"" Writer's Wanderings: April 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Transatlantic Crossing - Six days at sea

As the Queen Mary 2 left Southampton, England, we went to Commodore's Club, a lounge on deck nine with a front facing view, and played our daily game of Rummy while watching the last vestiges of land disappear from sight. For the next six days (seven nights as the cruise lines count) we would be heading for the colonies and home. What would we do over the next few days with no ports to visit, no land to see?

It didn't take long to fall into something of a routine.

Our first day out was relatively calm and even sunny so we started with a nice breakfast in the Britannia dining room and a nice leisurelyl walk on the Promenade Deck. Three times around the ship equaled one mile. Then it was off to do some laundry. Laundry, you say? Yup. Even on vacation I get to do laundry. There was a laundry special one week of our cruise that was 30 pieces for $30 dollars-a bargain and we took advantage but we needed a little more to get us by and the laundrettes on the ship were free and even provided soap. You just had to queue (get in line) to wait on one to finish which provided quite a lot of entertainment.

Those who left their laundry and didn't return in time often found it left in a basket on the floor, which led to British terms of "endearment" that I often didn't understand. I made sure to return just as the washer/dryer was finishing.

The afternoon for me offered a wonderful concert by a classical guitarist. Bob enjoyed the workout in the gym and relaxation in the spa.

Of course on board the QM2, any day at sea is a formal night and dress codes are strictly kept--or as strictly as possible without causing a scene. We did get one break midway with a semi-formal night (dressy outfit for ladies, tie and jacket for men) and the last night was "elegant casual" (no jeans, jacket but no tie for men).

Our evening entertainment included several production shows by the entertainment staff. My favorite was one featuring the dancers who were mostly from the Ukraine and Russia. They were tremendous--especially with the folk dances. Other entertainers included a comedian/magician, the Rat Pack (Sinatra, Davis, Martin impressionists), and a lady who played several different instruments.

The lounges featured a jazz band, string quartet, harpist, pianist, etc., and if you couldn't find something to your liking there, you could take in a movie. Some of the newest releases on DVD were shown including The King's Speech.

The following days included lectures on the royals (there was of course a wedding to be talked about), various aspects of air travel (including some truly funny stories about traffic controllers around the world), a port talk about New York City, and several others I can't begin to remember. Art auctions, bingo, Dixieland band, ballroom dancing (the QM2 has the ocean's largest ballroom), afternoon tea, and the list goes on, and included special services for Good Friday and Easter.

As the days went on however, the weather deteriorated. Seven to twelve foot waves, cloud cover, rain, drizzle, and eventually fog. It felt like home came to meet us. The seas did not make a big impact on the QM2. She is built to take it and except for a slight feeling of motion, she rode the waves quite well.

One of the nicest things about a transatlantic at sea is that you gradually change the clocks as you pass through the time zones. No jet lag although is does mess with your body clock a bit.

We arrived in NYC very early in the morning. . .but that's for another post--tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Southampton - Titanic Memorials

Southampton, England, is Cunard’s main base for all of its ships and has been since the beginning, I think, when it merged with the White Star Line. There were wonderful options for excursions on our day in port—Bath, Stonehenge, The New Forest, etc. but in all our stops here, we’d never actually explored the port city. As usual, we did our pre-cruise research online and discovered several self-guided walking tours outlined for us. We chose the Titanic Trail which would take us to several memorial spots and places significant to the Titanic story.

The Queen Mary 2 berthed at Dock 4 and we should have reversed order on our walk and started at the gate to our Dock area but that is hindsight now. Instead, we got on the shuttle bus that took us to the West Quay shopping area which was near the Civic Centre, the start of the walk. Our Titanic Trail gave us great opportunity to see a lot of the city and tempted us to return for other historical aspects we found there.

Here is the trail we followed:
1. In the Civic Centre is the Titanic Postal Workers’ Memorial, a plague on the wall next to the Council Chambers. It commemorates three American and two British postal workers on the Titanic all of whom died. The Civic Centre itself was an impressive building inside and had several other models and memorabilia on the second floor along with the plaque.

2. As we walked through St. Andrew’s Park to get to the second memorial on our list, we actually came across the third, the Titanic Engineer Officers’ Memorial. It is a large stone and bronze (I think) structure featuring an angel with outstretched arms. The carvings represent the engineer officers on the ship, all of whom died.

3. Across the intersection near the Engineers’ memorial, we could see a the Paris Smith building where the plaque for the Titanic Musicians’ Memorial is located. The musical inscription is the hymn, “Nearer My God To Thee.”

4. We went back to the Engineers’ memorial and walked behind it through St. Andrew’s Park all the while enjoying sunny warm weather and the beautiful spring blooms the park had to offer. This was a bit of a long walk before we got to the Bargate, a large stone structure and then on to High Street where we walked past the Star Hotel and the Dolphin Hotel to find the remains of the Holy Rood Church. There, inside, is a memorial to the crew, stewards and firemen. There is a “talking post” in front of it with recorded accounts of various events of the Titanic’s journey.

5. We found our way down toward the waterfront and the street labeled Town Quay. Near the Red Funnel Terminal (a ferry service) and across the street is an old stone building with a red roof. That is the Maritime Museum. It is a small museum but on the second floor has some memorabilia from the Titanic and accounts of some of the people who were aboard. The museum is opened most days from 10 to 4 and has a small entrance fee.

6. At this point in our journey, lunch was suggested but it was a bit too early for us. Apparently we had walked a little faster than the author of our tour had allowed. But our map that we had picked up from the shuttle bus showed Oxford Street as the place for sidewalk cafes and since that was the area we were to explore next, we decided on getting there and having a mid-morning cup of tea and a “sit” as the Brits might call a rest. Oxford street was a little tricky to find but we managed and sat down at a cafĂ© across from The Grapes Public House which was the next on our list to see. Four members of the Titanic crew stayed here too long on the morning of the ship’s departure. They arrived at the docks too late to board the ship.

7. Refreshed and ready to walk again, we headed down Oxford to where it ends and crossed over Terminus Terrace to see Stanley’s Casino which was originally the Former Docks Railway Station. At the back of the casino is a roofed-in covered area where the railway platform used to be. Across from it is the South Western House which was where many passengers stayed the night before Titanic left Southampton on its Maiden Voyage.

8. We traveled along Terminus Terrace to Canute Road and turned left to find a large yellowish building that once housed the London and South Western Railway Company. Next to it is the Canute Chambers, the building that was the headquarters for the White Star Line in 1912. It was here that the people of Southampton gathered when they heard the news about the Titanic. The names of survivors were posted outside front of the building.

9. As we continued back toward the Dock area, we passed the other side of the South Western House. There is a large relief above the main entrance that features the head of Queen Victoria and symbols of industry during her reign. On our left was the Union Castle House—former headquarters of Union Castle Line—and next to it the Royal Mail House, reminders of the great shipping lines that used the port of Southampton in the past.

10. At this point, we found ourselves back at Dock 4 where the QM2 was berthed. There was supposed to be a memorial plaque just inside the gate but the traffic was horrendous at that point and we were too tired to try to dodge it and ask permission of the security guard to see the plaque. Instead we stood and waited on a bus to take us back to the shopping mall where we needed to pick up a few things. The correct bus didn’t arrive at the scheduled time so we braced ourselves, told our feet they could make it, and trodded on back to the West Quay Mall. All-in-all not a long walk.

The plaques and memorials we saw that day all had flowers placed by them from historical groups. We were there just shortly after the anniversary of the Titanic disaster and were about to board a ship to sail transatlantic over the same path the Titanic. A bit daunting but thanks to those who were involved in the Titanic’s loss, ships have been made safer. As I write this, we are nearing the Titanic’s resting place. I’m sure we will take a few moments to remember. (Note: We passed over the Titanic's resting place during the night but here is a memorial service from a previous crossing.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Books For The Road - Try Fear

The Queen Mary 2 has the most fabulous library I’ve ever seen at sea—every kind of book imaginable from cooking to history to biography to fiction to travel and in several languages. When I read the last of the e-books I had downloaded for this trip and found that the internet was working too slowly to shop for more online, I headed for the library for an old fashioned hardbound book to read.

There on the shelf I found a familiar name, James Scott Bell. I’ve met the author at several writers conferences but couldn’t recall having ever read one of his novels. I have read one of his books on writing fiction and attended several of his workshops. Try Fear, sounded like a good read so I pulled it off the shelf and checked it out. I was right.

Ty Buchanan, a rather free-wheeling defense lawyer, takes on what seems like a simple DUI case but one thing leads to another and he finds himself in the middle of a murder trial defending the DUI’s brother, Eric Richess, for the murder of the original defendant, Carl Richess.

Buchanan’s quirky character is a bit Jack Webbish. Remember Jack Webb? “Just the facts, ma’am.” Buchanan’s quick and often punned dialog is a little difficult to get used to at first but as you begin to know the character, it fits. What doesn’t seem to fit with Buchanan’s character is his love interest, a nun, Sister Mary. But once you get to know Sister Mary, Buchanan’s investigator for the case, you realize what a good fit it could be for a skeptical lawyer who isn’t sure about his belief in God things. Leave it to Bell to pair these two and place them in Los Angeles. Now that’s a good fit.

All in all, it is a fun read and builds suspense albeit a little slowly. Unfortunately I finished it before our cruise was 2/3 over. Back to the library for another book—the old fashioned way.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Worship Thoughts -Easter in the Mid-Atlantic

When we booked our cruise aboard the Queen Mary 2, we didn't realize Easter would fall sometime during our crossing the Atlantic on the way to New York from Southampton. It is amazing though how God has supplied. Let me start at the beginning. . .

Our 24 day cruise is the last leg of a World Cruise that began in New York/Southampton depending upon where the World Cruisers began. (Some took the Queen Victoria to NYC). The World Cruise totals 107 days. When it started out, a couple from Scotland felt a call to organize a Christian Fellowship. They convinced staff officers to let them have a room on the ship and put an announcement in our daily program.

They began to meet on all sea days (excepting Sunday when the captain/commodore holds an interdenominational service) at 9:30 in the morning. Their group grew from a handful to more than a dozen. As new passengers boarded for certain segments of the cruise, new people found their way to the group. Others left for home and took with them wonderful friendships that had formed.

Each morning scripture was read and a short lesson or testimony given. Then we would sing and end with saying the Lord's prayer together. Over the 23 days we have been with the group, we have seen it blossom and grow to triple its size. Our small room is bursting at the seams with the newcomers we have picked up for the Transatlantic crossing. Over the time we have spent with the group, we have met Christians from France, Spain, England, Scotland, Ireland, Malaysia, the USA, and probably a few more countries that I didn't realize were represented.

We have heard of all sorts of work that God is doing all over the world. Mission work in the Canary Islands, Spain, France, and Costa Rica to name a few. It has been amazing to listen to the stories. What a blessing.

This morning we will be worshiping together, singing praises, and joining hands in prayer. This is what Jesus did it all for. To bring us together in Him and learn to serve others. What a fellowship! What an Easter morning!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Barcelona, Spain

A shuttle bus from the pier where the Queen Mary 2 pulled into the port dropped us off at the end of the busy center street of Barcelona, Las Ramblas. Behind us was the World Trade Center and to our right slightly ahead stood Christopher Columbus on top of his tall pedestal. Columbus was supposed to be pointing to the new world but whoever set him up there had his finger pointing south rather than west. Maybe he explored the African coast first?

This was our third visit to Barcelona so we opted out of any ship excursions. Instead we ventured out on our own again and located the nearest metro station. Bob had researched the system online so we knew where to go and finding it was simply a matter of walking up the street from where our bus dropped us.

We were very impressed with the subway. Easy to understand directions and cleaner than most. Our destination was the Familia Segrada, the famous cathedral begun by Gaudi in1882 and still under construction. The architect died in 1926 when hit by a tram. His plans for the cathedral were so detailed that work was able to be continued and goes on today. It is expected to be finished in about 20 years. Why so long? Because the detail is so infinite that the work cannot be done quickly.

You can see in some of the pictures here the elaborate designs that Gaudi created to adorn this building he began as a monument to God and a place of worship. We stood in a long line to get in and then paid for our entrance fee and audio guides. With a senior discount (sometimes getting old pays off) it cost us a total of 27 Euros.

As we entered the sanctuary the most obvious change we observed since our last visit was the absence of scaffolding and cranes. We were able to enjoy the immensity of the main area that seems to go on forever both up and down. The columns are magnificent and the stained glass windows beautiful.

My eyes began to glaze over after a while of listening to all the explanations of Gaudi’s designs and plans. What I find most interesting is below the cathedral. There is a model workroom where plaster models are still made of portions of the unfinished designs to be sure they agree with Gaudi’s drawings before they are made final in the material that will go into the building. This day there was someone working in the model room.

The other display that amazes me is the series of strings and weights that Gaudi used to calculate the correct dimensions of the arches and supports that would hold the cathedral up. The model is inverted so that the weights create the arches. Somehow from all of this he was able to determine how to construct the foundational parts of the cathedral.

After our visit, we again navigated the subway system to find our way back to Las Ramblas, the center of all the tourist activity in Barcelona. It is fun to stroll down the center park-like pedestrian area and enjoy the activity. This day there was a larger crowd than on our last visits. A lot of young people which led me to believe there was some sort of a school or university holiday.

Las Ramblas holds all sorts of shops and sidewalk cafes and characters. Souvenir shops dotted one area and then flower shops and then cafes offering tapas and sangria. We have heard a great deal about the thick rich chocolate and pastries that are available but weren’t sure we were up to all the calories and sugar—maybe next time.

We did take a picture of one of the characters that was dressed like a statue and came to life when we deposited some coins in his brass spittoon. He reminded me of Will Rogers. Others were dressed like strange mechanical birds or other types of statuesque figures.

Barcelona is one of our favorite ports of call and someday we hope to return and stay a while longer to be able to enjoy all it has to offer. But for now, it was on to Southampton.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Monte Carlo - That's My Yacht

One of the first things you notice about Monte Carlo when you approach by the sea is the size of the yachts. They are so large, you wonder if some of them are just mini-cruise ships. Commodore Warner of the Queen Mary 2 in his wonderful British wit had told the passengers that as they explored Monte Carlo, if anyone should ask, our yacht was the large one sitting outside the harbor with the big red smokestack.

Monte Carlo is a part of Monaco and is a beautiful city with lots of history including a young actress, Grace Kelly, who became a princess. On several previous visits, we explored the church, the Cousteau museum, the palace area, and of course the famous casino.

This time, we revisited a few spots including the graves of Grace Kelly and Prince Ranier and the palace courtyard where the changing of the guard takes place with full pomp and circumstance at 11:55 a.m. There is another changing of the guard around 3 p.m. but with less pomp.

Our challenge for this trip was to figure out the bus system so we could get from the palace to the casino park without having to take a taxi. To our delight it was not difficult once we found the bus stop at the foot of the palace walk and looked at the map. Just to be sure though, we asked a security guard in the area and his answer matched our conclusion. We boarded the bus and for a Euro, rode to the casino park.

The park was blooming with beautiful red tulips. We strolled, took pictures, and looked at all the expensive cars parked in front of the big Monte Carlo Casino. The trip to the casino was made even more special this time by the fact that on board our ship was one of the “Bond girls,” Mayam D’Abo.

She had given a talk about being a Bond girl (Bond was Timothy Dalton) and how it had changed her career. She is still acting but now does a lot of producing as well including an excellent documentary called “Bond Girls Are Forever” where she interviewed quite a few of the Bond girls from Ursula Andrews, the first, to Halle Berry, who at filming was the latest. The documentary was originally shown on AMC cable in the States. After the interview, the ship showed the documentary.

Somehow standing across from the casino, seeing the expensive sporty cars, one can’t help but hear the beat of the Bond theme song and imagine Sean Connery (still my favorite) driving up, getting out of his specially made car, looking your direction and giving one of those famous half grins.

Ah, a girl can dream. . .

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Port of Rome - Civitavecchia

The Queen Mary 2 cruised across the Mediterranean and past the pointy toe of the Italian boot. Just north of Sicily, there is an active volcano, Stromboli. It is an island unto itself and inhabited by what I feel are some very brave souls. The volcano puffs smoke every so often making it look as though someone is sending smoke signals. It was a treat to have Commodore Warner slow the ship a bit and circle the west side of the island so we could get a good look. Then we sped up for our port destination, Civitavecchia.

Civitavecchia is pronounced differently by almost anyone you meet who attempts to say it. I’m still not sure of its correct pronunciation and if I could get an Italian to slow down as they say the name, I might be able to come a little closer to what it should sound like. Maybe that’s why everyone just says “the port of Rome.” Indeed it is the port connected to the great city of Rome which is actually about 45 miles away easily accessible by train which is a short walk from the cruise terminal.

We chose not to go into Rome this trip since we have been there before and felt that Rome deserved more than a day trip. On a previous stop in Civitavecchia, we had also toured the ancient Etruscan community of Tarquinia which is about a half hour north of the port. So we set out to explore the streets of Civitavecchia.

We walked for a bit and enjoyed the shops along the way and stopped to sit a few moments and take in the beauty of the redbud trees that were blooming in a small courtyard we found.

Hoping to find a couple of sweatshirts at a reasonable price for our transatlantic crossing, we decided to ask at the information booth if there was any large department store or perchance, a Walmart or Kmart. The girls at the information booth were our entertainment for the morning. While they seemed to speak English well enough, their directions were a bit cryptic. To find “cheap” clothes we should shop in a Chinese store.

She began directing us to an area we had been to already and had her English left and right mixed up. Then, in order to figure out where we were on the map, we pointed to the McDonald’s that was across the square from us and to the map asking where the McDonald’s was on the map. The girl looked at us and frowned. “Micdonuls?”

“Yes,” Bob said. “Right there.” He pointed to the McDonald’s sign and back to the map. “Is it here on the map?”

She looked questioningly at us and shook her head. No clue. We thanked them. Took the oversized map that was almost as big as the town itself and walked to a park bench where we tried hard not to break out in laughter. Sometimes things truly get lost in translation. We never did find the Chinese store with cheap clothes and unfortunately McDonald’s did not have free WiFi so we returned to the ship and enjoyed the quiet with so many passengers gone on tours.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Suez Canal

Suez Canal 6 a.m.! The alarm clock sounded and for once I was the first to bound out of bed. The Queen Mary 2 was scheduled to enter the Suez Canal sometime between 6 and 6:30. I looked out. We were already there! Bob must have wondered who this woman was who usually moves so slowly in the morning but I was dressed and camera in hand in about five minutes.

Unlike the Panama Canal, there are no locks to go through. The Red Sea and the Mediterranean are at the same level. After taking a few shots of the beautiful lush area on the port side of the ship, I circled over to the starboard side and was amazed at the sight. Nothing but sand extended as far as the eye could see to the east.

I popped up to the observation deck for a look ahead of the ship. The canal looked to be a very straight channel dividing the area into two distinct halves—one of greenery and the other of dry sand. As we cruised on, I could see that there were irrigation canals that laced the tropical looking areas where homes, apartment buildings, and businesses dotted the land. Later, from the navigational bridge, came an explanation that the canals fed the area with the needed water from the Nile River.

Bob and I ate breakfast at the buffet that morning near a window where we enjoyed a view of the countryside dotted by the ever present Egyptian army sentries waving and shouting. I think the first English words the Egyptians learn are “Welcome to Egypt!” We heard that often throughout the day as we continued on through the Canal.

The narrow passages of the canal allow for traffic to flow in only one direction at a time. Therefore, the ships are arranged in convoys. Our northbound convoy consisted of 25 ships of which we were the first—an honor according to Commodore Warner of the Queen Mary 2. A southbound convoy of 17 ships would be waiting in the two lakes, Great Bitter and Little Bitter Lakes, for us to pass by them so they could continue south through the passage we were in.

Out in front of us was a small warship that was our escort through the Suez Canal. It is always hard to determine relative size when you are on a ship the size of the Queen Mary 2 but the warship looked more like the size of a large tugboat from my vantage point.
Throughout the day, we passed by several towns and cities some of which had ferries to cross the canal and we observed some very small fishing boats with men casting nets by hand.

There were several monuments, the most significant of which was the World War I monument dedicated to those who had given their lives in that great conflict. Another was for the Gulf War and still another we could not identify. Perhaps when we are home and can search without such great cost of internet I’ll match the picture with the proper name.

It took most of the day to transverse the canal. After the lakes, it got narrow again and put us out into the Mediterranean in late afternoon near Port Said. The port area reminded me of Shanghai—large and industrial. As we got further into the Mediterranean, we could see the city itself whose skyline was full of large buildings towering in the distance.

The Mediterranean was as blue as I remembered. As we left behind the arid sands of Egypt and the memories of our Middle East visit, I wondered if we would return. The Red Sea begs to be explored underwater. The Egyptian pyramids still need to be seen. And what will Dubai build next to intrigue us? The area is indeed mysterious, exotic, and adventuresome.

Ah, now on to Italy. . .

Friday, April 15, 2011

Egypt - Sharm el Sheikh

Our second stop in Egypt was at Sharm el Sheikh another resort area on the Red Sea located on the Sinai Peninsula. Sharm el Sheikh is also noted for its five star resorts along Na’ama Beach and scuba diving. Again, we opted for a day at the beach rather than a day long excursion to St. Catherine’s Monastery where it is said Moses saw the burning bush.

This time, we were escorted to a Marriott Hotel. Again the accommodations were very nice but the beach was not as nice as the previous day. There seemed to be a lot of trash in the water and it was jellyfish season. I was glad we’d ventured into the Red Sea waters the previous day.

Once we were settled on loungers under an umbrella, our guide rounded us up for a glass bottom boat ride. I’ve taken these before and usually they are not that great for those of us who are used to scuba diving. This one was quite different. The reefs were close enough to the viewing windows to see quite clearly and the water was crystalline. While viewing this way makes everything appear more blue than it really is, there was still a lot of color to be seen especially when the sun shone on the corals.

And there was an abundance of marine life—parrot fish, butterfly fish, triggers, and even a couple of sting rays among a myriad of others both big and small.

Back on shore, we lounged a bit and then enjoyed another buffet meal in the hotel before moving to a couple of lounge chairs near the pool. Okay, it’s a tough life but someone has to live it.

The pool water was very cold but refreshing. And again we were impressed with the hospitality of the Egyptians. No matter what their job at the hotel from repairmen to hotel manager, we were greeted with hellos and welcomes.

As we waited for our tour bus for the short ride back to our ship, we were delighted at the sight of some young men riding camels down the street amid the traffic. I wondered if they were some of the Bedouins who live traditionally just a bit further inland. Later we passed them resting in the center of a traffic roundabout. It was a nice grouping but unfortunately we were past them before my camera was ready to shoot.

After dinner, we watched the sun set over the Sinai Mountains as our ship sailed away from port and headed for the next day’s destination, the Suez Canal.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pirates and Water and Sand, Oh My!

From Dubai, we cruised a bit south and then west and northwest if my internal compass can be believed. Whatever the true compass direction, our captain, who is really a commodore, Commodore Warner, took us safely through the waters that were dangerously close to where Somalian pirate activity has been known to take place. We were asked to keep our balcony lights off at night and to close our drapes and turn off unnecessary lights in our cabins. On the open decks, security placed several lookouts. The commodore told us that on the bridge was a Royal Naval officer who was our liaison between us and the warships patrolling the area should we experience any trouble.

And then came the pirate drill.

We were all asked to participate in a mock drill for our sake as well as for the crew to know what to do in an emergency. Those of us who had outside staterooms were asked to sit or stand in the hallway. Those with inside staterooms were to stay in them during the drill. Room stewards took attendance and I’m sure there were other parts of the drill involving the crew that we did not see. It was quite an adventure but no one was overly concerned. Our ship was fast and the commodore had it full throttle. I think we might have been able to ski off the back. No pirates showed up—not even Johnny Depp.

Once we were into the Red Sea, we slowed a bit and relaxed. We were in Egyptian waters. Egypt?! Our first port of call was Safaga on the western shore of the Red Sea. The port area was not heavily populated. It was definitely a shipping port. In the distance we could see the city of Safaga. Many passengers took a day long excursion to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings where there are lots of temples and tombs to be explored. We chose to stay closer to the ship and ventured into Hurghada, a resort area near Safaga known for its five star resorts and scuba diving.

During the almost hour long bus ride, I saw more sand than I have seen totally in my life time. There are lots of different colors depending upon how the sun reflects off of it. But for as far as you could see in one direction, there was nothing but dry sand. Not a speck of green anywhere. It was amazing. I could not imagine what it must be like to live in such a place as many Bedouins still do.

The tour bus dropped us off at a Hilton where we were able to enjoy the beach area and the resort’s beautiful pools. A buffet lunch was served in their restaurant. We were a little disappointed that the buffet was not more of a local flavor although the dessert table held some heavenly pastries coated/dipped in honey. Sweet but not as sweet as our honey back home. I also found what I thought looked like a date of sorts but it turned out to taste more like a plum. We managed to get one of the waiters to tell us that it grows on a tree in the area.

The Red Sea here was beautiful and clean and clear. The beach was nice because it was shallow and you could walk out a long way before it got deep. The water however was cold and while the sun was warm, the air was a bit cool when the wind blew off the water. Hard to believe in a desert area but this time of year, the temperatures are more moderate.

All along the way to the resort and back again, Egyptians took a moment to wave at the bus as we were obviously a group of tourists and they were genuinely glad to see tourists returning. It was nice to feel welcome especially as we passed by armed military vehicles stationed along the way. Egypt was still under military control until their election scheduled to take place in a few weeks.

And one last note. . .almost anywhere you travel in the world today, you are never far from the golden arches.
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