owns 4 acres of farmland and another acre around the house.  They have ducks, geese, chickens, cows, donkeys, horses, water buffalo and grow everything they need.

We returned to the boat where we had a buffet lunch and then rested in 2 rooms they allowed us to keep until 4 pm when we left for the airport for our return flight to Cairo. Going through security in Luxor, Janet and a man on Trafalgar had to open their carry-ons  and unwrap the vases that they had bought at the alabaster place.  We got back to the Omar Khayyam Marriot hotel about 9:30.  We picked up 2 large cookies from the bakery for our supper.

Friday, May 5 – THE PYRAMIDS

After our buffet breakfast we headed out early through Cairo traffic to the Pyramids. There was a bit of a traffic jam to get in to the area to buy tickets but once through the security gates, we found ourselves in front of the first pyramid dedicated to the king Cheops.  This was our “Wow” moment, standing in front, close to the pyramid for the first time, seeing how large the stones are, trying to fathom how they were made.  We took photos and climbed up some of the steps to look In the old entrance, 3 or 4 steps equals the height of one stone.  We returned to the van and drove past the second pyramid to the third one dedicated to Menkaure.  We entered the narrow sloped passageway going down about 3 levels to the tomb, bending over sideways so our heads didn’t bump the rock.  We climbed back out and returned to the van and drove to the panorama site.  As a whole group of female Egyptian motorcyclists were there, we decided to ride the camels first.

Mohammed negotiated with the camel driver to take us into the desert for about 25 minutes for 200 EGP (just over $10us) each. We each climbed on a camel, holding on for dear life and thinking what on earth had we gotten ourselves into?  The camel gets halfway up in the rear and then all the way up and it is very high!  The driver hooked us all together with ropes and off we went bumping up and down.  Mohammed told us to just relax and it was easier.  We rode into the desert where we could take photos of the 3 pyramids together and the camel driver took pictures of us on the camels.  Janet’s was named KFC and mine was Michael Douglas.  Every once in a while one of them would get feisty and go to bite another one, or they would try to rub themselves on one of the others and we would get nervous not knowing what they were going to do.  Janet and Barbs were kissing each other at one point.  By the time we rode back we were all quite used to riding them.  It was great fun!

We took more photos at the panoramic view and then drove to the site of the sphinx.   We went inside up to the viewing platform and took more photos.  Next we drove to an Egyptian cotton shop where everything is 100% cotton.  After trying a few on, we both purchased a T-shirt.  Then we visited the site of the very first capital of Egypt, Memphis, where we saw a large statue of Rameses and other artifacts in a garden setting.  Next we went to Saqqara where we saw the pyramid of Jessup? By then it was about 2 pm and we were very hot and tired and Mohammed took us for a late lunch where we sat outdoors and ate a meal of bread, falafels, and BBQ’d chicken, beef, tomatoes and green peppers. A turkey kept walking by me while I ate as I was sitting at the end of the table.  We returned to the hotel and said our goodbyes to Hami the driver, Mohammed and the 2 Malaysian ladies, June and Ng.  I gave every last dollar/pound to Mohammed as a tip.  Normally I have a little extra left but not this time!

We ordered a box breakfast to pick up at 10 pm as we have to leave for the airport at 1 am Saturday morning. We went down to Omar’s Cafe to get the boxed breakfast but it wasn’t ready.  They called at 11 so we returned to pick it up.  It was a huge cake box with 2 large buns with ham and cheese, yogurt, 2 boiled eggs, juice box, apple, banana, croissant and muffin each!  We didn’t even eat half of it.  Our Lufthansa flight left at 4:25 after going through 3 security checks.  I wish I had counted how many security checks we went through this trips, it must be hundreds!  We had a 5 hour wait in Frankfurt for the flight home.  We had pesto ravioli and salad – good food on these flights!



New York City trip – Aug 2012

Thursday, August 16,2012 I drove to Di’s, leaving our house at 6:15 a.m, arriving at her house about 7 a.m.  She gave me a tour of the house and a cup of coffee, then her husband drove us to the Duty Free store in Fort Erie where we had a bit to eat in McDonald’s and then were picked up by the Brad Walt. bus about 8:45.  We stopped for lunch at another McDonald’s at noon and arrived at the Hilton in Scranton, Penn. about 4 pm.

We waited for our bags and went down for cocktails at 6.  We talked to Bruce who had been on our Hawaii trip and had lost 61 pounds!  He looked really good.

We were then given a delicious plated dinner in the ballroom, all 150 of us, (3 bus loads).  Brad told us about the trip.  After dinner Di and I went for a walk around the town, past the old lit-up courthouse and a large lighted sign of Scranton, the first Electric Car, and a memorial garden to vets.  We went back to the hotel and bed.

Friday, August 17th – We had a buffet breakfast and then walked around Scranton.  We found the old railway station that has been renovated and turned into a large hotel.  It was beautiful inside, with large chandeliers, a dining room and a room with old railway seats made into funky furniture.  We walked around the block, ending up at the veteran’s memorial again.  A man asked us where we were from and told us the town square revitalization had cost $48 million.  He said he was a judge!

We boarded the bus at 9, arriving at South Sea Port, NYC at noon just in time for lunch.  There were good views of the Brooklyn bridge, and sailing ships in the harbour.  Di and I bought a Philly Cheese Steak for our lunch and it wasn’t long before it was time to board the buses again.

We were given a 4 hour bus tour with a step-on local guide, taking us around lower Manhatten, through Greenwich village, Soho, Chelsea and then we stopped at Ground Zero and the 911 memorial.  This had changed considerably since the last time I was here in 2003.  Two new towers are almost completed and two huge square waterfalls have been made in the holes of the destroyed twin towers.  A metal railing  around the perimeter of each waterfall has the 3000 names of the victims carved into it.  The security to enter was very intense, checking all bags etc.  We had to be there by 3 pm for out appointment.  We each purchased a pin in the gift shop.

Back on the bus we headed for The Westin hotel in mid-town Manhatten, a block from Times Square.  Our bags were finally delivered about 5:45 pm, just in time for a quick change and then it was back on the bus to head out for supper.  Some people didn’t get their luggage in time, so we were lucky.

Supper was at Ellen’s Stardust Diner.  A very crowded, loud diner where the waiters and waitresses sang and danced on a bar amid the diners.  I had pre-ordered a steak medium rare, but got meatloaf!  They switched it though and it was very good, done perfectly!

After dinner we boarded the bus and drove to the Broadway Theatre to see “Ghost”.  It was very good and the special effects were really interesting.  After the show, we were all pointed in the right direction to walk back to the hotel.  It was a beautiful warm night so we walked around Times Square and eventually found a bar that wasn’t crowded.  We sat outside and had a drink  (a Long Island Ice Tea for Di, and a Corona for me).  We walked back to the hotel and on the way, a young girl who was probably drunk called us “Sexy Mamas”! LOL

Saturday, Aug 18th – The alarm went off at 6 am and we felt we’d just gone to bed!  We had a shower and went across the street to Dave & Buster’s Restaurant.  It was open only for our group for breakfast.  Then we boarded the bus which took us to the theatre where “Wicked” was playing.  They showed us how the show is made, we got a close up look at some costumes.  Each one is custom fitted to the actor and costs anywhere between $2000 to $30,000.  They showed us how they make masks for the monkeys and goat etc. The show has been on Broadway for 9 years.

Next the bus took us to John’s Pizza which used to be an old church.  We were served salad and pizzas at the table and then could help ourselves to more pizza and fettucini.  We were stuffed!!   Some got almond cookies for dessert.  Then the bus took us to “Sister Act” starring Raven-Symone who used to play Olivia on The Cosby Show on TV.  It was really good and we had excellent seats!!  We were in the second row from the front, right in the middle.  We were so close we could see their little microphones on their foreheads!  The conductor of the orchestra was right in fron of us and he became the Pope at the end of the show!

Next the bus took us to the Hard Rock Cafe for supper.  I had grilled, melt in your mouth Salmon, just excellent!  After dinner we walked back to the hotel and ditched our extra bags and then walked to 6th Ave and East 44th St, where a tent shopping city but it was gone.  We walked to the Rockefeller Centre, then down 5th Ave and back to the hotel about 10 pm.  Our feet were aching!!!

Sunday, August 19th – We had a buffet breakfast at Dave & Buster’s again.  We boarded the bus for a tour of NCB studios.  We waited in the gift shop for our turn but for a company that is based on art, design, and creation, the T shirts and souvenirs were pathetic.

We were shown a 10 minute film about the history and past shows of NBC.  Then we on the Doctor OZ studio set which when we went in 2003 was Conan O’Brien’s studio.  Then we saw Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night studio which was previously Johnny Carson’s.  We saw some pipes in a closet with painted muppets on them done by the creators of the Muppets when they were bored one time years ago.  We were shown the News and the green board where the Weather is done.   And lastly we saw the Saturday Night Live studio.

Next the bus drove us to the Chelsea Piers where we boarded a “yacht” called the Antarica for a Hudson River luncheon cruise.  We were served Lobster Bisque, Salmon and Couscous, Cheesecake and Chocolate Mousse for dessert.  We were also served champagne.  We viewed the NYC skyline while we dined.  When we got to the Statue of Liberty, we went outside/ upstairs to take pictures.  Appropriate music was playing in the background like “America” by Lee Greenwood, “New York New York” etc.  After about 3 hours we returned to the pier and boarded the bus, returning to the hotel for a couple of hours of free time.

We went shopping for T shirts, then got changed and met the group to walk to the restaurant for dinner at Pigalle’s.  I had chicken, Di had the duck which was overcooked and dry.  During dinner, a Marilyn Monroe and a George Clooney look alike sauntered around the room, stopping at each table.  I had my picture taken with them.

We sat next to an older English man name Chris who is travelling on his own.  I told him we were planning to go up the Empire State Building after supper and he asked if he could join us.  We headed out about 8:15 pm and walked the 10 blocks to the popular tourist attraction which is open everyday until 2 am.  Scalpers tried to sell us tickets outside for $10.00 more that inside but we didn’t bite.  We lined up and went through security, then Di had to go to the bathroom  so Chris and I waited while a thousand people got ahead of us in line!!  She was taking so long, I went to find her but didn’t, but I figured I mgiht as well go while I was there.  When I got back, she had already returned.

We purchased our tickets, they got the senior rate of $22.00, mine was $25.00 and then stood in a very long queue that snaked around but moved fairly quickly.  We finally got on an elevator to the 80th floor,  stood in another line to get on another elevator to the top.  Out on the observation deck, the night was warm and the deck was crowded, unlike in November 2003 when we were there.  That time it was freezing cold, so people didn’t stay out there long, so it was fairly empty.  We made our way to the edge and took pictures as we pushed our way around the perimeter.

About 10:30, we started making our way back down, more line-ups for elevators but not as long.  We arrived back on the ground about 11 pm and Di whose feet were killing her announced “We’re not walking back to the hotel!!”  So we hailed a taxi cab and split the cost 3 ways which came to $3.00 each.  Tired and aching, we went to bed.

Monday, August 20th – We were up at 6 to have our suitcases out by 7 and went for breakfast.  Our bus left at 9:20 for a Noshing Tour.  A guide basically took around Manhatten again and repeated a lot of the tour we had had on our first day, but we stopped a several places for bagels and smoked salmon and cream cheese, a bun with fresh mozzarella, and a large chocolate chip cookie.  We went into Brooklyn, down into DUMBO which is a revitalized part where Yuppies live, to a Merry Go Round by old warehouses down by the waterfront.

Then it was goodbye NYC to sleep overnight at the Turning Stone resort which is a big casino on a reserve.   There was a huge buffet for supper.  We were each given a free $40.00 card to play at the casino.  Di and I went shopping first and then tried some slot machines.  At first my card wouldn’t work but a server got it going and once it went up over $40.00 to $78.00, I quit.  They subtract the $40.00 so you only get $38.00 when you cash out.  Di lost all hers.

Tuesday, August 21st – The bus took us home and they let us off at the Fort Erie Tourist Information place where Di’s husband picked us up.